The WIR: Disney Shareholders Sue for Disney+ Deception, VAB Accuses Nielsen of Favouring Amazon, and CNN Picks Mark Thompson as CEO

Tim Cross 01 September, 2023 

In this week’s Week in Review: Disney shareholders say the House of Mouse misled them about the health of Disney+, the VAB accuses Nielsen of “tipping the scales” in Amazon’s favour, and Mark Thompson takes the helm at CNN.

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Disney Shareholders Sue for Disney+ Deception

Disney shareholders are suing the company, Forbes reported on Tuesday, over claims the entertainment giant deceived investors about the financial health of Disney+. The suit alleges that a series of “wrongful acts and omissions” led to the “precipitous decline in the market value” of Disney shares, which hit a nine-year low last week.

According to the lawsuit, Disney’s top executives have “repeatedly misled investors” about the extent of the streaming service’s losses since December 2020. The suit names Disney CEO Bob Iger, as well as former CEO Bob Chapek and CFO Christine McCarthy.

The filing accuses the execs of misrepresenting Disney+’s financial future in 2020, when they predicted that by 2024, the SVOD service would be in profit and have 230-260 million subscribers. As of June 2023, Disney+ had 146 million subscribers, with the streaming unit posting a $512 million loss.

The company also hid “the true costs of the platform”, according to the lawsuit, by shifting shows’ marketing and production costs from Disney+ to its TV networks. This included debuting shows on linear channels, the filing claims, even those billed as streaming originals.

VAB Accuses Nielsen of Tipping Scales in Amazon’s Favour

The Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) has asked Nielsen not to go ahead with plans to incorporate Amazon’s own data into its measurement of some of Amazon’s programming, saying that Nielsen risks tipping the scales in Amazon’s favour.

Nielsen and Amazon both provide viewing figures for Amazon’s broadcasts of Thursday Night Football NFL games in America. Last year, Nielsen’s panel-based projections were significantly lower than Amazon’s data, and this year the two have agreed a deal which will incorporate Amazon’s data into its own ratings.

But the VAB says this gives Amazon an unfair advantage, particularly compared with other media companies which broadcast NFL games. In a letter sent to Nielsen, the trade group described the deal as “a highly valued, highly visible, ultra-competitive multibillion-dollar sports content arena; changes that will greatly benefit one Nielsen client (Amazon) while negatively impacting multiple Nielsen clients (all remainder NFL programmers, distributors & ad sellers”.

Nielsen however said the step to include data provided by the media owners themselves is a necessary one as it updates its methodologies for the streaming era. “We believe that our principled, transparent and open approach to integrating first-party data requires all publishers to play by the same rules and will accelerate the industry’s move toward a streaming-first world,” said Nielsen’s CEO of audience measurement business Karthik Rao.

Mark Thompson Named CNN CEO

Sir Mark Thompson, former BBC Director General, has been appointed chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide. He replaces Chris Licht after a tumultuous 13 months that included sexual assault scandals and the closure of CNN+ after one month in operation.

Thompson will guide the news network through election season, reporting to Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) CEO David Zaslav. “There isn’t a more experienced, respected or capable executive in the news business today than Mark, and we are thrilled to have him join our team and lead CNN Worldwide into the future,” said Zaslav.

Alongside his time at the BBC, Thompson has also worked as CEO and president of The New York Times, where he oversaw much of the newspaper’s digital transition. Thompson will similarly be tasked with guiding CNN through its own digital transformation, following its failed experiment with CNN+.

The Week in Tech

A+E Networks Taps TVision for Measurement Across CTV and Linear

US broadcaster A+E Networks will use TVision’s Total View platform to measure person-level viewing across CTV and linear, according to StreamTV Insider. TVision, an audience measurement vendor, launched Total View earlier this year to provide “apples-to-apples” comparison of multiple platforms in a single view. “TVision provides subscribers with the ability to analyse network scores — both individually and grouped — for viewability, attention and co-viewing in both linear and CTV environments,” said Suzanne Persechino, SVP Ad Sales Research at A+E. “These metrics — and the flexibility of having multiple platforms in one view — enable A+E Networks to demonstrate how attention leads to action and truly understand the quality and value of audience impressions.”

