Time Warner is Out of Time and Into Vice

Time Warner is negotiating to buy into upstart online content property Vice Media.

Jun 10, 2014 at 10:15AM
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After finishing yesterday at another record high (the ninth in the past 11 trading sessions!), U.S. stocks are slightly lower on Monday morning, with the benchmark S&P 500 and the narrower Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) down 0.29% and 0.23%, respectively, at 10:15 a.m. EDT. Print is dying, content -- in all its incarnations -- is now digital. Media giant Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) has understood that shift and is placing its bets accordingly. Yesterday afternoon, Sky News reported that Time Warner is in advanced negotiations to acquire a stake in Vice Media in a transaction that would value the upstart media group at approximately $2.2 billion. That figure represents more than a 50% premium to the $1.4 billion valuation at which 21st Century Fox bought a 5% interest in Vice Media only last August.

Images

Source: Nelson Pavlosky.

Founded in Canada as a magazine covering music and popular culture, Vice -- now based in Brooklyn -- has become highly popular among millennials by promoting what it calls "immersionist" (i.e., gonzo) journalism (a video posted Saturday on YouTube is titled "Delivering Bulletproof Vests to the Ukrainian Army"). Vice Media operates some of the most popular channels on YouTube and produces content for multiple platforms, including a news show for Time Warner's own HBO cable channel.

Time Warner's interest in Vice follows a spate of consolidation for online content providers. In March, Walt Disney acquired Maker Studios, a network of some of the most highly successful YouTube channels in a deal worth up to $950 million if Maker achieves certain performance targets. As audiences, particularly younger viewers, shift to nontraditional outlets for news and entertainment, the rationale for these deals is evident. The risk to Time Warner (and Disney before it) is overpaying in a land grab for properties that have mastered the new media landscape. (Note that the size of the ownership stake Time Warner is negotiating is not yet known at this time.)

However, that does not appear to be the case here. In March, Vice Media co-founder and CEO Shane Smith told Bloomberg that the company is on course to double its revenue to $1 billion by 2016, with profit margins expected to widen from 34% to 50%. That sort of growth is in a different galaxy than the prospects for Time Warner spinoff Time (NYSE:TIME), the nation's largest magazine publisher, shares of which began trading yesterday. The stock fell as much as 7% during the day before finishing down 1.2%; shares have fallen more than 1% this morning.

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