The WIR: Vice to Shutter Website, Google Expands GenAI in Performance Max, and FuboTV Sues Sports Streaming JV

Tim Cross 23 February, 2024 

In this week’s Week in Review: Vice plans to shut its website, Google adds GenAI capabilities to Performance Max, and FuboTV sues Disney, Fox and WBD over their sports joint venture.

Top Stories

Vice Cuts Hundreds of Jobs and Plans to Shutter its Website

Vice Media is planning to cut hundreds of jobs, and to stop publishing content on its website, as it looks to cut costs. The media business, once valued at $5.7 billion, filed for bankruptcy last May, and was bought by Fortress Investment Group. Since then the company has been looking to establish a sustainable business model.

Chief executive Bruce Dixon said in a memo to staff that Vice will continue making content, but will partner with other media companies to distribute it.  It will also focus more on distributing content and reaching audiences through its social channels. “It is no longer cost-effective for us to distribute our digital content the way we have done previously,” he said in a memo to staff. As a result of this new model, the company is reducing its workforce by “several hundred” workers.

Vice is also in “advanced discussions” to sell Refinery29, the female-focused media company it bought for $400 million back in 2019.

Google Folds More Generative AI Capabilities into Performance Max

Google has announced it is adding more generative AI capabilities into Performance Max, its tool for advertisers which optimises and runs campaigns across inventory sold by Google.

The tech giant began folding generative AI into PMax at the end of last year, with AI-powered text and image asset generation and image editing. These features are now being rolled out globally. Google is also now folding Gemini, its most advanced AI model, into the ad tool. This will improve asset generation, and also enable more complex generation of long headlines and sitelinks. And the company plans to integrate Imagen 2, its next generation of image generating AI, into PMax as well.

However Gemini’s image generation capabilities came under scrutiny this week, after examples popped up on social media of the AI model creating images with odd, historically inaccurate racial diversity. Diversity has often been a problem for AI tools, as biases present across the datasets they feed on have caused a lack of diversity in their output. But Google’s attempts to remedy this resulted in Gemini forcing diversity in inappropriate places – for example creating images of racially diverse Nazi soldiers when prompted to create an image of a 1943 German soldier. Google paused image generation on Gemini following the criticism.

FuboTV Sues Disney, Fox and WBD Over Joint Streaming Offering

FuboTV, a sports streaming service, has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery. The suit alleges that the companies have attempted to block Fubo’s streaming business, with their upcoming streaming joint venture the latest example of this campaign. 

According to the filing, the trio also charges Fubo more for content than other distributors, suggesting coordinated efforts to eliminate competition in the sports-first streaming market. Fubo claims it has incurred billions of dollars in damages as a result. 

“Each of these companies has consistently engaged in anticompetitive practices that aim to monopolise the market, stifle any form of competition, create higher pricing for subscribers and cheat consumers from deserved choice,” said Fubo CEO David Gandler.

The Week in Tech

RTL and ProSieben Combine Ad Tech Stacks in Latest Push for European Collaboration

RTL Deutschland and ProSiebenSat.1 this week announced they will combine their ad tech offerings in efforts to bolster the German ad market. The move will “technically link” RTL’s Smartclip and ProSieben’s Virtual Minds. This will allow advertisers to run campaigns on both broadcasters platforms, including linear TV and their streaming services, RTL+ and Joyn from ProSieben. The companies are aiming to grow their revenues by making it easier for advertisers to buy programmatically across their offerings, while driving technical innovation in ad sales. Read more on VideoWeek.

Walmart Ramps Up Ads Business with $2.3 Billion Vizio Acquisition

US retailer Walmart has announced it will acquire Vizio, a Smart TV manufacturer, in a deal worth $2.3 billion. The agreement sees Walmart pay $11.50 per share in cash. The move marks Walmart’s most significant play in the world of TV advertising, a space it has been increasingly exploring over the last few years. The company said that ownership of Vizio’s SmartCast operating system (OS) enables Walmart to connect advertisers with TV viewers via its ad-supported streaming service, WatchFree+. Read more on VideoWeek.

