Mar 16, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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  • Situational awareness: Just 8.8 million people tuned into the Grammy Awards this year, a new all-time low.

SXSW starts today: I’m moderating a panel on newsletters with panelists Alex Lieberman, CEO of Morning Brew, Judd Legum, author of Popular Information, and Millie Tran, CPO at the Texas Tribune. Watch it here

  • Check out Axios' panel on local news, featuring Executive Editor Sara Goo.
1 big thing: Facebook explores paid deals for new publishing platform

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook will soon begin testing partnerships with a small group of independent writers for its new publishing platform, sources tell Axios.

Driving the news: The platform will be tested with a small group of writers, some of whom Facebook plans to pay to help get the tools off the ground.

  • The publishing platform is free-to-use and will be integrated with Facebook Pages, sources say.
  • The Pages integration will allow writers, journalists, and other types of professional experts to publish content outside of text, like live videos and "Stories" status updates.
  • Facebook plans to build tools within the platform that allow writers to monetize their websites and newsletters with subscriptions and possibly other forms of revenue.
  • The platform is meant to help writers create an engaged audience community. Facebook will allow writers to create Groups for their products on the Facebook, with metrics about how content is performing.

Be smart: Beginning around four years ago, Facebook began investing in incubator programs, products and events that are geared towards helping news companies, especially at the local level, build sustainable revenue streams.

  • It also created a separate feature called the "News Tab" as a dedicated space for news on Facebook where it has paid partnerships with many established news companies.
  • On Monday, Facebook struck a three-year deal to pay Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for news content in Australia. The deal came a month after Facebook temporarily blocked link-sharing to news sites in the region. Facebook has an agreement with News Corp in the U.S.

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2. Front Office Sports rebrands to FOS, expects profitability


Front Office Sports, the sports media company centered around newsletters, expects to be profitable this year on high 7-figures in revenue, its CEO Adam White tells Axios.

Driving the news: The company moving forward lean into the branding "FOS" as it starts to build more newsletter products for general sports consumers, in addition to its core products catered to professional business audiences.

  • Front Office Sports was launched by White while he was in college in 2014. The company has roughly 30 full-time employees, up from around 10 this time last year.
  • Its twice-daily business of sports newsletter "Front Office Sports" is its most popular newsletter with close to 300,000 subscribers.

What's next: In the next month, the company plans to launch "The Rundown," a daily sports betting and fantasy newsletter.

  • The company has also signed sports betting company DraftKings to an exclusive deal as the official sports betting and daily fantasy partner of FOS.

Between the lines: While the company's main focus is selling native ads within its newsletters, it also expanded its revenue streams to include advertiser-supported short courses, awards, and social media franchises, like custom player cards.

  • White says that FOS' short-course product called "FOS Essentials", which launched in February, will be "a seven-figure business" by Q3. The company's first course had over 6,000 people register.

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3. Colin Cowherd's "Volume Network" inks deal with Action Network


"The Volume," a sports podcast network from Colin Cowherd — the veteran sports talk radio host — has struck a comprehensive content deal with the Action Network, a subscription sports betting media company, executives tell Axios.

Details: As part of the deal, The Action Network’s flagship podcast, "The Favorites," will relaunch as part of The Volume.

  • Chad Millman, the Chief Content Officer for Action Network, will continue to serve as host for the podcast. Millman will also appear weekly on The Colin Cowherd Podcast, which airs three-times-a-week, to discuss sports betting.

Catch up quick: Cowherd launched Volume Network earlier this year to capitalize on betting and creator-driven social media putting people with personalities at the forefront of sports commentary.

  • "In a strange way, this is an ideal time to start this," said Cowherd.

Cowherd launched the network in conjunction with iHeartMedia, which manages the distribution and ad sales for The Volume's network of podcasts. FanDuel has signed on as lead sponsor for all podcasts within the network.

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4. Right builds alternate digital universe
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Over the past six months, apps catered to conservatives have hit new milestones, although they are starting to lose some of the traction they gained in the month following the aftermath of the Capitol siege.

  • The big picture: Several social networks have gained popularity among conservatives, including Rumble, a YouTube alternative; Parler, a Twitter alternative; MeWe, a Facebook alternative, and CloutHub, which is sort of like a Reddit alternative.

Driving the news: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell told Business Insider last week that he's planning to create a new social media site called Vocl.

  • Gab, the social network commonly used by conservatives that bills itself as a free speech platform, said recently that it's working on its own version of Clubhouse, the audio-first social app.
  • The Daily Wire is launching a subscription entertainment streaming service, akin to Netflix, that caters to conservatives.

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5. 🗳️ Dem data scoop: Civitech acquires data, tech from Alloy

Civitech has reached an agreement to acquire the data and technology from Alloy, the now-defunct progressive data startup that was backed by Silicon Valley mogul Reid Hoffman.

