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Why Media & Tech Layoffs Are Skyrocketing

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Less than one month into 2023, and the flurry of layoff headlines continues to make heads spin.

After getting hit the hardest in 2022, the momentum has carried over into the new year for the tech sector. According to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 2022’s total of 97,171 was the highest number of total job-cut announcements in tech since 2002.

Just in the first 20 days in January, the tech sector announced over 31,000 job cuts including 10,000 jobs being slashed at tech giant Microsoft and a whopping 12,000 at Alphabet, not to mention Alphabet, Spotify and Salesforce. And from November to January 20, the tech sector announced 100,114 job cuts, according to Challenger.

Tech enjoyed the longest bull market in history, with low interest rates creating the perfect growth environment. Those picture-perfect economic conditions yielded high profits and allowed for bloated headcount at mega-cap tech companies over an 11-year period.

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However, the economic environment darkened over the past year as the Federal Reserve began rapidly increasing short-term interest rates, making borrowing costs surge. That impact was felt across all industries. Long gone is the free-money era for Big Tech.

Feeling the pressure, tech, along with other sectors, have decided to cut costs to focus on healthy balance sheets. Unfortunately for employees, reducing headcount and selling off office space are some of the first measures taken, thus why the biggest spikes in layoffs occur in recessionary periods.

Meanwhile in the media sector, despite the steady layoff headlines, the group has been holding up relatively well compared to tech. The media sector announced 3,774 job cuts in 2022, which was a 5% year-over-year decrease. However, within media, news saw a 20% spike in job cuts from 2021, according to Challenger.

Media layoffs can be attributed to a few key factors including recent M&A, macroeconomic headwinds, the broader industrywide shift from linear to streaming and the advertising recession.

As is typical during economic downturns, advertising is usually the first to feel the pain. It played out that way in 2022, and the trouble for the industry will continue into 2023. As a result, many of the job cuts seen in the media sector as of late were across advertising and marketing positions.

Those advertising woes also spread to digital media outlets sites such as Vox, Vice and Buzzfeed. Editorial positions were slashed as these sites found it extremely difficult to continue growing their bottom lines while maintaining headcount. Furthermore, companies like Vice are still looking for a buyer as the digital news players look to consolidate further.

Despite the spike in scary high-profile layoff headlines, the job losses among skilled white-collar workers does not accurately illustrate the broader labor market story in the U.S. Amid the negative economic data points, the labor market has been the bright spot in the U.S. economy.

In December, the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate ticked lower to 3.5%. The labor market is tight, and employers are still having trouble finding qualified skilled workers to fill open positions, which is why most tech and media workers have been finding new work rather quickly after getting let go.

Nevertheless, the layoff announcements are likely to continue until the Fed eases up on its pace of rate hikes this year. With fourth-quarter earnings season kicking into high gear in the upcoming weeks, investors will get a better sense of how the media and tech landscapes are faring. Any details about how the companies are projecting their financials in 2023, and how the cost-cutting measures have impacted those forecasts will be key in determining the outlook for the sectors.

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Algeria media guide

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A man reads an Algerian French-language newspaper in AlgiersGetty Images

The Algerian media are less free and less diverse than in some other North African countries. The authorities have blocked websites and detained journalists since the start of the Hirak protest movement in early 2019.

Parliament has passed a law criminalising fake news.

Privately-owned channels receive the lion’s share of viewers. State TV and radio steer clear of critical voices and dissenting views.

Popular privately-owned satellite TV channels operate alongside the state broadcaster. Officials aim to regularise the status of “offshore” private TV stations, which use foreign-owned satellites and do not fall under Algerian law.

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With the exception of online stations, the state has a monopoly in the radio sector.

Foreign media are also subject to government interference. In 2021, the government withdrew France 24’s authorization to operate and revoked the accreditation of Saudi media outlet Al Arabiya.

There were 37 million internet users by December 2021, comprising 83% of the population (Worldintnetstats.com). Facebook is the leading social network with 26 million subscribers by April 2022.

