Tuesday Wake-Up Call: A Misconduct Claim Against Ryan Seacrest. Plus, Buzz For an Ad-Free, Instagram-ish App

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Ryan Seacrest
Ryan Seacrest Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital-related news. You can get an audio version of this briefing on your Alexa device. Search for "Ad Age" under "Skills" in the Alexa app.

What people are talking about today
Just as Ryan Seacrest is getting ready to appear in ABC's revival of "American Idol," a former stylist is sharing details of her sexual misconduct accusation against him. Variety's exclusive says Suzie Hardy worked as Seacrest's personal stylist for "E! News" from 2007 until 2013. But Variety reports that, according to a letter from her lawyer, the job "became an ordeal" when Seacrest allegedly groped her, pushed up against her while wearing only underwear, and slapped her bottom so hard that it left a mark for hours.

Hardy says she stayed in the job because she was a single mother and needed the income; her employment ended after she reported the allegations to human resources in 2013, Variety reports. Seacrest's attorney told Variety that the allegations were untrue and that Hardy had demanded $15 million. (She says she never asked for money.) News of the allegations has been leaking out over several months, without many details. Seacrest himself already wrote a guest column in The Hollywood Reporter, saying he had been "wrongly accused of harassment" by a former show stylist, without giving specifics about the accusations. E! also has said it investigated the claims and found insufficient evidence to substantiate them. The "American Idol" reboot debuts on ABC March 11, with Macy's and Zyrtec as sponsors.

Instagram-ish (but ad-less)
Suddenly, a photo-sharing app called Vero is surging in the App Store rankings. It's similar to Instagram, although you can post text, links and recommendations along with photos. Another difference is that it promises to stay ad-free, and it posts messages in reverse chronological order; Mashable says those things make it appealing to all the "Instagram-haters" fed up with the social network's algorithm. Will it stick? Who knows. It certainly doesn't help that all the unaccustomed traffic of the last few days is causing massive technical issues. As Slate says, so far "Vero's biggest achievement appears to be that it was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the latest wave of disenchantment with more established social networks."

Vero has been around since 2015, when it was co-founded by Ayman Hariri, the billionaire son of late former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Vero's business model is to eventually start charging for subscriptions, but for now, it's offering free lifetime membership to the first 1 million signups. Its sudden surge is generating questions about the team behind it, along with press coverage. But so far the big publicity seems to be coming from users posting about it on … Instagram.

Twitter
Twitter wants to try something new with its "promoted trends," where brands can pay for a hashtag above the list of topics that are trending on the site. Ad Age's Garett Sloane reports that Twitter is experimenting with a redesign that would make the promoted trends bigger and more visual; one advertiser told him that as things stand, promoted trends have "kind of lost their luster." Sloane reports that Twitter has been showing the redesign to advertisers in pitch meetings (Twitter declined to comment on its plans.) In general, Sloane writes, "Twitter has been trying to simplify its ad business and make it easier for brands to spend on the platform."

A backlash to the backlash
Delta was among the companies that cut ties with the NRA after a school shooting killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida this month. Now Republican politicians in Georgia, where Delta is headquartered, are striking back against the airline, as The New York Times reports. The state's Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle threatened to kill a proposal to grant Delta a massive tax break. He tweeted this:

Then New York's lieutenant governor reached out to Delta, suggesting the airline leave Georgia and relocate in New York. As she wrote on Twitter, "NY is open for business & (hearts) Delta – move HQ to where you're appreciated?"
Also: FedEx is maintaining its discounts for NRA members, despite social media pressure to cut the program off, Bloomberg News reports. It says it "has never set or changed rates for any of our millions of customers around the world in response to their politics, beliefs or positions on issues."

Just briefly:
Game on: Comcast has made a $31 billion bid for the UK's Sky television, challenging an existing offer from Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, Bloomberg News reports.

Chilly: Primetime coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics "averaged 19.8 million viewers a night across NBC, NBC Sports Network, and NBC Sports Digital's streaming platforms," Variety reports. That's about 7% less than at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

New York Times TV: The New York Times, which already has a successful daily podcast, "wants to crack television with a weekly news program," CNN reports.

New toys: Bloomberg News says Apple is preparing to release three new smartphones this year, including the biggest iPhone ever.

Under Armour: Under Armour has a massive deal with UCLA, but some of the track and field athletes there have stopped wearing the brand's footwear, saying it's fragile or not suited to their events, the campus newspaper, The Daily Bruin, reports; one athlete says the bottoms started peeling off his shoes. Business Insider quotes the brand as saying it's working to address the issues.

Quote of the day: "Everyone is looking at whether these combinations of AT&T and Time Warner or Fox and Disney pass government approval and muster, the fact is nobody for some reason is looking at these monopolies that are Google and Facebook," said CNN's Jeff Zucker, speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, as quoted by Variety. "That's where the government should be looking, and helping to make sure everyone else survives. I think that's probably the biggest issue facing the growth of journalism in the years ahead."

Ad of the day: Apple's new ad in Australia used the iPhone X to shoot footage from same-sex weddings in Australia, where gay marriage was legalized recently. Watch the spot below, and read more by Ad Age's Alexandra Jardine.

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