Dirt: Channel 4's plight / Antitrust stuff / "Cat Person" movie

Our weekly recap from Eliza Levinson.

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Eliza Levinson recaps the week in streaming.

This week in streaming, social media companies are imitating other, more successful social media companies, the UK is talking about privatizing a long-public TV station as the US circles antitrust legislation and community broadband, problematic execs are ousted, and we fear the algorithm. What else is new? 

The push to privatize Channel 4

In the UK, multiple government officials are pushing to privatize Channel 4, a station which has been publicly owned since 1982 and which is home to popular shows including The Great British Bake-Off. Unlike the BBC, which charges viewers a license fee, Channel 4 has always funded itself through commercials and never sought to make a profit. According to Oliver Dowden (paraphrased in The Guardian), the UK’s Culture Secretary, privatization would enable Channel 4 to “adapt to audiences drifting away from traditional television channels in favor of streaming services.” However, critics of Dowden’s proposal have pointed out that Channel 4 tends to have a bent against the UK’s Conservative (or “Tory”) party, most notably when one anchor, Dorothy Byrne, referred to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a “known liar” and likened him to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since many advocates for Channel 4’s privatization are Tories, some believe that the privatization is politically motivated, including Sir David Attenborough, also known as the man behind the BBC’s Life series. This week, Attenborough came out against Channel 4’s privatization, referring to the suggestion as nothing more than “short-sighted political and financial attacks.” 

To make things slightly more complicated, one of the front-running potential buyers is a US-based company, which would be politically difficult for a UK national news station. According to The Guardian, Discovery could be interested in buying Channel 4, particularly as it’s currently in the process of subsuming WarnerMedia. Another possible acquirer is ViacomCBS, which is also based in the US. 

This isn’t the only major streaming-related decision underway in the UK this week: while Boris Johnson’s government is pushing to sell off Channel 4, they’re also looking to regulate international streaming giants Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon. According to multiple UK ministers, these US-based streaming platforms will be subject to the same kinds of broadcasting rules national channels must adhere to, like the BBC, Sky, and ITV. It’s unclear, however, what these regulations will look like, or how severe they’ll be: Deadline suggests that it could be just ensuring that shows have “appropriate content age ratings in place” and “whether [the streaming services] should be subject to standards on impartiality and accuracy for documentaries and news programming.” 

Big tech busting coming?

On the other side of the pond, American legislators in the House Judiciary Committee have unveiled an “expansive set of antitrust reforms” which would have implications for tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook. According to CNBC, the reforms consist of five bills which would “make it harder for dominant platforms to complete mergers and prohibit them from owning business lines that present clear conflicts of interest.” While Google, Apple, and Amazon have sent their lobbyists to attack the proposed legislation, Spotify and Roku representatives publicly expressed their support for the bills. Horacio Gutierrez, the Chief Legal Officer of Spotify, referred to the set of bills –– known as the American Choice and Innovation Online Act –– “an important step” toward “the need to demand fair competition in the App economy.” Roku was even more transparent in its statement, writing that “Roku has firsthand experience competing against and interacting with these monopolists, and we’ve seen how they flagrantly ignore antitrust laws and harm consumers by leveraging their dominance in one line of business to stifle competition in another.” 

Meanwhile, in Ohio, lawmakers on the right are working to strike down a “community broadband” proposal, not unlike the one similarly vetoed in New York State just last week. An amendment in the recently-approved Ohio state budget is getting criticism from “state residents and locally owned ISPs,” who believe that the clause continues to ensure the telecom monopoly control of Charter and AT&T. The ruling means that community-run broadband options will no longer be allowed, though, as Karl Bode for Vice argues, “Studies have repeatedly shown community networks better, faster, and cheaper options [sic], forcing regional monopolies to not only compete on price, but improve their own local offerings.” 

LA as the new Silicon Valley?

