Disney-owned streaming trifecta unveils price hikes, ad-supported Disney+

Disney-owned streaming trifecta unveils price hikes, ad-supported Disney+

Enlarge (credit: Disney)

Since its launch in 2019, Disney+ has only slightly jumped in subscription costs for both monthly and annual fees. If active subscribers don’t check their account settings when a major Disney+ change goes live later this year, they won’t notice a difference in their bills, as the streaming service’s “base” price will remain $7.99 per month.

Starting in December, however, anyone who sticks to that Disney+ tier will see a new “feature” on the service: advertisements. Disney+ will follow the likes of Netflix and HBO Max, which announced post-launch pricing shake-ups to add advertisements to their programming as a way to offer lower-priced tiers while raising rates for other ad-free subscriptions.

That means Disney+ will also see its existing ad-free tier increase in price, starting on December 8, to $10.99 per month or $109.99 per year, a 37.5 percent increase. Technically, long-term Disney+ subscribers will see a price hike at the lowest tier, as well, as the existing $79.99 per year option ($6.66/mo) will be discontinued. If you want to pre-pay to save, you’ll have to do so at the no-advertisements tier.

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#disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #video-streaming

Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi debuts with prequel redemption in its scope

Ewan McGregor shines in <em>Obi-Wan Kenobi</em>.

Enlarge / Ewan McGregor shines in Obi-Wan Kenobi. (credit: Lucasfilm)

While the Disney+-ification of Star Wars has mostly been good for fans, last year’s The Book of Boba Fett saw the franchise move into a coasting period. It landed somewhere between The Mandalorian and Clone Wars without either the compelling, Western-homage atmosphere of the former or the fist-pumping fan service of the latter.

The best thing I can say about Obi-Wan Kenobi, whose first two episodes debuted last night on Disney+ (out of a six-episode series), is that it feels like its own distinct Star Wars show, perhaps somewhere closer to a 1970s detective procedural. You know the kind: The haggard cop is tired of this crap, hangs up the badge, says he’s moved on, yet is still stuck on a lingering failure that keeps him one hair-trigger pull away from getting back into the fight.

That formula needs the right lead actor and world-building team to get fans to watch another attempt at the formula—which, let’s be clear, isn’t that many steps away from how The Mandalorian ropes its lead into a life-changing adventure. Thankfully,  Ewan McGregor remains on board as the titular character in Obi-Wan Kenobi—and sees him steer his Obi-Wan performance closer to the charm and gravitas of the character’s original actor, Sir Alec Guinness.

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#disney, #gaming-culture, #obi-wan-kenobi

Review: New Chip ‘N Dale movie hilariously spoofs classic games, cartoons

When there's danger!

Enlarge / When there’s danger! (credit: Disney)

Traditionally, when Disney films skip theaters and go straight to video, it’s not a good sign. That’s changed somewhat now that the Disney+ content beast needs to be fed, yet the company still differentiates between “triple-A television” like The Mandalorian and “cheap, kid-friendly movies” like the Air Bud series.

Hence, today’s Disney+ premiere of Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangersa PG-rated reboot with little in the way of advance press screenings—had us assuming the worst, despite of its comedy pedigree. The Lonely Island (“Lazy Sunday,” “Mother Lover”) is all over the film’s credits, but how much of the group’s boundary-pushing Saturday Night Live work could survive the family-friendly demands of a straight-to-Disney+ launch?

I’m here with surprisingly good news. Chip ‘N Dale is a self-aware comedy romp that families will appreciate. What’s more, it knows exactly when and how to toy with ’80s and ’90s gaming, cartoon, and pop-culture references without losing character development and physical comedy.

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Obi-Wan trailer released by Disney for Star Wars Day

Disney's next live-action miniseries has a Jedi-focus.

Enlarge / Disney’s next live-action miniseries has a Jedi-focus. (credit: Disney)

This post contains spoilers about a trailer, so consider yourself warned.

It’s the day before the anniversary of the Mexican victory over France in the Battle of Puebla, so that means it’s time for Star Wars celebrations. To honor the day, Disney has released a full trailer and the poster art for its upcoming Obi-Wan show, which begins airing on Disney+ on May 27.

The six-part miniseries is set a decade after the Battle of Mustafar—perhaps celebrated on Coruscant with spicy tacos and drinking. Not that there’s any sign of such things in the new trailer. Instead, we see a bit of what Obi-Wan has been up to in the years since the fall of the Jedi and the rise of the empire.

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#disney, #gaming-culture, #obi-wan, #star-wars

Obi-Wan Kenobi shifts premiere date, will air first two episodes at once

Incoming transmission from Obi-Wan Kenobi… Actor Ewan McGregor has some important news.

Disney+ originally picked an auspicious date for the premiere of its new Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi: Wednesday, May 25, the same date that Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was released in 1977 (back when it was known simply as Star Wars). That film celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. But the streaming platform announced today—via a video featuring star Ewan McGregor—that it is shifting that premiere date to Friday, May 27, right before Memorial Day weekend.

We might have to wait a couple of extra days, but at least Disney+ will simultaneously release the first two episodes. As Deadline Hollywood pointed out, May 27 is also the premiere date for the fourth season of Stranger Things (Part 1), so our holiday weekend viewing is pretty much sorted.

We first learned in August 2019 that the rumors were true about a Star Wars spinoff series featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi. That’s also when we learned that Ewan McGregor, who played Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequels, would reprise the role. The actor made a surprise appearance at the tail end of a showcase presentation at D23 Expo 2019, Disney’s annual fan extravaganza. Then came the big news that his co-star Hayden Christensen would return as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy called it “the rematch of the century” at the December 2020 Disney Investors Day.

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#disney, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #obi-wan-kenobi, #star-wars, #streaming-television

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first trailer: From sunny Tatooine to dark nights of Jedi hunts

Finally, we see Ewan McGregor return to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in... Disney+'s <em>Obi-Wan Kenobi</em>, debuting May 25.

Enlarge / Finally, we see Ewan McGregor return to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in… Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, debuting May 25. (credit: Disney / Lucasfilm)

Disney+ is about to fill its shortest-ever gap between live-action Star Wars TV series, thanks to a six-episode run of Obi-Wan Kenobi starting May 25. And with less than three months to go, Lucasfilm has finally dropped its first substantial look at what the return of Ewan McGregor to the Star Wars universe looks like.

Tuesday’s 90-second trailer is much beefier than the tease we saw a few months ago, and the new footage straddles a solid balance between a vast look at the TV series’ environments and a tantalizing tease of plot developments to come. In terms of callbacks to familiar content, we get a particularly intriguing look at Kenobi’s inevitable cave-exile future, which includes the character spying on what looks like a childhood version of Luke Skywalker, as flanked by Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru (played by the same actors from the series’ prequel film trilogy). “Stay hidden,” Kenobi suggests in the trailer’s narration.

Seconds later, a Palpatine-like voice makes clear that Jedi are to be hunted, as per the prequel-series mandate of Order 66, and in this Jedi’s case, certain events may compel Kenobi to leave his hiding place. “Their compassion leaves a trail,” the voice says. “The Jedi code is like an itch. They cannot help it.” And at least one familiar hunter, the Fifth Brother (a character who debuted in the CGI-animation series Star Wars Rebels), emerges in brand-new, live-action form with a wicked super-spinning red lightsaber to get on with such a hunt. (Though this character looks much like the Grand Inquisitor in the above saber-filled image, Disney’s notes to the press say this character is Fifth Brother, as portrayed by Sung Kang of The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift fame.)

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#disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #obi-wan-kenobi, #star-wars

Three new Star Wars video games are in development at EA, Respawn

Screenshot from videogame Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Enlarge / Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Yes, the colon comes after the “Jedi.” (credit: EA)

EA and Lucasfilm Games have jointly announced that three new Star Wars games are in development at Respawn, the studio that developed Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Among those three planned games is a sequel to Fallen Order, which was a story-driven, Souls-like melee combat action and exploration game. The other two games include a first-person shooter and a strategy game, but EA’s press release did not provide details about those titles beyond their respective genres.

