Vox Media is buying the Nina Group

Two weeks, two deals. And now four digital media companies are turning into two. Get ready for more.

That’s the conclusion from Monday’s news that Vox Media – my employer – is close to taking over the Nina Group, the publisher behind houses like The Dodo and NowThis. That contract announcement, first published in Wall Street Journal and then confirmed via email for the entire company shortly thereafter, comes days after BuzzFeed has completed its acquisition of Complex Networks, a publisher geared toward guys who love hip-hop and sneakers.

The BuzzFeed-Complex deal came as BuzzFeed has gone public, a move his CEO Jonah Peretti said he wanted to make because it would help him acquire more media companies. The new contract shows that you don’t have to be public to buy a media company: Vox is private, as is the Nina Group.

But the mechanics of the deal – we can talk about some of them in a minute – are less important than the big picture: Together, the men and women who run digital media companies have been talking about combining with each other for some time. Optimistic version of that text: The combination means greater range, greater efficiency, more shine. Other side: If we don’t combine, we may not succeed.

And now interference is happening, one way or another.

BuzzFeed, for example, has already bought HuffPost, a digital publisher co-founded by Peretti before starting his own company; he and Group CEO Nina Ben Lehrer had previously discussed the merger of their two companies. Two years ago, Vox Media bought New York Magazine and occasionally picked up small media companies – last month, for example, it bought a podcast studio Criminal Productions. Vice President of Media Director Nancy Dubuc, who bought Refinery 29 in 2019, also made it clear that she thinks her industry should consolidate. And Dotdash, an IAC-owned digital publishing arm Barry Diller, has just swallowed the publisher of Meredith magazine and its title library, including most of what was once called Time Inc.

Desire doesn’t do it that way: Athletic, a subscription-focused website focused on sports, has been looking for customers for some time, but can’t find one that will pay the price it wants. Axios, the publisher of the newsletter created by veterans from Politico, was in talks with German publisher Axel Springer before the deal fell through.

Group Nine itself wanted to buy other companies. It was created earlier this year SPAC company with blank check – the same mechanism that BuzzFeed used to go public and buy Complex. Monday’s news looks like an admission that the Nina Group couldn’t find the company it wanted to buy or wanted to buy. (Now the ownership share of the Nina Group in that SPAC will be transferred to Vox Media, which could then do … something with it.)

All of these offers – actual and proposed – are extensive: get big enough, it’s reasoning, and make it easier to sell ads, subscriptions, or both. And at this point in the text, you should mention the upcoming duopoly of digital media Google and Facebook, and say that consolidation is the antidote to that. But let’s be clear: it’s not like all these companies together are real competitors to Google or Facebook; it’s just that the bigger the audience, the easier it is to raise more dollars for advertising, period – or for subscription-based companies, the bigger companies have more things to sell.

So if consolidation helps those publishers survive, then … okay? Yes, merging publishers means that some titles and brands you like will probably cease to exist. But hopefully they will survive more this way than they would alone.

As for the details of the announcement: this is an all-share deal, meaning investors in the Nine Group – including Discovery, a cable developer trying to buy Warner Media – will end up with a 25 percent stake in Vox Media. Vox Media, meanwhile, has already taken the investment money from Comcast. So the two largest media companies in the world could end up with a stake in the same digital media operation – though I’m not sure any of them care.

And while Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff told us in an e-mail Monday that “there are no immediate plans to go public,” this is largely the kind of business you’re doing as a precursor to going public: The Wall Street Journal reports that Vox Media will, if this acquisition passes, generate $ 700 million in revenue next year, with $ 100 million in profits; BuzzFeed projects similar figures for itself.

In addition to the large amount, the final offer to investors would be the one the company wants to start providing to advertisers as soon as possible: We have things for everyone. I questioned some of Vox’s competitors on Monday and heard more than a little shit about the property the company will acquire: “You’re buying a pet site,” one director sniffed. But if people want to buy commercials on it pet site, and the revenue of that pet site helps me stay busy, I won’t complain.

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