YouTube expands shopping features following digital ad slowdown

The Internet’s dominant video site has struggled to compete with TikTok. (Shutterstock/File)
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Updated 15 November 2022

YouTube expands shopping features following digital ad slowdown

  • New commission schemes for influencers is also being tested

LONDON: YouTube is bringing shopping features to its TikTok-like short-form video service, as it looks to diversify its revenue stream squeezed by falling ad spending, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.
Ad sales on Alphabet-owned YouTube slipped to $7.07 billion in the third quarter from $7.2 billion a year earlier, as some advertisers pulled back on their ad spending in the face of an economic slowdown.
The streaming service is also testing new commission schemes for influencers who sell products through links in videos, the newspaper said.
YouTube did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
The report comes months after YouTube unveiled a new way for creators to make money on short-form videos, introducing advertising on its video feature Shorts and giving video creators 45 percent of the revenue.
The Internet’s dominant video site has struggled to compete with TikTok, the app that got its start hosting lip-sync and dance videos and has subsequently burgeoned to 1 billion monthly users.

New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM

Updated 14 June 2024

New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM

  • Talpa Studios recommissions hit reality show for MBC in the Middle East, NET5 in the Netherlands

DUBAI: Talpa Studios, which was founded by John de Mol, the creator of popular shows “The Voice” and “Big Brother,” has recommissioned its reality show “Million Dollar Island” for new seasons in the Middle East and the Netherlands.

The new seasons — titled “Million Dollar Land” or “Ard Al-Million” for MBC in the Middle East and “Million Dollar Desert” for NET5 in the Netherlands  — will be produced at Saudi Arabia’s NEOM production hub, in collaboration with regional production house Blue Engine Studios.

This will be the second season of “Ard Al-Million.” The first season aired on MBC Group’s TV channels MBC1, MBC IRAQ, and Shahid last May.

Produced by Monday Media, “Million Dollar Island” also ran for two seasons in the Netherlands. The new season, however, marks a shift to the desert-oriented format and will be shot at NEOM.

Blue Engine Studios played a key role in facilitating the deal between Talpa Studios and NEOM’s media sector and aims to bring more countries to NEOM’s production hub.

Its work on the Dutch edition included facilitating Monday Media’s production of the latest season, such as sourcing suppliers, permits and equipment as part of the studio’s commitment to establish a hub for the show at NEOM.

Ziad Kebbi, CEO at Blue Engine Studios, said that the “collaboration with NEOM and Talpa Studios underscores our commitment to producing high-quality entertainment that resonates with audiences.”

Unlike previous seasons, which featured 100 contestants, the new seasons will see 30 contestants test their endurance as they navigate the challenges of life in the desert.

There will be other changes to the format revealed when the new seasons go on air.

“These spin-offs preserve “the core principles that have made the original so compelling, while introducing innovative new elements that are perfectly suited to NEOM’s stunning desert scenery,” said Sebastian van Barneveld, director of international distribution at Talpa Studios.

Partnerships such as these ensure “a robust pipeline of productions and afford opportunities to accelerate our media ecosystem while training the next generation of talent,” said Wayne Borg, managing director of NEOM Media Industries.

The broadcast date of the new seasons is yet to be announced. “Ard Al-Million” will air on MBC1 and Shahid.

Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’

Updated 13 June 2024

Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’

  • The Emirati company says it was targeted by ‘orchestrated campaigns including accusations, slander and threats’ against staff
  • ‘We have encountered insurmountable obstacles that exceed what can reasonably be borne regarding the safety and security of our team,’ says boss Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

LONDON: Emirati business Al Habtoor Group has abandoned its plans to launch a TV channel in Beirut due to what it described as “severe security challenges,” including physical threats against the company and its employees.

“Following the project announcement, the group encountered a barrage of orchestrated campaigns including accusations, slander, and threats,” the company said.

Those responsible have not been identified but the group said it has filed criminal and civil complaints in Lebanon. It thanked the Lebanese minister of information, Ziad Makary, for his support.

Chairperson Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor confirmed on Tuesday that the launch of the TV channel, which would have focused on cultural, social and sporting content, had been canceled.

