June 3, 2020

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Hi everyone – FYI as a correction from yesterday, Czech console/PC gaming company Bohemia Interactive is disputing a widely cited report by The Information that Tencent is acquiring a majority stake in it.


Update on violence against media in the US
Bellingcat investigative reporter Nick Waters is tracking verified incidents of arrests/assaults on journalists by police at protests in the US, currently at 138 incidents. (Track it here.)

The Freedom of Press Foundation is maintaining a public spreadsheet tracking the details of arrests and assaults on journalists by police or protesters in the US. Its count is now at 233 incidents. (Track it here.)


Interesting Deals, Stats, & Product Updates

Digestible Media

Film/TV/Video 

  • AMC Entertainment: “…substantial doubt exists about our ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time.” (Read more)
     
  • Orca Studios opened a 600 sq meter sound stage with LED walls for virtual production of film/TV using game engines. The Spanish company built the studio in the Canary Islands. (Read more)

Publishing

  • The Athletic and the Bleacher Report (both sports-focused news publishers) are reportedly exploring partnerships with sports betting sites. (Read more)
    • The Information reports that The Action Network — a publisher focused on sports betting content that was incubated by The Chernin Group — gets affiliate fees of $250-400 per person (or up to a 30% rev share) for users it refers to 11 betting sites it has partnered with.

Music

  • Warner Music Group listed on Nasdaq this morning under the ticker WMG. It priced shares at $25.00, opened at $27.00 (a $13.77B market cap), and closed at $29.92. (Read more)
     
  • Facebook signed a global licensing deal with Indian music label Saregama India, permitting Facebook and Instagram users to include 100,000 of the labels songs in their posts. (Read more)
     
  • JioSaavn, the popular music stream app in India that’s owned by Reliance Jio, released a full app redesign, including the ability for artists to add 15-second looping videos to accompany their songs. (Read more)

Podcasting/Audio

  • Apple is beta testing audio versions of news stories within its Apple News+ app. (Read more)

Interactive Media

Gaming

  • Playtika is prepping for an IPO with goals of raising $1B at a $10B valuation, according to the NYT. The Israeli mobile games giant with 27M MAUs recently acquired Seriously and is owned a group of Chinese investors that includes Netmarble, Jack Ma and Hony Capital. Morgan Stanley is underwriting. (Read more)
     
  • DoubleDown Interactive, a Korea- and Seattle-based publisher of social casino games, filed for a $100M IPO on Nasdaq. Its 2019 revenue was $273m with $36m in net income. JP Morgan is underwriting. (Read more | F-1 Filing)
     
  • Nexon, the South Korean game publisher with over 60 games worldwide, announced it plans to invest $1.5B in other publicly-listed entertainment companies. (Read more)
    • Nexon shares are up 60% thus far this year. It had $770M in Q1 revenue.
       
  • Paradox Interactive, the Stockholm-based maker of grand strategy PC games, signed a collective bargaining agreement following employees’ unionization efforts. (Read more)

AR/VR

  • Oculus added hand-tracking compatibility for developers using Unreal Engine. Since Oculus released hand-tracking (using your hands rather than a controller to move and click things in VR) in late 2019, it’s only been added to the Unity integration. (Read more)

Communications

  • Zigazoo, a new app for parents and young kids in which kids respond to short video-based exercises, surpassed 100,000 video uploads in its first month. (Read more)
     
  • TikTok issues an apology to black creators who have been accusing the social video app of “shadow banning” posts related to protests and Black Lives Matter so they don’t appear in other users’ feeds. TikTok says it was a technical glitch that affected a lot fo different hashtags. (Read more)
    • Last year, investigations by The Guardian found TikTok systematically hides content related to Hong Kong, LGBT advocacy, and criticism of certain governments.
       
  • Google pulled the app Remove China Apps from its Play Store. The app, which informs users about which apps on their phone are created by Chinese companies, has been blowing up in India with 5+ million downloads in 2 weeks amid India-China political tensions. (Read more)

June 2, 2020

(This was today’s Monetizing Media newsletter. Subscribe here.)

