Axios Media Trends

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March 10, 2020

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Situational awareness: The advertising world's annual Upfront presentations in New York City are beginning to fall victim to the coronavirus.

  • AMC cancelled its upfront. A&E is planning a virtual presentation. The IAB, which manages the digital "Newfronts" presentations, says that the Newfronts are still on for now.

1 big thing: Inside Quibi's ad strategy

GIF: Quibi

Quibi, the mobile video streaming service set to launch next month, has capped its ad partnerships for its first year, according to executives.

  • Why it matters: Quibi has sold out its first year in ads — $150 million in revenue  — ahead of its April 6th launch. That number is fixed via pre-sold ad agreements with those 10 companies.

Details: The 10 exclusive partners include Progressive, Discover, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, AB InBev, Taco Bell, Pepsi, T-Mobile, Google and Walmart.

  • At launch, Quibi will feature ads from over 25 brands that are owned by those 10 ad partners.
  • It will not expand the number of partners in its first year, although those partners can introduce new brands to the platform during that time.
  • As a part of its launch pitch, Quibi promised advertisers that they would be the exclusive brand in its vertical.

How it works: Companies can run a pre-roll ad of 6, 10 or 15 seconds before an episode of any show. Each brand will exclusively sponsor each episode of a show.

  • Longer ads are recommended for longer Quibi shows that are in the 5-7 minute range. Shorter ads are recommended for shorter shows in the 1-5 minute range.
  • In total, Quibi will run 2.5 minutes of advertising for every hour of programming. Traditional television typically runs roughly 16 minutes of ads per hour.
  • All ads are non-skippable, and the platform won't have any mid-roll ads or ad pods.
  • Quibi hasn't accepted any political ads as part of its first year of ad sales, according to a source familiar with its plans.

The big picture: All advertisers will be encouraged to leverage Quibi's "turnstyle" technology, which allows users to seamlessly switch between vertical and horizontal video on their phones.

  • Quibi's advertising efforts are led by former Flipboard executive Nicole McCormack, who reports directly to Meg Whitman, CEO of Quibi.

Be smart: Whitman told Axios in an interview in January that she expects the majority of subscribers to Quibi's service to choose the ad-supported tier, which puts more pressure on the company to get the ad experience right.

2. Scoop: The Recount raises $13 million in Series A round

Co-founders John Heilemann (left) and John Battelle (right). Photo: The Recount.

Recount Media, a short-form political video startup created by veteran journalists John Battelle and John Heilemann, has raised $13 million its Series A funding round, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: The round includes strategic media companies as partners, instead of just financial investors. "It's better to have big companies looking out for us and rooting for us than a bunch of purely financial investors around the table," Battelle tells Axios.

Details: The round is being led by Union Square Ventures.

  • Battelle first noted the round on stage to Axios at an IAB conference last month.
  • Also in the round: True Ventures and strategic partners ViacomCBS and Burda Principal Investments, a division of Hubert Burda Media.
  • The money will be used to produce new programming that will help The Recount strike additional licensing and distribution deals. According to Battelle, the company will be announcing new programming every few weeks.
  • Some of the investment will also be going towards making sure that The Recount builds strong enough infrastructure to be able to deploy video across multiple distribution points. "It's not a big of an issue in text, but it's definitely a bigger issue in video," he says.

Investors who participated in Recount’s seed round include Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures, Ron Conway’s SV Angel and Robert Wolf’s 32 Ventures.

  • The Recount's board has five slots, two currently open. Battelle and Heilemann both sit on the board, as well as Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson. Media investors have informational rights, but are not members of the board.
  • The Recount currently has a staff of 20 people, mostly journalists. About 5 of them are on the company's "original content" team launched earlier this year. Battelle said the company could hire up to 15 people in the next 15 months.

The Recount is in talks with dozens of distribution channels, including tech companies like Google and Amazon, smart TV companies like Samsung and Roku, and streaming TV companies, like FuboTV and Quibi.

Read the full story.

3. When shiny new media loses its luster

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Pricey mergers are forcing some of the biggest media giants to shed assets that are no longer necessary to their core business, most of which are now streaming.

  • Why it matters: Once sexy investments in new media companies are beginning to feel like expensive burdens on corporate giants looking to offload unnecessary debt.

Driving the news: NBCUniversal quietly sold its entire $500 million stake in Snapchat earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

  • Disney wrote down $157 million of its initial $400 million stake in Vice in 2018 as it was engaged in conversations about buying most of Fox.
  • Verizon sold Tumblr for around $3 million last year after buying it for $1.1 billion in 2013.

Other media giants are shedding non-digital assets in efforts to alleviate debt.

  • AT&T sold its stake in the Game Show Network for over $500 million last year. It has also shed several international telecom businesses since buying Time Warner in 2018 for $85 billion.
  • ViacomCBS is looking to sell Simon & Schuster, the nearly 100-year-old publishing business, to focus on streaming and video.

The bottom line: Investments that were once the "shiny new media thing" have either become "big media" themselves or didn't turn out to be the jackpots their backers and acquirers desired.

Meanwhile, new upstarts are getting funding.

  • Recent investments in The Athletic ($50 million), Axios ($20 million), Minute Media ($40 million), Action Network ($17.5 million), The Recount ($13 million) and Quibi ($750 million) suggest that investors are still looking to tie themselves to the next big thing.

