December 04, 2018

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1 big thing: The media haves and have nots

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Local media consolidation and the rise of paywalls, both meant to combat a bleak ad outlook, could deepen the growing divide between America's information consumer haves and have nots.

Be smart: Most Americans prefer to get their news from television and local TV news is by far the most-watched form of TV news.

Driving the news: Nexstar Media Group has agreed to acquire Tribune Media for $4.1 billion, as first reported by Reuters and confirmed by Axios' Dan Primack. This would make Nexstar the largest owner of U.S. local television stations.

Why it matters: That gap is often defined by wealth and geography, rather than the public and reader interest.

"Increasingly, journalism serves as a powerful force for exclusion, for keeping quality information away from those who need it most, for discouraging anyone but the richest, most educated citizens from participating in the public conversation."
— Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media Culture, and Communication

The big picture: Nexstar's acquisition comes on the heels of changes in decades-old media ownership rules that apply to broadcasters and newspapers, which are combining with new types of competition in news and entertainment to creating incentives for consolidation.

  • A record number of newspaper sales and closures/mergers via the seven biggest newspaper investment owners have increased over the past five years.
  • Only 17% of local news stories in a community are actually local, meaning they're about or having taken place within a municipality, per a study from Duke earlier this year.
  • While more people say they are willing to pay for news, those with higher levels of education are more likely to do so, per a study from the American Press Institute.

Between the lines: Benson says finding ways to create a plurality in types of news ownership will help to decrease the growing information gap in the U.S.

The bottom line: There's a real news and information divide between rural and urban/suburban communities as well as between the poor and rich in the United States.

Go deeper: We break down these trends in our deep dive on the Digital Divide.

2. More new content, but also more garbage

Reproduced from an FX Networks Research report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos says his company invests in more original programming so that it doesn't have to be reliant on program suppliers, writes Stephen Battaglio for The L.A. Times.

  • “We’re much better off deciding our own destiny and making our own choices with the consumer in mind than with a bunch of competitors,” Sarandos said Monday at the UBS Global Media and Communications conference in NYC.

Why it matters: Most major distributors need to fight for scale, which means that for every good piece of content they produce, many more pieces of less quality content (especially for TV) is also produced, as The Economist explains.

  • By the numbers: Netflix is expected to produce roughly 700 original shows this year worldwide. In the U.S., it's been a large contributor to the massive amount of new original series being produced online. (See above.)
  • Yes, but: The amount of new programming can be overwhelming for consumers, and it also makes it harder for quality content to stand out online.

The good news: A slew of new laws and market conditions are beginning to swing the pendulum the other way — albeit slightly — and return at least some power back to original content owners. 

Go deeper.

3. Amazon eats into the Duopoly

Reproduced from eMarketer; Chart: Axios Visuals

Google and Facebook, often referred to as “The Duopoly,” were responsible for roughly 75% of all digital advertising growth last quarter in the United States, according to Brian Wieser, Senior Advertising Analyst at Pivotal Research.

  • While this seems high, the percentage share of growth of new ad dollars coming from these two firms has actually declined, mostly due to declines in growth projections at Facebook and increases in projections at Amazon.
  • eMarketer estimates that the Google and Facebook will capture 56.8% of the US digital ad market this year. That's down from 58.5% last year.

Between the lines: Wieser notes that if his estimates are correct, digital advertising that did not go through Facebook or Google performed reasonably well during first half of 2018, growing by around +18%, or ~$1.5 billion.

  • This is especially optimistic, considering the fact that Wieser calculated that in 2016 ”the average growth rate for every other company in the sector was close to 0.”

The bottom line: It’s unlikely digital news publishers are the ones seeing those gains.

  • What’s driving growth in digital advertising outside of Google and Facebook’s share is mostly Amazon, which Wieser estimates likely added $1 billion in in domestic ad revenue during the first half of 2018 versus the first half of 2017
  • In September, eMarketer estimated that Amazon’s ad business will bring in $4.61 billion this year, up 60% from the projection of $2.89 billion in March.

4. Spotlight on VC-backed media

Data: Multiple sources, Image: Sara Fischer

The cheap sale of Mic is bringing a lot of press attention to VC-backed media companies, highlighting the risk that comes with raising lots of money to support ad-driven media business models.

Valuations: Digital media companies tend to sell for anywhere between 2.5x and 9x revenues from the previous year, or a little higher in terms of EBITDA.

  • They are valued at what their growth expectations will be for revenue and profit over time. The goal is to bring in money at a multiple higher than what they raised, demonstrating a growth trajectory.
  • But companies don't always bring in revenues in multiples higher than the money that they raise, which can lead to sales, layoffs and unhappy investors.

Go deeper: See the chart as a list

5. Media pivots from advertising

For decades the primary source of revenue for media companies was advertising, but competition from technology companies and a more privacy scrutiny are pushing most media companies to explore alternative forms of revenue.

