Is this a subtle shift? If data is the future of the online media world, why are some companies concentrating on old-fashioned things like events instead?
The listed, London-based but increasingly international B2B media company UBM (only 10 percent of revenues come from the UK) has issued a not very subtle come-and-get-it plea to the investment banking / private equity world by saying it would listen to offers for its data division (as the FT reported).
CEO David Levin says: "We have decided to explore strategic options for the data services businesses to confirm we are allocating capital appropriately between the growing number of opportunities now available to us."
Those growing opportunities are, specifically, live events. Levin would rather be a leader in many event markets than a challenged competitor for data services three or four.
UBM has made well over 40 event acquisitions since Levin joined in 2005. Everything from shows on airports, renewable energy and 4G mobile technology to dental equipment, in all the emerging markets you would expect, such as China, Brazil, Malaysia and India.
As he told me back in 2010: "I do believe that in this digital age events are incredibly effective. And also they are symbiotic with online... Have many publishers been successful on the web? The answer is: not many, because the paradigm was so radically different. Whereas, interestingly, the most creative things we've got on the web are led by people who had their foot in events."
So what's up with data?
Packaging and selling data is a specific challenge and a very tough one.
UBM's industry peer Reed Elsevier has invested heavily in data and live information through LexisNexis, but its exhibitions division is the fastest growing segment with 32 revenue growth in the last six months, compared to one percent from Reed Business Information, with its stable of magazines and data providers.
(Talk still persists, however, of a Reed breakup with its Exhibitions unit or Lexis being the prime targets...)
And what of DMGT, better known for the rambunctious Daily Mail newspaper and its upstart digital sister Mail Online?
DMGT's advertising-funded business are struggling, but its events division saw revenue grow 16 percent (on an underlying basis, so stripping out acquisitions and so on) to £29 million in the nine months to July.
So why do boardrooms love events so much? They're tangible, have great profit margins, are easily repeatable, easily cloneable and merge well with other media assets (magazines, for example).
You can't say the same about a complex, technology-driven data service. Nor, for that matter, can you say that about journalism-driven media, whether online or offline.
It's worth noting that all of the above is concerned with informing specific audiences but none of it is really about journalism. The question of what role a journalist should play in a multiplatform professional media group might be one for another day.
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