With ‘Spheres’ Purchase, Hollywood Could Become Driver For VR Adoption

Virtual reality (VR) reached a major milestone at the Sundance Film Festival when Spheres, a three-part scientific space-themed narrative series, was picked up by CityLights for a seven-figure sum. The VR experience, which is narrated by Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), executive produced by Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa Pictures, and supported by Oculus and Intel, is the first major VR acquisition to come out of Sundance in the six years since the New Frontier section began featuring the medium. A few days later, Zikr: A Sufi Revival became the first VR documentary to be purchased at Sundance when UK company Dogwoof acquired it.

These sales represent a big shift for a medium that has never sold at the film festival before, and the backing of traditional distributors could provide VR with the clout it needs to become mainstream. While CityLights is relatively new, Dogwoof has been documentary distributor for 14 years, and it acquired Zikr through its newly formed VR company, Other Set.

“I’m hopeful that the [Spheres] sale means that the entertainment community at large will start taking VR seriously as a viable medium,” said Loren Hammonds, programmer for film and immersive at the Tribeca Film Festival, speaking with AListDaily. “It’s exciting to see a deal at this level happen so relatively early in the history of VR festival exhibition.”

“One of the biggest things VR has had going against it is how quickly public opinion fluctuates,” added SuperData Research’s VP of research and strategy, Stephanie Llamas. “But a deal of this caliber means mainstream audiences can see the value the entertainment industry—an industry they trust to let them know where media is going next—is placing on VR.”

Llamas said that it’s big studios and celebrities that bring awareness, and the sale of Spheres “brings VR one step closer to widespread interest.” She explains that even though some of the biggest names in entertainment have become involved in VR, they’ve often treated the medium as a side project.

“This sale shows it is becoming more than a side project and that there is faith VR will bring in millions of consumer dollars soon,” said Llamas.

However, Hammonds doesn’t necessarily agree that the sales mean that Hollywood will be paying more attention to VR productions. He explained that people who have been traditionally involved with Hollywood productions, like directors Kathryn Bigelow and Alejandro González Iñárritu, haven’t “moved the needle” of public opinion, even after becoming deeply involved in the creation of popular VR projects.

“What will help Hollywood to truly shift its attention is if these projects get some form of distribution that allows them to reach wide audiences and permeate the popular culture,” said Hammonds.

CityLights will bring Spheres to the Oculus Rift later this year with distribution on other platforms to follow. The first episode, Songs of Spacetime, premiered at Sundance. Meanwhile, Zikr is expected to become available on home VR devices in addition to location-based entertainment venues such as VR arcades, museums or possibly other film festivals.

Hammonds hopes that one day, VR experiences will be featured alongside traditional films at festivals and other events that serve as marketplaces.

“I look at VR as the most exciting storytelling medium to arrive since the invention of cinema,” he said. “I do think that it’s a natural fit for VR to be featured prominently at festivals, as it has been in recent years, but I also see a future where VR will warrant or demand its own large-scale festival platform.”

But VR still has a lot of growing to do before it gets to that point, and that will require strong distribution and monetization to make more deals like the Spheres and Zikr purchases happen.

“Until we have a decent number of marquee pieces that reach wide audiences through an easily accessible platform and fully adopted hardware, the growth will stay measured,” Hammonds said. But he also explained that he’s comfortable with VR’s current pace of growth, so long as creators and developers continue to build on the medium and advance the technology.

“Slow growth is exponentially better than no growth,” he concluded. But as important as the Spheres sale is, festivals may not be the main driver for VR adoption.

“VR’s presence at festivals like Sundance and Tribeca has been a huge help, but while these festivals help make VR interesting, the average consumer isn’t trying it there,” said Llamas. “I think location-based VR is going to be the stepping stone folks need to actually see what VR is all about—which is what needs to happen to get the excitement going.”

Cinemark Hires New CMO; Airbnb Appoints First Independent Board Member


Cinemark has made two executive appointments, tapping Wanda Gierhart for chief marketing officer and Sean Gamble for chief operating officer.

“Wanda’s extensive retail marketing background will provide great insights and augment the strength of our global marketing organization,” stated Mark Zoradi, Chief Executive Officer. “[Sean] has been deeply involved in the Company’s cross-departmental business decisions and has added tremendous value with his extensive financial and operational education and experience.”

Prior to joining Cinemark, Gierhart served as CMO for Neiman Marcus Group, Design Within Reach and Limited Brands. Gamble has been with Cinemark since 2014, when he signed on as executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Just one week after joining Facebook’s board of directors, Ken Chenault has taken the same position on Airbnb’s board, marking its first-ever independent member.

“Airbnb is built on trust. As the CEO of American Express, Ken has built one of the most successful trust-based companies in the world,” wrote Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in an open letter.

Chenault will retire from his current position of CEO of American Express, a title he has held for 17 years, in February.

BuzzFeed will largely disband its non-news division, known as the BuzzFeed Entertainment Group, according to an internal memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. Ze Frank, currently the division’s president, will shift to the newly created position of chief research and development officer.

“These things keep changing and evolving,” BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti told The Hollywood Reporter. “The idea is that Ze can have a team of people come in and collaborate and figure out how to build new formats and evolve for the future: it’s a really appealing resource across the company.”

Frank has been with BuzzFeed since February of 2017, when he joined as president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.

After eight years as CEO of Activision, Eric Hirschberg has announced his retirement, slated for the end of March.

“During Eric’s tenure we’ve had historic performance and great successes. He is an inspiring leader, and we will all miss his creativity and tenacity very much,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard. “He is leaving the team, the franchises and the business in a great place, and he goes with my full support and appreciation.”

Activision Blizzard has not yet found a replacement, declaring that it is now actively searching for one.