Hi everyone – just a few quick points today. Lots of companies have delayed planned announcements while protests continue in the US so expect deal news this week to be even quieter than it normally is during your typical global pandemic.

The EU launched submission forms to receive public input on its Digital Services Act governing online media and on the extent to which new competition / anti-trust policies are needed. (Read more)

Interesting Deals, Stats, & Product Updates

Digestible Media

Film/TV/Video 

  • Here’s a great read by Business Insider on the inside story of YouTube’s 2006 sale to Google, and why it was finalized at 3am in a Denny’s park lot with a police officer.
     
  • TF1 and Mediapro, leading TV broadcasters in France and Spain respectively, announced a new soccer-focused TV channel called Telefoot. (Read more)
    • The JV will broadcast Ligue 1 games in France since Mediapro beat out Canal Plus for the rights to the French league’s next 4 seasons.
    • Telefoot will launch in August with €25/month pricing and has a goal of 3.5m subscribers.
       
  • The Weather Channel joined the OpenAP consortium of TV networks offering advertisers the ability to target ads across their channels based on different categories of purchasing intent not just demographics. (Read more)
     
  • California delayed release of guidelines for film/TV productions to continue again after opposition by Hollywood unions demanding more safety precautions be taken first. (Read more)

Publishing

  • Shamrock Capital acquired advertising industry trade publication Adweek from Beringer Capital (Read more)
     
  • The Washington Post signed US newspaper group McClatchy as a customer for its Zeus Performance adtech platform, adding McClatchy’s 30 local news brands. (Read more)
     
  • Civil, the once-hyped “blockchain for news” startup is shutting down. (Read more)

Music

  • Most US music companies are participating in “Blackout Tuesday” today, with periods of silence in their programming to acknowledge protests and/or by giving employees the day off to participate in protests if desired.

Podcasting/Audio

  • Majelan, a Paris-based subscription podcast platform that raised €10M, is pivoting to instead be a subscription app of audio content related to personal growth. (Read more)
    • The space of subscription, audio self-help apps is getting crowded, with a lot of startups chasing the success of Calm, Headspace, and Blinkist with slightly different iterations.

Interactive Media

Gaming

  • Tencent is buying a majority (70-80%) stake in Bohemia Interactive for $260M. Bohemia is the Czech studio behind PC and console games Ylands and DayZ. (Read more)
     
  • A survey by Interpret shows that YouTube is not the #1 way US children age 3-12 discover new mobile games, with 49% doing so. (Read more)

June 1, 2020

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Zynga’s $1.8 billion acquisition of Peak Games
Zynga is buying Peak Games, the Istanbul-based mobile games studio that has 12 million DAUs across puzzle games Toon Blast and Toy Blast, for $1.8B in a half-cash, half-stock deal. (Read more)

Peak raised less than $25M from outside investors, making this a big financial outcome for Peak CEO Sidar Sahin and the other founders and early investors. The studio’s first investor, London-based Hummingbird Ventures, invested €500k at a €2M pre-money valuation in 2010; in a blog post, it says this acquisition alone provides an 8.6x return on their entire fund. German firm Earlybird Ventures — which led Peak’s Series A, B, and C rounds — claims a $520M return.

Zynga acquired Peak’s mobile card game business (Spades Plus, Gin Rummy Plus, Okey Plus, and 101 Okey Plus) in 2017 for $100M. Zynga rose during 2009-2013 as the leading social games company but then saw gamers move on from the category. It gradually regained footing as a leading mobile game publisher, largely via M&A or smaller, fast-growing studios. via an M&A centric strategy. Zynga says the acquisition will increase Q2 revenue projections from $460M to $500M.

This is a case study of the favorable investor dynamics with game studios: successful games are quickly profitable and the studio can grow substantially without further funding rounds that heavily dilute the early shareholders (founding team + investors). It also highlights the geographic spread of where leading gaming startups are based, with Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Latin America birthing large studios and attracting foreign investors.

