Jun 1, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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Situational awareness: Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open amid controversy over her decision to not participate in press conferences.

1 big thing: Twitter doubles down on weather

Axios visuals

Twitter is partnering with veteran climate journalist and meteorologist Eric Holthaus to launch a local weather news service on the platform called "Tomorrow" that will be built using all of Twitter's new creator products — from paid newsletters to ticketed live audio rooms and more.

Why it matters: "It's the largest collective of writers and experts we've launched with," Twitter's VP of product Mike Park tells Axios.

Details: "Tomorrow" launches today across 16 cities in North America with the participation of 18 local meteorologists who will create free content and content for members.

  • Holthaus plans to bring on roughly 20-30 climate writers and 4 part-time editorial staffers in addition to the 18 professional local meteorologists.
  • The team will produce newsletters and exclusive long-form content on Twitter via the company's newly-acquired newsletter platform Revue, as well as membership-specific short-form content for users, such as ticketed live audio sessions via Twitter "Spaces" and audience Q&A services.

Be smart: Weather events have become especially endemic to conversations on Twitter, given that the news changes so rapidly by the minute.

Memberships will start out at $10 monthly. Holthaus, who is bootstrapping the operation for now, says he hopes to be revenue positive by the end of the first week.

  • "The goal is to be in most of 50 major media markets in North America by the end of this year," he says.

What's next: Twitter wants to invest more in writer "collectives," especially at the local level.

  • "Outside of individuals sharing news and knowledge, we believe a collective approach is a super interesting model. Low overhead with an audience-funded model is a solid recipe for success," Park says.

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2. Exclusive: Conservative radio shakeup

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Audacy, the radio giant formerly called Entercom, has struck a multi-station, two-year deal to broadcast Dana Loesch’s nationally-syndicated ‘The Dana Show’ in 11 markets, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: It's the first example of a major radio network opting not to air the show pioneered by the late Rush Limbaugh now that its new hosts have been named.

  • Other radio networks, like Cumulus, are likely to continue to air their own nationally-syndicated conservative talk radio programs in that time slot.

The big picture: The conservative radio empire once ruled by Limbaugh is expected to splinter across a few different conservative voices.

  • Premiere Networks said last week that the late Rush Limbaugh's radio show will be taken over by sports journalist Clay Travis and radio host and political commentator Buck Sexton.
  • Cumulus Media's Westwood One debuted its new conservative talk program "The Dan Bongino Show" last week, also in Limbaugh's old time slot.

By the numbers: Limbaugh's show is currently broadcast by over 600 stations across the country. With the new deal, Loesch's show will be available on over 230 stations. Bongino's show runs on more than 120 networks across the country.

What to watch: A growing number of the digital disrupters in conservative audio are women.

  • "The Liz Wheeler Show," hosted by former OANN host Liz Wheeler, and The Daily Wire's podcast "Candace," hosted by Candace Owens, both list in Apple's top 100 political podcast chart.
  • Laura Ingraham, a longtime leader in conservative talk radio, shifted into podcasting a few years ago.

The bottom line: [T]he sisterhood of talk radio broadcasting is a small club," Loesch tells me.

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3. Substack goes global

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Substack now has hundreds of newsletters from journalists based outside the U.S., co-founder Hamish McKenzie tells Axios.

Details: The company is looking to expand its international footprint in the coming months, and will start hiring people with experience in expanding businesses globally.

  • It currently has more than 500,000 paid subscribers across its network of thousands of newsletters, with the top 10 writers collectively making more than $15 million annually.

Driving the news: Substack has selected 13 journalists to be awarded $1 million total to jumpstart local newsletters on the platform — half of them coming from communities abroad.

  • The new funding will support local journalists from Romania, Ghana, Brazil, U.K., Taiwan and Australia.

"We don't think there's any reason that something that works in Washington D.C., for example, won't work in Ethiopia — the same principles hold," says McKenzie.

Expanding internationally presents some new obstacles.

  • Substack is available to writers in many different languages, but the platform doesn't yet technologically support languages that read right to left.
  • While McKenzie doesn't see payment processing being a long-term impediment to the company's growth, adjustments may be needed for the company's subscriber minimums.
  • "Five dollars in the U.S. is a reasonable price, but in, let's say, Nigeria, it may be totally different," he said. "There will have to be some adjustments there."

