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Situational awareness: WndrCo, the media and tech investment group co-founded by veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg, says it’s closed an initial $1 billion funding round for "NewTV,” a mobile-first video streaming service to be led by former HP CEO Meg Whitman and Katzenberg. (Disclosure: WndrCo is an investor in Axios.)

1 big thing: America’s most polarizing brands
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Data: Morning Consult "CSR and Political Activism in the Trump Era"; Note: The survey's margin of error is 0.5–3.1 percentage points; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than half (18) of the 30 most polarizing brands polled by Morning Consult are media companies, meaning Democrats and Republicans are particularly divided over their perception of media brands.

This is not an entirely new concept. A Gallup and Knight Foundation’s 2017 Survey on Trust, Media and Democracy out in June showed similar results.

  • It too found that conservatives are less likely to have high favorability of most news outlets than Democrats, speaking to the right's institutional bias against media and Hollywood.
  • Gallup has found that Democrats in general tend to have a much more trusting view of the news media than Republicans, with a 58 percentage point difference between the two parties in their "trust in mass media" — the widest margin that has been polled by Gallup since 1997.

Why it matters: There is very little commonality between consumers from different ideological beliefs over what type of news, information and even entertainment they like to consume in comparison to the types of places they like to buy food or shop.

  • The only media outlets preferred by Republicans over Democrats are Fox, Fox Business and Breitbart.
  • Most entertainment outlets listed, like Comedy Central, HBO and MTV, are much more widely favored by Democrats.
2. Trump's poisonous effect on brands

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A same poll from Morning Consult finds that there's almost no upside for most brands to discuss President Trump. Regardless of whether the message is positive or negative, it's far more likely to generate backlash for most companies than draw positive reactions.

Why it matters: Brands that stay true to their corporate values in messaging face less reputational risk than those that react directly to being called out by the president or the president's statements.

According to the study, only 30% of people will have a more favorable view of a company if it issues a positive statement about President Trump. At the same time, only 32% will have a more favorable impression if it issues a negative statement.

  • A negative statement about the president can be even worse. Most Trump voters (56%) have a much less favorable view of a brand if it says something negative about the president, while only 32% of Clinton voters say they would have a much more favorable view.

Bottom line: Regardless of what a company says about the president, an overwhelming majority (70%) Americans will either disapprove or simply won’t care.

The big dilemma for brands is that they are are being pulled in two directions when it comes to political and issue messaging.

  • On the one hand, consumers want companies to take a bigger stand for or against certain issues, like civil rights and racial equality.
  • On the other, most consumers don't like when companies address issues pegged to the president, even if many of his actions — like his recent tweets criticizing LeBron James — are what bring the topic to the forefront.

The business risk in staying silent on corporate values can be massive. According to Edelman's latest Earned Brand Study.

The solution: Brand experts tell Axios that there's a clear way to navigate the Trump trap — or being pulled into a politically-charged conversation with the president: Focus on long-term corporate values in response to being called out.

"If brands want to play politics, it's a really dangerous place. But if you fundamentally have a calling you can respond with, you’ll see it through."
— Mark Renshaw, global chair, Edelman's brand practice
  • Certain issues, according to the Morning Consult study, like civil rights and racial equality, are considered the safest to discuss. Others, like those concerning abortion or kneeling during the national anthem, are more risky.
  • Navigating the Trump trap in a fast-paced news cycle can be challenging, especially when the president ties himself to many news stories that wouldn't typically be considered political, via his tweets.

The bottom line: It's never been harder to manage the corporate reputation of a big company, but brands that stick to longstanding corporate values and avoid the day-to-day political fray, should have a better chance at earning trust.

Go deeper.

3. Big Tech's big turn on Alex Jones

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In less than a week, Spotify, Stitcher, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest have all taken action to either ban or crack down on InfoWars and its conspiratorial leader Alex Jones. The only platform exception so far has been Twitter, which says Jones has not violated its policies.

Why it matters: The sudden and collective boycott of Alex Jones is a significant tipping point for Big Tech, where values of openness and inclusivity have been tested for years by conspiracy theorists and bad actors.

  • Jones was ultimately banned from most of these platforms for hate speech, not misinformation, on which most tech platforms have a tougher time drawing a clear line.
  • The crackdown comes as Jones and Infowars currently face defamation lawsuits brought against them by Sandy Hook parents — due to his repeated false claims that the elementary school shooting is a hoax.

The big picture: This marks a milestone for organized boycotts on the left, which have included Jones for years on black lists that includes Breitbart News and Rush Limbaugh, per Axios' Mike Allen.

  • And it's a huge loss for fringe voices on the right that have for years taken advantage of the loose policies of open tech platforms to propagate conspiracy theories and other misinformation.

