Sep 13, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,176 words ... ~ 4 minutes.

1 big thing: What we learned from the debate
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democrats' internal fissures over health care crystallized in Houston during the third debate last night. This top-polling issue will continue to animate 2020:

  • It boils down to: Rebuild the system vs. build on the Affordable Care Act.
  • Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar hammered the idea that a public option for the ACA constitutes the realistic, more affordable middle road, and they directly attacked Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for budget-busting Medicare for All plans that would eliminate private insurance.
  • Warren may have provided fodder for an attack ad when said: "I've actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company." It's not about liking their insurance company, as Axios' David Nather notes: It's about liking their plan. An awful lot of people didn't like when the ACA canceled their plans.

Other takeaways, including reporting by Axios' Margaret Talev and Zach Basu:

  • Biden started strong but faded, and is still really dodgy and not good at talking about race and his record.
  • The pack still hasn't figured out how to attack Warren. 
  • Harris pivots: After a show-stealing first debate and a disappointing second, Harris came to the third ready to attack President Trump, rather than her Democratic opponents, on nearly every issue. It's a play at the "electability" argument that has helped prop up Biden's poll numbers.
  • The litigation of President Obama's legacy is a surprise star of the primary. Most of the candidates praised him for setting the foundation for universal health care, but Sanders argued that Obama and Biden bear responsibility for 500,000 Americans going bankrupt as a result of the ACA.
  • Socialism made its first appearance in a Democratic debate, with the centrist Biden mocking Sanders for believing that employers would return wages to union workers who become covered by Medicare for All: "For a socialist, you've got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do."

Keeper moment ... Julián Castro: "I'm fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama, and you're not."

  • Biden: "That'll be a surprise to him."

Go deeper: Smart Brevity takeaways by Zach Basu ... Issue highlights by Ursula Perano.

2. What the candidates were thinking
Photos: David J. Phillip/AP

From Axios' Alexi McCammond, reporting from the debate hall at Texas Southern University:

  • Joe Biden: Keep your head down, even while others are attacking you, and do the work. This is a long election cycle.
  • Elizabeth Warren: Mix big, sweeping proposals with personal stories (being a school teacher, going to college in Houston, etc.).
  • Bernie Sanders: Remind people that you're the original.
  • Kamala Harris: Remember that President Trump is the real opponent; voters value electability. 
  • Pete Buttigieg: Be the adult in the room.
  • Amy Klobuchar: Make an actual case for a moderate Dem in 2020.
  • Julián Castro: Be Scrappy Doo! Lemme at 'em!

Biden, Warren won the clock (minutes:seconds) ...

3. 🐦 The social debate: How we tweeted
Graphics: Twitter Communications

Biden's record-player line:

We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It's not want they don't want to help.  They don't — they don't know quite what to do.  Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the, the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school, a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.  
4. Houston scrapbook

Cory Booker and Kamala Harris greet each other in the Spin Room:

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Why also-rans run ... Julián Castro works the Spin Room:

Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

How reporters watch the debate ... Behold the filing center:

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
5. Streaming battlefield gets crowded

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the streaming wars heat up, consumers are going to have to be choosy about which services they subscribe to, or risk racking up steep monthly bills, Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer writes.

  • Why it matters: Digital streaming was supposed to break up the expensive cable bundle, but now that so many companies are launching their own services, paying for TV could get even more expensive and complicated.

Between the lines: According to Mike Bloxham, SVP of global media and entertainment at research consultancy Magid, people are willing to spend around $38 monthly total on streaming services.

  • That means that they will likely choose between 3-4 services to invest in monthly.

Our thought bubble: The key differentiator for all of these new streaming offerings will be whether the packages are "sticky" enough to keep users coming back after they finish their favorite show or original series.

6. 🎥 The talk of Hollywood
Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A streaming-era disruption to the economics of TV shows is the talk of agents and talent ... "The end of the backend? Disney wants to limit profit participation on its new TV shows," the L.A. Times' Steve Battaglio and Wendy Lee report:

  • "Walt Disney Co. ... is pushing to transform how TV show creators are compensated for their work."
  • For decades, when shows hit the 100-episode mark, they "became ripe for syndication, and the rich financial rewards that came with it. These payments have gone to creators, powerful stars, and anyone else who owned a piece of the 'backend.' For a hit show, such payouts could dwarf the fees earned during the early years of a show’s run."
  • "Disney is pressing TV producers ... to accept a new formula offering profits sooner in exchange for complete control of any future licensing revenue."

Why it matters: "Although Netflix and Amazon have been making such deals for the last few years, Disney would be the first legacy media company to require them for all new TV shows — whether on cable, broadcast or streaming."

  • "The change could make it easier for other studios to follow suit."
7. Secretive "tent courts" for migrants
Juvenile waiting area at the Migrant Protection Protocols Immigration Hearing Facilities in Laredo, Texas. Photo: Ricardo Santos/The Laredo Morning Times via AP

Outside observers will not be allowed without permission inside "tent courts" in South Texas where the Trump administration is processing thousands of migrants forced to wait in Mexico, AP's Nomaan Merchant reports:

  • The first hearings under the so-called "Remain in Mexico" program began Wednesday in Laredo, Texas. A small number of migrants will have hearings before the tents in Laredo and Brownsville officially open next week.
  • Under Justice Department rules, immigration court hearings are generally open to the public, though immigration judges can close some hearings for privacy reasons or to protect "the public interest."
8. Vaping industry may fight to keep mint, menthol
Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

After the Trump administration said it would act to ban flavored e-cigarettes, the industry is considering legal challenges or lobbying efforts to keep two flavors — mint and menthol, the N.Y. Times reports.

  • Why it matters: The flavor ban is aimed at reducing the startling rise in teenage vaping.
  • "When Juul stopped selling fruit flavors like mango in retail stores last year, Kevin Burns, the company’s chief executive, said he wanted to keep mint and menthol varieties on the market, because they mirrored the tastes of traditional cigarettes."
9. Why a college degree matters
10. 1 "SNL" thing

"Saturday Night Live" announced three new featured cast members yesterday, including Bowen Yang, who will become the show’s only Asian American performer, writes the AP's Lynn Elber.

  • Hours later, it re-emerged that another new cast member, Shane Gillis, posted a video last year in which he used a racial slur for Chinese people and derided Asians trying to learn English.

Why it matters: "SNL" has taken heat over the years for an overall lack of ethnic diversity, with scant Asian representation among its cast members or hosts.

Mike Allen