Sara Fischer
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Studios reportedly nearing digital distribution deal with Apple, Comcast

AP

Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures are negotiating a deal with Apple and Comcast to offer audiences digital versions of movies two weeks after their theatre releases, Bloomberg reports. Sources familiar with the matter tell Bloomberg that the deal could come as early as next year. As more consumers watch movies via streaming services, studios want a digital distribution package that help will make up for the decline in DVD sales and home entertainment.

Why it matters: The theatre chain and studio businesses have been unable to compromise on a more expensive ($30+) digital movie option. At issue for some studios is the cost/benefit analysis of charging ahead without the blessing of theatre chains, who still hold enormous power distributing movies and driving revenue. Noticeably missing from the negotiations is Disney, which announced it would build its own entertainment streaming package.

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Scoop: NBC's daily Snapchat show posts monster numbers

In less than a month, over 29 million unique viewers have already watched "Stay Tuned," NBC News' daily Snapchat Discover show, Axios has learned.

Why it matters:

  • Millennials are actually watching news shows: Getting nearly 30 million young people to watch a hard news show is an enormous feat, given that millennials don't typically watch TV news show on cable. (The average cable news viewer is over 60 years old.)
  • Video news is going mobile: Snapchat uses its own measurement techniques that are different from television ratings (they measure a view as a video being opened), so a direct comparison cannot be made to TV, but the success of "Stay Tuned," combined with the success of Snapchat's original political newscast "Good Luck America," demonstrate a major shift in how TV news will transition to mobile in the digital age.
  • Snapchat isn't just a place for Kardashian selfie videos: The success of "Stay Tuned" speaks to Snapchat's ability to successfully serve hard news content to its millennial audience, not just tabloid gossip and reality TV.
  • It's an example of NBC's digital investments paying off. The network hired a 30-person, standalone staff to produce the show to reach younger audiences, and it's working. It's part of its larger goal to expand its digital footprint and extend its reporting on more platforms. In June, NBC News launched "Left Field," a new digital video journalism unit following a site-wide redesign.

"We had several goals heading into this project, including understanding a platform that will help to define mobile television, and reaching a younger audience that we would likely not reach on our more traditional digital and TV outlets. Stay Tuned has checked both of those of boxes," said Nick Ascheim, SVP of NBC News Digital.

Audience breakdown:

  • More than 60% of the "Stay Tuned" audience is under 25 years old.
  • More than 40% of daily viewers watch at least three days a week.
  • The show amassed 1 million subscribers just two and a half weeks after launching, making it one of the fastest-growing shows on Snapchat.

About the show: "Stay Tuned" is anchored by NBC News and MSNBC correspondents, Gadi Schwartz and Savannah Sellers, are co-hosts for the show. The two host 2-3 minute segments daily that feature on-camera guests and field interviews. The episodes air at 7:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and at 2:00 p.m. on the weekends. A new graphics package for the show debuts today.

Disclosure: NBC is an investor in Axios.

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Alt-social network raises $1 million amid Silicon Valley crackdown

Twitter

Gab, a so-called "free-speech social network" that's been rejected on app stores, has raised $1 million in crowdsourced funds amid a Silicon Valley crackdown on white nationalist content and accounts. The platform announced its fundraising milestone with a tweet that slammed "Silicon Valley elitist trash." The site claims to be politically neutral, but was started by a pro-Trump Silicon Valley executive, according to Venture Beat. Its avatar is a green frog that resembles the frog "Pepe" that is a symbol of the alt-right movement.

Why it matters: The alt-right movement in the U.S. has been leveraging social media to organize. Large fundraising efforts for the platform shows that the movement's momentum hasn't slowed down, despite efforts to stamp it out.

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Facebook updates video ad-buying options

Noah Berger / AP

Facebook will now let advertisers buy in-stream video ads separate from the News Feed, meaning they can buy in-stream video ads (mid-roll and pre-roll) on Facebook's Audience Network or on Facebook without having to buy News Feed ads. Facebook's Audience Network is a collection of third party apps and sites, like Vice and LittleThings, that have partnered with Facebook to run ads from Facebook advertisers on their properties.

