Back by popular demand (OK, fine, I just wanted to do this again), I asked a bunch of past and present media and entertainment executives to give me one significant and/or surprising industry prediction for 2023.
I did this last year, too, and a few came true, or at least partially true. Bob Iger did, in fact, return as Disney’s chief executive. Vice tried to sell itself in pieces (and together). Roku made a bid for a stake in Lionsgate’s Starz (not the studio) but walked away without a deal.
The rest? Not so great. But we’ll try again this year, and in honor of the 12 days of Christmas, I’m bumping the number of predictions from 10 to 12.
Executive 1: Netflix will merge with another company
Disney seems like a long shot given recent regulatory pushback on Penguin Random House’s attempt to buy Paramount’s Simon & Schuster and Microsoft‘s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Disney has a market valuation of about $165 billion. Netflix’s market capitalization is about $130 billion. That would make a merger one of the largest deals in history and would create a streaming giant that dominate the industry — and almost certainly ring all sorts of antitrust alarm bells.
Shari Redstone’s Paramount Global is much smaller, with a market valuation of less than $12 billion. Netflix has sniffed around trying buying Paramount Pictures before. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has long coveted the physical Paramount lot, according to people familiar with the matter.
Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings would likely want nothing to do with Paramount Global‘s cable network business, given his long disdain for the legacy pay TV business. But perhaps private equity would take the linear cable business off his hands, giving Netflix the movie studio and CBS, which Hastings and Sarandos could use as an advertising-supported reach-builder for some of Netflix’s biggest hits. Whether Netflix would want to take on paying billions for live sports rights is another story.
A deal with another company would also give Netflix a chance to write off little watched content, a tax benefit of which Warner Bros. Discovery is currently taking full advantage.
Executive 2: An ex-Disney exec returns, with his company
Bob Iger passed over Kevin Mayer for the Disney CEO role in 2020, prompting Mayer to bolt the company and take the CEO job with TikTok. At the time, the choice seemed confusing. Disney’s future appeared to be Disney+ and streaming video, not its decades-old theme park business.
Iger has an opportunity to get a second chance with Mayer if he acquired Candle Media and named Mayer his successor. He could also get another chance with Mayer’s co-founder of Candle Media, Tom Staggs, who also left Disney when it became clear he wasn’t going to be CEO.
Still, Iger said during a Disney town hall last month he isn’t focused on M&A for the time being. Candle Media has acquired intellectual property assets including Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company and Moonbug, which owns the animated kids series “CoComelon.”
Iger’s calling card as CEO is acquiring IP, including Pixar, LucasFilm and Marvel. “CoComelon” could fit well within Disney+.
But choosing Mayer or Staggs would also imply Iger made an error in judgment the first time.
Executive 3: Iger extends his contract
There’s been lots of speculation over who Iger will choose as his successor. History suggests he has a hard time leaving the role of Disney CEO.
So perhaps the most obvious answer as to who he will pick is: no one (at least, not yet).
This executive said Iger, 71, will extend his contract beyond Dec. 31, 2024, his current end date, and stay as Disney CEO for years to come.
Executive 4: Disney CFO Christine McCarthy will leave
McCarthy has become the talk of Hollywood in recent weeks after CNBC and other publications reported she went behind former Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s back to the Disney board to give him an effective vote of no confidence, leading to his ouster.
Some have speculated McCarthy’s cozy relationship with the board could lead to Iger choosing her as his successor for the top job. Other insiders have said McCarthy could have an altered role as Iger restructures the company. Iger may reveal those changes as soon as January, according to people familiar with the matter.
But this executive said McCarthy, 67, was more likely to leave Disney in 2023 than move on to CEO. While McCarthy turned on Chapek, she also was part of his inner circle for years. Iger may view that suspiciously, given his litany of differences with Chapek, even though McCarthy also served as Iger’s CFO from 2015 to 2020.
McCarthy’s contract runs through mid-2024, perhaps making an early retirement unlikely. Then again, Disney’s board renewed Chapek’s contract into 2025 just months before firing him.
