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ViacomCBS shakes up its content leadership teams following merger

19:32 | 11 November

Following the merger of CBS and Viacom announced earlier this year, the combined company today confirmed its plans to restructure its content and digital leadership teams in order to streamline operations. Among the changes, which were first reported by The Wall St. Journal on Sunday, are the departures of Comedy Central Head Kent Alterman and Viacom Networks COO Sarah Levy. Meanwhile, CBS Chief Creative Officer David Nevins will add BET to his responsibilities, while President of MTV, VH1, CMT, and Logo Chris McCarthy, will now become President of Entertainment & Youth Brands, ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks.

This will put McCarthy in charge of Comedy Central, Paramount Network, Smithsonian Channel and TV Land brands.

Nevins, in addition to BET, will also oversee CBS Television Studios, the CBS Television Network’s Entertainment division, the Showtime Networks and Pop, The CW, and the programming of streaming service CBS All Access.

In terms of children’s content, Nickelodeon President Brian Robbins will oversee kids and young adult-focused programming as President, Kids & Family Entertainment, ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks. That puts him back in charge of Awesomeness, which he co-founded and sold to Viacom in 2018, in addition to Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Nick Jr., TeenNick, Nicktoons and Nickelodeon Studios.

ViacomCBS also said that Carolyn Kroll Reidy will continue her role as President and Chief Executive Officer of Simon & Schuster, Inc. And Jim Gianopulos will continue as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures, a role that includes oversight of Paramount Animation, Paramount Features, Paramount Players and Paramount TV.

The exec shuffles follow other announcements about the combinations of the two companies’ advertising sales and content distribution teams.

In addition, the company had previously announced Joe Ianniello would serve as Chairman and CEO of CBS, which includes oversight of CBS Television Network (including CBS Entertainment, CBS News, and CBS Sports), CBS Television Studios, CBS Interactive (including CBS All Access) and CBS Television Stations. However, he lost oversight of Showtime and Pop TV to President and CEO of Viacom and ViacomCBS, Bob Bakish.

Also previously reported was that CBS Interactive chief Jim Lanzone had left for Benchmark Capital, to be replaced by Marc DeBevoise. This puts DeBovise in charge of digital operations and reporting to Bakish.

Viacom Digital Studios Kelly Day will continue in her role and report to DeBevoise, the company also said today. And CBS CTO Phil Wiser will become ViacomCBS CTO.

The free streaming service Pluto TV, headed by co-founder Tom Ryan, will report to Bakish. (In news unrelated to the exec changes, Pluto TV announced today it will start streaming music videos from Vevo across 10 new channels.)

These leadership changes are meant to consolidate operations while keeping the production arms of CBS Television Studios and Viacom’s counterpart, Paramount Television, separated, The WSJ said.

Beyond the exec shuffle itself, ViacomCBS also detailed how it plans to maximize its combined assets, on the content from. The company announced this morning it’s putting into place a new “Content Council” that will work to “maximize the use of IP and talent relationships” across the company. The council will be chaired by Nevins and include all the content leaders.

“ViacomCBS will be one of the largest premium content creators in the world, with the capacity to produce content for both our own platforms and for others,” said President and CEO of ViacomCBS Bob Bakish, in a statement. “This talented team of content leaders will work together to ensure we realize the full power of our brands, our deep relationships with the creative community and our intellectual property to drive our growth as a combined company,” he added.

The Viacom-CBS merger is expected to fully close in December.

 

 

 

 


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Original Content podcast: Apple’s star-studded ‘Morning Show’ gets off to an bumpy-but-promising start

20:09 | 9 November

We weren’t sure what to expect from the launch of Apple’s new subscription streaming service. There were reports that the company was committed to staying family friendly, rather than exploring the adult content and creative liberties that both premium cable and streaming can offer. Plus, most of the trailers were pretty underwhelming.

For our 100th (!) episode, your regular Original Content podcast hosts are joined by TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez to discuss all the Apple TV+ shows we’ve sampled so far — “For All Mankind,” “See,” “Dickinson” and even “Snoopy in Space.” And we were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

Just a few episodes in, “For All Mankind” (an alternate history in which the Soviet Union won the race to the moon) and “See” (set in a world where everyone has lost the sense of sight) have turned some of us into fans. And even “Dickinson” — which has the seemingly impossible task of telling Emily Dickinson’s story using modern slang— turns out to be a strange and watchable experiment.

We save our most extensive discussion for the most high-profile title of the bunch: “The Morning Show,” which stars Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy, longtime host of an AM news show also called “The Morning Show,” and Reese Witherspoon as local news anchor Bradley Jackson, whose confrontation at a coal mine protest ends up going viral right as Alex’s show implodes, thanks to sexual misconduct allegations against her longtime co-host Matt Kessler (played Steve Carell).

Obviously, the show has star power, and the leads are supported by talented and familiar faces like Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

The performances are all strong, with Aniston and Witherspoon carrying the show: Aniston convincingly portrays a woman who’s both devastated by the revelations of her on-screen partner’s behavior and desperate to seize the opportunity that these revelations create. Witherspoon, meanwhile, adds complex shading to perhaps her trademark role as a spunky, ambitious upstart.

The writing, on the other hand, is a bit uneven. There’s an unfortunate tendency towards speechifying about big themes like The Role of Journalism in America — at times, it feels almost Sorkin-esque, but without the eloquence or snappiness of Aaron Sorkin’s best dialogue.

