Sep 24, 2019

Axios Media Trends

By Sara Fischer
Sara Fischer

Today's Media Trends is 1,757 words, a 6.5 minute read. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here.

Situational awareness: Google has won a landmark "right to be forgotten" case in Europe, meaning it will not be forced to filter search results for Europeans outside of the region.

  • It's considered a major win for free speech activists, who worried that if one region was allowed to dictate the search results in another country, any region could do it — such as China potentially dictating search results for users in the U.S.
1 big thing: Streaming wars create mini-Hollywoods

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

ROVINJ, CROATIA — Streaming giants looking to grow overseas are shelling out billions of dollars to local content producers, fueling a new production economy all over the world.

Why it matters: Companies like Amazon and Netflix need local languages and storylines that are native to the regions where they need to win over subscription budgets. They can't do that from Hollywood.

The rush to create localized content is being felt particularly in countries like Croatia, Serbia, and other parts of what was formerly Yugoslavia.

  • Once a bastion for Hollywood film production prior to the Yugoslav Wars, the region still has resources and expertise in production that new Hollywood giants are flocking to, says Nebojša Taraba, a Croatian producer whose hit Croatian TV series "The Paper,” was acquired by Netflix last year and became a global success.
  • HBO came to the region in 2016 when its European arm launched HBO Adria, a premium cable channel serving countries like Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Macedonia.

The promise of local content investment was the center of focus at "The Weekend" Media Festival in Croatia this past weekend, where thousands of producers, editors and media professionals from the region gathered to talk about streaming and local content.

  • Yes, but: The influx of cash to the region isn't occurring without some drama. Local telecom companies and TV networks are struggling to compete with the influx of money being poured into rivals by outside groups and private equity giants. Tension was visible during one of the panels at the event.

Be smart: The popularity of shows shot in the region, like Game of Thrones, has further lured Hollywood giants to the area.

  • Large tax incentives — as well as scenic backdrops and cheap labor — also help drive interest of Hollywood heavyweights to the region.

Between the lines: Regions all over the world are experiencing similar demand.

  • In Latin America, former Univision Chief Content Officer Isaac Lee and several of his former colleagues have launched Exile Content, a Mexico City-based production company that's producing content for big streamers in Latin America and Spain.

Go deeper.

BONUS: Netflix's global woes
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Data: Investing.com; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors are increasingly worried competition from rival streamers may be taking a toll on Netflix's subscriber growth.

The big picture: Netflix's international growth may have hit a wall, analysts from Evercore ISI said in a note Friday. International downloads of the Netflix app have been slowing since July, Axios' Dion Rabouin writes.

  • The app’s international downloads in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store this month have grown about 5% from the same period last year, compared to 21% growth in July and August.

The bottom line: Netflix has been spending significant cash overseas, dropping $500 million on a U.K. studio last year with expectations to increase that number this year.

2. Blogger battles heat up

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The competition to oust Wordpress as the top website-building platform is heating up, with challengers pouring millions of dollars into marketing campaigns and readying bids to go public.

Why it matters: WordPress has remained the dominant tool in the field of website-building for a decade. But competitors see a lucrative opening to challenge it by focusing on design, simplicity, and community — values that have become more important to consumers in the era of social media and easily-accessible editing tools.

Driving the news: Squarespace is launching a large, multi-city ad campaign Tuesday, Axios has learned.

  • Squarespace has been investing more in strategic marketing and customer acquisition as it readies for an IPO in the next few years, sources tell Axios.

The news comes just days after Squarespace rival Automattic Inc., the parent company of web publishing platform WordPress.com, announced it raised $300 million as part of a Series D round from Salesforce Ventures, putting Automattic’s valuation at $3 billion post-funding.

  • Wix, the Israeli-based web-building platform, reached its highest point on the Nasdaq this summer. The company made its name years ago when it raised over $120 million dollars upon going public at a $750 million valuation.
  • Medium, which is mostly for professional editorial bloggers, has recently launched a slew of magazines that it sells under one bundled subscription.

The bottom line: "A website for everyone" is the cry of a bygone tech era, but most businesses and individuals still need to set up their own websites.

Read the whole story.

3. Scoop: The Information, Bloomberg discuss bundled subscription

The Information has held talks with Bloomberg Media about a bundled subscription, sources tell Axios. The talks were preliminary and a potential partnership is not confirmed. 

Why it matters: Both business cater to a high-end business consumer, so the audience alignment makes sense.

The big picture: The subscription landscape is growing so competitive, that news companies banning together to sell joint subscription packages may be the next big trend.

