Big deal: BuzzFeed acquires HuffPost

November 23, 2020

Digital culture and news company BuzzFeed has agreed to buy HuffPost from Verizon Media, the companies announced on November 19—a move that combines two of the internet’s largest consumer media properties, NBC News reports.

Verizon also will make an investment to become a minority shareholder in BuzzFeed—and the deal will see the two companies partner on shopping experiences for consumers, content syndication across each other’s platforms, and ad products.

BuzzFeed paid for HuffPost with company shares, the value of which was not disclosed. Verizon Media acquired HuffPost when it bought AOL for a reported $4.4 billion in 2015. NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, is an investor in BuzzFeed.

The merged company will be run by Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s co-founder and CEO, who is also one of the co-founders of the original HuffPost site, originally called The Huffington Post. An editor-in-chief will be brought on to head HuffPost, which will be run as its own brand and separate site.

I still vividly remember the night we launched HuffPost and the excitement of growing it into a major news outlet during those early years,” Peretti said in an internal email to BuzzFeed staff, obtained by NBC News. “But we aren’t buying HuffPost because of its illustrious past or my personal connection; we pursued this opportunity because we are excited about the future of HuffPost and all the potential it has to continue to define the media landscape for years to come.”

On Thursday, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington tweeted that she was “so happy” to see the company joining forces with BuzzFeed 15 years after Peretti helped found it. “Such exciting news and looking forward to all that’s to come,” she said.

The deal combines two of the most successful digital media companies from different eras. HuffPost emerged as one of the first successful digital media outlets of the 2000s. BuzzFeed, launched in 2006, became the dominant digital media operation years later, from a surge of readers who came primarily through social media platforms, especially Facebook.

While each was able to amass a sizable audience and attract millions of dollars in private investment, both struggled to turn a profit. Facebook and Google have remained the primary destination for digital advertising spending, with most digital media websites facing similar challenges as BuzzFeed and HuffPost.

Peretti said that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital and benefited digital-first companies and that BuzzFeed hopes this deal will enable it to “be the formidable leader in our space.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Jennifer Aniston joins collagen brand Vital Proteins as chief creative officer

November 20, 2020

Vital Proteins—a top-selling U.S. collagen brand acquired last June by Nestlé Health Science (NHSc)—has formed a global partnership with actress and spokesperson Jennifer Aniston.

According to a report by Forbes, Vital Proteins was founded in 2013 by Kurt Seidensticker, based on the belief that whole-food-based collagen nutrition is fundamental to maintaining overall health and longevity. Since launching, Vital Proteins has become the leading collagen brand in America, growing its annual sales above $100 million within the span of four years. The company’s brand’s portfolio includes over 150 collagen-based supplements, vitamins, and food and beverage products.

Aniston will be joining the Vital Proteins team as chief creative officer, putting her spin on new product innovations and overall brand strategy. According to a company press release, Aniston has incorporated Vital Proteins into her daily routine since before 2016 and will look to her own experiences with collagen to help build greater awareness around its benefits and help consumers connect to the brand mission: finding wellness from within.

“We’re really excited to welcome Jen and her valued perspective to the Vital team,” said  Seidensticker, adding, “We’ve all watched Jen live a life that prioritizes wellness from the inside-out, which she attributes in part to her belief in Vital Proteins, making this partnership so unique and, more importantly, authentic. We are teaming up together to inspire the world to live healthy, and more vibrant lives.”

Collagen is the glue that holds everything together. I’ve always been an advocate for nourishing your wellness from within, which is why I started using Vital Proteins so many years ago,” said Aniston.

Vital Proteins will launch a new campaign starring Aniston in December—providing a day-in-the-life look at how the actor incorporates wellness and the brand. Directed by Josh and Xander, the campaign will appear across broadcast, social media, and digital streaming.

Research contact: @vitalproteins

Breakthrough: FDA authorizes first COVID-19 diagnostic self-test for home

November 19, 2020

On November 17, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it had issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the first COVID-19 diagnostic test for self-testing at home. Better yet, it’s a test that provides rapid results.

The Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit is a molecular (real-time loop mediated amplification reaction) single use test that is intended to detect the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.

“The FDA continues to demonstrate its unprecedented speed in response to the pandemic. While COVID-19 diagnostic tests have been authorized for at-home collection, this is the first that can be fully self-administered and provide results at home. This new testing option is an important diagnostic advancement to address the pandemic and reduce the public burden of disease transmission,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D, in a press release from the agency.

The Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit test has been authorized for home use with self-collected nasal swab samples in individuals age 14 and older who are suspected of COVID-19 by their health care provider.

