What Do Time Inc. And Its Viant Have To Tell Us?

Last week, I wrote that Google and Facebook will control 85% of new online advertising, a daunting prospect for any company considering competition. I also noted that I see a third company looming, a probable combination by Verizon of AOL and Yahoo! That combination would result in an instant No. 1 traffic leader. So where does that leave other social and ad tech companies?

I talked this week to Jon Schulz, CMO at Viant, the ad tech and content (MySpace) company recently acquired by Time Inc. Schulz doesn’t go so far to say, as did Rupert Murdoch in a complaint to the European Union, that Google is anti-competitive. But he does call the 85% figure “accurate” and opines, “when companies get that big, they get a bit threatening.” Given their domination of search, “they have a lot of advantages.”

What’s Viant’s argument against the total supremacy of Google and Facebook? Schulz, who spent 20 years at Ford in various capacities, says his competitors are “walled gardens,” and that advertisers want to learn more. “The information loop is critically important.” With Google and Facebook, “there isn’t a lot of information exchanged.” 



Schulz promises “a series of announcements” at Time Inc. quarterly earnings session, on May 5. “There is a lot of news coming up,” he promises.

Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp had promised that his company would go after Yahoo! But Time Inc.’s own periodical, Fortune, compared that last month to “tying two rocks together to try and make them float, a couple of drunks holding each other up, etc.” The same piece called MySpace “faded” and Yahoo a “dead man walking.” (With corporate friends like this, you don’t need enemies.) Most think the Yahoo! move is off the table now.

So what could Time Inc./Viant announce that would make the ad tech world take them seriously? At one time, say, nine years ago, MySpace had twice the traffic of Facebook — 114 million uniques compared to 52 million for Facebook in June 2007, according to comScore. It was valued as high as $12 billion. Sumner Redstone famously fired a great Viacom CEO, Tom Freston, because he failed to acquire MySpace. What happened after Murdoch paid $580 million for it in 2005? Murdoch admitted defeat when he cast it aside.

“Simple answer — we screwed up in every way possible, learned lots of valuable expensive lessons,” he said as he sold it. Viant didn’t buy MySpace until 2011, and they paid only $35 million for it.

Murdoch’s no dummy. But his company famously lacked digital know-how in 2005. There was that famous attempt at creating a joint venture with MCI to compete with AOL, and a lot of palaver with online companies that didn’t amount to much. It sold MySpace for peanuts because it didn't know how to run it. Basically, one could argue that the same equation could be at work now. Remember, Time Inc. had a net loss of $881 million last year and it has had a history of disastrous tech failures, like the futuristic Full Service Network and the bungled Pathfinder Web operation.

Viant’s Schulz argues that Viant added strong relationships with clients in the retail, packaged goods and auto categories, adding to Time’s strength in such arenas as pharmaceuticals and telecommunications. And it’s got plenty of traffic. comScore’s March rankings put the Time Inc. Network at No. 16 overall, with almost the same amount of traffic as Twitter, 113 million uniques, and ahead of eBay. But Yahoo! is the No. 3 Web property, and it’s on life support, according to Fortune. And in terms of smartphone apps, Google and Facebook own eight of the top 15. Can the No. 16 Web property do battle with this kind of power play?

Programmatic Insider is a great believer in the interactive/feedback loop of MediaPost. I would encourage readers to post what they think Time and Viant are going to announce May 5. If you know, let us know. I would not be surprised if it’s a content acquisition. If Time bought something like, say, BuzzFeed, its traffic would equal Yahoo! BuzzFeed executive chairman Ken Lerer is a former EVP of AOL Time Warner. 

(By way of disclosure, I should mention that I worked for News Corp. in two different capacities — at the New York Post and on the MCI/News Corp. joint venture.)

9 comments about "What Do Time Inc. And Its Viant Have To Tell Us?".
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  1. Dave Hendricks from LiveIntent, April 27, 2016 at 12:33 p.m.

    I would guess that the reason that Joe Ripp bought Viant has very less to do with traffic numbers and more for access to large amounts of 1st party data.

    Ripp is making an excellent bet that the future of advertising has much more to do with 1st and 2nd party data (data that is held in common by two parties) than it has to do with mere traffic numbers.  

    Read this article on the blog:

    Viant is a way for Time inc to unlock CRM data for targeting in display.  That is a decent bet to make.

    Among the reasons for Google and Facebook's success (high ARPU) is the quality 1st party data/login data that they possess.  Of course there are many others, but that lock-in/Log-in is key.

  2. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360 replied, April 27, 2016 at 1:07 p.m.

    Dave Hendricks got to the point before I could. The potential value in Viant is the data, and the Viant units' ability to use it. I think that is what drove the Time acquisition; MySpace is a trivial piece. I wonder if Time will just abandon MySpace.

  3. James Hendrix from Purple Haze Records, April 28, 2016 at 9:33 a.m.

    Buster's post yesterday was accurate. Why take it down? Viant HAS made real efforts, allegedly, to screw employees out of their stock. WHY ELSE DO YOU TAKE A JOB WITH A STARTUP? To make the big money at the liquidation event!

    Their team was taking trips to Cabo while the company was plotting to keep all the proceeds they received from employees who bought their stock options. Despicable.

  4. John Motavalli from Freelance, April 28, 2016 at 2:58 p.m.

    I think traffic numbers may be more significant than some think. There has to be some way of keeping score. In magazines, Time Inc. boasted one third of all magazine ad pages, because they had the bulk of the weeklies, including People. Thus, they were the ad page leaders, number one. Now, when digital counts, they're number 16. Don't tell me they're happy about that. I know it sounds crass, but on such things, empires are built. Or lost.

  5. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360 replied, April 29, 2016 at 10:47 a.m.


    Like you I am a Time alumnus, as well as former software service provider to the firm. I have the highest regard for the company and the people I worked with. So I am in sync with you about the loss of position they've had to confront. But the Viant units are about data, not online traffic. Joe Ripp and his team appear to be rebuilding the company around the quality of their audience, not gross numbers. The value is in the demographic data - interest, income, affluence, connections to similar people for advertisers to reach. Remember the old days, when part of the ad sale was around the numerous demo and geo splits available, based around what we knew, or could accurately predict, about readers, pass alongs and the like? Data available now, properly analyzed and presented, provides similar value to the advertisers and thus the company.

  6. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, April 29, 2016 at 10:53 a.m.

    correcting one error on my earlier comment to John, referring to him as a Time alumnus - my mistake, as his piece makes clear. I lost track of the detail after a few days. Sorry, John.

  7. John Motavalli from Freelance, April 29, 2016 at 12:39 p.m.

    That's' all right, Henry, I had a long and checkered career. I worked for Hachette, Rodale, Hearst, Bechtel, you name it. I can't remember doing anything for Time Inc., but who knows?

  8. John Motavalli from Freelance, April 29, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    One other thing, I notice when reading Google's pitches to advertisers, they keep emphasizing traffic, not so much demographic data. Sure, they lead in that, but right now, their pitch is more on how big they are, and how small the rest of the pack is in comparison. I think that's notable, and could be part of the angst everyone is feeling in dealing with & against them.

  9. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360 replied, April 29, 2016 at 12:47 p.m.


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