The US media industry is facing challenges - and data shows it's not just newspapers
Once again, it's been a rough year for the media business: "Alden Global Capital killed off two of every three jobs at the 100 newspapers it owns, including the Denver Post," Maya Kosoff wrote recently in her "The Human Toll of the 2019 Media Apocalypse" report. "2019 crystallized something media people have known to be true for a while: while digital media dries out in the wake of the VC funding boom of the 2010s, and the country's regional newspapers are swallowed by corporate consolidation and hedge fund vultures, there is very little stability to be found anywhere."
What Kosoff covers - and what the data makes clear - is that the media industry, and not just stale old print publications dependent on bike routes and classifieds, is facing upheaval. It isn't just the Gannetts and the rural TV stations feeling the pain - relative newcomers are seeing social traffic begin to ebb, and some appear to be slowing growth.
That's not to say that 2020 won't bring new fortunes and greater revenues (it is an election year, after all), or that there are no media organizations spared from the carnage. But the news is real, and so are the challenges newsrooms face as a cast of new owners appear increasingly eager to wring profits out of one-time cash cows.
Over the years Buzzfeed packed on viral content at its website - who can forget such hits as 'the dress,' and 'exploding a watermelon with a ton of rubberbands' - plus some award-winning investigative journalism, to boot. Going along with its web- and app-based success has been nearly $500 million from big-name VCs like RRE and NEA. However, statistics show that from job postings' peak (April 27, 2017) that hit 182, this figure has declined 74%, to just 47 open positions as of late December 2019.
There's one thing that President Donald J. Trump has indisputably made great again: it's the share price of the New York Times, which has more than doubled since January 2017. The Old Grey Lady is still at it - but, like most of us as we age, she appears to be slowing down a bit. Our second chart tracks job postings, which are down 7% since the year began. Perhaps more worrisome - despite the share price appreciation, the Pulitzers and all the attention for the top-flight reporting - is a years-long downtrend in job postings.
Some of the biggest names on the digital journalism landscape have seen social traffic begin to slow down, as the web media landscape continues to diversify (and, as social competitors like TikTok and Twitter emerge to claim more of media's natural market share). The chart above tracks Facebook ($NASDAQ:FB) Talking About Count for each of: Vice, Buzzfeed, and Business Insider.
This isn't to say traffic is dropping for each publication across the board; web media's evolving SEO strategies are always aimed at claiming more direct search traffic - but for brands that are depending on a young audience engaged with social media, none of the Facebook traffic patterns would be considered exciting news.
NBCUniversal laid off a few dozen staffers, Kosoff notes in her piece, earlier this year - but, its pattern of job postings is a little more optimistic than many other media outlets'. You'll notice by scrolling over the chart that, at just about all times, NBCUniversal is hiring 1,000+ people - that's because properties underneath its corporate umbrella include CNBC; regional stations; NBC News; MSNBC; sports broadcasting networks and a handful of entertainment assets, to boot. So far this year, NBCUniversal hiring is up 15% - and that could be some of the best news in an otherwise challenging year for media.
Here's hoping 2020 brings all of us a little bit better fortune.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.