Facebook chief marketing officer Gary Briggs has announced his retirement from his position, citing plans to get involved in politics on behalf of the Democratic Party for the 2018 midterm elections.

“I am so grateful for my 4 1/2 years as CMO at Facebook and will work now on hiring my successor. It’s an amazing job at an amazing time with the best marketing team,” Briggs wrote in a Facebook status update. “While I’m getting ready for my next chapter, I’m not done yet. I’ll be here at Facebook fully committed until we hire someone great and they ramp up.”

Briggs has been with the social network since 2013, leaving a vice presidency at Google for the position.

Dr. Seongjoon Koo has joined J.D. Power as its first-ever chief data officer, where he will lead the analytics provider’s efforts in advancing its data science and machine learning capabilities.

“As we enter a phase of expanded innovation, Dr. Koo will lead the creation of the team, infrastructure and operating model to make J.D. Power an AI-centered company,” said Bernardo Rodriquez, J.D. Power’s chief digital officer.

Prior to joining J.D. Power, Koo held the title of director of data science at Encore Capital Group, leading the financier’s machine-learning development teams.

The Ad Council has promoted Kenneth Kroll to the position of chief financial officer, succeeding Jon Fish who departed from the organization in 2016.

“Over the last ten years at the Ad Council, Ken has shown an exceptional ability to leverage his business and financial acumen to empower our team and our campaigns to drive meaningful impact,” said Lisa Sherman, president & CEO of the Ad Council.

Kroll first joined the Ad Council in 2008, most recently reaching the position of senior vice president of finance.

Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief operating officer, has departed the business to join online lender Social Finance as CEO.

“Anthony has been an incredible advocate for Twitter and a trusted partner to me and our leadership team,” said Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO.  “On behalf of the entire team, I want to thank Anthony for his passion and his impact, and congratulate him on his new role.”

Noto had been with Twitter since 2014.

Live Nation has hired Patricia Flores as vice president of marketing for its newly created Live Nation Latin division, seeking to expand the live entertainment company’s Hispanic audience.

“Patty has a unique way of tapping into the hearts and minds of Latin music fans to help connect them with artists from across the globe,” said Hans Schafer, senior vice president of Live Nation Latin. “We’ve worked together in the past, and I’ve seen her creative marketing strategies elevate countless projects.”

Flores most recently was head of Latin marketing at AEG Concerts and Goldenvoice, overseeing campaigns for artists such as Mana, Juanes, Enrique Iglesias and others.

Hyatt Hotels has announced major corporate restructuring, eliminating the role of chief marketing officer in favor of a chief commercial officer. Hyatt’s current CMO, Maryam Banikarim, will leave the company at the end of April.

“This starts at the top with our leadership, and we are making changes to streamline the Executive Committee and to better enable us to maximize our core hotel business and continue our expansion into new lines of business,” said Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels. “The changes we’re making will better position us to grow with focus to serve our high-end customers and guests in the places and with the experiences that matter most to them.”

Banikarim has been with the hotel chain for three years, previously serving as senior vice president and CMO of Gannet Corp, owner of USA Today.

Spirits distiller Pernod Ricard USA has appointed Jonas Tåhlin to fill an additional position, CMO of spirits for the US region, while retaining his title of CEO of Absolute Elyx USA.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jonas into this important position. Jonas has been a key member of the Pernod Ricard USA team over the past 10 years and has extensive knowledge of the Pernod Ricard Group and Brand Companies,” said Paul Duffy, CEO of Pernod Ricard USA. “His experience, coupled with his expertise and familiarity with the US market, makes him the perfect candidate to lead spirits marketing at Pernod Ricard USA.

Tåhlin first joined Pernod Ricard in 2008 and has been CEO of Absolute Elyx since 2014.

Andy Lark has joined Australian TV network Foxtel as its CMO, heading the brand’s marketing efforts as the company seeks to merge its operations with Fox Sports.

“Andy is an outstanding leader, globally recognized for his marketing and leadership in both large companies and high growth start-ups,” said Peter Tonagh, Foxtel’s CEO, to The Australian.

Lark most recently held the position of CMO at Xero, an accounting software firm, and has previously held marketing and communications jobs at Sun Microsystems, LogLogic and Nortel.

The Rest Of The C-Suite

(Editor’s Note: Our weekly careers post is updated daily. This installment will be updated until Friday, January 26. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.)

MGT Capital Investments has announced that it is ending its business relationship with John McAfee, who had served as the company’s chief cybersecurity visionary since August of 2017.

“I am looking forward to toiling in obscurity as the world’s foremost authority of all things cyber and crypto!” McAfee stated. “In all candor, the past two years have been action-packed and productive, and I want to thank all shareholders for their support. I leave MGT in much stronger condition than when I arrived and remain a major stakeholder.”

McAfee guided the company’s formation of its cybersecurity business, which MGT Capital is considering the possibility of selling or spinning off the division. According to its press release, MGT will instead focus on crpytocurrency mining.

Ralph Lauren Corporation is expanding its digital team, appointing three new senior ecommerce leaders.

Laura Porco, formerly leading ecommerce for the company’s Club Monaco brand, has been appointed senior vice president of ecommerce for Ralph Lauren North America. Filling her former position is Galen Hardy, formerly head of apparel merchandising at Zappos.

Additionally, Valeria Juarez has been promoted to the position of senior vice president of international ecommerce.

“We are moving urgently to expand our digital presence all over the world and bringing in the right senior talent to help us deliver,” said Patrice Louvet, Ralph Lauren’s CEO. “We have to meet consumers where they are, which is increasingly online, and digital expansion is one critical way we will drive new growth for our iconic business and brand.”

Florian Hunziker, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s head of developer relations, is departing the company, VentureBeat reports. He had held the position since January of 2017.

NewTV, a mobile-centric media startup, has appointed Meg Whitman CEO.

