Dec 15, 2020 - Economy

Scoop: Rolling Stone, Billboard and Vibe merge business sides amid DOJ probe

Illustration of sheet music in a typewriter

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Penske Media Corp. (PMC) is planning to merge the back end functions of three of the top music news publishers in the U.S., according to two sources familiar with the company's plans.

Why it matters: The Justice Department is still investigating the deal between PMC and rival MRC to create a joint venture that houses most of the country's biggest music and entertainment news brands.

Catch up quick: In September, Hollywood entertainment company MRC — which owns brands like The Hollywood Reporter, and Billboard — and PMC — which owns publications like Rolling Stone, Variety and Deadline — announced a deal to create a joint publishing venture that combined their editorial brands.

  • The day-to-day operations of the joint venture, called PMRC, would be led by PMC.

Details: The merging of operations on the back end includes business functions like ad sales, marketing and brand partnerships.

  • Mike Van and Brian Szejka, formerly publisher of Rolling Stone, was named the Head of Global Brand Partnerships for all three publications about a month ago.
  • Sources say the DOJ is specifically eyeing the anti-competitive nature between owning two of the biggest entertainment-focused properties, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
  • The company is not planning to do the same type of back-end combination of those two outlets, according to sources.

Between the lines: A source familiar with the transaction says the Justice Department is still reviewing whether or not such a merger between two of the biggest entertainment media companies is anti-competitive and should be approved.

  • Antitrust officials are reviewing the merger's impact on ad sales and quality of coverage, a person familiar with the transaction said.

Be smart: The DOJ has shown keen interest in Hollywood over the past few years.

  • Last year, the DOJ warned the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that any rule changes meant to make streaming services ineligible for Oscar nominations would be in violation of competition law.

The bottom line: Over the past few years, Jay Penske, Chairman and CEO of PMC, has quietly amassed more than 20 titles for his media empire across entertainment, music, fashion and art.

  • Despite a few controversies, he's mostly shied from the spotlight, and focused on growing the business incrementally.
  • The MRC deal will test his ability to navigate his empire through the bureaucracy of Washington as it gets bigger.

Editor's note: The piece was updated to reflect that Mike Van was also named Head of Global Brand Partnerships alongside Szejka.

Go deeper