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Ownership

Ownership

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Which companies dominate the online industry? It depends on which criteria you use.

Whatever the method, a few big companies show up as Internet leaders.

If revenue is the standard, there are three main players — Time Warner, Google and Yahoo.

If traffic is the measuring stick, Microsoft and News Corp. — thanks to the popularity of MySpace — enter the picture.1

When it comes to online news, the same four Web sites continued to dominate in 2007 as have in the past: Yahoo News, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, and AOLNews.com.

Mergers and Acquisitions

2007 was an active year for media deals in the online world.

The first three quarters saw more than 637 transactions, matching the number for all of 2006. What’s more, these deals totaled more than $95 billion in value, surpassing last year’s total of $61 billion by 56%.2

Online advertising companies were among the most sought after, and the biggest names — AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft — made a number of notable purchases.

By mid-year, advertising deals such as Google’s purchase of the digital marketing company, DoubleClick, had topped $12 billion.3

Why were online advertising sites the most sought-after? According to an August 2007 article in the New York Times, more people are spending time on social networking sites and less time on online portals.4

“Just like Yahoo, AOL is fighting MySpace, Facebook and others for audience and ad dollars, and those are tough competitors,” Jordan Rohan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, told the New York Times.5

As a result, owners are feeling increasing pressure to acquire a more lucrative stake in the online advertising market, and add more revenue streams.

How long the run on online advertising and content companies will continue is less certain. At least one analyst, John Suhler, president of Veronis Suhler Stevenson, said tightening credit markets, though not likely to affect the number of transactions, may significantly reduce the number of high-value deals, or those estimated at more than $2 billion.6

Perhaps no potential acquisition created more interest than that of Facebook, the social networking site developed in February 2004 initially to appeal to college students. Facebook was opened to the general public in September 2006. Meanwhile, its friends-making theme struck a chord with the general public, attracting more than 58 million active users worldwide, as of December 2007.

In October 2007, Microsoft beat out Google to acquire a 1.6% stake in the site for $240 million. Facebook’s founder, 23-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, did not appear interested in an outright sale.

Although Facebook rivals News Corp.’s MySpace in total members, some question whether the site is worth its bidding price. According to the Economist magazine, investors estimate Facebook’s 2007 revenues at just $100 million, with “tiny profits.”7

Facebook, which Microsoft valued at $15 billion, seemed excessive to those who see long-term challenges in making money from social networking sites.

“No one knows what the scene is going to look like in five years’ time. It is the Wild West out there,” the News Corp. CEO, Rupert Murdoch, replied when asked about Facebook’s valuation.

Some analysts disagreed. “The partnership can’t be measured in dollars — its chief benefit is to give Microsoft a critical foothold in the emerging ecosystem of social network-based advertising, and Facebook is a formidable partner for long-term growth,” said Andrew Frank, vice president for research with Gartner, an information technology research firm.

Other analysts view the deal as a worrisome sign that the tech industry may be headed for a market crash similar to the one precipitated by the dot-com boom of the 1990s. Others argue that venture capitalists, older and wiser, will take a more sober, long-term approach to valuing deals this time around.8

Profiles of Major Online Media Companies

According to data from the online measurement companies Nielsen//Net Ratings, Hitwise and comScore, three of the most popular news sites are Yahoo News, AOL News and Google News, owned by three of the biggest online companies.

In 2006, for instance, Time Warner, which owns AOL News, was the U.S. media company with the most revenue from its media properties, according to data published by Advertising Age. Google (No. 19) and Yahoo (No. 21) were lower on Advertising Age’s list.

In official filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Yahoo, Google and AOL do not break out revenue for their news properties, making it nearly impossible to discern how much money the companies are generating from their online properties. Therefore, the discussion about revenue and earnings in this section will refer to these companies’ total revenues.

There are both differences and commonalties among the three companies.