“We have encountered insurmountable obstacles that exceed what can reasonably be borne regarding the safety and security of our team,” he said.

“We find ourselves compelled to seek an alternative to launching the project from Lebanon.”

The company, which is based in Dubai, said it is considering alternative locations in “countries that offer a more stable and secure environment supportive of such initiatives.”

The group’s businesses operate in various sectors, including construction, real estate and hospitality in the Middle East, Europe and the US.

It said the aim of the new TV channel was to “spread positivity, success and good stories” from Lebanon. It was expected to create about 300 jobs and the plans included construction of a 100,000-square-meter studio city.

“Our goal has always been to support the Lebanese people and provide content that inspires hope and positivity,” the company said.

“The current situation has left us no choice but to step back from this initiative and abandon the launch of our television station from Lebanon.”

Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ‘A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’

Updated 13 June 2024

Photojournalist Mohammed Salem discusses award-winning shot  ‘A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece’

DUBAI: The photojournalist discusses the photograph that won him the 2024 World Press Photo of the Year Award.

I was born in Gaza and have been working in journalism for 20 years. Like my three brothers, I’ve loved photography ever since I was little, and it was my dream to become a photographer. At times like this, photography allows us to share our message with the world. It allows people to see us and what is happening to us. 

I regard this ongoing war on Gaza as something we have never seen before. I cannot imagine anything more difficult happening to us. It has left nothing untouched — not a rock, not a tree, not a human, not a child. The difficulties that we have endured are unimaginable.  

I was working when I was informed that my brother — my support system — had been martyred. Most of my cousins were martyred too, and my siblings’ homes were destroyed. Death was so close to us.  

This photograph was taken at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. I was actually living in the hospital, because I had been displaced. Wrapped in white cloth, the killed child that you see is being embraced by her aunt. She came to the hospital to see who was alive from her family. There was a lot of blood on the floor and she was running around in a maddened way. When she found the child, she carried her to the corner of a room and embraced her tightly. I have never such as a strong embrace before. It felt like true love — just the two of them.  

Many violent pictures have come out of Gaza, but a picture like this enters people’s hearts. You look at it and your heart aches. The award came at a moment of sadness: I was not happy, because there was no time for happiness given the environment I am in. But my biggest joy is that this image reached people around the world.  

Pope Francis to weigh in on ‘ethical’ AI at G7 summit

Updated 13 June 2024

Pope Francis to weigh in on ‘ethical’ AI at G7 summit

  • While welcoming AI's potential to boost everything from medical research to economic and social wellbeing, Francis also warned of risks including disinformation and interference in elections, and that unequal access could increase social and economic ineq

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will address G7 leaders on Friday on artificial intelligence, an unprecedented appearance that reflects the Vatican’s growing interest in the new technology, its risks and rewards.

The 87-year-old will become the first head of the Catholic Church to address a G7 summit when he speaks on the second day of the Puglia meeting, to an audience including US President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
The aging head of a 2,000-year-old institution is not perhaps the most obvious candidate to make a presentation on cutting-edge technology, but the pontiff sees AI as a key challenge for humanity.
“The Church always looks to humans as the center of its mission,” said Paolo Benanti, a Franciscan university professor and member of the UN’s AI advisory body, who directly advises the pope.
“From this perspective it is clear that the AI that interests the Church is not the technical tool, but how the tool can impact on the life of man,” he told AFP.
AI was the theme of the Church’s World Day of Peace on January 1, for which the pontiff published a six-page document.
In it, he welcomed advances in science and technology that have reduced human suffering — and Benanti said AI could act as a “multiplier,” boosting everything from medical research to economic and social wellbeing.
But the pope also warned of risks including disinformation and interference in elections, and that unequal access could increase social and economic inequalities.
Francis — who has himself been the subject of several AI-generated images, including a viral imagine showing him wearing a huge white puffer coat and a large crucifix — called for a binding international treaty to regulate the development and use of AI.
The goal would be to prevent harm and share good practice.

