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From diversity to streaming, 2020 was a year of reckoning for media industry – NBC News

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In a sign of the times, “Wonder Woman 1984” hit the HBO Max streaming platform on Dec. 25, the same day it hit theaters in select markets around the country. The movie scored the highest box office opening of the pandemic era, drawing $16.7 million.

The simultaneous release is a new strategy being employed as the pandemic has forced movie theater closures in many regions of the U.S. and made customers wary about returning to confined spaces where the virus can spread more easily.

While the year was dominated by the effects of the pandemic — and an industry indelibly altered — racial and ideological reckonings at major companies, the growth of audio and an increase in newsletters from prominent voices represent more positive changes in media over the past 12 months.

Streaming hits its stride

As the pandemic forced people to shelter at home, streaming and video-on-demand platforms took advantage of the captive audience and pumped out new shows and movies directly to content-hungry viewers. Given the focus on streaming, Warner Bros. even announced a dramatic new model for its film releases in 2021, which will be available online to subscribers on the same day they hit theaters.

“This was a huge year for streaming video,” said Rich Greenfield of media research firm LightShed Partners. “But it’s not just Netflix and Disney+ in terms of the surge of demand that happened. It’s also the explosion of time spent watching and playing video games.”

Greenfield pointed to one area that suffered during the pandemic, causing a monthslong suspension of professional sports.

“A lot of the casual sports fans are shifting to on-demand entertainment,” he said. “This shift in focus is a major risk or theme that came out of 2020.”

Podcasting’s major moment

Audio has continued to see growth with companies like Spotify and The New York Times announcing acquisitions and major partnerships with figures such as Michelle Obama and Joe Rogan.

“Audio is having its moment. … There’s a ton of great content,” Greenfield said. “Everyone is realizing people spend a lot of time with audio. It’s something you can do in the background. You can do many things while you’re consuming podcasts.”

Podcasts have also become a great testing ground for content and the year saw an increase in announcements of hit podcasts being turned into video series.

Yet another newsletter subscription

This year also saw a major boom in subscription newsletters as several prominent journalists cut out the middle man, their prior media outlet affiliations, and flocked to Substack to deliver curated content directly to their followers. The move gives these journalists more control and independence over their newsletters and the ability to monetize their followings.

“Emailed content still really works. It’s a very easy way to consume content,” Greenfield said. “Rather than subscribing to a newspaper, you can subscribe to the actual talent itself directly.”

A reckoning over diversity

The media industry faced a major reckoning over racism, following broader unrest about the treatment of Black men and people of color by police. Several journalists and executives at major companies stepped down after employees raised the alarm about toxic workplace conditions related to race but also gender and identity.

Among some of the big names affected by this surge of employee activism were Troy Young, who resigned from his role as the president of Hearst’s magazine division following allegations of lewd and sexist comments, and ABC News executive Barbara Fedida, who allegedly used racist language and made insensitive comments.

Outlets like ESPN, Condé Nast, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Refinery29 all faced allegations from employees about workplace culture.

There was also a reckoning over ideological differences after roughly 150 prominent academics, journalists and celebrities signed a letter decrying the rising “intolerance of opposing views,” which they said has pervaded American discourse. Two influential conservative voices also publicly announced their resignations from prominent positions over claims of increased illiberalism in America.

More news, more job cuts

With the pandemic, social unrest, raging fires and a presidential election, 2020 generated an abundance of major news stories. But even as there were more stories to cover, newsrooms at both the local and national level faced major cuts.

Fox News, WarnerMedia, Disney, and NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, were among a long list of media companies that announced layoffs prompted by the financial strain of the pandemic.

While subscription numbers, especially at local papers, increased during the pandemic as people sought out relevant news, local media outlets are still in the midst of a decadeslong economic decline that has led to entire newsrooms being shuttered and those that survive suffering deep staff cuts.

The economic uncertainty also led to a slashing of advertising budgets at many companies and threatened to deal a major blow to the industry. However, digital ad revenue eventually bounced back.

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Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck pictured kissing as ‘Bennifer’ returns

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Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have been pictured exchanging passionate kisses, apparently confirming weeks of fevered rumors that they have rekindled a romance that dominated celebrity media almost 20 years ago.

Paparazzi photos printed in the New York Post on Monday showed the two actors kissing while enjoying a meal with members of Lopez’s family at Malibu’s posh Nobu sushi restaurant west of Los Angeles on Sunday.

Representatives for Lopez, 51, declined to comment on Monday, while Affleck’s publicists did not return a request for comment.

Lopez and “Argo” director Affleck, dubbed “Bennifer,” became the most talked about couple in the celebrity world in the early 2000s in a romance marked by his-and-her luxury cars and a large 6.1-carat pink diamond engagement ring. They abruptly called off their wedding in 2003 and split up a few months later.

