Splice News media trends: VPN bans, Duterte hires trolls and Game of Thrones gets a newsletter

As a leading light of the commentariat in Asia, newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg, Alan Soon knows a thing or two about the media. Here is his roundup of developments inside the bubble this week


Apple pulled several VPN apps off its App Store in China to comply with a cybersecurity law. Popular VPN products like ExpressVPN were removed, making it increasingly difficult for people in China to reach unrestricted services outside the country. “We are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts.”

…Apple previously stood up to governments on grounds of privacy and freedom of speech. This time, nothing has been said about the China pulldown. Not a peep from Tim Cook. That complicates things. “If they have to do things differently in China, they should have some public explanation for why — because that attitude could matter globally, including in the U.S.”

…Btw, Putin signed a law that bans the use of VPNs in Russia.The government assures people that this isn’t meant to impose restrictions on law-abiding citizens but to block access to “unlawful content.”

Indonesia is set to restore full access to Telegram. The government has been working with Telegram to set up an on-ground response team in Indonesia. Web access to Telegram has been banned since mid-July as the government is concerned that terrorists are using the encrypted network.

Access: Telegram set to return

Philippine President Duterte admitted to paying an army of trolls to defend him online, but insists it was only for the election campaign. A recent study by researchers at the University of Oxford claimed that he spent US$200,000 on people to promote or defend him. He’s dismissed the study, saying Oxford is “a school for the stupid people.”

A journalist has been arrested in Bangladesh for allegedly defaming a minister in a Facebook post about a dead goat. The minister was at an event where livestock, including goats, chickens, were donated to poor farmers. One of the goats apparently died.

Hackers could be sitting on some sensitive data on German officials. There’s concern that some of this could be leaked as the country goes toward elections. Will German media run those if they came out?

Giants and media 

Facebook says it will soon update its News Feed to favour faster loading content. It will take into account the user’s connection speed as well as the load speed of the destination article. No doubt of course that FB wants more publishers to use its Instant Article platform.

…Btw Facebook says it really wants to help publishers sell subscriptions. But it doesn’t want any of that revenue. It doesn’t want any data either. That’s a big deal. Compare that with Apple, for example, which takes a 30% cut of revenue generated by publishers through Apple News and the App Store.

Google is testing autoplaying videos directly in its search results. It’s bold. But that’s because people want that, right?

It’s also time that we keep an eye on what Amazon is doing in the media space. It’s not only eating up ad revenue. Amazon is also taking up video distribution deals. This is how it’s shaping up.


This is exciting. The Information is building an accelerator to help build the next generation of subscription-based publishers. It will invest “at least” $25,000 in each business in exchange for “some very small financial participation.”

P&G cut more than $100 million in digital ad spend in the June quarter. It’s now concluded that the move had little impact on its business — and is suggesting that those ads were probably wasted on sites with fake bot-driven traffic.

Twitter is testing a $99-a-month advertising package targeted at small businesses. Twitter will automatically promote tweets from advertisers without the need to create ads or manage campaigns.

Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Job’s widow) bought the Atlantic magazine. Terms weren’t disclosed. The company makes a profit of “well above $10 million” a year.

Discovery Communications bought Scripps Networks Interactive for almost $12 billion. The combined company would reach 20% of the ad-supported pay-TV audience in the U.S.

Gimlet Media (the people behind Startup and Reply All) raised $15 million, valuing the company at $70 million. We all know podcasts are popular. But without solid metrics and tracking, it’s a surprise to see VC money coming in.

Imagine this: The Photoshop of audio. Not only can you edit by transcript, you can also make the subject say things that wasn’t in the recording. Now imagine what that would do in the realm of “fake” news. Adobe is working on it. It’s possible. Check out this RadioLab podcast. (Thanks Mai Tatoy for flagging this.)


Here’s a bold suggestion by Frederic Filloux: The New York Times could/should abandon its daily print publication since it’s probably only supported by the lucrative weekend edition. He argues this would help save money, which can then be redirected to an aggressive international expansion plan.

…Btw NYT started a Game of Thrones newsletter. It now has more than 60,000 subscribers in over 3 weeks. “This might be a strategy we take when we look at [the question] ‘How can we take pop-up products and use them to spin off into our Beta products?’”

Winter is coming to an email newsletter near you

Japan’s NHK is trying to shift from being just a public TV broadcaster to a “public media company.” In particular, it’s pushing a strategy to broadcast on both the web and TV. But commercial broadcasters aren’t happy.

Campaign Asia Pacific stopped printing its monthly magazine after 44 years. It’s all digital from now.


Skift turned five. If you’ve never heard of it, these guys have done an incredible job building out a vertical media business covering the business of travel. It’s a huge inspiration for Splice.

The Daily Telegraph accidentally put out an article announcing the death of Prince Philip. The gaffe aside, it was interesting to see notes left by editors on how to treat the story. “This file needs to be a living file – and will serve Apple News as well as be the main news story. Please stick to the format below.”

A Norwegian anti-immigration group posted a photo on Facebook of what it thought were burqa-wearing women, complaining that they were “terrifying” and “disgusting.” Except of course they weren’t burkas. They were bus seats. Check this out.


“Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn.”
— Miguel de Cervantes


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