So far, though, the speeches have been balanced out by strong characterization and some satisfyingly dramatic twists.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:30 Apple TV+ roundup
27:02 “The Morning Show” review (spoiler-free)

 


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Legislators from ten parliaments put the squeeze on Facebook

00:47 | 8 November

The third session of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation, a multi-nation body comprised of global legislators with concerns about the societal impacts of social media giants, has been taking place in Dublin this week — once again without any senior Facebook management in attendance.

The committee was formed last year after Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to give evidence to a wide-ranging UK parliamentary enquiry into online disinformation and the use of social media tools for political campaigns. That snub encouraged joint working by international parliamentarians over a shared concern that’s also a cross-border regulatory and accountability challenge.

But while Zuckerberg still, seemingly, does not feel personally accountable to international parliaments — even as his latest stand-in at today’s committee hearing, policy chief Monika Bickert, proudly trumpeted the fact that 87 per cent of Facebook’s users are people outside the US — global legislators have been growth hacking a collective understanding of nation-state-scale platforms and the deleterious impacts their data-gobbling algorithmic content hierarchies and microtargeted ads are having on societies and democracies around the world.

Incisive questions from the committee today included sceptical scrutiny of Facebook’s claims and aims for a self-styled ‘Content Oversight Board’ it has said will launch next year — with one Irish legislator querying how the mechanism could possibly be independent of Facebook , as well as wondering how a retrospective appeals body could prevent content-driven harms. (On that Facebook seemed to claim that most complaints it gets from users are about content takedowns.)

Another question was whether the company’s planned Libra digital currency might not at least partially be an attempt to resolve a reputational risk for Facebook, of accepting political ads in foreign currency, by creating a single global digital currency that scrubs away that layer of auditability. Bickert denied the suggestion, saying the Libra project is unrelated to the disinformation issue and “is about access to financial services”.

Twitter’s recently announced total ban on political issue ads also faced some critical questioning by the committee, with the company being asked whether it will be banning environmental groups from running ads about climate change yet continuing to take money from oil giants that wish to run promoted tweets on the topic. Karen White, director of public policy, said they were aware of the concern and are still working through the policy detail for a fuller release due later this month.

But it was Facebook that came in for the bulk of criticism during the session, with Bickert fielding the vast majority of legislators’ questions — almost all of which were sceptically framed and some, including from the only US legislator in the room asking questions, outright hostile.

Google’s rep, meanwhile, had a very quiet hour and a half, with barely any questions fired his way. While Twitter won itself plenty of praise from legislators and witnesses for taking a proactive stance and banning political microtargeting altogether.

The question legislators kept returning to during many of today’s sessions, most of which didn’t involve the reps from the tech giants, is how can governments effectively regulate US-based Internet platforms whose profits are fuelled by the amplification of disinformation as a mechanism for driving engage with their service and ads? 

Suggestions varied from breaking up tech giants to breaking down business models that were roundly accused of incentivizing the spread of outrageous nonsense for a pure-play profit motive, including by weaponizing people’s data to dart them with ‘relevant’ propaganda.

The committee also heard specific calls for European regulators to hurry up and enforce existing data protection law — specifically the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — as a possible short-cut route to shrinking the harms legislators appeared to agree are linked to platforms’ data-reliant tracking for individual microtargeting.

A number of witnesses warned that liberal democracies remain drastically unprepared for the ongoing onslaught of malicious, hypertargeted fakes; that adtech giants’ business models are engineered for outrage and social division as an intentional choice and scheme to monopolize attention; and that even if we’ve now passed “peak vulnerability”, in terms of societal susceptibility to Internet-based disinformation campaigns (purely as a consequence of how many eyes have been opened to the risks since 2016), the activity itself hasn’t yet peaked and huge challenges for democratic nation states remain.

The latter point was made by disinformation researcher Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika.

Multiple witnesses called for Facebook to be prohibited from running political advertising as a matter of urgency, with plenty of barbed questions attacking its recent policy decision not to fact-check political ads.

Others went further — calling for more fundamental interventions to force reform of its business model and/or divest it of other social platforms it also owns. Given the company’s systematic failure to demonstrate it can be trusted with people’s data that’s enough reason to break it back up into separate social products, runs the argument.

Former Blackberry co-CEO, Jim Ballsillie, espoused a view that tech giants’ business models are engineered to profit from manipulation, meaning they inherently pose a threat to liberal democracies. While investor and former Facebook mentor, Roger McNamee, who has written a critical book about the company’s business model, called for personal data to be treated as a human right — so it cannot be stockpiled and turned into an asset to be exploited by behavior-manipulating adtech giants.

Also giving evidence today, journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who has been instrumental in investigating the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse scandal, suggested no country should be trusting its election to Facebook. She also decried the fact that the UK is now headed to the polls, for a December general election, with no reforms to its electoral law and with key individuals involved in breaches of electoral law during the 2016 Brexit referendum now in positions of greater power to manipulate democratic outcomes. She too added her voice to calls for Facebook to be prohibited from running political ads.

In another compelling testimony, Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) in Washington DC, recounted the long and forlorn history of attempts by US privacy advocates to win changes to Facebook’s policies to respect user agency and privacy — initially from the company itself, before petitioning regulators to try to get them to enforce promises Facebook had renaged on, yet still getting exactly nowhere.

No more ‘speeding tickets’

“We have spent the last many years trying to get the FTC to act against Facebook and over this period of time the complaints from many other consumer organizations and users have increased,” he told the committee. “Complaints about the use of personal data, complaints about the tracking of people who are not Facebook users. Complaints about the tracking of Facebook users who are no longer on the platform. In fact in a freedom of information request brought by Epic we uncovered 29,000 complaints now pending against the company.”

