January 09, 2024

Today's Media Trends, copy edited by Sheryl Miller, is 1,784 words, a 7-minute read. Sign up.

🎲 Hello from Vegas. Axios is on the ground at the annual CES. Email me if you want to grab coffee or join me at the convention center for interviews Tuesday and Wednesday.

🍿 Situational awareness: Viewership for Sunday's Golden Globes on CBS was up 50% compared to last year's all-time low, but the ratings are still way down from the pre-pandemic era.

1 big thing: Fox joins AI battle

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Fox Corp., one of the largest media publishers in the U.S., has publicly debuted a new blockchain platform called Verify to help media companies track how their content is being used online, Fox Corp. chief technology officer Melody Hildebrandt told Axios.

  • It plans to use the Verify protocol to negotiate licensing deals of its content to artificial intelligence companies.

Why it matters: It's the first major entertainment company to outline its plan to protect its content — which spans Fox News, Fox Sports, Fox Entertainment, local TV stations and more — from being scraped by Big Tech firms to train their algorithms.

Details: Pricing and terms for how Fox would license its content once it's been verified have not yet been set.

  • To date, Fox has focused mostly on using the new protocol for news and sports content, but Hildebrandt said the company is bullish generally on all content going through the Verify protocol eventually, including Fox's entertainment content.
  • The company is also in active discussions with other media companies to use its protocol, suggesting that the tool will give them leverage in their negotiations with AI companies.

Yes, but: Blockchain-based projects outside of cryptocurrency and NFT applications have had a tough time gaining traction over the past decade, and there's no guarantee any of Fox's rivals and competitors will adopt its protocol.

The big picture: Fox Corp.'s approach to negotiating with AI firms is unique in that it relies on a technology solution rather than a business agreement or a legal proceeding.

  • German and U.S. media giant Axel Springer last month struck a multiyear deal with ChatGPT parent OpenAI to license its content to provide ChatGPT users with summaries of news content from Axel Springer publications.
  • The New York Times, meanwhile, has sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement.

Go deeper

2. Exclusive: CNBC to begin selling paid courses

Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie at the New York Stock Exchange with Jim Cramer and Carl Quintanilla on Jan. 4, 2023. Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images

CNBC on Wednesday will debut its first paid course as part of a new educational venture developed by the editorial team behind CNBC's "Make It" franchise, CNBC president KC Sullivan told Axios.

Why it matters: While CNBC's niche audience doesn't pull the same type of ratings that general news networks can, it has allowed the network to launch a slew of digital-first products to an audience willing to pay for professional insights.

  • CNBC debuted its $400 annual Investing Club membership in 2022, which gives subscribers access to market analysis and research from CNBC host Jim Cramer.
  • It launched its broader CNBC Pro membership in 2010, which gives subscribers access to its live-TV feed and exclusive digital content for $300 annually.
  • More recently, it's leaned into curating communities for business executives and upselling those networks through events.

Details: The new course, called "How to Ace Your Job Interview," will cost $99 for 100 minutes of video content plus a companion workbook.

  • CNBC's "Make It" editorial team wrote and produced the entire course, per executive editor Jenna Goudreau.

Zoom out: The course is part of a new venture called Smarter developed by the "Make It" team for curious professionals eager to develop their careers and learn new skills.

  • Goudreau said CNBC hopes to eventually build a suite of courses and products across its core subject areas, such as work, money, success, entrepreneurship and life.

What to watch: Asked whether the network expects individuals or companies to pay for these courses, Sullivan said it will probably start as a product for individuals but could expand to different types of products for C-suite professionals eventually.

3. Year of chaos

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

We're less than a month into 2024 and already headlines suggest the media industry is in for a wild ride this year.

The big get bigger: Warner Bros. Discovery's talks with Paramount about a potential merger could trigger a slew of large-scale industry consolidation.

  • With heavy debt commitments coming due, Paramount is increasingly likely to either sell part or all of its assets or find a merger partner. Disney CEO Bob Iger has reversed course and says he's no longer looking to sell the company's linear TV networks.

But Hollywood shrinks: Smaller and midsize film and TV studios are laying the groundwork to survive an expected industry contraction, per Axios' Tim Baysinger.

  • A significant pullback in content spending could force more independent studios to consider raising more capital or finding a merger partner.

Digital media faces reality: BuzzFeed and The Arena Group continue to languish on the public market, with market caps of less than $40 million for both. Vox Media, G/O Media, Condé Nast and others have all slashed jobs, citing ad market slowdowns.

  • The rise of AI could seriously impact the business models of publishers reliant on search advertising revenue before any legal protections are put in place to stop it. The New York Times' historic lawsuit could take years to resolve.

Anti-establishment media grows: With the election year ahead, more politically motivated investors are pouring money into outlets meant to combat what they perceive as mainstream bias.

  • A group of conservative media and business executives met with The Messenger founder Jimmy Finkelstein last week to discuss acquiring a majority stake in his digital news outlet, Axios reported. Part of that group includes Omeed Malik, the billionaire who's funding Tucker Carlson's new media venture.

