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Good morning from the U.K., where the latest research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Oxford University finds that the news industry has "Shiny Things Syndrome," an "obsessive pursuit of technology in the absence of clear and research-informed strategies."
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Major tech companies and moguls are pouring lots of money into initiatives to support quality journalism, after months of bad headlines about fake news and the longer-term struggles of business models for journalism, especially at the local level.
Why it matters: The efforts are meant to show tech's support for quality journalism, even though its products and business models often feel at odds with fostering a quality news ecosystem. Microsoft President Brad Smith discussed the topic with Axios' Kim Hart at an editors' gathering in Redmond, Washington...
"I think we should all care about high quality journalism. ... I keep hoping that we’re gonna see the journalism profession come out the other end. Remember, a decade ago, people were saying, 'Gee, there’s no future in high quality audio visual entertainment.' It [was] being decimated by cable and then a new business model emerged."— Brad Smith
Driving the news: Facebook says it's granting $300 million to news programs, partnerships and content over the next 3 years, matching Google's commitment of $300 million towards news initiatives last year and following Craig Newmark's $20 million donation to the CUNY Journalism School .
NEW: Wordpress, the content management tech company owned by web development giant Automattic, is also investing six figures in The News Project, Axios has learned.
Be smart: In many cases, it's a mutually beneficial relationship. Tech companies need quality local news to drive community engagement and trust, while local news companies could use help from tech leaders to support innovation.
"Tech leaders recognize the promises of technology better than anyone. They are increasingly aware also of the challenges — from misinformation to declining trust in media — that while not new, are being propagated at record speeds due to the pace and growth of the changes in our media ecosystem."— Jennifer Preston, VP for journalism, Knight Foundation
Between the lines: While the news industry welcomes these contributions, it will be difficult to reverse the tense relationships tech companies, and in particular Facebook, have had with publishers.
"There's a lot of critics out there in the local media space and there are a lot of bad feelings about algorithm changes Facebook made made last year. But local media still recognizes the need work with platforms and be more collaborative."— Nancy Cawley Lane, president, Local Media Association
Yes, but: Local news publishers have traditionally had a more welcoming relationship with technology companies than larger national publications.
The bottom line: These efforts are often opportunistic investments, just as much as they are philanthropic efforts.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Digital First Media said Monday that it has offered to buy Gannett Co., publisher of USA Today, for $12 per share. The offer is a 23% premium over Gannett's Friday's closing price and would value Gannett's equity at just over $1.3 billion, per Axios' Dan Primack.
And it's not just newspapers ... Local TV companies TEGNA, Hearst and EW Scripps are all planning to submit final offers for Cox Enterprises’ 14 broadcast TV stations at the end of January, people familiar with the matter tell CNBC's Alex Sherman.
The New York Times plans to build custom Alexa skills for advertisers through its branded content studio for roughly six figures. The campaigns will be sold as a white label service, with no distribution offering — just production.
Why it matters: Amazon doesn’t let brands sell sponsorships or ad integrations for Alexa, so this is the next best way for the NYT to make money off budding new technology for marketers.
Details: NYT is pitching the business after 3 months of field research showing how consumers will react to the technology.
Sebastian Tomich, NYT global head of advertising and marketing solutions, says the company can pitch what its newsroom has learned while building an Alexa skill on the backbone of storytelling, which allows it to better understand how the technology works.
Between the lines: The NYT strategy is really just to get ahead of any emerging tech and share those insights with its brand partners, even it's still in early stages.
The big picture: Data shows that there's a "skills gap" in the news sector on voice assistants. The Reuters Institute for Politics and Oxford University found last year that while news is widely requested on voice assistants in the U.K., it's less valued because there are fewer user engagement skills created in the news and storytelling industries compared to topics like traffic or weather.
Photo: Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Two big efforts to test horizontal swiping over vertical feed scrolling interfaces may offer hints from Silicon Valley about where mobile UX design is headed.
Be smart: The popular "Stories" format that was created by Snapchat and then adopted by Facebook-owned Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and the core Facebook app, have used this function for a while to allow users to advance through more content more quickly.
Why it matters: Via TechCrunch's Josh Constine: "Tap to advance...eliminates the need for big thumbstrokes on your touch screen that can get tiring after awhile. It also means users always see media full-screen rather than having to fiddle with scrolling the perfect amount to see an entire post. Together, these create a more relaxing browsing experience that can devour hours of a user’s time."
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Over-the-top digital streaming TV companies that don't charge people for access are rising as consumers face saturated budgets for subscription content.
Why it matters: While data shows consumers today are less tolerant of ads generally, the rise of these services shows that there's still an appetite for advertising if it's relevant — and if it means consumers can access their favorite content without having to pay a subscription fee.
Driving the news: News broke from Variety's Brian Steinberg on Monday that NBC plans to launch a free, ad-supported streaming service next year to anyone that subscribes to a pay-TV service.
Last Thursday, Amazon-owned IMDB launched Freedive, a free, ad-supported streaming video channel featuring hit movies and TV shows. The Freedive app can be viewed on mobile, desktop or on Amazon Fire TV devices.
Other free, ad-supported streaming services are growing, too, as subscription streaming services face stiff competition for consumers' budgets.
Between the lines: Some of these ad-supported streaming companies, which rely on new-age addressable (digitally automated) TV ads instead of traditional TV ads, could build lucrative businesses.
Meanwhile, subscription streaming growth in the U.S. is slowing thanks to an increasingly crowded market and budget-conscious consumers.
Be smart: One reason these free services are growing is that they have become a win-win for manufacturers, who need to add apps to new smart TV lineups, and for programmers, who need wider distribution for their content.
Viacom has made several small investments in digital technology companies over the past year, and it plans to do more.
Why it matters: The acquisitions haven’t gotten as much attention amid the barrage of headlines happening at Viacom’s former sister company CBS, and that’s partially by design.
The goal is to quietly push its business, made up of mostly legacy TV brands, into the digital future by acquiring companies with talent and technology that will help drive digital growth across its business and editorial operations — without throwing curveballs at investors.
“We don't want to do the type of M&A that is really in vogue to talk about, which is some massive transformation, vertical integration deal. But what we have been doing are these smaller accelerant deals.”— Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, at Citi's Global TMT West Conference last week
Driving the news: Viacom has held talks to acquire Tubi TV, a free service partly owned by MGM and Lionsgate that shows old movies and TV shows, sources tell The Information. “Viacom also late last year approached a Tubi TV competitor, Pluto TV, about a possible acquisition.”
By the numbers: Bakish says the completed acquisitions together total less than $100 million.
News of an outbound merger also broke this week. The Wall Street Journal reported that Viacom is in talks to sell a majority stake in its China operations, in an effort to scale there via a local partner.
The big picture: While Viacom leadership has been mostly quietly about any CBS merger rumors, it has been vocal about crediting some of its smaller acquisitions with enhancing its digital business, which could appeal to CBS stakeholders that have been skeptical about a merger.
The bottom line: Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has kept a pretty consistent strategy going to turn Viacom’s business around, regardless of what happens with merger talks.
Photo: Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images
"Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" is proving to be a key stop for Democrats who are positioning themselves for 2020 presidential bids," CNN's Brian Stelter writes.