Original Content podcast: ‘Lovecraft Country’ is gloriously bonkers

As we tried to recap the first season of HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” one thing became clear: The show is pretty nuts.

The story begins by sending Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors), his friend Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smolett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) on a road trip across mid-’50s America in search of Tic’s missing father. You might assume that the search will occupy the entire season, or take even longer than that; instead, the initial storyline is wrapped up quickly.

And while there’s a story running through the whole season, most of the episodes are relatively self-contained, offering their own versions on various horror and science fiction tropes. There’s a haunted house episode, an Indiana Jones episode, a time travel episode and more.

The show isn’t perfect — the writing can be clunky, the special effects cheesy and cheap-looking. But at its best, it does an impressive job of mixing increasingly outlandish plots, creepy monsters (with plentiful gore) and a healthy dose of politics.

After all, “Lovecraft Country” (adapted form a book by Matt Ruff) is named after notoriously racist horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, but it focuses almost entirely on Black characters, making the case that old genres can be reinvigorated with diverse casts and a rethinking of political assumptions.

In addition to reviewing the show, the latest episode of the Original Content podcast also includes a discussion of Netflix earnings, the new season of “The Bachelorette” and the end of Quibi.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:36 Netflix discussion
3:18 “The Bachelorette”
6:30 Quibi
14:35 “Lovecraft Country” review
31:32 “Lovecraft Country” spoiler discussion

#entertainment, #media, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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The short, strange life of Quibi

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.”

With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service.

Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time.

A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

“We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.”

Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators.

For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics.

Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away.

Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.”

It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper.

Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

#apps, #entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #streaming-media

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Quibi says it will shut down in early December

Quibi is shutting down — we know that much for sure.

But when? If you’re looking to blast through all 25 episodes of the Reno 911 revival series before Quibi calls its quits, how long do you actually have?

While it seems even Quibi isn’t 100% certain yet, they’ve at least now given users a rough idea of when they expect the plug to be pulled: early December.

As spotted by Variety, a newly published support page on the Quibi site says streaming will end “on or about December 1, 2020.” The “about” suggests that the shutdown date isn’t fully locked quite yet, but it should be sometime around then.

Will any Quibi shows find their way over to Netflix, Hulu, etc.? That’s still up in the air, too. “At this time we do not know if the Quibi content will be available anywhere after our last day of service,” the company writes in a note on the same page.

#entertainment, #quibi, #tc

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‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is now an Apple TV+ exclusive

On first screening, the network assumed it had a disaster on its hands. It was a quiet cartoon — more of a meditation on seasonal depression than a proper holiday film. The pacing was slow, it was voiced by a cast of amateur children and the soundtrack amounted to little more than the jazz piano stylings of a mustachioed North Beach hipster nicknamed “Dr. Funk.”

Worst of all, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” actively railed against the commercialization of the season, primarily in the form of an extended monologue from the blanket-wielding Linus set in the context of Jesus’s nativity.

“[The executives said], ‘We’ll play it once and that will be all. Good try,’ ” producer Lee Mendelson told me in an interview back in 2006. “[Director Bill Melendez] and I thought we had ruined Charlie Brown forever when it was done. We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room — he had had a couple of drinks — and he said, ‘It’s going to run for a hundred years,’ and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were.”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” has, of course, endured. The 25-minute animated special has aired on network television every year since its 1965 debut. It ran on CBS until 2000 and then on ABC each year subsequently, including special broadcasts on its 40th and 50th anniversaries on 2005 and 2015, respectively. For its 55th anniversary, it won’t appear on network TV at all.

In October, Apple acquired the exclusive rights to the special, as part of its ongoing, billion-dollar Apple TV+ push. The deal with Wildbrain, Peanuts Worldwide and the now-late Mendelson’s production company makes Apple’s streaming platform the exclusive rights holder for Peanuts content. That means that subsequent specials “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” will see a similar fate.

It’s become a familiar story in the era of streaming. Last year HBO Max locked down exclusive access to new episodes of “Sesame Street,” though that specific deal allowed for episodes to air on PBS at a later date. There’s a bit of a loophole here, too. The Peanuts deal requires Apple to offer the specials for free for a limited window. The “Great Pumpkin” will be free through the service from October 30 until November 1, “Thanksgiving” will be made available from November 25 to the 27 and “Christmas” will come decidedly earlier this year, from December 11 to the 13.

“[Peanuts creator Charles Schulz] would say things like, ‘I never thought it would be around 25 years later,’ ” his widow Jean Schulz told me in an interview for that same piece. “One of the reasons that Christmas is so great is that back in 1965 there were no VCRs or DVDs, so you saw that show once, and you had to wait a whole year to see it again. And when it came on, it still held up. It was still charming.”

More than a half of a century later, the special still qualifies as both. It’s a perfect artifact of American popular culture that is very much both a product of its own era and a gentle protest against it. Of course, all of the things that Linus warned us about back in 1965 have only compounded in the intervening decades. The media landscape, too, has transformed several times since then.

