Hulu and Disney+ could merge, CEO hints

Disney CEO Bob Chapek hinted on Wednesday at a possible merger between the company’s two streaming platforms Hulu and Disney+. (Screenshot)
Disney CEO Bob Chapek hinted on Wednesday at a possible merger between the company’s two streaming platforms Hulu and Disney+. (Screenshot)
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Updated 15 September 2022

Hulu and Disney+ could merge, CEO hints

Hulu and Disney+ could merge, CEO hints
  • Bob Chapek envisions ‘a platform for consumer engagement’ for entire Walt Disney company
  • It remains unclear if the potential merger could bring Hulu shows to the MENA region

LONDON: Disney CEO Bob Chapek hinted on Wednesday at a possible merger between the company’s two streaming platforms Hulu and Disney+.

Speaking at a Goldman Sachs investor conference, Chapek revealed how “a little bit of consumer friction” for streaming customers who want to shift between the different services prompted the company to consider the move.

According to Chapek, the company envisions “a platform for consumer engagement” for the entire Walt Disney company, rather than just a video streaming service.

“You add in things like the membership platform, you have to step back and look at this as Disney is a lifestyle, it’s a lifestyle brand,” he said. “And it’s not just a bunch of small businesses put together that sort of de facto create a lifestyle, but we need to embrace that.”

Walt Disney Co. offers Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, which are available exclusively to the US public, to different audience groups. While Disney+ offers kids and family-friendly content, Hulu features more adult shows. The company also offers the ESPN+ streaming service for sports fans.

Currently, the three services are available across different platforms, with users having to toggle between different apps on their smartphones, televisions and other devices to watch content on each service.

Integrating all three services in one platform would significantly reduce the time needed to switch from one app to the other, ultimately offering a seamless user experience.

In Europe, Walt Disney Co. is already adopting a similar strategy, with the Disney+-owned content hub brand Star featuring several series that are also shown on Hulu.

However, in the US, the entertainment giant offers discounts for users signing up for its different services — something the CEO refers to as a “soft bundle.”

It remains unclear if the possible merger would see the integration of all of the Hulu library into Disney+ and if the move could signify an expansion of Disney+’s offerings in the Middle East and Africa region, where it launched last June.

Although Chapek has expressed more than an interest in merging Hulu and Disney+ in a unique solution, Disney must address some challenges. Currently, 33 percent of Hulu is owned by the US telecommunications conglomerate Comcast.

The two businesses have an agreement that allows Disney to purchase Comcast’s Hulu shares in 2024 at a minimum of $27.5 billion, but Chapek said that he would be interested in acquiring the remaining stake as early as possible.

“I do believe that we’d have to have full ownership of Hulu to integrate it into Disney+. We would love to get to the endpoint earlier, but that obviously takes some level of propensity for the other party to have reasonable terms for us to get there. And if we could get there, I would be more than happy to try to facilitate that,” he said.

The announcement comes as other industry players plan to adopt a similar strategy. Earlier in the summer, Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. announced it would combine its Discovery+ service with HBO Max, while last week Paramount Global revealed it is considering closing its Showtime streaming service and merging its content into Paramount+ with the aim of giving consumers a simplified and integrated offering.


Rwandan court fines driver over death of top journalist

John Williams Ntwali. (Twitter @williams_ntwali)
John Williams Ntwali. (Twitter @williams_ntwali)
Updated 08 February 2023

Rwandan court fines driver over death of top journalist

John Williams Ntwali. (Twitter @williams_ntwali)
  • The trial was not open to the public until late Tuesday when a handful of journalists were invited to witness the reading of the verdict

