Aug 6, 2019

An exclusive club of media unicorns survives media industry turmoil

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Data: Axios research; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The exclusive club of companies that have built billion-dollar content distribution businesses has a new member: SmartNews, the Japanese news discovery app that has amassed 20 million subscribers in the U.S., and raised $28 million in its latest funding round.  

The big picture: It's a small club, mainly because the media industry is in turmoil as Facebook and Google siphon ad dollars. Companies have struggled to maintain their highest valuations amid issues like missed revenue goals, layoffs and management changes.

Be smart: Private company valuations exist only because certain investors say they do at a certain point in time. There's no guarantee an acquirer or the public market will agree. 

Yes, but: It's notable that in today's bleak news market where U.S. tech giants like Google and Facebook dominate most news referral traffic online, a Japanese startup has been able to gain such traction.

What's next: Around the world, news aggregation as a business is exploding.

  • China: Toutiao, which is owned by TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, raised $2 billion in funds at an over $20 billion valuation in 2017. Qutoutiao, the 3-year-old news and video aggregation startup backed by Tencent, received a $171 million convertible loan from Chinese tech behemoth Alibaba.
  • India: DailyHunt, NewsPoint and others have also gained traction in recent years in India. DailyHunt has raised $98 million to date. InShorts, a news app that provides 60-word summaries of top stories, has raised $29 million to date.
  • Europe: Axel Springer's news aggregation app Upday is now profitable and gearing up to scale further and drive more revenue, Digiday reports. The app has 25 million users, in part due to its pre-install partnership with Samsung.

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