Media M&A trends insight: In-depth briefing on latest deals

Megadeals, local media consolidation and rumours: Media Deals Tracker

Media M&A trends

Press Gazette Media Deals Tracker Charts the most important M&A news and trends affecting the global news industry.

For the first edition of the Media Deals Tracker, we have compiled details of the 30 most significant deals that were completed, announced or rumoured in May 2021.

The month’s media business news was dominated by megadeals announced by AT&T, Verizon and Amazon. But, using intelligence from GlobalData, Press Gazette has identified several smaller deals that will help shape the global journalism industry.

As laid out below, we detected four major media M&A themes running through May 2021:

  • the megadeals of AT&T, Verizon and Amazon
  • the consolidation of America’s embattled local media sector
  • the high density of rumours surrounding digital-native news companies like Buzzfeed and the Athletic
  • and a wave of new investment in platforms and tech companies that work with the publishing industry.

Scroll down to the bottom of this page for a table of the 30 most significant deals, or would-be deals, of May 2021.

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The megadeals

Telecoms behemoth AT&T agreed to merge its media arm, WarnerMedia (CNN, HBO, Turner Sports), with Discovery (Discovery Channel, Eurosport, Group Nine Media) to create a $43bn company.

Verizon, another telecoms-focused giant, effectively exited the news world by agreeing a $5bn sale of Verizon Media (Yahoo, AOL, TechCrunch) to private equity firm Apollo.

And web giant Amazon agreed an $8.5bn deal to buy film company MGM.

Local news consolidation

May was also a significant month for local news in the United States.

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital completed its controversial $633m takeover of Tribune Publishing (Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun). Alden already owns MediaNews Group (Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, St Paul Pioneer Press) and is now America’s second-largest local news publisher after Gannett.

The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news site, teamed up with the National Trust for Local News – a new non-profit for local news enterprises – to buy Colorado Community Media, which publishes 24 weekly and monthly newspapers. The new combined group is called the Colorado News Conservancy.

Paxton Media Group, a Kentucky-based local newspaper and TV news company, acquired its rival, Landmark Community Newspapers. The combined group will comprise around 120 publications in 14 states, including 20 in Kentucky.

Local TV giant Gray Television bought Meredith Corporation’s local media assets, comprising 17 TV stations, for $2.7bn. The deal will turn Gray into “the nation’s second largest television broadcaster”. Meredith will turn full attention to its national media assets, including its large stable of magazine brands.

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The digital native rumour mill

This year looks set to be an active one for America’s biggest digital-native news companies. Several are rumoured to be on the verge of merging with special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) to enter the public market.

Buzzfeed, which completed a merger with HuffPost earlier this year, is reported to be planning a deal to buy digital lifestyle publisher Complex Networks (Complex, First We Feast, Pigeons & Planes). The Information reports that this deal would take place ahead of Buzzfeed’s proposed merger with 890 Fifth Avenue Partners, a SPAC.

Vice is rumoured to be lining up a SPAC deal with 7GC & Co Holdings. The Wall Street Journal reports that this deal could value Vice at around $3bn. Vice had a private market valuation of around $5.7bn back in 2017. 

Elsewhere, sports news website the Athletic is reported to be in talks to be acquired by the New York Times. Axios reports that the Athletic’s latest private investments, ahead of the pandemic, valued the company at around $500m.

The Athletic was previously said to be in merger talks with news publisher Axios. But the Wall Street Journal reported in early May that these talks had broken down.

Now Axios is said to be a takeover target for Germany’s Axel Springer (Bild, Insider, Politico Europe). The Information reports that this deal could value Axios at between $400-450m.

Fox Corporation (Fox News, Fox Sports) announced the acquisition of Outkick Media, a news outlet that covers sports, culture and politics.

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Platforms find new funding

Social media company Twitter continued its recent takeover spree in May, announcing the acquisition of Scroll, an ad-blocking subscription service that works with publishers including Insider and Buzzfeed.

Snap, another important partner for many publishers, bought WaveOptics, an augmented-reality startup from the UK. 

Piano, a startup that advises publishers on how to improve their subscriptions businesses, announced that it had raised $88m in new funding from LinkedIn, Updata Partners and Rittenhouse Ventures.

Monetise – a Singapore company that runs Fewcents, a tool to help publishers make money from articles, video and podcasts – raised $1.6m in seed funding.

Loyal Foundry, a US app publisher, bought Newsfusion, an Israel-based news aggregator.

Rumble, a US video platform, raised an undisclosed amount of new funding from tech investor Peter Thiel, Narya Capital and Colt Ventures.

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Deals to watch

Ahead of the summer months – traditionally a quiet time for M&A – there are several deals rumoured to be in the pipeline.

Buzzfeed, Vice, Vox, Group Nine and Bustle (recently rebranded as BDG) are all said to be chasing SPAC deals.

Forbes, meanwhile, is said to be a $600m takeover target for investment firm GSV Asset Management.

In the UK, magazine publisher Future – fresh from its takeover of Marie Claire US – is on the lookout for new deals.

Watch this space.

Photo credit: Anton Garin/ Shutterstock

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