In a world in which change is the only constant, watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV has been something to rely on. This year, the short becomes the latest bit of content to get shoveled up in the great streaming wars of 2020, as media companies fight tooth and nail for back catalogues.

Cast as the perennial cynic and antagonist football mover, Lucy Van Pelt tells the titular character, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.” That, at least, hasn’t changed.

#apple, #apple-tv, #apple-tv-plus, #entertainment, #streaming

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Narf! Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in first trailer for Animaniacs reboot

Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in Hulu’s reboot of the classic Animaniacs cartoon.

Readers of a certain age will have fond childhood memories of weekday afternoons spent in the company of the Warner siblings, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the central figures of the hugely popular, Emmy-award winning animated series, Animaniacs. Now a whole new generation can appreciate their comic genius with Hulu’s revival of the show, slated to debut next month.

The premise of the original Animaniacs was that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were characters from the 1930s who were locked way in a water tower on the Warner Bros. lot until they escaped in the 1990s. Now they exist to wreak havoc and have fun. The format borrowed heavily from sketch comedy, with each episode typically featuring three short mini-episodes centered on different characters, connected by bridging segments. Other regular characters included two genetically altered lab mice, Pinky and the Brain, who are always trying to take over the world; Ralph the Security Guard; Slappy Squirrel and her nephew, Skippy; Chicken Boo; Flavio and Marita, aka the Hip Hippos; studio psychiatrist Dr. Otto Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse (also a common catchphrase); and a trio of pigeons known as The Goodfeathers.

As appealing to adults as to kids, the show was smart, funny, irreverent, and even educational, especially with its playful songs listing the nations of the world, for instance, or all the US states and their capitals—set to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw”—or all the presidents set to the “William Tell Overture.” (My personal favorite was “The Solar System Song,” complete with the obligatory joke about Uranus.) The writers were masters of parody, so much so that it became something of a badge of honor to be so featured. Honorees included A Hard Day’s Night, Seinfeld, Friends, Bambi, Power Rangers, Rugrats, and The Lion King, as well as the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore. And of course, the Goodfeathers segments invariably parodied characters from both The Godfather and Goodfellas.

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#animaniacs, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #reboots, #streaming-television

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Review: The Haunting of Bly Manor is a perfectly splendid ghost story

A young American woman fleeing her tragic past finds herself caring for two orphaned children on an English estate that she suspects might be haunted in the new Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor. Showrunner Mike Flanagan’s highly anticipated followup to 2018’s exquisitely brooding The Haunting of Hill House, this season is loosely based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw.

Granted, Bly Manor never quite reaches the same level as the exquisitely rendered Hill House, but it’s nonetheless a “perfectly splendid” ghost story that doubles as a quiet, thoughtful reflection on love and loss, in keeping with the oblique writing style of James. Between Doctor Sleep, Hill House, and Bly Manor, Flanagan has pretty much established himself as the reigning master of reinventing classic horror stories for a modern audience.

(Some spoilers for The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents, and The Turning. Only mild spoilers for Bly Manor; no major reveals.)

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #haunting-of-bly-manor, #mike-flanagan, #netflix, #streaming-television

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Netflix to test free weekend-long access in India

Netflix plans to give users in India access to its service at no charge for a weekend as part of a test to expand its reach in the country, a company executive said Tuesday.

The American streaming giant, which recently stopped offering a free first-month trial to new users in the U.S., will continue to think of new ways to market its service, said Greg Peters, COO and Chief Product Officer at Netflix on the company’s earnings call.

One of those new ways is testing giving away access to Netflix at no charge to customers for a weekend in different markets, he said. The company has picked India as the first market and “will see how that goes,” he said.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #entertainment, #india, #netflix

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French TV networks team up to launch streaming service Salto

There’s a new streaming service in France called Salto. The companies behind the new service have been around for a while though. Salto is a joint initiative between TF1, France Télévisions and M6 — three major TV networks.

Those companies already had their own apps with live TV and ad-supported catch-up content. And of course, you can access content from these networks from your set-top box. But they’re trying something new with Salto.

For now, Salto is mostly an ad-free combination of all the individual apps from TF1, France Télévisions and M6. You can watch live TV from 19 different channels. You can play catch-up content from all three networks without any video ad.

It costs €6.99 per month. For €9.99, you can watch on two screens simultaneously. For €12.99 per month, you get four screens. Salto has released apps for Android, Android TV, iOS and tvOS. It also works in a web browser.

Such an offering probably won’t be enough to attract subscribers. That’s why Salto is slowly adding exclusive content to its platform as well. Salto is also going to be a good way to access content for kids in a dedicated section.

You can see some TV shows before they air on TV, such as an adaption from Agatha Christies’ ‘And Then There Were None’, the new season of Fargo. There are also some classic shows, such as Parks & Recreation and Seinfeld.

Who will be subscribing to Salto then? If you mostly watch live TV and you already know how to access catch-up content, Salto isn’t for you. If you already have access to premium content through a Canal+ subscription for instance, Salto isn’t for you.