The first-person shooter will be led by a former producer for the Star Wars: Battlefront franchise of online shooters set in the Star Wars universe. The strategy game will be produced by Respawn, but its lead developer will be Bit Reactor. Bit Reactor is a new studio formed in part by developers who previously worked on the recent entries in the XCOM franchise.

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#disney, #ea, #electronic-arts, #gaming-culture, #lucasfilm, #lucasfilm-games, #respawn-entertainment, #star-wars, #star-wars-jedi-fallen-order

Netflix cites “more entertainment choices than ever,” raises prices again

Netflix cites “more entertainment choices than ever,” raises prices again

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

On Friday, Netflix confirmed plans to raise prices for its video-streaming services in North America for the seventh time in 11 years.

Unlike many previous Netflix price hikes, this year’s bump hits all three subscription options. In the United States, the “basic” tier, which is capped at 720p and includes other limits, receives its first increase in three years, jumping $1 to $9.99 per month. The 1080p “standard” tier goes up $1.50 to $15.49 per month. And the 4K “premium” tier jumps $2 to $19.99 per month. Canadian customers can expect similar jumps in prices for all three tiers as well.

Netflix says the price increases will roll out in phases to existing customers based on their billing cycles, and all customers will get no less than 30 days’ notice before the higher prices go into effect. Brand-new customers must begin paying the higher prices immediately.

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#disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #hulu, #netflix, #video-streaming

YouTube TV loses ESPN, ABC, and all other Disney-owned channels

Photo illustration showing the YouTube TV logo on a smartphone.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | SOPA Images)

YouTube TV customers have lost access to all Disney-owned channels including ESPN and ABC, as the companies failed to agree on a new contract before the previous one expired last night. YouTube TV customers will automatically get a $15-per-month discount for as long as the Disney channels remain blacked out, reducing the base plan cost from $65 to $50.

“Members, we worked hard to avoid this but were unable to reach a fair deal with Disney,” YouTube TV said. “We regret to share that as of December 17, all Disney-owned channels are unavailable on YouTube TV. While Disney content remains off our platform, we’ll decrease our price by $15/month. We know how frustrating it is to lose channels like ESPN and your local ABC station, and will continue conversations with Disney in hopes of restoring their content for you.”

The list of channels no longer on YouTube TV includes all local ABC channels, ABC News Live, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FX, FXX, FXM, National Geographic, National Geographic Wild, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, SEC Network, and ACC Network. YouTube TV posted details on how credits will be issued on this webpage.

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#abc, #biz-it, #disney, #espn, #policy, #youtube-tv

Netflix begins reporting viewer numbers for its biggest hits

<em>Squid Game</em> is currently the most popular non-English-language television show on Netflix.

Enlarge / Squid Game is currently the most popular non-English-language television show on Netflix. (credit: Netflix)

Netflix will begin regularly reporting viewership numbers for its top programs and films, a major shift in strategy for the streaming company that has carefully guarded its data over the past decade.

The company said it will report every week how many hours people spent watching its top 10 TV shows and movies, for both English and non-English titles, including Netflix originals and content licensed from third parties.

In its first release of viewer numbers on Tuesday, Netflix said its subscribers last week spent 149 million hours watching Red Notice, the action film starring Gal Gadot, making it the most popular piece of English-language content on the platform.

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#disney, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #nielsen, #streaming

Disney+ will slash your HDTV’s black bars via IMAX Digital update

Why limit yourself to a 21:9 ratio when select Marvel Studios films were framed (at least in part) in the taller IMAX Digital format? Get ready to see the difference thanks to this week's Disney+ update.

Enlarge / Why limit yourself to a 21:9 ratio when select Marvel Studios films were framed (at least in part) in the taller IMAX Digital format? Get ready to see the difference thanks to this week’s Disney+ update. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images | Disney)

Disney+’s next major app update, coming to all devices later this week, continues the service’s latest efforts to please nitpicky A/V obsessors: a new screen ratio format, meant to fill more of your HDTV screen in a way that filmmakers originally intended.

Specifically, “IMAX Digital” is coming to all devices that support Disney+ starting this Friday as part of the service’s “Disney+ Day” promotion. This “17.1:9” format will land exclusively on 13 Marvel Studios films to start, and it coincides with the streaming premiere of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings—a film that skipped Disney’s experiment with simultaneous launches in theaters and on Disney+ earlier this year.

The full list of IMAX Digital-compatible films coming to Disney+ later this week:

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#disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #imax, #lie-max

Disney+ ‘Hawkeye’ trailer shows Clint Barton’s past catching up with him

The next Marvel Cinematic Universe show will premiere on Disney+ in November and, appropriately enough, Hawkeye has a festive setting. Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) just wants to spend Christmas with his family, but his enemies have other plans.

The series marks the return of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. This time around, he has a new partner: Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), the self-professed “world’s greatest archer.” Hawkeye is said to center on the relationship between the two toxophilites, with Clint training Kate to take over as Hawkeye, as the character does in the comics. There are hints of that passing of the torch in the trailer. It shows the pair meeting for the first time and forming a bond as they work together to battle some goons.

There are a few nods to other parts of the MCU here, including the existence of a Broadway musical about Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) and a tip of the cap toward the “masked vigilante” Hawkeye battled in Avengers: Endgame. Something we don’t see in the trailer is an appearance by Florence Pugh, who made her MCU bow as assassin Yelena Belova in Black Widow this summer. She was cast in Hawkeye last December.

In any case, you won’t have to wait too long to see what happens when Yelena, Clint and Kate encounter each other. The eight-episode first season of Hawkeyewill debut on November 24th on Disney+.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

#column, #disney, #hawkeye, #marvel, #tc, #tceng

Hulu is raising the price on its on-demand plans by $1 starting Oct. 8

Following last year’s price hike on its Live TV service, Hulu is now preparing to raise prices again. Starting on October 8, 2021, Hulu will raise the price for both its on-demand plans, Hulu and Hulu with No Ads. However, unlike the earlier price hike which had clocked in at $10 more per month for each of its two Live TV plans, the new price increase will be just $1.00.

That means the ad-supported version of Hulu will increase from $5.99 to $6.99 per month, while Hulu with No Ads will increase from $11.99 to $12.99 per month. This will apply to both existing and new subscribers. Hulu says none of the October increases will impact its Live TV service or any plan where Hulu is bundled with Disney+. (Disney took full control of Hulu after buying Comcast’s stake in 2019).

Today, Hulu is offered with Disney+ and ESPN+ for $13.99 per month. This subtle shift in pricing for Hulu’s standalone service may make that bundle look attractive to those not in the market for Hulu’s live TV.

Hulu’s on-demand service accounts for the majority of its subscriber base today. In Disney’s fiscal third quarter earnings, announced last month, Hulu’s subscription video on-demand business had grown 22% year-over-year to reach 39.1 million subscribers, while its Live TV service (which also include the on-demand offerings), had grown just 9% to reach 3.7 million subscribers. Combined, Hulu had 42.8 million total subscribers, up 21% compared to the same period from the prior year.

This is slower growth, however, than Disney+ — that service saw more than 100% year-over-year growth, jumping from 57.7 million subscribers as of Disney’s Q3 2020 to 116 million in Disney’s Q3 2021.

Including Disney’s EPSN+, the company’s direct-to-consumer business had a total of nearly 174 million subscribers by the end of the quarter, the company said.

However, although Hulu trails Disney+ in subscriber count, it’s ahead on average monthly revenue per user (ARPU).

In Q3, ARPU declined from $4.62 to $4.16 due to a higher mix of Disney+ Hotstar subscribers compared with the prior-year quarter, Disney said. Hulu’s on-demand service, meanwhile, saw ARPU climb from $11.39 to $13.15 year-over-year and its Live TV service (+SVOD) grew from $68.11 to $84.09.

Hulu’s on-demand business includes a combination of licensed content and original programming, like newer arrivals “Nine Perfect Strangers,” “Only Murders in the Building,” and “Vacation Friends.” The company also just added thousands of Hotstar Specials and Bollywood hits, as of September 1.

