Music licensing marketplace Songtradr raises $50M

Music licensing marketplace Songtradr this morning announced a $50 million Series D. The oversubscribed round – which features Regal, Aware Super, Perennial, Argo and Greencape – follows a $30 million raise last August, bringing the Los Angeles company’s total funding to north of $100 million.

The platform licenses music to high profile names for advertising, films, TV, gaming and the like, including Disney, Netflix, Apple, Coca-Cola, Amazon and Google. It hosts songs from some 600,000 musicians/songwriters/rights holders.

The service hasn’t had any issue spending its funding to date. Earlier this month, it announced the acquisition of creative agency MassiveMusic. Other acquisitions made in the past year include Cuesongs, Song Zu, Pretzel and Tunefind.

The company says the new funding will go toward even more M&As, new products and an increase in global headcount. The company is headquartered in L.A., but also has offices in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Image Credits: Songtradr

“Songtradr is rapidly accelerating as we continue to develop our tech-enabled B2B music ecosystem and integrate our new acquisitions,” CEO Paul Wiltshire said in a press release. “Attracting such a blue-chip investor base into this round further endorses our vision of the future music industry in this rapidly evolving digital world, providing a strong foundation for the future.”

Wiltshire adds that the company saw a 100% y-o-y revenue growth for 2020.

#entertainment, #music

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Review: Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard amps up screwball factor for another fun ride

Ryan Reynolds, Samuel Jackson, and Salma Hayek reunite for more madcap hijinks in The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.

It took a little while for Ryan Reynolds to find his true cinematic niche—one that makes good use of his rare combination of leading-man looks, self-deprecating amiability, and smartly sardonic sense of humor. He was sheer perfection in 2016’s raunchy, R-rated blockbuster, Deadpool. Reynolds is at his best when he has a strong co-star to play off of as a foil, and he has that in Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek, his co-stars in The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Yes, it’s an awkward title for this sequel to 2017’s action/comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard. But if you liked that movie (I thought it was a blast), chances are you’ll enjoy this latest flawed-but-fun outing.

(Spoilers for first film below. Only mild spoilers for new film; no major reveals.)

In the first film, Reynolds’ ambitious, tightly controlled, triple-A rated “executive protection agent,” Michael Bryce, finds his professional life in shambles after one of this clients is assassinated on his watch. Two years later, his ex-girlfriend (an Interpol agent) reluctantly hires him to protect hitman Darius Kinkaid (Jackson). Darius is a key witness in the trial of the ruthless dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman), agreeing to testify in exchange for the release of his con-artist wide, Sonia (Hayek) from prison. Michael has to get Darius from London to the International Criminal Court while being pursued by all the crack assassins and firepower the Belarus dictator can muster. Do they ultimately succeed and save the day against nigh-impossible odds? Do you really need to ask?

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#entertainment, #film-review, #gaming-culture

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New Picard S2 teaser taunts us with return of Q, time shenanigans

Patrick Stewart returns as Jean-Luc Picard in the second season of Picard, coming to Paramount+ in 2022.

We aren’t getting a second season of Picard until next year due to the pandemic delaying production, but Paramount+ has been dribbling out images and short teasers in the meantime. The latest teaser gives us our first look at the return of fan-favorite Q (John de Lancie), an extradimensional being with power over time, space, the laws of physics, and reality itself.

(Spoilers for S1 below.)

As I wrote in my review last year, the series is set 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. The first season opened with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) having retired to the family vineyard. His bucolic existence was interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious woman named Dahj (Isa Briones) who pleaded for his help. Alas, Picard failed to save her. She was killed in front of him by Romulan assassins belonging to a radical sect known as the Zhat Vash, who is dedicated to eradicating all artificial life forms. Picard discovered that Dahj was actually a synthetic, technically Data’s “daughter,” and she had a twin sister, Soji, who was also in danger.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #jean-luc-picard, #paramount-plus, #picard, #star-trek-francise, #streaming-television, #trailers

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How I Podcast: Left Handed Radio’s Anna Rubanova

The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs (the latter of which has become a kind of default during the current pandemic).

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Science Vs’s Rose Rimler
Election Profit Makers’ David Rees
Welcome to Your Fantasy’s Eleanor Kagan
Articles of Interest’s Avery Trufelman
First Draft and Track Changes’ Sarah Enni
RiYL remote podcasting edition
Family Ghosts’ Sam Dingman
I’m Listening’s Anita Flores
Broken Record’s Justin Richmond
Criminal/This Is Love’s Lauren Spohrer
Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale
Jesse Thorn of Bullseye
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

This week, we talk to Anna Rubanova. A comedy writer-turned podcast producer, she’s worked on myriad podcasts, including “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” and “Election Profit Makers” (featuring recent How I Podcaster, David Rees). Rubanova serves as an executive producer at Forever Dog and has hosted programs for WNYC Studios and Stitcher Premium. She co-produces and hosts the narrative sketch comedy show “Left Handed Radio” with Adam Bozarth. 

I use my phone a lot. I used to write down ideas for sketches and would inevitably forget what made them good. “When I win the lottery, I’m gonna teach a fish how to smoke.” That’s in one of my notes and I have no idea what it’s referring to. With a voice memo, I can capture the feel of the bit immediately. The recording can serve as a jumping off point for a fully written sketch, maybe a prompt for improv. I might re-record it using a better mic or, screw it, use it as is. I go with whatever is funniest or, sometimes, good enough. You can always justify it later with context. With enough music, restoration or SFX, the worst-quality audio sounds intentional. Plus, there’s no point in doing something “correctly” in podcasting. It’s like trying to make the perfect sandwich. Anyone who thinks there’s one way to podcast or do radio or utilize two slices of bread is a fraud or a solipsist.

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

Speaking of podcast perfection, Left Handed Radio is my everything. It’s a portfolio, creative outlet, comedy scrapbook and excuse to play with my best friend and partner in all things, Adam Bozarth. We make sketches, stream-of-consciousness monologues, anything that strikes us as funny or interesting.

Over the last decade, we’ve accumulated a good deal of recording equipment. Nothing fancy: a couple of Zooms, two AudioTechnica 2020 USB mics, and a Rhode shotgun. Most of what we have was meant for DIY filmmaking. There was a post-YouTube short-form comedy boom about a decade ago. When all those branded content sites went down, we stopped messing with video and leaned harder into animation and podcasting. 

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

Narrative audio is my passion. Podcasting is my job. Like I said, we don’t collect equipment but, as producers of up to 12 shows at a time, we needed to invest in plug-ins and software. The easiest DAW for dialogue has to be Audition. Logic is great for building out soundscapes and, obviously, music. We record remote calls to Audition and mark edit points like we would in a studio. (Thank you, Loopback!) Two years ago, I dropped a whopping $1,000 on restoration software. In the pandemic, that software has saved me hours of work. When everyone is recording from home, literally anything can go wrong.

Gone are the days when clipping and plosives were our biggest concern. One time, a podcaster (i.e. someone with their own podcast) called into a show I was producing from a rooftop party. By the time I finished restoring the recording, nobody could tell. (Thank you, RX-7; I wish I could afford RX-8.) Plug-ins aren’t just useful, they can be delightful. We have one that can make audio sound like it’s coming from a loudspeaker underneath a woolen blanket. Have I found a good use for it? No, not yet. But I can imagine the possibilities.

#anna-rubanova, #entertainment, #how-i-podcast, #podcasts

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The world is rocked by the arrival of aliens in Invasion teaser trailer

Sci-fi drama Invasion follows multiple storylines across different continents, providing “a global look at how one alien invasion would affect us all.”

Apple TV+ has a solid hit with its alternative-history sci-fi drama For All Mankind, which just wrapped its second season, and the streaming platform clearly hopes to repeat that success with a new forthcoming sci-fi drama Invasion.

Don’t confuse this ambitious project with the 2005 ABC series of the same name about water-based creatures taking over the bodies of people living in a small Texas town after a severe hurricane (basically an aquatic riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Apple TV+’s Invasion is more of a 21st-century riff on War of the Worlds. Shot on four locations on four different continents—New York, Manchester, Morocco, and Japan—the series is intended to “make you question what you would do under extraterrestrial threat,” per the official premise, and “takes a global look at how one alien invasion would affect us all.”

Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Peaky Blinders) plays Sheriff John Bell Tyson, described as “a weathered rural lawman on the verge of retirement.” Shamier Anderson (Awake, Wynonna Earp) plays Trevante Ward, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Golshifteh Farahani (Extraction) plays Aneesha Malik, a first-generation Syrian immigrant living in Long Island, while Firas Nassar (Fauda) plays her Syrian immigrant husband Ahmed Malik, a successful businessman. Shioli Kutsuna (Deadpool 2, The Outsider) rounds out the main cast as Mitsuki, who works in mission control in Japan’s space program, JAXA.

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#apple-tv-plus, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #invasion, #streaming-television, #trailers, #tv-trailers

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Apple TV’s summer preview includes tantalizing glimpses of Foundation series

Last summer, we got our first glimpse of Apple TV’s hotly anticipated adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series of novels when Apple released a teaser trailer during the 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference. Production on the new show, which stars Jared Harris and Lee Pace, shut down last March due to the pandemic, but filming resumed last October. No official air date besides “late 2021” has surfaced, but there are a few tantalizing extra glimpses in the streaming platform’s new summer (and beyond) preview trailer, per the eagle eye of The Spaceshipper on Twitter.

Mild spoilers for the first book in the Foundation series below.)

The series started as eight short stories by Asimov that appeared in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and early 1950. Those stories were inspired in part by Edward Gibbons’ History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the first four were collected, along with a new introductory story, and published as Foundation in 1951. The next pair of stories became Foundation and Empire (1952), and the final two stories appeared in 1953’s Second Foundation. Asimov’s publishers eventually convinced him to continue the series, starting with two sequels: Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986). Next came a pair of prequels: Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993), the latter published posthumously (Asimov died in 1992).