Press/internet

  • Echorouk – Arabic-language newspaper
  • El Khabar – Arabic-language newspaper
  • El Massa – Arabic-language newspaper
  • El Watan – French-language newspaper
  • El Moudjahid – French language newspaper
  • The North Africa Journal – English language news site covering North Africa and the Sahel
  • Twala – French language independent news website set up by Algerian journalists
  • 24H Algerie – A French and English language independent news website

Television

  • Algerie 3 – TV news channel run by the state owned broadcaster EPTV
  • Ennahar TV – Arabic language satellite television channel
  • Echourouk TV – Arabic language satellite television channel
  • El Bilad TV – Arabic language satellite television channel

Radio

  • Radio Algérienne – public radio broadcaster, it manages three national broadcast stations
  • Radio Corona Internationale – US-based internet radio news channel offers a mix of music, news and commentary in Arabic and French
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How The Trade Desk went from media agency BFF to frenemy

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The Trade Desk was once seen by agencies as the helpful, friendly alternative to the might and heft of Google when buying inventory programmatically. Seems those happy days have faded in recent months, as several media agencies complain the ad-tech firm has become less transparent, more expensive to use — and perhaps so big that they have begun to fear it.

Why fear it? Because The Trade Desk has made efforts over the last year to generate a closer and more direct relationship with brands — media agencies’ clients. But also because, besides seeking out negotiating clout on their own, there’s not much media agencies can do since The Trade Desk has become such an important part of programmatic buying and selling of inventory.

None of the media agencies or analysts Digiday reached for this story would speak for attribution, due to continued existing relationships with The Trade Desk (TTD).

A TTD representative refuted the agencies’ complaints, saying the firm has done nothing different in the last year that would provoke them — and added that no agencies have voiced complaints about these issues.

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“Our agency partners are our closest allies in the transformation of the media business to a more data-driven ecosystem built on trust, transparency, and objectivity within the open internet,” said the representative.

For many agency traders, TTD’s concentration of power is both from a business perspective, because it performed more consistently than, and grew steadily relative, to other vendors, but also because it did a solid job early on of positioning itself as the anti-Google (whose DV360 is a rival to TTD) and a champion of the open web.

Now the tables are almost turned, not only because agencies point to poorer customer service assistance from TTD, but improved customer service from Google. That latter development may have more to do with Google experiencing its first-ever revenue downturn in 2022, which has perhaps necessitated a kinder and friendlier approach to agencies and clients. Still, the end result, to media agencies, is that TTD comes across as less helpful than it used to be.

So what are the complaints?

Direct outreach to clients around agencies

All the agencies reached for this story agreed TTD is approaching clients more directly. One pointed to The Trade Desk’s increasingly close relationship with Walmart as a direct threat.

In February 2022, TTD launched OpenPath, which worked with a number of publishers to provide advertisers with direct access to their inventory. Agencies are grumbling this effectively cuts them out of the buy-sell equation. (Although one agency exec noted TTD’s move hurts other programmatic vendors more than it hurts agencies.)

TTD sees it quite differently. “To help our agency clients drive objective value in digital advertising, The Trade Desk has long pioneered and championed supply chain improvements that increase transparency, most recently with the launch of OpenPath,” responded TTD’s rep. “As a result, the relationships and alignment on the buy-side that we have with our agency clients have never been stronger.”

Inflated fees

One agency exec said TTD completely changed how they charge for data, shifting from a CPM fee to a percentage of media fee. Another agency corroborated that, saying that fees for data that’s essential to making investments smart, valuable and effective end up costing considerably more than they used to, as much as double the cost of other (non-Google) DSPs.

A third exec expressed frustration TTD charges “a significant amount of fees” in order to use its UID 2.0 solution (TTD’s proposed post-cookie identifier solution), and doesn’t leave room for negotiation — they’re simply put forth as take it or leave it. (TTD’s rep responded that there are no fees for UID 2.0 and that it’s open-sourced.)

TTD responds that the take rate for fees has actually stayed the same at around 20% over the last eight years, at 21.1% in 2014, and fluctuating slightly up and down in ensuing years and most recently at 19.4% in 2022.

Increasing opacity in its products/services

One programmatic expert at an agency noted that TTD is apparently not participating in a Google-led program that aims to bring more transparency to the DSP process — called “Confirming Gross Revenue.” The expert did acknowledge that Google and TTD are direct competitors in the DSP space, but still felt that not participating equated to having something to hide.