He described the FTC judgement against Facebook, which resulted in a $5BN penalty for the company in June, as both a “historic fine” but also essentially just a “speeding ticket” — because the regulator did not enforce any changes to its business model. So yet another regulatory lapse.

“The FTC left in place Facebook’s business practices and left at risk the users of the service,” he warned, adding: “My message to you today is simple: You must act. You cannot wait. You cannot wait ten years or even a year to take action against this company.”

He too urged legislators to ban the company from engaging in political advertising — until “adequate legal safeguards are established”. “The terms of the GDPR must be enforced against Facebook and they should be enforced now,” Rotenberg added, calling also for Facebook to be required to divest of WhatsApp — “not because of a great scheme to break up big tech but because the company violated its commitments to protect the data of WhatsApp users as a condition of the acquisition”.

In another particularly awkward moment for the social media giant, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, a legislator from Estonia, asked Bickert directly why Facebook doesn’t stop taking money for political ads.

The legislator pointed out that it has already claimed revenue related to such ads is incremental for its business, making the further point that political speech can simply be freely posted to Facebook (as organic content); ergo, Facebook doesn’t need to take money from politicians to run ads that lie — since they can just post their lies freely to Facebook.

Bickert had no good answer to this. “We think that there should be ways that politicians can interact with their public and part of that means sharing their views through ads,” was her best shot at a response.

“I will say this is an area we’re here today to discuss collaboration, with a thought towards what we should be doing together,” she added. “Election integrity is an area where we have proactively said we want regulation. We think it’s appropriate. Defining political ads and who should run them and who should be able to and when and where. Those are things that we would like to work on regulation with governments.”

“Yet Twitter has done it without new regulation. Why can’t you do it?” pressed Pentus-Rosimannus.

“We think that it is not appropriate for Facebook to be deciding for the world what is true or false and we think that politicians should have an ability to interact with their audiences. So long as they’re following our ads policies,” Bickert responded. “But again we’re very open to how together we could come up with regulation that could define and tackle these issues.”

tl;dr Facebook could be seen once again deploying a policy minion to push for a ‘business as usual’ strategy that functions by seeking to fog the issues and re-frame the notion of regulation as a set of self-serving (and very low friction) ‘guide-rails’, rather than as major business model surgery.

Bickert was doing this even as the committee was hearing from multiple voices making the equal and opposite point with acute force.

Another of those critical voices was congressman David Cicilline — a US legislator making his first appearance at the Grand Committee. He closely questioned Bickert on how a Facebook user seeing a political ad that contains false information would know they are being targeted by false information, rejecting repeated attempts to misleading reframe his question as just about general targeting data.

“Again, with respect to the veracity, they wouldn’t know they’re being targeted with false information; they would know why they’re being targeted as to the demographics… but not as to the veracity or the falseness of the statement,” he pointed out.

Bickert responded by claiming that political speech is “so heavily scrutinized there is a high likelihood that somebody would know if information is false” — which earned her a withering rebuke.

“Mark Zuckerberg’s theory that sunlight is the best disinfectant only works if an advertisment is actually exposed to sunlight. But as hundreds of Facebook employees made clear in an open letter last week Facebook’s advanced targeting and behavioral tracking tools — and I quote — “hard for people in the electorate to participate in the public scrutiny that we’re saying comes along with political speech” — end quote — as they know — and I quote — “these ads are often so microtargeted that the conversations on Facebook’s platforms are much more siloed than on the other platforms,” said Cicilline.

“So, Ms Bickert, it seems clear that microtargeting prevents the very public scrutiny that would serve as an effective check on false advertisements. And doesn’t the entire justification for this policy completely fall apart given that Facebook allows politicians both to run fake ads and to distribute those fake ads only to the people most vulnerable to believe in them? So this is a good theory about sunlight but in fact in practice you policies permit someone to make false representations and to microtarget who gets them — and so this big public scrutiny that serves as a justification just doesn’t exist.”

Facebook’s head of global policy management responded by claiming there’s “great transparency” around political ads on its platform — as a result of what she dubbed its “unprecedented” political ad library.

“You can look up any ad in this library and see what is the breakdown on the audience who has seen this ad,” she said, further claiming that “many [political ads] are not microtargeted at all”.

“Isn’t the problem here that Facebook has too much power — and shouldn’t we be thinking about breaking up that power rather than allowing Facebook’s decisions to continue to have such enormous consequences for our democracy?” rejoined Cicilline, not waiting for an answer and instead laying down a critical statement. “The cruel irony is that your company is invoking the protections of free speech as a cloak to defend your conduct which is in fact undermining and threatening the very institutions of democracy it’s cloaking itself in.”

The session was long on questions for Facebook and short on answers with anything other than the most self-serving substance from Facebook.

Major GDPR enforcements coming in 2020

During a later session without any of the tech giants present which was intended for legislators to query the state of play of regulation around online platforms, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, Helen Dixon, signalled that no major enforcements will be coming against Facebook et al this year — saying instead that decisions on a number of cross-border cases will be coming in 2020.

Ireland has a plate stacked high with complaints against tech giants since the GDPR came into force in May 2018. Among the 21 “large scale” investigations into big tech companies that remain ongoing are probes around transparency and the lawfulness of data processing by social media platform giants.

The adtech industry’s use of personal data in the real-time bidding programmatic process is also under the regulatory microscope.

Dixon and the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) takes center stage as a regulator for US tech giants given how many of these companies have chosen to site their international headquarters in Ireland — encouraged by business friendly corporate tax rates.