Culture wars divide newsrooms: A record level of union activity in 2023 foreshadows further cultural challenges between newsrooms and management.

  • Business Insider being probed by its parent Axel Springer for a story in which no facts have been contested is drawing pushback internally.

4. Ad market finally begins to stabilize

Data: GroupM, IMF; Chart: Axios Visuals

After years of pandemic-driven volatility, the global ad market is finally expected to normalize over the next five years, according to new forecasts.

State of play: The global ad market is expected to grow 5.3% this year, down from 5.8% growth in 2023, according to a year-end forecast from GroupM, one of the largest global advertising agencies.

  • In North America, the ad market is expected to grow 4.2% (excluding political advertising), down from 5.6% in 2024.

Between the lines: For both global and North American forecasts, the ad market will still grow in real terms, but slower growth rates mean publishers that rely on ad revenue will need to temper their expectations.

  • Magna, another global ad agency, posted slightly more optimistic forecasts, but they are directionally in line with those from GroupM.

How we got here: For years, the advertising industry grew at roughly the same rate as gross domestic product.

  • But the rise of new ad formats online and new digital businesses pushed the ad market to grow faster than GDP during the late 2010s, driving temporary but unsustainable double-digit growth for digital advertising.
  • The pandemic not only wiped out that momentum in 2020, but it caused a ripple effect of broader uncertainty for the ad market in the three years that followed.

State of play: Heading into 2024, analysts predict mid-single-digit ad growth for the foreseeable future, thanks in large part to the maturity of the digital ad market.

  • All 2024 forecasts suggest spending on traditional media, such as print, radio and television, will decline year over year in annual growth, but their digital alternatives (including streaming) aren't expected to make up for those losses.

Verticals to watch in 2024:

  • ⬆️ Auto, political, sports
  • ▶️ Retail, finance, restaurants
  • ⬇️ Entertainment, betting

5. Audacy bankruptcy spells trouble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Audacy, the second-largest radio broadcaster in the country, announced plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday, foreshadowing continued challenges for legacy media companies on the public markets.

Details: In filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, Audacy has entered into a prepackaged agreement supermajority of its debt-holders to restructure its balance sheet to alleviate its debt.

  • Through the restructuring, the radio giant said it plans to eliminate approximately $1.6 billion of its $1.9 billion in debt. Audacy's debt-holders will receive equity in the reorganized company.

Catch up quick: Audacy, formerly Entercom, went public in 1999. Its stock has steadily declined for the past two decades amid a broader radio ad market decline.

The big picture: Like many legacy media companies, Audacy's digital transformation attempts haven't been able to offset steep declines in the traditional ad market, presenting major balance sheet problems.

  • In a staff note, CEO David Field said Audacy paced a "perfect storm" of problems in the past four years, "from the global pandemic and the series of subsequent macroeconomic challenges that have caused sustained headwinds in traditional advertising and materially impacted our business."

Flashback: iHeartMedia, the parent company of iHeartRadio Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018 and returned to the public markets in 2019.

  • iHeartMedia today has a market cap of $305 million. It posted full-year revenues of nearly $4 billion in 2022.

6. Exclusive: Major milestone for Black publishers

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Word in Black, a media startup incubated within the Local Media Foundation (LMF), has officially incorporated as a public benefit company, CEO Nancy Lane told Axios.

Why it matters: The milestone serves as a blueprint for ways nonprofits can scale other local media collaboratives.

  • The public benefit corporation model is meant to help the startup generate social and public good, while also providing more commercial opportunities than a traditional nonprofit structure could allow.

Details: Word in Black was initially launched in 2020 by a group of local news nonprofits. It's since raised about $6 million, including money from Google, Meta, Deloitte, Wells Fargo and several foundations.

  • After initially funding the creation of Word in Black, LMF sold the startup's assets back to Word in Black as a public benefit corporation on Jan. 1.
  • The company now has an independent board and is exploring more commercial opportunities to expand as well as opportunities to bring on more Black publishers.

What's next: Lane said LMF and its trade group Local Media Association are already in talks about scaling other programs based on Word in Black's success, such as News Is Out, a Queer media collaborative.

Keep reading

7. 🏈 Insane NFL numbers

100 most-watched U.S. TV broadcasts
Data: Sportico, Nielsen; Chart: Axios Visuals

The NFL made up 93 of the top 100 broadcast programs last year, according to a Sportico report citing Nielsen ratings. That's up from 82 last year and 72 in 2020.

Why it matters: As on-demand content moves to streaming, live TV events — especially sports — are the only thing left that can draw huge swaths of Americans together at the same time.

Be smart: Live sports, especially football, are becoming a larger portion of the most-watched broadcast programs in the country, replacing news programs and some awards shows, especially in nonelection years.

What to watch: Aside from sports on ESPN, the vast majority of live television viewership is happening on broadcast, not cable.

  • Pay-TV subscriptions shrunk at the fastest pace ever recorded in the third quarter of last year, per media analysis firm MoffettNathanson.