Executive 5: Jeff Bezos will sell The Washington Post
This executive predicted the Post won’t just have a new publisher and editor-in-chief by the end of 2023 — it will also have a new owner.
Executive 6: David Zaslav will face a proxy fight
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has spent the past year cutting costs to slim down the merged WarnerMedia-Discovery and service the company’s nearly $50 billion in debt.
Zaslav’s cost cutting moves haven’t yet convinced investors he’s on the right track to returning the company to glory. Warner Bros. Discovery shares have fallen about 60% since the April merger.
Existing investors will lose patience with Zaslav and the board, and will demand changes, said one executive. It’s possible an activist will take a stake in the company, but it’s even more likely long-time shareholders will lose confidence in his strategy when it doesn’t produce a notable valuation bump in 2023, the executive predicted.
Executive 7: The cost of sports rights will peak
Live sports rights have been the lifeblood of the legacy pay TV industry for decades. National Football League games continue to dominate ratings. College football and NBA playoff games frequently draw enormous live audiences compared to almost everything else on cable all year.
But media companies are now focused on building their streaming businesses as replacements for traditional pay TV. Consumers buy these services a la carte, meaning non-sports fans don’t have to buy services that include sports. Limited audiences, combined with a legacy media industry intent on focusing on profits and cost cutting, could end the trend of live sports commanding big rights increases.
The NBA will still command a big increase as legacy pay TV continues to exist — primarily supported by sports. Those rights will likely be renewed in 2023. But in five to seven years, it’s possible traditional TV will be totally eliminated.
That will lead to an environment where there are fewer bidders for sports rights, dropping the price for sports across the board, said this executive. Perhaps the NFL remains an outlier due to its popularity, said the executive. But every other sport’s prospects look bleak, said the person.
Executive 8: Paramount Global will sell, possibly for parts
This is our first repeat from last year.
“I love Shari [Redstone], but ViacomCBS is not long for this world as it stands today,” said a media executive last year.
The executive was right — sort of. ViacomCBS changed its name in 2022 to Paramount Global.
But Shari Redstone, who controls the company’s voting shares, didn’t sell. Perhaps 2023 will convince her to find a buyer — or buyers. The company has different assets that could be useful to a variety of different companies. As mentioned earlier, Netflix could want Paramount Pictures. A company like Nexstar could want Paramount Global‘s owned and operated local stations, CBS could be a good fit for Warner Bros. Discovery, and private equity may want to wind down the cable networks, which still generate cash.
Executive 9: A big cable operator will shutter its video business
Back in 2013, then-Cablevision CEO James Dolan predicted “there could come a day” when the cable company stopped offering video service, focusing instead of building out and upgrading broadband infrastructure.
Earlier this year, cable operator Cable One announced it would stop offering cable TV for hotels and multidwelling units.
But we’ve yet to see a major cable operator end the business of residential cable TV altogether. That’s coming next year, said one executive, who said cable operators are being pressed for bandwidth to support the growth in streaming video.
Shutting down the declining video business, which generates relatively low profits, is a way to gain network capacity. Wall Street may also cheer the move as capital expenditures will go down and overall margins will improve.
If a cable operator’s stock leapt higher with such a move, it could accelerate other pay-TV providers to make similar decisions, further accelerating the decline of legacy cable TV.
Executive 10: Google’s YouTube will buy the NFL’s ‘Sunday Ticket’ rights
National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell told CNBC in July he planned to announce a “Sunday Ticket” rights winner by the fall.
Well, the last day of autumn is Dec. 21, and the league still hasn’t announced who will own “Sunday Ticket,” the league’s out-of-market Sunday afternoon package, after the 2022-23 season.
Apple and Amazon have been the favorites, with Alphabet’s YouTube TV coming on strong in recent months. Apple has wanted more flexibility with how to distribute the historic package, CNBC reported in October, and has pushed back against the league’s high asking price — more than $2.5 billion per year. Puck reported Friday Apple had dropped out of the bidding.