KIGALI: A Rwandan driver was on Tuesday fined one million Rwandan francs ($920) for involuntary manslaughter, over the death of a top journalist who was critical of the government.
John Williams Ntwali, editor of The Chronicles newspaper, was killed on January 18 when a speeding vehicle rammed a motorcycle on which he was riding pillion.
The court in Kigali said the driver, identified as Moise Emmanuel Bagirishya, “pleaded guilty and apologized for the accident.”
“He confessed that he killed Ntwali when he was over-speeding and fatigued,” the judge said, finding him guilty for “involuntary manslaughter and involuntary cause of bodily harm.”
“The court orders him to pay a fine of 500,000 Rwandan francs for each of the two crimes,” he told Kagarama Primary Court where neither Bagirishya nor the prosecution were present.
The trial was not open to the public until late Tuesday when a handful of journalists were invited to witness the reading of the verdict.
Ntwali, who had been arrested multiple times during his two-decade career as a journalist, owned the Pax TV channel on YouTube, which had established itself as a rare outlet for critical reporting in Rwanda.
Dozens of rights and media groups have urged Rwanda to conduct an independent and impartial probe into the death of the 44-year-old journalist.
Human Rights Watch said last month that Ntwali had been regularly threatened and attacked in pro-government media for his investigative reporting.
Media is tightly controlled in Rwanda and journalists critical of President Paul Kagame and his ruling party have been jailed, have disappeared or turned up dead throughout his nearly 30 years in power.
The country’s media played a central role in whipping up racial hatred in the lead up to the 1994 genocide that saw 800,000 mainly ethnic Tutsis killed in a 100-day massacre.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media watchdog, says Kagame “exploits Rwanda’s collective memory” of the genocide to justify his control over the media.
Rwanda ranks 136th out of 180 countries on the RSF press freedom index.
 


Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product

Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product
Updated 07 February 2023

Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product

Iconic Arabic current affairs magazine Al-Majalla relaunches combining critical analysis with a new revamped digital product
  • Guided by its commitment to quality content, Al Majalla relaunches today to continue to provide insightful analysis into the world's most crucial topics through exclusive interviews and detailed reports
  • World-leading Arabic writers, global journalists, and contributors will continue to feature in Al Majalla to ensure it remains the leading magazine for global opinion formers, offering in-depth analysis, in print and online in Arabic and English

LONDON: Today, Al Majalla, one of SRMG’s key brands and the leading magazine for current and political affairs in the Arab world has re-launched its print edition in Arabic with a new design, accompanied by cutting-edge digital platforms in both Arabic and English. The relaunch encompasses a revitalization of all aspects of the brand, including a new editorial content strategy focusing on premium news, data and analysis, a modern aesthetic, and state-of-the-art technology. The first phase of the revamp is a soft launch with plans to continually enhance the magazine’s editorial and product offerings, in line with evolving consumer habits.

Al Majalla’s new offering will build on its reputation and honor the legacy of the magazine. For more than forty years, Al Majalla has been a trusted voice for its objective journalism. It is known for landmark coverage, insightful interviews and analysis by renowned writers, opinion formers, politicians, and decision-makers from the Middle East and across the globe.

Previously led by renowned figures such as Othman Al-Omair, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, and H.E. Dr. Adel Al Toraifi, the magazine's archives boast a wealth of distinguished and exclusive interviews with noteworthy figures, including UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, US President Ronald Reagan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, boxer Muhammad Ali, and poet Nizar Qabbani.

As part of the new editorial strategy, Al Majalla will place a premium on rigorous journalism and address global issues with credibility through exclusive interviews and meticulous reporting. The magazine will delve into events through in-depth analysis, backed by data, offering fresh perspectives, with a commitment to being a reliable source of information in an era of widespread misinformation.

Building on the magazine’s rich legacy, the new Al Majalla will meet the growing demand to deliver in-depth coverage and analysis to its audience of opinion formers, politicians, business leaders, and decisions makers. This readership encompasses not only the Gulf and the Middle East, but people all over the globe in leading capitals and areas of business in Asia, Europe, America, and beyond.

Commenting on the re-launch of the magazine and its digitalization, Jomana R. Al-Rashid, CEO of SRMG, said: "The essence of modern journalism extends beyond platform development or technology advancements, involving continuous research about – and engagement with – target audiences, fostering a commitment to editorial principles that align with global standards. This includes everything from crafting press materials and selecting the means of presentation, to evaluating and continuously refining the content and honing media and journalistic talent.

Al-Rashid added: “Given the legacy of Al Majalla, we have a responsibility to ensure that credibility remains at our core. SRMG continues to champion journalistic integrity to provide audiences with the depth of information they need to make informed decisions. Over the past four decades, Al-Majalla has been a reliable media and knowledge source in the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. Today we are proud to deliver the new Al Majalla and we hope that the magazine will continue to be held in high esteem by its readers around the world.”

Al Majalla dedicates the cover story of its first print edition to the events as they unfold in Iran, unpacking the impact of change in Tehran on the region. The first issue also includes interviews with Arab and international opinion leaders

and intellectuals and features official historical documents and reports on the latest economic and technological trends as well as cultural news from the region and the world.

