“This is what happens when you corner a rat,” a spokesperson for Joe Biden told BuzzFeed News
The White House and President Trump’s reelection campaign on Monday circulated two videos that had been manipulated to negatively portray presidential candidate Joe Biden. Both videos spread widely on social media before being flagged as false or manipulated.
The first video was posted on Saturday, Aug. 29, but promoted to new audiences a day later by Dan Scavino, the White House deputy chief of communications.
The video, which purported to show Joe Biden asleep during a TV interview, was a manipulated copy of a 2011 KBAK news segment in which actor Harry Belafonte appears to be napping during a live interview. The manipulated version shared by Scavino substituted Biden for Belafonte and added a snoring soundtrack.
“This is what happens when you corner a rat,” a spokesperson for Joe Biden told BuzzFeed News. “Donald Trump is in so far over his head that rather than even trying to overcome the crises he has helped trigger and has exacerbated — the botched response to the pandemic and the climbing death toll, the economic collapse, and unrest and division — he is founding his incoherent case for doing even more damage in a second term on pretending he is not president now and pretending he’s running against someone other than Joe Biden.”
Reached for comment, the Trump campaign pointed to a Trump War Room tweet saying journalists “can’t take a joke.”
By Monday afternoon, the video had been labeled as “Manipulated Media” by Twitter, marked as false by Facebook fact-checkers, and removed entirely from the YouTube account that originally posted it. By the end of the day, the video tweeted by Scavino was removed because of a copyright issue. It was viewed over 2 million times on Twitter.
The video was originally created by Damon Imani, who told BuzzFeed News over Twitter direct messages that he had intended it to be a parody. Imani said he’s 28, lives in Denmark, and follows US politics because, he said, “It’s a complete circus!” He said he wished Scavino had tweeted the original video instead, which included a disclaimer.
“I think if people had shared the original video from my account, the disclaimer that I tweeted in the video thread would’ve reached out to way more people so that the Twitter label could’ve maybe been avoided,” he said.
The second manipulated video was posted by @TrumpWarRoom, the official Twitter account of the Trump campaign. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” the Democratic nominee says in the three-second clip. But the video had been edited to remove crucial context. Had the clip been a few seconds longer, audiences would have heard Biden say something very different.
“Since they have no agenda or vision for the second term, Trump and Pence are running on this, and I find it fascinating: ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.’ And what’s the proof? The violence we’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America,” Biden said in the speech that Trump’s campaign tweeted.
While the Trump campaign claimed that the out-of-context video was a parody, Twitter labeled it “Manipulated Media” and removed the ability to comment, like, or share it, unless it’s a quote-tweet.
The doctored interview format that made it look like Biden’s asleep has been used before. In 2018, conservative media outlet CRTV used it to make then–Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appear incompetent. The video garnered nearly a million views at the time. In that case, too, the creators said it was parody.
The two Biden videos spreading on Monday played directly into the lines of attack Trump set up during the Republican National Convention last week. The president has nicknamed the Democratic nominee “sleepy” and spent much of his convention speech telling supporters they won’t be safe should Biden be elected.
For his part, Belafonte told New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman that Trump should be voted out.
“They keep stooping lower and lower. A technical glitch in an interview I did 9 years ago now becomes another one of their lies, more of their fake news,” he told Haberman. “I beg every sane American-please vote them out. I knew many who gave their life for the right to vote. Never has it been so vital to exercise that right.”
Netflix and Disney trading places: Upstart vs old guard
The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and Disney’s Mickey Mouse
Netflix said on Tuesday that it would consider buying back shares for the first time since 2011. After nearly a decade of borrowing $15 billion to fund original content, Netflix said Tuesday it planned to be cash flow positive after 2021 and would no longer need outside financing for its operations.
Disney, meanwhile, temporarily halted its dividend last year and has heard calls from activist investor Dan Loeb to permanently end its annual $3 billion payment to shareholders. Loeb wanted Disney to funnel that money into original content, using Netflix’s startling run-up from $11 billion company to $220 billion media giant as a model.
While Disney hasn’t ended its dividend yet, the company is focusing its operations around streaming. Disney plans to roll out dozens of Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar movies and series in the coming years for its flagship streaming service, Disney+. The service has gained more than 86 million subscribers in a year, way ahead of Disney’s original expectations, and the company now expects between 230 million and 260 million subscribers by 2024.
“It’s super impressive what Disney has done,” Netflix co-CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings said during Netflix’s earnings conference call. “It’s incredible execution for an incumbent to pivot to take on the insurgent. It shows members are willing and interested to pay for more content because they’re hungry for great stories. And Disney does have great stories.”
But while Hastings still refers to Disney as the incumbent, investors see a different picture. There’s a reason why Disney shares gained more than 2% after hours on Netflix’s news, which sent Netflix shares up more than 12%. Investors don’t see the battle as Disney versus Netflix. They see that Disney wants to be like Netflix, and there’s room for both.
Netflix was founded in 1997. Disney has been around for nearly 100 years.
But in the streaming video world, Netflix is the incumbent and Disney the upstart.
The student has become the teacher.
YouTube extends Trump suspension for another week
Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.
