Sep 20, 2022 - Economy

The Atlantic goes Hollywood

Illustration of The Atlantic logo stylized as a Hollywood Walk of Fame star

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Atlantic is pushing aggressively into film and TV projects as part of a wider licensing revenue push.

Why it matters: The company, which expects to lose roughly $10 million again this year, needs to build another revenue stream to continue on its path to profitability, CEO Nicholas Thompson told Axios.

  • “One of our objectives is to build out a third substantial revenue stream beyond subscriptions and advertising," he said. "Affiliate IP is obviously one place you could get that, so it's a significant focus."

Driving the news: The company is launching its first two TV and film projects: "Shadowland," a six-part docu-series, is premiering on Peacock and at The Atlantic Festival on Sept. 21, and "Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power," a feature-length documentary, will be available on Peacock in early 2023.

  • "Shadowland," which features The Atlantic’s journalists, is based on an Atlantic editorial series about conspiracy theories and the threat they pose to democracy. "Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power" is about voting activism in the 1960s.
  • Both projects were co-produced with third-party filmmakers based on The Atlantic’s reporting: RadicalMedia for "Shadowland" and Participant for "Lowndes."
  • The Atlantic also has a scripted miniseries in development at Showtime, inspired by its piece The Undocumented Agent from 2020.
  • Other projects in development are based on both articles and podcasts from The Atlantic, including an animated feature film.

Details: Thompson said the company has more than 12 other projects based on The Atlantic’s IP (intellectual property) optioned or in the production phase.

  • The company hired the Creative Artists Agency in 2020 to represent its IP deals. It hired Linzee Troubh in 2019 to lead the effort full-time at The Atlantic.
  • In a bid to build more projects, The Atlantic recently opened its entire archive online for the first time. “So, 29,000 new stories that, ideally, every single one of them could get optioned,” Thompson said.

Be smart: Many publishers are leaning into commerce or affiliate programs as a third form of revenue alongside ads and subscriptions. But Thompson said licensing is a better editorial fit for the 165-year-old outlet.

  • I find it hard to imagine us like licensing our brand to like a hotel chain.” Thomson joked. “None of that is going on.”
  • “It's been very much [focused] on things that are really tied into the journalism," he said. "We're only licensing our IP when the thing that comes out of it feels like it's of the same kind as our journalism."

Between the lines: In addition to film and TV projects, The Atlantic is also licensing its IP for books and experiences.

  • Next year, The Atlantic will launch its own book imprint called “Atlantic Editions” in partnership with independent publisher Zando. Six titles from Atlantic authors have been announced so far.
  • In May, The Atlantic created a museum-like exhibition in downtown Los Angeles, sponsored by Mastercard, that was inspired by an Atlantic editorial series called Who Owns America’s Wilderness?

Flashback: It’s been more than two years since The Atlantic, facing pandemic headwinds, laid off nearly 20% of its staff (68 people) and stared down $20 million losses.

  • Today, the company has 360 total employees, nearly two dozen more than it had before the pandemic-driven layoffs.
  • “Editorially, we're very much in growth mode,” said Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic. Currently, the company has 14 open roles, including several senior editorial positions, like a features editor and a global editor.

By the numbers: The Atlantic has roughly 843,000 subscriptions across digital and print, per Thompson, up from 830,000 this time last year. Nearly half of those subscriptions (388,000) are digital-only.

  • The 843,000 number includes print magazines sold across physical newsstands and digital subscriptions sold through The Atlantic’s partnership with Apple News. Around 750,000 subscriptions are sold directly to consumers.
  • The vast majority (around 90%) of The Atlantic's revenue currently comes from advertising and subscriptions.
  • This year’s revenue breakdown will include a near-even split between advertising and consumer revenue, which will be a first for The Atlantic since launching its digital subscription service in 2019.

The big picture: Licensing has become a bigger business opportunity for premium publishers like Vox Media and the New York Times amid increased demand from streamers for new content.

What to watch: In the future, The Atlantic could experiment with other types of revenue streams, like subscriptions for kids or international licensing partnerships, Thompson said.

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