Facebook knew that an ad intended for a 13-year-old was likely to capture younger children who wanted to mimic their older siblings and friends, one person said. Managers told employees that Facebook did everything it could to stop underage users from joining Instagram, but that it could not be helped if they signed up anyway.
In September 2018, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram’s founders, left Facebook after clashing with Mr. Zuckerberg. Mr. Mosseri, a longtime Facebook executive, was appointed to helm Instagram.
With the leadership changes, Facebook went all out to turn Instagram into a main attraction for young audiences, four former employees said. That coincided with the realization that Facebook itself, which was grappling with data privacy and other scandals, would never be a teen destination, the people said.
Instagram began concentrating on the “teen time spent” data point, three former employees said. The goal was to drive up the amount of time that teenagers were on the app with features including Instagram Live, a broadcasting tool, and Instagram TV, where people upload videos that run as long as an hour.
Instagram also increased its global marketing budget. In 2018, it allocated $67.2 million to marketing. In 2019, that increased to a planned $127.3 million, then to $186.3 million last year and $390 million this year, according to the internal documents. Most of the budgets were designated to wooing teens, the documents show. Mr. Mosseri approved the budgets, two employees said.
The money was slated for marketing categories like “establishing Instagram as the favorite place for teens to express themselves” and cultural programs for events like the Super Bowl, according to the documents.
Many of the resulting ads were digital, featuring some of the platform’s top influencers, such as Donté Colley, a Canadian dancer and creator. The marketing, when put into action, also targeted parents of teenagers and people up to the age of 34.
The changes have involved Facebook executives from its marketing, communications, policy and integrity teams. Alex Schultz, a 14-year company veteran who was named chief marketing officer last year, has also been influential in the image reshaping effort, said five people who worked with him. But at least one of the decisions was driven by Mr. Zuckerberg, and all were approved by him, three of the people said.
Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman, denied that the company had changed its approach.
“People deserve to know the steps we’re taking to address the different issues facing our company — and we’re going to share those steps widely,” he said in a statement.
For years, Facebook executives have chafed at how their company appeared to receive more scrutiny than Google and Twitter, said current and former employees. They attributed that attention to Facebook’s leaving itself more exposed with its apologies and providing access to internal data, the people said.
So in January, executives held a virtual meeting and broached the idea of a more aggressive defense, one attendee said. The group discussed using the News Feed to promote positive news about the company, as well as running ads that linked to favorable articles about Facebook. They also debated how to define a pro-Facebook story, two participants said.
That same month, the communications team discussed ways for executives to be less conciliatory when responding to crises and decided there would be less apologizing, said two people with knowledge of the plan.
Mr. Zuckerberg, who had become intertwined with policy issues including the 2020 election, also wanted to recast himself as an innovator, the people said. In January, the communications team circulated a document with a strategy for distancing Mr. Zuckerberg from scandals, partly by focusing his Facebook posts and media appearances on new products, they said.
The Information, a tech news site, previously reported on the document.
The impact was immediate. On Jan. 11, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer — and not Mr. Zuckerberg — told Reuters that the storming of the U.S. Capitol a week earlier had little to do with Facebook. In July, when President Biden said the social network was “killing people” by spreading Covid-19 misinformation, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for integrity, disputed the characterization in a blog post and pointed out that the White House had missed its coronavirus vaccination goals.
“The internet is answering a question that it’s been wrestling with for decades, which is: How is the internet going to pay for itself?” he said.
The fallout may hurt brands that relied on targeted ads to get people to buy their goods. It may also initially hurt tech giants like Facebook — but not for long. Instead, businesses that can no longer track people but still need to advertise are likely to spend more with the largest tech platforms, which still have the most data on consumers.
David Cohen, chief executive of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, said the changes would continue to “drive money and attention to Google, Facebook, Twitter.”
The shifts are complicated by Google’s and Apple’s opposing views on how much ad tracking should be dialed back. Apple wants its customers, who pay a premium for its iPhones, to have the right to block tracking entirely. But Google executives have suggested that Apple has turned privacy into a privilege for those who can afford its products.
