The Atlantic launches first TV and film projects on Peacock

The Atlantic is aggressively penetrating film and TV projects as part of a broader push of licensing revenue.

Why it matters: The company, which expects to lose about $10 million again this year, must build a new revenue stream to continue on its path to profitability, CEO Nicholas Thompson told Axios.

  • “One of our goals is to build a third substantial revenue stream in addition to subscriptions and advertising,” he said. “Affiliate IP is obviously a place where you can get that, so it’s a major focus.”

Send the news: The company is launching its first two TV and film projects: “Shadowland,” a six-part docu-series, premiering on Peacock and at The Atlantic Festival on September 21, and “Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power.” a feature-length documentary, will be available on Peacock in early 2023.

  • “Shadowland,” which features The Atlantic’s journalists, is based on an Atlantic editorial series about conspiracy theories and the threat they pose to democracy. “Londes County and the Road to Black Power” is about voice activism in the 1960s.
  • Both projects were co-produced with outside filmmakers based on The Atlantic’s reporting: RadicalMedia for “Shadowland” and Participant for “Lowndes.”
  • The Atlantic also has a scripted miniseries in development at Showtime, inspired by the play The Undocumented Agent from 2020
  • Other projects in development are based on both articles and podcasts from The Atlantic, including an animated film.

Details: Thompson said the company has more than 12 other projects based on The Atlantic’s IP (intellectual property) in option or in the production phase.

  • The company hired the Creative Artists Agency in 2020 to represent its IP deals. It hired Linzee Troubh in 2019 to lead the effort full-time at The Atlantic.
  • In an effort to build more projects, The Atlantic recently opened its entire archive online for the first time. “So 29,000 new stories that ideally could all get an option,” Thompson said.

Be smart: Many publishers are leaning towards commerce or affiliate programs as a third form of income in addition to advertising and subscriptions. But Thompson said licensing is a better fit for the 165-year-old outlet.

  • It’s hard for me to imagine licensing our brand to like a hotel chain.” Thomson joked. “None of that happens.”
  • “It’s been a lot [focused] about things really related to journalism,” he said. “We only license our IP if the thing that comes out feels like it’s the same kind as our journalism.”

Between the lines: In addition to film and TV projects, The Atlantic also licenses its IP for books and experiences.

  • Next year, The Atlantic will launch its own book print called “Atlantic Editions,” in partnership with independent publisher Zando. Six titles by Atlantic authors have been announced so far.
  • In May, The Atlantic created a museum-like exhibit in downtown Los Angeles, sponsored by Mastercard, that was inspired by an Atlantic editorial series called Who Owns America’s Wilderness?

Looking back: It’s been more than two years since The Atlantic, faced with pandemic headwinds, laid off nearly 20% of its staff (68 people) and faced a $20 million loss.

  • Today, the company has a total of 360 employees, nearly two dozen more than before the pandemic-driven layoffs.
  • “Editorial we are very much in growth mode,” said Adrienne LaFrance, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. Currently, the company has 14 open positions, including several senior editorial positions such as a chief editor and a global editor.

By the numbers: The Atlantic has about 843,000 digital and print subscriptions, per Thompson, up from 830,000 this time last year. Almost half of those subscriptions (388,000) are digital only.

  • The number of 843,000 includes print magazines sold through brick-and-mortar newsstands and digital subscriptions sold through The Atlantic’s partnership with Apple News. About 750,000 subscriptions are sold directly to consumers.
  • The vast majority (about 90%) of The Atlantic’s revenue currently comes from advertising and subscriptions.
  • This year’s revenue breakdown includes an almost even split between advertising and consumer revenues, which will be a first for The Atlantic since the launch of its digital subscription service in 2019.

The big picture: Licensing has become a bigger business opportunity for premium publishers like Vox Media and the New York Times amid increased demand from streamers for new content.

What to watch: In the future, The Atlantic could experiment with other types of revenue streams, such as children’s subscriptions or international licensing partnerships, Thompson said.

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