Cyber Criminals Are Turning to Ad Tech for Malware Measurement  

Cyber criminals are increasingly using ad tech to deploy and measure malware scams, according to cybersecurity firm HP Wolf Security. One example involves using an ad network as a proxy in malicious email campaigns, in order to evade detection and collect analytics on click rates. “Cyber criminals are applying the same tools a business might use to manage a marketing campaign to optimise their malware campaigns, increasing the likelihood the user will take the bait,” said Ian Pratt, Global Head of Security at HP.

TikTok Faces EU Investigation Over Content Rules, Ad Transparency, and Addictive Design

The European Commission has confirmed it has opened an investigation into short-form video app TikTok into numerous potential breaches of the new Digital Services Act. The Commission said the investigation relates to areas regulated by the DSA including protection of minors, advertising transparency, data access for researchers, and risk management of addictive design and harmful content. The investigation will gather further evidence before ruling whether TikTok has breached the rules or not. If it is found guilty, the consequences could be very significant – the DSA enables the EU to impose fines of up to six percent of a company’s global turnover. Read more on VideoWeek.

Criteo Shareholders Push for Potential Sale

One of Criteo’s major shareholders is pushing for a potential sale of the French ad tech company. Petrus Advisers, which owns 5.5 percent of Criteo’s shares, published an open letter to the company’s Chair and CEO on Thursday, outlining concerns over its falling share price. The investment firm demanded Criteo accelerate its share buyback, and conduct a “comprehensive strategic review, including to evaluate all ownership options” no later than Q4 2024.

Tesco Strikes Retail Media Deal with Vauxhall 

Tesco has partnered with car company Vauxhall to advertise its electric vehicles (EV) on the supermarket’s digital screens, as well as its social media and digital channels. Tesco car parks are equipped with EV charging units that have screens showing animated content and visuals. “What retail media can offer brands is truly unique and we’re delighted to partner with Vauxhall to help them deliver the right advertising to the right customers in a strategic way,” said Simon Lonsdale, Strategy Director at Tesco UK Retail Media. “Tesco has the largest network of EV charge points of all UK retailers and so it’s a perfect fit to support Vauxhall with their ambition to make electric vehicles more accessible.”

The Trade Desk Integrates Ad Fontes Media Ratings to Direct Spend Towards Quality Journalism 

The Trade Desk has integrated media ratings data from Ad Fontes Media, a company that gauges bias and reliability of news sources, into its demand-side platform (DSP). The partnership helps advertisers direct spend towards quality news journalism, and screen out AI-generated or clickbait websites. “The Trade Desk believes in the power of trusted journalism and the role of advertising in funding it,” said The Trade Desk CSO Samantha Jacobson. “We are pleased that our customers will now have access to Ad Fontes’ media ratings data so that they can have as much confidence as possible that they are advertising against premium journalism content.”

Reddit Lets Google Use its Content to Train AI

Reddit and Google have struck a partnership making the social-sharing platform’s content available for use in training Google’s AI. According to Reuters, the contract is worth around $60 million per year. The deal comes as Reddit prepares to debut on the stock market, and aims to generate new revenue while competing with TikTok and Meta for ad dollars.

Pubmatic and Vevo Partner for Programmatic Access to CTV Inventory

PubMatic, a sell-side platform (SSP), has partnered with music video business Vevo, to give buyers access to Vevo’s CTV inventory. The deal makes Vevo’s video inventory programmatically accessible to varied demand partners via PubMatic’s platform. “This partnership will allow Vevo to considerably elevate the advertising opportunities we can provide at a global level and drive our programmatic business forward,” said Natalie Gabathuler-Scully, EVP Revenue, Distribution & Data Operations at Vevo.

