Axios Media Trends

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November 05, 2019

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Good morning from Lisbon, where media and tech executives are gathered for the annual Web Summit. I'll be interviewing Microsoft President Brad Smith and Edelman CEO Richard Edelman. Tune in.

1 big thing: The free speech election

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Not enough is being discussed about how free speech is among the hottest 2020 presidential election topics, Axios' Alison Snyder and I write.

  • Why it matters: Disagreements about how to apply the First Amendment to the speed and scale of social media are consuming the political debate.

In the Trump era, Republicans have found a way to leverage the loose freedoms of social media to gain an upper hand in some elections.

  • Now, Democrats are demanding that big tech companies do something about it.
  • Hillary Clinton said Friday that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “should pay a price” for what he is doing to democracy.
  • Her comments come as more Democrats argue that Facebook shouldn't let President Trump, or any political candidate, get away with spreading falsehoods via political ads.

Conservatives are focusing their political attacks on censorship, arguing that Democrats and liberal firms are out to censor their speech to voters.

  • Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has ridiculed Twitter's recent decision to ban political ads as "yet another attempt by the left to silence Trump and conservatives."
  • Trump's campaign and key allies plan to make bias allegations by social platforms a core part of their 2020 strategy, officials told Axios in September.
  • Case in point: Donald Trump Jr.'s new book —"Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us" — is out today.

Between the lines: Hate speech has become another political flashpoint, with Democrats and Republicans sparring over whether their political perspectives are fair game online.

  • Yes, but: Despite the onslaught of attention candidates and pundits are bringing to this issue, free speech rarely comes up as important to voters.

Be smart: The free speech debate is also an entry point for politicians to talk about regulating Big Tech. Unlike with machine learning bias or anti-competitive behavior, the harm from lying in political ads is easy for voters to understand and legislators to act against.

2. Scoop: YouTube's standoff with conservative Heritage Foundation

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Heritage Foundation is preparing to unveil a video today that slams YouTube for alleged censorship, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: The video will be the first public acknowledgment of a months-long, behind-the-scenes dispute between the conservative think tank and the tech giant.

  • In late September, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki met with Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James and other members of Heritage's leadership team at their offices in Washington, sources tell Axios.
  • The meeting discussed an array of issues, including censorship.
  • While sources say the gathering was cordial, the two groups came to a standstill over YouTube's removal of a 2017 video from Heritage's content arm, The Daily Signal.

The bottom line: YouTube removed the video, which features a doctor making a comment about transgender issues, as a violation of its hate speech policies.

  • Sources say that the tech giant offered to re-list the video, but only if but only if The Daily Signal removed the transgender reference by the doctor.
  • Heritage sees that either-or choice as censorship.

Read the full story.

3. DAZN plans tidal wave of free content amid acquisition spree

DAZN is on the cusp of a major U.S. live sporting events acquisition spree, sources tell Axios.

  • The international sports streaming company, which launched a U.S. presence last year, is reportedly looking to raise $500 million to fund the deals.
  • For the first time, it will create free programming to make more people aware of its product in the U.S., so that they eventually become subscribers.

Driving the news: DAZN will be producing a rematch between YouTube influencers KSI and Logan Paul this Saturday.

  • Its content team will create a free "Countdown show" to announce the fight and the talent that it's hired for it — the first intentionally free programming it's ever created.

The big picture: The news comes as the company begins to ramp up production of its original programming and plans on making nearly all of its non-live content available for free off-platform, sources tell Axios.

  • The original programming DAZN plans on offering for free is viewed entirely as an awareness vehicle for the live events and athletes that are exclusive to its service.
  • For example, the service’s documentary series "40 DAYS," which teams celebrity executive producers with boxers to document the 40 days leading up to their fights, is viewed internally as a marketing play.

Go deeper.

4. TikTok hits familiar social media milestone

Adapted from the Morning Consult's Influencer Report; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from the Morning Consult's Influencer Report; Chart: Axios Visuals

More young teenagers use TikTok than Facebook, according to a new report from Morning Consult.

  • Instagram and Snapchat still beat TikTok by wide margins, but the viral Chinese karaoke app has quickly become popular amongst Generation Z.

Why it matters: TikTok is following a familiar trajectory, beginning with beating out Facebook as a more popular app for young teens.

  • As its popularity rises, so does the scrutiny that comes with it, putting more pressure on it to innovate commercially and arm itself politically.

Driving the news: TikTok "unveiled new tools to let third-party developers integrate their content onto its platform, seeking to deepen ties in the U.S." between app developers and the platform, Bloomberg reports.

The big picture: The news comes on the heels of policymaker concerns that the Chinese-owned app could be a national security threat to Americans.

