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Publishers show digital growth amidst pandemic closures and consolidations

October 26, 2020 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Digital subscriptions have helped shape a stronger business for publishers. FIPP’s latest Global Digital Subscriptions Snapshot (Q3 2020) shows that subscriptions are serving to support publishers during the pandemic. In fact, research by Press Gazette reports that during the Covid-19 crisis the largest newspaper groups in the US and UK gained more than one million new digital subscriptions. Not only are large publishers faring well but smaller, regional and specialist brands are also showing record subscriptions.

Despite positive performances in digital subscriptions, Covid-19 brings with it challenges to the industry. Zenith Media expects a 9% decline in internet ad spend this year. The agency estimates a 6% recovery in 2021, driven by the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.

On a global front, the middle east and Africa will be hardest hit with a 20% decline in advertising revenue. Western Europe anticipates a 15% decline and Latin American a 13% decline in ad spend. The Asia Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe markets are estimated to decline by 8%, respectively. North America expects to register the smallest decline (7%) due to the large spend on political advertising this year.

FIPP Q3 findings:                                            

News publishers’ subscription growth

  • The Athletic reports 1 million subscribers as of September 2020. Unfortunately, with only a few new subscribers in Q1 2020 and cancellation of live sporting events, the company laid off approximately 8% of its staff. In addition, there were pay cuts across the company to offset expenses.
  • Caixin Media in Beijing grew subscriptions by 70%, adding 210,000 new subscribers for a total of 510,000 this year. It’s the first media company in China to place all of its content behind a hard paywall.
  • Dow Jones reports that digital revenue now accounts for 71% of total revenue, up from 63% compared to the same time period last year. Total subscriptions, across print and digital products, is at 3.8 million, driven by a 28% increase in digital subscriptions. Interestingly, 2.2 million of the Wall Street Journal’s 3 million subscriptions are digital-only. Across the entire Dow Jones group, digital subscriptions account for 67% of subscription revenues.
  • Gannett is centering their business around digital transformation. To date they are close to one million paid digital subscribers.
  • The New York Times’s added 669,000 new digital subscriptions in 2Q 2020 for a total 5.7 million digital subscriber. In fact, for the first time ever, digital revenue now exceeds its print revenue. Overall, the company’s operating profit of $52.1 million is down 6.2% compared to same time period one year ago.

Magazine closures

  • South Africa magazine closures:
    • Associated Media – company closure
    • Caxton – selling off 80 titles
    • Media 24 – closed 2 of 5 titles
  • UK magazine closures:
    • Immediate Media – closed 11 titles
    • Bauer Media UK – closed 10 titles
    • Broadly – exited New Zealand, closed 8 titles and consolidated with Australian Mercury Capital
    • PLC – closed 6 titles
    • T1 media was acquired by Future

Streaming growth

  • Netflix consistently delivers content with new productions and licensing deals to the consumer market. As of Q2 2020, there are a 193 million subscribers globally.
  • Amazon Prime Video, part of Amazon Prime, is very successful in the SVOD market. Subscribers reached 150 million globally.  The company does not break out Prime Video from Amazon Prime. The company does not provide details on active users of Prime Video. However, the Kantar Entertainment on Demand Report offers a third-party analysis SVOD users. The Kantar Q2 2020 analysis shows that Amazon Prime Video subscriptions account for 23% of all SVOD subscriptions. That marks a 14% increase from the prior quarter. 
  • China’s merger discussions between Tencent Holdings and iQIYI could establish the world’s largest streaming service with more than 231 million paying subscribers.
  • Disney+ is exceeding all expectation with currently has more than 60.5 million subscribers.
  • Apple TV+ claims 10 million subscribers. However, many subscribers are part of a 1-year free trial offer because they are users of the hardware. Further, Bloomberg estimates that about half of Apple TV+ subscribers never used the service.

The coronavirus’ impact on the advertising industry further strained publisher revenues and forced several to close their doors and others to consolidate. The pandemic also showcased the consumers’ need for trusted news and entertainment content. This need feeds into the relationship of publisher and consumer. Its why consumers value the content and are willing to pay for it.

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