In a previous blog post, wherein I had analyzed NYT’s venture investing approach, I had promised to contrast this with the approach adopted by similar prolific peers – primarily Hearst, Conde Nast / Advance and Gannett. In this post, I plan to do just that. Here you will find details on all the current ventures they have invested in, as well as a brief look at the strategy behind their investing.

Some interesting broad findings, before I get into the detail –

  1. Barring a few investments in e-commerce and online tools / utilities ventures (e.g., Hearst’s Manilla or Gannett’s Cozi), the bulk of the investments have been in media related startups. Thus these funds have largely stuck to their knitting and haven’t tried to diversify away much.
  2. Most of the venture activity has been in funding ventures that are in what I call the Tools / Services space; that is ventures that support ad serving (enabling optimization, easier campaign management etc) or content delivery (enabling easier publishing, improving processes, enhancing the experience). Here it might be useful to have a broad classification of how these investments stack up (also worth looking at this interesting chart, called a Lumascape).

    This is only one way of classifying. There are possibly many other ways of structuring.

  3. There is very little investing in original content plays, such as HuffPo (yes, I wont argue if you consider it aggregation but with the recent Pulitzer it is clear that they are evolving beyond that); most of the investing has been in companies that provide publishing tools, platforms and services such as NYT’s investment in Automattic (wordpress) or Bitly, Gannett’s investment in Livestream, etc.)
  4. It was most surprising to note that there is very little activity in funding ventures in the Ad Serving space (thereby directly countering print revenue decline); Gannett has been the most prolific in this space having funded Classified VenturesCareerBuilderQuadrantOne etc which have helped it get a piece of the ad dollars migrating online;  interestingly Conde Nast has funded none.
  5. Hearst is the most organized player – clearly defined team and structure, has invested in non-media ventures such as Pandora and Manilla, even incubated ventures; With the setting up of a defined fund ($500m) and appointing Andrew Siegel to run it, Advance is moving in that direction as well.

Here is how their investments stack up

Type of Venture

NYTCo

Advance

Gannett

Hearst

Total

Ad

Tools / Services

AdkeeperAppssavvy UnifiedVisible MeasuresFlite 4InfoWanderful Media YieldexDefinition6HootsuiteWideOrbit 12

Ad Serving

Networks

QuadrantOneFM Publishing QuadrantOne Nexage 3

Classifieds

Classified VenturesCareerBuilderHomeFinder 3

Content

Tools / Services

AutomatticBitlyDaylifeBrightcove Gigya LiveStream RAMP HoldingsIdiliaMobiTVStylus Media

Brightcove

11

Brands

Aggregation

RedditKnoTastebook TopixPearl LMKBuzzfeed 7

Original

Shermans Travel IGN 2

Social

Stamped Relationship ScienceGoMiso 3

Utilties

Ziplist Cozi Manilla 3

Ecommerce

Moda Operandi Imaginova YokaPandora 4

Games

IGG 1

Funds

BetaworksTrue Ventures Raine PartnersTrigger Media 4

Total

11 11 12 19 53

Since I have already done an exhaustive post on NYT, I shall give it a miss this time. Let us look at the investment portfolio and approach adopted by Advance / Conde Nast, Gannett and Hearst.

Advance / Conde Nast

Historically, the Advance Group (of which Conde Nast is a subsidiary) has preferred to buy out fully than take minority stakes. Witness its Reddit and Ars Technica acquisitions. However with the entry of Andrew Siegel in Dec ’10 and the creation of a $500m fund (eloquently detailed by Keith Kelly of New York Post), it has now started doing minority investments.

Historically, Advance’s digital investments / acquisitions were in the content space (Wired.com, Tastebook, Reddit etc) but in the last few years, there has been greater focus on ventures providing ad optimization tools / campaign management services such as Unified, Visible Media and most recently Flite. The last couple of years has also seen tremendous pressure on Advance’s advertising revenues (In Newspapers, it is going 3 days a week in all its markets, while in Magazines, it has begun to shut down loss-making titles such as Domino, Gourmet etc), so it perhaps not a coincidence that they have begun to invest in the one sector that of the advertising industry that is seeing traction – Digital!

