Disney plans to freeze hiring and cut some jobs, memo shows

Disney CEO said the company anticipates
Disney CEO said the company anticipates "some small staff reductions" to manage costs. (Shutterstock/File)
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Updated 14 November 2022

Disney plans to freeze hiring and cut some jobs, memo shows

Disney plans to freeze hiring and cut some jobs, memo shows
  • Announcement comes amidst economic uncertainty
  • Disney+ streaming service racks up losses of nearly $1.5 billion in Q4

LONDON: Walt Disney Co. is planning to freeze hiring and cut some jobs as it strives to move the Disney+ streaming service to profitability against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, according to a memo seen by Reuters on Friday.
Chief Executive Bob Chapek sent the memo to Disney’s leaders, saying the company is instituting a targeted hiring freeze and anticipates “some small staff reductions” as it looks to manage costs.
“While certain macroeconomic factors are out of our control, meeting these goals requires all of us to continue doing our part to manage the things we can control — most notably, our costs,” Chapek wrote in the memo.
The move came after Disney missed Wall Street estimates for quarterly earnings on Tuesday as the entertainment giant racked up more losses from its push into streaming video, which it refers to as its direct-to-consumer (DTC) business. Shares of the company fell more than 13 percent on Wednesday following its results.
Disney has said the fast-growing service added 12 million subscribers in its fiscal fourth quarter but reported an operating loss of nearly $1.5 billion. The company said Disney+ would become profitable in fiscal 2024, with losses having peaked in the quarter.
The streaming service is known for original series including the “Star Wars” entries “The Mandalorian,” “Andor” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the Marvel entries “WandaVision,” “Hawkeye” and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” and content hubs for Disney, Pixar, Marvel and “Star Wars” films.
Wall Street analysts voiced concern about Disney’s escalating streaming costs. MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson observed in a note this week that “the company has to prove that their pivot to DTC will be worth the investment price that is currently being paid.”
Corporate America is making deep cuts to its employee base to brace for an economic downturn. Meta Platforms said this week it would cut more than 11,000 jobs, or 13 percent of its workforce to rein in costs.
One of Disney’s studio peers, Warner Bros Discovery, has undergone dramatic cost-cutting efforts, including layoffs, as the recently merged company restructures its content operations.
Chapek said Disney has established a task force, including Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy and General Counsel Horacio Gutierrez, to help him make “critical big picture decisions.”
The company already has begun looking at content and marketing spending, but Chapek said the cuts would not sacrifice quality. Hiring will be limited to a small subset of critical positions, and some staff reductions are anticipated, as the company looks to make itself more cost-efficient, Chapek wrote.
Chapek said business travel would be limited and trips would require advance approval, or conducted virtually as much as possible.
“Our transformation is designed to ensure we thrive not just today, but well into the future,” Chapek wrote.

MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm

MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm
Updated 14 sec ago

MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm

MBC Group names Christina Wayne as managing director of its studio arm
  • She replaces Peter Smith, who stepped down last week
  • Wayne brings ‘wealth of international expertise,’ group CEO Sam Barnett says

LONDON: MBC Group on Friday announced the appointment of Christina Wayne as the new managing director of its production arm, MBC Studios.

Group CEO Sam Barnett said the company was “incredibly excited” by the appointment.

“Christina brings with her a wealth of international expertise in content development and production where she has worked across a multitude of territories and languages, and led on the development of Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning series,” he said.

“We look forward to her building on the team’s successes as we continue to expand our horizons in international content even further.”

Wayne is a seasoned executive and producer with more than 25 years of international experience writing, directing and producing TV shows and films.

Before joining MBC Studios, she was principal creative executive and head of Canada and Australia at Amazon Studios, a position she had held since 2019.

A member of the Writers Guild of America since 1997, Wayne has also held positions with Assembly Entertainment, Cineflix Studios and AMC, and worked on a host of award-winning productions, including “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Broken Trail.”

“I am absolutely delighted to join MBC Group and MBC Studios and have heard great things about the incredible team Peter and the rest of MBC have built,” she said.

“This is a very exciting venture for me, and I cannot wait to get fully involved in one of the world’s most exciting territories for content production.”

Wayne takes over from Peter Smith, who stepped down last week after four years at the helm of MBC Studios. During that time he helped launch the production arm of the free-to-air network MBC and led numerous flagship Arabic-language productions.

Building on Smith’s legacy, Wayne will continue to push into premium non-English-language TV programming and broaden the reach of MBC Group’s content to consumers worldwide.

