Dec 25, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☃️ Merry Christmas from Oregon! Today's birthdays: Jesus. (hat tip: Luke)

Two random talkers:

  • Fielding a few NORAD Santa tracker calls on Christmas Eve, President Trump said to a 7-year-old named Coleman (per pooler Kevin Diaz of Houston Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers): "Are you still a believer in Santa Claus? Cuz at 7 it's marginal, right?"
  • Roseanne Barr says she'll address the Israeli parliament next month, during a trip to "further my own knowledge of Jewish and Israeli history" and speak out against anti-Semitism.
1 big thing ... Fortnite: The hot, new social network

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

For tween and teen young men — and even college and young celebrities and pro athletes — "Fortnite: Battle Royale" in 2018 became more than a live-streaming game: It's now so consuming that it has taken on hallmarks of a social network. Think of it as the new Snapchat. 

  • Respected tech writer Owen Williams writes on his Charged blog: "Fortnite isn't a game, it's a place ... Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it's become the coveted 'third place' for millions of people around the world."
  • A trend in 2018 was parents naming their babies after Fortnite figures, like Ramirez, and “skins” or outfits, like Bunny and Leviathan, according to a report from Baby Center.

Betsy Morris, who covers mobile tech for The Wall Street Journal, points out that Fortnite "is not only reshaping how boys spend their time, but how they communicate — it acts essentially like an open phone line."

  • "The videogame is free [although you can spend plenty on 'skins' and other add-ons] and can be played almost everywhere on game consoles, desktop computers, laptops or smartphones."
  • This is key: "Like with many videogames, the more people play Fortnite, the more data is generated about what captivates players the most and what drives players to quit. The constant stream of information boosts the ability of game designers to use machine learning to amplify player engagement."
  • "As games get smarter, parents feel outmatched."

Why it matters, from Axios' Felix Salmon: This is as big as Snap was, in its own way. It's a form of communication with your peer group that isn’t recorded for posterity.

Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer has the smart brevity on how Fortnite became a global sensation:

  • Fortnite was first released by its parent company, North Carolina-based Epic Games, in early 2017 as a console and desktop game.
  • "Battle Royale" mode, a fight-to-the-death version with only one winner, was released in September 2017 and lets up to 100 users play at once.
  • "Battle Royale" propelled Fortnite's user base to 200 million registered players in November (up 60% from June).
  • In November, Fortnite said it reached 8.3 million concurrent players (the number of users playing Fortnite at the exact same time around the world), up from 2 million in January.
  • Epic Games is now reportedly worth over $15 billion, up from $1 billion six years ago, per The Wall Street Journal.

Fortnite users aren't just using the game to communicate and socialize, but are pouring more time into it than other social networks, according to Sara:

  • A study by financial education company LendEDU of over 1,000 Fortnite players earlier this year found that most players spend at least 6-10 hours playing the game per week. By comparison, the average active user of Snapchat or Instagram spends roughly 30 minutes per day on the platform.
  • Half of teens say playing Fortnite helps them keep up with their friends, according to a study from Common Sense Media. And 44% say they have made a friend online through the game. Heck, 39% say they have bonded with a sibling through the game.
  • Fortnite reached 200 million users (nearly 80 million monthly active users) in a little over a year. It took Twitter roughly five years after launch to reach 100 million monthly active users.

Sara notes these astonishing average revenue per user (ARPU) figures from Leo Polovets, seed investor and general partner at Susa Ventures:

  • Fortnite: $96 (nearly twice Google + Facebook + Twitter + Snapchat)
  • Google: $27
  • Facebook: $19
  • Twitter: $8
  • Snapchat: $3
2. Trump v. markets
Screenshot from CNBC

President Trump pushed the markets down with a Tweet storm captured by the WashPost's Phil Rucker: "The Christmas Eve grievances billowing from the White House ... formed a heavy cloud of Yuletide gloom."

  • An isolated Trump "barked out his frustrations on Twitter" during his "third straight day holed up inside the White House during the partial federal government shutdown," Phil writes.

The Wall Street Journal had a little fun with the resulting market carnage: "Monday’s more than 2% drop was the Dow’s worst performance ahead of Christmas, trumping a 1918 record."

  • And the Journal said that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s "attempt to calm markets may have had opposite effect, analysts say."

Atlantic contributing editor Annie Lowrey offered a possible explanation for Mnuchin's unsettling announcement Sunday night that he was discussing liquidity with the nation's largest banks, when no one knew of a problem:

  • "The Treasury secretary was speaking to an audience of one. ... The press release was perhaps an attempt to show Trump that Mnuchin was doing something, anything, to talk the markets back into stability."
Courtesy N.Y. Post
3. Everyone's favorite Christmas movie that isn't "Die Hard"
Expand chart
Data: Survey Monkey online polls conducted Nov. 10-17 among 6,075 U.S. adults and 802 teens. Total error margins are ±2.0 points for adults and ±4.0 for teens. Poll methodology. Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

"It's a Wonderful Life" is the most popular Christmas movie in America, but that's mainly because the over-35 crowd likes it, according to an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll narrated by Axios managing editor David Nather.