“Meg is one of the most accomplished and sought-after executives of our time. She has built and scaled some of the most important global companies today,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, NewTV’s founder and chairman. “Her leadership, operational expertise and deep understanding of technology and consumer behavior will be invaluable in creating the future of mobile entertainment.”

Whitman most recently worked as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, on whose board she continues to serve. Prior to its division into two separate companies, she also was president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Company, and before that was president and CEO of eBay until 2008.

Marketing agency MarketCast has expanded its executive ranks, bringing on Jenny Matkovich as marketing director and Lee Doyle as executive vice president of global client strategy, Deadline reports.

Prior to MarketCast, Doyle worked at ad conglomerate GroupM as president of client development for Mindshare. Matkovich previously worked at T2 Tech Group as director of marketing.

Disney-owned BAMTech Media has hired Kevin Swint as senior vice president and general manager for its upcoming streaming video on demand platform, Variety reports.

Before joining Disney, Swint worked at vice president of content and services for Samsung, where he helped build the company’s Milk Music streaming service.

Jiang Wei has joined Legendary Entertainment, the studio behind Pacific Rim and Kong: Skull Island, as the head of its China unit.

Previously, Jiang led the Beijing-based production company Gravity Pictures, and before that served at Sony, where he assisted in development and distribution of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Apple’s director of worldwide investigations, Lee Freedman, has left the tech giant for a new role at another tech giant, Facebook. Since 2011, Freedman led the company’s efforts to quell leaks.

At Facebook, Freedman will serve as director and associate general counsel for compliance for security and investigations, a largely similar position to his job at Apple. Jessica Kirschbraun will take over his responsibilities.

Arthur Martinez, Abercrombie & Fitch’s executive chairman, will step down from his role in early February. His responsibilities will be taken over by Terry Burman, currently Abercrombie’s lead director.

“My decision to step down as executive chairman and not stand for re-election to the board is part of a planned transition of the chairman role,” Martinez said in a statement. “With the company on a solid trajectory, this is the right time to hand over board leadership to Terry, who has outstanding credentials as a retail industry leader and is the right person to assume the role.”

Martinez first joined the clothing company’s board in 2014, and before joining Abercrombie helped lead a sales turnaround for Sears in the late 1990s.

Netflix has added Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer to its board of directors.

“We look forward to benefiting from Rodolphe’s wisdom, experience and global perspective as we continue to grow Netflix all over the world,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix co-founder and CEO.

Belmer has led the European satellite operator since 2016, and prior to that was CEO at Canal + Group from 2012 to 2015.

Former game hardware executive Phil Harrison has joined Google as vice president and general manager, he reported in a Tweet on Monday.

Prior to joining Google, Harrison spent over 25 years at Sony and Microsoft, holding executive positions for each company’s gaming divisions.

Andrew Edelson has joined Fox Content Labs, the advertising division of Fox Network Groups, as its APAC head.

“It’s an honor to join such a household name in entertainment. I look forward to focusing on a few key initiatives – transforming the FOX brand into something more culturally relevant in each local market, leveraging our creative production resources to deliver bespoke branded work for all screens and capturing data across all our channels to help clients know consumers better,” said Edelson. “If we can do all this, it won’t feel like advertising, it will feel like the new FOX.”

Edelson joins Fox after spending 10 years in China expanding GroupM and MEC China’s entertainment unit, working on films such as Iron Man 3, Now You See Me 2 and What Women Want.

The Priceline Group has hired David Goulden as executive vice president and chief financial officer, succeeding Daniel J. Finnegan, who retired last year.

“[Goulden] brings tremendous financial acumen and global operating experience to the Group, and we believe he will be a great asset as our business continues to expand and invest in new technologies to help people experience the world,” said Glenn Fogel, Priceline’s CEO.

Prior to joining Priceline, Goulden worked at Dell Technologies as president of is infrastructure solutions group, and before that was CFO for EMC Corporation, which Dell acquired in 2016.

National Milk Records (NMR), a dairy and livestock information services provider, has expanded its marketing team, promoting Nicci Chamberlin to lead the new group.

“The appointment of a new marketing team will enhance our internal capabilities and is an exciting step in NMR’s growth strategy,” said Andy Warne, NMR’s managing director.

Prior to her promotion, Chamberlin held the title of regional field business manager.

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Reba McEntire As Colonel Sanders Stays True To KFC Humor

Kentucky Fried Chicken may have cast Reba McEntire as its latest celebrity portrayal of Colonel Sanders, but as she sings in the new ad, “nothing has changed.”

Colonel Sanders looks more or less the same in KFC’s new ads for Smoky Mountain BBQ fried chicken, except that he happens to be played by a woman—Grammy award-winning country artist Reba McEntire.

McEntire plays Colonel Sanders as a country music star performing in a honky tonk music establishment. His trademark white suit now features sparkling fringe and appears to be tailored slightly at the waist, but the character remains male. He just happens to sing with McEntire’s clear, female singing voice.

“I’m Colonel Sanders, the same as always,” McEntire sings as the country music star Colonel, “Absolutely nothing has changed. Please ignore this likeness a famous country singer, I’m definitely not a woman.”

McEntire makes a cameo as a member of the audience, catching his hat and making a gesture of approval at the “famous country singer” lyric. In another spot called “Country Music Singer,” she plays Colonel Sanders who dresses up as Reba McEntire for inspiration but changes his mind and stays true to himself.

This marks the first time Colonel Sanders has been portrayed by a woman or a famous musician.

KFC’s announcement comes at a time when public outcries for female equality and gender discussion have reached a fever pitch—but these new tongue-in-cheek ads are consistent with the company’s previous marketing campaigns.

