DataDownload: The MGM lion now roars for Amazon

DataDownload: The MGM lion now roars for Amazon A weekly summary of all things Media, Data, Emerging Tech View this email in your browser

So, what’s new? Well, it turns out — a lot. After being locked in our home offices for a year… the emergence of maskless America has people emerging with a newfound joy of basic things like parks, and music, and travel. So — welcome back.

Meanwhile, Amazon bought MGM, presumably outbidding Apple, Netflix, Disney, and Comcast. It’s interesting that Amazon Prime Video is essentially a loss leader for the ecommerce and AWS powerhouse.

This week’s newsletter has great pieces about the future of journalism, Facebook’s promise to hide likes, DNA editing, and our upcoming Machines + Media conference with Bloomberg.

We’re excited about the next chapter — hope you are too.


Steven Rosenbaum
Executive Director
The NYC Media Lab Must-Read Why Amazon Just Spent More Than $8 Billion on MGM

MGM, described by film critic Leonard Maltin as “the most prestigious studio in Hollywood” during its golden years, was recently acquired by Amazon for over $8B. Leo the Lion’s once-mighty roar has diminished over the years as the studio changed hands multiple times. “The brand’s prestige was used to build hotels like the MGM Grand, rather than focusing on the [film] studio itself,” according to CNN.

In its glory days, MGM produced Hollywood classics like The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ In The Rain, and Ben Hur. But many of MGM’s most iconic films were sold in 1985 to media mogul Ted Turner and are now owned by WarnerMedia — itself the subject of another blockbuster media deal between AT&T and Discovery. So why did Amazon spend north of $8B on MGM, which was “very much left behind in the 1990s when other studios were bulking up and becoming global companies”?

A big part of the answer is Bond… James Bond: “James Bond is really the one film franchise left out there. Everything else has been bought up.” Other notable films included in the deal are the “Rocky” and “Pink Panther” movies, as well as TV hits like “The Voice,” “Fargo,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” according to The Washington Post.

CNN / 5 min read Read More What the Tulsa Race Massacre Destroyed

The New York Times surpassed 7.5M digital subscribers in 2020, and its commitment to creating interactive journalism continues to grow. This article visually retells how “the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 killed hundreds of residents, burned more than 1,250 homes, and erased years of Black success.” It helps shed new light on a dark chapter of American history that for decades was “willfully buried.”

One hundred years ago, according to the Times, “the city of Tulsa erupted in a spasm of hate and fire that destroyed its prosperous Black district” of Greenwood, commonly known as “Black Wall Street.” “Hundreds of Greenwood residents were brutally killed, their homes and businesses wiped out. They were casualties of a furious and heavily armed white mob of looters and arsonists.”

By taking the reader on a virtual tour of Greenwood’s “marquee block” in 1921, you get a palpable sense of what was lost and what could have been. “What if we had been allowed to maintain our family business?” asked Brenda Nails-Alford, who is in her early 60s. The Greenwood Avenue shoe shop of her grandfather and his brother was destroyed. “If they had been allowed to carry on that legacy,” she said, “there’s no telling where we could be now.”

NY Times / 15 min read

Read more Tech+Media The Economist Creates a New Revenue Stream With Online Courses The Economist has announced its entry into the burgeoning online education market with its new Economist Education program. The pilot six-week online course is titled “The New Global Order: How politics, business, and technology are changing.”

According to, “the program is aimed at mid-career professionals in business, non-profit or government sectors who are looking to boost their career prospects, gain promotion, change jobs, retrain, or get new knowledge and skills.” The Economist’s president, Bob Cohn, says the global education market “is growing, including executive education. There is a clear commercial opportunity, and we believe The Economist is well-positioned to play in this space.” / 3 min read Read More Florida’s New Social Media Law Will Be Laughed Out of Court

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just signed the Stop Social Media Censorship Act into law. According to Wired, “The bill is a legislative distillation of Republican anger over recent episodes of supposed anti-conservative bias, like Twitter and Facebook shutting down Donald Trump’s account and suppressing the spread of the infamous New York Post Hunter Biden story.”

The law imposes fines of up to $250k per day on “any platform that deactivates the account of a candidate for political office and prohibits platforms from taking action against journalistic enterprises.” But the Act seems unlikely to hold up in court, according to numerous legal experts interviewed by Wired. “This is so obviously unconstitutional, you wouldn’t even put it on an exam,” said A. Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami. “This law looks like a political freebie. You get to pander, and nothing bad happens, because there’s no chance this will survive in court.”

