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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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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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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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