The DPC has a pivot al role on account of a one-stop-shop mechanism within the regulation that allows for a data protection agency with primary jurisdiction over a data controller to take a lead on cross-border data processing cases, with other EU member states’ DPAs able to feed but not lead such a complaint.

Some of the Irish DPC’s probes have already lasted as long as the 18 months since GDPR came into force across the bloc.

Dixon argued today that this is still a reasonable timeframe for enforcing an updated data protection regime, despite signalling further delay before any enforcements in these major cases. “It’s a mistake to say there’s been no enforcement… but there hasn’t been an outcome yet to the large scale investigations we have open, underway into the big tech platforms around lawfulness, transparency, privacy by design and default and so on. Eighteen months is not a long time. Not all of the investigations have been open for 18 months,” she said.

“We must follow due process or we won’t secure the outcome in the end. These companies they’ve market power but they also have the resources to litigate forever. And so we have to ensure we follow due process, we allow them a right to be heard, we conclude the legal analysis carefully by applying what our principles in the GDPR to the scenarios at issue and then we can hope to deliver the outcomes that the GDPR promises.

“So that work is underway. We couldn’t be working more diligently at it. And we will have the first sets of decisions that will start rolling out in the very near term.”

Asked by the committee about the level of cooperation the DPC is getting from the tech giants under investigation she said they are “engaging and cooperating” — but also that they’re “challenging at every turn”.

She also expressed a view that it’s not yet clear whether GDPR enforcement will be able to have a near-term impact on reining in any behaviors found to be infringing the law, given further potential legal push back from platforms after decisions are issued.

“The regulated entities are obliged under the GDPR to cooperate with investigations conducted by the data protection authority, and to date of the 21 large-scale investigations were have opened into big tech organizations they are engaging and cooperating. With equal measure they’re challenging at every turn as well and seeking constant clarifications around due process but they are cooperating and engaging,” she told the committee.

“What remains to be seen is how the investigations we currently have open will conclude. And whether there will ultimately be compliance with the outcomes of those investigations or whether they will be subject to lengthy challenge and so on. So I think the big question of whether we’re going to be able to near-term drive the kind of outcomes we want is still an open question. And it awaiting us as a data protection authority to put down the first final decisions in a number of cases.”

She also expressed doubt about whether the GDPR data protection framework will, ultimately, sum to a tool that can  regulate underlying business models that are based on collecting data for the purpose of behavioral advertising.

“The GDPR isn’t set up to tackle business models, per se,” she said. “It’s set up to apply principles to data processing operations. And so there’s a complexity when we come to look at something like adtech or online behavioral advertising in that we have to target multiple actors.

“For that reason we’re looking at publishers at the front end, that start the data collection from users — it’s when we first click on a website that the tracking technologies, the pixels, the cookies, the social plug-ins — start the data collection that ultimately ends up categorizing us for the purposes of sponsored stories or ad serving. So we’re looking at that ad exchanges, we’re looking at the real-time bidding system. We’re looking at the front end publishers. And we’re looking at the ad brokers who play an important part in all of this in combining online and offline sources of data. So we’ll apply the principles against those data processing operations, we’ll apply them rigorously. We’ll conclude and then we’ll have to see does that add up to a changing of the underlying business model? And I think the jury is out on that until we conclude.”

Epic’s Rotenberg argued to the contrary on this when asked by the committee for the most appropriate model to use for regulating data-driven platforms — saying that “all roads lead to the GDPR”.

“It’s a set of rights and responsibilities associated with the collection and use of personal data and when companies choose to collect personal data they should be held to account,” he said, suggesting an interpretation of the law that does not require other European data protection agencies to wait for Ireland’s decision on key cross-border cases.

“The Schrems decision of 2015 makes clear that while co-ordinated enforcement anticipated under the GDPR is important, individual DPAs have their own authority to enforce the provisions of the charter — which means that individual DPAs do not need to wait for a coordinated response to bring an enforcement action.”

A case remains pending before Europe’s top court that looks set to lay down a firm rule on exactly that point.

“As a matter of law the GDPR contains the authority within its text to enforce the other laws of the European Union — this is largely about the misuse and the collection and use of personal data for microtargeting,” Rotenberg also argued. “That problem can be addressed through the GDPR but it’s going to take an urgent response. Not a long term game plan.”

When GDPR enforcement decisions do come Dixon suggested they could have a wider impact than only applying to the direct subject, saying there’s an appetite from data processors generally for more guidance on compliance with the law — meaning that both the clarity and deterrence factor derived from large scale platform enforcement decisions could help steer the industry down a reforming path.

Though, again, what exactly those platform enforcements may be remains pending until 2020.

“Probably the first large-scale investigation we’re going to conclude under GDPR is one into the principle of transparency and involving one of the larger platforms,” Dixon also told the committee, responding to a legislator’s question asking if she believes consumers are clear about exactly what they’re giving up when they agree to their information being processed to access a digital service.

“We will shortly be making a decision spelling out in detail how compliance with the transparency obligations under Articles 12 to 14 of the GDPR should look in that context. But it is very clear that users are typically unaware,” she suggested. “For example some of the large platforms do have capabilities for users to completely opt out of personalized ad serving but most users aren’t aware of it. There are also patterns in operation that nudge users in certain directions. So one of the things that [we’re doing] — aside from the hard enforcement cases that we’re going to take — we’ve also published guidance recently for example on that issue of how users are being nudged to make choices that are perhaps more privacy invasive than they might otherwise if they had an awareness.

“So I think there’s a role for us as a regulatory authority, as well as regulating the platforms to also drive awareness amongst users. But it’s an uphill battle, given the scale of what users are facing.”