It also is authorized for use in point-of-care (POC) settings (e.g., doctor’s offices, hospitals, urgent care centers and emergency rooms) for all ages but samples must be collected by a healthcare provider when the test is used at the POC to test individuals younger than 14 years old. The test is currently authorized for prescription use only.

The test works by swirling the self-collected sample swab in a vial that is then placed in the test unit. In 30 minutes or less, the results can be read directly from the test unit’s light-up display, which shows whether a person is positive or negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Positive results indicate the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

Individuals with positive results should self-isolate and seek additional care from their health care provider. Individuals who test negative and experience COVID-like symptoms should follow up with their health care provider—as negative results do not preclude an individual from SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“Today’s authorization for a complete at-home test is a significant step toward FDA’s nationwide response to COVID-19. A test that can be fully administered entirely outside of a lab or healthcare setting has always been a major priority for the FDA to address the pandemic. Now, more Americans who may have COVID-19 will be able to take immediate action, based on their results, to protect themselves and those around them,” said Jeff Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, adding, “We look forward to proactively working with test developers to support the availability of more at-home test options.”

An important component to successful at-home testing is the ability to efficiently track and monitor results. Prescribing health care providers are required to report all test results they receive from individuals who use the test to their relevant public health authorities in accordance with local, state and federal requirements. Lucira Health, the test manufacturer, has also developed box labeling, quick reference instructions, and health care provider instructions to assist with reporting.

Research contact: @US_FDA

Taylor Swift to re-record songs after music catalog is sold to private equity fund for $300M

November 18, 2020

Singer and songwriter Taylor Swift has confirmed a November 16 report that her music catalogue has been sold to a private equity group without her knowledge or consent—or the second time in two years—dashing her hopes of regaining control over her masters after they were controversially acquired by music mogul Scooter Braun last year.

At the time, Swift described Braun’s acquisition of her catalog as her “worst case scenario,” Forbes reports.

Variety, which first reported the story, say the deal is believed to be worth more than $300 million, with Swift confirming that Shamrock Holdings, an investment vehicle for certain members of the Roy E. Disney family, had “bought 100% of my music, videos, and album art” from Braun.

In  statement shared to Twitter and Instagram on Monday, Swift said she had initially welcomed the prospect of working with Shamrock, before discovering that the agreement meant that Braun and his company, Ithaca Holdings, which acquired her catalog last year would “continue to receive many years of future financial reward” from her master recordings, something she “cannot currently entertain.”

“We made this investment because we believe in the immense value and opportunity that comes with her work. We fully respect and support her decision and, while we hoped to formally partner, we also knew this was a possible outcome that we considered,” Shamrock said in a statement. The purchase is the firm’s first major investment in a music catalog.

Swift also shared a letter she wrote to Shamrock Holdings, in which she said she has already begun re-recording her old music—something she acknowledges will “diminish the value” of Shamrock’s investment, and a move she announced she announced last August.

Photo source: @Forbes

Moderna announces vaccine nearly 95% effective

November 17, 2020

The new vaccine from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, the biotechnology company, is 94.5% effective against coronavirus, according to a release from the company on November 16—making it the second vaccine to look promising enough to hit the market soon in America, Yahoo reports in an article picked up from the blog, Eat This, Not That.

Last week, New York City-based Pfizer’s vaccine was found to be more than 90% effective.

“This is a pivotal moment in the development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible. All along, we have known that each day matters.”

Bancel emphasizes, “This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease.”

On hearing the news, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor commented to CNN, “These are obviously very exciting results …. It’s just as good as it gets—94.5% is truly outstanding.”

Regarding the timetable, Fauci said of the Pfizer vaccine the following, which could also apply to Moderna: “What will happen is that,” after the emergency authorization is approved, “at the end of November, the beginning of December, if that goes through—and again, I don’t want to get ahead of the FDA, if they’re going to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s—but I believe with the impressive nature of the data that that should go through smoothly, that by the time we get into December, we’ll be able to have doses available for people who are judged to be at the highest priority to get.”

As for logistics, “about getting the supply chain intact with the cold requirements”—the vaccine needs to be shipped at a certain low temperature—”that’s all been anticipated and part of Operation Warp Speed, particularly on the general, Gus Perna, the general from the army who has been responsible for making sure this goes smoothly. We anticipate, although they’re all logistic challenges that it will be done successfully.”

As for who gets these vaccines first, Fauci said: “What we have well-established in this country is that the ultimate decision of the distribution in priority, or it goes with the CDC, their advisory committee on immunization practices, traditionally over the years for other vaccines has been responsible for advising them as to the prioritization of the distribution.”

Regular folks with no underlying conditions might have theirs by April.

