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Weekly Briefing: Friday, October 27th
Forbes’ AI search engine, Hearst’s new puzzles, and more
Happy Friday! And welcome to Business Side’s Weekly Briefing.
In today’s edition:
Top developments at Forbes, Hearst, and Mill Media Co.
Benchmarks on platform earnings, media trust, and X/Twitter usage.
Viewpoints from operators at Condé Nast, Axel Springer, and Bleacher Report.
News from across the media industry.
Before we dive in, a quick programming note: We’ll be off next Friday, back the following Friday, November 10th.
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Forbes’ AI search engine. The new tool, named Adelaide, allows site visitors to ask a question and receive an AI-generated response, along with links to five relevant Forbes articles.
The product uses Google’s machine learning tech and was initially trained on 12 months of Forbes’ archives (the plan is to eventually train it on the entire archive). It took about two months to develop.
The hope is that the tool will increase site engagement, and the team is tracking success metrics including pages per session, sessions per user, and time spent.
It will be interesting to watch if and how Forbes integrates the product into the existing search functionality on its site. Google and Bing are wrestling with that same question.
Hearst’s new puzzles. Last week, the publisher debuted Puzzmo, a collection of daily puzzles formatted like the puzzle page of a print newspaper.
Puzzmo appears to be drawing inspiration from – and counter positioning against – NYT’s Games offering. Puzzmo creator Zach Gage said, "The New York Times, who basically have the preeminent product in this space, doesn't have a very extensive product. If you look at what they're doing, it's basically links to games."
The success of NYT Games, however, doesn’t rest on its extensiveness. It succeeds based on its ability to attract and retain users – and ultimately to drive subscriptions, both as a standalone offering and as a key piece of NYT’s All Access subscription.
If the Puzzmo team can build a retentive product, they’ll have to navigate similar business questions – chiefly, how to integrate the offering into Hearst’s news subscription.
Local news outlet expands. Not a headline you see often, unfortunately. But the UK’s Mill Media Co is bucking the trend. The publisher is expanding to Birmingham next month, after building profitable titles in Manchester, Liverpool, and Sheffield.
Mill Media Co began as The Mill, a Substack launched in 2020 by Joshi Herrmann to cover Manchester with a small number of in-depth, local stories each week.
After The Mill’s success, Herrmann expanded to Liverpool (The Post) and Sheffield (The Tribune). Across its three existing outlets, Mill Media Co counts about 5,500 paying members, who typically pay £7 per month.
The model’s emphasis on original journalism contrasts with the approach of Axios and 6AM City, who primarily aggregate others’ reporting.
Mill Media Co is still small, but it offers a promising formula: 1) A focus on quality journalism, 2) A newsletter-first product & distribution model, 3) A subscription-first business model, and 4) A lean, editorially-focused cost structure.
Google: Search and related revenues increased 11% YoY. YouTube ad revenue was up 12%.
Meta: Overall revenue rose 23% YoY.
Amazon: Ad revenue increased 26% YoY.
Microsoft: Search and news ad revenue increased 10% YoY.
Spotify: Ad revenue increased 16% YoY.
Snap: Overall revenue increased 5% YoY.
Industry analyst Brian Weiser’s take:
Reinforcing my prior view that the global advertising industry is healthy at the present time, each of Alphabet, Microsoft, Snap and Spotify reported calendar third quarter 2023 results on Tuesday, collectively showing very strong, accelerating year-over-year growth for the industry…. Importantly, media companies experiencing declines in their advertising are not suffering from a weak ad market; they are losing shares of ad budgets, usually because of budget shifts from traditional media (including digital extensions) to digital platforms and because the growth in advertising is typically coming from new advertisers.
Americans’ trust in the mass media (Gallup):
32% trust the mass media “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to report the news fairly and accurately, tying a historical low set in 2016.
39% trust the media “none at all” (a record high), while 29% have “not very much” trust.
58% of Democrats trust the media, down 12% YoY. Notably, young Democrats trust the media far less than older Dems.
Only 11% of Republicans trust the media, down 3% YoY.
X/Twitter usage (Axios):
App downloads are down 38% globally and 57% in the U.S. between October 2022 and September 2023.
Monthly active users are down 15% globally and 18% in the U.S. YoY for the month of September.
User churn increased more than 30% YoY as of September.
Global first-time downloads were flat this past year vs. the year before Elon Musk bought the company.
Mark Zuckerberg claimed that Threads has “just under” 100 million monthly users. Relatedly, recent Sensor Tower data estimates that Threads has 18% user share in the microblogging market (Twitter/X has the other 82%).
The nonprofit Global Press Journal claimed a variety of exaggerated audience stats, including 20 million monthly readers in one instance and 98 million readers in another.
Axel Springer’s director of premium Daniel Mussinghoff on growing Bild’s subscription product:
The core news content has to be strong enough on its own to convert readers to subscribers.… Bundles and partnerships gave us access to new audiences, and accelerated the growth at an early stage.… The key learning was that simplicity works best for us — one straightforward price point converts better than complex options.
Bleacher Report’s GM Bennett Spector on investing in live video:
The one thing that’s still working within the TV ecosystem is live sports and live content in general. You can’t really replicate that. And I think advertisers see that if they can get everyone hyper engaged, leaned in and consuming content at the same time, [they] get their very targeted message out…. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but the beauty of our distribution is that one alert can bring in tens, or hundreds, or thousands of people at one time to consume our content. And advertisers love that.