Why it matters: It gives advertisers a lot more flexibility and control on where they can buy video ads, which makes ad campaigns easier to customize to reach certain marketing objectives. This essentially allows advertisers to tell more complex, customizable messages through video.

A good thing to know: Facebook only lets mid-roll ads (ads that show up in the middle of a video) on the Facebook News Feed — not pre-roll, because Facebook is built for video discovery, and people are less likely to engage/discover new videos if there's a pre-roll ad (an ad before the video starts). But off-platform, where people are committed to longer videos and would be wiling to watch an ad to get to their content, pre-roll ads make sense. (You can buy pre-roll or mid-roll ads off of Facebook with this new update.)

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Facebook cracks down on spammy videos

Facebook is cracking down on spammy and misleading videos by down-ranking videos with fake play buttons or ones with static images in the News Feed. The crackdown will officially roll out in the next few weeks.

Why it matters: Those tactics are annoying and misleading for consumers, (you think you're watching a real video but you're not), and they're typically used by scammers trying to game the system by driving traffic to a low-quality, spammy web pages. Facebook product manager Greg Marra says that good publishers won't see any major change, but they may see a small bump as a result of Facebook weeding out spammy content.

How it works:

  • When Facebook catches a video link with fake play buttons or a long static image instead of an actual video, they'll be pulling them further down in the feed using a technique called "motion scoring."
  • Facebook built a proprietary system using machine learning to identify what these fake/misleading videos look like so they can automatically down-rank them in the feed.
  • According Marra, Facebook won't notify spammy publishers when they're being targeted, so as to avoid giving them information to be able to game the system even further.

Why don't they just remove these posts? The reason Facebook would remove posts is if they violate community standards. These posts don't necessarily violate standards, but they distrust the consumer experience. "We see category of publishers on Facebook not interested in building a category of readers and will do whatever tactic get them to a low-quality web experience," says Marra. Facebook's hoping the new motion scoring technique will solve for that.

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Hate speech tests tech's core principles

AP File Photo

Several major tech firms are reevaluating their core value of openness as they clamp down on white supremacist rhetoric on their platforms. After protests turned violent in Charlottesville, companies are taking a harder line against hateful content than they have in the past.

Why it matters: The tech industry's vision has been to create open, neutral platforms that allow all viewpoints. Every time it filters content or restricts users' access, it has to balance that goal with concerns about hate speech that could lead to violence. This week's events have caused many companies to recalibrate that balance. Many are still grappling with where to draw the line between free speech and dangerous extremism.

Not all companies took action right away. The growing outcry over the Charlottesville violence led to several major platforms taking a stand in the days following. Some on the left argue that Facebook, for example, didn't act quickly enough.

Timeline:

  • Sunday: GoDaddy dropped white supremacist site The Daily Stormer from its domain registration system.
  • Monday: The Daily Stormer registered its domain with Google, which quickly severed the relationship. Recode reported that Facebook had removed a white nationalist group on the site. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said that the company "will continue to stand for acceptance and we will continue to do all we can to enforce our community commitment;" the company had already banned users who were planning on attending the Charlottesville event.
  • Tuesday: PayPal said it would "as we consistently have in the past – limit or end customer relationships and prohibit the use of our services by those that meet the thresholds of violating" its acceptable use policy. It has reportedly stopped working with some white nationalist websites.
  • Wednesday: Facebook announced the removal of a white nationalist's account five days after the attacks. Cloudflare ended its relationship with The Daily Stormer while Twitter appeared to suspend its accounts. Spotify removed music by white supremacist bands. Apple Pay stopped letting certain white supremacist sites sell items using its product. Squarespace removed some sites from its service in "light of recent events."