The official press release focused not on McEntire’s gender, but her occupation. It’s tempting to assume KFC is trying to capitalize on the discussion around female empowerment—something the brand denies—but Reba McEntire as Colonel Sanders as Reba McEntire doesn’t exactly say, “we take ourselves seriously.”

McEntire herself doesn’t see the ads as making a statement, but rather a continuation of KFC’s humor and a reflection of her own affinity for the brand.

“It was a great thing to do,” the country singer told USA Today. “It’s a spoof, and I’m an actress and that’s how I took it.”

McEntire joins an ever-growing rotation of celebrity Colonel Sanders characters—some of whom represent different flavors of fried chicken. The country music star was chosen to represent Smoky Mountain BBQ because of her Southern roots.

Videos of the new Colonel Sanders character with his Smoky Mountain BBQ chicken have been uploaded to the KFC’s YouTube channel and will make their debut as TV and video ads beginning January 28.

Banking On Host-Reads, Podcasts Want To Provide ‘Influence At Scale’

With podcast advertising revenues almost doubling between 2016 and 2017, it’s safe to say that the medium is still a growing market. And despite its content crossover with radio networks like NPR, podcasts offer distinct advantages for certain marketers through the idiosyncratic format of host-read ads.

“The host-read ad is really all about the relationship that host has with an audience,” said Korri Kolesa, head of sales for Midroll Media, in an interview with AListDaily. “It’s almost like they’re providing a personal recommendation and endorsement of the thing that they’re talking about.”

“I always feel like our host-read podcast ads are influencers at scale,” she added.

Midroll Media, a podcast content company that runs comedy-network Earwolf and listening platform and subscription service Stitcher, certainly has a vested interest in pitching its ad products, but third-party research supports Kolesa’s point.

According to research by Westwood One, 55 percent of podcast listeners prefer to hear ads voiced by show hosts, compared to just 30 percent that enjoy more conventional radio ad creative.

And Midroll isn’t the only company experimenting with more integrated podcast advertising methods. Gimlet Media, producers of Tinder’s branded podcast DTR, conducts interviews with advertiser spokespeople in addition to reading from talking points.

“I love the work Gimlet’s doing,” Kolesa said. “They do really beautiful, creative executions, and I do think it’s a good way for brands to tell a little bit of a deeper story.”

Kolesa attributes this preference to a sort of audio banner blindness: “Your brain automatically, almost unconsciously, knows an ad is coming when you hear that break in programming,” she said. “When it’s pre-recorded, you’re not as engaged, you’re not listening in the same way.”

Overall, podcast listeners seem highly tolerant of ads on the medium. Seventy-one percent of podcast listeners claim not to mind pre-roll (or prestitial) ads, a practice so unpopular for mobile web users that Google intends to block all ads on sites that rely on them. Additionally, 65 percent of listeners would not mind listening to extra ads per show to support the podcasts they enjoy.

Even though the podcasting audience is predominantly receptive, ad viewability (or listenability) is still a concern for marketers. Because podcasts are distributed as simple audio files, listeners are free to play them as fast as they like—on Apple’s podcast app, users can up to double an episode’s play speed—a practice known as “speed listening.” Westwood One’s research indicates that 42 percent of podcast listeners have tried speed listening at least once.

For Midroll, the trend isn’t as much of an issue. “It’s part of the conversation,” Kolesa said, “but it’s not something I’m giving a lot of pause to.”

Part of this nonconcern stems from the extemporaneous nature of host-read ads. Even when sped up, on-the-spot ad reads tend to be much longer than standard pre-produced spots. On one of Earwolf’s flagship podcasts, Comedy Bang Bang, ads can meander as long as two or three minutes apiece, which still nets an impressive airtime when sped through at double the normal rate. By comparison, pre-recorded spots on podcasts like The Daily and This American Life peak at 30 seconds.

Despite the relative strengths of host-read ads, the industry seems to be shifting away from them. Research by the IAB saw the share of podcast advertising revenue increase by 3 percent for pre-produced ads between 2015 and 2016.

As brand safety becomes more threatened by programmatic placement, the lack of granular message control for host-read ads may put off some marketers burned by other platforms’ content moderation problems. So too is the lack of all-important data in the medium.

“In the school of direct-response advertisers, they’re qualifying the success of a campaign based on an action that happens that they’re tracking on their side,” Midroll’s Korri Kolesa said. “We don’t usually get insight into that side of the house.”

Brand awareness campaigns, a type that went from 17 percent revenue share in 2015 to 25 percent in 2016, rely on even less direct data: “We will often run brand recall studies, or we’ll work with a third party like Nielsen,” Kolesa said. “We can do some of that now, and some of that we do with third-party research vendors.”

However, this dearth of data isn’t going to last long. Apple, whose podcasting app accounts for 50 percent of all podcast downloads, has released detailed analytics tools for podcast publishers. Although still in beta, these tools will finally allow marketers to see in-episode listening habits like completion rates and ad skipping.

Unfortunately, no information is as yet publicly available, but publishers interested in appearing more credible will undoubtedly provide metrics to interested advertisers. Additionally, the second-place podcast provider, Spotify, already tracks listener data, though its ad offerings are much more conventional.

“I’m a champion of more insight, more transparency, more data,” said Kolesa. “I think it’ll help more people get comfortable with what we’re doing in our space.”

Although thorough data isn’t as available as many marketers would like it to be, Kolesa was quick to point out that the industry is still developing.

“For an early-stage industry, you find that the people who are moving first are fans,” she said. “We’re just at the beginning.”

Snapchat Lays Off From Content Division; Nike Promotes New CMO


Snap Inc has laid off over 20 employees across various departments, mostly from its content division, citing the importance of scalability in its business model.

“Having a scalable business model isn’t enough,” Spiegel said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Cheddar. “We also need to have an organization that scales internally. This means that we must become exponentially more productive as we add additional resources and team members.”