In LA, at least one Netflix exec joined the fun at LA Tech Week, a celebration intended to prove that the Southern California city could be a worthy state rival to Silicon Valley. The event, put together by a host of tech companies I’ve never heard of like House.ai, Mirra, and Crescendo, lasted six days and included functions like “Gen Z Night,” “Crypto Happy Hour,” and “The Creator Dinner.” “Everyone is referring to each other by their Twitter handles,” Taylor Lorenz quotes House.ai co-founder Robbie Figueroa as saying at his 250-person LA Tech Week house party, succinctly encapsulating both our post-lockdown hedonism and our post-lockdown addiction to social media. The main party described in Lorenz’s article depicts a changing LA glitterati, bringing together a dash of “traditional Hollywood types” with a smattering of “TikTok stars, start-up founders, direct-to-consumer marketers, songwriters, engineers, college students, livestreamers and artists.”

Though the film industry is trying its best to keep pace with streaming and social media trends, it’s been less successful at shaking off one of its more persistent parasites: sexual assault and toxic workplace accusations. In London, two freelancers for Left Bank Pictures –– the production company responsible for The Crown and White Lines, another upcoming Netflix series –– accused the company’s executive producer Chris Croucher of sexual assault. This week, both staffers came forward to additionally allege that the company “badly mishandl[ed]” the complaints when they were initially reported. 

The music industry is faring no better: in Australia, Sony Music’s local outpost fired its CEO, Denis Handlin, after “former employees alleged that Handlin oversaw a ‘boys’ club’ workplace where sexual harassment, intimidation, excessive drinking, and sexism went unchecked.” The story was initially broken by The Guardian, which interviewed “more than 20 former employees” of Australia’s most successful music label. In the article, reporter Kelly Burke describes Handlin as “the most popular man in Australian pop music.” Handlin had served as Sony Music Australia’s CEO for 37 years. 

Finally, this week saw yet another article about the eeriness of the TikTok algorithm, this time by Kaitlyn Tiffany for The Atlantic, asking: what if TikTok’s videos “for me” are completely disgusting? The piece doesn’t necessarily bring anything new and revelatory to light, but it was interesting to see cited an article from TikTok itself about how its #ForYou algorithm works, which explains some of the rudimentary factors that go into which videos are suggested and not for the average user. I was also intrigued by these lines from Tiffany’s piece: “There might be a way for TikTok to differentiate between sincere engagement and horrified engagement, … but it wouldn’t be as useful for the company as it would be for me. ‘Why would they want to solve those problems?’ he asked.”

~Catch up on Dirt~

Streaming news

— This week, TikTok superstar Bella Poarch did her first-ever interview with H3 Podcast — Apple has rolled out its new Lossless Audio feature, which “starts at CD quality,” but can play certain tracks from the Apple Music catalogue at Hi-Res Lossless, which is “more or less as good [audio quality] as you can possibly get at the consumer level” — This July, Netflix users can expect to see a bunch of new movies including Boogie Nights, The Karate Kid, all five Twilight movies, and the Austin Powers trilogy. Shows added will include I Think You Should Leave (season 2), Sailor Moon Crystal (seasons 1-3), and Grey’s Anatomy (season 17). For the full list of everything coming and going, see here — Rapper Wiz Khalifa has been cast as George Clinton in Spinning Gold, an upcoming film about Casablanca Records’ Neil Bogart — Both ESPN and ABC reported significant upticks in viewership for this year’s Euro 2020, with overall growth of 33% from last year.

Kristen Roupenian’s viral essay “Cat Person” is being made into a movie. It will star Succession’s Nicholas Braun and Emilia Jones, and will be directed by Susanna Fogel — This week marked the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s iconic album, Blue –– A new documentary will pay tribute to the history of the Cannes Film Festival — Jennifer Hudson will star in a biopic about Aretha Franklin, RESPECT. Check out the trailer here and the recently released new song for the film, co-written by Carole King 

Playlist

— I’ve fallen in love with PEN15 — the Instagram account @doofmagazine has weekly takeovers by different chefs around the world (including several of my friends!) –– queer NYC skate collective Glue compiled 8 of their favorite ‘90s skate videos for Dazed, including this one with intros by Johnny Rotten — this Aaliyah song and the Doja Cat song with Grimes in the music video have been stuck in my head for a week — I’ve been revisiting Harry Potter, butin German. Professor McGonnagall and Madame Hooch have extremely German energy — By Eliza Levinson