China’s games industry is experiencing its slowest growth in at least a decade and a half, despite evidence that the country’s gamers are spending more of their time playing games (see graph below). The world’s largest games market, worth some $32.5bn a year, is in the midst of a huge shake-up. Beijing has sought to limit the industry, alluding to growing concerns
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier in the year, you’d expect that platforms like Facebook would be rather more careful about how it exploits user data. Research has shown that consumer concerns over misuse of user data is one of the primary reasons why people choose to use ad blockers, and since user data is effectively the commodity on which the platforms operate, any further scandals are likely to have a cooling affect on their business models. Earlier this month a study from Pivotal Research Group found that people were spending less time across Facebook’s platforms (though it couldn’t say if that was specifically due to associaion with Cambridge Analytica).
Unfortunately Facebook has now been implicated in yet another potential misuse of user data: It registered a patent that uses geolocation to provide friend recommendations to people who are physically close to you. Or, as Lisa Vaas put it for Naked Security, “Facebook wants to reveal your name to the weirdo standing next to you.”
No doubt you’ll have seen the latest Facebook controversy (no, not that one): the social network didn’t let news publishers know about a bug that discounted people who watched less than three seconds of video, thereby artificially increasing the statistics around how long people were consuming videos on average. As a result, some people are claiming that Facebook effectively created the pivot to video that saw newspapers and magazines shed tons of editorial roles in favour of video teams, to cater for this new audience demand for video content. Some are even suing Zuckerberg’s brainchild over it.
Due to all the broken promises and missed expectations that came with news publishers’ rush into video, it’s easy to forget that the reasons behind the drive to produce more digital video were sound: consumers are viewing ever more video online across OTT services like Netflix, user-generated-content platforms like YouTube, and livestreaming sites like Twitch. Even if the figures around view time were skewed, the trend is undeniable – one of the worst affected companies, Mic, even claims that the inflated metrics weren’t even a consideration in their own change towards digital video.
For a few years now, AI has been proffered as the future of cost-effective and efficient recruitment, allowing users to screen millions of CVs in a matter of seconds. More interestingly, there are claims that it allows users to pinpoint the biases which exist in their overarching hiring process or even within the job listing itself. Studies of recruitment diversity have shown that more masculine words can dissuade female candidates from applying, and it is true AI could detect and replace this language with something more gender neutral. So could AI be a silver bullet for killing off hiring prejudices?
Recent attention has centred on the potential for unconscious algorithmic bias. That is, if you have biased data – no matter how much of it – the output is going to be biased. For example, a reliance on postcodes and schools will inevitably intersect with race and class. And if machine learning draws inferences from an already homogenous group of people,
This week the long-running saga of who will take ownership of Sky has reached a definitive conclusion, with US-based Comcast splurging billions for control of the London-listed pay-TV provider. The battle for the company had been waged for long months between Comcast and Twentieth Century Fox, both of which saw in Sky opportunities to fortify their foothold in a highly competitive market.
So why would the two compete and, ultimately, why would Comcast buy Sky? £17.28 a share (plus £30.6bn in equity) is a huge amount of money for what is effectively a pay-TV company that exists primarily in a saturated market, so what does its purchase add to the business, and how will it change the market?
Fox/Disney throwing in the towel. Selling its 39pc of Sky to Comcast at the offer price.
— Chris Williams (@cg_williams) September 26, 2018
It had been argued that Comcast was the better fit in terms of synergies, with both companies simultaneously offering both content packages and internet/communications infrastructure – but it appears to have been the former that convinced Comcast execs to up their bid for Sky. That in turn led Fox to ‘throw in the towel’ and admit defeat, its ambitions to own the European pay-TV market abandoned.
The Washington Post is a unique media company for a number of reasons. Its close affiliation with Amazon provides it with strong ecommerce potential; its subscription potential was bundled with Amazon Prime long before rebundling was a glint in other media companies’ eyes; and it has always bucked the trends surrounding digital video.
