What in the World—Week of January 23

LIV Golf scores CW broadcast deal
The controversial, Saudi-backed LIV Golf has found a U.S. broadcast partner in Nexstar Media Group’s CW network, best known for showing scripted teenage shows like Dawson’s Creek and Riverdale. Branded as “golf, but louder,” LIV Golf debuted last year as a competitor to the PGA Tour—attracting golfers including Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson through a combination of what Forbes describes as “eye-popping player contracts and guaranteed prize money.” Last year’s LIV Golf events were shown live on YouTube, but the new deal provides it with reach across more than 120 million U.S. households. Terms of the broadcast deal were not disclosed, but some reports have suggested that rather than CW paying a rights fee, the two will share ad revenue with LIV paying for production. LIV Golf is financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. The country’s human rights abuses have made LIV Golf a focus of attention, but CEO Greg Norman said recently that the government has learned from its “mistakes” and that the Saudis view golf as a “force for good.”

Amazon pulls plug on AmazonSmile
Amazon is shutting down its charity donation program AmazonSmile amid what CNBC describes as a “sweeping review” of its expenses by CEO Andy Jassy. AmazonSmile saw the company donate a percentage of eligible purchases to a chosen charity, with the company claiming it had donated about $500 million since the program’s 2013 debut. In a note on its website, Amazon said it plans to wind down AmazonSmile by Feb. 20. “After almost a decade, the program has not grown to create the impact that we had originally hoped,” said the company. It said that the number of eligible charities—more than one million globally—meant that its ability to have an impact “was often spread too thin.” The average donation to charities was a mere $230, it said.

Major marketing push planned for Zoa Energy drink
Can you tell what The Rock is drinking? You’ll be able to this year, as former wrestler turned action movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is preparing a marketing blitz designed to help his Zoa Energy brand gain share in the highly competitive energy drink market. According to Bloomberg, Zoa will triple its marketing spend this year, with ad campaigns supported by a new can design, pop-up shops, contests and influencer programs. Zoa broke US$100 million in sales last year, and is now available at about 50,000 distribution points. It entered the Canadian market in 2022, and its executives expect triple-digit percentage growth in the coming year. Bloomberg quoted Johnson as saying he’ll be “heavily involved” in promoting the brand—which signed a sponsorship deal with the XFL in December.

Musk says Twitter ads are ‘too frequent,’ pledges action
Elon Musk tweeted on Saturday that Twitter is introducing a higher-priced subscription plan that won’t feature advertising. Saying that (what’s left) of Twitter ads are “too frequent and too big,” Musk also announced that the company is taking steps to address both issues in coming weeks. Musk also refuted a recent claim by The Wall Street Journal that Twitter’s staff has been reduced to about 1,300 active employees, including fewer than 550 full-time engineers. “That note is incorrect,” he said, according to Reuters, adding that there are “hundreds” of employees working on trust and safety, as well as “several thousand” contractors.

Neon can help advertisers see over walled gardens
Horizon Media has introduced a new AI tool called Neon that it says can increase advertisers’ revenue by 20% or more when using retail media networks such as those operated by the likes of Target and Walmart. According to a release, Neon—which is housed in the media network’s ecommerce division Night Market—uses predictive analytics to make investment decisions across retailers. Retail media networks, which typically operate as walled gardens, have grown in popularity, with brands using their extensive first party data to allocate investment. Night Market president Randy Browning said that media and commerce data have been analyzed independent of each other. “[W]e saw an opportunity to combine these datasets in order to optimize media spending with the goal of driving revenue outcomes.” Among the clients using Neon is Hershey’s, with senior director of omnichannel marketing Eric Bowers saying the company has been “thoroughly impressed” by Neon and its potential to accelerate its business in retail media measurement and product merchandising.

David Brown