For many people, that means the internet may start looking different depending on the products they use. On Apple gadgets, ads may be only somewhat relevant to a person’s interests, compared with highly targeted promotions inside Google’s web. Website creators may eventually choose sides, so some sites that work well in Google’s browser might not even load in Apple’s browser, said Brendan Eich, a founder of Brave, the private web browser.
“It will be a tale of two internets,” he said.
Businesses that do not keep up with the changes risk getting run over. Increasingly, media publishers and even apps that show the weather are charging subscription fees, in the same way that Netflix levies a monthly fee for video streaming. Some e-commerce sites are considering raising product prices to keep their revenues up.
Consider Seven Sisters Scones, a mail-order pastry shop in Johns Creek, Ga., which relies on Facebook ads to promote its items. Nate Martin, who leads the bakery’s digital marketing, said that after Apple blocked some ad tracking, its digital marketing campaigns on Facebook became less effective. Because Facebook could no longer get as much data on which customers like baked goods, it was harder for the store to find interested buyers online.
Facebook has approached academics and policy experts about forming a commission to advise it on global election-related matters, said five people with knowledge of the discussions, a move that would allow the social network to shift some of its political decision-making to an advisory body.
The proposed commission could decide on matters such as the viability of political ads and what to do about election-related misinformation, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, though the effort is preliminary and could still fall apart.
Outsourcing election matters to a panel of experts could help Facebook sidestep criticism of bias by political groups, two of the people said. The company has been blasted in recent years by conservatives, who have accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as by civil rights groups and Democrats for allowing political misinformation to fester and spread online. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, does not want to be seen as the sole decision maker on political content, two of the people said.
Oversight Board, a collection of journalism, legal and policy experts who adjudicate whether the company was correct to remove certain posts from its platforms. Facebook has pushed some content decisions to the Oversight Board for review, allowing it to show that it does not make determinations on its own.
pays them through a trust.
The Oversight Board’s highest-profile decision was reviewing Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald J. Trump after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. At the time, Facebook opted to ban Mr. Trump’s account indefinitely, a penalty that the Oversight Board later deemed “not appropriate” because the time frame was not based on any of the company’s rules. The board asked Facebook to try again.
In June, Facebook responded by saying that it would bar Mr. Trump from the platform for at least two years. The Oversight Board has separately weighed in on more than a dozen other content cases that it calls “highly emblematic” of broader themes that Facebook grapples with regularly, including whether certain Covid-related posts should remain up on the network and hate speech issues in Myanmar.
A spokesman for the Oversight Board declined to comment.
Facebook has had a spotty track record on election-related issues, going back to Russian manipulation of the platform’s advertising and posts in the 2016 presidential election.
bar the purchase of new political ads the week before the election, then later decided to temporarily ban all U.S. political advertising after the polls closed on Election Day, causing an uproar among candidates and ad-buying firms.
The company has struggled with how to handle lies and hate speech around elections. During his last year in office, Mr. Trump used Facebook to suggest he would use state violence against protesters in Minneapolis ahead of the 2020 election, while casting doubt on the electoral process as votes were tallied in November. Facebook initially said that what political leaders posted was newsworthy and should not be touched, before later reversing course.
The social network has also faced difficulties in elections elsewhere, including the proliferation of targeted disinformation across its WhatsApp messaging service during the Brazilian presidential election in 2018. In 2019, Facebook removed hundreds of misleading pages and accounts associated with political parties in India ahead of the country’s national elections.
Facebook has tried various methods to stem the criticisms. It established a political ads library to increase transparency around buyers of those promotions. It also has set up war rooms to monitor elections for disinformation to prevent interference.
There are several elections in the coming year in countries such as Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines where Facebook’s actions will be closely scrutinized. Voter fraud misinformation has already begun spreading ahead of German elections in September. In the Philippines, Facebook has removed networks of fake accounts that support President Rodrigo Duterte, who used the social network to gain power in 2016.