But if you’re addicted to reality TV and daily soap operas, Salto could be a nice service to consume your favorite show. If you don’t pay for any streaming service, it could be a cheap service to get started and access some basic shows and movies.

Image Credits: Salto

#entertainment, #europe, #france-newsletter, #salto, #tc

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Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes

Disney announced earlier this month that it’s going all-in on streaming media.

As part of this new strategy, the company is undergoing a major reorganisation of its media and entertainment business that will focus on developing productions that will debut on its streaming and broadcast services.

This will include merging the company’s media businesses, ads and distribution, and Disney+ divisions so that they’ll now operate under the same business unit.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber reports, Disney’s announcement follows a significant change to its release schedule to address new realities, including a collapsing theatrical release business; production issues; and the runaway success of its Disney+ streaming service — all caused or accelerated by the national failure to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what better time than now to give Disney+ the Extra Crunch user experience teardown treatment. With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed. They include zero distractions while signing up, “the power of percentages,” and the importance of designing for trackpad, mouse and touch outside of native applications.

Zero distractions while signing up

If the user is trying to complete a very specific task — such as making a payment — don’t distract them. They’re experiencing event-driven behaviour.

The win: Disney have almost entirely removed any kind of distractions when signing up. This includes the header and footer. They want you to stay on-task.

Image Credits: Disney+

Steve O’Hear: This seems like a very easy win but one we don’t see as often as perhaps we should. Am I right that most sign-up flows aren’t this distraction-free and why do you think that is?

Peter Ramsey: Yeah, it’s such an easy win. Sometimes you see sign-up screens that have Google Adwords on it, and I think, “You’re risking the user getting distracted and leaving for what, half a penny?” If I had to guess why more companies don’t utilise this technique, it’s probably just because they don’t want to deal with the technical hassle of hiding a bunch of elements.

The power of percentages

Only use percentages when it makes sense. 80% off sounds like a lot, but 3% doesn’t. Percentages can be a great way of making a discount seem larger than it actually is, but sometimes it can have the reverse effect. This is because people are generally bad at accurately estimating discounts. “What’s 13% off £78?”

The fail: If you sign up to a year of Disney+, then you’re offered 16% free. But 16% of a £60 bundle isn’t easy to calculate in your head — so people guess. And sometimes, their guesses may be less than the actual value of the discount.

The fix: In this instance, it would be far more compelling (and require less mental arithmetic), if it was marketed as “60 days free.” Sixty days is both easy to understand and easy to assign value to.

Image Credits: Disney+

Percentages may be harder to process or evaluate in isolation as an end user but they are easy to compare with each other i.e., we all know 25% off is better than 10% off. Aren’t you advocating obscuring the actual saving in favour of what sounds better on a case-by-case basis and therefore actually working against the end user? Of course I’m playing devils advocate a little here.

So, it’s actually a really complex dilemma, and there’s no “easy” answer — this would probably make a great dinner time conversation. Yes, if you’re offering two discounts, then a percentage may be the easiest way for people to compare them.

#apps, #disney, #entertainment, #media, #netflix, #peter-ramsey, #streaming-media, #tc, #the-walt-disney-company, #ui, #user-experience, #user-interface, #ux

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AMC offers private theater rentals starting at $99, as cinemas continue to struggle

Like countless other sectors of the entertainment industry, movie theaters have been devastated by a global pandemic with seemingly no end in sight. Initial closings stretched on for months, as distributors have delayed their biggest films, or simply cut out the middle man by skipping straight to video-on-demand services.

Even as theaters have begun to reopen in some states, actually getting moviegoers back in seats is far easier said than done as fears over catching the highly contagious virus persist. From pop-up drive-ins to popcorn delivery services, some clever individuals have looked toward ways to stay afloat during a prolonged lockdown. A number of locations have also begun offering private theater rentals — a transitional approach that offers movie fans an opportunity to return to the movie-going experience without being surrounded by strangers.

As CNN notes, mega-chain AMC has begun to offer the option through its site, with prices for renting out a theater starting at a surprisingly reasonable $99 (though not in New York, Alaska and Hawaii). Split among ten friends, and you’re already paying less than a normal movie ticket.

Attendees can invite as many as 20 people to a screening, which consists of classic titles like Jurassic Park and Halloween-centric fare like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Prices go up from there. New titles like Tenet and The New Mutants, cost up to $349 for a single screening. The former, helmed by blockbuster director Christopher Nolan, was set to be a kind of litmus test for moviegoers’ willingness to return to theaters.

After months of delays, however, Warner Bros. took the relatively rare step of releasing the film internationally first, as the U.S. has continued to struggle with the spread of COVID-19. The United States on-going struggles have also recently allowed China to overtake the country as the world’s largest box office. Over the summer, AMC noted that it had “substantial doubt” it would be able to withstand the pandemic.

#amc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #entertainment, #movie-theaters

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Review: Don’t call it a comeback—The Boys returns better than ever in S2

Superheroes abuse their powers rather than using them for good in The Boys, which just concluded its second season.