 

#companies, #disney, #disney-channel, #disney-plus, #espn, #hotstar, #hulu, #hulu-live-tv, #mass-media, #media, #streaming, #streaming-service, #svod, #tc, #television, #the-walt-disney-company, #tv, #video

Digital locker app Movies Anywhere adds AI-powered lists to organize your library

Movies Anywhere, an app that allows you to centralize your digital movie collection from across services, is rolling out a new feature that will help you make better sense of your growing library. The company today introduced an AI-powered feature called “My Lists,” which automatically groups movies together based on any number of factors — like genre, actors, franchise, theme and more.

For digital movie collectors with larger libraries, the feature could make browsing through the available options feel more like scrolling through the recommendations you’d find on a modern-day streaming service, like Netflix. That is, instead of scrolling down through endless pages showing you all your purchased movies in order of purchase or alphabetically, as before, you can now quickly scan rows where the content is organized in ways that make it easier to discover what’s actually in your library.

For example, if you had purchased all the movies from a particular franchise, they would now be on their own row together. This is an improvement over how you had to locate these movies in your collection before — where they’d be sandwiched between the other titles you bought in between the franchise purchases.

You may also discover that you own a lot of movies within a particular category, like “Action Thrillers,” or those with a central theme, like “strong female friendships,” which could help you narrow down your movie night selection.

These algorithmically created lists can also be edited, allowing you to add or remove titles — or even delete the list altogether.

Image Credits: Movies Anywhere

Plus, you can now make lists of your own, too. So you could make a list of favorites, movies you want to watch with your family, or however else you want to further organize your collection. You could even use the feature to make a “to watch” list of movies you’ve purchased, but hadn’t yet made time for.

The Movie Anywhere app has been around for years, but is now jointly operated by Disney, Universal, WB, Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox, after migrating to a new platform back in 2017. Its biggest selling point for digital movie collectors is that you can in one place get to all the movies you bought from various services. That includes digital downloads offered by iTunes, Vudu, Prime Video, YouTube, Xfinity and others. Before, you would have to switch from app to app to figure out if you had ever purchased a given title.

My Lists is one of many features the company has added over time to keep its app feeling current. Last year, for instance, it introduced a digital movie lending feature called Screen Pass, and it earlier had launched a co-watching feature called Watch Together, which let users watch with up to nine friends.

The new My Lists is available today in the Movies Anywhere mobile app, desktop and on streaming devices from the navigation bar.

#20th-century-fox, #amazon-prime-video, #apple-inc, #apps, #disney, #fandango, #itunes, #itunes-store, #movies-anywhere, #multimedia, #netflix, #sony-pictures, #streaming-devices, #ultraviolet, #video-on-demand, #vudu, #wb

This Week in Apps: OnlyFans bans sexual content, SharePlay delayed, TikTok questioned over biometric data collection

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content

OnlyFans logo displayed on a phone screen and a website

(Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.

However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-come increased regulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.

The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.

U.S. lawmakers demand info on TikTok’s plans for biometric data collection

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max. Image Credits: Nur Photo/Getty Images

U.S. lawmakers are challenging TikTok on its plans to collect biometric data from its users. TechCrunch first reported on TikTok’s updated privacy policy in June, where the company gave itself permission to collect biometric data in the U.S., including users’ “faceprints and voiceprints.” When reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Image Credits: Apple

  • ⭐ Apple told developers that some of the features it announced as coming in iOS 15 won’t be available at launch. This includes one of the highlights of the new OS, SharePlay, a feature that lets people share music, videos and their screen over FaceTime calls. Other features that will come in later releases include Wallet’s support for ID cards, the App Privacy report and others that have yet to make it to beta releases.
  • Apple walked back its controversial Safari changes with the iOS 15 beta 6 update. Apple’s original redesign had shown the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. Now the tab bar will appear below the page’s content, offering access to its usual set of buttons as when it was at the top. Users can also turn off the bottom tab bar now and revert to the old, Single Tab option that puts the address bar back at the top as before.
  • In response to criticism over its new CSAM detection technology, Apple said the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered by a developer, Asuhariet Ygvar, was a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.
  • The Verge dug through over 800 documents from the Apple-Epic trial to find the best emails, which included dirt on a number of other companies like Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Google, Nintendo, Valve, Microsoft, Amazon and more. These offered details on things like Netflix’s secret arrangement to pay only 15% of revenue, how Microsoft also quietly offers a way for some companies to bypass its full cut, how Apple initially saw the Amazon Appstore as a threat and more.

Platforms: Google

  • A beta version of the Android Accessibility Suite app (12.0.0) which rolled out with the fourth Android beta release added something called “Camera Switches” to Switch Access, a toolset that lets you interact with your device without using the touchscreen. Camera Switches allows users to navigate their phone and use its features by making face gestures, like a smile, open mouth, raised eyebrows and more.
  • Google announced its Pixel 5a with 5G, the latest A-series Pixel phone, will arrive on August 27, offering IP67 water resistance, long-lasting Adaptive Battery, Pixel’s dual-camera system and more, for $449. The phone makes Google’s default Android experience available at a lower price point than the soon to arrive Pixel 6.
  • An unredacted complaint from the Apple-Epic trial revealed that Google had quietly paid developers hundreds of millions of dollars via a program known as “Project Hug,” (later “Apps and Games Velocity Program”) to keep their games on the Play Store. Epic alleges Google launched the program to keep developers from following its lead by moving their games outside the store.

Augmented Reality

  • Snap on Thursday announced it hired its first VP of Platform Partnerships to lead AR, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis (“KP”). The new exec will lead Snap’s efforts to onboard partners, including individual AR creators building via Lens Studio as well as large companies that incorporate Snapchat’s camera and AR technology (Camera Kit) into their apps. KP will join in September, and report to Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships.

Fintech

  • Crypto exchange Coinbase will enter the Japanese market through a new partnership with Japanese financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). The company said it plans to launch other localized versions of its existing global services in the future.

Social

Image Credits: Facebook

  • Facebook launched a “test” of Facebook Reels in the U.S. on iOS and Android. The new feature brings the Reels experience to Facebook, allowing users to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Instagram Reels creators can also now opt in to have their Reels featured on users’ News Feed. The company is heavily investing its its battle with TikTok, even pledging that some portion of its $1 billion creator fund will go toward Facebook Reels.
  • Twitter’s redesign of its website and app was met with a lot of backlash from users and accessibility experts alike. The company choices add more visual contrast between various elements and may have helped those with low vision. But for others, the contrast is causing strain and headaches. Experts believe accessibility isn’t a one-size fits all situation, and Twitter should have introduced tools that allowed people to adjust their settings to their own needs.
  • The pro-Trump Twitter alternative Gettr’s lack of moderation has allowed users to share child exploitation images, according to research from the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Cyber Policy Center.
  • Pinterest rolled out a new set of more inclusive search filters that allow people to find styles for different types of hair textures — like coily, curly, wavy, straight, as well as shaved or bald and protective styles. 

Photos

  • Photoshop for iPad gained new image correction tools, including the Healing Brush and Magic Wand, and added support for connecting an iPad to external monitors via HDMI or USB-C. The company also launched a Photoshop Beta program on the desktop.

Messaging

  • WhatsApp is being adopted by the Taliban to spread its message across Afghanistan, despite being on Facebook’s list of banned organizations. The company says it’s proactively removing Taliban content — but that may be difficult to do since WhatsApp’s E2E encryption means it can’t read people’s texts. This week, Facebook shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul, which allowed civilians to report violence and looting, but some critics said this wasn’t actually helping local Afghans, as the group was now in effect governing the region.
  • WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that will show a large preview when sharing links, which some suspect may launch around the time when the app adds the ability to have the same account running on multiple devices.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Netflix announced it’s adding spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14, joining other streamers like HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock that have already pledged to support the new technology. The feature will be available to toggle on and off in the Control Center, when it arrives.
  • Blockchain-powered streaming music service Audius partnered with TikTok to allow artists to upload their songs using TikTok’s new SoundKit in just one click.
  • YouTube’s mobile app added new functionality that allows users to browse a video’s chapters, and jump into the chapter they want directly from the search page.
  • Spotify’s Anchor app now allows users in global markets to record “Music + Talk” podcasts, where users can combine spoken word recordings with any track from Spotify’s library of 70 million songs for a radio DJ-like experience.
  • Podcasters are complaining that Apple’s revamped Podcasts platform is not working well, reports The Verge. Podcasts Connect has been buggy, and sports a confusing interface that has led to serious user errors (like entire shows being archived). And listeners have complained about syncing problems and podcasts they already heard flooding their libraries.