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations
Updated 03 February 2023

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations

TikTok rolls out new account enforcement system to address repeated policy violations
  • The new update allows TikTok to remove harmful accounts more efficiently
  • TikTik will notify its community members when the new system is available

DUBAI: TikTok announced an updated system for account enforcement for a smoother content creation experience on the entertainment platform.

The move aims to better act against those who repeatedly violate the policies, helping TikTok to remove harmful accounts more efficiently, while promoting a clearer and more consistent experience for most creators who want to follow policies, the company said in a statement.

The updated account enforcement system is currently rolling out globally, and TikTok said it would notify all community members as the new system becomes available to them.

The existing account enforcement system leverages different types of restrictions, like temporary bans from posting or commenting, to prevent abuse of product features while teaching people about the policies detailed in TikTok’s community guidelines to reduce future violations.

While this approach has been effective in reducing harmful content overall, TikTok heard from creators that it can be confusing to navigate. It can disproportionately impact creators who rarely and unknowingly violate a policy, while potentially being less efficient at deterring those who repeatedly violate them.

Repeat violators, according to TikTok, tend to follow a pattern. Analysis has found that almost 90 percent violate using the same feature consistently, and over 75 percent violate the same policy category repeatedly.

To better address this, TikTok is updating the account enforcement system to support the creator community and remove repeat offenders from the platform.

Under the new system, if someone posts content that violates one of TikTok’s community guidelines, the account will accrue a strike as the content is removed. If an account meets the threshold of strikes within either a product feature (i.e. comments, LIVE) or policy (i.e. bullying and harassment), it will be permanently banned.

Those policy thresholds can vary depending on a violation’s potential to cause harm to community members. For example, there may be a stricter threshold for violating TikTok policy against promoting hateful ideologies, than for sharing low-harm spam.

TikTok will continue to issue permanent bans on the first strike for severe violations, including promoting or threatening violence, showing or facilitating child sexual abuse material, or showing real-world violence or torture.

As an additional safeguard, accounts that accrue a high number of cumulative strikes across policies and features will also be permanently banned. Strikes will expire from an account’s record after 90 days.

The company said in its statement that these changes are intended to drive more transparency around TikTok’s enforcement decisions and help the community better understand how to follow the community guidelines.

To further support creators, TikTok will roll out new features in the Safety Center provided to creators in-app in the coming weeks. These include an “account status” page where creators can easily view the standing of their account, and a “report records” page where creators can see the status of reports they have made on other content or accounts.

These new tools add to the notifications creators already receive if they have violated policies, and support creators’ ability to appeal enforcements and have strikes removed if valid. TikTok will also begin notifying creators if they are on the verge of having their account permanently removed.

As a separate step toward improving transparency about moderation practices at the content level, TikTok is beginning to test a new feature in some markets that would provide creators with information about which of their videos have been marked as ineligible for recommendation to the “For You” feed, let them know why, and give them the opportunity to appeal.

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods
Updated 03 February 2023

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods

Big Tech earnings show digital ads market not out of the woods
  • Mood among advertisers remains ‘cautiously optimistic’ for the year ahead as economic slowdown looms

LONDON: After a challenging 2022 in which advertising-dependent companies faced shrinking budgets and cratering stock prices, fourth-quarter results this week from Alphabet, Meta Platforms and Snap showed they were not yet in the clear.
The health of the advertising industry closely mirrors the economy, and many advertisers have pared back their marketing budgets in response to record-high inflation rates and continued uncertainty about a recession.
Google-owner Alphabet Inc. on Thursday reported a slight fall in quarterly ad revenue, missing Wall Street expectations and surprising investors as the world’s largest digital ad platform has traditionally been resilient compared to smaller rivals. Shares of Alphabet were down 5 percent in trading after the closing bell.
“For a company the size of Google and as influential as Google to have such disappointing results, (that means the ad industry) won’t turn around in one quarter,” said Evelyn Mitchell, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.
Snap Inc, owner of photo messaging app Snapchat, said Tuesday it expects current-quarter revenue to decline as much as 10 percent due to competition for ad dollars and a challenging economy.
“(Advertisers) are managing their spend very cautiously so they can react quickly to any changes in the environment,” Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said during an earnings call.
Meta Platforms Inc, the second-largest digital ad platform, lifted Wall Street on Wednesday with its cost cuts and big share buyback, though it posted its third consecutive quarter of year-over-year revenue decline.
Lower ad spending from brands in the financial services and technology sector was one reason for the revenue decline, the company said.
Meta Chief Financial Officer Susan Li said the broader economy continues to be “pretty volatile” and it was too early to tell what the year would look like.
The mood among advertisers broadly is one of “cautious optimism” for the year ahead, said Nicola Mendelsohn, Meta’s vice president of global business group, in an interview on Thursday.
By region, advertisers have been bullish about the US market, while sentiment in Europe has struggled comparatively and China has shown signs of improvement, though the future remains uncertain amid the country’s reopening, Mendelsohn said.