Of all its investments, the one that has the potential to pay off big time for Conde is Reddit. Purchased for $20m in late 2006, and largely left alone, (and with a bit of help from Digg), Reddit has grown to become a monster of a site (3 bn page views, 20mn+ unique visitors a month).

So how much is Reddit worth? Peter Kafka says $200m (if anything, it should be a bit higher now considering that the $200m valuation was reported 18months ago). I couldn’t find any other reports or stories on Reddit’s valuation; So I will go with this. This would imply a 10-fold valuation uptick from what Advance paid – that is a staggering 60% CAGR. Wow!

Advance’s current investment portfolio

Investee Co What does it do? Revenue / Valuation Advance’s    Co-investors Investment Date + Size of Investment
Unified Unified helps marketers and ad agencies “buy, manage, and measure how ads perform on social networks”. Silicon Valley Bank Jun’12 ($14m overall) – $10m from Advance, $4m from SVB.
Gigya Helps publishers enable such features as social log-in through Facebook, Twitter etc., commenting, sharing features, gamification helps boost engagement, and generates data for publishers Mayfield Fund, Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures and Adobe Nov’12 (Series B) round of $15m in which Advance and existing investors participated. Previous $29m round where Mayfield Fund, Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures and Adobe participated.
Raine Partners PE fund with a sweet spot of $40-80m, investing in digital, media, entertainment, sports companies. Tom Freston (ex MTV), Ted Forstmann (IMG) etc Advance contributed  $30m out of a total fund size of $390m.
Trigger Media Seed-stage investment fund. Overall fund size of $23m to which Advance contributed a seven-figure sum.
Visible Measures Enables marketers to monitor performance of Paid and Earned Media placements, impact of viral campaigns etc. Also operated the  “Viewable Media choice-based video ad network”. DAG Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Mohr Davidow Ventures and Northgate Capital Series D in Sep’11 of $13m in which Advance joined existing investors DAG Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Mohr Davidow Ventures and Northgate Capital.  Aug’12 Growth round $21.5m in which Advance, the existing investors and new investor CommonFund participated
Kno delivers textbook and other student-related material through tablets; has partnerships with universities Silicon Valley Bank Apr’11 Series C of $30m in which Intel, SVB and existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, First Round participated.
Flite helps publishers and marketers create more innovative online ads primarily through better API integration and leveraging the cloud. <$100m Sequoia, Hummer Winblad, General Catalyst 3% stake; low single-digit millions invested.
Tastebook TasteBook allows users to search for recipes (aggregated from numerous sites), follow friends and recipe collections, and create order custom hardback cookbooks. Random House Oct’07 – no other info available
Moda Operandi First online luxury fashion retailer to allow members to pre-order new collections in advance at full price New Enterprise Associates, RRE Ventures In Sep’12 (as part of a $36m raise)
Reddit “Social news website that displays news based on your personal preferences and what the community likes. Your preferences are determined based on your history of voting stories up or down.” $200m Acquired for $20m in Oct’06
Ziplist ZipList is a free shopping list management tool that allows you to plan meals, and convert recipes to shopping lists that can be shared with family members. Softbank Capital, Martha Stweart Living Omnimedia Acquired for $14m in Apr’12

Gannett

While Advance / Conde Nast began as an acquirer of companies and has now transitioned into the role of an investor, Gannett is proceeding in the reverse direction. Since Nov’11, when it announced an investment into e-coupon marketer Wanderful Media, it has been furiously acquiring a spate of digital businesses – In Jan’12 it moved from being a 31% shareholder to a 100% owner of Fantasy Sports Ventures; It has since then announced BlinQ Media (Aug’12), Mobestream (Sep’12) and the latest, Rovion (Oct’12) as it seeks to fill gaps in its digital marketing / advertising portfolio.

Of all the 4 profiled here, Gannett has been the most focused on investing / structuring ventures in the digital advertising space, seeking to ensure that it gets some piece of the ad dollars that are migrating away from Print, as borne out by its investments in CareerBuilder, Classified Ventures, Homefinder and now Wanderful. It has also been comfortable partnering with other print companies – all of the above 4 investments have been made in partnership with other major print companies. especially Tribune and McClatchy with whom they have partnered on 4 occassions.

