The new CEO of the New York Times, Meredith Kopit Levien, said the company would consider additional acquisitions to expand offerings like its highly successful games and cooking apps and continue to grow in audio – which is a better fit for print than video ever was.
In an early public foray in her new role, Kopit Levien, who took over from retiring CEO Mark Thompson just last week, told investors at the Goldman Sachs media conference that audio – starting with NYT’s three-year-old The Daily podcast – drives advertising and subscriptions.
“Audio is an area we are particularly excited about,” she said. The Daily has four million (daily) listeners who stay on for 20 minutes on average and are younger and more diverse than print readers. The NYT acquired Serial Productions and inked a multiyear licensing deal with Ira Glass’ This America Life in July and more recently brought on Kara Swisher’s new podcast Sway as it builds “a complex audio offering that meets a very different need than our news app does.”
As for video, “I don’t know of any companies that were not born out of linear television that have succeeded in making video itself, original video production, as a standalone business, a strong business. The economics were much different than in text. I think for the Times and many others in journalism. [Audio] is a clearer lift and one we have more optimism around as a standalone business,” she said.
Starting back in 2015 for a few years publications became enamored with video. That was driven in part by Facebook data showing high levels of engagement that convinced many newsrooms to tweak their newsroom staffs but that proved later to be misleading — to late for a host of fired writers.
Asked about Facebook’s current sparring in Australia and Europe with regulators that want the social media giant to pay publishers higher, negotiated rates for featuring their content, Kopit Levien said, “This is a really complex topic… We don’t know how the story ends…I am as curious as you are to see how it all unfolds.”
“The thing we say to the platforms very regularly is that the creators of the original work should be able to get the credit for the original work.”
A successful digital strategy including a paywall has helped the Times weather the massive shakeout in publishing. In August, the company said digital revenue exceeded print for the first time ever for the second quarter ended in June, when it added 669,000 net new digital subs. News in general is having a heyday in a tumultuous period of pandemic, heated politics, racial tension and climate crises.
Kopit Levien called news “counter-cyclical to certainty in the world” – meaning it tends to do best in times like these.
“It is very hard to imagine that we’re moving into more certain times even beyond the giant politics story or the global pandemic story,” she said. “I assume we will be in robust news cycle for a long time to come.”