Apr 27, 2021

Axios Media Trends

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Situational awareness: Google reports earnings at market close today. Facebook, Spotify, Amazon and Twitter also report earnings this week.

1 big thing: Podcast paywalls are here

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Podcasts have historically been open and freely distributed, but new subscription offerings for podcasts from Apple and Spotify aim to challenge that status quo.

Driving the news: Spotify on Tuesday launched a platform for podcasts exclusively for paid subscribers on and off Spotify.

  • Creators using Spotify's podcast creator platform Anchor will be able to mark episodes as subscriber-only and publish them to Spotify and other podcast listening platforms.
  • For the next two years, creators can pocket 100% of their subscriber revenue, excluding payment transaction fees. Starting in 2023, Spotify says it plans to introduce a 5% fee.

Apple announced a paid podcast platform last Thursday.

  • Apple will take a 30% cut from podcast subscriptions, similar to what it takes for any transactions made via apps within its app store.
  • That cut drops to 15% after the first year, but it's still much larger than Spotify's fee.

NPR also plans to launch a public radio podcast subscription service, the company confirmed to Axios.

  • The new NPR podcast subscription will allow listeners to directly support their favorite podcasts and receive sponsorship-free versions of individual podcasts for a small fee, a spokesperson tells Axios.
  • NPR says it will be partnering with Apple and Spotify on their new podcast subscription platforms, but it will also be committed to keeping content free.

The New York Times has had conversations around paywalling podcasts, but there are no imminent plans to put any behind a paywall, sources told Axios.

  • The Times purchased Audm, a subscription narrated article product, in March. A spokesperson says this "is an example of our ambitions in this area."

The big picture: The financial return on investment in podcasts remains to be fully realized for most creators.

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2. Award shows tank
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

An all-time low of fewer than 10 million people tuned into the Academy Awards on ABC, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.

Yes, but: ABC made good money on Sunday's sleepy telecast.

Data: Nielsen, Kantar Group; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
3. Publishers scramble to address new privacy changes

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Apple on Monday began rolling out its long-awaited app tracking transparency (ATT) feature that asks Apple iOS users whether they would like to opt out of having their data tracked by third-party apps.

  • Why it matters: The change has mobile ad publishers nervous of the impact that the update will have on their ad businesses.

By the numbers: Gaming app publishers originally told Axios that they expected very few people — 15-20% — to actually opt-in to having their data be shared.

  • But a new analysis from AppsFlyer, a mobile software company, says opt-in rates may be as high as 39%.

What to watch: Google said it had begun working with publishers and advertisers to test a new replacement solution to 3rd-party cookies called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which targets groups of people instead of tracking individuals. (Google and other web browsers are ditching tracking cookies.)

  • Yes, but: Several publishers, like WordPress, are skeptical of the effort.

Be smart: Some industry bodies, like ad tech giant The Trade Desk, are proposing alternative to third-party cookies that still allow marketers to track individuals, like Unified ID 2.0.

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4. Ad tech goes public

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New privacy measures aren't stopping ad tech giants from hitting the public markets with the wind at their backs.

  • DoubleVerify went public Wednesday at $35 per share, well above the $24 to $27 per share price set for the initial offering.
  • AppLovin, the mobile marketing and gaming platform,, went public last week. The company raised $2 billion in its IPO, valuing the company at $28.6 billion.
  • Outbrain is planning to go public at a roughly $2 billion valuation. Outbrain and Taboola are both hitting the public markets following a failed merger attempt.)
  • Taboola said in January it would go public via SPAC at $2.6 billion valuation.
  • PubMatic went public in December. The stock is trading at $55 per share — doubling its value since its public debut.

Why it matters: The elimination of third-party trackers and new privacy laws gave ad tech companies jitters a few years ago.

  • But rise of CTV (connected TV) ads have reinvigorated the ad tech economy. Market conditions have also made it easier for companies that raised lots of private cash to go public.
5. Scoop: Group Nine boosts discovery+ subs

Group Nine Media, the digital company that houses internet brands like NowThis, The Dodo, PopSugar, Thrillist and Seeker, drove over 200,000 subs to discovery+ in Q1, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Discovery, Group Nine Media's largest minority investor, has leaned more into its partnership with Group Nine as it ventures into streaming.

