Axios Media Trends

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March 17, 2020

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  • Today's Media Trends is 1,903 words, a 7 minute read.

Situational awareness: Facebook says it's giving away $100 million to help 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries during the coronavirus outbreak, COO Sheryl Sandberg said this morning.

1 big thing: Coronavirus forces Hollywood into uncharted territory

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The traditional buffer that protects movie theaters from being undercut by streaming may be temporarily collapsing as Hollywood tries to salvage releases that would've otherwise been lost during the coronavirus epidemic.

Why it matters: The 90-day theatrical window — the period of time typically allocated to theaters to air movies exclusively before they go to streaming — gives theaters an edge over streaming services and helps them attract movie fans in-person.

  • But in recent years, new digital film studios, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have put pressure on theaters to reduce that window.

Driving the news: Universal Pictures, one of Hollywood's biggest traditional studios, announced yesterday that it will introduce a rollout strategy that's similar to a digital movie company, like Netflix — at least for the time being.

  • The studio said it would soon be making movies like "Trolls World Tour," "The Hunt," "The Invisible Man" and "Emma" available on-demand for a 48-hour rental period at the same time as they're in theaters.
  • “We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible,” NBCUniversal said Monday in a statement.

Our thought bubble: Even though box office experts anticipate that the window will eventually go back to normal after the pandemic is over, the swift move by Universal feels like it could be the first small step towards shifting distribution power from theaters to streamers.

  • "I think that eventually, when the movie theaters open, the habit of going to movies, that's going to come back," says Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
  • Still, theater executives would argue that it’s difficult to think of these efforts as breaking the theatrical window when theaters are technically closed.

What's next: Dergarabedian says that we should still expect people to want to experience many of the of high-profile franchises that have gotten pushed to the end of the year or 2021, in theaters after the virus settles.

  • In the interim, NBCUniversal says it will continue to evaluate the environment "as conditions evolve" and will "determine the best distribution strategy in each market when the current unique situation changes."

Go deeper.

2. Theaters, tanking

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Between the lines: Theaters around the globe are being forced to shut down due to coronavirus fears. Theater chain stock performance has taken a huge hit as a result.

  • Regal Cinemas said yesterday that it would close all U.S. theaters until further notice. Shortly after, AMC Theaters said it would close all of its U.S. locations for 6-12 weeks beginning today.
  • In many of the U.S.'s biggest cities, including New York and Los Angeles, state officials have mandated that movie theaters shut down.

By the numbers: North American box office revenues hit a 20-year low this past weekend, in light of the widespread coronavirus that's impacting theater attendance and movie releases.

  • Overall, The Hollywood Reporter estimates that the total North American Box Office hit could total to $20 billion due to the coronavirus.

Studios are beginning to halt production on major films and TV shows in order to protect employees from the virus spreading. Several Hollywood figures, including Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Idris Elba, have tested positive for the disease.

  • Others have pulled major films off of their schedules altogether.

What's next: Sources say that there's an increasing likelihood that almost all of the major theater chains will be closed within the week.

3. Coronavirus dwarfs election content online

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

News around the coronavirus pandemic is creating a huge bump in overall traffic for media publishers.

By the numbers: The explosion in total web traffic is "likely due to the explosion of COVID-19 coverage and attention -- as well as the fact that people were checking news/content sites with more frequency in this period," says Andrew Montalenti, Chief Product Officer at

  • Up to 15% of daily web traffic is to content explicitly mentioning coronavirus, according to data from traffic analytics company
  • Coronavirus views were 15x higher than 2020 U.S. Election content from March 6-12, per's Chief Product Officer Andrew Montalenti.
  • "We’ve seen overall attention (content views) throughout the network increase in the last few weeks, but especially so in the last several days," says Senior Market Analyst Kelsey Arendt.

Between the lines: Stories around social distancing, flattening the curve and travel restrictions seem to be driving the uptick in traffic.

Data:; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data:; Chart: Axios Visuals

Go deeper: How newsrooms are preparing for coronavirus while also covering it

4. Trump's radical reversal

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In light of the growing coronavirus crisis, President Trump has conceded that the media has actually done a good job covering the pandemic.

"I really think the media has been fair."
— Trump said in a press conference on Monday

Why it matters: For weeks, the president has blamed the media and the Democrats for trying to inflame the pandemic. Now, with America's economy, security and lives on the line, he's looking to get on the right side of history.

Reality check: Don't expect his attacks on the media to end just yet. Yesterday, the President tweeted that "The Times," referring to The New York Times, "is a disgrace to journalism!"

5. Conservatives push "Wuhan" and "Chinese" virus

Reproduced from DRFLab; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from DRFLab; Chart: Axios Visuals

Over the past few days there's been a noticeable uptick in conservatives using the terms "Wuhan virus" and "Chinese virus," according to a new report from The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: This is in opposition to guidance from the World Health Organization, which requested back in February that the epidemic be referred to as coronavirus or Covid-19, rather than terms that could stigmatize individuals with Chinese ancestry.

  • As the outbreak first entered the news cycle in mid-January, phrases such as “China Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” “Chinese Coronavirus,” and “Wuhan Coronavirus” were used widely.
  • But when the World Health Organization introduced the terminology "COVID-19," news outlets began to widely adopt it.

