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Security In Scale Brings Opportunities, Insecurity Brings The For-Sale Sign

Strong news brands, by and large, have discovered two things recently. Number one is the fragility, to be generous, of advertising revenues, digital and otherwise. Second and just as important is the rise of subscription revenue for big news brands like the New York Times and the Guardian. In addition, though most significantly in the US market, is the Trump Effect, passionate foes and fans of US president Donald Trump are paying to see what they want to see.

open houseTV news icon CNN will be taking a step into subscription marketing next year. “We need to create more subscription products,” said CNN chief executive Jeff Zucker, quoted by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) (November 3). He’s looking for US$1 billion in digital revenues by 2022. The general assumption, vaguely confirmed, is a new premium general interest news service will arrive along with speciality services built around CNNMoney and CNNPolitics. A spokesperson told the WSJ they would not be “paywalling or charging for content we offer for free now.”

CNN’s branding expertise is being pitched to the travel and tourism sector, an area ripe for sponsorship and advertsing money. For a decade a specialized tourism market team has been in place. The new project, called “Go There Media Fund,” is designed for “helping those countries at the start of the journey to rebuild and re-invent their nation brand as a tourism destination,” said CNN International Commercial (CNNIC) president Rani Raad in a press statement (November 6) coinciding with the World Travel Market show in London.

Not entirely unrelated, then, was the CNBC report (November 6) of the Walt Disney Company “approaching” 21st Century Fox (21CFox) earlier this year about the possibility of acquiring some assets, like the FX and National Geographic cable channels as well as the Star network in India and pay-TV operator Sky plc. Stock traders took that as a yes and bid up both Disney and 21CFox shares. (See more about Rupert Murdoch, News Corp and 21st Century Fox here)

Also included, and very significantly, were not on the “table” were notoriously right-wing Fox News, Fox Sports channels or local US TV licenses. Combining the 21CFox sports channels with Disney’s ESPN would almost certainly raise an anti-trust inquiry and transferring local TV licenses can bring on the lawyers. And no company with shareholders would touch Fox News. Disney chief executive Bob Iger, who is stepping down in 2019, has largely continued the no controversy strategy of founder Walt Disney.

Scale, of course, is everything to the big media world. Pressures from Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Netflix and, sooner than later, Apple make those shareholder meetings very uncomfortable. Time Warner, which owns CNN, is eagerly awaiting final approvals to become part of telecom giant AT&T. (See more about Time Warner and CNN here) NBCUniversal was acquired by cable giant Comcast, finally, in 2013.

Whatever “talks” that may have occurred are now “dead,” said Bloomberg (November 6), after which stock traders abruptly retreated. Scaling up is proving difficult for 21CFox, perhaps late to game. Its second attempt to take over complete control of London-based Sky plc remains under regulatory scrutiny and may fall flat. Always wired to Hollywood, the Los Angeles Times (November 6), quoting anonymous “analysts,” suggest the Murdoch family “has hung-out the for-sale sign.”

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