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Elon Musk’s ‘intergalactic media empire’ could lead to innovation

Elon Musk has dropped a couple of cryptic clues about getting into a new industry: media.

He wouldn’t be the first billionaire to have a media company in his collection of endeavors. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post (via his investment company, Nash Holdings) in 2013.

The trail of hints includes a tweet published Wednesday with one word, “Thud!”

Despite the seemingly obscure announcement, Musk tells CNBC Make It it’s the real deal.

“It’s pretty obvious that comedy is the next frontier after electric vehicles, space exploration and brain-computer interfaces,” Musk tells CNBC Make It via a Tesla spokesperson. “Don’t know how anyone’s not seeing this.”

Though details are on the project are scarce, there’s room for the entrepreneur to leave his mark in the industry, according to Sean Branagan, the director for the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

“I think there’s still a ton of opportunity in media,” Branagan tells CNBC Make It. “Innovations are happening at all levels: creation, distribution, consumption, sharing and monitoring/management.

“The first waves of media tech disruption were digitization, the web and then mobile,” says Branagan. “There is still dramatic need for new kinds of media business models, based on these — and this is what may attract people like Jeff Bezos and maybe Elon Musk to media. They want to figure it out. It’s exciting. And if you do, you shape culture.”

A recent report that Musk has hired comedy writers from parody news site The Onion provides additional clues as to what the tech billionaire is up to.

Tuesday, The Daily Beast reported that top staffers and writers from The Onion are working on a project backed by Musk.

The Onion’s former editor in chief, Cole Bolton, and executive editor, Ben Berkley, left the satirical site last year due to disagreements with management and have been working on Musk’s project in Los Angeles since then, according to the site. They have now poached three writers and an editor from The Onion to work on the project, says The Daily Beast.

“We can confirm that we have learned nothing from prevailing trends in media and are launching a brand-new comedy project,” Bolton and Berkley told The Daily Beast in a statement, though they said nothing about Musk in particular.

Musk will have no direct oversight with the project, nor will he be involved on a daily basis, says The Daily Beast, citing unnamed sources.

It’s not the first time the serial entrepreneur has show interest in The Onion.

In a 2017 Rolling Stone feature about Musk, he expressed respect for the publication.

“In order to understand the essential truth of things,” Musk told Rolling Stone, “I think you can find it in The Onion and occasionally on Reddit.”

And The Onion has also had its fun with Musk. In February a satirical headline read, “Elon Musk offering $1.2 billion in grants to any project that promises to make him feel complete.”

Wrote The Onion in Musk’s voice: “Even after all I’ve accomplished in this world, there is still a gaping hole inside of me that no amount of innovation or entrepreneurship has been able to fill…. If you can prove that your venture will give me any measure of wholeness — anything, anything at all — my money is yours. All I ask in return is to feel some sense of purpose in this bleak and pointless existence.”

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