Amazon already owns the league’s “Thursday Night Football” package as it looks to extend Prime’s reach. Amazon has been interested in “Sunday Ticket” from the beginning of rights negotiations, but now its founder, Jeff Bezos, also may want to own the NFL’s Washington Commanders.
Alphabet‘s Google gives the league quite a bit of what it wants: a technology owner with a huge balance sheet and global reach, a large marketing platform in YouTube, and the ability to support bundled legacy TV (where most of the league’s games still air) by pairing “Sunday Ticket” with YouTube TV.
“Sunday Ticket” and YouTube TV — a digital bundle of broadcast and cable networks — is similar to what the NFL has done with DirecTV.
Google also represents a new partner for the league — a plus for the NFL when the next rights renewals are up. The more potential bidders, the better. The rationale for Google over Amazon makes sense. But will it make cents? (I’m so sorry).
Executive 11: Apple will ban TikTok from the App Store
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced bipartisan legislation last week to ban TikTok from operating in the United States. The Senate also voted unanimously to ban TikTok on government phones and devices.
The concern stems from security risks of making U.S. data available to the Chinese government. TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, is a Chinese-based company.
TikTok was nearly banned during the Trump administration, but that fight eventually lost steam and disappeared.
This executive predicted Apple would ban future TikTok downloads from its App Store given the privacy concerns. That wouldn’t help Apple-Chinese relations, which are already showing strains.
Executive 12: Media will show surprising recession resiliency
The first part of the prediction here is the economy will dip into a recession, which isn’t a foregone conclusion.
But if it does, the media industry will actually benefit from several accelerated trends, this executive said.
First, cable cord cutting will accelerate, driving more streaming subscriptions and allaying concerns that streaming growth has plateaued.
Second, past recessions have proved that consumers don’t stop paying for relatively low-priced entertainment during economic downturns, said the executive. This could be good news for an industry that now has more high-quality, low-priced options than ever before.
The advertising market will also bounce back faster than anticipated as brands see that people are supplanting higher-priced entertainment with lower-cost at-home options, said the person.
—CNBC’s Lillian Rizzo contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.
NASCAR nears a new media rights deal but a simmering dispute with teams over revenue has complicated matters – Sports Business Journal
When senior team executives in NASCAR filed into a Team Owner Council meeting this month, they were struck to find both Jim France and Lesa France Kennedy there. France, the chairman and CEO of NASCAR, often attends the quarterly meetings of the council that was founded in 2016, but France Kennedy’s attendance is more rare. France Kennedy is the executive vice chair of NASCAR and niece of France, whose father founded the sport in 1948.
Their combined attendance came on the heels of a tumultuous last six months that included the teams infuriating NASCAR’s brass by going public with a dispute over revenue sharing. The strained talks turned some relationships frosty between NASCAR executives and team leaders.
While France Kennedy was in Charlotte in part for the NASCAR Hall of Fame ceremony, the fact that both showed up at the first major meeting between the teams and NASCAR this year shows that NASCAR’s ownership remains engaged toward striking a new revenue-sharing deal with the teams, sources say. Such a deal would effectively bring labor peace through the duration of the next media rights agreement, which could run near or past the end of this decade.
NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary season this year, and whether and how the tenuous situation is resolved could affect NASCAR until its 100th.
At issue is that teams want to get more money annually from the league, saying they face a major struggle to turn a profit. The largest revenue stream in NASCAR is the $8.2 billion, 10-year media rights agreement with Fox Sports and NBC Sports that started in 2015 and expires after 2024. NASCAR could try to hash out a deal with teams after it strikes the new media rights agreement, sources say, but instead it plans to negotiate with teams as media talks advance. Teams do get other monies, but the TV revenue is by far the largest stream, sources said.
In the current TV agreement, tracks take in 65% of traditional media revenue, while 25% goes to teams and 10% to the sanctioning body. Via the sport’s governing charter system, teams earn as much as about $8 million to $10 million per car, per year, from the league if they are the sport’s best performers, while poorly performing teams sometimes earn around half that. But teams say it can cost around $18 million for the top performers to run the annual operations of a single car, and the rest needs to be supplemented by ever-scarcer corporate sponsorship.
