As I retreated into a corner, alternately splitting and laughing hysterically, and as Steinberg pleaded, Peretti became even more abstract than usual. He engaged in a kind of Socratic dialogue with Steinberg in which he sometimes seemed to be talking to himself. really wanted to close the deal, and Steinberg hurried to give any answer that would nudge Peretti toward yes. You just want money, right? Yes, Steinberg said. But is it really money you want? the right part of the Hamptons, right? Of course, yes, status. Steinberg tried to lead Peretti back to the wisdom of the deal, but Peretti seemed to examine his own motives and question what he actually wanted as he towered over Steinberg laughing “Peretti didn’t seem to care about money, and he had a kind of inverted snobbery about the status money could buy. He didn’t even like the amusement parks, Peretti told his appalled deputy. Steinberg was crushed and furious with me and Frank; he believed, probably rightly, that if the three of us united we could have taken Peretti in. Steinberg and I both stumbled to bed, convinced that Peretti would reject the deal.
Back in New York, as the details rolled in, it became clear that this was an offer Peretti could hardly refuse. Disney was the most admired media company in the world, with a record of well-managed acquisitions such as Marvel and Pixar. The price offered was $450 million with the potential to earn $200 million more, an extraordinary sum for a company that had priced itself less than half nine months earlier and whose connection to Disney – a company that obsessively cares about its image and its healthy brands – was just a string of posts like “21 Completely Bizarre Moments in Disney History” (Number Five: “When Donald Duck Promoted Condos During WWII”). Iger was convincing. Peretti, Steinberg, and Lerer met each night in the latter’s living room on the Upper West Side, and Lerer heard them both pleading—Steinberg’s to sell, Peretti’s about the risks of being smothered by Disney, and the potential benefits he still saw in the company’s independence. pushed too hard, so he tried to get his protégé to say yes. The deal was, by any normal standard, a really good idea. On October 29, Peretti and Lerer flew back to Los Angeles, this time at Lerer’s favorite hotel, the Chateau Marmont. At nine o’clock the next morning, they met with Iger and Mayer to go over the details we had discussed five days earlier in the same building. Then they all shook hands, and at least some of the men left the room thinking the deal was done. And then, on the flight back, Peretti turned to his seatmate: “He didn’t think he could do it. Lerer, incredibly and quietly furious, told Peretti to call Iger and end talks that day.
Peretti thought it would be more honorable to call it off in person, so he called Iger to say he wasn’t committed and would like to meet again – and suggested we talk after Peretti’s scheduled speech to Disney’s executive retreat in Orlando 12 days later. Peretti was still feeling the wrath of his old partner Lerer when he traveled to Disney World in Orlando on Nov. 13 to speak with the company. queues at the theme parks – an almost sacred gathering, which ran from Thursday to Sunday at the luxurious Grand Floridian Resort. Iger’s slick public persona dominated the gathering. Executives trained at 4 a.m. hoping to run into him at the gym and, when they didn’t, I didn’t see him, returned at 6 a.m. They were the people who ran theme parks in Asia and cruise lines in Europe, and sold content in Latin America and Australia. They enrolled in essentially mandatory and oddly competitive sporting events like softball. As Peretti looked down at them from the podium in the grand ballroom, he saw people dressed like their bosses, extremely casual in shorts and collared T-shirts, ready to pretend to be relaxed.
As they got together, Mayer told Sherwood that Peretti had asked to meet privately after the speech, giving his colleague a questioning look that said “weird dude”. watched Peretti deliver his speech, fear grew for the executives who had worked on the deal. While Iger staged Peretti’s speech in a marquee to welcome him to the family, the BuzzFeed founder didn’t seem to have prepared with any special care. There were no specific references to Disney, to its audience, to its future colleagues. Those who watched his speeches on YouTube recognized repurposed jokes – his stories about the Nike and Black People Love Us email! of his standard, sharp monologues—he liked to ask if Mormons were better than Jews, explaining that the real difference had to do with the quality of their distribution networks—one HR manager blanched and told the person sitting next to her that she might be a had problem.
Peretti knew he could make himself, his investors, and many of the people who worked for him rich. He knew he still had to make the decision, and although he leaned against accepting Disney’s offer, he took the stage without really making a decision. . But the reception of his speech confirmed his decision. Peretti had never laughed less in his life. He had a vision that he had to spend the rest of his career explaining the internet to these suits while they blankly stared at him and “missed” his jokes. What he had valued from the beginning as he built a company in his own image was freedom – his own and others’, sometimes by mistake Peretti couldn’t see himself as an officer on this cramped ship. from something his old friend and investor Chris Dixon once said to him: “Do you know how many lame rich dudes there are , and how few people actually build anything? Peretti just couldn’t. Iger and Mayer. There he apologetically told them that his heart was not in it. The deal fell through. A car was waiting to take him away to celebrate;
Iger, who could explode and regain his composure in seconds, was furious that Peretti had walked away from the deal – and equally amazed that Peretti had accepted the invitation to speak first.
“Fuck him, he loses, that company will never be worth what it would have been worth with us,” he told another manager. But there was no turning back. Four months later, Disney announced it would buy Maker Studios, which helped YouTube stars like the gamer PewDiePie sell ads, for about the same $500 million it had considered spending on BuzzFeed.
For Lerer, Peretti’s theatrical decision marked the first break with his protege. Steinberg was heartbroken. He thought Peretti was crazy and at the same time realized that BuzzFeed was Peretti’s company. He began collecting appearances on CNBC and studied how business news came about. Frank and I were relieved by Peretti’s decision, which meant we could get back to making videos and breaking news. We were completely convinced that the winds of history were at our backs and that one day we would look down on the pittance that Disney offered us. and laugh. And Frank and I weren’t the only ones who admired Peretti’s balls. In Silicon Valley, that self-effacing boldness and selfishness were catnip. And the traffic and revenue charts kept pointing up. Facebook’s Mark ZuckerbergIn 2006, Peretti had a $1 billion offer from Yahoo!
PEretti’s decision did not seems like a mistake at first. BuzzFeed and its generation of media – Gawker, Vice, Vox – continued to grow and play a central role in the culture and news of the decade. Even as their revenue numbers started to miss their targets, growth was fueled by Facebook and The Sheer Sense of Fate kept the hot financial markets open to raking in more money than they were supposed to be worth afterwards.
As their businesses weakened and their brands aged, they took different paths in the hype cycle. Hulk Hogan And Peter Thiel destroyed Nick Denton‘s Gawker empire. Vice, the group’s top brand and least credible company, has collapsed under the sheer weight of its own $5.7 billion valuation and appears ready to be sold for parts. Vox has prudently steered through the wreckage and recently raised $100 million on similar terms as they did in 2014.
BuzzFeed, which had by now swallowed up HuffPost, was the only one to reach the public markets, riding to a messy public offering at the end of the SPAC craze in 2021. I had spent eight years in charge of a newsroom that broke, at best, some of the biggest, most serious stories in the world without leaving behind our roots in some of the weirdest parts of the internet. But then I was already gone, writing for The New York Times, where I had managed to cause trouble for several other characters in my book, an occupational hazard in writing about media when your sources, targets and colleagues are the same people. In one of my first pieces I wrote about Iger’s apparent return to power at Disney as COVID-19 spread — an article that enraged his successor, Bob Chapek, and led to Iger’s temporary ouster. In one of my last ones, I wrote about Watson’s Ozy Media, you-make-it-startup tactics, an astonishing array of alleged crimes. We reported on his arrest this year in my new media outlet, Semafor.