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In the battle of sports media giants, DAZN blinks, lets Bianca out of its cage – The Globe and Mail

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Bianca Andreescu, of Canada, reacts after defeating Serena Williams, of the United States, in the women’s singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York on Sept. 7, 2019.

Adam Hunger/The Associated Press

In the world of sports, it’s always a riveting moment when a cocky rookie who’s never known defeat suddenly looks vulnerable.

The same holds true for sports media. Over the past couple of years, one of the most interesting stories in that world has been the rise of DAZN, a global streaming service dubbed “the Netflix of sports.” Bankrolled by the businessman Len Blavatnik, who is estimated to be worth US$19-billion, DAZN (pronounced da-zone) aims to disrupt the way we watch sports as much as the introduction of cable TV blew up the cozy broadcast landscape in the 1980s.

But DAZN just blinked.

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Canadian sports fans have viewed the rise of the service, which launched here in the summer of 2017 with a massive package of NFL games and select European soccer matches, with a mix of excitement and dread.

Excitement, because after DAZN picked up a bunch of other marquee rights, including the English Premier League, some viewers chose to cut their cable cord. But dread, too: for casual fans of, say, women’s tennis, DAZN’s appearance on the scene meant they couldn’t tune in to TSN or Sportsnet whenever a women’s tennis tournament was on. Not only would they have to pay more – DAZN retails for $20 a month or $150 a year – they would also have to navigate the world of apps, which is frankly too much of a hurdle for some techno-challenged TV viewers.

That erupted into something of a national crisis last March during the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., when Canadian tennis fans had to figure out two things simultaneously: 1) how to pronounce “Andreescu”; and 2) which sports channel was showing the 18-year-old unseeded newcomer destroying anyone in her path.

What they discovered to their chagrin, through a lot of frantic Googling and tweeting, was that Bianca Andreescu was nowhere to be found on their cable dial. DAZN had the rights to the WTA tournaments, which comprises all of the important matches in the women’s calendar outside of the four Grand Slam events and the Rogers Cup.

Up that point, it’s fair to say that most Canadians had barely heard of DAZN, or how to watch (or pronounce) it. And even though, when Andreescu made the Indian Wells final, DAZN said it would stream the match free on its Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as its app, many fans missed out.

And so they blasted TSN, which owns the rights to the men’s tennis tour, for its perceived sexism in apparently ignoring the women. (For what it’s worth, the last time the WTA tournaments had been on TV, it was Rogers Sportsnet that had the rights. But that was some years ago and nobody much complained until Bianca came along.)

On Friday afternoon, TSN said it had secured the rights to nine of this year’s biggest WTA tournaments, including the Miami Open, the China Open and the Qatar Total Open, which begins airing Sunday morning at 6 a.m. ET. TSN will also air the triumphant return of Andreescu to Indian Wells next month, if she has recovered from her nagging knee injury by then.

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DAZN will continue to stream those tournaments on its own platforms, though no longer on an exclusive basis.

That’s a sharp comedown for a company whose business model is based on securing exclusive rights to sports events and making viewers pay for them. Just last month, John Skipper, the former ESPN president who joined DAZN Group as executive chairman in 2018, told an industry gathering that “we want exclusive content. … When we bought the Serie A rights in Italy, or the Japanese baseball rights, we bought them exclusively.” He added: “We want to move people over. We want a transformation. We don’t want to be a complementary service.”

But even goliaths backed by billionaires sometimes have to compromise. Because last year, as Bianca shot up the rankings, the tennis powers-that-be in this country and at the WTA began to chafe at the situation. For the first time in recent memory – or, perhaps, ever – one of the biggest tennis stars in the world was from Canada. And most Canadians were missing out. DAZN got the message: Set Bianca free.

“At the end of the day, the average tennis fan in this country still looks towards conventional TV to see tennis,” Michael Downey, the president and CEO of Tennis Canada, said in an interview on Friday afternoon. “This is going to be great news for Canadian tennis fans who want to watch Bianca, because she’ll be playing in all those major tournaments that TSN has.”

He declined to comment on whether the WTA or Tennis Canada pushed DAZN to make nice and share its rights with TSN.