“We’ve built our platform to enable our clients to apply data that make their digital ad buys precise and transparent,” said TTD’s rep.

In the end, it will most likely come down to size and negotiation. If your holding company is big enough, you will likely be able to negotiate on the fees. The smaller the agency, the less wiggle room it will have to cut deals. But the whole idea of programmatic is that it’s non-guaranteed, noted one agency exec, so locking in pricing defeats the purpose.

But it’s possible that other DSPs and programmatic vendors will have the chance to gain a little ground here, said one analyst observing the tension between the two sides. Some agencies are designed to work around a programmatic workflow, and that will mean having to either work with what TTD offers — or try to find it elsewhere.

One agency executive at a programmatic specialty shop disagreed with most of the other agencies’ arguments, chalking up the sentiments to resentment about clout. “Whether it’s The Trade Desk or Google or Amazon, people tend to not like it when platforms become very powerful,” said the exec “Nobody likes losing leverage.”

The exec did acknowledge that all DSPs, not just TTD, need to reconsider the amount of fees applied to larger guaranteed campaigns that don’t involve retargeting, frequency capping or other work DSPs do.

“I kinda could get comfortable with paying 20% of my media budget through a DSP for that retargeting campaign, but I’m not at all comfortable paying 20% of my TV budget to a DSP that’s just a workflow tool,” said the exec.

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ChatGPT’s Mind-Boggling, Possibly Dystopian Impact on the Media World

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Is artificial intelligence “useful for journalism” or a “misinformation superspreader”? With CNET mired in controversy, Jonah Peretti promising “endless opportunities,” and Steven Brill warning of AI’s weaponization, the industry is only just coming to grips with this jaw-dropping technology.

 

ChatGPTs MindBoggling Possibly Dystopian Impact on the Media World
By Yifei Fang/Getty Images.

A couple weeks ago, in his idiosyncratic fan-correspondence newsletter, “The Red Hand Files,” musician and author Nick Cave critiqued a ”song in the style of Nick Cave”—submitted by “Mark” from Christchurch, New Zealand—that was created using ChatGPT, the latest and most mind-boggling entrant in a growing field of robotic-writing software. At a glance, the lyrics evoked the same dark religious overtones that run through much of Cave’s oeuvre. Upon closer inspection, this ersatz Cave track was a low-rent simulacrum. “I understand that ChatGPT is in its infancy but perhaps that is the emerging horror of AI—that it will forever be in its infancy,” Cave wrote, “as it will always have further to go, and the direction is always forward, always faster. It can never be rolled back, or slowed down, as it moves us toward a utopian future, maybe, or our total destruction. Who can possibly say which? Judging by this song ‘in the style of Nick Cave’ though, it doesn’t look good, Mark. The apocalypse is well on its way. This song sucks.”

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Cave’s ChatGPT takedown—“with all the love and respect in the world, this song is bullshit, a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”—set the internet ablaze, garnering uproarious coverage from Rolling Stone and Stereogum, to Gizmodo and The Verge, to the BBC and the Daily Mail. That his commentary hit such a nerve probably has less to do with the influence of an underground rock icon than it does with the sudden omnipresence of “generative artificial intelligence software,” particularly within the media and journalism community.

Since ChatGPT’s November 30 release, folks in the business of writing have increasingly been futzing around with the frighteningly proficient chatbot, which is in the business of, well, mimicking their writing. “We didn’t believe this until we tried it,” Mike Allen gushed in his Axios newsletter, with the subject heading, “Mind-blowing AI.” Indeed, reactions tend to fall somewhere on a spectrum between awe-inspired and horrified. “I’m a copywriter,” a London-based freelancer named Henry Williams opined this week for The Guardian (in an article that landed atop the Drudge Report via a more sensationalized version aggregated by The Sun), “and I’m pretty sure artificial intelligence is going to take my job…. [I]t took ChatGPT 30 seconds to create, for free, an article that would take me hours to write.” A Tuesday editorial in the scientific journal Nature similarly declared, “ChatGPT can write presentable student essays, summarize research papers, answer questions well enough to pass medical exams and generate helpful computer code. It has produced research abstracts good enough that scientists found it hard to spot that a computer had written them…That’s why it is high time researchers and publishers laid down ground rules about using [AI tools] ethically.”

