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Warner Music acquires IMGN, a social media publishing platform, for under $100M

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It’s a whole new playing field these days for music labels and publishers, and today one of the biggies made an acquisition to help it sharpen up its strategy to better understand what people want to see and hear online today.

Warner Music — with a market cap of $15.4 billion, one of the big three recording giants (alongside Universal and Sony) and which owns labels like Atlantic, Elektra and others and has a huge roster of artists that includes the likes of Madonna, Ed Sheeran and Linkin Park — is acquiring IMGN Media, a Tel Aviv and New York-based startup that builds and tracks viral social media content in categories like esports and gaming, ASMR and entertainment.

IMGN used to be called Comedy.com. It widened its remit from simply funny stuff and rebranded in 2017, and according to its site has about 3 billion views per month and has some 40 million subscribers to its content, with some 85% of that classified as “Gen Z and millennials.”

The news caps off several weeks of speculation about the startup. In July, reports in the Israeli press emerged that said IMGN was being circled by Snap for about $180 million; and further to that, a source told us that TikTok was also in the frame, looking at the company at a price tag of around $150 million. In the end, the terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but we understand the deal was done for just under $100 million.

IMGN was founded in 2015 and had raised about $6 million from a long list of angels and firms, including Rhodium, Dot Capital and Prism Venture Management.

The plan will be to keep IMGN independent of Warner, continuing to develop and analyse viral content across a range of platforms, with founder Barak Shragai staying on to lead the team.

Warner, meanwhile, does not plan to use the platform to simply market Warner artists, but to tap it for more insights into where people are going online these days, and what they want to see, so that it can better target its own marketing efforts accordingly.

That’s not to say that the two will not work together at all. Warner became acquainted with the startup because it had been a customer of IMGN’s.

Warner has a history both of investing and acquiring startups, depending on its strategic interests. In July, for example, it took part in a Series B round for Canadian audio mastering startup Landr. Further back, it has acquired the likes of music concert listings platform Songkick and pop culture site Uproxx — which it also uses to help track trends in the world of music and among its target demographics.

IMGN will continue working with other third-party brands under its new owner. Past customers have included Electronic Arts, Burger King and Microsoft. The Microsoft deal was by way of its Mixer live game streaming platform, and the fact that this Twitch competitor was shut down last month says a lot about the state of the market and how precarious an audience can be.

Not just consumer tastes, but companies’ business strategies, shift all the time. Microsoft pulling the plug on Mixer underscores how IMGN itself can quickly lose a customer, pointing to why ownership by WMG can feel more secure. As for Warner — which is traded publicly these days but still majority owned by Access Industries, the holding company controlled by Len Blavatnik — the fact that Mixer is tracking and building content for a range of platforms gives it more of a bird’s-eye view on that bigger picture, rather than simply relying on data from the platforms themselves, or its own research, to figure out what the world wants to see and hear.

“WMG not only offers us greater investment and support, but an entrepreneurial environment to continue growing our business, with the people running our accounts having editorial independence,” said Shragai. “We’re excited to partner with them as we take our company into the future.”

The bigger picture here is that the music industry has evolved well beyond the traditional, analogue world of publishing and selling physical media, where consumers learned about and listened to new artists and songs over the radio and TV (and read about their favorite musicians or genres in magazines).

With the shift to mobile and digital platforms, there’s now a much wider, and quickly shifting, plethora of places where people discover and listen to music.

And digital platforms themselves — from those focused specifically on audio and music, like Spotify, through to those where music is a side-hustle to continue to capture audience, like Facebook, through to those that are neither but are still huge music destinations, like TikTok — are also getting deeply involved in tracking how tastes are evolving, and where people are going to get their music fix.

So it’s only natural to see labels looking for ways to have more direct access to those insights themselves, bypassing all those platforms — even as they also work with them (and indeed, to help them negotiate better with those platforms, at the end of the day).

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Stock spikes after better-than-expected revenue, buyback announcement

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Stock spikes after better-than-expected revenue, buyback announcement

Meta (META) reported its Q4 2022 earnings today after the bell, and the Facebook parent beat key revenue expectations and growing losses on its metaverse operation. It also announced a $40 billion stock buyback plan.

Here’s what the key numbers looked like, as compared to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Q4 Revenue – $32.17 billion actual versus $31.65 billion expected

Advertising Revenue – $31.25 billion actual versus $30.86 billion expected

Adjusted Earnings Per Share (EPS) – $1.76 actual versus $2.26 expected

Facebook Daily Active Users (DAUs) – 2 billion actual versus 1.98 billion expected

Family of Apps Daily Active Users (DAUs) – 2.96 billion actual versus 2.92 billion expected

Reality Labs Operating Loss – -$4.28 billion actual versus -$3.99 billion expected

The company’s stock bumped about 14% in after-hours trading.

Good headline numbers aside, there’s a lot to question about Meta’s results today, as its metaverse division Reality Labs clocked a larger-than-expected loss of -$4.28 billion, more than $200 million more than Wall Street expected.

Perhaps more than surpassing revenue expectations, Meta has successfully cut costs.

