Category: Arts & Entertainment

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Disney settles Scarlett Johansson lawsuit over ‘Black Widow’ streaming strategy

Disney and Scarlett Johansson are no longer on the outs. The parties have reached a settlement for the lawsuit Johansson filed over the hybrid release strategy used for Black Widow. If you'll recall, the actor sued Disney over the company's decision to release her movie in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time, accusing the entertainment giant of breach of contract. 

Johansson's camp argued that Black Widow was supposed to be released in theaters exclusively under her deal with Marvel. According to the lawsuit she filed, she could lose as much as $50 million due to the hybrid release, seeing as her compensation is tied directly with the movie's box office success and doesn't include a cut from what Disney would make from streaming. People have had to pay $30 for a Premier Access pass to watch the movie on Disney+, and the company said Black Widow earned $60 million from streaming during its opening weekend. 

Her lawsuit also said that her camp tried to contact Disney and Marvel to re-negotiate their deal, but they were allegedly unresponsive. Neither party disclosed the terms of their agreement, but both issued a statement mentioning future collaborations. Alan Bergman, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said he looks "forward to working together on a number of upcoming projects, including Disney's Tower of Terror."

Meanwhile, entertainment workers are gearing up for a strike because studios like Disney are rapidly producing content after pandemic-related restrictions had lifted. The situation led to poor working conditions with long hours and no breaks for production crew. Entertainment unions are hoping to convince studios to make changes, including ending the lower pay scale for smaller streaming services. Under the current rules, streaming services with fewer than 20 million subscribers like Apple TV+ does can pay their workers lower wages.

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Facebook keeps downplaying its own research and lawmakers aren’t buying it

Yet another Facebook official just spent hours being grilled by members of Congress about the company’s policies, and whether or not it does enough to protect some of its most vulnerable users. And once again, the Facebook executive — today it was Head of Safety Antigone Davis — seemed to do her best to dodge the most difficult questions.

But the latest hearing on teen mental health, which came in response to reporting from The WSJ, was different from past hearings. That’s because, thanks to a whistleblower, members of the Senate Commerce Committee now have access to thousands of internal documents written by the company’s own researchers.

The documents, some of which have been made public, paint a very different picture of Facebook and Instagram’s understanding of how their services impact teens’ mental health than what they’ve publicly portrayed. Those documents are in the hands of lawmakers, making the findings that much harder for Facebook to spin. The disclosures have already forced Facebook to "pause" work on an Instagram Kids app.

“We now have a deep insight into Facebook's relentless campaign to recruit and exploit young users,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said at the start of the hearing. “We now know, while Facebook publicly denies that Instagram is deeply harmful for teens, privately, Facebook, researchers and experts have been ringing the alarm for years.”

This has forced Facebook into the uncomfortable position of trying to downplay the significance of its own research. “This is not bombshell research,” Davis repeated multiple times during the hearing. One day earlier, Facebook released heavily annotated versions of two of the documents, with notes that also tried to explain away its own findings. Those documents, which were just two of the “thousands” Blumenthal said he now has access to, used words like “myopic” and “sensationalizing” to try to minimize findings like the fact that Instagram makes “body images worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.”

The tactic didn’t go over well in the Senate on Thursday. “This research is a bombshell,” Blumenthal said. “It is powerful, gripping, riveting evidence that Facebook knows the harmful effects of its site on children, and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”

As with past hearings, there were some cringey moments. At one point, Blumenthal demanded to know if Facebook would “commit to ending finsta” — a reference to the secondary accounts often used by teens to stay anonymous. That forced Davis to awkwardly explain that so-called “finstas” are not an official Instagram feature. At another point, Sen. Ted Cruz demanded Davis explain why she wasn’t appearing at the hearing in person (she cited COVID-19 protocols).

But even with those moments, it was difficult to ignore the significance of these issues. It may seem obvious, but kids and teens are incredibly important to the company, which is consistently behind rivals like TikTok and Snapchat for that demographic. So much so that a former employee who worked on Messenger Kids recently said that “losing the Teen audience was considered an 'existential threat,'” for Facebook.

Worse for Facebook, there are very likely more bombshells coming. The whistleblower who provided the documents to The Journal and lawmakers, is appearing on 60 MinutesSunday night. And she is testifying at a separate Commerce Committee hearing next week. So while Facebook executives may be able to dodge questions and insist that their researchers’ conclusions have been mischaracterized, it will be much harder to rebut someone who was closely involved with that work.

Some senators hinted that there would be more to come at the next hearing. Senator Ray Luján asked Davis whether “Facebook ever tested whether a change to its platform increases an individual's or a group of users' propensity to post a violent or hateful language.” Davis said that it wasn’t her “area of expertise.”

“We might get more responses to that one next week,” he said.

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LinkedIn is shutting down its Stories feature after a year

LinkedIn is ditching Stories. The company will shut down the feature by the end of September, a year after rolling it out. As it turns out, ephemeral posts aren't a perfect fit for every social network. Perhaps with ROI and KPIs in mind, LinkedIn says its users want videos that stay on their profiles permanently, not ones that vanish.

"In developing Stories, we assumed people wouldn’t want informal videos attached to their profile, and that ephemerality would reduce barriers that people feel about posting," Liz Li, LinkedIn's senior director of product wrote. "Turns out, you want to create lasting videos that tell your professional story in a more personal way and that showcase both your personality and expertise."

As such, the company's going back to the whiteboard. It's taking what it learned from Stories (such as users wanting creative tools to liven up videos in a professional way) to create a "reimagined video experience across LinkedIn that’s even richer and more conversational."

Just about every major social network hopped on the Stories bandwagon after the likes of Snapchat and Instagram found huge success with the format. Although the feature has proven a hit on the likes of YouTube and Facebook, Stories haven't taken off on every platform. Twitter recently shut down Fleets, its take on Stories, less than nine months after launching the feature.

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Spotify is reportedly thinking about expanding into ticketed events

Spotify is reportedly “considering” expanding into events, according to The Information. The outlet reports the company could sell tickets for both virtual and live concerts as it looks to diversify its business. However, making money off of ticketed events isn’t necessarily Spotify’s short-term goal. Its more immediate plan is to use them as a way to improve its relationship with artists.

The Information suggests Spotify thinks there’s an opportunity to leverage the data it has to help musicians plan successful concerts in places most promoters avoid. In this way, the company is said to believe it can better show those artists it’s invested in their careers. It would also be a way for it to differentiate its platform from Apple Music.

Spotify has already dabbled in live events. This past spring, the company put on a handful of prerecorded virtual concerts featuring artists like The Black Keys and Leon Bridges. It sold tickets to those shows for $15 each. The Information reports the results of those concerts “validated” Spotify’s thinking on what events could do for it in the future, and it’s been thinking about next steps ever since. Of course, we wouldn't say that makes an expansion is a done deal. Selling tickets to concerts might make a lot of sense for a music streaming platform, but it would still represent a massive business shift for Spotify.    

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