September 19, 2023

Today's Media Trends, copy edited by Sheryl Miller, is 1,859 words, a 7-minute read. Sign up.

Situational awareness: Facing pushback, Bill Maher, Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Hudson have all reversed recent decisions to resume their live talk shows during the ongoing writers strike.

  • The Writers Guild and the group representing Hollywood studios plan to resume negotiations on Wednesday, as the strike approaches its fifth month.

👻 I will be interviewing Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel at the Global Emerging Tech Summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The conversation is open to the public. Register.

1 big thing: Scoop... Advance returns to Gulf after Times-Picayune purge

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Advance Local, a local news subsidiary of the parent company to Condé Nast, has been quietly working to build a New Orleans-based sports and news website called GulfLive.com.

Why it matters: The push comes just four years after Advance sold what was once the region's biggest newspaper, the Times-Picayune, and its website NOLA.com, leading to a talent bloodbath.

  • ✂️ All of the Times-Picayune's 161 staffers were let go in 2019 amid that sale. Some were rehired by its new owners, but the cuts were still jarring.
  • ⚜️ Building a new Gulf Coast news site now, given that recent history, will test Advance Local's trust within New Orleans' news community.

Details: The new site, called GulfLive.com, has not been formally announced, but it began publishing stories a few weeks ago from Advance Local's national news desk staff and from wire reports.

  • Advance Local has posted job openings for the site, including a dedicated podcast reporter, a New Orleans Saints reporter, and more.

The intrigue: All of the roles appear to be based out of New Orleans, but they're listed mostly as remote. Some roles note that preferred candidates will be based in New Orleans or the Gulf Coast.

Zoom out: The creation of GulfLive suggests Advance, one of the largest local media companies in the country, is following a similar playbook in New Orleans that it has used to streamline efforts in other local markets: regionalize coverage and shift more roles to nonunionized digital sites.

  • 📰 Most notably, it laid off 22 Cleveland Plain Dealer staffers in 2020. Of those who remained, most were told that they'd be moved to out-of-town beats and that nonunionized writers for its sister website, Cleveland.com, would handle coverage of the city.

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2. 🏈 Scoop: XFL and USFL in talks to merge

XFL owner Dwayne Johnson talks before the Arlington Renegades and the Vegas Vipers XFL game. Photo: Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Pro football leagues XFL and USFL are in advanced talks to merge, three sources familiar with the situation tell Axios' Tim Baysinger, Dan Primack and me.

Why it matters: Combining the two may be the smartest path forward for the leagues given the challenges and the history of failure for NFL alternatives.

Details: The merger would be structured as a merger of equals and would require regulatory approval, one of the sources said. The leagues hope to combine before the 2024 seasons.

  • Fox Corp. owns the USFL, while the XFL is owned by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, his business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners.
  • Game broadcasts of the combined league are likely to be split between Fox and XFL media partner Disney, according to the source.
  • The USFL also has a broadcast agreement with NBC, although it's not yet been determined if that will continue.

By the numbers: Fox executives have previously said the USFL has been profitable and had planned to invest more into spring football, while the XFL lost $60 million for its first season under Johnson, Forbes reported.

  • Viewership for XFL and USFL games were meager, with each league averaging north of 600,000 viewers for each game.

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3. Hollywood slims down

Data: Yahoo! Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Yahoo! Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

Entertainment firms once eager to scale are starting to slim down, shedding assets that are no longer deemed core to their business.

Why it matters: A new wave of consolidation within the media industry is expected beginning next year, but publicly traded media firms need to convince Wall Street, and potential deal partners, that their businesses are strategically moving in the right direction if they want to make bigger moves.

📺 Driving the news: Disney has held talks to sell its broadcast network, ABC, along with its local affiliates to local broadcaster Nexstar and media entrepreneur Byron Allen, Bloomberg reported and Axios has confirmed.

  • The company said it hasn't made any decisions yet regarding the divestiture of ABC but that it's "considering a variety of strategic options for our linear businesses."

Other giants are also streamlining their businesses:

Flashback: Fox Corp. was the first major entertainment firm in the modern era to slim down its portfolio in favor of focus.

  • Fox sold its entertainment assets to Disney in 2019 for $71 billion, allowing it to focus its efforts on live news and sports. (Disney is now trying to sell some of the linear television networks it acquired as a part of that deal.)

The big picture: Media giants have struggled on the public markets this year, as Wall Street grows frustrated with the losses attributed to their streaming efforts.

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4. Conservative content bans spread from classroom to web

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The same forces pushing book bans around the country are also pushing for more digital parental control legislation, Axios' Ashley Gold and I write.

🎒 Why it matters: While the two movements appear to be separate issues, a new report suggests they're connected through Republican lawmakers' efforts to prevent children from seeing content they've deemed objectionable.

📚By the numbers: Texas, Utah, Arkansas and Louisiana are among the leaders in banning books and enacting curriculum censorship, accounting for 31% of censorship laws since last year and 40% of book bans in 2022, per the report.

