Axios Media Trends

Two interconnected white triangles on a red square, both pointing forward.

May 22, 2018

Happening today: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faces off with the EU Parliament this morning about data privacy and Cambridge Analytica.

Calendar alert: Europe's GDPR privacy rules go into effect on Friday.

1 big thing: Impatient, distracted consumers upend media landscape

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

American consumers are increasingly picky, impatient, distracted and demanding — and their media diets are changing so fast that most traditional industries can no longer keep up. 

  • Why it matters: The modern consumer has completely reshaped advertising, content creation and consumption.
  • Most media companies, advertising agencies, and telecom companies either didn't see it coming, saw it and ignored it, or acted too late.

At the heart of the on-demand economy is a user that wants choice:

  • Customers today want to pay for the content we like and nothing else.
  • We're dropping expensive cable packages with hundreds of channels we don't consume for "skinny bundles" with core channels that are much cheaper. (The average American cable package is roughly $92, while the average streaming package is roughly $40.)
  • We want to watch our favorite shows at any time, on any device. We're looking to technology companies to deliver content through apps that we can access at any time on our phone, smart TV or laptop.
  • And we expect these apps to store our information, so we can pick up on a show or series from the exact minute we left off.

This has made users so impatient and distracted that an estimated 177.7 million U.S. adults —or  70.3% of the total population — will regularly use another digital device while watching TV this year, up 5.1% from 2016, per eMarketer.

  • A majority of people (58%) say also say they browse the internet while watching video programming, per Nielsen.

Distracted consumers no longer tolerate commercials, which is completely upending the advertising industry. We've become accustomed to on-demand viewing where there are no ads, or digital ads that are highly relevant.

  • Nearly 6% of commercials today are less than 10 seconds long, according to Nielsen's 2017 Commercial & Advertising Update
  • A whopping 67% of TV viewers switch to another channel when a commercial advertisement comes on, per Nielsen.
  • At last week's TV Upfront presentations in New York, nearly every major TV network vowed to shrink commercial time and promised to make their commercials more digital, relevant and targeted.

We have begun to tune out live programming, forcing leagues and entertainment groups to divvy up broadcast rights to social media and streaming companies:

  • Four years of data from Nielsen's Total Audience Reports show that every age group except those aged 65+ is spending less time — and in the case of younger Americans, far less time — watching television live or via DVR.
  • Sports and news are the two genres users still overwhelmingly watch live.

The TV guide no longer cuts it: Users want recommendations and content discovery to be baked into their consumer experience, because there's more good content out there than ever before.

  • There are roughly 500 scripted TV series today, compared to roughly 200 in 2010, according to FX's annual Networks Research report.
  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers agree that they often struggle to find something to watch, despite there being many choices available to them, according to PwC.

Go deeper: The winners and losers of the distracted consumer economy.

2. The next big TV tech platform: Roku

Roku user interface Credit: Roku

Roku, the connected TV hardware company, is quietly building a large software business, driven mostly by advertising revenue.

Why it matters: For the first time in its history, Roku says it made more money from its platform business, which includes TV software and advertising, last quarter than from hardware through sales of its connected TV device.

  • The money it makes on digital services, like digital TV software and advertising, is now 55% of Roku's total revenue.
  • Platform revenues more than doubled Roku's ARPU (Average revenue per user) year over year — an astounding growth rate for a 10-year-old company that just went public less than a year ago.
  • The company is expected to bring in more ad revenue by 2020 than rival Hulu and other digital advertisers, like IAC, which owns sites like, Tinder and The Daily Beast, according to projections from eMarketer.
“Ad-supported viewing is the fastest growing segment on our platform."
— Scott Rosenberg, GM/SVP Platform Business at Roku

The software play: Just as mobile hardware companies like LG and Samsung eventually migrated off of their own software platforms to market leaders' like Android and iOS, Roku CEO Anthony Wood argues that the smart TV industry is going through the same evolution.

Worth noting: Despite its push to software, Roku continues to beat out rivals Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV is connected TV device market share, according to eMarketer.

3. Tech's TV talent trove

Tech companies that don't have storytelling at their core are recruiting their way into the future of TV by poaching high-end names from TV networks or household names that they know will lure viewers.

The latest: Netflix announced Monday after months of speculation that Barack and Michelle Obama have entered into a multi-year agreement to produce films and series for Netflix.

  • Netflix, in the past year, has hired Grey's Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes from ABC, and Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy from FX.
  • Amazon announced Monday it's hired NBC veteran Vernon Sanders as co-head of television at Amazon Studios. He joins top TV exec Jennifer Salke — creator of hits like This Is Us — who was hired in February to run Amazon's in-house film and television studio in April. It hired “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman from AMC last year.
  • Apple poached Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, two executives that who oversaw productions such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Crown,” from Sony Pictures Television last year. "We don't know anything about making television. We don’t really know how to create shows. We were cognizant of that," Apple SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue told CNN's Dylan Byers in March

The bigger picture: Most of the big tech companies have the scale to buy content companies, but have shied away from acquiring TV networks, and have opted instead to invest in either talent or franchises.

"People are trying to pull out the parts of the body without having to buy the whole body."
— Ross Gerber, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management

4. Scoop: New app launches to combat censorship through blockchain, a media blockchain company, is launching partner program, and with it its first company on its blockchain called Inkrypt.

  • Inkrypt is an enterprise app that will allow journalists to save their content on a decentralized publishing system (many servers, not one) that can be accessed anywhere, at any time and can't be traced — and therefore can't be blocked.

