Aug 3, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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Situational awareness: AP has named Daisy Veerasingham as its new president and CEO, effective Jan. 1. She'll be the first woman, person of color and international citizen to lead the company. Go deeper.

1 big thing: Facebook's first movie premiere

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For the first time ever, a film distributor will use Facebook to debut a movie exclusively via a ticketed live event, executives tell Axios.

  • "The Outsider," a controversial documentary about the construction of the 9/11 Museum in Manhattan, will premiere publicly on Facebook for $3.99 on Aug. 19.

Why it matters: Putting films on Facebook could lower the barrier to distribute content for smaller filmmakers and studios, especially for those looking to reach audiences in smaller markets where it's harder to broker local deals.

  • "Until this film, you would have had to find an international distributor to do individual broadcast and theatrical deals," says Steven Rosenbaum, director of "The Outsider."
  • "Once you got past big English-speaking markets, it wouldn’t have been worth it," he says. "Without Facebook, all of the mid-sized and smaller markets would never see this."

Details: The film will be available on Facebook Live at 8 p.m. ET to all worldwide Facebook users that pay for access via a link provided by the film's distributor.

  • The premiere can be viewed by any Facebook users in countries where Paid Online Events are available. Currently, they are available in more than 100 countries worldwide.
  • Facebook will be providing some paid promotion to help market the event. The tech giant has committed to not taking a cut of any ticketed events or revenue from independent creators until 2023.
  • The film will play in select theaters and on-demand via streaming in September.

How it works: Like any other ticketed event on Facebook, the distributors of the film — a global film distribution company called Abramorama — set the price for the premiere.

  • Rosenbaum said the goal was to keep the price low enough for now to be able to attract a wide audience.
  • Facebook has been home to exclusive streaming shows and live events for months, but it's never premiered a film before.

Go deeper.

2. Vaccine misinfo spreads to every medium

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Nearly every type of media — local print outlets, social media, apps, online stores and television — shares some blame for the proliferation of misinformation influencing vaccine hesitancy in the U.S.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 infodemic has less to do with the failure of one medium than the lack of societal trust in key institutions that are struggling to deliver a clear and consistent message.

  • "There is a larger context around this in which the credibility around some of these institutions has been called into questions in ways that's not helpful when we need to trust those institutions to give us information," Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania said in a recent interview with Axios.

Local news, experts told the N.Y. Times, is more likely to publish repurposed online material, due to a lack of resources.

  • TV is also a key driver of vaccine misinformation, according to a recent study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The research found that people who say they rely on conservative media are more likely to believe anti-vax conspiracies.

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3. Subscription podcast company Quake's new raise

Quake, a subscription podcast company founded by media veterans, has raised an additional $3.5 million, Axios has learned.

Details: The round was led by Chicago Ventures with participation from a few individual investors, including Cameo founder and CEO Steven Galanis and SpotHero founder and CEO Mark Lawrence.

Flashback: Quake launched last year with $2.5 million in seed funding. The new round brings the company's total funding to $6 million.

  • The network features exclusive podcasts from high-profile news talk show hosts like Laura Ingraham, Gretchen Carlson, Marc Lamont Hill and Buck Sexton, for a monthly fee of $2.99.

The big picture: The raise is part of a wider industry push around podcast subscriptions and exclusive content. Apple and Spotify both launched podcast subscription offerings this year.

4. ☀️ Selling sunshine

Photo by James Devaney/GC Images

Hello Sunshine, the Hollywood production company co-founded by Reese Witherspoon, has sold to a new, unnamed media company backed by Blackstone and led by former Disney executives Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer, Hello Sunshine said Monday.

  • In an interview with Variety, the duo said their new company will revolve around "three C's: content, commerce and community."

Details: The idea behind the new company is to roll up several media, entertainment and technology brands and take them public.

  • Hello Sunshine, which will remain independent, will be the "initial pillar" of that rollup strategy, according to a statement.
  • The deal is worth more than $900 million, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news of the transaction.

What to watch: Staggs and Mayer told Variety that Blackstone, one of the world's largest global investment firms, has committed to providing $2 billion for the pair to build an independent production company via further acquisitions.

The big picture: Streaming has sparked a flurry of consolidation in the TV and film production space.

