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Netflix down, Union-Tribune up?

San Diego paper’s not-historic L.A. printing plant may yet be saved

The Times printing plant's lease reportedly expires at the end of next year.
The Times printing plant's lease reportedly expires at the end of next year.

Will an abrupt cool-down of L.A.'s red hot studio-building boom save the print version of the San Diego Union-Tribune from premature demise?

Such are the peculiarities of the once-staid newspaper business in the online age.

After Netflix slashed staff and its stock cratered 43 percent following the April 19 news that subscriber count had dropped for the first time in ten years, worries emerged that plans for a bunch of new production capacity planned by developers would vaporize, including the so-called 8th & Alameda Studios Project being fronted by New York City-based Atlas Capital Group.

"The Project proposes the renovation of the existing 558,918-square-foot Los Angeles Times Olympic Printing Plant and a 23,005-square-foot vehicular maintenance building and the construction of approximately 249,790 square feet of floor area comprised of new studio uses, support/office uses, a shops/office building, and three guard booths."

The Times printing plant's lease, between the paper's current owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and the New York investment group which now owns the site, reportedly expires at the end of next year, making way for redevelopment of the property into studios.

Hence, the mammoth facility, which also prints Soon-Shiong's San Diego Union-Tribune, might soon have to shut down, casting the future of daily print into a void and threatening to weaken the city's long-standing media and opinion voice.

But if demand for new studio space slips due to the Netflix debacle and fall-off in the fortunes of its streaming business competitors, the Times and Union-Tribune may be able to eke out a few more years of print survival in the form of lease extensions granted Soon-Shiong by the site's current owners.

On the other hand, if the market for plush new studio space continues to be lucrative, nothing else, including the plant's possible eligibility for designation as a historical building being discussed in some quarters, is likely to save it, based on an environmental review of the redevelopment released in February by L.A.'s planning department.

"The Plant is associated with the late 20th century growth of the Los Angeles Times, a significant and influential newspaper founded in 1881," the report notes.

"The Times grew along with the City (and a number of competing news publications) until it was the largest newspaper on the West Coast.

"Completed in 1989, the Plant was the sixth Times printing facility, post-dating satellite printing facilities in Costa Mesa (1968, including a newsroom) and Chatsworth (1983) as well as four combined newsroom/office/printing press locations in downtown Los Angeles dating from 1881 to 1935.

"The Plant’s construction reflected the need for a new purpose-built facility to handle the Times’ exploding circulation during the 1980s as Los Angeles became a truly global city.

"With the Plant’s opening, the Times completed the shift of all printing functions away from the paper’s downtown headquarters, and the Plant later took over printing from the Costa Mesa and Chatsworth plants when they closed.

But that vaunted print history, near and dear to a dying breed of newspaper lovers, does not matter much to the plant's future survival as a historic site, concludes the analysis.

'The Plant is a standard industrial printing facility for its time period and is not unique or exceptional in terms of its function, association, or embodiment of historic industrial development patterns.

"Research did not uncover scholarship suggesting that this property is exceptionally significant for its association with the Times or with larger patterns of historical development.

"In fact, aside from perfunctory mentions in self-published timelines of Times history by the Times itself, it does not appear in any known periodicals, published histories of the Times, studies of printing plant typology, or studies of industrial property types in general."

Thus, the future of daily print in L.A. and San Diego remains dependent on the financial bets of billionaire owner Soon-Shiong and the plant's similarly wealthy owners.

"The streaming industry remains in a land-grab phase, with companies throwing tens of billions of dollars into original series and movies, marketing, and promotions, “Barron’s reported in an April 24 post.

"Following the Netflix model, legacy media firms will accept several years of unprofitable growth for their services, on their way to the Holy Grail of high-margin, recurring-revenue subscriptions with global scale."

Still, Netflix layoffs are picking up steam.

"A number of journalists working for the company’s entertainment site Tudum have been laid off, according to tweets by those affected,” per an April 28 account by the Protocol blog.

A Netflix spokesperson told Protocol last week that there were no plans to shutter the site, calling it "an important priority for the company."

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The Times printing plant's lease reportedly expires at the end of next year.
The Times printing plant's lease reportedly expires at the end of next year.

Will an abrupt cool-down of L.A.'s red hot studio-building boom save the print version of the San Diego Union-Tribune from premature demise?

Such are the peculiarities of the once-staid newspaper business in the online age.

