Three of the biggest American media organizations continue to see massive traffic and record-breaking digital subscription growth, which has helped them navigate a drop in advertising brought on by the pandemic.
“It’s all about the pace of decline,” said Brian Wieser, global president, business intelligence at GroupM.
Here are 11 takeaways from The New York Times, Gannett and News Corp.’s earnings from the most recent quarter.
The pace of decline slowed as the quarter closed
There were “diminishing pacers of decline,” Wieser said. In any other year, they could’ve accounted for record lows, but numbers began to narrow slightly toward the end of the quarter.
“It feels pretty good if you were hitting your head with a rubber mallet, if you were previously using a metal hammer,” he said.
At Gannett, overall revenue was down 28% this quarter compared to last year, but began to recover slightly toward the end. April revenue was down just over 30%, Reed said as an example, but June revenue was comparatively only down by about 24%.
At the Times, total revenues decreased 7.5% compared to last year. Revenue for News Corp., including Dow Jones properties—The Wall Street Journal (reported separately for the first time) and Barron’s Group titles—was down 22% compared to last year.
Changing of the guard
This was the last earnings report for Mark Thompson, president and CEO of the Times, as he announced his departure, making way for Meredith Kopit Levien to fill the role. British-born Thompson, who worked most of his career in the U.K., joked that future earnings would not be given in “Queen’s English” but rather would be “in American.”
“To paraphrase George III in Hamilton, good luck with that,” Thompson said.
Digital subscriptions continue to grow
Gannett saw a 30% increase of digital-only subscribers compared to last year, reaching 925,000 in the second quarter. The company is poised to surpass 1 million digital-only subscribers in “the next few months,” Reed said, and will become a “major driver” for the business as subscription revenue is already the largest income category.
This was a record-setting quarter for digital subscriptions at the Times, with 493,000 new subscriptions added and a total of 669,000 net new digital subscriptions. In all, the Times has 5.7 million total digital-only subscriptions and 6.5 million total subscriptions. Its subscription business represented nearly 75% of revenue last quarter. “We are making steady progress on the levers and drivers of subscription, though the unusual market conditions are clearly amplifying their effect,” said Kopit Levien.
The Wall Street Journal grew to 3 million total subscriptions for the quarter, with digital-only subscriptions growing 23% to more than 2.2 million.
Digital revenue outperformed print revenue at the Times
For the first time, the Times earned more money online than it did in print—a promising hurdle to overcome as readers change their consumption habits.
“Now, this is taking its time coming, not because we’ve been slower than others to execute our digital strategy—quite the contrary—but because our great print platform has remained so resilient. But it’s clearly a watershed moment in the transformation of the Times,” Thompson said.
Advertising revenue hit hardest
Gannett CEO Mike Reed acknowledged advertising was “the hardest hit category” for the company, as it was for other media organizations. Alt-weeklies and local news outlets have been hit hardest as local businesses cut their own marketing budgets as Covid-19 continued to spread across the U.S.