These layoffs come as the app faces stagnating user growth and continued delays to a worldwide rollout of its promised redesign.

Nike has filled two high-level marketing roles this week, appointing Dirk-Jan van Hameren vice president and chief marketing officer, after promoting Greg Hoffman to vice president of global brand creative and marketing innovation.

Van Hameren has spent a quarter-century at Nike, most recently as vice president and general manager of Nike Sportswear, where his efforts contributed to the division attaining $3 billion in revenue.

Facebook has named American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault to its board of directors, marking the first black member of its board since the company’s founding.

“I’ve been trying to recruit Ken for years. He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve—customer service, direct commerce and building a trusted brand,”  Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, said in a statement. “Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”

Chenault will be retiring from his current position on February 1, ending a 16-year tenure at the head of American Express.

Internet mattress company Casper has a new chief marketing officer, Jeff Brooks, after launching physical retail concept stores across the country.

“This expansion of our leadership team is a major building block in our growth story,” said Philip Krim, CEO and co-founder of Casper. “Jeff brings invaluable experience to Casper as we continue to scale and bring better sleep to more people across the globe.”

Before joining the sleep disrupting startup, Brooks held the position of president and CMO at Huge, Casper’s digital agency.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have been expelled from Disney’s board of directors, the company announced this week.

“Given our evolving business and the businesses Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Dorsey are in, it has become increasingly difficult for them to avoid conflicts relating to board matters,” the company said in a statement.

This move comes as the culmination of efforts by all three parties expanding their presence in the streaming-video field: Twitter and Facebook have won the rights to broadcast live sporting events, and Disney pulled its library of content from Netflix in August to make way for its own yet-to-be-announced platform.

MoviePass, the movie-theater subscription service, has hired Natasha Mulla as the company’s first-ever chief marketing officer as it seeks to expand its customer base in cities with low ticket prices.

“It’s been fairly easy to get people to subscribe in high-cost markets,” MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe told Variety. “By hiring Natasha, we’re hopefully going to be finding those people who are in other parts of the country and who can offset the high cost of these other subscribers.”

Before joining MoviePass, Mulla held the role of senior vice president of Mashable, and prior to that was director of events for Haymarket Media.

LGBTQ dating app Grindr has been fully acquired by Kunlun Group Limited from founder Joel Simkhai, who will depart the company.

“I’m beyond proud of what we’ve built as a team and how Grindr has been able to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the global community,” said Simkhai in a statement. “I look forward to Grindr and Kunlun’s continued commitment to building tolerance, equality and respect around the world.” 

Yahui Zhou, current board chairman for Grindr, will serve as interim CEO while the company searches for a permanent replacement for Simkhai.

The Rest Of The C-Suite

(Editor’s Note: Our weekly careers post is updated daily. This installment will be updated until Friday, January 19. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.)


Medical Marijuana, Inc, the first American publicly traded cannabis company, has promoted Michael Coleman to the position of vice president of online sales and marketing, focusing on expansion of the company’s digital presence.

“We are excited to expand Mr. Coleman’s role and give him the platform to continue to provide creative and strategic marketing direction,” said Dr. Stuart Titus, Medical Marijuana’s CEO. “Since joining our organization, he has helped provide exponential growth to the company’s brands and has increased web traffic on the company’s website from 9,000 to over 1 million visitors per month.”

Coleman has been with the company since 2014, originally holding the title of marketing director.

Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s has announced three new appointments to its board of directors, David BatchelderLisa Wardell and Brian Rogers.

“We are pleased to welcome David, Brian and Lisa as new independent directors to the Lowe’s board and especially value the constructive discussions we have had with the D. E. Shaw group,” said Robert Niblock, Lowe’s president and CEO. “The addition of these directors complements our board of directors’ skills and experiences, and we are confident they will provide valuable perspectives as we continue to execute our strategy, drive profitability and enhance value for all Lowe’s shareholders.”

Sony Interactive Entertainment has announced hiring a new deputy president, Jim Ryan.

“Jim has more than two decades of experience at PlayStation and has a great record of success, including the successful launches of PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation VR that he led as Head of Global Sales and Marketing,” said John Kodera, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO. “With his deep knowledge of the game business and industry as well as his understanding of our own culture and strengths, I am confident that he will take our business to an even higher level.”

Human resources software provider Namely has appointed Graham Younger president and chief revenue officer, where he will oversee the company’s expansion into new markets.

Previously, Younger served as executive vice president of worldwide field operations at Box, a cloud-storage platform.

Storyful, a News Corp-owned media publisher, has promoted Mandy Jenkins to the role of editor in chief.

Mandy Jenkins has been a vital member of the Storyful team and we are thrilled to grow her role in the organization, especially as we continue to evolve into a world-class social newsroom,” said Sharb Farjami, CEO of Storyful.

Jenkins has worked at Storyful for three years, most recently as head of news. Prior to Storyful, she has held positions at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Huffington Post.

Martech provider Impact Radius has announced the appointment of its first-ever CMO, Scott Brazina.

“Scott is a talented, multifaceted executive whose deep experience marketing enterprise software, vision and leadership come at a critical inflection point as Impact Radius scales and sharpens its global go-to-market strategy,” said David Yovanno, CEO of Impact Radius.

Before Impact Radius, Brazina served at Dyn, an internet performance management firm, as vice president of martech and media.

Sony Music Entertainment has named Daniel Lieberberg as its latest president for the continental Europe and Africa regions, overseeing all of the company’s operations in the areas, except those in Spain and Portugal.

“Daniel is one of the most outstanding creative and futuristic executives in Europe, and I am very happy that he will now lead a group of territories that contribute significantly to our global business,” said Rob Stringer, CEO of Sony Music. “Not only does revolutionary music technology come from some of these countries, but the adage ‘hits can come from anywhere’ has never been truer, and Daniel is uniquely capable of building on this momentum for our company.”

