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The Rebooting Show

Author: Brian Morrissey

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The Rebooting Show gets into the weeds with those building and operating media businesses, giving an open view into how the smartest people in the media business are building sustainable media businesses.
103 Episodes
The Rebooting recently wrapped up its second research project in collaboration with BlueConic. Patrick Crane, vp of sales at BlueConic, joined me on The Rebooting Show to discuss the state of subscriptions at publishers and the maturation of the market.  “One of the reasons I call it a forever business is to call out the fact that there is going to be ongoing work,” Patrick told me, “but also that it sets you up to play a very sustainable game.” Among the topics covered: The shifting role of steep discounts in subscription programs Why ad avoidance is really more bad UX avoidance The wisdom of making subscription products for specific slices of your audience Check out "The State of Publisher Subscriptions" report.
Bridget Williams is a veteran of the industry. I first got to know Bridget when she was at Business Insider prior to heading to Food52 before landing at Hearst Newspapers in tk, where she is chief commercial officer. On this week’s episode of The Rebooting Show, we spoke about the progress toward a sustainable business model for Hearst news outlets like The Houston Chronicle, The San Francisco Chronicle and others around the country. All told, Hearst newspaper properties have 400,000 digital subscribers. Bridget and I discuss how a "thoughtful mercenary" approach to local news means looking to non-news products to provide utility to communities to subsidize the critical impact journalism that is disappearing from many places.
The Guardian has used voluntary reader contributions as a bulwark of its unique model that blends philanthropy, advertising and voluntary contributions. In the U.S., The Guardian now generates 57%, or $33 million, of its revenue from voluntary contributions, either one-off or recurring.  On this week’s episode of The Rebooting Show, I spoke with Steve Sachs, The Guardian’s U.S. managing director and veteran of non-profit news models, about this approach and how extensible it is for news publishers.
Jeff Selingo spent eight years at the Chronicle of Higher Education, serving as editor in chief and editorial director, before setting off on his own path. Jeff and I have traded notes on the independent path over the years, and I wanted to have him on The Rebooting Show to discuss what we’ve both learned on the independent path. We discuss the transition from editorial to sales, why treating “lifestyle business” as a pejorative is strange, and fighting the pull to rebuild what you left behind.
Blockworks, founded as a crypto events company in 2018, has rode these ups and downs. It began in the face of a crypto pullback with the thesis that crypto would become a major asset class and as it grew, institutional investors would need a credible source of information, analysis and research beyond an anonymous Twitter account with a monkey avatar shooting lasers from its eyes. As crypto recovered and headed into a bull run that accelerated during the pandemic into what I’d consider a bubble, Blockworks expanded from events into podcasts and news. With $12 million in VC raised in possibly the hardest time to raise for a crypto media company, Blockworks is building out a research arm. Jason Yanowitz, CEO of Blockworks, discusses the evolution of the company and the benefits of staying focused and being a "mile deep" vs an inch deep.
Defector is a worker-owned media company that was born out of disillusionment with the tradeoffs the digital media ecosystem often requires (or at least incentivizes). Instead of chasing traffic, Defector relies on a subscription model for a small but sturdy business.
My former colleague Mike Shields of Next in Media joins me to discuss what to make of Advertising Week, which is mostly a PR vehicle but a useful gauge of the prevailing winds of the media and advertising worlds.
Moving past ZIRP