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#apple-tv, #entertainment, #foundation-tv-series, #gaming-culture, #isaac-asimov, #streaming-television, #uncategorized

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Turntable.fm competitor tt.fm launches beta app for iOS and Android

You’d be forgiven for being confused. I’ve been following this story and am currently writing it and I’m still fairly confused. But Turntable (or tt.fm), not to be confused with Turntable.fm (the name of both the original and recently re-released social music app) today just announced that it has launched iOS, Android and desktop versions of its own service.

By way of brief explanation, the original Turntable.fm shut down in 2013 to focus on a live music platform. It was a sad day for those of us who wasted countless workday hours on the site. But stuff happens. People change, companies pivot.

Of course, that nostalgia returned something fierce when we were all stuck inside for the past year, searching for a social connection. Those of us of a certain age who maybe haven’t gone all in on Twitch started pining for the site. So founder Billy Chasen planned a return. In its current beta iteration, it’s a bit of a time capsule, albeit with a few key changes like relying on YouTube streaming to circumvent some royalty issues. It works well. I’ve been using it. It’s fun. Oh, and the company just raised $7.5 million to bring it into the new decade.

Seemingly around the same time, an early Turntable.fm employee decided to launch another take on the service. Focused on mobile usage and opting for the crowdfunding route, TT.fm rode that wave of nostalgia to $500,000 in funding, announced back in March.

Today that service is launching in beta. It’s in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store as we speak. Or you can visit it in a browser. Like Turntable.fm, tt.fm (as we’re going to refer to it for simplicity’s sake) relies on third-party music services. At launch, music is pulled from a linked Spotify or Apple Music account, as well as Soundcloud. YouTube functionality is coming soon.

As you can see from the above shot, the offering is based on the same format as Turntable.fm, with similar but different graphics. DJs play songs on the stage and the audience bops their heads in approval if they like it. One of the ways the new offering is looking to distinguish itself is through hosted DJ sets from artists.

“Original Turntable fans are eager to get back on the dancefloor and have been asking for a product that serves their needs,” Perla said in a release, “including live DJ sets, social networking with music fans, music sharing and an online music community.”

As a fan of Turntable.fm, suddenly going from zero to two services feels like an embarrassment of riches. But the question remains whether it can move beyond a niche and really thrive in the crowded media environment of 2021. There’s probably room for one Turntable.fm.

But two? This already strange story is likely only getting stranger.

#apps, #entertainment, #turntable, #turntable-fm

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Twitch introduces Animated Emotes for their 10th anniversary

Twitch announced today that they will release major updates to their Emotes this month to celebrate their 10th anniversary. These new features will include Animated Emotes, Follower Emotes, and a Library for Emotes. 

Since the origin of the live streaming platform for gamers, Emotes – Twitch’s version of emojis – have been a key component of Twitch culture. They’re micro memes, and images like Kappa, TriHard, and PogChamp have come to carry meaning in the greater gaming world, even off the Twitch platform. 

“Emotes are a language that transcends countries,” said Ivan Santana, Senior Director of Community Product at Twitch. “Anywhere you are in the world, they mean the same thing for us.”

The Amazon-owned platform regularly adds new global Emotes, which can be used on any streamer’s channel. Individual creators can make custom Emotes for their own community, which paying subscribers can use across the platform. But the ability to add animated gifs as Emotes is something that the community has been asking for since Santana can remember. 

“I’ve been at Twitch for four years, and it’s something people have been asking for since before I joined,” Santana told TechCrunch. “It’s certainly been a very, very long time.” 

Streamers who lack animation skills need not worry. While the more tech-savvy among us can upload custom gifs, Twitch will provide six templates for streamers to choose from, which can animate their existing Emotes. These animations include Shake, Rave, Roll, Spin, Slide In, and Slide Out. Viewers who are sensitive to animations will be able to turn off the feature in their Chat Settings. 

Image Credits: Twitch

Twitch is also beta testing Follower Emotes, which will be available to select Partners and Affiliates. This feature creates a fun, free incentive for viewers to hit the follow button on a channel they might be checking out for the first time. When viewers follow a channel, they’ll be notified when the creator is streaming, which can lead to an eventual subscription. Twitch takes 50% of streamers’ subscription money, creating a valuable revenue stream for the company.

In Q1 of 2021, Twitch viewership hit an all-time high, growing 16.5% since the previous quarter. Twitch viewers watched 6.34 billion hours of content in Q1, making up 72.3% of the market share. That’s double the total hours watched on Twitch in Q1 of 2020. Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming earned 12.1% and 15.6% of viewership in the sector respectively. 

“For a long time, creators have been asking for better ways to attract and welcome new viewers into their channel,” said Santana. “The idea is generally to create a lot of excitement around that community, and more feelings ultimately of community.”

Creators with beta access will be able to upload up to five Emotes for their followers, but unlike Subscriber Emotes, followers won’t be able to use these across other channels. There’s no guarantee that Follower Emotes will be here to stay – Santana says it’s a feature Twitch is “experimenting” with – but if all goes well, the feature will roll out more widely later in the year.

Finally, the Library function will make it easier for creators to to swap Emotes in and out of subscription tiers without having to delete and reupload them each time. This builds upon an upgrade that launched in January, which centralized channel-specific icons into an Emotes tab on the Creator Dashboard. As usual, new Emotes have to be approved by Twitch before they’re put into use. The Library will roll out soon to all Partners and Affiliates, staggered over a few months to account for an expected increase in volume of new Emotes. 

“As Twitch has scaled, we now have millions of communities across many different cultures across the world,” Santana said. “We can hand over more of the controls of our Emote language to our community, and let them sort of evolve in a way that we never could imagine that ultimately serves them in their unique ways.”

Twitch teased that there’s more in the works to celebrate the platform’s 10th anniversary, including an official 10 Year celebration. 

#animation, #apps, #computing, #digital-media, #emotes, #entertainment, #gamers, #gaming, #livestreaming, #streaming, #twitch, #video-gaming, #video-hosting

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Paramount+ will launch a $4.99 monthly ad-supported subscription

If you didn’t want to shell out $9.99 per month to watch the meme-worthy iCarly reboot, now you won’t have to. On Monday, Paramount+ will launch its ad-supported Essential Plan, priced at $4.99 per month.

This less-expensive plan will replace the CBS All Access plan, which included commercials, but also granted access to local CBS stations. If you’re currently subscribed to that $5.99 per month plan, you can keep it. But starting Monday, it won’t be around anymore for new subscribers. 

What makes the Essential Plan different from CBS All Access? Subscribers on the new tier will get access to Marquee Sports (including games in the NFL, UEFA Champions, and Europa Leagues), breaking news on CBSN, and all of Paramount’s on-demand shows and movies. This includes offerings from ViacomCBS-owned channels like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel, and more. But, local live CBS station programming will no longer be included. So, if that’s a deal-breaker, you might want to subscribe to CBS All Access this weekend. 

The existing Premium Plan ($9.99 per month) removes commercials and adds support for 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision. Like other streaming services, only Premium subscribers will have access to mobile downloads. 

Both plans include access to parental controls and up to six individual profiles. The service doesn’t have a watch list at this time. But that has become a baseline feature for being competitive in this space, so it’s not a matter of if, but when. 

For comparison, the basic Netflix plan costs $8.99 per month, but only lets you watch on one screen at a time. That makes it harder to share an account with family or friends. Their standard tier is $13.99, making it a bit pricier than Paramount+.

Earlier this week, HBO Max unveiled their own lower-cost, ad-supported subscription tier, priced at $9.99 per month. The WarnerMedia-Discovery merger could also have major implications for the popular streaming service, though how that shakes out in terms of content libraries, or even possibly a combined streaming app, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately, consumers will make their decisions about which services to pay for based on a variety of key factors including content, pricing, and user experience. On the content front, Paramount+ plans to announce a slate of big-name titles when the new plan goes live on Monday, in hopes of wooing new subscribers. But the low-cost plan may also appeal to those who don’t necessarily care about top movies – they just want an affordable add-on to their current streaming lineup that provides them with access to some of the programs Netflix lacks. 

Paramount+ owner ViacomCBS said it added 6 million global streaming subscribers across their Paramount+, Showtime OTT, and BET+ services in Q1, to end the quarter with 36 million global users. Most of those come from Paramount+.

#cbs, #comedy-central, #crave, #entertainment, #epix, #hbo, #hbo-max, #national-football-league, #netflix, #nickelodeon, #paramount, #showtime, #smithsonian, #streaming-services, #television, #uefa, #viacom, #viacomcbs

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Warner Bros. releases trailer for noir-esque sci-fi thriller Reminiscence

Hugh Jackman stars as a man who helps clients recover lost memories in the sci-fi thriller Reminiscence.

A solitary man living in a dystopian near-future helps people recover lost memories and ends up uncovering a violent conspiracy in Reminiscence, a sci-fi thriller that feels like a cross between classic film noir and ambitiously heady fare like Memento and Inception. That’s no surprise, as it’s the feature film directorial debut of Lisa Joy, co-creator (with husband Jonathan Nolan) of HBO’s critically acclaimed series Westworld.

Per the official premise:

Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a private investigator of the mind, navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson). A simple matter of lost and found becomes a dangerous obsession. As Bannister fights to find the truth about Mae’s disappearance, he uncovers a violent conspiracy and must ultimately answer the question: how far would you go to hold on to the ones you love?

During a virtual event on Wednesday, Joy said she was inspired to make Reminiscence after finding an old photograph among her grandfather’s belongings. The picture was of an unknown woman her grandfather had never mentioned to anyone in the family. “It made me start to think about memory and our lives in general,” she said. “And the moments that maybe pass by, and maybe disappear—they don’t stay with us, those connections necessarily—but that meant something, that changed us and touched us. And how nice it would be able to go back to these memories fully for a moment, to live that life and feel the way you felt when you experienced them.”

