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I’ve always wondered, Why do billionaires buy media empires?

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An article by Jordan Murray

Although the financial situation for newspapers remains less than ideal, billionaires continue to invest in print media for their institutional worth, with aims to make publications self-sufficient.

If you had $190 million to spare, what would you spend it on?

If you’re Marc and Lynne Benioff, you’d buy a media empire. The flamboyant CEO of Salesforce and his wife purchased the publication from Meredith Corporation a few weeks ago, quickly distancing themselves from the magazine’s editorial direction.

It was a decision that was made, Marc admits, without much forethought, and its spontaneity is as much a product of his outsized personality as it is of his wealth. Indeed, the large cash infusion represents a boon for Time, but represents only around three per cent of the Benioff’s net wealth. It’s endemic of a larger trend in business of high-earning CEOs bankrolling print media to insulate cultural institutions from economic and technological changes.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce

While many are grateful for Benioff’s financial infusion, others are suspicious of his motives and the pressures he might exert on the newspaper’s editorial position. For his part, Benioff has moved to assuage those concerns, with Time’s chief content officer Alan Murray saying the Benioffs were willing to “put journalistic integrity ahead of corporate gains”.

Otherwise, Benioff’s purchase of Time appears to be an effort to preserve the periodical, as opposed to turning it into a vehicle for his political views. That hasn’t comforted some sceptics though, who have witnessed the financially precarious situation that arises when business leaders expect returns on their investments.

Why would anybody buy a newsroom?

It’s easy to compare billionaires with an interest in media empires to Charles Foster Kane, Orson Welles’ ruthless newspaper magnate. The truth is often more complex than that. Some CEOs, like Jeff Bezos, purchase flagging institutions not out of pity but out of a profit motive. Bezos, after all, was initially unmoved at the prospect of purchasing a business that haemorrhaged money and that he didn’t know much about.

However, he saw the opportunity as having a greater sense of rightness to it. “If this were a financially upside-down, salty snack food company, the answer would be no,” Bezos reasoned, “But as soon as I started thinking about it that way, I started to realize The Washington Post is an important institution.”

“If this were a financially upside-down, salty snack food company, the answer would be no,” Bezos reasoned, “But as soon as I started thinking about it that way, I started to realize The Washington Post is an important institution.”

Nowadays, The Washington Post is profitable, thanks to Bezos’ technological direction as much as his financial contributions. He has remained outside the newsroom, and has instead focused on the newspapers’ economic situation, preferring not to think of his contribution as a “philanthropic endeavour”.

A comparable situation arose for Laurene Powell Jobs, when her Emerson Collective purchased The Atlantic in July 2017, saying that “there’s a door between Emerson and the Atlantic, but it only swings from the Atlantic into Emerson; it doesn’t open in the other direction”.

Like Bezos’ approach, the emphasis wasn’t on editorial direction as much as it was on improving the economic function of the publication itself, which Jobs managed to do. Although the financial situation for newspapers remains less than ideal, billionaires continue to invest in print media for their institutional worth – an often-achievable goal, as newspapers are relatively inexpensive investments – with aims to make the publications self-sufficient.

Laurene Powell Jobs

Laurene Powell Jobs

Do things always work out?

In contrast to those two particularly fortunate cases, other entrepreneurs aren’t quite as committed to the outcomes of their chosen publication, quickly losing patience with their investment and becoming eager to rid themselves of it.

Perhaps the most notorious example of this is Joe Ricketts, whose purchase of Gothamist prefaced an attempt to merge the idiosyncratic vehicle for snark and culture with his own New York-centric outlet, DNAInfo. The arrangement lasted for only eight months, in which time both newsrooms complained about mismatched agendas. When the staff of both publications attempted to unionise, Ricketts simply shut both down and walked away from the situation.

Similarly, Peter Barbey purchased The Village Voice in 2015 promising that he was “flat-out serious about getting The Voice to be a major Manhattan publication”. Three years later, he unceremoniously shut down printing, citing “business realities”.

Such billionaire investments in newspapers are met with suspicion by the journalists who work for them not because they portend maleficent editorial direction, but because they often become more accountable to the economic concerns of one person. Much like any other business, if there isn’t a model for self-sufficiency to work towards, that often means that the end is in sight.

Much like any other business, if there isn’t a model for self-sufficiency to work towards, that often means that the end is in sight.

So, what happens next?

In conversation with CNBC, Joshua Benton, director of Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, cited several reasons for why billionaires choose to become involved in media, including “a mixture of … sincere appreciation of the art form, … a desire to see it flourish … [!and!] a sense of civic responsibility”.

