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A Big Day For Federated, and the Birth of Sovrn Holdings

By - January 28, 2014

LINFMSOVRNToday marks a big milestone for Federated Media, the company we launched way back in 2005. As you can read here, LIN Media is acquiring Federated Media’s brand and content marketing business, and a new company, sovrn Holdings, Inc. (“sovrn”), has been born. Sovrn will continue to build on what was FM’s programmatic publisher platform, a business based on our acquisition of Lijit Networks back in 2011.

When I returned as FM’s CEO in early 2013 after a two-year absence, it was my job to assess where we stood, and how we could most successfully invest our resources. At the time, FM had two distinct business lines: Its pioneering content marketing practice, and its burgeoning programmatic exchange. As readers of this site know well, I’m bullish on both.  I love our legacy as one of the creators of modern content marketing and defender of premium independent publishing, and I’m extremely proud of our massive exchange, which is growing like crazy (more than 90% topline growth y/y, and profitable). Both businesses have strong partners, strong people, and great futures.

So why split them up? Well, the truth is LIN Media offered us a deal that just made sense. LIN, a public company, is focused on building a world-class digital media offering, and has the resources and people that can take Federated’s business to the next level. It’s incredibly important to me personally that something I was instrumental in building finds a home that respects and appreciates its history, while at the same time desiring to invest in its future. That’s exactly what LIN is committed to doing. Now that it is part of LIN, the Federated Media brand can grow faster – and that means more revenue and opportunities for the partners who have made FM what it is.

Meanwhile, our programmatic business has been growing so fast that it demands the focused attention of its executives, as well as more investment – the opportunity is tremendous. This transaction with LIN will allow the new company – sovrn – to pursue its dream of building a next-generation publisher-facing programmatic platform leveraging all the data and insights we’ve gained over the past few years.

Personally, this deal means I will be stepping back into the role I had in 2011 and 2012, but now as Executive Chair of sovrn. (Yes, that means I can once again focus on writing, among other things!) Walter Knapp, my COO and the leader of our programmatic business, is stepping into the role of CEO of sovrn. It’s been an honor to work side by side with Walter over the past year, he’s incredibly talented and deeply passionate. I know with him at the helm, sovrn is going to do extraordinary things.

And for Federated Media, the same team – all of them – who have been running our award-winning content marketing business will remain with Federated, and continue to work with our great publishing and marketing partners to power the best of the independent web. Chris Eberle, a wonderful and talented exec who I put in charge of the content marketing business last year, continues as Federated’s GM. And I’ll be working with LIN and Federated in various ways during the transition as well.

I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in my nearly 30 years working in this business, but I can honestly say that this deal feels special. I left Wired before it was sold to Conde Nast and Lycos, so I didn’t experience that transition. At the Industry Standard, well, I stayed till the bitter end, but the company didn’t make it – that story’s best told over a whisky. With the Web 2 conferences, I made the choice to stop even though the business was doing fine – a personal decision that allowed me to focus on FM and writing. But with FM, the circle has been completed – FM is moving on to a new chapter, with new leaders and owners, nearly nine years after its first steps.

A couple of months ago my first child was admitted into the college of his choice, and in June we’ll be watching him leave the nest and explore new worlds. It’s bittersweet and emotional. I feel similarly about Federated – it’s time to help something I started head out into the world and into its next home. I’m thrilled that that home is LIN, a company whose people I’ve come to know and deeply respect. And I want everyone involved with FM to know I’ll always be there if they need advice and support.

So, onwards! Here’s to a remarkable nine years with Federated, and here’s to the future of both Federated Media and sovrn, the company it helped to create.

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24 thoughts on “A Big Day For Federated, and the Birth of Sovrn Holdings

  1. Pete says:

    Congrats to you John, Walter, and the entire FM/Lin/Sovrn teams. Wishing all of you the best.

  2. johnbattelle says:

    Thanks Pete – and thanks for all you have done!