Dating

  • Tinder announced a new feature that will allow users to voluntarily verify their identity on the platform, which will allow the company to cross-reference sex offender registry data. Previously, Tinder would only check this database when a user signed up for a paid subscription with a credit card.

Gaming

Image Source: The Pokémon Company

  • Pokémon Unite will come to iOS and Android on September 22, The Pokémon Company announced during a livestream this week. The strategic battle game first launched on Nintendo Switch in late July.
  • Developer Konami announced a new game, Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which will come exclusively to Apple Arcade. The game is described as a “full-fledged side-scrolling action game,” featuring a roster of iconic characters from the classic game series. The company last year released another version of Castelvania on the App Store and Google Play.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle has now surpassed $3 billion in player spending since its 2015 debut, reported Sensor Tower. The game from Bandai Namco took 20 months to reach the figure after hitting the $2 billion milestone in 2019. The new landmark sees the game joining other top-grossers, including Clash Royale, Lineage M and others.
  • Sensor Tower’s mobile gaming advertising report revealed data on top ad networks in the mobile gaming market, and their market share. It also found puzzle games were among the top advertisers on gaming-focused networks like Chartboost, Unity, IronSource and Vungle. On less game-focused networks, mid-core games were top titles, like Call of Duty: Mobile and Top War. 

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Health & Fitness

  • Apple is reportedly scaling back HealthHabit, an internal app for Apple employees that allowed them to track fitness goals, talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness (a doctors’ group Apple works with) and manage hypertension. According to Insider, 50 employees had been tasked to work on the project.
  • Samsung launched a new product for Galaxy smartphones in partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, that allows U.S. users to save a verifiable copy of their vaccination card in the Samsung Pay digital wallet.

Image Credits: Samsung

Adtech

Government & Policy

  • China cited 43 apps, including Tencent’s WeChat and an e-reader from Alibaba, for illegally transferring user data. The regulator said the apps had transferred users location data and contact list and harassed them with pop-up windows. The apps have until August 25 to make changes before being punished.

Security & Privacy

  • A VICE report reveals a fascinating story about a jailbreaking community member who had served as a double agent by spying for Apple’s security team. Andrey Shumeyko, whose online handles included JVHResearch and YRH04E, would advertise leaked apps, manuals and stolen devices on Twitter and Discord. He would then tell Apple things like which Apple employees were leaking confidential info, which reporters would talk to leakers, who sold stolen iPhone prototypes and more. Shumeyko decided to share his story because he felt Apple took advantage of him and didn’t compensate him for the work.

Funding and M&A

? South Korea’s GS Retail Co. Ltd will buy Delivery Hero’s food delivery app Yogiyo in a deal valued at 800 billion won ($685 million USD). Yogiyo is the second-largest food delivery app in South Korea, with a 25% market share.

? Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.

? Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.

? Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.

? Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.

? Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.

? Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.

? U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.

Public Markets

?Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.

?Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2.  Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.

Downloads

Polycam (update)

Image Credits: Polycam

3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.

Jiobit (update)

Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.

Tweets

When your app redesign goes wrong…

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said. 

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Anyone have app ideas?

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InfoSum raises $65M Series B as organizations embrace secure data sharing

InfoSum, a London-based startup that provides a decentralized platform for secure data sharing between organizations, has secured a $65 million Series B funding round led by Chrysalis Investments.

The investment comes less than a year after InfoSum closed a $15.1 million Series A round co-led by Upfront Ventures and IA Ventures. Since, the data privacy startup has tripled its revenue, doubled its employee base, and secured more than fifty new customers, including AT&T, Disney, Omnicom and Merkle.

Its growth was boosted by businesses that are increasingly focused on data privacy, largely as a result of the mass shift to remote working and cloud-based collaboration necessitated by the pandemic. InfoSum’s data collaboration platform uses patented technology to connect customer records between and amongst companies, without moving or sharing data. It helps organizations to alleviate security concerns, according to the startup, and is compliant with all current privacy laws, including GDPR.

The platform was bolstered earlier this year with the launch of InfoSum Bridge, a product which it claims significantly expands the customer identity linking capabilities of its platform. It is designed to connect advertising identifiers along with its own “bunkered” data sets to better facilitate ad targeting based on first-party data.

“The technology that enables companies to safely and securely compare customer data is thankfully entering a new phase, driven by privacy-conscious consumers and companies focused on value and control. InfoSum is proud to be leading the way,” said Brian Lesser, chairman and CEO of InfoSum. “Companies are looking for solutions to help resolve the existing friction and inefficiencies around data collaboration, and InfoSum is the company to drive this growth forward.”

The company, which says it is poised for “exponential growth” in 2021 as businesses continue to embrace privacy-focused tools and software, will use the newly raised investment to accelerate hiring across every aspect of its business, expand into new regions, and further the development of its platform.

Nick Halstead, who previously founded and led big data startup DataSift, founded InfoSum (then called CognitiveLogic) in 2015 with a vision to connect the world’s data without ever sharing it. The company currently has 80 employees spread across offices in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany.

#articles, #att, #chrysalis, #cloud-computing, #data-security, #datasift, #disney, #funding, #general-data-protection-regulation, #germany, #human-rights, #ia-ventures, #identity-management, #infosum, #london, #merkle, #nick-halstead, #omnicom, #open-data-institute, #privacy, #security, #social-issues, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #upfront-ventures

Disney+ beats expectations to reach 116 million subscribers in Q3

Disney’s streaming service is seeing improved growth, after initially seeing slower numbers of subscriber additions in Q2 as COVID lockdowns and mask mandates came to an end. Today, Disney+ beat analyst expectations for subscriber growth in Disney’s blowout third quarter, reaching 116 million paid subscribers — above the 114.5 million Wall Street had expected — and up over 100% year-over-year.

Disney also topped expectations across the board, with $17.02 billion in revenue versus the $16.76 billion expected, and earnings per share of 80 cents, above analysts’ expectations of 55 cents. Even Disney Parks were back in business. 

The pandemic had thrown a wrench in forecasting growth metrics across a number of industries, streaming included. Although Disney+ has well-established itself as one of the few competitors capable of challenging Netflix in an increasingly crowded market, it has seen some ups and downs due to COVID impacts. In the earlier days of the pandemic, streaming was on the rise. This March, Disney+ passed 100 million subscribers after just 16 months of operation. At the time, Disney execs said the service was on track to meet its projections of 260 million subscribers by 2024.

But in Disney’s second-quarter earnings, the economy’s re-opening impacted Disney+ numbers, as people finally had more to do than just sit at home, and vaccinations become more widely available. Then, Disney+ only reached 103.6 million subscribers, when analysts were expecting 109.3 million, and the stock slipped as a result.

Disney wasn’t alone in feeling the impacts of COVID-induced lumpiness in subscriber additions. Netflix had also seen slower subscriber growth earlier in the year due to COVID and its far-reaching effects on things like production delays and release schedules.

But Netflix’s most recent quarter, where it once again topped subscriber estimates, had hinted that Disney+ may see a similar boost. Aiding in that growth was Disney+’s recent market expansions in Asia. Disney+ Hotstar arrived in Malaysia and Thailand in June after prior launches in India and Indonesia last year.

The Hotstar version of Disney+, however, led to lowered average monthly revenue per user (ARPU) in the quarter due to its lower price points. In Q3, ARPU declined from $4.62 to $4.16 due to a higher mix of Disney+ Hotstar subscribers compared with the prior-year quarter, Disney said.

