Oct 25, 2022 - Economy

Bad winter coming for U.S. media companies

Illustration of a hand holding a cursor like a knife.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

It's a brutal, fearful time for American media — with companies scrambling to cut costs and secure cash in a scenario reminiscent of the early pandemic.

Why it matters: The new economic reality means layoffs, hiring freezes, and other cost-cutting measures.

Driving the news: New data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas finds that news media layoffs are beginning to tick up again after a relatively stable summer.

Announced <span style="color: white; background-color:#421ab3; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 900;">news</span> and <span style="color: white; background-color:#a283ff; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 900;">other media</span> job cuts
Data:Challenger, Grey and Christmas Inc.; Chart: Axios Visuals

Between the lines: Inflation and supply chain issues have slowed down the ad market dramatically ahead of what's typically the most lucrative time of the year.

  • Snap Inc., which announced plans to lay off 20% of its staff, sent shockwaves through the social media industry last week when it cited a pullback in ad spend from big brands ahead of the Q4 holiday season.
  • Analysts expect the slowdown to continue well into 2023. One firm has cut its ad spend percentage growth projections for next year in half.

The financial stress on Big Tech firms has killed most programs to pay publishers for their content.

  • Pending U.S. antitrust legislation that would help local news companies get paid by Silicon Valley platforms seems doomed in Congress.

The big picture: Plummeting ad sales has forced Big Media to reckon with an even bigger problem — cord-cutting and a slowdown in consumer spending on subscriptions.

  • The U.S. pay-TV (cable and satellite) market is now shrinking by more than than 6% per year, setting a new record for the worst level of decline, according to an analysis from MoffettNathanson.
  • Without skinny bundles (digital live TV packages), the pay-TV market is shrinking by nearly 10%.
  • The world's biggest entertainment companies, including Netflix, Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery, have all lost billions of dollars in value as Wall Street's love affair with unprofitable streaming bets wears off.

News companies are also seeing a significant traffic slowdown in response to a Post-Trump news cycle that's riddled with depressing headlines.

Be smart: For media startups, a murky economic outlook has created a difficult fundraising atmosphere and has killed any incentive to go public.

  • Companies like Substack scrapped their plans to raise money this year, due to the brutal economic environment.
  • BuzzFeed today is valued by public investors at 16% of the $1.7 billion it was valued when it raised $200 million from NBC Universal in 2016.
  • Digital media giants like BDG Media, Vice Media, and Vox Media are exploring ways to either sell or generate enough short-term cash to keep operations afloat.

Yes, but: There remain some points of optimism in the industry.

  • The New York Times continues to grow its paid subscriber base at a healthy clip. Semafor was able to raise $25 million ahead of an October launch. News Corp. revenues rose to a record $10.4 billion for the fiscal year ending in June.

What to watch: A difficult economic climate is being compounded by an erosion of media trust and a decline in press freedoms.

  • American trust in mass media remains at a near-record low, according to new data from Gallup.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove a line stating that Puck cancelled fundraising plans this year, as they may still raise a series B round in 2022.

Go deeper