June 11, 2024

✏️ Today's Media Trends, copy edited by Bill Kole, is 2,007 words, a 7½-minute read. Sign up.

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1 big thing: 🚨 Local tipping point

A scatter plot of States with the most dark money or misleading local news sites vs. their 2020 presidential vote margin. Most states have between 5-20 of these sites, but a group of key swing states including Georgia, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin hold an outsized proportion of these sites, between 40 and 70.
Data: NewsGuard; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The number of partisan-backed outlets designed to look like impartial news outlets has officially surpassed the number of real, local daily newspapers in the U.S., according to a new analysis.

Why it matters: Many of those sites are targeted to swing states — a clear sign that they're designed to influence politics.

By the numbers: There are least 1,265 websites identified as being backed by dark money or are intentionally masquerading as local news sites for political purposes, according to a new report from NewsGuard, a misinformation tracking company.

  • 🗞️ As of last year, there were only 1,213 daily local newspapers in the U.S. That number may have gone down significantly since, but the researchers who track that data have yet to release an updated figure for 2024.
  • 🎯 Nearly half (45%) of the sites observed as part of the study were targeted to communities or regions in swing states, according to an Axios analysis of the sites. The most frequently targeted states are Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Michigan and Georgia.

Zoom in: There are eight primary organizations that have been identified as supporting most of the sites identified — four lean conservative and four lean progressive.

  • 🔴 The vast majority of the sites observed are backed by Metric Media, a conservative network traced backed to media entrepreneur Brian Timpone, who has links to conservative donors.
  • 🔵 Some of the more strategic sites are run by groups that are more much explicit about their funding and motives, such as Courier Newsroom and States Newsroom.

The big picture: The rapid decline of local newspapers has left a void that partisan actors on both sides of the political spectrum are eager to exploit.

  • The rise of artificial intelligence and new content generation tools have made it easier, faster and cheaper to build and market those outlets online.

🗞️ What to watch: Residents of battleground states, such as Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio have been targeted by partisan papers masquerading as independent local news outlets.

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2. Scoop: Fox Nation inks second deal with Kevin Costner

Photo: Richard Bord/Getty Images for Cannes Lions

Fox Nation, the subscription streaming service from Fox News, plans to release a new Kevin Costner show in the first quarter of 2025, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The service offers Costner and other Hollywood stars a platform for passion projects about topics like faith, outdoor living and true crime that are targeted to Americans in the middle of the country.

  • That focus has proven successful for Costner, who has recently struggled to capture a broad audience at the box office.
  • Costner's $100 million independently financed Western epic "Horizon," for example, only made $12 million in its domestic debut last week.

Zoom in: The new series is a spinoff of Costner's popular 2022 Fox Nation docuseries "Yellowstone: One-Fifty," a source confirmed to Axios.

  • It's being developed by Costner's Territory Film Studios, alongside Montana-based Warm Springs Productions — the same firms that produced his first Fox Nation series.

The big picture: The new series is part of a broader effort by Fox News to bring more Hollywood talent and entertainment programming to Fox Nation, which was mostly focused on news and opinion at launch.

  • Fox Nation recently announced a deal with Martin Scorsese to bring a faith-based series to the service in November. It has the exclusive streaming rights to Matthew McConaughey's film, "Deep in the Heart."

Catch up quick: Fox Nation's transition to an entertainment hub began a few years ago, but it really took off in 2022 when the service first partnered with Costner on "Yellowstone: One-Fifty."

By the numbers: Fox Nation has roughly 2 million paid subscribers, Fox News Media chief digital and marketing officer Jason Klarman confirmed to Axios.

  • Murdoch told Axios in 2022 that the total addressable market for Fox Nation is in the higher single-digit millions.

Zoom out: In transitioning Fox Nation to a hub for news-adjacent content, the company is able to expand into new verticals — such as lifestyle and outdoors content — that reach younger audiences.

  • The median age of a Fox Nation subscriber is 50, compared to 69 for Fox News' linear channel, a spokesperson said.

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3. AI adoption in advertising happening faster than expected

Share of ad revenue that is  AI enabled, by media channel type annually from 2015 to 2029, with 2024-2029 projected. Overall, Other media, Search and retail media are projected to see the largest growth. In 2015 the total ad revenue made from AI was less than 10%. By 2029 it is projected to be over 90% of all ad revenue.
Data: GroupM; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

More than 90% of advertising will be AI-enabled by 2029, three years earlier than originally anticipated by GroupM — one of the world's largest ad-buying agencies — per a new projection out today.

  • The vast majority of advertising revenue (69.5%) is already AI-enabled as of this year.

Why it matters: The rapid adoption of new consumer-facing generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT and Gemini, has put more pressure on the advertising industry to create personalized experiences for consumers.

Of note: GroupM's latest forecast doesn't include using AI for ad creative, which has already been widely adopted.

  • Advertising-enabled means AI, mostly generative AI, is used to help optimize the delivery and performance of an ad through things like recommendation algorithms, natural language processing and search optimization.

What to watch: Some mediums are adopting AI tools faster than others.

  • 🎧 The integration of AI into audio advertising showed the largest increase from GroupM's original 2022 estimate.
  • 🎙️ The agency now estimates that more than 75% of all digital audio ad revenue will be enabled by AI by the end of 2025, up from around 25% in its 2022 forecast.

4. Scoop: LinkedIn testing AI chat assistant

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

LinkedIn is testing an AI assistant for Premium members, Axios has learned. The product leverages Microsoft's AI technology to prompt users to chat with an AI assistant to learn more about a particular company or topic.

Why it matters: It's the job site's first major AI product targeted broadly to consumers instead of enterprise customers, like recruiters.

