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In this edition: TikTok is in denial.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Washington
snowstorm Cannes
sunny New York
rotating globe
June 24, 2024


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome back to Semafor Media, where we’re always glad to be back in New York.

Sometimes the best stories are the dogs that don’t bark. Max, Nayeema, and I spent the week in Cannes swanning around with marketing execs — but obviously, you will immediately unsubscribe if we try to tell you (more) about that.

But our story is about what nobody there seemed to want to talk about: the likelihood that industry darling TikTok really could be dead in the US this time next year.

The TikTok delusion matches much of the media industry’s escapist mood.

The executive who runs the Cannes Lions awards, Simon Cook, explained to me that heavy politics produce light culture. The last time things were this silly was during the 2007 global financial crisis, known in Cannes as the year of the Cadbury Gorilla.

In this week’s newsletter: CNN’s political director loses sleep, Alex Cooper looks around, Nextdoor reboots, Hearst owns the funnel, and Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein jumps to a new gig. (Scoop count: 4)

Semafor’s Business Summit at Genesis House in New York is tomorrow night. Follow that, and Liz Hoffman’s unmatched coverage and insights (including a big media story coming soon) by signing up for Semafor Business. Sign up here.

Mixed Signals

In the latest episode of Mixed Signals from Semafor Media, presented by Think With Google, Ben, Nayeema, and Max report from Cannes, decoding the year ahead for the ad business amidst the panels and parties. While enjoying the Côte d’Azur, they discuss Washington’s move to ban TikTok and the company’s denial of what’s unfolding. Then, they weigh in on whether Will Lewis, CEO of the Washington Post, will survive.

Listen to this episode of Mixed Signals wherever you get your podcasts.

One Good Text

David Chalian is the political director of CNN and is playing a central role in programming Thursday’s presidential debate.

Max Tani and Ben Smith

TikTok in denial as US ‘ban’ approaches

Solen Feyissa/Unsplash


CANNES, France — At the advertising conference in Cannes last week, TikTok occupied its customary, lavish space in the back of the Carlton — a space that felt infinitely distant from the heated Washington conversation over the future of the Chinese-owned social app.

Here, TikTok is the beating heart of youth culture. It’s also a messy but powerful ad platform that has more cultural relevance with young consumers, if less-precise marketing tools, than its main rivals, Meta’s Reels and YouTube’s Shorts.

Like everyone else here, TikTok wanted to show off its new AI products. At a press conference, a top executive from its parent company, ByteDance, rolled out a fascinating and unsettling new feature that allows users to create realistic AI avatars that can say and do… pretty much anything in any language.

Blake Chandlee, the president of global business solutions at ByteDance, spoke about TikTok for nearly 45 minutes without mentioning the fact that President Joe Biden had signed a law in April threatening to ban it. It came up only when Max asked him about it point blank: Were the advertisers that TikTok hoped would continue to invest and build strategies around the platform spooked that it could all go away next year?

“It’s the obvious question, and something I’ve been asked while I’ve been here the last couple of days,” he said. “The advertising community has been really supportive of us. We’ve spent the last five years building really strong controls, building trust, building privacy-first capabilities for them.”

“This week, the conversations are more around what are we doing for the future, what are the next product innovations that we’re doing,” he added. “The ban is not a subject we’ve been talking about a lot.”

His press team concluded the event after the question.

Read Ben's take and more background on TikTok. →


☊ Audio

Calling it: Spotify paused ad sales beyond this year for “Call Her Daddy” host Alex Cooper as it seems increasingly likely that she will leave for a competitor, four sources with knowledge told Semafor. While people familiar with the talks emphasized that the negotiations are ongoing and could change, the popular podcaster has not yet signed a new deal with Spotify, which earlier this year made her show nonexclusive and began distributing it on other audio platforms.

Cooper’s team has heard competitive pitches from several other major audio companies — including SiriusXM, which one person familiar with the situation said could offer her a big contract that would give her her own channel but also contain significant minimum download requirements. Bloomberg’s Ashley Carman previously reported that Cooper was among several prominent podcasters seeking a major payday this year.

⁛ News

Media media news: Charlotte Klein is joining New York Magazine. In an announcement first shared with Semafor, New York editor David Haskell said that the Vanity Fair media reporter was joining the magazine on July 15 as a features writer covering the media in a column and through “deeply-reported features.”

