With Buzzfeed announcing IPO plans and Comcast interested in Vox, let the dystopian future of media begin

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buzzfeed

Today, Buzzfeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti announced plans to take his cat listicle mega-company public. The fact that he made this announcement at a conference hosted by a tech blog, which was yesterday acquired by a larger media company that may soon be acquired by Comcast, is no coincidence. The new media landscape is shaking out fast and the losers are getting absorbed while the big winners are getting bigger — and more compromised by the platforms, investors, and telecoms that may soon own them — than ever before.

“We’re very focused on building out internationally, we’re very focused on building out across multiple different platforms, we’re very focused on building out our video business,” Peretti said today at Code Conference, run by Kara Swisher’s and Walt Mossberg’s Re/Code which is now being absorbed by Vox Media. “That will give us a diversification… to allow us to build a big independent company with much more predictability and things that would allow us to be a pubic company.”

Rival media companies (although Buzzfeed commits random acts of journalism its loyalties to sponsors make me balk at calling it a “journalistic organization”) have feared Buzzfeed for some time, as its racked up 200 million unique visitors and one billion video views a month. But perhaps the bigger threat Buzzfeed poses is to ad agencies. Buzzfeed’s staff produces much of the advertising that lives on its site itself. That leads to some monumental journalistic conflicts which have led the site’s editor-in-chief to go so far as to remove posts that criticize advertisers. But like in any high-powered business operation where potentially billions are at stake, Buzzfeed can’t afford to worry about ethics or ideals.

Peretti set no timetable for a public offering. But as a dystopian thought experiment, let’s imagine the media landscape two years from now: Buzzfeed is public and bigger than ever. In addition to its newfound access to public cash, editor-in-chief Ben Smith has made it clear that despite the fact that his site continues to do some great original reporting and analysis, his loyalties — if push comes to shove — lie with advertisers. And so it doesn’t take a genius to know why smart advertisers will choose Buzzfeed over, say, the New York Times.

And what will Buzzfeed do with all that cash? Buy everyone. I don’t mean other media companies — that’s not its style. Instead it will poaches as many journalists, old and young, as it can from rivals. As fast as a young reporter makes her name at a smaller upstart, Buzzfeed will scoop her up.

Meanwhile — as many have smartly predicted — Comcast will buy Vox, which along with VICE is the closest new media outlet to Buzzfeed in terms of operating its content verticals as efficiently as its advertising offerings. This trend of one company owning “the wires, the content and the criticism” as Dan Raile put it earlier today, will become the new normal. Every news site that — unlike Buzzfeed, Vox, and VICE — has failed to build its own powerful ad platforms will have no choice but to publish its content directly to Facebook as part of its Instant Articles feature. Meanwhile, Facebook will merge with, I don’t know, AT&T maybe?

At this point, the fretted-over conflicts of news organizations that raised a little venture money will seem quaint. Every piece of content will be designed to sell something through insidiously slick operations run by a couple duopolistic companies that own both the pipes and the portals and maybe even the devices that serve up this content. And with users more willing than ever to give away their personal data to these mega-firms (because hey, the new omniscient versions of Siri and Google Now are just so convenient) these companies and their algorithms will be capable of predicting and even manipulating our emotions so that brands can juxtapose the perfect ad next to the perfect piece of content, compelling users to buy just about anything on command.

It’s not just media that’s going to consolidate. It’s media and platforms and telecommunications. Coke Vs. Pepsi. McDonalds Vs. Burger King. Voxcast vs. Facebuzz.

“So bend your knees and bow your heads
Save your babies, here’s your future”

[illustration by Hallie Bateman]

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Comcast leaves editing note in corporate blog

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A leftover internal direction on the cable company’s post not only served as an embarrassment to the brand, but also a lesson to PR pros to double check before publishing.

By Kevin J. Allen | Posted: December 5, 2014
When you’re getting set to post a corporate blog post to your site, you may want to do a quick scan for any leftover editing notes. Failure to do so—as Comcast learned this week—could be pretty embarrassing.

The cable and Internet giant wanted to gloat in a blog post about the FCC’s choice to restart the clock on its proposed deal with Time Warner Cable that would create a monolith of incompetent customer service. The blog post also attacks groups that oppose the deal.

Part of the post reads, “Comcast and Time Warner Cable do not currently compete for customers anywhere in America.”

But it accidentally also contained the following passage:

We are still working with a vendor to analyze the FCC spreadsheet but in case it shows that there are any consumers in census blocks that may lose a broadband choice, want to make sure these sentences are more nuanced.

The passage was later removed from the post, but not before Consumerist grabbed a screenshot.

Comcast has to essentially argue that its deal with Time Warner won’t decrease customers’ choice of cable providers. The blog mistake shows that it has no idea how many markets will be left with only one cable provider.

PR pros should remember it’s not just the writing that can make or break a post—it’s a keen eye for editing.

[RELATED: Tell compelling stories and take your story directly to your audience in this free brand journalism white paper.]

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