Spotify still on the hot seat over R. Kelly

The former head of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is calling on Spotify — and the record industry at large — to punish people who are accused of sexual harassment just as Hollywood and Silicon Valley have taken action against alleged predatory behavior.

Hilary Rosen, who is currently a partner and managing director at Washington D.C. strategy firm SKDKnickerbocker, questioned Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek for allowing R. Kelly's music to continue to be available on the streaming giant's global platform despite widespread accusations that he has abused young women, claims that Kelly has denied.

Rosen told NBC News in a phone interview: "R. Kelly is a known sex predator whose activities have been well reported by legitimate news organizations. The movie industry has shunned Harvey Weinstein and Brett Ratner and the Amazon guy [Roy Price]. The tech industry fired people. SoFi fired people. So did Uber, all because of legitimate accusations."

Rosen then accused Spotify of losing its moral authority because the company had softened its initial action, in which it took R. Kelly and rapper XXXTentatcion off its playlists.

"This is not about free speech. It's about sex predators and their behavior," she said.

Ek, speaking at Recode's Code Conference in California on Wednesday, admitted that the streaming music giant's attempts to avoid controversy by ending its promotion of R. Kelly and XXXTentacion and then later restoring XXXTentacion to its playlists had not worked well. Watch the clip here.

Speaking at the conference, Ek said the firm had, "rolled this out wrong." XXXTentacion has been accused of hitting a pregnant woman in a video, an action his lawyers called "completely in jest."

Ek told conference goers: “What we were trying to go after was really around hate speech."

Ek added: “It wasn’t trying to be a moral police like who did right and who did wrong. We don’t want to be the judge and the moral police of that.” 

In the session Rosen asked Ek if he felt he'd, "lost the moral authority," on the topic. He responded that that was for other people to decide.

Rosen told NBC News she hopes to see the music industry begin to financially disadvantage artists who have been credibly accused of violence and harassment: "The publishers, the tour promoters, they should not be making money promoting this guy's music. They should do what other industries have done. Hit them where it hurts." 

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YouTube touts ad transparency, but one exec says it isn't enough

One major media buyer is willing to put his job on the line to persuade advertisers to be more responsible about whether they put their advertising dollars. 

Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Omnicom’s Hearts & Science agency, said in an interview that advertisers should think hard about what they are supporting and the societal effects of what some platforms are serving up to consumers. 

Hagedorn criticized YouTube just moments after YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki delivered her keynote address at the Cannes Lions Festival, where she underscored the company’s commitment to openness and transparency in dealing with the ad community. 

The ad executive, who is responsible for placing as much as $6 billion in ad buys a year, said he watched 30,000 videos as part of a client audit and was disturbed by some of the content he came across. 

“As a client, you would not know where your ads ran," he said. "They would aggregate together videos into channels, and it was done using an algorithm.  When one video was vetted to start a channel, the rest of the videos were never vetted. So there was a complete lack of transparency."

Hagedorn said the company had improved but remained a risky proposition.

“I’d say on extremist content they were failing 20 to 30 percent of the time to filter out, or didn’t figure out the [advertisers' buying] criteria, and now its gotten down to 7 to 9 percent," he said.

But Hagedorn added: “The system is not built for audits.”

The agency has partnered with Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and a former design ethicist at Google, to try to evangelize for better monitoring of the big tech platforms and to use the power of advertising as a weapon to demand improvements. 

“This is about the future of society," Harris said. "We need much more aggressive controls.”

Harris said the topic should be on the front pages every day until there’s a way to stop the ill effects of tech platforms exponential growth. 

Hagedorn and Harris were part of an official Cannes Lions sessions called: “Addicted to likes,” outlining the need for a more responsible technology. 

Hagedorn said his agency only uses Google search now and is still testing with YouTube. 

“If these apps were built to be addictive and most of the money in advertising has shifted from traditional TV and traditional media into more of an ad base and mobile world, then how in the world is this effective?” Hagedorn said.

Image: Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Omnicom's Hearts and Science agency, talks with Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology
Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Omnicom's Hearts and Science agency, talks with Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, at the 2018 Cannes Lions Festival. Simon Luethi / Sean T. Smith for Hearts and Science
Daniel Arkin

'Gotti' is a critical punching bag. The distributor says: Keep it coming

The folks behind "Gotti" are wearing bad reviews as a badge of honor.

The mafia biopic, starring John Travolta as the former head of the Gambino crime family, opened over the weekend to dismal box-office returns — and a zero percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

"That the long-gestating crime drama 'Gotti' is a dismal mess comes as no surprise. What does shock is just how multifaceted a dismal mess it is," says The New York Times.