“There is already this perception that Facebook, an American social media company, is going in and tilting elections of other countries through its platform,” said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University. “Whatever decisions Facebook makes have global implications.”
Internal conversations around an election commission date back to at least a few months ago, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
An election commission would differ from the Oversight Board in one key way, the people said. While the Oversight Board waits for Facebook to remove a post or an account and then reviews that action, the election commission would proactively provide guidance without the company having made an earlier call, they said.
Tatenda Musapatike, who previously worked on elections at Facebook and now runs a nonprofit voter registration organization, said that many have lost faith in the company’s abilities to work with political campaigns. But the election commission proposal was “a good step,” she said, because “they’re doing something and they’re not saying we alone can handle it.”
The Olympics have long been an almost ideal forum for companies looking to promote themselves, with plenty of opportunities for brands to nestle ads among the pageantry and feel-good stories about athletes overcoming adversity — all for less than the price of a Super Bowl commercial.
But now, as roughly 11,000 competitors from more than 200 countries convene in Tokyo as the coronavirus pandemic lingers, Olympic advertisers are feeling anxious about the more than $1 billion they have spent to run ads on NBC and its Peacock streaming platform.
Calls to cancel the more than $15.4 billion extravaganza have intensified as more athletes test positive for Covid-19. The event is also deeply unpopular with Japanese citizens and many public health experts, who fear a superspreader event. And there will be no spectators in the stands.
“The Olympics are already damaged goods,” said Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic soccer player and an expert in sports politics at Pacific University. “If this situation in Japan goes south fast, then we could see some whipsaw changes in the way that deals are cut and the willingness of multinational companies to get involved.”
blow to the Games on Monday when it said it had abandoned its plans to run Olympics-themed television commercials in Japan.
In the United States, marketing plans are mostly moving ahead.
For NBCUniversal, which has paid billions of dollars for the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States through 2032, the event is a crucial source of revenue. There are more than 140 sponsors for NBC’s coverage on television, on its year-old streaming platform Peacock and online, an increase over the 100 that signed on for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Not being there with an audience of this size and scale for some of our blue-chip advertisers is not an option,” said Jeremy Carey, the managing director of the sports marketing agency Optimum Sports.
Michelob Ultra commercial, the sprinting star Usain Bolt points joggers toward a bar. Procter & Gamble’s campaign highlights good deeds by athletes and their parents. Sue Bird, a basketball star, promotes the fitness equipment maker Tonal in a spot debuting Friday.
campaign featuring profiles of Olympic athletes.
“We do think people will continue to tune in, even without fans, as they did for all kinds of other sports,” Mr. Brandt said. “It’s going to be a diminishing factor in terms of the excitement, but we also hope that the Olympics are a bit of a unifier at a time when the country can seem to be so divided every day.”
NBCUniversal said it had exceeded the $1.2 billion in U.S. ad revenue it garnered for the 2016 Games in Rio and had sold all of its advertising slots for Friday’s opening ceremony, adding that it was still offering space during the rest of the Games. Buyers estimate that the price for a 30-second prime-time commercial exceeds $1 million.
Television has attracted the bulk of the ad spending, but the amount brought in by digital and streaming ads is on the rise, according to Kantar. Several forecasts predict that TV ratings for the Olympics will lag the Games in Rio and London, while the streaming audience will grow sharply.
NBCUniversal said that during the so-called upfront negotiation sessions this year, when ad buyers reserve spots with media companies, Peacock had received $500 million in commitments for the coming year.
“You won’t find a single legacy media company out there that is not pushing their streaming capabilities for their biggest events,” Mr. Carey, the Optimum Sports executive, said. “That’s the future of where this business is going.”
United Airlines, a sponsor of Team U.S.A., scrapped its original ad campaign, one that promoted flights from the United States to Tokyo. Its new effort, featuring the gymnast Simon Biles and the surfer Kolohe Andino, encourages a broader return to air travel.
showcasing skateboarders. “People are quite fragile at the moment. Advertisers don’t want to be too saccharine or too clever but are trying to find that right tone.”