SRMG has a network of more than 30 media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News Network, Arab News, Independent Arabia, Sayidaty, Hia, and Al Eqtisadiah. SRMG has transformed its portfolio with new platforms, investments in innovative media start-ups, and long-term partnerships with prominent, international brands such as Bloomberg Media and Warner Bros. Discovery.


Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund

Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund
Updated 07 February 2023

Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund

Israeli filmmakers call for boycott of film fund
  • Director Noam Sheizaf wrote an op-ed for The New York Times called “Israel’s Government Is Trying to Turn the Film Industry into a Propaganda Arm”
  • More than 100 artists and filmmakers have signed a petition calling for an industry boycott of the Rabinovich fund until the foundation stops requiring the loyalty oath

DUBAI: Israel’s efforts to reserve state funding for films that propagate the nation’s far-right agenda has resulted in several filmmakers calling for a boycott of the country’s film funds.

Culture Minister Makhlouf Zohar, who took office in December, has pushed for new requirements that force filmmakers and artists into guaranteeing that their work will not smear the reputation of Israel or its military.

Zohar is also considering revoking funding for two documentaries, “H2: The Occupation Lab” and “Two Kids a Day.”

The former looks at the impact of Jewish settlers and military occupation on the Palestinian city of Hebron, while the latter explores the systematic daily arrests of children by the Israeli army.

“[Zohar] might think what he wants about our film, but we object to the whole notion of the minister having a committee in his office to review documents,” Noam Sheizaf, co-director of “H2: The Occupation Lab,” told Variety magazine. “We think it’s crazy.”

Sheizaf, who wrote an op-ed on this topic for The New York Times called “Israel’s Government Is Trying to Turn the Film Industry into a Propaganda Arm,” added: “It’s a small market, so without this support [film funds] it’s basically impossible, unless you’re very rich, to make documentaries.”

Zohar has argued for additional requirements to funding regulations that would force artists to sign a loyalty agreement stating they will not tarnish the country if they receive state funding.

The proposed pledge is similar to the “Nakba Law,” a 2011 amendment to the Foundations of the Budget Law, which allows the government to cut state funding to institutions for any activity that denies Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, or that incites racism, violence, or terror.

The Rabinovich Foundation’s Israel Cinema Project, the country’s largest film fund, already requires applicants to sign off on that pledge.

The ministry is now aiming to expand the Nakba Law requirements to all the film funds and to add further articles that would prohibit funding to films that harm the country or its military, Sheizaf said.

In response, Israeli filmmakers have launched a counter-campaign calling for the Rabinovich fund to remove the requirements. More than 100 artists and filmmakers have signed a petition calling for an industry boycott of the Rabinovich fund until the foundation stops requiring the loyalty oath.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel last year called on all film institutions, including international festivals, cinemas and distributors, to boycott films funded by the Rabinovich fund since 2017, which is when the legal requirements were included in the foundation’s agreements.

“The law regulates all institutions funded by the State of Israel — including all Israeli film funds — and not only the Rabinovich Foundation,” the foundation told Variety in a statement.

“We believe that if the filmmakers do not agree with this law, a law that compels all Israeli film funds, their fight should be a fight to change the law itself — in the Israeli Knesset,” the statement added.

Israel’s Ministry of Communications earlier this month announced that plans to defund and shut down public broadcaster KAN had been shelved “until further notice” so that the government could focus its efforts on passing the much-disputed legal reforms instead, reported The Jerusalem Post.

However, Sheizaf and co-director of “H2: The Occupation Lab,” Idit Avrahami, who have both signed the boycott petition, said that was not enough.

Sheizaf said that the channel would still have to fight to stay on air as the government is expected to resume its defunding plans once it has implemented the legal reforms to strengthen its overall position.

Avrahami said: “The film industry is being attacked, as is public television, and specifically documentaries.”


Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued

Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued
Updated 07 February 2023

Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued

Kenya labor court rules that Facebook can be sued
  • A former Facebook moderator in Kenya is suing Meta over harmful work environment
  • The lawsuit claims Meta content moderation teams were understaffed and no mental health support provided