Innovid Introduces Publisher-Level Outcomes Analysis for CTV Campaigns

Innovid, a CTV ad tech business, has introduced publisher-level outcomes analysis for all DSP and SSP campaigns. The offering will be available within the InnovidXP platform, helping advertisers compare performance across all their media buys. “As TV becomes 100 percent digital, a new world of transparent measurement is opening up across the advertising ecosystem, allowing buyers and sellers to identify optimisations and improve efficiency to decrease waste and strengthen performance,” said Blair Robertson, Head of Product Strategy at Innovid. “With InnovidXP, advertisers can optimise every part of their investment.” 

The Week in TV

RTL Invests €200 Million in Fremantle Acquisition Spree

Fremantle, an RTL-owned content business, has agreed to acquire Paris-based distributor Asacha Media Group. The announcement follows Fremantle’s purchase of an 80 percent majority stake in Asian production company Beach House Pictures. The spree sees RTL Group invest more than €200 million. “With the acquisitions, Fremantle is well on track to reach its €3 billion revenue target, effectively doubling the global video production business within five years,” said RTL CEO Thomas Rabe. 

Freevee Will Not Close, Says Amazon

Amazon has denied rumours that it plans to sunset Freevee, after Adweek reported that the AVOD service was set to close during Q2. “There are no changes to Freevee,” said an Amazon spokesperson. “Amazon Freevee remains an important streaming offering providing both Prime and non-Prime customers thousands of hit movies, shows, and Originals, all for free.”

Paramount and Comcast Discuss Bundling Streaming Services

Paramount and Comcast are considering combining their streaming services, the WSJ reported on Friday. Sources said a range of options were discussed, including a partnership or joint venture (JV) to bundle Paramount+ and Peacock. The news comes during a period of consolidation for the US TV industry, with Paramount currently lining up potential acquirers.

SkyShowtime to Launch Ad-Supported Tier Amid Push for Local European Content

SkyShowtime, a streaming joint venture (JV) between Comcast and Paramount, has announced plans to launch an ad-supported tier, becoming the latest SVOD service to introduce an AVOD option. The Standard with Ads plan will launch on 23 April across all markets where SkyShowtime operates. The service is available in European countries where Paramount+ is unavailable. It is accessable on Apple iOS, tvOS, Android devices, Android TV and Google Chromecast, as well as LG and Samsung Smart TVs. Read more on VideoWeek.

Viaplay says Aggressive Cutbacks are Steadying the Ship

Embattled Nordic broadcaster Viaplay says that its aggressive restructuring of the company is bearing fruit, setting the stage for continued growth, after a turbulent year for the company. Viaplay posted three percent organic sales growth for Q4 last year, and 13 percent growth for the year as a whole. But more importantly, the company announced it has completed its recapitalisation programme, enabling it to focus on executing its new strategy. Read more on VideoWeek.

RTL AdAlliance Adds ‘Smart Demographics’ to Targeting Offering

RTL Group-owned media sales house RTL AdAlliance has announced ‘Smart Demographics’, a new demographic targeting capability which sits within its wider ‘Smart Audiences’ product. Smart Demographics will enable advertisers buying across AdAlliance’s portfolio, which covers digital video and CTV inventory across a range of European broadcasters, to target demographic groups in a consistent manner. Targeting will be available based on age, gender, life stage, financial status, and home ownership. Read more on VideoWeek.

TNT Sports Wins FA Cup Rights

TNT Sports, the joint venture between BT and Warner Bros. Discovery, has scored a four-year broadcast deal for the FA Cup. Selected matches from every round will be available free-to-air, according to the FA, alongside highlights from every game. “The Emirates FA Cup creates incredible moments and unforgettable memories for fans, and this new partnership will see selected matches shown live on TNT Sports, as well as free-to-air, from the First Round of the competition through to the Final at Wembley Stadium,” said FA CEO Mark Bullingham.

Amazon, Disney and Netflix Join Thinkbox

Amazon, Disney+, Netflix, Vevo and Warner Bros. Discovery have joined Thinkbox, the UK marketing body for commercial TV. The US-based companies join as associate members, expanding Thinbox’s mandate to incorporate international streaming services in the UK. “This is a hugely positive way to start 2024,” said Thinkbox CEO Lindsey Clay. “Commercial TV is growing and stronger together. We’re delighted that Amazon, Disney+, Netflix, Vevo, and Warner Bros. Discovery have decided to join our mission and work with us to continue making the compelling case to businesses about why TV remains the most effective marketing investment they can make.”