Disney’s other streaming services, Hulu and ESPN+, didn’t see the same trend.

Hulu’s subscription video service jumped from $11.39 to $13.15 year-over-year and its Live TV service (+SVOD) grew from $68.11 to $84.09. ESPN+ also grew from $4.18 to $4.47.

Subscriber growth also increased across the services, with ESPN+ growing 75% year-over-year to reach 14.9 million customers and total Hulu subscribers growing 21% to reach 42.8 million.

“…Our direct-to-consumer business is performing very well, with a total of nearly 174 million subscriptions across Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu at the end of the quarter, and a host of new content coming to the platform,” noted Disney CEO Bob Chapek in a press release.

Across Disney’s direct-to-consumer business, revenues grew 57% to $4.3 billion and its operating loss declined from $0.6 billion to $0.3 billion, thanks to improved results from Hulu, including subscription growth and higher ad revenues.

These gains were offset by a higher loss at Disney+ attributed to programming, production, marketing and technology costs that were somewhat mitigated by increases in subscription revenues and success of the Disney+ Premier Access release of “Cruella.” (Disney’s fiscal quarter ended July 3, so the impacts of the massive haul that “Black Widow” saw following its U.S. opening — nor the resulting lawsuit from star Scarlett Johansson, for that matter — have yet to be included in these figures.)

#asia, #bob-chapek, #disney, #disney-plus, #e-commerce, #espn, #hotstar, #hulu, #india, #indonesia, #malaysia, #mass-media, #media, #netflix, #scarlett-johansson, #streaming-services, #thailand, #the-walt-disney-company

Cent, the platform that Jack Dorsey used to sell his first tweet as an NFT, raises $3M

Cent was founded in 2017 as an ad-free creator network that allows users to offer each other crypto rewards for good posts and comments — it’s like gifting awards on Reddit, but with Ethereum. But in late 2020, Cent’s small, San Fransisco-based team created Valuables, an NFT market for tweets, and by March, the small blockchain startup was thrown a serendipitous curveball.

“We just wrapped up for the day, and I was about to go eat dinner, and all these people started texting me,” remembers CEO Cameron Hejazi. Then, he realized that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had minted Twitter’s first ever Tweet through Cent’s Valuables application. “I was basically like, mildly shivering for the rest of the night. The whole team, we were like, ‘Okay, battle stations, prepare to get hacked!’”

Dorsey ended up selling his NFT for $2.9 million, and he donated the proceeds to Give Directly’s Africa Response fund for COVID-19 relief. But for Cent, it was as if the small company had just been handed a free marketing campaign. Now, about five months later, Cent is announcing a $3 million round of seed funding with investors like Galaxy Interactive, former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, Will.I.Am, and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

On Valuables, anyone on the internet can place an offer on any tweet, which then makes it possible for someone else to make a counter-offer. If the author of the tweet accepts an offer (logging into Valuables requires you to validate your Twitter account), then Cent will mint the tweet on the blockchain and create a 1-of-1 NFT.

The NFT itself contains the text of the tweet, the username of the creator, the time it was minted, and the creator’s digital signature. The NFT also includes a link to the tweet, though the linked content lives outside the blockchain.

There’s nothing proprietary about minting tweets as NFTs — another company could do the same thing that Cent is doing. Even Twitter itself has recently dabbled in giving away free NFT art, though it hasn’t tried to sell actual tweets as NFTs like Cent. Still, Hejazi sees Dorsey’s use of Cent like an endorsement — he thinks it would be difficult for Twitter to shut them down, since Dorsey made $2.9 million on the platform himself. After all, Dorsey chose Cent instead of taking a screenshot of his first tweet, minting the .JPG as an NFT, and posting it on a larger NFT platform, like OpenSea.

“We’ve spoken with people at Twitter. I’m positive that we have a healthy relationship going,” Hejazi said (Twitter declined to comment on or confirm whether that’s true). “We thought about applying this approach to other social platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, but we hypothesized that this is particularly suited for Twitter, because it’s a conversation platform, and it’s where all of the crypto people are actually living.”

With Cent’s seed funding Hejazi hopes to continue building the platform. The company’s goal is to enable anyone creative to make an income through the use of NFTs — that means developing tools to make it simpler for its users to mint NFTs, but also, building out its existing creator-focused social network. The content people post on Cent is usually creative work, like art and writing, rather than short posts — it’s closer to DeviantArt than it is to Reddit. These are lofty goals for a $3 million seed funding round, but there are aspects of Cent’s Beta platform that make it promising.

“There’s already value in what we post on social media. It’s just being proxied through ad dollars, and it doesn’t have to be the case that there’s so much wealth concentration in a single entity. We can work toward a system that decentralizes that wealth,” said Hejazi. “These networks as they exist have monopolies on distribution — you can’t take your Twitter audience, download it as a .CSV, and send them all an email.”

A screenshot of Cent’s social platform.

In addition to independent distribution lists, Hejazi wants to move away from the ad-supported internet. He references Substack as an example of a company where the creator has control of their list, and at the same time, the platform can remain ad-free, since the money that propels it comes from the users who pay to subscribe to newsletters (and also, venture capital helps).

But Cent does something different by allowing users to essentially invest in creators who they think have the potential to take off on their platform.

Users can “seed” a post, which is how you subscribe to a creator participating on the creatives side of Cent’s platform. As the seeder, you pay a set fee of at least one dollar per month. There’s an incentive to support up-and-coming creators on the platform, because seeders get a portion of the creators’ future profit — it’s like making a bet on them that they will continue to make great content in the future. Five percent of profits go toward Cent, but the remaining 95% is split 50/50 between the creator and all of their past seeders. Participating on this platform would allow creators to network and show support for one another, but doesn’t prevent them from more directly monetizing their work on other creator platforms, like Patreon.

In addition to seeding posts, users can also “spot” other people’s posts — Cent’s version of a “like” button. Each “spot” is the equivalent of one cent from the user’s crypto wallet. Cent’s argument is that getting 1,000 likes on a post on other platforms yields nothing but a vague sensation of social clout. But on Cent, if a user gets 1,000 “spots,” that’s $10. Still, a project like this can only work if enough people use the platform.

“When we started Cent, we chose cryptocurrencies because we loved the idea of someone being able to earn money with nothing more than their creativity and a crypto address,” Hejazi said. “Over time, we’ve found it to be limiting as a payment type — very few people actually own it and have it ready to spend. We’re working on ways to make payments to creators using Cent easier, and are exploring both crypto-native and non-crypto options.”

This mindset echoes other NFT startups like Yat, which allows payments via credit card as part of its “progressive decentralization” model. So much of these companies’ success depends on public buy-in toward an eventual decentralized, blockchain-based internet. But until then, companies like Cent will continue to experiment in reimagining how creatives can get paid online.

#apps, #author, #blockchain, #ceo, #chairman, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #deviantart, #disney, #ethereum, #funding, #jack-dorsey, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #mark-pincus, #operating-systems, #penny, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #twitter, #venture-capital, #zynga

Scarlett Johansson sues Disney, says Disney+ release of Black Widow broke contract

A billboard promoting the movie Black Widow with a giant picture of Scarlett Johansson.

Enlarge / A billboard above the El Capitan Entertainment Centre promoting Marvel Studios’ Black Widow on June 22, 2021, in Hollywood, California. (credit: Getty Images | AaronP/Bauer-Griffin)

Scarlett Johansson sued the Walt Disney Company yesterday, alleging that it breached her contract by releasing Black Widow on Disney+ the same day it was released in theaters.

The simultaneous release allowed Disney to pay Johansson less money because she and the Disney-owned Marvel agreed that her compensation for Black Widow “would be based largely on ‘box office’ receipts generated by the picture,” according to Johansson’s complaint filed in Los Angeles County’s Superior Court for the State of California. This was a contract violation because Johansson secured a promise from Marvel that the movie would initially be released in theaters only, the lawsuit said:

To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the picture would be a “theatrical release.” As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a “theatrical release” is a release that is exclusive to movie theaters. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theaters.