In my review of The Boys S1 last year, I called the Amazon Prime series “a wickedly funny, darkly irreverent adaptation” and “ideal late-summer therapy for anyone who has grown a bit weary of the constant onslaught of superhero movies.” I wasn’t alone in my love for the show: The Boys was a massive hit, and that success has continued with S2, which was the most-watched global launch of any Amazon series to date, pretty much doubling the show’s worldwide audience. S2 is even better than its predecessor, deftly tackling timely themes and hot-button issues, while never sacrificing all the biting satire and good, gory fun that we loved about S1. And can we just give Antony Starr an Emmy already for his stunning performance as Homelander?

(Spoilers for S1 below; some spoilers for S2, but no major reveals.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. The most elite superhero group is called the Seven, headed up by Homelander (Starr), a truly violent and unstable psychopath disguised as the All-American hero, who mostly bullies his supe team into compliance. The other members include A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who boasts super-speed but has also become addicted to the experimental performance-enhancing substance called Compound-V. The Deep (Chace Crawford) can breathe underwater, thanks to having gills—voiced in S2 by Patton Oswalt during a hallucination sequence—and converse with marine creatures.

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #the-boys, #tv-reviews

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Original Content podcast: It’s hard to resist the silliness of ‘Emily in Paris’

“Emily in Paris,” a new series on Netflix, has provoked skeptical responses from actual Parisians who are happy to point out the abundant clichés in its story of a young American (played by Lily Collins) who takes a last-minute transfer to a marketing agency in Paris.

Some fairly obvious culture clash moments ensue, along with equally implausible storylines where Emily’s extremely basic ideas about social media are treated as controversial and groundbreaking by her employer.

And yet, as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we actually found the show delightful — or at the very least, highly watchable.

Yes, the show’s Paris is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that we’re happy to visit, particularly now. Yes, most of the show’s characters are basically cartoons, but they’re entertaining and fun cartoons. And at the end of the day, we’re all suckers for a slick, escapist romantic comedy, which is exactly what “Emily in Paris” delivers.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:31 “Emily in Paris” review
30:43 “Emily in Paris” spoiler discussion

#emily-in-paris, #entertainment, #media, #netflix, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review

Text: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review by Bryce Durbin [Image: drawing of Mario Kart car next to Nintendo Switch]
Text: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a remote-controlled car connected wirelessly to the Nintendo Switch. It's available for $99.99 on October 16. The game it's played with is a free download. [Image: drawing of closeup of Mario Kart toy] Text: The car has a camera above Mario (or Luigi) so you can see from his point of view on the Switch screen. Augmented reality (AR) elements are overlaid on what you see for a reality-bending cart experience. [Image: drawing of in-game play in a living room]
Text: Players build the course using four gates and optional arrow signboards. I found the more complicated you make your course, the more challenging the game will be. [Image: A drawing of a simple race setup in a living room] Text: In one-player mode, you can race against the Koopalings in a Grand Prix, do a time trial, or make a custom course. As you play, you can unlock customizations to your kart. [Image: A drawing of an in-game image of Builder Mario]
Text: Obstacles include in-game mainstays like banana peels and bombs as well as whatever hasn't been swept out of the way of your custom-made course. [Image: In-game image of living room floor including real-life toys and in-game banana peel and bob-omb] Text: Most of the course themes will be familiar if you've played Mario Kart before... [Image: In-game image of Rainbow Road course]
Text: ...but each track I tested had surprises, such as a track styled after the original Super Mario Bros or a course that sometimes becomes mirrored. [Image: In-game drawing of World 1-1 with goomba being struck by kart] Text: It's a strange and delightful game experience. Without the AR layer, it's just a relatively slow-moving RC kart. [Image: a drawing of the Mario Kart toy]
Text: I didn't have the opportunity to race against other real-life players in multiplayer mode. It requires each player to have their own additional car *and* Switch. [Image: Mario and Luigi racers, two Nintendo Switches]
Text: Overall, this is a novel toy that has replay value depending on how much time and space you want to to devote to making custom courses. [Image: dining room scene of child and Mario Kart race track]

 

#entertainment, #gaming, #hardware, #mario-kart, #mario-kart-live-home-circuit, #nintendo, #reviews, #tc

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WarnerMedia to discontinue HBO and WB TV channels in India, and select other South Asia markets

WarnerMedia will discontinue HBO and WB TV channels in India, Pakistan, Maldives, and Bangladesh later this year as the entertainment conglomerate struggles to find a sustainable business model in South Asian despite operating in the region for over a decade.

The company said it will end HBO and WB TV channels in the aforementioned markets, where a cable subscription costs about $4 to $5 a month, on December 15. In India, for instance, it costs less than 25 cents to subscribe to both HBO (in HD) and WB atop a monthly cable plan, which costs about $2.

While HBO is a household name in the U.S. and several other developed markets, in India and other South Asian nations, its audience size remains tiny. Times Internet’s Movies Now, Star Movies, and Sony Pix had a considerably larger viewership than HBO in India last month, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council, India’s ratings agency.

