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Spotify to Buy Podcast Hosting Company Megaphone for $235 Million

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  • After purchasing exclusive shows, a podcast player, podcast creation software, and more, Spotify is planning to purchase the podcast hosting company Megaphone for $235 million.
  • This new acquisition will help Spotify put ads in more podcasts by expanding the use of its system that makes real-time decisions about which ads a specific listener should hear based on their data, as well as the goals of the various ad deals Spotify is currently running.
  • A survey Spotify recently sent to users has also sparked speculation that the streaming service is considering launching a separate subscription service for podcasts.

What Spotify’s Megaphone Deal Really Means

Spotify is looking to acquire the podcast hosting company Megaphone for $235 million, another major deal may help solidify its dominance in the podcasting world.

For the last few years, the streaming service has been working aggressively to snag both podcasting networks and popular programs.

It scored huge deals with Joe Rogan, Kim Kardashian, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and bought companies like The Ringer, Gimlet Media, and others.

Now, it’s going even further with this new acquisition that will help it put ads in more podcasts.

Megaphone is a company that offers technology for podcast publishers and advertisers seeking targeted slots on podcasts, and according to The Verge, the multimillion-dollar deal wouldn’t affect Spotify’s own podcasts since it already hosted its shows on Megaphone. 

Instead, it means Megaphone hosted podcasts– from publishers like ESPN, the Wall Street Journal, and others– will have access to Spotify’s proprietary ad insertion technology, called Streaming Ad Insertion.

That system makes real-time decisions about which ads a specific listener should hear based on their data, as well as the goals of the various ad deals Spotify is currently running.

This purchase is major for Spotify because it means the company now owns a fully rounded-out podcasting ecosystem, including a network of exclusive shows, a podcast player, podcast creation software, a hosting company, and its own ad sales team.

Rumors of Potential Spotify Podcast Subscription Service

As such a strong force in the podcasting world, it not too surprising that earlier this week, reports surfaced suggesting Spotify might be considering launching a separate paid subscription service just for podcasts.

Right now, you can listen to podcasts on Spotify for free with ads, or without ads if you’re one of the 150 million people who pay for its music streaming membership. 

Still, it’s worth noting that this change isn’t official. In fact, reports only surfaced after the company sent out a new survey to some users, including Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein.

Competitors Eye Big Podcast Purchases

Spotify isn’t the only company with its eyes on podcasts.

This week, several outlets reported that Apple and Sony are reportedly eyeing a $300-$400 million acquisition of the podcast network Wondery.

There are at least two other companies that have joined them for negotiations. They haven’t been identified and nothing has been finalized, but it has been confirmed that Spotify is not one of the bidders. 

If this deal happens, it would be one of the priciest agreements in the industry.

See what others are saying: (Tubefilter) (The Verge) (Pitchfork)

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GameStop Shares Surge Again After Investor Posts Image of McDonald’s Ice Cream Cone

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  • GameStop share prices surged from around $50 midday Wednesday to $170 Thursday morning in pre-market trading, marking the company’s second massive share spike in 2020.
  • Some attributed the recent spike to an image of a McDonald’s ice cream cone tweeted by GameStop investor and board member Ryan Cohen.
  • Many have interpreted the image as a cryptic call to action since it seems connected to the “meme stocks” frenzy that first drove GameStop’s stock rise last month.
  • While it’s unclear how much of an effect this image actually had on investors, other factors have also been attributed to the rise, including the alleged forced resignation of GameStop’s Chief Financial Officer.

GameStock’s Second Wave

Game Stop is seeing yet another major surge in its stock prices this year. During the last few hours of trading Wednesday evening, share prices for the video game retailer jumped from under $50 to above $90. 

That price soared as high as $170 in pre-market trading Thursday morning. 

Stocks like AMC and Koss have also seen notable spikes over the past 24 hours, though both have been much smaller in scale.

The Ice Cream Cone

Details about what exactly is driving this latest stock price increase are unclear, though different speculations are already circulating.

