E.W. Scripps Co., a company that is working to move beyond its roots in newspapers, is buying a humor site that was borne out of a cult-favorite magazine.
Scripps will buy Cracked from Demand Media for $39 million, the latest signal that media companies are placing more emphasis on humor as a means of reaching a younger group of consumers who seem to enjoy news that is mixed with humor and satire. “There is a ton of evidence that humor is the lens through which millennials see the news,” said Adam Symson, chief digital officer of E.W. Scripps, in an interview. “Younger audiences are faced with expanding choice, but they are just as interested in knowing what’s going on in the world and they want to be informed and entertained at the same time.
Scripps’ purchase follows the purchase of a 40% stake in satire company The Onion Inc. by Spanish-language media owner Univision Communications, as well as the successful launch of new TV formats by Time Warner’s HBO and TBS that feature comedians John Oliver and Samantha Bee investigating government and politics with scathing and amusing commentary. CNN is about to launch a new primetime program featuring comedian and activist W. Kamau Bell.
Cracked was started as a satirical magazine in the late 1950s and viewed as a competitor to the durable Mad magazine. Like Mad, Cracked featured movie parodies, satirical illustrations and a regular two-panel feature known as a “Shut Up,” in which a character makes a boast in one panel only to be undone in the next. Over the decades the magazine even managed to swipe a few Mad artists and editors – most famously cartoonist Don Martin — in the twilight of their careers.
But economics were not kind to the format, and Cracked was sold and bought a few times, ending up under tabloid publisher American Media and a consortium of investors known as Teshkeel Media Group. In 2007, Demand Media purchased the assets and turned the property into a digital comedy hub. Articles spotted on the site Tuesday included “The 13 Most Insane Things Happening Right Now” and “Why Most Alien Invasions Would Fail Quickly.”
Scripps has plans to use Cracked to further its ambitions in video content distributed via broadband, said Symons, the executive. Content from Cracked snares about 20 million views monthly via YouTube, he said. “What we see is the opportunity to expand upon that and move what they’ve done on the Web, attracting a loyal audience, and accelerate that and expand that into the over-the-top space,” he said. The company said 50% of Cracked.com’s audience comes directly to the site, and users spend an average of eight minutes engaging with the text and video.
E.W. Scripps spun off its newspaper holdings in 2015 after merging with Journal Communications. In 2015, the company bought podcasting entity Midroll Media, and expanded Newsy, its over-the-top video news brand. The company said Newsy has distribution agreements with the majority of the emerging OTT TV platforms, including Sling TV and Apple TV.