Our list is a ranking based on digital sales, which, in our minds, is a fair indicator of digital success. Where digital sales figures were publicly available, we used them; in cases where they weren’t, we estimated them, using a variety of sources, including comments executives have made to the press, research reports, and conversations with industry analysts. We also reached out directly to dozens of companies that don’t report digital sales, although most—including major media conglomerates that only a few years ago were trumpeting their digital revenue figures—declined to provide that information to us. Some insisted the digital data was too tied into other parts of the business to break out.
We’re the first to admit that the list contains a fair amount of guesswork—informed guesswork but guesswork nonetheless. It is meant to help kick off a deeper conversation about digital success.
Some high-level takeaways from our ranking: Businesses that generate digital revenue by selling ads dominate our list; companies that make most of their money selling online content or subscriptions took only 13 of the 50 spots. And while many traditional media companies may be struggling to grow their overall sales, they are generating significant revenue online. Twenty-one companies on our list have a substantial presence in non-online media, such as newspapers, phone books or TV. Finally, Google is—by far—the most successful digital media company in the U.S. Its revenue is more than three times that of the number two company on the paidContent 50.
For the purposes of this list, we defined a digital media company as a business that is making money directly from the sale of online content or online advertising. So we didn’t include companies like content delivery networks, domain-name registration businesses, or advertising agencies….