The age of media sustainability is finally here
FN 165: It's 442 days to go before the election and everyone wants subscribers
Nobody wants traffic anymore. Subscribers are now the gold-standard for media start-ups as we head into the next US general election campaign.
The 2020 White House run was arguably the last hurrah for social-media-reliant outlets like BuzzFeed News, which saw its tactics and talents slowly be absorbed by the established beasts of the media industry.
The New York Times, which famously saw a Trump-bump in 2016, is now fending off a buzzy party of upstarts who are seeking profitability through a now tried and tested business model straight from Web 1.0: newsletters and events.
The young pretenders include Axios, Semafor, Puck and Punchbowl. All have one thing in common – they are a lot like Politico and many of their journalists used to work there.
Though their business models are slightly different (Semafor is avoiding VC funding) as well as their editorial angles (Puck promises to connect Hollywood and Washington, while Punchbowl is deeply focused on Congress), they all want visible recurring revenues in a bid to avoid an over-exposure to the peak and troughs of the online ad world.
The era of cheap money – a result of the 2008 financial crisis – is also behind us, with higher interest rates forcing investors to be more careful with their cash. Sustainability is the way forward and so is growth.
For these politically-focused outlets a strong outing during the general election campaign will be paramount to enlarge their subscriber bases as they take on New York Times’ juggernaut reporting duo, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan, who joined The Times in 2022 from Axios.
The Washington Post, which has quietly been building its 2024 election team, could be the dark horse in the reporting race. The Jeff Bezos-owned outlet has consistently shaped its strategy around breaking news and live formats, and the Amazon founder is now reportedly taking a greater interest in its performance.
The other medium to look out for is podcasts. The Ben Shapiro Show, The New York Times’ The Daily and Pod Save America are some of the biggest incumbents heading into the next election. Puck’s Tara Palmeri, another Politico alumni, has teamed-up with The Ringer podcast network to launch ‘Somebody's Gotta Win’.
“It's not partisan unlike so many other podcasts and it's not sanitised like the podcasts from the major news networks,” Palmeri told Future News. “It's an honest, irreverent and fun conversation with insiders.”
NPR’s Politics Podcast and The BBC’s Americast will also be ones to listen out for. The fun and games are set to kick-off on Wednesday, with a Trump-free debate on Fox News.
The former US President is reportedly planning to air a pre-recorded interview with Tucker Carlson, while Florida’s Ron DeSantis, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and other GOP contenders hope to take a chunk out of Trump’s 46-point lead.
Fox executives will no doubt be hoping that The Apprentice star will have a last-minute change of heart and attend the debate or its spin-room, where Trump surrogates are expected in what could be a spicy after-show affair for the media.
Rupert Murdoch, meanwhile, has allegedly made his own intervention and asked Governor of Virginia Glenn Youngkin to throw his hat in the ring. There are now 442 days to go before the election.
2. In the White Room. White noise and ambient experiences have become increasingly popular on platforms like YouTube and Spotify as users seek to counter the rise of fast-moving content with a more chilled offering. In the latter’s case they almost became too popular as Spotify executives allegedly considered banning white noise podcasts since they were a drag on profitability, Bloomberg has reported.
3. Algorithmic justice. How has the rise of generative AI changed the world? It’s bolstered the bank accounts of lawyers, that’s for sure. The latest AI-related case has seen a US federal judge rule that you can’t copyright AI-generated art. The decision fell in favour of The U.S. Copyright Office, with the judge stating that human authorship was a “bedrock requirement” to claim copyright ownership.
4. TV gold. Sir Michael Parkinson will be remembered fondly in Britain and other parts of the world as a master of the set-piece interview. Behind the friendly persona of the smiling Yorkshireman, there was the training of a hard-nosed journalist who rose from the provisional press to become a household name.
5. Mickey at the slots. The great US gambling liberalisation continues and now even Disney wants a stake in the burgeoning industry. ESPN has finalised a 10-year deal with casino and gaming company Penn Entertainment.
The $1.5bn partnership will see Barstool Sportsbook be rebranded under the ESPN banner, with Dave Portnoy buying back Barstool after selling the outlet to Penn for $500m 2020. Bob Iger’s second act at Disney is proving to be very eventful. Hollywood is still on strike.
6. After Twitter. I’ve tried to avoid becoming an X doomer, even trialling the paid-for option for two months. But the platform increasingly looks like the worst parts of YouTube, without the occasional high-quality content and with poor discoverability. But I’m also not convinced politicos and journalists (two of X’s core demographics) will move in a meaningful way to one of the current social media rivals. Is it time for a dedicated-platform for Westminster and Washington insiders? Utility would have to be at its core.
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