For DAZN, which is still trying to build awareness of its brand in Canada, it’s probably a smart strategy, even if it makes the company look weak. NFL football and EPL are its big subscriptions drivers; tennis is a nice add-on, but few people are going to sign on to the service just to watch the second-tier WTA tournaments. DAZN will continue to try to build its brand while flying in the promotional slipstream of TSN, as that network – which has a much higher profile, as well as a bigger marketing budget – raises awareness of the tournaments through its news coverage, advertising and the matches themselves.

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A few months ago, I spoke with Norm Lem, the senior vice-president of revenue for DAZN Canada, who outlined the unique challenge of disrupting the sports landscape in Canada, which is dominated by two enormous telecom companies. “If you’re looking at a very duopolistic – ‘control’ may be a strong word, but – controlled sports-media market in Canada, it’s kind of hard to get your brand out there to the masses,” he said in an interview at the time. Given that, he suggested, DAZN would have to get creative to spread its message.

On Friday, I asked DAZN about its decision to sublicense its WTA rights. It declined to comment.

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ABC’s Karl calls Rubio’s tweet on media outrageous, hurtful – 570 News

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NEW YORK — The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association on Monday called on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to apologize for a tweet saying some media members “can’t contain their delight” at reports of Americans getting the coronavirus.

Jonathan Karl, who is ABC News’ White House correspondent, said Rubio’s tweet was outrageous, wrong and hurtful.

There was no immediate response by the Florida Republican by social media or through a query to his Senate staff.

On Sunday, Rubio tweeted that “some in our media can’t contain their glee and delight in reporting the the U.S. has more coronavirus cases” than China.

Beyond being grotesque, he suggested it was bad journalism because he believes the Chinese aren’t telling the truth about how many of their citizens have contracted the virus.

“Who are you talking about, senator?” Karl asked during an appearance on ABC’s “The View.” Rubio has not clarified which media members he believes were gleeful about the number of U.S. cases.

Karl said journalists at CBS and NBC News had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and two members of the White House press corps are suspected of having contracted the virus.

“Who does Marco Rubio think is taking joy and glee at more people being sick?” Karl said.

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ABC's Karl calls Rubio's tweet on media outrageous, hurtful – Times Colonist

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NEW YORK — The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association on Monday called on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to apologize for a tweet saying some media members “can’t contain their delight” at reports of Americans getting the coronavirus.

Jonathan Karl, who is ABC News’ White House correspondent, said Rubio’s tweet was outrageous, wrong and hurtful.

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There was no immediate response by the Florida Republican by social media or through a query to his Senate staff.

On Sunday, Rubio tweeted that “some in our media can’t contain their glee and delight in reporting the the U.S. has more coronavirus cases” than China.

Beyond being grotesque, he suggested it was bad journalism because he believes the Chinese aren’t telling the truth about how many of their citizens have contracted the virus.

“Who are you talking about, senator?” Karl asked during an appearance on ABC’s “The View.” Rubio has not clarified which media members he believes were gleeful about the number of U.S. cases.

Karl said journalists at CBS and NBC News had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and two members of the White House press corps are suspected of having contracted the virus.

“Who does Marco Rubio think is taking joy and glee at more people being sick?” Karl said.

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Social Media Posts and Online Searches Hold Vital Clues about Pandemic Spread – Scientific American

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Nearly a week before the World Health Organization first warned of a mysterious new respiratory disease in Wuhan, China, a team of Boston-based sleuths at the global disease monitoring system HealthMap captured digital clues about the outbreak from an online press report. That same day, December 30, ProMED, another digital disease detection group, became aware of online chatter about a pneumonia of unknown origin on China’s micro-blogging website, Weibo. As researchers later reported, newly popular keywords on the social media platform WeChat included “SARS,” “shortness of breath” and “diarrhea.”

Such alerts reveal the promise of a vast yet risky resource: the tweet-sized hints from people all over the world who report their health status and vent their fears online. Some researchers are calling on public health officials to take greater advantage of this virtual treasure chest of data, especially given the current rapid spread of the new coronavirus.

