January 23, 2024

Today's Media Trends, copy edited by Sheryl Miller, is 1,687 words, a 6½-minute read. Sign up.

NEW: Oscar nominations are out. Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" leads the way with 13 nominations, followed by comedy/drama "Poor Things" with 11 and Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon" with 10. Full list.

1 big thing: Netflix’s streaming win

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Netflix said today it struck a 10-year deal with WWE to air "Monday Night Raw," one of TV's longest-running weekly episodic programs.

  • "Monday Night Raw" has aired on linear television since its inception 31 years ago. It's aired on the USA Network continuously since 2005.

Why it matters: The deal, valued at more than $5 billion, represents a seismic shift for the entertainment industry as it transitions from linear TV to streaming.

  • It also marks a huge win for Netflix as it looks to expand further into livestreaming, even though it claims it's not all that interested in big-ticket sporting events.

Details: Beginning next January, Netflix will be the exclusive new home of "Monday Night Raw" in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Latin America and other markets. It will also become the official home for all WWE shows and specials outside the U.S.

  • The agreement gives Netflix the option to extend its partnership for an additional 10 years and to opt out after the initial five years, according to an SEC filing.

Between the lines: The deal is part of a broader shuffling of media rights at WWE, which was combined with UFC last year and taken public by Endeavor.

  • WWE's "SmackDown" franchise will move from Fox to USA Network this October. Its "NXT" franchise will shift from USA Network to the CW Network at the same time.

Be smart: The newly combined UFC-WWE company, trading under the name TKO, has struggled to gain investor optimism, in part due to uncertainty around upcoming rights packages. But shares in pre-market trading soared today on news of the deal.

What to watch: The WWE's landmark livestreaming events deal with Peacock, signed in 2021, comes up for renewal next year. Netflix will likely be a bidder for that package, as well as Peacock and other players.

2. Netflix enters 2024 earnings season ahead

Churn rate for select streaming platforms
Data: Antenna; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Netflix's stock is up more than 50% in the past year, a testament to its success retaining subscribers as rival streamers experience more churn, or cancellations and subscription lapses.

  • As the landscape matures, investors will be looking to see whether the company can sustain its momentum.

Why it matters: Netflix is still the only major streaming company that's profitable.

  • Hollywood strikes and changing Wall Street expectations around profitability have forced its competitors, who have wider remits than just streaming, to rethink their streaming investments.

Driving the news: Netflix will officially kick off earnings season for Hollywood this afternoon when it reports results for the three-month period ending on Dec. 31.

  • Better-than-expected subscriber growth last quarter suggested its price hikes, cheaper ad-supported tier, and efforts to crack down on password-sharing are working.
  • The company said earlier this month that its ad-supported tier now has 23 million global monthly active users, up from 15 million in November.

Yes, but: That does not mean that 23 million people pay for the ad tier monthly, but rather 23 million profiles have been activated. (Each Netflix subscription allows users to make up to five profiles.)

3. Exclusive: Nielsen inks Fox deal

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nielsen has inked a multiyear measurement deal with Fox Corp., Nielsen CEO Karthik Rao told Axios, marking an important step in ensuring it remains relevant with the country's biggest TV networks.

Why it matters: Despite the hype and investment around new measurement alternatives, the country's biggest TV networks and streamers rely on Nielsen to measure viewership.

Be smart: In addition to Fox, Nielsen also renewed its deal with NBCUniversal last year, sources told Axios.

  • Although NBCUniversal parent Comcast publicly confirmed its Nielsen renewal deal last summer, NBCU never did.
  • When asked to confirm, a spokesperson wouldn't provide comment on the deal or confirmation even though NBC Sports, Peacock and Telemundo have publicly attributed viewership numbers from Nielsen recently.

Zoom out: In a note to staff sent Tuesday, Rao said the Fox agreement is the latest in a string of 30 contract renewals that the firm has inked in the past six months, including networks like Hallmark and smaller local broadcasters, a source confirmed to Axios.

  • Nexstar and Nielsen have reached an agreement in principle for a deal soon. Deals with other major networks like Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery don't come up for renewal soon.

What to watch: One group that has no intention of exploring Nielsen alternatives at this point is the NFL.

  • The League, which has been supportive of Nielsen's plan to integrate Amazon's data in its livestream ratings, has been working closely with Nielsen for the last 18 months to help it modernize its ratings system, sources familiar with the conversations told Axios.

Go deeper

4. Arena Group deal on ice

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Most of Sports Illustrated's unionized staff were laid off Friday after its parent company, the Arena Group, failed to make a $3.75 million quarterly payment to Authentic Brands, the group that licenses the Sports Illustrated brand.