Many companies advertising during the Games are running campaigns that they had to redesign from scratch after the Olympics were postponed last year.
“We planned it twice,” said Mr. Carey of Optimum Sports. “Think about how much the world has changed in that one year, and think about how much each of our brands have changed what they want to be out there saying or doing or sponsoring. So we crumpled it up, and we started over again.”
FIFA World Cup in Qatar in late 2022 and the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, both of which have put the advertising industry in a difficult position because of China’s and Qatar’s poor records on human rights.
First, though, ad executives just want the Tokyo Games to proceed without incident.
“We’ve been dealing with these Covid updates every day since last March,” said Kevin Collins, an executive at the ad-buying and media intelligence firm Magna. “I’m looking forward to them starting.”
WASHINGTON — When the nation’s antitrust laws were created more than a century ago, they were aimed at taking on industries such as Big Oil.
But technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, which dominate e-commerce, social networks, online advertising and search, have risen in ways unforeseen by the laws. In recent decades, the courts have also interpreted the rules more narrowly.
On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.
The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.
David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the country needed a “massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system” to police the biggest technology companies.
Moments later, Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, agreed. He called for lawmakers to adapt antitrust laws to fit the business models of Silicon Valley companies.
This week’s rulings have now put the pressure on lawmakers to push through a recently proposed package of legislation that would rewrite key aspects of monopoly laws to make some of the tech giants’ business practices illegal.
“This is going to strengthen the case for legislation,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It seems to be proof that the antitrust laws are not up to the challenge.”
introduced this month and passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills would make it harder for the major tech companies to buy nascent competitors and to give preference to their own services on their platforms, and ban them from using their dominance in one business to gain the upper hand in another.
including Lina Khan, a scholar whom President Biden named this month to run the F.T.C. — have argued that a broader definition of consumer welfare, beyond prices, should be applied. Consumer harm, they have said, can also be evident in reduced product quality, like Facebook users suffering a loss of privacy when their personal data is harvested and used for targeted ads.
In one of his rulings on Monday, Judge James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Facebook’s business model had made it especially difficult for the government to meet the standard for going forward with the case.
The government, Judge Boasberg said, had not presented enough evidence that Facebook held monopoly power. Among the difficulties he highlighted was that Facebook did not charge its users for access to its site, meaning its market share could not be assessed through revenue. The government had not found a good alternative measure to make its case, he said.
He also ruled against another part of the F.T.C.’s lawsuit, concerning how Facebook polices the use of data generated by its product, while citing the kind of conservative antitrust doctrine that critics say is out of step with the technology industry’s business practices.
The F.T.C., which brought the federal antitrust suit against Facebook in December, can file a new complaint that addresses the judge’s concerns within 30 days. State attorneys general can appeal Judge Boasberg’s second ruling dismissing a similar case.
fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations, there were few significant changes to how the company’s products operate. And Facebook continues to grow: More than 3.45 billion people use one or more of its apps — including WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — every month.
The decisions were particularly deflating after actions to rein in tech power in Washington had gathered steam. Ms. Khan’s appointment to the F.T.C. this month followed that of Tim Wu, another lawyer who has been critical of the industry, to the National Economic Council. Bruce Reed, the president’s deputy chief of staff, has called for new privacy regulation.
Mr. Biden has yet to name anyone to permanently lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected its monopoly over online search.
The White House is also expected to issue an executive order this week targeting corporate consolidation in tech and other areas of the economy. A spokesman for the White House did not respond to requests for comment about the executive order or Judge Boasberg’s rulings.
Activists and lawmakers said this week that Congress should not wait to give regulators more tools, money and legal red lines to use against the tech giants. Mr. Cicilline, along with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the judge’s decisions on Facebook show “the dire need to modernize our antitrust laws to address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct in the digital economy.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, echoed their call.
“After decades of binding Supreme Court decisions that have weakened our antitrust policies, we cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open and fair,” she said in a statement. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy.”
