Five on Friday: Subscription Stats, Viewership Data and Antitrust Charges

Featuring Piano, YouTube, Apple and the NewsGuild

Subscription statistics, viewership data and antitrust charges dominate the subscription headlines this week. In today’s edition of Five on Friday, we share insights from Piano’s first subscription benchmark report, viewership statistics from YouTube, and Apple’s antitrust troubles in Europe. We also share the NewsGuild’s formal case for Tribune Publishing shareholders to reject hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s takeover bid, and – everyone’s favorite feature – top subscription jobs!

Piano Shares Data and Insights in First Public Subscription Benchmark Report

Piano, a technology company that works with hundreds of companies including CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, NBC Sports, The Economist, Gannett, TechCrunch and Penske Media, shared its first public subscription benchmark report. The report includes key data points and insights on subscriber engagement and exposure, conversion and retention rates. Among the highlights are the changes in consumer and reader behavior due to COVID. For example, some of the largest subscription sites on the Piano platform saw media active subscription growth of close to 58%. Also, in 2020, some of Piano’s clients said they had reached their annual goals by April.

Here are other notable highlights from that report:

  • In year 1 of a subscription business, 43% of conversions come from users who visit five or more days in a month, but only 33% come from first-day visitors. The opposite is true in year 2 with 41% of conversions happening on the first day and 32% occurring from users who visit five or more days.
  • Most loyal users will subscribe in the early days of a subscription, but subscription companies need to adopt other tactics like trials and promotional pricing for visitors who are less engaged.
  • In the early days of a subscription, onboarding is critical to driving engagement which improves retention.
  • If subscribers don’t engage early, Piano says, they will cancel quickly or become a “sleeper” who stops visiting the site, even if they haven’t canceled their subscription.
  • About 40% of subscribers for the average media site are sleepers – those who haven’t visited a site in the past 30 days.
  • Approximately 60% of sleepers first go inactive within the first two months of their subscription, highlighting the importance of strong onboarding.
  • Conversion depends a lot on messaging, including on subscription landing pages, hard and soft paywalls and ribbons that cover part of the page but that can be ignored to read content.
  • Hard paywalls are the most effective in getting a reader to make a decision – pay to read or go elsewhere.
  • Landing pages “have relatively few visitors” but those who go to landing pages often have a “high intent to pay.”
  • Free trials are fading away, a trend we are seeing in the streaming video world too. Piano reports that 17% of new monthly subscriptions in January 2020 included a free trial. By December 2020, fewer than 5% of monthly subscriptions included a free trial.
  • Non-trial monthly subscriptions have a median retention rate of 86.1% between the first and second months. Paid trials retain 82.1% of subscribers, and free trials retain only 61.7% when they have to start paying.
  • Churn is highest in the first month with 80% coming from active churn.

“We feel these metrics — engaged users, exposure rates, conversion rates and retention rates — are the most critical to understanding the health of your subscription business. If your goal in 2021 is on retaining subscribers, using pricing to shift the balance toward annual subscriptions, employing trials carefully to reduce early churn, adopting an onboarding program and targeting high-risk users with rescue tactics can have a big impact,” Piano said.

Visit Piano.io to view the full report.

YouTube Reach Expands to More than 1B Hours on TV Daily

YouTube viewers are now watching more than 1 billion hours of content on their television screens daily, reports Tubefilter. This is an increase over 450 million in June 2020 and 250 million in 2019. In December alone, more than 120 million people watched YouTube on their TVs, expanding their reach beyond small screens and mobile devices. Also, in September of 2020, YouTube reached more viewers ages 18 to 49 than all linear networks combined!