AdBlock Owner Acquires Revenue Recovery Business Blockthrough

Eyeo, the parent company of AdBlock, has acquired Blockthrough, a Canadian firm that works to recover revenues lost through ad blocking. Blockthrough enables sites to serve ad-block users with ads that meet certain standards for non-intrusiveness and quality. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the companies said Blockthrough’s 50 employees will join eyeo, which has 250 staff. “Earlier in our history, eyeo was seen as a controversial digital media and marketing disruptor,” said eyeo CEO Frank Einecke. “Adblock Plus, the company’s key product, was initially denounced as an impediment to publishers and advertisers. Instead, it ended up serving as a ‘wake-up call’ – one that has led to an industry-wide recognition that the web must be a user-first environment in order for all stakeholders to thrive. Blockthrough’s technology is in lockstep with this line of thinking, giving consumers an online ad experience they’ve agreed to, while allowing publishers to recoup revenue otherwise lost. This leads to a win-win for publishers, advertisers and users.”

X Reverses Ban on Political Advertising Ahead of US Elections

X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday announced it will allow political advertising in the US, reversing a global ban the company introduced in 2019. The move could be designed to attract ad revenues in the wake of large declines since Elon Musk’s takeover, but has raised fresh concerns over misinformation around the US elections. X said in a blog post it was committed to “prohibiting the promotion of false or misleading content, including false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election.”

Bidstack and Venatus Team Up for In-Game Advertising

Bidstack, an in-game advertising company, has announced a commercial partnership with Venatus, a gaming-focused publisher monetisation business. The agreement will give Venatus exclusive access to Bidstack’s video game ad inventory across the US, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia and South Korea. “Venatus offers brands multiple touchpoints with consumers within, next to and around video games,” said Venatus CEO and co-founder Rob Gay. “With the rapid growth of intrinsic in-game advertising, we now partner with experts in the format and add another string to our bow on behalf of our customers.”

The Week in TV

Max to Introduce CNN Streaming Service

Max, the Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) streaming service, will launch a CNN news hub on 27th September. The service will feature 24/7 news coverage from its linear CNN channels alongside original content exclusive to Max. The move follows the closure of the short-lived CNN+ service last year. “CNN Max is differentiated by having 24/7 news at its core from CNN, the leading global news organisation, and being available on a scaled streaming service in the US, which has a significantly younger and additive audience compared to traditional TV,” said JB Perrette, CEO and President, Global Streaming and Games, at WBD.

Thomas Rabe Hits Out at Proposed HFSS Advertising Ban in Germany 

RTL CEO Thomas Rabe has criticised plans by the German government to crack down on junk food ads, the FT reported on Wednesday. Food and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir has proposed a ban on advertising HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) products to children, effective 5pm-10pm on weekdays and during additional slots on weekends.

Rabe called the policy “overdone, it’s disproportional, and it’s ideological — and there’s no proper scientific basis for banning advertising, hoping that this will have an impact on the health of people and young people in particular. But the effect on the industry and the effect on companies that rely on advertising is significant.” His comments follow advertising losses at RTL, prompting the broadcaster to cut its full-year guidance in August.

The proposed ban is similar to one in the works in the UK, which has similarly met backlash from media owners and advertisers alike. As a result, the UK HFSS has been pushed back multiple times in order to give the industry time to prepare – it’s now not due to come into force until October 2025.

Amazon Freevee Adds UKTV and NBCUniversal Channels to FAST Line-Up

Amazon Freevee has added free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels from UKTV and NBCUniversal in the UK. This marks the Comcast-owned broadcaster’s first FAST foray outside the US, including channels dedicated to The Real Housewives and Xena: Warrior Princess. The AVOD service also plans to add five channels from Amazon-owned MGM later this autumn. 