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#entertainment, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #hugh-jackman, #lisa-joy, #warner-bros

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HBO Max launches ad-supported subscription for $9.99 per month

“Game of Thrones” might be over, but HBO Max is still breaking new ground, and even breaking the internet – this past weekend, HBO Max blacked out right before the finale of “Mare of Easttown,” likely due to traffic. But if you haven’t hopped aboard the HBO Max train yet, it might be time to try it out. Today, the streaming platform premieres an ad-supported subscription at $9.99 per month. Its existing service – which features no ads – costs $14.99 per month. Subscribers can save 15% on their subscription, no matter which version they choose, if they pre-pay for an entire year. 

The advertisements aren’t the only drawback of the more affordable subscription option. The ad-supported tier offers a maximum quality of 1080p, which is still pretty good for most consumers, unless you’re watching “Friends: The Reunion” in your 4k home theater. But, lower-tier subscribers won’t be able to download content to view offline, nor will they have access to same-day film premieres of Warner Bros.’s newest theatrical releases. However, these films will become available to stream months after release. On the bright side, ads will not appear on original HBO programming.

With just four minutes of ad time per hour, the ad-supported tier “launches with a commitment” to maintaining the lowest volume of commercials among popular streaming services. HBO Max follows in the footsteps of Hulu, which also offers a discounted subscription with ads for $5.99 per month, as opposed to $11.99 per month. But on Hulu, a half-hour show can contain almost five minutes of unskippable ad time. Meanwhile, Netflix offers its most basic plan – which allows streaming on one screen at a time without HD – for $8.99 per month. Its standard plan is $13.99 a month. Now that HBO Max has a more competitively priced option, it might give these other platforms a run for their money. 

What kinds of ads can you expect to see on HBO Max? The company says that subscribers can expect “a greater personalization in the ads they see” over time, with “more innovation in formats to come.” This could resemble the ad experience on Hulu, which has experimented with viewer-friendly binge-watch ads.

As of April 2021, HBO Max and HBO reached a combined 44.2 million subscribers, and in Q1 of the year, added 2.7 million domestic subscribers. By comparison, Netflix reported an increase of 4 million subscribers in the same period, bringing them to about 207 million global subscribers. However, only 450,000 of those new subscribers come from the US and Canada.

On June 29, HBO Max will launch in 39 Latin American markets. Later in the year, the streaming service is expected to roll out in Europe. This will only further the platform’s rapid growth – in 2019, AT&T, which owns HBO Max, set the modest goal to attain 50 million subscribers by 2025. Now, HBO Max expects it will reach between 120 million and 150 million subscribers by the same date.

The ad-supported subscription option for HBO Max is available now.

#apps, #cinemax, #companies, #entertainment, #hbo, #hbo-go, #hbo-max, #hbo-now, #hulu, #max, #netflix, #streaming-services, #television, #warner-bros

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Review: A Quiet Place Part 2 is a sequel that was worth the wait

Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy star in A Quiet Place Part 2, John Krasinski’s sequel to the 2018 sci-fi/horror hit film.

It’s been a long road for Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part 2, the much-anticipated sequel to 2018’s surprise sci-fi/horror hit A Quiet Place. Originally slated to hit theaters last March, the sequel even had an official premiere, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdowns all over the country mere days before the planned theatrical release. Paramount and director John Krasinski opted to shelve the movie until theaters reopened rather than releasing it on demand.

A Quiet Place Part 2 is finally here, and it was well worth the wait. It’s less of a sequel and more of a continuation of the original story. It retains all the aspects that worked in its predecessor while exploring new themes and character development.

(Spoilers for 2018’s A Quiet Place below; mild spoilers for Part 2, but no major reveals.)

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#a-quiet-place-part-ii, #entertainment, #film, #film-review, #gaming-culture, #paramount-pictures, #paramount-plus

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Amazon is buying MGM Studios for $8.45B

The big media consolidation continues — day after rumors swirled around Amazon’s acquisition of MGM, the online massive retailer confirmed today that it will be acquiring the nearly 100-year-old studio for a cool $8.45 billion.

The deal is another big step toward bolster Amazon’s fight in the streaming wars, with some 4,000 films. The list includes the James Bond and Rocky series and classics ranging from Fargo to Robocop to Silence of the Lambs. Also included are more than 17,000 TV shows. Once the deal closes, the short term impact will be unfettered access for Amazon’s Prime Video platform, giving the service a leg up against rivals like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max.

As we’ve seen with the launch of studio streaming platforms like Disney+, the deal will also likely result in that content being pulled from competing services, once existing contracts end. “The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,” Amazon Studios/Prime Video SVP Mike Hopkins said in a release. “It’s very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling.”

Amazon also says it will be making efforts to preserve older films. The press material includes all of the standard language you would expect about marrying the old with the new. Here’s MGM Board Chairman, Kevin Ulrich, “I am very proud that MGM’s Lion, which has long evoked the Golden Age of Hollywood, will continue its storied history, and the idea born from the creation of United Artists lives on in a way the founders originally intended, driven by the talent and their vision. The opportunity to align MGM’s storied history with Amazon is an inspiring combination.”

Amazon has, of course, already been making an aggressive push into original content through its own production studio and distribution. On the film side, it has produced notable titles like Manchester By the Sea, which nabbed a screenwriting Oscar and its list of shows includes Transparent. The company is also embarking on a massive (and massively expensive) series based on Lord of Rings.

While Amazon has thrived with massive coffers, MGM’s had a more difficult 21st century. In 2010, the studio filed for a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy after switching hands several times. The studio was reorganized and its creditors took control.

The deal is just the latest in a flurry of media consolidation, including Disney/Fox, Viacom/CBS and AT&T/Time Warner. As ever with these massive deals, the acquisition is pending all sorts of regulator scrutiny.

 

 

#amazon, #entertainment, #mgm

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Call it a comeback: Turntable.fm raises $7.5M

Earlier this year, Turntable.fm’s founder Billy Chasen dusted off the old site and resurrected it for the pandemic age. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling a wistful pang of nostalgia for the service during the long, dull days of sheltering in place. And while March 2020 would have been the best time for a relaunch, March 2021 was pretty good, too.

Today Chasen announced that the service has received a nice little slice of VC backing to help the service (which has thus far been invite/password only) take the next step. Andreessen Horowitz led the $7.5 million round a decade after the site’s original launch. Funding had thus far been limited to fans through services like Patreon and Venmo. He notes that he will be turning off the service’s Patreon.

Chasen is staying mum as far as where the funding will go, stating, “And now with the new fundraising, we can continue to innovate and truly explore the cross section of social + music. I have a lot of ideas for the space and I’m excited to start building them.”

Though, a blog post does note that the company is hiring engineers and designers. Understandable, though as someone who’s been enjoying the site these last few months, I’m actually pretty surprised at how fresh the whole thing feels.

The team found a clever loophole around music rights in the form of YouTube videos, but perhaps a future version of the service will involve more direct music licensing or ties to popular apps like Spotify. A mobile app would be nice, if I’m just spitballing here.

Turntable.fm initially shut down back in 2013, stating at the time, “It was a tough decision to make because we love this community so much, but the cost of running a music service has been too expensive and we can’t outpace it with our efforts to monetize it and cut costs.” The service added that it was focusing on a live events platform instead.

Notably, Turntable.fm is not the only Turntable service looking to relaunch in 2021. There’s also Turntable.org (confusingly located at TT.fm), which is seeking fan funding, as well as looking toward a subscription fee. It announced that it had raised $500,000 in March and was aiming for an April launch for a mobile and desktop version. The site currently reads, “We’re building a new version just as much fun as the original.”

The two Turntables are not affiliated.

#andreessen-horowitz, #apps, #entertainment, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #turntable-fm, #turntable-org

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We have our first good look at Eternals as Marvel drops extended teaser

Gemma Chan and Richard Madden head a star-studded cast in Marvel’s Eternals, part of Phase Four of the MCU.

Last month, we got the first teaser for Marvel Studios’ upcoming film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the second feature film in the MCU’s planned Phase Four. (Black Widow will be the first when it premieres in July.) Now we have our first real look at Eternals, in which members of an immortal alien race with cosmic powers reunite to protect the Earth from their malevolent counterparts.

The film is based on the comic book series of the same name created by Jack Kirby in 1976. The storyline tells of alien Celestials who visited Earth a million years ago, creating two divergent races—the Eternals and the Deviants—by way of genetic experiments. Those experiments were also responsible for the rare emergence of mutations in certain humans, giving them super powers. The Eternals protect the human race from the Deviants, and the two races engage in recurrent violent clashes. The Eternals’ immortality and powers come from cosmic energy and their ability to channel it.

Kirby was partly inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953)—which featured Overlords who controlled Earth’s fate—and the 1968 nonfiction bestseller Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken, postulating the concept of alien gods. Eternals also owes something to New Gods, Kirby’s own earlier series for DC Comics, circa 1970. When that epic saga series was cancelled (and left incomplete), he wrote Eternals for Marvel Comics. A new Eternals comic series was launched in January of this year, written by Kieron Gillen with art by Esad Ribić.

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#entertainment, #eternals, #film, #gaming-culture, #marvel-studios, #mcu-phase-four

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ByteDance’s video editor CapCut is the latest to top the U.S. App Store

From time to time, we see a Chinese app climbing to the top of Google Play and App Store in a host of Western countries. It might be a utility tool like a selfie beautifier or some casual video game, which has universal appeal and require little localization effort. But most of them tend to be a blip on the radar.

The latest Chinese app to top the overseas charts is from TikTok owner ByteDance. Called CapCut, the video editing app allows users to not only add a trove of stickers, filters and effects, it also has a simple-to-use green screen function, a zooming feature that works like a Ken Burns effect, and many more — which make the app like an accessible Final Cut on the go.

