Digital media slowdown looms as both Vox and Buzzfeed lull for first time

10 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Trends

When BuzzFeed destroyed the notion of steady audience growth with armies of viral listicles, dozens of other media companies followed suit. Many of those followers are struggling to chase Google and Facebook algorithms as BuzzFeed looks to re-invent itself as a more traditional news organization. Around the same time, Vox Media poached talent from top digital enterprises with attractive salaries and made bold claims about a new era of media.

And it worked for both of them: Buzzfeed and Vox were successful in every objective term: they built revenue, they hired thousands of enthusiastic influencers, and in just months they became household brands alonside media industry stalwarts. Buzzfeed News pivoted to "real" journalism, hired all-star newsmakers, and broke major political stories. Meanwhile, Vox was seen as the envy of all digital media, a first-of-its kind melding of technology and journalism, and became a model that even traditional outlets looked to be more like.

But the funny thing about being a young, sexy media company is that you eventually need to become a mature, responsible media organization. Recently, both Vox and BuzzFeed have struggled to maintain the explosive growth they saw in their nascent periods. Victims of the very media paradigms they created — spend a ton on talent and technology and wait for the revenue — they're both looking to reinvent before it's too late.

The data we track reflect clear signs of pause and reflection at both BuzzFeed and Vox. It seems the time has come for the comapnies to course correct, as hiring, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor data clearly shows.

The trends we found include recent, first-time drops in hiring activity, plateaus (and dips) in individuals claiming employment by the two companies on LinkedIn, along with sagging "business outlook" ratings on Glassdoor.

Vox Job listings

In February 2018, Vox laid off 50 people — a first for the company - most of them content creators for some of Vox's flailing brands. Hiring activity leading up to those layoffs signalled a clear slowdown as we reported last month. The company now appears to be recruiting heavily for its sports-news SB Nation brand, with 14 of its 47 open positions for that site alone.

Vox Employees on LinkedIn

People claiming Vox as an employer on networking and job-listing site LinkedIn plateaud this month. There was a clear drop in February after the layoffs, which is to be expected. To be fair, slight signs of recovery do appear in April, but dips of this sort for the company have been rare.

Vox Employee Outlook

Glassdoor collects anonymous and voluntary surveys about workplaces. Meanwhile, we at Thinknum track Glassdoor ratings over time to uncover trends. Glassdoor's "Employee Outlook" asks employees to answer the question: Do you believe your company’s business outlook will get better, stay the same or get worse in the next six months? Less than a year ago, 65% of Vox employees answered "Yes." As of last week, that precentage was down to 49%.

Buzzfeed Job listings

Last year around this time, Buzzfeed had 168 job openings listed on its careers site. As of today, it had just 68 open positions listed, which is actually a modest improvement on February, when that number was down to 45. As you can see, Buzzfeed hiring can be a bit cyclical, but a clear downslope is seen from May, 2017 to March 2018. While Vox is bringing on talent for sports content creation, Buzzfeed appears to be hiring for engineering, branded video, and sales positions.

Buzzfeed Employees on LinkedIn

Buzzfeed has seen steady growth in numbers of people who self-identify as working for the company since we've been tracking its LinkedIn data in September, 2015. Those numbers were on a steady rise until this fall when the very first drop and plateau settled in, and remains to this day.

Buzzfeed Employee Outlook

When asked Do you believe your company’s business outlook will get better, stay the same or get worse in the next six months?, BuzzFeed empoyees opinion has been sinking precipitously since the end of January. Three months ago 62% of respondents thought business outlook for the company was positive. As of today, that number has sunk to an all-time low of 46%.

Vox & Buzzfeed are not alone

To be fair, Vox and Buzzfeed are not alone when it comes to digital-media-company contraction and course correction. Just last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Univision hired an outside consulting firm to help cut up to 35% of budget at Gizmodo Media. For some context, Gizmodo Media was once Gawker Media, a top player in the digital media world that was infamously brought to its knees by a very public libel suit brought on by wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Millennial favorite Vice media has followed a similar course as both Vox and BuzzFeed: unique content, massive growth, and up-selling into linear TV networks. And like Vox and Buzzfeed, Vice is looking to mature. According to Variety, Vice is deep in negotiations with Vivendi content head Dominique Delport to come in as its Chief of International. The company went through its own round of layoffs last summer and in January of this year at its Viceland TV channel.

Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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