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Pivoting to TV is the new pivoting to video

Pivoting to TV is the new pivoting to video
[Photo: JESHOOTS.com/Pexels]

Two years ago it was pivoting to video, this past year it was subscriptions, now it’s TV.

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All the media startups looking to find ad dollars from sources that aren’t Facebook or Google are announcing television deals. Today, Axios joined their ranks, announcing a limited-run series of documentaries on HBO that will focus on the midterm elections.

What’s Axios doing on TV, you may ask? I honestly don’t know. The new-media company has made a name for itself with its niche newsletters aimed at powerful decision makers, as well as its short news articles that supposedly tell readers everything they need to know. It’s become known for its access-y scoops–especially when it comes to politics–and its less-than-verbose (sometimes overly simplistic) style of analysis. Which makes me wonder how well this will translate to the small screen.

But perhaps this is less a natural business development than an example of the monetization hunt du jour. Which is to say, it’s now becoming a trend for scaling news startups to look toward television as their latest panacea. One of the first to do this was Vice Media, with its Vice News Tonight show on HBO. Crooked Media’s Pod Save America also inked a deal with HBO. Then other media competitors decided to ride the wave: Vox.com announced a television deal with Netflix, as did BuzzFeed News. And Vox’s Eater has also been working with PBS on a food-documentary series.

Everyone’s doing it! It’s a trend!

My hunch is that Vice News Tonight may have something to do with it. The show is critically acclaimed, having nabbed a few prestigious journalism awards. It also earns respectable ratings for a TV news show. Other media companies likely think they can replicate this success. A few months ago, Vox Media’s publisher, Melissa Bell, told me she saw an opportunity to “create better television.” Chad Mumm, the VP of Vox Entertainment, took it even further, telling me that these shows are the first step toward Vox Media (and by extension, other companies) becoming full-on studios.

This is clearly the incubating ground for new online media to become more established multi-platform media. The real test will be whether audiences graft on to these new internet-sprung docu-series. If they don’t, it’s quite likely we’ll only see one or two seasons before the shows quietly go away.

Which isn’t to say that embracing TV is a bad idea. The media industry is certainly a hot mess, and any opportunity to make money that doesn’t rely on digital advertising is worth exploring. It just seems that there’s a mad dash for inking deals, which will likely lead to a glut of content–and it’s anyone’s guess if it will resonate with viewers.

While Vice News Tonight may have proven to be a good bet for a certain audience, I’m still foggy on the rabid fan base that Axios TV will acquire. But good luck, nonetheless!

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