The WIR: RTL Reports Ad Downturn, Group Black Bids $400 Million for Vice, and Azerion Co-CEO Steps Down

Tim Cross 17 March, 2023 

In this week’s Week in Review: Streaming rises but ad revenues fall for RTL, Group Black makes an offer for Vice, and Azerion’s co-CEO steps down amid a shareholder investigation.

Top Stories

Streaming Growth Helps Cover TV Ad Downturn for RTL Group
European broadcasting group RTL Group released its full year financial results this year, reporting 8.8 percent full-year growth in revenues, and 1.6 percent organic revenue growth, despite a 4.4 percent drop in TV advertising revenues.

RTL attributed the drop in TV ad revenues to “the challenging economic environment”, but said the year overall was a strong one for the business, as other revenue streams made up for the loss.

Production was one of the stronger areas, as revenues from production business Fremantle grew 21.9 percent year-on-year. RTL expects growth to continue, targeting full year revenues of €3 billion for Fremantle in 2025.

And the company’s investment in streaming is also paying off, with streaming revenues up by 19.7 percent. RTL says it now has 5.5 million paying subscribers across its streaming services RTL+ and Videoland, up from under four million at the end of 2021. This marks significant progress towards its target of 10 million subscribers in 2026.

Group Black Makes $400 Million Bid for Vice Media
Group Black, a business which invests in Black-owned media companies, has submitted a $400 million bid to buy Vice Media, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Vice Media has been seeking a buyer to help it out of tough financial straits. The company owes millions of dollars to vendors, some of whom have called in collection agencies, according to the journal. But the company’s asking price has proved a sticking point.

The company has originally been seeking a $1.5 billion valuation, a significant downgrade from its peak valuation of $5.7 billion. But talks with Greek broadcasting group Antenna Group never resulted in a sale. But there has been interest in the media brand – Group Black is not the only company to have submitted a bid, with various offers for either all of Vice Media or parts of the business under consideration.

Azerion Co-CEO Steps Down During Shareholder Investigation
Gaming and entertainment holding company Azerion saw its co-CEO and founder step aside this week, while the firm undergoes investigation by the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM). The venture capital company said the investigation is focused on the shareholders of Principion, including co-CEO Atilla Aytekin who will temporarily leave his role. Principion is Azerion’s largest shareholder. 

Though it has not offered details, AFM is said to be investigating possible contravention of article 15 of the Market Abuse Regulation, which states: “It is prohibited to manipulate the market or attempt to manipulate the market.” This includes offering false or misleading information about the pricing of a financial instrument or publicly traded shares, as well as artificially pumping up the price.

The Dutch-Turkish firm is fully cooperating with the investigation, it said in a statement. Azerion’s stock price fell by 20.77 percent following the announcement.

The Week in Tech

Mediahub Selects Unruly as Preferred SSP
Tremor International’s Unruly has been selected by IPG Mediabrands’ agency Mediahub as a preferred supply-side platform (SSP), meaning Mediahub will funnel more spend through Unruly as part of its supply-path optimisation efforts. Mediahub says it chose Unruly thanks to its own efforts to forge direct relationships with publishers, its access to automatic content recognition (ACR) data, and its place within the wider Tremor International tech stack.

Belgium’s Data Authority Agrees to Suspend IAB Europe’s Timeline for Rewriting the TCF
IAB Europe this week announced that Belgium’s data protection authority, the APD, has suspended its six-month deadline for IAB Europe to rethink its Transparency and Consent Framework, a widely used technical specification for collection and passing user consent through digital advertising supply chains. The announcement means that IAB Europe won’t have to make any immediate changes to the TCF. Read more on VideoWeek.

UK Bans TikTok on Government Devices
The UK has banned TikTok on government devices amid security concerns over the Chinese social media app. Similar measures have recently been introduced in the EU, US and Canada, while a US senate bill stands to give the government powers to ban foreign technology deemed a risk to national security. UK Cabinet Secretary Oliver Dowden said he would not advise the public against using TikTok, but they should “consider each social media platform’s data policies before downloading and using them.”

Channel 4 Adds Xandr’s Invest DSP
Channel 4 has added Xandr to its suite of demand-side platforms (DSP), the UK broadcaster announced on Thursday. Invest DSP will allow advertisers to deliver targeted digital campaigns across All 4, for both programmatic guaranteed and non-guaranteed inventory. “In the broadcaster space, we know that content reigns supreme, so we’re pleased to be able to connect Channel 4’s rich content library, programmatically, to buyers using Invest DSP,” said Adam Lynch, Head of Broadcaster Partnerships at Xandr. “Through this collaboration, we’re helping our buyers make meaningful connections with their audience, in an environment where they are most engaged, while also bringing unique sets of demand from advertisers to our broadcasters.”