The bigger picture: While the use of blockchain is far from widespread for publishing, this is one example of how the technology could be used to solve some of journalism's greatest challenges.

  • For example, blockchain technologies may disrupt efforts by regimes like China or Russia known for censoring content.

How it works: The company, called Inkrypt, is a service that allows journalists (through a plugin) to store and distribute their content across several personal devices around the world instead of a single server.

  • This is set up in a way to make sure government and other entities cannot censor or cut off content. (Think of it like the Uber of media content hosting.)
  • For the launch, it will be an application that any creator can access to post their content through.
  • It will leverage's protocol for content attribution, reputation and marketplace discovery (licensing.)

What's next: Inkrypt is the first partner of a new program called Development Labs, where will encourage other companies to build publishing apps on its blockchain platform.

Go Deeper: Washington Post guru Jarrod Dicker exits to lead

5. Stories: Facebook beats Snap at its own game

Stories, the tap-and-swipe vertical format for sharing pictures and videos, are poised to dominate the social web's next era — and Facebook now has the lead, even though it was Snapchat that invented and popularized them, Axios Tech Editor Scott Rosenberg writes.

Why it matters: Each generation of digital media brings new voices and firms to the fore. But right now, Facebook appears to have surmounted the Snapchat challenge — thanks to smart acquisitions, speedy product development, and the power of incumbency with billions of users.

By the numbers: Snapchat has a total of 191 million daily active users — whereas Facebook's platforms have close to a billion users just for its stories. That breaks down to:

  • 150 million for Facebook stories
  • 300 million for Instagram stories
  • 450 million for WhatsApp's stories-style Status feature (with an additional number for stories on Facebook Messenger)

Yes, but: Snapchat launched Stories four years ago, so it's taken Facebook some time to get to this point and inevitably, there's bound to be some overlap in the usage, so the numbers aren't mutually exclusive.

  • Also, the comparison can't be made exactly, because Stories is just one feature that the 191 million DAUs on Snapchat can use, while Facebook is reporting exact Stories usage numbers.

Go Deeper: Why stories have taken off

6. Subscription music wars heat up

Adapted from a Recording Industry Association of America report; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from a Recording Industry Association of America report; Chart: Axios Visuals

An overwhelming majority of music revenues come from subscription streaming services, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.

  • The latest ... YouTube is relaunching its music subscription service today with a free ad-supported model and a premium subscription model, per ReCode.
  • It will face competition from others in the marketer, including Apple Music, which announced last week it passed 50 million subscribers (including free trials) and Spotify, which has roughly 75 million subscribers as of April 2018.

The bigger picture: Despite some industry cohesion around modernizing copyright laws, artists still feel disproportionately burned by the streaming economy — and those economic disincentives are causing the entire music culture to change.

"Many of my label friends aren't going to produce albums anymore, they're just releasing one song at a time. Album listening days are over. Live performances are now where all the money's being made."
— Ross Gerber, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management and music artist

Meanwhile, Japanese entertainment giant Sony plans to purchase 60% of music publishing firm and record label EMI for about $2 billion, per Bloomberg, bolstering Sony’s current position as the world's largest music publisher.

7. Big tech takes a bite out of local media advertising

Data: Pivotal Research Advertising Forecast May 2018; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Pivotal Research Advertising Forecast May 2018; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Despite a huge expected increase in ad spend on local digital media, it's not enough to offset the net loss of ad dollars going to all local media — TV, radio, newspapers, out of home, etc. — which is expected to drop by roughly 27% between 2010 and 2022, according to the latest estimates from Pivotal Research.

Why it matters; Of course, the decline of local media is a factor in this, but tech firms have something to do with it, too. Ad dollars are increasingly going to tech platforms that offer better hyper-local targeting for cheaper rates.

  • Tech platforms that offer small and medium-sized businesses the opportunity to target hyper-local audiences with even more precision — using in-store purchase data and location tracking data — are luring local advertisers from spending ad dollars with their local media partners.
  • Facebook says it's main app has roughly 6 million advertisers and Instagram has over 2 million. The company has touted its success in getting small and medium-sized businesses to advertise on its platform with easy-to-use self-service advertising tools.
  • Snapchat has also touted ways that its self-serve ad products have helped the company increase the number of advertisers actively spending on its platform by 20 times over the past year.

8. The slow death of award shows

Billboard Music Awards. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Viewership of Sunday's 2018 Billboard Music Awards hit an all-time low in the key 24-to-54-year-old demographic, according to Sunday's overnight numbers, per Variety:

  • Down 10% year-over-year in the demo
  • Down 9% year-over-year in total viewers

Golden Globes ratings fell to a 6-year low in the prized advertising demo, per Deadline.

  • Down 11% YOY in the demo
  • Down 5% YOY in total viewers

The Screen Actors Guild Awards, despite being simulcasted on TNT and TBS from its host network NBC in January, saw a dramatic drop in 2018. (It did compete with the NFC Championship Game, which was wrapping up when the show began.) Per TVLine:

  • Down 33% YOY in the demo
  • Down 21% YOY in total viewers

The Grammy's had its least-watched show in the demo this past January in nine years, with 19 million viewers, per Deadline.

  • Down 24% YOY in the demo
  • Down 24% YOY in total viewers

The Oscars: hit a new viewership low in January with 26.5 million viewers, per TVLine.

  • Down 16% YOY in the demo
  • Down 24% YOY in total viewers

1 fun thing: #MDWDTS

#MDWDTS = Memorial Day Weekend Down The Shore

As we approach the kick-off to summer, here's something my fellow New Jersey natives will appreciate: Why people from New Jersey go "down the shore," not "to the shore"