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping
Updated 02 February 2023

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping

Meta accused of playing double game on data scraping
  • Tech giant filed lawsuit against data collection company it collaborated with for years
  • Evidence shows Meta hired firm to pull information from a number of e-commerce sites

LONDON: Meta is accused of playing a double game on scraping, with the tech giant criticized for having scraped data for years while denouncing the practice.

According to evidence that surfaced from a legal case being pursued by the company, the tech giant has been subcontracting a company for years to scrape data from other websites, despite publicly criticizing the practice and suing companies that scrape data from its own social media platforms.

In an ironic twist, Meta filed a lawsuit against Israel-based data collection company Bright Data for allegedly pulling data from its platforms, but a series of emails between the two businesses reveals that Meta has worked with the Israeli firm for years.

The professional relationship was confirmed by Meta spokesperson Andy Stone, who said that the social media giant had hired Bright Data to pull information from a number of e-commerce sites in order to build brand profiles, as well as identify “harmful websites” and “phishing operations.”

“The collection of data from websites can serve legitimate integrity and commercial purposes, if done lawfully and in accordance with those websites’ terms,” said Stone.

He said that Meta was not using Bright Data to scrape rivals’ websites, but declined to specify what websites users’ data were pulled from.

Stone added that Meta interrupted its partnership with Bright Data after it found that the Israeli company breached terms and conditions for carrying out the practice on Meta’s own platforms.

“Many companies scrape websites to retrieve data that can help them keep track of competitors, better understand a specific audience, follow market trends and compare prices,” tech expert and writer Marissa Newman said.

“However, scraping can pose a privacy risk when it targets personal information, such as contact details, and runs foul of EU law if companies do not make an effort to prevent that through technical and legal means.”

In recent years, Meta has cracked down on scraping practices and pursued legal action against companies that carry out scraping-for-hire services on its platform.

Earlier in January, Meta filed a claim against surveillance company Voyage Lab, claiming it allegedly created more than 38,000 accounts to collect data from over 600,000 Facebook users.

Bright Data CEO Or Lenchner said the two companies had a “long-lasting successful partnership,” adding that Meta “has long been a valued client of our proxy and scraping services for six years.”

The Israeli data collection company decided to file a countersuit, claiming that it followed EU and US regulations, and acquired only public information that was not password-protected.

OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service

OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service
Updated 02 February 2023

OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service

OpenAI launches ChatGPT $20-a-month subscription service
  • Paid model will help subsidies-free version
  • ChatGPT is fastest-growing consumer application in history

LONDON: ChatGPT parent company OpenAI announced on Wednesday it is launching a pilot subscription plan for its popular AI-powered chatbot, called ChatGPT Plus, for $20 per month.

As part of the premium plan, subscribers will receive access to ChatGPT even during peak times, faster responses, and priority access to new features and improvements.

The company said that the pilot version will initially be rolled out to a limited number of users on the waiting list but said it is planning to make the service available to the wider public in the near future.

The new subscription-based model will help to support the free version, the company said in a blog post.

Experts estimate that the AI-powered chatbot, which is capable of generating human-like text and interaction-style conversations, costs OpenAI at least $100,000 per day or $3 million per month to run.

Since its launch in early December, ChatGPT has become a global phenomenon, attracting the attention of millions of users seeking to experiment with the technology.

On Wednesday, a UBS study reported that the service reached an estimated 100 million monthly active users in January, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history.

Besides the enthusiasm, the tool has also raised concerns and dilemmas including ethical challenges, copyright ownership, underlying prejudice and the question of authenticity.

In particular, ChatGPT has also raised questions about the facilitation of academic dishonesty and misinformation, prompting universities around the world to forbid students from using the tool to complete assignments and exams.

To address the issue, OpenAI released on Tuesday an “imperfect” tool designed to detect when written works are authored by artificial intelligence.