Yahoo and Google are pure-play Internet companies, meaning all their revenue is generated online. And virtually all that revenue comes from advertisements placed on their search engines.

AOL, in contrast, represents a minority share of its parent company, Time Warner. Revenue from AOL, of which news is just one small part, accounted for just over one- fifth of Time Warner’s total revenues in 2006.

In 2006, AOL shifted largely from an Internet provider to one more dependent on revenue from advertising. The company made more moves in 2007 to strengthen its ad revenue stream in the years ahead, with perhaps less success than it had hoped for.

Nevertheless, AOL appeared even more committed to generating revenue from marketing over the Web in 2007, acquiring a number of online advertising companies, and moving a step closer toward the models adopted by its rivals, especially Google.

Google

Google continues to dazzle Wall Street, getting bigger, more profitable and gaining even more market share in its core business — search.

Through the first nine months of 2007, Google’s earnings grew 46%, to nearly $3 billion, compared with the same time the year before. Revenue, meanwhile, grew by 59%, to $11.8 billion.9 With a market value of $187 billion, Google, which went public in 2004, was by the end of 2007 more valuable based on stock market capitalization than such older companies as Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.10

The gains in 2007 came after robust growth in 2006, when the company added nearly 5,000 employees and increased revenues by 73% to $10.6 billion. Profits had increased 110% in 2006, reaching $3.1 billion, according to SEC filings.11

Most of the advertising revenue at Google, 60%, comes directly from its search engine at www.google.com. The remaining ad revenue of 40% comes largely from its Google Network members. According to Google’s Web site, the network is a “large group of Web sites and other products, such as e-mail programs and blogs, who have partnered with Google” to display ads.12

The source of Google’s success is its dominance of the search market. In October 2007, for instance, 64% of all searches in the United States originated on Google, up from 61% a year earlier. Yahoo’s share, meanwhile, remained at 22% while third-place MSN fell from 11% to 7%, according to October data from Hitwise.13

Traditional media companies have noticed missed Google’s amazing growth. Several newspaper companies that once considered Google a major competitor have agreed to partner with Google, Yahoo and other online media companies to compensate for little or no growth in revenue from print ads.

Google also made gains abroad, especially in China and other emerging markets. Over all, 43 percent of its total revenue in 2006 was generated outside the United States. As of early 2007, the company had 32 sales offices in 19 countries.14 Nearly half its engineer hires in 2006 were placed abroad, including in China, Brazil, Russia, and India.

Beyond search, Google seems to be everywhere and anywhere, pursuing more ad revenue as it looks ahead.15 It has sought to compete in markets with well-established leaders: e-mail, social networking, online news, instant messaging and, most recently, cell phones. According to Jennifer Simpson, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group research firm, “Google is trying to make itself into a ubiquitous brand, where it’s everywhere on the Web.”

History offers no guarantee that Google will be able to succeed in these new markets. Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL all achieved a great success in branching out with cutting-edge applications, but struggled to maintain their dominance as technology’s leading innovators.

Google also made a big splash in the world of online video in October 2006 when it acquired YouTube, the most popular video-sharing site with 57.4 million unique viewers in the U.S., for $1.65 billion.16 At the time, media mogul Mark Cuban was quoted as saying only a “moron” would buy the site because it eventually would be “sued into oblivion” for copyright violations.

A year later, questions remain about the fallout from the YouTube purchase.

YouTube’s legal troubles remain unresolved. In March 2007, Viacom announced it would sue YouTube for $1 billion, alleging that 160,000 of Viacom’s clips had been uploaded to the site. “Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws,” the company said in a statement.17 As of late 2007, Viacom showed no signs of backing off the lawsuit.

Second, there are questions about how much YouTube will contribute to Google’s bottom line. It was thought Google planned to charge $20 per viewing. One blogger suggests that, in a best-case scenario, it will take five years for YouTube to generate the amount of revenue Google currently gets from its search engine.18

Citigroup estimated YouTube would bring in $135 million in revenue in 2008.19 At that clip, the number of videos watched on the site would have to grow 1,642 percent before YouTube accounts for 5% of Google’s revenues.