BuzzFeed, for one, is on it: “Our work in AI-powered creativity is…off to a good start, and in 2023, you’ll see AI-inspired content move from an R&D stage to part of our core business, enhancing the quiz experience, informing our brainstorming, and personalizing our content for our audience,” CEO Jonah Peretti wrote in a memo to staff on Thursday. “To be clear, we see the breakthroughs in AI opening up a new era of creativity that will allow humans to harness creativity in new ways with endless opportunities and applications for good. In publishing, AI can benefit both content creators and audiences, inspiring new ideas and inviting audience members to co-create personalized content.” The work coming out of BuzzFeed’s newsroom, on the other hand, is a different matter. “This isn’t about AI creating journalism,” a spokesman told me.

Meanwhile, if you made it to the letters-to-the-editor section of Wednesday’s New York Times, you may have stumbled upon one reader’s rebuttal to a January 15 Times op-ed titled, “How ChatGPT Hijacks Democracy.” The rebuttal was crafted—you guessed it—using ChatGPT: “It is important to approach new technologies with caution and to understand their capabilities and limitations. However, it is also essential not to exaggerate their potential dangers and to consider how they can be used in a positive and responsible manner.” Which is to say, you need not let Skynet and The Terminator invade your dreams just yet. But for those of us who ply our trade in words, it’s worth considering the more malignant applications of this seemingly inexorable innovation. As Sara Fischer noted in the latest edition of her Axios newsletter, “Artificial intelligence has proven helpful in automating menial news-gathering tasks, like aggregating data, but there’s a growing concern that an over-dependence on it could weaken journalistic standards if newsrooms aren’t careful.” (On that note, I asked Times executive editor Joe Kahn for his thoughts on ChatGPT’s implications for journalism and whether he could picture a use where it might be applied to journalism at the paper of record, but a spokeswoman demurred, “We’re gonna take a pass on this one.”)

The “growing concern” that Fischer alluded to in her Axios piece came to the fore in recent days as controversy engulfed the otherwise anodyne technology-news publication CNET, after a series of articles from Futurism and The Verge drew attention to the use of AI-generated stories at CNET and its sister outlet, Bankrate. Stories full of errors and—it gets worse—apparently teeming with robot plagiarism. “The bot’s misbehavior ranges from verbatim copying to moderate edits to significant rephrasings, all without properly crediting the original,” reported Futurism’s Jon Christian. “In at least some of its articles, it appears that virtually every sentence maps directly onto something previously published elsewhere.” In response to the backlash, CNET halted production on its AI content farm while editor in chief Connie Guglielmo issued a penitent note to readers: “We’re committed to improving the AI engine with feedback and input from our editorial teams so that we—and our readers—can trust the work it contributes to.”

For an even more dystopian tale, check out this yarn from the technology journalist Alex Kantrowitz, in which a random Substack called “The Rationalist” put itself on the map with a post that lifted passages directly from Kantrowitz’s Substack, “Big Technology.” This wasn’t just some good-old-fashioned plagiarism, like Melania Trump ripping off a Michelle Obama speech. Rather, the anonymous author of “The Rationalist”—an avatar named “PETRA”—disclosed that the article had been assembled using ChatGPT and similar AI tools. Furthermore, Kantrowitz wrote that Substack indicated it wasn’t immediately clear whether “The Rationalist” had violated the company’s plagiarism policy. (The offending post is no longer available.) “The speed at which they were able to copy, remix, publish, and distribute their inauthentic story was impressive,” Kantrowitz wrote. “It outpaced the platforms’ ability, and perhaps willingness, to stop it, signaling Generative AI’s darker side will be difficult to tame.” When I called Kantrowitz to talk about this, he elaborated, “Clearly this technology is gonna make it a lot easier for plagiarists to plagiarize. It’s as simple as tossing some text inside one of these chatbots and asking them to remix it, and they’ll do it. It takes minimal effort when you’re trying to steal someone’s content, so I do think that’s a concern. I was personally kind of shocked to see it happen so soon with my story.”

