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Weekly Briefing: Friday, November 10th
NYT crosses 10 million, WaPo’s new CEO, and more
Happy Friday! And welcome to Business Side’s Weekly Briefing.
In today’s edition:
Top developments at NYT, WaPo, and Jezebel.
Benchmarks on publisher earnings, subscriptions, and The Verge’s redesign.
Viewpoints from operators at BDG, Polygon, and ProPublica.
News from across the media industry.
Let’s get to it.
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NYT crosses 10 million. As part of its Q3 earnings report, the company announced that it now has more than 10 million subscribers – with 9.41 million digital-only subscribers and 670,000 print subscribers.
Last year, the company crossed 10 million subscriptions, but it’s now tracking toward a goal of 15 million subscribers by 2027. This shift reflects an increased focus on selling a “multiproduct bundle” – with the goal of increasing average revenue per user (ARPU).
Currently, about 40% of digital-only subscribers are subscribed to at least two Times offerings, which include News, Games, Cooking, The Athletic, and The Wirecutter. The company hopes to grow this above 50% in the coming years.
According to CEO Meredith Kopit Levien, the company’s non-news products are “increasingly effective as on-ramps to the bundle.”
WaPo’s new CEO. Last Saturday, we learned that Will Lewis, the former Dow Jones CEO and WSJ publisher, will be the new CEO of The Washington Post.
Lewis takes over a paper in transition. WaPo is on track to lose $100 million this year, and digital subscribers have dipped to 2.5 million, down from 3 million.
At a staff meeting earlier this week, Lewis appears to have made a strong first impression, emphasizing his love of journalism and acknowledging the challenges ahead: “We’re not in a place that we want to be in, and we need to get to that place as fast as we can.”
RIP Jezebel. The site’s parent company G/O Media is suspending the pioneering feminist publication, restructuring several other editorial teams, and laying off a total of 23 staff.
Several weeks ago, Axios reported that Jezebel was up for sale. But the company couldn’t find a home for the site after talks with “over two dozen potential buyers,” according to CEO Jim Spanfeller.
Spanfeller cited “economic headwinds” as a factor, adding that “our business model and the audiences we serve across our network did not align with Jezebel’s.”
Founding editor Anna Holmes’ recent essay “Jezebel and the Question of Women’s Anger” serves as a fitting coda, examining the site’s influence on journalism and online discourse.
NYT: Overall revenue increased 9.3% YoY, with ad revenue up 6%. The Athletic grew revenue 45.8% YoY, due to a subscriber increase and the introduction of display ads.
Dow Jones: Overall revenue for the business unit, which includes WSJ and Barron’s, grew 4% YoY – with subscription revenue up 5% and ad revenue down 3%. WSJ subscriptions grew 6%, for an average of 4 million in the quarter.
DotDash Meredith: Digital revenue declined 4% YoY, driven by a 12% decline in digital ad revenue (though notably affiliate commerce revenue grew by 49%).
Gannett: Overall revenue decreased 9.1% YoY, though digital revenue increased by 2.7% and digital-only subscription revenue grew by 15.9%.
BuzzFeed: Overall revenue declined 29% YoY, with declines in advertising (35%), content (32%), and commerce revenues (3%).
“State of subscriptions” research (The Rebooting & BlueConic):
57% of surveyed publishers saw less than 10% growth in their subscriptions revenue this year, with 27% experiencing flat or declining growth.
91% expect subscription revenue growth next year, with 53% expecting growth of up to 20%.
57% cite “subscriber growth” as their biggest challenge; 32% cite “churn” and 11% cite “revenue growth.”
Only 38% of publishers were “satisfied” with their subscriptions progress, while 32% were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.”
The Verge’s redesigned website (AdWeek)
According to EIC Nilay Patel, The Verge’s redesigned site has seen:
Loyal users (with at least 5 visits per month) increase by 62%.
Clickthrough rates for homepage content increase by 25% on desktop and 48% on mobile.
Total comments increase by 90%.
According to Comscore, however, The Verge has seen:
YoY traffic decreases in 11 of the last 12 months.
An average of 11 million monthly visitors since the redesign vs. 17.3 million for the year before the redesign.
Bloomberg Media topped 500,000 subscribers, with 60% in the US, 20% in Europe & the Middle East, and 20% in Asia.
The Daily Mail publishes an average of 1,490 articles per day, while The Guardian publishes an average of 373.
ChatGPT has 100 million weekly users, and over 2 million developers are building on its API.
Meta announced that there are now 1 million paid subscriptions to creators on Instagram.
Jezebel founding editor Anna Holmes on the site’s legacy:
I see Jezebel not as the beginning of the end of the digital-media era but as a moment—a spark—within an ongoing discussion about gender politics. That conversation has led to new realities around sexual assault and harassment, pay inequity, and cultural depictions of women. It also makes some people uncomfortable—in part because it involves women expressing their anger in public and sustained ways.
BDG’s CRO Jason Wagenheim on the company’s push into events as a way to differentiate against platforms:
Traffic is down for everybody [and] anybody that thinks a site’s vitality exists solely with a Comscore number is just wrong in 2023. We’ve made our bets in the right places, and advertisers continue to come to us for things that Google, Facebook, linear [TV] networks and other big platforms out there just don’t do or can’t do.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on WhatsApp’s potential:
If you’re envisioning what will be the private social platform of the future, starting from scratch, I think it would basically look like WhatsApp… Now that everyone has mobile phones and are basically producing content and messaging all day long, I think you can do something that’s a lot better and more intimate than just a feed of all your friends.
