With news from the media/tech landscape flooding your inboxes daily, the VIP+ team is at the ready to pick the biggest stories of the week and share their insights in a rousing live discussion on Twitter Spaces, this Friday at 11:30 a.m. PT/2:30 p.m. ET.
Agree — or disagree — with our picks? Want to make some of your own? That’s the place to have your say. In advance of that, below are our picks for the headlines that heated up the week that was.
Andrew Wallenstein, Chief Media Analyst
It’s hard not to be underwhelmed by Twitter Blue, an unprecedented subscription extension to an otherwise entirely free social media hub that was announced earlier this week ahead of rolling out in two test markets, Canada and Australia.
Putting aside price points entirely for a second, none of the offerings packaged in Twitter Blue are particularly compelling: A post-tweet edit function that lasts 30 seconds is useful to … who exactly? But it’s probably best to understand Twitter Blue as a mere toe in the water of the ocean of subscription dollars the company has yet to tap.
Investors want both user growth for Twitter and a diversification beyond the ad revenues that have made this stock a bit of a roller coaster over the long term. Even in the short term, it’s not seeing the pandemic bump rivals like Facebook and Snapchat are enjoying in their own market value. What’s going to be key for Twitter is figuring out what its subscription play is, and that’s not going to come without a little trial and error in the marketplace.
It will be interesting to see not only how quickly Twitter Blue hits the U.S. and beyond but what form the company’s subscription product takes. It can’t be what they just came out with, that’s for sure.
Kevin Tran, Media Analyst
More details of a new forthcoming CNN video streaming service were divulged by the WSJ on Tuesday. The service, internally known as CNN+, will reportedly feature shows from prominent CNN anchors including Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon that are different from what’s airing on the cable network. CNN has been striking talent deals to encompass CNN+ programming over the past year, according to the report. The price and launch date for the venture are not yet clear.
The WSJ first confirmed CNN+’s development on May 25, but the latest details suggest the news network will in part lean on talent-driven exclusive programming to lure paid subscribers. This strategy would mirror what Fox has done with its standalone SVOD Fox Nation, which saw its subscriber count grow by 40% between mid-February and May, in part thanks to the service’s new programming from conservative provocateur Tucker Carlson.
However, the boost CNN+ would get from talent-driven exclusive programming won’t necessarily match the one Fox Nation gets from it, given the differing conservative and liberal views on the media. Some 91% of surveyed U.S. adults identifying as Republican or leaning Republican said news organizations tend to favor one side in an early 2020 Pew Research Center survey, while that figure was just 69% for those identifying as Democrats or leaning Democrat.
This puts into question whether the proportion of CNN viewers willing to pay for additional exclusive programming from Cooper or Lemon is equal to the proportion of Fox viewers willing to pay for additional exclusive programming from Carlson or Hannity.
Kaare Eriksen, Information Editor
“A Quiet Place Part II,” the sequel to Paramount’s 2018 creature-feature hit, saw its May 28 release beat the domestic opening gross of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which had held the best opening weekend throughout the pandemic. The three-day opening of “A Quiet Place” wrangled $48 million compared with $32 million for “Godzilla,” and the film’s four-day holiday haul reached $57 million, beating the five-day $48 million counted for the March 31 “Godzilla” release ahead of the Easter holiday.
This is quite a feat given the “Godzilla” budget was reported to be around three times as much as that of “A Quiet Place,” but as states continue to ease pandemic restrictions on seating, each successive release weekend is naturally poised to face a better market than the last.
“Godzilla’s” gross could have been higher if the film hadn’t launched on HBO Max the same day it hit theaters, per the streamer’s arrangement for Warner Bros.’ 2021 film slate. As such, it’s possible the “Conjuring” sequel out today and “In the Heights” next weekend (both Warner Bros. titles) could see results closer to “Cruella,” which grossed a three-day $21 million opening last weekend while streaming on Disney+.
Given its premise of residents taking to the streets to sing and dance through elaborate musical numbers, “In the Heights” may just be representative enough of how vaccinated Americans feel to do well in theaters as summer kicks off and the next “Fast & Furious” installment revs its engines for June 25, when it will assuredly become the next pandemic record-setter.
Gavin Bridge, Senior Media Analyst
The news that Fox is bringing back the springtime U.S. Football League in 2022 shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the network’s overall strategy. While the USFL has not played a game since 1985, Fox was a partner in 2020’s return of the XFL, which performed better than expected prior to COVID-19 forcing an early season end and shuttering the league.
Fox’s obsession with providing winter and springtime football is not just one of creating an ongoing synergy for gridiron fans who long for action once the NFL wraps in early February. It is aggressively pursuing opportunities to cement itself as one of the leading sports gambling companies in the U.S., with CEO Lachlan Murdoch commenting during the recent investor earnings call that sports is driving the company’s wagering business.
The success of Fox Bet Super 6 last year, where Fox gained 5 million users, shows the integrated pipeline for sports gambling that Fox is planning — at least in states where it’s legal. With a gap on Fox’s sports schedule between NFL and MLB seasons, save for once-a-week NASCAR events, investing in and relaunching a new winter football league brings opportunities for more gambling.
Fox is also flush with sports-rights cash, given the deal made with Amazon to transfer season rights for “NFL Thursday Night Football” ahead of schedule. With the USFL likely costing a small proportion of “NFL TNF,” Fox is able to add sports content on air during the winter wasteland, drive engagement and gambling opportunities and save money while doing so.