TO Establishment

Moses Znaimer is making moves backed by Prem Watsa

Moses Znaimer has cornered the market for hyper local content in Canada.
OPM 3 min read

Do you know many 80-somethings that are making moves in digital media? The relentlessly inventive Moses Znaimer is. His publicly-traded media mini-conglomerate ZoomerMedia has been active making deals. Starting in 2022, Zoomer has expanded from its initial focus on boomers to acquire blogs read by millennials. In fact, through a series of bold acquisitions, Zoomer has cornered hyper local content in Canada (ie blogs that provide information about city events, restaurant reviews and the like). The company has spent $40m (in cash and shares) to acquire online properties like blogTO, Daily Hive, The Peak and Curiocity. The resultant Zoomer Digital Network has 18.5m monthly active users and more than a billion pageviews per year. Despite ZoomerMedia’s atrocious ROI performance historically, Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Financial continues to be a financial backer. That’s all I have to say by way of the most recent updates in the world of Znaimer. I provide below some background about Moses Znaimer, the personage.

Moses’ official 600-word bio opens by saying he is “best known around the world as a Canadian media pioneer.” That may well be, but for the benefit of the tiny sliver of humanity who might not know him, he was a big Canadian TV mogul in the 80s and 90s, OK? He was the founder of Citytv, MuchMusic and many other TV channels. MuchMusic was Canada’s answer to MTV. It made stars out of the Barenaked Ladies and George Stoumboulopulos. The Quebec version of MuchMusic was even more consequential, as it put the Backstreet Boys on the map. Not to mention Véronique Cloutier and Sonia Benezra, who are Oprah-like figures in Quebec.

Znaimer’s bio goes on to say: “In the 1970s, long before Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, Moses anticipated the popularity of user-generated content.” How does the expression go? “If you had invented Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” To be fair, this “user-generated content” is a reference to Znaimer’s idea of having a video-recording booth on a street in Toronto, where members of the public could record themselves speaking their minds on any issue for 2 minutes. Citytv would sometimes air these videos. He’s a real innovator.

Moses sold Citytv to CHUM within 10 years of launching. But then he remained an executive at CHUM for more than 20 years. In 2003, Znaimer left CHUM amid some speculation that he had been pushed out.

After his CHUM career, in 2008, Moses launched ZoomerMedia for “boomers with zip.” Now aged 82, he is still the CEO of ZoomerMedia. The company is based at the ZoomerPlex, a 2.6 acre campus in the Liberty Village. The ZoomerPlex includes studios, an event venue and even a TV museum. The premise of Zoomer was that boomers controlled much of the wealth and so needed their own dedicated media.

Advertisers’ view of a 65-year-old man is a guy sitting in his rocking chair and buying dog food. That’s their big mistake. Who has the money? I have. And the secret’s out that people don’t stop having sex at age 50. In fact, we’re having so much fun, we want to go on forever.” -Moses Znaimer

A more pragmatic reason for starting ZoomerMedia is that Moses needed to figure if he could take his CPP payments early. One of Zoomer’s first big move was to take control of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. A bit later, Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Financial invested $18m to help Zoomer acquire VisionTV, a religious channel. Fairfax now owns 15% of Zoomer and continues to be a supporter, for example, loaning money for the latest acquisitions.

Zoomer has not been a great financial success:

How wealthy can you be when your wealth is measured in increments of 3 cents? Last December, Zoomer declared a dividend of $0.003 per share. I did not know a dividend of less than a penny was possible. Still, the company generated $63m in revenue in 2023 and $7m in EBITDA. (There’s a boatload of preferred shares so the “market cap” figure in the chart above is misleading.)

Interesting facts about Moses I learned from Wikipedia: he was born in Tajikistan and grew up in Montreal before moving to Toronto. He was a pioneer in putting minority faces on TV. He has a Masters in Government from Harvard. The various Zoomer websites are heavily infused with Moses Znaimer. A small example is how many of them sign off with “Executive producer Moses Znaimer.” He has an entire website documenting his career. https://www.mosesznaimerway.com/ And he has a Trumpian signature, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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