Axios Media Trends

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April 07, 2020

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Situational awareness: Google and Twitter told clients last week that they'll finally allow advertising containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.

  • The broad bans had blocked corporate social responsibility, political, and consumer advertisers from running messages about the virus.

1 big thing: Coronavirus breaks the bundle

Reproduced from Park Associates "Broadband Services in the U.S." report; Note: 2019 survey was conducted in Q3, with 10,059 respondents and a ±1% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Park Associates "Broadband Services in the U.S." report; Note: 2019 survey was conducted in Q3, with 10,059 respondents and a ±1% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Consumers are adopting stand-alone broadband services at a much higher rate than just two years ago, and analysts predict that the economic downturn prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak will accelerate the trend, Axios' Kim Hart and I write.

Why it matters: With a recession looming, consumers may look to cut pay-TV service in favor of more robust standalone internet packages once they're free to leave their homes.

  • "It's obviously a fine line because people are going to be watching all their pennies," said Steve Nason, director of research at Parks Associates, a market research firm based in Dallas.
  • "Entertainment services are sometimes some of the last things to go because it's a departure from their daily struggles," he said. "But it's become easier on the video side, because all you really need is a broadband connection."

While cord-cutting has stabilized during the pandemic, pay TV services are still being replaced by over-the-top streaming apps, which require strong broadband connections.

  • And with many live sports cancelled for the foreseeable future, consumers may have less incentive to hang onto their expensive pay TV packages.

By the numbers: After holding steady for five years, household adoption of stand-alone internet service rose to 42% in the third quarter of 2019, up from 34% in 2017, according to Parks Associates.

  • The average stand-alone internet subscriber pays $60 a month, a 36% increase since 2013.

Yes, but: The traditional broadband, phone and pay TV bundle was in trouble even before the pandemic.

  • Consumers continue to drop their wired phone lines in favor of wireless.
  • Free streaming is on the rise.
  • Live sports have to compete for value with free highlights and content on social media and online.

The big picture: Over a decade ago, telecom providers started to bundle their services together to increase the average revenue per user. A "double-play" bundle often included internet and pay TV like cable or satellite, while a "triple-play" bundle typically included internet, TV and phone service.

What to watch: Now telecom companies are interested in bundling broadband service with over-the-top video services, but will need to offer a compelling value-add to consumers who are now used to buying services a-la-carte.

Go deeper.

Bonus: Streaming spikes

Data: Nielsen; Chart: Axios Visuals — NOTE: Others calculated as the difference between total streaming and the sum of the major 4 digital publishers, which could include any other paid or free streaming platforms
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Axios Visuals — NOTE: Others calculated as the difference between total streaming and the sum of the major 4 digital publishers, which could include any other paid or free streaming platforms

Streaming video has shot up dramatically in the U.S. over the past month, as more people turn to their screens for comfort during the nationwide coronavirus, per Nielsen.

Why it matters: The pandemic has changed user behavior to promote more binge-watching, a habit that's likely to stay after the crisis concludes.

2. eSports surge as professionals sports stall

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Major sports broadcasters are leaning into eSports to fill the programming gaps left from leagues canceling professional sports games because of coronavirus.

Be smart: Without live sports, the players themselves are looking to eSports to stay connected to fans.

  • Some athletes, like NBA star Kevin Durant, are using eSports tournaments to raise money for charity. A few tournaments will be used to fund coronavirus relief efforts.

By the numbers: eSports streamers like Twitch, Mixer, Caffeine, Discord all posted their best revenue-generating month, according to data from Apptopia.

  • Other professional creators, like musicians, are also flocking to those platforms to increase exposure now that most live events have been cancelled.

The big picture: At-home gaming through PCs and consoles is also exploding.

  • According to Verizon, gaming as a sector is up 75% in data usage, way ahead of standard web traffic (up 20%) and video traffic (up 12%).
  • Experts predict that the uptick from the virus will push gaming publishers to create more cross-platform gaming software.

Yes, but: Many eSports have been built around live-streaming large in-person events.

  • "I think everybody is struggling," says Jonathan Harrop, Senior Director of Global Marketing & Communications at AdColony, a mobile advertising company. "So many eSports are being pushed to live in-person events and obviously that has been completely shut down."

What's next: Harron has his doubts that eSports will catch on with the major television network audiences.

  • "There's this weird substitution paradigm at play: How do eSports do on broadcast TV versus Twitch? How many 55-year-olds are going to tune and say these aren't real people, what's happening?"

Go deeper: Social media takes center stage for athletes as sports stall

3. Demand for online shopping has never been higher

Data:; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data:; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

New data from shows that demand for shopping-related content online is up far more than any other type of web traffic.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic has created a new reality for media publishers: the need to convert an influx of traffic into consumer dollars instead of ad dollars.

  • The data shows that commerce and lifestyle services — including healthy living and cooking — could be promising options, as well as general news subscriptions.

Between the lines: Traffic is up across-the-board for content publishers, but it’s not just COVID-19 content, it’s almost every content category.

  • Be smart: For the first time in several years, politics, law and government-related is not the top content category in's network.

What's next: says it's launching a free attribution tool to help media companies convert traffic to other things besides ads, like premium subscriptions, event sign-ups, commerce sales.

