Dec 11, 2018

Axios Media Trends

By Sara Fischer
Sara Fischer

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Situational awareness: Ad giant WPP announces today that it will cut 3,500 jobs worldwide to restructure, per the FT.

  • Thomson Reuters also announced last week that it would cut 12% of its workforce.
1 big thing: India is the next media battleground

Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

As tensions with China grow deeper, media giants could look to further ties in India, where the mobile economy is booming.

Why it matters: India is one of the fastest-growing internet markets in the world. But few consumers have the disposable income to pay for multiple services, which will make it hard for some companies to conquer the country.

The big picture: Western tech and media companies have been expanding their presence in India to take advantage of and cover the growing economy.

  • News companies, like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and NPR have expanded staff or products in India over the past few years to cover the growth story.
  • Tech companies like Google and Facebook, which serve as big distributors of information in India, have pushed to expand internet access in the region to increase the internet population. Google launched its "The next billion users" plan to conquer India last year. Facebook's "Free Basics" program was rejected by regulators in 2015.
  • From a social media perspective, Google is now looking to take on Facebook's social media and messaging dominance in India with a new hyper-local social network called Neighbourly. Amazon officially rolled out its social e-commerce site Spark in India last week.
  • India will remain the fastest-growing video market, per Media Partners Asia.
  • Companies like Netflix, Amazon and Spotify are all looking at ways to better penetrate the region, including consider cheaper pricing tiers, and creating dedicated Hindi-language versions of programming.
  • But YouTube is still the most popular streamer in the country. It's grown so big that one of India’s largest record labels is expected to surpass the most-subscribed-to YouTube channel in the world.

Between the lines: India is a much more lenient entry-point than China from a regulatory perspective. But recent U.S.-China trade tensions could be driving India to start erecting new barriers to U.S. companies.

  • "It was only recently that the Indian government began to think about things like having Silicon Valley companies store specific data such as payment transaction info in locally stored servers," says Manish Singh, a tech reporter in New Delhi who contributes to CNBC and VentureBeat.
  • India's slow middle class growth means fewer internet users are willing to pay for subscription services.
  • Cash payments have been used by Indian internet upstarts to drive transactions, says Ravi Agrawal, Managing Editor of Foreign Policy.
  • "Indians don't trust credit cards and generally don't like to pay online. There's a local distrust of digital commerce — for now at least," says Agrawal.
  • Language barriers also presented a barrier to digital growth in India, which hosts hundreds of dialects and over 20 official languages. Today, voice technologies and artificial intelligence help bring down those barriers to entry, though there are still difficulties with content production.

Be smart: Twenty-first Century Fox-owned TV streaming company Hotstar is by far the biggest over-the-top TV provider in India with roughly 100 million subscribers, followed by Voot, which is jointly-owned by Viacom and Mumbai's TV18.

2. India ... by the numbers

With nearly 500 million internet users and roughly 530 million smartphone users, India is the second-largest online and smartphone market in the world next to China.

Expand chart
Adapted from eMarketer; Chart: Axios Visuals

Unlike the largely saturated North American digital market, India still has room to grow.

  • Roughly 40% of the country's total population is using smartphones and is accessing the internet.
  • The number of internet users is expected to roughly double over the next four years, according to Cisco's latest Virtual Networking Index.

Internet adoption is driving unprecedented advertising growth in India. This is especially because internet users in India are less reluctant to pay for subscriptions and are more comfortable with paying for content via data-based ads.

  • India will be the third-biggest contributor to ad spend growth globally between 2018 and 2021, according to a new report from global media agency Zenith.
3. Exclusive: Cheddar to launch in AR on Magic Leap devices

Cheddar, the streaming news service for millennials, and Magic Leap, a mixed reality company, are teaming up to put Cheddar's two live news networks on Magic Leap One augmented reality devices.

Why it matters: These will be the first live news channels made available in mixed reality to all Magic Leap One owners.

The big picture: The move is part of a bigger trend of media companies pushing to try new forms of distribution.

  • "Think about how many people are watching TV while also browsing something at the same time. I think this gives us a platform to potentially marry the two," says Cheddar's lead mobile engineer, Stephanie Lo.

Yes, but: The idea is meant to be a seed project that's being built far ahead of commercial applicability, mostly for buzz and experimentation. Magic Leap is only available now via a very pricey developer version, so the audience for the news channels will be small at first.

"In my three years running the company, I've always been focusing on generating revenue and getting carriage on big systems. I wanted to do one R&D project. I think a media company like us needs to have one long-term bet. A lot of other media companies can only see ahead to the next quarter. I'm trying to think a few years away."
— Cheddar CEO and founder Jon Steinberg

Between the lines: Cheddar and Magic Leap share an investor in AT&T. Both companies focus on the future of content distribution.

By the numbers: Steinberg says Cheddar will bring in about $30 million in top-line revenue this year and will be profitable by the end of next year. "We'll lose $4 million roughly and as of today, after acquisitions, we have $30 million in bank, with a vast majority of that being in cash."

Go deeper.

4. Google on defense

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

After months of dodging requests to testify on Capitol Hill, Google's CEO is finally taking his turn in the hot seat, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: Pichai will face tough questions from both Democrats and Republicans on the committee on a wide range of issues during the hearing, exposing him to the same grandstanding anger Congress directed at execs from Facebook and Twitter earlier this year.

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai will tell lawmakers Tuesday that the company takes user privacy seriously, doesn't bake political bias into its products and is proud to work with the United States government, according to his prepared testimony posted by the House Judiciary Committee.

Be smart: Google walks into Tuesday's hearing with two new headaches:

  1. Google announced Monday it will accelerate the planned shutdown of its Google+ social networking service after discovering a bug that made it possible for developers to access private information on millions of users.
  2. A year after YouTube’s chief executive promised to curb “problematic” videos, it continues to harbor and even recommend hateful, conspiratorial videos, allowing racists, anti-Semites and proponents of other extremist views to use the platform as an online library for spreading their ideas, a Washington Post investigation has found.
5. Mobile ad tech is out, TV ad tech is in

Two years ago, every tech platform was pushing to explain how great their ad tech was ahead of the Q4 holiday season. This year ... crickets.

Why it matters: Amid privacy concerns, tech companies have been less forward about all of the ways they target users online.

  • Case-in-point: A new New York Times investigation shows how dozens of apps collect, analyze and sell users’ anonymous location data to third party companies, although the data is anonymous in theory.

The other side: That hasn't necessarily been the case for TV ad tech giants, who are pushing to find innovative ways to make boring TV ads more relevant.

  • AT&T and Hulu are both planning ad products for their streaming services that will activate when users hit pause on their favorite shows during bathroom or snack breaks, Variety's Brian Steinberg reports.
6. 1 fun thing: "QVC for millennials"

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A slew of companies are working to marry millennials’ affinities for online video and shopping, and capitalize on their arrival as the most populous generation, Axios Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Driving the news: A number of startups are tackling the challenge of marrying these trends, each from a different angle.

Yes, but: Home shopping giants QVC and HSN aren’t giving up on millennials just yet. The companies, both owned by Qurate Retail Group, are making changes to the products and brands they sell and adopting online streaming and social media to reach younger audiences.

Go deeper.

Sara Fischer