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Media Buying Briefing: How a VC vet hunts for tech startups with Martin Sorrell’s backing

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Media Buying Briefing: How a VC vet hunts for tech startups with Martin Sorrell’s backing

Sanja Partalo is no stranger to cutting deals and seeking to outsmart investments for agencies. The former head of strategic development and partnerships at WPP worked with both Sir Martin Sorrell and current CEO Mark Read until last November, before launching her own venture capital firm, S4S Ventures, in January.

Sounds a bit like S4, Sorrell’s no-longer-new agency holding company, right? There’s an indirect connection, acknowledged Partalo, as Sorrell is one of two principal partners working with her to build up the VC’s more than $100 million investment fund, along with Daniel Pinto of Stanhope Capital. Partalo said S4S isn’t an arm of S4, but does work with a number of S4’s executives — just not exclusively, as she’s willing to work with any tech platform or agency holding company.

Specializing in investments in the ad-tech and mar-tech spaces she’s quite familiar with from her time hunting for partnerships at WPP, Partalo hasn’t wasted time seeking out opportunities. Although she declined to name her first investment, Partalo said she has closed one deal and is close to closing two more, in applied artificial intelligence and mar-tech. She said she believes that now that the media world has been optimized to the hilt, the content world is next up, given the ease of access to technology like artificial intelligence. 

Digiday’s interview with Partalo has been edited for space and clarity. 

How did S4S Ventures come about? 

I did a lot of venture investing while at WPP, and it was my favorite part of the job… being in a position to think about the future, and where the disruption was going to come from for our industry. The place where there was the most energy and vibrancy tended to be smaller companies. The fact that sometimes they didn’t come from our world meant they had visions that were very compelling because they weren’t encumbered by legacy thinking.

If you look at the numbers, only 2% of VC funds are led by women. I had no illusions that it would be super easy to put together. So when the opportunity presented itself with Martin and Daniel, it was the perfect setup from an expertise standpoint, from an experience standpoint, and obviously from the alignment with S4 Capital.

How do you work with S4 Capital? 

Because Sir Martin sits on the investment committee and has personally invested into the fund — as have a number of directors at S4 Capital — we have operational alignment with the business. At S4S, we know the sectors that we all collectively worked in. What startups want is access to folks who can play with their technology, who can use the technology, or give them insights on whether something is built the right way or priced the right way. How do they [S4 executives] think that product stacks up against the competitive set? There’s a lot of real-world signal [S4S can deliver] that is very useful to early-stage companies as they think about developing their products for the wider marketing and advertising ecosystem.

What kind of companies are you targeting for investment or acquisition? 

We’re hoping to back the next generation of leaders across mar-tech and ad-tech. We are looking for technology-enabled companies — not service businesses or agencies. But there’s an additional pillar, which is content companies because we have a lot of experience in backing those. The media ecosystem is constantly going through change, particularly with Gen Z just now hitting that age point where they are making a meaningful mark on defining what new entertainment and media platforms look like for them. So we’re still in the early stages of figuring out who are those companies that are capturing their attention.

To Gen Z, content does look different when you see YouTube star Mr. Beast open a brick-and-mortar restaurant and have 10,000 fans descend on it on the first day. What do you make of that? 

It’s a wonderful example because how would the industry categorize what’s happening there? He’s a creator if we use industry jargon, which I personally feel doesn’t go far enough. That means the creator economy is alive and well. He creates his own product, he monetizes his whole product, he’s a brand, he’s an advertising channel. It defies the buckets that we’re accustomed to. 

I think that’s what’s really exciting about this moment in time because Gen Z and the newer breed of companies and creators as brands — the attention they’re capturing are business models that defy any structure that we would have seen in the last 10 years. It’s about people and companies that are able to build communities — that’s the underpinning of all of this.

So do you see a democratization of content and technology happening? 

