February 09, 2023

👋 Hello, Thursday. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,433 words ... 5½ minutes. Edited by Noah Bressner.

🍿 1 big thing — Scoop: Mitt unplugged

Cover: Scribner

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has turned over hundreds and hundreds of private emails, text messages and diary entries to reporter McKay Coppins for a book coming in October — including real-time communications among many of the most powerful figures in American politics, sources tell me.

  • Why it matters: This volume of disclosure is unheard of for a major sitting officeholder — a trove historians dream of but rarely get. The emails and journal pages span Romney's 2012 campaign as the Republican presidential nominee.

"Romney: A Reckoning," to be published Oct. 24, "offers Romney's lively and at times devastating take on nearly every major political figure of the last 25 years," a publishing source tells me.

  • The book "will also show Romney himself reckoning with what he considers his party's slide toward authoritarianism and what role he may have played in empowering the extreme forces within the GOP."

Behind the scenes: For nearly two years, Romney secretly met with Coppins, a staff writer for The Atlantic and fellow member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Mormons.

  • Romney originally considered saving the material for a memoir but decided against it, telling Coppins: "I can't be objective about my own life."
  • Romney gave Coppins printouts of hundreds of personal Gmails, and showed him selected text messages on his phone.

Coppins, who had more than 30 interviews with Romney for the book, told me: "I've been covering Senator Romney for more than a decade ... When I approached him two years ago about writing this biography, I told him it would only work if he was ready to be completely forthcoming."

  • "He reacted like it was a dare. I was astonished by his level of candor."

Romney, who had no editorial control, declined to comment.

  • Coppins is represented by Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn of Javelin.

More on the book ... Share this story.

2. ✈️ Southwest: "We messed up"

A Southwest Airlines traveler looks for her baggage at Chicago Midway International Airport on Dec. 27. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters

A top Southwest Airlines executive, appearing at a Senate hearing today, will deliver another apology for the company's disastrous holiday meltdown:

  • "Let me be clear: we messed up," Southwest Airlines COO Andrew Watterson will tell the Commerce Committee.

Why it matters: Southwest's problems in December set off an intense round of scrutiny from both fliers and the federal government.

  • More than 15,000 flight cancellations — sparked by severe weather, but exacerbated by the airline's business model and tech issues — left travelers stranded for days.

What went wrong: "[S]ub-zero temperatures, high winds, and frozen precipitation were worse than forecast, which had a wide-ranging impact ... especially at Denver and Chicago Midway," Watterson says in his testimony.

  • Communication challenges "created an unprecedented amount and frequency" of crew changes that overwhelmed the airline's scheduling process and technology.

Read the testimony.

3. 🌡️ America's extreme January

Monthly average January temperatures in Maine
Data: NOAA. Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Every state in New England, plus New Jersey, recorded their warmest January in records going back to 1895.

  • Another 20 states had a top 10 warmest January in those 129 years, Axios Andrew Freedman writes from NOAA data.

The U.S. had its fifth warmest January since 1895.

4. 🧀 Super Bowl parties get pricier

Change in the price of food in the U.S.
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The cost of Super Bowl party staples has been steadily rising over the last few years, Axios' Kavya Beheraj and Alex Fitzpatrick report from Consumer Price Index (CPI) data.

🧮 By the numbers: We zoomed in on a handful of food categories commonly found at Super Bowl parties.

  • The price of food items falling under the "meat, fish and eggs" and "fruits and veggies" categories were both up 8% year-over-year as of December 2022.

🍗 Wingheads get a break:

  • The price of whole chicken wings was $2.65 per pound in early January, down from $3.38 during last year's Super Bowl, per USDA data.
  • Wings were outrageously expensive last year. But prices are falling thanks to increased supply.

Share this graphic ... Get local stats and charts in Axios Local now in 26 cities, with more soon.

5. 🎧 Podcast shrinkage

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

After years of rapid growth and a pandemic boom, podcasts are producing a host of down arrows:

  • Fewer people are creating new shows. Networks aren't recouping investments. And longtime podcasters are hunting for ways to keep their shows sustainable, Axios' Peter Allen Clark writes.

Why it matters: Podcasts changed the listening habits of millions of people over the past decade. But the once-groundbreaking format is entering a precarious middle age.