Before joining Sony, Lieberberg oversaw Universal Music’s business operations in Germany.

Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. marketing and distribution head, has announced that she will be stepping down in April, citing a larger restructuring at the company.

“It’s the right structure at the right time. We should be marketing our movies with a life cycle approach rather than marketing for the theatrical window and the home entertainment window,” Kevin Tsujihara, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros, said in an interview with the LA Times. “It’s really about having a marketing and distribution strategy that is seamless across windows.”

After stepping down, Kroll will stay with Warner Bros. as a producer, already attached to two upcoming films.

Cable network Turner has promoted Michael Engleman to the position of CMO. Additionally, the company has appointed Marie Moore as senior vice president of communications.

“As we’ve continued to reinvent our two market-leading brands, TBS and TNT, Michael and Marie have been key architects in rebuilding our marketing and communications strategies and organizations, as well as pivoting to our bigger vision of re-imagining where television is going,” said Kevin Reilly, chief creative officer of Turner Entertainment, to Variety.

Englemen has been with Turner since 2016, when he joined TBS and TNT as executive vice president of marketing and brand innovation. Moore likewise joined the networks in 2016, holding the position of vice president of communications.

Paramount Pictures has named David Sameth as the company’s latest president of worldwide marketing, taking over from Megan Colligan, who departed in November.

“David is an incredibly talented, visionary marketer who has created some of the most iconic and successful campaigns in our industry’s recent history,” Jim Gianopulos, Paramount”s chairman and CEO, said to Variety. “He has experience launching an array of films from big franchises to small, specialized endeavors, and everything in between.”

Before signing with Paramount, Sameth served as executive vice president and head of theatrical marketing for Disney Animation Studios and Pixar.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has hired George Pastrana as its latest president and COO.

“George has impressed us every step of the way with his integrity, people-first, products-second leadership philosophy, sound experience at high level strategic planning and his recognition that innovation and brand distinction are at the heart of every successful entrepreneurial company’s raison d’etre,” said Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head’s founder and CEO, in a statement.

Most recently, Pastrana worked at ACH Food Companies, where he spent six years as CMO and vice president of marketing and innovation.


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NPD Report Shows Nintendo Finishing Strong In Conventional Franchise Year

The video game industry is continuing its trajectory of healthy growth this year, according to The NPD Group’s latest retail sales figures, showing few surprises in terms of the best-selling video games and a strong performance in the hardware market.

“Video game hardware was the primary driver of overall growth,” said Mat Piscatella, an NPD industry analyst. “Combined sales of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One continue at a record-setting pace.”

Overall, sales revenue increased by 11 percent in 2017, hitting $14.6 billion for the full year. Spending on hardware jumped by 28 percent year over year. On the other hand, software unit sales fared worse, with just a 4 percent bump as many publishers transition to a “games-as-a-service” business model.

While Nintendo lagged behind Sony for the full year, its slow-burn marketing strategy for its Switch console has started to pay off, heralding a bright 2018 for the company. The PlayStation 4 was the best-selling video game console of 2017 in general, but the Switch took first place for the all-important month of December and sold more units in its first ten months on the market than any other platform in history.

The publisher likewise dominated the software category for December, driving more consumer spending than any other publisher that month. Of the 20 best-selling video games of December 2017, seven were published by Nintendo, almost double Electronic Arts’ second-place figure of four.

Beyond Nintendo’s dark-horse comeback in December, a Call of Duty franchise title topped the overall December sales chart for the eighth year running, shooter games continue to draw the largest portion of consumer spending compared to all other game genres and the best-selling game accessory was the PS4 DualShock 4 controller.

‘The Walking Dead’ Fans Can Find Solace In AR-Friendly Promo Wine

Hailing the show’s mid-season premiere, The Walking Dead wine—coming to liquor stores in February—brings labels that animate when viewed through a mobile app.

This continues the trend of AR and VR marketing for the popular zombie apocalypse franchise: During last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the brand partnered with Mountain Dew for The Walking Dead Encounter, where users pose or act out scenes with AR walkers. And ahead of the Season 8 premiere, AMC released a free VR app that simulates what it would be like to live as a walker or be eaten by one.

Although this latest pairing of AR and wines doesn’t appear to be a direct TV show promotion, any association wouldn’t hurt. Season 8, episode 8 experienced the lowest mid-season finale ratings in the history of the show.

In an attempt to put the zombie apocalypse drama back on track for its coming season, AMC has changed showrunners. And as favorite characters often get killed on The Walking Dead, fans may also appreciate a bit of promotion—and consolation—of the alcoholic variety.

The wine itself is a partnership between Skybound Entertainment and The Last Wine Company and comes in two types—Blood Red Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each is sealed with a collectible cork featuring on-brand images, like barbed wire, a walker’s head or a walker’s hand.

And as this promotion comes not from the AMC, but Skybound Entertainment—the company that launched The Walking Dead comic book—the AR labels are drawn in the style of Robert Kirkman’s comics: “Blood Red Blend” features an image of the franchise’s main character, Sheriff Rick Grimes, surrounded by “walkers,” i.e. zombies. And when the label is viewed through the Living Wine Labels app, Rick fights the undead.

This isn’t the first time Rick Grimes has been featured on a wine label. Last fall, AMC and wine brand Lot18 released a limited-edition The Walking Dead wine collection inspired by three of the show’s most popular characters—Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon and Negan. Each of the custom blends were intended to mirror the characters’ individual personalities.

TV marketers seem to enjoy pairing wine with shows. Themed wines have previously been released to promote Game of Thrones, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Downton Abbey.

Surprise Nintendo Direct Leaves Audiences Puzzled

Nintendo surprised fans Thursday morning when it dropped a Nintendo Direct Mini unannounced. It’s uncharacteristic of the brand: no advanced notice was given aside from two cryptic social media posts—leaving thousands of fans to speculate.