MLB Launches Colorado Rockies Streaming Service in Latest D2C Play

Major League Baseball (MLB) has launched a direct-to-consumer (D2C) streaming service for the Colorado Rockies, which will offer local broadcasts of all the team’s games. The launch continues the MLB’s move towards D2C streaming in the wake of Diamond Sports Group’s (DSG) financial troubles. DSG owns local broadcast rights to 12 MLB teams, but their future was thrown into doubt when Amazon bought a $115 million stake in DSG last month. The MLB has introduced a similar streaming service for the San Diego Padres, and is considering launching its own D2C offering for the 2025 season.

The Week for Publishers

BuzzFeed Sells Complex Networks and Cuts 16 Percent of Staff

BuzzFeed announced that it is laying off 16 percent of its staff and selling Complex Networks, the pop culture and streetwear brand it bought for $300 million back in 2021. Complex is being sold to ecommerce group Ntwrk for just over $108 million, a significant discount, though BuzzFeed is holding on to First We Feast, which produces some of Complex’s most popular content. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said the changes will make BuzzFeed “more profitable, more nimble, and more innovative”.

New York Times Plans Generative AI Ad Tool

The New York Times is building new ad targeting solutions based on generative AI, which it plans to release later this year, Axios reported this week. The tool will use generative AI to target niche audiences, and to suggest effective placements for advertisers based on their messaging and objectives. The NYT is currently locked in a legal battle with AI giant OpenAI over the latter’s harvesting of the former’s content to feed its AI models. But Joy Robins, the NYT’s ad chief, said this new launch shows that generative AI “is an enabler and can be something effective for our business when used responsibly”.

Reach Uses AI to Rewrite its Own Content

UK publishing group Reach, which owns a mix of national and local newspapers, has developed an AI tool which allows its journalists to quickly repurpose its news stories for use across its range of websites. The tool, called Gutenbot, takes copy from news Reach’s stories and rewrites it into a new article, according to Press Gazette. This then allows Reach to essentially get more traffic from the same content, without just reposting exactly the same article across its range of news sites.

Gay Times Launches Talent Agency for LGBTQ+ Talent

Gay Times has announced it is launching a new talent agency which will represent LGBTQ+ talent, Campaign reported this week. The agency will initially represent content creators, but in time will also represent industry creatives like writers and photographers. Chief executive Tag Warner told Campaign the move will make the Gay Times’ commercial offering more integrated, bringing it closer to its partners.

New Tech Publication Digital Frontier Launches in Tough Publisher Environment

Digital Frontier, a new tech-focussed publication based in London, launched this week with a commercial model which will lean on subscriptions, advertising, and events. Digital Frontier is hoping its reporting, which will be focused on deep analysis rather than breaking news, will support this commercial model according to Press Gazette.

UK Publishers Prioritise Investing in Current Employees

Supporting and retaining current employees is UK publishers top priority for 2024 in relation to talent, according to the AOP’s annual survey of publishers’ priorities. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed picked this as their top talent priority. And publishers are focussing on understanding employees’ pain points, breaking down internal silos, prioritising flexibility in work-life balance, and offering support for employee wellbeing, according to the AOP.

The Week For Brands & Agencies

WPP Sees Modest Growth in 2023 with US Dip

British agency group WPP posted 0.9 percent year-on-year growth in like-for-like revenues less passthrough costs for 2023,  following a tough Q4 in the US. In the US in Q4, WPP saw a 4.5 percent fall in like-for-like revenues primarily due to lower spend by technology, healthcare and retail clients. Media buying unit GroupM performed well, delivering 5.7 percent growth in Q4, offsetting a 3.4 percent drop in WPP’s other global integrated agencies.