Research contact: @Yahoo

Application deadline extended for Still Standing—a one-year creative residency in New York City

November 16, 2020

Stonehenge NYC, a New York City-based real estate firm, has extended the application deadline for its inaugural Still Standing artist residency to January 10, 2021, following an outpouring of support and artist submissions within the first three weeks of launching the initiative.

Still Standing is envisioned to be a one-year residency with free housing for 20 artists and creatives in New York City, in exchange for regular commissions of their work.

Still standing believes that the city’s creatives “are an essential part of the community—the ones who will tell, and shape,  te story of New York during this monumental point in history.”

In a release, Stonehenge describes the residency as a direct response to the global pandemic’s impact on New York City. By providing free housing and easing the financial burden of city-living; the company will provide 20 artists, across all disciplines, the time and space to create groundbreaking work, while leading New York into its next chapter.

The residency will run from March 2021 to February 2022and is open to creatives across all disciplines, including (but not limited to) literature, performance, design, cinema, music, photography, and visual arts.

The 20 participants will live in  Stonehenge NYC apartments for free, in exchange for regular commissions of their work. They will be selected by a committee comprising creative professionals, art curators, and educators—via an application process.

Applying artists must submit a personal statement, art submission, application, resume, and two professional references. ”

“We’re astonished by the overwhelming amount of applications that have come in so far, and the amount of talent we’re seeing from these art submissions.,” said Ofer Yardeni, chairman and CEO of Stonehenge NYC. “Our company is dedicated to being a safe harbor, for artists and the New York community at large. Stonehenge is committed to this creative initiative, and we hope to make Still Standing an ongoing, annual residency. I’d encourage other NYC landlords to do the same, and work to support our community. Let’s show the world our city’s strength, resilience, and willingness to come together.”

The Still Standing Application is live on the Stonehenge NYC website and will close at midnight on January 10, 2021.

Research contact: @StonehengeNYC

Walmart offers extra provisions for fur babies—including insurance and dog-walking services

November 13, 2020

Walmart is digging deeper into the pet services game, the company announced on November 12. The retail giant is launching Walmart Pet Care, an “omnichannel pet care offering that makes holistic care easy, simple, and affordable for the 90 million pet owners who shop at Walmart,” according to a report by Business Insider.

Pet-related services now include Walmart’s first-ever pet insurance plans via insurance provider Petplan. The company also is collaborating with pet-services company Rover to pair owners with local pet-sitters and dog-walkers.

“We’re on a mission to help families live better — and that goes for pets, too,” Melody Richard, merchandising vice president of Walmart’s pets category, said in a statement sent to Business Insider. “Especially as adoption rates soar as a result of the pandemic and more people become pet owners, this was the perfect time to launch expanded services in Walmart Pet Care for our customers.”

The pet services industry has exploded in recent years, Business Insider says, as consumers continue to spend more and more on their animals.

“Maybe 30 years ago, pets were in someone’s backyard,” Kristen Peck, CEO of animal medication company Zoetis, told the audience at the Business Insider Global Trends Festival in October. “Then they came into the house. And I’d say five-to-10 years ago they ended up on your bed. Why does that matter? The closer they get to you, the more you invest in their healthcare, and the more their health impacts you.”

And this isn’t the first time that Walmart has dipped its paw into the pet services business. The Arkansas-based retailer currently stocks 1,800 pet products, and hosts a number of in-store vet clinics. Last year, the company launched Pet Rx, a service focusing on prescriptions for pets.

Insurance plans now offered in collaboration with Petplan will offer “pet parents” the chance to save on veterinary bills, streamline pet care appointments, and access up to $1,000 worth of free online virtual vet appointments. Additionally, Walmart customers using Rover will receive a $20 store gift card after completing their first and fifth Rover appointments.

“Through Rover, pet parents can quickly and easily book pet sitters and dog walkers from over 300,000 providers in their communities across the country,” a Walmart spokesperson said. “Walmart is working with Rover to provide customers with convenient pet sitters and dog walkers that match each pet, lifestyle, and budget.”

Research contact: @businessinsider

Chipotle to open its first digital-only restaurant: No dining room; just advance orders

November 12, 2020

Chipotle Mexican Grill has announced the completion of its first-ever Chipotle digital-only restaurant called the Chipotle Digital Kitchen.

Located just outside of the gates to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the adjacent town of Highland Falls, New York, the restaurant will open this Saturday, November 14, for pick-up and delivery only, the company said in a release.

The new prototype will enable Chipotle to enter more urban areas that wouldn’t support a full-size restaurant and allows for flexibility with future locations.  It will not offer a dining room or front service line. Guest must order in advance via Chipotle.com, the Chipotle app, or third-party delivery partners for pick-up or delivery.

Orders can be picked up from a lobby that is designed to include all of the sounds, smells and kitchen views of a traditional Chipotle restaurant. The Digital Kitchen also will service large catering orders available for pick up in a separate lobby with its own dedicated entry.

