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The Biggest Tech and Digital Media Stories of 2019 – Variety

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Here are the trends that captured headlines this year — from the rise of the streaming wars and podcasting, to digital-media consolidation and the growing backlash against Big Tech.

1. Big-Media Streamers Assemble

The new multibillion-dollar battle fronts in streaming video became sharply drawn in 2019. Disney roared the loudest, with the debut of Disney Plus — snagging an estimated 24 million users in less than three weeks thanks to aggressive pricing, Verizon’s one-year-free promo and meme-ready breakout superstar Baby Yoda. Disney also inked a pact with Comcast to control Hulu (future home to FX’s streaming originals) and is set for a big international streaming foray next year. Apple TV Plus arrived with a more boutique play, including awards contender “The Morning Show.” The field, led by Netflix, will get more heavy artillery in 2020 with the rollouts of AT&T/WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, Comcast/NBCU’s Peacock and Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s wager on premium mobile video.

2. “Techlash” Intensity Grows

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Silicon Valley was once the poster child for American innovation and business leadership. In 2019, the chorus blasting large tech companies as dangerously powerful and even a threat to democracy grew louder — with serious calls for the U.S. government to dismantle them. Against that backdrop, regulators stepped up their attempts to brush back the behemoths. The DOJ rattled its saber with new antitrust probes. Facebook absorbed a record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine over alleged privacy violations (though investors didn’t even flinch), while YouTube was slapped by the FTC for collecting data on children under 13 and was forced to implement major changes in how it treats kid-targeted videos. TikTok, owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, drew scrutiny over privacy and security fears (and entered into its own FTC settlement) after exploding as one of the most popular social-video apps.

3. Digital Media Players Get Urge to Merge

Seeking strength in numbers amid revenue shortfalls and fragmenting audiences, digital-media publishers went through a wave of consolidation. Vice snapped up Refinery29, looking to forge a stronger presence with millennial women; Vox Media acquired New York Media, as a growing number of print-centric brands landed new owners; and Discovery-backed Group Nine bought female-focused PopSugar. It’s not certain how well the tie-ups will fulfill their synergy goals, but it’s safe to expect more M&A in this sector in 2020.

4. Skinny Bundles Get Fatter and Pricier

Over-the-top TV providers promised to give cable-weary consumers cheaper, more flexible ways to get subscription TV. But the economic realities of the pay-TV biz came home to roost, as every player in the sector implemented significant price hikes in 2019 while also augmenting their programming lineups. Dish just raised Sling TV’s rates 20%, after Hulu kicked up the cost of its live TV service by 22% last month, following price increases for AT&T Now (formerly DirecTV Now), Google’s YouTube TV and FuboTV. Sony threw in the towel, concluding it couldn’t make money on OTT pay-TV, announcing that it will shut down PlayStation Vue in January.

5. Podcasting Pops

After over a decade of steady growth, podcasting turned a corner this year with a flood of new investments and initiatives. Podcast mainstays like NPR, Joe Rogan and iHeartMedia’s How Stuff Works were joined in the podcast gold rush by everyone from Conan O’Brien to the Obamas. Spotify planted its flag in podcasting with a spate of acquisitions (including buying studio Gimlet Media) and building up a slate of originals, and Sony Music entered the fray. Meanwhile Apple is poised to make noise in podcasting in 2020. In 2019, an estimated 90 million U.S. consumers were listening to podcasts monthly, up 23% from 73 million last year, per Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Going to CES 2020? Don’t miss Variety‘s Entertainment Summit at CES, with a speaker lineup that includes Mark Cuban, Spotify’s Dawn Ostroff and ViacomCBS’s Marc DeBevoise.

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India to regulate social media, OTT & digital news platforms – Yahoo Movies Canada

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The Indian government on Thursday released new rules to regulate social media companies, OTT streaming services, digital news outlets, among others in a bid to introduce a major change in legislation to assert more control over powerful Big Tech firms, and warned that ‘double standards of social media will not be acceptable’.

The government’s warning went out to all social media platforms operating in the country.

Addressing a press conference, Union Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad detailed some of the strict oversight mechanism for social media companies, including a robust grievance mechanism besides measures for speedy redressal.

Concerns have been raised about rampant abuse of social media platforms, spread of fake news, said Ravi Shankar Prasad, adding that social media intermediaries have to appoint grievance officer, who shall registered complaints in 24 hours.

Content involving nudity, morphed pictures of women have to be removed in 24 hours. A grievance redressal official must be resident in India and monthly compliance reports have to be filed by social media platforms, said Prasad.