Warner Media cited a dramatic market shift in the pay-TV industry for its decision. It said it will continue to offer Cartoon Network and Pogo in India, and distribute CNN International in the country.

“After 20 years of successes for the HBO linear movie channel in South Asia and more than a decade with the WB linear movie channel, this was a difficult decision to make. The pay-TV industry landscape and the market dynamics have shifted dramatically, and the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for further change,” said Siddharth Jain, SVP and Managing Director of WarnerMedia’s entertainment network in South Asia, in a statement.

HBO also maintains a content syndication partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in India. So the streamer will continue to offer HBO’s shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” — hopefully without any censorship — in the country.

“WarnerMedia has a strong interest in India and are committed to assessing optimal opportunities to serve valued customers here,” said Jain.

#asia, #entertainment, #hbo, #india, #south-asia, #tv, #warnermedia

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Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa take on vicious creatures in Monster Hunter trailer

Milla Jovovich plays Captain Artemis, who must battle monsters after being transported to a hidden world in Monster Hunter.

US soldiers must fight for their lives in a parallel world filed with gigantic, aggressive creatures in Monster Hunter, a forthcoming film adapted from the hugely successful global video game franchise of the same name. Die-hard fans of the games are already noting their displeasure with the trailer, which I get—let’s be honest, the trailer looks a little cheesy. But the film also co-stars martial arts star Tony Jaa of the Ong-Bak franchise, which in my book makes up for a lot of sins. And director Paul W.S. Anderson was the driving creative force behind the wildly popular Resident Evil film franchise.

The Monster Hunter games are Capcom’s second bestselling game series—behind the Resident Evil series—with more than 64 million units sold globally to date across all platforms. Anderson (Mortal Kombat) discovered Monster Hunter while visiting Japan in 2008, and adapting a film from the game world became his new passion project. With the hope of establishing another successful film franchise, he enlisted his own wife, Milla Jovovich (who starred in the Resident Evil films), for the lead role of Captain Natalie Artemis, a US solider who falls into the gaming world via a portal—Anderson’s plot device for introducing cinema audiences to that universe.

In the Monster Hunter role-playing games, players choose a Hunter character, along with custom armor and weapons. The characters don’t have intrinsic abilities, like traditional RPGs; rather, whatever abilities they have derive from the choice of weapons and armor. Those choices are basic at first, and players collect additional resources from their quests to conquer various monsters—including fashioning new assets from parts gleaned from the defeated creatures. In single-player mode, the Hunters are usually accompanied by a Felyne or sentient cat creatures known as Palicos for additional support.

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#entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #monster-hunters, #sony-pictures-entertainment

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Review: Utopia is a very good series released at exactly the wrong time

It’s a rare TV series that gives me pause about even writing a review, but Amazon’s new sci-fi thriller Utopia turned out to be just that. Not because it isn’t good—on the contrary, I found it both entertaining and thought provoking. But there are several key elements of the central plot that proved disquieting enough (even for someone like me who is not generally squeamish) that I had to ponder the pros and cons of giving space to a show whose release perhaps should have been postponed by a few months, given current world events. (I mean, read the room, Amazon! Geez!) In the end, the pro arguments won out.

(All major spoilers are below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we reported previously, the series is a reboot of the 2013 British version, about online fans of a graphic novel called Dystopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel, Utopia, and this makes them targets of a secret organization. Amazon has kept the same basic premise (with a few tweaks) and swapped in an American cast. Per the official premise: “When the conspiracy in the elusive comic Utopia is real, a group of young fans come together to embark on a high-stakes twisted adventure to use what they uncover to save themselves, each other and ultimately humanity.”

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #tv-review

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NY Comic-Con: the Dark Man cometh in first trailer for The Stand miniseries

James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg and Alexander Skarsgård star in the new CBS All Access limited miniseries The Stand, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

It’s Stephen King’s world; we’re just living in it. During New York Comic Con, CBS All Access dropped the first official trailer for its ten-episode limited miniseries of The Stand, an adaptation of King’s sprawling 1978 post-apocalyptic fantasy novel about the aftermath of a deadly pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population.

(Some spoilers for the Stephen King novel below.)

The Stand is widely considered to be among King’s best work, with a sprawling cast of characters and multiple storylines. It’s also his longest, with the 1990 Complete and Uncut Edition surpassing even It in page count. King has said he wanted to write an epic dark fantasy akin to The Lord of the Rings, only with a contemporary American setting. “Instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg,” King wrote in his 1981 nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. “The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.”

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#cbs-all-access, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #stephen-king, #streaming-television, #the-stand, #tv-trailers

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Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is thoroughly mediocre

There’s nothing excessively bad about “Enola Holmes,” a new film about Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister Enola. But there’s nothing particularly good, either.

The film was originally planned for a theatrical release from Warner Bros., but Netflix picked it up earlier this year, after the pandemic shuttered theaters around the world.