Interesting Deals, Stats, & Product Updates

Digestible Media

Film/TV/Video 

  • NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell is exploring the idea of re-focusing CNBC‘s evening programming (think Shark Tank and The Profit) on conservative political talk shows, according to NYT media columnist Ben Smith. (Read more)
    • This is already the territory of Fox News and Fox Business, but perhaps Shell sees market share to capture just by entering a less crowded field where Fox is soaking up profits.
    • It comes as Sinclair Broadcasting, a leading group of US local TV channels, has been exploring its own 24/7 cable network and as President Trump has been promoting a new Southern California-based network, OAN.
       
  • Facebook‘s IGTV app has finally added ads and a rev-share split of 55% for creators two years after it launched, but it won’t be enabling media companies to participate until the start of next year. (Read more)
     
  • Netflix bought the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, giving it a dedicated venue to premier its original films. American Cinematheque, the non-profit that owned the iconic theatre until now, will continue to program much of the venue’s schedule. (Read more)
     
  • Cheddar is consolidating its two OTT TV channels into one that features a mix of both business and cultural/political news. (Read more)
     
  • WWE is launching a free tier to its OTT network. (Read more)

Publishing

  • This year’s schedule of book releases have all been pushed into the fall, making it hard for authors to stand out from the marketing noise. (Read more)
     
  • While many news publishers are making layoffs and salary cuts, leading subscription news brands like the NYT and WSJ are actively hiring and expanding. (Read more)

Music

  • Infographic on how Covid-19 lockdown affects different parts of the music industry: (See here)

Interactive Media

Gaming

  • Netease, the Chinese gaming giant that has traded on Nasdaq for two decades, is also listing on the Hong Kong exchange this week, selling $3B in shares. (Read more)
     
  • Paradox, the Stockholm-based creator of grand strategy games like Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron, is opening a Barcelona studio to lead development of Europa Universalis IV. (Read more)

Communications

  • Facebook‘s R&D team released Venue, an app oriented around discussion of live events. (Read more)
     
  • Slow Ventures’ Sam Lessin outlines both reasons the new social audio app Clubhouse could be the next big thing and why specific product decisions could inhibit it from success. (Read it here)
     
  • PE firms ProvidenceKKR, and Cinven are making a joint bid for a majority stake in Spain’s 4th largest telecom, MasMovil, valuing it at €3B (or €5B including debt). (Read more)
    • MasMovil has been a fast growing new entrant in the market, rolling up smaller companies and securing market share of 14% in mobile and 11% in broadband.

Deal News: April 30, 2020

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Digestible Media

Film/TV/Video 

  • NBCUniversal Q1 revenue dropped 7% yoy to $7.7b. (Read more)
    • Filmed entertainment down 22.5% to $1.4b. Theme park revenue down 31.9% to $869m.
    • Ad revenue was down just 2.2% but Comcast expects a harder hit in ad revenue in Q2. 
       
  • TF1 Group, the French TV broadcaster, reported Q1 earnings (Read more)
     
  • IMAX Q1 earnings: just $35m in revenue given cinema closures, that’s -56% yoy. With a $49m net loss, compared to a $8m net profit in Q1 2019. (Read more)
     
  • Amazon signed a contract to stream Thursday night NFL games through 2022 for $65m per year. (Read more)
     
  • AMC Entertainment is delayed Q1 earnings release until June. (Read more)

Publishing

  • The Financial Times‘ consulting arm, FT Strategies, is using a grant from Google News Initiative to work with 8 other European publishers on improving their subscription offerings. (Read more
     
  • Subscription publishers are taking advantage of a weakened ad market to increase paid acquisition. Condé Nast subscriber growth was up 100% yoy in March with 50% of new subs from paid. (Read more)

