The WIR: Publicis Plans €300 Million AI Investment, Skydance Media Makes a Bid for Paramount, and Sky’s UK&I CEO Steps Down

Tim Cross 26 January, 2024 

In this week’s Week in Review: Publicis plans AI investment after a strong 2023, Skydance makes a bid for Paramount, and Stephen van Rooyen leaves Sky.

Top Stories

Publicis Plans €300 Million AI Investment Following Strong 2023 

Publicis plans to invest €300 million in AI, the agency holding group said in its preliminary earnings report on Thursday. The French firm aims to put AI at the “core” of its business, allowing all 100,000 staff to use “trillions of data points about content, media, and business performance” in order to optimise media planning and ad personalisation.

Publicis also pre-released its 2023 earnings, which came in above the group’s guidance. The company reported 6.3 percent YoY organic growth for the full year, with 5.7 percent growth in Q4. Full results will be published on 8th February.

“The platform organisation we have built over the last decade, our proprietary data of unmatched breadth and accuracy, and the 45,000 engineers, consultants and data analysts at the heart of our model, uniquely position us to push the boundaries even further by leveraging AI,” said Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun.

Skydance Media CEO David Ellison Mounts Paramount Bid

David Ellison, CEO of Skydance Media, has made a preliminary offer to buy National Amusements, the holding company that controls Paramount Global. The offer comes just one month after Warner Bros. Discovery was reported to have entered talks of its own with Paramount over an acquisition of the business.

Skydance Media is a production business which has co-financed a number of Paramount Pictures’ biggest films over the last ten years, including Top Gun: Maverick, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, and Star Trek Beyond. Ellison was first reported to be looking for a way to acquire Paramount Pictures and merge it with his own company at the end of last year. The move would be significant in seemingly shutting down the potential for a WBD/Paramount merger.

Sky UK Chief to Depart After 20 Years

Stephen van Rooyen, Sky UK and Ireland CEO and Group CCO, has announced his departure from the pay-TV giant after almost 20 years. Sky Group CEO Dana Strong will take over his remit.

Having joined Sky in 2006, Van Rooyen took over Sky’s operations in Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland in 2020, but recently dropped those duties to focus on the UK and Ireland. Rumours that Sky could sell its German and Italian operations continue to circulate, while the UK business aims to keep hold of Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) content that poses a flight risk to WBD’s Max service.

“I have taken the decision that now is the right time for me to leave Sky,” said van Rooyen. “The business today has everything it needs to compete to win. We have strong leadership, led by Dana, a world-class team and a fantastic plan.”

The Week in Tech

Microsoft to Cut 1,900 Jobs at Activision Blizzard and Xbox

Microsoft is laying off 1,900 employees at Activision Blizzard and Xbox, according to an internal memo from Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming. The cuts, which affect around 8 percent of the department, come in the wake of Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard. “As part of this process, we have made the painful decision to reduce the size of our gaming workforce by approximately 1900 roles out of the 22,000 people on our team,” said Spencer.

Index Exchange Announces Omnichannel Platform ‘Marketplaces’

Index Exchange, an ad exchange business, has announced a new omnichannel platform called Marketplaces. Currently in beta testing, Marketplaces enables advertisers to integrate with demand-side platforms (DSPs) across CTV, display and mobile app, without the need for duplicate integrations to the same media owners. “The launch of Marketplaces marks the beginning of a new era in programmatic integrations; one that’s more dynamic, efficient, and streamlined,” said Andrew Casale, president and CEO of Index Exchange.

Titan OS Launches New Operating System for Philips TVs

Titan OS, a new European tech firm, has unveiled its operating system for smart TVs. The OS will launch on Philips and AOC TVs in Europe and Latin America in the coming months. Founded by former employees from Disney, Roku, Rakuten TV and KKR, the Barcelona-based company also houses a dedicated advertising division.

TikTok Cuts Advertising Jobs in Latest Tech Layoffs

TikTok has laid off at least 60 staff, predominantly in the sales and advertising division, becoming the latest in a line of major tech companies to make job cuts. The redundancies largely affect teams in the US, according to a company spokesperson, where TikTok has around 7,000 employees. Parent company ByteDance has more than 150,000 staff in total. The precise breakdown of the roles affected is unknown, with conflicting reports suggesting the layoffs could exceed 100 jobs. Read on VideoWeek.