Asked by the committee about the effectiveness of financial penalties as a tool for platform regulation, Dixon pointed to research that suggests fines alone make no difference — but she highlighted the fact that GDPR affords Europe’s regulators with a far more potent power in their toolbox: The power to order changes to data processing or even ban it altogether.

“It’s our view that we will be obliged to impose fines where we find infringements and so that’s what will happen but we expect that it’s the corrective powers that we apply — the bans on processing, the requirements to bring processing operations into compliance that’s going to have the more significant effects,” she said, suggesting that under her watch the DPC will not shy away from using corrective powers if or when an infringement demands it.

The case for special measures

Also speaking today in a different public forum, Europe’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, made a similar point to Dixon’s about the uphill challenge for EU citizens to enforce their rights.

“We have you could call it digital citizens’ rights — the GDPR — but that doesn’t solve the question of how much data can be collected about you,” she said during an on stage interview at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon where she was asked whether platforms should have a fiduciary duty towards users to ensure they are accountable for what they’re distributing. The antitrust commissioner is also set for an expanded digital strategy role in the incoming European Commission.

“We also need better protection and better tools to protect ourselves from leaving a trace everywhere we go,” she suggested. “Maybe we would like to be more able to choose what kind of trace we would leave behind. And that side of the equation will have to be part of the discussion as well. How can we be better protected from leaving that trace of data that allows companies to know so much more about any one of us than we might even realize ourselves?”

“I myself am very happy that I have digital rights my problem is that I find it very difficult to enforce them,” Vestager added. “The only real result of me reading terms and conditions is that I get myself distracted from wanting to read the article that wanted me to tap T&Cs. So we need that to be understandable so that we know what we’re dealing with. And we need software and services that will enable us not to leave the same kind of trace as we would otherwise do… I really hope that the market will also help us here. Because it’s not just for politicians to deal with this — it is also in an interaction with the market that we can find solutions. Because one of the main challenges in dealing with AI is of course that there is a risk that we will regulate for yesterday. And then it’s worth nothing.”

Asked at what point she would herself advocate for big tech companies to be broken up, Vestager said there would need to be a competition case that involves damage that’s extreme enough to justify it. “We don’t have that kind of case right now,” she argued. “I will never exclude that that could happen but so far we don’t have a problem that big that breaking up a company would be the solution.”

She also warned against the risk of potentially creating more problems by framing the problem of platform giants as a size issue — and therefore the solution as breaking the giants up.

“The people advocating it don’t have a model as to have to do this. And if you know this story about an antique creature when you chopped out one head two or seven came up — so there is a risk you do not solve the problem you just have many more problems,” she said. “And you don’t have a way of at least trying to control it. So I am much more in the line of thinking that you should say that when you become that big you get a special responsibility — because you are de facto the rule setter in the market that you own. And we could be much more precise about what that then entails. Because otherwise there’s a risk that the many, many interesting companies they have no chance of competing.”

 


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Apple TV+ now live, with one year free for new iOS, Apple TV and Mac purchases

15:00 | 1 November

Apple has launched its streaming video subscription service, making available a varied and sizeable library of content immediately for subscribers. To access the service, you do need to sign up for a$4.99 per month subscription, but if you’ve purchased any new iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac since the beginning of September, and you’re signed in to the Apple ID associated with those devices on those devices, the subscribe button should show that you get one full year of free trial service applied automatically.

Apple TV+ content lives in the Apple TV app that’s available across macOS, Apple TV, iOS and iPadOS devices, and which should be pre-installed already unless you’ve deleted it form your device or you’re running an older version of the operating system. Shows from the new program will then show up in a dedicated AppleTV+ row in the app’s home screen, as well as throughout the interface in various places.

At launch, you’ll find ‘The Morning Show,’ ‘See,’ ‘For All Mankind,’ ‘Dickinson,’ ‘Snoopy in Space,’ ‘Ghostwriter,’ ‘Helpsters,’ as well as documentary feature ‘The Elephant Queen’ and talk show ‘Oprah’s Book Club.’ Some of these offer the first three episodes, with others to follow on a staged release schedule, while others include the full season all available to view at launch.

Of course, you can either stream or download these for offline viewing, and AppleTV+ will remember your progress so long as you have an internet connection and then pick up where you left off across your connected devices. All Apple TV+ content is in 4K, and most also offer Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support.

I literally just turned on ‘The Morning Show’ for a few seconds to make sure everything was working, so no opinions yet on the quality of the actual content. But if you’ve recently picked up any new Apple hardware, it’s definitely worth checking out for the free trial period, at least.

 


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Twitter says government demands for user data continue to rise

18:45 | 31 October

Twitter has reported a rise in the number of government demands for customer data.

In its latest transparency report covering the six-months between January and June, the social media giant said it received 7,300 requests for user data, up by 6% a year earlier, but that the number of accounts affected are down by 25%.

The company turned over some data in just under half of all cases.

U.S. government agencies demanded the most data, filing 2,120 demands for 4,150 accounts — accounting for about one-third of all requests. Japan was trailing behind with 1,742 demands for 2,445 accounts.

The company also had 33 requests for data on 86 Periscope video-streaming accounts, disclosing some information in 60% of cases.

Twitter also disclosed it was previously served with three so-called national security letters (NSLs), which can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of their gag orders.

The report also said Twitter saw a rise across the board in the amount of private information, sensitive media, hateful content, and abuse, but that it was continuing to take action.

Twitter said it removed 124,339 accounts for impersonation, and 115,861 accounts for promoting terrorism, a decline of 30% on the previous reporting period.