“Enola Holmes” stars Millie Bobby Brown as titular adolescent detective, along with Henry Cavill as Sherlock, and they’re both … fine? Neither of them seems to be phoning it in, and Cavill is downright charming at times. And although Brown has admitted that she struggled to reacquire her English accent, she brings plenty of energy to her role, which includes plenty of fourth-wall-breaking monologues that fill the audience in on backstory and explain the solutions to not-particularly-puzzling mysteries.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the film seems competent in virtually every respect, but thoroughly inspired, leaving us underwhelmed by the results — Anthony to the point where he was pacing around the room and wondering about his life choices. But hey, maybe kids will enjoy watching it?

In addition to reviewing the movie, we also discuss Netflix’s recent discussion to cancel “Glow” and “Teenage Bounty Hunters.”

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:37 “Away” listener response
4:04 “Glow”/”Teenage Bounty Hunters” discussion
12:43 “Enola Holmes” review
29:17: “Enola Holmes” spoiler discussion

#enola-holmes, #entertainment, #media, #netflix, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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The future of the Belt has begun in first trailer for The Expanse S5

The fifth season of the sci-fi series The Expanse will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on December 16, 2020.

Amazon Prime debuted the first trailer (embedded above) for the upcoming fifth season of The Expanse during the series panel at the New York Comic Con’s Metaverse today. And the stakes are high. According to the official premise, “The future of The Belt has begun as Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) wages Armageddon against the Inners for a lifetime of oppression and injustice.”

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below.)

As we previously reported, The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions that are breaking out all over a Solar System long since colonized by humans—mostly between Earthers, Martians, and “Belters.” Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and its devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling, but also its excellent use of accurate physics. The third and fourth seasons earned a rare 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes (seasons one and two earned 76 percent and 96 percent, respectively).

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #science-fiction-television, #streaming-television, #the-expanse, #trailers, #tv-trailers

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All we want for Christmas is Mel Gibson’s Bad Santa in the Fatman trailer

Mel Gibson plays a bitter, hard-drinking Chris Cringle in the forthcoming film Fatman.

If you’re one of those people who consider Die Hard and the first Lethal Weapon film a classic Christmas movie double feature, we’ve got good news for you. Mel Gibson plays a broke, embittered, hard-drinking, heavily armed Santa Claus in the forthcoming action/comedy Fatman. The official trailer dropped yesterday, and it looks like an irreverently fun, wild ride.

Written and directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms (Small Town Crime), the film co-stars Walton Goggins (The Righteous Gemstones, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and Oscar-nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets and Lies, Blindspot). Per the official premise:

To save his declining business, Chris Cringle (Gibson), also known as Santa Claus, is forced into a partnership with the U.S. military. Making matters worse, Chris gets locked into a deadly battle of wits against a highly skilled assassin (Goggins), hired by a precocious 12-year-old after receiving a lump of coal in his stocking. ‘Tis the season for Fatman to get even, in the action-comedy that keeps on giving.

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong—I’ve lost my influence,” we see Gibson’s Cringle mourn to Mrs. Cringle (Jean-Baptiste) about the decline in his business. “Maybe it’s time I retired the coast. Some kids with an air rifle put two holes in the sleigh and one in me. All I have is a loathing for a world that’s forgotten.” So when the US military arrives to “procure” his services, he accepts, with the caveat that it will be a “one-time deal.”

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#entertainment, #fatman, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #mel-gibson, #saban-films

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Media roundup: Google to cut big checks for news publishers, Substack continues to draw top creators, more

Welcome back to Extra Crunch’s Media Roundup, where I round up the stories that entrepreneurs in the content and advertising business should be thinking about — trends, larger platform shifts, as well as noteworthy funding rounds.

This time, we’ve got some bad news for movie theaters, the specter of antitrust regulation and a new career path for journalists. Let’s get started!

Movie studios and theaters face a bleak fall

In the last roundup, I pointed to “Tenet”’s global opening weekend as a sign that the theatrical movie business might be coming back to life — but I may have spoken too soon.

While the latest Christopher Nolan film has continued to do reasonably well outside the United States, it’s only grossed $20 million domestically for Warner Brothers. The film’s underwhelming performance could be blamed on U.S. audiences being afraid to return to theaters — but it might simply be a reflection of the fact that theaters in major moviegoing markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco remain closed.

Either way, Warner Brothers and other studios are clearly spooked by the results and have pushed nearly all of their theatrical releases until next year, with knock-on effects for the movies that were already scheduled for 2021. For example, Warner’s “Dune” is being delayed until October 2021, and Daniel Craig’s final Bond entry, “No Time To Die,” was pushed back from November until April. Meanwhile, “The Batman” has been delayed from 2021 to 2022.

At this point, there are few Hollywood blockbusters on the calendar until Christmas, when “Wonder Woman 1984” is due for release. To be honest, I’d be surprised if it actually hits that date. (Video-game comedy “Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds, is scheduled for December 11, but the cast has already created a tongue-in-cheek video acknowledging that release dates aren’t exactly set in stone right now.)