🧮 By the numbers: The podcast ad market hasn't grown as quickly as many hoped. Its $1.5 billion size in 2022 was minuscule compared to the nearly $70 billion spent on TV ads.

  • Podcast search engine Listen Notes found an 80% drop in new podcasts created last year.
  • Listener growth last year shrank to only 5% after years of double-digit percentage growth, according to Insider Intelligence.
  • An annual report from Edison Research in December found declines for the first time in monthly and weekly U.S. listening habits.

What's happening: These shrinking numbers can partly be chalked up to the boom in new shows after the pandemic began, and people had more time to listen.

  • Listen Notes' CEO and founder Wenbin Fang told Axios: "The big drop is mostly low-quality shows (e.g., one-episode shows), which is actually a good thing for the industry ... People tried out podcasting during COVID, created one or two short episodes, then moved on and abandoned the show."

🔎 Between the lines: Podcasting suffers from a lack of innovation and new blood.

  • The top 10 most-listened-to podcasts last year are stacked with shows that have been around for years, according to Edison. The most recent top show dates from 2019. Six of the top 10 are at least seven years old.

🥊 Reality check: Millions of new podcasts are still being made every year — Listen Notes found over 25 million new episodes were released in 2022. Edison's data shows 74 million weekly listeners in the U.S. last year.

6. 🪄 Disney unveils layoffs, restructuring

To commemorate this year's 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Co., Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., is adorned with platinum-infused decor. Photo: Sandy Hooper/USA Today via Reuters

The Walt Disney Co. announced yesterday on a call with investors that it expects to cut 7,000 jobs this year — 3.6% of its global workforce — as part of a broad restructuring and a bigger effort to save $5.5 billion in costs.

  • Disney stock, which dropped 44% in 2022, was up 5% in after-hours trading after the changes and the company's fourth-quarter earnings report were announced.

Why it matters: Returning CEO Bob Iger is undoing many organizational changes made under his dethroned predecessor, Bob Chapek, Axios' Shawna Chen and Sara Fischer report.

What's happening: Disney aims to return greater authority to the company's creative leaders and would make "them accountable to how their content performs financially," Iger said.

  • The former structure, he said, "severed that link."
  • Creative teams will be responsible for "what content we're making, how it is distributed and monetized, and how it gets marketed ... Managing costs, maximizing revenue, and driving growth from the content being produced will be their responsibility."

The new structure, which will be implemented immediately, will divide the company into three parts: Disney entertainment ... ESPN .... Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

  • Disney expects the Disney+ streaming service will be profitable by the end of fiscal '24.

Share this story.

7. 🏛️ 73% of SOTU viewers were 55+

President Biden takes a selfie yesterday with workers at a union training center in DeForest, Wis. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

27.3 million viewers watched President Biden's State of the Union address on TV — the second smallest SOTU audience in at least 30 years, AP's David Bauder writes from Nielsen data.

  • That was down 28% from the 38.2 million people who saw Biden's SOTU last year.

🥊 Stunning stat: 73% of the people who watched Biden's speech were 55 and older. Only 5% were under age 35.

The only smaller audience since 1993 was the 26.9 million who watched Biden's address to Congress in 2021 — an "address to Congress" rather than a State of the Union, since he had just taken office a few months earlier.

  • Nielsen didn't have figures from before President Clinton's first address to Congress, which reached 66.9 million people in 1993, when entertainment options were fewer.

Biden's biggest audience was Fox News, which drew 4.69 million ... ABC: 4.41 million ... NBC: 3.78 million ... CBS: 3.64 million ... MSNBC: 3.55 million ... CNN: 2.4 million ... Fox broadcast stations: 1.66 million.

8. 🔋 EVs get Super Bowl moment

Screenshot: "Why not an EV? | GM x Netflix"

In one of the buzzy ads debuting during Sunday's Super Bowl, Will Ferrell drives different GM electric vehicles through different Netflix shows — including "Bridgerton" and "Stranger Things."

  • The message: Netflix will feature electric vehicles, where relevant, in original shows and films.
  • The tagline: "Let's give EVs the stage they deserve."

Watch the 1-min. ad ... Teasers: GM release ... Netflix release.

📨 Thanks for starting your day with us. Please invite your friends to sign up.