Research | Technology

Thriving in Digital Media’s Rapid Evolution

Letting go of legacy models and embracing digital media innovation is the key to Ziff Davis’ success, according to CEO Vivek Shah.

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Published March 15, 2023 | 3 min read
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Key Points

  • As the digital media industry continues to rapidly transform, media and internet company Ziff Davis demonstrates adaptability is crucial to success.
  • The impact of AI and machine learning on the digital media space will be immense - and places data at the heart of the industry.
  • Making the right capital allocation decisions is particularly important for digital media businesses navigating today’s volatile macro environment.
  • With the democratisation of media, amplifying a variety of voices will be key to the growth of a digital media brand of the future. But questions of moral and societal responsibility remain.

Founded almost a century ago, American media company Ziff Davis has successfully navigated the path from print publication business to digital media and internet company. And while the journey has had its ups and downs, Ziff Davis CEO Vivek Shah attributes their current success to the company’s dynamic approach to adaptability.

Innovation, transformation, and adaptation…

A commitment to innovation is at the heart of Ziff Davis. In an industry which continues to rapidly evolve as a result of technological and societal advancements, CEO Vivek Shah emphasises the importance of evolving with the times.

“We’re still very much in the infancy of the shift from analog to digital. That shift is creating opportunities and challenges,” says Shah. “When you’re in the age of rapid transformation and innovation, the key is the ability to adapt. Companies that are unwilling or unable to adapt are likely to suffer.”

Historically, Ziff Davis existed as a magazine publishing company. The company filed for bankruptcy 14 years ago however, today Ziff Davis is successful across various verticals, embracing the digital world we all live in.

“Now, Ziff Davis is a digital media and internet company that helps its audiences, which are consumers and businesses, really navigate and harness the forces of digitization,” explains Shah. “We’re in technology, we’re in gaming, we’re in health. We’re in a variety of different market spaces, and each has different dynamics and unique drivers.”

Digital media meets AI

For investors and stakeholders alike, the rise of AI and machine learning within the digital media space promises to bring about changes to the industry. With the growth of predictive analytics and targeted advertising, digital media companies like Ziff Davis are increasingly able to make informed decisions about content creation - based on data, rather than the qualitative approach of the past.

“Today, we have greater confidence in the content we’re creating and whether it is going to connect. Historically, the content creation process was highly subjective. Today, Ziff Davis - and many companies in the media ecosystem - use data to better inform the type of content we should be creating, as well as how to distribute and monetize it,” says Shah.

From efficiency improvements such as auto-tagging, content formatting, and translation tools - to monumental shifts in personalized advertising and machine-generated content, it seems that the rise of AI in the media industry will prove revolutionary. And, as Shah explains, companies with a wealth of data to interpret are likely to thrive.

“Whether it’s AI or machine learning, it requires data. Companies with a significant amount of first party data that they can put into that machinery will be more successful.”

“Today, we have greater confidence in the content we’re creating and whether it is going to connect. Historically, the content creation process was highly subjective. We can use data to better inform the type of content we should be creating, as well as how to distribute and monetize it.”


Capital allocation: making the right choice

Successful capital allocation decisions will also play a huge role in the growth of digital media companies going forward. Considering today’s volatile macro environment, with drastic market changes and rapid technological advancements, digital media CEOs face some big decisions.

“Capital allocation decisions are really important as capital is scarce in today’s environment. Where you choose to deploy your capital, I think will separate businesses in an environment where so much is changing,” says Shah.

Future investor trends

Looking forward, the ongoing democratization of media will play a significant role in future investor trends. As digital media brands navigate the amplification of a breadth of opinion, free speech issues, moral responsibility, and developing publishing regulations - companies and investors alike will be paying close attention to the role of the individual creator and their part in the broader media ecosystem.

“Over the last decade, we’ve seen an incredible democratization of media. Platforms have allowed individuals, creators and influencers to produce content and build audiences. That has been a profound change,” says Shah. “I think platforms that focus on having a broad set of voices will succeed. But platforms will also need to consider responsibility and self-regulation.”

Experienced in meeting the media industry’s many shifts and changes, Shah sees opportunity in the wealth of new developments.

“Everything excites me about the digital media space right now. There is so much happening - new platforms, new forms of content. There is more today than there has ever been.”

This content is based on commentary and analysis from RBC Capital Markets' Global Technology Internet Media and Telecommunications Conference hosted in New York, NY on November 15-16 2022. For more information about the conference, please contact your RBC representative.

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