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Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock Sue Over Phony Endorsements

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  • Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock have filed a joint lawsuit against individuals and entities who use their likeness to create fake endorsements of products, in an effort to “expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry.”
  • Fake celebrity endorsements have become more common thanks to scammers who prey on consumers in a growing era of affiliate marketing. 
  • For years celebs have issued cease-and-desist orders, but these companies operate quickly, taking down one site only to replace it with another soon after.

Stars File Lawsuit

Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock are fed up with websites using their likeness without consent to falsely promote their products 

The two filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court as part of an effort to “expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry,” which they say has become a major issue for stars in the digital age. 

DeGeneres and Bullock are specifically going after scammers in the affiliate marketing industry who direct traffic to e-commerce sites by creating phony advertisements. 

The two have issued a “right of publicity” claim, saying that these individuals and entities use their names and likeness for false advertising of products like face creams, anti-aging serums, dietary supplements, and more. 

But these obscure internet companies have proven to be difficult to go after. For two years, representatives for DeGeneres and Bullock have sent out cease-and-desist orders, but once one site is taken down, another pops up in its place under a slightly different name or form.  

“These companies change names frequently, merge in and out of entities formed in states that allow for secrecy, operate websites that pop up and disappear overnight, and generally do everything possible to ‘stay one step ahead of the sheriff,’” the complaint said, according to The New York Times. 

Because DeGeneres and Bullock don’t know for sure who exactly is behind the fraud, the defendants have been listed as John Does 1 through 100 and their lawyers can now issue subpoenas to undercover them. 

The Era of Affiliate Marketing and Scams 

Their lawsuit brings the issue of fake celebrity endorsements to the forefront, a problem that has become especially more rampant for Hollywood stars thanks to scammers who prey on consumers in a growing era of affiliate marketing. 

Affiliate marketing is a popular way for online figures to earn money by promoting products and directing consumers to the online seller. In most cases, a click that generates a sale can earn the publisher a commission, though other types of compensation arrangements are sometimes also agreed upon. 

It can be a very powerful marketing tool, especially when those promoting a product have built a strong reputation for trustworthiness with their audience.

According to estimates from Forrester Consulting, by next year the affiliate industry will be a $6.8 billion business, And while most participants are legitimate, others are not. Some take advantage of celebrities who have developed a strong reputation, as well as consumers who they may hold influence over. 

Bullock and DeGeneres aren’t alone in being targeted by these shady websites. Stars over 40 whom the public considers trustworthy or admirable are often used for these scams, including celebs like Oprah Winfrey, Kelly Ripa, and Denzel Washington, who is often used to falsely promote erectile dysfunction pills.  

As The Times points out, bombarding the web with these fake endorsements can actually be damaging to a celebrity’s reputation and hurt their ability to secure legitimate endorsement deals. 

How It’s Done 

A common trick these scammers use involves setting up websites “designed to look like legitimate and independent news reports or magazine articles about various Beauty products,” the complaint says. 

Then they post real images of celebrities that have been doctored to become a fake endorsement. The lawsuit points to some examples, like one image of Bullock appearing on NBC’s Today show to promote a film. The image was converted into an ad that read: “Sandra Bullock Talks About Her New Skin Care Line,” despite the fact that Bullock has never had a skincare line.

The ad is then accompanied by a link that leads to a site selling the celebrity’s supposed product.

Another example in the suit shows that ads include fabrications like: “Sandra even admitted that plastic surgeons are furious with her after noticing a large decline in patients.” 

In their complaint, DeGeneres and Bullock listed 40 beauty products that have been sold online with their names fraudulently linked.

Source: The New York Times

“The celebrity endorsement-theft business model is based on a scheme to trick consumers into disclosing their credit card and/or debit card information in order to enroll them in costly programs with undisclosed, or poorly disclosed, recurring charges,” Bullock and DeGeneres said in the complaint. Ads for the products “typically include unsubstantiated claims that the products will lead to dramatic results,” they continued.

Many of these fake ads also offer free trials, but the complaint says that in reality, customers are often charged full price. 

According to a 2018 report from the Better Business Bureau, offers of free trials put forward through this type of marketing “have infested the internet and social media” and cost more than a million victims upward of $1.3 billion over the past decade. 

Along with claiming violations of their rights of publicity in the suit, DeGeneres and Bullock are claiming false advertising and unfair competition. The lawsuit demands an injunction and compensatory damages. First, though, the suit seems designed to kick off an investigation into responsibility for the marketing. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Los Angeles Times

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Joe Rogan Says Grimes Did Not Give Dave Chappelle COVID-19

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  • Comedian Dave Chappelle is under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He is asymptomatic and his remaining shows in Austin, Texas have been canceled.
  • The news comes just days after Chappelle was photographed with Joe Rogan, Elon Musk, Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.
  • “Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” Rogan wrote on Instagram Friday. “Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

Chappelle Tests Positive

Comedian Dave Chappelle has tested positive for coronavirus and is currently under quarantine, according to one of his representatives.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, that rep also confirmed that he is currently asymptomatic and has canceled all of his remaining shows at Stubbs Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin, Texas.

“Chappelle has safely conducted socially-distanced shows in Ohio since June 2020 and he moved those shows to Austin during the winter,” the statement read.

“Chappelle implemented COVID-19 protocols which included rapid testing for the audience and daily testing for himself and his team. His diligent testing enabled him to immediately respond by quarantining, thus mitigating the spread of the virus,” it continued.

Joe Rogan Speaks Out After He Was Photographed With Chappelle

Two of the remaining Austin shows were supposed to include fellow comedian Joe Rogan. Rogan took to Instagram Friday morning to announce that they will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Still, many fans had questions about Rogan’s current state of health. The news of Chappelle’s positive test comes just days after he was photographed maskless with Rogan, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, musician Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.

