Jun 25, 2019

Axios Media Trends

By Sara Fischer
Sara Fischer

Thanks for subscribing to Media Trends. Tell friends to follow along by signing up here.

Today's newsletter is 1691 words, a ~6 minute read.

Situational awareness: Disney has extended its summer winning streak with a healthy opening for "Toy Story 4." Disney Studios has earned nearly 40% of all box office revenue this year.

1 big thing: Big Tech helps advertisers avoid its shady side

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The world’s biggest tech companies have found a new way for marketers to buy video ads that won’t show up next to shady user-generated content.

  • Companies like YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are all building virtual fences around premium video content, and allowing advertisers to target ads solely against vetted material, most created by media publishers.

Why it matters: For a while, advertisers shifted digital budgets away from more expensive ads on premium publisher websites and TV, to cheaper ads at scale on tech platforms, because it was efficient.

  • But that strategy is changing in response to problems posed by running ads against unvetted user-generated content.

What it looks like: Tech platforms are charging advertisers more to run ads within pools of vetted videos. Advertisers, in turn, can be assured that their ads don't run against things like terrorist content or hate speech.

  • Twitter's Head of Global Client Solutions Sarah Personette told Axios earlier this month at an Axios Media Trends event that the company has rolled out solutions for advertisers to reach audiences at scale, while remaining around vetted premium content. "If advertisers want to reach a Latin audience and get in front of only Univision content, they can do it," she said.
  • Snapchat was pitching a new ad-buying product called Snap Select at Cannes last week, Digiday's Kerry Flynn reports. "The product lets advertisers buy ads exclusively in Snap’s premium content, as in its shows and vetted publishing partners, rather than between content from Snap users."
  • Facebook this year debuted "Showcase," an ad-buying program that allows advertisers to buy ads only around premium video content from publishers in its "Watch" video tab.
  • YouTube is becoming more attractive to ad agencies, which have begun creating their own lists of pre-approved, premium content for advertisers to place ads around, Digiday's Lucinda Southern reports. YouTube has also added more videos to its "Google Preferred" program, which allows advertisers to buy video ad packages around premium content.

Be smart: The big complaint about buying ads this way is that they mimic the buying strategy of television. Advertisers can choose a show, channel or content type to run their ads around, but they can't always target ads by user.

The bottom line: Platforms can fund all the original content that they want, but it will be very hard to scale these types of opportunities without licensing content from publishers.

  • This has begun to improve the market dynamic between tech companies and media companies from where it was a few years ago, when platforms made money off users sharing publisher content that they didn't have to license.
2. Scoop: BuzzFeed Chairman stepping down

Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch

BuzzFeed Chairman Ken Lerer is stepping down after overseeing the viral internet publisher for over 10 years, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Under Lerer and CEO Jonah Peretti's leadership, BuzzFeed has grown to become one of the largest digital-native publications in the world.

  • It's redefined online publishing as a business and has pioneered news coverage of internet culture and trends.

Details: Lerer informed the BuzzFeed board that he would officially step down last Thursday.

  • Lerer's departure is personal, sources said. He is stepping down to pursue other projects, as he feels the publication has reached a stage of maturity.
  • The board has not yet decided if it will name a new chair. according to sources familiar with the matter.

Between the lines: Lerer departs as BuzzFeed is undergoing major changes to sustain its growth, including layoffs, and new product launches.

What's next: BuzzFeed is the second board that Lerer has exited in order to focus on his venture fund, Lerer Hippeau Ventures. Lerer exited Viacom's board early last year.

Go deeper.

Note: Lerer Hippeau is an investor in Axios.

3. Exclusive: LinkedIn goes niche

Linkedin will today announce algorithm changes made over the past 12-18 months to favor conversations in its Feed that cater to niche professional interests, as opposed to elevating viral content, its executives tell Axios.

Driving the news: Users may have noticed their notifications or engagements on LinkedIn have increased lately.

  • It's done this in part, because internal research found that participation wasn't even across the platform, and that much of the attention in on LinkedIn was skewed towards the top 1% of power users, according to Tim Jurka, Director of Artificial Intelligence at LinkedIn.

The big picture: News feeds that were fundamentally built to connect one voice to many people are struggling to deliver on value as communication trends move to more personal and ephemeral conversations.

Changes include:

  • Elevating content users are most likely to join in conversation.
  • Elevating a post from someone closer to a users' interests or network if it needs more engagement, not if it's already going viral.
  • Elevating conversations with things that encourage a response (like opinions commentary), as well as posts that use mentions and hashtags.
  • Elevating niche topics of conversation will perform better than broad ones.
  • When it comes to length, LinkedIn says its algorithm doesn’t favor any particular format, despite rumors that it does.

Be smart: If this sounds familiar, it's because LinkedIn is the latest social network to change its feed algorithm to get people to engage more, instead of just passively scroll through the app and website.

Go deeper.