Interactive Media

SFX

  • Bublar Group, a Swedish company whose subsidiaries provide AR & VR solutions to multiple industries, is acquiring the Stockholm-based SFX group Goodbye Kansas for $5.7m in stock. (Read more)
    • I checked several articles to verify the price is accurate. Goodbye Kansas is one of the leading SFX houses in the world and has a team of ~200.
    • The deal seems to highlight the brutal economics of SFX, a low margin services business with “cost plus” payment structures and bidding for contracts that pushes margins toward zero. Plus no financial upside in the film or game projects firms work on.
    • Goodbye Kansas lost money the last two years. Turnaround efforts led to revenue in the first 2 months of 2020 of roughly $5m with $500k in EBITDA.
    • Bublar listed on Nasdaq First North Growth Market in November 2019.
    • Both firms were founded in 2015.

Gaming

  • I surveyed 7 VCs on their esports investment interests: Peter Levin (Griffin Gaming), Beth Ferreira (Firstmark), Ethan Kurzweil (Bessemer), Jens Hilgers (Bitkraft), Dough Higgins (Sapphire Sport), Rick Yang (NEA), Kevin Baxpehler (Remagine) >> Read their responses
     
  • Twitch launched a esports directory for users to easily track esports competition schedules. (Read more)
     
  • Microsoft‘s gaming revenue was flat in Q1 (its fiscal Q3). Overall gaming revenue was $2.35b, -1% yoy. (Read more)
    • Xbox specifically was +2% yoy with a decline in hardware revenue (due to pricing decreases on older units, it says) and increased for content and services.
    • There are now 10m subscribers to its Xbox Game Pass subscription bundle and 90m MAUs for its cloud-streaming service Xbox Live.
    • Xbox Xcloud — its new service for cloud streaming Xbox games across devices — has hundreds of thousands of MAUs in its beta.
       
  • Unit 2 Games is releasing its no-code, UGC-driven game design platform platform Crayta this summer, exclusively available on Google Stadia. (Read more)
    • Crayta itself is built with Unreal.
    • UK-based Unit 2 is led by Richard Smithies and has raised $5m in funding from Makers Fund.
       
  • Ubisoft announced the next title in its Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. (Read more)
     
  • Gaming content on YouTube received 17b views in the last week of March, +24% yoy. (Read more)
    • There’s been a 60% increase in Call of Duty videos uploaded during the Covid-19 crisis, a much larger jump than content from other games.

AR/VR

  • Facebook said its +80% yoy increase in Q1 non-advertising revenue to $287m was primarily due to Oculus sales. (Read more)
    • Zuckerberg said FB is trying to produce more Quest headsets faster to keep up with the huge demand. Even before Covid-19 they were selling out frequently.
       
  • Magic Leap warns of a critical battery issue. (Read more)

Communications

  • Guilded, an in-game chat platform, raised a $7m Series A from Matrix Partners (Ilya Sukhar), Initialized Capital, Susa Ventures, and Sterling VC. (Read more)
     
  • Facebook Q1 revenue was $17.7b. (Read more)
    • Ad revenue was down 19% from Q4, compared to Q1 2019’s 11% drop from Q4 2018.
    • 1,734m DAUs and 2,603m MAUs…increased DAUs and MAUs in every region from Q4.
    • 67% DAU:MAU ratio. It’s been 66% for the last 2 years.
       
  • Twitter Q1 earnings: $808m revenue (+3% yoy). US revenue grew 8% yoy while international revenue shrank 4% yoy. (Read more)
    • 84% of revenue was from ads, the rest mostly from data licensing.
    • From March 11 to 31, ad revenue declined 27% yoy.
    • It reported a +8% increase in mDAUs (“monetizable DAUs”) to 164m

Dealmakers

  • FuboTV, the sports-centric OTT service, named Edgar Bronfman Jr. its executive chairman. The former Warner Music CEO is an investor in FuboTV personally and through his VC firm (w/ Daniel Leff) Waverly Capital. (Read more)