Since Grimes, who is also in a relationship with Musk, recently had COVID, many were concerned that she may have exposed the group. Others wondered if Chappelle may have spread it.

Rogan eventually updates his Instagram caption to dismiss the ideas.

“Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” he wrote.“Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

See what others are saying: (The Hollywood Reporter) (CNN) (AP News)

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Netflix Passes 200M Subscribers as Other Streamers Struggle With Retention

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  • In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said it has hit over 200 million subscribers following a successful year of growth.
  • The pandemic gave Netflix a significant subscriber boost in March and April. The company continued to perform well even in its final quarter, gaining 8.5 million subscribers when it was only projected to add 6 million.
  • The data also highlights how relatively unaffected Netflix has been by new streaming services entering the market. While companies like Disney+, HBO Max, and Peacock continue to grow, they also struggle to retain the subscribers that sign up.

Netflix Passes 200 Million Subscribers

Netflix has topped 200 million subscribers following a year of strong growth in 2020.

In its Tuesday letter to shareholders, Netflix announced that it added 8.5 million subscribers in its fourth quarter. This exceeds projections, which estimated the streaming giant would only add around 6 million. In total, Netflix gained 37 million new memberships throughout 2020, bringing the company to 203.6 million subscribers.

Pandemic lockdowns gave Netflix a substantial boost in March in April. In the company’s first two quarters, it added a combined 25.7 million subscribers. According to data from the letter, Netflix had added over 10 million more subscribers by May of 2020 than it had by May of 2019.

When it comes to the success of their fourth quarter, Netflix pointed to shows like “Bridgerton” and “The Crown.” The fourth season of “The Crown” hit the platform in November, prompting many to return to older seasons of the show. Netflix claims the series has been viewed by 100 million households since it first aired in 2016.

Success Amid Growth of Competition

The year 2020 could have been a difficult one for Netflix as new streaming services entered the market. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock and more have all made waves with their original programming or by taking some of their brand’s content from Netflix to host on their own site. User-based content on YouTube and TikTok also became increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, further posing as a threat to Netflix. 

Still, it reached a massive milestone. 

“Our strategy is simple: if we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” Netflix said in the letter. “This past year is a testament to this approach.”

Netflix potentially sees Disney+ as the biggest competitor among new platforms. In its letter, the company noted that the streamer added 87 million subscribers in its first year. In a Q&A, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings seemed enthusiastic about this competition.

“It’s super impressive what Disney’s done,” he said. “It’s going to be great for the world that Disney and Netflix are competing show-by-show, movie-by-movie. We’re very fired up about catching them in family animation, maybe eventually passing them, we’ll see. It’s a long way to go just to catch them, and maintaining our lead in general entertainment that’s so stimulating like ‘Bridgerton,’ which I don’t think you’re going to see on Disney anytime soon.”

Streamers Struggle with Retaining Subscribers

Even as new streamers have had impressive years, there is one hurdle that many are still struggling to jump over: retaining the subscribers who sign up. The Los Angeles Times named Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and Apple TV+ in particular, writing that people create accounts with these services, watch the TV shows or movies they are interested in, and cancel once they are done.

An October survey from Deloitte said that 46% of respondents canceled at least one streaming service in the last 6 months, which is up 20% from January of last year. Most who had canceled said they did so because they had finished watching whatever programming it was that brought them to that service. 

Places like Disney+ and HBO Max are really vulnerable to this because they have banked on drawing people in with exclusive marquis titles like “Hamilton” or “Wonder Woman 1984.” However, since they are newer, they are still building their original programming catalog, meaning that people can quickly burn through highlight titles. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Wall Street Journal) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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Paramount+ To Launch March 4

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  • ViacomCBS is launching Paramount+ in the United States and Latin America on March 4 before rolling out to other markets internationally later this year. 
  • The streaming service will be a relaunch and expansion of CBS All Access. It will include content from Nickelodeon, MTV, and more on top of the CBS-focused selection. 

Paramount+ Gets Launch Date

ViacomCBS will be launching its streaming service Paramount+ in the U.S. and Latin America on March 4 before rolling out in more countries throughout the year. 

It will be an expansion and rebrand of CBS All Access, the service the company currently offers that is used by nearly 8 million subscribers. Paramount+ will go beyond the CBS-centric content promoted there, including works from brands like Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and the Smithsonian Channel.

More details about their streaming strategy will be released during an investor event on February 24. Right now, ViacomCBS is boasting that the service will have over 30,000 episodes and movies in their catalog, which will also include live sports and breaking news. 

“The Paramount brand is known and loved all around the world, and is synonymous with great entertainment. It’s always brought people together, which makes it a perfect fit for a streaming service that’s uniquely positioned to do the same,” Josh Line the chief brand officer of ViacomCBS said during a brand announcement in September. “The Paramount+ streaming service will elevate ViacomCBS’ iconic family of brands.”

State of the Streaming Wars

Paramount+ has already announced a slew of original projects including a revival of “iCarly” and a series about the making of “The Godfather” titled “The Offer.”

The service is entering an already crowded battlefield as the streaming wars wages on. It will have plenty of uphill battles to fight since brand recognition for Paramount is not nearly as strong as it is for studios like Disney or NBCUniversal. It will also have to compete with Netflix, which leads the pack in subscribers and unveils new content regularly; HBO Max, which will be home to Warner Media’s new theatrical releases; and Hulu, which hosts original content as well as shows currently airing on cable and network television. 

ViacomCBS has not released information on pricing, but that will likely come during or before the February investor event.

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Deadline) (CNBC)

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