Gannett’s investments are led by Jack Williams, President – Digital Ventures. Not too much detail available on the man, his team or his investing style.

Gannett’s current investment portfolio

Investee Co What does it do? Revenue / Valuation Advance’s    Co-investors Investment Date + Size of Investment
Classified Ventures CV is a JV between Belo, Tribune, McClatchy, Washington Post and Gannett to jointly grow the online real estate and automobile classifieds space through cars.com, Apartments.com, HomeGain.com and HomeFinder.com. Approx $80m is the value of its stake as per this article.Revenues were $384m in 2011.and

$334m in 2010.

Founded in 1997 by Belo, Tribune, McClatchy, Washington Post Co and Gannett.Gannett owns a 23.60% stake in the co. McClatchy (originally Knight Ridder) 25.60%, Washington Post Co 16.50%, Tribune 28% and Belo 6.60% etc. 

As per McClatchy 2011AR it recd dividends of $24m+ and $17.4m from CV in ’10 and ’11 respectively. Given this, Gannett is estimated to have received $22.4m and $16m in dividends respectively.

CareerBuilder Job listings website. Approx $775m value of Gannett’s stake as per this article. OR $1bn (acc to MediaVane). Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) and Tribune acquired careerbuilder jointly in July 2000. Gannett purchased a one-third interest in the company for $98.3 million in Oct’02.Subsequently in Aug’06, Gannett and Tribune each upped its stake to 42.5% by paying $142m each to McClatchy, valuing the JV at $1.55bn.In Sep’08, Gannett acquired a 10% interest from Tribune for $135m, upping its stake eventually to 52.92% (following Microsoft selling its 4% stake back to the company).Gannett received dividend fee of $26.5 in FY11 (basis $7.5 recd by McClatchy. (2011AR)
Homefinder Homefinder is a leading national online marketplace connecting homebuyers, sellers and real estate professionals. McClatchy, Tribune Feb’09; 33.33% stake. Seemingly part of Classified Ventures on the website; but listed separately in Gannett’s 2011 AR.
Cozi COZI is a free web service that helps families manage busy schedules, stay connected and share memories. Hercules Tech, Benaroya Capital May’08 or Jun’08. $8m (Series B). Owns 19.90%.
4Info Operates in the mobile advertising space by serving ads against information provided against a sms-based search tool and also operating the AdHaven mobile ad network. ‘07 round done at $72m valuation. See here. Draper Fisher Jurvetson, US Venture Partners, Sand Hill Partners, Peacock Equity First invested in Mar’05 (Series C), then subsequently participated in Jun’07, Sep’09 and Oct’11 as well. 23.25% stake.
Imaginova Digital media and e-commerce co focussed around astronomy, space sciences. Owns space.com, Starry Night software and Orion Telescope brands. Venrock, Steelpoint etc Aug’06; Gannett invested as part of a $15m round along with the existing investors, who had invested when it was space.com in’99.
Livestream Livestream makes it easy to stream a video (over the internet, thereby saving on satellite uplinks and reducing huge overhead costs). It enables smaller publishers to host live video shows without significant upfront investment. It also enables easier collaboration between subscribers. $12.3m in ’11 as per this. Jul’08; Gannett invested $10m for a 26.60% stake
Ongo High-quality news / stories aggregator Discontinued. NYT, Washington Post. Each contributed $4m for a 33.33% stake Sep ’10. Launched with  a $12m round.  Gannett contributed $4m for a 33.33% stake.
QuadrantOne Ad Network for local media Not available NYTCo, Tribune, Hearst. Each has a 25% stake Feb ’08; NYT invested $1.9m for a 25% share. So perhaps Gannett too?
ShermansTravel Founded in 2002, ShermansTravel Media publishes ShermansTravel.com,  travel e-newsletters and bulletins; QuickSearch, a rate comparison tool for airfare, hotels and packages; and Sherman’s Travel magazine. Adams Street Partners Not clear when Gannett invested. 2010 Annual Report shows a 19.67% stake.Not shown in the 2011 AR. Has it sold its stake?
Topix Topix.net provides users the ability to quickly and easily find targeted news on the Internet by creating thousands of topically driven web pages and populating each of those pages with news that is solely about that particular topic.  Topix was valued at $72m in Aug’06 when Gannett and Tribune upped their stakes. No subsequent reports are available. Likely to have dipped even. Gannett, Tribune and Knight-Ridder jointly invested $50m in Mar’05 to get a 75% stake in the co (split equally). In Aug’06 Ganett and Tribune bought part of Knight-Ridder (then acquired by McClatchy)’s interest to up their stake in Topix to 31.9%. After a further $15m round in Nov’06, Gannett owns 33.71% in Topix (also as per the 2011 Annual Report).
Shopco Holdings (now called Wanderful Media) The company provides e-coupons through the Find n Save brand which is the branded deals / shopping sections of newspaper websites. They have expanded now to over 250 markets. Thus consumers can browse, save, and print local retailers’ coupons, which have been converted from print to digital. Nov’11, 12.50% stake.12 newspaper companies, Advance Digital, A. H. Belo Corporation, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., Cox Media Group, The E. W. Scripps Company, Gannett Co., Inc., GateHouse Media, Inc., Hearst Corporation, Lee Enterprises, MediaNews Group, The McClatchy Company, and The Washington Post Co jointly invested $22m. 

