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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Yesterday's news that AT&T is offloading its WarnerMedia assets into a joint venture with Discovery is far from a surprise since buying a media company in the name of vertical "synergies" has rarely ended well.

Case in point: WarnerMedia itself merged in 1990 with Time Inc. to create Time Warner.

  • In 2001, Time Warner sold for $164 billion to AOL with the hope it would propel it into the digital age.
  • It didn’t quite go that way, and eventual Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes later called the merger "the biggest mistake in corporate history."
  • By 2009, the companies had enough of each other and the behemoth spun out AOL and Time Inc. into independent companies.
  • The latter (my employer 2015–2016) has gone on to do more M&A.

Which brings us to Verizon, which acquired AOL in 2015 for $4.4 billion and Yahoo in 2017 for $4.48 billion.

  • By that point, AOL owned media assets like TechCrunch and the Huffington Post.
  • "The deals were meant to give the telecom giant lots of data so that it could sell targeted advertising against its media assets," my colleagues Sara Fischer and Dan Primack have noted.
  • "But it quickly became clear that the data-based ad play wouldn't work, as it was too difficult to compete with the marketing prowess of Google and Facebook."
  • After selling HuffPost to Buzzfeed last year, Verizon announced two weeks ago it's selling its Yahoo and AOL assets to Apollo Global Management for $5 billion, putting an end to that experiment.

And of course, in 2018, it was WarnerMedia's turn, selling its media assets to AT&T for $85 billion, which is now being undone.

Yes, but: Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011 seems to be working out, with the former using its new content assets to build out its ad-supported streaming service, Peacock.

  • And a number of media tie-ups have worked out well, too.

The bottom line: We're probably in for many more years of big media assets trading hands as companies continue to chase the coveted "synergies" of owning content.

Go deeper: Discovery CEO David Zaslav signs new contract through 2027

Go deeper

Aug 10, 2021 - Technology

Tokyo Olympics ratings spiral, spelling trouble for traditional TV

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Primetime ratings for the Tokyo Olympic Games were down 42% from the 2016 Games, according to data from NBCUniversal.

Why it matters: It's an undeniable proof point that the decline of traditional television is happening faster than initially expected. It also points to the ways media diets and interests have become more polarized and divided in the digital era.

Dotdash is IAC's fastest-growing business

Expand chart
Data: Company reports; Chart: Axios Visuals

Dotdash, the digital media company that houses brands like Verywell and Investopedia, is growing revenue faster than any other brand within the IAC, the publicly traded internet company that also owns Angi, The Daily Beast, and others.

Why it matters: IAC is known for growing digital brands and spinning them out once they are big enough to stand alone. Now that IAC has spun out Match Group and Vimeo, Dotdash is its fastest-growing brand in terms of revenue.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
15 mins ago - Science

All-civilian Inspiration4 is back on Earth after flight to space

A side-by-side of the Inspiration4 crew and a shot of their capsule on the way back to Earth. Photo: SpaceX

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew is back on Earth after their three-day mission in orbit.

The big picture: The launch and landing of this fully amateur, private space crew marks a changing of the guard from spaceflight being a largely government-led venture to being under the purview of private companies.