“Choice Fatigue” Makes 20 Percent of Viewers Give Up on Watching TV

Viewers spend an average 10.5 minutes looking for what to watch, according to Nielsen’s 2023 State of Play Report. And one in five viewers said this “choice fatigue” has made them give up and do something other than watch TV. The research found there were almost 40,000 channels available across FAST services, streaming providers and aggregators, with 1,434 individual FAST channels available in the US, UK, Canada, Mexico and Germany. Across the same markets, the number of unique titles available on cable and streaming is 2.7 million (up from 1.88 million in 2021), 87 percent of which are available on streaming services.

VideoElephant Launches Two FAST Channels on Plex

VideoElephant, a video distribution firm, has launched two FAST channels on the Plex streaming service. Beyond Paranormal and Travel Escapes are available in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and are included in Plex’s featured content for an initial launch period. “These channels showcase our commitment to providing captivating content that resonates with viewers’ diverse interests,” said VideoElephant CRO Brian Cullinane. “With the power of Plex’s platform and our curated content, this represents a significant milestone in our goal of bringing great content to screens everywhere. We look forward to entertaining and enriching the viewing experience of Plex users across multiple countries.”

RTL Debuts HbbTV App for n-tv News

German news broadcaster n-tv is launching an HbbTV app, parent company RTL announced on Wednesday. The app enables viewers to call up the latest news and videos directly on their TV screen via the red button, according to the company. “Our new app makes it even more intuitive to access the most important news in text and images as well as news videos at any time,” said Bianca Wannemacher, Chief Product Officer, Digital News Products at RTL News. “Our advertising partners also have even better options for addressable, attention-grabbing placement of their messages.”

Channel 4.0 and e.l.f Trial Branded Series and Ecommerce Campaign

Channel 4 has partnered with cosmetics company e.l.f for a branded series and ecommerce campaign. Featuring fashion influencer Adeola Patronne, Ready or Not?! will air on Channel 4.0, the broadcaster’s digital brand. Shoppable links will display alongside each episode, enabling viewers to purchase products as they appear in the show. The partnership was brokered by 4Sales Content Lead Jodie Miles and e.l.f.’s media agency Wavemaker.

Bertelsmann Maintains Positive Outlook Despite RTL Declines

RTL-owner Bertelsmann Group has stuck to its full-year financial forecast, despite RTL lowering its guidance last month. Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe said he expects full-year revenues around €21 billion, with portfolio effects compensating for the adverse advertising conditions affecting the TV business. The parent company generated revenues of €9.7 billion in the first six months of the year, up 4.5 percent on H1 2022.

The Week for Publishers

Publishers Slow to Adopt IAB Video Standards

Adoption of new IAB-backed standards for video ad transparency is low among publishers, Adweek reported this week, with some SSPs reporting that only between 20-30 percent of publishers they work with are using the standards. The new standards set new definitions for in-stream and out-stream video, giving buyers a better view into what they’re actually buying. But these classifications have the potential to lead to a revenue hit for some publishers, contributing to the low uptake.

The Independent Seeks Further US Expansion

UK newspaper The Independent is targeting further expansion in the US, following a leadership reshuffle. The newspaper announced this week that current CEO Zach Leonard will move across to a new role as chief operating officer and president in the US, where he will help develop the brand and business in America. Meanwhile Christian Broughton, previously managing director, will become CEO.

Publishers Block ChatGPT Code

A number of publishers have inserted code on their websites blocking OpenAI’s web crawler GPTBot from scanning their content, CNN reported this week. Reuters, The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Axios are among those who have taken the step, designed seemingly to protect their content from being used to train OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Europol Warns 90 Percent of Online Content Will be AI-Generated by 2026

A report from law enforcement group Europol cites experts saying that as much as 90 percent of all online content might be “synthetically-generated” by 2026, being either generated or manipulated via AI. Europol’s report said this could cause increased problems around the spread of disinformation and trustworthiness of online news sources.

