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Back in the day, I used Time Warner as an example of an “invisible network.” That is, a reader of Time magazine or Sports Illustrated – or a user of their web sites – might not know that they were both owned by Time Inc., but big advertisers and sponsors did. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that TWX is considering spinning off most of its magazine titles, possibly into a joint venture with Meredith. It would keep Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated, whose brands complement its TV business better, but People would find a comfier home next to Better Homes and Gardens.
It’s fairly obvious, but branded visible networks that try to drive audiences across related properties work best when the audience is common. Disney can cross-promote entertainment to families, but its audience and ESPN’s rarely need to meet. Meredith could create a good visible network for People. Yahoo’s making noise lately about zeroing in on fewer content topics itself, a refinement of its classic broad-reach, very visible portal strategy.
Time Warner used to be the biggest media company in the world. It never really exploited the potential of its invisible network in the physical or digital media era. As predicted, the invisible media networks like Google and Facebook changed many of the rules, but Time Warner never learned them.
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