But the movie's distributors, Vertical Entertainment and MoviePass Ventures, have apparently decided to punch back at the detractors with a tough-talking tweet.

And a new trailer ups the ante: "Audiences loved it ... Critics put out the hit ... Who would you trust more? Yourself or a troll behind a keyboard?"

How often do film distributors turn critical pans into a marketing strategy? And will other studios follow suit, perhaps in a similar bid to gin up populist resentment of the media?

We shall see. 

P.S. Here's a fun fact: "Gotti" was directed by Kevin Connolly, the actor who played the Hollywood hotshot Eric "E" Murphy on HBO's "Entourage."

Evan Spiegel talks at Cannes on Kylie Jenner, parents and tech, and the future of Snapchat

Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snap Inc., is making nice with reality star Kylie Jenner, would love to hire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and thinks parents need to cool it with sharing pictures of their children.

In an interview set to air on “The Run Down,” the E! News Snapchat show, host Erin Lim asked Spiegel a handful of light-hearted questions but received some revealing answers.

Sitting under a giant poster of Kim Kardashian at the ongoing Cannes Lions festival, Spiegel was asked about his take on Jenner, who has 24 million followers on Twitter. Back in February, she tweeted her dislike of Snapchat's redesign, a much-publicized comment that coincided with Snap losing $1 billion in stock market value. 

“I love Kylie, the original," he said. "She just had a baby. We both have new babies, so we have something to bond over.” 

Spiegel, who used to dress in trademark white T-shirts, explained he’s switched to black because he’s usually spilling stuff on himself. He shared how he sees Snap evolving, with the service being a portal on the wider world and integrated with augmented reality.

“We’re going to come up with experiences that aren't confined to your little screen but overlaid on the world around you," he said.

The top Snap executive was asked which executive he’d most like to have work at the company and responded: “Jeff Bezos, no question. He’s incredible.” 

Spiegel, who noted he was at Cannes Lions for a matter of hours since he wanted to get home to his family, was also asked what he would never Snap, saying: “My child. Parents are some of the worst piracy invaders.”

Amid serious conversations about technology use among children, he also revealed that he would likely let his own child use technology at around seven years old since his step son Flynn uses an ipod and emails him to say, “I love you.” 

Spiegel also revealed he is guilty of sharing too many Snaps from the cockpit when he is piloting an aircraft. “I think it’s getting a little repetitive.” 

When asked what is the biggest faux pas at Cannes Lions, he noted: “Day drinking. Especially in the heat.”

Kerry Washington at Cannes weighs in on moving to streaming and American politics

Kerry Washington, star of political drama “Scandal,” is at the Cannes Lions Festival for a host of events including a breakfast with Twitter and a soiree on Monday evening hosted by streaming media companies Spotify and Hulu at the Chateau St. George in Grasse, France, a little village outside Cannes. 

Washington has a series with Hulu based on the book “Little Fires Everywhere,” which she is executive producing with Reese Witherspoon. 

The Query caught up with her after a performance by singer Miguel and asked for her take on what’s happening in the news. 


Q: Is this your first time in Cannes?

A: It’s my first time at Cannes Lions. I’ve been here for the [film] festival. I’m here speaking with Twitter, speaking as part of the women’s empowerment program. I’m also here with Hulu.

Q: How are things changing in Hollywood for women?

A: People are working really hard at Time’s Up making sure there are more opportunities and more equity and safety and equality in the workplace. That’s a big part of our mission and vision, and that’s what we’re working on confidently at Time’s Up, all people who feel like they are victims of the imbalance of power. Our legal defense fund is for people of any industry to help people in situations of harassment and abuse.

Q: What have you learned at Cannes so far? There are a lot of different industries here: music, tech…

A: It’s interesting to talk about how innovation is impacting all these businesses across the board, for me especially, moving from network television and working in streaming. My next series is for Hulu and I have a series on Facebook Watch called “Five Points,” so I’m working on creating as a producer for multiple platforms. We’re also producing theater. We’re trying to make sure our portfolio of storytelling is diversified. For me, it's great to be here to be in the conversation.

Q: Tell me how it's different working for a streaming company?

A: It’s all different. Every project is going to be different depending on the story and the audience, but definitely fun to work in a variety of ways. The Facebook Watch [series] is 10 episodes about 10 or 12 minutes [each], whereas the series I’m creating with Hulu is a limited series. It’s exciting to be working in the entertainment industry to tell stories to work in so many different ways whether it is short form, long form, limited.

Q: Are you doing anything with Twitter?

A: We’re beginning to talk about content creation over there.

Q: How do you feel about American politics and what’s happening right now?

A: What’s happening right now at the border of the United States is a violation of human rights. It’s far beyond anything I could have imagined on “Scandal.”

