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Brutal winter coming for U.S. media with layoffs and cost cuts – Axios

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Illustration of a hand holding a cursor like a knife. Illustration of a hand holding a cursor like a knife.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

It’s a brutal, fearful time for American media — with companies scrambling to cut costs and secure cash in a scenario reminiscent of the early pandemic.

Why it matters: The new economic reality means layoffs, hiring freezes, and other cost-cutting measures.

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Driving the news: New data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas finds that news media layoffs are beginning to tick up again after a relatively stable summer.

Data:Challenger, Grey and Christmas Inc.; Chart: Axios Visuals

Between the lines: Inflation and supply chain issues have slowed down the ad market dramatically ahead of what’s typically the most lucrative time of the year.

  • Snap Inc., which announced plans to lay off 20% of its staff, sent shockwaves through the social media industry last week when it cited a pullback in ad spend from big brands ahead of the Q4 holiday season.
  • Analysts expect the slowdown to continue well into 2023. One firm has cut its ad spend percentage growth projections for next year in half.

The financial stress on Big Tech firms has killed most programs to pay publishers for their content.

  • Pending U.S. antitrust legislation that would help local news companies get paid by Silicon Valley platforms seems doomed in Congress.

The big picture: Plummeting ad sales has forced Big Media to reckon with an even bigger problem — cord-cutting and a slowdown in consumer spending on subscriptions.

  • The U.S. pay-TV (cable and satellite) market is now shrinking by more than than 6% per year, setting a new record for the worst level of decline, according to an analysis from MoffettNathanson.
  • Without skinny bundles (digital live TV packages), the pay-TV market is shrinking by nearly 10%.
  • The world’s biggest entertainment companies, including Netflix, Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery, have all lost billions of dollars in value as Wall Street’s love affair with unprofitable streaming bets wears off.

News companies are also seeing a significant traffic slowdown in response to a Post-Trump news cycle that’s riddled with depressing headlines.

Be smart: For media startups, a murky economic outlook has created a difficult fundraising atmosphere and has killed any incentive to go public.

  • Companies like Puck and Substack scrapped their plans to raise money this year, due to the brutal economic environment.
  • BuzzFeed today is valued by public investors at 16% of the $1.7 billion it was valued when it raised $200 million from NBC Universal in 2016.
  • Digital media giants like BDG Media, Vice Media, and Vox Media are exploring ways to either sell or generate enough short-term cash to keep operations afloat.

Yes, but: There remain some points of optimism in the industry.

  • The New York Times continues to grow its paid subscriber base at a healthy clip. Semafor was able to raise $25 million ahead of an October launch. News Corp. revenues rose to a record $10.4 billion for the fiscal year ending in June.

What to watch: A difficult economic climate is being compounded by an erosion of media trust and a decline in press freedoms.

  • American trust in mass media remains at a near-record low, according to new data from Gallup.

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Canada’s trucker protests feature in Munk debate on trust in media – The Hub

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Four high-profile journalists gathered in Toronto on Wednesday to debate the trustworthiness of the mainstream media and Canada’s trucker protests provided a ready-made case study.

The results of the Munk Debate, which was held at Roy Thomson Hall, suggest there is a growing skepticism of the media and its ability to cover big issues.

Before the debate, 48 percent of the audience agreed with the resolution and, after the closing statements had been made, a whopping 67 percent agreed with the idea that the mainstream media is not to be trusted.

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The debate featured Substack author Matt Taibbi and author and political commentator Douglas Murray arguing that the mainstream media is not to be trusted, while New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell and New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg argued in favour of mainstream media. The debate was moderated by The Hub‘s executive director Rudyard Griffiths.

Much of the debate revolved around important news stories that Murray and Taibbi argued the media had ignored or gotten wrong. There was some consensus on the trucker protests, though, with both sides agreeing that the protests, which swept across Canada in early 2022 and which gridlocked the nation’s capital with heavy machinery, were more complicated than portrayed.

Murray and Taibbi both argued that the natural curiosity required for news reporting has been replaced with an ideological cookie-cutter, which inhibits the media’s ability to cover issues on the right.

“When people come out in large numbers, the job of reporters is to go out and say, why are you on the streets? What brought you here? Why are you here with your kids? Why have you got a bouncy castle in the middle of Ottawa? That’s a bit strange,” argued Murray.