Under the next deal, teams want a greater percentage of league funds to cover their expenses, asking for upward of $16 milion-$18 million annually, or roughly double the current amount for the best performers. That could give them a better chance to turn a profit if they get enough corporate sponsorship and run a lean operation.
NASCAR has acknowledged that teams deserve more money but has been resistant to the demands. Still, sources say the sanctioning body has seemingly started to soften in recent weeks to the idea of finding an agreement.
In the meantime, teams have started to try to build leverage, such as acknowledging that they’re considering staging offseason exhibition races to supplement their usual income.
“The best deals are ones when everyone feels a little bit of pain, and a bad business deal is when one side feels they got a better deal than the person at the other end of the table,” said Jeremy Lange, the former president of defunct NASCAR team Leavine Family Racing, who now is the co-founder and partner of The Surge Connection marketing agency. “You want both sides feeling like they could have gotten more but are happy with what they got, and I’m not sure they’re there yet.”
For all the talks going on, NASCAR Chairman Jim France is seen as the one with ultimate authority on when it gets done.getty images
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For years, NASCAR teams have privately complained that they deserve more league revenue, particularly as sponsorship became tougher to come by after the 2008 recession and as NASCAR’s key performance indicators slipped from their heady peaks. What’s changed from the last TV cycle until this deal is that teams have rallied around a more unified voice. That’s because the Race Team Alliance was founded in mid-2014, not long after the last 10-year media deal was negotiated. The RTA membership consists of 16 teams, which field 36 cars (one charter for each car) in the premier Cup Series.
Teams also have a better sense of NASCAR’s finances. When NASCAR took track owner and operator International Speedway Corp. private in 2019, the sanctioning body had to release sensitive financial information that teams pored through. Teams have then taken that information and shared key takeaways publicly to make clear that they believe they’re getting a raw deal. They claim that NASCAR’s assets make up 93% of the value of the sport, while teams’ assets are only worth 7%. That’s based on an assumption that the entire sport’s assets could be valued at $10 billion combined, while the 36 car charters are worth $20 million each, or $720 million. This is where teams see the opportunity share in the overall revenue pot.
In 2023, teams are due to receive around $201 million in TV money and around $210 million in 2024, according to information seen by Sports Business Journal. Based on comments that NASCAR has made to teams recently, teams believe that NASCAR has a solid idea of how much increased revenue it stands to make in the next media cycle.
23XI investor Curtis Polk is seen as a disrupter in the talks.23XI Racing
The financial statistics gathered by the teams seemed to have caught the eye of, among others, Michael Jordan and his right-hand man, Curtis Polk, as they invested in the sport in 2020 by founding 23XI Racing with Denny Hamlin. Polk first sent a signal to the industry last February when he told SBJ that NASCAR “is a sleeping giant, but from the team ownership side it’s very sponsor dependent and we need to address that model.”
Polk has been seen during these talks as a ring leader of sorts for the teams. In one meeting, he compared the overall revenue splits in NASCAR to other sports, particularly the NBA. As basketball-related income, the NBA’s national media rights revenue — some $2.6 billion of the league’s $10 billion-plus overall revenue — is divided between league owners and players in a roughly 50-50 split.
Hamlin raised eyebrows further in May when he suggested that until he and his business partners saw a change in NASCAR’s business model, all further major investments in the team — including a new headquarters — were on hold. The team has since decided to move forward with breaking ground on its new headquarters in the hopes that the talks will be successful, though it could still pivot if they fail.
In a meeting with media last fall to discuss the dispute, Polk called NASCAR a “money-printing machine” before adding: “But the teams and drivers are putting on the show.” That theme is one that has become central to the teams’ messaging during the current negotiations — that the teams and drivers are the talent and show and should be compensated far higher commensurately.
