Mar 12, 2019

Axios Media Trends

By Sara Fischer
Sara Fischer

Thanks for subscribing to Media Trends. Tell friends to follow along by signing up here.

Breaking: Disney says its deal to acquire most of Fox is expected to close on March 20th.

1 big thing: Social good is the new sales pitch

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New data from an exclusive Axios/Harris poll finds that public perception of companies is deeply impacted by how much those companies can promise a better future for society.

Why it matters: Legacy brands are facing their stiffest competition yet from mission-driven upstarts. Many are hoping that marketing campaigns centered around "social good" will improve the narrative that older corporate giants are stodgy and ruthless.

By the numbers: According to the Axios-Harris Poll 100, which is based on 20 years of Harris research on brand reputation, the companies with the most momentum include brands that are making commitments towards bettering society.

  • "Amazon Prime delivers an unbeatable promise to make our lives simpler, Wegmans fosters home and hearth values in a divisive society, Samsung is leading the future of AI, and Netflix empowers taste communities not traditional demographics," the study notes.

Meanwhile, tech giants like Facebook and Google, which are under fire for issues around privacy, are losing momentum.

Driving the news: Perhaps the biggest showcase of this trend was visible in Austin, Texas, this week at the annual SXSW (South by Southwest) festival.

  • HBO teamed with the American Red Cross to promote the final season of "Game of Thrones" through an immersive "Bleed For The Throne" blood drive activation.
  • The event — which included a dramatic display of the "Game of Thrones" series, with paid actors, a choir and a guided walking tour — asked attendees to "walk in the steps of those who bled and relive their sacrifices."
"If you've watched the 7 seasons it's about sacrifice and devotion ... It plays really well from a strategic perspective with what's happening with the Red Cross."
— Trevor Guthrie, co-founder of Giant Spoon, the agency that put together the experience

Some corporate giants are putting aside competitive differences to create pacts to make society better.

  • Packaged goods companies like Procter & Gamble, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever, UPS and others are joining forces on reusable packaging. Each container in the system is designed for 100 or more uses.

Yes, but: Impact marketing isn't entirely new, but in a politically charged environment, brands are leaning into it now more than ever.

The bottom line: It's no longer good enough for brands to be good. Today, they have to be good for something.

Go deeper

2. The phoenix companies
Expand chart
Data: Harris Polls; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Looking at the Axios Harris Poll 100 reputation rankings, it's interesting to see how differently some companies have responded to crises.

What we're watching: Rising from the ashes of controversy, some brands have been able to overcome major scandals, while others have struggled to regain public trust.

Why it matters: Brands that have faced major public scandals over the past few years that have been able to recover in public reputation are those that have fundamentally sought to change the culture or DNA of their companies post-scandal.

  • General Motors, which faced two of its worst scandals in a row with the 2009 bankruptcy and its 2014 ignition recall scandal, has largely won over the public over the past few years. CEO Mary Barra has been credited for taking ownership of the crisis and revamping GM's culture in response.
  • Volkswagen, which was slow at first to respond to the diesel emissions scandal of 2015, has been able to turn around its brand and business, by pouring billions into a company reboot that focuses on electric car production.

Meanwhile, Boeing is now grappling with its nightmare scenario of deadly back-to-back 737 MAX 8 crashes.

3: Bundle wars heat up

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In a race to win over the hearts and budgets of consumers, tech giants are squeezing as many services together as possible, making it more cost efficient for users to buy those packages than individual purchases of music, video or news subscriptions.

Driving the news: Hulu and Spotify Premium announced a new entertainment deal early Tuesday morning that would give individual U.S. Spotify Premium users access to Hulu’s ad-supported digital TV and movie content plan for $9.99 monthly, down from $12.99 monthly.

  • Apple sent out official invites this week to its highly-anticipated event later this month, in which it's expected to talk more about media services like video and news. There have been rumors that Apple could one day sell a content bundle of services across verticals, like news, video and music.
  • Amazon Prime memberships currently include the streaming of free movies, TV shows and music, unlimited reading, and more. Amazon has reportedly gone in on a deal to buy regional sports cable network YES from Disney. That, combined with its other live sports deals, suggests that Amazon could be thinking about adding more live sports content to its media bundle.

The bottom line: The future of media consumption is likely to be owned by a few big platforms that can offer a variety of services, as opposed to individuals accessing many different subscriptions individually.

4. Free apps drive adoption of digital TV ads

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A new report out today from TV analysis firm TV[R]EV, given exclusively to Axios, finds that free TV streaming services, like Xumo, Tubi, and Pluto TV, are driving the adoption of digital TV ads.

Why it matters: These free, ad-supported apps have become hot acquisition targets for TV companies that want to sell digital TV ads, but don't have the digital audiences, and therefore digital ad inventory, to do so.