After Netflix slashed staff and its stock cratered 43 percent following the April 19 news that subscriber count had dropped for the first time in ten years, worries emerged that plans for a bunch of new production capacity planned by developers would vaporize, including the so-called 8th & Alameda Studios Project being fronted by New York City-based Atlas Capital Group.

"The Project proposes the renovation of the existing 558,918-square-foot Los Angeles Times Olympic Printing Plant and a 23,005-square-foot vehicular maintenance building and the construction of approximately 249,790 square feet of floor area comprised of new studio uses, support/office uses, a shops/office building, and three guard booths."

The Times printing plant's lease, between the paper's current owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and the New York investment group which now owns the site, reportedly expires at the end of next year, making way for redevelopment of the property into studios.

Hence, the mammoth facility, which also prints Soon-Shiong's San Diego Union-Tribune, might soon have to shut down, casting the future of daily print into a void and threatening to weaken the city's long-standing media and opinion voice.

But if demand for new studio space slips due to the Netflix debacle and fall-off in the fortunes of its streaming business competitors, the Times and Union-Tribune may be able to eke out a few more years of print survival in the form of lease extensions granted Soon-Shiong by the site's current owners.

On the other hand, if the market for plush new studio space continues to be lucrative, nothing else, including the plant's possible eligibility for designation as a historical building being discussed in some quarters, is likely to save it, based on an environmental review of the redevelopment released in February by L.A.'s planning department.

"The Plant is associated with the late 20th century growth of the Los Angeles Times, a significant and influential newspaper founded in 1881," the report notes.

"The Times grew along with the City (and a number of competing news publications) until it was the largest newspaper on the West Coast.

"Completed in 1989, the Plant was the sixth Times printing facility, post-dating satellite printing facilities in Costa Mesa (1968, including a newsroom) and Chatsworth (1983) as well as four combined newsroom/office/printing press locations in downtown Los Angeles dating from 1881 to 1935.

"The Plant’s construction reflected the need for a new purpose-built facility to handle the Times’ exploding circulation during the 1980s as Los Angeles became a truly global city.

"With the Plant’s opening, the Times completed the shift of all printing functions away from the paper’s downtown headquarters, and the Plant later took over printing from the Costa Mesa and Chatsworth plants when they closed.

But that vaunted print history, near and dear to a dying breed of newspaper lovers, does not matter much to the plant's future survival as a historic site, concludes the analysis.

'The Plant is a standard industrial printing facility for its time period and is not unique or exceptional in terms of its function, association, or embodiment of historic industrial development patterns.

"Research did not uncover scholarship suggesting that this property is exceptionally significant for its association with the Times or with larger patterns of historical development.

"In fact, aside from perfunctory mentions in self-published timelines of Times history by the Times itself, it does not appear in any known periodicals, published histories of the Times, studies of printing plant typology, or studies of industrial property types in general."

Thus, the future of daily print in L.A. and San Diego remains dependent on the financial bets of billionaire owner Soon-Shiong and the plant's similarly wealthy owners.

"The streaming industry remains in a land-grab phase, with companies throwing tens of billions of dollars into original series and movies, marketing, and promotions, “Barron’s reported in an April 24 post.

"Following the Netflix model, legacy media firms will accept several years of unprofitable growth for their services, on their way to the Holy Grail of high-margin, recurring-revenue subscriptions with global scale."

Still, Netflix layoffs are picking up steam.

"A number of journalists working for the company’s entertainment site Tudum have been laid off, according to tweets by those affected,” per an April 28 account by the Protocol blog.

A Netflix spokesperson told Protocol last week that there were no plans to shutter the site, calling it "an important priority for the company."

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Comments
2

The old LA Times printing plant could still turn into studio space, regardless of Netflix's crash. Content is king, and it's not slowing down. With the recent sale of Warner Media (by AT&T) to Discovery, that greatly expanded media giant will probably need more studios.

May 7, 2022

More doom-scrolling speculation about print journalism's prospects from Matt Potter.

Meanwhile, I just realized that kinda corrupt California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, presently running for election, was the author of 2018 legislation (signed by ex-Governor Jerry Brown) to decriminalize street vending in our big cities. Previously, large California municipalities all had laws against such practices. It seemed the tacky booths along our beaches and throughout Balboa Park had just popped up overnight, but the onslaught was delayed by three years of Pandemic. Now we await new local regulations to deal with state-sanctioned commercialized public sidewalks and visual blight.

June 2, 2022

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