Media Briefing: Publishers who bet on events and franchises this year are reaping the rewards

This Media Briefing covers the latest in media trends for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Betting big on franchises

The bet publishers made on tentpole events and franchises to get advertising revenue back on track this year seems to be paying off.

According to seven publishers, their ad sales teams have been successfully closing more deals for marquee events and editorial franchises, at an earlier pace than last year. As a result, several media execs told Digiday they’re anticipating event revenue to grow this year over last year.

Outpacing last year

USA Today’s largest tentpole editorial franchise, Ad Meter Competition, has taken place for more than 30 years around the Super Bowl, but had its biggest year for sponsorship sales in 2024, according to Kelly Andresen, president of national sales at Gannett. She declined to share how much money Ad Meter brought in this year, but said that the largest advertiser for the franchise was signed by the end of Q4, allowing her team to close a few more supplemental deals in the first quarter.    

“Selling the largest [sponsorship] ahead of time — harkening back to the good old days, how things were before the volatility — is a really great sign [for an ad market rebound],” said Andresen. 

Meanwhile, the 2024 iteration of The Atlantic’s annual namesake Atlantic Festival is already exceeding the total number of booked advertisers it had last year by 40%, five months out from when it will take place in September, said CRO and publisher Alice McKown. 

So far this year, McKown said that overall events advertiser bookings are up 77% year over year compared to the first half of 2023, with custom bespoke events helping to lead the charge. Client renewal rate is also up by about 75% compared to last year for both events and custom content, she added, without providing exact figures.

Appetite for renewals 

Other publishers are echoing McKown’s statement that event renewals are up this year as well. And that’s a boon to the rest of the ad business, it seems.

The Wall Street Journal’s marquee technology-focused event WSJ Tech Live had its most successful iteration ever last year from a sponsorship revenue perspective, which led to a spike of renewals off the heels of the October event, according to Josh Stinchcomb, global CRO of WSJ and Dow Jones. Last year’s event had seven sponsors, four of which almost immediately resigned for the next one, “effectively a year in front of the next one, which is a really good sign,” he said, without naming names.

Stinchcomb attributed higher renewals to there being a bigger effort to improve the concierge service for event advertisers this year, such as curating the audience to a greater degree and identifying ahead of time the most important potential new customers from the attendee list for each sponsor. 

“People who sponsor our events are more likely to renew with any kind of an investment than people that don’t. We often see events as a kickoff of a partnership that then expands and evolves,” said Stinchcomb. 

Sports business media outlet Boardroom is projecting that total experiential revenue in 2024 will be three times higher than it was last year, in part because past event successes make it easier to pitch returning event sponsors.

For example, this is the first year that Boardroom is doing an event surrounding Formula 1 in Miami and CMO Sarah Flynn said that return advertiser Coinbase raised its hand to advertise against this new event. The crypto exchange has been the presenting sponsor for the sports business media company’s WNBA and NBA All Star events for three years in a row and is now planning more events outside of the basketball season to work with Boardroom, she said.

Morning Brew is hosting seven in-person events and 30 virtual events this year, all of which have advertisers signed on thus far, but there is the possibility of adding more built-if-sold activations for interested advertisers, according to Sara Badler, chief commercial officer who joined the company in January.

While there is still a focus of in-quarter or in-half sales this year, Badler said that advertisers that work with Morning Brew for events have a strong renewal rate for campaigns in the back half of the year, given how closely the teams have to work together in planning a physical campaign.

Further franchise investment 

It appears that tentpole events and editorial franchises will be the offering that publishers continue to hedge their bets on this year and are willing to polish up those offerings to stand out in the market. 

Complex NTWRK is hoping that its newly combined portfolio of video and events franchises will help it distinguish itself to new and returning advertisers, with the idea being that more scale and shaking up the status quo will encourage bigger brand buys. 

For example, the company’s biggest event, ComplexCon, is moving from Long Beach, California to Las Vegas, Nevada this year. Additionally, the company is growing its video offerings with the acquisition of Idea Generation, a masterclass-esque show and media company that was founded by former Complex exec Noah Callahan-Bever. 

“It really does open up a different [sales] valve,” said Mike Tresvant, svp of brand partnerships at Complex NTWRK. “​​[It’s] not necessarily a new thing, but it is a new way to go about it, which gives it a whole new life, which consumers and clients both are really excited about.”

What we’ve heard

“With political advertising … it’s so battleground state-focused. And even with some of the targeting capabilities of the platform, [advertisers want] really low level — I mean, you’re getting to undecided battleground states’ certain zip codes — that’s Facebook’s domain, quite frankly … I think there will be an uptick in revenue because of the election [for Newsweek]. It remains to be seen by how much.”

Kevin Gentzel, global chief commercial and growth officer at Newsweek on the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast

3 Qs with Acast’s Henrik Isaksson 

While podcast networks like iHeartMedia, Spotify and PodcastOne have shared plans to roll out AI-generated audio translations of podcast shows, few have gone live yet. That is, until now. 

