Founded four years ago to reach millennials disenchanted with Taiwan’s scandal-obsessed media, The News Lens is growing up fast. The Taipei-based company announced it has agreed to buy Inside, one of Taiwan’s best-known technology news sites. Not only is this The News Lens’ (known as TNL) first acquisition, but founder and chief executive officer Joey Chung says it also makes TNL the first digital media startup in Taiwan to buy another one. He believes it heralds a wave of consolidation among online-first publishers in Asia that will quickly give them the same reach as legacy media companies.
“Digital media is starting to mature here and we are firing the first bullet. It shocks people into realizing that these young, poor, scrappy media startups are forming alliances,” says Chung. He adds that Inside, which launched in 2009, was a logical acquisition for TNL because they have the same editorial philosophy: a focus on analysis, in-depth features, no clickbait and no overt political biases. The combined company will have 8 million total monthly unique visitors. The sites will remain separate, but their business teams will be combined.
TNL also announced that it has added Felix Hong, the manager of Nest’s Taiwan office, as an angel investor and advisor. TNLs’ investors already included North Base Media, which backs independent media startups around the world, WISKEY Capital, Walden International and Trinity Investment.
For Inside, the acquisition is an opportunity to expand its readership outside of Taiwan. TNL has a second office in Hong Kong, and it publishes separate editions for Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and international readers. The size of the cash and equity deal was undisclosed.
Chung says TNL is planning further online media acquisitions in the next few months to expand its verticals and help it attract new readers, advertisers and monetization opportunities. The deals are expected to increase TNL’s monthly unique visitors to about 10 million, bringing its readership closer to sites run by legacy media companies in Taiwan, including Apple Daily, United Daily News and SET. (Taiwan’s population is about 23.5 million, which means TNL is already one of the most widely read news publications there).
TNL’s acquisition of Inside is significant because even though Taiwan’s media industry features a wide array of publications and broadcasting stations, that often fails to translate into quality news coverage. In order to stand out, many media companies rely on churning out sensationalistic stories about political and celebrity scandals. Chung describes Taiwan’s media landscape as a “microcosm” of the industry in other Asian markets.
“In a market as small as Taiwan or Hong Kong, you can’t sustain an industry with 20 major players, like the cable or TV industry. Eventually you go into a merger or consolidation phase,” he says. “You can’t have so many players all going after the same audience and advertisers, when Google and Facebook are also getting more and more powerful.”
With its focus on hard news, commentary and social media sharing, The News Lens was a breath of fresh air when it launched in 2013, but its core readership were people in their twenties and thirties who were already used to consuming most of their news on Facebook.
Making acquisitions will help TNL compete with legacy media companies, but Chung says it doesn’t view them as “villians” it needs to fight against. Instead, TNL’s focus is on getting on more level footing. While TNL first built its audience by targeting younger readers on social media, its business decisions—including a partnership with production studio Dawin and distribution deals that place its videos on screens inside malls, taxis and convenience stores—have been aimed at expanding its audience into groups that usually rely on big newspapers and TV channels.
“For a lot of people over 45, I think they still think of young, small startups that find it difficult to survive, that are still very garage-based, when they think of independent digital media. There’s still the impression that we’re kids,” says Chung.
“This is meant to be the first step that we are slowly becoming adults. With 7 million monthly unique visitors, that meant we had a huge chunk of the under-40 population already, so aside from international expansion and more verticals, going up and down in our age groups is another way to grow.”