This week, several of us are in Vail, Colorado, for a pair of publishing events: Digiday Moguls and Digiday Publishing Summit. The opening of Moguls, which brings together 20 top publishing executives, was marked by plenty of chatter about Apple News+ — and exposed divisions between how publishers view this latest high-profile platform initiative.
The skeptics were summed up by one challenge put on the Digiday Challenge Board: “Apple News+ — why?” In explaining his thinking, the publishing exec who put up the challenge cited the familiar case against the initiative: It would create conflict with existing subscriptions programs and cede still more power to a giant tech company. But for those participating in Apple News+, the equation is somewhat different. They see this as a new audience that isn’t going to convert on their owned properties. As Max Willens reported, publishers like New York Media and Vox are using it to test and learn as they begin their moves into subscriptions.
Publishing execs at Moguls were split on the impact of Apple News+. Most estimated the service would attract between 500,000 and 1 million subscribers. The compensation formula based on dwell time, however, makes actual payments hard to calculate. Several publishers said they would treat the effort like Facebook Instant Articles. If it doesn’t work, they’ll drop out. Only The Wall Street Journal is making sizable investments in dedicated staff for Apple News+, a sign that it likely was able to wrangle revenue guarantees from Apple to give it a marquee partner to trumpet on stage.
Apple does not have the heft of Google and Facebook when it comes to publishers. Many magazine publishers were burned in believing the iPad was a savior years ago. And Apple’s foray into digital advertising with iAd was mostly a disaster. In fact, Tim Cook regularly criticizes digital advertising overall for its user tracking that is a foundational element. This indifference is on display with the ad-supported Apple News. One publisher at Moguls groused he can only monetize 5 percent of his inventory there, a familiar refrain from publishers who see lots of audiences and not much money from Apple News.
The looming question cited by one publishing executive: Is Apple News+ deja vu all over again? Netflix established a stranglehold on Hollywood by taking a similar approach. Studios liked the incremental revenue for old movies. A similar dynamic could play out here, as consumers are taught to think of Apple News+ as their subscription to digital content rather than the individual brands. — Brian Morrissey
Apple isn’t offering subscribers, it’s offering revenue
An easy mistake that some publishing and video executives will make is referring to their Apple News+ or Apple TV Channels audience as subscribers. As one video executive at Digiday Moguls helpfully pointed out, those subscribers don’t belong to media companies; they belong to Apple. It’s Apple that will know their email addresses and billing information. It’s Apple that will have access to all the data on how people are using these new subscription services. “Those aren’t subscribers, it’s revenue,” this executive said.
And similar to Amazon, which Apple is cloning with its new video channel distribution product, Apple isn’t likely to share that data. Collect (and cash) your check, but don’t expect to get anything more.
For some, that has been grounds to sit out Apple’s new services. On the publishing side, The New York Times and The Washington Post are notably missing from Apple News+. On the video channels side, Netflix has said no. Hulu, which will be accessible through Apple TV Channels, will still require users to go to its own app. Even (relatively) smaller players, such as Crunchyroll, are prioritizing the customer relationship over what is likely an incremental revenue opportunity from Apple.
If Apple News+ and Apple TV Channels become blockbuster products, there’s a chance the tune changes and more text and video companies join Apple’s services. But for now, there is a compelling case to be made to slow-play a platform, for once. — Sahil Patel
Snapchat feels hopeless for influencers
Snapchat was famously anti-influencer in its early days, but its renewed focus on winning them over doesn’t seem to be bearing fruit.
Back in July 2014, a Time article had profiled the “first viral Snapchat stars,” including Shaun McBride aka Shonduras. Fast-forward to November 2016 and Shonduras posted a YouTube video titled “Open Letter to Snapchat,” where he expressed his frustrations including not getting representation internally and not being verified. “They just don’t seem to be that interested in working with creators,” he said.
But in 2017, something changed within Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel said creators would be a priority on his 2017 third-quarter earnings call. And the company has since made some positive steps. For one, Shonduras and thousands of other creators are now verified. In February 2018, Snapchat launched analytics for creators. In July 2018, Snapchat started a program called “Storytellers” that paired creators with advertisers for potential campaigns. Snap also has invited creators into their HQ to listen to their concerns, including its first-ever creator summit in May 2018, and other smaller, genre-focused events over the last year.
Yet Snapchat’s efforts don’t seem to be winning over top creators. Shonduras has, for the most part, abandoned the platform, despite being a part of the “Storytellers” program. I spoke with 10 other creators over the last week who are still active on the platform, with millions of daily viewers, but feel ghosted by Snapchat. Despite having millions of viewers, most of these creators are not verified and do not have representation within the company. Many of them have still been able to orchestrate their own brand deals, but those posts are more frequently getting taken down. Earlier this month, Instagram released a more formalized product for creators posts brand deals. Perhaps Snapchat could benefit from a similar system. Or at least be more communicative with creators.
Meanwhile, agencies have given up hope on Snapchat, especially when it comes to influencer marketing. One executive at a global agency said her eyes and budgets for influencers are set on YouTube, Instagram and even newcomer TikTok. Another executive who specifically focuses on influencer marketing said none of their clients have asked about Snapchat in years. Though, brands still use Snap’s formal ad products like Stories and AR lenses. But when it comes to ROI on Stories ads, a recent Digiday+ poll of 211 media buyers found that Instagram and Facebook both beat out Snapchat.
While Snapchat might have lost the love of video creators, it has been invested in growing a community of AR developers. But even with that early lead, Instagram and TikTok could also lure them away. — Kerry Flynn