In the meantime, at least one major theater chain said it can’t justify keeping its doors open. The United Kingdom’s Cineworld, which also operates Regal Cinemas in the U.S., announced that it’s closing its theaters indefinitely. For now, AMC and Cinemark said they aren’t going to to follow suit. (AMC noted that it’s bringing in additional revenue through a deal with Universal where the theatre chain gets a cut when Universal films are released early via video-on-demand.)

#entertainment, #facebook, #google, #justin-waldron, #media, #media-roundup, #playco, #substack

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Spotify’s new Soundtrap capture app offers collaborative voice notes for songwriters

Acquired in 2017, Soundtrap more or less serves a similar role as Anchor under the larger Spotify banner — albeit largely focused on music creation, instead of podcasting. The company’s software of the same name is a cloud-based service designed to let musicians remotely collaborate on a song, track by track. It is, honestly, a perfect tool for this moment of social distancing.

Announced this morning, the new Soundtrap Capture builds on that idea, making it more mobile and addressing the earliest stage of the songwriting process. As someone who interviews a lot of musicians on my podcast, I can certainly attest to the fact that Voice Memo has become an increasingly important tool in songwriting. Being in a creative field is a bit of a double-edged sword, in that you’re often able to make your own hours, but inspiration can (and often does) arrive when you least expect it.

The smartphone has become a pretty necessary part of the process for many musicians, as an always-present blank slate into which they can sing or hum inspiration. That’s the underlying principle for Capture. At its heart, the app is a pretty simple Voice Memo tool, with an interface that is basically a giant red record button. Tapping that, the users sings a line, which is saved as a track that can be shared with others. They can then record an overlay. It’s a bit like Voice Memos meets Google Docs.

The app has been in development since last year and in beta since the spring, and honestly, the timing is pretty perfect for many musicians seeking ways to work in the seemingly endless era of social distancing. The app is really just meant for that initial moment of inspiration, which means the controls are pretty limited. You can, for instance, adjust the volume of the tracks, but can’t adjust other levels. You can’t create loops of your found sounds, either — that would be a fun and useful trick, I think, but co-founder Per Emanuelsson tells TechCrunch that Soundtrap considers it an aspect of the songwriting process that generally comes later.

The app features live storage for memos and will add integration to the main Soundtrap Studio app at some point later this year.

#apps, #entertainment, #soundtrap, #spotify

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Latest Free Guy trailer is giving us strong Upload vibes

Ryan Reynolds discovers he is a background player in a video game in the epic adventure-comedy Free Guy.

20th Century Studios has dropped a new trailer for Free Guy, the sci-fi comedy starring Ryan Reynolds, currently slated for a December 11 release. But in these pandemic times, all release dates are basically pencilled in until further notice—which is why Reynolds and company also released an amusing teaser in which they debate potential alternate dates for the film’s release.

Per the official premise: “A bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game decides to become the hero of his own story… one he rewrites himself. Now in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way… before it is too late.”

Tonally, the trailer feels like a live-action Wreck-It Ralph with dashes of The Matrix and the Deadpool movies thrown in for good measure. In fact, the new trailer is giving us strong Upload vibes, which can only be a good thing, since Upload was one of our fave new series this year.

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#20th-century-studios, #entertainment, #film-trailers, #free-guy, #gaming-culture, #ryan-reynolds

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Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Away’ deftly balances space exploration and human drama

“Away,” a new drama on Netflix, tells the story of the first manned expedition to Mars — Emma Green (played by Hilary Swank) leads an international team of astronauts on the three-year mission, while her husband Matt (Josh Charles) is part of the support team back on Earth.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show starts a bit slowly, and its space sequences (particularly an early space walk) aren’t quite as thrilling as we’d hoped.

But “Away” excels at creating compelling human drama — there’s believable tension on the spaceship and in mission control, and pain and guilt on both sides as the astronauts are separated from their loved ones for the long journey to-and-from Mars.

Anthony admitted that before watching, he worried that the show might be a bit too weepy and melodramatic. Instead, he was impressed by the way it made all the storylines feel natural and important, no matter how high or low the stakes. And we also appreciated how the astronauts’ backstories are filled in via flashbacks — the third episode, focused on Chinese astronaut Lu Wang (Vivian Lu), was an early highlight.

In addition to reviewing “Away,” we also caught up on what we’ve been up to since the last regular episode two weeks ago, and we discussed a new Disney+ co-watching feature called GroupWatch.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/catch-up
5:55 Disney+ discussion
9:19 “Away” review
41:41 “Away” spoiler discussion

#away, #entertainment, #media, #netflix, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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Review: Raised by Wolves squanders early promise with clumsy, bizarre finale

Amanda Collin stars as Mother in <em>Raised by Wolves</em>: a deadly Android reprogrammed to raise human children on the virgin planet Kepler-22b to establish an atheist civilization.