“For the last couple years, seeing a Charlotte Klein byline created a pit in my stomach; I knew I was about to read something envy-inducing,” Haskell said. “During her time at Vanity Fair, Charlotte has distinguished herself as a trusted media reporter of this fascinating time in our industry, dogged and curious and careful and fair. She’s going to do terrific work here, helping all of us understand better where the media business is heading through what I’m sure will become a must-read column.”

British press bites back: The Spectator offers a broadside on behalf of the would-be Post editor Rob Winnett against an “unrecognizable caricature” in the US media. And while you can quibble with some details and ideology, this is a strong argument: “The hacking scandal was subject to the biggest police investigation in British history with hundreds of people investigated: Winnett was not one of them. Trying to belatedly add him as a character to this drama was desperate and implausible.” (The piece also says nobody ever called him “rat boy,” which is sadly incorrect, though perhaps it wasn’t as widely used as suggested.)

Mourning in Paris: Journalists gathered in Paris Thursday night to mourn Christophe Deloire, the late secretary general of Reporters Without Borders. “He was a man of action, and a man of reflection,” said RSF chairman Pierre Haski.

Fatal injury: The National Press Club says photojournalist Linda Tirado, shot in the eye with “non-lethal” bullets by Minneapolis police in 2020, will die from the injury to her brain.

Recognized: The big award at this year’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference went to the Marion County Record, the tiny rural Kansas paper made world famous when its newsroom (and the editor-publisher’s home) was raided by police.

Union blues: Amid growing pressure on the press, the line to serve on the board of Hong Kong’s largest journalist union is getting shorter. Two candidates — one from the BBC and the other from an NGO — dropped out even after they were voted onto the union’s executive committee in a Saturday meeting that an anonymous WhatsApp message had urged members not to attend, claiming it had been “infiltrated.” Few journalists from mainstream local outlets are on the board; the incoming chair is from The Wall Street Journal.

Not that bad: Medill’s bleak map of “news deserts” keeps having to be corrected to include local news outlets.

⁜ Tech

The next door: Nextdoor is looking to radically change its business by leaning into local news and information. In an interview with Semafor at Cannes Lions last week, Nextdoor’s co-founder and newly reappointed CEO, Nirav Tolia, acknowledged that the online local communities platform “hasn’t had a great product in the last couple of years.” It’s planning a relaunch in the coming months that will build upon what most people use Nextdoor for — local services — and attempt to make it a destination for events, openings, and other information. As part of that relaunch, Tolia said that the company plans to refocus itself around urban users.

“When you lose your dog, you go to Nextdoor. You need a plumber, when you hear a loud noise, whatever — most of the conversation [on Nextdoor] is driven by intent,” he said. “Those news sources that you use in the morning, they’re not intent-centric. They are discovery-centric. But the reason I go every morning is because I want to discover something interesting,” he said.

✰ Hollywood

Good deal: The illegal streaming service Jetflicks was charging $9.99 a month for a content library including thousands of TV episodes — “a lineup larger than the combined catalogs of Netflix, Hulu, Vudu and Amazon Prime Video,” according to federal prosecutors in Las Vegas (natch) who shut the operation down in 2019. Last week, a jury convicted five men for running the service.


Rich Kleiman (L) and Kevin Durant on a Boardroom video podcast.

Boardroom talks: Kevin Durant wants to grow his media company. The Phoenix Suns superstar’s longtime agent and business partner Rich Kleiman spoke with Semafor last week about the evolution of the Boardroom, the sports information and events business that the duo founded together in 2019. Kleiman runs much of the Boardroom’s day-to-day business while Durant serves as its public face and a high-level adviser.

The sports businessman said he was reluctant to go to Cannes Lions in recent years because he “didn’t want to do it without something substantial” to discuss,” but this year he felt that the brand was ready to “educate people on what we built, how engaged our community is, why we think we have a real differentiated brand that can be extended in multiple different places.”

He told Semafor that while the company has become profitable without outside investment, he and Durant were increasingly open to finding a partner who could help grow new parts of the business, including a potential membership program and lifestyle products.

Unpivot: How dumb was the “pivot to video” discourse? First, publishers made videos nobody wanted. Then they concluded video was itself sort of a joke. Not so!

✦ Marketing

Insightful and depressing: The advertising guru Brian Morrissey writes that Hearst House in Cannes “was emblazoned with a banner reading ‘own the funnel.’ Publishers will need to move down the funnel.”

Credit/blame: Michael Kassan tells us that iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman gave him his best talking point in his ugly fight with UTA: “Hollywood divorce.”

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