But the six bills to update monopoly laws have a long way to go. They still need to pass the full House, where they will likely face criticism from moderate Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In the Senate, Republican support is necessary for them to overcome the legislative filibuster.
The bills may also not go as far in altering antitrust laws as some hope. The House Judiciary Committee amended one last week to reinforce the standard around consumer welfare.
Even so, Monday’s rulings have given the proposals a boost. Bill Baer, who led the Justice Department antitrust division during the Obama administration, said it “gives tremendous impetus to those in Congress who believe that the courts are too conservative in addressing monopoly power.”
Facebook and the tech platforms might like the judge’s decisions, he said, “but they might not like what happens in the Congress.”
Also in late February, Blueacorn and Womply got an unexpected tailwind from a major rule change by the Small Business Administration, which oversaw the loan program. Concerned that women and minority-led businesses were being disproportionately left out, the Biden administration overhauled the loan formula to award sole proprietors — a group that includes contractors and gig workers — loans based on their reported revenue rather than profit. Overnight, millions more qualified for help. Drawn in by the marketing campaigns, they stampeded toward the two companies.
By early March, “we were overrun with demand,” said Blueacorn’s Mr. Calhoun, a private equity veteran who joined the company that month to help manage its growth. “We had a 24-hour period where we went from 15,000 new customer service tickets to 27,000,” he recalled. “Those are Amazon-like levels.”
Blueacorn rented call centers and trained hundreds of temporary workers to troubleshoot. Womply redeployed nearly all of its 200 employees to work on loan issues. Both companies still struggled to keep up. On Reddit groups and social media sites, thousands of borrowers complained about delays, poor communication and problems resolving errors.
Louis Glatthorn, an Uber driver in Boone, N.C., who goes by Bob, applied on Womply’s website on April 7 and signed the paperwork two weeks later for a $7,818 loan. But the money — which is listed in government records as approved — has not been paid by Benworth Capital, one of Womply’s partners. Mr. Glatthorn’s attempts to reach Womply for help have been unsuccessful.
“You can never talk to a person or actually make contact,” he said. A Womply representative declined to comment on Mr. Glatthorn’s experience.
Others had a smoother run. Dan Bourque, an Uber driver in San Francisco, saw Womply’s ads and applied for a loan in mid-April. Seventeen days later, he had a $10,477 deposit — funded by Fountainhead SBF, another of Womply’s partner lenders — in his bank account. For that loan, the process “was flawless,” he said.
The Money Pours In
The millions of tiny loans the two tech companies enabled, coupled with Congress’s decision to make small loans more lucrative, led to gigantic payouts for small lenders. Last year, Prestamos made $1.3 million for its lending. This year, it will collect nearly $1.2 billion, according to a New York Times calculation of lenders’ fees based on government data.
Paul Romer was once Silicon Valley’s favorite economist. The theory that helped him win a Nobel prize — that ideas are the turbocharged fuel of the modern economy — resonated deeply in the global capital of wealth-generating ideas. In the 1990s, Wired magazine called him “an economist for the technological age.” The Wall Street Journal said the tech industry treated him “like a rock star.”
Today, Mr. Romer, 65, remains a believer in science and technology as engines of progress. But he has also become a fierce critic of the tech industry’s largest companies, saying that they stifle the flow of new ideas. He has championed new state taxes on the digital ads sold by companies like Facebook and Google, an idea that Maryland adopted this year.
And he is hard on economists, including himself, for long supplying the intellectual cover for hands-off policies and court rulings that have led to what he calls the “collapse of competition” in tech and other industries.
“Economists taught, ‘It’s the market. There’s nothing we can do,’” Mr. Romer said. “That’s really just so wrong.”
free-market theory. Monopoly or oligopoly seems to be the order of the day.
The relentless rise of the digital giants, they say, requires new thinking and new rules. Some were members of the tech-friendly Obama administration. In congressional testimony and research reports, they are contributing ideas and credibility to policymakers who want to rein in the big tech companies.