Users won’t have to worry about paying for music, as CapCut has a library of licensed sound clips that they can use to spice up their content. Over the past year, TikTok has been beefing up its music arsenal through efforts like scouting for musicians and signing deals with major labels.

Chinese tech giants are adept at attracting a large user base first by offering their services for free, and then exploring monetization models after users become sticky to the products. CapCut appears to have the same playbook.

CapCut’s Chinese sibling Jianying has already had success among Douyin (TikTok for China) users. Now that pattern is repeating outside China, with TikTok users taking advantage of CapCut to make their videos look sleek and professional with a few taps on their phones. 

Since May 21, CapCut has been the No. 1 free app on the U.S. App Store, according to analytics company SensorTower, and it ranks 9th on Google Play in the U.S. as of writing. Across the globe, it comes in first among free iOS apps in 33 countries, according to App Annie.

All told, the app has exceeded 250 million installs globally to date from across the App Store and Google Play, and nearly 9.5 million from U.S. app stores, SensorTower says.

CapCut’s rise is reminiscent of the Chinese photo editor Meitu. The app was so popular that it became synonymous with a selfie beautifier in China, but it also had a solid base of loyal users abroad. The difference is CapCut’s rise is built on its sibling TikTok’s global dominance, whereas Meitu’s early attempt to foster a social network around its photo tool to increase user stickiness never really took off.

CapCut probably won’t be ByteDance’s last viral app. TikTok’s sprawling content empire will spawn more offshoots, whether it’s a video editor or an e-commerce service for creators to make money and for users to buy the products endorsed by their favorite influencers.

#app-store, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #entertainment, #freeware, #major, #meitu, #photo-editor, #social-network, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-editor, #video-hosting

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Review: zombie heist thriller Army of the Dead is Zack Snyder at his best

A team of mercenaries ventures into zombie-infested Las Vegas in hopes of recovering millions in cash from a casino vault in Zack Snyder’s zombie heist horror thriller, Army of the Dead. It’s a stylish mix of Zombieland (especially the opening montage) and Ocean’s Eleven, with a smattering of The Dirty Dozen. While Snyder’s distinctive directorial style is plainly evident, he’s reined in his worst impulses to give us a clever, entertaining twist on the zombie apocalypse, featuring all the flesh-eating carnage one expects from the genre.

(Some spoilers below but no major reveals.)

As I wrote previously, in a sense, Snyder has come full circle. His directorial debut was 2008’s Dawn of the Dead, an entertaining reboot of the original George Romero classic from 1978. Army of the Dead started out as a joint project between Universal Studios and Warner Bros. back in 2007. But like so many films, it got stuck in development hell until Snyder signed on as director in 2019. Netflix picked up the distribution rights from Warner Bros. soon after.

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#army-of-the-dead, #entertainment, #film, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #streaming-television, #zack-snyder, #zombies

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Holoride deploys Elrond blockchain and NFTs in prep for 2022 market launch

Holoride, the Audi spinoff that’s creating an in-vehicle XR passenger entertainment experience, is deploying blockchain technology and NFTs as the next stage in its preparation for a 2022 market launch. 

The company, which closed a $12 million Series A in April, announced it would be integrating Elrond blockchain into its tech stack to bring transparency to its ecosystem of car manufacturers and content creators. Holoride hopes to use NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, to incentivize developers into creating more content on holoride’s platform for the promise of more money earned off token purchases, and to attract passengers who want to personalize their in-car experience. 

Blockchain… NFTs… is holoride just trying to be internet trendy? Maybe, but the blockchain integration at least has been in the works for the past year, says holoride CEO and founder Nils Wollny.

Holoride’s immersive in-vehicle media platform doesn’t need blockchain to function. Its passenger experiences sync to the real-time motion and location-based data of the vehicle, so content adjusts to vehicle motion (meaning no motion sickness!). Where blockchain plays a role is to help holoride fairly and transparently distribute content and compensate developers based on user engagement time and value distribution. 

“We said we want to connect all our ecosystem partners in a very fair and transparent manner from the beginning, and blockchain technology delivers exactly on that,” Wollny told TechCrunch. “Every transaction and engagement can be stored in the blockchain. For car manufacturers, they can see how much time was spent with holoride experiences in their cars, and for content creators it’s transparent on how much time was spent with their title they have created for our platform.”

NFTs are unique digital tokens that have a marked place on the blockchain and cannot be replaced with anything else. Most NFTs are part of Ethereum’s blockchain, but holoride’s will be supported by Elrond’s blockchain. 

Wollny hopes the enticement of buying or collecting NFTs while immersed in holoride’s experiences will lead to more engagement. He also anticipates the acceleration of what futurists and other tech nerds are calling the ‘metaverse’ or the concept of the digital and virtual world increasingly intertwining with physical and augmented reality.

Need help visualizing how this works while you’re strapped into a headset being driven to your next destination? For holoride, an NFT might start by connecting elements in the virtual world to locations or events in the real world. 

“Imagine people are traveling in their virtual vehicle, maybe it’s a spaceship or a submarine, as their physical body is in a car driving through the real world,” said Wollny. “They might pass by a certain location where a content creator decided to put something passengers can collect on their way.”

So it’s kind of like Pokémon GO, but you’re sitting in a car with a VR headset on rather than walking around outside holding your phone in front of you and following augmented reality anime pets like a lunatic. And when you catch the Pokémon, it’s unique and yours and no one else can have it unless you decide to trade it.

“Or maybe the user is really good at a game they’re playing and they earn rewards while playing,” Wollny continued. “You can maybe display them to other users or trade them in the future, bringing the real world and the virtual world closer together.”

The future of holoride’s NFTs really depends upon the extent to which passengers find themselves so immersed in their in-car experiences that they seek attachment and personalization in the form of digital tokens. Maybe Wollny has been spending too much time in virtual reality, or maybe he knows something we don’t about our inevitable reliance on extended reality. But as he told TechCrunch, this is only the genesis of the startup’s ecosystem, a step towards making holoride the “transportation company for the metaverse.”

#audi, #blockchain, #entertainment, #holoride, #nft, #transportation, #virtual-reality, #vr

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Review: The Nevers makes abrupt turn in disorienting midseason finale

Laura Donnelly stars as Amalia True in HBO's Victorian-era sci-fi drama, <em>The Nevers</em>.

Enlarge / Laura Donnelly stars as Amalia True in HBO’s Victorian-era sci-fi drama, The Nevers. (credit: HBO)

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the midseason finale for The Nevers, HBO’s inventive and alluring science fiction drama set in Victorian England. But I certainly didn’t foresee being so disoriented that I briefly wondered if HBO Max had started airing an entirely different series by mistake. I won’t spoil the finale for you, but let’s just say that the revelations in that sixth episode set up a radical new direction for the series. I’m curious to see if the writers can stick the landing when the second half of the season eventually airs.

(Some mild spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As I’ve written previously, HBO won a fierce bidding war and approved a straight-to-series order in 2018, with Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, etc.) as writer, director, executive producer, and showrunner. Whedon brought Douglas Petrie and Jane Espenson—both of whom worked with Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—on board as additional writers/executive producers. Last November, Whedon announced he was quitting the project, citing exhaustion and the “physical challenges of making such a huge show during a global pandemic.” British screenwriter Philippa Goslett (Little Ashes, How to Talk to Girls at Parties) took over as showrunner soon after.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #hbo-max, #television, #the-nevers

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Women-led sports media startup The GIST raises $1M to challenge sports reporting norms

The three co-founders of The GIST are all themselves sports fans, but realized in 2018 that sports media in general left a lot to be desired when it comes to catering to audiences outside of the traditional, male-dominated stereoptyical sports audience. So they started a new kind of sports media enterprise, taking a risk on a very different kind of careers vs. their background in financial services in Toronto.

On the back of impressive 350% audience through 2020, c-founders Jacie DeHoop, Ellen Hyslop and Roslyn McLarty have now raises an initial $1 million round of seed funding, form investors including 3GP Capital, JDS Sports, August Group, Even Odds Investments, and Bettor Capital. The company also just got approved for a $350,000 loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada, bringing its total new funding across venture and state-backed credit incentives to $1.35 million.

“In the sports industry, as you probably are aware, less than 4% of coverage is on female athletes, and less than 14% of sports journalists are women,” explained McLarty, who is also The GIST’s head of finance, operations and growth. “It’s no wonder, as women, we don’t necessarily resonate with the the more traditional male-dominated sports media and the way that sports is represented. So we were finding it hard to be a part of that community sports can provide, and around the same time, we were seeing a trend of media companies developing these more authentic relationships with their audience, and building community and being built a little bit more ground up, and that being really effective.”

McLarty cites other media ventures including theSkimm, Morning Brew and The Hustle as examples of what her and her co-=foudners saw was working well in media. That approach, combined with what they saw as a massive potential untapped audience, led to the creation of The GIST, which because as a newsletter and has evolved into a news site, a podcast and more.

“We started with the purpose of making sports more accessible, inclusive, approachable and fun for a casual fan, or a female fan,” she said. “For anyone really, that hadn’t resonated with traditional sports media.”

I asked McLarty why her and her co-founders wanted to get into the media business specifically, given that their experience prior to that was on Bay Street, which is effectively Toronto’s equivalent of Wall Street. She admitted that it took the trio some time to find their footing, but that now the business has opened up a new and growing audience that basically wasn’t served previously, which is helping them win over advertisers and brand partnerships.

“I think we’ve discovered an audience that is really valuable, and there hasn’t really been a way for brand partners to engage with a female audience through sports,” she said. “So we’ve kind of found our niche, and have built really built things out and gotten to the point where we are today in a really lean lean way. The hard part was the initial investment in the audience to get it to the point where it is now, but once you hit that scale in the audience, the margins on the newsletter are obviously awesome for every additional person that we add on.”

