Oct 22, 2019

Axios Media Trends

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1 big thing: Trump’s 2016 advantages persist, grow

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The same media trends that led to President Trump's unexpected victory in 2016 are growing even stronger leading up to 2020.

  • Why it matters: These patterns suggest Trump could have a significant media advantage over Democrats leading up to 2020.

1. Democrats haven't made a digital comeback, despite vowing to match the digital sophistication of Republicans after 2016.

  • As Axios has been reporting since March, the Trump campaign continues to outspend all of its Democratic challengers combined on digital advertising.
  • This is in part because large progressive groups haven't come together to leverage their spending power on big platforms to create efficiencies, progressive digital experts tell Axios.
  • Nearly every Democratic campaign has brought ad-buying in-house this cycle, and the party doesn't have a pipeline of talent to support sophisticated advertising strategies across so many campaigns.

2. Media companies have become even more polarizing. The gap between how Republicans and Democrats view national media brands like CNN and Fox News continues to widen, according to a Morning Consult poll, which points to a growing divide in news diets across America.

3. More partisan outlets are launching to take advantage of the climate. Viacom-owned digital news company Pluto TV, which has no political leaning as a network, launched a conservative news channel earlier this year.

  • A slew of left-leaning media companies have launched during the Trump administration, with big-dollar backings from progressive non-profits.
  • Local news has become especially vulnerable to competition from partisan information efforts.

4. State-backed misinformation campaigns are rampant, and more nations seem to be getting involved.

  • Facebook said yesterday that it found new misinformation efforts from groups linked to Iran and Russia. The company says changes to its policies and investments in technology have mitigated the damage these campaigns can cause.

5. Facebook is a hotbed for political outrage, although it's getting better. Nearly 30% of the top 100 stories shared on Facebook during the second half of 2019 so far have been about politics, according to the social analytics company NewsWhip.

Yes, but: As Axios' social media editor Neal Rothschild notes, we only have one data point that proves that these trends tend to favor Republicans and Trump: the 2016 election.

  • It could be that some of these trends — like an increase in investments in polarized media outlets and outrage on Facebook — favor anyone who's fighting the status quo.

Go deeper.

2. Conservatives boost Tulsi
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Data: Storyful; Note: Mentions from Facebook do not include Oct. 12-14; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has received the biggest surge of all Democratic contenders in social media mentions by percentage increase between October 8th and October 15th, according to social intelligence company Storyful.

  • The increase can be attributed to Gabbard's accusations that the Democratic Party had rigged the elections, which gained a lot of attention on the far-fright, and her threat to boycott the last debate.

Why it matters: It's another example of a 2020 Democrat experiencing a boost online thanks in part to fringe voices on the right. Earlier this year, Axios reported on ways far-right voices were helping to elevate Andrew Yang. 

By the numbers: Gabbard went from receiving 162,500 mentions across many social platforms measured by Storyful (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Gab, 4Chan) in the first week of October to over 338,000 between October 8 and 15. 

  • Comments by Gabbard condemning members of her own party have garnered her lots of attention from far-right figures, which explains some of the increased attention she is receiving on platforms like Reddit, 4chan and Gab. 
  • For example, here's an example of a chain started about it on the pro-Trump Reddit Channel "r/DrainTheSwamp."

Between the lines: "We are seeing commentary pushing the idea of a Yang/Gabbard ticket, especially on 4chan," says Storyful Senior Journalist Catherine Sanz, who pulled the data.

  • Gabbard has gained traction among prominent Yang Gang fan pages, per Sanz.
  • Caroline Orr, a research analyst and reporter, noted via Twitter yesterday that Tulsi-related hashtags "are getting boosted by YangGang, which is made up of a lot of MAGA fans."

Go deeper: The fringe right's obsession with Andrew Yang

3. Kids content arms race

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Streamers, eager to bill themselves as family friendly entertainment alternatives, are eyeing kids content as their next big investments.

Why it matters: The streaming wars have focused on competitors looking to oust Netflix, but when it comes to kid-friendly options, the yet-to-launch Disney+ is the company to beat.

Driving the news: Disney+ will make the bulk of its classic Disney movie and series library available in the U.S. on November 12th, the company announced last week.

  • Disney has yanked most of its titles from Netflix and other streaming services. According to The New York Times, Netflix has been gearing up for a major investment in kids content in response.
  • "It has quietly amassed an army of children and family creators and executives who have been stockpiling counterattack content," writes The Times' Brooks Barnes.

Yes, but: Netflix faces stiff competition in the bid for children's entertainment.

  • HBO Max recently inked a deal to produce five new seasons of Sesame Street, each with 35-episodes, starting in spring of 2020.
  • Apple TV+ has also signed a deal with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, to produce a Sesame Street spinoff called "Helpsters." It's also producing a new series based on the Peanuts dog called "Snoopy in Space."
  • ViacomCBS, home to iconic kids brands like Nickelodeon and Noggin, has launched kids-specific streaming services, but is also producing content for streamers like Netflix.

The big picture: Kids content matters to streamers because it will help reduce churn, says Melissa Henson program director at the Parents Television Council.

  • "Streaming services correctly perceive daily audiences as having max value for them. Because young millennial subscribers are most likely to churn through the different streaming services after they're done binging their favorite hit, the services need to rely on the regularity of family audiences."
  • Henson notes that families develop daily routines around kids and family-friendly content, like watching a certain series after school.
4. Brat TV expands to Amazon, Roku

You can't have a conversation about the future of TV without talking about Brat TV, a digital content studio based in L.A. that's become the production hub for Gen Z content.