Los Angeles Times brings in former Wall Street Journal, Time editor Norman Pearlstine as part of revamp

The revamp of the Los Angeles Times is under way.

The newspaper on Monday named Norman Pearlstine as its executive editor — the same day that the newspaper officially returned to local ownership.

Pearlstine, a legend in U.S. journalism, has served in a variety of high-profile editorial roles including as executive editor of The Wall Street Journal, editor-in-chief of Time magazine and chief content officer at Bloomberg.

Pearlstine's hiring is the first big move for the newspaper's new owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire doctor and Los Angeles resident who bought the paper for $500 million in February. That deal took the LA Times out from under the ownership of Chicago-based Tronc, the newspaper company that had previously been known as Tribune Publishing Co. 

The deal officially closed on Monday

In unrelated news, Tronc is reportedly considering changing its name back.

Soon-Shiong and Pearlstine addressed LA Times reporters in the newsroom on Monday. Matt Pearce, national correspondent for the LA Times, reported on Twitter that Pearlstine told staff that he plans to add more reporters.

“If you want to be able to break news and write memorable stories, than you’re going to need more staff to do it," Pearlstine said.

Pearlstine faces a difficult task in restoring the newspaper to its former glory. Tronc laid off a many of the newspaper's top editors in August, with remaining staffers unionizing soon after. 

Women take over at Cannes Lions

The world of advertising, once a bastion of overconfident men, is undergoing nothing short of a revolution at Cannes Lions this year. 

The five-day event, which is Ted Talks meets CES with a dash of SXSW cool, is typically about exploring the future of the communications business. This year, men could be forgiven for feeling under siege here. 

On Monday, futurist Faith Popcorn will host a session called, “The Death of Masculinity and its impact on Creativity.” Hearst’s chief content officer, Joanna Coles, is also hosting a conversation with Whitney Wolfe, the co-founder of dating site Tinder, who sued the company for sexual harassment and went on to create dating service Bumble.

“Gender will not be an agenda,” screams a giant billboard standing in front of the iconic Carlton Hotel. 

There’s even an entirely separate track of pro-women sessions at the Martinez Hotel put together under the name of the “Girls Lounge,” an initiative that's popped up on the global conference circuit from Davos to South By South West. 

On the docket at Girls Lounge on Monday is Axios co-founder Mike Allen, pollster Mark Penn and John Gerzemo, chief executive of The Harris Poll. They're set to unveil research as part of a session titled: “The New Small Forces Impacting Women, Female Entrepreneurship and Gender Equality.” The organizers are launching a chatbot aimed at providing women with information about topics such as how to get equal pay. 

Later on Monday, a Girls Lounge panel featuring WPP Group COO Mark Read will address, “The Elephant in the Room: Relationships Between Men and Women at Work.” The topic is perhaps an awkward one given the lawsuit brought against WPP by Erin Johnson, JWT's former head of communications, against her boss, Gustavo Martinez, who is accused of using the word "rape" repeatedly among other threatening behavior that he denied. 

The five-day conference, which features a variety of celebrities including rap stars Migos, supermodel Naomi Campbell and actor Tyler Perry, is known for its late-night hedonism: giant parties on the beach featuring DJs and soirees on yachts are the norm. 

For employers, it’s a petri dish for potential sex harassment. Ad firm Interpublic Group sent a memo to staff reminding them about behaving professionally, according to Adweek. The memo from senior vice president of talent Joe Kelly noted: “When our work is conducted outside the confines of an office environment, there can be a sense that this isn’t quite work or that we can behave different, especially if alcohol is present. That is not the case.” 

Time Warner is now Warner Media, and a lot of executives are leaving

That's all folks!

WarnerMedia is the new name for Time Warner, according to an internal memo from the AT&T executive who is taking charge of the media company, John Stankey.

The telecom firm said that customer confusion with Time Warner Cable, long since spun off from the company, was the reason for the change.

The memo also outlined a host of corporate executives who are to leave WarnerMedia as a result of the acquisition. CEO Jeff Bewkes has said previously he would leave after the transition.

The departures include the head of the Turner division, John Martin, a former chief financial officer for Time Warner who was poised to run the whole company at one point in history. Turner houses CNN, TNT and TBS among other assets.

At a recent conference, Martin had criticized AT&T's DirectTV unit, describing its poor service. The statements were received by many as clues that he didn't want to stick around.

For now, the memo seems to suggest that Stankey will play a much more active role at Turner, thought he will be limited in what he can do until the firm knows whether the Justice Department will appeal against a ruling allowing AT&T and Time Warner to merge. That could take up to 60 days.

