What Are The Odds These Media Brands Will Survive?

A power ranking sequel

Jack Koloskus
DEATH BECOMES HER

BuzzFeed Inc.’s much-hyped and increasingly troublesome tenure as a public company took another blow on Monday. Its stock plunged by 41 percent, the worst single-day drop in a very short public history, after a ban preventing “executives and major institutional investors” from selling shares expired on June 1. It was a bad day for Buzz; they’re now worth a fifth of their $1.5 billion valuation last year. It seems digital media is not the cash cow we’d once thought.

It is easy to get depressed about the media economy. The most stable business model involves a billionaire in need of reputation laundering who can pull the plug the second they get bored or sufficiently good PR to bury their Google results about insider trading. But it is likewise easy to forget how many barely legal companies are hiring recent college graduates to trawl social media for online trends. Eight years ago, Gawker assessed which media brands would survive. They predicted only their own demise correctly. Here's where we are now:

1. CNN

The cable news company is now minus one streaming platform (the short-lived CNN+), one half of the due Cuomi, a president (Jeff Zucker, who resigned for hiding a workplace relationship), and all gratuitous uses of the phrase “breaking news.” They are also an overfunded, over-watched parade of think tank robots who chose TV over Brookings because their faces were too symmetrical for policy papers. Their new chairman Chris Licht wants to “disrupt” morning TV, and seems to be doing so by asking “How do we get more center?” (The exact quote was: “At a time where extremes are dominating cable news, we will seek to go a different way.”) Also, they make TV. We will never be rid of them.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: High.

2. INSIDER

The outlet formerly known as Business Insider has merged its finance, tech, and lifestyle verticals into an online behemoth nursed on Axel Springer money and photo essays about going to Wendy’s. In spite of their listicles and near-constant leaks, they get some great scoops and are, relatively speaking, well-paid. The company also apparently makes money, or is good at lying. Both bode well.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Pretty high.

3. BUZZFEED

In 2014, Gawker called BuzzFeed the “JFK Jr. of the internet.” In a way, that holds up, if you believe John-John, as a small group of ragtag dreamers do, is miraculously still alive, laying low, and poised to take the world by storm in six to 24 months. The ragtag group in this case is BuzzFeed’s remaining shareholders. But like any Kennedy, BuzzFeed still has money. Also like the Kennedys, it has, somewhat against its will, a union affiliation. It could take more than a bad market to kill them off.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: That it will still be a company in five years? Medium-high. That it will still publish stuff we want to read? Low, but we’re not Gen Z.

4. SUBSTACK

Centrist social contrarians will always have a place in liberal media. So will crowd-funds.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: High.

5. VOX

In a better world, Vox would be a distant parable about the Russian nesting doll ecosystem of early-aughts media aggregation, where the odd piece of original reporting or novel analysis became grist for 30 other explanatory articles recapping what the first said. No shame in that, of course. But that time is not behind us. Instead, Vox’s parent company, Vox Media, managed to cannibalize several bigger, and a few better, outlets, like New York magazine.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Medium-high.

6. VICE

It’s never good when your parent company starts talking about “cutting costs” and then hires a firm that specializes in “consulting to companies in or near bankruptcy.” But Vice Media has done that to help recoup their $1.1 billion debt burden, due to “pressure from investors, including private equity company TPG.” Specifically, they hired AlixPartners, whose biggest past projects include advising on the Enron and Bernie Madoff scandals. Good sign. On the other hand, Motherboard is really good.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Short-term: high. Longterm: medium-low.

7. PUCK NEWS

A mystery. Why is Julia Ioffe so wrong about so much? Matt Belloni’s newsletter is fun and gossipy. Do people read it? Unclear.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Their staff is small. They have at least $7 million in seed funding. We see an on-ramp of at least 18 months, probably longer.

8. SEMAFOR

Semafor, the word we all know that’s the same in several languages. The name is one of the few things we know about the Smiths’ — Ben (of the New York Times’ media column) and Justin (of Bloomberg), no relation — forthcoming media project. The other thing we know is that their target audience is the “200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience, but who talk to each other and talk to us.”

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: You have to launch before you can fail.

9. THE RECOUNT

Everything about this place seems fishy. They raised tens of millions of dollars in Series A and B funding. They have been around for three years, but I have never encountered their work in the wild. That seems to be par for the course; last year, co-founder John Batelle told Built in NYC: “We want to be more focused on figuring out ways to let people know we exist.”

The low-profile may have something to do with their aversion to marketing and, per Axios, having tried to “avoid a lot of the drama around partisanship coming out of the 2020 election.” In any case, they seemed to take the pivot-to-video to heart, and maybe that’s been working out for them. They launched some podcasts and a Twitch show too. On the other hand: in May, their COO Ryan Kadro left for unclear reasons. At the same time, its co-founders told Axios they wanted to recount their company — apparently, staff cuts are imminent.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Low.

10. OZY

Did you know it’s still going?

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Until Carlos Watson runs out of money.

11. TUDUM

An overvalued streaming company with a library of original shows called things like “Warrior Nun” and “Fate: The Winx Saga,” starts a website named for its proprietary sound, then hires several good writers away from their jobs to write “scoops” about its latest press releases, only to lay them off within the year. Also, Netflix’s stock recently tanked and Hollywood is laughing at them. But hey, a spokesperson told NPR that “Our fan website Tudum is an important priority for the company."

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: Very low.

12. BUSTLE DIGITAL GROUP

Gawker’s first power ranking accurately predicted that this blog and Mic would die off imminently. Over the past year, both sites relaunched to ambivalent reception — partly in a bid to make BDG prestigious enough to IPO, partly to ensure an alternate revived-Gawker does not make fun of our employer. BuzzFeed’s bungled IPO probably means that the former won’t happen, so we are all being very nice to Bryan Goldberg. Make of that what you will.

ODDS OF SURVIVAL: We will be laid off all at once in approximately seven months, or whenever we write something about Peter Thiel.