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.

 

Disney+ Mobile App Tops 22 Million Downloads

The Disney+ mobile app has been downloaded more than 22 million times since the service went live Dec. 12, according to new data from Apptopia. Disney said it had 10 million sign-ups to the service in the first 24 hours.

The tracking firm said the service has about 9.5 million daily mobile users and has generated about $20 million in revenue — based on $5 monthly fee when paid annually upfront.

Apptopia data, which claims to track more than 250,000 apps worldwide, does not include streaming media devices Roku, Apple TV and websites.

“We believe Roku is seeing more engagement due to people watching a lot of Disney Plus,” Apptopia said in a statement.

Separately, Google claims Disney+ was the most-searched brand in 2019.

EMA Elects Officers, Appoints Board Members

Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment, Fandango, has been re-elected chairman of the home entertainment trade group the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA). Douglas will be serving his second term as chairman.

Joining Douglas as officers are vice chair Suyin Lim, senior director, content acquisitions and partnerships, PlayStation Video; secretary Pedro Guiterrez Jr., director, digital stores movies and TV business and category management, Microsoft Corp.; and treasurer Michele Edelman, head of growth, Premiere Digital Services.

Eric Opeka

Bill Kotzman, Google/YouTube’s partner product manager, TV and Film; Erick Opeka, president, Cinedigm Digital Networks; and Jason Peterson, CEO of GoDigital Medial Group, will also serve on the association’s executive committee as at-large members.

Amazon returns to the EMA’s board, now represented by senior product manager Jude Fitzmorris.

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Other returning board members are Amit Balan, head of marketing at Vudu, and Marty Graham, SVP at ComScore.

Three members newly appointed board members are Opeka, Edelman and Elissa Brown, VP of finance and operations at Movies Anywhere.

“The companies on EMA’s board of director reflect the variety of delivery mechanisms and business models in our vibrant industry,” said Mark Fisher, EMA president and CEO. “Each director brings an important perspective, and their wealth of experience will benefit the membership as EMA continues to be the forum for the home entertainment industry.”

The EMA is a not-for-profit international trade association. Members include digital retailers, MVPDs, AVOD and SVOD networks and channels, platforms, companies creating and/or distributing content for these channels of distribution, and companies providing services or technology for the use of others in this community. EMA was established in April 2006 through the merger of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA).

DEG Europe Adds Google to Membership Base

The Digital Entertainment Group Europe (DEGE) Oct. 30 announced the addition of Google to its membership.

Supplying a vast catalog of movies and TV shows across its Google Play and YouTube platforms, Google joins the DEGE as the trade group works to support and enhance the home entertainment industry and drive consumer engagement with new and emerging technologies across an increasing number of international territories.

Against a backdrop of year-on-year growth in the digital film market, driven in part by collaborative activity spearheaded by the DEGE sister organization, the British Association for Screen Entertainment, Google joins incumbent members, including NBC Universal, Warner Brothers, 21st Century Fox, Paramount, Lionsgate, Dolby and Technicolor, among others.

Google becomes the first retail platform to take a seat on the DEGE board.

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Lisa Rousseau, head of TV and Film, EMEA, YouTube and Google Play, joins the board, having also hosted a DEGE panel on digital retail best practices at a Google/YouTube EMEA Movies event earlier in the year.

“We’ve found real value in engaging with the DEGE as it has effectively driven much of the cross-category conversation that needs to take place as the home entertainment market evolves and shapes itself around adapting consumer needs,” Rousseau said in a statement. “We look forward to working with colleagues on a global level to help shape the conversation going forward.”

Acting as a conduit for member organizations and partners to evidence market trends and best practice learnings, the DEGE also delivers a significant forum for debate and allows colleagues from across the industry to enjoy a vital through line to the Digital Entertainment Group and its members in the US. Google joins the DEGE as the digital transactional landscape is in sharp focus and following a 12 months that has seen real engagement from partners across France, Germany, the Nordic region, Italy and beyond.

