Splice News Trends: Toutiao nabs Musical.ly, Twitter gets serious and The Skimm comes round to video

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


China’s Toutiao acquired the wildly popular social video app Musical.ly. Financials weren’t disclosed, but media reports say the deal was probably worth $1 billion. Musical.ly allows users (mostly teens, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know it!) to post videos of themselves alongside their favourite songs. It’s the second acquisition in a week for ByteDance, Toutiao’s parent company, which also picked up the France-based news aggregator News Republic from Cheetah Mobile.

ByteDance is your new buzzword du zeitgeist. Here’s why: it’s worth $20 billion. They tried to buy Reddit. Oh, and your salary is $3 million — if you’re one of their top AI engineers.

Any media targeting India needs to understand the complexity of languages in the country. 30 languages and 1,600 dialects, with more than a million native speakers each. Talk about scale.

Amazon is reportedly working on a free version of Prime Video, but with commercials. It’s talking with TV studios and networks about creating programming for the platform. Will Netflix follow?

You know that filter bubble you live in? Here’s a great way to make the occasional foray out of it. WaPo launched a new online feature called Counterpoint that will link you to an “Opinions article with a different perspective than what a user is currently reading.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s curated by AI.

The millennial-women focused newsletter The Skimm has been around for five years. And it’s starting to grow up — away from newsletters and into, well, *gasp* video. “Eighty-six percent of our audience is commuting regularly… When we thought about that, we knew we had to step into the routine.”


Australia’s ABC restructured the business along content lines, moving away from platforms. It’s dropping its TV and radio divisions since people are getting text, video and audio on the web. Instead, ABC will build teams around news, entertainment, local and innovation. And this is interesting: No job cuts.

SPH pivots to… radio? Singapore’s newspaper monopoly is launching two new radio stations (it already runs three others). SPH recently laid off staff as part of a major restructuring of the print business, so we’re surprised to see continued investment into a legacy consumer habit.

Myanmar now has its first local-language podcast. Frontier Myanmar wants to drive discussions around human rights. But they first needed to overcome a fundamental problem: Most people are on Android, which unlike iOS, doesn’t come with a pre-loaded podcast app. So Frontier is doing this on Facebook instead.

Last week, we asked what could be behind Sansiri’s investment in Monocle. It just seemed baffling that a Thai property developer would make such a play. Our friend and subscriber Michael Smith at Seed Plus explained it well.

 Media start-ups

The Ken did something no one else tried in India. They promised to send you one long-form business news article every day, and nothing more. And they got people to pay for it. They survived their first year. This is what Year Two could look like.


In a vaguely substantiated rumour, Radhika Jones from NYT Books will replace Graydon Carter as Vanity Fair editor. Carter steps down after 25 years. Jones’s resume in print over-qualifies her for the job — Grand Street, Artforum, Moscow Times, Paris Review, and Time magazine — but, interestingly, the magazine’s digital director was also considered.


It’s been a big week for Twitter. Under pressure to clarify their stand on abuse and hate, they’ve taken some drastic measures to set the record straight, even to the point of contradicting themselves. New this week: They may take away your verified blue checkmark status if you break the rules.

I had the opportunity to ask Peter Greenberger, the global director of news at Twitter about the changes. Here we are on stage at News Xchange in Amsterdam. Thanks to Yusuf “I-go-live-everywhere” Omar for this.

It’s been almost a decade since social media reshaped news operations. Yet today, most newsrooms are still doing the exact same thing on social: posting links. Here’s a study by American Press Institute on the importance of rethinking social media in newsrooms. What if we were to focus our efforts on addressing misinformation on social platforms? What if we went all out to build trust instead of trying to get people to click on referral links? Something to think about.

YouTube says it’s working on getting age restrictions in place as way to curb those bizarre videos targeting kids. Any video that is age-restricted will no longer show up in YouTube Kids.

Think Facebook is spying on you through your microphone? …apologies, but you aren’t that special.” But…

I’m tired of hearing journalists talking about Russian meddling on Facebook as though it were black magic. Marketers have always known about micro-targeting and have used it. So why the fuss? Here’s a look, from a marketer’s perspective, on how the Russians pulled off a social campaign with just $100,000. Custom audiences, people.

Renee DiResta has been tracking disinformation on Facebook and other sites since the anti-vaccine movement. So the Congress turned to her for the grilling of tech executives.


The self-declared republic of Somaliland will block all social media access during its upcoming presidential election. Just how desperate are they? They’re blocking Duo and Google Plus, which says a lot.

In retaliation to a similar move by the U.S., Russia will now brand undesirable international media as ‘foreign agents.’ I’m guessing CNN would be first.


We’re concerned about the safety of reporters and their sources. If you haven’t yet tried Signal, here’s a good review of its encryption and simplicity.


As it turns out, the Shanghaiist isn’t dead. “We apologize for our silence over the past week as we mourned the sudden demise of the Gothamist network and tried to make sense of what was happening.”

Quote of the Week

“I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence.” — Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web as we know it, on the challenges of the internet.


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