Mar 2, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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⚡️ Situational awareness: Reporters Without Borders filed a criminal complaint with German prosecutors against Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

1 big thing: Casinos throw cash at sports media

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Casinos are investing millions on sports betting content to lure bettors to their online and in-person sportsbooks.

Why it matters: It’s a mini-gold rush for some sports media companies that were struggling in the pandemic.

  • Wynn Resorts is the latest casino to invest in sports content, spending $3.5 million to build a dedicated studio at its Las Vegas resort in conjunction with sports podcast company Blue Wire.

How it works: Media companies make money by referring customers to sportsbooks, Axios sports editor Kendall Baker and I write.

  • Wynn Resorts' deal with Blue Wire is meant to help lure potential sports betters to the casino's online betting arm WynnBET. Blue Wire focuses on long-form sports narrative and conversational podcasts.
  • ESPN's sports betting analyst Doug Kezirian relocated to Las Vegas to host "Daily Wager" from ESPN’s new studio at The LINQ Hotel + Experience. Kezirian also hosts ESPN's "Behind the Bets" podcast from the venue.
  • VSIN, a sports betting network that produces audio and video content from its studios inside five U.S. sportsbooks, struck a deal last year to produce content at "the world's largest sportsbook" at Circa in Las Vegas.
  • Entercom launched a six-year audio partnership with FanDuel last year to co-produce audio betting content. The radio giant acquired the QL Gaming Group for $32 million last year, which includes the sports betting app BetQL.
  • Action Network, a subscription sports betting media company, works with several sportsbooks, many of whom sponsors its video and podcast products.

Media companies with their own branded sportsbooks, like Fox Bet and Yahoo Sports, use content integrations to keep fans hooked.

Penn National, a casino operator, kicked off this trend by investing $163 million in Barstool Sports last year.

  • Barstool produces hours of daily betting-centric audio and video. In 2020, the company launched its own branded sportsbook which Penn National says will be live in at least 10 states by year's end.

Be smart: "You're seeing a real lane for sport gaming-related content but it's not just transactional content, such as how lines moving or what sides to take. Rather, it's entertainment content that revolves around personalities," says J.D. Crowley, the chief digital officer at audio giant Entercom.

The bottom line: "It's a land grab for operators to acquire customers as more states go legal," says Action Network CEO Patrick Keane.

2. Worst year in pay-TV history

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Last year was the worst in history for cord-cutting, according to a new analysis out Tuesday from MoffettNathanson.

  • Pay-TV lost 6 million subscribing households in 2020, "with total subscriptions falling by 7.3% over the course of the year, and with penetration dropping to a level not seen in nearly thirty years."

The big picture: A culmination of events over the past week points signals that traditional TV is on its last legs.

  1. Cable operators are ditching cable. Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei said in a CNBC interview that "it’s just a question of time" until cable's ultimate demise. Last week, AT&T agreed to a deal with private equity giant TPF to spin off its U.S. video business, including DirecTV.
  2. Smart TV companies are booming: Smart TV maker Vizio said in its IPO filing that its SmartCast smart TV operating system has millions of users. Roku had its best year ever last year, posting a profit on record revenues.
  3. Ad dollars are moving faster to digital: Roku is acquiring Nielsen's advanced TV advertising division as it works to help traditional television ad dollars migrate more quickly to streaming. Digital ad tech stocks like Trade Desk are booming thanks to a growing interest in targeted advertising on televisions.

The big picture: Advanced TV ad buying, or "audience-based" ad buying, only accounts for roughly 10% of the $70 billion TV advertising market today.

Data: eMarketer; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
3. Hollywood's big awards shows are in trouble
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Axios Visuals

Ratings for the Golden Globes on NBC likely fell to a record low Sunday, according to preliminary ratings from Nielsen.

The big picture: Award shows have been experiencing a ratings decline for years, alongside traditional television viewership more broadly. But the pandemic has expedited the trend.

Be smart: The Golden Globes, which usually kick off the awards season in mid-January, typically serves as a litmus test for how ratings will fare for the remainder of the year.

  • Its 2021 ratings are a bad indicator for the Oscars, set to air in March this year, and the Emmys and Grammys.
  • The pandemic upended the production schedules of Hollywood's biggest studios, reducing the number of hits that debuted last year.

