Axios Media Trends

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January 25, 2022

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Situational awareness: Sarah Palin tested positive for COVID, delaying a defamation trial between her and The New York Times.

1 big thing: Trump social network quietly courts influencers

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Former President Trump’s elusive new social media network Truth Social — which plans to go public — is reaching out to internet influencers asking them “reserve their spots” for when it launches in February or March.

Why it matters: The outreach doesn’t mention Trump’s name or affiliation. Some influencers suggest that could be a ploy to enlist their support without realizing the connection.

Details: In an email to influencers obtained by Axios, a representative on behalf of Truth Social’s VIP department named “Ana” asks if influencers would like to “reserve” their “preferred username for when we launch in late February/early March.”

  • The emails come from [email protected] (The holding company for the app Trump Media & Technology Group, or TMTG.)
  • They are signed by “Ana” but don’t include a last name. The contact number has a Palm Beach County area code and is a dead number.
  • The email address used to reach out to influencers appears to be working, although there was no response to an email inquiry from Axios. Truth Social did not respond to request for comment.

The intrigue: Some of the the solicited influencers are Democrats and publicly posted anti-Trump content.

  • Jeremy Jacobowitz, a food-based blogger and internet personality, has several of examples of anti-Trump content posted on his TikTok.
  • Gillie Houston, a Brooklyn-based food and travel writer, said she doesn't intend to respond and has been vocally anti-Trump.

Between the lines: While Truth Social has yet to reveal many details about its inner workings, there‘s some evidence the platform has been working to get up and running.

  • On Monday, Fox Business reported Truth Social is partnering with Silicon Valley artificial intelligence firm Hive to do content moderation for the app.
  • In an interview, co-founder and CEO Kevin Guo told Axios that Truth Social's integration with Hive is several months old. "They’ve been integrated with us from Day One," he said.

Go deeper.

2. Scoop: Republicans probe NBC over Beijing Olympics coverage

Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP) (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent a letter to NBC Universal executives voicing concerns about "the extent of influence the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) may have over NBCUniversal’s coverage of the games."

Why it matters: The human rights abuses committed by the CCP have been the subject of intense scrutiny ahead of this year's Winter Games in Beijing. Activists last year sent a letter to NBC executives urging the network to cancel plans to cover the Olympics.

Details: The letter, addressed to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell and NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel, asks NBC how it plans to use its "investment in the Games to shed light on China’s history of human rights abuses."

  • The letter asks NBC to provide written responses and documentation to several questions about its coverage to the Energy and Commerce Committee by Feb. 7.
  • One question asks whether the IOC or the CCP has taken any steps to influence NBC's coverage of the Games "relating to reported human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province."
  • Another asks whether the IOC or CCP asked NBC to make changes "in how they are covered or advertised on NBCUniversal programming."

The big picture: Last week, NBC executives noted that geopolitical tensions with China will create some challenges for the network.

Disclosure: NBC is an investor in Axios and Satpal Brainch is a member of the Axios board. MSNBC & Axios engage in a weekday sponsored television appearance at 5:55am ET.

3. Substack adding video to lure new creators

Illustration of an old film countdown screen with the Substack logo at center
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Substack plans to launch a native video player in an effort to lure new creators to the platform, a spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: It's the company's latest expansion into a new format.

Details: The new native video embed will allow Substack creators to directly upload or record a video onto a Substack post.

  • Writers can chose to make videos available to everyone or only paid subscribers. Substack authors, including Bari Weiss, have been testing the new feature.
  • The company will add video stats to account dashboards that will provide the number of video plays, unique viewers, and viewer watch time per video.

What's next: The video feature will be made available to all creators in coming months after a limited beta test.

4. Bloomberg added 100,000 subscribers in 2021

Bloomberg Media now has 360,000 paying subscribers, Axios has learned. The company is launching a multi-million dollar ad campaign to attract more.

