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Musk's leadership is not deterring media companies from quitting Twitter

4 min read

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twitter is planning to run content sponsorship deals with more than three dozen news outlets, media companies and sports leagues in the first half of this year, according to a schedule of events shared with ad partners and seen by Axios.

Why it matters: Elon Musk's leadership style has caused many advertisers to flee, but media companies, newsrooms and sports leagues are reaping too much revenue and marketing advantage to quit the platform.

Details: This year, almost all of the major sports leagues, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, NASCAR, PGA Tour and more, plan to run content deals on Twitter around regular season games and tentpole events, like March Madness, NBA Playoffs and the Super Bowl, according to the schedule seen by Axios.

  • Sports publishers like CBS Sports, Turner Sports, ESPN, FOX, Univision and Telemundo are also slated to take part in deals around key sports events, per the document.
  • News outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, NBCU, Reuters, Axios, Bloomberg, Forbes, Conde Nast and USA Today are also slated to participate in various Twitter content deals around tentpole moments such as the World Economic Forum at Davos, CES and Pride Week.
  • Entertainment and TV companies such as NBCU, Paramount and Disney are all slated to run content aligned with various award shows, concerts and prime-time TV hits, like "The Bachelor" on Disney's ABC, "RuPaul’s Drag Race" on Paramount's MTV and "The Masked Singer" on FOX.

How it works: Over the past few years, media companies and sports leagues have brokered multiyear deals with Twitter — typically between one to three years — through a selective program called Twitter Amplify.

  • The program pairs advertisers with timely videos from premium publishers, and publishers split a percentage of ad revenue made from their videos with Twitter.
  • Some content partners, like NBCU, sell ads directly to brands that want to sponsor their videos and share a portion of that ad revenue with Twitter. Others, like the NFL, rely on Twitter to sell the ads across their video content.
  • Most of these media partnerships are multiyear deals and were brokered before Musk took over Twitter. Some deals, like the NFL's partnership with Twitter, are worth seven figures if they run for their full term, according to two sources familiar with the agreements.

Be smart: There's little financial downside to staying in the content deals for publishers on the platform. But the companies and leagues don't want to broadcast that they are sticking with the deals because they fear reputational damage from Musk-era Twitter's free-speech free-for-all.

  • The NFL, Twitter's largest league content partner, declined to comment. The NBA and NHL did not comment. Paramount did not comment. Disney, NBCU, Conde Nast and Axios did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For Twitter and participating content partners, the deals can be important incremental revenue drivers.

  • TV companies that sell Twitter ads as an extension of TV ad buys bring new clients to Twitter. Ads that Twitter sells against Amplify video content deliverincremental revenue to publishers who would've tweeted the videos organically anyway.
  • For publishers, the Twitter Amplify program makes it possible to monetize targeted video inventory at scale, especially around live moments, like viral clips from an awards show or football game.

The big picture: Most efforts by media organizations to quit Twitter have been brief or nonexistent, even for companies entangled in Musk's banning of journalists last year.

  • Puck News paused advertising on the platform briefly but returned to buying ads once Musk reinstated the banned journalists' accounts. CBS News quit Twitter for less than two days last year.
  • The Washington Post continued to run Twitter ads to boost views to its branded content campaigns on the platform late last month, despite one of its reporters being banned a few weeks prior. The Post did not comment.
  • CNN said last month it's "reevaluating" its relationship with Twitter in light of Twitter banning its tech journalist Donie O'Sullivan from the platform. O'Sullivan's account has been reinstated, but he still hasn't been able to tweet. CNN hasn't updated its statement.

By the numbers: While many advertising categories across Twitter saw between a 30%–60% drop in the number of active U.S. advertisers last quarter compared to the same quarter in 2021, the number of active U.S. media and entertainment advertisers fell by less than 15%, according to a source familiar with the situation.

  • Companies like Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal continue to buy sponsored tweets, mostly to help with subscriber acquisition. Bloomberg did not comment. The Wall Street Journal did not respond to a request for comment.
  • Several other companies, including Gannett's USA Today and Conde Nast, have still been running Twitter ads around branded content campaigns. Gannett did not comment.
  • The top topics on Twitter by impression share in most of Q4 2022 were entertainment, sports & fitness, politics, food & beverage, financial services, news, and technology, according to an advertising pitch document seen by Axios.

Flashback: Most social media boycotts don't last forever. Fox News went quiet on Twitter for over a year, only to return in 2020 during the coronavirus news cycle.

The bottom line: At a tough economic moment for the media industry, Twitter has proven too useful to give up.

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