Oct 1, 2019

Axios Media Trends

By Sara Fischer
Sara Fischer

Today's Media Trends is 1,811 words, a 7 minute read. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here.

Situational awareness: ESPN+, ESPN's digital channel, has secured the rights to German Soccer League Bundesliga in the United States, beginning in 2020.

  • ESPN is reportedly paying $30 million per season for the right to the games, per Sports Business Journal. The games had previously appeared on Fox Sports live TV broadcasts.

Breaking: The Verge has obtained leaked audio of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg rallying against his critics, competitors and the government.

1 big thing: Rise of the multicast

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Major sports leagues are experimenting with airing single games on multiple TV, digital and social channels at the same time, giving rise to sports "multicasts" or different ways for the consumers to experience the same game.

Why it matters: In a traditional TV world, almost all sports coverage was delivered through one live, linear feed, with one set of announcers and analysts.

  • But now that media consumption is distributed across dozens of different feeds, coverage of a game on one platform could look and sound much different than coverage on another.
  • "It's just the new reality of how challenged legacy media is," says Rich Greenfield, Media Analyst and Partner at LightShed Partners.

Driving the news: In a new interview with Front Office Sports, NFL EVP of media Brian Rolapp said the league is considering expanding the multicast approach further from Thursday nights, because splitting the rights is leading to higher overall viewership.

  • Thursday Night games are currently simulcast on broadcast (Fox), cable (NFL Network) and Spanish-Language TV (Fox Deportes) plus streaming video (Amazon Prime Video).
  • Each rights-holder will air the game differently, with a different set of hosts, announcers, and analysts. Radio announcers and coverage on Amazon-owned Twitch also featured different coverage perspectives.

Other notable examples:

  • ESPN has already been experimenting with a “MegaCast”-like coverage of the College Football Playoff’s National Championship and would like to expand it to Monday Night Football.
  • The NBA inked a deal with the Amazon-owned Twitch to live-stream minor league games through last season. The deal allowed Twitch personalities to co-stream the games for their audience and provide their commentary.
  • Twitter and Turner Sports struck a deal with the NBA that will let users vote to choose a player to watch for part of the game via an isolated camera feed displayed on Twitter.

What's next: Betting has also created an opportunity for leagues and networks to multicast the same game. NBC Sports Washington, for example, experimented with some alternate broadcasts focused on live in-game betting this year.

Be smart: The price tags of the digital rights at this point are still much cheaper than traditional TV, because traditional TV is still the leagues' best bet for a reliable live audience.

Yes, but: A slew of upcoming TV rights expiration deals will pressure big leagues to think about making big changes to their TV contracts sooner rather than later.

  • And distributors are going to have to decide whether it's worth it to shell out big dollars for live rights when their live TV audiences keep shrinking.
  • Case-in-point: AT&T's COO said last week that it is considering dropping DirecTV's exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket deal.

Go deeper: Axios Sports editor Kendall Baker predicts that consumers will soon be able to customize everything from screen overlay to commentators to camera angles during most major sports broadcasts.

Axios Deep Dive: Business of Sports

2. Dotdash's evergreen expansion
Expand chart
Data: Dotdash; Table: Axios Visuals

Dotdash has acquired Liquor.com, a digital media company that focuses on cocktails, spirits and entertaining, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: It's Dotdash's fourth acquisition of this nature this year.

  • The multi-brand digital media company, owned by Barry Diller's Interactive Corp. (IAC), has been quietly building an empire of small, niche digital publications that publish evergreen, service content — or content that helps users answer questions, give advice or find ideas.

By the numbers: Deal terms were not disclosed, but according to Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel, the company paid roughly the same amount for the property as it did for Brides, the wedding-focused outlet previously owned by Condé Nast, earlier this year.

  • "This isn't fire sale," says Vogel. "It's an asset that we really like and we're paying a fair price for it." Vogel notes that DotDash's other acquisitions this year — Byrdie and MyDomaine — have also been roughly the same size.
  • The company is expected to bring in roughly $150 million in revenue this year, from a combination of advertising and commerce, across its 10 brands.

Between the lines: For Vogel, the acquisition is part of a "portfolio deal," where the company invests in several smaller site acquisitions to reduce risk over multiple deals.

More about the deal.

3. Cashing in on commerce

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Dotdash playbook of acquiring smaller, evergreen content sites with expertise in certain areas is becoming more attractive to media companies that are no longer simply focused on scale.

  • Dotdash plans to make commerce a large part of its portfolio strategy and is investing in brands with strong authority for consumers in niche fields, like paint lines for home improvers.

Driving the news: Food52, a food and home goods site, said it sold a majority stake to TCG Capital Management for $83 million over the weekend.

  • TCG is a venture affiliate of The Chernin Group, which invests media, entertainment, and tech businesses. Food52 has for a long time focused on turning content into a viable commerce business.

Last week's mega-deal between Vox Media and New York Media also underscores this trend.