What's next? Jones has mostly been removed from having any major platform on the internet, with the exception of Twitter, his website, other less prominent platforms on the web (Gab, 4chan), and ... his apps.

Infowars launched a new app on July 9th, replacing its old app that was built in 2016. It has been downloaded about 93,000 times already and has logged more than 600,000 hours spent in-app by these users, according to Apptopia estimates.

  • It's currently ranked #4 in top free apps in the news category, ahead of those like MSNBC, BBC News, Fox News and the New York Times in the Apple App Store.
4. Gut Check: Be ready for the fallout

Look for an outcry from conservative groups arguing that Big Tech is trying to purposefully censor conservative voices. Alex Jones tweets his case:

Already, more than half of Republicans believe it is "very likely" that social media platforms intentionally censor political views that they consider “objectionable,” according to a poll from the Pew Research Center (see chart below).

Why it matters: Surveys show that Americans of all stripes don't always trust the information they receive from both mainstream media and Silicon Valley's online platforms — and this is especially marked among Republicans.

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Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
5. Google leads the war for our attention

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Google’s YouTube, Google and Waze combined to account for 34.2% of all time on digital media in June, according to Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser.

The details: Pivotal found that as Google increases its foothold into America's daily routines, Facebook is seeing declines in time spent at a faster rate than before.

  • Core Facebook (including Messenger) fell 10% in aggregated time spent for all content measured.
  • Even including Instagram and WhatsApp, Pivotal says it still observed a 6% decline.

Bottom line: "While many investors continue to look for Instagram to support longer-term growth for Facebook at a corporate level, we note that Instagram remains relatively small, at only 13% of Facebook’s size (measured by time spent on the platform by all of its users)," Wieser writes.

  • He also notes that shares of consumption for Snapchat and Twitter remain relatively stability.
6. Exclusive: Sneak Peek at Fall Advertising Week

Advertising Week New York is just around the corner (Oct 1–4) and this year, on its 15th anniversary, there will be a heightened focus on the intersection of politics and trust.

"We will dive deeper into the politics and implications of today’s connected environment by covering issues like brand safety and trust and transparency for marketers and for consumers."
— Matt Scheckner, founder and CEO, Advertising Week

The entire event will take place under one roof at the AMC Lincoln Square multiplex and all panels will also be live-streamed and on-demand. 

Some of the main stage speakers will include:

  • Katie Couric, American journalist and author
  • Aline Santos Farhat, global EVP marketing and head of diversity and inclusion, Unilever 
  • Maria Pousa, CMO, Integral Ad Science
  • Marc Pritchard, CMO, P&G
  • Bill Koenigsberg, CEO, Horizon Media
  • Jason Levine, North American CMO, Mondelez
  • Sharon MacLeod, global VP, Unilever
  • Marcel Marcondes, U.S. CMO, Anheuser-Busch
  • Marc Mathieu, CMO, Samsung
  • David Shing, digital prophet, Oath
  • Nada Stirratt, VP global sales, Facebook
  • Chris Vollmer, partner, Global Entertainment & Media PwC
  • Ari Weiss, North American chief creative officer, DDB
7. ICYMI: The Wild West of children's entertainment

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Gone are the days of Saturday morning cartoons, Sesame Street and cable shows being seen as the main attractions for kids-focused TV. Now content is strewn across apps, social networks and streaming platforms — and a lot of kids don't even know what a commercial is.

What's happening:

  • The rise of streaming has diverted children’s eyeballs away from live television to on-demand platforms, like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu plus social media video streaming services like YouTube, Snapchat Discover and Instagram.
  • Children's digital content is mostly unregulated on many streaming platforms. That's appealing for older children who find more regulated TV content boring — but it can also be dangerous.
  • TV networks are trying to modernize in order to keep up with kids' viewing habits. And a recent FCC proposal would relax kids' TV rules to let traditional broadcasters compete with digital channels, like Netflix, Amazon or YouTube, that do not have to follow those rules.

The big dilemma: As more technologies are added to smartphones and smart TVs to help parents keep kids safe — like tracking features and parental restrictions — more and more parents are feeling comfortable with exposing their kids to new media technologies at a younger age.

Go deeper.

8. 1 🎵 thing: Musicals get the movie treatment

"Green witches, flying carpets, and singing cats are heading from the stage to the screen, as Hollywood appears to have fallen back in love with movie adaptations of its favorite musicals," Variety reports.

Variety has put together a roundup of some of the current projects moving forward in development from the big stage to the big screen, which includes:

  • Aladdin (expected release: May 2019); Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (expected release: TBD); Cats (expected release: TBD); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (release date: TBD); The Lion King (expected release: Summer 2019); Little Shop of Horrors (expected release: TBD); West Side Story (expected release: TBD) and Wicked (expected release: December 2019).