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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of February 5, 2018

Digital news platform attracts support, scares others

A marketing and development agreement between Euronews Group and Al-Jazeera Media Networks was announced this week (February 6). Euronews Group will represent the AJ+ digital brand to third party clients worldwide. AJ+ is a digital news platform launched in 2014 targeting under 35 year olds largely through YouTube and Facebook. Souring on those obvious constraints it has morphed into its own social media platform.

It was just last summer that the government of Saudi Arabia and several allies demanded the government of Qatar completely close Al Jazeera’s news networks, among other things, amidst heightening tensions among the Gulf States. The Israeli government chimed in, ordering Al Jazeera channels removed from cable and satellite distribution, closing its Jerusalem office and cancelling press credentials. (See more about Al Jazeera Media here)

Press freedom and human rights advocates took a different view. “Whether or not you watch it, like it, or agree with its editorial standpoints, Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels are legitimate, and have many millions of viewers,” said a UN Human Rights Council spokesperson, quoted by Reuters (June 30, 2017). By mid-July the demand to close Al Jazeera and other Qatari-owned media outlets was dropped. (See more about media in the Middle East and Gulf States here)

Around the same time last summer, Euronews Group took on a new investor. US news network NBC News, a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of US cable giant Comcast, acquired a 25% stake with “a significant financial investment in Euronews to support expanded news coverage and programming.” NBCUniversal has “embedded” several digital news platforms (BuzzFeed, Vox and Snap) into its Digital Enterprises Group.

Safer Internet Day is upon us
Sesame Street to be labeled?

YouTube users in the US may soon see certain videos labeled as produced by “state broadcasters” or “publicly-funded broadcasters.” The idea, according to the YouTube blog post (February 2), widely reported, is to “equip users with additional information to help them better understand the sources of news content that they choose to watch. If a channel is owned by a news publisher that is funded by a government, or publicly funded, a notice may be displayed.” The plan could, eventually, be rolled out elsewhere.

Among those reporting the story, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted (February 2) “videos promoting conspiracy theories” will also be flagged. The WSJ is a News Corporation publication, principally owned by the Murdoch family, who also own the US cable channel Fox News, notable for promoting conspiracy theories. Rupert Murdoch has long expressed particular animas toward YouTube owner Google. More recently, Mr. Murdoch suggested Google (and Facebook) might gain his favor if they started paying “trusted” news sources, quoted by the Guardian (January 22). (See more about fake news here)

US public TV broadcaster PBS is not happy to be consigned to denigration along with Chinese State news agency Xinhua and the notorious Russian TV channel RT (formerly known as Russia Today). "Labelling PBS a 'publicly funded broadcaster' is both vague and misleading,” said a PBS spokesperson, quoted by the Washington Post (February 5). “YouTube's proposed labelling could wrongly imply that the government has influence over PBS content, which is prohibited by statute. If YouTube's intent is to create clarity and better understanding, this is a step in the wrong direction."

While no specific labeling targets were mentioned in the YouTube blog post, an example screenshot was shown with a video from Radio Free Asia: "RFA is funded in whole or in part by the American government.” RFA is part of the family of international broadcasters that includes Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), operated by US agency Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The labels link to Wikipedia articles about the specific news sources.

"If YouTube's goal is to help the consumer identify 'authoritative news content', this policy falls short,” said BBG spokesperson Nasserie Carew, quoted by CNN (February 2). “It is deeply misleading, factually inaccurate, and irresponsible to lump BBG networks and propaganda outlets including those funded by China and Russia under one broad label. We hope to work with YouTube to draw a sharp distinction between the two."

Cords? What cords? Telecoms want whatever mobile subscribers want
Investors rejoice

Another telecom is forging its way into TV land. Clearly, every shareholder is looking for something big. Telecoms want access to TV product and leverage for their technology and distribution. Traditional TV companies want to pull up that beach chair and play video games. This is not confusing.

Big Danish telecom TDC Group and Swedish broadcaster Modern Times Group (MTG) announced forming a joint venture that sounds suspiciously more like a buy-out than a merger. Fused into TDC Group will be the MTG Nordic television channels and production studios. TDC Group will pay MTG DKK 3.3 billion (about €2 billion) and MTG shareholders will get shares in TDG Group, about 28%.

The transaction, subject to a breadth of permissions, effectively trims MTG’s traditional and pay-TV business, which has been gradually shrinking over the last few years. MTG will also exit radio channels in Sweden and Norway. The company’s most recent interest has been in video games and sports rights. Swedish investment house Kinnevik is the principal shareholder, which also owns Swedish telecom Tele2. (See more about media mergers and acquisitions here)

If all goes according to plan the new company will have a new name, brand image and all that stuff. That likely means the Viasat, Viaplay and Viafree brands will be called something else. TDC Group Chairman Pierre Danon and chief executive will hold the same positions at the new company. MTG executive vice-president and MTG Sweden chief executive Anders Jensen will rotate to the new company as executive vice-president, reported Swedish business magazine Dagens Industri (February 1).

TDC Group, headquartered in Copenhagen, is publicly traded, shares predominantly held by institutional investors and asset managers. The company’s products include broadband, IPTV, and mobile, mobile, mobile. Its Danish 4G service is a joint venture with Chinese tech giant Huawei.

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