Pope Francis has cautioned that AI offers new freedoms but also the risk of a “technological dictatorship.” (AP/File)

Since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, whose capabilities range from digesting complex text to writing poems and computer code, governments have been scrambling to respond to the rapid growth of AI.
The European Union — which attends G7 summits as an unofficial eighth member — earlier this year approved the world’s first comprehensive rules to govern AI.
At a global level, G7 leaders in Japan last year announced a working group on AI’s “responsible” use, tackling issues from copyright to disinformation.
Hosts Italy have made AI a key issue of this year’s summit, which will focus on a “human-centered approach,” particularly its potential impact on jobs, according to a government source.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in April that the pope’s presence would “make a decisive contribution to defining a regulatory, ethical and cultural framework.”
The Vatican has brought in a range of experts to help its understanding, including Demis Hassabis, head of Google DeepMind, whom it named to its scientific academy in March.
In 2020, it also initiated the Call for AI Ethics, backed by tech firms Microsoft and IBM and later Cisco as well as numerous universities and the UN, designed to promote an ethical approach.

The pope’s address on Friday is likely to call for “attention to be paid to the most vulnerable,” said Eric Salobir, a French priest and head of the executive committee of the Human Technology Foundation.
It would be a call to G7 leaders to take “into account the risks and (draw up) regulation without being alarmist,” he told AFP.

Francis, who has championed the poorest and most marginalized people in society since taking office in 2013, has cautioned that AI offers new freedoms but also the risk of a “technological dictatorship.”
He warned about the dangers of using AI to make important decisions — from social security payments to where to aim autonomous weapons — for which responsibility becomes blurred.
“The pope seems to have a sort of antenna that allows him to perceive where humanity experiences the situations of greatest challenge to itself,” Benanti said.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

But will the G7 leaders listen to the pope?
Salobir, author of a book “God and Silicon Valley,” says that besides his influence as a spiritual leader, the pope has power as a neutral observer.
“The fact that there is no ‘Vatican Tech’ is an asset in terms of neutrality — the Church has no hidden agenda, no digital economy, no ‘start-up nation’ to launch, or investments to attract,” he said.
As a result, when the Vatican talks about AI, “it is for the technology itself, what it can do for humans,” he said.
“It may be one of the only states in this situation.”

Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links

Updated 12 June 2024

Edinburgh Fringe CEO defends Baillie Gifford sponsorship amid criticism over Israel links

  • ‘Everybody has to make their own decisions,’ Shona McCarthy says
  • Firm has been dropped as sponsor by other cultural events in UK

LONDON: The head of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has defended its sponsorship deal with Baillie Gifford despite growing criticism of the investment management firm’s funding links to Israel.

Speaking ahead of the program launch on Wednesday morning, Shona McCarthy, CEO of the charity that organizes the annual arts festival in the Scottish capital, said the board had had “a serious and detailed discussion about all of this” before reaching its decision.

Arts festivals were operating in a “fevered environment” in which “everybody has to make their own decisions with the information that they have at hand,” she said.

“We’re expected to be all things to all people, be the most values-driven organizations on the planet, alert to everything that’s going on in our geopolitical environment and to keep our teams in jobs, keep solvent and deal with deficits and loans from COVID that we’re all still carrying.”

McCarthy’s comments came after Baillie Gifford was dropped as a sponsor by other cultural events in the UK.

A campaign led by the Fossil Free Books group has called for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and an end to the funding of companies associated with Israel.

“Solidarity with Palestine and climate justice are inextricably linked,” it said.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival and Hay Festival are among those to have severed ties with Baillie Gifford, though others have said the company’s investment links to fossil fuels and Israel are limited and conducted primarily through third-party entities.

Speaking about the decision by literary festivals to sever ties with Baillie Gifford, Fossil Free Books organizer Omar Robert Hamilton said: “I wouldn’t call it a victory.

“It was that relationship that we were trying to get them to leverage in order to talk to them about divesting.”

The cultural boycott related to the Gaza conflict has gained momentum in Europe and the US, sparking heated debates due to the financial vulnerabilities of cultural organizations.

In a related development, several bands have withdrawn from the Download music festival over Barclaycard’s sponsorship of the event. Barclays provides financial services to defense companies that supply Israel.