  • Other social networks, such as Snapchat and Meta's Instagram, debuted AI-powered assistant features last year.

Catch up quick: LinkedIn rolled out a set of AI-driven tools for recruiters and job seekers last year, including AI-assisted candidate discovery and an AI-powered coaching feature.

  • It teased the consumer-facing AI assistant last year, but it began rolling out the test broadly to more Premium LinkedIn users in recent weeks.
  • LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, which backs ChatGPT parent OpenAI.

State of play: The new LinkedIn AI assistant prompts readers to learn more about a particular company or topic when it appears in a post in the LinkedIn feed.

  • The information is delivered through a mix of insights posted publicly by LinkedIn's user base of over 1 billion globally, as well as results from Microsoft's search engine Bing.

Zoom in: A company spokesperson said the prompts will appear on most LinkedIn feed content, including long articles, videos and posts.

  • When a user clicks a prompt, they are guided to a chat box where they can ask LinkedIn's AI assistant for more information.
  • The chat box states at the top of the conversation with the user: "This AI feature is in beta and may make mistakes. Microsoft privacy policy may apply to your input."
  • Responses to user chat queries are labeled as being "Powered by Bing," Microsoft's search engine.
  • The spokesperson noted that the chat responses are personalized to users based on their skills and experience.

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5. 🏀 Crunch time for WBD

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Warner Bros. Discovery is attempting a fourth-quarter comeback in its bid to keep NBA TV rights.

Why it matters: Losing the NBA would be an existential threat for WBD's TNT and could cost the network millions in carriage fees, Axios' Tim Baysinger writes.

Zoom in: WBD continues to negotiate with the NBA, with talks centered around a smaller TV package than it's had in the past, according to two sources with knowledge of the discussions.

  • The WBD package could include some playoff games and take local games from regional sports networks, according to Puck.

The big picture: Many pro and collegiate leagues have expanded their media partnerships as tech giants like Amazon, YouTube and Apple descend onto the scene with huge wads of cash.

  • The NFL has added Amazon and YouTube as rights partners and will air Christmas Day games on Netflix this coming season. MLB has done deals with Apple and Roku.

Between the lines: If it can't get its own deal, WBD CEO David Zaslav has publicly touted WBD's ability to match a deal the NBA reaches with any newcomers.

  • WBD would likely try to match Amazon's deal, one source said. Amazon is paying $1.8 billion a year, while Comcast has committed $2.5 billion annually, per reports.
  • Once the NBA presents WBD with contracts from Comcast and Amazon, WBD would have five days to exercise those matching rights, one of the sources said. WBD's matching rights do not apply to Disney, an incumbent.

The NBA and WBD declined to comment for this story.

6. MAGA hits the market

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios; Photos: Getty Images

Conservative TV network Newsmax said it's planning to go public and launched a $225 million private placement, it said in a regulatory filing yesterday.

The big picture: Conservative companies see a financial opportunity in tapping into retail investment interest on the public market.

  • Shares in former President Trump's publicly traded media company, which houses his app Truth Social, are up 32% since the company went public in March, despite the fact that the company continues to lose a lot of money.
  • In an investor presentation, Newsmax quoted Trump saying, "You like Newsmax, I like it too ... Newsmax has been really good ... people are watching it ... it's terrific."

Zoom in: Newsmax said it plans to go public later this year or in 2025 either on the NYSE or Nasdaq with an offering of up to $75 million.

  • It cited a lack of trust in mainstream news sources and viewership growth as opportunities for the firm as a publicly traded company.
  • The Boca Raton-based firm earned $135 million in top-line revenue last year, it said, down from $148 million in 2021 following the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. It's projecting $180 million in revenue this year.
  • It didn't say whether it was profitable, but predicted it would achieve "30% + EBITDA margins within the next few years."

Reality check: Companies often present lofty projections to raise money ahead of their IPOs.

What to watch: Other conservative companies have not been able to ride the same retail investor wave as Trump Media & Technology Group.

  • Shares in Rumble, a conservative alternative to YouTube that went public in 2022, are up more than 33% year-to-date but are down 40% overall since its IPO.
  • Shares in Public Sq., a sales marketplace that promotes retailers with conservative values, are down 32% this year and more than 60% since it went public last year.

7. 1 fun thing: Trump media whisperer


Variety editor-in-chief Ramin Setoodeh has landed more on-the-record interviews with former President Trump (6) than any other reporter since he left office, a testament to Setoodeh's tenacity and also Trump's penchant for coverage as a reality star, not a politician.

Why it matters: There have been dozens of books published about the former president, but few have explored his psyche as it relates to Hollywood stardom.

Driving the news: "Apprentice in Wonderland: How Donald Trump and Mark Burnett Took America Through the Looking Glass," provides a detailed account — mostly in Trump's own words — about how his experience hosting "The Apprentice" on NBC created his media template that boosted his political career.

Some fun nuggets, exclusively for Axios:

  • Trump believes he has leverage over news networks for ratings. He bragged to Satoodeh about the ratings from his interview with NBC News' Kristen Welker last year, her first interview as host of "Meet the Press." "I heard it did phenomenally good. That's what I am, a ratings machine."
  • He takes credit for CNN CEO Chris Licht's ousting, telling Satoodeh that he thinks Licht was fired because he gave Trump a platform during a town hall event in May 2023. "That got high ratings — so high that they fired the guy that ran CNN because I got my point of view across," Trump said.
  • Eric Trump suggested to Satoodeh that the Trump family credits "The Apprentice" for its political stardom, "'The Apprentice' paved the way for the entire presidency," he said.

What's next: The book, available on Amazon, is out next Tuesday, June 18th.