The company also removed 244,188 accounts for violations relating to child sexual exploitation.

 


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Daily Crunch: HBO Max will launch in May

21:42 | 30 October

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. HBO Max will cost $14.99 per month and launch in May 2020

AT&T and WarnerMedia announced the pricing, launch timetable and content lineup of their HBO Max streaming service. They also revealed that HBO has placed a straight-to-series order for “House of the Dragon,” a spin-off of “Game of Thrones.”

Even though distinguishing between HBO and HBO Max will probably be a bit of a headache over the next few years, this is a service that I’m genuinely excited about, with a rich library of HBO shows and Warner Bros. films at its core. And while the price is high compared to competing services, there’s no additional cost compared to the existing HBO Now.

2. WhatsApp blames — and sues — mobile spyware maker NSO Group over its zero-day calling exploit

WhatsApp has filed a suit in federal court accusing Israeli mobile surveillance software maker NSO Group of creating an exploit that was used hundreds of times to hack into targets’ phones.

3. Tencent leads $111M investment in India’s video streaming service MX Player

Times Internet, which acquired a majority stake in MX Player in late 2017, also participated in the Series A financing round. The post-money valuation was $500 million, according to a source.

4. Spotify launches a dedicated Kids app for Premium Family subscribers

The app allows children three and up to listen to their own music, both online and offline, as well as explore playlists and recommendations picked by experts. The music selection is filtered so songs won’t have explicit content.

5. Slack investor Index Ventures backs Slack competitor Quill

Quill, a startup led by Stripe’s former creative director Ludwig Pettersson, claims to offer “meaningful conversations, without disturbing your team.”

6. Where top VCs are investing in cybersecurity

Many of the rising cybersecurity startups focus on the same or overlapping problems, which could lead to a “cybersecurity consolidation.” (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Let’s have a word about what3words with Clare Jones at Disrupt Berlin

What3words wants to map the entire world and overhaul addresses, three words at a time. The startup has divided the world into three-meter squares, each one assigned three words as an identifier.

 


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Apple TV+ will be free with an Apple Music student subscription

17:26 | 30 October

Ahead of Friday’s launch of Apple’s new streaming service, Apple TV+, the company announced an Apple Music/Apple TV+ bundle deal specifically aimed at making the service more affordable for younger subscribers. According to an Instagram Story published by Hailee Steinfeld, star of Apple TV+’s first potential hit series, Dickison, Apple Music student subscribers will be able to stream Apple TV+ for free.

The announcement was spotted earlier by 9to5Mac.

After a series of Instagram-hosted Q&A’s meant to stoke excitement for the show among her fans, Steinfeld announced the bundle deal by saying that: “for those of you who are students with an Apple Music student subscription, you can now get Apple TV+ for free.”

steinfeld announcementShe noted this means student subscribers will not only be able to watch her new show on Friday, November 1st, they can also check out her new single “Afterlife” with the same subscription.

The Apple Music student subscription is currently $4.99 per month, which provides full access to Apple Music’s catalog of 50 million songs, live local radio stations, curated playlists, and other original content.

An Apple Music-Apple TV+ bundle had been rumored to be in the works, prompting rival Spotify to team up with Hulu to pre-emptively strike with a bundle deal of their own.

But when Apple formally announced its TV streaming service, it instead surprised everyone by offering the service for free with the purchase of a new Apple device.

Of course, students are less likely to upgrade their phones and tablets as often as working adults, given the costs. That means they would have missed out on the “new device” deal, and would have instead had to pay the $4.99 per month subscription for the TV service. 

Meanwhile, Apple TV+’s debut shows have received mixed reviews from critics ahead of launch — with the star-powered The Morning Show featuring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Whitherspoon, and Steve Carell even being called “dull” and “underwhelming.” Dickison, however, has been a bright spot, with some even saying the show is set to be Apple TV+’s breakout series. It would make sense for Apple to capitalize on that attention — as well as on Steinfeld’s 12.4 million Instagram followers — to get more people watching.

Apple didn’t share any additional information about the Music/TV+ bundle beyond what Steinfeld announced. There was no related press release or even a tweet posted to the Apple TV Twitter account. In other words, Apple was narrowly targeting Steinfeld’s built-in fan base with the news.

It appears this is not a limited-time deal with an expiration date attached, just an ongoing benefit of a student Music subscription.

 

 

 


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Video news startup Brut raises $40M, officially launches in the U.S.

16:00 | 30 October

Digital media startup Brut is announcing that it has raised $40 million in Series B funding. The money will be used, in part, to finance its launch in the United States.

CEO Guillaume Lacroix said that that he and his co-founders all come from the French TV industry, where they were all “frustrated not to be able to follow up the conversation on social.” So they created Brut as a way deliver video news that felt conversational and authentic, hoping to spark viewer conversation, then take advantage of that commentary to find future stories.

“We always always say to journalists, ‘Forget the audience, think about your two best friends,'” Lacroix told me. “‘Would you be excited to have this conversation tonight with your friends? If yes, let’s do it.'”

The publisher focuses on topics like social good and social impact — for example, it published the first viral video featuring climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Lacroix argued that Brut’s audience is looking for solutions, not just problems, in contrast to the “negative news cycle” that they see on traditional media.

“People are not waiting anymore — they don’t wait for institutions to do it, they don’t wait for the collectivity to do it,” he said. “It’s very inspiring to see someone who takes even a small action.”

At the same time, he doesn’t want Brut’s journalists to veer too heavily into advocacy or activism themselves: “We don’t do a call to action, we’re not activists, we don’t point a finger. We just shine a light on people who are trying to do something to change the world.”