Why does Google invest in news? Once again, it is hard to evaluate Google’s financial stake because the company does not break out revenues for news. Since Google News, fully produced by computer algorithms that distribute other news organization’s original reporting, was launched in 2002 and remained in beta form until early 2006, there were questions about whether Google News made any money.

According to Adam Penenberg, writing for Wired, Google News would bring up unwelcome copyright issues if it chose to place advertising on its home page.20

But that may not matter. According to Lucas Grindley, a blogger and operations manager on the Web site of the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla., Google is able to make money from its ad-free service because of branding and its ability to drive heavy traffic to newspaper sites often filled with Google AdSense ads.

“All multi-billion dollar companies are in it for the money, Google included,” Grindley wrote in April 2007. “They’re not featuring Google News prominently on their ever-so-sparse home page just to be nice.”

Yahoo

After a disastrous 2006, Yahoo appeared to be making gains in 2007. But the company’s 2007 economic performance continued to pale in comparison to that of Google. It was estimated in mid-2007 that Google, in just one quarter, far surpasses what Yahoo makes in a year.21

Through the first nine months of 2007, Yahoo’s earnings declined 6%, to $454 million, compared to the same time a year earlier. Revenues, meanwhile, grew to $5.1 billion, an increase of 8%. But things were much worse in 2006.22 For the entire year, earnings dropped 60%. Revenues, meanwhile, were up 22%, to $6.4 billion.23

Like Google, the lion’s share of Yahoo’s revenue comes from advertising — 88% in 2006.24

Heading into 2008, Yahoo remains more focused on the U.S. market than Google, although it, too, is becoming more international. In 2006, nearly a third (32%) of its total revenue came from abroad, up from 30% in 2005 and 26% in 2004, according to documents filed with the SEC.25

Yahoo attributed some of its growth to its implementation of Panama, the company’s long-awaited online advertising platform, purchased in the fall of 2006. Panama promised advertisers a quality index, which gives them a better sense of why certain ads are more effective than others.

In the third quarter of 2007, Yahoo increased its share of all spending in the search market to 20.4% in the third quarter, up from 8.5% in the second quarter.26

Is that enough for Wall Street? Some analysts had projected that Panama would boost Yahoo’s search revenue by as much as 45% in 2007.27

Much of Yahoo’s troubles with investors may have a lot to do with the general perception of the company. According to blogger Alan Mutter, author of the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, Yahoo “is not the technology leader. Yahoo is the technology follower.”

In late 2007, one business analyst, Jeffrey Lindsay of Sanford C. Bernstein, went so far as to say Yahoo would be worth more if the company was broken up. “It appears that Yahoo will not take bold measures to right the ship,” Lindsay wrote in a research report. “We believe that Yahoo still has a potentially high intrinsic value. We believe, however, that to stop the inevitable slide into irrelevance the management team must consider more radical actions and strategies.”

In February 2008, Microsoft formally bid for Yahoo, offering $44.6 billion in cash and stock. Yahoo declined the offer as too low, the New York Times reported.28 Shortly after, there were news reports that Yahoo and News Corp. had begun talks about a possible acquisition. As of late February 2007, there was speculation that Microsoft may offer Yahoo more money or conduct a proxy fight to acquire Yahoo.

When Yahoo replaced Terry Semel with co-founder Jerry Yang as CEO in June 2007, the company made it clear that it remained committed to a strategy that bucks the conventional wisdom of how Web behavior has changed over the past few years. With mounting evidence that the initial concept of the portal as a gated community is in decline (see Audience Section), Yahoo insists that it is still a place where consumers can find all their informational and communication needs: In a much-discussed October 2007 blog posting, Yang told users that Yahoo is still a starting point that will “help you better manage your life and connect you to what matters most to you.” That, according to Yang, includes e-mail, search, news, sports and finance.