Layoffs/furloughsNY PostTicketmasterViacomCBS

Deal News: April 29, 2020

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Digestible Media

Film/TV/Video 

  • WarnerMedia‘s Turner Broadcasting Europe division acquired The Widget Company (aka TWC), an Amsterdam-based, 30-person firm that designs OTT applications for media companies. (Read more)
     
  • Sony is negotiating to make a large investment in Eleven, the UK production company behind Netflix hit show “Sex Education”. Its investment will reported involve buying out Channel 4’s 20% stake. (Read more)
     
  • Dish Network is saying it isn’t obligated to pay ESPN $80-100m in April carriage fees because there are no live sports and their contract includes a force majeure clause. ESPN unsurprisingly disgrees. (Read more)
     
  • YouTube ad revenue in Q1 was $4 billion, up 25% yoy but down 14% from Q4. (Source)
    • Last year was the first time Alphabet broke out YouTube earnings, so it unclear what past Q4 to Q1 revenue change has been for YouTube. Media co’s often seen Q1 declines from Q4 due to holiday ad spending.
       
  • YouTube added fact check panels to search results in the US. (Read more)
     
  • News Corp‘s Fox News hit a new record in TV ratings this month, averaging 3.68m primetime viewers. It has had 2.2m viewers on average overall (its 2nd best month ever). (Read more)
    • NBCUniversal’s MSNBC: 2.03m primetime, 1.25m overall
    • WarnerMedia’s CNN: 1.94m primetime, 1.36m overall
    • In the 25-54 age group, CNN was up 179%, Fox up 83%, and MSNBC up 54%. (Source)
       
  • NCAA announced its support for allowing college athletes in the US to get paid for endorsements and other use of their name/likeness so long as their school isn’t involved. (Read more)

Publishing

  • Niche, a publisher whose platform shares content for comparing different US colleges, raised $35m in Series C funding from Radian Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Allen & Co., and Tim Armstrong. (Read more)

Music

  • Spotify Q1 earnings report:
    • Audience (+ change from Q4)
      • 286m MAUs (+5%)
      • 130m paying subs (+5%)
      • 163m free tier MAUs (+7%)
    • Revenue (yoy / qoq)
      • Total: €1,848m (+22% / 0%)
      • Subscription: €1,700m (+24% / +4%)
      • Subscription ARPU: €4.42, -6% from Q4 due to longer trials, emerging market expansion, and popularity of family/duo bundles.
      • Ads: €148m (+17% / -32%)
    • Maintained 25.5% margin from Q4 with gross profit of €474m. Premium gross margin increased to 28.3%.
    • Covid-19 impact: while hours of listening declined, subs and DAU:MAU ratio were steady. Without commutes people aren’t listening as much within each day. Listening on at-home devices (TVs, smart speakers) and game consoles soared.
       
  • Tencent Music Entertainment invested in Radio Music Warehouse, a Chinese streaming platform providing music on commercial licenses to businesses (kind of like Spotify spin-out Soundtrack Your Brand). (Read more)

Podcasting/Audio

  • Spotify Q1 earnings:
    • 19% of MAUs listen to podcasts, from 16% in Q4.
    • Of 1 million podcasts on Spotify, 60% are created via Anchor. In Q1, 70% of new podcasts used Anchor.
       
  • US podcast downloads went back up for the first time since much of the country went into lockdown in early-mid March, according to Podtrac data. (Read more)

Interactive Media

Interactive Stories

  • Neon Media spun out of HBO as its own Seattle-based, 7-person firm focused on developing interactive stories and story-driven games. (Read more)

Gaming

  • Funtap, a Vietnam-based mobile games studio, raised a Series A from Makers Fund, DT&Investment, Colopl Next, and Soulbei. (Read more)
     
  • Epic Games is temporarily requiring user to verify their account with two-factor authentication in order to redeem free games from the Epic Store. It’s a move to encourage better account security by gamers. (Read more)
     
  • Riot‘s new game Valorant is having a lot of issues with player harassment, something executives — who say they’ve also been harassed in their game — are pledging to address. (Read more)

Communications

  • Marco Polo, a video chat app focused on asynchronous conversations (sending videos back and forth), added a subscription tier and claims 20m messages were sent on its app in one day. (Read more)

Dealmakers

  • Arctos Sports Partners, a new PE firm led by David O’Connor and Ian Charles that is focused on buying stakes in pro sports teams, is raising $1-1.5b for its first fund. (Read more)
    • Per Axios, $500m is already committed, with LPs including Goldman Sachs’ fund of funds Petershill.

