Why Have Netflix, Apple, Google, Facebook and Others Nixed Events? Local Government Asked Them To

With a growing list of media tech companies canceling appearances at the upcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival in Austin, Texas, and other public events due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the decision by Netflix, Apple, Google, Intel and Facebook, among others, was apparently inspired by local government.

The County of Santa Clara’s Public Health Department this week updated its recommendations to “protect residents of the county” from the virus, saying local employers should refrain from exposing staff to “close contact with large numbers of people.”

Santa Clara County includes the cities of Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Jose — corporate homes to many of the aforementioned companies. Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have offices in the county.

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With six new coronavirus cases confirmed in Santa Clara County, bringing to 20 the number of people who have tested positive for the virus in the area, the Public Health Department said it was taking proactive steps to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the number of people infected.

“We understand these recommendations will have a tremendous impact on the lives of people in our community,” the county said in a March 5 statement. “Public Health is making these recommendations in consultation with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on the best information we have at this time, to protect the public’s health. This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 … when such measures can potentially slow the spread of the disease.”

Specifically, the county said companies should suspend nonessential employee travel; minimize the number of employees working within arm’s length of one another, including minimizing or canceling large in-person meetings and conferences.

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It urged employees to stay home when they are sick and maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits, and not require a doctor’s note for employees that are sick as healthcare offices may be busy and unable to provide that documentation right away.

Companies should also consider the use of telecommuting options for appropriate employees, and stagger the start and end times for workers to reduce large numbers of people coming together at the same time.

Earlier this week, Adobe canceled the live portion of the Adobe Summit 2020 confab — originally slated for March 29 to April 2 in Las Vegas — due to the virus. The 2019 event attracted 16,000 attendees and featured presentations by Reese Witherspoon and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, among others. The summit will continue this year as an online only event.

“Over the past few weeks, we have been closely monitoring and evaluating the situation around COVID-19 to ensure we are taking the necessary measures to protect the health and wellbeing of Adobe Summit attendees,” Adobe said in a statement. “As a result, we have made the difficult but important decision to make Adobe Summit 2020 an online event this year and to cancel the live event in Las Vegas.”

Google canceled its Cloud Next event in San Francisco, while Facebook nixed its F8 developers confab in San Jose.

Meanwhile, tickets for the Netflix Is a Joke Festival live stand-up comedy event across 20 venues, April 27 – May 3 in Los Angeles, went on sale March 4.

 

Amazon Studios Pulls Out of SXSW as Calls Grow to Cancel Annual Media Festival

Amazon Studios has become the latest media company to pull out of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival, March 13-22, in Austin, Texas.

Amazon joins Facebook, Twitter, Mashable, TikTok, Dell, Intel, China Gathering and other companies that are dropping out of SXSW over concerns of the coronavirus’ possible impact on company employees.

To date, more than 91,000 people globally have been infected with 3,100 deaths attributed to the disease. There are more than 100 confirmed cases in the United States, including nine deaths.

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Amazon, which just disclosed that an employee in its Seattle headquarters had contracted the COVID-19 virus, had planned to unveil several projects through its Prime Video unit, including a co-promotion with Entertainment Weekly.

“Due to health concerns Amazon Prime Video has decided to pull back from the festival and will be cancelling all activities, including the Blue Room Photo/Video Studio over the weekend and the Entertainment Weekly party on Sat evening,” the publication said in a statement. “We regret any inconvenience this may cause. The health of our team members and guests is our priority. Thank you for your understanding.”

Despite an online petition and calls from some, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, to cancel this year’s festival, organizers say the show will go on. Indeed, the show actually pushed-back with the March 2 announcement of new big-name speakers, including former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

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In a statement on its website, organizers said they are working “closely on a daily basis” with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event.

“As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority,” SXSW said in a statement. “We hope that people follow the science, implement the recommendations of public health agencies, and continue to participate in the activities that make our world connected.”

