BuzzFeed to buy HuffPost in latest merger of digital media giants

Mr Jonah PerettiPHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • After falling prey to some of the same business difficulties that have plagued newspapers and magazines, digital media giants BuzzFeed and HuffPost have decided to join forces, the companies announced on Thursday.

Under the plan, BuzzFeed will acquire HuffPost from its owner, Verizon Media, as part of a larger stock deal, the companies said.

The BuzzFeed and HuffPost websites will remain distinct, each with its own editorial staff.

BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti, who helped found HuffPost 15 years ago, will serve as chief executive.

As part of the arrangement, Verizon Media will become a minority shareholder in BuzzFeed, the companies said, but it will not have a seat on BuzzFeed's board.

Mr Peretti said in a statement: "We're excited about our partnership with Verizon Media, and mutual benefits that will come from syndicating content across each other's properties, collaborating on innovative ad products and the future of commerce, and tapping into the strength and creativity of Verizon Media Immersive."

BuzzFeed and HuffPost have struggled, with both having gone through rounds of layoffs in recent years.

Mr Peretti believes that getting bigger is the right move for his business.

Digital media, a relatively open territory when HuffPost started in 2005, has grown crowded and more competitive.

Google and Facebook have grabbed huge chunks of ad revenue from publishers.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch are taking would-be readers' attention, and many legacy media outlets have got the hang of the Web while also figuring out how to persuade readers to pay for content.

The deal between BuzzFeed and HuffPost marks the fourth significant merger among brand-name digital publishers, following the combination of Vox Media and New York Magazine, Vice Media's acquisition of Refinery29, and Group Nine's merger with PopSugar.

Digital journalism needs size to survive and even these deals may not be enough to sustain their operations.

Because BuzzFeed and HuffPost appeal to different readerships, they should complement each other as part of the same company, Mr Peretti said in an interview on Thursday.

"We want HuffPost to be more HuffPosty, and BuzzFeed to be more BuzzFeedy. There's not much audience overlap," he said.

"These are different audiences they serve. On the editorial side and the consumer side, we want to have a lot of independence and autonomy for HuffPost and for it to determine its own brand."

Mr Peretti, 46, also said HuffPost will have a new editor-in-chief.

The site's previous top editor from 2016 until March this year was Ms Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times editor.

She left HuffPost to become the head of content at podcasting company Gimlet Media, and a successor has yet to be named.

On the business side, operations are likely to be combined.

HuffPost had seen a large drop in revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to two people with knowledge of the company.

BuzzFeed caught on as a website filled with features aimed at a largely millennial audience, like "21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity" and a video of BuzzFeeders trying to make a watermelon explode.

As the site matured, it went deep into current events coverage and investigative articles under BuzzFeed News, a division that was led for eight years by its founding editor Ben Smith, before he joined The New York Times as its media columnist, and is now run by Mr Mark Schoofs.

But struggles lay ahead.

In 2017, BuzzFeed cut 100 employees after missing revenue targets. Last year, it laid off more than 220 employees, or 15 per cent of its workforce.

Amid the cost-cutting measures, BuzzFeed added banner ads, a form of advertising it once eschewed. It even expanded into the retail business, with branded products, including a recent partnership to create sex toys.

HuffPost cut 39 employees during a round of layoffs in 2017.

Early last year, Verizon said it would cut 800 positions, or 7 per cent of its media divisions.

Later that year, HuffPost let 11 video employees go.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2020, with the headline 'BuzzFeed to buy HuffPost in latest merger of digital media giants'. Print Edition | Subscribe