Comcast's (CMCSA) - Get Report investments in Vox and BuzzFeed aren't about immediate profits -- they're about getting into a digital media game that is in full swing and learning its strategies from the front row, media analysts say.
"It's a great move, honestly, for Comcast," said Jeff Segal, New York Director of Strategy Consulting for Magid Associates. "It allows them to take a role in innovating around what will be the future of digital publishing. You can look from the outside in, or you can take an equity stake and be part of the conversation and have a seat at the table."
Comcast's NBCUniversal and Vox said late Wednesday they locked down a previously reported deal for NBCUniversal to sink $200 million into the digital publisher, giving Vox a valuation of about $1 billion. Although the companies did not report the exact stakes, Comcast will remain a minority holder in Vox, in which it previously held about 14%, said a Vanity Fair report citing unnamed sources.
Vox's bank of media outlets include The Verge, SB Nation, Curbed, Eater, Polygon, Racked and Vox.com. Comcast is reportedly braced to announce a similar $200-million deal with BuzzFeed this week in a deal that puts BuzzFeed's valuation at $1.5 billion, Re/Code reports.
"In our view, it's not about immediate ROI (return on investment)," Segal said. "Comcast is a big company with plenty of sources of income. That's not to say BuzzFeed or Vox may not IPO one day and provide a nice, healthy investment. ... But you're talking about two of the best content providers in the news space. While you can make a profit, you can have a view under the hood from the people who are doing it the best."
Native advertising, or blending advertising seamlessly into a publication's own content, is one strategy these digital media companies do best, and at a time when Comcast's traditional advertising channels are struggling to cough-up gains. Comcast's second-quarter advertising sales were down 3% from the same quarter a year prior as its revenue slid 1.1% at its cable-TV networks.
BuzzFeed and Vox Media also position Comcast and NBCUniversal to nab more millennial viewers increasingly favoring digital outlets over traditional television, said Shahid Kahn, co-founder of MediaMorph.
"Millennials' consumption habits are very different," said Khan in a phone interview. "In addition to what Comcast already owns, they need to start looking at a younger demographic and that's who Vox and BuzzFeed cater to."
For a roughly $150 billion market cap company like Comcast, the combined $400 million in investments are not likely to yield a windfall of return. But it gives Comcast countless ways to use its behemoth status to more effectively target these millennials, says Steve Birenberg, founder of Northlake Capital Management and general partner of Entermedia Growth Partners, a hedge fund focused on entertainment stocks.
"Comcast has the capacity to make acquisitions, and on Wall Street there's been a call for media companies to use their cash flow more strategically rather than just more buying back stock," Birenberg said. "Comcast is in a good position to do that. They have a capacity to do multi-billion dollar deals without really impacting their balance sheet or really borrowing any money. ... Vox and BuzzFeed's financial payoff comes down the road."
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.