May 3, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! The writers strike may not disrupt essential public services, but the dip in quality of TV during the last strike of 2007 still has people gravely concerned. Today we're exploring:

  • Caught in a Vice: Another digital media upstart is in trouble.
  • Moneyballers: The highest-paid athletes in the world.
  • The suite life: Marriott's hotel empire is bouncing back.

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Caught in a Vice

Vice, once the edgy upstart disrupting digital media, is reportedly making preparations to file for bankruptcy unless the company can find a last-minute buyer in the coming weeks.

The news of Vice Media’s apparent demise comes less than 2 weeks after the shuttering of BuzzFeed News and against an ever-widening backdrop of layoffs that have rocked the media world throughout 2023.

Don’t believe the hype

Vice started life as a bootstrapped, independent punk magazine in Montreal back in 1994, a far cry from the media giant that the company would become. At its 2010s peak the Vice Media empire sprawled across multiple websites, its own TV channel, a record label, shows on HBO, an ad agency, and even a production company — a stable of content that attracted some of the biggest investors in media.

A $70m investment from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox saw Vice capture a valuation of $1.4bn in 2013. That figure increased quickly as outside investors looked to ride the wave of brash, digitally-native new media that was equally comfortable exposing warlords or exploring social taboos — all at a time when the “firehose” of web traffic from Facebook was fairly predictable.

Vice’s expansion earned a $400m injection from Disney in 2015, with a $450m investment from PE firm TPG 2 years later — a deal that saw the company reach its peak valuation of $5.7 billion.

Many things could be blamed for its financial difficulties, but as one former Vice exec put it "at some point, what got you there isn’t what you are", suggesting that what made Vice's content work with a few hundred journalists, never worked quite as well at 3,000 employees — the company's peak headcount in 2017.


Forbes has released its annual list of the highest-paid athletes in the world, with Cristiano Ronaldo taking the top spot thanks to an enormous $136 million haul for the soccer star from May '22 to May '23.

Ronaldo’s enormous social media following — which totals more than 850m — helped him secure some of the most lucrative endorsement deals of any athlete, including a lifetime partnership with Nike. It also didn’t hurt that he signed a $75m-a-year contract with Saudi Arabia's deep-pocketed club Al Nassr.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s influence is felt across this list, with golfers Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson both making the top 10 after leaving the PGA Tour for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, earning tens of millions of dollars in guarantees. Elsewhere, LeBron James led the American contingent, out-earning his NBA colleagues Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while French soccer star Kylian Mbappé made his debut in the top 10 and Lionel Messi cashed $130m after leading Argentina to World Cup glory.

Overall, no female athlete broke through the ~$90m barrier required to make the top 10. Last year, Naomi Osaka topped Forbes’ list of highest-paid female athletes with a haul of $51m — a list often dominated by tennis players.

Retirement fun(d)

Roger Federer, who might not be eligible for this list next year after hanging up his rackets in September, remains a marketer’s dream. Thanks to a long list of sponsorships — including LVMH, Rolex, Mercedes-Benz and Uniqlo — as well as a significant stake in the fast-growing Swiss shoe company On, the Swiss maestro brought in $95m… all in off-field earnings.

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Hotels, suite

Marriott International, the hotel giant behind chains like The Ritz-Carlton company, Sheraton, Westin, and of course Marriotts themselves, saw its shares rise 3% yesterday after the company beat expectations in the first quarter and lifted its outlook for 2023.

Revenue soared above $5.6 billion, up 34% on the figure for the same period last year, as travel demand continues to surge in the US and beyond.

Room numbers

Marriott International became the largest hotel operator in the world after it acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide for $13 billion back in 2016, the two merging to form an umbrella of 30 hotel brands, spanning more than 5,800 properties and 1.1 million rooms at the time.

That room count has grown in the years since, now sitting at a whopping 1.53 million according to the company’s latest report. That's up 21% from the same point 5 years ago — enough space to put the entire population of the cities of Austin and Atlanta up for the night, each in their own room.

Marriott's recovery from the pandemic hasn't been immediate, but the rising occupancy rates of its rooms tell a positive story for the beleaguered travel industry. Indeed, the company booked $757 million in net income — largely buoyed by a strong international performance as China, where revenue-per-available room was up nearly 80%, continues to open back up.

More Data

• A rare ‘wanted’ poster offering a reward of $50k for Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, has just sold for over $160k.

• An all-inclusive public transport ticket for $54 a month was so popular it saw 3 million Germans snap one up prior to its launch on Monday.

• More than a billion dollars of market cap was wiped from the value of Chegg — an online education company — after the company admitted that ChatGPT was hurting its business.

• IKEA’s Billy the Bookcase is so popular that one is sold every 5 seconds, for a total of roughly 6.3 million a year.


• Visualizing how Bed, Bath & Beyond was far beyond just bed & baths.

Off the charts: Which artist ranks second on the all-time touring record? Hint: They're currently being sued for copyright infringement and have vowed to quit music if they lose the case. [Answer below].

Answer here.

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