Facebook hires former BuzzFeed, Pinterest executives for video content

March 6, 2018

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc hired the former head of BuzzFeed Studios to lead its global video content and a former Pinterest executive as in charge of its video content platform Facebook Watch, they said in separate social media posts on Monday.

The appointments come after the social media giant expanded video offerings in August last year to compete in the television market.

BuzzFeed Studios former head Matthew Henick will lead Facebook’s global video content strategy and planning, he said in a Facebook post on Monday.

Mike Bidgoli, who worked at image-based searching and sharing website Pinterest for nearly two years, will lead the Facebook Watch product team, he said in a blog post on Medium. http://bit.ly/2HbdJ15

Facebook Watch was made available initially to a limited group in the United States on the company’s mobile app, website and television apps, the company said in August last year.

The programming ranges from professional women’s basketball to a safari show and a parenting program.

The Menlo Park, California-based company faces a crowded video content market, where traditional television networks compete with newer players such as Netflix Inc, Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube alongside Twitter Inc and Snap Inc.

Facebook had signed deals last year with millennial-focused news and entertainment creators Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN, Group Nine Media and others to make shows for its video service as part of its efforts to buy and license original content.

(Reporting by Philip George in Bengaluru; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri)

Mexico regulator approves America Movil separation, firm to challenge

March 6, 2018

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s telecommunications regulator on Monday said it approved a plan to separate part of American Movil’s fixed-line units into different entities, while the company said it will begin the process but plans to challenge the move in court.

The Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) ordered America Movil, controlled by the family of billionaire Carlos Slim, to break out part of its Telmex and Telnor units last year, ratcheting up antitrust measures against the company.

America Movil has two years to implement the separation, according to an IFT statement on Monday.

During that time, the firm will have to present the regulator with an asset and debt transfer plan.

The statement detailed that the new fixed-line businesses will be required to separate out local network services and have boards of directors independent of America Movil as well as brands that no longer use the names Telmex, Telnor or Telcel.

Telcel is America Movil’s flagship mobile services brand.

American Movil will start the process of separation but also challenge it, the company said in a filing with the Mexican stock exchange later on Monday.

“The legal and functional separation plan ordered by the IFT today differs substantially with the plan presented by Telmex and Telnor,” the company said.

Regulated prices for services offered by the separated units would be “substantially lower than international references,” the company said, adding that its board has decided not to “subsidize or finance the operations” of the separate entities.

On Feb. 27, the IFT narrowly approved a separation plan with, four commissioners in favor and three opposed, according to a vote record on the regulator’s website.

America Movil has been in discussions with the regulator for about one year over how to separate out part of its fixed-line business, which was long the heart of the company before the rise of mobile communications.

Mexico enacted a landmark telecommunications reform in 2013-2014 to boost competition in the sector, attracting investment from AT&T Inc. But America Movil held nearly two-thirds of the Mexico’s mobile lines in the first quarter of 2017, according to IFT data.

In a note to investors, Signum Research wrote that it saw little immediate impact for America Movil, noting the long timeframe the company has to implement the plan.

Shares of America Movil rose more than 1.4 percent to 17.80 pesos ($0.95) on Monday.

(Reporting by Julia Love and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Richard Borsuk)

U.S. Congress to vote on allowing spectrum auction for 5G networks

March 2, 2018

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic lawmakers have reached agreement to allow for the sale of spectrum to speed up the introduction of next-generation 5G wireless networks, congressional leaders said on Friday.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the measure on Tuesday, leaders in both parties said.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai on Monday said the regulator plans new auctions of high-band spectrum starting later this year for 5G networks to improve internet services across the United States.

Wireless carriers have spent billions of dollars acquiring spectrum and beginning to develop and test 5G networks, which are expected to be at least 100 times faster than 4G networks and cut latency to less than one thousandth of a second from one hundredth of a second in 4G, the FCC has said.

Pai said he plans to hold an auction of spectrum in the 28 GHz band in November, followed immediately by an auction of spectrum in the 24 GHz band, but must first get congressional approval by May 13 to proceed.

The bill unveiled on Friday includes a technical fix to allow the auction to proceed to allow the FCC to deposit upfront payments from spectrum bidders with the U.S. Treasury. Under current law, the FCC must deposit such payments with private banks in interest-bearing accounts, but regulations make that impossible.