In many ways, Brut seems to check off the same boxes (it aims to reach a millennial/Gen Z audience with short videos on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat) that many U.S. digital media startups did before they started to struggle and consolidate over the past few years.

But Lacroix said the startup’s approach is working — not just in terms of reaching an audience, but also building a real business. Brut is already profitable in France, and it plans to be profitable in the U.S. within three years.

Asked about whether he’s worried about relying on social platforms to reach his audience, Lacroix argued that even if you focus on publishing on your own website, you’re reliant on Google for traffic.

“For me, it’s not a problem of distribution, if you’re diversified enough,” he said. “It’s a problem of: What’s your business model? Why did Spotify explode from day one? They have a global DNA. It’s exactly the same for us.”

For example, Lacroix said that Brut’s audience is concerned about many of the same issues no matter what country they’re in. And the company is able to produce content for them in a relatively low cost way, because it can shoot a video in French or English, then add subtitles in a variety of languages — most audiences won’t even notice since they’re watching on their phones, with the sound off.

To be clear, Brut hasn’t exactly been ignoring the U.S. market before this. The company said it has an audience of 30 million daily active viewers across the globe, including in the United States, and it opened an office in New York City a couple of years ago. By “launching” here, Brut means it’s hiring an advertising salesforce to start monetizing that audience.

The company previously raised 10 million euros (approximately $11.1 million) from Kima Ventures, according to Crunchbase. The new funding was led by Red River West and Blisce, with participation from Aryeh Bourkoff, Eric Zinterhofer and others.

“When deciding where to invest, we look for mission-driven companies whose values are aligned with our own,” said blisce founder and CEO Alexandre Mars in a statement. “Like blisce’s previous investments in Spotify, Pinterest and Bird, we believe that Brut.’s unique global approach represents a special competitive advantage, as well as an understanding that business success and positive social impact are inextricably linked.”

 


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Spotify launches a dedicated Kids app for Premium Family subscribers

15:04 | 30 October

In a move to boost family subscriptions to its app, Spotify this morning announced the launch of a dedicated Kids application which allows children three and up to listen to their own music, both online and offline, as well as explore playlists and recommendations picked by experts, and more. The music selection is also filtered so songs won’t have explicit content.

The launch is a first in the online music streaming space, where kids on parents’ music plans typically sign in through the same app — just with a different login. But Spotify believes children deserve their own space, where the music they listen to is available in an ad-free environment, where they won’t accidentally encounter lyrics that parents disapprove of, and where content is hand-curated by editors.

Spotify Kids, essentially, is a set of hand-picked playlists across categories.

Comp 2 Browse 2

These span categories like Movies & TV, top hits, Activities (bedtime, homework, playtime, etc.), genres, seasonal, Spotify Originals, artist/groups and Stories.

These playlists are all programmed by human editors, not algorithms, who follow a set of guidelines about what’s appropriate for children.

The editors, Spotify says, have backgrounds from some of the most well-known brands in the children’s entertainment market, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Discovery Kids, Universal Pictures, Public Service (Sweden) and BookBeat (family and kids-oriented audio streaming service).

The app isn’t just for the preschool set. Instead, it can grow with the kids as they get older — but still aren’t ready for the parents’ application yet.

Comp 1 Home 2

In the younger kids’ version, children can listen to things like singalongs, lullabies, and soundtracks aimed at little kids. Older users have access to tracks and playlists of their own, including some popular tracks, that are appropriate and relevant for their age group. Parents will select the appropriate age group upon launch.

In time, Spotify will expand the app with more content and build enhanced parental settings and controls that allow parents to customize the kids app further.

The app also looks nothing like the main app — it’s colorful and bright, and has a look and feel that varies by the kids’ age group. For example, the younger kids see artwork that’s softer and character-based, while older kids have a more detailed experience.

Kids 1920x733

“Spotify is committed to giving billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by music and stories and we’re proud that this commitment now includes the next generation of audio listeners,” said Spotify’s Chief Premium Business Officer Alex Norström. “We are excited to be expanding the Spotify Premium Family experience with a dedicated app just for our youngest fans. Spotify Kids is a personalized world bursting with sound, shape and color, where our young listeners can begin a lifelong love of music and stories.”

The app is initially available in beta, while Spotify works to refine the experience based on additional insights gained from use as well as parents’ feedback. It requires a Premium Family plan to use.

Spotify Kids is available today in Ireland on iOS and Android, but is rolling out to all markets, the company confirms.

 

 


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HBO Max will cost $14.99 per month and will launch in May 2020

03:03 | 30 October

AT&T and WarnerMedia just announced the pricing of its HBO Max streaming service, along sharing more details about the timing and content lineup.

The service will cost $14.99 per month — the same price as HBO Now. WarnerMedia also says it will be free for HBO Now subscribers and for viewers who subscribe to HBO via AT&T. And it will launch in May of next year.

At the event, HBO’s Casey Bloys also announced that HBO has greenlit a Game of Thrones spinoff called House of the Dragon, based on George R.R. Martin’s book of Westerosi history, Fire and Blood (perhaps explaining why a previously announced spin-off that was recently canceled).

The company also revealed that HBO Max will be the exclusive streaming home of South Park. Plus, Elizabeth Banks, Issa Rae and Mindy Kaling are all developing new shows for the service — and Arrow and Riverdale producer Greg Berlanti announced that he’s working on the new DC Comics-related titles Green Lantern and Strange Adventures.

