Axios Media Trends

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August 31, 2021

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🚨 Situational awareness: Vice Media is raising over $85 million in capital from existing investors, as talks to go public via a SPAC have ended, per The Information.

  • As part of the deal, Vice co-founder Shane Smith has agreed to cede voting control.

1 big thing ... Amazon quietly building live audio business

Illustration of a microphone with a smiley face made from the Amazon logo

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Details: The effort, which is being led by Amazon's Music division, includes paying podcast networks, musicians and celebrities to use the feature for live conversations, shows and events.

  • The idea is that users could access live concerts or performances through their Amazon Music accounts. The company is in touch with major record labels about live audio events with artists.
  • The feature is being built to focus on live music, but the tech giant is also eyeing talk radio programs and podcasts as an extension to that effort, according to a source familiar with the plans.
  • Axios has previously reported that Amazon is looking to invest in localized podcast content, like news and sports. The company bought podcast subscription company Wondery for a reported value of $300 million last year.
  • Amazon also plans to integrate live audio into its live video service Twitch, according to two sources.

The big picture: Live audio services exploded during the pandemic, and have since seen big investments from Silicon Valley.

Yes, but: Sources familiar with the company's thinking say that Amazon isn't looking to build an audio social network like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, but rather a digital radio-like tool for live-streaming performances and conversations.

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2. Scoop: Trump wants equity in Gettr

Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former President Trump wanted equity in Gettr, the new social media app launched by former Trump aide Jason Miller, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: The former president has yet to join the app, although sources say that conversations about his participation are ongoing. Discussions about equity are likely part of those conversations, and everything is a negotiation point.

Be smart: Miller has acknowledged in media interviews that one of the initial funders of the app is the family foundation of Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire. Gettr has yet to publicly state its full list of initial backers.

  • Guo has no leadership role or direct financial relationship with the company. There are multiple investment funds that are providing initial funding.
  • In an interview with the New York Times, Miller said there's "been over $50 million that’s put in the platform so far and have somewhere in $25, $30 million range that we currently have in the bank."

What's next: Gettr is looking to expand beyond the U.S. and beyond social networking. The app, which says it now has over 2 million users, has a sizable international audience that includes a growing cohort in Brazil.

  • Later this week, Miller and Donald Trump Jr. will be speaking at CPAC Brazil. Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro has a profile on Gettr.
  • Sources say the company is exploring ways to build out a financial services platform, Gettr Pay.
  • Miller has in the past stated that since the platform won’t share or sell any user data, it will monetize via tips to creators and will take a smaller cut than other tech platforms. It also plans to launch ads next year.

3. Scoop: Facebook cutting more political content

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned.

  • It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the United States.

Why it matters: The changes are expected to reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Details: Moving forward, Facebook will expand some of its current News Feed tests that put less emphasis on certain engagement signals, like the probability that a user will share or comment on a post, in its ranking algorithm.

  • Instead, it will begin placing a higher emphasis on other types of user feedback, like responses to surveys.
  • The company will also begin testing efforts to limit political content in several new countries, including Costa Rica, Sweden, Spain and Ireland.  

More details.

4. Beltway media finally cashes out

Advertising category growth, by amount spent
Data: AdImpact; Note: Looks at U.S. media. Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

The media deal frenzy is coming for Washington, giving longtime owners and investors in political publications a way to finally cash out.

Why it matters: The post-Trump era has been a traffic nightmare for political publications, but business is soaring right now, thanks to a few hot-button issues being debated by a new, divided Congress.

  • The pandemic has been an especially lucrative issue for pharmaceutical companies and trade groups.

Driving the news: Axel Springer announced a deal to acquire Politico last week that values the company around $1 billion, per sources familiar with the deal.

  • The deal values Politico at roughly five times its revenue — which is a little less than $200 million across its U.S. and European operations.
  • The Hill, a Beltway-based publication that gets significant national traffic to its digital website, sold to local broadcast giant Nexstar for $130 million earlier this month. The Hill brought in around $40 million in revenue last year, and around $10 million in profit, according to sources familiar with its finances.
  • FiscalNote, a policy market intelligence firm that bought CQ Roll Call in 2018 for $180 million, is looking to go public via a SPAC IPO at a valuation well over $1 billion, according to sources familiar with its plans.
  • Axios, which focuses on topics beyond politics but has a strong foothold in the area, has been in deal talks.

Be smart: Unlike local TV stations, which make most of their ad revenue in even years during elections, political publications tend to make most of their advertising revenue in odd years — following the election of new members to Congress.

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5. Conservative trust in media has cratered

Reproduced from Gallup; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Gallup; Chart: Axios Visuals

The percentage of Republicans who say they trust national news organizations has been cut in half over the past five years, according to a new study from Pew Research Center.

Be smart: Pew's findings echo a similar long-term study from Gallup last year (above), which found that Democrats' trust in mass media had grown to a near-record high during the Trump era, while Republicans' sunk to an all-time low.

Why it matters: The party's trust in media starting dropping when President Trump took office, but has plummeted much more dramatically in the Biden era, according to Pew.

Details: Prior to the Trump administration, both parties had a great deal of trust in the national media.

  • Only 35% of Republicans today say that they trust national news organizations, compared to 70% in 2016.

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6. Why Afghanistan fell off of the media's radar

Headline cable coverage of Afghanistan, Taliban, Iran, and ISIS
Data: Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

The debate over the media's role in Afghanistan's fall is intensifying, as experts look to understand how Americans were so blindsided by the Taliban's rapid rise to power.

  • "This is the least reported war since at least WWI," says Benjamin Hopkins, a historian of modern South Asia specializing in the history of Afghanistan at George Washington University.
  • "Domestic audiences had no interest," says Thomas Barfield, president of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies at Boston University.

Driving the news: While the country's botched exit from Afghanistan has gotten significant coverage in the past few weeks, the decadeslong conflict has received relatively little media attention in the past 20 years, especially compared to coverage of other conflicts in the region.

"I think there are two grounds where the press bears responsibility," Hopkins tells Axios.

  • "The first is that the financial model of the press requires, at least to a certain extent, the reporting of news that will sell."
  • "The second is that the Defense Department largely tamed the press at the beginning of the war on terror. It offered access, but on its terms," he says. "By and large, much (though again not all) of the media accepted this access, with all the limits it necessarily put on reporting."

Yes, but: While the press bears some responsibility, experts have been quick to point out that the public's lack of interest drove the media away from the story, and much of that had to do with politics.

  • "U.S. officials proved they had a poor grasp of Afghanistan culturally or politically so the press has to stand in line in terms of blame for 'why we didn’t know X,'" Barfield says.
  • Afghanistan has never been something politicians individually or as a class have wanted to invest political capital in (there are exceptions of course)," Hopkins says.

Go deeper.

7. 1 🌀 thing: Mapping the storm

Screenshots from Snap Map

There were more than 12 million views on Snapchat's "Snap Map" content from New Orleans as Hurricane Ida hit the city, a spokesperson tells Axios.

Why it matters: Snapchat's real-time map, which features videos and photos from local users, is often used by media outlets and first responders to get a better sense of what's happening on the ground in real-time during emergency situations.

By the numbers: Per the spokesperson...

  • Viewership in the New Orleans region increased by more than 16 times when compared to viewership in the same area from the weekend before.
  • There were more than 5,500 Snaps submitted to Snap Map in the New Orleans region during the storm, a 16% increase in submissions when compared to the weekend before.