The reasons for this were twofold. First, Disney wanted to lure the picture’s audience away from movie theaters and towards its owned streaming service, where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney+ subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney’s stock price. Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms. Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself. In the months leading up to this lawsuit, Ms. Johansson gave Disney and Marvel every opportunity to right their wrong and make good on Marvel’s promise. Unlike numerous other movie studios, however—including Warner Brothers who, on information and belief, settled with its talent on films such as Wonder Woman after it released those films “day-and-date” to its streaming service HBO Max last year—Disney and Marvel largely ignored Ms. Johansson, essentially forcing her to file this action.

The lawsuit accuses Disney of intentional interference with contractual relations and inducing breach of contract, alleging that the contract breach “was the direct result of Disney directing Marvel to ignore Ms. Johansson’s agreement and/or overruling Marvel’s wishes to comply with it.” Johansson demanded a jury trial and asked the court for monetary and punitive damages in amounts to be proven at trial.

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#black-widow, #disney, #marvel, #policy, #scarlett-johansson

Scarlett Johansson files suit over Disney+ ‘Black Widow’ release

With Scarlett Johansson’s time as an Avenger seemingly in the rearview, the “Black Widow” star has filed a breach of contract suit against Marvel-owner Disney. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court this week, alleges that the studio breached its agreement with the star when it released the film on Disney+ alongside its theatrical debut.

“As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres,” the filing writes, matter of factly. “Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the Picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.”

The pandemic has fundamentally transformed the way first-run movies are delivered and consumed — at least in the short term. In 2020, Disney and other studios opted to release films straight to streaming, rather than suffer perpetual delays and poor box office numbers as restrictions closed the non-essential business of movie theaters. More recently they’ve split the difference as movie theaters have reopened, offering same day streaming.

According to a copy of the suit obtained by TechCrunch, Johansson’s concerns about streaming services pre-date the pandemic. When Disney launched the streaming service Disney+, the suit claims, Johansson’s representatives sought assurances from Disney/Marvel that the Black Widow solo film would still get a theatrical release, in spite of the company’s bids to boost subscription numbers.

It cites an email with Marvel’s chief counsel from May of that year:

We totally understand that Scarlett’s willingness to do the film and her whole deal is based on the premise that the film would be widely theatrically released like our other pictures. We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.

“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like “Black Widow” directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price — and that it’s hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so,” the actress’s attorney John Berlinski said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court. This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”

The statement accuses Disney of “hiding behind COVID-19,” though certainly the studio wasn’t alone in rethinking its release strategy over the past year. The question remains whether the pandemic will serve as sufficient extenuating circumstances for its release decisions. The outcome of the trial, meanwhile, could well have a profound effect on how studios release blockbusters post-pandemic.

We’ve reached out to Disney for comment and will update accordingly.

#apps, #black-widow, #disney, #entertainment, #lawsuit, #marvel, #scarlett-johansson

Black Widow review: ScarJo’s sendoff is MCU’s best standalone film yet

This week’s Black Widow may have put a new hit Marvel franchise in motion.

It’s intimate, aggressive, funny, and brutal in every PG-13 sense possible. It’s an Eastern European Marvel superhero tale that gives hearts to heartless characters without falling into the typical Marvel trap of ending with a neatly tied bow. And the entire cast nails this balancing act.

Perhaps best of all, star Scarlett Johansson (playing the titular character) finally gets to deliver on her Marvel hero status, instead of serving as a crutch for a randomly selected male Avenger. She doesn’t waste this opportunity, yet she still proves generous as a co-star, so much so that she helps launch Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Little Women) as the Marvel universe’s most compelling new hero in years.

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Peter Jackson’s 6-hour Beatles documentary confirmed for Disney+ this November

Peter Jackson’s next six-hour epic is finally coming out this year—and in a first for the acclaimed director, the film will launch directly to a streaming service. It will also be broken up into episodes.

The Beatles: Get Back, an expansive documentary originally announced for a theatrical run this August, has had its release strategy tweaked. On Thursday, Jackson and Disney confirmed that the entire project will launch exclusively on Disney+ during this year’s American Thanksgiving holiday. Each third of the documentary will launch on the streaming service on November 25, 26, and 27. As of press time, Disney hasn’t said how the film will reach audiences outside of Disney+’s supported territories. Neither Jackson nor Disney clarified how the original theatrical run might have worked or whether the global pandemic forced anyone’s hand.

Today’s news confirms that Jackson had an abundance of footage to work with. Roughly three years ago, the remaining Beatles handed him access to a musical holy grail: over 60 hours of previously unseen video recordings, mostly capturing the Beatles working on the album Let It Be and rehearsing for, and then performing, the band’s legendary 1969 rooftop concert in London.

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#disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #peter-jackson, #the-beatles

Everyone you know is a Disney princess, which means AR is queen

This weekend, all of your friends morphed one by one into animated, Pixar-inspired characters. This isn’t a fever dream, and you’re not alone.

On Thursday, Snapchat released a Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which uses AR to make you look like a background character from “Frozen.” Naturally, even though TikTok’s own AR cartoon effects aren’t quite as convincing as Snapchat’s, people are turning to TikTok to share videos of themselves as Disney princesses, because of course they are.

This isn’t the first time that a Disney-esque AR trend has gone viral. In August 2020, Snapchat had 28.5 million new installs, which was its biggest month since May 2019, when it got 41.2 million new installs. It might not be a coincidence that in early August 2020, Snapchat released the Cartoon Face lens, which users realized could be used to “Disneyfy” their pets – the tag #disneydog got 40.9 million views across platforms on TikTok. Then, Snapchat struck viral gold again in December, when they released the Cartoon lens, which rendered more realistic results for human faces than the previous iteration.

According to Sensor Tower, Snapchat’s global installs continued to climb month-over-month throughout the rest of 2020, though installs slightly declined in December. Still, Snapchat got 36 million downloads that month. Now, after the newest Cartoon Style 3D lens went viral again, Snapchat hit number 6 on the App Store’s free apps charts, compared to TikTok’s number 2 slot. Still, Snapchat downloads in May were 32 million, down from 34 million in April, while TikTok saw 80.3 million installs in May, up from 59.3 million in April.

Image Credits: Snapchat, screenshots by TechCrunch

But there’s a new app in the number 1 slot that also made an impact on this weekend’s cartoon explosion. Released in March, Voilà AI Artist is yet another platform that turns us into cartoon versions of ourselves. Unlike the AR-powered effects on Snapchat or TikTok, Voilà is a photo editor. Users upload a selfie, and after watching an ad (the ad-free version costs $3 per week), it reveals what you would look like as a cartoon.

Voilà AI Artist was only downloaded 400 times globally in March 2021. By May, the app surpassed 1 million downloads, and during the first two weeks of this month alone, the app has been downloaded over 10.5 million times.

Again, like the repetitive iterations on the “Disneyfy” trend, apps like Voilà aren’t new. FaceApp went viral in 2019, showing people what they’ll look like when they’re old, graying, and wrinkled. The app became the center of a privacy controversy, since it uploaded users’ photos to the cloud to edit their selfies with AI. FaceApp made a statement that it “might store updated photos in the cloud” for “performance and traffic reasons,” but that “most images” are deleted “within 48 hours.” Still, this ambiguous language set off the warning bells, urging us to think about the potentially nefarious implications of seeing what we’ll look like in sixty years. Two years earlier, FaceApp put out a “hotness” filter, which made users’ skin lighter – FaceApp apologized for its racist AI. Voilà, which is owned by Wemagine.AI LLP in Canada, has also been criticized for its AI’s eurocentrism. As these apps grow in popularity, they can also uphold some of our culture’s most harmful biases.

Image Credits: Voilà

Like FaceApp, Voilà requires an internet connection to use the app. Additionally, its terms outline that users grant the company “a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use in any way, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, and distribute Uploaded and Generated content.” Basically, that means that if you upload an image to the platform, Voilà has the right to use it, but they don’t own it. This isn’t abnormal for these apps – when we upload photos to Instagram, for example, we also grant the platform the right to use our images.