The next stage of democratization of content development and influence building is going to be easier because the creative technology tools are getting better by the second. So whether you’re talking about open AI or generative art or generative text, or whether it’s synthetic humans — we’re still in the early stages of all that. There are already technologies that are going to make content development a whole lot less expensive, and a whole lot less demanding from a technical and skills perspective. All of that means that there’ll be more opportunities for the average human to develop content, to be more creative. Everything about the content development industry to me seems very ripe for disruption.

Color by numbers

Apparently, if you’re not working for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Disney+, you might have a bit of a self-esteem problem. Kaltura, a self-described video experience cloud, surveyed 200 streaming executives about consumer habits and technological advances and their findings in Go With the Stream, weren’t hugely confidence-inspiring. Some stats:

  • Kaltura cites other research noting there are more than 5,300 streaming services worldwide. 
  • When asked how they rate their service’s quality of experience and features from a consumer perspective, most executives said their services are “good” (43%) or “acceptable” (33%). 
  • Only 20% of executives believed their service to be as good as global streaming giants like Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. 
  • 64% of respondents plan to improve their user experience in the next three years, with 32% planning to do so this year.
  • Only 25% of respondents claimed an excellent understanding of their audience and 47% acknowledged their understanding is limited. 

Takeoff & landing

  • Independent Crossmedia retained global media AOR duties for Etihad Airways after a review and will handle the account out of its London and Düsseldorf, Germany offices. Crossmedia has handled media for the airline since 2019.
  • Havas Media Group landed global media responsibilities for clothing licensor Wolverine Worldwide (which includes such brands as Saucony, Sperry, Merrell and Keds) following a review that sought to consolidate brand spend under one roof. 
  • Omnicom Media Group retained SC Johnson’s media business following a review. The CPG giant includes such brands as Windex, Raid and Glade. 

Direct quote

“It’s very plausible that Apple is looking to build a mobile web-based DSP to serve the function of lock-screen advertising. If this does happen, it will definitely impact user perception of privacy and the ‘Apple Experience’ as a whole, considering a locked phone screen is one of the few places where users are currently not inundated with advertisements. Ultimately, Apple is likely making some serious internal decisions on where they can serve ads on Apple devices without frustrating the 50%+ of the American population that are iPhone users.”

Alexa Kilroy, head of brand at e-commerce firm Triple Whale.

Speed reading

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Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance

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Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance
Four people in a meeting room video conferencing with four remote participants.



(Image credit: Microsoft)

One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.

The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence. 

However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.

Teams’ howling

Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.

Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting. 

If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.

Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.

The news follows a number of recent updates largely aimed around improving the audio quality on Microsoft Teams calls using AI and machine learning.

The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.

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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed
Shazam points at someone off camera in Shazam! Fury of the Gods



Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.

Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:

Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).

But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.

1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?

Kalypso hands Hespera the wizard's staff in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

New movie, new villains. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.

Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.

So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.

2. Mythological monsters

A dragon prepares to breathe fire at one of Shazam's fellow heroes in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam isn’t the only person taking flight in Fury of the Gods. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.

Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.

But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.

3. You can’t get the staff these days

Hespera uses the wizard's staff as Kalypso looks on in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

“So I just point it and then what?” (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.

In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.

The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players. 

Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.

4. Prison break

Djimon Hounsou's wizard blows som magic dust out of a prison window in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Time to break out, Mr. Wizard. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.

We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.

Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.

5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?

Shazam flies past some rotating buildings in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Where have we seen this kind of aesthetic before? (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you? 

Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.

Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.

6. Light the way

Shazam prepares to fight Kalypso and her dragon in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

A yellow bolt out of the blue. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.

Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.

Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.

For more DCEU-based coverage, find out where we placed 2019’s Shazam! in our DC movies ranked article. Additionally, read up on the best superhero films of all-time or check out how to watch the Batman movies in order.

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As TechRadar’s entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You’ll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot (opens in new tab).

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.

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You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

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You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

Chrome logo on a phone with a lock image over it

Image: Deepanker Verma / Pexels


Author: Alaina Yee
, Senior Editor

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

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