Complex Has a Buzzfeed Problem + How to Value Podcast Networks

July 21, 2023 by  Chris Erwin

RockWater Roundup

RockWater analysis to make you a better investor and operator. Today we discuss how Complex can get its groove back (get out of the way Buzzfeed!) and the new normal for podcast valuations.

Complex Has a Buzzfeed Problem

by Chris Erwin


Complex Networks was a digital media darling.

Here’s how it can get its groove back.

First, some context…

Prior to the 2021 sale to BuzzFeed, Complex was:

Today that’s worth 1-2x revenue, or $300M+

But Complex is stuck under Buzzfeed, w/ an Ent Value of just $188M.

(aka $81M mkt cap plus $157M debt less $50M cash).

That’s a 0.5x multiple of $413M 1Q23 LTM revenue.

Yup, bankers should run an M&A process for ALL Complex.

I’d love to see old mgmt come back for a PE-backed buyout. And give top talent like Sean Evans good incentive equity.

Lastly, Buzzfeed should de-list from NASDAQ, remove Jonah as leader, recap or shut down if no good path forward, and stop making headlines that make all digital media look bad.


How to Value Podcast Networks in 2023

by Chris Erwin


I’ve reviewed dozens of podcast network P&Ls.

Here’s how I value subscale podcast companies…

For past few yrs podcast networks traded for 4-7x revenue, on avg. And some traded for 10-12x (crazy!)

But we’re in a different era now.

New buy-side dynamics won’t be risky land-grab bets from big tech (Spotify) nor big audio strategics. And new investors won’t be VC.

New capital allocators to audio will be PE and family offices. And strategics where combo logic is strong.

They will buy at low single digit multiples, 1-4x, and buy multiple podcast co’s at once. Aka a roll-up strategy.

Network revenue will be valued less than O&O revenue. One-time items like EP and option fees will be discounted unless track record of consistent upstream IP revenues.

These new buyers will seek cash flow, revenue diversification, and steady growth.

They will achieve that by growing content output at smart unit economics, proactive ad and licensing sales (global focus), and reducing overhead through shared services.

This may be a tough pill to swallow. Founders and investors will get diluted in new rounds, or see little $$ value in majority sales.

But there’s a bright side.

The chance to continue building, alongside great teams, now with better discipline. And get upside in another swing at bat.

NOTE: premium assets with strong financial performance will trade higher. But that won’t be the norm.

Chris Erwin tweet about podcast networks


If these insights are relevant to projects you’re working on, ping us here. We love talking all things media x commerce!

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