Why it matters: Alloy was created to help modernize the Democratic Party's data operation by creating its own voter file. But its efforts collided with those at the Democratic National Committee, which had been working to build its own data exchange since 2019.

Catch up quick: Civitech was co-created in 2019 by Army veteran Jeremy Smith, who now serves as CEO. The purpose of the 35-person Austin-based startup is to provide tools and technology to thousands of down-ballot progressive campaigns.

  • "The idea was to create a public benefit company that could serve smaller campaigns," said Smith.

Details: Civitech currently provides data and technology to more than 150 different groups. Alloy worked with roughly 90 partners before folding last year, including Civitech.

  • Smith says the data will help democratize more campaigns down-ballot across the country. "We think this is still an election year," he told Axios. "There are over 105,000 elections on 109 unique days this year."

The big picture: Democrats have been keen to build a data exchange that rivals the GOP's The Data Trust, which has an exclusive data-sharing agreement with the RNC to provide foundational data for right-leaning campaigns and groups.

The bottom line: "We are absolutely not competing with the DNC," says Smith.

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6. Netflix dominates Oscar noms
Data: Deadline, Axios Research; Chart: Aïda Amer/Axios

Netflix received a whopping 35 Oscar nominations this year, one of the biggest single-studio hauls ever, depending on how you calculate previous totals, Axios' Aïda Amer and I write.

Why it matters: The streaming giant spent an unprecedented sum on content, while traditional movie studios were handicapped by theater closures over the past year.

Details: Netflix's original film "Mank” received 10 nominations, including awards for best picture and best director — more than any other film.

  • Amazon received 12 nominations, a record for the studio, for films like "Sound of Metal," "One Night in Miami" and "Borat: Subsequent Movie Film.”
  • Disney+ received its first nominations since launching in 2019 for animated films “Onward” and “Soul.”

The big picture: Streaming giants have raised subscriber projections following a breakout year.

  • AT&T said Friday that it expects 120-150 million worldwide HBO Max and HBO subscribers by the end of 2025, up from the 75-90 million projected in October 2019. 
  • Disney said last December that it now forecasts having at least 230-260 million subscribers to Disney+ by 2024. 

What to watch: Free streamers, like Fox's Tubi, Roku and ViacomCBS' Pluto, are exploring originals.

7. Hollywood reckons with shortcomings around diversity

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer. Photo: David Livingston/GC Images

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) on Monday pledged to bring on at least 13 Black members, following public backlash over the group's lack of diversity.

Why it matters: Last years' Black Lives Matters protests have forced the industry to reckon with its own shortcomings around race in a more meaningful way than ever before.

  • The Oscars said last year following the nationwide anti-racism protests that films vying for awards would need to hit new diversity requirements.

Driving the news: On Monday, more than 100 Hollywood publicity firms threatened to pull clients from HFPA events and interviews unless the group committed to substantial changes moving forward, the Wrap notes.

The big picture: A new report from McKinsey last week found that Black-led films are underfunded and Black and minority leads remain underrepresented across the industry, per Axios' Courtenay Brown.

  • The report found that the industry could reap an additional $10 billion in annual revenues if it addressed its persistent racial inequities.
8. Sign of the times

BuzzFeed is in talks to go public via a SPAC, Bloomberg reports.

  • BuzzFeed said Thursday that it laid off 47 employees from HuffPost, the progressive news website that it acquired last month.

Meanwhile, Stewart W. Bainum Jr., the hotel magnate that initially struck a deal to buy The Baltimore Sun and turn it into a non-profit, is now in talks to buy all of the newspapers owned by Tribune publishing, The New York Times' Marc Tracy reports.

  • The deal could save the papers from being bought by Alden Global Capital, a firm known for cutting journalists to make money.

By the numbers: The initial Alden-Tribune deal valued all of Tribune's papers at $630 million. It valued The Sun, a 184-year-old brand, at $65 million, per Tracy.

  • The blank check company BuzzFeed would reportedly merge with, called 890 Fifth Avenue, raised $287.5 million in its IPO in January.
9. 1 kids thing: The big business of kids' screen time

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Media and tech giants are swarming the kids entertainment space, hoping to capitalize on the dramatic increase in screen time during the past year, Axios' Kim Hart and I write.

Why it matters: As streaming and digital gaming become more popular, new concerns are rising about kids' privacy and susceptibility to tactics designed to keep them hooked on screens.

Driving the news: Last week's blockbuster IPO of Roblox, a game that's popular among older kids and teens, revived growing concerns about ways in which the kid-friendly game can inadvertently lead to addiction, cyberbullying and abuse.

  • While this makes Roblox extremely social, the ability to build new games and features also means it's hard to put down.
  • Nightmare stories have emerged of parents waking up to giant credit card bills from kids making dozens of in-app purchases.

Be smart: School-aged children and teens do not fully understand the complexity of how their digital data is collected and used for ad-targeting purposes, said Nusheen Ameenuddin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.

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