Future of Media: Clickhole satire engine, media buying ethics, Disney's Mulan gamble

The Drum's senior reporter and media correspondent John McCarthy rounds up the latest media trends and developments. Also available in your inbox every Thursday as The Drum's Future of Media email briefing. Sign up here.

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Welcome back. John McCarthy here. It's been another busy week. I'm happy to share another Future of Media briefing filled with lots of good stuff from The Drum.

Satired

Spare a thought for the clowns, jesters, and funny people who continue to crank out the laughs. Some do it for a living.

I spoke to Steve Etheridge, editor-in-chief of Clickhole and Neil Rafferty, co-founder of satire site the Daily Mash, about how they are producing parody material at a time when laughs are few and far between, and ditto, ad spend.

What was initially a discussion about the financial side of the business evolved into a detailed breakdown of lockdown creativity. As Etheridge put it: “We're pretty experienced at writing through our existential terror.”

They both feel the burden of their social responsibility. A bit of satire goes a long way. As Rafferty put it: “A joke is a rallying point for people to connect and know their frustrations are shared by millions of people.”

There are some keen findings for media and marketing types (or aspiring comedy writers) here.

No ethics given

To some, marketing is an inherently immoral practice and ethics in advertising an oxymoron. But does it have to be? OK, probably. But it can be better.

I had a long chat with Jacob Dubbins of the Conscious Advertising Network about the ways media buyers can help improve the world, be it cutting out crime-funding fraud, defunding Covid-19 denial sites, or operating inclusive and diverse organisations that reflect the wider world.

However, one thought stuck with me. Remember the attacks on the 20 UK telecom masts early in lockdown? What if the telecom giants actually inadvertently funded these conspiracy theories with their programmatic spend? So rarely do brands reap the negative effects of their spend in such a neat feedback loop – if so.

Misinformation, fake news, hate speech and conspiracy theories collectively damage society. We’d like to see more people considering this when pursuing huge audiences on the cheap.

Disney’s plus side

Disney+ was the only silver lining in the Walt Disney call.

Shut down productions, theme parks and cinemas bit into the margins. The direct to consumer product hit 60.5 million subscribers, around four years earlier than its (public) target. We also learned that the live-action Mulan remake is launching on the streaming service – but not for free. $29.99 (£23) appears to be the touted price to fast-track the movie to the home.

Disney chief executive Bob Chapek called the transaction a one-off but said it will “learn from” its performance. Cinemas will be watching on in fear. Disney, after absolutely dominating the release calendar for near-on a decade now, could shift its focus to owned channels (where it can keep most of the profits).

This all hinges on consumers seeing the value in paying £23 to ‘own’ a digital movie in that supposed cinema exclusivity window.

After an unscientific Twitter doom scroll, I noticed a trend. Those who won't pay the fee live alone or don't have children generally. Parents saw more value in it, with their cinema trips, including an ensemble of hungry children, costing as much as three-times the touted Mulan fee.

Are we witnessing a democratisation of cinema? Maybe it is an Airbnb-ification of entertainment. Will this model open up homes for £4-a-head viewing parties – as some do with boxing PPV?

Or with the impending recession, maybe more people will just pirate Mulan.

Read the results here.

ITV's slow road to recovery

UK broadcaster ITV was very much the canary in the coalmine when it took a horrific 43% ad spend hit in Q2, with little hope of making that up, and with its production slate wiped clean.

There are signs, however, of a recovery. Ad revenue was down 23% in July, but this represented an improvement on the 42% drop in June and the 46% decline in May. Not good, but less bad. Ad spend is dependent on economic recovery; and economic recovery banks on us defeating the virus and reclaiming our unimpeded movement. ITV can't predict that. It can just keep making content.

Speaking of which. There was some good news. We probably won’t run out of content. 70% of its productions are back in action in some way.

CNN growth

CNN Digital just reported the best quarter in its history. Inga Thordar, the news brand’s executive editor, told The Drum how it widened the audience gap with second-placed BBC.

The key to its audience success? Own. Your. Traffic.

“We are a rare publisher in this current media climate, in that the majority of our traffic comes directly to us… we don’t see the majority of our engagement on social platforms, but on our own owned and operated products.”

Also, with the upcoming election, CNN is gearing up for a bumpy road. Will there be another Trump bump?

Well, that’s this week’s round-up, if you missed last week’s, I’ve summarised it here.

If you've anything to share, a tip, a correction, a complaint, or if you just want to chat, you can get me at john.mccarthy@thedrum.com or @johngeemccarthy on Twitter.

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