How is Yahoo investing in its news operations? Yahoo News is the top news site in the United States, according to data from Nielsen//Net Ratings and comScore, but, since most media companies do not break out revenues and profits for their news divisions, analysts cannot be certain.

But at least some of Yahoo’s budget, it seems, is allocated to licensing fees it pays to post articles from more than 7,000 sources.

There is also some original reporting. Kevin Sites’ In the HotZone, launched in 2006, was the company’s first attempt. In 2007, Yahoo Sports published findings from its eight-month exclusive investigation of former Heisman Trophy-winner and current NFL player Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints, focusing on possible NCAA violations while the running back played at the University of Southern California.

Yahoo has also created several pages that mix more traditional journalism with consumer information, such as Yahoo Food and Yahoo Health, which offer communities of users ways to organize around their interests as well as blogs from experts.

AOL

In 2007, AOL’s ambitions to move from a subscription-based to advertising-supported model were somewhat undermined, according to its economic data.

In 2006, when AOL essentially abandoned its dial-up subscribers and shifted focus to online advertisers, revenue from subscriptions dropped 14% while ad revenue surged 41%. But over all for the year, revenue dropped 5%, underscoring the critical boost subscriptions had given AOL’s bottom line.29 The hope was that online advertising would continue to grow even more in 2007, defying critics’ skepticism that AOL’s transition would be a relatively smooth one.

Instead, growth in revenue from online ads slowed considerably. In the third quarter of 2007, for instance, ad revenue grew 13% while subscription revenues decreased 56%. And over all, revenues fell 38%.30 Some analysts are concerned that AOL will not be able to generate enough revenue to compensate for canceled subscriptions. According to Forbes columnist Louis Hau, “AOL’s transition to an ad-supported business is proving to be a tad rocky.”31

There is also continuing pressure for AOL to bolster Time Warner’s earnings, which led to 2,000 AOL employees being laid off in October 2007, adding to the 5,000 let go the previous year.32

Time Warner continues to deny rumors that it plans to sell AOL after the retirement of its chairman and CEO, Richard Parsons, which is expected in 2008.

Looking ahead, what is AOL’s strategy?

“Publishing is no longer just about the portal,” Randy Falco, the CEO for AOL, told the New York Times. “We are going to be in as many different places as possible.” Falco said he believes that everything does not have to be tied to the AOL brand, “which evokes many, not entirely positive, associations.”33 Some contend that AOL’s money-making focus will be on selling ads not on its own Web properties, but on other Web sites.

And AOL does not have to look far for a model. “[Google] combines its own site with a network that represents millions of other sites,” Falco said. “The reach of the network attracts advertisers, but most of the profits come when those ads are run on its own site.”

AOL’s recent purchases suggest it is beginning to act on that strategy.

The company’s most notable acquisition was the targeted ad network Tacoda, whose clients include Coke, Bank of America and General Motors, purchased in July 2007 for $275 million.34 Tacoda is described as using “behavioral targeting” to give online advertisers insight into select audiences.

Again, analysts see Google’s success as the inspiration.

“The rest of online advertising, from banner ads to video spots to pop-up ads, is getting Googlified,” Business Week said in May. “Google made the business of selling ads against search results a runaway success — in the process making display ads less attractive to advertisers. Not only can advertisers target just the right customers based on search terms they type in, no guessing required, but those advertisers also can track exactly how many people click on the ad and whether they bought something as a result.”

In May, AOL also bought Third Screen Media, the leading mobile ad network, and AdTech Ag, an international serving company based in Germany. In early November, it spent $300 million on Quigo, an Israeli startup that specializes in online advertising.35 In 2006, it bought Lightningcast, which delivers ad solutions for video content.

In the wake of these acquisitions, critics appeared divided over the long-term implications for AOL and its parent company, Time Warner.