  • Vox Media may be able to build an affiliate marketing business pegged off the New York Media's commerce site, The Strategist, which just launched The Strategist for shoppers in the UK.
4. America's most polarizing brands
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Data: Morning Consult; Table: Axios Visuals

News media companies make up 12 of the 15 most polarizing brands in America today, according to a new Morning Consult poll provided to Axios.

  • Why it matters: The gap between how Republicans and Democrats view national media brands like CNN and Fox News continues to widen.

Be smart: The gap is being driven by substantial decreases in net favorability among Republicans across most media brands other than Fox News.

  • Republicans held more negative views than Democrats of every media outlet on the list except for Fox News. 
  • Yes, but: The net favorability of Fox News among Democrats also fell by nearly 20 percentage points.

Between the lines: Even outlets that are generally considered non-partisan, like ABC News and CNBC, rank among the most polarizing brands in America.

Go deeper.

5. Platforms fall deeper into political speech chaos

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As the House's impeachment inquiry kicks off, stoking partisan tempers online, Facebook and Twitter are scrambling to deal with the fallout, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.

Driving the news: The president used his position and his Twitter soapbox to threaten political opponents, his critics argued. They cranked up their longstanding call for Twitter to suspend his @realDonaldTrump account.

  • Twitter's rules bar targeted harassment and threats of violence against individuals or groups. But it's has long held that it will move with extra caution when it comes to public figures.

Facebook is also struggling to assemble a coherent political-speech strategy.

  • Last week Nick Clegg, Facebook's VP of global affairs, announced that "we will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard." Political ads will be more strictly vetted.
  • Facebook also plans to exempt material declared to be "opinion" or "satire" from its fact-checking rules, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
6. Satellite TV struggles with blackouts
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Data: MoffettNathanson; Chart: Axios Visuals

Of all the major TV blackouts happening this year, many of the biggest conflicts are occurring between the two big satellite companies and TV networks.

Why it matters: The Pay-TV business is in terminal decline, and in some ways, satellite operators are feeing the losses more than their cable counterparts, who are able to lean more heavily on broadband sales to recoup the losses.

  • Be smart: Sports has become a flashpoint point for blackout disputes, as Pay-TV operators argue that the value of live sports is decreasing with viewership declines. TV networks are increasingly trying to bundle their sports channels into their Pay-TV package offerings.

Diving the news: NBC Sports Chicago went dark for Dish TV and Sling TV subscribers last night. The network warned it could go dark for AT&T customers, but it seems as though the two entities are in negotiation.

  • CBS stations went dark on DirecTV and AT&T Now this summer for three weeks during the start of the NFL pre-season.
  • Fox stations went dark on DISH and Sling TV customers in 17 markets across 23 states and DC, impacting millions of sports fans who will no longer be able to access networks like FS1, FS2, Big 10 Network, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Deportes.

Go deeper: 2019 sees record number of TV blackouts

7. New media company targets high-end individual investors

Atom Finance

Atom Finance, a new media and financial technology company, has raised $10.6 million in a Series A round, executives tell Axios. The company had previously raised $1.9 million in an unreported seed round in February.

The big picture: The news and analysis market for high-end individual investors has been difficult to corner. While there are pricey solutions for big enterprise companies, like the Bloomberg Terminal, and free solutions for casual investors, like Google Finance, Atom execs argue that there isn't one company that truly owns the middle.

Details: The round, led by General Catalyst, brings the company's total funding to $12.5 million. General Catalyst’s Peter Boyce will take a seat on the company's board.

  • Other investors for the series A round include Greenoaks, Global Founders Capital, Untitled Investments, Mail.ru and Lachy Groom.
  • Lee Fixel, and Zach Weinberg & Nat Turner joined Series A investors in the seed round earlier this year.

By the numbers: The company has had over 80,000 sign ups since its public beta launch in June.

  • For now, the beta version of the app is free. Eventually there will be a monthly subscription fee.
  • "We strive to have superior functionality and ease of use for something in the $100-700 a year range, and we will keep a free tier," says CEO and co-founder Eric Shoykhet.

Yes, but: The competitive landscape for financial services media continues to grow.

  • On the consumer side, Yahoo Finance launched a subscription product for retail investors in April for $49.99 per month.
  • On the enterprise side, Sentieo, an AI-based financial research tool, raised $19 million last year "to be the AI-powered Bloomberg Terminal," per TechCrunch.

Go deeper.

8. 1 fun thing: Everything is going dark

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The biggest smartphone apps are all launching "dark modes" for users to be able to use their phones at night without hurting their eyes.

Why it matters: Dark modes reduce glare at night and saves battery life.

  • Facebook appears to be testing a dark mode after the company promised it in April. In April it launched the feature on its Messenger app.
  • Gmail's dark mode began rolling out to users last week after teasing it a few weeks ago.
  • Instagram is beta testing a dark mode for Android as of last week.
  • Twitter has had a night mode since 2016. It introduced an even darker mode earlier this year.

The big picture: A bunch of apps have rolled out dark modes over the past three years, including Reddit, Slack, weather apps and Waze.

Sara Fischer