On Wednesday, the company’s North American Twitter account posted a picture of Chibi-Robo—a character from a Nintendo-published video game—on fire. The post was offered without explanation, inspiring thousands of replies, retweets and fan theories ranging from a new game to hopes that a Nintendo Direct would be announced soon. To fuel the “fire” of theories spreading around the internet, the Nintendo New York account tweeted a Mii (Nintendo avatar) dancing in a Snapchat hot dog costume, again without comment.

Brands were speculating, too: Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog and Doom responded to Nintendo with their own flaming images.

Nintendo Direct Minis are traditionally announced ahead of time—like last fall’s Direct for Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, which earned 544,000 views. Thursday morning’s sudden Direct earned over 1.5 million views in a matter of hours.

“Nintendo seems to have realized that by not announcing Direct in the same way each time, it usually does creates a lot more speculation and buzz,” SuperData CEO Joost van Dreunen told AListDaily. “Nintendo’s massive following on social media and the fans that closely monitor the Directs does the PR for them instead and allows Nintendo to point at it and say: ‘Look at how much online discussion we created.'”

The tradition of Nintendo Direct began in 2011, when the company provided updates and announcements for Nintendo 3DS and Wii platforms. The first Nintendo Direct Mini—a shorter version of its normal announcement videos—aired in 2012 to announce Brain Age: Concentration Training in Japan.

Full-length Nintendo Direct announcements typically feature one or more presidents of the company engaging in some mild-mannered hijinks, such as wearing Cappy, the hat from Super Mario Odyssey. Nintendo Direct Minis, meanwhile, get straight to the point with back-to-back trailers accompanied by a narrator.

Thursday’s Nintendo Direct Mini announced new titles coming to Nintendo Switch:

  • The World Ends With You (a game previously released for Nintendo DS)
  • Mario Tennis Aces
  • SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy
  • Hyrule Warriors Ultimate Edition
  • Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Also announced: DLC for existing games, like Pokken Tournament DX, Mario + Rabbids and Super Mario Odyssey.

Ports coming to Nintendo Switch have also been given release dates, giving fans something to chew on until the brand decides to keep them guessing again.

Despite Expected Games Industry Growth, Employee Diversity Stagnates

Employment Diversity Still Lags

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has released its annual survey on diversity in the advertising business, revealing only marginal progress toward a more diverse workforce.

Despite a general gender balance across all agencies and roles (50.5 percent female and 49.5 percent male), diversity among C-suite positions is the same as it was a year ago. Just 30.9 percent of executive roles are filled by women, compared to 30.3 percent in 2016.

Ethnic diversity in the C-suite is lagging even more, actually dropping from its levels last year. In 2016, 5.2 percent of executive positions were held by ethnic minorities, but in 2017, that figure was 4.7 percent.

“While the rise in diversity doesn’t appear extreme enough or fast enough, and we have yet to achieve parity at all levels, there is an inevitable time lag from implementing change to seeing results, and we mustn’t lose heart,” writes Sarah Golding, IPA president and CEO, for Campaign.

The advertising industry isn’t alone in its diversity woes: game developers are currently facing stagnation in the area as well. According to the International Game Developers Association’s 2017 Developer Satisfaction Survey, just 42 percent of respondents thought the industry has increased diversity in the past two years, down from 47 percent in 2016. Seventy-four percent of the survey respondents identified as male, 81 percent as heterosexual and 61 percent as white.

Tech, Games Industries Expect 2018 Growth

This year is set to bring healthy growth to the consumer tech sector, according to the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) semi-annual forecast. According to the CTA’s research, emerging technologies and resilient categories will drive $351 billion in retail revenue this year, up 3.9 percent from 2017.

“Our forecast incorporates several key economic factors including a strong stock market, continued job growth and stable rules for international trade to forecast these record-setting sales for breakthrough technologies and longtime market leaders alike,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CTA.

Connected devices are expected to experience the largest share of growth, increasing 6.6 percent from last year, pushed largely by the meteoric growth of smart speakers.

The new year is expected to be a healthy one for the UK games industry as well, per TIGA’s Business Opinion Survey. Of the game studios surveyed, 68 percent plan to hire additional workers and just 2 percent plan to shrink their staff. Opinions on company performance are likewise optimistic, with 62 percent reporting that their business is performing either “very well” or “well.”

Super Bowl Advertising Worth The Hype

A new study conducted jointly between Stanford and Humboldt Universities on Super Bowl ads has revealed that advertisers can expect to reap benefits long after the event ends, with increased sales persisting well into the year.

“For some type of ads, there is a large social media multiplier by provoking interest and subsequent conversations on social media and mass media, that could be independent of Super Bowl viewership,” Daniel Klapper, one of the study’s authors, said in a release. “That is good news for advertisers as it suggests that our estimates are only a lower bound of the benefits of Super Bowl advertising.”

This boost is especially noticeable for sole advertisers in a product category, with AB InBev, the exclusive alcohol advertising rights holder, enjoying a 4.7 percent increase in revenue as late as March Madness.

Spending Habits Of Smart Speaker Adopters

A new study by Consumer Intelligence Research has garnered some insight into the purchase habits of Amazon Echo users, revealing significantly higher spending than non-owners. Echo owners spend $700 more per year than the average Amazon customer and $400 more per year than Amazon Prime members.

Fashion Influencers Drive Millennial Women To Buy

According to research by Dealspotr, millennial women are more affected by lifestyle influencers than their own family when making fashion purchase decisions. Forty-one percent claimed that influencers and bloggers were their primary inspiration for fashion ideas, compared to 37 percent for friends and family. However, this figure may change in the near future: 52 percent of millennial women claim to trust fashion influencers less than they used to.