Social media platforms on being asked by court or government will be required to disclose the first originator of the mischief information, he added.

Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar Prakash Javadekar then spoke about the new rules concerning OTT platforms operating in the country.

Highlighting the misuse of social media in the country, Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government wants social media platforms operating in the country to introduce a mechanism for better verification of users. Prasad said that the “significant social media” rules need to be implemented within three months.

“Social media platforms upon being asked either by a court order or a govt authority will be required to disclose the first originator of mischievous tweet or message as the case may be,” Prasad said.

“Double standards of social media will not be acceptable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad added during his speech.

Under the new Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the government plans to mandate social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to erase contentious content as early as possible, but not later than 36 hours, after a government or legal order.

These companies must also provide information and help with investigations within 72 hours of a request from authorities, said the draft rules, a copy of which News18.com has reviewed. Further, if a post depicts an individual in any sexual act or conduct, then companies must disable or remove such content within a day of receiving a complaint, the rules added.

The latest draft rules – which would be legally enforceable – have been released weeks after the government’s dispute with Twitter after the social media giant ignored orders to remove content over farmers’ protests. The new guidelines will supercede the 2011 rules, and government sources said that since the changes are only in the rules, and not the IT Act, Parliament intervention will not be required.

For players like WhatsApp, which are end-to-end encrypted, this could mean they will be forced to break encryption in India in order to comply.

Guidelines for OTT platforms soon

The draft proposal also requires companies to appoint a chief compliance officer, another executive for coordinating on law enforcement, and a “grievance redressal officer” within 3 months from the date of publication of these rules. All must be resident Indian citizens.

A copy of the draft rules, set to be released by IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, has been put out by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).

The oversight mechanism will include a committee with representatives from the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT and Women and Child Development. This committee will have “suo motu powers” to call hearings on complaints of violation of the Code of Ethics if it wants. The committee can warn, censuring, admonish or reprimand violators, seek an apology besides other actions.

The rules would also apply across other digital and online media, the draft proposal said. “A publisher shall take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group,” the draft rules said.

Streaming regulation

While the new rules for social media and other digital platforms will be governed by the IT Ministry, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry will be the governing body for rules concerning streaming platforms. Referring to films and other entertainment, including web-based serials, the draft rules called for a “classification rating” to describe content and advise discretion.

The rules would also force streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, who objected to an independent appellate body for hearing streaming complaints, to submit to the authority of an appeals body headed by a retired high court or Supreme Court justice. If this body believes that the content violates the law, it would be empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.

Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have faced complaints in India for obscenity. Police in Uttar Pradesh questioned an Amazon executive for nearly four hours on Tuesday over allegations that a political drama, “Tandav”, hurt religious sentiments and caused public anger.

The Indian Express reported that the rules also made a distinction between a significant social media intermediary and a regular social media intermediary. The government is yet to define the user size to determine who will constitute as a significant social media intermediary.

The government says it is empowering the users of social media and other intermediaries. It wants companies to have a chief compliance officer for significant social media companies as well. The rules call for social media companies to publish a monthly compliance report as well.

‘First originator’ of a message

The rules also call for tracking of the ‘first originator’ of a message. The government says while it is not interested in the content, they are interested to know who started the ‘mischief’. It wants social media platforms to disclose the first originator of the mischievous tweet or message as the case maybe.

This will be required in matters related to security and sovereignty of India, public order, or with regard to rape or any other sexually explicit material.

OTT content platforms

The government has called for a grievance redressal system for OTT platforms and digital portals as well. The government is also asking OTT platforms to self regulate and wants a mechanism for addressing any grievances.

While films have a censor board, OTT platforms will require to self-classify their movies and content based on age. There has to be a mechanism of parental lock and ensuring compliance with the same. Platforms like Netflix already have an option for parental lock.

News media

“Social media is welcome to do business in India. They have done exceedingly well. They have got a good number of users. They have also empowered Indians. We commend this,” Prasad stated.

The 30-page document, titled Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, guidelines define social media companies, suggest a three-tier mechanism for regulation of all online media, define the process for tracing the first originator, and confer blocking powers to an inter-ministerial committee.

With respect to regulation of news media, several concerns abound. The purview of the Information Technology Act, 2000 does not extend to news media, and so the guidelines do not have the legislative backing to regulate news media.

The draft contains a three-tier regulatory mechanism, according to a Hindustan Times report. The first tier of the regulatory mechanism is grievance redressal by the company itself; the second level involves a Press Council of India-like regulatory body that will be headed by a retired judge of a high court or the Supreme Court.

With inputs from News18, Indian Express, India Today, PTI and ANI.

