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Vice is close to a deal
Here’s the latest in digital media:
Vice is close to a deal. In the proposed deal, existing lenders Fortress Investment and Soros Fund Management would acquire ($) Vice at a valuation of around $400 million. It would be a significant decline from the company’s peak valuation of $5.7 billion in 2017, and most other investors would be wiped out if the deal goes through.
Gannett released Q1 earnings. Overall revenue for the quarter declined 11% YoY, though adjusted EBITDA was down only 2% due to cost cuts at the end of last year. The company grew digital subscription revenue by 19% YoY, ending the quarter with just over 2 million paid subscriptions, and “digital marketing solutions” grew 3%.
Google is expected to debut new AI Search features. At its annual I/O conference this week, the company plans to announce ($) new features allowing users to chat with AI in its Search product. Google also plans to emphasize short form video and social media posts in Search, as it shifts further away from its traditional “ten blue links” format.
Let’s talk about AI’s impact on “de-risked” content.
Of all the AI takes I’ve read recently, I enjoyed this one the most. The essay explores how AI might change text-based media, drawing on author Dan Shipper’s experience as both an AI tinkerer and a founder of the media company Every.
Shipper makes several thoughtful points in the piece, but I want to focus on his prediction that AI will have a large impact on “de-risked” content.
In Shipper’s definition, “de-risked” content is created using a structured, repeatable process. This process can limit creative upside, but it helps provide readers with consistent, quality content. A few examples:
Summaries, like the ones you read in the section above
Formatted articles, like Axios’ bullet-point-heavy style
Interviews, which follow a Q&A format
In most cases, this type of content won’t be completely automated. A publisher’s AI summaries will still need editing; formatted articles like Axios’ will still rely on original reporting; and Q&As will still require the raw interview recording. But AI is already making it much easier to create this type of content.
For publishers, there are two main paths to explore. One is to use AI to more efficiently create your “de-risked” content. This could mean relying on AI to generate a first draft of content summaries or prompting AI to structure raw notes into a predefined format. Another is leaning into content that can’t be “de-risked,” such as original reporting & writing that comes from a unique point of view.
In considering these paths, I’m reminded of a series of questions Jeff Bezos posed in his last shareholder letter: “In what ways does the world pull at you in an attempt to make you normal? How much work does it take to maintain your distinctiveness? To keep alive the thing or things that make you special?”
AI will continue to play a larger role in content creation across formats. And in many cases, the technology will pull publishers and their content toward the average. In this environment, publishers must define and consistently protect what makes their content special. To quote Bezos again, from the same shareholder letter: “Differentiation is survival.”
And here’s more news from around the industry:
Shaq, Kenya Barris, and 50 Cent partnered ($) with Group Black to explore a purchase of BET.
Podcasts from NYT, NPR, and Slate are reaching ($) tiny audiences on YouTube.
Quartz’s traffic has dropped by about half since the site removed its paywall one year ago.
Fox launched Fox Local, an app that streams live news from local TV stations.
Google threatened to remove news results from Search in Canada if the government passes a bill requiring platforms to pay news publishers for their content.
Almost 45% of YouTube viewing in the US happens ($) on TVs.
Gmail is experimenting with placing ads in the middle of users’ inboxes.
Chartbeat data showed that Facebook accounted for only 11% of publisher referral traffic last month vs. 27% in January 2018.
Apple’s Q1 revenue declined 3% YoY, but its services revenue (which includes the App Store, Apple TV+, and Apple News+) rose 5.5%.
OpenAI is no longer training its models on data from paying customers.
And before we go, here are a few interesting reads:
Why the media business is hard. Every’s Evan Armstrong listed ($) several reasons after speaking with operators and investors across the industry. His one-sentence summary: “Consumers don’t want to pay you, Facebook is better at advertising, and unique distribution is necessary for long-term survival but almost impossible to get.”
BuzzFeed News published an oral history of itself. The post, which went live on BuzzFeed New’s last day, paints the picture of a site that was ahead of its time. In one example, the publication’s director of newsroom strategy recounted how the BuzzFeed News app helped popularize a more “conversational” style for push alerts.
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