On March 9, Apple unveiled the Apple Watch. Media sites flooded the internet with coverage of Tim Cook’s every utterance. Thousands of words were dedicated to drooling over or hating on the shiny piece of metal that will change this world.
Among those media sites was Gigaom, a pioneering technology blog founded by Om Malik in 2006.
Nine years later, Malik had stepped aside from the day-to-day operations. I was a part of the editorial team carrying on its legacy as a niche, but informative part of the tech media scene.
Hours after Tim Cook left the stage just blocks from our office, I got an email that we had an all-hands meeting that afternoon.
By the end of the day, I typed out the words “Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time….”
Gigaom, like many media companies before it, had shut down.
I spent the next day evacuating 3D printers and gadgets we’d been reviewing into my tiny Prius C, so they wouldn’t be sold, only to ship them back to those companies because we had no site to publish a review. That was the end of Gigaom. Or so we thought.
But it turns out 2015 is the year of the zombie media company.
When I left Gigaom on March 9, the homepage were supposed to be forever immortalised with the words “About Gigaom” and a one-paragraph note of farewell. Below it hung all of our Apple Watch coverage combined with hodge-podge of daily news.
However, on the top of the “About Gigaom” note from March 9 there is now an update. And if you look at its front page, Gigaom is alive and well.
After Gigaom’s shutdown, which was chronicled from the New York Times to the BBC, buyers started coming out of the woodwork. By May, the site had been sold to Knowingly Corp., an Austin-based internet startup run by Byron Reese, the former chief innovation officer of Demand Media.
No sales price was released, but Reese was able to acquire the site and its content library. Gigaom the zombie relaunched in August 2015 and is still up and running.
Meet the zombie media
Gigaom wasn’t the exception of the year. Several media properties have closed their doors only to relaunch again.
In San Francisco, the Bold Italic was a local news site known for being a hilarious take on local news and having a great series on the fanciest local restaurants reviewed by four year olds. Despite being a web bookmark of most millennials in the city, its parent company Gannett also decided to stop funding it. It had been an experiment in local news, but after six years, it had never spread beyond the confines of San Francisco. It stopped publishing in April.
Three months later, two local entrepreneurs announced that they had bought the Bold Italic and were relaunching it. By August, the site was publishing again, including an ode to “The Night before Hipstmas” and a trend report on wine in a can becoming popular in the city.
The biggest turnaround was Circa News, a mobile app that tried to “atomise” news into just facts and quotes. Readers loved it because they could also receive updates on a developing story through push notifications and not have to reload news articles to get the latest.
Unlike Gigaom’s closure, which came out of the blue, rumours started swirling in May that the company was running out of money and looking for a buyer. It stopped publishing on June 21, until the official announcement came three days later that it had been put on an “indefinite hiatus.”
In November, circanews.com was back up and running with a “coming soon” message. The mystery buyer turned out to be Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a news network that runs a large bundle of TV stations.
While Gigaom and The Bold Italic are staying closer to their former lives, the new Circa sounds like it will be taking a different turn. Rather than atomizing the news into understandable mobile-centric bits, the new owners told the Wall Street Journal that they want to focus on original reporting and grow the brand to compete with Vice, Vox, and Buzzfeed.
Money still to be made?
While many cry for the death of media, it’s clear some investors are willing to take a gamble on building a new media empire — or at least trying to make a profitable one. New media startups are springing up everywhere, and the hot ones like Vice, Buzzfeed, and Vox can be worth more than $1 billion, according to CB Insights:
As Business Insider’s Henry Blodget pointed out in his Future of Digital:2015 presentation, there’s a generational shift towards consuming media on smartphones and tablets and less so in print. To make a mint in media, you have to be focused on digital — which all of these zombie companies are.
For entrepreneurs looking to carve out their own media empire — or in the case of Circa, break into the digital side and diversify beyond television — the down-and-out media companies are fire sales of SEO, clicks, and traffic that can be hard to cultivate organically.
Gigaom is still publishing into my Facebook feed because I never “unliked” the page. Same with The Bold Italic.
2015 was the year the dead media companies refused to die, and the zombie media among us are happy to haunt your social networks as they claw their way back into your consciousness.