Why it matters: Most media companies have to unwind years worth of sales and product infrastructure to make way for the transition. Not all will survive it.

Between the lines: Most companies are looking for creative ways monetize their owned and operated channels and content, but the transition away from advertising and Facebook traffic has been difficult.

TV networks are too trying to build their own streaming services as more ad dollars float to big tech, but the competition against streaming giants is tough.

The big picture: There's a legal case for getting out, too. Advertising used to be an easy business to maintain from a compliance perspective, but new privacy laws and an increased focus on transparency are forcing publishers to pay closer attention to their supply chains.

Be smart: Most companies are in the experimental phase, and haven't yet figured out what their long-term strategy for growth will be, if there is one.

6. The internet reckons with kids

Oath, the Verizon media unit that houses digital brands like Yahoo, AOL and HuffPost, has agreed to pay $5 million to settle charges from the New York attorney general that the media company’s online advertising business was violating a federal children’s privacy law, per The New York Times.

  • The notice comes just hours after Oath announced that its blogging site, tumblr, would remove and ban all adult content beginning Dec. 17th, in part to make the site more friendly to all age demographics.

Why it matters: These are examples of how major internet companies are grappling with an online world that needs to be safeguarded for children.

"This announcement (the ad settlement) highlights how all the mainstream adtech players (e.g. AOL/Google/FB) are struggling with the fact that their platforms, built originally to leverage personal data on adults, are now being overrun by children who need the exact opposite strategy." 
— Dylan Collins, CEO SuperAwesome, the 'kidtech' platform used by the majority of the kids industry for safe digital engagement 

By the numbers:

  • There are 170,000 kids going online for the first time every day, per UNICEF.
  • Over 93% of kids 12-17 use interact with digital digital video, per eMarketer. Over 70% interact with social media.
  • About 81% of U.S. parents with children 11-years-old or younger say they let their child watch videos on YouTube, according to a new report from Pew Research Center.

Between the lines: Researchers and tech companies are increasingly collecting data on kids' usage of platforms to help correlate long-term cognitive effects, per Axios' Marisa Fernandez.

The big picture: Platforms like Facebook and Google have tried to introduce kid-friendly alternatives, like YouTube Kids and Messenger Kids, but regulators and parents are still wary of the harmful effects of internet exposure.

  • Among parents who let their young child watch content on YouTube, 61% say they've encountered content that they felt was unsuitable for kids, per Pew.

Go deeper: The Wild West of children's entertainment

7. Rocky markets worsen tech's regulation danger

Data: Yahoo! Finance; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

A potential recession, combined with increasing regulatory threats for some of the biggest tech companies, foreshadows a difficult 2019 for Silicon Valley.

Why it matters: The biggest tech companies have already raked in billions of dollars in profits and benefited from major tax cuts that aren't going to be repeated, so next year isn't likely to be better for them financially. They've also been dogged by scandals that have left many questioning their positive role in society, and if on top of that the economy starts to slip, 2019 could be worse.

"People look for scapegoats in a bad economy. And with big tech already on its heels, a downturn probably would feed arguments that the largest internet companies are too big and need to be reined in."
— Paul Gallant, an analyst with Cowen Washington Research Group

Go deeper.

8. What Apple's music moves mean for its business

Photo: studioEAST/Getty Images

Amazon announced last week that it's putting Apple Music on Alexa. The news follows a new report from the FT that shines new details on Apple's potential deal to acquire terrestrial radio giant iHeartMedia.

Why it matters: Apple is clearly going after Spotify by making its music more accessible and by bolstering marketing efforts. Some analysts argue that in prioritizing mass distribution over exclusivity for its own hardware devices, it's a sign that Apple is taking its push into software sales and media seriously.

Between the lines, from Ben Thompson's daily tech newsletter "The Stratechery."

  • "I think it is reasonable to assume that the HomePod is a flop ... Apple Music was (previously) disadvantaging itself in its competition with Spotify for a theoretical gain (HomePod sales) that simply wasn’t manifesting itself."
  • "This is a decision that quite explicitly favors one of Apple’s services (Apple Music) over one of Apple’s hardware lines (the HomePod); that is a lot less like a services narrative and a lot more like a services strategy. It’s a shift that is not just fascinating, it’s frankly a bit stunning."

By the numbers: Apple Music subscribers (likely paid and unpaid) now totals 56 million, bringing it closer to Spotify's 83 million user count, per the FT's iHeartMedia report.

9. The only growing non-digital ad medium

Out of home (OOH) ads — including billboards, subway posters, beach airplane ads and more — are the only type of traditional ad medium that is still growing, according to Magna's latest ads forecast.

Data: MAGNA ad forecast; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios 

Why it matters: Out of home placements are growing as they become more digital and can be bought and sold in an automated fashion, or programmatically. There's also an appeal to out of home ads, because it's hard for viewers to block them out. (You can't set up an ad-blocker to block ads on your subway commute.)