Unsurprisingly, Instagram is far and away the most popular medium, with 59 percent saying they enjoy viewing fashion content on the platform. Additionally, physical retail proves the most popular destination for completing purchases, with 65 percent claiming they most often buy clothes in store rather than online.

CES Marketing Activation Standouts: Foreo Stunt, Intel Drone Lights And Personalized Spotify

The phrase “Hey Google” is this year’s CES marketing activation frontrunner.

You encounter these words on a digital video board as you head out of McCarran International Airport and into Sin City for the 51st annual CES. Several hotels across The Strip later, you see the same message on the monstrous video walls outside of the casinos.

Once you take a trip to the Las Vegas Convention Center to Google’s exterior cavernous exhibitor space, a giant gumball-like vending machine has “Hey Google” emblazoned on it as it greets comers and goers. Even the city’s monorail, which has two trains crossing in opposite directions throughout the day, is wrapped up with the ad phrase.

Historically, brands like Apple, Amazon and Google skip the dog and pony show that is CES, but the latter is making a surprise appearance this year to tell the competition that it’s serious about reshaping consumer behavior on digital assistant products.

Google’s branding push and coming out party is perhaps a warning shot to Amazon and the rest of the digital assistant pack that “1A” of the world’s advertising duopoly is taking voice seriously this year. Smart speakers were a popular gift over the holidays, as Amazon’s Echo Dot was the top-selling product across all categories on Amazon, and appear to be a big platform focus in 2018.

Turner Network Embraces Robotic Art

Turner is considerably increasing its presence at CES again this year. In addition to expanding—and sponsoring—the Sports Zone with a live ELEAGUE Street Fighter esports event and bringing TNT’s entire Inside the NBA studio and team to Las Vegas for a live show, the network is also hosting an invite-only event at the Aria Wedding Chapel in C-Space, where it will be displaying “Markers” and the world debut of ArtBots, a robotic graffiti platform created by artist Scott Peterman.

The art installation sources trending topics and fan imagery from social media and is conveniently holding court at Turner’s ad sales meetings location—exhibiting to its current and potential clients how the network is thinking toward a more creative future.

Over the course of CES, ArtBots is generating robotically drawn murals that aim to mirror Turner’s ability to connect with consumers through a massive piece of fan art. Inspired by classic plotter-and-dot matrix printers, the ArtBots platform uses technology that’s already available and blows it up to scale.

Turner said the installation brings visions of consumer art and content to life, and channels the roots of CES when products were not necessarily intended for commercialization, but instead introduced for inspiration and innovation.

First-Hand Experience With Automated Cars

Lyft has big plans to enable self-driving developers and car manufacturers to plug into its million-plus per day ride network. The ridesharing company is partnering with Aptiv at CES to demonstrate a fully automated, end-to-end ride-hailing experience.

Consumers can ride around the Las Vegas Strip area all week for more than 20 pick-up and drop-off locations. The experience is specifically set in complex driving environments amidst busy streets and pedestrians instead of the usual controlled situations of parking lots.

It’s another demonstration of the future of mobility at work and offers a glimpse for the commercial applications of scalable, automated-driving technology.

Also getting in on the self-driving and autonomy action are Pizza Hut and Dominoes.

Both of the pie makers are partnering with Ford and Toyota, respectively, during CES for a self-driving pizza delivery cars.

Which begs the question: who do you tip?

Spotify Shows Personalization Capabilities

Spotify is at CES to show that it’s serious about bringing consumers of the streaming service, artists and advertisers all together under the banner of culture. At the C Space in Aria, the brand is demonstrating personalization, user experience and machine learning models through art and sciencen with curated playlists and time capsules that take users back to songs of yesteryear.

Spotify, which reportedly filed for IPO last week, is trying to build moments for marketers to tap into with sponsorships of playlists and concerts that deliver value for brands throughout different moments of the day.

Intel Lights Up Las Vegas

Intel is bringing a nightly drone light show this week over the Bellagio fountains featuring over 250 Intel Shooting Star drones sparkling in the sky. The experiential marketing move, which plays to the tune of Kygo’s song “Stargazing,” marks the first time that drones have flown over the famous fountains on the Las Vegas Strip.

In a different kind of light show, Intel also set a new Guinness World Records for simultaneously flying the Most UAVs from a single computer indoors when it flew 100 of their mini-drones during Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s opening keynote.

Foreo Fakes A Stunt To Announce New Product

Beauty brand Foreo activated an ‘Area 51’-inspired experience outside of The Sands to promote its latest beauty product UFO, a device designed to eliminate paralysis from sheet masks.

The experience began with four “paralyzed” people. Cars with caution signs arrived to put CES attendees on notice. Once outside The Sands, the motorcade came to a stop and paparazzi swarmed the vehicles as scientists and security officers stepped in. They inspected the paralyzed people around the caution tape, and three aliens arrived to announce UFO.

BMW Brings Real And Virtual Worlds Together

The screeching sounds coming out of the BMW cars drifting in the outdoor racetrack reverberated throughout the crisp air as hordes of consumers cross-crossed convention halls.

The German car manufacturer arrived at CES with a marketing program designed on showing both the real and virtual worlds of racing.

BMW debuted VR@Retail, a new tool that aims at enhancing the retail experience for consumers in an immersive environment. The automaker also hosted a virtual experience through for the PlayStation game GT Sport, where the top five daily finishers were invited to the BMW Ultimate Driver CES Showdown at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Gibson Gets Groovy

Also outside the Convention Center in a cavernous tent was Gibson Brands, which brought a groovy vibe and sound to consumers who were looking for a reprieve from the inside noise, much like American Greetings did last year.

Over 70 custom guitars decorated the Gibson Custom Shop Guitar Art Gallery, and music performances occurred throughout the week.