HootSuite also shared some astonishing fun facts about YouTube, its reach and popularity:

  • YouTube is the world’s second most-visited website in the world. Parent company Google (Alphabet) is first.
  • YouTube is the world second-most used social platform after Facebook.
  • YouTube has more than 2 billion logged in monthly users.
  • 74% of U.S. adults use YouTube.
  • 77% of 15 to 35-year-olds in the U.S. use YouTube.
  • Viewers aged 18 and over spend 41.9 minutes on YouTube daily on average.
  • The U.S. is YouTube’s largest single source of traffic at 16.4%, followed by 9.2% in India and 4.8% in Japan.
  • 70% of viewers bought from a brand after seeing an ad on YouTube, according to a study conducted by Talkshoppe in February 2020.
  • In the U.S., YouTube will make approximately $5.56 billion in ad revenue in 2021.

See more YouTube statistics on HootSuite’s blog post, “25 YouTube Statistics That May Surprise You: 2021 Edition,” by Christina Newberry.

EU Charges Apple with an Abuse of Dominant Market Power

EU has antitrust concerns with big tech doing business in EU.

While Apple dukes it out with Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, in a U.S. District Court this week, regulators in the European Union are taking a bite out of Apple too. In a formal Statement of Objections, the European Commission has accused Apple of abusing its dominant position in the streaming music market by imposing unfair and restrictive policies in the App Store. The charges originated from a complaint by Spotify in 2019 that Apple was using its power and dominant market position to unfairly edge them out of the streaming music market.

The Commission said that Apple’s mandatory requirement that users subscribe via in-app purchase – thus, giving Apple a 15% to 30% revenue share – was an abuse of its dominant market position. The Commission also stated its concerns that Apple restricts app developers from telling iPhone and iPad users about payment alternatives.

“App stores play a central role in today’s digital economy. We can now do our shopping, access news, music or movies via apps instead of visiting websites. Our preliminary finding is that Apple is a gatekeeper to users of iPhones and iPads via the App Store. With Apple Music, Apple also competes with music streaming providers. By setting strict rules on the App store that disadvantage competing music streaming services, Apple deprives users of cheaper music streaming choices and distorts competition. This is done by charging high commission fees on each transaction in the App store for rivals and by forbidding them from informing their customers of alternative subscription options,” said executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager.

If the Commission finds that Apple has violated Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which prohibits the use of a dominant market position, Apple could be fined up to 10% of Apple’s annual global revenue. The Statement of Objections is a step in a formal process that investigates alleged violations of EU antitrust regulations. The parties involved can examine the Commission’s file, reply in writing, and request a hearing to present their case. There is no legal deadline for the completion of the process.

NewsGuild Urges Tribune Publishing Shareholders to Reject Alden’s Offer

In a May 4 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The NewsGuild makes a formal plea that Tribune Publishing shareholders reject hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s offer to buy the company for $630 million in cash. The NewsGuild represents newsroom employees in eight of Tribune’s nine metro newspapers. Alden is known for snatching up newspaper organizations and gutting them to maximize profits. This usually leads to massive layoffs and a diminished quality of what remains of the newspapers.

Tribune Publishing grows digital-only subscribers by 40% in Q2 2020.

Like many, the NewsGuild had hoped that billionaires Hansjorg Wyss and Steward Bainum would buy the newspaper group with a higher bid, but in mid-April, Wyss backed out of the deal, putting Alden’s deal back on the table. It is slated to be discussed at a special shareholders meeting later this month.

“Dear Tribune Publishing Shareholder,

We urge you to VOTE AGAINST Proposal #1 at the special meeting of shareholders on May 21, 2021. The proposed acquisition by Alden Global Capital undervalues our company, and the board has undertaken a rush to judgment that is not in the interests of Tribune shareholders,” their Notice of Exempt Solicitation (Voluntary Submission) to the SEC reads.

The NewsGuild provided four key arguments for the shareholders’ consideration:

  1. The decision to accept Alden Global Capital’s offer has been rushed, starting with its initial offer to buy Tribune Publishing for $14.25 a share on December 14, 2020. The NewsGuild believes this and Alden’s second offer at $17.25 a share both undervalue the company.
  2. The fairness opinion is a rationalization of a decision to sell the company, rather than the certification of a fair deal.
  3. The NewsGuild does not believe the Special Committee who evaluated Alden’s offer had experience or expertise in the news industry to evaluate the deal fairly, nor did they evaluate Alden’s financials sufficiently to determine their solvency.
  4. The board of directors has acted in its self-interest rather than in the interest of all shareholders. The NewsGuild believes this is a conflict of interest and consistent with past behavior on the part of Alden.

