Assessing the media damage in 2020

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This week: Media’s horrible year, can SPACs save digital media, and the top stories of November.

The flight attendant hbo max
‘The Flight Attendant’ HBO Max

Good riddance, 2020

How bad was 2020 for media companies? Ashley Rodriguez and Claire Atkinson ran the numbers for the media giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Disney, and came up with an eye-popping $US13 billion in losses.

Not only that, job losses neared 30,000 — the worst they have been since the 2008 recession.

Other key points:

  • COVID-19 has altered the entire power structure of Hollywood, with studios now taking a back seat to those in charge of streaming video ventures.
  • The economy’s K-shaped recovery can be seen in the growing number of streaming subscribers.
  • And it’s too soon to tell if media giants can replace traditional TV losses will be replaced with streaming profits.

Read their full story here: Inside one of the worst years in media history, with $US13 billion in value lost and nearly 30,000 jobs cut

Buzzfeed uk

Can SPACs save digital media?

Recent news about the tieup of BuzzFeed and HuffPost has me feeling a bit of déjà vu.

Talk of digital media companies combining has been going on at least a couple years, since BuzzFeed chief Jonah Peretti mused about a big digital media rollup that would give these companies more leverage with the deep-pocketed tech giants.

That didn’t happen, though there have been some digital media couplings — Vice and Refinery29, Group Nine Media and PopSugar.

The idea of a rollup is back, though, fuelled by the rise of Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs, which media consultant Peter Csathy calls “the flavour of the month.”

“Billions of investment dollars are sitting on the sidelines now, aggressively chasing and competing for content-driven opportunities that can be presented to a frothy and liquid public market increasingly driven by new tech-driven platforms like Robinhood,” he said.

Froth over digital media companies — we’ve heard that before.

The digital media runup started with VCs throwing money at these companies, pushing them to aim for unrealistic growth targets, without regard to profitability. This approach, with the help of cheap social distribution, produced some successes, but left many others looking for a bailout.

SPACs offer a lot of advantages. Csathy says BuzzFeed is just the kind of youth-driven brand that logically could take advantage of the frothy public market.

They’d find no shortage of companies looking for a lifeline, too.Here are 10 companies that could be acquisition targets.

But whether it’s digital media companies combining with one another or getting rolled up via a SPAC, one constant is that most of these companies won’t live up to their investors’ expectations. They aren’t big enough to compete in the ad game, most lack clearly differentiated content that makes them essential, and few have substantial subscription revenue.

They might survive by making aggressive cost cuts, but they will be far from what their founders envisioned.

Martin Sorrell


It’s been a time of turmoil for media companies and agencies as they undergo consolidation, layoffs, and leadership changes. Many of our most popular stories in November helped break down what’s going on at these companies in transition:

Other stories we’re reading:

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

— Lucia