In addition to festivals, Sony Pictures shuttered three offices in Europe (Paris, London and Gdynia, Poland) due to coronavirus concerns.

Microsoft canceled its “Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Summit,” slated for March 16 in Seattle. The Google I/O developers conference, May 12-14 in Mountain View, Calif., also has been canceled.

 

YouTube Remains No. 1 Video Platform (Except in China)

Google-owned YouTube was the most-popular video platform in the third quarter of 2019 — a distinction the service has maintained since the advent of streaming media.

Ampere Analysis found that YouTube attracted the most eyeball globally, except in China, where government-backed services such as iQiYi reign supreme. Runner-ups included Netflix and Facebook.

London-based Ampere said YouTube (57%) also bested the BBC’s free iPlayer (55%) for the first time since 2016.

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Notably, Netflix has the highest user penetration (83%) in South Africa followed by the United States (68%), with Turkey generating the largest spike in subscriber usage (77% from 63%).

Overall, Ampere found 70% of Internet users in the U.S. and Europe have watched a video on a social video service in the last month — a 4% increase from the previous-year period. SVOD use has risen 8% to 55%.

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“The strength of short-form video is evident in YouTube’s dominant position as the most viewed in each market surveyed outside of China,” analyst Minal Modha said in a statement. “Looking at the Top 5, three of them are social video platforms which highlights its importance in the viewing mix for consumers.”

FandangoNow Launches on Facebook’s Portal TV

FandangoNow, the transactional video-on-demand service from Fandango, has launched the first-ever on-demand movies and TV store on Facebook’s Portal TV.

The new FandangoNow store will provide Portal TV users access to more than 100,000 new release and catalog movies and next-day TV shows to rent or buy, no subscription required.

FandangoNow also offers the largest library of movies and TV shows in 4K, according to the service.

“We’re always looking for new ways to connect fans with the highest quality entertainment content and are proud to be launching the FandangoNow movie and TV store on Portal TV,” said Fandango president Paul Yanover. “We have a long history of working with Facebook to create innovative new experiences for entertainment fans to discover, enjoy and share their passion for movies and TV.”

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FandangoNow on Portal TV will offer content curated by FandangoNow’s sister company, Rotten Tomatoes, a resource for entertainment recommendations. Fans will be able to peruse the “Best Movies of the Decade” and “Top Holiday Movies” according to the Tomatometer, “Rotten Christmas Movies We Love” as suggested by Rotten Tomatoes editors, and more.

FandangoNow also recently launched a movie and TV store on Facebook’s Oculus VR headsets, allowing Facebook audiences to build and access its library of movies and TV shows across the Facebook ecosystem.

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FandangoNow is available on 200 million devices including Roku, smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Vizio, Xbox and many other platforms.

Fans using Portal TV will be able to access FandangoNOW’s collection of Golden Globe-nominated movies and TV shows, which are on sale at 50% off through Dec. 15, using the promo code “GLOBES2020” at checkout (terms apply).

‘Mad Money’ Host Jim Cramer Wants Netflix Removed From ‘FAANG’

In the world of high-profile Wall Street analysts, CNBC’s frenetic “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer has helped define a cottage TV industry of fast-talking  personalities targeting consumer and business investors.

On CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” Cramer said Netflix should be removed from a basket of top-performing tech stocks, dubbed “FAANG” (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google).

Speaking Oct. 3, Cramer said that with Netflix’s stock down 29% in 2019, compared to a 18% rise for Microsoft, the subscription streaming video pioneer’s status should be re-evaluated.

“We gotta get Netflix the hell out of FAANG,” Cramer said. “I tell you that right now. I don’t know how to do it.”

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Cramer contends Microsoft should replace Netflix (and apparently Google too), thus rendering the tech group “FAAM.”

Tough love from an analyst who just five months ago penned an article in high praise of the streamer and co-founder/CEO Reed Hastings.

“Netflix is about something to talk about Monday morning,” he wrote in April. “It’s about not feeling like a stooge when everyone watched Bird Box. You can’t be a stooge! In other words, as ethereal as it sounds, Reed Hastings is right when he says ‘the real metric is can we keep our members happy.'”