“The Digital Kitchen incorporates innovative features that will complement our rapidly growing digital business, while delivering a convenient and frictionless experience for our guests,” said Chipotle CTO Curt Garner. “With digital sales tripling year over year last quarter, consumers are demanding more digital access than ever before so we’re constantly exploring new ways to enhance the experience for our guests.”

Chipotle’s new design concepts and menu innovation are envisioned at the company’s Cultivate Center in Irvine, California. Located minutes from Chipotle’s corporate headquarters, the new 22,000-square-foot facility features the same natural aesthetic with ecofriendly materials and designs found in Chipotle restaurants. To pay homage to its heritage, the original sign from the first Chipotle restaurant opened in 1993 in Denver, Colorado dons the entryway.

Research contact: @ChipotleTweets

Bob Woodruff Foundation and NY Comedy Festival present first-ever virtual Stand Up for Heroes

November 11, 2020

New York’s highly anticipated night of hope, healing, and laughter honoring America’s veterans and their families—the 14th annual Stand Up for Heroes benefit—is going virtual this year; with support from a team of celebrities including Bruce SpringsteenJon Stewart, Prince Harry, Tiffany Haddish, Brad Paisley, Ray Romano, Patti Scialfa, Sheryl Crow, Nate Bargatze, Ronny Chieng, Jeannie Gaffigan, Mickey Guyton, and Iliza Shlesinger.

The benefit will air Wednesday, November 18 at 9:pm (EST) on ABC News Live, TikTok, Facebook Watch, Cheddar, Twitch, and Armed Forces Network.

Stand Up for Heroes was started by ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff 14 years ago, shortly after he suffered devastating head injuries in Iraq while covering the war.. Over the years, it’s grown from New York’s Town Hall, to the Beacon Theater, to the 5,600-seat Theater at Madison Square Garden. The lineup shifts from year to year, but Springsteen has been a part of nearly all of them. Each time out, he plays a brief acoustic set and even tries out a few jokes, Yahoo News reports.

Hosted by Jon Stewart, the event also will highlight inspiring moments, memorable surprises, and stories of resilience ;while recognizing the men and women who have served in our nation’s military, the organizers said in a press release.

Stand Up for Heroes is presented by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the New York Comedy Festival—and is also supported by Vehicles for Veterans, and sponsored by Craig Newmark Philanthropies and Veterans on Wall Street, led by Citi, HSBC Bank, and Wells Fargo.

SUFH has featured immense talent over the past 14 years, including comedians and performers Tony Bennett, Jimmy Carr, Ronnie Chieng, Eric Church, Stephen Colbert, Sheryl Crow, Jim Gaffigan, Ricky Gervais, Whoopi Goldberg, John Mayer, Seth Meyers, Hasan Minhaj, John Mulaney, Trevor Noah, Conan O’Brien, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jerry Seinfeld, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart, Ray Romano and Robin Williams.

Research contact: @YahooNews

Shot to be ‘heard’ around the world: Pfizer says its coronavirus vaccine is more than 90% effective

November 9, 2020

A coronavirus vaccine developed by New York City-based pharmaceutical firm Pfizer is more than 90% effective, according to the first look at data from a late-stage U.S. trial involving nearly 44,000 participants, Politico rerports.

An analysis of 94 trial participants who contracted COVID-19 showed that the vaccine was 94% effective, the company and its partner BioNTech of Germany said in a press release on November 9.

The pair added that they expect to apply to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for an emergency-use authorization before the end of the month, after they have collected sufficient data on the vaccine’s safety.

The better-than-expected result is the first Phase III data from any of the four candidates now in the final stage of testing in the United States.

“I can’t imagine better news on the vaccine front,” Walid Gellad, director for the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, told Politico.  Not only is it highly effective based on the press release, but there were 90 cases so we don’t have to deal with the skeptics about interim analyses, and there appeared to be no safety signals.”

Others noted that the information Pfizer had released was promising but still incomplete. “We should remain a little cautious, said Michael Head, a senior research fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton in the U.K. “The provisional findings are made available in a press release, and the study is ongoing.”

President Donald Trump, who pushed unsuccessfully for a vaccine by Election Day, cheered the Pfizer result. “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!” he wrote on Twitter.

Although Ivanka Trump tried to link the new vaccine to the Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, a top scientist for Pfizer told the New York Times that her company had not partnered with the Trump administration’s program meant to speed vaccine development.

President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement congratulating “the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough,” but he cautioned that “the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away.”

Even if a shot is authorized by late November, it will take many months before vaccination is widespread, Biden noted. “Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year,” he said.

Research contact: @politico