Murray said the federal government “did all the things you do in the modern political age if you want to just defenestrate somebody who’s awkward to you,” which is to call them misogynistic, homophobic, and white supremacist.

“Now, at such a time, what would the mainstream media do? It would question it. The Canadian mainstream media did not. The Canadian mainstream media acted as an Amen chorus of the Canadian government,” said Murray.

Murray argued that the reason for this failure was the significant government subsidies flowing to media organizations, which reduces their incentive to be combative and skeptical.

Michelle Goldberg, a left-leaning New York Times columnist, said she travelled to the trucker protests in Ottawa as part of her mainstream media job and found a story she wasn’t expecting.

“I showed up at the Ottawa trucker protests kind of expecting the things that I’ve seen at Donald Trump rallies, at various even further-right events, and didn’t find it. I was really quite astonished,” said Goldberg.

Goldberg argued that the mainstream media has always been more interested in a counterintuitive story over any kind of ideological purity.

“People were hugging each other, people were hugging me even though I’m from the hated mainstream media. I told my editors that this is what I found and they said, ‘Great. That’s more interesting than what we thought you were going to find.’ It was more interesting and I wrote it, and they devoted an entire page to it,” said Goldberg.

The story Goldberg found was about a community of people who had been politically lonely for a long time and had finally found something worth gathering for.

Taibbi argued that journalists have become isolated from some of their readers and viewers, which means they can be spectacularly wrong about events that are outside their own bubble. Taibbi pointed to the elite consensus that Donald Trump couldn’t beat Hillary Clinton in the election as proof.

“When you’re a writer, when you’re a journalist and people don’t trust you, it’s always your fault. It’s always a communication problem. I remember covering the 2016 presidential campaign, the news media couldn’t have gotten that story more wrong for longer,” said Taibbi.

Gladwell argued that it’s a misconception to believe that the media’s job is to predict the future or to always get everything right. Newspapers and magazines offer corrections when they get things wrong, which is less true of the independent or ideological media, he argued.

“There’s a weird obsession with the two of them with the notion that media occasionally gets things wrong. I wonder if they have confused the role of journalists with that of stockbrokers,” said Gladwell.

“Sometimes that means you go down some dead ends and you chase stories that don’t turn out as you want them or wish them or hope that they would turn out, but that is the nature of the business, and if that business seems uncomfortable to you, then I would suggest you should go into stockbroking,” he said.

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Retail Media Networks Are The Next Big Advertising Channel

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The fastest growing ad-supported digital media channel is Retail Media Networks (RMN’s). It’s a retail-owned digital platform that sells ad space to marketers. With RMNs advertisers gain access to a retailer’s first-party data such as purchases made at the point-of-sale that enhance a marketer’s targeting capabilities with personalized messaging. Another advantage is an advertiser can send a relevant message when a consumer is in a shopping mode instead of using other digital platforms and in a brand safe environment. Additionally, accessing first-party data from retailers is a suitable and privacy compliant replacement for cookies.

GroupM estimates globally retailers garnered $88 billion in ad revenue last year and will reach $101 billion this year. This represents 18% of all global digital advertising and 11% of all advertising. GroupM projects retail media advertising to grow by about 60% by 2027, exceeding the expected growth for all digital advertising.

Forrester projects strong ad revenue growth for RMN’s in the U.S. market with ad dollars doubling over the next four years. McKinsey is also forecasting robust growth, expecting ad spend to grow from approximately $45 billion to over $100 billion by 2026. Fueling the growth are advertisers, it was reported this year 74% of brands have a separate retail media budget, a threefold increase from 2021. McKinsey expects 80% of RMN ad spend will stem from incremental ad budget increases. eMarketer predicts RMNs will be the third big wave in digital advertising following search and social.

Rick Ducey, Managing Director, BIA Advisory Services, says, “Retail Media Networks have become a valuable resource in brands’ marketing mix. As retailers become their own media, selling available ad inventory in their digital platforms (websites, mobile apps, social media, etc.), is a no-brainer and a win-win for the retailer and the brands they carry to engage consumers in their purchase journey at the point of sale.”

