What in the World—Week of November 20

Cobell Energy is TV made for TikTok

Academy Award-winning writer/director/producer Adam McKay has just launched his newest series, Cobell Energy, about a dysfunctional family run oil business.

But instead of HBO, Netflix or Disney+, McKay’s Yellow Dot Studios made the series entirely for social media. New episodes, shot vertically, will run between one and four minutes, and be released weekly. GQ described it as “one of the first Hollywood-backed, scripted shows to be made directly for the phone.”

McKay, one of the producers on HBO mega-hit Succession, was also behind movies like The Big Short, Vice and the climate-change satire Don’t Look Up on Netflix. He created Yellow Dot as a non-profit climate media company, and shot Cobell Energy in such a way that it resonates with social media users to deliver a message about big oil.

“It’s hard for people to get their heads around how monstrous the oil companies are,” said McKay in an email to GQ. “I don’t throw around the ‘E’ word lightly but it’s an almost incomprehensible level of evil. They know full well they are actively destroying the whole livable climate and they’re like, ‘Cool, what’s for lunch?’”

Marketers urge Yaccarino to leave X

Marketing and media industry friends of Linda Yaccarino are urging her to resign from X (formerly Twitter) for the sake of her professional reputation, after Elon Musk endorsed an explicitly antisemitic post on the platform last week.

Yaccarino was well-known as an NBC advertising executive before taking the CEO job at X in July, and has been dealing with various brand safety fires lit by Musk. The company is now dealing with an inferno as advertisers pull their spend, though Musk went on the attack this weekend, blaming the media for “bogus” stories.

“The issue is no longer about content adjacencies or content moderation. It’s simply that the owner is not someone marketers can do business with,” Lou Paskalis, a marketing consultant and former head of global media at Bank of America, told Axios. “[Musk] has made it impossible [for Yaccarino] to succeed in her mission to return advertisers to the platform with his rash of retweets of blatantly antisemitic posts.”

Both Forbes and Axios reported over the weekend that Yaccarino does not plan on leaving.

Hollywood is back, but at what cost?

While labour peace seemingly returned to La La Land in recent weeks, the costs of the new contracts is leading to big studios cutting projects. According to Axios, Moody’s Investors Service estimates the new deals could cost studios between $450 and $600 million a year.

Those new costs come at a time when media giants are still struggling to make streaming profitable, with Axios claiming that the labour battles were being used as “cover” to rein in spending that ballooned significantly in the past few years as streamers fought for subscribers.

“Conversations with multiple industry insiders in the days after the strike made it clear that most expect contraction throughout the next year,” reported Axios. “That means fewer TV series greenlighted, tighter budgets on TV and film productions; and a dramatic drop in eight and nine-figure production deals for creators.”

New study calls on Meta and Google to pay $10B to publishers

While Meta remains in a standoff with Canadian publishers (and the Canadian government) over C-18, the Online News Act, a new American study suggests that U.S. publishers should also be entitled to payments, as much as $10 billion a year (Canadian publishers were estimated to get $250 million a year through C-18).

The Columbia University study concluded that about 35% of all searches are for news publisher content, and argues that Google should distribute 17.5% of its search revenue to publishers annually, while Meta should pay 6.6%.

With countries around the world considering similar laws to Canada, “The new study will be a cudgel for regulators looking to squeeze Meta and (especially) Google,” wrote Semafor’s Ben Smith, who believes Google will find it tougher to stand up to news payments.

“[W]hile the company is currently threatening to pull news from results in Canada, in the long term Google doesn’t have Meta’s luxury of playing chicken with the news industry. Its value isn’t in social connections or user-generated content, but in presenting accurate results to queries, including for news.”

Microsoft moves fast to hire Altman

A year dominated by talk about artificial intelligence, appears to be coming to an end with a soap operatic executive firefight at the company that started it all. After being unexpectedly fired by OpenAI on Friday, founder Sam Altman was hired by Microsoft Monday.

Microsoft is a major investor of OpenAI, and CEO Satya Nadella said that Altman, along with his co-founder Greg Brockman, will lead a “new advanced AI research team.”

Tech and business media were stunned by the OpenAI board’s cryptic announcement on Friday that Altman—who has been in many ways the face of the AI frenzy—was being removed as CEO because he “lost the trust of the board.”

Multiple reports over the weekend suggested concerns about the potential impact of AI was the core issue behind the decision. Altman had been involved in a “series of escalating disagreements over fundamental questions at the heart of artificial intelligence: How to keep the technology safe while also making money from it,” reported Bloomberg.

In particular, Ilya Sutskever, an OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist, has advocated for caution, while Altman appears eager to move forward quickly.

David Brown