Apparently keeping subscribers and investor happy can be mutually exclusive. That’s because investors care not so much about subscriber happiness, but rather subscriber growth, according to Cramer.

And Netflix laid an egg of sorts during the last fiscal period when it failed to meet sub growth projections worldwide — including losing domestic subs for the first time in more than five years.

“I’m not a Netflix fan, here,” Cramer said, alluding to the pending arrival of SVOD competition from Disney, Apple, AT&T and Comcast — the latter parent to NBC Universal’s CNBC network.

“There’s too many competitors,” he said.

Netflix reports third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) financials on Oct. 16.

 

Digital Media Companies, Trump Unite Against New French Tax

Digital media companies, including Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, are getting an unlikely assist from President Trump against a proposed 3% tax in France on revenue derived from digital ad services and user-to-user transactions.

Specifically, the tax targets revenue derived in part off of French consumer online activities, including ecommerce, streaming video and audio.

Trump & Co. are crying foul since the tax largely applies to about 30 American companies generating at least €25 million ($27.8 million) in France and €750 million ($842 million) worldwide.

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France, which has tried unsuccessfully to secure European Union support on the move, argues the traditional system doesn’t work on these companies since they operate internationally with little physical presence in the country.

“This is a concern for international trade and the wider economy if countries follow the [Digital sales tax] model and select specific sectors and groups of foreign companies for targeted tax policies,” Nicholas Bramble, trade policy counsel at Google, said in a statement.

“The French tax is unjustifiable in that it infringes international agreements, and unreasonable in that it is discriminatory, retroactive and inconsistent with international tax policy principles.”

“They shouldn’t have done this,” Trump told the media in July. “I told them, I said, ‘Don’t do it because if you do it, I’m going to tax your wine.’”

France contends the tax would help level the playing field.

“These digital giants use our personal data, make huge profits out of these data then transfer the money somewhere else without paying their fair amount of taxes,” said French finance minister Bruno le Maire.

Facebook Testing Third-Party Streaming Service Access

Facebook has taken a page from Amazon offering users direct access to third-party subscription streaming services such as BritBox and CollegeHumor’s DropOut, Tastemade and MotorTrend.

The social media behemoth, which announced the domestic test Aug. 8, hopes to get users to remain on the platform longer — a draw for advertisers.

“We’re testing video subscriptions on Facebook, starting with a limited set of partners,” the company said in a statement. “We’re excited to bring more of people’s favorite shows and video to Facebook. We’ll be listening to feedback from our community.”

The campaign mirrors efforts by Amazon Prime Channels and Apple TV+ offering third-party SVODs services direct access to their consumers.

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SVOD services such as Lionsgate’s StarzPlay and Cinedigm’s Dove Channel, Docurama and CONtv have credited Amazon with jumpstarting subscriber growth for their platforms.

CollegeHumor’s DropOut service is priced at $4.99 monthly, with BritBox at $6.99; Tastmade at $2.99 and MotorTrend at $4.99.

Facebook, similarly to Amazon and Apple, will handle the billing. It wasn’t immediately clear if it would also take a revenue cut as Amazon and Apple do. Amazon also maintains control on all third-party user data.

Bloomberg’s ‘TicToc’ News Service Launching OTT Video Platform

Bloomberg’s TicToc news platform reportedly plans to launch an over-the-top video news service later this year.

Bowed in 2017, TicToc features news on a 24-hour cycle via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, Amazon Echo, podcast and newsletter. The platform has posted 17,000 additional video news spots thus far in 2019 than it did during the same period last year.

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TicToc

Bloomberg is opting for OTT after internal data suggested consumers who stream at least 10 hours of video weekly don’t like how news is delivered online, according to Jean Ellen Cowgill, managing director, TicToc.