Meta to Cut 10,000 More Jobs, Explores Twitter-Style Social App
Meta has announced plans to cut another 10,000 jobs, after making 11,000 redundancies last year. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called 2023 “a year of efficiency” after the company lost 65 percent of its share price in 2022; its revenues also fell 1 percent YoY as economic pressures hit digital advertising. “I think we should prepare ourselves for the possibility that this new economic reality will continue for many years,” Zuckerberg said in a memo to employees. Also this week, Reuters reported that Meta is exploring plans for a new social media app to rival Twitter, whose own staff and ad revenues have been decimated since Elon Musk’s takeover. The proposed social network would allow users to share text updates, with a view to displace Twitter as the world’s “digital town square”.

Facebook Misused Personal Data for Advertising Finds Dutch Court
Facebook violated data privacy laws between 2010 and 2020, a Dutch court ruled this week. According to the class action ruling, Meta’s Irish subsidiary improperly used personal data of Dutch citizens. “Personal information was processed for the purposes of advertising when in this case that is not allowed,” the ruling said. “Personal information was given to third parties without Facebook users being informed and without there being a legal basis to do so.” The case will proceed to potentially claim damages from the tech giant.

FTC Pushes Social Media and Streaming Firms for Info on Misleading Ads
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has ordered social media and video streaming firms to provide information on their procedures for checking misleading ads. Meta, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Snap, Twitch and Pinterest are required to show ad revenues and viewing figures, especially for categories of products and services prone to deception. “Social media has been a gold mine for scammers who tout sham products and other scams that have cost consumers enormously in recent years,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau. “This study will help the FTC ensure that social media and video streaming companies are doing everything they can to keep scammers and deceptive ads off their platforms.”

The Week in TV

Netflix Explores Taking Ad Tech In-House
Netflix is considering alternative options for its advertising operations, Digiday reported this week. Apparently disappointed by the fruits of its partnership with Microsoft, the streaming giant is now exploring in-housing its ad tech at the end of its current two-year deal. Netflix has reportedly hired former FreeWheel CPO Jon Whitticom to advise on whether to ‘“build or buy”.

ITVX Kids to Replace CITV
ITV will shut down its kids channel CITV later this year, the commercial broadcaster has announced. The 40-year-old channel will be replaced by ITVX Kids on the company’s BVOD service. The news follows decreasing linear revenues at ITV while digital revenues continue to climb. “We’re really excited to launch this dedicated destination for kids on ITVX, which will be home to a wealth of content including new series, recognisable brands and existing favourites for a range of ages, all in one child-safe area, with editorial curation to guide viewing,” said Craig Morris, Managing Editor at ITVX. “The wealth of content will be available to stream for free, with the option for parents to choose ad free viewing, through a subscription to ITVX Premium.”

Serie A in Talks to Acquire Sky Italia
Italian football league Serie A is in talks to purchase Sky Italia from Comcast, La Stampa reported on Monday. The Italian daily suggested the league was looking to set up a proprietary Serie A TV offering, but Comcast is reluctant to sell the broadcaster. Serie A then downplayed the notion, with president Lorenzo Casini saying there was “nothing concrete” to report.

WBD Launches Warner Pass on Prime Video France
Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) has launched the “Warner Pass” on Prime Video in France. The pass grants Prime subscribers access to a library of WBD content on Prime Video Channels, including HBO, Warner TV, Toonami and Adult Swim. All remaining WBD channels will be available by April.

ITV Introduces Recovery Budget Planner Tool for Advertisers
ITV has unveiled a new Recovery Budget Planner tool for advertisers. Commissioned by ITV AdLabs and built using independent data from Magic Numbers, the web-based tool shows advertisers the expected impacts of different advertising budget scenarios, including market share, sales and profit. “Many marketers struggle to make a simple case for investment using existing academic-style studies so the Recovery Budget Planner makes the theory actionable and easy to apply to a brand’s specific situation,” said Kate Waters, ITV Director of Client Strategy & Planning.

ORF Implements Bitmovin Player for Streaming Across Devices
Austrian public broadcaster ORF has implemented the Bitmovin Player, allowing the PSB to stream content across mobile and smart TV devices. Bitmovin also provides ORF with real-time analytics to monitor streaming issues and performance metrics. “Deploying Bitmovin’s technology expands our ability to provide our viewers with our content, no matter where they are or which devices they are using,” said ORF CTO Harald Kräuter. “As our audience diversifies the devices and platforms that they are using, it is crucial that we stay at the forefront of technology.”

The Week for Publishers

The Daily Mail Joins Google News Showcase
The Daily Mail & General Trust has signed up to Google News Showcase, Google’s vehicle for paying publishers whereby publishers create bespoke news content for Google’s news platform. The deal will see content from Mail Online in the UK and Australia, as well as the Metro, iNews, and the New Scientist, appear on News Showcase. The Independent Community News Network, which represents the UK’s independent news sector, has also signed up to Showcase.

