- Sunday night’s episode of "Succession" on HBO centered around the shut-down of a fictional media startup called Vaulter.
- The startup’s CEO blamed Facebook’s algorithm changes for the site’s traffic issues, which likely rang true for real-life media employees.
- Over the last few years, real-life digital media publishers like Rare.us and LittleThings have fallen victim to Facebook changes that have de-emphasized content from publishers.
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Facebook’s algorithm changes have affected real-life media organizations over the last few years. On Sunday night’s episode of "Succession," those changes impacted a fictional media company, too.
"Succession" follows the world of the Roy family, a fictional media dynasty ruled by the temperamental Logan Roy. During the first season of the HBO drama, Logan’s son and seeming heir-apparent, Kendall Roy, architects an acquisition of a media startup called Vaulter. In the second episode of Season 2, Logan asks for a "health check" of Vaulter, and enlists Kendall and another son, Roman, to visit Vaulter to find out how the company is really doing.
What Kendall and Roman find is a startup facing challenges that mirror what the media world is facing in real life. Vaulter’s site traffic has seen a drop-off, the company is wasting money on extraneous employee perks like beehives on the roof, and employees are frustrated and exploring unionization.
In one memorable scene, Kendall confronts Vaulter CEO Lawrence Yee about his company’s numbers, and receives a response that will feel all-too-familiar to anyone working in media.
"We had a couple s—– traffic months. Facebook changed their algorithm," Yee said. "We got face-f—–, okay? We’re turning the corner now."
Unfortunately for Yee, Vaulter never gets the chance to turn things around: Kendall, on the behest of his father, shuts down Vaulter, but not before he lies to employees to stop their unionization efforts, solicits hundreds of free ideas from the staff, farms out the site’s remaining content to freelancers and interns, and then terminates nearly the entire staff in one fell swoop with barely any severance. A spokesperson for Facebook was not immediately available to comment on the company’s mention in the episode.
The sudden shut-down may have also sounded familiar to some journalists working for digital-media startups. In February 2018, for example, women-focused publisher LittleThings closed its doors. The site’s demise was largely due to Facebook’s algorithm changes to de-emphasize content from publishers, which took out roughly 75% of LittleThings’ organic traffic.
One month later, viral content website Rare.us shut down after five years in operation. The site owed much of its traffic to Facebook, and Facebook’s algorithm changes throttled the site’s traffic. According to Axios, by the time Rare shut down, site traffic had fallen to 5.5 million global unique visitors from 22.5 million unique visitors at its peak.
And Mic, which aimed to be a news site for millennials, also fell victim to an over-reliance on Facebook. In November 2018, the company laid off most of its staff and sold the remainder of the company to Bustle Digital Group for a reported fraction of its valuation a few years ago.
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