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NBC Straightens up MSNBC; Buys Stake in Vox, Buzzfeed

NBC announced last week that it will straighten-up MSNBC’s left-wing slant and make a $200 million investment in in Vox Media.

Instead of hiring haggard trade-union socialists to try to build a millennial brand, NBCUniversal is finally decided to buy into one.

With NBC management leaking the new mandate to play it straight, the Wall Street Journal reported that MSNBC will abandon its “Lean Forward” branding in its upcoming reset to focus on Brian Williams’ rolling breaking news throughout the day, now that his suspension is over.

As the perpetually third-ranked cable news network, MSNBC’s energy level peaked during the 2011 “Occupy Wall Street” protests. But it seems even unwashed Marxist urban campers raging against bourgeois society did not choose to “lean-in” inside their tents and watch MSNBC on cable.

Finally giving up the dream, MSNBC has decided to sweep the leftist troika of “The Ed Show,” “Now with Alex Wagner,” and “The Cycle” into the dustbin of history.

Comcast, NBCU’s parent, was already moving away from MSNBC as a vehicle to gain a millennial audience when it invested in Vox Media last year through Comcast Ventures at a pre-money valuation of $850 million. NBCU plans to plow $200 million into Vox Media with the new deal valuing Vox at more than $1 billion–triple its $300 million in total VC funding, according to “Re/code.com” sources.

Just 16 months ago, Vox launched an Internet news website led by the Washington Post’s wunderkind Ezra Klein with Matthew Yglesias, Dylan Matthews, and Melissa Bell.

Klein said when he joined Vox that news coverage had been as appealing as “spinach.” He promised to revolutionize news coverage by prioritizing explanation and analysis by adding the needed “drizzle of olive oil and hint of sea salt” to make spinach tasty.

Vox’s signature feature under Klein became the reusable, wiki-like “card stack,” which provides context and key definitions related to an article topic. According to third-party web analytics feed SimilarWeb, Vox’s growth has been astounding. The site has over 16 million unique visitors each month and is ranked #24 among News and Media magazines and e-zines sites.

The “New Wave” news sites’ audience has been growing at a much faster pace than traditional media. Players like Breitbart attract conservatives; Vox gets the populist crowd, BuzzFeed entertains with a mix of addictive animal videos and some news reports; Vice offers less-filtered news video; and Fusion provides both irreverence and context on the news of the day.

They all are aiming to win significant shares of the millennial market. Similar in size to the baby boomers market, that segment runs in age between 14 and 34, with a total population of about 78 million in the United States.

Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff told Re/code.com that with the follow-on investment, Vox and NBCUniversal “now have a commercial partnership.” They will collaborate on digital advertising and work together on video advertising and video programming, and Vox Media employees will appear more frequently on other NBCU-owned networks, like CNBC.

Stephen Beck, founder and managing partner of media consultancy cg42 told Adweek, “Vox Media is positioned very directly against benefiting from the trend of younger individuals consuming more and more content through the web and digital channels and less and less through traditional channels.” He added, “Comcast is the poster child in having the most frustration among its customer base. That’s magnified among the younger audience.”

NBCU is also reportedly close to making an investment in BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed is expected to be valued at $1.5 billion after its NBCU investment of $200 million, according to Re/code, which is owned by Vox Media. It is believed that secondary sales are involved in the BuzzFeed investment, as early stage investors or employees sell some of their shares.

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