In an unusual move, Stankey didn't name a successor to Martin from among the company's ranks and perhaps appeared to set up a three-way race to lead the Turner division listing three top executives there:

  • David Levy, president, who runs not only the ad sales unit at AT&T that the company hopes to capitalize on, but is responsible for buying its sports rights.
  • Also listed are Gerhard Zeiler, head of international, and Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide.

Other top executives to depart include Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of corporate marketing who joined after counseling Rupert Murdoch for many years at News Corporation.

Also on the way out at Time Warner: Howard Averill, chief financial officer; Karen Magee, chief human resources officer; Carol Melton, EVP of global public policy; and Olaf Olafsson, EVP of international and corporate strategy.

Stankey praised the team in his memo: "Over the course of their tenure, this highly accomplished team fended off a hostile takeover by a rival media company (Fox), put in place plans to consolidate the New York-based offices into the Hudson Yards complex (which will be the most advanced office space in New York), and successfully restructured the company, ultimately positioning us to succeed in this new chapter."

Stankey welcomed the Time Warner staff with a note about all the AT&T deals they're now eligible for.

The company also confirmed an early plan to give away a free TV package to AT&T wireless customers.

Martin did not return a request for comment.

Could the Justice Department still force an asset sale at AT&T?

AT&T closed its momentous and torturous acquisition of Time Warner on Thursday, with a press release touting not just Time Warner’s crown jewels — HBO, Warner Bros., and Turner — but a host of direct-to-consumer streaming businesses.

AT&T assets in the online video world are significant and include an international joint venture with the Chernin Group that houses Fullscreen and Crunchyroll, among other web entertainment businesses. And with Time Warner it will also add some big digital businesses, such as and Bleacher Report.

The Justice Department may be down, but it isn’t out. It is no doubt aware of how its response to Judge Leon’s decision to rubber stamp the AT&T/Time Warner deal — and deny the Justice Department’s case that it is anti-consumer — could have further ramifications on other actions coming down the pike. 

The DOJ has 60 days to decide what to do. While an appeal seems an unlikely prospect on the face of it, the department has forced asset sales before, as in the case of an aircraft filtration company, Parker-Hannafin, in December last year after rivals raised complaints.  

So while the celebrations are ongoing at AT&T, the Time Warner assets have to remain separate for now and more specifically, Turner most remain ring-fenced from AT&T, and there is to be no change of compensation or number of employees. Good news for chief John Martin? 

Here’s a good profile of John Stankey, the guy who will become the new Jeff Bewkes, heading all of the entertainment assets. He admitted that college football is his only appointment viewing and had struggled to name entertainment shows that he watches. (We’re sure that he’s become a keen student of movies and TV since the profile was written.)

The Department of Justice won't pursue a stay of the AT&T-Time Warner deal... but they're not done just yet

The Department of Justice hasn't given up prosecuting the AT&T/Time Warner merger just yet.

A DOJ official, who asked to remain anonymous because they're not publicly authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told NBCNews: "The Department will not be seeking a stay, but continues to evaluate its options with respect to an appeal."

That means AT&T might have to sweat it out for a few more days before it can close its Time Warner acquisition.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Thursday denied the DOJ's attempt to block the AT&T-Time Warner, rejecting every argument by DOJ lawyers that the combined company will hurt competition.

But the DOJ still has options - namely a full-on appeal.

Top communications execs at Facebook and Twitter depart on same day

Facebook has dealt with a string of public relations nightmares over the past year, but they’ll soon have to carry on without their top PR boss.

Elliot Schrage, a Google veteran who has been at Facebook for the past decade, announced on Thursday that he will be leaving his position at Facebook.

“After more than a decade at Facebook, I've decided it’s time to start a new chapter in my life. Leading policy and communications for hyper growth technology companies is a joy — but it's also intense and leaves little room for much else,” Schrage wrote in a public Facebook post

Schrage will stick around to help find his successor and will serve as an adviser to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, he said. Despite the fake news and data privacy scandals, a Facebook representative told NBC News he first raised his desire to move on from the company “long before the election” and agreed to stay on after Zuckerberg and Sandberg asked for his help.

Since then, Facebook has weathered the most intense criticism in the company's history.

Schrage mostly stayed behind the scenes at Facebook but did encounter some recent public criticism after he told Natasha Lamb, a managing director at investment firm Arjuna Capital, she was "not nice" for asking a question about sexism. Schrage apologized for the comment.

Another PR pro, Twitter’s head of corporate communications, Kristin Binns, also announced on Thursday that she’ll be leaving the company after two years to serve as senior vice president and chief communications officer at Activision Blizzard. Naturally, Binns shared the news where else, but on Twitter.