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Fox News Plans a Streaming Service for ‘Superfans’

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Thanks to a relentless news cycle — and a dedicated fan in the Oval Office — Fox News has defied the downward trends in the television business, notching its highest-rated year in 2017 even as audiences dwindled for many networks.

But the mass migration of viewers away from traditional cable and satellite packages is accelerating. And now Fox News is plotting a leap into the uncertain digital future that rivals like CNN have so far put off.

On Tuesday, Fox News is set to announce Fox Nation, a stand-alone subscription service available without a cable package. The streaming service, expected to start by the end of the year, would focus primarily on right-leaning commentary, with original shows and cameos by popular personalities like Sean Hannity.

It would not overlap with Fox News’s 24-hour cable broadcast — not even reruns — because of the channel’s contractual agreements with cable operators. Instead, the network is planning to develop hours of new daily programming with a mostly fresh slate of anchors and commentators.

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“Fox Nation is designed to appeal to the Fox superfan,” John Finley, who oversees program development and production for Fox News, said in an interview. “These are the folks who watch Fox News every night for hours at a time, the dedicated audience that really wants more of what we have to offer.”

Mr. Finley said the network was still discussing the cost of a subscription.

The Fox News venture joins an increasingly crowded — and increasingly niche — marketplace for web-only streaming television.

ESPN is starting its subscription service, ESPN Plus, in the spring. About five million viewers signed up last year for HBO and Cinemax digital subscriptions. Last week, CBS said it counted five million subscriptions to its CBS and Showtime streaming services, and it plans to add two more stand-alone products, CBS Sports HQ and an offering branded for “Entertainment Tonight.”

Fox Nation, depending on its popularity, may prove more consequential to the country’s political life than the average streaming service.

Fox News already commands the attention of President Trump and many voters in his base. The digital product would bring viewers an additional dose of opinion programming beyond staples like “Hannity” and “Fox & Friends.” Live events, like question-and-answer forums, would encourage more direct interaction with anchors and commentators.

Fox News viewers “value our product so much, they go to hotels and if they can’t have Fox, they send us emails. They go on cruises, and if they can’t have Fox, they send us emails,” Mr. Finley said. “This is a way for us to meet that demand.”

Whether the venture would be a moneymaker is up in the air.

Fox News reaps more than $1 billion in annual profit, providing ample funds to hire a new team for Fox Nation, which is not expected to initially carry advertising. Mr. Finley declined to estimate his start-up costs, and streaming services in conservative media have had a mixed record of success.

The Blaze, a web-only service founded by the host Glenn Beck in 2011 after he left Fox News, struggled to attract interest and eventually morphed into a more traditional network distributed by cable and satellite providers. Bill O’Reilly, who was fired by Fox News in April, started a subscription service on his website that has earned little attention.

Mr. Finley said Fox Nation was not comparable to a personality-driven product. “This is not starting from scratch here,” he said. “Glenn Beck had a ton of viewers when he was here on Fox. When he left, it didn’t seem to me that they followed him. People are loyal to the Fox brand.”

The median Fox News viewer is 65 years old, according to Nielsen, but the network points to its website traffic and heavy presence on Facebook and other social media platforms as evidence that a web-only service can appeal to its audience.

Among Fox News’s main rivals, MSNBC has no stand-alone product. CNN has a streaming service, CNNgo, which offers some free original programming, but it otherwise requires an existing cable or satellite subscription. Jeff Zucker, CNN’s president, said in December that he was considering a digital product for the channel’s “Great Big Story” brand, which is aimed at younger viewers.

Fox News, though, is facing some new competition on its conservative flank. The potential expansion of the Sinclair Broadcast Group may bring more conservative programming to local television stations. Peter Thiel, the technology investor and Trump supporter, is said to be interested in creating a right-leaning media organization based in Los Angeles.

Asked if Fox Nation was a response to pressures from cord-cutting and other industry trends, Mr. Finley said Fox News loyalists “are not cutting the cord anytime soon.”

“I don’t think this is about competing with our rivals. It’s about serving our audience,” he added. “We know who our audience is. We know what they want.”

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China to boost R&D spending in push for tech breakthroughs

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Integrated circuits on a circuit board.

filonmar | E+ | Getty Images

Li said China’s research and development spending will increase by more than 7% per year between 2021 and 2025. R&D will account for a higher percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) than in the previous 5 years. He did not give details on how much the government would spend in absolute terms.

China’s spending on R&D climbed 10.3% to 2.44 trillion Chinese yuan ($378 billion) and accounted for 2.4% of GDP in 2020, according to official statistics.

Meanwhile, central government expenditures on basic research will increase by 10.6%, Li said.

The Two Sessions this year marks the start of China’s 14th five-year development plan which lays out priorities and goals over the coming years. The current plan runs from 2021 to 2025.

In the past, the annual gathering of delegates has overseen major changes including President Xi Jinping‘s abolition of term limits in 2018.

In his report, Li laid out China’s vision for the next five years.