Deal News: April 28, 2020

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Digestible Media

Film/TV/Video 

  • Endeavor is raising $250m to help cover operating costs, according to the NY Post. PE firm Silver Lake, which already owns 42% is not planning to increase its stake, per the report. (Read more)
    • Moody’s downgraded Endeavor’s credit rating yesterday from B2 to B3. The talent representation and live events group has carried a lot of debt since financing its acquisition of UFC in 2016. (Read more)
       
  • FaZe Clan, the high-profile esports team, and Sugar23 formed a joint venture called FaZe Studios to produce film and TV projects. (Read more)
     
  • A US District judge dismissed most charges by the Writers Guild of America that collection of packaging fees by talent agencies WMECAA, and UTA were illegal. (Read more)
    • The judge ruled that individual writers can still make claims against their agencies for breaching fiduciary duties.

Publishing

  • Hightimes Holding Corp, the company behind the cannabis-focused publishing brands like High Times, is leveraging its brand recognition to get into commerce: it’s acquiring 13 cannabis dispensaries in California for $80m in stock. (Read more)
    • It listed on Nasdaq in 2018 via a Reg A+ process and has revenue of about $20m/yr from publishing and events.

Music

  • Pandora added 51,000 paying subscribers in Q1, reaching 6.3m total. It earned $241 in ad revenue (+4% yoy) and $369m in total (+1%). (Read more)
     
  • Hipgnosis Songs Fund CEO Merck Mercuriadis said in an interview with music journalist Tim Ingham that Hipgnosis has now invested $1b across 60 catalogs since launching in July 2018. Despite industry rumors about him doing deals at 20x multiples, he says the publicly-traded investment co’s avg multiple paid has been 12.99x net publisher share. (Read more)
    • Mercuriadis also says he anticipates raising and investing another $1b in the next 2 years.
    • In Sept 2018 I wrote about the war over music copyrights with surging investment in the space. Some called it a bubble but it has continued as a hot market.
       
  • Travis Scott‘s 5 concerts in Fortnite attracted 27.7 million unique users combined. (Read more)

Podcasting/Audio

  • SiriusXM had Q1 revenue of $1.6 billion (+6% yoy) and gross profit of $992m (+7% yoy). (Read more)
    • 34.8m total subscribers, 9.1m of which are on trials given partnerships with auto makers or other companies.
    • Of 143k new subs, 69k were self-paying subs. Self-pay subscriber churn held steady at 1.8%.
    • ARPU was up 3% to $13.95.

Interactive Media

  • Rovio, the Finnish mobile games company best known for its Angry Birds franchise, reported Q1 revenue of €66.6m (-6% yoy) with pre-tax profits of €11.5m (+53% yoy). (Presentation / Webcast)
    • The boost in profits resulted from a substantial cut-back on user acquisition spend while user base remained stable (€13m vs €23m in Q1 2019).
    • Most UA spend is toward growing Angry Birds Dream Blast and Sugar Blast. The rest is on increasing earnings from Angry Birds 2.
    • Rovio has 10 games in development, the next 3 of which have been in soft launch since 2019 and are gearing up for full launch.
       