See here.

Pearl, LLC Pearl is a consortium of 9 leading broadcasters who have come together to build and operate a new national mobile content service for live and on-demand programming. Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Fox, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., ION Television, Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., NBC, Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media are all shareholders in Pearl.Gannett owns a 16.20% as per its 2011 Annual Report.

All stake percentages as per 2011 Annual Report unless stated otherwise.

Hearst

I said earlier that Hearst is easily the most organized of all the Print companies when it comes to venture investing. It is easily amongst the most prolific too, with over 50 investments since 1995 including Netscape, broadcast.com etc.

Hearst’s investing has been a curious mix of the strategic (Nexage, Yoka even) and the purely financial (Pandora, Manilla). Of late, like a classic VC, it has even initiated incubation (LMK, Manilla).

Hearst Ventures, the investing arm, operates as part of the Interactive Media Group. Run by Ken Bronfin, the Interactive Media Group runs 1) shopping-recommendation co Kaboodle directly 2) Hearst Ventures, the venture investing arm, and 3) houses the Technology (exposes Hearst’s traditional media business to emerging media technology trends and capabilities) and Innovation Groups (fosters the development of new businesses throughout the company). This is an interesting structure, and certainly something that other large sprawling media groups could emulate.

Hearst’s current investment portfolio

Investee Co What does it do? Revenue / Valuation Advance’s    Co-investors Investment Date + Size of Investment
Nexage Nexage is a leading mediation service provider to Publishers in the mobile advertising space. Mediation providers help Publishers optimize ad serving by “deciding which networks do the best job of dialing in clicks for your audience and give you the tools to quickly switch allocations”. Nexage also has other services and products, including a real-time bidding platform that helps Publishers improve the delivery of ads and garner higher revenues. Relay Ventures, Grandbanks Capital, Singtel Innov8. Jun-12. Hearst invested $5mof an overall $15m Series B round along w Singtel Innov8 and existing investors.
IGN leading provider of Video-game information and reviews for enthusiasts through sites such as IGN.com, Gamespy, TeamXBox, ugo.com, 1up.com etc News Corp Hearst sold / merged UGO (acquired Jul’07 for ~$100m) to News Corp’s IGN, and got a minority stake in IGN in return.
Yoka content + e-commerce portal for women interested in high-end fashion and luxury brands. Has access to digital rights for Hearst’s content in China. The company is headquartered in Beijing, China. IDG Ventures Hearst invested along with IDG as part of a less than $10m round.
Yieldex Yieldex helps Publishers optimize their ad yields by better understanding and targetting their inventory, build in price protection measures including reducing discounting, improving sell-through etc Amazon, Triangle Peak Partners, First Round Capital Hearst invested alongside Triangle Peak Partners in a $10m Series C round in Sep-11.
WideOrbit WideOrbit is a media software company focused on traffic, sales and billing for the broadcast industry. WideOrbit’s software manages the ad systems, from proposal to order, scheduling to billing and aging for more than 2300 TV stations with $18 billion in advertising revenue. 2011 Rev of $53mHearst has a 8% stake. At a comparable valuation of $3-400mm (their claim), Hearst’s stake could be worth $24-32m. NYTCo, Meredith, Liberty, Khosla Ventures, GreyCroft, Mayfield Hearst invested first in an $8m Series B round in Oct’02 along with NYT, Meredith, Liberty. It upped its stake again in two further rounds totalling to $25m in Feb and Sep’08.
LMK LMK (Let Me Know) is an aggregation service providing unique breadth and depth of coverage on celebrities, sports teams etc, each of which is delivered as an iPhone App, priced at $0.99. incubated by Hearst
Manilla Manilla helps “consumers manage all of their household accounts including bills, finances, travel rewards programs and subscriptions in one place online” by “offering customers an automated, organized view of all their account information, reminders as well as lifetime storage of all their statements, notices, offers and bills.” incubated by Hearst
Gomiso Gomiso “operates in the Second Screen space through the Miso app which enables you to check-in to your favorite shows and episodes to unlock unique content, virtual badges, earn points, and compare with your friends.” Kinda like the FourSquare of TV. Google Ventures Hearst invested along with angel investor Google (total $1.5m round) in Dec’10 and then again in Dec’11 ($4m) with Google and Khosla Ventures