The bill “puts consumers first and solidifies the nation’s critical telecommunications infrastructure, giving the U.S. a global edge in the race to 5G and improving internet services,” Senators John Thune, a Republican, Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Representatives Greg Walden, a Republican, and Democrat Frank Pallone said in a statement.

The bill includes new provisions to identify more spectrum for private sector use and reduces bureaucratic hurdles connected with building wireless networks, lawmakers said.

Verizon Communications Inc has announced it will begin its first 5G commercial rollout in Sacramento, California, this year. AT&T Inc said its first 5G commercial launches in Atlanta, Dallas and Waco, Texas, later this year.

The bill authorizes funds to address a shortfall to relocate TV broadcasters who are relocating on the spectrum after the 2017 low-band spectrum auction. The FCC and law enforcement will be better able to protect consumers from fraudulent telephone calls, according to the bill.

The biggest issue it sidesteps is so-called net neutrality. Republicans have urged Democrats to negotiate to enshrine some internet protections in the law, but set limits on the FCC’s ability to regulate internet providers. Democrats argue that net neutrality rules inacted in 2015 should remain in place.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)

Head of games at Angry Birds firm goes after profit warning

March 2, 2018

By Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell

HELSINKI (Reuters) – “Angry Birds” maker Rovio said on Friday its head of games was leaving, a week after the Finnish company issued a profit warning that sent its shares plunging 50 percent.

“It’s time to pass the hoodie and move on,” Wilhelm Taht said in a statement, without giving reasons for his departure.

The mobile games maker said Taht was leaving with immediate effect for personal reasons and Chief Executive Kati Levoranta would assume his position for the time being.

Rovio shares, which debuted at 11.50 euros apiece in September, fell a further 10 percent to a new low of 4.30 euros as the company gave new financial details that some analysts said were worse than expected, even after the profit warning.

Last week, Rovio forecast a 2018 operating margin of 9-11 percent versus 10.6 percent in 2017 and said it expected sales of 260-300 million euros ($320-$370 million) versus 297 million last year.

In Friday’s full financial report, Rovio said its brand licensing revenues would decline 40 percent due to waning income from its 3D Hollywood movie launched in 2016.

“That implicitly puts the games unit in a worse position than the market thought … It gives a range of 7 percent decline to 9 percent growth (for the games unit),” said SEB Equities analyst Mathias Lundberg, who has a “hold” rating on the stock.

Rovio blamed tough competition and higher marketing costs for the worsening outlook, but said it still expected growth in the long term.

“Competition in the market intensified a lot during the fall … but our business fundamentals are healthy, looking forward,” CEO Levoranta told a news conference.

She added Rovio was closing its game studio in London, which employs seven people, and focusing on studios in Finland and Sweden.

SEB Equities’ Lundberg said Rovio’s report showed the number of paying players of the company’s five most popular games declining sequentially for a second quarter in a row.

“There’s more uncertainty now … The management needs to restore trust and confidence in the company,” he said.

Rovio, whose current game titles include “Angry Birds 2,” “Angry Birds Blast”, “Angry Birds Friends” and “Battle Bay,” has seen its fortunes swing wildly.

It saw rapid growth after the 2009 launch of the original “Angry Birds” game, in which players use slingshots to attack pigs that steel birds’ eggs.

It then plunged to an operating loss and cut a third of its staff in 2015 due to tough competition, but bounced back when the Angry Birds movie earned $350 million at the box office and boosted game sales, helping the company to achieve a $1 billion valuation in its initial public offering.

Next year, Rovio is expecting help from a movie sequel.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Simon Johnson and Mark Potter)

Toyota venture to spend $2.8 billion to develop self-driving technology

March 2, 2018

TOKYO (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp said a new venture would be investing more than $2.8 billion to develop automated-driving software – the latest salvo in an increasingly frenetic battle to be ahead in a sector hit by a slew of disruptive technologies.

The Tokyo-based venture, which will bring together some 1,000 employees including new hires, will be 90 percent held by Toyota with group suppliers Denso Corp and Aisin Seiki Co each taking 5 percent.