“We anticipate our full-year 2023 total expenses will be in the range of $89-95 billion, lowered from our prior outlook of $94-$100 billion due to slower anticipated growth in payroll expenses and cost of revenue,” Meta CFO Susan Li said in a statement.

The company’s in hot pursuit of efficiency, and appears to have been ruthless in its cost-cutting efforts.

“We expect capital expenditures to be in the range of $30-33 billion, lowered from our prior estimate of $34-37 billion,” Li’s statement continues. “The reduced outlook reflects our updated plans for lower data center construction spend in 2023 as we shift to a new data center architecture that is more cost efficient and can support both AI and non-AI workloads.”

Meta’s buyback was a strong move, given that the company laid off 11,000 workers in November and more jobs are reportedly on the table even now. Moreover, the company’s C-suite re-shuffled substantially through last year, with longtime COO Sheryl Sandberg officially leaving the company in September.

Meta Platforms Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg leaves federal court after attending the Facebook parent company’s defense of its acquisition of virtual reality app developer Within Inc., in San Jose, California, U.S. December 20, 2022. REUTERS/Laure Andrillon

Meta’s got a lot of moving parts

Still, on the face of it, these numbers offer up a better-than-expected close out to what’s been an exceptionally difficult year for Meta, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. In 2022, the company’s stock declined approximately 63%, as the company battled macroeconomic headwinds and a slow ad market.

All in all, it’s been a solid day for Meta, which reportedly won its case against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this morning, getting the green light to buy VR developer Within. Meta’s proposed acquisition of Within, which makes popular VR app Supernatural, has been in the works since October 2021. However, they’re not out of the woods yet. The FTC, going forward, could appeal and will likely continue to scrutinize Meta’s future deals under Chair Lina Khan.

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks and on LinkedIn.

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The FTC on Wednesday filed a court order against GoodRx for failing to notify users that it shared their personal, identifiable health data with Facebook and Google and said it would permanently ban the company from sharing such information for ads, should the court order be federally approved.

Why it matters: The court order is the first FTC action under the Health Breach Notification Rule, which requires companies to notify users when their health data is infringed upon, and includes several safeguards aimed at protecting consumer data.

  • “We’re making clear that apps violating this rule need to come clean with consumers when they share sensitive data improperly,” an FTC official said during a press briefing about the order.
  • The order must be approved by the federal court to go into effect.

Zoom in: The health data GoodRx shared with tech companies includes individually identifiable data on users’ prescription medications and health conditions. Per the complaint:

  • In August 2019, GoodRx compiled lists of users who’d purchased medications for heart disease and high blood pressure and uploaded their email addresses, phone numbers and mobile advertising IDs to Facebook so it could identify their profiles.
  • GoodRx then used that information to target users with relevant ads.

Details: The court order, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC in California’s Northern District, found GoodRx shared data with companies including Facebook, Google, Criteo, Branch and Twilio. The order found GoodRx:

  • Monetized users’ personal health data to target them with health- and medication-specific ads on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Let third parties it shared data with use the information for research, development or advertising purposes without getting consent.
  • Misrepresented its HIPAA compliance, displaying a seal at the bottom of its telehealth site falsely suggesting it complied with the law.
  • Failed to maintain sufficient policies or procedures to protect its users’ personal health information.

State of play: GoodRx, which offers prescription discount coupons and telehealth services, lets users track their personal health data to save, track and get alerts about prescriptions, refills, pricing and medication purchase history.

  • Per the complaint, the company collects data from users themselves and from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that confirm when someone buys a prescription drug using one of its coupons.
  • Since January 2017, more than 55 million consumers have visited or used GoodRx’s website or mobile apps, the complaint says.

What they’re saying: A spokesperson for GoodRx told Axios the company does not agree with the allegations, saying the order “focuses on an old issue that was proactively addressed almost three years ago.”

  • “We admit no wrongdoing,” the spokesperson said. “Entering into the settlement allows us to avoid the time and expense of protracted litigation.”

  • “Health data today isn’t just what your doctor keeps in a file behind a desk,” an FTC official said during the briefing. “And the way we’re enforcing this reflects that new reality.”
  • “We expect this to have a significant impact on the marketplace,” the official added.

Flashback: The FTC in 2021 issued a warning to health apps and others that collect or use consumers’ health information that they must comply with the Health Breach rule.

  • “We are now showing the market that we meant business when we issued that policy statement,” the FTC official said.

What’s next: In addition to charging GoodRx with a $1.5 million civil penalty and banning it from disclosing user health information for ads, the order requires that the company:

  • Direct third parties to delete the consumer health data shared with them and inform users about the breaches and the FTC’s enforcement action.
  • Get users’ consent before sharing health data with third parties for purposes other than ads and detail the types of health information it will disclose to those parties.
  • Limit how long it can retain personal health information.
  • Create a privacy program that includes safeguards to protect such data.

Of note: While the order only binds GoodRx, companies including Facebook who received the data “are on notice that they were in receipt of data that was illegally collected,” another FTC official said.

This story has been updated to include the company’s comment.

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Inge Heydorn, fund manager at GP Bullhound, discusses competition in the digital ad market, what investors will be looking for in Meta’s results, and why it’s “all about TikTok.”

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