Cedara and Assertive Yield to Tackle Ad Emissions for Publishers

Cedara, a carbon data business, and Assertive Yield, an ad revenue management company, have teamed up to help publishers reach net zero emissions. The partnership positions Cedara as preferred sustainability partner for Assertive Yield clients, who can use Assertive Yield’s Traffic Shaping technology to optimise and reduce bid requests. “Bid requests represent a large amount of emissions for publishers and inefficient bid optimisation is something that can be tackled via Assertive Yield,” said David Shaw, CEO of Cedara. “Together, we’re providing publishers with the necessary tools to make a significant impact on their carbon emissions.”

Nielsen Braces for More US Job Cuts

Measurement giant Nielsen is planning further job cuts, according to AdAge, following a 9 percent workforce reduction in September. The planned layoffs are expected to affect US roles as the company prepares to offshore jobs to India, Mexico and Poland. Nielsen’s financial woes include a $300 million revenue shortfall, and $11 billion in debt stemming from its privatisation in 2022.

Whistleblower Blasts Meta for Inaction on Teen Safety 

A whistleblower has blasted Meta for not doing enough to safeguard children following the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017, the Guardian has reported. Arturo Béjar, former senior engineer and consultant at Meta, conducted research into teen Instagram use. He found that 8.4 percent of 13-15-year-olds had seen someone harm themselves or threaten to harm themselves in the past week. “If they had learned the lessons from Molly Russell, they would create a product safe for 13-15-year-olds where in the last week one in 12 don’t see someone harm themselves, or threaten to do so,” said Béjar.

The Week in TV

TV Ad Spend Expected to Return to Growth This Year

UK ad spend reached £9.6 billion in Q3 2023, according to the latest Expenditure Report from the Advertising Association (AA) and WARC. And while TV spending remained in decline, it is expected to return to growth this year. Ad spend climbed by 15.9 percent YoY during July through September 2023, following two consecutive quarters of suppressed growth. TV registered a three percent drop year-on-year during Q3, but there were optimistic signs for TV advertising in the year ahead, with TV spend forecast to rise by 1.4 percent in 2024. Read more on VideoWeek.

Netflix Adds 13.1 Million Subs, Phases Out Cheapest Ad-Free Tier

Netflix added 13.1 million subscribers in Q4 2023, the streaming giant announced on its earnings call, with revenues of $8.8 billion. The company also revealed that its ad-funded user base grew by 70 percent during the quarter, but said its ad revenues remained immaterial to its overall business. Netflix has started phasing out its Basic tier, the cheapest ad-free plan, as the Basic with Ads tier has captured 40 percent of new subs in markets where it has launched.

Peacock Revenues Surpass $1 Billion in Q4, Grows Subscriber Base by 50 Percent

Peacock, the Comcast-owned streaming service, grew its subscriber base by 50 percent YoY during Q4 2023, bringing the total to 31 million subs. Quarterly revenue also climbed 57 percent YoY, surpassing $1 billion. Comcast’s pay-TV and internet business, which includes Sky and Xfinity, fared less well, losing 111,000 customers during the quarter. Overall revenue at Comcast climbed 2.3 percent YoY.

Zee Reportedly Backs Out of Disney Cricket Deal 

Zee Entertainment has walked away from its cricket deal with Disney, Reuters reported on Thursday. The agreement would have seen Zee pay $1.4 billion for Indian Premier League (IPL) TV rights, while Disney retained streaming rights. But now insiders claim that the Indian company “completely reneged on the rights.” The deal is said to have been scuppered by the collapse of Zee’s merger with Sony, which the Japanese firm terminated on Monday.

Cost is Most Important Factor When Choosing Streaming Services, Finds Kantar Media

Cost is the most important criteria for consumers when choosing streaming services, Kantar Media revealed this week. From a survey of 80,000 people in 33 countries, more viewers (49 percent) said they select their streaming service based on price than content (43 percent). The data also suggested that wealthier consumers are more likely to search for the products they see advertised.

