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Fox Buys TMZ From AT&T's WarnerMedia For Roughly $50 Million

NOEL KING, HOST:

It's being widely reported that the Fox Corporation is acquiring the tabloid TMZ from WarnerMedia. NPR hasn't confirmed this story yet, and the exact terms of the deal haven't been disclosed. But The Hollywood Reporter understands this deal is under $50 million, and the man who broke that story for them is Alex Weprin. He's with us now. Good morning, Alex.

ALEX WEPRIN: Good morning.

KING: Why would Fox want TMZ?

WEPRIN: You know, Fox, at the end of the day, was founded by Rupert Murdoch, someone who kind of pioneered tabloid gossip journalism in the U.S. and the U.K. newspapers. TMZ, in some respects, is kind of the digital equivalent of those gossip tabloids.

KING: So we don't imagine that Fox buys TMZ, based on what you're saying, and then TMZ changes a whole lot. It sounds like Fox likes what TMZ is doing.

WEPRIN: No, they're birds of a feather. They're very similar in their mindset in terms of the content. You know, they focus on kind of the celebrity gossip journalism that, you know, many people read, but a lot of people may not admit to reading.

KING: So you've reported that this deal is a little less than $50 million. Am I crazy in thinking that does not sound like a lot of money?

WEPRIN: No, it's actually - it took me by surprise when I heard that number as well. You know, you may have heard of, like, podcasts, like niche podcasts selling for more money than that.

KING: Yeah, Politico just sold for a billion. Joe Rogan - what is he getting paid? - a hundred million? It truly seems like nothing.

WEPRIN: Yes. And I think part of that is because that style of tabloid journalism is not necessarily appealing to advertisers. And also, as I reported, it became clear that Fox was really the only buyer for TMZ that was out there. And WarnerMedia, which owns it currently, they decided they wanted to sell. They wanted out of the TMZ business.

KING: Why did WarnerMedia want out if TMZ is popular among many, many ordinary people, even if it's not attractive to advertisers? What's WarnerMedia's play here?

WEPRIN: There were a few reasons. First, WarnerMedia also owns brands like CNN and Warner Brothers. And there was always a conflict between TMZ style of journalism and, you know, the subjects they covered with regard to Warner Brothers and the colleagues at CNN. And also, Harvey Levin, the founder of TMZ, who basically is the face of TMZ, had told his bosses there that he was unlikely to stick around if TMZ remained under the WarnerMedia umbrella.

KING: OK. That's interesting. What do you think this sale tells us about the business of tabloid journalism today? And maybe more broadly, you know, newspapers are in a lot of trouble. Television is in some amount of trouble as ratings shrink. Is tabloid journalism having some of the same problems?

WEPRIN: Absolutely. You know, the same business problems with regard to advertising an audience that are striking a lot of the media are hitting tabloid journalism as well. You know, and tabloids have always had a bit of an issue with regard to advertisers who may not want their brands to be associated with kind of that, you know, mucky underworld of journalism. But you know, at the end of the day, consumers still do consume that content, so it's been able to persevere. But as the TMZ sale showed, the value of that journalism has declined, even as the value of more premium brands, like Politico, has gone up because they provide real value to their readers. They're seen as a more high-profile brand for advertisers to associate with.

KING: Alex Weprin with The Hollywood Reporter. Thanks for your time, Alex. We appreciate it.

WEPRIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIGETO'S "ANN ARBOR DAY PART 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.