What to watch: McKenzie says the company hasn't discussed changing the 10% cut it takes from writers that charge subscription fees, even as it expands deeper into markets abroad. 'I don't think it would be the blocker for people starting out."

4. AMC rides "meme stock" highs
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Data: EODData; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

AMC's share price reached an all-time high last week, thanks to retail investors looking to stick it to institutional shareholders.

Driving the news: The company announced Tuesday morning a $230.5 million in new fundraising via an equity sale, capitalizing on that momentum, to buy new leases and upgrade existing theaters, per Variety.

Why it matters: The theater chain's wild ride on Wall Street points to the power of "meme stocks" in boosting distressed assets even when markets are volatile.

Yes, but: Even though AMC is expected to partially recover as theaters begin to reopen, the company's financials are still in disarray.

  • AMC isn't expected to generate positive cash flow for at least the rest of the year. It narrowly avoided bankruptcy last year thanks to a $917 million cash injection.

What to watch: Some analysts say it's still likely that the company goes bankrupt this year.

  • "They will trip debt covenants if attendance does not get back to 90% of pre pandemic levels," LightShed Partners' Rich Greenfield told Axios. "Hard to imagine given shorter windows."

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5. Movies make Memorial Day comeback

Credit: Disney+ Twitter

The holiday weekend brought a box-office resurgence, breathing new life into an industry that barely survived the pandemic.

  • "There may not be enough adjectives to describe the importance of this weekend’s box office performance to movie theaters," Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian tells Axios.

Paramount's horror-thriller "A Quiet Place Part II" blew past expectations over the four-day weekend, bringing in an estimated $57 million from box-office ticket sales across North America, per Comscore.

  • Disney's "Cruella" also did well, considering that viewers could stream the film online on Disney+ for $30 the same day it opened in theaters.

72% of North American theaters are now open.

  • While the Memorial Day weekend set a pandemic record, it still brought in about half of the $230 million in box-office sales in 2019.

The big picture: It seems unlikely that the box office will ever fully return to pre-pandemic highs, given how much movie consumption habits and business models have changed.

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6. Outside launches membership model


Outside, the media company home to dozens of outdoor enthusiast brands, is launching Outside+, an annual membership that combines more than 30 of its editorial brands and apps into a single offering.

Why it matters: Outside is an anomaly in the magazine world for turning print subscriptions into digital subscriptions over the past few years.

  • Outside+ members will have access to premium content across all of its articles, podcasts and video channels via a single sign-on authentication portal.

By the numbers: The company currently has around 500,000 digital Active Pass subscribers and another 1 million subscribers across its array of magazine titles, like "Running," Backpacker" and "Peloton."

  • Active Pass subscribers will be converted to "Outside+" members this month.
  • The average revenue per subscriber is currently more than $70 annually, says Robin Thurston, CEO of Outside and former CEO of MapMyFitness.

"We think there are over 2 billion people on the planet in the active lifestyle category," he notes.

  • "We feel very confident can get to 5-10+ million paid subs as we continue to add value."

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7. Facebook says U.S. top target of disinformation campaigns globally
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Data: Facebook; Chart: Axios Visuals

Of the 150 disinformation campaigns that Facebook has caught and removed in the past four years, the U.S. has been the most frequent target by far, according to a new threat intelligence report from Facebook.

Why it matters: While most of the campaigns targeting the U.S. have originated abroad, Facebook found that a significant number of campaigns targeting people in the U.S. have originated from inside the U.S.

Of the 16 networks targeting the U.S. that were identified ahead of the 2020 election:

  • 5 originated in Russia
  • 5 in Iran
  • 5 in the the U.S.
  • 1 in China

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8. 1 fun thing: "The Truth Brigade"

Progressive advocacy group "Indivisible" is publicly launching a "Truth Brigade" on Tuesday — using thousands of active volunteers across the country who have been trained and are ready to push back on disinformation on social media, Axios' Stef Kight has learned.

  • How it works: More than 2,500 volunteers are sent explainers on a given topic by Indivisible staffers, which is used to fuel social media posts.

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