Perhaps more importantly, it is making a significant run at Platform-as-a-Service revenue – and might be the single best-placed media company to do so.
If you’ve ever used Google Drive to collaboratively edit a document, you’ve experienced a PaaS. Chances are that you’ve also recognised the benefits of doing so. But the potential of PaaS is truly realised at a macro level: licensing a platform for developing and publishing apps without also needing to build the infrastructure behind it is freeing for media businesses and allows easier entrance to the market for start-ups.
For companies engaged in the production of journalism (or its backwoods cousin, ‘content’), that can be a god-send. The tricky process of building a back-end is enormously expensive at the best of times – let alone in a year in which the vast majority of legacy publishers are trying to scale back costs through consolidation and the sharing of talent and tech.
Media has always been a tech-driven business, exploiting, over centuries, the development of papyrus, paper, printing, radio, TV and the World Wide Web. The key to each of these revolutionary technologies is that they made the distribution of content fundamentally easier.
While content is the bedrock on which media companies are built, the adage that ‘context is king’ is undeniably true. It doesn’t matter if you’ve invested in an award-winning team of journalists, or that you’ve spent millions on a world-altering piece of data journalism if nobody sees it and it doesn’t benefit your bottom line. The problem is that when there is so much content, so widely distributed, it’s tough to find your audience.
Media companies have been investing huge amounts in building or licensing proprietary tech solutions in order to counter those pitfalls. News UK, for instance, is approaching the end of a trial of a new tech solution designed to reduce subscriber churn as it tacitly admits it cannot grow subscriber numbers forever, while Schibsted is investing in a new techstack across its many titles which allows for greater personalisation and the surfacing of content relevant to its audience.
The same technology that can be used to tailor content to individual users can also be used to deliver more targeted advertising, which is seen as one way to avoid the race-to-the-bottom nature of most digital display advertising.
Additionally, as the push for more ecommerce revenue continues in the face of squeezed display ad spend, publishers are finding they have to invest significantly in the tech and skills behind such transactions. Writing for Digiday, Max Willens points out that where ecommerce retailers are unwilling or unable to share data on transactions, it’s often up to the publishers themselves to make up that deficiency:
On Sunday 18th March 2018 a 49 year old woman in Arizona was killed by an autonomous Uber car, which struck her as she pushed her bicycle along the roadside. The death was blamed on defective software. Two years prior to this, the first of multiple Tesla driver deaths occurred. There is significant evidence
We have written before about how niche media businesses are bucking the downward trends. It seems to be an approach that is working for consumer as well as
B2B businesses. More evidence of this comes with the recent publication of Centaur’s latest interim report, which confirms that its Travel & Meetings portfolio reported revenues of £5.7m (2016: £5.0m), up 14 percent year on year, led by its Business Travel iQ business information brand.
Also mining the travel sector, Skift has been one of the biggest success stories in the business information sector over the past few years – its success stands in contrast to other media startups which rely on VC funding. In fact, its founder Rafat Ali has spoken many times about why going ‘narrow and deep‘ in high-value niches is the biggest opportunities for media companies.
So why does this sector seem to be returning dividends for publishers?
Well, travel is one of those rare verticals that seems to thrive no matter what. For one thing, the travel and holiday industry seems to be resilient – despite
Regulation and technological advances threaten many industries: just ask high street bookmakers. But the simultaneous combination of GDPR and the promotion of ad-blocking technologies by the likes of Google and Microsoft is worrying for digital media businesses.
At the same time, ad-blocking has never truly gone away as an issue for publishers. It often gets swept aside by seemingly larger issues like the Duopoly or rampant fraud, but it’s always there in the background, eating into publishers’ digital revenue potential.