NAIROBI: A judge in Kenya has ruled that Facebook’s parent company, Meta, can be sued in the East African country.
Meta tried to have the case dropped, arguing that Kenyan courts do not have jurisdiction over their operations, but the labor court judge dismissed that in a ruling on Monday.
A former Facebook moderator in Kenya, Daniel Motaung, is suing the company claiming poor working conditions.
Motaung said that while working as a moderator he was exposed to gruesome content such as rape, torture, and beheadings that risked his and his colleagues’ mental health.
He said Meta did not offer mental health support to employees, required unreasonably long working hours, and offered minimal pay. Motaung worked in Facebook’s African hub in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, which is operated by Samasource Ltd.
Following the judge's decision that Meta can be sued in Kenya, the next step in the case will be considered by the court on Mar. 8.
Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director Irungu Houghton termed the ruling as “historic.”
“This is a significant step that ensures the authority of Kenyan courts to protect and enforce fundamental human rights… The social media platforms have serious impacts on people’s lives and societies. They must be more accountable,” he said in a statement.
Meta is facing a separate court case in which two Ethiopians say hate speech was allowed and even promoted on Facebook amid heated rhetoric over their country’s deadly Tigray conflict.
That lawsuit alleges that Meta hasn’t hired enough content moderators to adequately monitor posts, that it uses an algorithm that prioritizes hateful content, and that it responds more slowly to crises in Africa than elsewhere in the world.
The Associated Press and more than a dozen other media outlets last year reported that Facebook had failed to quickly and effectively moderate hate speech in several places around the world, including in Ethiopia. The reports were based on internal Facebook documents leaked by former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen.


Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying

Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying
Updated 07 February 2023

Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying

Report: 74% of Saudi shoppers use Google Search to research products before buying
  • Google and Kantar study sheds light on Saudis’ shopping habits during Ramadan

The year’s biggest shopping season, Ramadan, is coming up next month and brands are already planning their marketing activities.

In order to help brands better understand their audiences, Google partnered with data analytics and consulting company Kantar to study Saudi consumers’ shopping behaviors across five product categories during Ramadan — consumer electronics, home and garden, fashion, food and groceries, and beauty.

“The shift we’ve seen in consumer behavior has given retailers the opportunity to deepen their relationships with consumers through digital solutions,” Charbel Sarkis, director, Saudi Arabia and Retail at Google MENA, told Arab News.

“Our goal will continue to empower the retail sector in Saudi and the region to accelerate their digital transformation journey and offer tools and solutions to harness their data to achieve business results and enhance customer relationships,” he added.

Nearly 100 percent of consumers in the Kingdom research products online before purchasing. In their online journey, Google Search is the top destination with 74 percent of Saudi shoppers using it to research product information.

The growth in video is also reflected in shoppers’ search journey with 52 percent of Saudi shoppers using YouTube specifically to research product information.

The platform became the top-used video app in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan last year, with the highest number of active users at 18.1 million, marking an increase of 190,000 users from the previous year.

Consumers use YouTube for more than just research with over 11 million people streaming YouTube on their TV in Saudi Arabia last year and the platform reaching more than 20 million people over the age of 18 in the Kingdom in the same period.

The study identified three distinct shopping behaviors among consumers in the Kingdom. People buy different things for different reasons during the holy month. The majority (41 percent) of consumers said that they shop during Ramadan because they want something new — especially for home and garden products, and consumer electronics.

However, when it comes to beauty, 43 percent said they shop for personal reward, 36 percent prioritize sustainability, and 30 percent of fashion buyers want brands to respect diversity and inclusion.

The second behavior is the need for and the shift toward a hassle-free shopping experience. Around two-thirds of Saudi consumers experience various issues with online shopping during the holy month.

For example, 25 percent of consumer electronics shoppers and 23 percent of beauty shoppers said that independent product reviews are hard to find, while 20 percent of consumers buying consumer electronics and 21 percent of people purchasing products in the home and garden category experience online registration or log-in issues.

The need for a smooth shopping experience is not restricted to online channels. Sixty-three percent of Saudi consumers found offline shopping challenging, specifically when buying food and groceries, with the main issues being limited time to research products, not being able to access online information from inside the store, and unavailability of products.

The third behavior, according to the study, is loyalty or the lack of it. Typically, most Saudi shoppers (84 percent) buy from only one or a few retailers during Ramadan, but an inconvenient shopping experience can change that.

Forty-two percent said they would try a new brand, retailer, or platform if they offer faster shipping; 36 percent would do the same if an item is available elsewhere first, and 33 percent would do so if a product is less expensive.

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Based on these findings, the study suggests that marketers should include detailed information about what they are selling in the advertisement, and create an optimized online experience, especially on mobile.

The report also advises brands to ensure product information is easily available online and accessible from inside the store, with regular updates on stock availability, and to remind consumers of the benefits and conveniences of shopping from their brand by targeting customers who have visited their site before.