“The mission is to live across all platforms that make up someone’s daily news diet,” Cowgill told Digiday. “If you look at the projection for the OTT ad market, the writing on the wall is pretty clear. There’s a lot of competition because it’s the next big explosion, we want to be part of that.”

As expected, the bulk of TicToc’s user demo skews from 21 to 44-years-old, the prime OTT video viewer – and a draw for advertisers, according to Ben Sinden, consultant at Sinden Media.

“If TicToc can establish its identity and grow a wider audience on existing platforms, an OTT product could be the logical next step,” Sinden said. “Given Bloomberg’s data, tech, scale and heritage, it has as good a chance to cut through to a streaming news audience as anything before it.”

Presidential Candidate Warren Seeks to Regulate Big Tech, Gets Indirect Support from Sky Boss

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president in the 2020 election, wants to break up the mega tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — citing antitrust issues.

Specifically, Warren would classify the tech companies with annual global revenue above $25 billion as “platform utilities,” thereby forcing them to split up business units within their corporate structures.

The lawmaker would also look to unwind what she called “anti-competitive” mergers such as Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and Zappos; Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google purchase of Waze, Nest and DoubleClick.

Indeed, Warren claims nearly 50% of all e-commerce is generated by Amazon, while 70% of Web traffic migrates through sites owned and operated by Google and Facebook.

The senator, in a March 8 post, argued that the federal government’s lawsuit in the 1990s against Microsoft regarding its (then) dominance in Web browsing paved the way for the emergence of companies such as Google and Facebook.

“Aren’t we all glad that now we have the option of using Google instead of being stuck with Bing?” Warren wrote. “The story demonstrates why promoting competition is so important: it allows new, groundbreaking companies to grow and thrive — which pushes everyone in the marketplace to offer better products and services.”

Notably, at an investor confab in London, Jeremy Darroch, group CEO at Comcast-owned European satellite TV operator Sky, questioned the U.K. government’s lack of oversight on big tech.

Jeremy Darroch

“My first instinct in these situations is always to look for self-regulation,” Darroch told the Deloitte Enders Media and Telecoms Conference 2019. “But there are times when that approach won’t work. And I am pleased that the government, and indeed politicians of all persuasion have come together to recognize this is one of those times.”

Darroch contends that as big tech’s reach permeates into all aspects of society, their approach to rules and practices will be self-serving and not necessarily to the betterment of the individual.

He said traditional broadcasters and pay-TV operators must adhere to regulation on content, while video delivered through YouTube and Facebook is given a free pass.

“This is in part because we are in an entirely different world to the one tech platforms were born into,” Darroch said. “Where policy makers once saw their role as fanning the flames of growth for these businesses, they now recognize that they need to apply the same framework to this sector as they do every other.”

New Zealand Looking to Tax Web Giants Amazon, Google, Facebook

New Zealand Feb. 18 joined the European Union and Australia in seeking to tax Internet behemoths such as Amazon, Google and Facebook on revenue generated within its border.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement in a post-cabinet press conference.

The proposed 2% to 3% tax would apply to any purchases and services sold by Internet firms regardless of their actual physical presence in the country.

“Some companies can do significant business in New Zealand without being taxed for the income they earn,” Ardern said. “This is not fair, and this is not sustainable.”

Indeed, Google’s subsidiary in New Zealand reportedly paid $393,000 in taxes in 2017 despite generating hundreds of millions in revenue.

The government said the tax could generate upwards of $55 million in additional annual revenue.

“Our current tax system is not fair in the way it treats individual tax payers, and how it treats multinationals,” said Ardern.

The move by New Zealand mirrors efforts in the United States by individual states such as South Dakota, which had its e-commerce tax lawsuit against online furniture retailer Wayfair reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court last summer ruled states could charge taxes on companies doing business in the state without an actual physical presence.

A Georgia lawmaker this month proposed legislation seeking to tax digital entertainment services such as Netflix and Spotify 4% in an effort to compensate for declining pay-TV taxes statewide.

Such a user tax currently exists in Hawaii, Washington and Pennsylvania.