Group Nine's web properties are running promotions for Discovery new streaming platform Discovery+. Those promotions guide users to the Discovery+ sign-up page. Clicks are being tracked and attributed to Group Nine.

The big picture: The tightening of the relationship between Discovery and Group Nine is notable given that several legacy media investors have moved away from their strategic investments in digital media properties amid financial struggles.

  • Most notably, Disney wrote down $157 million of its initial $400 million investment in Vice, shortly after reports suggested that the company was expected to lose money in 2018.

What's next: Expect Group Nine to play a large role in Discovery’s Upfronts presentation next month.

Go deeper: The companies are starting to sell ads together, sources say

6. Building BILD (and WELT)

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Claudius Senst, COO of Insider, was named CEO of German publishing giants BILD Group and WELT Group on Monday.

The big picture: In an exclusive interview with Axios, Senst laid out the vision for how he plans to build Axel Springer’s German media giants into more diversified brands across different revenue streams.

  • "We are seeing initial success on podcast side," Senst says. "It's nothing close to the success of Morning Brew, obviously, but I think the same things we're seeing in the U.S. in audio commerce, syndication, affiliate revenue, etc., those are interesting growth areas for us."
  • He also noted an appetite from Axel Springer to bridge learnings and best practices between U.S.-based publications and their German counterparts. Growth, Senst says, is a priority.
  • BILD this month announced the launch of a linear TV network, an unusual step for Germany's biggest newspaper company.

By the numbers: BILD, Germany's largest publisher, currently has more than 500,000 digital subscriptions, per Senst. WELT, Axel Springer's professional news group, has more than 150,000.

What's next: Senst, who has been with Axel Springer since 2013, will join Insider’s Board of Directors and remain on the Board of Directors of Morning Brew. He starts his new position in Germany later this year.

7. 🎼 Wall Street's hot new asset
Reproduced from Shot Tower Capital; Chart: Axios Visuals

Phones and streaming platforms have turned music rights into something like a digital annuity that more investors have become interested in buying, Axios' Hope King and I write.

Why it matters: Investors want income independent from politics or the rest of the market and they see music as that potential source of cash flow. 

  • "It's an asset class where you can generate yield," says Anthony Tittanegro, Executive Director at Domain Capital Group.

What’s happening: Streaming music now accounts for more than 60% of global recorded music sales.

  • “Music is now viewed as a highly resilient uncorrelated asset class,” Larry Miller, director of music business at NYU Steinhardt, tells Axios.
  • “From the investor standpoint, the life of a copyright is long [and the] volatility is low — especially when investing in a large music catalog — and the tide is rising, driven by streaming.”

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8. 1 fun thing: How McSweeney's survived the pandemic

Photo of McSweeney's Executive Director Amanda Uhle, Credit: McSweeney's

McSweeney's, the 23-year-old non-profit publishing company, tripled its readership during the pandemic, Executive Director Amanda Uhle tells Axios.

  • 2020 book sales were up 55% year over year, thanks to moving its mostly brick and mortar book sales line to its website.
  • "Our books are objects that people want to pick up," Uhle says. "When that went away and we had to sell books based on a thumbnail image, we had to think about books in a different way."

Why it matters: Most people know McSweeney’s from its humor website, which Uhle says now sees over 3 million monthly unique visits — triple the average pre-pandemic.

  • But the company, which became a non-profit in 2018, mostly stays afloat selling print books and magazines subscriptions.
  • Magazine subscriptions soared during the pandemic.
  • "McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern," a literary journal, saw a 57% increase in subscriptions.
  • "Illustoria," its art & storytelling magazine for kids, saw a 133% subscription boost.

By the numbers: In total, about 20% of its revenues typically come from donations, although Uhle says donations have declined dramatically during the pandemic.

  • Its total budget is around $1.3 million.

What's next: A huge part of the McSweeney’s mission is to support the book publishing ecosystem, which includes independent publishers.

  • Next year, McSweeney’s will publish a new book by founder Dave Eggers as a hard cover, available only in independent book stores.