  • Scopely is acquiring PierPlay, a fellow LA-based studio that launched in 2016 and was a partner to Scopely in developing Scrabble GO. (Read more)
     
  • Macarthur Fortune Holding acquired the Jagex (the Cambridge UK-based team behind the hit MMO Runescape) from Fukong Interactive for $530m via its Platinum Fortune fund. (Read more)

Communications

  • While Verizon‘s weekly updates on network usage during the Covid-19 crisis have shown peak usage far above pre-Covid levels in activities like gaming, streaming, and web browsing, they have show declines in social media usage. The April 22 data was -15% for the week compared to averages before March. (Read more)
    • While social media companies are reporting increased DAUs, this suggests the amount of time those DAUs are spending on their platform may be lower. It would make sense given the easy availability of games, Netflix, etc. when at home all day, not to mention a dramatic shift to socializing through video chat like Zoom and FaceTime.
    • A Verizon spokeswoman confirmed the decline in peak social media usage was not merely due to a more even distribution of when people use social media than before.
       
  • Facebook plans to enable Facebook Pages to charge for users to attend live streams. (Read more)

Dealmakers

  • Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings II raised $360m, following the last week’s IPO of Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings III which raised $720m. Both are SPACs created by Chamath Palihapitiya and Ian Osborne, hunting for private tech companies (particularly startup “unicorns”) to acquire and take public. (Read more)
    • The duo’s first SPAC took Virgin Galactic public. Their new targets could include one of the entertainment-related unicorns but may very well not.

Deal News: April 27, 2020

(This was first published in today’s Monetizing Media newsletter. Sign up here to receive it daily.)

Digestible Media

Film/TV/Video 

  • AMPTP (the trade group representing film studios and TV networks) and SAG-AFTRA (the union of US actors, singers, and other performing artists) begin negotiations today for a new 3-year contract. (Read more)
     
  • Cheddar, which Altice bought for $200m one year ago, is merging its two OTT news channels into one, making lay-offs, and closing its LA studio. (Read more)
     
  • Nordisk Film, the Nordic entertainment conglomerate active in film/TV, cinemas, and gaming, acquired a minority stake in Norwegian production company Fantefilm (known for The Wave and The Quake). (Read more)
     
  • Universal Pictures and LEGO Group signed a 5-year exclusive deal for Universal to develop films tied to the toy maker’s IP. LEGO previously had a deal with Warner Bros that resulted in 4 films which grossed $1.1b. (Read more)
     
  • Mediaset, the Italian TV giant founded and controlled by Silvio Berlusconi, increased its stake in German TV conglomerate ProSiebenSat.1 by 4.1% to 24.2% after getting German govt approval to increase to 25%. (Read more)
     
  • ProSiebenSat.1 plans to shutter its longtime VOD service Maxdome this summer and has already blocked new sign-ups, directing everyone to its new SVOD service Joyn. (Read more)
     
  • Visits to film piracy sites were up 57% in the last month in the UK. (Read more)

Publishing

  • Google will now require all advertisers to verify their identity, something initially implemented just for political ads. (Read more)
     
  • Verizon Media had Q1 revenue of $1.7b, down 4% yoy. (Read more)
     
  • Here’s a Vanity Fair profile on how the UK’s Daily Mail has captured much of the US tabloid market: (Read it)
     
  • Exor, the holding company of Italy’s wealthy Agnelli family (led by Fiat chairman John Elkann), completed its €102m acquisition of a controlling minority stake in Italian print news group GEDI. (Read more)

Music

  • Epic Games‘ first Travis Scott concert within Fortnite peaked at 12.3m concurrent users, the highest publicly reported peak for Fortnite yet. (Read more)
    • Led by Fortnite, popular games are turning to non-gaming events that occur within their worlds as a marketing strategy to break into non-gaming pop culture more.
    • Fortnite hasn’t reported any user metrics in a very long time (78m MAUs in Aug 2018), and third-party sources have tracked declining revenues since 2018, so a new peak from the 10.8m concurrent users who joined the Marshmello concert in Feb 2019 is a healthy sign.
    • The massive popularity of certain MMO games also offers musicians a new channel to entertain fans and expose new audiences to their music. This weekend also saw superstar producers Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat DJ-ing within Minecraft, for example.
       