Go deeper: Media companies wrestle with high debt loads

4. Vox Media and Google launch local news ad network

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Vox Media, the parent company to brands like The Verge, SB Nation, GrubStreet and more, is partnering with Google to create a new local advertising network called "Concert Local."

  • By the numbers: While neither party would confirm the amount, it's understood that the investment is over $1 million.
  • The funding is coming through the Google News Initiative program and is one of the largest single-publisher investments that Google is making of this kind, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The marketplace will bring together ad inventory from many local news publishers, making it easier for big, national advertisers to target local news audiences.

Be smart: The new marketplace is an extension of Vox Media's existing national ad marketplace, called Concert, and its existing software licensing business, Chorus and Coral.

Go deeper.

5. Scoop: WashPost tripling investment in Zeus

The Washington Post is tripling investment in Zeus, its revenue technology arm, sources tell Axios. The Post licenses Zeus products to other media companies to help them drive more ad revenue and create better user experiences.

Why it matters: The ad tech ecosystem for publishers for so long has been dominated by tech companies that don't know a lot about journalism or media. Now, media companies are creating their own tech solutions to become less reliant on them.

Driving the news: The Post is planning to add 20 new people to its a team of ten Zeus staffers, according to sources familiar with The Post's plans.

  • The 20 new hires to Zeus will include engineers, sales leaders, data scientists and account managers.
  • Zeus Performance, a software that gives sites better speed and ad view-ability, has launched with a handful of clients over the past 6 months, including The Dallas Morning News, Bonnier Corporation and Ultimate Gaming Group.
  • Sources say it has more than two dozen new deals in the pipeline for 2020.
  • Zeus is led by Jarrod Dicker, vice president of commercial technology and development.

The big picture: The first wave of publishing tech that came to market from media companies focused on content management systems. The second wave is focusing on revenue optimization tools.

Go deeper: More about Zeus.

Bonus: Local ad revenue still an uphill battle

Data: Pivotal Research Advertising Forecast May 2018; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Pivotal Research Advertising Forecast May 2018; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Efforts from Vox Media and The Post are meant to put more dollars in the hands of local publishers, who are struggling to win dollars from big national brands.

  • But even a significant increase in ad spend on local digital media still isn't likely to offset the net loss of ad dollars going to all local media.
  • In total, local media ad revenue is expected to fall by 27% from 2010 to 2022, according to estimates from Pivotal Research. Much of that is due to the dramatic loss of print newspaper revenue.

6. Golf media rights skyrocket

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The PGA Tour has struck a 9-year deal with CBS Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN for around $680 million, Variety reports. That's up from roughly $400 million in the last TV distribution deal.

Why it matters: The value of distributing professional golf in the U.S. is increasing as more TV networks clamor to hold live sports rights. In the streaming era, live sports are keeping traditional TV alive.

  • The deal awards broadcast rights to CBS and NBC and digital rights to ESPN+, ESPN's subscription sports streaming service.
  • Previously NBC aired PGA Tour Live's subscription package through its NBC Sports Gold package. Now, those rights are moving to ESPN+.
  • NBC's Golf Channel will remain the cable distributor for The PGA Tour.

The big picture: The PGA Tour, perhaps better than most leagues, has been finding ways to capitalize on the sports streaming rights frenzy in the U.S. and abroad.

  • In 2018, the PGA Tour and Discovery launched the first-ever professional golf streaming service internationally via a 12-year partnership.
  • Last week, it announced a partnership with sports betting outlets The Action Network to launch GolfBet, a first-of-its-kind, golf-focused betting content platform.

7. Coronavirus: Alarmism flies on social media

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Many of the coronavirus stories getting shared the most on social media are packaged to drive fear rather than build understanding about the illness, Axios' Neal Rothschild and I write from NewsWhip data.

Why it matters: Social media greases and amplifies dramatic headlines, while more functional or nuanced information gets squashed.

  • Case-in-point: Some of the top-performing articles on social media featured largely debunked claims, such as that the coronavirus came from bats and that it might have leaked from a laboratory.

The big picture: New research from scientists at Northeastern University suggests that contagions can spread faster in some cases due to misinformation spreading online. 

  • "A link between social contagions and real biological contagions are a feature of modern outbreaks because of misinformation and fake news," says Samuel Scarpino, a business professor of network science at Northeastern University College of Science. 

Go deeper.

8. 1 last thing: Why labeling bad content gets tricky

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook have struggled with ways label misinformation without appearing biased or without baiting users to game the system.

Why it matters: It may seem obvious that tech companies should let users know when something is false, but sometimes, calling out false content can have unintended consequences.

Driving the news: Twitter on Sunday placed a "manipulated media" label on an edited video of 2020 candidate Joe Biden delivering a speech. It appeared to be the first time Twitter used that label to call out a visual that it considers to have been doctored with the intention of manipulating users.

  • The video was originally tweeted by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted by President Trump.
  • Conservative personalities immediately jumped to Scavino's defense, saying the video wasn't manipulated, only slightly edited.
  • Some asserted that Twitter has in the past not labeled videos as being manipulative when other campaigns have edited them selectively, although the company's policy wouldn't have been applied to any video before March 5.

Our thought bubble: Often when a platform labels something as manipulated or false, its label is weaponized or slammed for being used in a biased manner.

  • For example, Facebook said in 2017 it would no longer use "Disputed Flags" — red flags next to fake news articles — to identify fake news for users, because academic research showed they didn't work and they often have the reverse effect of making people want to click more.