Ty Norris, president of Trackhouse Racing, echoed that sentiment in early October that the teams had just been a “recipient of whatever NASCAR brought to the teams, but in this round, the teams are wanting to position themselves to receive what we believe is the value of the show. We are the show.”
Teams say the sport has long relied too heavily on sponsorships.getty images
Teams’ concern about the financial model was heightened after last season’s debut of the seventh-generation car, dubbed the Next Gen. Before last year, traditional garage logic had that it cost around $20 million to run a top-flight car every year, but that was supposed to drop to around $12 million with the new version by forcing teams to buy more parts from a single source. Previously they could research and develop a greater number of their own parts, sparking an expensive arms race.
The new car was projected to be far cheaper, but that was before global inflation, supply-chain problems and issues specific to the car arose in 2022 and left top teams paying close to 50% more than original projections, or around $18 million for top teams, sources say. The envisioned savings didn’t materialize, at least last year, though NASCAR did help subsidize some of the additional costs.
The fact that teams can only earn up to $10 million in league revenue at best for operations that can cost closer to $20 million means that they have long had to rely on sponsorships or other forms of money for more than half of their annual total revenue, with some teams putting their annual sponsorship percentage closer to 75%, an exceedingly unrealistic target.
NASCAR argues that teams could run more efficient operations to cut costs, though teams say that would simply mean mass layoffs. The top teams are known to spend heavily to find an advantage, something NASCAR executives have long bemoaned as contributing to what they perceive as an over-spending problem. The notion, shared by others in the industry including some track executives, is that teams are their own worst enemies, constantly spending beyond their means. Without changed habits, those skeptics say, some teams will remain under financial duress, even with a new revenue model. To get an agreement, team executives have emphasized that they’re willing to examine all costs, revenue and budget ideas, including a spending cap and possible tax system if teams go over the cap.
SBJ contacted multiple track executives to ask about the talks but many declined or spoke only on background, noting that these negotiations are technically between the sanctioning body and the teams. Tracks contend that they need their revenue slice because of the high cost of developing and maintaining the facilities, which have to seek alternative forms of revenue the bulk of the year when they don’t have NASCAR events.
LFR, the defunct team that Lange was president of, earned around $6 million in league revenue in 2020, its final year before folding, after finishing 20th in points, which is roughly mid-pack out of 36 charters. Lange said that if league funds could cover two-thirds of annual performance costs instead of one-third, his team might still be in business. LFR, which owned a charter, left the sport after the 2020 season after years of trouble making the owner model work.
“We were staring at one-third [covered by league funds] and two-thirds [where sponsorship was needed]. If it was [the other way around], I think they could have stomached that potentially,” Lange said of the former team owners. “The [New York] Mets aren’t signing all these guys because they’re going to get more [sponsorship] money from Citibank – it’s based off the TV deal.”
Skeptics say teams are their own worst enemy by spending too much to gain an advantage on the track.getty images
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After Polk and Hamlin made their public waves in the early part of last year, teams largely went silent on the topic as they started working behind the scenes. They created a sub-committee to negotiate with NASCAR and put together a seven-point proposal to send to the sanctioning body about what they want in the next deal.
The sub-committee was made up of Polk, Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon, Joe Gibbs Racing President Dave Alpern and Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing President Steve Newmark. On NASCAR’s side of the negotiating table has been President Steve Phelps, COO Steve O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel Garry Crotty and Senior Vice President, Racing Development and Strategy Ben Kennedy.
Meanwhile, while NASCAR deal-making has long been based on relationships, sources stress these team leaders have been empowered to make difficult decisions about their future, keeping longtime team owners like Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske at arm’s length, for now, from NASCAR.
As summer turned to fall, teams grew frustrated when they didn’t get a response from NASCAR to the proposal that they had sent over in June. That led them to schedule the early-October meeting with a group of media in Charlotte before a playoff race weekend to publicly confirm that the sides were at loggerheads.
