Jul 6, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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Situational awareness:

  1. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will teach at Howard University instead of the University of North Carolina this fall, following a national controversy over an initial decision by UNC's board of trustees not to offer her tenure.
  2. The Cannes Film Festival launches this week with pandemic precautions.
1 big thing: The Information launches first standalone publication

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Information is launching a new standalone publication about batteries and electric vehicles, CEO and founder Jessica Lessin tells Axios.

Why it matters: It's the first time the high-end business and tech media company is charging for content separately from its roughly $400 annual professional subscription fee.

Driving the news: "The Electric" will be written and led by Steve LeVine, a Medium, Axios and Quartz alum who specializes in coverage of batteries, electric vehicles, transportation and future technologies.

  • It will consist of a weekly newsletter and email updates throughout the week, as well as possible industry briefings, conference calls, events, and more — all geared toward a specialized business audience.

"I’m going to run it from the get-go as a stand-alone business," LeVine told Axios.

  • "But the difference is that I’m an employee of The Information and I'm paid by Jessica." LeVine, like all employees of The Information, will be paid a performance based bonus in addition to a yearly salary.

Lessin also confirmed that the company is in talks with independent newsletter writers and publications about striking partnerships in which the writers could get access to The Information's tech and audience development tools in exchange for possible co-bundling or cross-promotional opportunities for The Information.

  • "I don't get super excited about a revenue share because our core business is a much bigger business than that. It's recurring revenue, subscriptions with with high LTVs (lifetime value)," Lessin said.

Be smart: About 90% of the Information's subscriptions come from individuals, although the company does sell subscriptions to enterprises.

  • Lessin notes that while people can sign up for "The Electric" individually, it could also be a big opportunity for the company's B2B sales team.

Go deeper.

2. Corporate media backlash fuels new upstarts

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

New media personalities have gained enormous traction over the past year by catering to individuals who feel disillusioned by the mainstream press, Axios' Hope King and I write.

  • "People are hungry for information, just not the information that the corporate media is trained to give people," Saagar Enjeti, co-host of the new YouTube show "Breaking Points," tells Axios.

Driving the news: Enjeti and former MSNBC anchor and political candidate Krystal Ball recently left The Hill newspaper to start their own franchise on YouTube and via podcasts.

  • "Breaking Points" has gained nearly half a million subscribers in one month. It ranks in the top 10 news podcasts on Apple Podcasts in the U.S., ahead of popular shows like NPR News Now and Pod Save America.

State of play: Pundits that have recently launched their own media ventures are running a similar playbook, selling their digital platforms — mostly newsletters, podcasts and YouTube shows — as antidotes to the institutional media.

  • Glenn Greenwald, formerly of The Guardian, the Washington Post and the co-founding editor of The Intercept, is a key example, as well as fellow Substack writers Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox Media, and Matt Taibbi.

"(Joe) Rogan is the father of the space," Enjeti says. "He created the environment in which we could thrive. I truly believe I wouldn't be here today without him."

Go deeper.

3. Billionaires return to summer camp

Photo of private jets arriving in Sun Valley, Idaho, Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Business titans across media, tech and entertainment will come together this week for the infamous "Sun Valley" summer conference.

Why it matters: The gathering, which often serves as a vehicle for high-profile deal-making, will be a barometer for how power brokers are approaching industries drastically changed by the pandemic.

  • Increased attention towards streaming, gaming, cryptocurrency and e-commerce will put executives at companies like Netflix, Activision Blizzard, Coinbase and Shopify in the spotlight.
  • Shari Redstone, chair of National Amusements, will be the center of attention among media moguls, as buyers try to size up ViacomCBS as a potential acquisition play, per Matt Belloni.

A lot has changed since the last time this group has congregated at the Sun Valley Resort in central Idaho.

  • Several new faces will represent their companies as chief executives this year, including Amazon's Andy Jassy and Disney's Bob Chapek.

Noticeably absent from the list of attendees are any executives from TikTok or its parent company ByteDance, as well as AT&T CEO John Stankey, who earlier this year announced plans to spin out two of the company's media investments — DirecTV and WarnerMedia.

  • There doesn't appear to be any other AT&T executives attending in his place. Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav will be there.

The big picture: Some of the biggest media deals over the past few decades, including Verizon's acquisition of AOL, Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal and Jeff Bezos' purchase of The Washington Post, have come out of the conference.

Go deeper: See who's attending.

4. CB Insights: An unexpected media success story

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

CB Insights, a data software company that caters to buyers and sellers of technology, has nearly one million email newsletter subscribers, its co-founder and CEO Anand Sanwal tells Axios.

Why it matters: Long before Silicon Valley titans began launching their own media arms, CB Insights created a blueprint for how tech companies can use content to bolster their businesses.

  • Most of CB Insights' content mixes humor with B2B tech and investing insights, a strategy similar to Morning Brew.
  • The firm began investing in content shortly after it launched in 2010 as a way to better compete against data giants like Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones and S&P.

By the numbers: CB Insights has been putting out its flagship newsletter, which reaches more than 750,000 people, for years. The newsletter offers a mix of custom research and analysis, including charts and graphics.

  • It has also launched a series of niche newsletters around topics like digital health, consumer retail and financial services, which collectively have around 150,000 subscribers.

What's next: The subscription-based data company, which is on track to bring in nearly $100 million in annual recurring revenue next year, has no plans to sell, but Sanwal says he wouldn't rule out exploring an IPO next year.

Go deeper.

5. Franchise frenzy
Data: The Numbers; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Universal Pictures' "F9: The Fast Saga" — the ninth installment in the "Fast and Furious" franchise — will officially top $500 million in global ticket sales Monday, according to the latest data from Comscore.

Why it matters: The milestone further solidifies F9's dominance at the box office this year and it represents a resurgence of movie-going after a year of turmoil for theaters.

Yes, but: It took a high-adrenaline, action-packed sequel from a familiar franchise to really lure people back to theaters.

  • For years, movie-going has trended towards action and adventure movies that warrant a more cinematic viewing experience.

The big picture: So far, Comcast's Universal Pictures has captured a sizable amount of box office attention, per Bloomberg. The studio took the top three spots at the U.S. box office over the holiday weekend.

What to watch: Disney, which was the reigning box office champ before the pandemic in 2019, hasn't posted massive numbers at the box office this year.

  • That could be due to some of its films being released in theaters in conjunction with streaming, and the studio hasn't yet released a major action franchise film.

What's next: This week, Disney will release "Black Widow," a Marvel movie on streaming in conjunction with theaters. Marvel is by far the most lucrative box office franchise of all time.

6. Nextdoor goes public

Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network in more than 275,000 global communities, announced that it has agreed to go public via a SPAC sponsored by Khosla Ventures — at an implied valuation of $4.3 billion.

Why it matters: Nextdoor has managed to avoid much of the scrutiny aimed at larger networks like Facebook and Twitter, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

  • The hyperlocal social network saw massive growth during the pandemic as more people stayed home and paid attention to what was happening in their neighborhoods.

Go deeper.

7. 1 🐦 thing: Twitter addiction hype

Headlines from the past five years serve as a reminder that the media is not only obsessed with Twitter, it's obsessed with writing about its obsession. (I'm guilty of it, too.)