Axios Media Trends

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January 28, 2020

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1 big thing: America's echo chambers are getting worse

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Over the past five years, Americans have become increasingly polarized in their media consumption diets based on their political affiliation, according to new data from Pew Research Center.

The big picture: It's not just news that polarizes us — it's our culture, too. Other studies out over the past year that suggest that the trend extends beyond news and information to entertainment and leisure.

Driving the news: Republicans tend to trust Fox News more than any other news source, while Democrats tend to trust a variety of news sources about equally. Their top choice is CNN, closely followed by NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and PBS, Pew finds.

  • The results suggest that "Republicans have grown increasingly alienated from most of the more established sources" since 2014, while "Democrats’ confidence in them remains stable, and in some cases, has strengthened," Pew concluded.
  • These results reflect similar findings from a Morning Consult survey last October, which found that the gap between how Republicans and Democrats view national media brands like CNN and Fox News continues to widen.

Between the lines: A 2019 media impact study from the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that even the entertainment diets are becoming increasingly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

  • Democrats broadly tend to favor cartoon comedy, like The Simpsons and Family Guy.
  • Republicans tend to like shows that put them in a good mood and had characters they could identify with.
  • People in the middle were more likely than both groups to favor programming with educational value.

Be smart: The types of media people use also play a role in polarization.

  • Last year, the Reuters Institute of Politics' 2019 digital news study found that left-leaning audiences in the U.S. consume more news from digital news outlets, while news consumers on the right are more likely to consume cable news and print.
  • Partisan news consumers tend to rely more heavily on self-selection of news sources rather than using platforms that let them encounter different news sources, like search engines, researchers from the Reuters Institute wrote this week.

The bottom line: Republicans tend to be pickier about their media diets, trust fewer news outlets and tend to enjoy fewer entertainment shows and genres.

2. Exclusive: Facebook gives out $700,000 of news grants

Facebook on Tuesday will announce a new round of investment worth $700,000 in various news organizations across the country, executives tell Axios. Many of the new commitments focus on newsrooms that cover diversity. 

Why it matters: The investment is part of a greater than $300 million commitment from Facebook to invest in the news, especially local news. 

  • Publishers have been frustrated with Facebook and rival Google for years, in part because they blame the two tech giants for gobbling up their ad businesses.

Driving the news:  Tuesday's announcement will include the recipients of 30 new grants as a part of the "Facebook Journalism Project Community Network," a network of news outlets that are receiving grants from Facebook. Facebook is partnering with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism to distribute the grants. 

  • In total, the network has awarded 76 grants to various newsroom across the country since July. Recipients can request mentorship on specific programs and goals.
  • This round of grants includes projects that range from The Advocate in Dallas, Texas — which prioritizes the stories, needs and interests of Black and Latinx communities in South and West Dallas — Afro-American Newspapers in Baltimore, Maryland, and Esperanza, an outlet that serves the North Philadelphia Hispanic community.

Facebook will also announce other updates surrounding the Facebook Journalism Project, led by veteran news anchor Campbell Brown. Most updates include a global expansion of its efforts to bolster local journalism.

  • Facebook will expand its Accelerator" program this year to more than 500 newsroom leaders in over a dozen countries, bringing the total number of participants to over 1,000 in 2020.
  • It will host its 2nd Local News Summit with the Knight Foundation and the Online News Association in Detroit in March following a pilot convening in Denver last year. 
  • It will also expand its Instagram news partnership to almost 20 newsrooms this summer.

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3. Flipboard goes local

Image: Flipboard

Flipboard on Tuesday will announce a new "Local initiative" to gather regional sources and national stories of local interest to users in 23 North American metropolitan areas, including Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, Toronto and Dallas.

Why it matters: Like other tech platforms, Flipboard is investing in local coverage because of audience demand.

  • Where Flipboard thinks it can be useful is to provide local communities with a curated mix of not just news, but also lifestyle information about local sports, dining, weather, real estate, transportation and more.

Details: Flipboard curators will leverage editorial judgement on top of machine learning to pull in news from each of its local collections from an array of local news sources, including newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, college news sites and blogs.

  • Some local collections will feature collections of topics that are important to that particular jurisdiction, like Cuba in Miami and wildfires in San Francisco.

4. 2020 won't be the year digital election ads surpass TV

Data: Advertising Analytics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Advertising Analytics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

While some of the lower-spending 2020 Democrats are investing most of their dollars in digital ads, the biggest spenders — Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer — are overwhelmingly spending more on television ads as a percentage of their budgets.

Why it matters: Their ad spend stands in stark contrast to that of the Trump campaign, which is investing much more heavily in digital advertising, especially on Facebook.

Be smart: 2020 was supposed to be the year that digital got closer to overtaking television as a percentage of presidential campaign spend, and if it weren't for the two billionaires on the left entering the race, it very well may have been.

  • Without those two candidates, all candidates (including Trump) in the past year have spent a collective $75 million on TV ads — roughly $60 million on broadcast and $15.5 million on cable — compared to nearly $80 million spent so far on digital ads.