“We are on the precipice of an unprecedented opportunity to track, predict and prevent global disease burdens in the population using digital data,” Allison Aiello, an epidemiologist at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, and two graduate students write in the 2020 Annual Review of Public Health.

“There’s incredible amounts of data on social media blogs, chatrooms and local news reports that give us clues about disease outbreaks happening on a daily basis,” John Brownstein, the chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School recently told CNN Headline News. Such data, which Brownstein calls “digital breadcrumbs,” are vital raw material for an emerging field of inquiry known as digital epidemiology. HealthMap, which he cofounded in 2006, is one of several leading efforts in the field.

HealthMap’s first big success came during the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, when it used sources that included Spanish-language online news reports to aid in early detection of an unidentified respiratory illness in Veracruz, Mexico. Five years later, it tapped the WHO Twitter feed and other sources to track the spread of the Ebola virus, which ultimately killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa.

The World Health Organization now routinely uses HealthMap, ProMED and similar systems to monitor infectious disease outbreaks and inform clinicians, officials and the public. Yet big-data disease detection is still in its infancy compared with traditional methods, and the social media ingredients, in particular, have yet to make any major contribution in predicting where and how infectious diseases may strike.

So far at least, HealthMap still doesn’t rely heavily on social media; instead, it mostly tracks reports from online news sources and governments, while including some social media posts from public health professionals. Additionally, HealthMap calls on volunteers to submit weekly data to its crowdsourced disease-tracking platform, Flu Near You. In late March, it launched a new site, Covid Near You, that focuses specifically on Covid-19 symptoms and testing.

Still, digital epidemiology’s two key advantages—speed and volume—may increasingly help health officials spot outbreaks quickly and cheaply, Brownstein and other experts believe. At the same time, the huge volume of digital data from social media also comes with sufficient challenges to accuracy and privacy to make it a “double-edged sword,” in the words of University College London e-health researcher Patty Kostkova. It’s a now-familiar story: Technological advances are racing ahead of our ability to guarantee their quality and safety.

The most immediate challenge is getting it right. “It’s actually really hard to get useful prospective data from social media,” says Northeastern University computer scientist Clark Freifeld, who cofounded HealthMap with Brownstein. One of the biggest challenges, he says, is that once a disease becomes news, most subsequent media queries and posts are reactions to that news rather than indicators of more news to come.

For example, in 2012 Google Flu Trends estimated a large spike in winter flu cases based on increased use of flu-related terms in Google searches. The actual spike turned out to be about half as high, perhaps because users’ searches reflected news of flu outbreaks rather than actual illnesses.

Red herrings are another serious problem. Researchers noted a 2007 spike in Google searches for the word “cholera.” But the cause wasn’t a disease outbreak; instead, it turned out that Oprah Winfrey had picked the novel “Love in the Time of Cholera” for her book club. While that particular case didn’t lead any public health officials astray, says Aiello, it’s a vivid example of reactive and irrelevant “noise.”

HealthMap tries to address this problem by using artificial intelligence to filter out repetition and irrelevancies. “We have a database of millions of articles and pieces of content relating to disease outbreaks,” says Freifeld. “We’ll hand-label say 100,000 examples of actual outbreaks and contrast them with things that aren’t related, like an ‘outbreak’ of home runs in the seventh inning. That’s how the system learns what’s useful and what’s not.”

A major reason digital breadcrumbs can lead experts astray is that they can miss a large section of the population. About 22 percent of the US adults use Twitter, but it’s not a random sample. US Twitter users are predominantly wealthier, younger, better-educated and more likely to be Democrats than other Americans. What’s more, most Twitter users don’t tweet all that much: About 80 percent of the tweets from all adult US users come from the most prolific 10 percent. Twitter’s youthful profile is particularly problematic considering that older people—at least according to initial assumptions—have been at more risk of becoming seriously ill. Monitoring health through tweets could thus ignore the most vulnerable among us.

More broadly, social media is justifiably notorious for spreading falsehoods, which in the case of infectious diseases can have deadly consequences. And that, public health researchers say, is always a danger in the search for signals amid the social media noise. Public health depends on trust in public officials, but that trust can quickly erode if a government releases faulty information.