Driving the news:

  • March 7: Sec. of State Mike Pompeo’s appearance on CNBC and Fox and Friends resulted in an 800% increase in the phrase “Chinese Coronavirus,” per the report.
  • March 8: Increases in the use of the term "Wuhan Virus," — named for the region of the country where the virus first broke out — began to spike after U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), referred to coronavirus as “Wuhan virus” in a tweet.
  • March 9: House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy used the term “Chinese Coronavirus” in a tweet. President Trump subsequently retweeted Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, referring to the coronavirus as “China Virus,” a term he now uses more often. Trump has also referred to coronavirus as the "foreign virus."
  • Yesterday, Trump referred to the virus as the "Chinese Virus" in a tweet.

The big picture: Their language mimics the language used by the Trump administration to try to subtly frame other national security issues as problems created by foreigners.

Between the lines: Reports suggest that Chinese restaurants around the world are taking a hit all over the world.

6. Networks brace for a world without live sports

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Without live sports for the foreseeable future, it's unclear what networks like ESPN and FS1 will broadcast in those time slots or what they'll talk about on their studio shows and radio programs during the day, Axios' Kendall Baker writes.

Why it matters: With so many Americans nesting at home, linear TV viewership was expected to spike. But without sports, streaming platforms, video games and other mediums will likely be the big winners instead.

The big picture: A prolonged sports outage could lead to an acceleration in cord-cutting, while also wreaking havoc on the advertising industry.

  • "One of the only reasons to advertise on TV in 2020 is sports. If sports aren't being played, that's going to be a huge issue for the ad market that could literally lead to a tailspin," Rich Greenfield, media analyst at LightShed Partners, tells Axios.

Bonus: Betting without sports

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sportsbooks are flummoxed over what to do about the lack of sports events.

  • "These are unprecedented times to be sure," said Joe Asher, CEO of UK-based sportsbook operator William Hill, in an interview with Axios.

Why it matters: 2020 was supposed to be the year that sports betting really took off, with many more states expected to legalize betting in coming months.

Now that sports are being cancelled across the globe due to the coronavirus, sportsbook operators are looking for contingency plans.

  • "Obviously the timing was pretty bad, coming right before the NCAA tournament, and basketball and hockey being on hiatus," says Asher. "But this too shall pass."
  • "A lot of industries are being hit and this is one of those industries that's being disproportionately impacted."

What's next: Asher says that William Hill, like most companies, is focusing on making sure that its employees that work in casinos are safe.

  • From a business perspective, he says the company is focusing on sports that are not cancelled yet, or ones that are still being played without live audiences, like certain fights, rugby and Mexican soccer.

Yes, but: From a business perspective, Asher says William Hill isn't thinking big about esports from a betting perspective just yet.

  • "We've done a few esports things in the past and I think given this slowdown, it's something we'll look at, but it's modest in the overall scheme of things.

Go deeper: Media companies eye sportsbook partnerships to juice engagement

7. Exclusive: Facebook funding coronavirus coverage and fact-checking

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook will announce today two new efforts to help support newsrooms and fact-checkers in efforts to promote quality information about the coronavirus.

By the numbers: Facebook will donate $1 million to local newsrooms to help them cover the crisis and $1 million to fact-checkers' efforts reviewing news coverage for virus misinformation.

Why it matters: The tech giant is trying to be proactive in how it supports the news media in times of crisis.

Details: The Facebook Journalism Project is partnering with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association (LMA) to offer a total of $1 million in grants to local news outlets covering the coronavirus in North America.

  • The grants will help newsrooms cover unexpected costs associated with coronavirus reporting, such as tools to help local journalists work remotely and increases in coverage to inform communities about the virus' local spread.

Facebook is also launching a $1 million grant program to support fact-checkers during the coronavirus crisis in conjunction with Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).

  • Facebook already partners with fact-checkers certified by IFCN to do fact-checking.

Go deeper: How newsrooms are covering the crisis

8. Campaigns turn to texting

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Peer-to-peer (P2P) texting is experiencing a massive uptick in political campaigns throughout the country now that in-person campaign activities and forms of voter outreach are being suspended to protect public health, P2P experts and campaigns tell Axios.

Why it matters: Campaign tactics like rallies, town halls, phone banking and canvassing are becoming harder to do as officials urge people to quarantine themselves and stay at home due to the coronavirus outbreak, Axios' Stef Kight and I write.

Driving the news: "We're seeing an uptick in sign-ups," says Thomas Peters, founder and CEO of RumbleUp, a political P2P texting platform that enables volunteers to text voters, mostly for Republican campaigns. "Sign-ups are up about 200% in the last four days."

Campaigns are shifting their budgets to focus on campaigning via text message rather than in-person canvassing or having volunteers meet at phone banking centers, Peters said. "They can't have old people in a room making calls together, but people can text from home."

Read the full story.

9. 1 fun thing: Data viz helps flatten the curve

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The coronavirus epidemic can be difficult to visualize, but thanks to the incredible work from visual journalists in newsrooms across the country, more Americans are starting to understand how they can personally play a role in "flattening the curve," or helping to stop the spread of the virus.

Driving the news: One data visualization by Washington Post graphics reporter Harry Stevens, (an Axios alum), has become the most-read in the history of the Post's website, according to Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi.

  • The simulation of how the coronavirus spreads when different measures are being taken to control the virus has been all over social media.

Go deeper: Follow all of Axios' coronavirus data visualizations and coverage here.