Original Content podcast: ‘The Vow’ offers a muddled look at the NXIVM cult

“The Vow” is a fascinating documentary, but we can’t quite recommend it whole-heartedly.

As we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, HBO’s new docuseries tells the story of NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um), a self-improvement company that was subsequently revealed as a sex cult, with its leader Keith Raniere sentenced to 120 years in prison.

The core story is both compelling and horrifying. And “The Vow” features an astonishing amount of footage showing Raniere and other high-level NXIVM members at work — for that reason alone, the series is worth watching for anyone interested in the NXIVM story.

However, it’s also hampered by some unfortunate storytelling choices. For one thing, by parceling the story out over nine hour-long episode, the series often feels unnecessarily drawn out and repetitive.

And by focusing on a handful of high-ranking NXIVM members who subsequently became important whistleblowers and critics (including Mark Vicente, the filmmaker responsible for a great deal of that behind-the-scenes footage), “The Vow” has also opened itself up to criticism that it downplays the stories of Raniere’s true victims and obscures the extent of his crimes (unlike the Starz documentary “Seduced”) .

In addition to reviewing the series, we also discuss the latest Disney+ growth numbers and the new season of “The Bachelorette.”

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

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Introduction
0:45 Disney+ discussion
7:40 “The Bachelorette” discussion
30:48 “The Vow” review

#entertainment, #hbo, #media, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts, #the-vow


HBO releases a wellness-focused AR app to promote ‘His Dark Materials’

With the second season of “His Dark Materials” premiering on HBO on November 16, the network has partnered with creative studio Framestore to create a new iOS and Apple Watch app called His Dark Materials: My Daemon.

The free app gives fans of the show (and the Philip Pullman novels the show is based on) a chance to interact with their very own “daemons” — the magical animal companions that serve as an extension of characters’ souls.

“It’s a really great opportunity to give users and fans of the show the opportunity to have a daemon companion that’s personalized to them,” said Christine Cattano, Framestore’s global head of VR. “And what better way to do that than on your phone, which is a constant companion to us all?”

Users are assigned a daemon after taking a simple quiz consisting of questions like “day or night?” and “above or below?” They can then interact with the daemon by providing basic updates on their current state (like whether they’re feeling focused or distracted). Based on those updates, the daemon will recommend tasks tied to physical and emotional wellness, like going for a walk or a run, or watching a movie.

As users perform more wellness tasks, their daemon becomes happier and healthier. The app also allows users to go on “journeys,” where they perform a series of (again, wellness-focused) tasks that are tied to the activities of characters on the show.

His Dark Materials: My Daemon

Image Credits: HBO/Framestore

His Dark Materials: My Daemon will learn more about your activities by integrating with Apple Health and Spotify. And it incorporates augmented reality by allowing you to watch animations where you daemon interacts with the world around you. You’ll be able to share your companion interactions on social media, as well.

HBO’s vice president of program marketing Emily Giannusa noted that the original plan was for “large, real world activations.” After all, Framestore didn’t just work on visual effects for the actual “His Dark Materials” show. It also collaborated with HBO to develop “Beyond the Wall,” a virtual reality experience tied to “Game of Thrones,” as well as Magic Leap GoT experience called “The Dead Must Die,” which were both available via installations in flagship AT&T stores. (AT&T owns HBO’s parent company WarnerMedia.)

But given the pandemic and the need for social distancing, HBO and Framestore knew they had to take a different approach, so Giannusa said they came up with something that could “delight [fans] while they’re at home” — and that should reach a much larger audience in the process.

#apps, #augmented-reality, #hbo, #media, #mobile


BBC drops new trailer and featurette for the upcoming His Dark Materials S2

Dafne Keen, Amir Wilson, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda reprise their roles for the second season of the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials.

His Dark Materials, the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s classic fantasy trilogy, received mixed reviews for its first season, although it still warranted an honorable mention in our 2019 year-end TV roundup. The second season debuts next month. HBO dropped the first S2 trailer in July during the virtual San Diego Comic-Con@Home and a second longer one in August. Now BBC has released yet another trailer that includes a short featurette, with cast interviews and some cool glimpses behind the scenes.

(Spoilers for S1 and the Philip Pullman books below.)

As we’ve written previously, the three books in Pullman’s series are The Golden Compass (published as Northern Lights in the UK), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. They follow the adventures of a 12-year-old girl named Lyra, who lives in a fictional version of Oxford, England, circa the Victorian era. Everyone has a companion daemon in the form of an animal—part of their spirit that resides outside the body—and Lyra’s is named Pantalaimon. Lyra uncovers a sinister plot that sends her on a journey to find her father in hopes of foiling said plot. That journey takes her to different dimensions (the fictional world is a multiverse) and ultimately to her own coming of age.