On top of its problems with accuracy, digital epidemiology may increase threats to internet users’ privacy. Unlike Europe, the United States lacks sweeping laws to protect privacy on social media. Platforms such as Google and Facebook routinely license aggregated users’ information to advertisers who can then target pitches based on search contents and “likes.” Using these kinds of data for health surveillance could multiply the risk of privacy abuses, Freifeld says, especially when public health concerns conflict with confidentiality.

Privacy advocates are already sounding the alarm about recent efforts by the White House and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand their access to Americans’ mobile-phone data to track their locations during the epidemic. Federal health officials hope to incorporate anonymous, aggregated data to follow the spread of the virus and check compliance with new “social distancing” rules.

The growing repository of online public health data became somewhat more open to the public just this month. On March 17, CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring site recently purchased by Facebook, announced it had launched a new feature to let users, including news media organizations, public health officials and researchers, track social trends across sites including Facebook, Instagram and Reddit. The company simultaneously introduced a publicly available hub of streaming, limited real-time displays of official information and social media posts concerning Covid-19 infections caused by the new coronavirus. The social media posts were culled only from public accounts, not private ones.

Voluntary reporting systems may avoid some, although not all, of the biases of run-of-the-mill digital epidemiology. Flu Near You, launched in 2011, uses an anonymous, crowdsourced model to collect data for public health officials and researchers.

A somewhat similar project is FoodBorne Chicago, a Twitter-based surveillance system that monitors complaints of foodborne illness. Based at the Chicago Department of Public Health, it tracks tweets using a machine-learning algorithm that identifies the keywords “food poison.” When local residents type those words, the site tweets back a link with a form to provide details, collecting data that might never otherwise have been reported.

For the last seven years, the CDC has dipped its toe in digital detection of diseases by managing a yearly competition known as FluSight in which researchers from academia and industry attempt to forecast the timing and intensity of the flu season. The CDC requires competitors to use some sort of digital data in their projections.

Meanwhile, researchers are increasingly excited about the potential of including data from more direct measures of wellness and illness. Smart, wearable health-tracking monitors supply a constant stream of data about heart rates, steps taken and quality of sleep.

On March 25, Scripps Research Translational Institute epidemiologist Jennifer Radin, the lead author of a recent study on the potentially “vital” role of Fitbits in disease detection, called on US adult volunteers using any kind of smartwatch or activity tracker to share their health data with researchers by downloading the MyDataHelps mobile app. The researchers hope to use the data to identify changes in resting heart rates that may signify disease, Radin told Knowable. While she acknowledged that a faster heart rate might be induced by simply watching the news, she said volunteers who aren’t feeling well may also list other symptoms on the app.

For the past eight years, a San Francisco startup called Kinsa has been systematically collecting such real-time health data, having recently sold and given away more than 1 million internet-connected thermometers. Oregon State University scientist Benjamin Dalziel, who is collaborating on research funded by Kinsa, says the system can accurately track the flu two weeks ahead of predictions by the CDC and could potentially track Covid-19 as well. On March 18, it began posting new data from its opt-in system about clusters of “atypical fevers” on its “Health Weather Map” at www.healthweather.us.

Dalziel and Kinsa corporate leaders are certain their thermometers can help during this global emergency. “This is the future, however grand that sounds,” Dalziel says. “A fever is a key indicator of an acute respiratory infection. It’s measuring something directly relevant to illness. And while I think there has been stunning work done to extract information from Twitter, a thermometer reading has clearly got an advantage over a tweet.”

Other experts are also enthusiastic about Kinsa’s progress. “Fever monitoring is a great idea given the lack of Covid-specific test kits,” says HealthMap’s Freifeld.

The coronavirus emergency is clearly speeding interest in digital epidemiology. Yet to date, Freifeld and other experts agree that the field’s promise remains more as an adjunct than a substitute for conventional surveillance.

As Aiello, in North Carolina, acknowledges that for the time being, at least: “We’ll need to validate it with traditional shoe-leather data.”

This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine, an independent journalistic endeavor from Annual Reviews. Sign up for the newsletter.

Read more about the coronavirus outbreak here.

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