Struggling Print Media Outlets Suffering From Separation Anxiety

Corporate names these days have become increasingly misleading. Time Warner, for example, seems like a bogus appellation, since all of its Time properties have been spun off as of this week into a new publication entity — one with a challenging future. Meanwhile, News Corp. should be renamed “stuck-with-the-news corp” because Rupert Murdoch has flipped all of his profitable TV and film units into 21st Century Fox, leaving his newspapers and books to wallow in print hell.

These financial maneuverings make strategic sense from the standpoint of the moguls and their number crunchers. Why should HBO and Warners be burdened with the fading fortunes of Time and Fortune? And why should stockholders who revel in the surprise success of Fox’s “The Fault in Our Stars” have to be reminded that Rupert’s favorite toy, the New York Post, loses $50 million a year?

The catch, of course, is this: Can these newly created all-print entities hold their own in the financial marketplace? Further, is it either socially or financially responsible to ghetto-ize the print media?

The circumstances at each company are radically different, if at the same time much the same. Magazines by and large are losing the attention of their readers. Operating profits at Time alone have plunged 41% since 2011. Newsstand sales of People have dropped by almost one half in thepast five years.

Still, talk to Time’s top executives and they’ll tell you all of their magazines are basically profitable — if not as profitable as in former years. In short, the businesses are sound, but the climate is threatening. “The basic issue in the magazine business is how fast will the iceberg melt?” says one top Time executive.

Last week, I wandered through the venerable Time building, a 1950s structure that embodied the grandeur of founder Henry Luce’s vision. In bygone days, the egos of Time editors and executives were such that they had their secretaries book appointments, even when they were seeing one another — drop-ins were verboten. Everyone, even midlevel editors, went home in limos.

Today’s Time CEO, Joe Ripp, is a tough-mind-ed financial guru (once vice chairman of AOL). He and editorial content chief Norman Pearlstine, a revered former editor, face a tough mandate: They must severely cut costs and find new
revenue streams in video, digital and other emerging ad sources. As a free-standing company, they could also acquire a new entity — but not one that might compete with other Warner units, such as HBO, which carved out $1.8 billion in profits last year. Yet cable TV would normally be an outgrowth for a magazine company.

All this must be accomplished under close scrutiny. Time magazine was criticized last week for selling advertising on its cover for the first time — a Verizon ad so small it was difficult to spot without a magnifying glass.

The new Time starts life with $1.3 billion in debt, a stark contrast to Murdoch’s print playthings, for which the mogul effectively provided a $2 billion cash cushion a year ago. Given his deliciously anachronistic passion for newspapers, Murdoch may even acquire new holdings — the News Corp. portfolio includes such properties as Nantucket Today and the Sunday Tasmanian, as well as the HarperCollins Publishing Co. and newly acquired Harlequin.

Murdoch’s BSkyB and SkyEurope dealings could bring him an acquisitions kitty of as much as $9 billion to play with, and the track record of the 82-year-old mogul suggests that he will not stand around counting it.

Meanwhile Jeffrey Bewkes, chairman of Time Warner, might consider trying to come up with a new company name. Maybe HBO Warner?

More Biz

  • India, Korea Lead Surge in Asian

    India, Korea Lead Surge in Asian Production Investment

    Production spending on film, TV and online video content in Asia grew by 12% in 2018, a significant leap from 8% the previous year. The strongest growth came from India and Korea, with Indonesia and Vietnam following. Data from the latest edition of Asia Video Content Dynamics, published by research and consultancy firm Media Partners [...]

  • Asian Streamer Iflix Completes $50 Million

    Asian Streamer Iflix Completes $50 Million Fund Raising

    Asia-based streaming firm Iflix has completed its latest funding round by bringing in major institutional investor Fidelity. The company says it is now looking towards an IPO. Iflix, which has operations across 12 countries in Asia, says that the funding cycle brought in “well in excess of $50 million,” but provided few new details. Other [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA West Unveils Candidates for Election That Reflects Discord Over Agency Campaign

    The WGA West has unveiled the slate of candidates for officer posts and board seats in the election that reflects the divisions among members over the guild’s handling of the campaign to reform its rules governing talent agents. Scribes Phyllis Nagy (“Carol”) and William Schmidt (“Yellowstone”) are set to challenge David Goodman for the president’s [...]

  • The Netflix logo is displayed at

    Netflix Target of Shareholder Lawsuits After Q2 Subscriber Shortfall

    Like clockwork, Netflix’s big miss on subscriber targets for the second quarter of 2019 have prompted lawsuits filed on behalf of shareholders. At least two suits seeking class-action standing were filed Monday, by the Rosen Law Firm and Schall Law Firm, which both specialize in investor litigation. The lawsuits allege Netflix violated SEC regulations by [...]

  • Terry Wakefield Exits Sony/ATV to Head

    Terry Wakefield Exits Sony/ATV to Head Up A&R at UMPG Nashville

    After a decades-long tenure at Sony/ATV Nashville, Terry Wakefield has followed another alumnus, Troy Tomlinson, across town to take a top position at Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville. Wakefield is senior VP of A&R at UMPG after having been senior VP of creative in his previous post. Personal loyalty to Tomlinson, UMPG Nashville’s recently named chairman/CEO, [...]

  • Sally Williams at PBS Country Music

    Sally Williams to Leave Longtime Opry Home for Top Post at Live Nation in Nashville

    Nashville executive Sally Williams is leaving Opry Entertainment, where she rose to the top over a two-decade tenure there, to join Live Nation’s regional office as the president of Nashville music and business strategy, the company announced Monday. Live Nation said Williams will not only lead programming and marketing for their concerts in the area, [...]

  • Fourward

    Management Company Fourward Taps Christopher Burbidge as Head of Talent Division

    Will Ward’s management company Fourward has promoted long-time colleague Christopher Burbidge to head the company’s rapidly growing talent division, while also promoting Brooke Blann to manager in the company’s music division. Both Blann and Burbidge are based in the company’s Los Angeles office and will continue to report directly to Ward. Burbidge works closely on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content