“This company’s mission is to accelerate software development in a more effective and disruptive way, by augmenting the Toyota Group’s capability through the hiring of world-class software engineers,” James Kuffner, who will lead the venture, said in a statement.

The establishment of the new venture, Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, comes as firms such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and Tesla Inc give traditional automakers a run for their money in building self-driving and electric cars.

English is set to be the main business language of the new venture, the statement said.

Toyota is also investing $1 billion in artificial intelligence and other technologies through its U.S.-based Toyota Research Institute, and has struck up technology partnerships with Microsoft Corp and Uber Technologies.

Last month, Toyota Research Institute’s venture capital unit said it was co-leading an $11.5-million seed investment in May Mobility, an Ann Arbor-based startup that is developing self-driving shuttles for college campuses, central business districts and similar low-speed applications.

(Reporting by Minami Funakoshi; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Edwina Gibbs)

Zuckerberg sold nearly $500 million Facebook stock in February

March 1, 2018

By Munsif Vengattil

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg sold nearly $500 million in the company’s shares in February to fund his philanthropic investment vehicle, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), regulatory filings showed.

The move is not a surprise, being part of Zuckerberg’s plan to expedite stock sales to fund the initiative he set up in December 2015 with his wife Priscilla Chan.

Two security filings on Thursday showed that Zuckerberg sold 685,000 shares worth $125.4 million in the last three days of February, taking his total sales in the month to about 2.7 million shares worth $482.2 million, according to Reuters calculations. (http://bit.ly/2oyrDTM)

“These sales are the next step in a process Mark laid out in September to fund the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s work in science, education and issues related to justice and opportunity. The funds will go to support a range of CZI’s philanthropic activities and operations for many years to come,” a CZI spokesperson told Reuters.

Zuckerberg said in September he would sell 35 million to 75 million shares of Facebook over the next 18 months. That would amount to up to $13 billion, based on Facebook’s current share price. (http://bit.ly/2F2qiyT)

The Silicon Valley billionaire has said he will donate 99 percent of his Facebook shares to CZI – worth about $45 billion when the initiative was formed.

He sold about $1.6 billion of the company’s stock in 2016 and 2017, according to technology website Recode.

Zuckerberg’s foundation is similar to those set up by Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates, and the Buffett Foundation, formed by billionaire Warren Buffett.

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Vibhuti Sharma; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh)

Sky strikes deal to add Netflix to its European pay-TV bundles

March 1, 2018

LONDON (Reuters) – Sky, the European pay-TV group at the center of a fierce takeover battle, said it would add online video service Netflix to a new TV bundle, bringing drama like “The Crown” to its sport and entertainment offer for the first time.

Netflix’s mix of original drama and movies has proved popular globally, with subscriber numbers reaching nearly 118 million at the end of 2017, bringing new competition to traditional pay-TV cable and satellite providers.

Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch said the tie-up would enable customers to access even more entertainment on its platform.

“By placing Sky and Netflix content side by side, along with programs from the likes of HBO, Showtime, Fox and Disney, we are making the entertainment experience even easier and simpler for our customers,” he said.

Netflix will launch on Sky’s premium Sky Q product in Britain and Ireland this year, and in Germany, Austria and Italy thereafter, Sky said.

Sky, which Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox and Comcast Corp are battling over, struck a deal with British rival BT last year to carry each other’s sports channels, enabling viewers to see more Premier League soccer on one platform.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Jason Neely)

Facebook’s Sandberg uses investor meeting to urge gender equality

February 28, 2018

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg brought her message about workplace gender equality to a typically male domain on Wednesday, urging attendees at an investor conference to improve mentoring of junior female colleagues.

Sandberg, the No. 2 executive at the world’s largest social media network, took a break from answering questions about privacy and Facebook’s role in elections to address what she called an important moment for women given recent scandals over sexual harassment.

“Go back and be loud and clear, especially if you are a male, that you are committed to mentoring women. It will make a huge difference,” Sandberg said at the Morgan Stanley 2018 Technology, Media & Telecom Conference.

Sandberg, 48, published a memoir about female empowerment, “Lean In,” in 2013. It became a bestseller and ignited debate over women’s opportunities in the professional world.