Why it matters: Bloomberg Media's new CEO Scott Havens, previously Chief Growth Officer, played a key role in the company's subscription business.

  • His elevation to CEO following the departure of Justin Smith signals Bloomberg Media's commitment to consumer subscriptions.
  • Julia Beizer, Bloomberg Media's Chief Digital Officer, is now overseeing the company's subscription business.

By the numbers: Bloomberg Media originally expected to hit 400,000 by the end of last year. It had roughly 250,000 subscribers at the end of 2020.

  • Without any discounted plans, a monthly Bloomberg Media subscription is $34.99.

Details: The new ad campaign, titled "Before You Change the World. Bloomberg," is the company's biggest subscription marketing effort to-date.

  • The campaign, led by Bloomberg Media CMO Anne Kawalerski, kicks off with a Grand Central Terminal takeover, and includes off-channel ads across streaming and social media.

5. Wall Street gets Netflix jitters

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Analysts are forecasting a difficult year ahead for subscription streaming companies in response to a massive selloff of Netflix shares last week that was prompted by weak subscriber growth forecasts.

Why it matters: Wall Street has grown accustomed to equating paid subscriber growth at major media firms to market value, but Netflix's decline "calls into question the end-state economics of these businesses," wrote Michael Nathanson, a top media analyst, in a note to clients.

Driving the news: Netflix's shares are down more than 20% after the tech giant said Thursday it expects a big drop in paid net subscriber adds for this quarter — one that will nearly halve the number compared with the same quarter last year..

  • Shares for rivals like Disney and Roku took a hit in response to the news.
  • While bearish analysts argue in favor of the selloff, bulls say it was an overreaction. Some point to Netflix's revenue growth last quarter as a sign that the company's business model remains healthy.

The big picture: Some analysts see the recent selloff as a normalization of Netflix's value away from the high multiples typically awarded to tech firms that foresee endless vistas of growth.

Go deeper.

6. 🎒 The AP's new "editorial priority"

The AP is launching a new reporting network aimed at strengthening education coverage.

Why it matters: "It will increase the volume and quality of coverage available to AP’s member news organizations, and expand the reach and capabilities of specialized nonprofit outlets,” AP senior vice president and executive editor Julie Pace said in a statement.

  • The new network, backed by Carnegie Corporation of New York, will cover the long-term impact of the pandemic’s disruption of schools.
  • The AP will dedicate more full-time resources to the topic, including hiring a news director, accountability journalist and data journalist to expand on the AP's coverage.

The big picture: The project will connect local journalists across the country with national health and economy reporters and experts to collaborate and share coverage.

  • The AP is doubling down on its local news collaborative called StoryShare, which is meant to help newsrooms quickly share information on certain topics.
  • AP deputy managing editor for U.S. news Noreen Gillespie told Axios that the company plans to launch an education-focused StoryShare collaboration this year.

The bottom line: "This is an editorial priority," Gillespie said.

7. ⚡ Breaking: Big Google pivot on privacy

Google is changing its plan for replacing the cookies that help advertisers target users to a new system called Topics, in which advertisers can place targeted ads via a limited number of topics determined by user browser activity.

Why it matters: The new Topics proposal replaces Google's previously-announced plan called "FLoC," which was criticized by privacy advocates who worried the new ad-targeting solution would inadvertently make it easier for advertisers to gather user information.

Go deeper: How it works.

8. Polarizing politicians win attention

Data: Newswhip; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New data finds that the nation's most polarizing politicians are often the ones that garner the most attention online, Axios' Neal Rothschild and I write.

By the numbers: Topping the list are lightning rods from each party — politicians who fire up their base while providing ammunition for the other party — according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez generate the most social media interactions per article.

The most powerful news makers aren't the buzziest. President Biden ranks lowest on interactions per article among 23 well-known, active politicians Axios analyzed.

  • Moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are also at the bottom of the list, just above the president.

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