The pair have been pictured together several times in Los Angels and Miami in recent weeks, after Lopez and her former baseball player fiance Alex Rodriguez called off their engagement in mid-April after four years together. Monday’s photos were the first in which Lopez and Affleck were seen kissing this time around.

Celebrity outlet E! News quoted an unidentified source last week as saying Lopez was planning to move from Miami to Los Angeles to spend more time with Affleck, 48, and was looking for schools for her 13-year-old twins Max and Emme.

Max and Emme, along with the singer’s sister Lydia, were also photographed walking into the restaurant in Malibu on Sunday.

Lopez married Latin singer Marc Anthony, her third husband, just five months after her 2004 split with Affleck. Affleck went on to marry, and later was divorced from, actress Jennifer Garner.

 

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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TikTok debuts new voice after Canadian actor sues

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TikTok

After noticing a new female voice narrating the videos on the popular video-sharing social networking service, users of TikTok were baffled as to why. It actually turns out that the Canadian actress behind the old voice filed a lawsuit against the platform for copyright violation as her voice was apparently being used without her permission.

Bev Standing, a voice actor based in Ontario, is taking China-based ByteDance to court. TikTok’s parent company has since replaced her voice with a new one, with Standing reportedly finding out over email after a tip-off from a journalist. On the matter, Standing said: “They replaced me with another voice. I am so overwhelmed by this whole thing. I’m stumbling for words because I just don’t know what to say.”

TikTok is said to be considering a settlement for Standing outside of the courts, but nobody knows whether or not this is true. According to legal experts, the fact TikTok now has a new voice on the popular social media app suggests they acknowledge Standing’s case and potentially understand that she may have suffered as a result of the company’s actions.

Thanks to the emergence of the powerful smartphone devices of today, alongside taking high-quality images for Instagram, getting lost down YouTube wormholes, and accessing popular slots like Purple Hot, people are turning to relatively new platforms like TikTok. The service has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s iOS App Store. This latest news could harm the platforms future, although many of its younger users potentially aren’t aware that this type of scenario is unfolding.

For Bev Standing, the ordeal is a testing one. She wasn’t informed of the voice change, there is no mention of it in TikTok’s newsroom online, and the development is news to her lawyer also.

 

This all comes after her case was filed in a New York State court in early May after the voice actor noticed a computer-generated version of her voice had been seen and listened to around the world since 2020. Speculation is rife as to how TikTok managed to obtain the recordings but Standing believes the company acquired them from a project she took part in for the Chinese government in 2018.

(Image via https://twitter.com/VoiceOverXtra)

The Institute of Acoustics in China reportedly promised her that all of the material she would be recording would be used solely for translation, but they eventually fell into the hands of TikTok and have since been altered and then exposed to a global audience.

According to Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and an expert in copyright law, the fact that the hugely popular social media platform has now changed Standing’s voice could result in a positive outcome for the distraught voice actor. She said: “It’s a positive step in the way that they are mitigating their damages. And when you’re mitigating, you’re acknowledging that we did something wrong, and you’re trying to make things better.”

When assessing social media etiquette and how both companies and users should act, this type of news can only do more harm than good. Not only does it make the company look bad, but it could have an effect on revenues and, ultimately, TikTok’s reputation.

With a clear desire to move on and put this whole process behind her, Bev Standing is eager for the case to be resolved and get back to the daily work she loves and has been doing for a large part of her life. TikTok has until July 7 to respond to her claim.

 

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Nigeria orders broadcasters not to use Twitter to gather information

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Nigerian television and radio stations should not use Twitter to gather information and have to de-activate their accounts, the broadcast authority said following the move to suspend the U.S. social media giant in Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria’s government on Friday said it had suspended Twitter’s activities, two days after the platform removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish secessionists. Nigerian telecoms firms have since blocked access to Twitter.

International diplomats responded with a joint statement in support of “free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria”.

Buhari, who was Nigeria’s military ruler in the 1980s, has previously been accused of cracking down on freedom of expression, though his government has denied such accusations.

Twitter has called its suspension “deeply concerning” and said it would work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on the platform to communicate and connect with the world.

The National Broadcasting Commission, in a statement dated June 6, told broadcasters to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”.

“Broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering,” it said in the statement, adding that “strict compliance is enjoined”.

The statement comes two days after the attorney general ordered the prosecution of those who break the rules on the ban.

The foreign minister on Monday held a closed door meeting in the capital, Abuja, with diplomats from the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and Ireland to discuss the ban.

It followed the statement by their diplomatic missions on Saturday in which they criticised the move.

“These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue…. as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said in their statement.

Nigeria’s information minister on Friday said the ban would be “indefinite” but, in a statement late on Sunday, referred to it as a “temporary suspension”.

The minister did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages on Monday seeking comment on the altered language.

 

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh and Abraham Achirga in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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