Outlets like CNBC have partially attributed the spike to the reported forced resignation of GameStop’s Chief Financial Officer, Jim Bell. 

Others have attributed the surge to a photo of a McDonald’s ice cream cone, of all things. While such an explanation may seem out-of-left-field, it’s heavily connected to the “meme stocks” frenzy that first drove GameStop’s meteoric rise last month. 

In January, GameStop share prices soared to unprecedented highs as a group of Redditors on the message board WallStreetBets encouraged each other to stuff their money into the stock. 

Though GameStop as a business has been failing for years, that was precisely why those Redditors were so keen on the stock. Many wanted to support the company simply because they like it and have a nostalgic attachment to it. Others also wanted to make certain Wall Street hedge funds pay for betting on GameStop’s failure. 

Notably, the ice cream photo was shared by Ryan Cohen, a GameStop investor who — as of the start of this year — also sits on the company’s board of directors. 

A number of people on WallStreetBets refer to him as “Papa Cohen,” and many hold the belief that he has the vision to transform GameStop into a profitable online business. As a result, many have interpreted this tweet as a cryptic call-to-action.

As a reporter for The Verge noted, a number of factors are likely playing a role here, including Bell’s ousting, Cohen’s ice cream tweet, and a Congressional testimony last week from Reddit user Roaring Kitty.

Kitty, whose real name is Keith Gill, is an investor who’s largely been credited with helping to drive the meme-stock frenzy. In fact, this past Friday, Gill also bought an additional 50,000 shares of GameStop.

Criticism Against Free-To-Trade Apps

On Wednesday, American investor Charlie Munger blamed free-to-trade apps like Robinhood for the current meme stock frenzy, calling it “a culture which encourages as much gambling in stocks by people who have the mindset of racetrack bettors… It’s a dirty way of making money.”

In a statement made on Thursday, a Robinhood spokesperson refuted Munger’s characterization, saying, “To suggest that new investors have a ‘mindset of racetrack bettors’ is disappointing and elitist.”

See what others are saying: (Kotaku) (The Verge) (CNBC)

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Facebook Blocks News in Australia Over Proposed Media Compensation Law

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  • Australian leaders condemned Facebook on Thursday after it blocked all Australians from sharing domestic and international news on the platform and prevented all global users from sharing news by Australian publishers.
  • Facebook also wiped the pages of state health departments and emergency services that provide resources amid the pandemic and the ongoing fire season, though it later restored those systems.
  • The move comes as Australia prepares to pass a law that would require large tech companies to pay media organizations for content that appears on their platforms.
  • Facebook and Google have long fought against the legislation, but Google shifted its stance Thursday, saying it entered a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content.

Facebook Escalates Battle With Australia

Facebook took the unprecedented step Thursday of blocking news access on the platform in Australia – a drastic escalation of a battle over a proposed regulatory law in the country.

Under the legislation, which is expected to pass in the next week, tech giants would be required to negotiate compensation with news organizations for the content that appears on their platforms.

Those who support the law argue that traditional media organizations have been steadily declining while big companies like Facebook and Google, which have become major distributors of news, continue to make billions of dollars from digital advertising. As a result, proponents believe that these companies have a responsibility to help support news organizations whose content they profit off of by driving traffic to the sites.

Facebook and Google, however, have fought hard against the law. They have said it is unworkable for a number of reasons and claimed it would incentivize the news organizations to jack up prices during negotiations.

Now that is all but certain Australia will approve the law soon, Facebook has reinforced its opposition efforts. Not only does Facebook’s current ban block Australians from sharing both domestic and international news sources on the platform, but it also prevents all Australian publishers from being seen on Facebook everywhere else in the world.

The ban also goes beyond the news. According to reports, pages for state health departments were also wiped clean just three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program. Emergency services were also taken out, including the Bureau of Meteorology, which has been providing essential weather data in the middle of fire season.

Pages for nonprofits and charities were also taken away, meanwhile, groups dedicated to spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines, 5G, Bill Gates, and the end of the world remained up.

