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paidContent 50: The world’s most successful digital media companies

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Digital media is exploding. Half of us now read news on tablets, virtually all music tracks are bought electronically, and nearly a tenth of Americans are ditching cable for internet TV.

But what does it take to make money from these fast-growing industries, and which companies are leading the way? Welcome to our second annual paidContent 50 list — our attempt to answer those questions.

The paidContent 50 ranks digital-media companies based not on whether we like their products or are on a first-name basis with their CEOs. We use a very simple and objective metric: the revenue they earn from digital content, or from the adverting around that content. After all, companies ultimately need to earn revenue to survive and thrive — the more of it, the better.

Last year’s paidContent 50  focused on U.S. companies. This year, we’ve gone global, in an effort to better reflect changes in the industry itself.  A growing number of content companies — Netflix, Sina and Spotify, among them — are aggressively pushing into overseas markets ater dominating at home. As that becomes a bigger focus for these companies, you can’t gauge their success without factoring in their track record internationally.

Creating this list wasn’t easy. We wanted digital revenue from the last full year, either calendar or fiscal, depending on the company. To get those numbers, we combed through public filings, read an ungodly number of news stories,  and worked our network of contacts and analysts for data and background. Some media companies break out digital sales for everyone to see, but other companies (and not just startups) make it extremely difficult to discern. With some of those companies, our digital sales numbers are educated estimates based on our research, and in those cases, we list our sources and explain our math. (Read more about our methodology here.)

That Google tops our paidContent 50 list again this year may not come as a shocker. But there are definitely some surprises in this year’s crop of most-successful companies. How much do you know about South African publisher Naspers? Well, it dwarfs many U.S. household media brands when it comes to digital revenue. Twitter is hugely important media company, but it didn’t crack our list (and neither did The New York Times, for that matter). Amazon, on the other hand, is going gangbusters with content sales, as our writeup shows. And as with so many industries, China is becoming a power in media, too.

We’ve tried to be as scientific as possible with this list — the numbers are rooted in raw numbers, not emotions. But no such list is ever perfect. This is a work-in-progress; it’s aimed at starting the conversation about digital success. Please give us your feedback so we can make next year’s list even better.

Additional reporting by Jeff Roberts,
Staci D. Kramer, Laura Owen and Dan Frankel.

More paidContent 50 coverage

Position Company Name Sector Digital Revenue
1 Google Search $36.4B
2 China Mobile Telco $7.58B
3 Bloomberg Business information $7B
4 Reed Elsevier Business information $5.93B
5 Apple Diversified $5.4B
6 Yahoo Diversified $4.99B
7 WPP Advertising $4.71B
8 Thomson Reuters Business information $4.71B
9 Tencent Diversified $4.46B
10 Microsoft Diversified $3.93B
11 Facebook Social networks $3.68B
12 Sony Diversified $3.38B
13 Pearson Business information $3.14B
14 Dentsu Advertising $2.9B
15 Omnicom Group Advertising $2.78B
16 China Telecom Telco $2.65B
17 Baidu Search $2.3B
18 Publicis Groupe Advertising $2.19B
19 Netflix Video $2.01B
20 News Corp Diversified $1.9B
21 Amazon Books $1.85B
22 Naspers Diversified $1.82B
23 Dun&Bradstreet Business information $1.76B
24 Groupon Advertising $1.61B
25 Activision Blizzard Games $1.56B
26 Comcast Broadcast $1.5B
27 Time Warner Diversified $1.5B
28 Hearst Diversified $1.5B
29 Wolters Kluwer Business information $1.47B
30 AOL Web content $1.4B
31 Universal Music Group Music $1.39B
32 IAC Web content $1.34B
33 Axel Springer Diversified $1.22B
34 Cox Enterprises Diversified $1.2B
35 CBS Broadcast $1.2B
36 Netease Diversified $1.19B
37 Zynga Games $1.14B
38 Gannett News publishing $1.1B
39 Electronic Arts Games $1.07B
40 Monster Worldwide Advertising $1.04B
41 Walt Disney Diversified $1B
42 Viacom Broadcast $1B
43 DMGT News publishing $997.24M
44 YP Holdings Advertising $990M
45 EMI Music $903.16M
46 Shanda Games Games $838.3M
47 Informa Business information $805.37M
48 Warner Music Music $768M
49 Yell Group Classifieds $722.84M
50 Hakuhodo DY Advertising $719.22M

21 Responses to “paidContent 50: The world’s most successful digital media companies”

  1. Good Job Mr. Robert

    I am a freelancing SEO and SMM professional. The recent update of google penguin and panda has changed the SEO pattern radically.

    And google has done this algorithm change to spread their digital ads business nothing than this.

    I really hate this because, making loss to others for their own profit is a Digital Crime and Weak Business policy from my view. Check my site Arsenal Highlights

  2. ciaranj

    If you want to rank things on revenue, fine. But then don’t call it the ‘Most Succesful List’: Microsoft might ‘make’ $3.9b on digital content, but it also loses around $3b every year too.

  3. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    I think this is a terrific list despite any reservations some people have about the methodology. It really demonstrates the huge growth potential of digital media companies in some of the emerging markets. Also, as a scientist – I note Elsevier being top 5 in revenue (Elsevier is publisher behind many of the top scientific journals).

  4. Mindbendingpuzzles

    What about Valve and their digital games platform: Steam. I know they are a private company and figures are hard to come by but in 2011 Forbes reckoned they have more than 50% of the 4 billion dollar PC games download market. That is huge.

    I would really love to see Paid Content do some investigation on Valve because they are an incredibly innovative company who really push digital retailing to its limits.

  5. Groupon and Monster are’t really media companies. I’m not even sure that ad agencies should qualify in the same category as Viacom or Time Warner. Totally different business model.

  6. Brendan

    Why is eBay not in this list? They have an ad business on and their classified sites, and the seller fees they collect are essentially paid ads since the platform doesn’t handle the items. This list is also missing Alibaba Group from China (including Taobao), and Gree from Japan.

  7. Zato Gibson

    “Creating this list wasn’t easy.”

    I can imagine. Manipulating the numbers to get Microsoft into the top 10 must have been really tough.