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What Penske Could Do With Variety

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 25, 2012 at 6:18PM

The sands keep shifting under media professionals who thought they knew what they were doing.
Bonnie Fuller, Jay Penske
Bonnie Fuller, Jay Penske

The sands keep shifting under media professionals who thought they knew what they were doing.

During my two year stint at Variety, the print product ruled and the venerable 107-year-old trade was accustomed to raking in millions at the top of the trade media heap. The Variety chiefs looked down their noses at also-ran Hollywood Reporter and Deadline's Nikki Finke, who was seen an easily dismissable "blogger."

To stay afloat as recession ad revenues plummeted, Variety slashed its most expensive name columnists and critics (including me) in favor of cheaper less-known writers and print support staff as it went behind an unforgiving pay wall and continued to churn out five print dailies plus one weekly edition.

Variety logo

Meanwhile under editor Janice Min, THR cut its print daily in favor of a consumer-friendly weekly, and surged ahead of Variety. Screen International restrained its print output to a monthly and took its daily online, while online trades the Wrap and Deadline mounted print Oscar editions for additional ad revenue. And Indiewire grew traffic with its smart trade/consumer demo and burgeoning blog network (including TOH), while retaining its online-only identity.

Now word on the street has Deadline owner Penske Media Corp. ready to acquire Variety for some $30 million--more than bidder New York Hedge Fund Avenue Capitol. No longer in the running is supermarket mogul Ron Burkle. Jay Penske, 33, is reportedly partnered with private equity fund Shamrock Capital Advisors. Just months ago Variety was thought to be worth $50 mlllion, which was still substantially lower than its pre-recession peak value.

The question is what Penske plans to do with Variety, a hidebound institution that until now has kept its distance from the kind of traffic-chasing economics that Penske lives by--he also owns Movieline, which has been trying to find its purpose, as well as Bonnie Fuller's breathlessly lucrative celeb site HollywoodLife.

Penske Media would operate Variety, which is essentially occupying the same space as rival Deadline, which poached experienced trade vets Michael Fleming and Nellie Andreeva after Finke sold her blog to Penske in 2009. Penske bet on stars with talent--the opposite approach taken by Variety.

This article is related to: Media, New Media & Technology

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.