The big picture: At the same time as these moves, Republican lawmakers have also introduced measures to control children's access to social media sites.

  • 📚 In March, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed laws requiring social media companies to get parental consent for minors to use their platforms, the first state to do so in the U.S.

Yes, but: Some of these efforts are being shut down by Democrats raising concerns about the constitutionality of such laws.

  • 🛑 A federal judge temporarily blocked a new Arkansas social media measure last month that requires minors to get parental permission to create new social media accounts.

5. Exclusive: Time doubles down on Opinion

Laurene Powell Jobs and Jess Sibley speak onstage at the 2023 TIME100 Summit on April 25 in New York City. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME

Time on Monday announced a new editorial platform called Time100 Voices that is dedicated to elevating editorials from global thought leaders.

Why it matters: The new vertical marries two of Time's most successful franchises: Time Ideas, its opinion section, and Time100, its popular events and editorial platform.

Details: The website section will feature opinion pieces, essays and book excerpts from people who have been highlighted in any of the various Time100 lists.

  • The company plans to double the overall amount of content and coverage within Time Ideas in the next six months, a spokesperson said. The section currently publishes around 70 pieces per month.
  • 📧 Time will launch a new weekly newsletter called Time POV that will highlight its opinion content.
  • 📜 It will also launch a new history vertical under TIME Ideas in partnership with Made by History, a history blog formerly created in partnership with the Washington Post. (It announced it was leaving the Post in July.)

CEO Jessica Sibley sees the expansion of Time's perspective content as a new opportunity to attract commercial partners.

  • Brands and partners, she told Axios, "want to align with exactly the kind of content that T100 Voices intends to be a home for."

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6. Hollywood agency merger frenzy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Wasserman, a talent agency best known for its representation of athletes, has finalized a deal to acquire Brillstein Entertainment Partners, a prominent Hollywood management and production firm, its CEO told Axios.

Why it matters: The deal gives Wasserman a much deeper foothold into Hollywood and will allow it to better service its clients as they pursue deals related to content creation, Axios' Tim Baysinger and I write.

The big picture: The Hollywood agency space has been one of the biggest M&A hotbeds in media over the past year, Tim writes, with recent deals including:

  • CAA/Pinault: French billionaire François-Henri Pinault is buying CAA in a deal that values the agency giant at $7 billion.
  • WME/WWE: Meanwhile, WME's parent Endeavor just closed its acquisition of WWE. It took WWE public last week with the UFC under one publicly traded company called TKO Group Holdings.
  • APA/AGI: The Agency for the Performing Arts merged with Artist Group International in June.
  • UTA/J&C: UTA acquired New York-based executive search firm James & Co., which focuses on the media, tech and sports space.

Go deeper: Read the full list

7. Measurement is in chaos right now

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

Firms trying to upend Nielsen's dominance in video measurement are running into problems as they face financial issues and stiff competition.

Why it matters: If there was ever a time to try to compete with Nielsen, it would be now.

  • The measurement giant, which just named a new CEO last week, is facing a slew of its own problems as it works to modernize its ratings system for the streaming era.

Driving the news: Media measurement firm VideoAmp quietly laid off about 10% of its workforce last week, Axios' Kerry Flynn and I wrote.

  • The layoffs suggest VideoAmp, which still isn't profitable, needs to cut expenses as it works to pay down debt after just raising a $150 million Series G.
  • Nielsen was also hit with layoffs earlier this month, cutting 9% of its staff, roughly 1,000 employees.

Between the lines: The layoffs come amid drama over Nielsen's decision to include Amazon's first-party data in its TV measurement ratings.

  • The decision drew fierce backlash from traditional TV networks, who argued the move called Nielsen's impartiality into question. (Nielsen delayed the rollout two weeks ago in response to the pushback.)

Between the lines: Nielsen was taken private last year, allowing it to work through some of these tricky changes as a private company, but its rival Comscore hasn't been so lucky.

  • Comscore, which has long faced financial challenges, faces a delisting threat from Nasdaq, as its stock has remained below $1 for the past two months.
  • The firm, which was delisted in 2017 following an accounting scandal, has since stabilized, but its financial structure could complicate a private takeover.

What to watch: There are some bright spots. iSpot, a rival to VideoAmp, acquired TV measurement company 605 last week, Kerry reported. The deal, which marks iSpot's fourth acquisition, follows a $325 million investment from Goldman Sachs last year.

8. 💰1 Musk thing: Pay up!

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty Images

Elon Musk said Monday he's moving to require all users to pay a monthly fee to use his social media site X, previously called Twitter.

Why it matters: The comments, which he made during a livestreamed event on X with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, come as the company struggles to regain trust with advertisers.

  • The move, he said, is "to combat vast armies of bots."
  • X plans to come out with "a lower tier pricing" for a new subscription tier. It currently charges around $8 monthly for its X Premium subscription.

Yes, but: Musk has often teased new products or innovations, only to change course later down the line.

The big picture: More social media companies are experimenting with subscription products amid a weak ad market.