Nov 17, 2020

Axios Media Trends

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  • Worthy event: The second virtual event in our yearlong series on systemic racism is today at 12:30 p.m. ET. Register here

Situational awareness:

  1. Cinemark and Universal agreed to shorten the historic 90-day theatrical window to either 17 or 31 days for most movies. It follows a similar pact struck by AMC in July.
  2. AT&T finally struck a deal to distribute HBO Max on Amazon Fire devices and Prime Video Channels. Roku is now the only TV platform that doesn't carry HBO Max.
  3. Twitter unveiled "fleets," which are basically Snapchat stories for people who tweet. (Everyone's doing it)
1 big thing: COVID cases spiking, but our attention is waning
Data: Newswhip, The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Ahead of Thanksgiving travel, new coronavirus cases in the U.S. have never been higher, and online interest in the pandemic has never been lower, according to data from NewsWhip provided to Axios.

  • Why it matters: The novelty of the virus has long worn off with half a year passed since our lives were upended. But the health risks haven't gone anywhere, Axios' Neal Rothschild and I write.

By the numbers: Over the last two weeks, news articles about the pandemic have generated 75 million interactions on social media (likes, comments, shares), according to NewsWhip Data.

  • The last time it was that low over a two-week stretch was in early March, pre-quarantine.
  • Interactions peaked as Americans entered lockdowns and adapted to working and learning from home. It has declined since then, save for an uptick when cases surged in June.

Sign of the times: Even President Trump getting infected in October only led to a relatively modest bump in interest.

The big picture: Lower interest — not less media coverage — is responsible for the lower engagement.

  • The number of news articles published about coronavirus are comparable to the level of coverage when cases spiked in June and July.
  • The 174 interactions per article last week are the lowest they've ever been during the pandemic.
  • Similarly, mentions of "coronavirus" and "COVID-19" have remained consistently high on cable news over the past eight months.

The bottom line: Sociologists argue that one reason that the public has perhaps become more apathetic towards media coverage about the virus because it's become too redundant and often, alarmist.

  • The media is "overproducing the article of the day,"said Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC professor and prominent sociologist and writer, on the recent Recode Media podcast.
  • "We end up in an environment in which people don't trust the media as much."
2. The race to out-Fox Fox

Newsmax's Greg Kelly compared President Trump to Rocky Balboa last night.

A new class of conservative outlets and networks is racing to capture the attention of disgruntled Trump voters, who feel abandoned by traditional news companies and censored by social media, Axios' Mike Allen and I write.

  • Why it matters: Fox News, for years, has been criticized for polarizing coverage. Now, there’s a race unfolding among several conservative outlets who don’t think Fox is pro-Trump enough.

By the numbers: In the days after the election, conservative favorites like Breitbart, Drudge Report and Real Clear Politics began to lose traffic share to Newsmax and the Gateway Pundit, according to data from web analytics company SimilarWeb.

  • Last week, Newsmax overtook Breitbart to become the most visited right-leaning news site.
  • TV ratings for Newsmax have surged — marquee host Greg Kelly has recently drawn as many as 1 million viewers a night — as President Trump continues to urge followers to abandon Fox News.

Chris Ruddy — who founded Newsmax in 1998, and took his channel to cable in 2015 — tells Mike that a flood of defections followed Fox News' early decision to call Arizona (accurately) for Joe Biden, which infuriated Trump.

  • "It felt like it was an earthquake on election night," Ruddy said in a 40-minute interview. "The walls have been breached."

Fox News has led cable ratings for nearly two decades, and continues to beat its cable rivals after the election, especially in prime time.

  • Fox News sees its competition as the broadcast networks, with wins in prime time since Memorial Day.
  • OANN has a tiny audience — hardly comparable to Newsmax, let alone Fox.

Between the lines: Fox News, as a successor to its "Democracy 2020" election branding, is now deploying the slogan "Standing Up For What's Right" in prime-time chyrons.

  • The New York Post last week printed a cover last week with a triumphant picture of Joe Biden, alluding to his victory being official.
  • The Wall Street Journal printed an op-ed last week saying "if defeat comes, [Trump] will serve himself and his country best by honoring America’s democratic traditions and leaving office with dignity."

The big picture: Tech platforms are facing a similar reckoning as Fox News, as conservatives flee Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for less-regulated alternatives like Parler and Rumble.

Go deeper.

3. Exclusive: Dotdash lands nationwide commerce deal with Lowe's


The Spruce, one of the largest home decor websites on the internet, is launching its own organization product line in every Lowe's store in the country, executives tell Axios.

  • Why it matters: It's a major step for Dotdash, the parent company to The Spruce, in its effort to move into e-commerce. To-date, Dotdash has been profitable by focusing on internet advertising around evergreen content.

Details: The Spruce Organization Collection was developed by The Spruce's editorial team and housewares design company iDesign in partnership with Lowe’s.

  • The deal includes a revenue share, whereby Lowe's pays Dotdash a percentage for each sale. Spruce's branding and logo will be on all products and boxes.

Between the lines: This isn't Dotdash's first foray into commerce, but it's certainly its biggest.

  • In the future, Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel says it's looking to launch products for floor coverings and rugs, laundry, soft goods and potentially beauty.

The big picture: The pandemic has pushed internet publishers to more seriously consider commerce as a part of their strategies.

