Why The Washington Post’s Jeff Bezos Is Adweek’s Media Visionary of 2016

Amazon boss changed how we shop—and now he’s saving journalism

Few tech entrepreneurs have had the ability to imagine a future just beyond our reach, and to profoundly change how we live our lives. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are two such stars, and Jeff Bezos, our Media Visionary for 2016, joins this constellation. From ecommerce and streaming video to artificial intelligence, drone deliveries and publishing, look to Bezos to enable the Jetsons age.

Amazon's founder and CEO has spent the past two decades building a global shopping site with an active user base of 304 million. "This year, Amazon became the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion in annual sales," Bezos wrote shareholders in July. In the coming years, Bezos aims not only to expand the retail colossus but also his burgeoning Amazon Prime business. U.S. membership in Prime—which, for $99 per year, provides access to two-day shipping, streaming video and ad-free music, among other benefits—grew to 63 million in Q2 of this year, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal last week reported the possibility of a premium live sports package—negotiations over game rights with the NBA, NFL and MLB are said to be underway.

Prime Video may soon rival Netflix on a global scale, with the streaming business set to launch in 200 countries and territories, including Canada and Australia. (It's currently available in the U.S., the U.K. and a handful of other countries.) As Bezos eyes expansion, he has made an equal commitment to producing the highest quality programming. Amazon Prime series reaped six Emmy Awards this fall, including two for comedy Transparent, also a Golden Globe winner.

Many media watchers scratched their heads when, in 2013, Bezos paid $250 million for The Washington Post. But in that, too, Bezos casts his gaze toward the future. While he has stayed out of the newsroom, allowing editors and reporters to do their jobs, Bezos has invested heavily in the future of the 140-year-old Post, which is now billed as a "media and technology company." Bezos not only has spent money hiring journalists but also engineers.

In mid-2015, the Post began using an enhanced content management system called Arc Publishing, which, among other things, flows seamlessly across platforms and optimizes headlines and articles, much in the way Amazon recommends the products consumers might want to buy. The move clearly paid off this fall. The Post's aggressive election coverage—which included breaking the story of the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape featuring Donald Trump making lewd comments about women—smashed traffic records, driving nearly 100 million visitors to the Post's site in October, per comScore.

On the horizon, Bezos envisions a world driven by artificial intelligence. Already, he is doubling down with the release of Amazon Echo, a voice-activated speaker that connects to virtual assistant Alexa. The future is catching up, and it is Bezos who's poised to deliver it. 

Check out the rest of this year's Hot List honorees:

This story first appeared in the November 28, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.

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@lgranatstein lisa.granatstein@adweek.com Lisa Granatstein is the editor, svp, programming at Adweek.