Amy Jo Smith, president/CEO of the DEGE’s sister organization, The Digital Entertainment Group, lauded Google’s arrival.

“The local and global entertainment arena is in a bold state of evolution with direct-to consumer and subscription models presenting the industry with exciting opportunity,” Smith said in a statement. “The addition of a global giant like Google to the DEGE’s membership is an important moment in the positive management of that evolution and one that will encourage even more of the joined-up thinking that the DEGE has become known for across borders.”

‘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.

 

Congress Seeks Greater Copyright Protection for YouTube Videos

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking the tech giant to expand copyright infringement protections to a greater number of content creators.

The letter, spearheaded by Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), co-chairs on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, addresses “YouTube Content ID,” Google’s copyright infringement software aimed at preventing illegal uploading of movies, music and other copyrighted content on YouTube.

Other signees of the Sept. 4 inquiry include Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) ranking member of the committee, as well as Democratic ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

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Launched in 2007, Content ID informs content holders when their copyright protected material is uploaded to YouTube. Content holders are then given the ability to block access to the video or recoup any ad revenue generated by the infringed content.

Specifically, the letter questions the parameters of Content ID and why it isn’t applied to smaller content holders.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), whose constituents include music artists in Nashville, said limiting the use of Content ID to larger players such as movie studios and record labels “hinders copyright holders with smaller catalogues from reaping the benefits of its actions.”

“Talented creators, including Nashville’s song-writing community, are disproportionately at risk of infringement,” Blackburn wrote in the letter.

While anyone can bow video content on YouTube, Google doesn’t begin to monetize content without a minimum number of users, or “subscribers” who click to join the channel.

The letter alleges that certain copyright holders have been denied access to Content ID and at a “significant disadvantage” to prevent the repeated uploading of content previously identified as infringing.

“They are left with the choice of spending hours each week seeking out and sending notices about the same copyrighted works, or allowing their intellectual property to be misappropriated,” read the letter.

Google, per its website, says Content ID is applied to content holders with “a substantial body of original material that is frequently uploaded.”

Congress contends copyright industries in the United States provide more than 5.7 million jobs and generate $1.3 trillion toward the country’s gross domestic product, accounting for 6.85% of the U.S. economy.

“Does Google plan to provide access to Content ID to a larger number of rights holders? If so, when? If not, what challenges prevent you from doing so?” read the letter.

The lawmakers asked Pichai to respond by Oct. 31, with a planned roundtable with Google representatives to address the issues to occur before the end of the year.

FTC Fines Google $170 Million for Profiting on YouTube Children’s Videos

Google and its subsidiary YouTube will pay a record $170 million to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General that YouTube illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent.

The settlement requires Google and YouTube to pay $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to New York for allegedly violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule.

The $136 million penalty is by far the largest amount the FTC has ever obtained in a COPPA case since Congress enacted the law in 1998.

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In a complaint filed against the companies, the FTC and New York Attorney General alleged that YouTube violated the COPPA Rule by collecting personal information — in the form of persistent identifiers that are used to track users across the Internet — from viewers of child-directed video channels, without first notifying parents and getting their consent.

YouTube, according to the FTC, earned millions of dollars by using the identifiers, commonly known as cookies, to deliver targeted ads to viewers of these channels, according to the complaint.

The COPPA Rule requires that child-directed websites and online services provide notice of their information practices and obtain parental consent prior to collecting personal information from children under 13, including the use of persistent identifiers to track a user’s Internet browsing habits for targeted advertising.

In addition, third parties, such as advertising networks, are also subject to COPPA where they have actual knowledge they are collecting personal information directly from users of child-directed websites and online services.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

The YouTube platform allows Google account holders, including large commercial entities, to create “channels” to display their content.

According to the complaint, eligible channel owners can choose to monetize their channel by allowing YouTube to serve behaviorally targeted advertisements, which generates revenue for both the channel owners and YouTube.

In the complaint, the FTC and New York Attorney General alleged that while YouTube claimed to be a general-audience site, some of YouTube’s individual channels—such as those operated by toy companies—are child-directed and therefore must comply with COPPA.