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Ducey adds, “This inventory is accessible programmatically. But what if…local media publishers also rep this ad inventory. Some large media companies have hundreds and hundreds of local sellers on the streets who could sell that premium inventory at higher rates than can be achieved in programmatic platforms.”

In its latest ad spend forecast Magna Global said large retailers have been developing advertising sales through keyword search or display ads on apps and websites as e-commerce revenue continues to flourish. Magna notes, retail media is being fueled primarily by consumer brands that are reallocating their “below-the-line”, trade-marketing in-store budgets toward digital retail networks. In addition, retail-owned media networks tend to be immune from the privacy-based limitations on data usage and targeting, since they are accessing their own first-party data.

Nikhil Lai, Senior Analyst, Performance Marketing at Forrester says, “Advertisers use of RMNs encompasses the entire purchase funnel from awareness to point of purchase. Essentially, retail media holds the entire funnel accountable to delivering a verifiable revenue impact. In addition, the results of retail media campaigns can inform brands’ pricing, product, packaging, and distribution strategies.”

With retail media network’s ability to link impressions to direct purchases, a McKinsey report found 70% of marketers had enhanced returns from advertising on retail media networks compared to other media. As a result, the estimated cost-per-thousand CPMs to advertise on a retail media network are costly in the range of $20 to $50 making it comparable in pricing to connected TV.

While RMN’s have been around for several years, its usage quickened during the pandemic when stay-at-home consumers relied heavily on ecommerce. Last year the ad revenue for Amazon
AMZN
Advertising, the largest RMN, totaled $31 billion, a year-over-year increase of 48%. With double-digit growth expected again this year, Amazon could reach $40 billion in 2022.

The revenue success Amazon has experienced has prompted other retailers to ramp up their retail network capabilities which involves building the infrastructure and hiring talent. Walmart
WMT
, Target
TGT
and Kroger
KR
have been actively collecting shopper data and improving their advertising capabilities.

There are however, many other prominent retailers that have launched an RMN recently with more expected. For example, CVS launched the CVS Media Exchange and competitor Walgreens
WBA
started the Walgreen Advertising Group. Also, Dollar General
DG
, Ulta Beauty, Petco, eBay. Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Marriott, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Best Buy
BBY
, Michael’s, Nordstrom, Kroger and Albertson’s (that have announced plans to merge).

According to Forrester’s fourth quarter 2022 “CMO Pulse Survey”, 45% of advertisers say that their biggest challenge with retail media is that they have “too many RMN’s to manage,” 40% say their biggest challenge is difficulty comparing performance across RMNs.

Forrester’s Nikhil Lai says, “Advertisers should prioritize a few networks, rather than spreading their budgets too thin across dozens of RMNs. To solve the challenge, advertisers should work with solution providers, like Skai, Pacvue, MikMak, and CommerceIQ, who provide visibility across RMNs.” Forrester reports one-quarter of retailers with an RMN are making over $100 million in annual ad revenue.

eMarketer estimates in 2022 Amazon will have a 76.9% share of retail digital media ad spend. By comparison, Walmart is the second largest at 6.1%, followed by Instacart at 1.9%. The gap between Amazon and rival retailers have been slowly narrowing. For example, in 2021 Walmart’s RMN Walmart Connect generated $2.1 billion ad revenue, a 136% increase from 2021. Target’s RMN rebranded as Roundel reached $1 billion in ad spend last year. This year Instacart is expected to surpass $1 billion for the first time.

Forrester reports on average the margins for RMNs range from 50-70% and even more with on-site advertising at 70%-80%, notably higher than other ad-supported media. Forrester’s, Nikhil Lai, notes, “Advertising’s high-margin income offsets losses in other parts of retailers’ businesses, such as first-party product sales, third-party seller fees, physical store sales, and subscription services.”

Financially, the future of RMNs is promising. Nikhil Lin expects growth will come from such data poor product categories as CPG and consumer electronic brands. Both verticals want to influence shoppers at the point-of-sale and are driving the adoption of retail media today and for the foreseeable future.

The growth of RMNs come at a time when despite inflation and other concerns about the economy, ecommerce has been setting records. Adobe Analytics reports this year Black Friday generated a record $9.12 billion in sales, a 2.3% increase surpassing $9 billion for the first time. Online sales for Cyber Monday also set a record totaling $11.3 billion for the day, +5.8% from 2021.