Yes, but: The show was full of awkward moments, which may have turned some viewers off. The night opened with technical glitches during the first acceptance speech.

  • Instead of a glamorous star-studded red carpet affair, the telecast was held virtually.

The bottom line: The coveted award show events that networks used to rely on to sell lucrative ad sponsorships are less appealing in the digital age.

4. Disney CEO "not sure" traditional theater windows return

Annelise Capossela/Axios

Nearly every major movie studio has departed from the tradition of waiting 90 days after theatrical release before letting consumers view their films at home.

Why it matters: Experts disagree as to whether the shortened theater windows will last forever, but it seems likely things won't go back to the way they were.

  • Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said Monday that he's “not sure there’s going back” to pre-pandemic theatrical windows.

Driving the news: As the theater industry begins to slowly come back to life, exhibitors will be banking on strong showings to boost their chances at ever again seeing a big chunk of exclusive airing time.

  • ViacomCBS announced last week that some of its biggest blockbusters, including "Mission: Impossible 7” and “A Quiet Place Part II,” will be on Paramount+ after just 45 days of airing in theaters. Others will hit streaming services after just 30 days.
  • Warner Bros. said last year that it would release all 2021 movies on HBO Max, the streaming service owned by its parent AT&T, at the same time that the films debut in theaters.
  • Universal has struck deals with Cinemark and AMC theater chains to allow most Universal films to appear on premium video on-demand services after being made available in theaters for 17 days.
  • Disney last year experimented with putting two of its biggest hits on its streaming service Disney+. This year, it has committed to putting just one film, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” on Disney+ with a "premier access fee" in conjunction with theaters as an experiment in March.

Go deeper.

5. Flipboard goes local

Flipboard has become the latest tech company to invest in local news, expanding its local coverage from 60 markets to over 1,000 cities and towns.

Details: Users can can now opt to share their location on a limited basis with Flipboard, and the app will in turn show users "topics" or listings for nearby communities for them to follow, says Brian Gottesman, Head of Video and Monetization Products at Flipboard.

  • Local publishers' content will be distributed across the platform in relevant topic feeds by market. Once a new local topic is created, relevant content from other sources will automatically be added to it.

What's next: Flipboard plans to use the characterization of different markets as topics to expand to other location-specific services in the future.

6. 🌏: Aussie news fight goes global
Data: Chartbeat; Chart: Axios Visuals (NOTE: Traffic drops during evening hours.)

Traffic to Australian news sites has sprung back after Facebook struck a last-minute deal with lawmakers last week to pay some publishers and resume link-sharing on its platform, according to data from Chartbeat.

  • The big picture: The news showdown in Australia is advancing conversations globally around a more equitable payout structure between the world's biggest tech firms and news publishers.

Driving the news: Facebook said Monday that its dedicated News Tab product will launch in Germany after months of negotiating with publishers in the region.

Yes, but: The product is launching without the buy-in from Germany's largest digital publisher Axel Springer, which has argued that the financial terms offered by Facebook are too low.

  • The U.K. was the first European country that Facebook struck payment deals with after the EU passed a copyright directive two years ago.
  • France is expected to be the next.

Be smart: Facebook's position is that while traffic matters a lot to local publishers in the News Feed, it doesn't matter enough to them to warrant staying in a country whose rules they find untenable.

  • "The News Feed is different from the Facebook News," Facebook's VP of News Campbell Brown told Axios last week. One of the company's biggest problems with the new Australian law was that it forced Facebook to pay publishers for links in its feed, where it wants to remain void of news, instead of its separate news product.
  • "We're going to negotiate in many markets around the world, but we can only do that if there's a recognition that the value exchange is what it is."

What to watch: What's different about the EU's approach versus Australia's is that the EU is leveraging copyright law, not antitrust policy, to force tech giants like Facebook into brokering deals.

  • In the U.S., lawmakers are considering an array of solutions to force tech giants to pay publishers, including a new antitrust exemption that could allow publishers to collectively bargain with each other.
  • News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern notes that the Aussie law's passage will impact the group's lobbying strategy in the U.S. "We are getting a lot of calls about how to adopt the dispute resolution framework for mandatory negotiations from the code here in the U.S."