It’s come back into view over the past few days after Microsoft announced that its mobile Edge browser for iOS and Android would have an ad-blocker installed by default, perhaps anticipating that post-GDPR audiences will be more savvy about their digital rights. The Verge reports that the feature – currently in beta – is set to be made available more widely and, crucially, won’t require any extra downloads to be used. Microsoft are making it as easy as humanly possible for their users to block ads, using the existing infrastructure of Adblock Plus – and that’s got publishers worried.
The outgoing President of the CBI has caused a small storm by saying that parts of British industry could become “extinct” unless a proper Brexit deal – including membership of the customs union, the CBI’s preferred approach – is negotiated.
This has attracted the usual binary comments in the media: the ‘we told you so’ from the Remain camp, and the tedious charges of treason from Leave supporters.
But Paul Drechsler’s interview was actually quite nuanced. There was very little that people of either viewpoint could disagree with: he contended that the debates had been ruled by politics rather than economics; that the uncertainty in government was having a knock-on effect to business, making it difficult to make investment decisions; and that the UK’s economy is growing slower than most of its competitors as a result.
These are pretty much incontestable observations. Growth in the British economy is
With PlayStation and Nintendo holding most of the cards when it comes to popular video game exclusives, people have not only been questioning the worth of owning an Xbox, but whether there was any point in Microsoft making another one. So, all eyes were on Microsoft’s E3 conference last night. Some considered it a do or die
In April of this year, UK startup Juro landed $2m in seed funding from Berlin-based VC firm Point Nine Capital, among others. Juro, which provides software-as-a-service (SaaS) sales contract tools to its users, typically caters to customers that have to manage a relatively high volume of contacts, such as marketplaces – making it a prime example of an on-demand software provider who is counting on artificial intelligence to increase the value proposition of their software.
Juno’s CEO and co-founder Richard Mabey told TechCrunch that AI was vital for future growth:
“We actually could have strung it out to Series A… But we had multiple offers come in and there is so much of an explosion in demand for the [machine learning] that it made sense to do a round now rather than wait for the A. The whole legal industry is undergoing radical change and we want to be leading it.”
Juro is far from the only SaaS provider who see AI as being the future of their product. Salesforce, for instance, which has been described as the “quintessential” SaaS provider for its cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) tools, acquired AI startup MetaMind just over two years ago, to “further automate and personalize customer support, marketing automation, and many other business processes”.
In what is both one of the bigger tech acquisitions and recruitment stories of the year, the Japanese firm Recruit Holdings is set to buy Glassdoor in a deal worth $1.2bn. The buyer, which also owns recruitment site Indeed.com, will gain access to a vast database of employee reviews, salary data and a huge volume of active job seekers. Glassdoor is also the second-largest job site in the US – the largest being Indeed – so the synergies are obvious, especially if the new owner opts to further integrate the two sites. Whether this justifies the gigantic valuation is another question entirely – the barrier to entry for new rivals doesn’t seem especially high to me, leaving the sector very open to further disruption. But Glassdoor, which has 30m members worldwide, is already growing faster than LinkedIn, Indeed and Monster, so what lessons can employers learn from it?
We have long argued that the games industry should be treated as seriously as those other pillars of the entertainment business, film and music. Government seems to be getting the message, and – as we reported last month – the figures certainly stack up.
But perhaps the BBC is still struggling with the idea of games as a grown-up industry in its own right. When the industry does get coverage (on the Today show, for example), the presenters are typically as well informed as, say, a US senator facing a Facebook Chief Executive.
And then there was last week’s broadcast of the BAFTA Games Awards ceremony. If there is one thing
Modern media, to some extent, is just a series of stunts and marketing materials.
News publishers have to compete with digital outlets who, by nature of the race to scale, sell their content with hyperbole and screaming rhetoric of the sort we used to call ‘clickbait’. Even BuzzFeed, whose news wing is consistently breaking some of the biggest stories of any given week, used to indulge in this.