Brightcove Offers video management solutions for large enterprises, especially media companies including New York Times, Hearst etc Rev of $63m in ’11. Publicly listed in Feb’12. MCap of $340m as on 26-Oct-12. Less than 5% stake. NYT, AOL, Accel, IAC, Allen & Co Hearst participated along with IAC, AOL and existing investors Accel, General Catalyst  etc in a $16.5 round in Nov’05.
Pandora Internet Radio service. Free to consumers. Makes money through advertising. Rev of $274m and loss of $-16m in FY12 (Jan-ending). As on Oct19, the publicly-listed co was valued at $1.5bn. Hearst has a 2.7% stake, having sold 4.4mn (3%) shares for $70m during the IPO.  Crosslink Capital, GGV Capital, Greylock Ventures, Allen & Co, Selby Ventures, Walden Ventures and Labrador Ventures Invested in Oct05 as part of a $12m Series C round along with Crosslink Capital and existing investors Selby Ventures, Walden Ventures and Labrador Ventures. Hearst had a 5.75% stake.
Stylus Media Stylus provides business intelligence on consumer behaviour to consumer companies, which is used by their design, branding and marketing departments. Hearst invested $9m in Mar’12 for a 20% stake.
Buzzfeed Aggregates news, viral videos and celebrity content, detects what is trending on the web, and connects people in realtime with the hottest content of the moment. Known for curating the best viral content across the web. Also has obligatory cute pictures of cats. Softbank Capital, Ken Lerer / Lerer Ventures, RRE Ventures, Founder Collective, Ron Conway, New Enterprise Associates Hearst invested in the Series A round of $3.5m along with Ken Lerer, John Johnson and Softbank Capital Jul’08. They have since invested in Series B (May’10, $8m) and Series C (Jan’12, $15.5m) rounds as well.
HootSuite HootSuite is a social media management tool for brands to simultaneously execute campaigns across multiple social networks from one secure, web-based dashboard. Estimated to hit $10m for 2011. OMERS valued the co @ $200m, investing $20m in Mar’12. Blumberg Capital, OMERS Ventures Hearst invested in Series A round of $1.9 along with Blumberg Capital and angel investor Geoff Entress
MobiTV enables live and on-demand TV, downloadable video and related media content across mobile devices and tablets. Valuation at least $400m in ’06. Filed for an IPO but withdrew in Jul’12. MobiTV has never turned a profit, posting a net loss of $11.8 million in 2011 while revenues increased 27 percent to $85.1 million. Mobile operator partnerships account for 97% of MobiTV’s revenues. Menlo Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Oak Investment Partners, Adobe Ventures. Hearst invested as part of a $30m Series C round with Adobe Ventures in Nov’06.
IGG (I Got Games) Massively multiplayer game publisher and developer; popular for games such as ‘Godswar Online’ and ‘Dreamland Online’ IDG Ventures, Vertex Venture Capital Hearst invested with Vertex and existing investor IDG as part of a $10m+ Series B round in Nov’08
Idilia Pioneered word sense disambiguation, technology that determines the meaning of a string of words in a sentence thereby enhancing search technology – figuring out what each word means in the context of say a search query. Sciens Capital Not sure when Hearst invested. Before Jun’08 for sure as per page 61 of this report.
Definition6 An interactive marketing agency that provides communication, collaboration, and commerce solutions for businesses. Rev of $45m Navigation Capital  Not clear when.
RAMP RAMP provides white-labeled site search, video search and cloud-based content optimization solutions for all types of web content – video, audio, text and images. RAMP enables media companies generate more value from their digital content assets, especially video by offering a comprehensive solution for enhanced video search, content management, indexing, and publishing, and easy integration and connections to popular enterprise content platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint. Accel, Peacock Equity, General Catalyst Partners Hearst invested as part of a $15m Series C Round led by Starvest Partners and existing investors, in Sep’12.
Relationship Science Seems to be in stealth mode. Hearst’s website says it is the ultimate relationship development platform for executives. Social networking site? Not clear. Incubated?
Spooky Cool Labs  Spooky Cool is focussed around creating 3-D games built around a social construct, playable within Facebook, based on iconic brands such as The Wizard of Oz, their first and thus far, only game. Nov’12. Not clear how much other than ‘minority stake‘.