“We wake up one day and now AOL has become a real player in online advertising,” said Bob Davis, a managing partner at Highland Partners, a venture capital firm.

But AOL’s future seemed a bit cloudier for Anthony Noto, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. “This is a conglomerate company, and there are two underlying companies that are really driving the valuation: AOL and Time Warner Cable, both of which have some uncertainties right now,” Noto told the New York Times in November 2007.36

Net Neutrality

One issue that appeared to have cooled down a bit in 2007 is net neutrality.

The ins and outs of net neutrality are complex and confusing; the name itself is hard to define.

In simple terms, net neutrality is the idea that those who provide Internet service treat those who produce the content on the Web equally. It is the framework that exists now, which allows users to access Google, blogs and everything in between at the same speed. This approach offers the same terms to everyone, whether they are one of the largest media companies or an ordinary citizen.

On one side of debate are those who oppose writing net neutrality into law. These forces, arguing free-market economics, say that the Web should be left free of burdensome regulation, which they contend would reduce the investments in the Internet needed as more and more bandwidth is utilized. Under this scenario, how fast a site runs or how much it pays to an Internet service provider may one day be determined by that site’s content.

Opponents of net neutrality include a number of telecommunication companies, such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, free-market advocacy groups, as well as the Communications Workers of America, which, according to its Web site, is “America’s largest communications and media union, [and] represents over 700,000 men and women in both private and public sectors, including over half a million workers who are building the Information Highway.”

Then there are those who urge codifying net neutrality, currently a policy but not a regulation, as the law of the land This side argues that a differentiated pricing arrangement could be unfair to certain content producers, particularly smaller, non-commercial sites who may not be able to absorb any higher fees set by the telecommunications providers. Consequently, those sites unable to pay the premiums would be forced to run at slower speeds, and theoretically, be less desirable to Web readers. Without net neutrality, they contend, the big will just get bigger.

In a worst-case scenario, proponents of net neutrality contend, an Internet provider could deny access to a particular form of content. To support their assertion, they point to an incident that occurred in the fall of 2007, when Verizon Wireless prevented an organization that favors abortion rights from sending text messages to its members who had agreed to receive them.

Those lobbying for net neutrality include a broad coalition of corporate Web companies, including Google, Amazon.com, Yahoo and eBay, along with a number of consumer rights groups, many bloggers and several conservative religious organizations.

After Democrats won control of the House and Senate in November 2006, many advocates hoped the shift in power would lead to legislation codifying net neutrality. By the end of 2007, it had not happened, although a number of presidential candidates from both parties did offer positions on the issue during the campaign.37

Perhaps most significant, in June 2007 the Federal Trade Commission urged policy makers to “proceed with caution” before enacting any legislation. Regulators, the report read, simply “do not know what the net effects of potential conduct by broadband providers will be on all consumers, including, among other things, the prices that consumers may pay for Internet access, the quality of Internet access and other services that will be offered, and the choices of content and applications that may be available to consumers in the marketplace.”38

For now, it appears the Internet is still too raw to be regulated.

Online News Leaders

Which news sites generate the most traffic each month?

This is a key question for the top Web sites, as they compete to attract the largest audience. Advertisers, meanwhile, analyze traffic figures to see which sites have gained momentum and which have cooled off.

Nielsen Online and comScore, despite growing competition from companies like the Australian-based Hitwise (See Audience Section), remain the most-cited sources for determining which sites generate the most traffic. Both Nielsen and comScore utilize a panel-based methodology to measure Web traffic. But because Nielsen and comScore differ in which sites they include in their samples, there is often considerable divergence between the traffic numbers compiled by the two rating houses. This leaves advertisers and others unsure about which figures to trust and where the eyeballs and clicks are going. And as the figures below indicate, the differences lead to different lists of who is on top and who has momentum.