Michael Newberg | CNBC
YouTube is extending Donald Trump’s channel suspension for a week longer than its previous temporary suspension.
The Google-owned company confirmed to CNBC the extension Tuesday, citing a potential for ongoing violence. Donald Trump’s YouTube account has 2.79 million subscribers and, prior to the suspension, typically posted several videos a day from him and from right-wing media stations.
The company is also going to continue banning comments from showing on videos posted within his channel. The temporary suspension means Trump’s account and existing videos will remain accessible but he won’t be able to upload new content for a minimum of seven more days.
Last week, Google suspended President Trump’s YouTube account and formally warned the White House about its use of the world’s largest video platform after the deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol by some Trump supporters in early January. The company normally has a three-strike rule and the first strike results in a temporary account suspension.
The extension comes ahead of Inauguration Day, where the U.S. will transition power to the next president, Joe Biden.
The company has historically taken a more hands-off approach to moderating content on its platform, which faced renewed criticism following the 2020 election. By the time YouTube gave Trump its first strike, Twitter and Facebook had already banned Trump indefinitely, citing incitement to violence.
Netflix says cash-flow positive after 2021, no more external financing
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
Ernesto S. Ruscio | Getty Images
Netflix said Tuesday it plans to be cash-flow neutral this year and cash-flow positive every year after 2021, and will no longer need external financing to fund its operations, ending a decade-long trend and vindicating investors who have plowed money into the company despite its cash-burning ways.
Netflix also said it will consider share buybacks, a practice it hasn’t done since 2011 — the last time the company was cash-flow positive. The announcement came as part of Netflix’s earnings announcement, where the company also announced EPS of $1.19 on revenues of $6.64 billion for the fourth quarter, and 203.66 million global subscribers, up from 26 million at the end of 2011. Shares were up 8% on the news.
For the past 10 years, Netflix has upended the media industry by taking a leap of faith. It has spent billions of dollars on licensed and original content each year to boost its catalog, and along the way morphed into a replacement product for traditional pay-TV in millions of households. Since 2011, Netflix has raised $15 billion in debt to help pay for this content. The company said it plans to pay back its outstanding debt that matures in 2021 with its more than $8 billion of cash on hand.
Over the years, Netflix skeptics, such as Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter, have pointed out that Netflix’s increasing debt load should be concerning for investors as content spending ballooned and the company burned more cash.
“Netflix has burned more cash every year since 2013,” Pachter told CNBC in June 2018. “What happens when they need to keep increasing their spending and suddenly they have $10 billion of debt? People are going to start asking, ‘can this company pay us back?’ If that happens, their lending rate will spike. If Netflix needs to raise capital, they’ll issue stock. And that’s when investors will get spooked.”
But that hasn’t happened. The cost of original programming hasn’t doomed the company. And Tuesday’s announcement suggests it won’t. Meanwhile, as Netflix has grown, the number of U.S. households with traditional pay TV has dropped from a peak of 100 million in 2012 to about 75 million today. Media executives are now planning for a world where that figure falls to between 50 million and 60 million in five years.
Netflix’s market capitalization in Jan. 2011 was $11.5 billion. Today, it’s more than $220 billion.
Pandemic quarantines have jump-started Netflix’s return to positive cash flow. With production stalled amid coronavirus shutdowns and people around the world stuck at home, Netflix added 36.57 million subscribers in 2020 while spending less money on content than usual. Last year, Netflix reported positive quarterly free cash flow for three consecutive quarters for the first time since 2014.
The acceleration in subscribers and subsequent movement of all media companies toward streaming has given CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos confidence that Netflix will be able to limit churn and start consistently making money.
The unknown question is how investors will respond to the change in Netflix’s narrative. While operating a sustainable business without the need for outside debt and share buybacks is “Business 101,” Netflix’s stock has risen as investors have increasingly come to the conclusion that Netflix would make good on that promise.
“We intend to be a much larger and much more profitable self-funding company over time,” Hastings said during Netflix’s 2019 first-quarter earnings conference call. “That is the path we’re on. As we talked about in the letter, we’re committed to improve our cash flow profile meaningfully, starting in 2020 and then each year thereafter.”
As Netflix’s days of cash burn are behind it, it’s possible Netflix may need a new Wall Street narrative to convince investors its future growth story is worthy of the company’s lofty valuation.
Perhaps that new narrative will be the complete toppling of pay-TV with a Netflix-centered bundle of streaming services. The entire entertainment industry has reorganized to prepare for such an occurrence with each major media company developing its own streaming service in the past year or so.
But it’s also possible rising competition from Disney, Apple, WarnerMedia and others may stagnate Netflix’s subscriber growth. Investors could punish Netflix for share buybacks instead of using it for more content. Activist investor Daniel Loeb has pushed Disney to eliminate its dividend to focus more on new original programming.
If Netflix is choosing to use excess cash for buybacks, it may be because Hastings and Sarandos think the company’s status — and ability to raise prices in the future — is so strong that they can start to transition the company into a new, more mature phase without seeing a subsequent loss in value.
—Jessica Bursztynsky contributed to this report.
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