5. COVID Olympics bring mixed bag for media

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The COVID Olympics have so far proven to be a complicated event both for viewers and broadcasters globally.

Diving the news: Discovery said Tuesday that the Olympics has fueled record engagement from its European audience, despite some European countries arguing that free-to-air coverage of the Games has been limited.

  • Discovery purchased the rights several years ago to air the Olympics in Europe between 2018-2024, after buying Eurosport in 2014.
  • There was little skepticism at the time, Variety reports. But flash forward to this year's Games, and the unintended result of the Discovery deal has been "a patchwork of uneven coverage across Europe."

Meanwhile in the U.S., primetime viewership for the Olympics continues to plummet, per Sports Business Journal.

  • NBCU CEO Jeff Shell last week attributed the declines to "bad luck," citing some of the negative storylines around the Games.
  • Yes, but: Despite not giving any real numerical updates, Shell said streaming via Peacock would offset those losses and that NBCU will profit from the Games.

What to watch: The COVID Olympics mark the first time athletes are really empowered to be creators. Young Olympians are going viral on TikTok.

6. Next big ad giant is in D.C.
Expand chart
Data: Company reports; Chart: Axios Visuals

Stagwell, a D.C.-headquartered marketing services agency, said Monday it closed a deal to combine with MDC Partners, a global ad holding company based in New York.

Why it matters: It's the largest transaction in the advertising sector so far this year. The deal gives Stagwell the scale and capabilities necessary to compete globally with larger ad holding groups.

Details: Under the deal terms, Stagwell now owns over 69% of the combined company. Former shareholders in MDC Partners will own roughly 31% of the combined company.

  • The combined company will start trading on the NASDAQ on Tuesday under the ticker "STGW." It will have over 10,000 employees.

The big picture: The deal underscores the momentum behind a number of D.C.-based media companies.

  • Morning Consult is now worth over $1 billion.
  • FiscalNote, also valued north of $1 billion, is exploring an IPO via a SPAC deal.
  • Vox Media and Axios are reportedly exploring deals.
7. Ad boom rains billions on Big Tech
Data: Company filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

Advertising growth was the chief driver of tech's blowout quarter, as the economy snapped back from the pandemic and a long-term shift to digital went into overdrive.

By the numbers: Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Amazon and Google all posted record ad revenue growth rates in their Q2 earnings reports.

Between the lines: It's far easier for companies with relatively modest total ad revenues — like Twitter and Snapchat, which both stand at roughly $1 billion for the quarter — to boast such fast rates of growth.

  • But for companies the size of Google ($50.4 billion ad revenue) or Facebook ($28.6 billion ad revenue), it's wild.

Be smart ... Three factors drove last quarter's monster growth:

  1. Digital transformation: The pandemic expedited the migration of eyeballs and ad dollars to digital platforms. Big Tech firms were uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of that shift.
  2. COVID crash: The ad market plummeted during the second quarter of 2020 and then rebounded dramatically beginning late last year. So this year's Q2 shows an extra big leap from last year's.
  3. Apple delay: The delayed rollout of Apple's new privacy feature means that tech companies weren't affected by ad-targeting changes as much as they will be in future quarters.

What to watch: Growth rates are unlikely to be this dramatic in the second half of the year.

8. Media beat keeps growing

Gabriel Snyder's new media company, "Off the Record," has added a few key names and familiar faces:

  • Julia Black, who most recently worked at Epic, a subsidiary of Vox Media, and Andrew Fedorov, a columnist for GQ, Outside, The Daily Beast and others, have joined as full-time media reporters.
  • David Granger, formerly the editor-in-chief of Esquire; Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of Gawker, former editor of The New York Observer and currently the founder of The Insurrection; and Rebecca Carroll, a cultural critic and producer of special projects at WNYC, will join the company as contributors.
9. 1 fun thing: A "PBS for the internet"

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The concept of a new media ecosystem that's non-profit, publicly funded and tech-infused is drawing interest in policy circles as a way to shift the power dynamics in today's information wars, Axios' Kim Hart writes.

  • Why it matters: Revamping the structure and role of public media could be part of the solution to shoring up local media, decentralizing the distribution of quality news, and constraining Big Tech platforms' amplification of harmful or false information.

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