Yes, but: Democrats have pledged to pour many millions more into digital through third-party groups like Priorities USA and ACRONYM.

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5. Scroll's big launch day is here

Photo: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for AWXI

Former Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile will finally launch his new venture-backed news upstart on Tuesday called Scroll.

  • Scroll is meant to solve two problems at the same time: It’s supposed to bring in more revenue for publishers while also giving users that hate ads a better internet experience.

How it works: Scroll asks users to pay a $5 monthly fee for access to websites they already use but scrubbed of all ads. The business model hinges on the idea that with that user revenue, Scroll can send publishers that it partners with more money per user than they would make per user while serving them ads.

  • Scroll directly integrates into the sites themselves via a javascript code, Haile tells Axios. The site is then able to pick up recognize when a Scroll member visits and then it can deliver that member an ad-free experience.
  • Scroll tracks user engagement and loyalty and then distributes to publishers a fee based on the share of time and loyalty they take from a Scroll subscriber.

Why it matters: Haile says that on average, it makes $46 for every 1000 impressions served to a user across its network right now. That's significantly higher than what most publishers charge for ads today.

  • "Even though members pay out more than ads, they're not going to cannibalize publishers' direct sold businesses," Haile says.
  • "Most publishers have a <80% sell-through rate on directly sold (ad inventory) and so we'd have to get super big before we come close to touching that."

Details: According to Haile, more than 300 sites are on board, including USA Today, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, Vox, The Verge, Gizmodo and metro sites like the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • Scroll is also meant to help users access sites ubiquitously across all mediums.
  • Every single story across the Scroll network will be available to Scroll members in audio, as well as text. "The notion of a better Internet is that it doesn't care about the dive device or app, if you read or listen, it just works."
  • Because Scroll sites are stripped of ads, they also load much faster for users.

Be smart: Haile designed Scroll so that it doesn't step on publishers' existing businesses, incentivizing them to participate.

  • Because of this, some publishers, like Salon, are marketing Scroll to their users directly when they visit their sites as an incentive to get more money from them than they would if that user was using an ad blocker.

Our thought bubble: Scroll is unique and solves a problem for publishers that hasn't been cracked yet.

  • It allows publishers to offer free website visitors that are putting up ad blockers something else instead that's still way cheaper than having to buy a subscription with fewer ads.

6. Misinformation about coronavirus is spreading fast

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Misinformation about the coronavirus is testing governments, tech platforms and health officials — as well as a nervous public — in both the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: The new cycle of misinformation around the deadly disease is testing Big Tech platforms' ability to police rule-breaking content and China's ability to control domestic criticism, Axios' Ina Fried and I reported.

Tech platforms — including Facebook, Twitter and Google — are scrambling to stop the spread of misinformation about the virus, much of which violates their own content rules.

The Chinese government is facing challenges controlling its narrative.

  • Some of the fastest-spreading misinformation about the crisis involves unfounded rumors that the Chinese government started the virus, according to an analysis provided to Axios from social intelligence company Storyful.

Yes, but: China is spreading some misinformation of its own in response.

  • Storyful found that Chinese state media has tweeted photos purporting to be of a new hospital, but which were actually stock images from a company that sells modular containers.

The big picture: Health care has long been a target of misinformation, because it plays into existing fears. This is especially true for disease outbreaks, which can spread faster than the news cycle is equipped to handle.

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7. Money is flowing into safe kids content

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

SuperAwesome, a platform used to power kid-safe technology, has raised $17 million in a strategic financing round led by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund.

Why it matters: It represents a growing investment in kid-safe content and kids privacy compliant technology.

  • Microsoft is one of the first major U.S. tech firms to take a stake in a kids tech company.

Be smart: The raise is more of a strategic strengthening of ties between SuperAwesome and Microsoft than it is a financial lifeline.

  • According to SuperAwesome CEO Dylan Collins, SuperAwesome was profitable in 2019. "Our revenues are growing pretty quickly," he told Axios. "We're currently at a $75 million run-rate."
  • To date, SuperAwesome has raised a total of $37 million. The company now powers over 12 billion kids digital transactions every month.

Investments in kid-safe content and tech are growing. On Monday, Encantos, a children's entertainment brand, closed a $2 million seed round led by Kapor Capital with participation from Boston Meridian Partners, Chingona Ventures, Human Ventures, and MathCapital. 

The big picture: Countries around the world are doubling down on digital privacy and safety for children, which is a huge part of what's making investments in kid-friendly and kid privacy-safe content and tech attractive to big companies.

  • The streaming wars have also spurred a kids content arms race, which has driven up investment in kids content.

8. Tuning out impeachment

Data: Newship; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: Newship; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Online interest in the first three days of the Senate impeachment trial was barely half as strong as the first three days of House impeachment hearings, according to NewsWhip data provided exclusively to Axios' Neal Rothschild.

Why it matters: By blocking Democratic attempts to subpoena new documents, the Republican-controlled Senate made sure no dramatic new information surfaced during the first few days of the trial — and made it easier for Americans to tune out.

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