Cosmopolitan Axes CosmoTrips Ecommerce Product

Hearst-owned magazine Cosmopolitan is shutting down CosmoTrips, a holiday booking product it launched last year, Adweek reported this week. CosmoTrips represented a new income stream for the company, but the product has been shuttered following a series of leadership changes within Hearst.

UK Publishers Ask Prime Minister to Protect Against AI IP Theft

The UK’s Publishers Association has written a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asking him to take action to protect publishers from theft of their intellectual property by AI systems. The letter asked Sunak to ensure that UK IP law is respected whenever content is ingested by AI systems, and that licenses for that content must be obtained in advance.

The Week For Brands & Agencies

ASA Cracks Down on Junk Carbon Offsets

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is cracking down on green claims made by advertisers which are based on ineffective carbon offsets, Bloomberg reported this week. The ASA’s media and public affairs manager Matt Wilson told Bloomberg that some organisations are making carbon neutral and net zero claims which are “entirely unqualified”, and that the ASA is taking “proactive action immediately”.

M&C Saatchi Founders Signal Faith in Agency’s Direction

Three of M&C Saatchi’s four founders have collectively invested £1 million in the company’s stock, Sky reported this week, signalling their collective faith in the agency’s direction. Their increased investment (which takes their total holdings to around six percent of the company) comes as ex-Future CEO Zillah Byng-Thorne prepares to take the reigns as executive chair.

Stagwell’s Gale Expands Gaming Capabilities

Stagwell-owned agency Gale has formed a new strategic partnership with gaming-specialist agency Moonrock Labs to expand its own gaming capabilities, Digiday reported this week. The partnership will combine Moonrock’s game development capabilities with Gale’s integrated marketing offering and client base, to create branded gaming experiences.

Havas Entertainment Wins Dr Martens’ EMEA Media Business

Havas Entertainment has been picked by footwear brand Dr Martens as its lead EMEA agency for comms strategy and media implementation, covering markets including the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. Havas Entertainment won the account following a competitive pitch process.

Initiative Launches New Zealand Office

Interpublic Group media agency Initiative is launching in New Zealand, having been appointed to handle media duties for New Zealand bank ASB. The local agency will be called Initiative Aotearoa – and will handle media strategy, planning, and buying across all channels for the bank.

Hires of the Week

EE’s Bridget Lea to Lead Snap UK

Snap, the Snapchat parent company, has named Bridget Lea as General Manager for the UK. Lea spent three years as Managing Director of Commercial for EE, BT’s consumer division.

The Independent Appoints Christian Broughton as New CEO

The Independent this week announced the appointment of Christian Broughton, formerly the newspaper’s managing director, as its new chief executive. Meanwhile Zach Leonard, the previous CEO, will become the company’s global chief operating officer and president in the US.

Publicis Bolsters Commerce and Retail Media with UK Appointments

Publicis Media has announced two senior hires in the UK: Steve Ricketts as Chief Commerce Officer, and Ian Black as Head of Retail Media. The appointments are aimed at building the group’s commerce and retail media capabilities across its media agencies, Zenith, Starcom and Spark Foundry.

Brightcove Promotes Scott Levine to CPO

Brightcove, a streaming technology company, has promoted Scott Levine to Chief Product Officer. Levine was previously SVP and Head of Product. Prior to Brightcove, he was SVP of product and Technology at TelevisaUnivision.

Innovid Names Sarah Ripmaster SVP Strategic Accounts

Innovid, a CTV ad tech business, has appointed Sarah Ripmaster as SVP Strategic Accounts. Ripmaster has more than 20 years of industry experience, including sales roles at, IBM Watson and Neustar.

This Week on VideoWeek

Embattled Disney India to Run Ads on Free Cricket on Mobile Devices

‘Data Pods’ are Breaking Down Barriers to Media Collaboration – Can they Fuel a Broadcaster Fightback?

NBCUniversal Names Mark Marshall Ad Sales Chief Following Linda Yaccarino Departure

What Went Wrong With Viaplay’s International Strategy?

The Independent Appoints Christian Broughton as New CEO

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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