Feb 9, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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Situational awareness:

  1. Super Bowl ratings fell from last year: Super Bowl LV was watched by 96.4 million viewers, down from 102 million in 2020, according to Nielsen.
  2. Fox News filed a motion to dismiss Smartmatic's $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit.
  3. Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott signed a new, multi-year contract.
1 big thing: Publishers flock to the open web

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After years of focusing on producing content for the latest app, investors, tech leaders and newsrooms are starting to pay renewed attention to the open web, Axios' Scott Rosenberg and I write.

The big picture: The open web is content that's accessible via any web browser, easily linked to, and doesn't require logging in. It’s winning new attention as "walled garden" apps like Facebook face scrutiny for dominance around online distribution and monetization of content.

Driving the news: WordPress VIP (WPVIP), the enterprise arm of WordPress.com, is acquiring Parse.ly, a content analytics platform that's used by thousands of digital publishers.

  • Both are built for publishers on the open web.

Other tech leaders are toying with ways to revitalize publishing on the open web as a means for content creators to retain independence and control and users.

  • The Washington Post has built a suite of ad tools called Zeus Technology to help publishers and advertisers on the open web compete for ad dollars with big tech firms like Google and Facebook.
  • Twitter recently posted an update to its Bluesky project, which is aimed at developing open protocols for a decentralized, Twitter-like social network.
  • Automattic, WordPress' parent, raised $300 million two years ago in a round led by Salesforce to invest further in open web technologies and platforms.

Catch up quick: Today's "open web" is really just the original World Wide Web itself — conceived 30 years ago, popularized in the '90s, driver of both the dotcom-era boom and the Web 2.0 renaissance of the mid 2000s.

What's next: Many open web projects today involve decentralization schemes based on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies to route around big companies and fund publishing efforts in new ways.

  • There have been dozens of projects, but none have yet gone mainstream.
2. The media doesn't own publishing anymore
Data: Parse.ly; Chart: Axios Visuals

A growing number of new web publishers aren't traditional media companies, but rather corporate marketers setting up blogs and websites to lure potential customers with content.

Why it matters: Content marketing is as old as time, but the pandemic has finally pushed thousands of companies to begin embracing the tactic online.

  • The data provided to Axios from Parse.ly and Wordpress VIP represents new customers that both Parse.ly and WPVIP have added over the last 3 years. 
  • The total is over 400 combined new customers added. 

Be smart: Niche media content is becoming a powerful customer acquisition tool and retention tool. As a result, more brands are buying content companies.

  • Last week I reported that HubSpot, a publicly-traded sales and marketing software company, is acquiring The Hustle, an email newsletter and content company targeted at entrepreneurs and small business owners.
  • Penn National, a casino operator, invested $163 million in Barstool Sports for a 36% equity stake. Its ownership presumably will help it lure sports bettors.
3. Scoop: Bloomberg Media expects 9-figure consumer subscription biz
Data: Bloomberg sources; Chart: Axios Visuals

Bloomberg Media is expecting at least $100 million in 2021 consumer subscription revenue, according to an internal memo sent to staff from CEO Justin Smith.

Why it matters: Prior to the launch of its consumer digital subscription business three years ago, Bloomberg LP made pretty much all of its subscription money from enterprise subscriptions to the Bloomberg Terminal.

  • "We see a clear path toward making subscriptions a nine-figure business in 2021, following a 135% revenue increase in 2020," Smith writes in the memo.

By the numbers: Bloomberg Media expects to approach 400,000 consumer subscriptions in 2021, up from roughly 250,000 in 2020.

  • The Bloomberg Terminal has around 325,000 customers, with annual subscriptions costing at least $20,000. (The Terminal business is worth around $10 billion.)
  • The annual consumer subscription to Bloomberg Media is about $415 per year, barring any deals or discounts.
  • Bloomberg Media has introduced subscription bundles with niche media outlets like the The Information and The Athletic for cheaper upfront costs.

Between the lines: The launch of niche verticals over the past year have helped to bolster subscriptions.

  • The company plans to build on its niche vertical strategy with the expansion of Bloomberg Equality this year.

