Facebook’s Smart Display Gets ABC News, CNN, Web Browser & Instant Games

Facebook is expanding the content available to users of its Portal smart display slash video calling device: The company is bringing news content from ABC News and CNN to the device, which can now also be used to browse the web.

The launch of a new web browser to Portal will enable users to visit their favorite sites, check out recipes, and even play videos from YouTube. Facebook is also adding its web-based casual Instant Games to the device, allowing users to play “Words with Friends,” “Draw Something,” “Sudoku” and a handful of other titles.

Facebook launched Portal in October with an emphasis on video calling: The device, which is available with two screen sizes, comes with an integrated smart camera that automatically focuses on users as they move through the room — something that is supposed to enable more natural video calls.

But from day one, Facebook also added apps from a number of content partners, including Food Network, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Newsy. The company also tightly integrated Portal with its own Facebook Watch video service.

With Friday’s additions, Portal users will be able to consume additional news content, and also have access to CNN’s Great Big Story video offering. And the company also added a few more video calling features, including additional AR effects.

Source: Variety Media

Amazon Starts Selling Google’s Chromecast Again

Amazon is once again selling Google’s Chromecast streaming adapter, three years after yanking the product from its website. The e-commerce giant began listing the 3rd-generation model of Google’s Chromecast streaming stick, as well as the 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra, on its website this week. The move could be a first step towards a more comprehensive business agreement between the two companies.

Amazon stopped selling Google’s Chromecast devices in late 2015, and at the time justified the move with the argument that Amazon’s own video services weren’t available on Chromecast. Google charged that this was Amazon’s fault, and that the company easily could have added cast capabilities to its apps if it wanted to. The two companies also disagreed on a host of other issues, including Amazon’s use of Android, and Google’s unwillingness to bring its own apps to Amazon’s Fire tablets.

The conflict gained some additional urgency when Amazon released its Echo Show smart display device in 2017. The device initially featured a customized YouTube integration, which Google quickly blocked, arguing that it violated YouTube’s terms of service.

Amazon followed up with a work-around, which was once again blocked by Google. And late last year, the search giant further escalated the conflict by also blocking Amazon’s Fire TV devices from accessing YouTube.

Amazon’s decision to once again sell Chromecast could signal an end to this feud, and increases the likelihood that Google may bring an official YouTube app to Fire TV. Spokespeople from Google and Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source: Variety Media

Internet giants pose existential threat to banks – BIS chief

Internet and ‘big data’ giants like Amazon and China’s Alipay pose an existential threat to traditional banks, the head of the Bank for International Settlements, Agustín Carstens, said on Tuesday.

Carstens, who took charge of the central bank umbrella group a year ago, said the huge amounts of data that big internet companies gather on their customers meant they potentially have advantages over established banks.

They may have better information on customers’ spending and lifestyles, which might make it easier to judge the risks of providing a loan.

“This is very big,” Carstens, who was previously governor of Mexico’s central bank, told Reuters on the sidelines of a banking conference in London where he spoke on the growing influence of big data.

“This can be an existential threat to some financial intermediation firms so it is very important for us to get all of this early on and try to steer it without distortions.”

Alipay, the payment affiliate of China’s Alibaba , is already catching up with HSBC in terms of market capitalisation. The growth of Alipay and companies like Tencent has prompted Chinese regulators to take steps to be able to monitor them more closely.

There are also questions over whether U.S. giants such as Amazon, Google or even social media firms such as Facebook, could expand in financial services with similar setups.

“Each model is different, but what is universal is the exploitation of information,” Carstens said.

“Amazon doesn’t have much of an open financial intermediation model, they don’t have a financial arm like Alipay but there is nothing that prevents them from generating it.”

The key point was that it was not yet clear how much of a competitive edge social media and shopping data can give internet companies that go into financial services, he said.

From the perspective of the authorities, the questions are whether it will create any risky lending or destabilise the financial system in any way.

“We need an open public discussion,” he said in a speech entitled “International coordination is the name of the game”, which he gave at the conference.

Source: Reuters

Media Companies Trail in Artificial-Intelligence Adoption Amid Fear, Unfamiliarity: PwC Research

Companies in the media sector are generally progressive in embracing digital tech to adapt their businesses — but they are more reluctant than other industries to move forward with artificial intelligence, among other emerging technologies, according to new research from PwC.

Per PwC’s survey of 1,000 U.S. executives for its “2019 AI Predictions” report in multiple industries, 20% said their companies will deploy AI across their businesses next year.

By comparison, media companies are in the extremely early phases of implementing AI, the consulting firm’s research shows. Only a limited few have defined an AI business case and deployment plan — and hardly any have projects currently in process, PwC found. Just 7% of media execs said they are making “substantial” investments in AI, according to PwC.