Enlarge / Amanda Collin stars as Mother in Raised by Wolves: a deadly Android reprogrammed to raise human children on the virgin planet Kepler-22b to establish an atheist civilization. (credit: HBO Max)

A pair of androids struggle to raise human children on a hostile planet in Raised by Wolves, the new sci-fi series that just concluded its first season on HBO Max. In this era of bankable franchises, reboots, and adaptations, it was refreshing to see something so original and visionary hit the small screen, and we had high hopes for the series.

That hope was sadly misplaced. Granted, in its earlier episodes, Raised by Wolves is moody, atmospheric, strangely disquieting, and thought-provoking, with gorgeous cinematography. So it’s especially maddening that the show squanders all that considerable promise with a clunky, incoherent finale featuring a hackneyed, ham-fisted, totally unnecessary twist that left us seriously questioning whether we even want to tune in for a second season.

(Spoilers below, but all major reveals about the finale—because WTAF?—are below the gallery and we’ll give a heads up when we get there.)

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #raised-by-wolves, #ridley-scott, #streaming-television, #television-review

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The new Google TV brings streaming apps, live TV and search into a single interface

Not to be confused with the smart TV platform of the same name (2010-2014, RIP) or the Android TV platform it’s built on top of, Google has just taken the wraps off the new Google TV. The name refers to the interface for the new, aptly titled Chromecast with Google TV, combining streaming services, live TV (via YouTube TV) and various other Google offerings into a single, streamlined UI.

In that sense, the new Google TV is similar to offerings from Apple and Amazon, serving as a kind of one-stop-shop to replace cable TV outright. It works with most of the top streaming offerings, including Disney+, france.tv, HBO Max, Netflix, Rakuten Viki and, of course, YouTube, with NBC’s Peacock coming soon.

Live TV is accessible for those who have a YouTube TV membership in the States. The (admittedly pricey at $65 a month) service brings access to 85 live stations, including the networks, CNN, ESPN and Nickelodeon, available via a Live tab. The company will also be adding additional live TV provider integration down the road.

The real secret sauce here, however, seems to be the underlying search smarts that serve as the foundation for so much of what Google does. Here’s the company discussing the new feature in a blog post:

To build this, we studied the different ways people discover media—from searching for a specific title to browsing by genre—and created an experience that helps you and what to watch. We also made improvements to Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is pa of how we beer understand and organize your media into topics and genres, from movies about space travel to reality shows about cooking. You’ll also see titles that are trending on Google Search, so you can always and something timely and relevant.

Image Credits: Google

Users can search for specific recommendations via voice. They can also use Assistant to get the weather, sports scores and view their security cams via compatible products like Nest straight from the TV set. The fact that the system is built on top of Android TV means that Google TV is compatible with some 6,500 apps at launch, with support for the company’s own streaming gaming offering, Stadia, coming in the first half of next year. When not in use, Ambient mode will display a slideshow of Google Photos.

Google TV is available for  Chromecast with Google TV, which launches today at $50. Users can also access it as part of the new Google TV app — an update to Google Play Movies & TV for Android, which also arrives today.

#entertainment, #google, #google-hardware-event-2020, #tc

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Disney+ adds a co-watching feature called GroupWatch

Disney+ is the latest streaming service to introduce a way for friends and family to watch movies and TV together while in different locations.

With the pandemic closing movie theaters and making any kind of indoor socializing pretty risky, the Netflix Party Chrome extension has become the main way I watch TV with friends. Netflix Party doesn’t have any official connection to Netflix, but other streaming services, like Amazon Prime Video and Disney-owned Hulu, have been adding similar features of their own.

Disney has already been testing the new GroupWatch feature in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and today it’s launching for viewers in the United States.

Jerrell Jimerson, the chief product officer for Disney’s streaming services, told me that GroupWatch was already in development before the pandemic, but that the company “worked to accelerate it given the realities of COVID.”

The Disney+ experience has some key advantages over most other co-watching technology, because it doesn’t require users to install a browser extension and it will work on any device, not just laptop and desktop computers. Jimerson explained that the goal was to create something that was “super easy for consumers to use” and that “didn’t take away from the content and didn’t take away from the viewing experience.”

Disney+ GroupWatch

Image Credits: Disney

Once you’ve selected GroupWatch from the Details menu of a movie or TV show, you can invite up to six other people to participate — of course, they’ll need a Disney+ subscription of their own. And while the invitation has to be created via the Disney+ website or mobile app, people can also participate in a GroupWatch from their internet-connected TVs.

Besides synchronizing video playback (which any participant can control), GroupWatch allows viewers to respond to what’s happening on-screen by sharing emojis. But it lacks one of the hallmarks of co-watching, namely a chat that runs alongside the video.

Granted, a chat window could have been a bit distracting when blown up onto a big TV, but it’s arguably the centerpiece of social viewing. Jimerson said that if viewers want to chat, they can continue talking on whatever channel they used to send the invite (presumably a chat app on their phones).

“There are other opportunities to integrate communication capabilities, but we haven’t shared any timing on those things,” he added.

#co-watching, #disney, #entertainment, #media, #tc, #the-walt-disney-co

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