Go deeper: Share this story

4. Instagram cautiously considers paying publishers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Instagram is mulling plans to pay publishers on its platform as it grows as a news and information source for users, sources tell Axios. 

Why it matters: Publishers are frustrated that prior monetization talks have been tabled from the second half of this year to an unknown date. 

Driving the news: Instagram plans to include select publishers in its next test in coming months for paying creators, sources say.

  • The company is still mulling a plan to create a revenue share program with publishers for IGTV ads, but it's moving slower than initially anticipated.
  • In the interim, it's beginning to experiment with opportunities to pay publishers to make content. The app has brokered some select partnerships with publishers in one-off cases where content is paid for, including new paid content partnerships with Buzzfeed and ATTN:
  • Other publishers have carve-outs for Instagram written into their contracts with Instagram parent Facebook, sources tell Axios.

Sources say Instagram is being cautious about how it rolls monetization out for publishers, given that it's still trying to figure out how to share revenue with creators writ large.

  • In the past, publishers have complained about being bait and switched by Facebook via rushed deals. Instagram wants to avoid that headache.

Go deeper.

5. Exclusive: Listory launch

Listory, a newsletter curation app created within the content recommendation company Outbrain, is launching this week, executives tell Axios.

  • Listory was founded in March 2020 by Outbrain executives Yaniv Gilad, Listory's CEO, and Yaron Galai, its Active Chairman, after completing a management buyout from Outbrain.

Why it matters: As the newsletter craze expands, it makes sense that entrepreneurs are looking for ways to help users streamline their inboxes.

  • The company has raised $4 million in seed funding round led by Viola Ventures, Globis Capital and Rhodium. It currently has 7 full-time employees.
  • It currently has more than 1,000 newsletters featured within Listory.
  • Listory has a free version, as well as a premium subscription that costs $5 a month. The premium version offers users advanced curation and reading features and an ad-free experience.
  • The company plans to make money through a mix of ad and subscription revenue.

Yes, but: Paywalled newsletters aren't being featured on Listory because the app can't get their content.

What's next: The goal is eventually for Listory to build a way to help paid newsletters monetize while gaining more subscribers and readers.

Go deeper.

6. Election post-mortem: No foreign meddling, polls needed context

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With political polls looking less reliable, newsrooms are increasingly turning to internet trends, demographics and local news in an effort to crack America’s baffling political code.

  • It's "well past the time to start realizing that what people say on Facebook and in comments sections is what they actually mean," Ben Collins, a reporter on the "dystopia" beat for NBC News, tells Axios.

The big picture: Big Tech feels it did a much better job than in 2016 at deflecting foreign meddling and disinformation, even as critics point out new failures and President Trump's refusal to concede has laid new challenges in their path.

  • Overall, tech did a good job of deterring foreign interference, but still struggled to deal with misinformation, especially around voter fraud and false accusations of rigged elections.

What's next: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

What to watch: Following the election, Facebook and YouTube both put out statements urging people to evaluate their ability to limit the reach of misinformation, not necessarily the engagement with individual stories.

  • Facebook, for example, said that only 6% of the content its users see is political, although it wouldn't say how it defines "political" content.
  • Look for tech executives today to make this same argument at the hearing.
7. Streaming becomes lifeline for struggling entertainment giants
Data: Company filings; Note: HBO Max numbers include only the number of paid subscribers that have activated their HBO Max app subscriptions. Many more people  pay for HBO via their cable subscriptions, but have yet to activate the HBO Max app that comes with their cable subscription; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Disney's stock skyrocketed Thursday after the company reported a whopping 73.7 million paid Disney+ subscriber additions in its first year — a number that beat even its own ambitious streaming goals.

Why it matters: The fortuitous timing of the launch of Disney+ a year ago has saved the entertainment giant from economic disaster amid the coronavirus.

  • AT&T also said it beat its media subscriber goals for last quarter. The company now has 38 million HBO and HBO Max subscribers combined.
  • Comcast reported its best quarter in history for broadband signups last quarter.

What to watch: Nielsen is stepping up its efforts to be the premier measurement authority for streaming. The company recently announced a deal to add 55 million devices across smart TVs and set-top boxes to bolster its measurement capabilities around of digital TV and streaming.

Go deeper: Earnings breakdown

8. Podcast wars heat up

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Spotify's $235 million acquisition of podcast monetization company Megaphone is the latest in an acquisition frenzy that's stirring up the podcast industry.

Why it matters: The past year has seen several key companies invest hundreds of millions in podcast acquisitions, including Spotify, iHeartMedia, Apple, SiriusXM and others.

What's next: There are still a few independent podcast companies, like Wondery, that are likely to get acquired as the podcast industry continues to consolidate.

Share this story.

9. 1 virtual thing: Professional conference blitz

Reuters will launch a major conference called Reuters Next, which it hopes will be one of the biggest and most ambitious leadership summits in the world, executives tell Axios.

  • The January event is part of its new business line called "Reuters Professional," which will include news, analysis and events for decision-makers. It will bring together over 25,000 executives virtually.

The big picture: Media giants are swarming the professional events space, even as the pandemic forces most events to go virtual.

  • Bloomberg will host its New Economy Forum conference, aimed at global professionals, this week.
  • The Milken Institute Global Conference was held virtually in late October.
  • The World Economic Forum in Davos has been moved to Lucerne and will occur in May instead of January. It will include a hybrid of virtual and physical events.

Go deeper.