Dec 8, 2020 - Economy & Business

Exclusive: STAT News plans major expansion following banner year

Illustration of a health/ hospital plus with an upwards arrow

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

STAT News is planning a big expansion next year, thanks in part to explosive growth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The big picture: The health, medicine and science outlet brought in over $10 million in revenue this year — up about 66% from last year, executives tell Axios. It plans to increase staff by roughly 40% next year to help launch new data products, events and custom reports.

STAT was one of the first U.S. outlets to begin seriously covering the pandemic in January. It went from roughly 1.5 million monthly uniques prior to the pandemic to 23 million in March.

  • Traffic is now at a steady 6 million monthly uniques over the past few months, which STAT co-founder and executive editor Rick Berke anticipates will be the site's "new normal."
  • "We were poised for by far our most successful year, but covid propelled us a lot faster,' Berke says, noting that the company plans to expand its coverage to Europe next year.

Between the lines: STAT was also one of the first outlets in the U.S. to drop its paywall for COVID-19 coverage. The boom in traffic prompted the company to begin accepting donations.

  • Berke says the company has received "tens of thousands" in donations this year, a surprising standalone revenue stream for the company.
  • The company has quickly become one of the most trusted news sources amid the pandemic. That includes STAT’s Helen Branswell, a top infectious disease reporter.
  • "These are stories you can't just throw at a reporter and expect them to understand," says Berke.

STAT's explosive growth has caught the attention of advertisers, even though it makes most of its money selling subscriptions to its paywalled news product STAT+. While most companies are reeling from advertiser losses, STAT says it's seen a huge uptick in its ads businesses, as well as events.

  • Total ad deal volume increased 33% year-over-year. Event revenue overall in 2019 was more than $1 million and grew 30% this year.
  • The company is planning to add a third virtual summit to its events lineup next year, focused on breakthrough science in July, per STAT's Chief Revenue Officer Angus Macaulay. Sponsorships for the events are mostly sold out, Berke says.

It's also planning to launch two new products catered to high-end users. The first, which will likely be accessible to subscribers, is a data service that would allow subscribers to sort through complicated data sets, like clinical trials data.

  • The second is to expand its series of deep-dive reports into topics like remote patient monitoring and Chinese biotech that are sold for hundreds of dollars to individuals, or via a group license.

STAT's mission is to cover complicated topics in a way that's both sexy and relatable. Prior to the launch of STAT, most high-end coverage of those topics was found in medical journals.

  • The company is in talks to license the rights to its 80-minute documentary film about a double-amputee and MIT scientist who creates brain-controlled robotic limbs. It's closing in on a deal with a linear TV network. That deal, if brokered, would also allow STAT to sell the film to a streamer.

Flashback: STAT owners John Henry and Linda Pizzuti Henry funded the creation of STAT in 2015 after the pair purchased The Boston Globe and a few other smaller properties from New York Times in 2013 for $70 million.

  • In an interview, Pizzuti Henry, who was named CEO of the Globe this month, said STAT helps to diversify their portfolio of mostly Boston-based outlets.
  • "Having a mix of audiences that we can appeal to is important," she said, recognizing that the pandemic has been a boon to STAT, but tougher on local media.

Niche media outlets have found some success in the past few years, targeting small but loyal audiences and charging them for high-end content.

  • "We don't pretend to be biggest, but we like to think that every day we have stories no one else has about health and medicine that are authoritative and provocative and rigorous and ambitious," Berke said.

What's next: Pizzuti Henry says that she and her husband, who are also principal owners of the Boston Red Sox, have no plans to sell STAT, and that they are doing research now to invest in other new niche media startups.

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