Their policy recommendations vary. They include stronger enforcement, giving people more control over their data and new legislation. Many economists support the bill introduced this year by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, that would tighten curbs on mergers. The bill would effectively “overrule a number of faulty, pro-defendant Supreme Court cases,” Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, wrote in a recent presentation to the American Bar Association.
Some economists, notably Jason Furman, a Harvard professor, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration and adviser to the British government on digital markets, recommend a new regulatory authority to enforce a code of conduct on big tech companies that would include fair access to their platforms for rivals, open technical standards and data mobility.
his Nobel lecture in 2018 prompted him to think about the “progress gap” in America. Progress, he explained, is not just a matter of economic growth, but should also be seen in measures of individual and social well-being.
Mr. Romer pushed the idea that new cities of the developing world should be a blend of government design for basics like roads and sanitation, and mostly let markets take care of the rest. During a short stint as chief economist of the World Bank, he had hoped to persuade the bank to back a new city, without success.
In the big-tech debate, Mr. Romer notes the influence of progressives like Lina Khan, an antitrust scholar at Columbia Law School and a Democratic nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, who see market power itself as a danger and look at its impact on workers, suppliers and communities.
That social welfare perspective is a wider lens that appeals to Mr. Romer and others.
“I’m totally on board with Paul on this,” said Rebecca Henderson, an economist and professor at the Harvard Business School. “We have a much broader problem than one that falls within the confines of current antitrust law.”
Mr. Romer’s specific contribution is a proposal for a progressive tax on digital ads that would apply mainly to the largest internet companies supported by advertising. Its premise is that social networks like Facebook and Google’s YouTube rely on keeping people on their sites as long as possible by targeting them with attention-grabbing ads and content — a business model that inherently amplifies disinformation, hate speech and polarizing political messages.
So that digital ad revenue, Mr. Romer insists, is fair game for taxation. He would like to see the tax nudge the companies away from targeted ads toward a subscription model. But at the least, he said, it would give governments needed tax revenue.
In February, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that embodies Mr. Romer’s digital ad tax concept. Other states including Connecticut and Indiana are considering similar proposals. Industry groups have filed a court challenge to the Maryland law asserting it is an illegal overreach by the state.
Mr. Romer says the tax is an economic tool with a political goal.
“I really do think the much bigger issue we’re facing is the preservation of democracy,” he said. “This goes way beyond efficiency.”
Twitter plans to acquire the subscription service Scroll, the social media company announced on Tuesday, as it expands its plans for subscription offerings. The two companies declined to disclose the deal terms.
Scroll charges its users a fee to block advertising on participating news websites, then distributes a cut of its earnings to its partner publishers, which include USA Today, Vox and The Atlantic. Publishers can earn up to 50 percent more from the service than they do from advertising, Scroll contends. Twitter plans to integrate the service into its platform, and use its technology to build other subscription services.
“People come to Twitter every day to discover and read about what’s happening,” Mike Park, Twitter’s vice president for product, said in a blog post announcing the deal. “If Twitter is where so much of this conversation lives, it should be easier and simpler to read the content that drives it.”
In recent months, Twitter has begun to add paid subscriptions, and announced plans to introduce other subscriber features in the future.
Twitter acquired Revue, a newsletter provider, and said it would take a 5 percent cut of subscription revenue. In February, the company revealed plans to introduce “Super Follows,” a feature that would allow Twitter users to place some of their content behind a pay wall. And this week, Twitter said it planned to add a ticketing feature to its audio chat, Spaces, so that hosts can charge listeners for entry into their discussions.
Twitter plans to supplement its advertising revenue with revenue from subscriptions, and has raced to add content like newsletters and audio chats that it thinks audiences will pay for. Its acquisition of Scroll will add journalism to that list.
“For every other platform, journalism is dispensable. If journalism were to disappear tomorrow their business would carry on much as before,” Tony Haile, Scroll’s chief executive, wrote in a blog post. “Twitter is the only large platform whose success is deeply intertwined with a sustainable journalism ecosystem.”