Why it matters: This might be the end of one of America's most iconic media brands and also for a planned takeover of Arena Group by entrepreneur Manoj Bhargava, best known for creating 5-Hour Energy caffeine products.

  • In August, Bhargava's venture firm Simplify Inventions announced a deal to buy a majority stake in the Arena Group, but that deal still hasn't closed.
  • A source familiar with the deal told Axios that Simplify could explore ways to back away from the deal if the ABG situation isn't resolved.
  • Bhargava is the largest shareholder of the Arena Group and sits on its board. He resigned as interim CEO a few weeks ago.

Details: The Arena Group executives were hoping to gain leverage over Authentic Brands Group — the company that controls the Sports Illustrated brand license — by withholding the payment, sources told Axios. ABG called that bluff and now dozens of people are out of jobs.

  • The decision to withhold the payment came from executives currently running the company and its board, sources told Axios.
  • Consultants from FTI Consulting are leading the Arena Group's team right now, two sources familiar with the company's leadership structure told Axios.

Go deeper

5. Union fights spike amid news industry chaos

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Roughly 400 members of the unionized staff at several Condé Nast brands, including Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, are walking off the job today in New York City, the NewsGuild of New York said.

Why it matters: The walkout comes months after Condé Nast said it would lay off approximately 5% of its staff, or roughly 300 people.

  • The company also announced last week that its music outlet Pitchfork is being folded into GQ.

The big picture: Strikes and work stoppages have become a bigger part of union negotiation tactics in recent years, as newsrooms face seemingly never-ending layoffs and cost-cutting.

  • Last week, unionized staffers at the Los Angeles Times planned a one-day, multicity walkout in protest of sweeping job cuts that are imminently expected.
  • On Monday, two of the LA Times' top editors resigned, less than two weeks after executive editor Kevin Merida also stepped down.

What to watch: The chaos at the LA Times underscores how desperate the news industry is to chart a plan for survival in the digital era.

  • A former top editor estimates the LA Times is losing $50 million a year, The Wrap reports.
  • The Washington Post was set to lose $100 million last year.

The bottom line: If billionaire owners can't make the LA Times or the Washington Post profitable, then the news industry has to ask itself: What can?

6. Meta reverses post-pandemic losses

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

Meta's stock reached an all-time high Friday, reversing the post-pandemic drubbing it took in 2022.

Why it matters: The company's investments in artificial intelligence have not only helped its ad business recover from a volatile market but have also convinced Wall Street that the firm is poised for future growth.

  • That's become critical amid declining investor interest in mixed reality and the metaverse. Meta is still losing billions of dollars on investments in those products.

The big picture: Meta's gains are especially notable considering how hard it's been for other ad-supported tech firms to regain their momentum since the market began to slow down in 2022.

  • Shares in Snap Inc. and Pinterest are still down 80% and 59%, respectively, from their all-time highs in 2021.

What to watch: Tech firms trying to find their footing in the AI era have been using a renewed focus on AI as a justification for layoffs, Axios' Megan Morrone writes.

  • Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, said it would cut 500 workers, or 35% of staff.
  • Google cut hundreds of jobs, including at YouTube, last week and suggested more are to come.

7. ESPN 's messy salvo

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

ESPN faces an existential crisis as it seeks to secure a streaming future while the cable TV bundle is in terminal decline.

Why it matters: Among a bevy of conflict of interest questions, the "worldwide leader in sports" being partially owned by a major professional sports league would shatter any wall between business and editorial.

What's happening: ESPN — which is owned by Disney — has been searching for a strategic partner since early last year to help it transition to a streaming-first operation.

  • No deal is close, but multiple sources say ESPN has been discussing equity stakes with the NFL, NBA and MLB.
  • The network reportedly held similar talks with distribution partners like Verizon and Amazon.

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8. 📺 The new bundle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Charter Spectrum's new multiyear carriage deal with TelevisaUnivision provides further proof of the way the pay-TV bundle is being reimagined for the streaming era.

Why it matters: The new deal, coming on the heels of a similar deal Charter struck with Disney last fall, creates a short-term road map for future negotiations between pay-TV providers and TV networks as the cable bundle shrinks.

How it works: TelevisaUnivision will create a new ad-supported premium subscription version of its streaming service ViX. Set to launch later this year, it will be available for free to Spectrum customers who receive TelevisaUnivision channels as part of certain packages.

  • Charter's deal with Disney last year made the basic, ad-supported tier Disney+ available to Spectrum customers.
  • Charter agreed to continue distributing Disney's linear channels but said it would exclude smaller channels from its bundle.