The big picture: Experts don't expect the transformation to digital ads to happen as quickly in the TV space as it did when print content moved online.

Read why

📺 Startling stat: Netflix binge rate

The average Netflix subscriber spends two hours per day on the service, per Netflix original content VP Cindy Holland. Variety has more.

5. Fox News under fire

Fox News has enjoyed record ratings over the past two years, but its close ties to the president and its commitment to right-wing opinion coverage is putting the network on the brink.

  • Driving the news: A series of damning reports over the past week has forced Fox News to issue statements addressing its values and judgement.
  • Most recently, activists are calling for boycotts and protests after audio was revealed of primetime host Tucker Carlson referring to women in derogatory terms years ago.

Why it matters: History shows that these scandals likely won't impact Fox's ratings or popularity among loyal conservative viewers. But they do make it harder for the network to land certain interviews and partnerships that could drive lucrative programming opportunities, like debates.

What's next: Fox News is still trying for Dem debate, via Axios' Mike Allen.

Go deeper: Fox's full week of drama

6. Media news from SXSW

SXSW panel (from l to r): Axios' Sara Fischer, BuzzFeed's Shani Hilton, US News Partnerships at Twitter's Nick Sallon, Dunkin's Tony Weisman, and CNN Digital's Christine Cook. Photo: Rachel Racoosin/Axios

The biggest media takeaway from SXSW this year is that the conversation has shifted from media executives talking obsessively about tech platforms being bad for media companies to policymakers talking obsessively about tech platforms being bad for society. Most media executives were focused on streaming and subscriptions.

What they're saying:

  • New York Times COO Meredith Kopit Levien told me during a panel Saturday that the paper's subscription “Trump Bump” ended in mid-2018.
  • NBC News president Noah Oppenheim said the company's free news streaming service "NBC News Now" will launch in May.
  • CNN boss Jeff Zucker blasted Fox News for being a "propaganda outlet" for President Trump.
  • BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said last week that the company makes more than 10x more money off of platforms today than it did 5 years ago. BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith told me on stage that "The fact that each platform has a different engagement metric is a huge challenge in this business."
  • Quibi execs Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman told NBC News' Dylan Byers that their video service will launch in 2020 with a show on Evan Spiegel and Snapchat.
  • TicToc's Jean-Ellen Cowgill told me in a panel conversation that the video news service from Bloomberg gets picked up in the algorithms on Twitter globally when it covers news that resonates locally.
  • Twitter expanded its partnership with CNN around viral moments.

The big picture: There was a lot of media and tech news, but at the end of the day, it was rising Democratic stars that really stole the spotlight at SXSW.

Go deeper: Politics invades SXSW

7. Robocall rumble
Expand chart
Data: Robocall Index, American Community Survey; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

HBO late-night host John Oliver called out the FCC on his show last week for the robocall problem plaguing American cellphones, drawing nationwide attention to the problem that almost every American is dealing with. 

Why it matters: It's one of the most complained-about issues in America. The FCC gets roughly 200,000 complaints each year about robocalls. Nearly 48 billion robocalls made in 2018, according to YouMail Robocall Index.

Driving the news: While the problem impacts almost every cellphone user in America, data from Robocall Index shows that area codes from certain parts of the country are much more likely to be used for robocalls. 

How it works: Robocalls from certain areas in the U.S. don't necessarily reflect where the originator of the call is coming from. Often scammers use a very popular technique called "neighbor spoofing," in which they copy the area codes of local jurisdictions to make it more likely that people will pick up the phone.

  • Washington, D.C., has a high population of robocalls to its population because scammers often pretend to be calling on behalf of government agencies like the IRS or ICE.
  • Robocall area codes also tend to reflect highly-populated areas. Some regions, like Atlanta, and parts of the Southeast region of the U.S. and southern border states also have high percentages of robocalls mimicking those area codes.
  • This could be, according to a telecom source who works very closely on the robocall issue, because robocallers tend to target vulnerable populations, like older people, immigrants and minorities.

The big picture: The FCC has prioritized the problem and has introduced new standard to tackle robocalls last month. Most of the major wireless carriers have committed to implementing standards that verify if a call is real or if it comes from a computer.

Go deeper: New efforts could reduce robocalls over the next few years

8. 🛰 1 fun thing: The internet goes to space

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Beginning in 2020, Hypergiant Galactic Systems and the nonprofit Arch Mission plan to deploy the first in a series of small satellites intended to serve as relay points in an eventual interplanetary internet, Axios' Andrew Freedman writes.

The big picture: With humans looking to return to the Moon and push into deep space, there is increased demand for building up a telecommunications infrastructure in our solar system, similar to what exists on Earth.

Why it matters: An interplanetary internet, which is an idea that NASA has researched and is based on open data protocols, could solve major communications and data transfer challenges that future explorers will face.

Read more

Sara Fischer