Sam Altman, the CEO of ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI, said in an interview this month that the company is working on ways to identify AI plagiarism. He’s not the only one: I just got off the phone with Shouvik Paul, chief revenue officer of a company called Copyleaks, which licenses plagiarism-detection software to an array of clients ranging from universities to corporations to several major news outlets. The company’s latest development is a tool that takes things a step further by using AI to detect whether something was written using AI. There’s even a free browser plug-in that anyone can take for a spin, which identifies AI-derived copy with 99.2% accuracy, according to Paul. It could be an easy way to sniff out journalists who pull the wool over their editors’ eyes. (Or, in the case of the CNET imbroglio, publications that pull the wool over their readers’ eyes.) But Paul also hopes it can be used to help people identify potential misinformation and disinformation in the media ecosystem, especially heading into 2024. “In 2016, Russia had to physically hire people to go and write these things,” he said. “That costs money. Now, the cost is minimal and it’s a thousand times more scalable. It’s something we’re definitely gonna see and hear about in this upcoming election.”

The veteran newsman and media entrepreneur Steven Brill shares Paul’s concern. “ChatGPT can get stuff out much faster and, frankly, in a much more articulate way,” he told me. “A lot of the Russian disinformation in 2016 wasn’t very good. The grammar and spelling was bad. This looks really smooth.” These days, Brill is the co-CEO and co-editor-in-chief of NewsGuard, a company whose journalists use data to score the trust and credibility of thousands of news and information websites. In recent weeks, NewsGuard analysts asked ChatGPT “to respond to a series of leading prompts relating to a sampling of 100 false narratives among NewsGuard’s proprietary database of 1,131 top misinformation narratives in the news…published before 2022.” (ChatGPT is primarily programmed on data through 2021.)

“The results,” according to NewsGuard’s analysis, “confirm fears, including concerns expressed by OpenAI itself, about how the tool can be weaponized in the wrong hands. ChatGPT generated false narratives—including detailed news articles, essays, and TV scripts—for 80 of the 100 previously identified false narratives. For anyone unfamiliar with the issues or topics covered by this content, the results could easily come across as legitimate, and even authoritative.” The title of the analysis was positively ominous: “The Next Great Misinformation Superspreader: How ChatGPT Could Spread Toxic Misinformation At Unprecedented Scale.” On the bright side, “NewsGuard found that ChatGPT does have safeguards aimed at preventing it from spreading some examples of misinformation. Indeed, for some myths, it took NewsGuard as many as five tries to get the chatbot to relay misinformation, and its parent company has said that upcoming versions of the software will be more knowledgeable.”

Brill isn’t worried about ChatGPT and its ilk putting skilled reporters out of work. He told me about a final paper he assigns for his journalism students at Yale, in which they have to turn in a magazine-length feature and list “at least 15 people they interviewed and four people who told them to go fuck themselves. There is no way they could do that assignment with ChatGPT or anything like it, because what journalists do is interview people, read documents, get documents leaked to them.” Still, Brill continued, “One of the assignments I give them on the second or third week is a short essay on how Watergate would have played out differently in the internet age, because Bob Woodward comes in as a guest for that session. I asked ChatGPT to answer that question, and the answer I got was this banal but perfectly coherent exposition. The difference is, you didn’t have to interview or talk to anyone. So maybe it’ll put some op-ed columnists out of work.”

As for Kantrowitz, getting plagiarized by bots hasn’t turned him into a ChatGPT hater. “I’m still super bullish on generative AI, and I still think it can be useful for journalism,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll use it when I’m stuck on a story, and I never include [the AI-generated text] in the story, but it can get my brain going, and that’s helpful. If you think about how it will impact journalism in next two or three years, the likely answer is, quite minimally. But as this technology gets better at scouring the internet and taking information, as its writing gets better, we’ll start to see a world where it can produce better writing and analysis than most professional reporters. If you’re doing original reporting and unearthing things people don’t already know, you’re probably gonna be okay. But if you’re an analysis person, let’s say, 20 years down the road, you might need to find something else to do.”

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