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#bbc, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #hbo-max, #his-dark-materials, #philip-pullman, #streaming-television, #trailers, #tv-trailers


Lovecraft Country is a cleverly subversive take on notoriously racist author

A Black family in 1950s Chicago struggles to reclaim their lost ancestral legacy while warding off monsters and magic spells in HBO’s Lovecraft Country, based on the 2016 dark fantasy/horror novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. Like the novel that inspired it, the series’ pointed juxtaposition of supernatural Lovecraftian horrors against more mundane, but equally horrifying racial inequalities of that era is especially timely in a year that has seen widespread civil rights protests against the brutal killings of Black men (and women) by police officers. And social relevance aside, it also works as pure entertainment.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Set in the Jim Crow era of the 1950s, Ruff’s book is structured as a series of short stories, although everything is inter-related. The first quarter of the book focuses on Atticus, a black Korean war veteran and big H.P. Lovecraft fan, despite the author’s notorious racism. When his estranged father disappears after encountering a well-dressed white man driving a silver Cadillac, leaving a cryptic message, Atticus sets out on a road trip from Chicago’s South Side to rural Massachusetts. He’s accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia (aka Leti).

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #hbo-max, #lovecraft-country, #streaming-television, #television


HBO Max hits 28.7M subscribers in Q3, but few are over-the-top

AT&T painted a rosy picture of HBO Max adoption during the company’s earnings report on Thursday. Despite not being available on Roku, one of the top streaming platforms in the U.S., AT&T said new HBO Max activations more than doubled from second-quarter levels, reaching 8.6 million in Q3.

In total, 28.7 million customers were eligible to stream their HBO Max subscription by the end of the quarter, the company said.

Of these, 25.1 million came from “wholesale” agreements — meaning a pay TV provider of some kind, like Comcast, Charter, Verizon [TechCrunch’s parent], or AT&T’s own DirecTV, for example. But only 3.625 million were direct “retail” subscribers.

Combined, both HBO and HBO Max topped 38 million subscribers in the U.S. and 57 million worldwide. The 38 million figure put the company ahead of its previously announced year-end target of 36 million, the report said.

However, AT&T’s numbers alone don’t paint a true picture of who’s really watching HBO Max content.

AT&T touts its quarterly “activiations” without clarifying that only a small portion of customers are choosing to sign up for HBO Max directly by paying $15 per month for a subscription. A larger portion are simply becoming eligible to watch the streaming service through their existing HBO subscriptions — but many haven’t yet signed in and actually streamed.

In fact, some significant portion of these 8.6 million new “activations” may not yet even know that HBO Max exists — especially if the service is unavailable on their favorite streaming platform, like Roku. Or they may know it exists but can’t find it on Roku, so they think it just hasn’t launched.

Roku finally took this issue into its own hands, and is now working around the stalled negotiations by adding support for AirPlay 2 on its newer devices. This will give Apple customers a way to stream from apps that haven’t launched on the Roku platform itself.

AT&T also said it’s continuing to invest in HBO Max, having poured around $600 million in the service during Q3, bringing its investment to $1.3 billion for the year so far. And it’s on track for an estimated investment of $2 billion by year-end.

The company also said consumer engagement on the new platform was doing well, up nearly 60% from HBO Now levels. But it offered few other metrics of success, other than saying its “library” titles have been “performing incredibly strong” with its customer base. In addition, only 1 or 2 pieces of leased content have made it into the HBO Max top 10, but AT&T admitted it could have launched with a stronger slate of original programs.

On the product side, AT&T said it would be pushing out software updates every 45 days to improve the user interface and usability of the app. And it’s still on track to launch an advertising-supported version of the service (AVOD)  in 2021, as planned, and expand internationally.

“AVOD not only allows us to broaden the offering [and] the amount of content we put on the platform,” explained AT&T CEO John Stankey, “it allows us to hit a different price point and attract different segments of the market and as a result of that we think that will be an important market expansion capability for us,” he said.





#att, #cord-cutting, #hbo, #max, #media, #streaming


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


HBO is making a limited series about Elon Musk and the founding of SpaceX

HBO is in the process of developing a six-episode limited series about the founding days of SpaceX and Elon Musk, Variety reports. The show will be based on Ashlee Vance’s biography of the Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder, but billionaire entrepreneur himself is not directly involved in the project according to the report.

The limited series will focus on Musk’s recruitment of a small team of engineers, and their development of the first SpaceX rocket, following its construction and launch. The series will be executive produced by Channing Tatum and his production company, as well as Doug Jung, and it will be written by Jung who previously wrote a number of sci-fi films including Star Trek Beyond, as well as Netflix series Mindhunter.

This depiction of SpaceX and Musk should be an interesting one, as it’ll be one of the first times the eccentric billionaire founder has been portrayed in a work of biographical fiction. Musk’s founding of SpaceX is also great fodder, given that it involved approaching Russian space companies to potentially buy a rocket ready-made, before deciding that was too expensive and opting instead to build their own. If you’re curious, you can also check out Kimbal Musk’s Blogspot detailing some of the process of SpaceX and its early days creating its original launch vehicles.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #entrepreneur, #hbo, #hyperloop, #industries, #kimbal-musk, #space, #spacex, #tc, #tesla


AT&T plans thousands of layoffs at HBO, Warner Bros., rest of WarnerMedia

AT&T's logo pictured on a wall at its headquarters.