Still, it’s a good thing that apps like Voilà force us to consider what we give up in exchange for the knowledge that we’d make a good Disney princess. Earlier this month, TikTok updated its U.S. privacy policy to dictate that the app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from users’ content. This includes “faceprints and voiceprints,” terms that TikTok left undefined. When TechCrunch reached Tiktok for comment, they couldn’t confirm why the terms now changed to allow for the automatic collection of biometric data, which refers to any features, measurements, or characteristics of our body that distinguish us, even fingerprints.

It’s no wonder that as Voilà climbed to the number one slot on the App Store, Snapchat re-upped their Pixar-inspired AR lens. Facebook’s own Spark AR platform is rolling out new features, and last week at WWDC, Apple announced a major update to RealityKit, its AR software. But these trends reveal more about our growing comfort with face-altering AR than they do about our nostalgia for Disney.

#app-store, #apple, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #canada, #computing, #disney, #instagram, #internet-culture, #mobile-applications, #photo-editor, #realitykit, #snapchat, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #united-states

Atomic-backed Jumpcut uses data to advance diversity in film

Jumpcut founder Kartik Hosanagar is a professor at the Wharton School, but about ten years ago, he spent his summer in an unlikely way: he wrote a screenplay. Set in India, his script garnered some interest from producers, but no one took the plunge to fund a film by a first-time Indian director.

Now, films featuring diverse casts are gaining traction – this year, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color, and only the second woman ever, to win the Academy Award for Best Director. At the previous ceremony, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Still, according to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, Hollywood leaves $10 billion on the table each year due to the industry’s lack of diversity.

“How do you make a bet on underrepresented voices or underrepresented stories?” asked Hosanagar. “While there’s awareness, there’s no action, because nobody knows how to do it. So that’s what got me into Jumpcut. It’s this rare company where 20 years of my work on data science and entrepreneurship meets with who I am outside of my work.”

At Wharton, Hosanagar is the Faculty Lead for the AI for Business program. He was a founder of Yodle, which was acquired by web.com for $340 million in 2016. But for this next venture, he wanted to tackle Hollywood’s homogeneity hands-on by using his experience with data science to de-risk media projects from underrepresented creators.

“The vision is to create a more inclusive era of global content creation,” he said to TechCrunch.

Hosanagar started working on Jumpcut in 2019, but today, the Atomic-backed company launches out of stealth as the first data science-driven studio working to elevate underrepresented voices in film. Already the studio has 12 TV and film projects in the works with partners like 36-time Academy Award nominee Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction,” “Good Will Hunting”), Emmy Award-winning producer Shelby Stone (“Bessie,” “The Chi”), and showrunner Scott Rosenbaum (“Chuck,” “The Shield”).

Jumpcut models itself after Y-Combinator in its approach, pairing emerging talent with buyers and producers. First, Jumpcut uses an algorithm to scan hundreds of thousands of videos from platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Wattpad to find promising talent. The algorithm narrows down the extensive field to locate creators who are consistently finding new audiences and increasing their engagement. Then, the Jumpcut team – including advisors and veterans from Netflix, Buzzfeed, CBS, Sony, and WarnerMedia – identifies who to connect with.

In one example of the algorithm’s success, Hosanagar pointed to Anna Hopkins, an actress who has appeared on shows like “The Expanse” and “Shadowhunters.” Though Hopkins has found some success in front of the camera, she also wants to write.

“We discovered some of her short films, and the algorithm identified it because people had strong emotional reactions in the comments, like, ‘heartwarming but in a positive way,’ or ‘give me a tissue,’” Hosanagar explained. Since Hopkins isn’t publicly known as a writer, she assumed that Jumpcut found her through a television network she had pitched a script to, but that wasn’t the case. “We said, ‘no, our algorithms found you.’”

Once a creator is identified by Jumpcut, they can A/B test their ideas with audiences of over 100,000 potential viewers, which helps the company prove to funders through data science that these ideas can sell.

“The idea there is that we don’t wait for creators to get discovered by the traditional Hollywood agencies, because that requires the creators to have access to the top agents, and that again brings you back to the old boys club,” Hosanagar said. “We’re automating a lot of that process and discovering these people who are creating great stories that are resonating with audiences, not waiting for some Hollywood agency to discover them.”

Once the creators have an idea that tests well with a wide audience, they’re invited to Jumpcut Collective, an incubator program that helps artists develop an idea from a concept to a pitch in 6 weeks. Then, Jumpcut helps match projects with producing partners and buyers.

So far, Jumpcut has hosted three incubator programs. Out of the twelve Jumpcut projects currently underway, Hosanagar says that nine or ten of them came out of the incubator. One project, for example, is now being developed in partnership with Disney’s Asia Pacific Division.

Jumpcut isn’t disclosing the amount raised in this round of seed funding, but confirms that Atomic is the only investor in their seed round.

Hosanagar is joined on the project by Dilip Rajan, his former student and a former product manager at BuzzFeed, and Winnie Kemp, a former SVP of Originals at Super Deluxe and CBS. There, she developed and executive produced “Chambers,” the first show with a Native American lead, and “This Close,” the first show with deaf creators and cast. Most of their funding will go toward payroll, which includes engineers, data scientists, and product managers on the product side of the company, as well as development executives on the creative side, who run the incubator.

#actress, #advisors, #artificial-intelligence, #atomic, #buzzfeed, #chuck, #director, #disney, #executive, #founder, #funding, #hollywood, #india, #jumpcut, #media, #netflix, #producer, #product-manager, #sony, #startups, #svp, #tc, #warnermedia, #wattpad, #writer, #youtube

Apple introduces SharePlay for co-watching, streaming, and screen sharing over FaceTime

As part of its FaceTime update in iOS 15, Apple introduced a new set of features designed for shared experiences — like co-watching TV shows or TikTok videos, listening to music together, screen sharing and more — while on a FaceTime call. The feature, called SharePlay, enables real-time connections with family and friends while you’re hanging out on FaceTime, Apple explained, by integrating access to apps from within the call itself.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple demonstrated the new feature during its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote this afternoon, showing how friends could press play in Apple Music to listen together, as the music streams to everyone on the call. Shared playback controls also let anyone on the call play, pause or jump to the next track.

The company also showed off watching video from its Apple TV+ streaming service, where the video was synced in real-time between call participants. This was a popular trend during the pandemic, as people looked to virtually watch movies and TV with family and friends, prompting services like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video to add native co-watching features.

But Apple’s SharePlay goes much further than streaming music and video from just Apple’s own services.

The company announced a set of launch partners for SharePlay including Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, NBA, Twitch, TikTok, MasterClass, ESPN+, Paramount+, and Pluto TV. It’s also making an API available to developers so they can integrate their own apps with SharePlay.

Image Credits: Apple

Users can screen share via SharePlay, too, so you can do things like browse Zillow listings together or show off a mobile gameplay, Apple suggested.

“Screen sharing is also a simple and super effective way to help someone out and answer questions right in the moment, and it works across Apple devices,” noted Apple SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi.

The feature will roll out with iOS 15.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#amazon-prime-video, #api, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-tv, #apps, #computing, #craig-federighi, #disney, #espn, #facetime, #hbo, #hulu, #ios, #itunes, #mobile-applications, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #twitch, #wwdc-2021, #zillow

JJ Abrams: Lack of plan in Star Wars’ latest trilogy was a “critical” flaw

No, the Collider interview doesn't mention Jar Jar, but who doesn't love an opportunity to put JJ next to Star Wars' other big "JJ"?

Enlarge / No, the Collider interview doesn’t mention Jar Jar, but who doesn’t love an opportunity to put JJ next to Star Wars’ other big “JJ”? (credit: Sam Machkovech / Lucasfilm / Getty Images)

An upcoming interview with filmmaker JJ Abrams will span the entirety of his career, and that means it includes significant statements about his work on the latest Star Wars trilogy. From the sound of things, 17 months of distance from his last Star Wars film, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, have given him either the clarity or the cushion needed to speak frankly on what the film arguably flubbed.