Facebook, for its part, blamed the disappearances on the proposed legislation.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a spokesperson told reporters, though the company eventually agreed to revive the public service pages.

Facebook Slammed By Politicians

Facebook’s decision to ban all news in Australia — especially the blocking of essential service accounts — sparked outrage from leaders in the country.

Many politicians condemned Facebook for preventing access to health information in a pandemic and censoring news.

“The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services… who have had their Facebook pages blocked, that’s a public safety issue,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also took aim at Facebook in a post on the platform. 

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said. “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”

Morrison went on to say that the government would not back down and urged Facebook to work constructively with them like Google, which has taken the opposite approach.

Google Strikes Deal With Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Shortly before Facebook imposed its block, Google announced that it had made a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content in Australia as well as the U.S. and the U.K.

The search engine — which just a weeks ago threatened to make its products unavailable in Australia over the proposed law— has since changed its mind and instead struck several multimillion-dollar deals with other Australian publishers.

While many praised Google for its approach, some media watchdog groups are worried that these deals will only further the ability of large tech companies make news organizations beholden to them.

Others have also expressed concern over Google’s deal with Murdoch, who has been lobbying the Australian government to push tech companies to pay news organizations for years, and who The New York Times described as “quite cozy with Australia’s conservative government.” 

At the same time, other industry leaders have said this will be a net good for journalism and likely a model for other countries, including Microsoft, whose president wrote a blog post last week arguing that the U.S. should enact similar legislation.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Uber Asks EU To Adopt Prop 22-Style Standards

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  • Uber outlined a proposal to the European Union on Monday that, if implemented, would essentially enact policies similar to California’s prop 22.
  • Prop-22, which became law in the state following the 2020 Elections, exempts app-based transportation companies from classifying their drivers as employees.
  • The EU will not immediately entertain Uber’s proposal. Instead, it plans to meet with workers next week to hear their concerns.
  • On a related note, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court will decide on Friday whether two Uber drivers should be entitled to minimum wage, paid leave, and rest breaks.

Uber’s Push for Prop 22 in the EU

Uber began lobbying the European Union Monday to adopt Prop-22 style standards.

Notably, Prop 22, which was approved by California voters in November, exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from having to classify their drivers as employees. Instead, drivers are classified as “gig workers.”

Since its introduction, the proposition has been controversial. That’s because it eliminated a number of benefits drivers would have seen as employees, including sick pay and workers’ compensation. While it did promise wage guarantees and health insurance stipends, even those aspects have proved controversial

Uber pushing for this type of policy in Europe isn’t much of a surprise. In fact, right after Prop 22 passed, Uber indicated that wanted to go global with similar models

In a message sent to the European Commission, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi argued that workers are entitled to have control over when and where they want to work.

“We believe a new approach is possible,” he said. “One where having access to protections and benefits doesn’t come at the cost of flexibility and of job creation.”

“This could include helping platform workers pay into existing public social protection schemes,” he added, ‘or it could mean an industry-funded portable benefits fund, allowing platform workers to accrue funds to access the protections and benefits they want.”

“Critically, whatever the model, there must be an industry level playing field to ensure all independent workers have consistent earnings whichever app they choose to work on.”

That said, the EU won’t immediately entertain Uber’s request. Next week, it plans to meet with workers and representatives on gig workers’ rights to obtain their feedback on how to improve working conditions.

UK Set To Decide Major Workers’ Rights Case 

On Feb 19., the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is set to rule on a 2016 case involving two Uber drivers who allege they’re entitled to rights such as minimum wage, paid leave, and rest breaks.

Should Uber lose, it would essentially be forced to adopt policies opposite of those currently in play by California’s Prop 22. Still, it could take several months for such a decision to go into effect. 

Last week, a lawsuit aiming to overturn California’s Prop 22 was also filed in the U.S. While that lawsuit was originally filed with the state’s Supreme Court, the court ultimately decided not to hear the case. Now, it will be heard in the Alameda County Superior Court. 

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (CNBC) (U.S. News & World Report)

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