Penske Media, owner of Deadline site, buys Variety

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Variety magazine cover

Variety magazine cover (Image credit: Variety)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Penske Media Corp., the owner of the snarky entertainment website Deadline, has purchased venerable show business publication Variety for $25 million. Reed Elsevier Group PLC announced its sale of the publication on Tuesday.

Variety has covered show business since 1905 and is still considered a prominent entertainment news source. But the publication has struggled to compete with websites such as Deadline and The Wrap while continuing its longtime rivalry with The Hollywood Reporter, which was revamped in 2010 under new ownership.

Faced with the onslaught of Web-based news outlets, Variety put its online content behind a “pay wall” in early 2010, ending an experiment with free online content that it began in late 2006. It has about 17,000 subscribers, according to Reed spokesman Paul Abrahams.

Visitors to Variety’s website are allowed to read only a few free stories per month. The restrictions have cut its online presence. In 2009, it had about 2.5 million visitors a month. In September, Variety had just 397,000 unique visitors online. That compared to 5.1 million for HollywoodReporter.com, and 1.9 million at Deadline.com, according to market tracker comScore Inc. Even so, those entertainment business websites fall short of celebrity news sites such as Yahoo’s OMG with 28 million and TMZ with 22.9 million unique visitors.

In recent years, Variety has ramped up the number of industry-focused conferences it hosts, and tried last year to compete with Amazon.com Inc.’s movie information site, IMDb.com, by selling a data tool called FlixTracker. Despite the innovations, most of Variety’s revenue still comes from advertising.

Reed Elsevier put Variety up for sale in March as part of an effort to move away from ad-dependent businesses.

Variety was the last of Reed’s U.S. print publications. Reed sold book trade magazine Publisher’s Weekly in 2010 and pay TV industry magazine Multichannel News in 2009. Other titles it sold included Interior Design, Furniture Today, and Broadcast & Cable.

Reed is increasingly focused on providing data services for a variety of industries including airlines and banks.

Penske Media said it plans to expand Variety’s presence on the Web, on mobile devices, over broadcast and in international markets.

Aside from Deadline, the digital media and publishing company owns a number of news brands, including entertainment sites HollywoodLife, Movieline, and technology website BGR.

Penske Media was founded in 2004 by its CEO, Jay Penske, the son of auto racing team owner Roger Penske. Debt and equity financing for the transaction was provided by Third Point LLC, a hedge fund run by Daniel Loeb. Loeb gained notoriety earlier this year as an activist investor who lobbied for a management change at Yahoo Inc.

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