The GIST’s partners include brands like the NBA, FanDuel, Red Bull and Adidas, to name a few, and it says its revenue is up over 1,000% this year vs. the year prior, on course to meet its goal of $1 million in total revenue for 2021. The company says it will be using the new funding to grow the team, including new hires on the content side, as well as additional headcount on the sales and operation teams, too.

#adidas, #articles, #business-development-bank-of-canada, #daily-fantasy-sports, #electronic-arts, #entertainment, #fanduel, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #gaming, #gist, #media, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #red-bull, #tc, #toronto

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Spotify launches a virtual concert series with The Black Keys and more

The past year has been utterly devastating to the music industry generally, and live music in particular. Artists who make a living touring have been forced to find alternative ways to make ends meet, while those among us who once frequented live events have been looking for ways to plug the hole created by wide-scale shutdowns.

A number of music-related platforms have spent much of the pandemic looking to offer some semblance of the concert-going experience, ranging from live venues to services like Bandcamp. Today, Spotify is announcing the launch of a new feature designed to provide a live-show experience remotely. Venues in many areas are beginning to reopen, but even fans may be cautious to return to packed, indoor events.

The streaming service is announcing a series of shows starting with dates this month and next, including names like The Black Keys, Rag’n’Bone Man, Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, Leon Bridges and girl in red. Spotify is billing them as “prerecorded livestreams” — a bit of an oxymoron, that. I recognize that livestream has become kind of a catchall, but it loses some meaning when the thing isn’t, you know, live.

Rather than streaming straight from a venue, the service is taking the somewhat novel approach of letting the artist choose the spot for the pre-recorded show. That means live-show venues in the case of The Black Keys and something more creative for Antonoff, who shot his segment on a bus traveling from Brooklyn to Springsteen’s old stomping ground, Asbury Park, New Jersey (greetings).

“We have always been a band that loves to play live in venues of all shapes and sizes,” The Black Keys said in a release tied to the news. “The past year has been tough for musicians and fans alike, so we wanted to find a way to share this live performance of songs from our new project, Delta Kream, from a place we love, the Blue Front Café, the oldest active juke joint in America. We’re excited to be a part of this new initiative with Spotify that will give fans a great way to connect with their favorite artists.”

The shows run 40-75 minutes and run $15 a pop. The price seems a bit high to stream a pre-recorded concert, but fans of the groups will likely appreciate what’s being billed as an “intimate” look at one of their favorite artists — though intimacy is, in part, limited as the company will be selling unlimited tickets to the events. The service isn’t revealing how large of a cut artists will get, simply telling TechCrunch, “All artists will receive a guaranteed fee for their participation in the livestream.”

Streaming the shows requires a Spotify account — either premium or free.

#apps, #concerts, #entertainment, #spotify, #virtual-concerts, #virtual-events

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Fave, with $2.2 million seed, looks to connect creators with their fandoms

When Jacquelle Amankonah Horton left her role at Google after seven years, where she had been a product manager for Google Assistant and various YouTube products, she knew there was a white space in social. She built Fave to fill in that gap, and the company today announced the close of a $2.2 million seed round.

Female Founders Fund, HYBE, Sony Music, Warner Music, Concord Music, Quality Control, Right Hand Management, Techstars Music and Betaworks all participated in the round.

Fave is all about the relationship between fans and creators. As Horton describes it, creators and artists have a variety of ways they can reach out to their fans and share their lives, but for the super fans out there, there is no way to truly express their adoration beyond the flat experience of commenting on an Instagram post or liking a tweet.

Fave is broken down by fandoms (starting with Swifties/Taylor Swift), allowing allows fans to connect with one another, create content, and buy and sell fan-themed merchandise and artwork to one another. Fave’s go-to-market is focused on the fans themselves, though the hope is to also bring creators on to the platform, which ultimately gives them another revenue stream.

Creators and Fave alike can generate revenue through advertising or through a transaction fee on goods sold through the marketplace. When creators list their own merch, they get a 10 percent cut. Fave takes a 10 percent cut on all transactions, whether sold by the creator or a fan.

Alongside the announcement of the funding, Fave is also launching into public beta.

Horton explained to TechCrunch that one tactic for the company is to engage with the top influencers for each respective fandom. Across fan communities, there are people who are relatively well-known as the top fans, sharing content and often getting recognized by the creator.

Fave is onboarding these influencers early on in the creation of a fandom to attract the rest of the fans over to the platform. The startup is also looking to capitalize on some of the competitiveness involved in being a super fan, giving creators the ability to set up trivia tournaments and other competitions. Users that do well are rewarded with points that can be spent in the marketplace.

Horton said that she grew up as a super fan herself and can relate to the users.

“I was the girl in her bedroom who knew every lyric of every song, how many freckles they have, and fell asleep to the movie every single night just to hear the sound of his voice,” said Horton. “But I wasn’t able to go sit front row at a concert or spend $70 on a sweatshirt so the artists got nothing from me despite my deep passion.”

The hope to give fans a place where they can truly let their fan flag fly, while giving artists a way to connect directly with fans. Though the startup only has one fandom open right now, they’re actively listening to users on the platform to determine which fandoms to build out next.

#apps, #ecommerce, #entertainment, #fave, #jacquelle-amankonah-horton, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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Apple to add lossless audio to Apple Music at no additional cost

Apple has announced that it is adding some new features to its music streaming service Apple Music. Starting next month, users will find some new options, such as spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos as well as lossless audio files.

Spotify recently announced a new high-end subscription tier with CD-quality, lossless audio files. But Spotify HiFi isn’t included in Spotify Premium by itself. You’ll have to pay a bit more money to stream lossless audio. Pricing hasn’t been disclosed yet.

Apple’s move is a bit different as lossless audio is going to be included in the basic Apple Music subscription tier. For $9.99 per month, you’ll be able to choose between various audio quality settings. By default, Apple and other streaming services compress audio files so that it doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth.

You can also choose CD-quality, lossless streaming — 16 bit at 44.1 kHz. In that case, you’ll receive lossless audio files. Behind the scenes, Apple uses its own lossless audio format (ALAC, Apple Lossless Audio Codec). But that shouldn’t have an impact as FLAC, WAV or ALAC files sound exactly the same — it’s lossless audio.

If you have a truly unlimited mobile plan, you can even choose 24 bit at 48 kHz or 24 bit at 192 kHz. In that case, the average weight of a song should be around 250MB — yep, that’s a lot of bytes. Apple says you have to use an external, USB digital-to-analog converter to take advantage of the hi-resolution lossless tier. Plugging a pair of headphones with your iPhone won’t cut it.

The entire Apple Music catalog of 75 million songs will support lossless audio. Music distributors already upload lossless audio files when they submit a song to streaming services. Adding lossless audio is all about surfacing those files to the end users.

As for spatial audio, it’ll be enabled by default on hardware that supports Dolby Atmos, such as AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip. The most recent iPhone, iPad and Mac models also support Dolby Atmos. But it sounds like songs have to be remastered for Dolby Atmos specifically.

At first, only “thousands of songs” will support spatial audio. Artists include J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves and The Weeknd. You’ll be able to identify those tracks with a badge in the user interface.

#apple, #apple-music, #apps, #entertainment, #mobile

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Amazon launches miniTV, a free video streaming service, in India

Amazon, which already charges some of the world’s lowest fee for Prime Video in India, is ready to go a step further to win more users in the world’s second largest internet market.
The e-commerce giant on Saturday launched miniTV, an ad-supported video streaming service that is available within the Amazon shopping app and is completely free.

miniTV is currently available only in India, Amazon said.

miniTV features web-series, comedy shows, and content around tech news, food, beauty, fashion, Amazon said. Some of the titles currently available have been produced by leading studios such as TVF, Pocket Aces — two of the largest web studios in India — and comedians such as Ashish Chanchlani, Amit Bhadana, Round2Hell, Harsh Beniwal, Shruti Arjun Anand, Elvish Yadav, Prajakta Koli, Swagger Sharma, Aakash Gupta and Nishant Tanwar.

“Viewers will be informed on latest products and trends by tech expert Trakin Tech, fashion and beauty experts such as Sejal Kumar, Malvika Sitlani, Jovita George, Prerna Chhabra and ShivShakti. Food lovers can enjoy content from Kabita’s Kitchen, Cook with Nisha, and Gobble. In the coming months, miniTV will add many more new and exclusive videos,” the company said.

miniTV is currently available on Amazon’s Android app, and will arrive on the iOS counterpart and mobile web over the coming months, Amazon said.

Amazon’s move follows a similar step by Walmart’s Flipkart, the company’s chief rival, which rolled out video streaming service within its app in 2019. In recent years, scores of firms including Zomato have added video streaming offering in their own apps.

In recent quarters, Amazon has also pushed to expand its Prime Video offerings in India. The company, which partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel earlier this year, to launch a new monthly mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) tier (for $1.22), has secured rights to stream some cricket matches in the country.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #entertainment, #india, #prime-video

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The gaming industry needs more than just coders

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on countless businesses across the globe, the $118 billion gaming industry not only survived, it thrived, with 55% of American consumers turning to gaming for entertainment, stress relief, relaxation and a connection to the outside world amid lockdowns.

This drove a 20% boost in gaming sales globally and created nearly 20,000 jobs in 2020 alone. And it’s not expected to stop any time soon: According to research company IBISWorld, the industry is set to grow again in 2021, adding to the year-over-year growth the industry has seen in the preceding half-decade.

This is great news for the growing gaming industry and especially those looking to score a job at a company developing the next blockbuster. The unemployment rate is already near zero for those with gaming development and design skills, which means there is an unprecedented opportunity to join the field.

The unemployment rate is already near zero for those with gaming development and design skills, which means there is an unprecedented opportunity to join the field.