The NewsGuild’s Hail Mary pass seems unlikely to win shareholders over, but there is one shareholder who has the power to stop the deal – Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of the Los Angeles Times. He is the second largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing with a 24% stake. He and the SEC are likely the NewsGuild’s last hope.

We have not yet seen a statement from Tribune Publishing or Alden Global Capital that rebuts the NewsGuild’s claims. However, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds has asked for a statement and had not received a comment as of May 5. We’ll update this information if a statement is made. The saga continues.

Top Subscription Jobs

Director, Audience Acquisition & Retention
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The Director, Audience Acquisition & Retention will own the growth and retention strategies for the streaming service, Topic. Responsibilities will include development, execution, and optimization of integrated acquisition, retention and win-back campaigns to drive growth. In addition, this role could support performance marketing efforts for The Intercept, Field of Vision, and other First Look Media initiatives. The Director will also focus on keeping the subscribers engaged and active across all touch-points, with the intention of optimizing LTV. Responsibilities will include monitoring and analyzing subscription retention metrics, and ongoing testing of ways to minimize churn. This is a unique chance to help shape a vital community and loyal brand following using data-driven strategy and tactics. Read more.

Subscription Marketing Specialist
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The Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune are looking for a passionate, self-driven Specialist, Subscription Marketing, to join our team and support acquisition and retention marketing efforts. In this role you’ll be expected to help drive new start volume from onsite, email and paid channels – focusing on efficiencies and quality of the new subscribers from each channel. In addition, you’ll support retention marketing efforts – getting our subscribers to stay subscriber for longer. All of the above requires a detailed understanding of the subscriber lifecycle, intellectual curiosity to guide A/B testing hypotheses and plans and a love of data. You will use data to support testing recommendations, creative brief writing, analysis of current tactics and optimization recommendations, in partnership with the rest of the subscription marketing team. Read more.

Subscription Lifecycle Marketing Manager
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Farmbox Direct is looking for a Subscription Lifecycle Marketing Manager to join the marketing team! In this dynamic role, you will manage our lifecycle marketing programs to drive customer retention and loyalty. As the Subscription Lifecycle Manager focusing on member retention and loyalty, you will work to drive retention using cross-channel messaging (email, in-app, push and SMS), improve and ideate around our existing member referral program, and work cross-functionally to support a data driven test and learn model. Our ideal candidate has experience in subscription based customer lifecycle management leveraging multiple channels including SMS, email, push, rewards, and in-app messaging. In addition, this person should have strong analytical and technical skills, plus a test and learn (quickly) mindset. Read more.

Senior Manager, Social Media & Brand
HelloFresh
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HelloFresh is seeking a Senior Manager, Social Media & Brand to lead its Organic Social team, establishing best-in-class social and content strategies and overseeing community management for HelloFresh’s growing brand portfolio. The Organic Social team serves content to an audience of over 3.0MM consumers on owned social channels alone, posting over 200 times per month and fielding an average of 30K unique monthly messages. This position will work within the Brand Marketing organization to maintain industry-leading levels of brand awareness, brand affinity, reputation, and retention. Read more.

Digital Payments Optimization Lead
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The Digital Payments Optimization Lead will report to the Global Controller and fill a key role on the Finance team at SimpliSafe. You will partner cross-functionally to help design, implement and optimize billing processes for SimpliSafe’s customer base to ensure a seamless billing experience.  You will develop and prepare reports on billing performance and establish KPIs that will help drive improvement and provide key stakeholders with appropriate levels of visibility.  You will also play an integral role in the development and implementation of a third party billing and revenue recognition technology application.  As SimpliSafe’s Digital Payments Optimization Lead, you will be the go-to-person and resident expert for all billing-related topics. Read more.