Ahead of the full interview’s publication—which takes advantage of the upcoming 10th-anniversary Blu-ray of Abrams’ Super 8—Collider released an excerpt on Wednesday focusing on his directing and co-writing work on both Episodes VII and IX. The takeaway seems loud and clear: the new trilogy as a whole, which he bookended, would have benefited from more consistency.

Abrams’ quotes in isolation may sound like he’s speaking about the entirety of his career, but they’re specifically in response to Collider’s questions about the director and writer hand-off between entries in the “Rey trilogy.” His first answer includes a bigger-picture estimation about best-laid plans, hinting to issues with a single actor or when “a relationship as written doesn’t quite work.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#disney, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #jj-abrams, #lucasfilm, #star-wars

Despite big Marvel and Star Wars shows, Disney+ falls short of targets

Meta-sitcom/adventure series <em>WandaVision</em> was one of Disney+'s most successful recent shows.

Enlarge / Meta-sitcom/adventure series WandaVision was one of Disney+’s most successful recent shows. (credit: YouTube/Disney+)

Analysts expected Disney+ to reach 109 million subscribers in Disney’s most recent financial quarter, but the streaming service fell short, landing at 103.6 million. The shortfall resulted in lower revenues than expected for the company and a small stock price stumble.

Alongside word that Netflix also saw fairly slow growth in its quarter, the news suggests that there is, in fact, a limit to the explosive growth that streaming platforms have experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Disney is staying the course with its current strategy of pumping out TV series in established Disney brands like Marvel and Star Wars, as well as releasing new motion pictures on the platform at the same time they premiere in theaters.

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#disney, #gaming-culture, #marvel, #movies, #star-wars, #streaming, #tech, #tv

With new owner Naver, Wattpad looks to supercharge its user-generated IP factory

Toronto-based Wattpad is officially part of South Korean internet giant Naver as of today, with the official close of the $600 million cash and stock acquisition deal. Under the terms of the acquisition, Wattpad will continue to be headquartered in, and operate from Canada, with co-founder and Allen Lau remaining CEO of the social storytelling company and reporting to the CEO of Naver’s Webtoon, Jun Koo Kim.

I spoke to Lau about what will change, and what won’t, now that Wattpad is part of Naver and Webtoon. As mentioned, Wattpad will remain headquartered in Toronto — and in fact, the company will be growing its headcount in Canada under its new owners with significant new hiring.

“For Wattpad itself, last year was one of our fastest growing years in terms of both in terms of revenue and company size,” Lau said. “This year will be even faster; we’re planning to hire over 100 people, primarily in Toronto and Halifax. So in terms of the number of jobs, and the number of opportunities, this puts us on another level.”

While the company is remaining in Canada and expanding its local talent pool, while maintaining its focus on delivering socially collaborative fiction, Lau says that the union with Naver and Webtoon is about more than just increasing the rate at which it can grow. The two companies share unique “synergies,” he says, that can help each better capitalize on their respective opportunities.

“Naver is one of the world’s largest internet companies,” Lau told me. “But the number one reason that this merger is happening is because of Webtoon. Webtoon is the largest digital publisher in the world, and they have over 76 million monthly users. Combined with our 90 million, that adds up to 166 total monthly users — the reach is enormous. We are now by far the leader in this space, in the storytelling space, in both comics and fiction: By far the largest one in the world.”

The other way in which the two companies complement each other is around IP. Wattpad has demonstrated its ability to take its user-generated fiction, and turn that into successful IP upon which original series and movies are based. The company has both a Books and a Studios publishing division, and has generated hits like Netflix’s The Kissing Booth out of the work of the authors on its platform. Increasingly, competing streaming services are looking around for new properties that will resonate with younger audiences, in order to win and maintain subscriptions.

“Wattpad is the IP factory for user generated content,” Lau said. “And Webtoons also have a lot of amazing IP that are proven to build audience, along with all the data and analytics and insight around those. So the combined library of the top IPs that are blockbusters literally double overnight [with the merger]. And not just the size, but the capability. Because before the acquisition, we had our online fiction, we have both publishing business, and we have TV shows and movies, as well; but with the combination, now we also have comics, we also have animation and potentially other capabilities, as well.”

The key to Wattpad’s success with developing IP in partnership with the creators on its platform isn’t just that its’ user-generated and crowd-friendly; Wattpad also has unique insight into the data behind what’s working about successful IP with its fans and readers. The company’s analytics platform can then provide collaborators in TV and movies with unparalleled, data-backed perspective into what should strike a chord with fans when translated into a new medium, and what might not be so important to include in the adaptation. This is what provides Wattpad with a unique edge when going head-to-head with legacy franchises including those from Disney and other megawatt brands.

“No only do we have the fan bases — it’s data driven,” Lau said. “When we adapt from the fiction on our platform to a movie, we can tell the screenwriter, ‘Keep chapter one, chapter five and chapter seven, but in seven only the first two paragraphs,’ because that’s what the 200,000 comments are telling us. That’s what our machine learning story DNA technology can tell you this is the insight; where are they excited? This is something unprecedented.”

With Naver and Webtoon, Wattpad gains the ability to leverage its insight-gathering IP generation in a truly cross-media context, spanning basically every means a fan might choose to engage with a property. For would-be Disney competitors, that’s likely to be an in-demand value proposition.

#animation, #canada, #disney, #internet, #machine-learning, #mass-media, #naver, #netflix, #publishing, #streaming-services, #tc, #toronto, #wattpad, #webtoon

Head, tail, knees and trees (knees and trees)

Some fun ones this week, so let’s get all of those pesky business transactions out of the way first, shall we? I mean, not that tens of millions of dollars changing hands for future robotics technology is boring, he said, tugging at his collar for comedic effect.

Image Credits: Plus One Robotics

Big raise this week for Plus One Robotics. The San Antonio-based company raised a healthy $33 million Series B, bringing its total funding above $40 million. The company mostly traffics in the warehouse and logistics space — obviously a category with a lot of excitement around it after last year’s massive shut down. As many companies have told me, most clients are simply looking for a way to help their footing in the competition against Amazon.

In addition to its massive headcount and seemingly bottomless resources, the e-commerce giant has deployed a huge army of robots in its warehouse. Plus One, for its part, doesn’t make the robots, but rather the vision software that works with them. The company’s product is designed to work across a broad range of robotic arms and grippers, allowing workers to control up to 50 systems at once.

Image Credits: Roam Robotics

We’ve talked about exoskeletons quite a bit on these pages, but Roam offers an interesting alternative to a number of bigger, bulkier and harder products on the market. The company’s latest device I liken to a standard knee brace, with AI and robotic capabilities that assist with movement. Specifically it helps with things like walking up stairs and standing up from a seated position.

And here we have a tiny tree man. Project Kiwi is kind of like Pinocchio if he really leaned into the whole wooden thing in the process of becoming a real boy. Obviously Disney’s going for the (sometimes) littlest Guardian of the Galaxy, Groot, for its latest extremely impressive animatronic.

Matthew was extremely impressed seeing the beautiful little tree guy in action and, living vicariously through some YouTube videos, I definitely have to confirm.

A fun bit of research out of Carnegie Mellon this week. The latest bit of biomimicry is a bit surprising. Obviously Cheetah has been a big inspiration for a number of quadrupedal robots (MIT in particular has a whole lot going in the Cheetah department). Specifically, though, the CMU researchers are looking at the big cat’s tail. Per CMU:

The cheetah’s lightweight furry tail is known as an aerodynamic drag tail; that is, it acts sort of like a parachute. Most robotic tails have high inertia, but the cheetah manages to retain low inertia. Inertia is a physical quality that describes an object’s resistance to changes in motion — high tail inertia means the tail can apply high forces. Aerodynamic tails instead use a different principle — aerodynamic drag — to achieve high forces without a large inertia.

#disney, #plus-one-robotics, #roam, #robotics, #robotics-roundup