BuzzFeed has long denied that it intends to go public any time soon, but that hasn't stopped media analysts and insiders from speculating.
The viral news and entertainment company could be preparing for an initial public offering in 2018, according to Axios. Rumors of BuzzFeed planning a public debut first began circulating last November, when it secured an additional $200 million investment from Comcast's (CMCSA) - Get Report NBCUniversal.
Since its launch in 2006, BuzzFeed has become somewhat of a media darling, said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna, a marked change from its early days of listicles and clickbait headlines. Tasty, BuzzFeed's Facebook-only cooking channel, is one of the most-trafficked pages on the social media site, and the company has built a sizable investigative news team, while also launching several original series.
The company is now estimated to be worth as much as $1.7 billion, putting it alongside other hot digital media upstarts such as Vox Media, which has a valuation estimated to be as much as $1 billion (and also received a $200 million investment from NBCUniversal). In total, BuzzFeed has raised about $446 million in funding from NBCUniversal, venture capital firms Andreesen Horowitz and New Enterprise Associates, as well as Hearst, among other companies, according to Crunchbase.
Its valuation raises the question of whether BuzzFeed could be ready to navigate the often rocky IPO market, or whether it might stand to benefit more by being acquired.
Investors have been hoping for a more hospitable IPO environment since Snapchat parent company Snap (SNAP) - Get Report made its blockbuster public debut earlier this month, followed by software application programming company Mulesoft (MULE) . Shares of both of those companies popped by more than 40% in their trading debuts, although Snap's shares have since dipped below their initial trading price. Other tech IPOs expected this year include enterprise software company Okta and marketing software company Yext.
If BuzzFeed does decide to go public in 2018, it would be the first large media company to stage an IPO since Townsquare Media (TSQ) - Get Report in 2014. The Greenwich, CT-based radio station owner and operator debuted at $11 per share, below its $14 to $16 price range, and raised $92 million. It also marked the only radio IPO in the U.S. in more than 10 years.
BuzzFeed isn't the only media upstart rumored to be seeking an IPO. Shane Smith, the CEO of millennial-focused digital and TV company Vice Media, has hinted that the company is exploring the possibility of a public debut sometime this year. Like BuzzFeed, Vice counts several large media conglomerates as investors, including Disney (DIS) - Get Report and 21st Century Fox (FOXA) - Get Report .
Both Vice and BuzzFeed have shown a willingness to make risky decisions amid a rapidly evolving media landscape, such as Vice's move to focus on its 24/7 cable TV network. So even though the IPO market may not be very welcoming to media companies at the moment, BuzzFeed has a track record of being a "smart company" whose bold bids on content seem to pay off, showing that an IPO could be the right decision, Verna said.
"If I were to pick a company that has a shot of bucking the trend, it would be BuzzFeed," he noted.
BuzzFeed could still be an attractive takeover target even if begins moving towards IPO, however, especially if it doesn't plan on going public until 2018, Verna noted. NBCUniversal could be interested in making a bid for the company, or perhaps another large media conglomerate, he added.
But BuzzFeed might also reject the idea of being owned by a larger corporation like Comcast as one of its main tenets has been the fact that it remains independent, Verna said.
"They probably want to have the option to make their content available on Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report , Netflix (NFLX) - Get Report and Facebook (FB) - Get Report ," Verna explained. "I think that might be part of what's behind the idea of an IPO --- that they raise capital but maintain a measure of independence."