Jul 21, 2020

Axios Media Trends

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1 big thing: 🚨 Drudge vs. the algorithms

In an upcoming book about Matt Drudge's life and influence, author Matthew Lysiak, a former New York Daily News reporter, says Drudge is frustrated by the way the unwieldy internet — driven by algorithms and big social media sites — has disrupted the American psyche.

Data: Parse.ly; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Why it matters: Drudge has been a dominant force in the trafficking of news and information online since the early days of internet publishing. But in recent years, data shows that the reclusive digital maverick doesn't push traffic to publishers like he used to, although he's still considered a powerful force.

  • "There’s already automated news sites. Google News, hello anybody? They actually, the idiots reading that crap think there’s actually a human there," Lysiak cites Drudge telling Alex Jones in 2015 in an interview.
  • "There is no human there! You are being programmed to being automated even up to your news. And, Apple News, I don’t know what that’s about."
  • "A same corporate glaze over everything. I don’t see the world that way. I live in a world that’s free, colorful, vibrant, takes chances, bold, stands up to power, and that’s where I’ve made my success."

"The Drudge Revolution," on sale next Tuesday, paints Drudge as a cutthroat businessman, who's more agnostic to politics than his website would let on.

  • "Matt Drudge is first and foremost a business man and a brilliant one," says Lysiak. "His interest is not in political loyalties. It's in page hits."

Yes, but: Despite Drudge's aversion to the big corporate news aggregators, they seem to have captured the attention of the distracted 21st-century news consumer.

  • By late 2018, The Drudge Report was no longer a top 10 referrer of internet traffic to publisher websites, according to traffic analytics company Parse.ly.
  • Today, it's fallen to #12, and drives roughly the same amount of traffic overall as Pinterest.
  • Since 2018, total traffic to publishers' websites within Parse.ly's network from Drudge Report dropped 14% from 2018 to 2019, and continues to do so. 

By contrast, news aggregators like SmartNews, Apple News, Flipboard, and apps in the ByteDance (Toutiao) and Google families have gained more traction with U.S. audiences over the years, per Parse.ly.

  • They sometimes come pre-installed on mobile devices, or are expanded off of another product that already had high adoption rates. Simply put: these platforms have a better user adoption model, especially on mobile.

Yes, but: Drudge Report is not alone. Other aggregators like Yahoo and MSN, which used to hold much more digital real estate, have seen similar declines.  

  • And Drudge's continued influence, despite fewer technology investments, shows that the world still craves voice and human curation.

The big picture: The influence of Drudge on the media publishing industry cannot be overstated, despite the fact that its waned in recent years.

  • To this day, many mainstream publishers still personally pitch Drudge with articles and headlines each day, hoping the internet sleuth will feature them prominently on his homepage.

What's next: Lysiak confirms to Axios a Vanity Fair report that his book is being turned into a film.

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2. Hate speech hits record high after George Floyd death

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The rate of hate speech online in the U.S., as tracked by one digital measurement firm, has been nearly 3x higher than normal since the day after George Floyd's death on May 26.

By the numbers: On June 3, at the height of nationwide protests, DoubleVerify, which uses its own technology to scan pages online so advertisers can avoid objectionable content, says instances of hate speech were more than 4.5x the usual — the highest rate it has measured to date.

Details: States with heavy protests experienced the highest levels of hate speech online.

  • Minnesota, Washington D.C., Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Virginia saw the highest spikes, per DoubleVerify. Each state has experienced at least a 2.2 times increase in its own average rate for hate speech online.
  • Real-world events tend to cause spikes in hate speech on the internet. Race-related controversies or violence, hate crimes and political events all tend to elicit more hate speech, DoubleVerify's VP of marketing Heather McKim tells Axios.

Between the lines: Hate speech was declining prior to the protests, McKim explains. "Also interesting is that following the outbreak of the pandemic until George Floyd’s death, we actually saw a pretty significant downward trend in hate speech overall."

The big picture: The spikes in hateful content, especially as it related to race and violence, have put pressure on tech companies to take action.

  • Last week, Axios reported that the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), an industry body consisting of the world's biggest advertising companies — including a few Big Tech companies — has agreed to try to define hate speech across the entire industry."
  • In a note to advertisers, Facebook's VP of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson said that the industry, via GARM, will agree on 11 standard definitions of harmful content that had been recently agreed to by GARM's brand safety working group "with immediate focus on Hate Speech + Acts of Aggression" and plan to align on those definitions next month.

Yes, but: Tech platforms still maintain their right to more narrowly define and police hate speech individually.

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3. Substack's moment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A number of writers and journalists have recently flocked to services like Substack to publish their own newsletters under the banner of independence, even as those services and writers themselves are increasingly recreating various benefits of working in a traditional newsroom.

Driving the news: Last week, Substack announced it will provide legal help to some its authors of paid newsletters, including pre-publication review and defense against threats, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

  • “Sometimes, powerful people think that if you’re an independent writer they can shut you up with a legal threat… so we wanted to take away that disadvantage of being independent,” Substack co-founder and CEO Chris Best tells Axios.
  • The company wants to help its newsletter writers with other business needs like "healthcare, personal finance, editing, distribution, design, and coworking spaces."

