Two deals, one very interesting digital future

New Long Island Media CEO John Colascione: Strength in putting together lots of pieces.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Two major deals in the online publishing space offer the potential of a dramatically altered digital landscape for Long Island shoppers and sellers.

In the most recent, Cablevision agreed to be acquired by Europe-based Altice in a $17.7 billion deal that includes Newsday, the News 12 cable operation and their corresponding websites.

Earlier this month, Long Island Media, the parent company of LongIsland.com and other Island-focused sites, acquired digital newspaper Long Island Exchange and a host of other online publications, including such popular domains as LongIslandExchange.com, LIUsedCars.com and NewsLI.com.

Former Long Island Exchange owner John Colascione was named CEO of the bulked-up company, which has consolidated in the buyer’s Commack offices.

Speculation is rampant, and facts scarce, about what Altice might do with Cablevision’s TV-news and print operations, which fall outside the telecom’s experience set and even farther afield from its taste for expense.

“Are they going to shrink it down?” Colascione wondered to Innovate LI. “Are they going to be aggressive and start hiring? It would be an extremely costly endeavor to try and grow the digital operations, and every time I turn around it seems like they’re firing people and outsourcing. So I don’t know how realistic that is. It all remains to be seen.”

More certain is how Colascione and Long Island Media plan to move forward. One early focus is LIUsedCars.com, the only website devoted exclusively to Island-based pre-owned vehicle sales. Pre-merger, Colascione had grown it to include about 60 local dealerships, making it one of the most important properties in the combined company.

“We’re utilizing all these online publications to brand and grow LIUsedCars,” Colascione said. “With LongIsland.com in the mix, it should be five times easier. The reach and the following of LongIsland.com are tremendous.”

Other strong performers in the blended digital family include LongIslandYellowPages.com and LongIslandCateringHalls.com, and several dozen sites in various stages of development. The numerous domains put the company in position to create a hybrid web services/online advertising agency, Colascione added, with an eye on client needs ranging from the digital to the promotional.

“We want to grow as an agency to service customers with the many aspects of growing their businesses,” he said. “There’s high demand for web assistance, whether it’s hosting a website or search-engine marketing or site development or just fixing bugs. People need somebody to resolve these issues, and they can’t always afford a full-time IT guy.

“It can be very expensive to get somebody who knows what they’re doing – too expensive for some small businesses,” he added. “It’s often more economical to have somebody on call, instead of on staff.”

Colascione and Long Island Media founder Ralph Cristello also continue to operate independent companies outside the Long Island Media umbrella. Colascione owns Lindenhurst-based Searchen Networks, an SEO/advertising services firm that handles Google ads for clients, among other tasks. Cristello still operates Commack Internet consultancy Internet Point, another IT firm with a similar focus.

Those resources could help Long Island Media develop new consulting-based revenue streams, while its tight crew – about 15 full-timers, including the partners, salespeople, data-entry staffers and a number of editors and writers – continue to churn out press releases and fresh content.

The merger dates back almost six years, when the LongIsland.com domain was put to public auction by then-owner Invision, an IT services company that subsequently merged with IT firm mindShift. Colascione and Cristello were rival bidders, and Cristello ultimately won the day – and the domain – with a $375,000 offer.

Since then, according to Colascione, the two “talked periodically, trying to see how we could work together and network together.” They even held a few meetings “specifically about how we could merge the two operations together,” he noted, “but we were never really able to agree on anything.”

But over the years, the financial pressures of the digital world have made it increasingly difficult for website producers to make ends meet, making a merger between Long Island’s biggest players not only possible, but smart.

“Publishers across the board are getting squeezed,” Colascione noted. “Search engine issues, declining revenues, costs-per-click becoming less profitable – industry-wide, it’s becoming harder and harder for most publications.”

Not so, at least so far, at bigger and better Long Island Media.

“Everything is going really well,” Colascione said. “We had to transfer hundreds of domain names from one company to another, but as far as operations and employee-wise, everything has been smooth and everyone is excited.

“We may possibly introduce a new website or two,” he added. “But for now, our main priority is making sure our customers are happy and getting the services they expect to get. There’s a lot to get done, but we are completely focused on growth.”