July in media

Above the Fold

3rd August 2018

The cultural man of mystery

Theresa May is probably hoping it’s a case of third time lucky this month, as Jeremy Wright took over the role of Culture Secretary following the latest cabinet shuffle. Wright replaced Matt Hancock (moved to Health Secretary), who had himself only replaced Karen Brady in the role in January. The reshuffle came following a turbulent month for the Prime Minister, which saw the resignations of both David Davis and Boris Johnson following the now infamous Chequers meeting.

Wright takes on the role following a four-year stint as Attorney General, but the appointment was met with more than a few blank stares.

The Secretary enjoys the full title of Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), but many aren’t sure exactly how Wright embodies such a role. Unlike the announcement of his predecessor Hancock who – we were reliably told – enjoyed Ed Sheeran and racing, information on Wright is scarce to say the least.

The opposition was quick to jump on the Secretary’s seeming absence of digital savviness, with shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson gently highlighting Wright’s lack of a Twitter presence. Labour MP Darren Jones was a tad more direct tweeting: “Five tweets! I wonder what his views are on machine learning algorithms?”

But all is not lost for Wright. His website informs us he used to play the trumpet. A skill which might come in handy during any awkward silences at the Cabinet table.

The never-ending story… ends?

The ongoing tug of war over 21st Century Fox finally looked like it was hurtling towards a conclusion this month as Comcast seemingly gave up on its attempts to acquire the corporation. After a saga with more twists than a Hollywood blockbuster, Comcast finally dropped out of the race, clearing the path for Disney to buy Fox’s movie studio, regional sports networks, and cable channels FX and National Geographic.

Comcast had placed a $65 billion bid to acquire the media giant back in June, but was overtaken just a week later by Disney, who placed a bid totalling a cool $71.3 billion.

Comcast will now switch its focus to acquiring Sky in Europe, having tabled a £26 billion offer to buy the media corporation in early July, attempting to foil Rupert Murdoch’s ambitions of buying the 61% of Sky he doesn’t currently own.

In a story fit for any big screen drama, Comcast will face a familiar foe in the fight for Sky—Disney currently owns a 39 percent stake.

Unlikely bedfellows

In a month when Netflix announced they now hold 130 million memberships worldwide, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are thought to be in early discussions to create a new rival streaming service. It is believed Britain’s biggest broadcasters are trying to work together to rally against the increasing presence of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in the UK marketplace. Netflix holds 8.2 million subscribers in the UK, while over 4 million British households currently have an Amazon Prime Video subscription.

While talks are at an early stage, it is thought the plan also includes NBC Universal—the multinational media conglomerate owned by Comcast.

The talks follow the creation of BritBox in 2017, a streaming service in the US involving both the BBC and ITV. However, Channel 4 were not involved in the platform and, although it has since expanded into Canada, the service did not have a British launch.

The three have joined forces previously though, working on a video on demand (VOD) service way back in 2007 called Project Kangaroo, but this was ultimately blocked by the competition regulator. This time round though, all three broadcasters have new bosses at the helm.

Losing Face-book

Facebook faced yet more controversy this month, as Mark Zuckerberg suggested Holocaust denial material should be allowed on the site. In a rare, wide-ranging interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, Zuckerberg claimed that although he found the material “deeply offensive”, it should be allowed to remain because it may be unintentional.

The company’s community guidelines, published in April, ban hate speech. However, Facebook has defined this as “violent or dehumanising speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation”, which it claims does not include Holocaust denial.

Zuckerberg’s comments continued an already bad week for Facebook, which was the focus of an episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches just a day prior. The investigation uncovered practices in the company that encouraged moderators to keep posts online – even if they violate rules – with one moderator telling the undercover reporter: “If you start censoring too much then people lose interest in the platform… It’s all about making money at the end of the day.”

Then, to make matters worse, a disappointing earnings announcement towards the end of July wiped off over $123 billion from Facebook’s value overnight. Sometimes it’s just not your month.

Can the newspapers save the high street?

July saw the Daily Mail launch its campaign to “Save Britain’s high streets”. The movement comes after recent figures indicated over 50,000 jobs have been lost in the retail sector in the first six months of 2018. The Mail announced the campaign with typical vigour, saying that the figures exposed the “bloodbath up and down the country” as hundreds of stores close.

Not to be outdone, the Daily Express drew attention to its long-standing campaign with a piece focusing on job losses in towns and cities nationwide. Away from the struggle of the high street, the hospitality sector is also struggling, with figures showing over 6,000 jobs have already been lost in the sector this year.

There’s no sign of a solution yet though, with Chancellor Philip Hammond telling MPs that a 2016 review found “no consensus on an alternative” to the “easy to collect, difficult to avoid” property based-tax system that is placing huge pressure on many outlets.

The lure of the high street is still there for many, however, as Ikea announced this month it plans to open a range of smaller high street stores. This announcement comes after the store abandoned its proposal to open its second largest UK store in May, deciding to instead now focus on the high street. Perhaps it’s 40% drop in profits last year had something to do with that.