Twitter has once again starkly illustrated its inconsistency in policing abuse, by temporarily suspending the account of actress Rose McGowan over an alleged breach of its rules, while continuing to allow much more egregious abuses to go unchecked. In this case, Twitter claims that McGowan included someone’s personal phone number in one of her tweets, and that it reinstated her account once she deleted the offending tweet, but as usual there was a lack of transparency on Twitter’s part until there was a media outcry, which has been the repeated pattern. The great irony was that McGowan was speaking up about her own and others’ abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein and others, while many women who are abused on Twitter’s platform itself find their reports of abuse ignored or dismissed. Twitter desperately needs to both improve its consistency in policing actual abuse on its platform and to communicate more openly about how it enforces the rules, because this situation just continues to get worse.
The Wall Street Journal reports, with confirmation from NBC but not Apple, that the latter has signed a deal to reboot Steven Spielberg’s 1980s TV series as part of its big original video content push. This would be the first deal that’s come to light since Apple brought in two Sony TV execs to run the initiative, which I think of as version 2.0 of its original content push, with the first characterized by a variety of smaller projects with ties to its ecosystems like Planet of the Apps, Carpool Karaoke, and a variety of one-off music documentaries. Amazing Stories wasn’t a huge hit back in the day, running for only two seasons with limited ratings, but the Spielberg name will likely do a lot for it, and with a big budget ($5m per episode) and some good stories it could well be an interesting hit. Apple will obviously need quite a few more of these to use up its billion-dollar budget and secure enough content to become a draw for whatever service Apple wraps around this content, but this seems like a promising start.
YouTube has licensed nine of its original shows and movies, which were until now exclusive to its Red subscription service, to a third party in order to generate additional licensing revenue. Two of the great advantages of producing original content are exclusivity and licensing rights, though the two are often somewhat mutually exclusive, but YouTube appears to be playing both sides here, keeping the shows as exclusives for a period of time before broadening availability to develop a content licensing revenue stream too. That’s not a strategy I would ever see most of the other companies developing original content employ in such a windowing approach, but it likely suits YouTube reasonably well given its smaller subscription footprint and the increasing presence of aggregators and others who want to show YouTube content to fans on other platforms like traditional TV, somewhat ironically. But this will also allow YouTube to monetize its content in other geographies where the Red service hasn’t launched, whereas Netflix is now very focused on its near-global presence.
Google has created a pair of machine-learning-powered filters for website owners which will allow them to avoid hosting racy or seedy ads on their sites. Neither of these categories are banned by Google’s policies today, and anyone who’s visited many news sites online has seen the types of manipulative, low-class ads caught by the second set of filters, while the first set will use an algorithm for skin detection to weed out ads tending towards the racier side. This set of moves is on the flip side of the controversy around YouTube and Google’s broader ad platforms earlier this year, when it was the advertiser brands that didn’t want to be associated with undesirable content, while this deals with the opposite problem of undesirable ads showing up next to high-quality content. Both are part of the challenge for Google and other online ad platforms in a highly automated, entirely price-driven system for placing ads, and it’s good to see Google offering site owners some more quality controls, just as it improved controls for advertisers following the boycott earlier this year.
Hulu Will Spend $2.5 Billion on Content in 2017 (Sep 14, 2017)
Facebook has announced that it’s making changes to the type of content that can be monetized on its site, introducing some serious limitations to which content ads will run against. On the one hand, this is clearly an echo of changes YouTube made earlier this year in response to the boycott and broader backlash against ads showing up next to undesirable content, and therefore a sop to advertisers. But on the other hand, it means content creators who may in some cases have built businesses out of creating content in some of the now unmonetizable categories will understandably be upset. Some of the bans on monetization are entirely common sense in nature, while others are likely to be more controversial, notably a ban on monetizing content about highly controversial issues, seemingly including news coverage of those issues. That’s one that Facebook is definitely going to want to clarify to avoid charges of censorship.
Business Insider reported a few weeks back that Snapchat was starting to approach college newspapers about contributing content to its Discover tab, and now the company has made it official. Critically, Snapchat will run ads in those Stories, which will allow the newspapers to make some money from the partnership, so this should be something of a win-win for both sides. As I mentioned in my first comment on this (linked above), Snapchat is here going in the opposite direction from Facebook, which started out college campus-based and expanded from there, but the college age audience is clearly a big part of Snapchat’s target demographic, so it makes a ton of sense to provide increased localization and more content to keep users in the app longer (and see more ads). I’m very curious, though, to see how effectively newspapers make the transition to the format required in the Discover tab – I’m guessing most of the contributors will at least be familiar with the form, but it’s very different from writing articles.
Yesterday, Facebook announced a deal with Stadium to provide sports video content, and today Twitter made a very similar announcement. Stadium is a recently launched sports network which leverages Sinclair’s broadcasting infrastructure and streaming capabilities from Silver Chalice (a subsidiary of the Chicago White Sox organization) and in-studio talent from 120 Sports. Its sports rights are mostly for second-tier conferences, so there won’t be many high-profile games available, and essentially all the content is also available for free on Stadium’s own website and where broadcast. So there’s no exclusivity and little real value here and this is mostly about adding tonnage of live video on two platforms which are still in the early stages of that effort. The challenge in sports, of course, continues to be that the major rights are sewn up for years by big names from the TV industry, with rare exceptions like Thursday Night Football’s digital rights offering the only real opportunities to snag them in the near term. And yet sports is about the only must-have category of live TV left among these platform’s core audiences, leaving them in this awkward position of adding lots of marginal content just to check a sports box.