After apparently failing to find a buyer for the unprofitable "HuffPost", as it's now called, Verizon, which became the owner of HuffPo when it purchased AOL-Yahoo for $4.4 billion (only to turn around and write down the value of much of the digital media business a few years later), has reportedly decided on a new tack.
Instead of washing its hands of "HuffPo" entirely, the company has worked out a deal for Buzzfeed, another struggling left-leaning digital media company, to "buy" the struggling digital news aggregator. Buzzfeed will assume ownership and control of HuffPo in an all-stock deal, and in return, Verizon will make a small cash investment in Buzzfeed, and establish a strategic partnership.
Under the pact, the companies will syndicate content on each others' websites, and explore opportunities to jointly sell advertising. A few weeks ago, when news that HuffPo was officially up for sale first broke, an industry insider warned that if Verizon couldn't sell ads on HuffPo, then "nobody can".
Interestingly, the new partnership will be led by Jonah Peretti, the founder and chief executive of Buzzfeed, who was also among the original team that launched the Huffington Post all the way back in 2005.
HuffPo was launched by Ariana Huffington to try and present a liberal alternative to popular conservative news aggregators like the Drudge report.
Speaking to WSJ, Peretti said that for "several years" his life was 100% dedicated to HuffPo.
"For several years, I spent my every waking moment on HuffPost and how to grow it and how to turn it into a leading media brand on the internet," Mr. Peretti said in an interview. "So I have a deep connection to that brand because of the history. But this is not about nostalgia for me, it’s about the future, the brand and the audience."
Verizon Media Chief Executive Guru Gowrappan said the idea for the "partnership" was hatched by Peretti during the CES tech show in Las Vegas earlier this year, where the two executives discussed ways for their companies to work together. "From the get-go, I was pretty clear that BuzzFeed was the right partner," Verizon Media Chief Guru Gowrappan said. The talks accelerated once Verizon started shopping around for a buyer. Back in 2011, AOL bought HuffPo - then called "the Huffington Post" for $315 million, considered an "eye popping" sum at the time. The buyout was part of former AOL chief Tim Armstrong's vision for building a network of news sites encompassing local to national news and beyond. The still-on-life-support network of websites known as Patch.com was also a part of that network, even though the business was gutted years ago after burning through a substantial amount of startup capital pretty quickly.
Over the last decade, HuffPo has seen its traffic steadily sink as it was out-maneuvered by newer digital upstarts with deeper VC-backed pockets. In the early 2010s, Buzzfeed, Inc, Business Insider and a gaggle of their peers recruited away all of HuffPo's top talent (which apparently wasn't hard to do since Ariana Huffington refused to pay anybody more than $35k a year). Part of the site's original appeal was the army of celebrity bloggers like Alec Baldwin who once wrote for the site. But as they departed, another key source of eyeballs and revenue disappeared.
At least, if the deal goes sour, Verizon can at least tell investors that it has finally unloaded the burdensome media business.