The New York Times (NYSE:NYT) could wind up making more news than its flagship newspaper breaks by the end of the year.
For openers, the Times may (finally) sell the stumbling Boston Globe, which has struggled amid the severe slowdown in advertising revenue across the media industry. By unloading the Globe, the parent company would enhance the value of its core asset, the Times newspaper itself. The Times, sensibly putting a priority on the famous daily, has parted with its online property, About.com. The Globe appears next on its hit list. Considering the shaky state of the newspaper industry, this act would come not a moment too soon.
Then there is the future of the Times company itself. Will it have a new owner anytime soon?
The Times' recent earnings statement prompted some concerns about its prospects. Media analyst Ken Doctor noted in a report to his readers: "The big number in the New York Times Company's quarterly report today is a double-digit one: 13.3%. That's the Times' loss in print ad revenue, and it's a number -- if it continues into the year -- that could be devastating to new CEO Mark Thompson's turnaround efforts."
The Times installed a paywall system a few years ago in the hope that it could leverage the rabid loyalty of its online reader base to boost revenue at a time when advertising was slipping. It has accomplished its goal, but can it continue to do so?
"In a nutshell, its reader revenue strategy, built atop the smart paywall system it erected two years ago, is working well, but is in danger of plateauing," Doctor added.
Despite the periodic uncertainty surrounding the Times' financial picture, its journalistic reputation remains high. Its brand arguably has more clout than any other news property. The Times could be coveted by an ambitious billionaire as either an opportunity to wield political and social influence or simply as a vanity play.
Which leads us, yes, to a discussion about none other than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who clearly has many strong political and social views of his own and is not shy about expressing them publicly.
Now that Bloomberg has (apparently) given up his fleeting hopes of running for U.S. president, he is girding to leave public office. Lately, a parlor game of sorts has begun to take shape in New York. It centers on what Bloomberg will do next.
Sure, he could return to manage his Bloomberg corporate and philanthropic empire. But I suspect he will want the ego gratification of tackling a fresh challenge, one which tests his ample intellect. Bloomberg might think he has "been there and done that" when it comes to the prospect, once again, of running Bloomberg L.P.
Speculation is rampant in his city and throughout the gossipy media industry as a whole that Bloomberg, whose third term concludes at the end of this calendar year, will attempt to acquire The New York Times because he'd welcome the obvious power and sweeping influence of the flagship newspaper in local, national, and global matters.
True, Bloomberg, by continuing to dominate Bloomberg L.P., the company he created in the early 1980s, is already a media titan to be reckoned with. His privately held Bloomberg operation encompasses a global news-gathering entity, a radio station and a cable-television business-news network, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine.
But anybody who knows Bloomberg or worked for him (full disclosure: I worked for Bloomberg News from 1993 to 1999 before resigning to go elsewhere in journalism) recognizes his usual restless state and love of huge challenges.
Bloomberg took on the worldwide media establishment nearly a quarter-century ago with his eponymous news operation, and today Bloomberg News stands as one of the most respected media companies on the planet. Few thought that a brash billionaire could be elected mayor of New York, but Bloomberg went on to win three elections.
From his years at what has been dubbed "America's Second-Toughest Job," Bloomberg has come to relish the limelight and has been known to make headlines for his stands on such social issues as gun control, public smoking, and childhood obesity, as he tries to make it harder for school kids in New York City to take those "big gulps" of sugary sodas.
Bloomberg has been beefing up Bloomberg View, the operation's haven for journalistic commentaries and opinion pieces, perhaps indicating that Mike Bloomberg wants to have an institution at the ready in which he can see that his views are disseminated. The man likes to have influence. Perhaps the most profound way that Bloomberg could show his management expertise would be to make the Times a vibrant machine.
As the traditional media forces continue to move to the Internet, the Times will require new ideas. It would be a shame if its financial challenges affected the operations of such a great, time-honored media institution.
Fool contributor Jon Friedman owns no shares of any companies mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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