Sony Terminates Zee Merger as Streaming Competition Intensifies in India

Sony this week called off its merger with Zee Entertainment, putting an end to a deal two years in the making. Zee has said it plans to take legal action against the Japanese tech company. Sony agreed to acquire a majority stake in the Indian media firm in 2021, with the aim of creating a $10 billion entertainment giant. The merged entity was estimated to become the second-largest entertainment network in India in terms of combined revenues. But Sony has now terminated the agreement, following an intense series of negotiations over the weekend, citing concerns around Zee’s financial performance, with the Indian video market stifled by recent advertising shortfalls. Read on VideoWeek.

Nordic Telco Telia in Talks to Sell TV Business

Nordic telco Telia is in talks to sell its TV division TV4, Affärsvärlden reported on Tuesday. The company is reportedly in discussions with Egmont, Schibsted and Bonnier, which sold TV4 Group to Telia for SEK10 billion in 2019. Reports suggest the telco is seeking to sell TV4 for around half the amount it paid, and could fetch as little as SEK3-4 billion.

TF1 PUB to Strengthen Brand Relationships Through New Department 

TF1 PUB, the French broadcaster’s sales house, has created a Brands and Development Department, led by Dimitri Marcadé, Sales Director, Independent Agencies & Business Development at TF1 PUB. The division is designed to strengthen relationships with brands, secure new customers, and support advertisers and independent agencies. Also this week, the commercial broadcaster reported that TF1+, the streaming service launched on 8th January, has registered a 70 percent increase in daily users compared to the MYTF1 service in 2023.

The Week for Publishers

G/O Media Looks to Offload its Portfolio

Digital publishing group G/O Media is looking for buyers for its individual titles, which include Quartz, The Root, Kotaku, The Onion, and Deadspin, as the owner looks to back out of the publishing business according to Adweek. Sources told Adweek that the holding group had previously sought to offload its entire portfolio to one buyer. But having been unable to find a suitor, it’s now looking to sell individual titles.

Reach Outlines Three Pillar Plan for Cookie-Free Advertising

UK publishing group Reach, owner of the Mirror and Daily Star newspapers, plans to lean on three pillars for ad targeting and measurement once third-party cookies are no longer available in Chrome: first-party data, its own AI-powered contextual tool, and industry ID solutions. Reach’s group director of digital Terry Hornsby told Press Gazette that the company is already prepared to use these three pillars to replace cookies, and that he is “upbeat” about the company’s prospects for the post-cookie era.

Business Insider Cuts Eight Percent of Staff

Axel Springer-owned publication Business Insider has told staff it is laying off eight percent of its workforce. Chief executive Barbara Peng said in a note to staff that the cuts are due to a strategic realignment for the company, which will require it to cut back in some areas. This is the second major round of layoffs in less than a year – last April Business Insider let go of ten percent of its US staff.

Sports Illustrated Plans Layoffs and Faces Questions Over Future Amid Licensing Troubles

Sports Illustrated is planning significant layoffs after Arena Group, which publishes the magazine, failed to make an owed payment to Authentic Brands Group, the business from which it licenses the right to publish Sports Illustrated. As a result of this failed payment, the licensing deal between the two companies has now been terminated – leaving the future of the magazine in doubt.

Edelman Survey Finds Low Trust in UK Media

The UK has seen the steepest drop in the public’s trust of news media in the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, with the UK now at the bottom on Edelman’s ranking of 28 countries. Just 31 percent of survey respondents in the UK said they trust the media, six percentage points down from the previous Barometer. Of all 28 countries, only 13 have a trusted media (where more than half of the population say they trust the media).

RedBird IMI Takeover of The Telegraph Comes Under Further Scrutiny

Investment group RedBird IMI’s proposed takeover of The Telegraph has come under fresh scrutiny from the UK government, the FT reported this week, over the company’s plans to rework its corporate structure. RedBird has proposed a new corporate structure to assuage the government’s concerns about how the Saudi-backed fund might influence the editorial output of The Telegraph. But the UK’s culture department has now asked regulators Ofcom and the CMA to review whether this whole new structure requires fresh scrutiny.