The dilemma: Where do companies draw the line? Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince was candid about this in an internal email published by Gizmodo on Wednesday evening:

"It's important that what we did today not set a precedent. The right answer is for us to be consistently content neutral. But we need to have a conversation about who and how the content online is controlled. We couldn't have that conversation while the Daily Stormer site was using us. Now, hopefully, we can."

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg, too, made clear the company has to be careful in how it deals with hate speech: "Debate is part of a healthy society," he said. "But when someone tries to silence others or attacks them based on who they are or what they believe, that hurts us all and is unacceptable."

Our thought bubble: Tech companies have always been wary of getting too involved in the process of vetting the content they host. The events since Sunday show the limits of that thinking as their platforms become more pervasive.

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Facebook bans account of white nationalist for hate speech

Noah Berger / AP

Facebook has banned the Facebook and Instagram accounts of a white nationalist user, the AP reports. A Facebook spokeswoman says Christopher Cantwell's page and a page linking to his podcast have been removed. Facebook says they have removed eight accounts in total connected to the white nationalist movement. Cantwell is an active member of the movement.

Why it matters: Facebook was criticized for not acting quickly enough to take down the event pages promoting the Charlottesville rally this weekend. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has condemned the attack, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has yet to publicly comment.

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Apple pours $1 billion into original content

Ng Han Guan / AP

Apple is dumping $1 billion into creating original content in an effort to compete with other major tech giants, mainly YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, The Wall Street Journal reports. The investment is pretty big compared to what cable companies (other than HBO) spend on original content, but small compared to the investments already being made by other tech companies. For context:

  1. Netflix: ~$6 billion annually
  2. Amazon: ~$4.5 billion annually
  3. HBO: ~$2 billion annually
Why it matters: It's another sign that tech platforms have the budgets and clout to compete with traditional TV for for viewers' eyeballs and attention. It's also representative of the saturated U.S. display advertising market. The tech companies are now all vying to win a chunk of the $70 billion TV ad market by giving brands video content to run ads between on their platforms.

Apple could acquire and produce as many as 10 television shows, sources familiar with the initiative tell The Wall Street Journal. The push is a part of Tim Cook's vision to expand Apple's services business, which includes apps, software, etc and Apple's content SVP Eddy Cue's vision of offering high-quality video. The investment comes just months after Apple poached two executives from Sony's production arm to launch a push into the original programming business.

Our thought bubble: There's going to be a lot more premium video inventory on the major platforms for marketers, and the quality of the content, as well as mobile and digital TV delivery, will be a big part of what drives buys.

Gut check: Digital video ad spend is growing, but TV is still huge.

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Facebook redesigns the News Feed

Updates to Facebook's News Feed include:

  • Better conversations via an updated comment style that makes it easier to see which comments are direct replies to another person. (The update makes comments look similar to iMessage texts.)
  • Improved readability via aesthetic changes, like an increased color contrast, larger link previews, updated icons that are larger and easier to tap and circular profile pictures to show who's posting or commenting.
  • Easier navigation experience via more prominent buttons, and increased visibility into where a link will take you before clicking on it and whose post you're reading or commenting on.

Why it matters: Facebook hopes these aesthetic changes will help users engage more with the platform, by making it easier to comment and communicate. It could also help consumers identify the news brands producing content on Facebook, which has been a priority for news groups lobbying Facebook for better partnerships.

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Nielsen will credit companies for digital views on some platforms

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Nielsen announced today that it will begin crediting TV and digital companies for the number of video views they receive on Facebook, Hulu and YouTube. It will provide content owners, whether they are small digital sites or large TV networks, and content distributors (Google, Facebook, etc.), with the same visibility to data for all distributed video content.

Why it matters: It's a step in the right direction for Nielsen, a measurement company that's trying to break out of traditional linear TV measurement and into cross-platform digital measurement. It's an improvement for media companies that are trying to get a better sense of how their content is viewed on different screens and platforms. Media companies are lauding the initiative, saying it will help them enhance their distribution strategy and capture better data about their audiences.