  3. [...] a post on his personal blog, Battelle explains his thinking about the sale and corporate [...]

  4. tacanderson says:

    Wow. What a journey it’s been. I still think some of the best campaign work I’ve done was at HP when I partnered with a very new company with a lot of talent called Federated Media. Congrats!

  5. Bernie Albers says:

    Who would have imagined the sparks that created FM and Lijit would have evolved into a world class ad tech platform. Congratulations John & Walter!

  6. Andy Price says:

    Congrats John! You and your team did a great job here.

  7. JC says:

    Congratulations. I have followed your dynamic career from a distance over the years since the Lair. In a non-stalker way, of course ;) It’s great to see talent, ambition and perseverance pay off.
    Nicely done.

  8. as a Federated Media partner, we’re interested in seeing where this goes

  9. [...] A Big Day For Federated, And The Birth Of Sovrn Holdings – John Battelle [...]

  10. [...] Federated Media sold off its founding business yesterday — selling ads directly for publishers… [...]

  11. [...] Federated Media sold off its founding business yesterday — selling ads directly for publishers… [...]

  12. george says:

    It’s great to read your perspective on the merger; some entrepreneurs are good at finding great partners to advance their vision and some are not, you’ve proven to be successful at it! well done and congrats!

    • johnbattelle says:

      Thanks. I’d not say I’m that great at it, just lucky sometimes, focused others, and f*cked up things other times. Pretty even scorecard.

  13. FireBlogger says:

    Congratulations! Well done John and crew.

  14. JohnB says:

    John should name his new company “SNAKE OIL 2.0″

    • JohnB says:

      Federated media was once successful and could have been more so but because of dumb decisions the whole business fell apart. John & Deanna bear the blame for all the layoffs and BS that they put the employees through

  15. JohnB says:

    Deanna was a STUPID choice (thanks John Battlle) Deanna’s problem is that she always talked but never listened — there’s no such thing as a conversation with Deanna. She talks, you listen. She may be deaf, for all I know. If she engaged other people and learned from them, she’d be much more effective manager and she’d be able to build more successful products.

    Deanna’s other problem is that she has tons of ideas (some may even be her own ideas), some good and some bad, but it doesn’t matter because she just can’t execute on them. She can’t execute on them because her knowledge is so superficial that she doesn’t know where to start or how to determine if it’s done properly. Because she can’t talk with people to learn, diagnose and fix problems, nothing happens.

    Deanna has had five jobs since 2000. I’ve had only 4 jobs (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, Phoenix Systems/Corporate Software, Microsoft and Recipezaar) in my 19-year career. Deanna changes jobs more often than I buy new shoes! How people like Deanna can get hired with a resume that shows no success, is a habitual quitter and clearly leaves jobs just before she’s fired is beyond me. You gotta be a real dummy to hire her. Sorry, John Battelle, you is a dummy.

  16. Wendy says:

    BLOGGER BEWARE – SOVRN HOLDINGS DOES NOT PAY!!!!

    Apparently, Sovrn thinks that it is ok to steal ad space from Mom’s doing their best to earn extra money for their families. I am by no means a big blogger, but I do have 250,000+ page views a month. I made the mistake of testing a few ads low on my website late last fall and early this year. I have emails from a Taylor Hamill (Ad Operations Manager) in January, February and March of this year indicating each month that there was a problem with my set up and that is was corrected now and I should expect payment. Each time he apologized for the issue on their end. Miraculously the problem that Taylor assured me was corrected reappeared the following month. I have at least 12 emails and support requests that have not been responded to. It is April now and I should have received a payment in December. At this point it is clear that they have no intention of paying. It is sad that big companies like this think that it is ok to take advantage of individual bloggers.

    • johnbattelle says:

      Wendy thanks for taking the time to complain and I’ve escalated this at sovrn. We’ll get right back to you and I’m very sorry this happened.