  • The CFIUS, or Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, is reportedly reviewing the TikTok parent company ByteDance's year-old acquisition of U.S. karaoke app
  • Republican Sen. Josh Hawley told Kim Hart in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that he invited TikTok to a hearing that his committee is hosting on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but that TikTok hasn't responded.
  • "Maybe it's growing popularity, but what exactly does that company do? And again, what's happening to our data when we use that app? ... Americans deserve answers, I think."

Meanwhile, news organizations, brands and celebrities are all rapidly flocking to the platform, in search for their next digital big audience.

5. Old Hollywood versus new reality

Data: PricewaterhouseCoopers; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Data: PricewaterhouseCoopers; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Legendary Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorcese is clearing up controversial comments he made last month that Disney's Marvel movies are "not cinema" and instead are akin to theme park rides.

Why it matters: Scorcese's comments reflect a greater sentiment of old-guard Hollywood pushing back against the franchising of action films and the greater digitization of movies in today's cinema landscape.

  • Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg suggested a rules change that would disqualify movies from Oscars consideration that debut on streaming services or only appear in a short theatrical window.

Driving the news: In an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday, Scorcese argued that with Marvel movies, there's "nothing at risk" and no "revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger."

  • "They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit," he writes.
  • Disney Chairman Bob Iger said not too shortly before the release of Scorcese's statements, "Anyone who has seen a Marvel film could not in all truth make that statement."

The big picture: The comments come as more digital Hollywood firms, like Netflix, push the boundaries of how soon they can release their Oscar hopeful films on their own digital platforms after first releasing them in theaters, to be eligible for awards.

  • Most recently, Netflix agreed to a month-long theatrical release of its new hit "The Irishman," directed by Scorcese, but theater owners argue that it wasn't a long enough moment of exclusivity for them.

The bottom line: The economics don't mode well for the theater chains, but they aren't miserable either. U.S. cinema revenue continues to plateau as ticket prices increase, suggesting that theater-viewing isn't dead yet. Digital movie-viewing, however, continues to skyrocket.

6. Presidential ad spend mostly digital ... for now

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The 2020 presidential election is being fought online at a level we've never seen before, eclipsing the airwave's traditional dominance.

  • Why it matters: Television is still one of the most important vehicles for candidates to message during a presidential election, especially during the general election, but its dominance is quickly being eaten by digital, and that's including digital alternatives of television, like commercials on Hulu. 

By the numbers: Roughly $152 million has been spent so far, per political advertising research firm Advertising Analytics.

  • Digital advertising accounts for 57.5% of tracked spending (Broadcast 33.6%, Cable 8.1%, Radio 0.4%, Satellite 0.1%).
  • What's next: Up to $3 billion is expected on the presidential race alone, with at least $6 billion expected for all political races.

Between the lines: The split so far between Facebook and Google leans heavily to Facebook — $56 million vs. $31 million.

  • Candidates typically begin to ramp up their spending on Google's YouTube later in the race, according to data from progressive technology firm Tech for Campaigns. 
  • TV's share will increase in the general election, when candidates pour more money into local broadcast get-out-the-vote ads.

What to watch: Democrats launch $75 million digital campaign to take on Trump

BONUS: 2020, one year out

Total ad spend:

Data: Advertising Analytics; Note: Trump total includes $20m from Trump Make America Great Again Committee; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Advertising Analytics; Note: Trump total includes $20m from Trump Make America Great Again Committee; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Digital ad spend:

Adapted from a Bully Pulpit interactive chart; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from a Bully Pulpit interactive chart; Chart: Axios Visuals


Axios has a new dedicated section for media news on our website. We publish updates there throughout the week between newsletters to keep you caught up with all of the latest news. Here's what you missed from us over the past week:

8. 1 🌈 thing: Why the new tech redesigns all look the same

Axios visuals

Gradients, or rainbow designs, are the hottest new trend to hit tech and media.

  • Facebook unveiled its new logo Monday, showing off a gradient of rainbow colors in the text.
  • HuffPost also unveiled an updated design with gradient colors on Monday.
  • HBO Max has gradients in its new logo, revealed last week.
  • Twitch added gradients to its redesigned logo in September.
  • Apple may be revisiting its famous 1977 gradient logo, reports have suggested.

Flashback: The trend seems to have kicked off in 2016, when Instagram famously unveiled its updated gradient camera logo.

  • At the time of Instagram's rebrand, acclaimed designer Michael Bierut said on his design podcast that the gradient may create a sense of nostalgia — a throw-back to the early days of the internet when tools like Microsoft Paint empowered users to use very harsh design tools, like gradation filters.

The big picture: According to design experts, the trend seems to be a rebuke to the simplistic design trend that captured the early 2000's, when web logo simplicity was more functional.

  • "I believe that some brands moved to flat designs this century to improve their digital presences," says Ashleigh Axios, former Obama White House Creative Director.
  • "Today however, technology has improved enough that even more complex color gradients can be made with code and load in our products without such extreme implications."

Read the full piece.