Since the merger with AOL, Time Warner has been emblematic of the media industry’s struggle to evolve, and it’s now become emblamatic of the tail-chasing confusion over the future of media. I read the following stories about Time Warner back to back (via Forbes and MediaPost):
Time Warner shares jumped Monday on hopes that the media giant might be able to unlock more value through restructuring, possibly by selling its publishing unit. Bear Stearns analyst Spencer Wang upgraded Time Warner to “outperform” from “peer perform” Monday.
Further moves make sense for the company since the division lacks synergies with Time Warner’s “other video centric businesses,” said Wang. Also, a divestiture would shed a publishing segment that is dragging down Time Warner’s growth rate and reduce its exposure to the challenges facing the industry.
Video will play a starring role in Time Inc.’s digital future, and the company sees itself in an ideal position to compete directly with networks by creating compelling original stories that arise from the voices of its strong publishing brands.
OK, so, video is the future of Time Inc, but Time Warner should sell Time Inc because it doesn’t fit with its other video-centric businesses. Huh?
Has an industry ever groped so blind in the dark for its future?
I don’t mean to pick on Time Warner — the slow growth of magazine publishing is a big problem. But Time Inc is making as good a bet as any that magazine brands should aim to stay relevant by becoming medium agnostic (i.e. create content in all media).
You could imagine an unfortunate scenario where the Time Warner dumps Time Inc, (renames itself AGAIN), and then…the publishing business succeeds in reinventing itself along this medium agnostic path, and starts growing again just as the remaining Warner-side video-centric business starts hitting the same wall that popped up in front of print media first.
The irony of this is that, after all those long ago failed promises of AOL Time Warner “synergies,” the media business IS finally converging as everything goes digital and all distribution converges online.
Maybe Time Warner will realize that growth in all content creation businesses is going to slow, and they’ll “spin off” everything except AOL and Advertising.com.