Video Ad Revenues Double for National World
UK local news publishing group National World saw revenues drop in 2022, down £1.9 million year-on-year to £84.1 million, though profits rose thanks to cost cutting measures. But while overall revenue was down, digital revenues grew, with video ad revenues a particular bright spot, doubling year-on-year according to Press Gazette.

Dotdash Meredith Pens Video Content Deal with Pinterest
US publishing group Dotdash Meredith, which owns titles including Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, and Allrecipes, has agreed a deal with social sharing platform Pinterest which will see it create video content specifically for the platform. Dotdash Meredith will create nearly 200 vertical videos for Pinterest, which will be aligned annual moments, including holidays and wedding seasons.

Reach Plans Substantial Changes in Face of “Attention Recession”
UK news publisher Reach is preparing significant changes to its operations, including staff cuts, as it continues to battle with tough economic conditions. Press Gazette reported that Reach told staff in a group-wide email that inflation, a challenged consumer economy, and advertising headwinds are forcing the company to make tough decisions. The email also referenced an “attention recession” which is hurting audience retention.

BuzzFeed Seeks to Up Content Amid Revenue Struggles
BuzzFeed News’s editor-in-chief Karolina Waclawiak has asked newsroom staff to create more content, in an effort to boost traffic and revenues. The publisher has seen declining revenues, and BuzzFeed News loses money, according to the Wall Street Journal. BuzzFeed is also refocusing its content strategy according to the journal, focusing more on daily news and major breaking stories, rather than long-form investigations. And while these long-form reports will still be produced, BuzzFeed will prioritise those which can serve as a basis for documentaries.

Meta Will End News Access if Canada Passes Publisher Payments Law
Meta has said it will stop allowing news content to be shared on its platform in Canada if the Canadian government passes the Online News Act in its current form. The Online News Act would force platforms such as Google and Meta to agree commercial deals with publishers in order to host links and snippets of those publishers’ content on their platforms. Google has already trialled restricting access to news content in response to the proposed law.

The Week For Agencies

GroupM Tops Ranking of Media Agency New Business Wins and Retention
WPP’s media arm GroupM has topped COMvergence’s ranking of total new business wins and client retention among global media agencies in 2022. The report found that GroupM won 23 percent of total review media spend last year, bringing in $4.02 billion in new business, while retaining $3.02 billion.

Global Marketing Industry Conducts DEI Census
Marketing and advertising professionals from around the world were invited on Wednesday to take part in the industry’s second global DEI census, measuring their views on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry. The census, run by a consortium of trade bodies and trade press, will be open until April 15th, with results expected to be released in June this year.

Ferrero Reviews EMEA Media Accounts
Italian confectionery manufacturer Ferrero is reviewing its EMEA media accounts, affecting more than 70 markets, Campaign reported this week. Publicis handles a lot of Ferrero’s EMEA business, including the UK, Ireland, and Ferrero’s home market of Italy.

IPA Charts Falling UK Engagement with Commercial Media
The commercial media usage of Great Britons is declining, with consumers spending the best part of an hour less time consuming curated commercial media since 2015, and a quarter of an hour less than pre-lockdown 2020, the IPA reported this week. Meanwhile, there is a 29 percent fall in the similarity of media habits between the generations year-on-year as consumers revert to behaviour seen before the pandemic in 2020. The findings come in the IPA’s latest ‘Making Sense of Commercial Media’ report.

US Ad Business Lost 1,000 Jobs in February
The number of people employed in advertising, public relations, and related services in the US dropped by 1,000 in February, according to AdAge‘s analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This puts total employment in the sector at around the same level it hit six months ago – but still comfortably above the pandemic lows.

WFA Releases Guide for DMA and DSA Implementation
The World Federation of Advertising this week released a guide to questions relating to the Digital Service Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), two pieces of EU legislation which are entering their implementation period. The laws will set new standards around online platforms and publishers’ responsibilities around content and privacy.

Hires of the Week

VMLY&R Commerce Grows Global Executive Team
WPP’s VMLY&R Commerce has made a number of changes to its global executive team. Ivan Mayes has been promoted to global chief technology officer, Charlie Wade has been appointed as global executive director of growth and innovation, and Aisha Krupski has been picked as global commerce lead.

Accenture Song Names New Co-Chiefs
Accenture’s advertising business Accenture Song has named Zoe Eagle and Will Hodge as its new co-chiefs, heading up the London-based creative business.

This Week on VideoWeek

VOD Revenues to Overtake Satellite in Two Years in Western Europe, Research Suggests, read on VideoWeek

Addressable TV Ads Reach a Fifth of All French Households, read on VideoWeek

Belgium’s Data Authority Agrees to Suspend IAB Europe’s Timeline for Rewriting the TCF, read on VideoWeek

Mediaset España Shareholders Approve MFE Merger, read on VideoWeek

Ad of the Week

Apple, Quiet the Noise

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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