  • "Home Alone" is way more popular with teens and young adults.
  • "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Elf" are big with the younger set.
  • "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" has one specific audience: boomers and Gen-Xers who know who Chevy Chase is.
Bonus: 50 years ago today
Earth, as seen from the surface of the moon on Dec. 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. (William Anders/NASA via AP)

Fifty years ago, on Christmas Eve 1968,"a tumultuous year of assassinations, riots and war drew to a close in heroic and hopeful fashion with the three Apollo 8 astronauts reading from the Book of Genesis [to what was then the largest live TV audience in history] as they orbited the moon," AP's Marcia Dunn writes.

The New York Times

Fifty years ago this morning, the late poet Archibald MacLeish had an essay on the front page of The New York Times that I wanted to share with you in our own tumultuous times:

  • "The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The nuclear notion of the earth put him nowhere — beyond the range of reason even — lost in absurdity and war."
  • "[H]eroic voyagers who were also men ... may remake our image of mankind. No longer that preposterous figure at the center, no longer that degraded and degrading victim off at the margins of reality and blind with blood, man may at last become himself."
  • "To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers."

The full essay.

A TV screen on Dec. 24, 1968 (Anthony Camerano/AP)
4. Tragic journey home
In Guatemala, Claudia Maquin, 27, shows a photo of her 7-year-old daughter, Jakelin Caal, who died after being taken into custody in New Mexico. (Oliver de Ros/AP)

The tiny white coffin carrying the body of the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl — Jakelin Caal, who died while in U.S. custody — ended its journey home yesterday in a dusty hamlet in Guatemala, AP's Sonia Pérez D. writes:

  • "Villagers wept ... [R]elatives had set up a modest wooden altar flanked by vases and overflowing with flowers, photographs of the child and the hand-lettered message, 'We miss you.'"
  • "Jakelin's death earlier this month while in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol was a tragic reminder of the plight of Central American migrants as they make the dangerous voyage through Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S."

"The child's tragic journey began and ended in the village of about 420 people with no paved streets, running water or electricity. Its residents say declining crop yields and lack of work have pushed many in the community to emigrate."

5. Holiday reading

If you get a little time to yourself, N.Y. Times columnist David Brooks distills some of the year's best long-form essays in Part 1 of his annual Sidney Awards:

  • "In a post called 'How This All Happened' for the Collaborative Fund blog, Morgan Housel walks us through 73 years of American economic history."
  • Housel: "If you fell asleep in 1945 and woke up in 2018 you would not recognize the world around you. The amount of growth that took place during that period is virtually unprecedented. If you learned that there have been no nuclear attacks since 1945, you’d be shocked. If you saw the level of wealth in New York and San Francisco, you’d be shocked. If you compared it to the poverty of Detroit, you’d be shocked. If you saw the price of homes, college tuition, and health care, you’d be shocked. Our politics would blow your mind. And if you tried to think of a reasonable narrative of how it all happened, my guess is you’d be totally wrong.”

Brooks says Andrew Sullivan's work for New York magazine this year "really defined the era":

  • "His two masterpieces are 'The Poison We Pick,' on the opioid crisis, and 'America’s New Religions,' on political fundamentalism."
  • "If you want to understand America in 2018, those essays are a good place to start."

Worthy of your time.

6. 1 fun thing: "The Christmas Time Capsule"

Margaret Renkl, a N.Y. Times contributing opinion writer who lives in Nashville, writes that getting the Christmas decorations out of the attic is a way to experience eternity, "where past and present and future exist simultaneously":

  • "Here is the ornament in the shape of a baseball player from my husband’s boyhood years. Here is the little felt-covered drum my mother helped me make from a paper-towel roll. Here are the blown-egg ornaments my high school Secret Santa left in my locker and the gold-and-silver Benson & Hedges box a college friend hung on the tree in my first college apartment."
  • "Most precious of all are the homemade ornaments from my children’s preschool years: messy, often unrecognizable figures — is that an archangel or Medusa? Rudolph or Popsicle-stick conceptual art?"

"Last year when I packed up the Christmas decorations, I set aside our oldest son’s homemade ornaments in a separate box."

  • "He is on his own now, and I know the day is coming when he will have his own tree to decorate, his own holiday traditions to establish."

Treat yourself.

Mike Allen

Thank you for reading, leaking and critiquing during this year of a lifetime.

  • The first two words of the Axios manifesto are: "Audience first." I'm grateful for you every single day.
  • Enjoy Christmas. With the kind help of Justin Green, we'll see you in Axios PM.