Jay Penske: King of the Hollywood trades

Jay Penske
Jay Penske, photographed at the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills on Jan. 7.
(Kevin Winter / GA / Hollywood Reporter / Getty)
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Jay Penske, the youngest son of auto racing legend Roger Penske, has become one of L.A.’s stealthiest media moguls. Since buying entertainment journalist Nikki Finke’s industry blog, Deadline, for less than $1 million in 2009, Penske has amassed a near-monopoly of culture and entertainment industry publications.

His holdings — Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire and Deadline — cover Hollywood’s every hiccup and burp. Penske Media Corp. is a force outside the studio bubble as well, owning music publications Billboard, Rolling Stone and Vibe, as well as ARTnews, Artforum, Women’s Wear Daily and Sportico.

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The breadth of his holdings gives him tremendous sway. The publications also rake in tens of millions of dollars from lucrative awards season “For Your Consideration” ads placed by Hollywood studios.

Critics contend such financial arrangements inevitably result in favorable treatment of industry players, and Penske’s consolidation of trade outlets heightened writers’ angst during last year’s writers’ and actors’ strikes. Suspicious that studio executives were leaking information to get an upper hand, the Writers Guild of America told members not to believe press reports but, rather, to get their information from the union.


Nonetheless, Penske’s titles remained go-to sources for news. They reported aggressively on the labor dispute, and the coverage cut both ways.

In an era of shrinking newsrooms, he has invested heavily to pump life into once-tired brands.

Last June, Deadline turned up the temperature on tensions when it quoted an anonymous studio executive saying the companies planned to drag out talks until union members started “losing their houses.” Studio heads howled, but the narrative stuck, hardening the resolve of striking writers and actors to hold out for a better deal.

Penske absorbed the blows.

He believes that some criticism of his outlets is misguided and he’s pleased with the quality of journalism being produced. He’s proud that, despite the tough climate and lower ad spending by studios, his business has remained profitable.

The 45-year-old executive is not a regular on red carpets. He grew up in New York and Detroit and moved to L.A. in 2002, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He launched PMC two years later.

Jay Penske
Jay Penske, the youngest son of auto racing legend Roger Penske, poses for a photo as crew members ready Tomas Scheckter’s car for the Indianapolis 500 on May 22, 2008.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

He has an independent streak. Rather than turn to his dad for financing, he’s entered into joint ventures and taken on partners. He faced criticism after accepting a $200-million investment from the Saudi Research and Media Group in 2018, months before Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by killers widely believed to be Saudi agents.

Despite his detractors, Penske’s stewardship stands out. In an era of shrinking newsrooms, he has invested heavily to pump life into once-tired brands.

And his empire is expanding. Last year, he became Vox Media’s largest shareholder, gaining a toehold in New York. He’s also bulking up on live events with the popular Texas festival South by Southwest and Dick Clark Productions, which stages the splashy Golden Globe Awards — keeping alive another stream of “For Your Consideration” ads.