Weekly Briefing: Friday, December 22nd
NYT Games, The Athletic on Apple News+, and more
Happy Friday! And welcome to Business Side’s Weekly Briefing.
In today’s edition:
Top developments at NYT Games and The Athletic.
Viewpoints from operators at Semafor, The Guardian, and The Juggernaut.
Plus more news from across the media industry.
Let’s get to it.
A quick programming note: We’ll be off next week and back in the new year. Happy holidays!
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NYT Games. Vanity Fair published a long piece exploring The Times’ bet on games. Here are a few of our takeaways:
Retention driver: Certain games like Wordle have exposed The Times to new audiences, but the paper evaluates games primarily on their ability to retain users. As a result, “People who engage with both news and games on any given week have the best long-term subscriber retention of any product combination in the bundle.”
Portfolio strategy: Before Wordle, “It was really Spelling Bee, in a lot of ways, that helped the company realize what a much bigger opportunity there was in games,” according to Head of Games Jonathan Knight. “It was driving subscriptions that were stacking on top of what was a pretty healthy and growing Crossword subscription. And so then the vision became: What if we have a portfolio of games?”
A growing staff: In 2015, there were about 15 people working on games at The Times. By 2020, that number had roughly tripled. Today, there are about 100 dedicated staffers.
The Athletic on Apple News+. Content from the NYT-owned sports site is now available to paying subscribers of Apple News+.
Back in 2020, NYT pulled out of its partnership with Apple News, saying at the time that the relationship didn’t align with its strategy to build direct relationships with readers.
Today, core NYT news content is still not available on the platform, but The Athletic deal represents a shift in thinking. The partnership is designed to get The Athletic “in front of as many people as possible” and, according to The Athletic publisher David Perpich, the hope is “that over time, they sign up for newsletters or find other ways to make it back to our platform."
From Apple’s perspective, the deal will bolster coverage in a key vertical. According to Apple SVP Eddie Cue, “We started really going after sports in the last two years with favourite teams [features] and other things. So I think the timing of it is actually just perfect, because they’ve now built up, obviously, a global and local presence – and we’ve built all these sports components on Apple News.”
Semafor CEO Justin Smith on hiring slowly:
And [our investor] also said, “You just got to get to the point where you … metaphorically have blisters on your feet, because you’ve pushed your existing resources so far. Only at that point, when you’re really feeling that pain, and you’re cutting into the bone, then consider adding incremental resources.” And I think that we’ve, in some areas, we’ve gotten to that point. And so our view towards 2024 headcount is to expand in very selective areas where that sort of intense pressure needs to be relieved with more staff.
Deming Headlight owner Nick Seibel on turning around his small-town New Mexico newspaper:
There are so many voices in those larger markets. TV, radio stations, independent websites. And sure, there’s more money, there’s more business potential. But in small communities, people really identify with their newspaper. And that’s really the key to making this work.
The Guardian’s deputy editor Owen Gibson on building direct relationships with readers:
[Readers are paying] because they want The Guardian to uncover new things in the world, to have an impact on the world, to cover subjects that maybe other outlets aren’t covering with real gusto, like the environment, like migration, global inequality, and that’s the reason they’re giving their money to us. There is that direct link between, I think, the reader and the journalism that is quite a special thing and hopefully we can build on that as we get more global, get more digital, do more journalism on more platforms.
The Juggernaut CEO Snigdha Sur on experimenting with short-form video:
Many people, especially young folks, will get their news and analysis from TikTok or Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts — whatever is the quick, easiest, most visual way to condense a nuanced issue. Newsrooms that don’t start testing these short video formats won’t be able to engage an audience hungry for information in an unstable political year.
Bloomberg Chief Digital Officer Julia Beizer on the declining role of platforms in news:
The search and social era gave us many gifts of audience, but it also robbed us of loyalty. The biggest challenge for the news industry this year and in the years to come is to figure out how to earn that back in a time where consumers are picking up new news consumption patterns and habits that will stick. This will start, of course, with trusted journalism that answers questions for users they didn’t even know they had and helps them navigate their worlds. But it will be bolstered by great user experiences, new useful delivery formats and opportunities to connect deeper with fellow readers.
Semafor Executive Editor Gina Chua on custom chat bots:
What custom chatbots offer is discovery on steroids; a way to query the collected — or at least published — wisdom of the newsroom, with some confidence the information presented has been verified. To be sure, it’s the sort of capability that Microsoft is rolling out for companies with its Office 365 Copilot program, but news organizations, with very specific needs for speed and accuracy, could use a really focused version of that.
Puck is launching a sports vertical and hired John Ourand from Sports Business Journal to lead its coverage.
Mail Online confirmed that it will put up to 15 articles per day behind a paywall.
Warner Bros. Discovery is in talks to merge with Paramount Global.
Allen Media Group offered $3.5 billion to buy BET from Paramount.
The Robinhood-owned Sherwood Media acquired Chartr Limited, a UK-based, data-driven media company.
The Copenhagen-based podcast startup Podimo raised €44 million in funding.
MacArthur Foundation announced $48 million in local news grants as part of the Press Forward initiative.
Amazon is in talks to invest in Diamond Sports Group, the biggest RSN that carries the games of more than 40 sports teams.
The Washington Post met its headcount reduction goal with voluntary buyouts, avoiding layoffs.
The FT’s US journalists are demanding an $80k minimum starting salary.
The Economist president Bob Cohn is leaving to become CEO of The Baltimore Banner.
Dow Jones appointed Jared DiPalma as CFO.
Vice named former Miramax CEO Michael Lang as its executive chairman.
The Independent hired Mail Online’s US editor Louise Thomas to accelerate growth in the US.
Fashion industry publication WWD named Eugenia Miranda Richman as its new EIC.
NowThis hired Sharon Mussali as CEO, its first since being spun out from Vox Media.
Google agreed to pay $700 million to settle an antitrust case claiming that the company’s app store operated as an illegal monopoly. Going forward, Google will also allow developers to use an alternate billing system in their app store.
Ahead of the 2024 US election, Google will limit the types of election-related questions its AI chatbot, Bard, will answer. The company will also require political advertisers to disclose if their content was generated using AI.
Arkansas-based outlet Helena World Chronicle filed a class-action lawsuit against Google, arguing that the platform is engaging in anticompetitive behavior and “starving the free press.”
In Canada, print and digital media will receive about ⅔ of the $100 million Google must distribute to news outlets each year. The remaining ⅓ will go to a mix of public and private broadcasters.
Google is also planning to restructure a big part of its 30,000-person ad sales unit.
Substack cofounder Hamish McKenzie defended the decision to not remove or demonetize Nazi content from the platform, arguing “we don’t think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away.”
Instagram head Adam Mosseri shared Threads’ plans for integrating with the fediverse.
Flipboard is also integrating with the fediverse, with plans to shift the app fully to ActivityPub by next spring.
EU regulators opened an investigation into X around the platform’s content moderation practices, advertising transparency, and other issues.
TikTok staff were told to avoid tagging or taking down any Amazon-related accounts, in order to protect the commercial partnership between the companies.
Ozy is suing Ben Smith, BuzzFeed, and Semafor, claiming that Smith “took the entire [Ozy] playbook” to build Semafor.
At least 68 journalists and media workers have been killed in the first ten weeks of the Israel-Gaza war.
The Atlantic analyzed its archives to understand how topics covered by the magazine have changed over time.
BuzzFeed released its most viewed content of the year.
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