The Sweden-based podcast marketplace Acast worked with AI-powered creative audio studio start-up Wondercraft to translate the English-language show “One Minute Remaining” into Spanish.

Hosted by Jack Laurence, the show features interviews with incarcerated people in the U.S. Laurence’s voice and the interviewees’ voices were cloned using generative AI technology and then augmented to host the show in Spanish.

Since its launch in September 2022, the English-language show has gained 4 million downloads, but Acast declined to share total downloads for the Spanish-language version of the podcast, “Un Minuto Restante.” The first 10 episodes are out now. So far, 43% of downloads have come from Mexico, 40% from Australia and 9% from the U.S.

Digiday spoke to Henrik Isaksson, managing director for Australia and New Zealand at Acast, to hear why Acast is testing AI translations despite other podcast networks’ hesitancy around quality issues of the synthetic voices and translations. – Sara Guaglione

Why did Acast choose to translate this show in particular?

Where it all starts is, can this content travel well in other markets? Historically, Australian podcasts haven’t traveled that well. We don’t have that many smash hits from Australia that have done really well in other markets. True crime, we know there’s a big appetite for it across the globe. That was really the rationale behind it. We thought that this would travel really well… and [Laurence’s] guests, the inmates on the podcast, are all based in the U.S. So that’s why we chose [Laurence]. He’s also… open to new ideas, trying new things and he’s quite nimble. So it was a good fit.

What was the process of translating this podcast?

We had the conversation with [Laurence]. We reached out to the team at Wondercraft [to ask if this was something we could do] more at scale than what we… had done in the past [with them, like producing ads]…. They actually got more Spanish-speaking [people] in to make sure that translations were done right. And then we used their online platform… The AI will ingest the voice. They will have real human beings in there as well to make sure that the translations are done correctly. You need to get the intonation right — that sort of stuff. I don’t speak Spanish and so I can’t really say what the quality is but the feedback that we’ve had has been really good.

How has it performed, in comparison to the English version?

It’s still early days. The podcast is brand new in all Spanish-speaking markets, but the performance has been really, really good…. This was the easiest way to get this podcast into new Spanish-speaking markets. And I think that alone is a massive win for us and also for  [Laurence]… He’s extremely time-poor. He doesn’t have a big production budget either. So from a pure workflow perspective, it’s been really good in that sense.

Numbers to know

$90 million: The amount of money passed by the New York state legislature for a new employment tax credit plan that will allow local news outlets to cover up to $50,000 of a journalist’s salary per year for three years. 

$605 million: The amount of money expected to be spent on political ads on social media in 2024, almost twice as much as the $324 million spent in 2020.

What we’ve covered

Google delays third-party cookie demise yet again:

  • This is the third time Google has pushed back its original deadline set in January 2020. 
  • Google did not outline a more specific timetable beyond hoping for 2025. 

Read more about what this means for the cookiepocalypse here.

The Guardian US is starting its pursuit of political ad dollars: 

  • The Guardian US is making a concerted effort to win some of the political advertising dollars being spent during this election cycle. 
  • Opening up another valve for ad revenue will hopefully act as some insulation for the business.

Learn why The Guardian is going after political advertising for the first time here.

Who holds the responsibility of cutting carbon from digital ads?

  • Finger pointing is still prevailing over taking action in the effort to make digital advertising more sustainable. 
  • What results is a stalemate of sorts, waiting for someone to jump first and take the blow so that the rest of the digital advertising industry can follow when a revenue hit is no longer a risk. 

Read more about the argument around who holds the responsibility for cutting carbon emissions from the digital advertising industry here

BuzzFeed pivots business to AI media and tech as publishers increase use of AI:

  • In the latest Digiday+ Research Briefing, we examine BuzzFeed’s plans to pivot the business to an AI-driven tech and media company. 
  • Whether this will lead to a sustainable business model for a legacy digital publisher remains to be seen.

Learn more about the company’s planned transformation here

What we’re reading

Generative AI is becoming a feature in Newsweek’s newsroom:

While not a mandate for journalists just yet, the 90-year-old news magazine is feeling bullish about generative AI’s applications in the newsroom and how it’ll streamline the way journalists work, Nieman Lab reported. 

Highsnobiety is redefining the meaning of the magazine business:

Highsnobiety, born as a sneaker blog in 2005, won a National Magazine Award this year, but it’s more than a media company, the New York Times reported. With other business lines including a store, clothing line and production agency, Highsnobiety challenges the idea of what a modern media company is.

Publishers protest sustainability blocklists:

Advertisers’ favorite inventory filtering strategy — the blocklist — is coming for carbon emissions, Adweek reports, to the dismay of publishers. Carbon filtering tools and blocklists that remove high-carbon emitting ad inventory concern publishers that claim they’re not being given a heads up that they’re being placed on these lists.

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