Condé Nast CRO Pamela Drucker Mann on investing in live activations:
Performance marketing is no longer really performing. Business outcomes need to be measured on impact and not just on reach. That’s why we’ve been doubling down on live moments—consider the viral immediacy of celebrities on the red carpet as a great example. The Vanity Fair Oscar Party delivered 2.2 billion global social media impressions, September’s Vogue World in London had 93 million global views in the first week across all brands and platforms, and Vogue’s Met Live was No. 1 trending on YouTube. At the end of the day, culture is the new KPI, and it’s critical for marketers to lean in.
NYT music critic Lindsay Zoladz on writing her newsletter, The Amplifier:
In the age of digital streaming platforms, the act of discovering music — which used to happen via word of mouth, passed mixtapes from friends, or even specialized message boards — has become streamlined and anonymized. Even the phrase “music discovery” has become commodified into corporate jargon. So something I was vocal about from the earliest stages of the newsletter was that I wanted to put some of the spontaneity and human connection back into that experience.
Substack writer Lenny Rachitsky on launching his product management Slack community:
Start very small and curate who you invite because that sets the tone. Is it going to be a thriving, interesting community or is it going to be a bunch of people promoting their stuff?… Also I found it’s very important to be very detail-oriented. It has to feel really high quality, so I made sure everyone had profile photos when they joined. I made sure people don’t self promote…. Make sure people actually reply in threads, so it’s not messy. Make sure people are asking questions in the right channels. A lot of these little things. They sound really minor but that’s the stuff that makes it feel like the signal to noise is really high.
NYT columnist & Vox cofounder Ezra Klein on podcasting analytics:
I think podcasting would be really harmed by the development of really, really granular analytics. I think the fact that Apple has kind of maintained dominance of the market without ever developing really good analytics tools has been really good for podcasting. And it’s meant that podcasting has stayed pretty weird.
Independent analyst Benedict Evans on leaving Twitter:
The last year swapped stasis for chaos. Stuff breaks at random and you don’t know if it’s a bug or a decision. The advertisers have fled, and no-one knows what will be broken by accident or on purpose tomorrow. The example that’s closest to home for me was that the in-house newsletter product was shut down - and then links to other newsletters were banned. Pick one! It’s hard to see anyone who depends on having a long-term platform investing in anything that Twitter builds, when it might not be there tomorrow.
Condé Nast is expanding its beauty programming through new events, awards, and video series.
The independent, tech-focused newsletter Big Technology launched a paid tier.
National World launched an AI-generated weather anchor on its London site.
BuzzFeed quietly shut down Complex Media’s audience network, Catalyst, this past summer.
Vox Media is ending Into It, a podcast hosted by NPR-vet Sam Sanders.
Economist & blogger Tyler Cowen published an AI-powered “generative book” on the topic of great economists.
Jezebel is up for sale, with BDG, Factz, and Dear Media among the potential buyers.
The process to sell the Telegraph newspapers and The Spectator kicked off last Friday, with Rupert Murdoch and Axel Springer among the potential buyers.
Direqt, a startup that helps build chatbots for media companies, raised $4.5 million.
Flying Media Group acquired Bonnier’s marine media titles, including Boating, Yachting, and Sailing World. A price wasn’t disclosed, but the marine portfolio is on track for about $20 million in revenue and $5 million in EBITDA.
Tucker Carlson’s new media company signed its first ad deal, a partnership with the “conservative-friendly” marketplace app Public Square worth at least $1 million.
The rights to a recent true-crime article published by Vanity Fair were bought by Amazon MGM Studios.
Staffers at Reviewed, a Gannett-owned product review site, alleged that the company posted AI-generated articles to the site without their knowledge. Gannett denied the claim, though it said the posts didn’t "meet our editorial standards."
Jeff Bezos is reportedly days away from deciding on the new WaPo CEO. He also emailed WaPo staff, writing that, “Long term it’s important that The Post return to profitability – a key signal that we’re serving readers in a way that’s important to them."
Staffers at The Messenger are pushing to unionize after the outlet’s president suggested that the site is “out of money.”
Newly reported stories from female Rolling Stone staffers portray a toxic work culture under the magazine’s cofounder and former EIC Jann Wenner.
Vox cofounder Melissa Bell is stepping down as publisher, and current EIC Swati Sharma will take on an expanded role as EIC and publisher.
Bloomberg is hiring 40 new data journalists and engineers.
BuzzFeed’s CFO is leaving and will be replaced by the company’s current EVP of finance.
D.C. lawmakers are planning to introduce a new bill that would let D.C. city residents donate to local news outlets (excluding local TV stations) via government-funded vouchers.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters is lobbying to include Apple, along with Google and Meta, in legislation that would require platforms to share revenue with news publishers.
Meta was sued by dozens of states over claims that its products “entice, engage and ultimately ensnare” children.
The UK’s Online Safety Bill, which aims to regulate tech platforms’ approach to a variety of harmful content, was passed into law.
Several new AI-focused think tanks have launched in recent months, often with funding from wealthy effective altruists who want to prevent a potential AI apocalypse.
Apple is raising prices on several subscription services, including Apple News+ (from $9.99/month to $12.99/month).
Google appears to be shrinking the footprint of its AI-powered Search Generative Experience on its search result pages. The company also announced a new policy requiring Android apps to allow users to flag offensive AI-generated content in-app starting next year.
X/Twitter is planning to launch two new premium tiers – one with ads that will be cheaper than the current $8/month plan; the other without ads that will be more expensive. The company is also rolling out audio and video calling.
TikTok is testing the ability for users to post videos up to 15 minutes long (the current limit is 10 minutes).
Amazon is testing an AI image generation tool for advertisers.
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