The impromptu news conference featured rarely seen candor in the typically private sport about the financial struggles of being a NASCAR team. For example, Joe Gibbs has always been known as a master salesperson with sponsors but he does not own any outside business empires that could subsidize the team, and JGR’s Alpern at the meeting called himself “terrified of what happens after Coach [Joe Gibbs] is gone – I’m talking about survival.”
The RTA also began consulting with Wasserman to assess the value of team rights and other strategic alternatives; around the same time, NASCAR started consulting with CAA subsidiary Evolution Media Capital while also maintaining a relationship with Sports Media Advisors, with whom the league had worked on its prior media cycle.
Talks between the teams and NASCAR stalled in the ensuing months after teams went public. Teams believe that their public move didn’t backfire, but it didn’t advance negotiations either, and some executives from other parts of the industry have questioned whether the move was wise.
Still, talks have since picked back up in recent weeks, sources say, raising hopes that a deal could eventually be made.
Asked how confident it was that it will come to an agreement with its teams, NASCAR told SBJ in a statement: “We have a 75-year track record of being good partners and working hard to understand the priorities and needs of the many stakeholders in our sport. We are confident our industry will continue to work together to build on the momentum from our historic 2022 season and drive long-term growth for our sport, stakeholders and fans.”
As for the RTA, it declined comment. But Newmark told Motorsport.com this month: “There is a model that works for everybody which actually helps take the sport to the next level. There’s just a lot of pieces and we have to figure out how to get there. The reason I have so much optimism that we can get a deal done is because the sport is growing. If we were in the situation like five years ago where the sport was stagnated, it might be more difficult to come up with a whole new paradigm.”
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That new paradigm is more than just money. One other major sticking point for teams is they want to make the charter system permanent. There’s also been chatter that drivers could eventually try to negotiate for retirement pensions.
The charter system, NASCAR’s version of franchising, was introduced in 2016 in a nine-year deal set to end in 2024 concurrent to the TV deal so that the sides could re-evaluate how it was working. Charters are now worth eight figures and rising in value, and teams believe it’s only natural to turn the system into a permanent one.
If there is to be a revenue deal with teams, one of the major avenues toward progress will likely be through the potential swapping of ancillary rights and agreements. For example, in exchange for granting teams more annual revenue, NASCAR will likely want teams to agree to some form of a spending cap and could seek additional digital and content rights from teams or time commitments from drivers for marketing purposes. Teams have also offered to approach sponsorship in a new, more unified way, versus the cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world of NASCAR team sponsorship that currently exists.
But for all the technical negotiating going on between the team presidents and NASCAR executives, some feel that the deal ultimately is going to get made between Jim France and NASCAR’s old-guard owners such as Hendrick, Penske and Gibbs. That’s why France and France Kennedy’s combined attendance at the team owner council meeting this month was seen as an important indicator.
The revenue split is only one of two negotiations NASCAR is facing this year but it could be the harder of the two, because when it comes to negotiating the deal with media companies, NASCAR and its advisers say they like their hand. The sport has continued to hold its own in a crowded sports media landscape, finishing the 2022 Cup Series season up 4% in viewership from 2021 to an average of 3.04 million.
Led by NASCAR’s Phelps, there has been a new sense of experimentation in the sport, with its first stadium race, held last year at the L.A. Coliseum, and finalized plans for its first street circuit race, set for this summer in Chicago. Moreover, to show it isn’t abandoning its past, NASCAR will take its All-Star Race back to North Carolina’s historic North Wilkesboro Speedway this year as part of its 75th anniversary.
“We are extremely bullish on NASCAR,” said Alan Gold, partner and head of sports media at Evolution Media Capital. “Their audience is a massive, passionate fan base that consistently tunes in week after week. With viewership up year-over-year, and NASCAR’s continued innovation both on and off the track, there is tremendous momentum heading into their rights discussions.”
Lange summed up how important it is that NASCAR and the teams eventually come to terms.
“They depend on each other, and with this deal, they both have much to gain — and just as much to lose — depending on how well they work together.”