WIRED / 5 min read Read More Facebook’s Empty Promise of Hiding “Likes”

Facebook and Instagram now give users the choice to hide “Like” counts on their own posts and other’s posts that appear on their feed. But, according to Vox, this new option is mainly cosmetic and “amounts to another example of how Facebook tends to deflect responsibility for its platform’s worst impulses and impacts onto users while making promises of more ‘choice.’”

If you’d like to keep your “Likes” to yourself, this article walks you through how to do it on both platforms. But “it’s important to note that the underlying metrics that power Instagram aren’t changing.” Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor of communications who studies social media, says, “I see this as a slick decision on the part of Facebook to put the onus of metric visibility on its users. It allows them to shore up what seems to be a superficial commitment to users’ mental health while allowing creators to continue to drive users — and hence data — to their platforms.”

Vox / 5 min read

Read More What We’re Watching Mixing Human + Animal DNA and the Future of Gene Editing

“Most of the funding for the advances in genetics,” said recently deceased geneticist Bryan Sykes, “has come from the ambition to learn more about health issues.” According to Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, “we are experiencing right now a remarkable deluge of discovery in terms of the causes of disease, much of it coming out of Genomics.”

But as gene editing capabilities rapidly advance, so too does the resulting controversy. Harvard bioethicist Glenn Cohen examines the pros, cons, and ethics of splicing human and animal DNA to create hybrid lifeforms, also known as chimeras.

Big Think (YouTube) / 14 min watch

Watch Now What We’re Listening To Podcast: The Whistleblower — Episode 1: The Lying Machine

Long before Edward Snowden put whistleblowers back in the limelight, there was Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was a US Military analyst who — believing the Vietnam War to be unjust — leaked a “top-secret 7,000-page study of US decision-making in Vietnam” to The New York Times and 18 other newspapers in 1971.

Although ultimately dismissed on all charges, Ellsberg faced a possible prison sentence of 115 years for leaking what became known as “The Pentagon Papers.” According to The Conversation, “Richard Nixon’s obsession with Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers sowed the seeds for the president’s downfall” and arguably helped turn US opinion against the Vietnam War.

The Whistleblower is a five-episode podcast that’s part of Truth, Dissent & the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg: A 50th Anniversary Conference Commemorating the Release of the Pentagon Papers. Recordings of the conference are available for free, including a panel discussion between Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

Spotify / 54 min listen

Listen Now Virtual Events Paid Opportunity: Carnegie Mellon University Seeks Participants for Study on AR Tech
Carnegie Mellon University is recruiting participants with experience with augmented reality technologies for a research study. If you’re eligible, you will receive a $20 Amazon gift code as compensation after completing the virtual interview. Apply Here.

NYC Media Lab & Bloomberg Present “Machines + Media 2021: Facing the Future”
Date: June 9th

NYC Media Lab & Bloomberg present the 5th annual gathering of technologists, media professionals, and academic thought leaders for “Machines + Media 2021: Facing the Future.”

With Big Tech under fire and innovation moving rapidly, we’re convening expert panelists to discuss how we can both embrace and manage the impact of technology on our increasingly essential media ecosystem. Livestreamed panel discussions include:

  • The Future of Tech in NYC
  • AI & Local News
  • Surveillance, Tech, and Transparent & Fair AI Systems
  • Living With Disinformation

The thought-provoking virtual event will be held on June 9th from 10am-3pm EDT. Register for free today!

Free Event: Women In Tech Global Conference
Date: June 7–11
The virtual Women In Tech conference brings women in tech, minorities, and allies from all over the world together through an interactive platform featuring live ceremonies, keynotes, engaging panels, breakout rooms, country & chapter leader sessions, technical workshops, and networking with face-to-face sessions. Register Here. A Deeper Look The Race to Understand the Exhilarating, Dangerous World of Language AI

If Google CEO Sundar Pichai has his way, you may soon be able to “retrieve any kind of information — text, visual, audio — across all Google’s products just by asking.” That’s thanks to LaMDA — an AI system “that can chat to users about any subject,” according to MIT Technology Review.

Like many recent language models, including BERT and GPT-3, LaMDA is built on Google’s Transformer neural network architecture. Sensibility and specificity are two of the attributes Google is trying to train LaMDA to exhibit. But researchers are also trying to teach it more nuanced qualities like “interestingness, by assessing whether responses are insightful, unexpected or witty.”

As with all existing AI language generation models, factuality is a significant obstacle. Google is also concerned that without careful vetting, LaMDA may misuse language “by internalizing biases, mirroring hateful speech, or replicating misleading information.” MIT Technology Review goes further, saying “probe [Large Language Models] with the right prompts, and they also begin to encourage things like genocide, self-harm, and child sexual abuse.” And that’s to say nothing about the alarmingly large carbon footprint of LLMs.

MIT Technology Review / 11 min read

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