“AI has been a hot topic, but it’s not in production as much as you think,” said Scott Likens, who lead PwC’s emerging technologies group. “There’s still mystery about emerging technologies among business executives.”

One of the concerns about AI is that it will introduce new problems. The potential for AI-powered cyberthreats was the top-ranked concern among tech, media, and telecommunications execs surveyed by PwC (43% of whom identified it as the No. 1 worry).

“We automatically don’t trust something we don’t understand, even if it’s better,” Likens noted.

There’s also a lack of understanding of how AI can be used to improve efficiencies and create new revenue opportunities, according to Likens. Artificial intelligence, depending on how it’s defined, is 50 years old, he said. So far, though, the promise of AI has been tough to explain. “People say they’re using AI when in fact they’re just using analytics,” Likens said.

The benefits of AI applications can be intangible, according to Likens. For example, it’s hard to measure the extent to which an AI-powered personalization feature for content results in a better overall customer experience, he said.

Among media execs PwC polled, only 12% identified AI as being the “most disruptive” emerging technology in the next three years.

Still, media executives do see the potential for AI applications. Of respondents who picked AI as the No. 1 disruptive technology, 19% said they expect AI will help cut costs, 5% said it will boost productivity, and 3% said it will improve customer experience.

One of the biggest challenges — as with the adoption of any emerging technology — is changing the culture of an organization to embrace it, Likens said. “Changing process takes a lot of time,” he said. “Upskilling the workforce is difficult. There’s knowledge on both sides that has to come together — that includes people with AI domain expertise and businesspeople.”

In addition to AI applications that can reduce costs (like automating call centers and customer service), artificial intelligence used in conjunction with other technologies can produce big wins, according to Likens. “We think the convergence of emerging tech is where it’s at,” he said.

For example, PwC deployed an application for a client (which Likens declined to identify) that combined blockchain and AI to automatically manage content-rights and royalties payments. “A lot of the manual processing went away by automating that smart-contract process,” he said.

Likens also sees promise in combining AI with virtual-reality and other immersive experiences. “With AI it’s not just canned interactions… it’s a live interaction model,” he said.

Source: Variety Media

Britain to target online giants with new ‘Digital Services Tax’

Britain said it would tax the revenues of online platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon to create a fairer tax system that had not kept pace with changing digital business models.

“It’s clearly not sustainable, or fair, that digital platform businesses can generate substantial value in the UK without paying tax here in respect of that business,” finance minister Philip Hammond said in his annual budget on Monday.

The tax will be designed to ensure established tech giants, rather than start-ups, shoulder the burden, Hammond said. The Treasury said profitable companies would be taxed 2 percent on the money they make from UK users from April 2020.

Source: Reuters

Snap shares sink as two million users move on

Snap Inc shares plunged 14 percent on Friday after the Snapchat-owner posted its second straight quarter of user losses and forecast further declines, a boost for Facebook Inc’s Instagram ahead of its results next week.

At least four Wall Street analysts cut their price target as Snap’s much-criticized app redesign continued to weigh on daily active user numbers (DAU), particularly in Europe and the U.S.

A revelation for teenage users and twenty-somethings worldwide when its vanishing-post model was first launched in 2011, Snap’s user growth has stalled in the past two years as Instagram mimicked its best features.

Its 186 million users in the third quarter compares to the Facebook-owned app’s more than 1 billion.

JP Morgan and RBC Capital Markets cut their targets for Snap stock by half.

“We believe that Instagram is much more penetrated in these demographics, and it will be challenging for Snap to pull users away from Instagram,” JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth wrote in a note.

Shares of the company were down 12.2 percent at $6.14 in trading before the bell.

A redesign at the start of this year aimed at rebooting the app spurred a backlash led by celebrity users including Kylie Jenner, who threatened to boycott the photo-messaging app. “Some users may be leaving the platform because it has lost its novelty, which would prove to be a bigger long-term concern,” Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser said.

Snap’s DAUs have now declined by five million since the first quarter, which the company blamed mainly on the Android app rollout.

With the company anticipating further declines, Jefferies analyst Brent Thill fears these losses could spill over to 2019.

Snap shares have fallen more than 50 percent this year, while Facebook’s, hurt by the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, have lost about 14 percent.

Of the 36 analysts covering the stock, 16 now rate it “hold” and 13 rate it “sell” or lower. The median price target on the stock is $10, down 15 percent from a month ago.

Analysts have said the number of advertisers active on Snapchat, though small, have been steadily growing. However, the social media app is still at the mercy of its user count.

“While monetization trends in Q3 are promising, we don’t think the stock can recover until the user base is growing solidly again,” Canaccord Genuity’s Michael Graham said.

Source: Reuters

Charter signs up more internet subscribers than expected

Charter Communications Inc said on Friday it added more internet subscribers than Wall Street analysts had projected for the third quarter, making up for a drop in video subscribers that was less severe than expected.

