Axios, Gimlet, The Ringer: Next-Gen Journalism

Michael Wenner
Mar 6th, 2020

The digital media industry is one of the toughest industries there is to stand out and develop a dedicated, consistent following. With new digital media outlets popping up all the time, it’s vital to not only consistently create interesting content, but also find innovative ways of keeping readers interested.

Given there’s countless digital media companies in the news these days, let’s take a look at some of the ones that are thriving and some of the ones that haven’t quite kept their momentum going.

The Ringer, which was founded in 2016 by former ESPN personality Bill Simmons, has thrived in the few short years since it was launched. Simmons—who had a show on HBO, landed the network as an initial investor, with the site’s initial focus on sports and pop culture. Through its network of nearly 40 podcasts, covering everything from sports to The Bachelor to even Game of Thrones, The Ringer counted more than 100 million podcast downloads per month.

Last month, Spotify announced it acquired The Ringer for a rumored $196 million in cash to bolster its podcast business, with an emphasis on sports. “The trend that we’re investing in is that radio is moving online,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said. “What we really did with The Ringer, I think, is we bought the next ESPN.”

Another player in the space that has capitalized on the shift to podcasts is Gimlet Media, formerly known as American Podcasting Corporation, which was founded in 2014. Gimlet’s flagship podcast, StartUp, which is about various businesses, even had a show on ABC based off of it before being cancelled after the first season.

By 2019, with less than $30 million in funding raised to date, Spotify acquired Gimlet for $230 million. “People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify — including music,” Courtney Holt, the head of Spotify Studios, said. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform.”

Lastly, Axios, which was founded in 2017, launched to be a “mix between The Economist and Twitter,” according to founder Jim VandeHei. Axios has a mix of content covering business, politics, technology, healthcare, and media, and has taken advantage of Facebook and Snapchat to reach its audience.

Axios is still a standalone private company, with backers such as NBC News, Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs and Greycroft Partners. In November 2017, Axios raised $20M in Series B funding.

With the success of these sites, other once extremely popular sites such as Vice and BuzzFeed have struggled as their content failed to continue to attract users. Vice came out with a bang, raising money from the likes of 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company and TPG Capital. Things were going great for Vice, it landed a $5.7 billion valuation, a partnership with Snap and had content deals in more than 80 territories. In 2018 things started to go south as they lost content, began to lay off their workforce and saw Disney write down the value of its investment in the company.

BuzzFeed, the site that has slideshows about adorable wet dogs and quizzes on which Disney princess you are, has been around for a while, since 2006 to be exact. BuzzFeed covers just about every subject imaginable, after originally focusing on viral content.

BuzzFeed, like Vice, had funding pour in during its heyday. BuzzFeed received a pair of $200 million investments from NBCUniversal and a $50 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz, valuing it at $1.7 billion in 2016. Following a slew of PR disasters such as plagiarism, hiring practices and its poor reputation, BuzzFeed also had to layoff employees despite growing revenue. With no obvious buyer coming forward, Comcast, which owns about a third of the company, said it intends to remain an independent company.

The digital media space is quickly evolving. The fight for people’s attention is getting more competitive by the day. Companies that can produce content in forms that users want will continue to succeed, while those that do not will continue to miss out.

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