  • Saudi Public Investment Fund disclosed a new $500m (5.7%) stake in Live Nation today. (Read more)
    • The shares were bought on the open market and appears to just be a passive investment betting on Live Nation’s recovering given its shares are down 50% since Feb 20.
       
  • Liberty Media transferred its $2.6b (33%) stake in Live Nation (and $1.3b in liabilities) from being housed under Formula One Group to being housed under Liberty SiriusXM, and moved $1.4b in cash (plus $165m call spread) from Liberty SiriusXM to Formula One. (Read more)
    • Liberty SiriusXM is a publicly traded vehicle housing Liberty Media’s stake in SiriusXM and other assets.
    • It aligns the audio-related assets in one publicly-traded vehicle together while getting cash to its racing business (hard hit by Covid-19) and releasing slumping Live Nation shares from dragging Formula One Group down further. 

Podcasting/Audio

  • Luminary profile in Bloomberg on weak adoption but renewed focus on finding a winning strategy with lower price point: (Read here)

Interactive Media

Gaming

  • Zynga partnered with Amazon to provide free in-app purchases to Words With Friends players who link their Amazon Prime account. (Read more)
     
  • TV ads in the US by gaming companies doubled during the month since major US cities went into lockdown. (Read more)
     
  • Author Digital and Super!com formed a new game studio in Seattle called Adept Games as a joint venture backed by $5.5m from Super!’s $50m investment fund. Adept is building multiple story-centric games. (Read more)
     
  • Reworks, a Helsinki game studio behind the new home decoration game Redecor, announced €4m is seed funding from EQT Ventures (Lars Jörnow), Play Ventures, and Anton Gauffin who founded casino mobile games giant Huuuge. (Read more)
     
  • Stillfront Group, the Stockholm-based games holding co, acquired Miami-based casual mobile game studio Candywriter for $74m (half stock, half cash) with a $120m earn out based on performance through 2022. (Read more)
     
  • Opera Event, an Oakland-based platform for esports teams to secure event sponsorship and have their fans who also stream take part in the sponsor’s campaign, raised a $5M Series A. Investors were AnteraAtlas VenturesEverblue, and Konvoy. (Read more)
     
  • 1939 Games, the Icelandic studio behind WWII-themed digital card game Kards (100k weekly users), raised $1.9m in additional funding. (Read more)

VR

  • WITHIN, the LA-based VR studio led by director Chris Milk, released Supernatural, a $19/mo VR app for fitness training for Oculus Quest. It features different workouts (set in exotic locations) that are personalized by tracking a user’s body. (Website)
     
  • My TechCrunch colleague Lucas Matney analyzed “What happens if Magic Leap shuts down?

Communications

  • Facebook on Friday launched a set of video calling updates to allow for better group calls across its properties, including a Hangouts-like feature on Facebook where friends can casually drop into your call. (Read more)
     
  • Telegram surpassed 400m MAUs (Read more)
     
  • AT&T‘s new CEO is longtime telecom exec (and recent WarnerMedia CEO) John Stankey.
    • Fortune critiques outgoing CEO Randall Stephenson, who was also the target of activist hedge fund Elliott’s criticism. AT&T’s future hinges heavily on HBO Max being an enormous success, making up for its collapsing pay-TV division (~19m subs, losing ~1m per quarter) which includes a failed $49b bet on DirecTV.
       
  • Snap is following its strong Q1 earnings report by raising $750m in new convertible debt. It raised $1b in convertible debt last August. GS and JPM are managing the process. (Read more)
     
  • WhatsApp says its recent restriction on how many times a message can be forwarded has reduced viral messages by 70%. Misinformation spread through WhatsApp has been a big problem, leading to vigilante mobs and scams in India and elsewhere. (Read more)

Dealmakers

  • Transcend Fund launched as a new $50m gaming-focused VC fund in SF focused on $200k-2m checks at seed and Series A. It’s led by Shanti Bergel, a longtime product and corp dev exec (and angel investor) in gaming. (Read more)