Consequently even the legacy publishers find themselves dragged further towards that hysterical drive to be noticed. Take The Atlantic, the US-based publication whose work and business model other publishers look upon with envy. Last month, it appointed the arch-conservative columnist Kevin Williamson, as a stunt intended to broaden its appeal, though it was dressed up as an attempt to provide balanced coverage. Unsurprisingly,
You could argue that the most important skill of any media leader is the ability to temper expectations. Everyone’s constantly looking for the next unicorn, and as soon as some hot new thing appears suddenly everyone’s on the accelerator and nobody’s on the brakes. The next step is typically a sky-high valuation and successive rounds of VC investment – followed by a tepid or downright chilly response when the property takes longer than expected to find its feet or fails to deliver a return.
Look at what happened with Mashable, which sold for a fifth of its Spring 2016 valuation of $250m at the end of last year, and which had staked its fortune on the ability to reach a generalist audience at huge scale. When it sold to Ziff Davis in a “fire sale” price in December, much of the analysis
Nintendo Switch has just become America’s fastest selling home games console selling 4.8m units in 10 months since launch. This exceeded the previous record of 4m units, also held by Nintendo for its Wii. (To blow our own trumpet for a moment, we had predicted in a previous blog at its launch that the Switch “could set the gaming world alight.”)
Not content with that, though, Nintendo announced its innovative new IP ‘Labo’ about which the press are already writing “this latest idea is so crazy it might just work” and “how small our imaginations were, and how glorious it is to be blindsided by Nintendo again.”
So, what is Nintendo doing that other companies aren’t, and what can we all learn from them?
In short, Nintendo has
Late last year a taxi drivers’ organisation in Barcelona successfully challenged Uber’s assertion that it is not primarily a transport company. The European Court of Justice ruled in the taxi drivers’ favour, throwing out Uber’s argument that it was first and foremost a digital service, noting that since Uber was central to the operation of the taxi-like service, it was more than simply an intermediary.
The ruling comes at a particularly interesting time for media companies in the UK. As Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, said:
“Today’s judgment made clear, as a matter of law, what everyone already knew as a matter of common sense: Uber provides transportation services, not technology services.”
Part of the problem media companies have with platforms like Google and Facebook is a clash of definitions. It’s well publicised that neither of the Duopoly consider themselves
As early as 2015, media companies had a sneaking suspicion that third-party platforms might not have their best interests at heart. The term that got bandied around to describe Facebook and Google was ‘frenemy’. Not even a handful of years later, the rhetoric is less ambiguous – the platforms are the feudal lords, and publishers are the serfs allowed to till their land.
The pushback against that situation is now underway – through campaigns organised by the industry, through lawsuits designed to level the playing field, through dialogue with the platforms – but the truth is that the power balance is still skewed against publishers.
And it was a situation that the publishers should have (and probably did to some extent) see coming. Journalism trainer Adam Tinworth points out that Facebook had already done exactly the same rug-pull with marketers, but unfortunately, the promises of revenue from the tech giants ultimately proved too alluring for publishers.
Regardless of how the attempts to redress the issues with Google and Facebook go, hopefully media companies have finally learned that every other entity in the media landscape, at every step of the value chain, is a competitor. And if not, lessons can be learned from the following examples of the rug being pulled out from players in the media industry…
By now, you have probably heard about Improbable, the virtual simulation start-up that raised $502m from Japan’s SoftBank – but what you might not have considered is how its technology could be of interest to your business.
Founded in 2012 by a pair of Cambridge University computer science graduates, Improbable is now valued at more than $1bn thanks to the investment by SoftBank, which represents the largest-ever venture financing round for a private British company.
The business employs 170 computer scientists, engineers and designers who are all attempting to recreate the most detailed version possible of the real world in digital form.
Viagogo’s decision this week to snub the culture committee’s hearing into secondary ticketing was misguided and likely to imperil efforts at self-regulation.
The secondary ticketing market, which includes online marketplace sites like Viagogo and GetMeIn!, is worth an estimated $8bn a year.
