February 23, 2018
Vox lays off fifty employees, many in “social video” departments across platforms
by Alex Primiani
Vox Media Group announced this past Wednesday that they’re laying off fiften people, and shifting roles for another dozen. Todd Spangler at Variety reported on the story.
In an email to employees, CEO Jim Bankoff pointed to industry changes as a significant reason for the company’s efforts to “wind down certain initiatives,” like social video content. He writes:
Due to industry changes over the past few months and our long term budgeting process, that those initiatives won’t be viable audience or revenue growth drivers for us relative to other investments we are making…. The rationale behind scaling back certain initiatives is to ensure we can (a) solidify our long-term financial stability in an unpredictable macro and micro environment (b) invest more resources in high return areas (including our workplace productivity by growing real estate, IT, P&C, etc.) and (c) act swiftly when new opportunities arise (as we have with Vox Entertainment, Vox Media Podcast Network, growing SB Nation team brands and Concert, for instance.)
In an effort to soften the blow of laying off five percent of the company’s workforce, Bankoff reminds employees of the calculated risks and ultimate successes of the young media conglomerate. The sites hit hardest were SB Nation, Curbed, Racked, and, perhaps not so surprisingly, the video services team.
For AdAge, George Seflo questioned whether the decision was, in a way, a response to the billion-dollar valuation the company received after accepting 200 million dollars in funding from NBC Universal in 2015. Seflo interviewed a few anonymous publishing sources who weighed in on both Bankoff’s decision and what it means for a company like Vox. “‘I just don’t see how they live up to that billion dollar valuation,’ one major publishing executive said, asking to remain anonymous to protect industry relationships. ‘Brands have little loyalty to media properties and in many cases, big campaigns come in a one-and-done deal.’”
One of Seflo’s sources also pointed to the consequences of focusing on just one revenue stream, like advertising, instead of diversifying revenue with, say, subscriptions. “Like many publishers, Vox Media lacks a subscription paywall and mainly relies on advertising to survive. ‘You need real, multiple revenue streams to occur and they have no subscriptions,’ the publishing executive says. ‘They only have advertising and no media company in history has ever survived on a single revenue stream.’”
Still, as Seflo and Benjamin Mullin at the Wall Street Journal point out, Vox’s scaling back may also have to do with Facebook’s recent decision to change their news-gathering algorithms to favor links shared among friends, over those shared by publishers and media companies.
Alex Primiani is senior publicist at Melville House.