  • Both The Information and Bloomberg Media's individual subscription price is higher than the typical consumer subscription, at $400 and $340, respectively per year.
  • The news comes as The Information looks to grow its corporate subscriptions.
  • Bloomberg launched its consumer-facing subscription service in 2018.
4. Local media consolidation dealt major blow

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Federal Communication Commission's vote to relax decades-old broadcasting ownership rules was struck down Monday by a federal appeals circuit court, dealing a massive blow to local broadcasters looking to consolidate to survive.

Why it matters: It's unclear what the ruling means for the state of current transactions, or the many other companies looking to buy or sell stations based on the new ownership cap that has been struck down by the 3rd Circuit.

Case-in-point: Just last week the FCC voted to approve Nexstar's historic $4.1 billion acquisition of Tribune Media, which would create the largest U.S. local television group.

  • Gray Television's $3.6 billion takeover of Raycom last year was approved on the basis of the new rules.

Be smart: The ruling is also a rejection of the Trump-era FCC's philosophy that has pushed to deregulate legacy industries, like broadcast, to allow them to better compete with Big Tech.

What they're saying: Democratic FCC Commissioners are lauding the decision. Republicans are furious.

What's next: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the Commission will dispute the ruling.

Flashback: The local TV consolidation race is here

5. Advertising Week's big trend: Alliances

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Here's what you need to know heading into Advertising Week:

  • The ad market is healthy and is forecasted to grow slightly higher than expected during the second half of the year due to positive economic growth.
  • Yes, but: Experts worry that a recession or economic downturn could impact spending by some of the biggest categories in the years ahead: Tech, Finance, Retail and Travel. So while the second half of the year should look as rosy as the first, 2020 and 2021 may start to look different.

The big picture: The ad market is still mostly controlled by Google and Facebook, and after years of trying to figure out how to take on the "duopoly," publishers have mostly resorted to the same thing they've been trying to do for years: team up.

What's new (in digital):

  • The Washington Post said last week that it's creating an ad network for premium publishers to take on Google.
  • BuzzFeed, Group Nine. and Insider (Business Insider) are creating an ad sales alliance to sell video ads, The Wall Street Journal reports.

What's new (in TV):

  • NCC Media, a joint ad venture between some of the biggest cable companies, said it's rebranding and added new data targeting options for TV.
  • AT&T's Xandr ad company said it added Bloomberg and Vudu to its joint ad marketplace for video advertising sellers.
  • Open AP, an advanced TV ad alliance between big networks like Viacom, NBC and Fox, announced a new buying strategy and leadership changes.

Yes, but: On the buy side, advertisers aren't all aligned on whether or not they support these join efforts from the publishers.

  • During a panel I moderated last week at AT&T's advertising conference, some of the country's biggest buyers noted that sellers do these things to make it easier for them to sell ads, but these fragmented alliances don't always make ads easier to buy.

Go deeper: The rise of addressable ad alliances

6. Google, Facebook competitors come clean

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Smaller competitors to Google and Facebook that for years kept their legal grievances about the companies silent are beginning to speak up, as regulators probe anti-competitive behavior by the two Silicon Valley giants.

Why it matters: Many smaller tech companies once hesitated to call foul on Facebook and Google's dominance, fearful that doing so would make them look weak or unable to compete.

Driving the news: Facebook competitors are gathering intelligence for Federal Trade Commission officials about ways the tech giant may have exploited its dominance to punish Snapchat, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Snapchat's legal team has reportedly kept a set of documents dubbed "Project Voldemort" with evidence of the allegations.

Be smart: A similar scenario broke out earlier this year with YouTube when the Justice Department was considering an antitrust investigation into Big Tech companies.

The big picture: The news comes a day ahead of a critical Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington Tuesday that will examine the market dominance of companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

Go deeper: Read the whole story ahead of today's hearing

7. 1 🎬 thing: New streamers battle over old content
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Table: Axios Visuals

Streaming services are putting up billions of dollars to win the rights to TV classics like "Friends" and "Seinfeld," both of which debuted over 2 decades ago on broadcast.

Why it matters: Many of these classic shows had previously been made available on other streaming services, but they're now being scooped up — and often for a lot more cash — by rivals who think they're necessary to compete for users.

Yes, but: One of the biggest challenges the streaming industry will face in the next few years is that there's no real way to determine how much companies should actually shell out for content.

  • When it comes to traditional television, Nielsen ratings have for years guided executives in deciding how much to pay and whether it's even worth an investment. For streamers, no universal metric exists.

Case-in-point: Hulu, which currently owns the streaming rights for Seinfeld, reportedly paid $130 million for the rights to stream the show domestically over 6 years starting in 2015 (Amazon currently has the international rights).

  • Netflix, meanwhile, reportedly paid more than $500 million for the global streaming rights for Seinfeld over 5 years starting in 2021.

Go deeper: Streaming's cancel culture problem

Sara Fischer