The Week For Brands & Agencies

Dentsu Agrees Generative AI Tech Deal with Amazon

Japanese holding group Dentsu this week announced it has extended its relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS) by adopting two key services – Amazon Bedrock and Amazon SageMaker – to further scale its use of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI). Dentsu says that using these two tools will enable it to more easily and more quickly deploy third-party and open source models across its product and engineering teams. This will in turn enable Dentsu to more quickly build its own AI tools and functionalities for itself and its clients.

GroupM Launches Tool to Help Marketers Avoid AI Inefficiency

WPP’s media investment arm GroupM has launched a new tool, the AI Marketing Maturity Model, designed to help marketers transition to using AI tools in an efficient manner. The model, developed within GroupM Nexus, assesses marketers’ current readiness for implementing AI tools across six different areas, and advises which sorts of tools and AI investments are most appropriate. The model has initially launched in North America and the UK, and will roll out in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Italy, Portugal and Australia. Read on VideoWeek.

Unilever Launches Global Media Review

Unilever has launched a global review of its media planning and buying duties, most of which are currently held by WPP’s Mindshare, Campaign reported this week. Mindshare will compete to retain its share of Unilever’s duties according to Campaign, with Unilever representing a key client for the agency.

“Now is Not the Time to Pull Back on Marketing” says P&G After Strong Q2

Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s largest FMCG brands, recommitted to increasing its advertising and marketing spend following a strong quarter for the company. P&G saw significant volume growth in its core markets of the US and Europe during the final quarter of the year, which were up four percent and three percent respectively despite substantial price rises. And on an earnings call following the results, executives waved off suggestions that it might cut the amount of profit it reinvests in marketing activity. Read more on VideoWeek.

IPA Agency Census Finds Slow Progress, and Some Regression, on Diversity

Industry trade group the IPA published results of its annual agency census this week, finding slow progress – and some regression – in diversity among its member agencies. The percentage of women in C-suite positions rose very marginally, from 37.5 percent to 37.9 percent. The gender pay gap fell to 15.2 percent, from 17.4 percent in 2022. But ethnic diversity declined, with the percentage of employees from a on-white background down from 23.6 percent to 23.3 percent. And the ethnicity pay gap in favour of white employees grew from 21.1 percent in 2022 to 21.6 percent last year.

Sir Martin Sorrell Warns of Advertiser Caution Continuing in 2024

Sir Martin Sorrell, executive chairman of S4 Capital, warned this week that he expects advertiser caution, which hit S4’s revenues throughout 2023, to continue into 2024. “While it is early in the year, we are not expecting 2024 to show macro-economic improvement, and client caution on marketing spend will likely persist, although not at last year’s level given interest rates are likely to fall over time,” Sorrell said in an update to investors.

Havas Agencies at Risk of Losing B Corp Status Over Shell Account

Four Havas agencies are at risk of being stripped of their B Corp status, which signifies high performance on social and environmental issues, due to Havas’ recent win of Shell’s media account. Havas immediately came under attack for its decision to pitch for Shell’s account, with some claiming that working with Shell would be incompatible with Havas’s B Corp Status. And B Lab Global, the certification body behind B Corp status, is reviewing Havas agencies, Adweek reported this week.

Hires of the Week

GroupM Names Sharb Farjami North America CEO

GroupM, WPP’s media investment arm, has appointed Sharb Farjami as North America CEO. He previously served as North America CEO at Wavemaker, playing a key role in establishing the GroupM agency in the region. 

Digitas UK Appoints Matt Lodder COO

Digitas UK, a Publicis agency, has named Matt Lodder as its new Chief Operating Officer. Lodder previously spent seven years as MD at R/GA, an IPG agency, before founding the consultancy Ourika.

This Week on VideoWeek

Sony Terminates Zee Merger as Streaming Competition Intensifies in India

GroupM Launches Tool to Help Marketers Avoid AI Inefficiency

TikTok Cuts Advertising Jobs in Latest Tech Layoffs

Netflix Takes Step into Live Sports with $5 Billion WWE Deal

“Now is Not the Time to Pull Back on Marketing” says P&G After Strong Q2

TV Ad Spend Expected to Return to Growth This Year

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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