Of all the investments in conservative media made by the billionaire Mercer family over the years, none have been as prominent, or as public, as their minority stake in Breitbart, the flame-throwing, once wildly-influential media brand founded by namesake Andrew Breitbart and guided to its shitkicking apotheosis by former C.E.O. Steve Bannon. But these days, compared to its 2016 heyday, Breitbart has far less influence in conservative politics, and fewer people appear willing to pay for merchandise. Meanwhile, after various Facebook algorithm changes and the faded rubbernecking of the liberal elite, advertisers don’t quite seem to lust after whatever audience remains. Breitbart was also the target of a viral campaign that pressured blue-chip companies to remove their programmatic ads from Google Ads, compounding their financial woes.
It’s one of numerous reasons why sources tell us that Rebekah “Bekah” Mercer, the 48-year-old daughter of conservative billionaire Robert Mercer, is looking to offload her stake in the digital media company. According to these sources, the Mercers invest in the mid seven figures each year to keep the company operational. We’re told that she’s made a pitch to various high-net worth individuals, including conservative billionaires John Childs, Bernie Marcus, and Elizabeth Uihlein, about stepping in. But there has been very little interest. (“This story is false,” said Breitbart spokesperson Elizabeth Moore. Mercer, Childs, Marcus, and Uihlein did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Unlike competitors such as The Daily Caller, which has a nonprofit arm, or The Daily Wire, which leans heavily on subscriptions, Breitbart never developed robust business lines outside of its news site, programmatic advertising, apparel, and its SiriusXM radio show—a point of contention for the Mercers, who have previously warned Breitbart leadership that “their involvement wasn’t going to be forever,” according to one of the sources familiar with the situation, and that the business needed to become profitable on its own. Their attempts to secure other investors have also been troubled.
The pressure to sell her Breitbart stake intensified recently thanks to Bekah’s disastrous dalliance with Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West), who blew up a deal involving Parler, a social media firm where she’s a majority stakeholder, leaving the company essentially valueless. Mercer previously invested $35 million in the anything-goes free speech platform, which raised between $50 and $60 million, and at one point was worth more than $1 billion. In October, it was announced that it was to be acquired by Ye through a deal with Parler C.E.O. George Farmer, the husband of Ye’s ally Candace Owens. But the deal fell through last month amid Ye’s increasingly anti-Semitic public statements and the loss of his billion-dollar partnership with Adidas, raising the question of whether he had the funds to execute the deal. (The deal, Parler said at the time, was canceled well before Ye’s infamous “I like Hitler” interview on Infowars.)
Bekah’s Parler loss comes just as she soured on G.O.P politics, at least as an investment thesis, after donating to MAGA candidates like Blake Masters, who lost his Senate campaign in Arizona. Bekah’s siblings, neither of whom are as intensely political as she, have also started nudging her to pull back. “She’s tired of politics,” said a source with knowledge of the situation, “just as she’s starting to really feel the pressure from her family.” It’s still not forgotten among the family how she invested $10 million into Milo Yiannopoulos’s disastrous media company in 2017, only for the venture to crash and burn under the right-wing provocateur’s mismanagement and his affiliations with white supremacists. (Unsurprisingly, Yiannopoulos was recently a staffer on Ye’s presidential campaign, and plotted Trump’s recent dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes.)
Of course, the entire online media ecosystem has been under pressure lately, with potential advertisers scaling back due to the slowing economy, and multiple news outlets conducting layoffs. But Breitbart was increasingly behind the curve when it came to their media peers and monetization. In the past few years alone, Ben Shapiro leaned into a direct-to-consumer subscription business model to turn his company, The Daily Wire, into a $180 million revenue behemoth. Other entities, such as Parler or Truth Social, have relied on whims and zeitgeist popularity, which either materialized or didn’t. (Parler was briefly one of the most downloaded apps on Apple, before tumbling out of the top chart.)
Breitbart, on the other hand, was founded around the same time as other mega viral factories, such as Buzzfeed and Vice, premised on the notion that digital advertising and viewership would only increase as technologists gamed the Facebook algorithm and secular behaviors changed. Alas, it didn’t entirely work out that way. The site, which Bannon once said aspired to be “the Huffington Post of the right,” appears to be following the same trajectory—from omnipresence to an afterthought.