Yahoo and AOL, kings of the early internet, saw their fortunes decline as Silicon Valley raced ahead to create new digital platforms. Google replaced Yahoo. AOL was supplanted by cable giants.
Now they will become the property of private equity. Verizon, their current owner, agreed to sell them to Apollo Global Management in a deal worth $5 billion, the companies announced Monday.
The business housing the two brands, Verizon Media, is to be renamed (yet again) to Yahoo (sans the brand’s stylized exclamation point), and the sale will also include its advertising technology business. Verizon will retain a 10 percent stake in the newly formed media group, the company said in a statement.
Guru Gowrappan, the head of Verizon’s media business, who will continue to lead the new Yahoo, was optimistic in a note to employees Monday morning. “This next evolution of Yahoo will be the most thrilling yet,” he said in the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times.
championed the deal as part of its “strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium experience.”
Today in Business
Tim Armstrong, the head of AOL, was part of the package, and he soon persuaded Verizon’s executives to add to its media holdings. Mr. Armstrong orchestrated the 2017 purchase of Yahoo for $4.5 billion — a prize he had been pursuing for years.
In the statement announcing the deal at the time, Mr. Armstrong said, “We’re building the future of brands.”
It was all in the pursuit of almighty “scale,” a business term of art that has almost become a religious mantra in Silicon Valley. The goal was to build a bigger audience to sell more advertising. But the internet’s economics had already shifted years before, and content that users provided free, whether in the form of Facebook posts or YouTube videos, drove much online activity. AOL and Yahoo, despite their big audiences, had become distant also-rans.
Verizon still saw value in Yahoo and AOL. The idea was to give Verizon customers content they couldn’t get elsewhere at a time when all cellphone service offerings were essentially the same. And AOL’s giant ad-tech business could give Verizon a better way to sell advertising on its phones.
departure of Mr. Armstrong and began a restructuring of the media unit. In early 2019, it laid off about 800 workers, about 7 percent of the staff. Last year, Verizon began to dismantle the media group with the sale of HuffPost to BuzzFeed.
Mr. Vestberg called the Apollo transaction “a bittersweet moment” in a companywide memo Monday morning, but he added that the sale “is a big step forward” for the media group.
“I believe this move is right for all of our stakeholders, including the Media employees,” he said. “Our purpose is to create the networks that move the world forward, and this will help us better focus all our energy and resources on our core competencies.”
Verizon has had to spend big to improve its mobile business. In March, it agreed to pay nearly $53 billion to license wireless airwaves that will help the company expand its 5G infrastructure. It also plans to spend $10 billion over the next few years to wire more cell towers and upgrade its systems. The company’s total debt now exceeds $180 billion, and its net debt is more than three times its annual pretax profits. Typically, the industry prefers to keep that ratio closer to 2.5.
For Apollo, the purchase is an opportunity to further invest in the digital media space — an industry it has already put money into, with deals for the photo printing business Shutterfly, the web-hosting company Rackspace and Cox Media Group, which owns TV and radio stations throughout the country. Apollo also has plenty of experience with the complex process of buying businesses spun out from larger companies, which generally requires separation of interwoven financials, systems and, often, key executives.
And Yahoo and AOL still generate plenty of revenue. Verizon’s media division recorded $1.9 billion in sales in the first three months of 2021, a 10 percent gain over the prior year.
regulatory scrutiny of some of the biggest players, like Google. And as digital ads rebound postpandemic, Apollo expects the overall industry to grow.
“Does most of that go to Google and Facebook and Snap and Twitter? Of course,” said Reed Rayman, a partner at Apollo. “But is there still a role for others in the digital media space to benefit from the rising tide, like Yahoo and the other properties? Absolutely.”
Apollo has been on a buying spree in the past few months, announcing deals to acquire Michaels, the chain of crafting stores, and the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. It has also had a shake-up in its senior ranks, with its co-founder Leon Black stepping down as chairman in March after the revelation he had paid more than $150 million to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.