The complaint notes that the defendants knew that the YouTube platform had numerous child-directed channels. YouTube marketed itself as a top destination for kids in presentations to the makers of popular children’s products and brands.

The FTC said Google and YouTube told Mattel, maker of Barbie and Monster High toys, that “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels” and told Hasbro, which makes My Little Pony and Play-Doh, that YouTube is the “#1 website regularly visited by kids.”

Several channel owners told YouTube and Google that their channels’ content was directed to children, and in other instances YouTube’s own content rating system identified content as directed to children.

In addition, according to the complaint, YouTube manually reviewed children’s content from its YouTube platform to feature in its YouTube Kids app. Despite this knowledge of channels directed to children on the YouTube platform, YouTube served targeted advertisements on these channels.

According to the complaint, it even told one advertising company that it did not have users younger than 13 on its platform and therefore channels on its platform did not need to comply with COPPA.

In addition to the monetary penalty, the proposed settlement requires Google and YouTube to develop, implement, and maintain a system that permits channel owners to identify their child-directed content on the YouTube platform so that YouTube can ensure it is complying with COPPA.

In addition, the companies must notify channel owners that their child-directed content may be subject to the COPPA Rule’s obligations and provide annual training about complying with COPPA for employees who deal with YouTube channel owners.

The settlement also prohibits Google and YouTube from violating the COPPA Rule, and requires them to provide notice about their data collection practices and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children.

 

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.

Roku Remains Top Streaming Media Device in U.S.

Roku’s streaming TV platform accounted for more than 30% of U.S. sales of connected TV devices in Q1 2019, further increasing its lead in streaming TV platforms, according to the latest data from Strategy Analytics.

The British research firm finds that there are more than 41 million Roku-based devices in use, including branded set-top devices, HDMI sticks and smart TVs, accounting for 15.2% of all media streaming devices.

Roku now has a 36% lead over the next major platform, Sony PlayStation, in terms of devices in use. The report predicts that this lead will stretch to 70% by the end of the year, largely as a result of the success of Roku’s smart TV partner strategy.

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Other key findings from the report include:

Amazon’s Fire TV OS was the second-most-sold streaming TV platform in Q1 2019, with 12% of sales, followed by Samsung’s Tizen at 11% and Google (Android TV and Chromecast) at 9%

By the end of 2019 more than 52 million Roku-powered devices will be in use, accounting for 18% of all connected media devices

“Roku had another strong quarter in Q1 and continues to hold a commanding lead in streaming media platforms in spite of Amazon’s growing influence in the living room,” David Watkins, director at Strategy Analytics and the report’s author, said in a statement.

Watkins said Roku’s firs-mover status (it co-pioneered subscription VOD with Netflix), content offering of third-party streaming services, comprehensive search function and simple and intuitive user interface have contributed in its success.

The analyst cautioned Roku is less well-known outside of the U.S. and to succeed on the international stage would need to “face down” the challenges of building brand awareness and drawing users away from well-established players such as Amazon, Apple and Google.

“There was record growth in the smart TV market in the first quarter of 2019 and Roku and TCL have proved to be a great partnership in this rapidly growing segment,” added David Mercer, principal analyst at Strategy Analytics. “Roku is set to become the U.S.’s top smart TV platform this year in terms of sales share, and Google and Amazon clearly have their work cut out to stay in touch with the market leader.”

YouTube TV Offering Free Showtime This Summer

YouTube TV, the Google-owned social video behemoth’s online TV platform, reportedly is offering select subscribers free access to Showtime through Sept. 5.

The special offer for the CBS-owned premium channel — first reported by 9to5Google.com — was emailed to “longtime” friends of YouTube TV, which launched in 2017 for $35 monthly fee. In April, Google upped the fee to $49.99.

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YouTube TV currently charges subscribers a $11 monthly surcharge for Showtime and other premium channels, including HBO.

The platform reassured subs it would not automatically begin billing them for Showtime once the promotional period ended.