The big picture: Subscriptions are becoming more important for digital media companies as digital advertising flows from publishers to big tech companies.

  • According to the memo, Bloomberg Media hasn't seen its ad business lose much momentum, despite industry headwinds during the pandemic.

Go deeper: More from the memo

4. Clubhouse gains momentum

Recent appearances from Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk on Clubhouse are bringing attention to the venture-backed audio social network, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva and I write.

  • Clubhouse has been downloaded about 4.7 million times since September — all but 1 million of those since the end of later year, according to Apptopia.
  • The company recently raised around $100 million in Series B funding led by existing investor Andreessen Horowitz at a $1 billion post-money valuation.

There were early concerns that it was too exclusive to Silicon Valley's best-connected and homogeneous insiders, mirroring trends in the tech industry at large.

  • Users from a slew of industries and communities, including many celebrities, have since joined the app.
  • The company said last month it plans to compensate some users who create and lead conversations while it also experiments with revenue models.
  • Clubhouse is reportedly already being blocked in China.
  • Early Clubhouse investor Katie Stanton tells Axios' Dan Primack says the model is "scalable."

The big picture: Apps centered around audio are booming.

  • Billionaire investor Mark Cuban is co-founding a podcast app "where hosts can talk to fans live and monetize their conversations," The Verge reports.
  • Twitter last year started testing Spaces, a feature similar to Clubhouse.

Between the lines: The ubiquity of AirPods and other hands-free smart devices have made audio-first companies more attractive to venture capital.

🎧 Also in audio: Spotify has tripled number of podcasts in past year to 2.2 million

  • The word "podcast" was said 47 times on Spotify's earnings call last week.
  • The word "music" was said 10 times.
5. Reddit is now worth $6 billion
Data: News reports; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Reddit said Monday that it raised more than $250 million in Series E funding from existing and new investors. Sources say the company raised the new funding at a $6 billion pre-money valuation.

Why it matters: The company has doubled its valuation since its last funding round of $300 million at a $3 billion valuation in 2019.

Be smart: It's a great time for Reddit to raise money. The company is experiencing record downloads and traffic amid the populist revolution on Wall Street that was seeded by retail investors on Reddit.

Go deeper: How Reddit explains the GameStop saga

Bonus: Rebellion rush
Data: Sensor Tower; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
6. Vaccine misinformation crackdown comes too late

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook on Monday became the latest in a run of tech firms and media outlets taking action to stem the tide of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, but experts worry the scramble to limit vaccination skepticism may be too little, too late, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and I report.

Why it matters: "With all of these press releases, what we don't understand is, how is it actually going to be operationalized?" says Claire Wardle, the U.S. director of anti-misinformation nonprofit First Draft.

Driving the news: In a partial reversal from its previous position on vaccine misinformation, Facebook said Monday it will take tougher action during the pandemic against claims that vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, are not effective or safe.

  • Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and other platforms have also beefed up their anti-vaccination misinformation efforts in recent months.

Go deeper.

7. NYT eyes more games

Data: New York Times earnings reports; Chart: Axios Visuals

The New York Times is planning to double down on digital games, its CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said Thursday. In particular, it's looking to invest more in puzzles. 

Why it matters: Games have become a huge part of The Times' digital strategy over the past few years. The Grey Lady said Thursday it added 2.3 million digital-only subscribers last year, with about a third of those new adds going to its cooking, games and audio apps. 

"We think it’s a big market," Kopit Levien said.

  • The Times hired Jonathan Knight, a digital games veteran, as NYT Games general manager last year.
  • Kopit Levien noted that the company will focus more on puzzles in the future as a part of its games strategy, given the success of NYT Spelling Bee.
  • To date, most of its gaming engagement has come from its infamous NYT Crosswords app.

Go deeper: Trump era pushes NYT to new heights.

8. 1 fun thing: Real friends only

Snapchat on Tuesday rolled out a new feature reminding its users — the vast majority of which are under the age of 30 — to remove unwanted connections from their contact list.

Why it matters: While most social networks try to bait engagement by encouraging users to add as many new connections as possible, Snapchat wants to instead use this moment to remind users that “Snapchat is for Real Friends.”

Go deeper.