[Metromix is known for racy photos; above, Detroit Free Press]
Tribune Co., Gannett's bankrupt partner in the Metromix syndicate, has quietly backed away from the entertainment news venture known for photos of scantily clad women in nightclubs. And if one of my readers has it correct -- and they sure sound plugged-in -- Gannett hasn't had much luck finding a replacement for Tribune.
The partnership seems to have been unraveling since at least last summer, when alternative weekly Baltimore City Paper reported that Tribune's Sun was merging its Metromix site into the paper's online entertainment section. Sure enough, the Sun's Metromix site now redirects to findlocal.baltimoresun.com. When I spot-checked other Tribune newspapers, such as the Hartford Courant, I found the same switch. In all those cases, the sites look nothing like regular Metromix pages. The only sign of what they once were: the easily overlooked, "Powered by Metromix,'' off to one side.
A Tribune Co. spokesman did not respond to an e-mail I sent asking for comment. The Chicago-based company publishes The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Sun and other dailies.
Metromix has been a high-profile linchpin of Gannett's portfolio of digital ventures, which include mammoth jobs site CareerBuilder, advertising services company PointRoll and consumer behavior tracker Ripple6. Gauging Metromix's fortunes is difficult, because Gannett doesn't break out revenues for the individual companies. Instead, GCI aggregates them in the digital revenues portion of its quarterly financial reports. In the most recent, for the fourth-quarter, overall digital revenue was actually down 7.2% from the comparable quarter in 2008. That's worrisome, of course, because digital is Gannett's best shot at revving up profits.
Retreat timing a puzzle
Tribune is struggling to exit from U.S. Bankruptcy Court, after investors piled on too much debt when real estate tycoon Sam Zell (left) took the company private in 2007. For that reason, it wouldn't be surprising to see Tribune jettison ventures that aren't producing. Still, the company's retreat from Metromix is puzzling for its timing; less than three months ago, Tribune and Gannett announced a big expansion that took the entertainment sites to another 27 U.S. markets.
Gannett joined the Metromix partnership in 2007. Jack Williams, then president of Gannett Digital, said in a statement at the time: “Together we can take the established and successful Metromix brand and deliver it -- with local authenticity -- to all the nation’s top markets. The concept is simple: make it fun, make it relevant, make it the place to go.''
'Tribune has bailed out'
But a Gannett Blog reader, Anonymous@8:56 p.m., claimed in a comment last week that Williams is no longer involved with Metromix, raising questions about who's shepherding the venture as Gannett hunts for a Tribune replacement.
"I was speaking with a very good friend of mine there and she told me . . . Gannett has been having trouble finding an investor for Metromix, and that since Tribune has bailed out on this investment, she said that Hearst was approached, but they are not interested."
Their comment continued: "If you ask the Digital team, they do not even support the product anymore, as all functions have been moved to Chicago. Our site deployed it and we feel like we could build a better product than what Metromix has put together. We are already starting to build our own social-entertainment site and we will promptly remove Metromix."
What's going on with your Metromix site? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.