The Big Four

In 2007, four news sites continued to generate the largest audiences: Yahoo News, MSNBC, CNN and AOL News. The rank order among them has remained the same since 2005. While Nielsen and comScore both found that the audiences for each of these four sites grew in 2007, they differed on how much. Over all, comScore showed lower year-to-year growth among the top sites (although some of this was because of higher traffic figures for 2006).

At the very top is Yahoo News, which according to Nielsen Online data averaged 32.6 million unique visitors a month in 2007, up 15% from its 2006 average. comScore reports slightly higher figures, 35 million unique visitors a month, an increase of 13% over 2006.

At No. 2 is MSNBC.com. although the two measurement firms differ quite a bit in their exact figures. According to Nielsen data, MSNBC averaged 29.2 million unique visitors a month in 2007, an increase of 14% year to year. But comScore reports an average of 26.7 million per month, but just a 3% growth rate.

In third place is MSNBC’s cable rival CNN.com, which drew an average of 29.1 million a month in 2007, according to Nielsen, a 20% surge compared with 2006. Again, comScore’s numbers are lower, with half the rate of growth — 10% — and an average of 23.4 million unique visitors a month.

And fourth is AOL News. In past years, this has been the site with the greatest variance between comScore and Nielsen, with comScore ranking AOL News much closer to CNN.com and MSNBC.com than Nielsen. This year, comScore’s numbers are still higher, but not by nearly as much. Much of this seems to be due to 19% growth reported in the Nielsen numbers, with an average of 20 million unique monthly visitors in 2007. ComScore reports a slightly higher average, 22.9 million, but an increase over 2006 of just 9%.

Top Online News Sites (Nielsen), 2006 vs. 2007
Unique visitors, monthly average 2006 vs. 2007
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Nielsen Online
Top Online News Sites (comScore)
Unique visitors, monthly average 2006 vs. 2007
Design Your Own Chart
Source: comScore Media Metrix

The Rest of the Top Sites

There is a significant drop-off in the number of monthly unique visitors to the remaining top 20 sites, a group that includes a mix of newspaper Web sites, television news sites and collections of sites under one news brand.

(In this section, we will analyze the traffic data from Nielsen and comScore separately.)

Nielsen Online

Among the newspaper sites in Nielsen’s 20, the most popular in 2007 was NYTimes.com, with a reported average of 14.7 million unique visitors a month. The site, which granted users free access to its opinion columnists in late 2007, grew by 18% year to year, according to Nielsen data. Next is USAToday.com, though its audience actually declined by 3% in 2007 to an average of 9.6 million unique visitors per month. The third individual newspaper site to crack the top 20, Washingtonpost.com, averaged 8.6 million unique visitors, growing 9% from its 2006 average.

In addition to CNN.com and MSNBC.com, three other television news sites were among the most popular in 2007. ABCNews.com’s audience grew 8% over 2006, averaging 10.6 million unique visitors per month. This kept it ahead of CBSNews.com (9.2 million per month), although CBS had a higher growth rate (11%). Fox News’s Web site also increased traffic by 20% in 2007, reaching an average of 8.3 million unique visitors a month.

There were a number of sites aggregated under one corporate news brand that finished among the top 20 sites. The most popular one was Tribune Newspapers, according to Nielsen data, which averaged 13.2 million unique visitors per month in 2007, up 17% year to year. Gannett newspaper Web sites (excluding USA Today) averaged 12.8 million unique visitors, down 1% compared with 2006 data.

Other sites in this category were McClatchy newspaper Web sites (8.9 million unique visitors, up 39%), Internet Broadcasting Web sites (8.8 million, down 28%), Hearst Newspaper Web sites (7.9 million, up 3%) and World Now Web sites (7. 8 million, up 6%). Two other sites, Media News Group Web sites (6.7 million), and Advance Internet Web sites (6 million), were new to Nielsen’s top 20 list in 2007.

Google News, a news aggregator that offers no original content, also made the top 20 list in 2007, averaging 10 million unique visitors, up 7% year to year.