What about India?

Unlike in USA or even in Germany (Axel Springer has led the charge) where media companies have invested in digital media ventures + startups for strategic as well as financial reasons, in India there hasn’t been any comparable trend, barring one, the Network18 Group, which set up Capital18 as its venture investing arm.

Capital18’s entire portfolio is detailed here. When we compare it to that of NYT, Hearst, Gannett and Advance, the following emerges –

  • The Capital18 portfolio is less concentrated in the ad / content space – it is a more well-rounded portfolio seemingly more like that of a financial investor. The portfolio includes two education companies (24×7 Learning and Greycells18), a consumer electronics brand which sells direct to consumers (Wespro), a mobile voice technology player (Ubona), a digital media agency (WebChutney), a cinema exhibition chain / multiplex operator (Stargaze), a TV content production player (Colosceum) and an online travel ticketing portal (Yatra).
  • The site also mentions two of their exits, ad network NetworkPlay (sold to Gruner+Jahr from the Bertelsmann Group in Mar’12) and TV cable distribution co DEN (IPOd Oct’09).
  • It is interesting that the site doesn’t mention one of their biggest successes BookMyShow. In Mar’07, the TV18 Group (perhaps Capital18 didn’t exist as a separate corporate entity then) acquired 60% in Big Tree Entertainment (which runs BookMyShow) for Rs 14.5crs (then $3m). In Aug’12, in just over 5 years they sold 20% in the co, bringing their stake down to 40% for Rs 45crs ($8.5mn). That is some fantastic return – returns of 9x in 5 yrs (annualized 56-57% returns!). More data about BookMyShow’s financials here and here.

As for the others such as Jagran Prakashan, DB Corp, HT Media and The Times of India Group etc we see Private Treaty or ad-for-equity deals but no venture investment deals.

Economists would consider this a perfectly natural state of affairs. When your business is growing at double-digit rates with no visible threats on the horizon as in India, it is only logical that you reinvest the cash generated back into your business, either into expansion or into acquiring related businesses.

In the US where the core operations are shrinking it would be stupid for Print companies to reinvest the same in their businesses. Hence they are looking to reinvest outside; and with tremendous volatility in the media business, there is a need to cast your bets wide, and that explains the spread of investments, across ad, content and social startups.

***

I hope reading this article has been as interesting and enlightening as it has been for me writing it. It is certainly the longest post thus far, and I can tell you that I am delighted that I have gotten it over with. Even as I finish I can see that this post is in many senses incomplete. In the pantheon of Print players , I have missed out Washington Post Co (should cover that soon!), and beyond print there is AOL Ventures, Comcast Ventures etc. I will certainly cover them in the future. Meanwhile I await your feedback and thoughts on the above!