The company added 266,000 residential internet customers in the third quarter, above the consensus estimate of 234,000, according to research firm FactSet.

More and more subscribers are deserting pay TV bundles and switching to cheaper streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.com’s Prime video.

That has pushed companies including Charter and Comcast Corp to focus on their high-speed internet business as a strategy to survive in the rapidly changing media landscape.

Comcast beat Wall Street estimates for internet subscribers on Thursday by adding 363,000 subscribers during the quarter.

Charter reported a loss of 66,000 residential video customers in the quarter, well below the 104,000 it lost last year. Analysts had forecast a loss of 85,000 video subscribers.

Net income attributable to shareholders was $493 million, or $2.11 cents per share, in the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with $48 million, or 19 cents per share, a year earlier.

Total revenue rose 4.1 percent to $10.89 billion from $10.46 billion. Analysts had expected the company to report revenue of $10.94 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

Source: Reuters

Twitter monthly usage drops, company warns it will fall again

Twitter Inc on Thursday reported a larger-than-expected decline in monthly users in the third quarter, its second straight quarterly drop, and predicted the figure will fall again in the current period.

The company posted revenue and profit ahead of Wall Street estimates though as advertising sales surged 29 percent.

It blamed the declines in users on efforts to clean up the site from suspicious users, including accounts used in political influence operations, as well as its response to new privacy regulations in the European Union.

Monthly active users fell to 326 million in the third quarter, below the average analyst forecast of 331.5 million, according to FactSet. Twitter said it expects them to drop below 326 million in the current quarter, missing the average forecast of 333.4 million.

Twitter is fighting for its reputation by cutting and blocking fake users, but the toll on traffic is undermining faith in is ability to grow. Recent business progress has focused on getting current users to click on more ads, which has helped Twitter turn to a profit.

Analysts have warned that Twitter needs to stem declines in user growth so it can better compete for ad spending with rivals including Alphabet Inc’s Google, and Facebook Inc . Investors pay close attention to monthly user data because it is seen as a key indicator of future revenue, the bulk of which comes from ad sales.

Twitter’s usage has been stagnant for more than a year, causing analysts to worry that growth may have peaked.

“The lack of meaningful user growth in the last 18 months lends credence to the thesis that Twitter has maxed out on users,” SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Youssef Squali said in an earnings preview note to clients.

Those concerns have been somewhat offset by increases in advertising sales from video which suggest the company is succeeding in efforts to generate more cash from each user.

Quarterly advertising revenue jumped 29 percent from a year earlier to $650 million, boosted by advertiser interest broadcasts from media companies including Live Nation Entertainment, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.

That helped push revenue up 29 percent from a year earlier to $758 million, handily beating the average analyst estimate $702.6 million. The company reported adjusted profit of 21 cents per share, beating the average forecast of 14 cents.

Investors are looking to understand the financial impact of Twitter’s moves to clean up its platform by deleting accounts used for fraud, hate speech and election interference.

Twitter has removed millions of suspicious accounts this year including those that belong to Alex Jones and his conspiracy site Infowars.

“We’re doing a better job detecting and removing spammy and suspicious accounts at sign-up,” Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said in a statement.

Twitter said the number of its daily active users rose by 9 percent year-on-year, weaker than an 11 percent jump in the previous quarter and its slowest growth rate in two years. The company does not disclose the total number of daily users.

Twitter shares tumbled 19 percent when the company reported quarterly results on July 27. Its stock has fallen 36 percent since that earnings report, compared to a 6.4 percent decline in the S&P 500 index.

Of the 40 analysts polled by FactSet, 10 have a buy rating on the stock while 24 have a hold rating. Six have a sell rating. The average target price is at $32.91, about 16 percent higher Tuesday’s close of $27.54.

Source: Reuters

WPP shares plunge as ad group falls behind in post-Sorrell era

WPP lost a fifth of its market value on Thursday after problems at its New York and London creative agencies forced it to cut sales and profit forecasts, showing the scale of the task facing its new boss after the acrimonious exit of founder Martin Sorrell.

Mark Read, a softly-spoken veteran of the world’s biggest advertising group, said turning around WPP would take time as he sells assets, halts acquisitions and brings in new talent at its storied agencies such as JWT, Ogilvy and Y&R.

The third-quarter results wiped 2.8 billion pounds ($3.6 billion) off WPP’s market value, and were all the more startling as they came after solid updates from peers Omnicom, IPG and Publicis, showing the problems are specific to the British group.

The results showed the high-margin and previously strong media units that buy ad space and plan campaigns are struggling.

“We need to have stronger creative agencies,” Read told Reuters. “We do have good people, we need more of them. This isn’t going to happen overnight. We need to be realistic about the speed at which the business is going to turn around.”