Why did the audiences for some sites surge while others remained flat or even declined? It is hard to say. While ABCNews.com increased its digital staff in 2007, CBSNews.com announced at the end of the year that it was reducing its online personnel by 30% and ceasing operations of perhaps its most well-publicized blog, Public Eye. Yet Nielsen data found the audience for CBSNews.com grew at a stronger rate than ABCNews.com in 2007.

Heading into 2008, it remains difficult to understand the ebbs and flows of Web traffic trends.

comScore

comScore’s list of the most-trafficked Web sites indicates a different line-up, with several that do not appear in Nielsen’s rankings.

A number of individual newspaper Web sites appear on comScore’s 2007 list. comScore reports an average of 9.4 million unique visitors a month for the New York Times, up 9% year to year. USAToday.com ranks as the second-most popular newspaper site in 2007, (ahead of the Washington Post) averaging 6.8 million unique visitors a month, but by comScore’s count, as with Nielsen, it was losing traffic (8%) compared with 2006.

For the Washington Post, 5.4 million visitors were recorded, an increase of 6%.

Two other papers are included in comScore’s list. Boston.com, the Web site for the Boston Globe, averaged 3.5 million visitors a month, increasing 9% during 2007, which saw the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series once again. And the Wall Street Journal Web site entered the top 25 in 2007.

Among the television sites, comScore has ABCNews.com edging out CBSNews.com (7.7 million unique visitors per month vs. 7.5 million at CBS). ABC, however, fell 1% year to year while CBS was up 9%. comScore also reported large increases, 29%, at FoxNews.com, with an average of 6.6 million unique visitors a month.

The BBC News Web site, with headquarters in the United Kingdom, fell 12%, according to comScore, coming in at the bottom of the list with 4.4 million visitors per month.

Most of the Web sites collected under one corporate name increased their audiences in 2007, according to comScore. Tribune Company newspapers averaged 9.8 million visitors a month, an increase of 13%. Belo news sites, which include the Dallas Morning News, attracted 4.5 million visitors per month, an increase of 22% over 2006. McClatchy sites drew 6.2 million visitors a month, up 28%. Sites in the MediaNews Group averaged 3.7 million, up 48%.

Cox Newspaper Web sites, which include the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, were virtually flat, averaging 3.4 million per month.

Two other aggregated sites, Hearst (6.5 million) and Scripps (2.2 million), were new to comScore’s top-25 list in 2007.

Online Media Ownership Trends

The most popular news sites are still largely owned by the richest media companies, a trend we have noted in previous editions of the annual report.

Of the top-20 most popular news sites, 17 are owned by one of the 100 largest media companies in terms of total net revenue generated in the U.S. in 2006, based on an analysis of data from Advertising Age and Nielsen Online. For instance, Time Warner, the leading U.S. media company in 2006 with $34 billion in revenue, owns both CNN and AOL News, two of the four most popular news sites in 2007. Compared with 2006, the number of sites owned by the richest companies increased by one.

What’s more, the 10 richest companies are increasing their hold on the top Web sites. In 2007, they owned 30% of the most popular news sites, up from 21% in 2006 and 25% in 2005.

Two of the three sites not owned by the richest media companies are Internet Broadcasting and World Now, which both aggregate local news sites. The third was the Associated Press, a non-profit cooperative.

Ownership of 25 Most Popular News Sites, 2007
Percent owned by top media companies
Design Your Own Chart

Source: Advertising Age, ‘‘100 Leading Media Companies list’’; PEJ research

The top 100 list is determined by domestic media revenues. The top 25 sites are based on Nielsen Online data for January-December 2007.

Footnotes

1. Data from metrics company comScore in May 2007 showed that the top five most-visited Web sites overall were owned by Yahoo, Time Warner, Google, Microsoft and Fox Interactive Media, which is made up largely of MySpace.