Go deeper: See what Americans are buying online during the pandemic

4. Patch is making money during the coronavirus

Patch, the hyperlocal (and profitable) digital news platform, had its strongest month ever in March for both revenue and traffic, according to president Warren St. John.

Why it matters: The digital-only local news platform is an anomaly compared other local news publishers which are struggling amid steep advertising losses.

By the numbers: Last month Patch had nearly double its average page views (148 million versus 85 million) across its network of local news sites and 48 million unique visitors compared with 30 million on average.

  • It says it added 150,000 email subscribers for the month, bringing its active total to 2.3 million.
  • Patch has added 4 full-time reporters to its editorial staff of 115 people in the last 2 weeks, along with 4 contractors. St. John says more hires are coming.

Details: Patch makes its money by converting casual readers to free "subscribers" and then selling site sponsorships around targeting those hyper-loyal readers. It also makes money selling access to events to hyper-localized calendars.

  • To boost engagement, it's tried to reduce ad load by removing "content recommendation" widget from its article pages, which St. John says has significantly helped its page load time and search performance.
  • Advertisers like Amazon's home security system Ring pay to be marquee sponsors of the Patch's network of local sites, which insulates Patch from having to solely deliver scaled, ad-based traffic.

Yes, but: The company also does sell programmatic advertising, and ad rates were down at the end of March, but St. John feels that the company has been able to use its other revenue sources to mostly cushion against that decline.

The big picture: The company, which just finished its 4th profitable year, is trying to figure out ways to give back during the pandemic.

  • It's recently made some of its paid products for businesses (featured classifieds and promoted calendar events) free to local businesses in its communities.

What's next: St. John says Patch is working on a beta to support local reporters who want to start their own local news publications.

5. Here's who's getting that Facebook cash

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Facebook will also release today a list of the the 400 local newsrooms receiving grants from its Facebook Journalism Project's "Community Network" program that will support coronavirus news coverage. 

Why it matters: Local newsrooms desperately need the money. Facebook said it received over 200 applications within the first 48 hours of the program being announced.

Examples include:

  • Albuquerque Journal, NM: Their reporting shows that the virus is affecting the people of the Navajo Nation more than four times the rest of the country.
  • Detour Detroit, MI: The grants will support virtual events in and around Detroit in the midst of coronavirus.

The big picture: Facebook last week said it would give out an additional $25 million to a "COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund" designed to provide relief grants for U.S. local news organizations, as part of a $100 million commitment to news companies during the crisis.

What's next: Facebook executives tell Axios that applications for the grants of $25k-$100k will open April 13th and will be reviewed by a judging committee.

  • The committee will be made up of people from the Local Media Association (LMA), Local Media Consortium (LMC), National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION), the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) and Facebook. 

Full list of recipients here.

6. Quibi launches mid-pandemic


Quibi, the mobile-only video subscription streaming service, made its highly-anticipated consumer debut Monday, launching its new app globally in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: Executives say that they are confident in the app's launch at this work-at-home moment, even though the short-form video product was built to be consumed on-the-go.

What they're saying: “I kind of find that with my work day now, I’m looking to take small breaks more than ever before," said Quibi Chief Technology Officer Rob Post in a briefing with reporters last week.

  • "I think our use case is these in-between moments, whether you’re on-the-go or not. I think now more than ever, our use case is consistent," said Post.

Axios has demoed the app over the past few days. Here are our takeaways:

  • Quibi's flagship "Turnstyle" function, which changes video from vertical viewing to horizontal viewing as you rotate your device, is as seamless as the company has billed it to be, albeit the functionality is a little clunkier on older iPhones.
  • The video quality is good and consistent, but the library of 50 shows seems jarringly small compared to the endless feeds of content that users are used to getting on platforms like IGTV and even to an extent on Facebook Watch. Quibi hopes to have 175 shows by the end of its first year.

Go deeper.

7. Coronavirus creates new cast of characters

Data: Newswhip; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: Newswhip; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Dr. Anthony Fauci and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have become the stars of America's new reality show, Axios' Neal Rothschild reports based on NewsWhip data.

Driving the news: President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were the only people with more online mentions than Dr. Fauci over the last two weeks.

  • Fauci has quickly become a household name, and one of the few household names with (mostly) bipartisan credibility.

The bottom line: In these polarized times, few people are trusted across the political spectrum — particularly when they’re standing behind a podium at the White House.

8. Why YouTube's misinformation policies are different

YouTube's product chief tells Axios' Ina Fried that the Google-owned video site has removed thousands of coronavirus videos — including some from the channel of the president of Brazil — for violating policies related to the spread of medical misinformation.

Be smart: Unlike Facebook and other Google properties, YouTube's policies are entirely focused on the content of a video and not who is doing the speaking.

  • That means politicians, journalists and entertainers are all held to the same standard, at least in theory.

Go deeper: Sign up for Ina's newsletter, Axios Login, to read the full interview out later this morning.

9. 1 fun thing: Augmented reality donations

Snapchat launched its first-ever donation tool today to help users donate to coronavirus relief efforts, a spokesperson tells Axios.

Why it matters: It uses augmented reality. Snap users can scan 23 international currency notes across 33 countries using the Snapchat app, triggering an AR visualization of how a potential donation could support the World Health Organization’s response efforts.