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Media Buying Briefing: M&A shows no signs of letting up despite economic headwinds



Media Buying Briefing: M&A shows no signs of letting up despite economic headwinds

Here’s a question: With inflation running rampant, interest rates surging and an economic downturn lurking around every corner, what will happen to the once-red-hot mergers and acquisitions marketplace in agency land for the rest of this year and into 2023? 

Those who expected a cooling-off in M&A as a result of the darkening clouds were in for a surprise last week when The Brandtech Group put out a terse statement saying it’s entered exclusive negotiations with French investment firm Fimalac to acquire Jellyfish Group, a digitally focused marketing services agency run by Rob Pierre, in which Fimalac owns a majority stake. 

Though none of the parties would comment on the proposal, it seems it’s not just private equity firms that are out to buy agencies in these challenging times. The Brandtech Group, run by ex-Havas leader David Jones, has assembled an interesting assortment of services to become, as Jones told Digiday back in June, “the Salesforce of marketing.”

But the company has been light on the media side of its holdings, which makes a Jellyfish acquisition seem smart, said an executive at a media consultancy who declined to speak on the record. “As much as they’d love to pursue the big global accounts, they’re not going to get anywhere near it because of their size,” said the exec. “With Jellyfish, they would have a very sizable, very scalable, global media offering, albeit digitally focused, to compete with the Stagwells and S4s, who they probably haven’t been been able to get close to. This fundamentally gives them scale and credibility in that media buying and implementational space.”

Beyond Brandtech Group’s surprising but smart move, other investment advisors argue this could be another strong M&A market. Last year, total M&A for agency and marketing services totaled over 400 deals for nearly $10 billion from strategics and PE firms, according to Michael Seidler, founder and CEO of M&A advisory firm Madison Alley. This year so far, Q1 totaled over 115 M&A deals for over $4.5 billion, and Q2 totaled 125 deals for $1.5 billion. 

That activity has convinced Seidler there is a “trillion dollar market opportunity” for the broader marketing communications world, if you lump in consultancies and ad tech. “The marketing services groups only are about 10 percent of that,” said Seidler, listing consultancies such as Accenture or Deloitte as well multinational firms like Tata, Wipro or Infosys. “So we see a huge opportunity that plays out among the marketing service groups as they start to build their development capabilities, their custom software development and strategic digital transformation.”

Ryan Kangisser, managing partner of strategy at MediaSense, points to retail media as an area where specialty shops might be in demand. “We’ve seen the growth of retail media in the U.S. and yet the expertise around that is still quite scarce,” he said. “So if there are independent businesses out there that are able to gain traction with brands, clearly there’s going to be some some activity there.”

Mark Penn, CEO of holding company Stagwell, said after the company’s earnings call that it plans to continue acquiring — part of a long-term strategy to take on the traditional holdcos. “Our strategic goals are to expand more globally and to expand our technology footprint,” said Penn. “Foreign exchange is a big factor — the strong dollar means that you can go buy 30 percent more of…some company in another jurisdiction. So if you have a 20 or 30 percent reduction in [agency valuation] multiples and a 20 or 30 percent currency advantage, at least as a U.S. company as we are, I think that may create some openings for additional M&A.”

Then there’s the private equity world, which will not sit quietly, especially as several two-to-four-year-old acquisitions approach the flipping point (most M&A advisors agree that PE firms usually flip their acquisitions within five years). Seidler noted several independent agencies purchased in that time frame could be on the block before long, including Real Chemistry, Bounteous and Tinuiti. Even PMG, which just won a large chunk of Nike’s media duties, could be a target for acquisition, Seidler added. 

One other consideration that’s just as important is culture, said Doug Baxter, head of Agency Futures, a London-based M&A consultant. “Are there dynamics, both culturally and from business services and synergies points of view, that allow the power of one and one to equal five?” Baxter asked. “That’s really what you’re looking to do, is to find people who really do share a common vision, but also have ways that they can integrate their business that makes sense.”

Color by numbers

As content becomes more targeted, advertisers looking to reach diverse audiences might want to consider in-cinema advertising. National CineMedia shared stats with Digiday that show broad representation in movie seats. Some highlights: 

  • “Jurassic World: Dominion” delivered a multi-generational audience comprised of 41% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic and Latino, 16% Black, 15% Asian and 5% other viewers;
  • NCM says it’s seeing 58% diversity demos on average for opening weekends, generating higher reach than endemic players among the 18-34 age demographic; 
  • Compared to linear TV, NCM says movies have the second highest reach of Hispanic consumers 18-34, behind only Univision, while claiming to out-deliver BET on Black viewers 18-34 by more than two times;
  • Compared to 10 years ago, movie audiences are now 30% more multicultural, 40% more Hispanic, 30% more Black and 46% more Asian.

Takeoff & landing

  • Dentsu’s iProspect promoted two longtime executives to new positions, as the performance marketing agency goes full service in media: Michelle Snodgrass becomes executive vp, head of strategy, up from senior vp; and Rachel Starr becomes executive vp, head of planning, up from senior vp. Both will report to North American CEO Danielle Gonzalez.
  • Social listening and analytics firm Sprout Social is adding Instagram Reels to its video management capabilities to help brands and agencies use the platform, after having signed up Tik Tok recently. 
  • Independent digital agency BAM Strategy, based in Montreal, picked up work for online grocery delivery service FreshDirect, for which it will build the brand’s first loyalty program. 

Direct quote

“The strategic decision to make Gale a creative media consultancy — to bring creative and media together — [attracts] accounts that would have gone to two separate agencies in the past. They [brands] now realize that online marketing requires such greater coordination between creative and media, that I think we’ve hit a new sweet spot in the marketplace with this combination.”

Stagwell CEO Mark Penn in explaining how Stagwell agency Gale achieved 150% growth in the last year.

Speed reading

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Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance




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




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!




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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