BuzzFeed’s Valuation Tops Tribune’s Validates Approach

BuzzFeed Inc. raised $50 million on a bet its mix of everything from animal lists to serious news is more valuable than the coverage produced by established media like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

The investment from venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz propelled BuzzFeed’s valuation beyond those traditional big-name publications to about $850 million, according to the New York Times. While that’s about half the market capitalization of the Times itself, it’s in line with other Web startups at about seven times annual revenue, according to Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Andreessen Horowitz joins BuzzFeed investors Hearst Corp., SoftBank Corp. and New Enterprise Associates in wagering that the site can rank among the titans of media. BuzzFeed uses technology to help come up with ideas for articles that will attract readers, and it has connected with advertisers because it creates sponsored stories for their brands -- promoting Pepsi, for example, with animated images about staying cool in the summer.

“There’s a lot of potential for BuzzFeed, and it’s well positioned to move into a lot of key areas,” said Peter Krasilovsky, vice president of BIA Kelsey, a media research company based in Chantilly, Virginia. “They’ve put a lot of their money into figuring out which stories are being read. I can understand why you would want to invest in BuzzFeed.”

BuzzFeed said yesterday that the funding will let the company expand to Mumbai, Mexico City, Berlin and Tokyo and convert its video division into BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, which will focus on everything from animated online images to feature-length films.

‘Effectively Unbounded’

“We are very excited to work with everyone at BuzzFeed to help them realize their dreams of a profoundly important new media institution,” Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, said on Twitter. The company’s opportunity is “effectively unbounded,” he said.

At the end of last year, the company had forecast revenue of as much as $120 million in 2014, people familiar with the matter said at the time. Ashley McCollum, a BuzzFeed spokeswoman, said she couldn’t confirm the valuation.

The startup, which has more than 500 employees, is profitable, Chief Executive Officer Jonah Peretti said in September 2013. With the new investment, BuzzFeed has garnered almost $100 million in funding since the company debuted in 2006.

Valuation Validation

“The investment from Andreessen Horowitz really validates BuzzFeed, as a company and as an entity,” said Sweeney of Bloomberg Intelligence. “BuzzFeed has really proven itself as a business.”

While Buzzfeed’s valuation may outrank the Washington Post’s $250 million or the $493 million market cap of Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Publishing Co., it’s still a relative dwarf in the technology landscape. Facebook Inc. agreed to buy WhatsApp Inc., the text-messaging service, for $19 billion in February, and to spend another $2 billion on Oculus VR, a virtual-technology company, a month later.

The startup hasn’t been without controversy and last month fired writer Benny Johnson after finding 41 instances of sentences or phrases copied word for word from other sites. The matter was brought to BuzzFeed’s attention after Twitter users began pointing out examples of what appeared to be plagiarism, it said.

Twitter, Facebook

BuzzFeed relies on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to spread its articles and videos. Its coverage includes everything from weighty political journalism and long-form stories that rival traditional publications to autocorrect mishaps and quirky photo lists, such as "10 Pieces Of Proof That Shar-Peis Are Actually Fuzzy Land Manatees."

“We’re presently in the midst of a major technological shift in which, increasingly, news and entertainment are being distributed on social networks and consumed on mobile devices,” Dixon said in his blog post. “We believe BuzzFeed will emerge from this period as a preeminent media company.”

The site’s traffic has lured big-name advertisers like General Electric Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. Traditional news organizations including the New York Times, which had been relying on banner ads, are now mimicking BuzzFeed’s sponsored content, though critics such as HBO’s John Oliver have said the practice blurs the lines between news and advertising.

At the same time, BuzzFeed has gained credibility by hiring top journalists away from their established media organizations. The company brought in Ben Smith, a Politico reporter, as its editor-in-chief in 2011. Since then, the site has hired away journalists such as Mark Schoofs, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at ProPublica, and Lisa Tozzi, a New York Times reporter who covered the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, among other stories.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.

To contact the reporter on this story: Caitlin McCabe in New York at cmccabe11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Rabil at srabil@bloomberg.net Crayton Harrison, Niamh Ring

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