Gamesmith, a digital community dedicated to the gaming industry, currently has more than 5,750 open jobs posted on its site, with roles in design, engineering and animation leading the way. In other words, if you never considered a career in the gaming industry — or thought that your skill set wouldn’t translate — this expanding job market needs employees from all types of backgrounds. Chances are one of your interests — besides gaming, of course — can act as a conduit into finding a career.

One career path for those with art skills — particularly with a talent for digital art tools like Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop — is animation. An animator can do any number of jobs at a gaming company or studio, from building immersive landscapes and cities to modeling what a certain character will look like to designing user interfaces and navigational components. There is significant growth here, too: According to a recent study, most sectors of the animation industry are growing 2% to 3% year over year. According to Gamesmith, the average 30-year-old female artist or animator makes a salary of just under $90,000 a year.

If you’re a whiz with words and witty dialogue, then you might consider applying for a job as a writer at a studio. Writers are responsible for writing everything from the profanity-laced shouts heard in the background in the Grand Theft Auto series to the long speeches in epic adventures like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Employers are looking for writers with a flair for crafting stories and understanding characters, so even if you’re not a career writer, highlight the work you’ve done that fits in the mold of what game publishers are looking for.

One of the most important segments of the industry — and one of the fastest-growing — is developing and designing the gaming experiences themselves. The job market for these roles is predicted to grow by 9.3% between 2016 and 2026, according to the New England Institute of Technology, and the breadth of jobs in this wing of the industry range from level designers to lead designer and developers.

Gamesmith calculated that these jobs account for 16% of the available openings, but make up only 5% of all applications. While you will need at least a computer science degree and an understanding of the fundamentals of programming to land one of these jobs, the payoff for the time spent hitting the books is worth it. Gamesmith estimates that the average 28-year-old male engineer earns a salary north of $100,000.

Even if you don’t have any of these skills to help design a game from the ground up, there are still plenty of ways to break into the industry. No matter how good a game is, it will only be a success if people know about it, so the marketing and promotions teams at studios play a crucial role in making sure that consumers purchase the latest release and that it gets written about. If you have great communication skills and can work through people’s problems, companies always need customer service representatives.

Across all sectors of the gaming world, companies are looking to diversify their workforce and move away from an image as a job sector solely populated by white men in their early to mid-30s. Gamesmith research found that currently 74% of the industry’s workforce is male and 64% is white.

But that is changing. While in 2020, only 24% of studios invested moderate resources into diversity initiatives, out of those studios that did invest those resources, 96% reported at least moderately successful results and improvements to company culture. It may seem slow, but there does seem to be a recognition that the gaming industry needs a more diverse workforce as a way not just to bring more equity to their offices, but to make better games in the future and make the industry look more like the people who play games.

“Diversity isn’t a nicety; it’s a necessity if the industry is going to grow, thrive and truly reflect the tens of millions of people who play games every day in this country,” said Jo Twist, the CEO of the U.K.-based gaming trade association Ukie. “A diverse industry that draws on myriad cultures, lifestyles and experiences will lead to more creative and inclusive games that capture the imagination of players and drive our sector forward.”

Between the push to diversify the industry and a slew of new opportunities in the field, the key takeaway is that there are a wide range of possible careers in the industry and, even if you don’t think they do, your skills probably translate into one of the many roles that a gaming company needs to fill. Avid gamers know that you’re not going to beat a game the first time you turn on your console. So hone your skills, build up your experience and continue your quest to land a job in the industry of your dreams.

#animation, #artist, #column, #digital-media, #diversity, #diversity-and-inclusion, #engineer, #entertainment, #gamer, #opinion, #tc, #video-game, #video-gaming, #writer

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Legionfarm, pairing pro gamers with amateurs, raises $6 million Series A

Legionfarm, the gaming platform that lets gamers play with pro players in their favorite games, has today announced the close of a $6 million Series A round. Investors in the round include SVB, Y Combinator, Scrum VC, Kevin Lin, Altair Capital, Ankur Nagpal and more.

Legionfarm launched out of Y Combinator at the beginning of last year with a mission to give pro players a way to generate income and amateur players the chance to get better by playing with a pro coach. It started out with an a la carte business model but has since added a subscription product.

It either costs $12/hour to play on an individual session basis (one hour of play) or you can pay $25 or $50/month. That gives gamers access to discounted prices for pros and unlimited sessions with pros who are brand new to the platform, which Legionfarm calls ‘rookies’.

The company was founded by Alex Belyankin, who is a former pro gamer and was once in the top .01 percent of World of Warcraft players. There are many, many pro caliber players out in the world who can’t necessarily make a living off of gaming. They either have to be signed by an org (super limited supply) or play in as many tournaments as possible (unreliable) or stream on Twitch.

Legionfarm gives these pros the opportunity to earn a living playing the games they love.

Meanwhile, gamers are always looking to get better but don’t often have the environments in a game to do so, particularly in Battle Royale games. Legionfarm, which supports a couple of the biggest BRs (Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends), allows these players to team up with pros and learn from them.

The startup is also running a hardware support program, which lets pros on the platform effectively rent gear by paying for it over time in installments that come directly out of their earnings each month.

“Recently, we’ve learned that one pro player can acquire seven or more new customers to the platform if we work with the pro properly,” said Belyankin. “That’s the biggest growth point for us and the biggest challenge. We don’t need to demand in the performance channels, but through existing supply. If we manage to build some sustainable processes here, I think we’re going to skyrocket because we see some huge potential here.”

#entertainment, #gaming, #legionfarm, #recent-funding, #startups, #y-combinator

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Famed Arthurian tale comes to silver screen in The Green Knight trailer

Dev Patel stars as Sir Gawain in the forthcoming epic medieval fantasy film, The Green Knight.

An ambitious young knight of King Arthur’s Round Table makes an ill-advised bargain and embarks on a personal quest in the new trailer for The Green Knight, a forthcoming film by director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story) adapted from the famous 14th-century medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Originally meant to debut at the 2020 SXSW festival, with a May 2020 theatrical release, the film was shelved in the face of the global pandemic. With theaters slowly reopening around the country (and the world), The Green Knight is finally being released this summer.

(Spoilers for the 14th-century medieval poem below.)

The original poem falls into the chivalric romance genre, relating a well-known story from Arthurian legend. (I highly recommend J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation from 1925 or Simon Armitage’s 2008 translation, recently revised.) On New Year’s Day, King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table gather at Camelot to feast and exchange gifts. A mysterious Green Knight disrupts the festivities and proposes a different kind of exchange: any one of the knights may strike him with one blow with his axe; in return, the Green Knight will come back in a year to return the blow. Sir Gawain, the youngest of the knights and nephew to Arthur, accepts the challenge and beheads the Green Knight. Everyone is shocked when the Green Knight picks up his severed head. He says Gawain must meet him at the Green Chapel one year hence to receive a similar blow, per their bargain.

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#a24-studio, #dev-patel, #entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #the-green-knight

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Our fave gentleman thief is back for revenge in trailer for Lupin part 2

Omar Sy is back as Assane Diop, a modern-day gentleman thief who models himself on the classic French fictional character Arsène Lupin, in part 2 of Lupin, coming to Netflix on June 11.

The Netflix French original series Lupin proved to be an unexpected hit when it debuted earlier this year, purportedly racking up views in 70 million households in its first month. And there’s good news for those frustrated by part 1’s cliffhanger ending: we’ll soon find out what happens next, as Netflix just dropped a full trailer and release date for part 2 of the saga. Alas, the trailer is dubbed in English—quelle horreur!—which means we miss out on star Omar Sy’s dulcet tones. (Dear Netflix: it’s OK to have subtitled trailers for your foreign fare. In fact, it’s far, far preferable to bad dubbing.)

(Some spoilers for part 1 below.)

As I’ve written previously, Arsène Lupin is the creation of Maurice Leblanc, who based the character partly on a French burglar/anarchist. Relentlessly pursued by a detective named Ganimard, Lupin is captured stealing a woman’s jewels while on board a ship. Although he is imprisoned, he ultimately escapes before standing trial and goes on to pull off many other colorful heists.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #lupin, #netflix, #streaming-television

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Serial fiction app Radish acquired by Kakao Entertainment for $440M

Serialized fiction app Radish will be acquired by Kakao Entertainment in a transaction valued at $440 million. Kakao Entertainment is owned by Kakao, the South Korean internet giant whose services include its eponymous messaging platform. Radish founder Seungyoon Lee will hold onto his role as its chief executive officer, while also becoming Kakao Entertainment’s global strategy officer to lead its growth in international markets.

Radish claims millions of users in North America, and the acquisition will be help Kakao Entertainment expand its own webtoons and web novel business there, and in other English-speaking markets. Radish will retain management autonomy and continue operating as its own brand.

Founded in 2015, Radish originally focused on user-generated content, but now the core of its business is Radish Originals, or serial fiction series designed specifically for the app. The company said the launch of Radish Originals in 2018 helped propel its growth, with revenue increasing more than 10 times in 2020 from the previous year.

Radish monetizes content through its micropayments system, which allows users to read several free episodes before making payments of about 20 to 30 cents to unlock new episodes (users also have the option of waiting an hour to unlock episodes for free). About 90% of its revenue now comes from Radish Originals.

The acquisition means that Radish Originals’ intellectual property will now be adapted by Kakao into webtoons, videos and other content, increasing their reach. Since 2016, Kakao Entertainment has adapted several web novels including “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?,” “A Business Proposal” and “Solo Leveling” into webtoons and other media.

Lee told TechCrunch that Radish started exclusively distributing several of Kakao Entertainment’s most popular original series, like “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?” last month. It plans to launch more content from Kakao Entertainment’s portfolio and are also “looking at ways in which we can make original localized novel adaptions of Kakao’s popular stories,” he added.

In a press statement, Kakao Entertainment CEO Jinsoo Lee said, “Radish has firmly established itself as a leading web novel platform and yet we see even greater growth potential… With the combination of Kakao’s expertise in the IP business and Radish’s strong North American foothold, we are excited about what we can achieve together.”