Moreover, the chance for growth in an industry that has struggled to adapt to digital distribution is immense and has proven profitable under the right leadership. Ultimately, the emphasis isn’t about establishing a vehicle for personal retribution. It’s about product differentiation and, eventually, financial returns.

It’s not difficult to appreciate how Benioff views the matter; he believes that there are two types of CEOs, those committed to improving the state of the world, and those who are not.

When he purchased Time, he was acting on that impulse, believing that print journalism deserved attention. It doesn’t mean he’s prepared to throw away a significant sum of money. It means that he’s willing to help a beleaguered industry through challenging times, with the sort of leadership and business expertise only an eccentric, carefree CEO can bring.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Apple unveils new iPhone 11 with a triple-camera

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Apple Inc (AAPL.O) caught up with hardware rivals on Tuesday by revealing a triple-camera iPhone, and it rolled out a streaming TV service priced at $5 a month, undercutting Disney and Netflix.

The announcements came at the company’s biggest marketing event, where it unveils its top products for the year ahead, and showcased an aggressive Apple ready to battle on price.

The long-awaited Apple TV+ streaming television service will be available in over 100 countries, starting in November. The service will not be available in China when it launches, nor will the Apple Arcade video game subscription.

Buyers of an iPhone, iPad or Mac will get a free year of streaming TV, potentially drawing hundreds of millions of viewers to the service. That catapults the new service into a rarified group of companies.

“I think the pricing on the Apple TV service was definitely a positive surprise,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. “That’s why you’re seeing the hammering in some of the other video service-related names like Netflix, Amazon and Roku. Clearly, that was a positive that people were happy to hear.”

There was no bundle with Apple Music or other services as some analysts had expected. But Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, said the TV service, a $5 a month “Arcade” gaming service and the base model iPhone 11, seem designed to draw in users for the longer term.

“We weren’t expecting Apple Arcade and particularly Apple TV to be priced as aggressively as they were,” Bajarin said. “They know once consumers get into their ecosystem, they don’t leave.”

Apple said its new iPhone 11 will come with two back cameras, including an ultra wide-angle lens and the next generation of microchips, the A13. Prices start at $699, down from last year’s new iPhone that started at $749.

The more expensive iPhone 11 Pro will have three cameras on the back – wide angle, telephoto and ultra-wide. It can create videos with all three back cameras and the front camera at the same time and starts at $999. The iPhone 11 Pro Max with a bigger screen starts at $1,099. The new phones are available to order Friday and will start shipping Sept. 20.

Rivals including Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) already sell phones with three cameras on the back. While Apple once tested the upper limits of what consumers would pay for a phone, it is now giving ground on prices, even making older models available at significant discounts to the latest technology.

“Consumers absolutely still care about cameras. That’s why it was surprising over the last couple of years that Samsung and Huawei got the jump on Apple,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “Apple was playing a bit of catch up, but Apple did bring their game, particularly on the video side of the camera, where I do think they’ll have the leg up.”

Analysts expect Apple will sell around 200 million iPhones in the next year, in addition to other devices, and while many of those will be in China, it ensures at least tens of millions of potential viewers for the subscription service.

Hal Eddins, chief economist for Apple shareholder Capital Investment Counsel, said Apple’s lower priced iPhones “aren’t exciting on the surface, but the low streaming price may suck in some new subscribers.” Apple shares gained 0.8%.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Oando has announced the discovery of Gas in Niger Delta

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Oando plc through its molecule subsidiary oando energy resources (OER) on wednesday said it has made a correlation gas and quantum discovery in its fields in the Niger delta

A disclosure sent to the Nigerian Stock Exchange said the project is a joint venture arrangement among the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Details showed that the NNPC owns 60 per cent stake in the project, while Oando and NAOC, the operator controls 20 percent each.

The discoveries were made in the deeper sequences of the Obiafu-Obrikom fields, in OML61, onshore Niger Delta, the oil firm said.

The Obiafu-41 Deep appraisal/exploration well has reached a total depth of 4.374m encountering an important gas and condensate accumulation within the deltaic sequence of Oligocene age comprising more than 130m of high quality hydrocarbonbearing sands, it said.

The company added that the find amounts to about 1 trillion cubic feet of gas and 60 million barrels of associated condensate in the deep drilled sequences.

The discovery is part of a drilling campaign planned by the Joint Venture aimed at exploring near-field and deep pool opportunities as immediate time to market opportunities.

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