Last year was a pretty good one for Hearst despite the tough media environment — at least, according to company president and chief executive officer Steve Swartz‘s annual assessment of the year gone by, which went out to staff this morning.
The letter began by touting Hearst’s record profits, for the sixth year in a row, “this time on relatively modest revenue growth to $10.8 billion.” In last year’s letter, the company, which is privately owned and doesn’t disclose its numbers, boasted revenue of $10.7 billion — amounting to six percent growth. The election year was a boon to the bottom line, thanks to political advertising on Hearst Television’s 30 stations. Digital revenue and audience growth were strong, Swartz said, and cited Cosmopolitan’s popularity on Snapchat’s “Discover” platform and Hearst’s newspaper group’s increase in digital subscriptions as examples.
The letter gave a shout out to Glenda Bailey, who marked her 15th year at the helm of Harper’s Bazzar, former Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles, who was named chief content officer for magazines, and her successor Michele Promaulayko, Swartz noted the difficulties of the traditional, advertising supported business model — an industry-wide issue that is leading to consolidations, reorganizations and budget cuts across the magazine groups.
“Worldwide, the media industry is coming to grips with a less favorable supply and demand equation, as the technology revolution places at consumers’ fingertips more media than they can possibly consume, and with it, virtually unlimited places to put advertising,” Swartz wrote. “We are pleased that our multiyear, company-wide strategy to grow subscription and fee revenue in order to better balance our historic dependence on advertising has positioned us favorably for this changed environment.”
But a media company cannot depend on subscription and fee revenue alone. Which is why Hearst has, in the past years, turned to a strategy of acquiring companies that have nothing to do with editorial content.
“While we have always been and always will be a media company, the share of our profits coming from business data and software systems, what we call Business Media, has grown to an expected 25 percent for 2017. Thus today, we can truly say that we are an information, entertainment and services company, and that diversification of businesses and skills is one of our great competitive advantages,” he wrote.
In the past year, Hearst acquired several companies, including CAMP, “a fabulous corporate aircraft maintenance and safety data and software company” based in New Hampshire. Hearst acquired almost all the equity in the company last month, so its revenue and profits will mainly be reflected in Hearst’s 2017 results.
Last year’s letter, Swartz said, “noted with regret” that it wasn’t able to acquire anything in the health care space. But in 2016, the company did just that. In June, Hearst acquired a majority stake in a “an excellent software platform company that helps health plans manage their member patients effectively, efficiently and in compliance with all Medicare and Medicaid regulations” called MedHOK. Other additions to the health care portfolio includes Work Loss Data Institute, which gives health data to the worker’s compensation industry.
Still, Hearst did add some companies in the media space to its diverse portfolio, such as Litton Entertainment, a producer and distributor of educational programming, and several regional newspapers, which it added to the newspaper group.
Swartz pointed to several examples of successful partnerships, such as the company’s relationship with Disney, which results in partnerships on ESPN and A&E. The letter also noted the creation of PubWorX, a joint venture between Hearst and rival publisher Condé Nast to share back office services. On the newspaper side, Hearst partnered with rival paper chains Gannett, McClatchy and Tronc to form a “premium content network of newspaper companies representing the 30 largest U.S. markets for advertisers” called Nucleus Marketing Solutions.
Looking forward to 2017, Swartz said, the company plans “to be similarly active on the acquisition front in 2017.”