VIP Roundup: Media/Tech Companies Making Waves, Week of Sept. 7

Variety Intelligence Platform

VIP’s “Making Waves” roundup analyzes the week’s biggest media and tech headlines to ensure decision makers in the space don’t miss a beat. Here’s a look at the biggest news of the week: 

Trump Stands Firm on TikTok Sale Deadline

An update on the most unpredictable tech storyline of the summer: Trump reinforced his deadline Thursday, forcing the possibility the app will have to close as opposed to what seems an increasingly improbable sale. However, it’s not entirely clear when that deadline is, with estimates ranging from the original Sept. 15 schedule to early November. Microsoft and Oracle (which is cozy with Trump) are both still in the bidding race. Even though it’s been nonstop chaos, regulation-wise, for TikTok, its growth doesn’t seem to have been significantly dented in recent times. The video-sharing platform was the most downloaded non-gaming app globally in August — that’s a testament to how little data privacy concerns sometimes effect an app (think Facebook/Cambridge Analytica or Zoom).

Netflix Shakeup Elevates Bajaria to Run Entire Original-TV Biz

Newly minted Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos on Tuesday announced an unexpected management shakeup: Bela Bajaria is being promoted from VP of local language originals to lead Netflix’s entire original-TV business. This move means original-content VP Cindy Holland, one of the longest-tenured Netflix execs, will exit Netflix in October. The move, which ostensibly wasn’t linked to Cindy Holland’s performance, helps consolidate Netflix’s original-TV decision-making power in a way that mirrors its film business, run by Scott Stuber. That consolidation seems to be important for Netflix as it looks to embark on a new phase of growth — heavily targeting non-U.S. audiences, which Bajaria, a London-born South Asian American, has experience programming.

HBO Max Ad-Supported Tier Feels Closer to a Reality

Several articles this week shared details on how an ad-supported tier of HBO Max could look, including potential launch date and how ads may be run next to Turner Classic Movies but not recent HBO programs. The most critical detail to consumers — price — is still unclear in an ad-supported HBO Max, but the new details are a reminder that WarnerMedia is cooking up something that could meaningfully help accelerate the growth of HBO Max, whose reach AT&T has described in umpteen ways in a bid to make user count sound as robust as possible. It’s good timing for HBO Max to start ironing out details on becoming more accessible, too, as its streaming competitors are leaning into discounted bundle offerings. 

“Mulan” Drives Disney+ App Download Surge

Early numbers indicate “Mulan” last weekend helped Disney+ surge in mobile reach but not to the same degree that “Hamilton” did in July, according to Sensor Tower and Apptopia. That may sound like a bad thing, but keep in mind comparing download surges for “Mulan” and “Hamilton” is apples to oranges. For one, “Mulan” becomes widely available to subs on December 4, so there are definitely people delaying getting Disney+ until then. Second, the $29.99 fee for “Mulan” likely deterred some would-be viewers (as in, potential Disney+ downloads) in a way “Hamilton” didn’t have to deal with. “Mulan” is also turning into a more controversial film by the minute, and that could prompt some socially conscious consumers to change their minds on subscribing to Disney+ in December to see the film for free.

Apple Gears Up for Its Annual Product Event

Every fall, Apple holds a product event to showcase the tech giant’s new wares and services. Well, things are different this year thanks to COVID-19, thus the Apple event on Tuesday, Sept. 15, will be different as well. For one, there will reportedly be no iPhone 12 reveal, and instead the company will be focusing on a new iPad and Apple Watch. Reports of the new “Apple One” bundle were essentially confirmed by the company in a string of codes for its latest update to Apple Music on Android phones. Though the announcement was widely expected, it would be yet another move to provide consumers with the ability to mix and match services. Seems like Apple is remaining steadfast in its promise to shift away from hardware into services.

Celebs, Major Media Companies Dive Deeper Into Podcast Production

It was a busy week for podcasts (never mind that Trump went after Joe Biden with a Joe Rogan podcast clip). Apple released its first podcast tied to “Oprah’s Book Club,” Sony is now planning to release 40 podcasts in 2020, and the IAB Podcast Upfront took place. The upfront is where ViacomCBS and iHeartMedia announced a podcast deal that will see shows like a “Yo! MTV Raps” podcast. Each of these new podcasts is being launched as ad spending for the medium has slowed due to the pandemic. Still, not all of them are being launched for the primary purpose of generating ad spend (for example, Oprah’s podcast is likely meant as more of a lure for Apple TV+).

Amazon-Reliance Industries Investment Talk Heats Up Again

Reliance Industries, which has been nabbing Silicon Valley and PE investment left and right this summer, has offered to sell a roughly $20 billion stake in its retail business to Amazon, Bloomberg reported yesterday. Amazon has already been thinking of investing in Reliance, but this latest in-talks deal would be one of biggest ever for Amazon. While the Jio tie-up seems mostly a play to grow Amazon’s retail/e-commerce sales in India (where Reliance Retail operates 12,000 stores), it could also secondarily help Amazon grow its Prime membership count and Prime Video base. Closing a deal like this would perhaps allow for Amazon to market its Prime offering in some of Reliance’s stores, for example. Reliance already has a Prime deal that’s offered to some of its Internet customers.