Sorrell, the world’s most famous advertising boss, built WPP from a two-man office in central London into the world’s most powerful advertising company offering creative work, media buying, public relations, consultancy and data analytics.

The group outperformed for years, helped by Sorrell’s ability to buy companies and win pitches, but growth disappeared at the start of 2017 due to competition from consultancies and tech groups Facebook and Google, which enable clients to cut out the middle men and place ads directly.

Clients have also complained that WPP, in 112 countries, is too unwieldy, forcing them to deal with multiple agencies within the group to get one service. Some clients are also taking marketing work in-house to save costs.

Analysts said it was impossible to say if Sorrell’s departure had had an effect on recent contract losses, but they noted the pressures had been building before he left in April over an allegation of personal misconduct, which he denied.

“The challenges we’ve seen in the third quarter reinforce our determination to take more radical action and to move more decisively,” Read said. He will set out a new strategy in December.


It will for now start by selling a stake in its underperforming data analytics group Kantar, valued as a whole at around 3.5 billion pounds by analysts.

That will help to lift overall growth and add to the 16 non-core assets it has already sold, raising 704 million pounds. The efforts will help to lower its almost 5 billion pounds of debt.

Sales were particularly weak in the United States and Britain, and a very poor September forced WPP to lower its full-year guidance, saying net sales could fall as much as 1 percent versus a target of 0.3 percent growth just three months ago.

The operating margin is likely to fall by 1-1.5 percentage points, compared with a previous prediction of down 0.4.

WPP shares were down 17 percent at 1100 GMT, taking them down 35 percent in the year to date and giving the group a market value of 11.1 billion pounds.

Analysts say the stock is now inexpensive compared with peers, trading at 9 times 2019 forecast earnings compared with IPG on 13.6, but it has little momentum after a string of account losses from groups such as Ford.

“WPP has delivered a proper profit warning,” analysts at Citi said. “Third quarter organic growth is materially below expectations and having raised guidance at the beginning of September the group has cut it hard today.”

WPP also said Finance Director Paul Richardson would step down after 22 years in the role. ($1 = 0.7748 pounds)

Source: Reuters

High-speed data boom drives Comcast profit beat

Comcast Corp’s quarterly profit and revenue topped Wall Street estimates on Thursday as strength in its high-speed internet business offset a less severe drop in cable TV subscribers.

The largest U.S. cable company’s third-quarter results demonstrated a resilience to industry forces that have buffeted its rivals.

As U.S. subscribers have continued to dump pricier pay-TV services in favor of cheaper streaming services, Comcast has managed to slow down defections, at least for a quarter, while growing its broadband services, on which all other products, including Netflix Inc and Amazon.com video, depend. High-speed internet is now the centerpiece of a strategy to survive a rapidly changing media landscape.

It also has remained the standalone among the big league players to resist the temptation to restructure to court consumers directly with streaming video products, as AT&T Inc and Walt Disney Co have done.

“We’re looking at different ways to accelerate our business in terms of streaming,” said Steve Burke, Chief Executive of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, on a conference call with analysts on Thursday. Burke added that it would not be a substitute for its existing pay TV business.

Shares rose 4.5 percent to $35.66.


To diversify, Comcast beat Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox in an auction to buy European satellite TV broadcaster Sky for $40 billion in September.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts defended what was widely considered a high bid for Sky and said the company “was misunderstood and mispriced,” citing the difference in the European pay-TV markets compared to mature U.S. markets.

In a morning conference call, Sky Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch discussed investments in key categories such as original content and defend its leadership position in sports and movies.

Darroch also said Sky could easily capture 10 percent more of the remaining 78 million households that do not yet subscribe to a Sky product across its European territories, which would add 8 million customers. “It’s more than achievable,” he said.

He also vowed to “stick around,” which will help assuage investors concerned he would flee after the merger.


The results showed revenue from high-speed internet rose 9.6 percent to $4.32 billion in the quarter as the company added 363,000 internet subscribers, beating an average estimate of 294,000, according to research firm FactSet.

Comcast said it was the best performance for the division in ten years.

Net income attributable to Comcast rose 9.2 percent to $2.89 billion, or 62 cents per share, from $2.64 billion, or 55 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 65 cents. Analysts were expecting 61 cents per share, according to Refinitiv.

Philadelphia-based Comcast’s revenue rose 5 percent to $22.14 billion, above the average estimate of $21.82 billion.

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile, which operates off of Verizon Communication Inc’s network, added 228,000 net phone lines during the quarter, hitting 1 million total lines. CEO Roberts said that offering mobile with broadband has improved retention of broadband customers who buy both.

NBCUniversal revenue rose 8.1 percent to $8.63 billion.

Revenue from theme parks fell due to weather-related disruptions and natural disasters in Japan.

Source: Reuters