2. Joe Mandese, “Media Deals Set New Record, First 9 Months Top All of ’06,” MediaPost, October 3, 2007.

3. Laurie Petersen, “AOL + Tacoda: You’ve Got Scale,” MediaPost, July 25, 2007.

4. Miguel Helft, “Ad Growth for AOL Called Vital to a Remake,” New York Times, August 20, 2007.

5. Ibid.

6. Mark Walsh, “Media M&A Slowing in Wake of Credit Crunch,” Online Media Daily, October 31, 2007.

7. ”Social graph-iti,” Economist, October 18, 2007.

8. Therese Poletti, “Are we in the midst of “Bubble 2.0?,” MarketWatch, October 26, 2007.

9. “Google Announces Third Quarter 2007 Results,” Google press release, October 18, 2007.

10. “Google’s stock surpasses $600 a share,” Associated Press, October 8, 2007.

11. 2006 Google Annual Report.

12. Ibid.

13. The same study found that the most popular search categories were: health and medical (45%), travel (33%), shopping and classifieds (26%), entertainment (22%), news and media (21%), and business and finance (17%). “Google Received 64 Percent of U.S. Searches in October,” Hitwise, November 19, 2007.

14. 2006 Google Annual Report.

15. When Google purchased DoubleClick, an online advertising company, in April 2007 for $3.1 billion, both Microsoft and AT&T argued that such a deal raised concerns about possible antitrust violations and urged the Federal Trade Commission to address the proposed deal. In late December, the FTC approved the acquisition. In addition to worries about anti-competition, consumer privacy advocates have also voiced their concerns about possible privacy violations.

16. “Google Sites Ranked by comScore as Top U.S. Video Property in March 2007,” comScore press release, June 4, 2007.

17. “Viacom Files Federal Copyright Infringement Complaint Against YouTube and Google,” Viacom press release, March 13, 2007.

18. “Analyzing YouTube’s Revenue Potential,” Silicon Alley Insider, August 21, 2007.

19. Brad Stone and Matt Richtel, “Silicon Valley Start-Ups Awash in Dollars, Again,” New York Times, October 17, 2007.

20. Adam L. Penenberg, “Google News: Beta Not Make Money,” Wired, September 29, 2004.

21. Miguel Helft, “Can She Turn Yahoo Into, Well, Google?” New York Times, July 1, 2007.

22. “Yahoo! Reports Third Quarter 2007 Financial Results,” Yahoo press release, October 16, 2007.

23. 2006 Yahoo Annual Report.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. “Yahoo Heats Up in Search Ad Race As Google Levels Off,” Clickz.com, October 16,2007 and Tameka Kee, “Yahoo Gaining in Search Dollar Share: RBC,” MediaPost, October 16, 2007

27. Shankar Gupta, “UBS Forecasts Up to 45% Yahoo Revenue Boost from Panama,” MediaPost, February 23, 2007

28. Miguel Helft and Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Little Room for Yahoo to Maneuver,” New York Times, February 14, 2007.

29. Time Warner Annual Report 2006

30. “Time Warner Inc. Reports Third Quarter 2007 Results,” Time Warner press release, November 7, 2007.

31. Louis Hau, “Portal Problems,” Forbes.com, September 18, 2007.

32. “AOL to Cut 2,000 Jobs,” Associated Press, October 15, 2007.

33. Saul Hansell, “Falco Prepares Another Layoff: the AOL Brand,” New York Times, October 17, 2007

34. Laurie Petersen, “AOL + Tacoda: You’ve Got Scale,” MediaPost, July 25, 2007

35. Guy Griml, “AOL snapping up Internet ad startup Quigo for $300m,” Haaretz.com, November 3, 2007.

36. Louise Story, “Another Step for a Remade AOL,” New York Times, November 8, 2007.

37. James Boyle, “New Economy: Year in Review,” Financial Times, January 1, 2008.

38. Federal Trade Commission, “Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy,” FTC Staff Report, June 2007