While useful to genuine fans, these sites also make it very easy for touts to sell tickets at hugely inflated prices – and that, in part, is one of reasons why the committee was keen to take a look at the industry.
Last year was a busy 12 months in terms of tech business manoeuvring. The big moves, however, were takeovers, mergers, launches and collapses – there didn’t seem to be that many public offerings.
Much of the movement in 2016 was established businesses buying content firms or platforms that provided a link to sizeable audience. Verizon bought Yahoo for $4.8bn, Microsoft paid $26bn for LinkedIn, and we also looked at telco convergence generally. Yet, other than flagging up the expected IPO of Snapchat, Tech IPOs didn’t seem to impact the media world in 2016 to such a degree.
Now, thanks to a study from PwC, the reasons for that have become somewhat clearer – as 2016 marked the decade’s low point for global tech IPOs.
Since the release of its Game and Watch in 1980, Nintendo has dominated the handheld console market. The Game Boy and Nintendo DS are remembered fondly by people who played them in their youth while latest Nintendo 3DS had sold around 60m units by June 2016.
What’s more, a national survey in the 1990s found that Nintendo’s character, Mario, was ‘more recognizable to American children than Mickey Mouse’.
When it comes to home consoles, however, it’s a different story.
Have you ever played Job Simulator? It’s a virtual reality game set in 2050. In the game, jobs are automated and players take part in comical approximations of what real-world jobs must have been like to do when humans, rather than robots, had to perform them.
Let me tell you: it’s great fun! It might also be a window into a not-too-distant future of recruitment where VR could be used to prepare candidates for real-life job interviews and perhaps even the jobs themselves.
The Press Association heralded a new phase of mechanised journalism in the UK with this week’s announcement that it will use ‘robot’ reporters to add to coverage of sport, business and elections.
The national reporting agency will augment its existing reportage, in the next few months, by offering ‘an extra level when it comes to short market reports, election results and football reporting,’ its editor-in-chief, Pete Clifton, told the Society of Editors conference.
According to the Press Gazette, Clifton told delegates the new service would work in a similar way to that used by Denmark’s national reporting agency, which produces hundreds of additional market reports a month with ‘robot’ journalists piecing together these simple stories.
Robot reporters might seem like something plucked from the pages of satirical science fiction, but their use is already very real.
There was a time, not long ago, when owning a BlackBerry was the mark of a serious professional – someone who was always on, always reachable – well, not any more…
As other firms accelerated their development of business-friendly smartphones, BlackBerry stood still. So it will have come as little surprise to anyone who has followed its fortunes that the ailing technology company intends to no longer make handsets and instead focus on developing software.
Little over a fortnight after Microsoft paid $26bn for the social network, LinkedIn has introduced a mechanism for advertisers to buy programmatic ads that will display across the site.
In an effort to draw fresh revenue from LinkedIn’s 433m users, the new system will display banners across the LinkedIn desktop and supplement the subscription fees paid by premium users and sponsored content as the main sources of earnings.
For the uninitiated, programmatic ads are administered by a system that relies on complex algorithms to trigger ad deployment to a set of specific criteria. The process is versatile and quick. It allows advertisers to save resources by automating media buying at pre-determined rates, and book and optimise campaigns via a web interface. Optimisation ensures ads are only shown to desired audiences and on relevant pages – and with LinkedIn’s wealth of business professional indexed by industry, job type, gender, nationality, interests, skills and much more, brands will be able to really drill down to find the most valuable audiences for their ads.
Barely a month seems to go by without us writing about ad-blocking – if we’re not discussing its rising popularity, or increased use on mobile phones, we’re examining the fear it engenders in digital publishers.
In fact, ad-blocking has been such a prevalent topic, I think Martin’s pretty bored of it! And I was prepared to leave the subject well alone, but then the issue was ratcheted up several notches last week when John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, used his speech at the Oxford Media Convention to wade into the debate.