The acquisition has been approved by Radish’s board of directors, which includes a representative from SoftBank Ventures Asia, its largest investor, and the majority of its shareholders. Radish’s other backers include Lowercase Capital, K50 Ventures, Nicolas Bergruen, Charlie Songhurst, Duncan Clark and Amy Tan, the best-selling author.

#apps, #asia, #entertainment, #fiction, #fundings-exits, #kakao, #kakao-entertainment, #radish, #radish-originals, #south-korea, #startups, #tc

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Review: The role-playing game’s afoot in charming black comedy Murder Bury Win

Three friends trying to create their own RPG game about getting away with murder get more than they bargained for in the new black comedy, Murder Bury Win.

Three friends get more than they bargained for when they think they are about to hit the gaming big-time in Murder Bury Win, a charming black comedy that proved to be a fan favorite at last year’s Austin Film Festival. It certainly won’t dislodge 1985’s cult classic, Clue, as the best movie yet made about a board game (“Flames… on the side of my face!“), but it’s very solid indie fare, and a lot of fun.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Per the official synopsis:

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#entertainment, #film, #film-review, #gaming-culture, #gravitas-ventures, #murder-bury-win

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Twitch UX teardown: The Anchor Effect and de-risking decisions

Twitch evidently has no issues getting people to spend time on its platform — even politicians can draw huge crowds by streaming themselves playing games. But monetizing video content is hard, and Twitch has missed revenue targets for the last few years.

So how does Twitch make money? And more importantly, what subtle psychology does it use within its iOS app to encourage viewers to spend more?

I’m a UX analyst and the founder of UX community Built for Mars — where I regularly tear down some of the best products in the world, showing you how they’re made, and, more importantly, how they could be improved.

I recently published my analysis of Twitch. But for Extra Crunch subscribers, I wanted to go a little deeper and bridge the gap between what Twitch does and how you can make meaningful changes to your product’s UX.

In general, you should encourage the user to make the hard decision (i.e., to commit to subscribing), after understanding all the benefits.

So here are three UX tips to discuss during your next team Zoom call.

The Anchor Effect

In short: The Anchor Effect is a heuristic bias whereby people will become attached (anchored) to an initial piece of information. For example, spending $1,000 on an iPhone may not seem like a bad deal if you saw an ad for the $1,500 one first — by comparison, it looks “cheap.”

On Twitch, when a new user subscribes to a channel for the first time, they’re shown the benefits of subscribing, and then asked how long they want those benefits for before being shown a price.

Image Credits: Twitch

This type of bias is everywhere. For example, the order of your pricing tiers will affect conversions — which is likely why Mailchimp shows its pricing tiers in reverse order.

#column, #developer, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #entertainment, #media, #technology, #twitch, #user-experience, #video-hosting

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Stranger Things hints at return of Eleven’s “Papa” in new teaser

We might see the return of Matthew Modine’s Dr. Martin Brenner in Stranger Things S4.

Our favorite psychokinetic, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), might be confronting her childhood tormenter and “Papa,” Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), in the fourth season of Stranger Things, based on a brief one-minute teaser that was just released. We knew it was coming, since an initial teaser appeared yesterday, featuring a simple piano score and a wall of TV screens, cutting between static and brief images. The YouTube description simply read, “Due to technical difficulties, Hawkins National Laboratory will be closed until further notice. We will be back in service tomorrow at 9:00AM ET.”

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below.)

Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer (collectively, the Duffer Brothers) already hinted that S4 would open up the storytelling to include plot lines outside of Hawkins, with the Russians and their captive Demogorgon playing a major role. A mid-credits scene following the S3 finale showed two Russian guards approaching a prison door. “Not the American,” one guard says. Instead, the guards drag off a Russian prisoner and lock him in a room with a captive Demogorgon, which proceeds to devour the screaming prisoner.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #stranger-things-s4, #streaming-television

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Music mixing marketplace EngineEars raises $1M, with help from Kendrick Lamar

EngineEars today announced a $1 million raise. The company’s first round of funding features investments from Kendrick Lamar, DJ Mustard, Roddy Rich and Slauson and Co. “Quality of sound is still important in music,” Lamar said in a quote provided to TechCrunch. “Ali has always been a progressive thinker. Engineers will transcend the culture.”

The service was launched in 2018 by Grammy winner Derek “MixedByAli” Ali, who has worked on a slew of high-profile tracks from artists including Lamar, Jay Rock, SZA, Nipsey Hussle and Snoop Dogg.

The educational courses turned into a touring curriculum, with 15 workshops in four countries, where Ali says he was able to determine what the community most needed.

“During that time, we really learned what the problem is,” says Ali. “All of the problems entailed tracking payments, being credited, the antiquated business model of file transfers and essentially just helping an independent audio engineer sustain and create a business for themselves.”

Source:  Claima Stories 

EngineEars has since branched out into something more akin to a marketplace for audio engineers. Independent mixers can offer their services and connect with artists and labels, get credit for the tracks they’ve worked on and — perhaps most importantly in the world of freelancing — get paid.

The platform launched an alpha version in January and since has 120 engineers verified by an existing vetting process. The invite-only service has another 2,000 people on its waiting list, according to Ali.

The service is currently working on a feature roadmap based on the requests of existing users and looking toward potential additions like the ability to buy beats, going forward. Other suggested features include contract negotiations for work-for-hire, but much of this is still very much in early stages.

#derek-mixedbyali-ali, #engineears, #entertainment, #funding, #kendrick-lamar, #mixing, #music, #recent-funding, #startups

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How 4 New Jersey pools turned into a startup that just raised $10M

As the oldest of 12 children, Bunim Laskin spent much of his teen years looking for ways to help keep his siblings entertained. Noticing that a neighbor’s pool was often empty, Laskin reached out to ask if his family could use her pool. To make it worth her while, he suggested that they could help cover her expenses for maintaining the pool.

Soon after, five other families had made the same arrangement with her and the pool owner had six families covering 25% of her expenses. This meant that the neighbor was actually making money off her pool. The arrangement sparked a business idea in Laskin’s mind. At the age of 20, he founded Swimply, a marketplace for homeowners to rent out their underutilized pools to local swimmers, with Asher Weinberger.

The Cedarhurst, New York-based company launched a beta in 2018, starting with four pools in the New Jersey area. 

“We used Google Earth to find houses, and then knocked on 80 doors with a pool,” Laskin recalls. “We got to 100 pools organically. Word of mouth really helped us grow.” The site was pretty bare bones, he admits, with potential customers only able to view photos of the pools and connect with the pool owner by phone.

That year, Swimply did around 400 reservations and raised $1.2 million from friends and family.

In 2019, Swimply launched what he describes as a “proper” website and app with an automated platform. It grew “4 to 5 times” that year, again mostly organically. In an episode that aired in March 2020, the company appeared on Shark Tank but went home without a deal.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Swimply, Laskin said, pivoted right into the pandemic.

“We were the perfect solution for people when the world was falling on its head,” he said. The company restructured its offering to ensure that pool owners did not have to interact with guests. “It was the perfect, contact-free, self-serve experience to hang out and be with people you quarantined with.”

The CDC then came out to say that it was safe to swim because chlorine could help kill the virus, and that proved to be a big boon to its business.

“On one end, it was a way for people to have a normal day and on the other, it helped give owners a way to earn an income, at a time when many people were being affected financially,” Laskin told TechCrunch.

Business took off in 2020 with revenue growing 4,000% and now Swimply is announcing a $10 million Series A round. Norwest Venture Partners led the financing, which also included participation from Trust Ventures and a number of angel investors such as Poshmark founder and CEO Manish Chandra; Rob Chesnut, former general counsel and chief ethics officer at Airbnb; Ancestry.com CEO Deborah Liu and Michael Curtis. 

Swimply is now operating in a total of 125 U.S. markets, two markets in Canada and five markets in Australia. It plans to use its new capital in part to expand into new markets and toward product development.

Image Credits: Swimply

The way it works is pretty straightforward. Swimply simply connects homeowners that have underutilized backyard spaces and pools with those seeking a way to gather, cool off or exercise, for example. People or families can rent pools by the hour, ranging in price from $15 to $60 per hour (at an average of $45/hour) depending on the amenities. New markets that Swimply has recently expanded to include Portland, Oregon; Raleigh, NC and the California cities of Oakland, San Luis Obispo and Los Gatos. 

“The shifting mindset from younger generations about ownership is a huge contributor to increased growth of the Swimply marketplace,” said co-founder Weinberger, who serves as Swimply’s COO. “Swimming is the third most popular activity for adults and number one for children, and yet no other company has tackled the aquatic space to make swimming more affordable and accessible…until now.”

While the company declined to provide hard revenue figures, Laskin said Swimply was seeing “7 digits a month in revenue” and 15,000 to 20,000 reservations a month. Families represent the most popular reservation.

“People can book and pay through our platform, and only 20% of hosts ever meet their guests,” Laskin said. “We’re enabling a new kind of consumer behavior with what we’re doing.”

The company is planning to use its new capital to also rebuild much of its tech infrastructure and boost its customer support team to be more “readily available.”

It is also now offering a complimentary up to $1 million worth of insurance per booking for liability as well as $10,000.

Swimply has a little over 20 employees, up 10 times from 2 people in December of 2020. It plans to double that number over the next few months.

The company’s model has proven quite lucrative for some owners, according to Laskin.

“Last year, there were some owners who earned $10,000 a month. One owner in Denver earned $50,000 last year and he had signed up toward the end of the summer. He should make over $100,000 this year,” Lasken projects.

Its only criteria is that owners offer a clean pool. Eighty five percent of hosts offer restrooms as well. If they don’t, they are limited to one-hour reservations with a max of five guests. Swimply has also partnered with local pool companies, and if they pay one of its owners a visit and certify that pool, that owner gets a badge on the site “so guests get an additional level of security,” Laskin said.

