What in the World—Week of Jan. 3

Deepfake startup receives $20 million in funding

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have received $20 million in funding for their company Deep Voodoo, an AI entertainment startup built around deepfakes. The funding round was led by Connect Ventures, an investment partnership between CAA and venture-capital firm New Enterprise Associates, reports Variety.

The pair plan to use the investment to “accelerate Deep Voodoo’s development of its leading deepfake technology, cost-effective visual effects services and original synthetic media projects,” said Variety, quoting an announcement.

Deep Voodoo began building its deepfake capabilities in 2020, eventually developing a feature film about Donald Trump that never got made. The company more recently provided VFX for Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Part 5” music video, in which the artist’s face transforms into well-known public figures including OJ Simpson, Koby Bryant and Kanye West.

Sony and Honda unveil EV prototype at CES

Sony and Honda introduced a prototype of their new joint-venture EV during CES in Las Vegas on Wednesday. The Afeela, which is being presented as an entertainment system almost as much as it is a vehicle, is slated to go on sale in North America in 2026. According to Reuters, the Afeela will feature an increased emphasis on the “cockpit experience,” which is expected to become a fundamental aspect of vehicles as autonomous driving technology is improved. Honda and Sony are also working with Epic Games’ 3D creation tool Unreal Engine to develop in-vehicle interfaces.

Sony Honda Mobility CEO Yasuhide Mizuno said that the Afeela will also harness Sony’s strength in sensors and will feature an exterior “media bar” above its front bumper that will enable it to show information and interact with people outside.

Vox formalizes ban on fossil-fuel ads

Vox Media, the New York-based owner of brands including New York magazine, SB Nation, The Verge, and its namesake website, has formalized a policy stating that it will no longer accept advertising from fossil-fuel companies.

Company spokesperson Peyton McCarthy told Marketing Brew that the advertising ban includes all fossil-fuel companies and companies mining non-renewable resources, and will extend to lobby groups “whose purpose is to support fossil-fuel companies.”

While Vox Media has not accepted advertising of this nature since the beginning of 2021, it is now putting those exclusions into written contracts.

The company also announced that it will begin offsetting the emissions generated by its ad network, Concert, through a partnership with ad tech firm Scope3. While advertisers will pay for audience impressions, Vox Media will pay to offset emissions.

The U.K.’s Guardian Media Group announced in 2020 that it would stop accepting ads from fossil-fuel companies.

TikTok rolling out sleep reminder tool

TikTok is testing sleep reminders that tell people when it’s time to get off the platform and get some rest, reports TechCrunch.

TikTok’s advanced recommendation engine means that it tends to keep people highly engaged, leading to the evolution of the phrase “TikTok Tired” to describe people—and particularly members of Gen Z—who stay up well past their bedtime scrolling on the app.

TechCrunch reported that the sleep reminders are being tested with “select users” around the world. The new functions will appear under the app’s “screen time” settings and will remind users to shut down the app upon reaching a pre-selected sleep time. The app will also mute push notifications for seven hours after sleep time.

The company rolled out more screen time tools last year amid concerns that users were spending too much time on the app.

Messi lifestyle brand MGO Global plans IPO

The company managing Lionel Messi’s sports and lifestyle brand is planning an IPO to cash in on his recent World Cup win which cemented his status as the world’s greatest soccer player (and sent us here at The Message down a YouTube wormhole of his best performances).

According to Quartz, MGO Global will make the IPO on Nasdaq on Jan. 13, using MGOL as its ticker symbol. It will sell 1.5 million shares at $5 each to raise about $7.5 million at a $66 million market cap.

The company was launched in 2018 by Argentinean-born Maximiliano Ojeda and U.S designer Ginny Hilfiger, sister of designer Tommy Hilfiger. Messi is currently its only client, but is not a shareholder. Instead, he receives 12% of sales, with a minimum guarantee of $4.2 million over three years.

Last month’s World Cup victory has sent the diminutive star’s celebrity soaring to stratospheric heights. His Dec. 18 Instagram post celebrating the win garnered more than 74 million likes to become the most-liked photo ever on the platform, while his home province of Santa Fè saw a 50% month-over-month increase in the  number of newborns named Lionel and Lionela. He is also currently leading in polling for his home country’s upcoming presidential election by double digits.


Chris Powell