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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

Dec 15, 2020 - Economy & Business

Scoop: Vox Media Studios targets $100 million in 2021 revenue

Vox Media Studios website

Vox Media Studios, the video and audio production arm of Vox Media, is planning to bring in $100 million in 2021 revenue while producing twice as many shows as 2020, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

Why it matters: Vox Media hasn't been immune from the pandemic’s financial headwinds on digital publishers, but the studios revenue would be a huge number for the company, which reportedly expected $300 million in overall 2020 revenue.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.