Ed Yip of Norwest Venture Partners admits that when he first heard of the concept of Swimply, he “didn’t know what to make of it.”

But the more he heard about it, the more excited he got.

“This is the holy grail for a consumer investor. We’re not changing consumer behavior, but rather productize the experience and make it safer and easier on both sides,” Yip told TechCrunch.

What also gets the investor excited is the potential for Swimply beyond just swimming pools in the future.

“We’re seeing a ton of demand from hosts wanting to list hot tubs and tennis courts, for example,” Yip said. “So this can turn into a marketplace for shared outdoor resources and that’s a huge market opportunity that adds value on both sides.”

Indeed, the concept of monetizing underutilized space is a growing concept. Earlier this year, we reported on Neighbor, which operates a self-storage marketplace, raising $53 million in a Series B round of funding. Neighbor’s unique model aims to repurpose under-utilized or vacant space — whether it be a person’s basement or the empty floor of an office building — and turn it into storage.

 

 

#airbnb, #ancestry-com, #australia, #california, #canada, #ceo, #co-founder, #coo, #denver, #entertainment, #funding, #fundings-exits, #manish-chandra, #new-jersey, #north-carolina, #norwest-venture-partners, #oakland, #oregon, #pool, #portland, #poshmark, #raleigh, #recent-funding, #renting, #sports, #startup, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Review: Shadow and Bone is a worthy adaptation of the Grishaverse novels

A lowly orphan and military cartographer in a war-torn world discovers she may be the key to her country’s survival in Shadow and Bone, a new Netflix series based on young adult author Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling “Grishaverse” novels. Those YA roots are mostly hidden in this lavish, entertaining adaptation, which boasts strong performances, terrific production design, and compelling mythical storytelling. Think Cursed meets The X-Men, with embellishments from Doctor Zhivago.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As we’ve reported previously, Bardugo published Shadow and Bone, the first of a trilogy, in June 2012, followed by Siege and Storm in 2013 and Ruin and Rising in 2014. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2012 that she deliberately avoided the usual medieval fantasy motifs and drew inspiration for her fictional kingdom of Ravka from the Russian Empire in the early 1800s. In 2015, Bardugo published Six of Crows, followed by a sequel, Crooked Kingdom, the following year. This duology is set in the 17th-century equivalent of the Dutch Republic, a town called Ketterdam. Ravka is also bordered to the north by the Scandinavian-inspired Fjerda and to the south by Shu Han (inspired by Chinese and Mongolian cultures).

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #grishaverse, #netflix, #shadow-and-bone, #streaming-television, #television, #tv-reviews

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Rapchat tunes into $2.3M as its music-making app hits 7M users

YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook’s Instagram have upended the film and TV industries, with a new wave of cinematographers, directors and actors leveraging innovations in technology to create new work and connect directly with billions of consumers to see it. Today, a startup is announcing some funding as it looks to make a similar impact in the world of music.

Rapchat, an app that lets people create music tracks — raps, as its names suggest, or something else — using a platform that crowdsources beats and lets people put vocals on top of them, has raised $2.3 million.

Co-led by Sony Music Entertainment and NYC VC firm Adjacent, this is an extension to Rapchat’s seed round of $1.7 million back in 2018, and CEO and co-founder Seth Miller tells me it’s coming as the startup is getting ready for a bigger Series A.

With no connection to Snapchat — not now at least, except that founders Seth Miller and Pat Gibson did think it was a funny pun at the time that they were first conceiving of the company as a side hustle while still in university in 2015 — Rapchat has already gone quite some way in scaling.

The company today has some 7 million registered users, and at the moment some 250,000 songs are being created around a catalog of about 100,000 beats by 500,000 active users on the platform each month. Engagement is hovering right now at 35 minutes per day on average, a mix not just of people making tunes, but through the beginnings of a social graph: people coming onto the app to discover and share those tracks.

Rapchat plans to use the funding to continue expanding the scope of what you can create on its platform, including growing the prize pools for Rapchat’s ‘Challenges’ competition series; expand to have more artists, producers, and industry executives on the platform for mentoring; and to extend that platform’s reach to integrate more deeply with the likes of TikTok, Snapchat, Spotify and Apple Music — platforms where creators are already making a lot of content, and where music is figuring strongly in that effort.

Rapchat’s growth not only speaks to how the startup has pulled off its ambition to make it easier to make music, but it also speaks to an appetite, an itch, in the creator economy: there is a big wide world of music-making out there, and more want to see if they can strike the right note.

Rapchat is definitely not the only, nor the first, company to think of how to address music creators within the bigger creator economy.

Another app called Voisey had conceived of a similar idea but focused primarily on letting people create and record shorter clips rather than full music tracks before sharing them to other platforms. It has not quite come a household name, but it did have some small success in bringing attention to new artists, and interestingly, it was quietly acquired by Snap last year (and for now Snap’s kept Voisey’s app up).

TikTok’s parent ByteDance has also made an acquisition of another music creation app, Jukedeck. As with Snap’s acquisition, so far we’re not fully clear on how and where that acquisition is going, but we’ve heard through the grapevine that TikTok is working on a new music service that sounds like it might let more content get plugged into TikTok’s music layer, so perhaps watch this space.

And in perhaps the most trend-endorsing act of all, Rapchat has been cloned — by Facebook, no less. NPE, the social networking behemoth’s in-house skunkworks team, in February rolled out BARS (all caps! stand out!) — which is, yes — an app on which you can create your own rap music.

Miller, at least for now, is about as laid back as you could be, considering all of the above, confident that at least for now, he is very happy with the engagement Rapchat is seeing, including around tests it has been running around offering new premium features — the app is free to use right now, but it has plans to offer creators more production tools and better ways of sharing their work and helping build a business out of it. Key to that will be never demanding licensing fees on music: creators keep the royalties, with Rapchat’s value lying in helping them make and track how that music gets used with the metadata that it holds on those tracks.

Some of the low-key approach might well come from the fact that Rapchat and its founders are somewhat outside of the startup fray. The idea for the app first came up in 2013, Miller said, when he and Gibson were students at Ohio University in Columbus.

“We were coming of age when everyone in college was using apps like Snapchat and Instagram,” he said. “We loved them for video, but saw there was nothing like them for creating music. So we pitched the idea during a Startup Weekend competition: snapping like Snapchat but for rap. Someone said, ‘Rapchat’ and we liked it.”

They went full-time on the idea in 2015 when they got into 500 Startups with the app, but even so it’s taken them years to build up the business, get attention from investors and raise money. Why? Partly because music is hard, and frankly the main game in town for years has been streaming services, rather than creation services.

Miller and Gibson persisted: “I knew that this market was huge. It just made so much sense to me,” he said. “The advent of the mobile devices the moment that apps like Instagram, VSCO and Snapchat have turned people into photographers and video makers, and Substack is turning people into writers.” And now Rapchat wants to tap the world for rappers.

“Rapchat has created a music studio that fits into your pocket,” said Nico Wittenborn, lead Investor at venture capital firm Adjacent, in a statement. “It decreases the friction of creativity by allowing anyone, anywhere in the world to record and publish music straight from their phones. This mobile-enabled democratization of technology is what Adjacent is all about, and I am super excited to support the team in building out this next-level music platform.”

#apps, #entertainment, #music, #music-creation, #rap-music, #rapchat, #social, #tc

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Netflix won seven Oscars last night

After everything was wrapped up at a very weird Oscars ceremony, original films released by Netflix had won seven statuettes.

The streaming service’s awards include for two for “Mank” (production design and cinematography), two for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (hair/makeup and costume), documentary feature (“My Octopus Teacher”), animated short (“If Anything Happens I Love You”) and live action short (“Two Distant Strangers”).

Meanwhile, Amazon’s “Sound of Metal” won the awards for sound and editing, while Facebook’s Oculus, EA and Respawn won their first Oscar for “Colette,” which won in the documentary short category.

This comes after a pandemic year in which theaters closing or operating at reduced capacity, forcing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to delay the ceremony and change its awards eligibility rules. It also essentially erased the distinction between theatrical and streaming films — for example, Searchlight Pictures released Best Picture-winner “Nomadland” in theaters and on Hulu at the same time.

Netflix received 36 nominations total, making it the most-nominated studio, with “Mank” the most-nominated film. And seven wins is a big improvement on the two it won last year.

Going into the evening, “Nomadland” was seen as the front runner for Best Picture, but Netflix executives still had reason to be  disappointed: In a nearly unprecedented move, Best Picture wasn’t the final award of the night — instead, it was Best Actor, which was widely expected to go to the late Chadwick Boseman for his performance in “Ma Rainey.” So when Anthony Hopkins (who wasn’t in attendance) won for “The Father,” it made for a pretty deflating end to the evening.

#amazon, #entertainment, #mank, #media, #netflix, #oscars

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Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier aims high, but falls a bit short

Confession: I wanted to like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier more than I ultimately did. The various trailers seemed so promising, giving off vibes of a “buddy cop” action flick, with a bit more room to flesh out the character development and themes. What we got was a show that was trying to do too many things at once—including setting the stage for the Phase 4 films coming down the pike—and as a result, it never did any of those things as well as it could have done.

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

F&WS picks up in the wake of Avengers: End Game, when Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) handed his Captain America shield to Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (The Falcon) and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes (The Winter Soldier), having chosen to remain in the past and live out his life with Peggy Carter. Sam and Bucky must grapple with losing Steve and the burden of his legacy. Meanwhile, the US government has named their own new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a decorated veteran and ultimate “good soldier” who thinks he can better embody “American values” than Rogers. (The nerve!)

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#disney-plus, #entertainment, #falcon-and-the-winter-soldier, #gaming-culture, #marvel-studios, #mcu-phase-four, #streaming-television, #television, #tv-reviews

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