Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Recap: Some of The Big News Stories from 2016

2016 was a tumultuous year and one we are glad to see the back off.  From the constant stream of celebrity departures to Brexit to Trump, we all deserve a breather; but it won't come and I expect 2017 will be an even more intense year.  Things don't look promising.

Many of the biggest media stories of 2016 revolved around the election but, while there were other big stories in media this year, it was arguably a quiet year for publishing and media.  Here is my list of top media and publishing stories from the past year (in no particular order):
  • Gawker lost a libel case to fake wrestler Hulk Hogan with a judgement against that effectively bankrupted the company.  The escrow amount required for an appeal was so high they couldn't afford it and the company was eventually sold to Univision for $135million.  Most troubling to many was the legal sponsorship provided by Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel.  This verdict and the legal sponsorship that enabled it have people concerned about press freedoms in the future. (NYTimes)
  • Thomson Reuters sold their IP and Science business unit for $3.5Bill to a Canadian equity fund with little previous experience in publishing.  The purchased business is now named "Clarivate Analytics".  There's a saying: Never be a buyer when Thomson is a seller.  Not sure where I heard that; however Thomson, in transforming itself over the past 15 years, has shown itself to be very adept at moving out of failing businesses ahead of time - newspapers, educational publishing - and moving on into new markets.  (Reuters)
  • During 2016 we saw a significant increase in social publishing for advocacy - no single news story here but the activities of athletes and celebrities together with advocacy groups such as "black lives matter" using their profiles and notoriety to push social commentary and raise awareness for causes seemed to gain stream during the year.  Whether this "movement" exhausts itself flailing against trolls and fake news remains to be seen during 2017.
  • Small bundles made a comeback in 2016 mostly in video/television content but with the likes of ESPN, Hulu, HBO, SlingMedia and others showing the way the long term viability of the big package offering we've all been used to for 30 years may be fracturing.  Obviously, the web combined with the proliferation of devices is driving this trend as audiences - particularly the younger crowd - look to make their own bundles. (WSJ)
  • That said, the proposed ATT/Time Warner merger is a bet that content and distribution will drive value and also protect each company strategically.   The Comcast/NBC combination has been a success with average annual subscriber revenue well over $1000 - very near the top of the range. ATT/TM will expect to benefit from that level of revenue but they will also hope to project themselves against any adverse effects of the content market fracturing.  With HBO and Warner Studios, ATT would be a stronger business particularly in competing with Comcast and others. (NPR) 
  • After the election, there was a mini renaissance in subscriptions to old line news sources such as The New York Times, Washington Post and magazines.  Will this be sustainable is the question? (NiemanLabs)
  • Follet emerged from a protracted period of management upheaval and strategic review where they contemplated selling the business with the purchase of Baker & Taylor.  The combined company now has revenues over $3.5Billion with strong positions in library and school distribution and educational retailing.  Industry watchers are hopeful that years of under investment in B&T will be reversed and significant operational improvements made to the combined business.  (ChicagoTrib)
  • Wiley acquired the content management platform Atypon both as a strategic asset and a technology provider to their existing business.  Atypon will remain a separate business unit but will also support and supply Wiley with technology to support the re-platforming of their existing product suite.  Assuming Wiley manages the integration well, this stands to be a great deal for both sides.  In related news, Highwire Press acquired Semantico (UK) to further consolidate the content solution market supporting academic and scholarly publishers.  Highwire is owned by Accel/KKR and is generally considered the largest business in this segment. (PND) 
I've probably forgotten something important....

Looking forward to 2017 anyone?

Michael Cairns is interested in discussing c-level executive management and/or board and advisory positions.  He has served as CEO and President of several technology and content-centric business supporting global media publishers, retailers and service providers and can be reached at michael.cairns@outlook.com and he blogs at personanondata.com

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