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Layoffs and Hiring Freezes: Media Industry Ends 2022 With Bad News for Journalists

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A person walks into the world headquarters for the Cable News Network on November 17 2022 in Atlanta Georgia.

 

A person walks into the world headquarters for the Cable News Network (CNN) on November 17, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.by Brandon Bell/Getty Images
CNN and Gannett staffers face layoffs, NPR announced a near-total hiring freeze as part of cost-cutting measures, and the Washington Post is killing its award-winning Sunday magazine.

December 1, 2022

The anticipated “bad winter” for media companies and their workers has arrived early. This week a number of major outlets announced layoffs, print cuts, hiring freezes, and other measures to address declining advertising revenue and annual losses. CNN, under pressure from parent company Warner Bros. Discovery—which posted a net loss of $2.3 billion in the most recent quarter—began “the deepest cuts to the network in nearly a decade” on Wednesday and into Thursday, according to media reporter Oliver Darcy, who reported that the expected cuts will “result in some on-air contributors and hundreds of staffers losing their jobs.” CNN boss Chris Licht said in an all-staff memo that those being notified Wednesday were largely paid contributors and “impacted employees” would hear Thursday, either in person or over Zoom. Among the big names impacted was political analyst Chris Cillizza,  per Deadline, an editor-at-large who wrote The Point newsletter, as well as prominent on-air contributors Susan Glasser of the New Yorker and Jonathan Martin of Politico, per Puck.

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“It is incredibly hard to say goodbye to any one member of the CNN team, much less many,” Licht wrote. “Let’s take care of each other this week.” In October, Licht announced that the network would stop buying documentary films and original TV series as part of its cost-cutting efforts, and in September laid off some staffers from its audio team as part of a refocusing of the division.

CNN wasn’t alone in cutting staff. Gannett also began its latest round of layoffs and furloughs Thursday—the third cost-cutting move at Gannett in the last six months, Poynter notes. Gannett’s news division is staring down a 6% cut this week, which would amount to roughly 200 lost jobs. That comes on top of mandatory unpaid leave, and benefit cuts that the company imposed in October. On Wednesday, Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee also informed staff that the Post would “end the print Sunday Magazine in its current form,” noting that “we will be shifting some of the most popular content, and adding more, in a revitalized Style section that will launch in the coming months.” The magazine’s 10 staff members learned their positions were eliminated in a meeting, according to Sarah Ellison, who reported that “Buzbee did not offer laid-off staff other roles inside the paper.” The current iteration of the Post’s weekly magazine—which Buzbee affirmed her support for in a town hall this year—began in 1986, winning a National Magazine Award and two Pulitzers. “Five of the 40 Washington Post stories that drew the most online readers over the past year were produced by the magazine,” Ellison noted.

Other outlets appear to be staving off forced layoffs with other cost cutting measures. In November, Insider reported that the The Associated Press is offering early retirement to some 200 older staffers, an opportunity to take their pensions in one lump sum that an AP representative framed as “an opportunity for some employees to receive a new form of their benefit and for the AP to reinvest any savings into people, technology and infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, at NPR, chief executive John Lansing announced this week that the network would need to cut at least $10 million in spending amid a steep decline in revenue from sponsors and would impose “close to a total hiring freeze,” among other things, to help reduce expenses. “As we did during the pandemic, we are prioritizing our staff and not anticipating layoffs at this time,” Lansing wrote in a memo to staff. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reported that there are currently 137 job vacancies at the network, roughly 11% of its workforce. Lansing said NPR’s decision stemmed from “a slowdown in the advertising market, just like with every other media company.”

The flood of bad media news comes on the heels of other plans for deep cuts. “Digital upstarts are particularly vulnerable to ad slowdowns, because contracts for digital ads are typically much easier to pull at the last minute than contracts for television ads,” Axios’s Sara Fischer reported last week in a round-up of anticipated media layoffs. Morning Brew cited “a lot of fear and uncertainty” in the economy among advertisers in a memo announcing that 14% of staff would be laid off, Vice Media plans to reduce costs by “up to 15%,” and Protocol, the newish tech news site from Politico, will shutter altogether at the end of the year.

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