New Apps Aim to Douse the Social Media Dumpster Fire – Scientific American
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After Elon Musk’s recent acquisition of Twitter, many habitual tweeters announced their intentions of switching to other social platforms. Some blamed their defection on fears of an increase in hate speech and misinformation on the site. But even before the takeover, social media platforms such as Twitter already had a major problem that was driving users away: they make people miserable.
So some companies are developing new social apps that aim to foster a positive online environment—and they have gained a significant number of users. But despite their good intentions, these new platforms may be interpreted simply as marshmallows toasting over the metaphorical “dumpster fires” of social media: They can make the experience taste a little sweeter, but without a shift in people’s behavior, these alternatives might just melt into the unavoidable flames.
On most social platforms, users can browse through a seemingly endless series of posts, which are ordered by algorithms. The software prioritizes content that will keep people scrolling, so it promotes posts that draw “engagement” in the form of likes, shares or comments. This gives an edge to divisive or outrageous content that grabs attention, whether or not that attention is negative. As a result, many people feel compelled to keep scrolling through their feed, even as it serves up posts that inspire disgust, fatigue and depression. But giving up a platform altogether can cut people off from their friends and even induce anxiety. In an attempt to foster a more positive online atmosphere, apps such as Facebook and Twitter continually adjust their moderation policies, but this has not entirely eliminated misinformation or hateful content. That’s because the very format of these platforms—an algorithm-driven news feed that rewards posters for stirring up negative emotions—incentivizes these types of posts.
Now there are other options. Last year two social apps that eschew this format rose to popularity. These apps, called Gas and BeReal, both eliminate certain elements of other social media platforms: algorithms that spotlight controversial content and an endless feed that encourages people to spend too much time on the app. Gas rewards only positive content, while BeReal sets strict limits on how often users can post. And that’s not the only way they aim to improve the digital experience.
Gas, named after “gassing up,” a slang term for complimenting someone, tries to cut down on toxic social media discourse by amplifying positivity. App users earn digital rewards by voting for the best compliments about their friends in anonymous polls. As stated on its website, Gas’s developers Nikita Bier, Isaiah Turner and Dave Schatz “wanted to create a place that makes us feel better about ourselves.” The app also emphasizes privacy: it doesn’t allow direct messaging—a common channel for bullying and harassment—and the polls are populated with automatically generated compliments and voted on anonymously (although paid app subscribers can view select voters’ initials). This blue-sky approach seems to be working. Though the app is only available in 12 states, and only on iPhones, Gas has already had more than five million downloads since its launch last August, at one point overtaking the popular social media platform TikTok as the number-one download from Apple’s App Store. Amid Gas’s popularity, in mid-January popular social and messaging platform Discord announced it had purchased the app.
Some people may gravitate toward Gas because they know that they will only see good things on it, according to David Bickham, a pediatric medicine instructor and research scientist at the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. He says a positive social experience comes from “moving toward [app] designs that increase the autonomy of the user, giving them more control over the type of content that they’re exposed to.” But some experts are wary that even apps like Gas, which seem to have good intentions for users, can still create sustained negative impacts. For instance, education writer Alyson Klein pointed out in a recent Education Week article that Gas polls could be used as a popularity contest or even a sarcastic jab, such as by praising someone for a talent they clearly are bad at, leading to bullying and hurt feelings. Last year, social media and technology writer Neil Hughes wrote in Cybernews, “Conditioning our minds and behavior toward constant approval from online engagement or being mentioned in a Gas poll could arguably increase anxiety rather than remove it.” Other critics don’t feel right about using compliments as a type of digital currency, or “datafying” this positive practice, in the words of Mariek Vanden Abeele, a professor of digital culture at Ghent University in Belgium. “What is difficult for me is that you’re commodifying the act of giving a compliment,” she says. “As soon as you start datafying the behavior, you risk losing something.” Gas initially responded to an inquiry from Scientific American but has not provided specific comment at press time.
Rewarding compliments is not the only way applications are trying to foster positivity. The new platform BeReal, for instance, emphasizes authenticity and time limits. It strives for an authentic experience by giving users one random two-minute window daily in which to post an unfiltered photograph. And only after a user has made their daily post can they see what others posted.