The big picture: While much of the initial rush to newsletters in the last few years has been fueled by individuals seeking to be be their own boss or as a rejection of working for a media company (and following its myriad rules), there’s a growing recognition that newsrooms do offer some important benefits.

  • Still: Writers who spoke to Axios said the trade-offs seem worth it.

What's next: Writers recently created the “Type House,” an informal group of business newsletter writers who provide each other with help, feedback and encouragement — much like colleagues in a newsroom.

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4. Newsroom layoffs will be brutal this year
Data: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.; Table: Axios Visuals

Even after the financial crisis, the annual number of newsroom layoffs won't come close what we're expected to see this year during the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

By the numbers: In the first 6 months of 2020, more than 11,000 newsroom jobs have been lost. That's nearly as many as were lost in all of 2009.

Why it matters: It could take years for the industry to recover from the thousands of lost jobs and cuts.

  • And it will ultimately push thousands of talented journalists out of the industry, many for good.

Driving the news: A slew of media organizations last week announced that previously-announced laid off staffers would be officially laid off.

  • McClatchy laid off 85 furloughed staffers last week.
  • The Guardian laid off 180 people, including 70 people in editorial.
  • BBC laid off 70 people last week, adding to the hundreds of job cuts its already made.
  • Vox Media laid off 72 furloughed staffers last week.

What's next: It's not going to end there. Sources tell The New York Post that broad-based layoffs are headed for NBCUniversal.

Go deeper: No media publisher is immune in the coronavirus era

5. News diets impact belief in COVID numbers
Data: Axios/Ipsos polls. May 1-4, 1,012 U.S. adults. July 17-20, 1,037 U.S. adults; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A rising number of Americans — now nearly one in three — don't believe the virus' death toll is as high as the official count, despite surging new infections and hospitalizations, per this week's installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Between the lines: Republicans, Fox News watchers and people who say they have no main source of news are driving this trend, Axios' Margaret Talev writes.

The big picture: Where you get your news has a strong correlation to your faith in the numbers.

  • Fox News watchers who say deaths are being over-counted shot up from 44% to 62%, even higher than Republicans overall.
  • Other big gains came from those who say they have no primary news source, from 32% to 48%; and those whose primary sources include local news, from 30% to 44%.
  • There was a smaller increase among people whose primary news source is one of the networks or major U.S. newspapers, while views of those who primarily watch CNN and MSNBC remained about the same.

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6. Fall TV season looks doomed

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

TV's infamous fall lineup of new shows and series is going to look a lot different this year, thanks to paused production during the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertain future of sports.

Why it matters: With fewer dramas, scripted shows and sports, analysts expect more consumers to "cut the cord" or ditch expensive cable and satellite TV subscriptions. For live TV loyalists that chose to stick around, expect more news, animation, reality TV, live performances and documentaries.

Driving the news: Netflix said Thursday that it doesn't foresee programming production in America to return until 2021

"If Netflix is telling you that they can't shoot content in the U.S. — and they've been out aggressively starting production around the world — that means that for the networks, it's not happening," says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst and Partner at LightShed.

  • "None of them are going to have a fresh season in the fall," he says.

The big picture: Networks have had to get creative to fill the gaps. But it's been hard for them to commit to definitive schedules without knowing for sure when production can return in the U.S. and what's going to happen to their fall lineups if sports don't return as planned.

  • Some are licensing shows from networks abroad. Others are removing hits altogether or adding safe bets, like animated series.

Yes, but: If live sports do come back, analysts say they could salvage Pay-TV losses and boast record-ratings from sports-deprived viewers.

The big picture: The concept of a fall TV season is about as old as color TV. Beginning in the 1960's, networks began to align programming slates with new automobile models that also debuted in the fall.

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7. Biden's summer ad strategy: Outspend Trump but play it safe
Data: Advertising Analytics; Note: Spending is for the weeks of July 7 to July 28, data as of July 15; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Joe Biden is outspending President Trump this month with big TV ad buys in traditional swing states, as Trump focuses on digital ads to shore up his base in what should be Republican strongholds, Axios' Hans Nichols and I report.

Yes, but: While Republicans have already booked $145 million in post-Labor Day TV ads in 11 states, the Biden campaign has yet to place its autumn buys — an approach that avoids telegraphing its strategy, but at some cost.

8. 1 fun thing: Bezos hated ads, now Amazon is top U.S. advertiser

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Amazon spent nearly $7 billion on U.S. advertising in 2019, making it the top ad spender in the country, according to a new analysis from Kantar featured in AdAge.

Why it matters: It wasn't that long ago in 2009 that Jeff Bezos triumphantly declared that "Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service."

  • Now that the e-commerce giant is in the business of selling hundreds of its own products, from voice assistants to TV hardware, it has a different perspective.
  • Bezos recently conceded last year that he "changed his mind."

By the numbers: Total U.S. ad spending in 2019 (in millions):

  1. Amazon: $6,879
  2. Comcast Corp.: $6,142
  3. AT&T: $5,484
  4. Procter & Gamble: $4,281
  5. Walt Disney Co.: $3,154
  6. Alphabet (Google): $3,130
  7. Verizon: $3,071
  8. Charter Communications: $3,044
  9. American Express: $2,990
  10. General Motors Co.: $2,952