Moving past ZIRP


On a crossover episode of The Rebooting Show and People vs Algorithms, Alex Schleifer and I discuss the end of the zero-interest rate policy era and how it will lead to cascading changes in tech and media.
Video is viewed paradoxically by publishers. They see budgets shifting to sight, sound and motion. Video ads, formerly known as TV spots, were always valued by advertisers far more than a standard display ad, no matter what efforts were made to gussy them up. Yet for many publishers, the costs associated with video creation are certainly high but the revenue while potentially big is uncertain. Tom Pachys, CEO of online video platform, joined to discuss the challenge “The publishers that we work with say that this is their biggest line item when looking at the advertising part of their P&L. That definitely works, but the cost of opening studios, recording videos, taking the risk,  And also having that expertise – that's where the challenge is.” Thanks to for sponsoring The Rebooting. Check out its recent guide to selecting an online video platform.
Before the Lumascape, there was another go-to conference and pitch deck slide for anyone betting on what was then called web advertising. The slide, updated annually by the financial analyst Mary Meeker, showed twin bar charts of time spent and budget spent by medium.  The message was clear: the internet would win, it was just a matter of timing. The time spent gap did close, although a disproportionate amount of gains went to tech platforms rather than web publishers. The chart was always wrong, argues media analyst Brian Wieser. Time is simply one variable in assessing the value of a media impression: “It speaks to an incorrect framework. You look at the historical data, you ask why this happened, and you try to make sure the model mirrors why decisions are made. The common narrative was always that it's time. That's what drives the money. If that were true, radio would be a much bigger business.”
Five cents. That’s how much general-news newsletter 1440 makes each time one of its 3 million subscribers opens one of its daily emails. Say what you want about scale, but nickels can add up when the multiplier is in the millions. After paying for the expenses of its 14-person team, the profits are then invested back into growing 1440’s subscriber base with paid marketing campaigns through Facebook and Instagram, newsletter ads and other channels. That “flywheel” has enabled 1440 to enter an exclusive club: It generates over $1 million in revenue per employee. 1440 CEO Tim Huelskamp joins the show to discuss taking a unit-economics approach to publishing.
Founded a decade ago, Team Whistle is a survivor. It sprang to life as a wave of multichannel networks that filled the need of aggregating YouTube properties to make buying easier. The biggest problem of the MCN model is that it takes a difficult business model (advertising) and makes it even more difficult because you’re taking a cut of a cut, after YouTube gets its taste. Most MCNs fizzled. Whistle shifted its focus to building its own properties, producing franchises like “No Days Off,” a series following incredibly focused child athletes. It still reps other properties, like Dude Perfect. It complemented that with an agency business that relies on the distribution and cachet of the original programming.  Whistle is part publisher, part agency.
The digital advertising system is in the midst of a shift, from an over-reliance on collecting vast amounts of data to crunch to do one-to-one targeting – dog owners getting dog food ads, cat owners get cat food ads – to a new landscape that gives people more say on data collection and pushes advertisers and ad tech companies to operate differently.  In this episode, I had a conversation with Joe Root, CEO of Permutive, an audience platform that's used to deliver privacy-safe digital advertising. Among the topic covered: The shift in publisher incentives to build trust vs build traffic Why direct sold advertising is back in vogue Whether GDPR’s implementation gives real consumer choice or just the illusion of it The surprisingly large carbon footprint of digital ads Why the loss of ad targeting signals has become an advertiser problem The demise of the long tail in favor of top-tier publishers Why the so-called ad tech tax will come down increase revenue from first-party data by 46%.
Media's uncanny valley

Media's uncanny valley


This is a bonus episode of The Rebooting Show, featuring a conversation I had on the People vs Algorithms podcast. We discuss why the conventions of media are giving way to new formats that dispense with the artifice in favor of something approximating real conversations.
Rich Routman is a veteran of the sports media industry. He recalls how if an advertiser discussed a cost-per-action deal with a major sports media company as recently as five years ago, the media executives would "run out of the room." That all changed with the legalization of sports gambling in 33 states and the District of Columbia. A giant industry would need customers, and sports media was there to help. That's led the Sporting News, which Rich joined as CEO last year, to raise a $15 million Series A a mere 137 years after its founding. Rich and I discuss how TSN is generating 40% of its revenue from affiliate and revenue-sharing deals from sportsbooks and other subscription services.
Bustle was founded a decade ago in a far different media environment, as big digital media companies, flush with VC cash, scrambled to acquire the biggest audiences possible. The supposition that those with the biggest uniques would be handsomely rewarded didn't turn out to be a durable model. Now, Bustle is looking like a different entity, as its CRO says typical ad campaigns are now just 15% of the company's revenue Instead, it is focused on using its stable of brands for bigger efforts more akin to what ad agencies provide. In this formula, traffic is far less important than brand affinity, client relationships and the ability to execute.
Puck launched two years ago, heralded as Vanity Fair for the Substack era. A big part of the pitch was a subscription model. But like others, such as Punchbowl, Puck has found that its subscription business, with its direct connections, and vertical focus lends itself well to a strong direct-sold ad business. Other topics we cover: What ails legacy publishing models Raising $10 million in a rough funding climate The pendulum shift from institutions to individuals The enduring value of scarcity The benefits of starting small
CJ Gustafson is one of the rare people who is both immersed in his field but does not suffer from the tyranny of knowledge. CJ uses memes and a conversational style with Mostly Metrics to address what those outside corporate finance would consider dry topics. But most importantly, he completely understands the challenges of being a CFO because he’s a CFO. In this episode, we discuss how he built Mostly Metrics, as well as getting into the weeds of why media is often a terrible business and what are the drivers of a sustainable media business.
Literally Media -- home to Cracked, I Know Your Meme and Cheezburger -- isn't going to fight creators. Instead, it's partnering with them to do everything from launch channels on new platforms, get access to brand partnerships and be part of live events. Literally Media CEO Oren Katzeff explains the approach, along with Literally's emphasis on IP-based video franchises and more.
Hollywood's doom loop

Hollywood's doom loop


This week, I spoke to Parquor’s Andrew Rosen, a former Vicom exec turned media analyst, to unpack Hollywood’s weird summer of transition. The challenge for media companies is moving from a wholesale model to a retail model. Andrew sees a group of leaders without a clear understanding of how to make that leap.
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