What's new: The company has recently struck a deal with Amazon Prime and Roku to have its top titles carried there, sources tell Axios.

  • Brat appears to have also struck a commerce deal with Amazon to sell merchandise against some of its shows, like its popular "Chicken Girls" hit.

The company has also signed a partnership with Amagi, a cloud-based broadcast service that will convert its library into live linear TV streams.

  • It's working on deals to launch a larger music division and a new apparel brand with partners, to be announced later this year.
  • Next month the company will be launching two new digital series later this year called "Sunnyside Up," and "Crazy Fast."

Be smart: Think about Brat TV as "The CW" network for the digital era. The company creates TV-quality shows for its 5 million subscribers across all of its social channels, with the majority of its traffic streaming from YouTube.

  • It had 13 million unique viewers on YouTube last quarter. Since launching in 2017, it's garnered over 5 billion minutes of watch time.
  • The cost for the production for network shows from Brat is roughly $3,500 per minute, which is low compared to what other programmers are producing for the streaming world.
  • Case-in-point: The most expensive shows on Quibi will cost $100,000 per minute.

Between the lines: Brat rival "AwesomenessTV" sold to Viacom earlier this year for $25 million, suggesting that networks and bigger studios are looking at digital content studios that serve Gen Z audiences as prime acquisition targets.

5. Scoop: Media heavyweights join Attention Capital

Attention Capital, the new media and technology investment firm, is adding Gary Newman, former CEO and chairman Fox Networks Group, and Lisa Gersh, former CEO of Alexander Wang, as executive partners.

Newman and Gersh will work with founders across the companies that Attention Capital is investing in.

  • They will advise Attention Capital's three founders — former Snapchat head of content Nick Bell, former SVP of Commercial Growth & Business Strategy at Palantir Ashlyn Gentry, and former president of advertising revenue for Fox Networks Group Joe Marchese — on deals and transactions.
  • They will also source deal flow for the investment side of the business and consult on business operations for portfolio companies.

The big picture: The goal of Attention Capital is to buy, build, and scale brands and technologies that shape the attention economy.

  • The company is looking to raise nearly $500 million to invest in everything from measurement companies to news brands and entertainment upstarts.
  • This past summer, Attention Capital joined forces with Lupa Systems, the venture company led James Murdoch, to acquire a majority stake in Tribeca Enterprises, the company that produces the Tribeca Film Festival.
6. Big fight brewing over small-town TV

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

TV station owners are taking advantage of FCC rules to quietly take over small-town airwaves, but cable and satellite companies are crying foul to regulators, Axios' tech policy reporter Margaret Harding McGill reports.

  • Driving the news: Broadcasters aren't supposed to own more than one top-rated outlet in any market, but they are snapping up multiple stations in small markets as the broadcast TV market is challenged by changes in technology and advertising.

Meanwhile, The New York Post reports that one of the biggest deals in the local newspaper space is facing scrutiny from the FCC over its financial backer, Apollo Global Management.

7. Influencer imposter syndrome

Online social media "influencers," who are seen as a valuable asset to digital marketers, are seeing their influence wane, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The obscurity around measurement and authenticity in the influencer space has led to a decline in trust between marketers and influencers.

  • Yes, but: "Despite questions about declining influence, the money paid Influencers keeps climbing—roughly 50% a year since 2017," per The Journal.

What's next: The Federal Trade Commission, which has been evaluating social media influencers for years, has settled its first complaint over the sale of "fake followers, subscribers, views, and likes," signaling that more oversight could be coming to the industry.

8. Interest in political content spikes

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The drama around impeachment combined with a some drama surrounding the Democratic presidential primaries has left consumers wanting more.

  • Why it matters: Media companies were bracing for a "Trump slump" and a decline in political interest after the Mueller investigation concluded with no major outcome for President Trump.

Driving the news: The top 10 most in-demand topics of articles online between September and October 19 have to do with politics, according to traffic analytics company Parse.ly. (Parse.ly pulls traffic analytics numbers from thousands of publisher member sites.)

The top 10:

  1. Rudy Giuliani
  2. Joe Biden
  3. Whistleblower
  4. Adam Schiff
  5. President of Ukraine
  6. Donald Trump
  7. Impeachment
  8. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  9. President of the United States
  10. Mike Pompeo

The big picture: Cable ratings saw an increase during the beginning weeks of the impeachment saga, although debate ratings have had mixed results.

  • Despite the general decline in traditional television consumption, ratings for this year's primary debates were relatively healthy until last week's debate.
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Data: Axios research; Table: Axios Visuals
9. 1 fun thing: Typosquatting

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The act of providing unintended content to people who misspell a website in their browser is rising, affecting both newsrooms and political campaigns.

  • Around 550 websites target 2020 candidates with this "typosquatting," Axios' Joe Uchill reports.
  • Users who go to Tulsi2020.co rather than Tulsi2020.com would find themselves redirected to a political rival's page — in this case, Marianne Williamson's — but the tactic can be used for a wide variety of purposes.

The big picture: A similar trend is happening in local news.

  • Harvard's Nieman Lab reports that a local reporter in Michigan Carol Thompson has uncovered almost 40 new fake, partisan local sites in Michigan that use names that may sound similar to real new organizations to trick user —  like "Lansing Sun" or "Ann Arbor Times."