Prometheus Shares Ownership Of Back Stage; ‘Wolff Is Not Being Fired’

Backstage magazine

Prometheus Global Media, the publisher of Adweek, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter has struck a strategic alliance with a group of investors led by NYC taxi advertising executive John Amato to run performing arts title Back Stage magazine. In an interview, Jimmy Finkelstein, Prometheus’ chairman, and Amato, who will be the magazine’s CEO and chairman, outlined a plan to give the 50-year-old title more digital focus.

Separately, I asked Finkelstein about the waves of speculation over the past few weeks about the status of Adweek Editorial Director Michael Wolff. “Michael’s name is still on the masthead,” Finkelstein said. “He’s not being fired. If I were going to fire someone, it would not be in the pages of the magazine or a news site. We do have differences, but we’re working through them to continue to build Adweek.”

On Adweek, Finkelstein did say that they are continuing to discuss ways of defining what a “b2b” trade magazine is. He was also quick to praise Wolff for helping significantly boost the website’s traffic over the past several months.

In the meantime, the company is working to reverse advertising losses and reclaim its traditional readership on Madison Avenue. Adweek isn’t the only title in Prometheus’ stable, and Finkelstein said that there are plans to revamp Billboard over the next few months. And while there have been reports of staffing levels dropping at THR, Finkelstein said that that magazine is looking to do some more hiring in the next couple of weeks.

As for Back Stage, terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, though Amato said that he did make a considerable investment in the title. The two were clear that Back Stage was not being completely handed off, as Deadline Hollywood reported. The NY Post cited an unidentified source as saying the deal was done for an estimated $3 million.

Back Stage arrived in Prometheus’ hands as part of the larger deal for Nielsen’s business-to-business trade magazines, including Adweek, Billboard and THR, which it acquired for about $80 million in December 2009.

It’s safe to say that trade reporting about the performing arts doesn’t have the same intense pressures from digital that changed the way advertising or movie executives get their news. Casting calls for actors and agents, which is Back Stage’s stock in trade, are still mostly done the same old way. For the most part, in terms of advertising, the free Broadway theater guide Playbill can be thought of as the nearest and oldest competitor to Back Stage.

In looking to revive Back Stage, it won’t have a completely different new direction in terms of the topics in its pages and on its web site. Certainly not in the same way Prometheus took on a significant revision with Wolff’s relaunch of Adweek, Mediaweek and Brandweek as one title, one website in April.

To lesser extent, THR has kept part of its business-to-business tradition, but it is mostly pivoted to consumer-friendly entertainment news — think Entertainment Weekly — instead of going head to head with Variety.

While THR was widely known outside of studio executives’ offices, Back Stage has always been much more understated.

In choosing to partner with Amato, the best bet for Back Stage will likely take a page from the approach to entertainment listings that Show Media, Amato’s in-taxi advertising and content video network. Show Media is just four years old, but it claims to bring in $15 million.

Amato will not have any further ties to Show Media and will be running Back Stage full time. Amato first approached Finkelstein several months ago with an offer to buy the title. Finkelstein said that he had no interest in unloading it then. What changed, albeit slightly, was that because Back Stage is so different from its former Nielsen siblings, the magazine did require a bit of outside focus in order to make it work.

Asked if he considered it possible that Back Stage could have closer ties to THR or Billboard, Finkelstein sounded intrigued, but said that was not part of the current plan.

“All I can say right now is that with this deal, we’re going to be investing more in Back Stage, especially in the areas of digital and mobile,” Finkelstein said. “Stay tuned.”

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