Today’s presentation for media and investors began with lots of commentary about all the corporate synergies between AT&T, WarnerMedia (which AT&T acquired last year) and the service’s namesake HBO.

WarnerMedia’s entertainment and direct-to-consumer chairman Bob Greenblatt said HBO Max will have 10,000 hours of content at launch, including the HBO library, films from Warner Bros. and original content “appealing to all the younger demos.” Ten thousand hours sounds like a lot, but Greenblatt acknowledge it’s less than some competitors (presumably Netflix): “We actually think our value proposition improves when we narrow some of the options.”

Screen Shot 2019 10 29 at 7.43.07 PM

HBO Max Chief Content Officer Kevin Reilly made a similar point, noting that on average, half of the usage on subscription streaming services comes from the top 100 titles, so “quality over quantity” is important. To illustrate that quality, he pointed to titles like Sesame Street, as well as the Lord of the Rings movies, The Hobbit movies, The Matrix trilogy and The Conjuring films, plus every Superman and Batman movie from the past 40 years.

“We’re all-in with DC and the associated brand-love that DC generates,” Reilly said.

He also noted the service will also stream the 90’s classic Friends, as well as The Big Bang Theory, for which it reportedly paid over $1 billion.

As for originals, Reilly said the company plans to launch 31 Max Originals series (combined with HBO series, that makes for 69 original shows on HBO Max in its first year). Half of them, apparently, will be targeted at a young adult audience, and with most of the episodes released on a weekly basis — Reilly argued that this allows for more cultural impact, “rather than fading quickly after a binge and burn.”

In terms of the product itself, WarnerMedia’s Executive Vice President Andy Forssell argued that “despite a decade of SVOD evolution, it’s still too hard to find something to watch,” and said HBO Max will “blend the smart use of data with real human touch, and present them via novel product experiences.”

He then showed off how the service will include curated highlights sections focusing on things like Friends episodes with high-profile guest stars. Forssell acknowledged that this might not seem revolutionary, but he argued that it offers a “significant deviation from how SVOD services have used screen real estate.”

It will also expand HBO’s Recommended by Humans feature, where celebrities and other real people can recommend their favorite movies and TV shows. And there will be kids’ profiles and shared profiles — so that the watching you do with others won’t interfere with the progress and recommendations from your own solo viewing.

Screen Shot 2019 10 29 at 7.42.30 PM

In July, AT&T first announced its plans for HBO Max, but the details around launch and pricing weren’t yet known. Instead, the attention so far has been on HBO Max’s content lineup.

The service aims to capitalize on HBO’s reputation for premium fare to attract consumers — many of whom already pay $15 per month for HBO Now. But it will pad that HBO library with a combination of programming from other WarnerMedia properties like Cinemax, New Line, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., The CW, CNN, TNT, TBS, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, Crunchyroll, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes, and others.

We now know HBO Max will be home to Game of Thrones and its upcoming spin-offs, plus favorite HBO series like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Deadwood, Westworld, and others.

It’s also bringing back Gossip Girl, rebooting Grease, making a Dune TV show, and streaming all 21 Studio Ghibli films.

Other HBO Max shows will include a Riverdale spin-off Katy Keene; Search Party; Batwoman; Adventure Time; Stephen King’s The Outsider; Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams’ horror series Lovecraft Country; Joss Whedon’s The Nevers; Julian Fellowes’ (Downton Abbey) The Gilded Age; David E. Kelley’s The Undoing; Rules of Magic, a prequel to Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic; The Boondocks; and Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai; plus back catalog content like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Pretty Little Liars, Doctor Who (2005 and onward), The West Wing, Top Gear, The Office (original version), and others.

Upcoming literary adaptions include Tokyo Vice, The Flight Attendant, CirceMade for LoveStation Eleven, and Anna K: A Love Story. 

More recently, HBO Max has announced a new documentary on Anthony Bourdain, an overall deal with Lisa Ling, a documentary about Amy Schumer, a Melissa McCarthy comedy film, a documentary with Monica Lewinsky, and a new deal with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot (the deal allows Bad Robot to make TV under the WarnerMedia umbrella and then sell it to other streaming services).

Abrams was part of today’s event. He said it’s too early to announce any specific programming under the new deal — Bad Robot already works with HBO on titles like Westworld, and Abrams has a new show in the works called Demimonde — but he declared, “There’s no company that values storytelling more than WarnerMedia.”

And for classic movie lovers who mourn the loss of FilmStruck, Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, said the service will offer a rich library of films from the Warner Bros. and MGM library, curated titles from Turner Classic Movies, as well as “decades and decades of more great titles from The Criterion Collection.”

AT&T said on Monday it plans to spend about $2 billion on the service over the next two years and aims to sign up some 50 million subscribers by 2025.

The service will arrive at a time when competition in the streaming market is heating up. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video’s successes have paved the way for new entrants like Apple TV+, which launches Friday, and Disney+, which arrives mid-November. NBCU is also joining next year with its streaming service Peacock, which will offer The Office and other classic shows, alongside new originals, like a Battlestar Galactica reboot.

These streamers are gaining at the expense of traditional TV, which has impacted other parts of AT&T’s business.

In the third quarter, it lost another 1.2 million satellite and fiber-optic-TV customers as well as 195,000 AT&T TV Now (previously DirecTV Now) subscribers. AT&T’s profit was down 22% year-over-year to $3.7 billion and revenue had fallen 2.5% to $44.6 billion.

Eventually, AT&T’s plan is to merge its AT&T TV Now live TV service into HBO Max and add on a discounted ad-supported tier to HBO Max to make it more affordable.

 


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