Stagwell Acquires Agency Group Sidekick

Stagwell has acquired Sidekick, a London-based collection of specialist agencies, Adweek reported this week. Capabilities covered by Sidekick include experiential marketing, digital content, and branded content, and current clients include Amazon, the NBA, Budweiser and Deliveroo. Sidekick will become part of Stagwell’s consultancy Allison.

Nestlé Pledges to Bump Up Marketing Spend in Search for Sales Volume Growth

Nestlé reported 7.2 percent organic sales growth in 2023, but this growth was largely driven by price increases in a high inflation context, the company reported this week. And executives on the company’s earnings call said that increasing marketing spend will be a significant part of its drive to return to volume growth. Like several other FMCG giants, Nestlé says this increased investment will be concentrated on its biggest brands, many of which are currently delivering high growth.

LVMH Launches Entertainment Arm to Inject Brands into Content

Luxury brand holding group LVMH has partnered with Superconnector Studios  to launch a new entertainment arm called ’22 Montaigne Entertainment’ which will co-develop, co-produce, and co-finance content spanning film, TV, and audio formats. The venture is designed as a means to market LVMH’s brands by injecting them into premium content.

Danone Touts More Focussed Approach to Advertising

French food business Danone is taking a more targeted approach to advertising, assessing what’s working but then supporting brands with advertising for longer, CEO Antoine de Saint-Affrique said on the company’s earnings call this week. The CEO said that the company is being more conservative in its investment in new brands, freeing up more potential budget for ads. And for advertising too, the company is assessing its impact on market share and brand equity, then reinvesting in what’s delivering.

Horlicks Returns to TV

Hot beverage brand Horlicks is running its first TV campaign in 20 years, the company announced this week, running targeted ads using Sky’s AdSmart addressable TV tech. The campaign will specifically target households in BARB’s North West region. “Horlicks’ return to TV after two decades marks a hugely exciting development for the brand, one which we are confident will help us to meet our key objectives of increasing front-of-mind awareness and purchase consideration within our growth focus audience,” said Rebekha White, brand manager at Horlicks’ parent company Aimia Food.

Hires of the Week

DAZN Names Brice Daumin as French CEO

Sports streaming specialist DAZN has picked Brice Daumin as CEO of its French and Swiss operations. Daumin has previously worked across the media and telco sector, most recently as director of Canal+ Suisse.

UM Appoints Susan Kingston-Brown as EMEA President

UM has appointed Susan Kingston-Brown as EMEA president after Chris Skinner, who previously held the role, stepped down.

M&C Saatchi Picks Jo Bacon as CEO

M&C Saatchi, which recently underwent an internal restructure, has named Jo Bacon as its new CEO. Bacon previously worked as global client lead at Ogilvy for Unilever. Kingston-Brown previously worked as CEO of UM’s London-based international client services division.

Ad Alliance Reshuffles its Management

RTL Deutschland’s marketing unit Ad Alliance announced an executive reshuffle this week. Previous COO Isabella Thissen has moved to RTL News, with Martin Hoberg and Stefanie Jäckel taking on her responsibilities. Hoberg will take the title of Chief Tech Officer, taking on Thissen’s ad tech and data responsibilities. Chief strategy officer Jäckel meanwhile will take on Thissen’s client services duties.

This Week on VideoWeek

SkyShowtime to Launch Ad-Supported Tier Amid Push for Local European Content

Why Short-Form Video is “an Ambivalent Investment” for Publishers

Mr Bates vs Fool Me Once: How ITV Went Head-to-Head with Netflix

Walmart Ramps Up Ads Business with $2.3 Billion Vizio Acquisition

TikTok Faces EU Investigation Over Content Rules, Ad Transparency, and Addictive Design

RTL AdAlliance Adds ‘Smart Demographics’ to Targeting Offering

Building CTV Ad Breaks That Don’t Break the User Experience

RTL and ProSieben Combine Ad Tech Stacks in Latest Push for European Collaboration

Viaplay says Aggressive Cutbacks are Steadying the Ship

Ad of the Week

Uber Eats, Jennifer Aniston Forgets

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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