4. The "Trump slump"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Top news executives tell Axios that a real Trump slump is hitting digital, cable and more.

Why it matters: The shock factor around Trump's unplanned announcements, staff departures, taunting tweets and erratic behavior is wearing off, and media companies are scrambling to find their next big money-maker.

  • Executives tell Axios that Trump fatigue is very real: Interest in political coverage overall is down, which is spurring investments in other beats, like technology and the global economy.

Be smart: 2020 Democrats don't have a knock-out media star to drive interest in the election. To date, the Democrats' biggest media attraction has been Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who isn't running for president.

Read the full piece.

5. Scoop: Pod guys also become poll guys

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Crooked Media, a progressive political media company known for its "Pod Save America" podcast series, is launching a polling partnership with progressive polling firm Change Research, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The partnership marks an expansion into content that’s not totally opinion-based.

  • Crooked Media has traditionally focused on commentary and opinion, and hopes the polls will provide a boost in the lead-up to the 2020 election

Details: The two companies have struck a deal to produce 12 polls between now and the end of the 2020 cycle.

  • The first poll will debut ahead of this week's first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday, June 25th. The second will debut shortly after.
  • The polling franchise will be called "PollerCoaster 2020," and will feature some reaction polls to events like debates, as well as long-term trend polling.
  • Crooked Media’s programming will incorporate data insights gleaned from the polling. The polls will cover issues ranging from what messages resonate with voters to trends that are emerging among millennials.

Be smart: "Everyone should be more cautious in 2020 about what the polls can tell us and what they can't," Axios managing editor David Nather writes in a handy 2020 election poll guide.

6. News magazines struggle, brand magazines rise

Over the past year, a record number of news magazines have shuttered or reduced circulation, with others going for fire-sale prices.

Driving the news: Texas Monthly, the acclaimed news magazine, is exploring a sale, the Financial Times reports.

  • The sale comes on the heels of the shuttering of Money's print edition, the termination of ESPN Magazine's print edition, and the sale of Sports Illustrated to a brand development company.

Meanwhile, brands continue to create new magazines as marketing vehicles. Netflix, Bumble and Net-a-Porter have all begun investing in magazines this year.

Why it matters: Print isn’t dead, but it’s leaning into its aspirational roots by becoming a luxury good.

  • Yes, but: Many media companies, especially beauty and fashion brands, are leaning into the marketing material trend, printing thicker, more high-quality magazines quarterly, and leveraging those publications as opportunities to expand their brands, not necessarily make print ad money.
7. Privacy concerns grow with Smart TVs
Expand chart
Adapted from a chart by Comscore OTT Intelligence, March 2019; Chart: Axios Visuals

Of all the hardware options consumers can use to access over-the-top television, Smart TVs are experiencing the highest level of growth, according to Comscore's latest State of OTT presentation.

Why it matters: Smart TVs face the same data privacy vulnerabilities as other internet-connected devices.

  • A tweet from Samsung last week (which was later removed) asked users to regularly scan Samsung Smart TVs for viruses. It wasn't the first time Smart TVs were the subject of privacy scares. The FTC fined Vizio in 2017 for collecting viewing data on 11 million TVs without users' knowledge.
  • The big picture: As Smart TVs become cheaper to produce, manufacturers are replacing standard TVs with ones that are internet-connected, similar to how standard mobile phone usage quickly pivoted to smart phone usage beginning about 11 years ago.

1 fun thing: Comscore attributes a vast amount of smart TV growth to Roku, as more TV hardware providers are using Roku's new operating system (OS) to power their smart TVs. Last year, Roku's operating system was featured in 15% of smart TVs. That number has increased to 25% this year, according to Comscore.

8. 1 fun thing: Gen Z's chose your own adventures

Years ago, "choose your own adventure books" were all the rage for young millennials. Today, Gen Z has taken the concept of "choosing your own adventure," or interactive storytelling, to a whole new level.

Driving the news: A Twitter thread featuring a chose your own adventure tale about Beyonce has gone viral.

  • The thread allows users to chose how they would spend a day in the life as Beyonce's assistant, including binary choices about how they would feed and entertain her, trying not to get fired.

The big picture: The "choose your own adventure" concept has penetrated everything from books, to movies to TV shows.

  • Netflix has been doubling down on interactive storytelling, and plans to expand its "choose our own adventure" content library, after first debuting the capability in late 2018 for "Bandersnatch."
  • YouTube is also developing some of its own "choose your own adventure" programming, Bloomberg reports.
  • NBCUniversal and Endless Entertainment launched an interactive storytelling mobile game in April called "Series: Your Story Universe."

Yes, but: Interactive storytelling requires a dramatic increase in production budgets, making it unlikely the trend continues to expand in a major way in the entertainment sector at this point.

  • Our thought bubble: Expect to see more gaming companies leverage storylines from entertainment companies to build out more compelling storylines within interactive games.
Sara Fischer