Polygon’s EIC Chris Plante on experimenting with WhatsApp Channels:
With the collapse of Twitter, we’re living in a social media landrush. This is an exciting, albeit chaotic, opportunity for us to experiment with other platforms and gradually discover what makes sense for our audience… Communicating on What’sApp is effectively communicating through text messages, so we try to make the experience akin to getting occasional updates from a friend. The result, somewhat intentionally, feels like micro-blogs — little missives on the stuff we love to watch, play, and read that live alongside news and short grabby notes that would fit comfortably on Twitter/X.
Black Enterprise SVP of digital strategy Justin Barton on how advertisers’ keyword blocklists can affect black-owned publishers:
There are certain terms that aren’t negative in this space. It might be negative if it’s on The New York Times, but it’s not negative when it’s on Black Enterprise. Keywords [need] to be more relevant to the current time.
ProPublica’s former president Dick Tofel on why there are not enough failures in nonprofit news:
But in far too many cases, I think the fault for the low failure rate traces back to funders who don’t really believe their own rhetoric about taking risks, who are afraid that the failures of what were initially acknowledged as experiments will reflect poorly on them, and who thus throw good money after bad.
T2/Pebble co-founder Gabor Cselle on why his Twitter alternative didn’t take off:
There was a glut of alternatives, and we couldn’t clearly articulate a differentiator beyond trust and safety.
Being kinder and safer is not enough of a differentiator, because kindness and safety by themselves aren’t interesting enough. There was not enough interesting content on the platform for the experience to become a daily habit.
I mistakenly didn’t prioritize building an app, which would have helped with retention, or an API, which would have helped with pumping more content into the platform.
Former Kotaku staffers launched Aftermath, a new worker-owned site covering video games and internet culture.
Wired is launching a new vertical focused on the intersection of tech & politics, with a staff of one editor and four dedicated writers.
CBS launched CBS News Confirmed, a new unit focused on investigating misinformation and deepfake videos.
Cityside is launching a nonprofit newsroom in Richmond, CA.
Yahoo Finance redesigned its website, now with 40% fewer ads and more advanced charts and tools.
BuzzFeed launched a weekly culture & entertainment podcast under the HuffPo brand in partnership with Acast.
Press Forward, the local news initiative with more than half a billion in funding, wants to “raise the next $500 million at the local level.”
Salon was bought by Find.co, a two-year-old Malta-based media company, for an undisclosed sum.
Sports betting group Better Collective has agreed to buy Canadian sports media company Playmaker Capital for $188 million.
Agentio, an advertising platform for content creators, raised $4.25 million in seed funding.
Peter Chernin’s North Road acquired a “significant stake” in Two One Five Entertainment, a production company created by the musicians Questlove and Black Thought.
Personnel (pt. 1):
The actor’s union SAG-AFTRA has reached a tentative deal on a new contract with Hollywood studios after a 118-day strike.
Vice is restructuring under two business units – Publishing, News, and Creative services & Studios, Television, and Distribution – and plans to reportedly lay off “less than 100 employees.”
The UK publisher Reach plans to lay off about 450 employees, almost 10% of its staff.
More than 750 journalists signed an open letter condemning Israel's killing of journalists in Gaza and criticizing media coverage of the war.
Hearst announced a new social media policy, which reportedly warns staffers that “liking” controversial content could result in their termination. In response, the union representing Hearst editorial staff filed a complaint with the NLRB.
The Condé Nast Union delivered a letter to CEO Roger Lynch, asking for transparency around proposed layoffs and restructuring.
Personnel (pt. 2):
Recurrent Ventures appointed Andrew Perlman as CEO after dismissing former CEO Alex Vargas after one year in the role.
Time named Dave O’Connor as president of Time Studios.
BDG’s CRO Jason Wagenheim is leaving the company to become the North American CEO for the soccer-focused media company Footballco.
The Guardian US appointed Emilie Harkin as SVP, Growth to oversee the publication’s reader revenue strategy.
Vox Media named Brian Leung as its new general counsel.
Meta is banning political advertisers from using its generative AI advertising tools.
Microsoft is offering a video authentication tool to US politicians and campaign groups to help combat deepfakes.
New EU rules will require tech platforms to clearly label political ads and disclose who paid for them.
As a result of Twitter/X’s shifting policies, more than 100 research studies focused on the platform have been canceled, suspended, or changed in the past year.
Platforms (pt. 1):
Google is expanding its AI-powered Search Generative Experience to more than 120 new countries
Starting next year, Google AdSense will pay publishers per impression (instead of per click) and will start “splitting the AdSense revenue share into separate rates for the buy-side and sell-side.”
After YouTube expanded a test to cut down on ad blocking, it appears that a record number of ad blockers were uninstalled – and reinstalled – in October, as users searched for alternatives that don’t violate the platform’s guidelines.
Separately, YouTube is testing new generative AI features, including one that summarizes the comments below a video.
Platforms (pt. 2):
OpenAI is releasing a no-code platform for making custom versions of ChatGPT.
Spotify is now offering 15 hours of free audiobook content to paid subscribers in the US after debuting the feature in the UK and Australia last month.
Disney is planning to test a new app that combines Disney+ and Hulu into a single streaming platform.
TikTok is shutting down its $1 billion creator fund.
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