Traditional media has been in upheaval for over a decade. The shift of advertising dollars from print to online is continuing to affect newspapers, magazines, yellow pages, and more. The Wall Street Journal blames the slowdown in online advertising growth on the economy, not underlying factors in their business model. If Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is right about the U.S. pulling out of recession, we should see an uptick in online media growth. Here are a few ideas to to play the potential resurgence.
Back in July we discussed a new search engine: Bing. The brainchild of Microsoft (MSFT), Bing is actually a re-branding of MSN/Live search. Since its well-touted (and amply funded) launch, Bing has been eating into Google’s enormous search market share. MSFT is dedicating a lot of resources to catch up with Google. Microsoft made a smart move by focusing on search and search advertising. Growth dollars are there for the taking, especially with their new search deal with Yahoo.
Yahoo (YHOO) recently made news when new CEO Carol Bartz downplayed the company’s search engine by saying, “We have never been a search company.” In context, Bartz was underscoring Yahoo’s efforts to build websites and communities while not focusing completely on search. She is is right about one thing: search is not the only place for online media growth. Consumers and businesses may use search engines to find things, but they spend most of their online lives at websites. Think Facebook, Twitter, DrudgeReport, and Yahoo. Bartz thinks building up those online assets will have a higher payoff that an improved search engine.
This brings us to Google (GOOG). Betting against the Googleplex hasn’t been a good move very often, and there’s good reason not to do it this year. Still holding 65% of the online search engine market, GOOG is also expanding its ad network to emphasize display advertising such as banners, videos and partner websites. Display advertising is Yahoo’s playground, but Google wants a slice of the pie as well. The question is whether is they can do it well while maintaining their position in search advertising.
If individual stocks are not your thing, check out PowerShares Dynamic Media (PBS). This ETF holds a mixture of traditional and new media companies. Top holdings include Google, Comcast, News Corp, Viacom, and Disney. PBS is up more than 40% this. We still like the prospects for online media. PBS is an easy way to play this sector.