Bickham says this more authentic experience “is really important because it’s sort of a requirement for the type of openness necessary for positive interactions.” For adolescents still trying to find their identity, BeReal may offer a safe place to explore. “We have an idea that being authentic is like being your true self,” Bickham says. Like Gas, this app’s positive approach seems to be meeting with some success. Co-founded by Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau in 2020, BeReal took off in popularity last September and gained about 50 million downloads globally in 2022.
BeReal is not without its own controversy, however. Its notifications can produce pressure to post every day. This pressure to participate in social media communication, which Vanden Abeele and others call “online vigilance,” can easily cause anxiety in users. Experts have also expressed concerns that BeReal’s alerts may come at inappropriate or intrusive times. Furthermore, the two-minute time limit adds more pressure to post, especially when users want to view what others have posted. Some may already be experiencing this kind of pressure: only 9 percent of Android phone users who downloaded BeReal opened the app last August, September and October. BeReal declined to comment on this story.
On their own, these apps are unlikely to completely solve many of the problems that plague social media as a whole. But people can still have a better online experience by changing the way they use any social platforms. Nearly all the experts interviewed for this article recommend less passive scrolling and more active connection. “When you think about apps that … lower our sense of well-being, it’s often because the apps either add friction—think tech glitches, digital overload, or cyberbullying—or they pull us away from being our best selves, causing us to be more distracted, less rested, less focused or less connected to others,” says Amy Blankson, CEO of the mental health and productivity consulting organization Digital Wellness Institute.
“Overall, positively and actively interacting with friends—by messaging them, sending them videos, etcetera—on social media may be better than just passively scrolling a central news feed, where you may feel jealous of influencers who appear to have everything,” says Lisa Walsh, a social psychology and happiness researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Although Hughes previously criticized some aspects of these positivity-focused apps, he does note that the rise in their popularity may represent a shift in attitudes toward social media—at least among younger users. “It feels like kids know that obsessing over somebody else’s highlight reel is a waste of time and that nobody has a perfect life,” he says. “As a result, they crave a more authentic experience and collaborate and lift others up rather than making it all about themselves.” That’s a mindset that might make all of us happier socially. Or, as Hughes puts it, “Maybe their parents could learn a thing or two from their kids.”
Ashley Judd returning to therapy after media published photos – CTV News
Ashley Judd says she had to re-enroll herself in trauma therapy to cope with the recent media coverage of her mother’s death.
Country musician Naomi Judd, a five-time Grammy winner, died by suicide in April last year after a long battle with anxiety and depression. She was 76.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper published Monday, Judd said she thought she was done with Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy — a type of psychotherapy used to target underlying trauma — until she was forced to revisit her trauma when media outlets published pictures of the scene of her mother’s death and the contents of a suicide note.
“I re-enrolled myself … just to make sure that my healing was concretized and stout and was going to hold,” the “Double Jeopardy” actress said.
Following Naomi Judd’s death, her family unsuccessfully petitioned to seal reports and recordings made by police during the course of their investigation.
Last August, Judd — who discovered her mother after she suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound — opened up about her family’s experience in an essay for the New York Times, titled “Ashley Judd: The Right to Keep Private Pain Private.”
“The trauma of discovering and then holding her laboring body haunts my nights,” she wrote at the time. “As my family and I continue to mourn our loss, the rampant and cruel misinformation that has spread about her death, and about our relationships with her, stalks my days.”
Judd is now lobbying for a change to Tennessee law to limit access to confidential records pertaining to non-criminal deaths, to prevent other families from going through the same trauma.
“The dark past, in God’s hands, becomes our greatest asset,” she said of her advocacy. “With it, we can avert misery and death for others.”
However, Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, told the Times Free Press in December that the bill would further impinge on the public’s right to have critical information related to law enforcement investigations “when police were investigating one of their own.”
Despite this opposition, Judd told the Guardian she is hopeful the bill will pass when it is brought before the legislature for consideration.
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