“To improve China’s innovation system, we will work faster to enhance our strategic scientific and technological capability underpinned by the development of national laboratories, strive to make major breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields, and formulate and implement a ten-year action plan for basic research,” he said.

China is going to focus on developing a number of technology areas including semiconductors, health care, quantum computing and cloud computing, according to a draft of its five-year plan.

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China proposes changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system

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The flag of Hong Kong flies from a ferry boat on July 2, 1997, a day after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.

Romeo Gacad | AFP | Getty Images

Beijing on Friday proposed changes to “improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China will “resolutely guard against and deter external forces’ interference” in the city.

The announcement was made at the start of China’s annual “Two Sessions” parliamentary meeting.

The Chinese government had earlier hinted at potential changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, which critics said could hold back the city’s pro-democracy politicians.

Last week, Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s State Council, said in a Mandarin-language statement translated by CNBC that “legal loopholes” in Hong Kong’s electoral system should be closed so that the city is governed only by “patriots.”

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The city is governed under a “one country, two systems” principle that gives it greater autonomy than other mainland Chinese cities, including limited election rights.

Beijing has been criticized internationally — by countries including the U.S. and the U.K. — for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy that was promised under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Last year, Beijing bypassed Hong Kong’s legislation to enact a controversial national security law. The move followed months of pro-democracy protests in the city that sometimes turned violent.

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‘Buzz’ ETF tracking social media talk launches amid Reddit manias in stocks

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The logos of Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok displayed on a computer screen.

Denis Charlet | AFP via Getty Images

Is it time for an ETF that measures hype?

Measuring the buzz around stocks mentioned in social media is all the rage. Now, there’s an exchange-traded fund for that.

The Van Eck Vectors Social Sentiment ETF (BUZZ) selects 75 stocks with the most bullish social media sentiment and packages them into an ETF.  

This is essentially a momentum index, but instead of tracking stocks that are moving on price, BUZZ tracks stocks that are getting a lot of social media hype.

The ETF is based on the Buzz NextGen AI U.S. Sentiment Leaders Index. What goes in the index is based on an initial list of stocks that meet two criteria: those with a $5 billion minimum market capitalization and getting consistent and diverse mentions on social media over the past year. The 250-350 stocks that meet that initial criteria are ranked each month from highest sentiment to lowest, with the top 75 going in the index.

Not a Reddit meme stock ETF

If you’re looking for something that captures Reddit sentiment around small stocks like GameStop, you might be disappointed.

“This is not a Reddit meme stock ETF,” said Jamie Wise, CEO of Buzz Holdings and the originator of the index. “This is about the broader conversation around stocks mentioned on social media platforms. We are using broad social media sources, principally Twitter and StockTwits.” Wise said it also uses Yahoo Finance, Benzinga and Reddit.

How to determine “social media buzz?” Wise says the index uses natural language algorithms that examines whether the comment is positive, negative or neutral, then ranks each stock based on the degree of positive sentiment and breadth of discussion. That’s key to understanding the index: stocks are weighted by sentiment, not market capitalization, and no one stock can exceed 3% of the index. It is rebalanced every month. 

“We are aggregating the collective sentiment of the community” that comments on stocks on social media, Wise said.

Initially, the largest holdings include Twitter, DraftKings, Ford, American Airlines, and Facebook. Tesla is number 10. The $5 billion minimum market cap criteria would exclude Reddit names like Gamestop, Express or AMC Entertainment from the mix.

Wise says the stocks in the index are proof they are not chasing the latest Reddit craze. “These are not the kind of stocks that are being promoted by celebrities,” Wise said. “These are everyday stocks being promoted by people with a wide variety of viewpoints, and is not focused on a narrow group of Reddit names.”

Is social media popularity a good way to pick stocks?

Measuring stocks by price momentum has been around a long time, and many ETFs already do that. The largest, iShares Momentum ETF (MTUM), selects stocks based on price appreciation over six- and 12-month periods and low volatility over the past three years.

Measuring momentum based on social media hype has not been around that long. The index BUZZ is built on has been live only since December 2015.

Wise says the index has outperformed the S&P 500 in four of the last five calendar years.

BUZZ vs. Momentum (since inception: 12/18/15)

  • BUZZ index:                    up 215%
  • Momentum ETF (MTUM) up 119%
  • S&P 500:                        up 113%

 Source: Buzz Holdings

Much of that outperformance came in 2020. Wise says that is not an accident because social media has exploded in the last year and a half, corresponding with that outperformance.

“This shows that sentiment momentum has outperformed price momentum and market cap momentum” in the last five years, Wise said.

Can stocks be manipulated on social media?

Chat rooms are full of investors with many different motives, including some likely trying to manipulate stocks. 

Wise says the index’s focus on stocks with a market capitalization of more than $5 billion helps reduce the chances that stocks in the index could be manipulated. “The market cap size and volume of discussions taking place around these companies makes them difficult targets for manipulation by any bad actors,” a FAQ sheet provided by Van Eck states.

Portnoy buys in

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