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India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter – The Guardian

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By Sankalp Phartiyal and Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India announced new rules on Thursday to regulate big social media firms, such as Facebook and Twitter, the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to tighten control over Big Tech firms.

The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers’ protests, fuelling the government’s zeal, dating from 2018, to clamp down on material it regards as disinformation or unlawful.

The new measures will require big social media companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement, the government said in a news statement.

The government said the guidelines in its code of digital media ethics were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for misuse and abuse.

Social media firms should be “more responsible and accountable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister for information technology, told reporters in outlining the rules.

A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that, the government said. It did not specify the date, however.

Facebook said it welcomes rules that prescribe ways to address challenges on the web. “The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” it said in a statement.

Twitter declined to comment.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported the draft of the rules, which give companies a maximum of 36 hours to remove content after they receive a government or legal order.

Prasad also told reporters the rules would oblige the companies to reveal the originator of a message or posting when asked to do so through a legal order.

Tech firms are coming under tighter scrutiny worldwide. Facebook faced a global backlash last week from publishers and politicians after it blocked news feeds in Australia in a dispute with the government over revenue-sharing.

That prompted last-ditch changes by Australia in a law passed on Thursday to ensure Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc pay media companies for content, a step that nations such as Britain and Canada want to follow.

India’s rules will also require video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime to classify content into five categories based on users’ age, the government said.

Online news media will also be regulated as part of the new rules, with the ministry of information and broadcasting creating an oversight system, the government added.

Apar Gupta, the executive director at advocacy Internet Freedom Foundation, said the new rules for digital news media portals and video streaming platforms posed risks to freedom of speech.

“To fix the problems in these sectors the government has adopted an approach which carries the risks of political control and censorship,” he said.

(Reporting by Sankalp Pharityal and Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Alexandra Hudson)

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India announces sweeping guidelines for social media, on-demand streaming firms, and digital news outlets – Yahoo Movies Canada

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India announced sweeping changes to its guidelines for social media, on-demand video streaming services, and digital news outlets on Thursday, posing new challenges for small firms as well as giants such as Facebook and Google that count the nation as its biggest market by users.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT, Law, and Justice minister, said in a press conference that social media companies will be required to acknowledge the request within 24 hours and deliver a complete redressal in 15 days. In sensitive cases that surround rape or other sexual nature, firms will be required to takedown the objectionable content within 24 hours.

These firms will also be required to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact officer, who shall be reachable round the clock, and a resident grievance officer. The firms will also be required to have an office in the country.

For social media companies, Prasad said they will be required to disclose the originator of objectionable content. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation and other objectionable content,” he said. WhatsApp has previously said that it can’t comply with such traceability request without compromising end-to-end encryption security for every user.

Firms will also be required to publish a monthly compliance report to disclose the number of requests they received and what actions they took. They will also be required to offer a voluntary option to users who wish to verify their accounts.

The guidelines go into effect for small firms effective immediately, but bigger services will be provided three months to comply, said Prasad.

New Delhi has put together these guidelines because citizens in India have long requested a “mechanism to address grievances,” said Prasad. India has been working on a law aimed at intermediaries since 2018. This is the first time New Delhi has publicly shared an update on the specifics of the guidelines.

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” he said, adding that WhatsApp had amassed 530 million users, YouTube, 448 million users, Facebook’s marquee service 410 million users, Instagram 210 million users, and Twitter, 175 million users in the country.

Full guidelines for social media firms and other intermediaries. (Source: Indian government.)

For streaming platforms, the draft, which will be legally enforceable when it becomes a law, has outlined a three-tier structure for “observance and adherence to the code.” Until now, on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and MX Player have operated in India with little to no censorship.

New Delhi last year said India’s broadcasting ministry, which regulates content on TV, will also be overseeing digital streaming platforms. 17 popular streaming firms had banded together to devise a self-regulation code. Prakash Javedkar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said the proposed solution from the industry wasn’t adequate and there will be an oversight mechanism from the government to ensure compliance of code of practices.

Streaming services will also have to attach a content ratings to their titles. “The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”,” the Indian government said.

“The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.”

Digital news outlets will be required to disclose the size of their reach and structure of their ownership.

Industry executives have expressed concerns over the new proposed regulation, saying New Delhi hasn’t consulted them for these changes. IAMAI, a powerful industry body that represents nearly all on-demand streaming services, said it was “dismayed” by the guidelines, and hoped to have a dialogue with the government.

Javedkar and Prasad were asked if there will be any consultation with the industry before these guidelines become law. The ministers said that they had already received enough inputs from the industry.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

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