It was not immediately clear how the audience reacted. Morgan Stanley barred media from the conference, although it allowed Facebook to broadcast audio on an investor website.

Sandberg, near the close of her appearance, said she wanted to use the remaining time to address a topic no one had asked about. “Investors, you guys have a lot of power,” she said.

She cited survey research that said nearly half of male managers feared meetings with junior female colleagues, even as they accepted meetings with male colleagues. The result is unequal, she said.

If managers “don’t feel comfortable having dinner with women, then they shouldn’t have dinner with men,” Sandberg said.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Waymo seeks to reassure potential riders with new self-driving video

February 28, 2018

By Alexandria Sage

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Waymo on Wednesday showed off a 360-degree video to help people envision what it is like to ride inside an autonomous vehicle, as the Alphabet Inc company on the cusp of launching self-driving rides with real people hopes to win over potential passengers.

Waymo said in a blog post that it had driven more than 5 million miles (8.05 million km) on public roads, doubling its miles since January 2017, when it unveiled its improved self-driving system installed in Chrysler Pacifica minivans at the Detroit auto show.

Waymo’s blog linked to a 3-minute, 36-second video posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8R148hFxPw). It comes ahead of what will be Waymo’s first foray into ride hailing with no human behind the steering wheel in Phoenix, Arizona, in coming months.

Convincing a potentially wary public of the merits – and safety – of self-driving is a key goal of Waymo, considered a pioneer in the global race to deploy autonomous vehicles.

A Gallup poll published last week found that 54 percent of the 3,297 U.S. respondents said they were “unlikely” to use self-driving cars, with 59 percent saying they would feel uncomfortable riding in one. The survey was conducted in September and October.

Large tech companies, big automakers and well-funded startups have been testing such cars, but for the most part real passengers have not yet been added to the mix. Experts believe self-driving cars used in fleets for ride hailing services are among the most economically viable ways to deploy such technology broadly.

The state of Arizona has no restrictions on self-driving cars, which has made it a key testing ground for the technology.

Waymo said in November that members of the public using a ride-hailing app would be able to ride in its fleet of minivans in ensuing months. At first, a Waymo employee would accompany the passengers in the backseat, but eventually they will travel alone. The company has been testing its cars in Arizona with an employee in the back seat and no one at the wheel since October.

The passenger service is expected to roll out in more geographical areas in the United States, at a later, unannounced date.

(Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Senate Democrats push for support to reinstate net neutrality

February 27, 2018

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Democrats launched efforts on Tuesday to win a vote to reinstate Obama-era rules guaranteeing an open internet, suggesting it would be a major issue in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Democrats remain one Republican senator shy of winning a majority in the Senate to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s order to undo the 2015 open internet rules.

Even then the effort would not likely pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives or survive a veto by President Donald Trump.

The FCC in December voted 3-2 to reverse Obama-era rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain online content.

The new FCC rules, once effective, would give internet service providers sweeping powers to change how consumers access the internet but include new transparency requirements that require them to disclose any changes to consumers.

Last week, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general refiled legal challenges intended to block the Trump administration’s repeal of net neutrality.

The FCC published its order overturning net neutrality last week, a procedural step that allows for the filing of legal challenges. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said often he is confident the order will be upheld.

The repeal of the net neutrality rules was a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc, conferring power over what content consumers can access.

On the other side, technology companies including Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc have thrown their weight behind the congressional bid to reverse the repeal.

Democrats said on Tuesday that the issue would be big in the mid-term election, especially among younger internet-savvy voters.

New York Senator Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader, suggested that under the FCC’s approach internet providers could block a young couple from watching Netflix programming or a college student watching an educational video. Schumer said Americans should blame Republicans for slow internet service “while Democrats fought to fix it.”

Republicans have said the FCC vote would eliminate heavy-handed government regulations, encourage investment and return the internet to pre-2015 rules.

Under Senate rules, the earliest the Senate could vote on the issue is March 15 and they must seek a vote by June 20. Senator Edward Markey, the chief sponsor, said Democrats are undecided on when they would force a vote.

Democrats, who control 49 seats in the 100-person chamber, have the backing of 50 senators for repeal, leaving them one vote short of a majority. Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Ben Klayman)