Enlarge / AT&T’s logo at its corporate headquarters on March 13, 2020 in Dallas, Texas. (credit: Getty Images | Ronald Martinez )

AT&T is planning thousands of layoffs at HBO, Warner Bros., and other parts of WarnerMedia as part of a plan to cut costs by up to 20 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

WarnerMedia is what used to be called Time Warner Inc. before AT&T purchased the entertainment company in 2018. Layoffs and cost cuts are nothing new at AT&T in general, including at WarnerMedia. But WarnerMedia has taken a particularly big hit since the pandemic began. AT&T laid off about 600 people from WarnerMedia in August, a prelude to the new cuts revealed yesterday. The Journal wrote:

AT&T’s WarnerMedia is restructuring its workforce as it seeks to reduce costs by as much as 20 percent as the coronavirus pandemic drains income from movie tickets, cable subscriptions and television ads, according to people familiar with the matter.

The overhaul, which is expected to begin in the coming weeks, would result in thousands of layoffs across Warner Bros. studios and TV channels like HBO, TBS and TNT, the people said.

WarnerMedia told the Journal that it has been significantly impacted by the pandemic and plans to reorganize to focus on growth opportunities. “We are in the midst of that process and it will involve increased investments in priority areas and, unfortunately, reductions in others,” WarnerMedia said. WarnerMedia had nearly 30,000 employees earlier this year.

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#att, #biz-it, #hbo, #warner-bros-warnermedia


Check out this never-before-seen clip from HBO’s The Perfect Weapon

At Disrupt 2020, we got a chance to see some never-before-seen footage from HBO’s upcoming documentary The Perfect Weapon.

The documentary, which was executive produced by John Maggio, is based on the book by the same(ish) name written by David Sanger, Washington correspondent for the New York Times.

We got to sit down for an interview with Sanger where we discussed the cybersecurity threats the United States faces, the definition of an appropriate response, and in general, whether or not we should be worried.

You can check out the full interview below, as well as a never-before-seen clip from the upcoming documentary.

The conversation was an excellent lead-in to Zack Whittaker’s interview with the NSA’s Cybersecurity Chief Anne Neuberger, which you can check out here.

#david-sanger, #disrupt-2020, #hbo, #tc


Ridley Scott is back to making operatic sci-fi in new Raised by Wolves trailer

My favorite video.

Today marks the release of a new trailer for HBO Max’s upcoming sci-fi series Raised by Wolves, produced and initially directed by Ridley Scott, who also directed Alien and The Martian.

Compared to the initial trailer that landed recently, this one fleshes the world out a bit more by introducing additional characters and more thoroughly explaining the central conflict in the series.

Here’s a quick recap of what we know about the series so far: it principally stars a female, possibly part-biological android named Mother, who has left behind some catastrophe on humanity’s home planet to travel to a new one. There, she raises a group of children who will be the seed for a new human civilization that avoids the mistakes that purportedly destroyed civilization as we know it. But in the course of raising them, it becomes clear that the young humans are susceptible to the same tendencies that Mother claims were humanity’s undoing.

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#alien, #hbo, #hbo-max, #raised-by-wolves, #ridley-scott, #sci-fi, #streaming, #tech, #trailer, #tv, #video


AT&T layoffs continue with 600 job cuts at Warner Bros. and HBO

AT&T logos seen on the window and door of a building.

Enlarge / An AT&T sign and logo on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (credit: Getty Images | Mat Hayward)

AT&T’s WarnerMedia division is planning to lay off hundreds of employees in AT&T’s latest cost-cutting move. “Warner Bros. is expected to commence layoffs of around 650 people starting Monday, according to people familiar with the matter, while HBO is seen shedding between 150 and 175 staffers. A WarnerMedia spokesman declined to comment,” Variety reported yesterday.

The numbers quoted in Variety may be a bit too high. A source with knowledge of the AT&T layoffs told Ars that the real number is about 600 jobs across all of WarnerMedia, which includes Warner Bros., HBO, and Turner.

The layoffs come days after WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announced a shakeup including the departure of three executives and an increased focus on AT&T’s new HBO Max streaming service. Kilar detailed the changes in an internal memo published by CNBC on Friday.

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#att, #biz-it, #hbo, #layoffs, #time-warner, #warnermedia


VCs and startups consider HaaS model for consumer devices

I’ve been following consumer audio electronics company Nura with great interest for a few years now — the Melbourne-based startup was one of the first companies I met with after starting with TechCrunch. At the time, its first prototype was a big mess of circuits and wires — the sort of thing you could never imagine shrunk down into a reasonably-sized consumer device.

Nura managed, of course. And the final product looked and sounded great; hell, even the box was nice. If I’m lucky, I see a consumer hardware product once or twice a year that seems reasonably capable of disrupting an industry, and Nura’s custom sound profiles fit that bill. But the company was unique for another reason. A graduate of the HAX accelerator, the startup announced NuraNow roughly this time last year.

Hardware as a service (HaaS) has been a popular concept in the IT/enterprise space for some time, but it’s still fairly uncommon in the consumer category. For one thing: a hardware subscription presents a new paradigm for thinking about purchases. And that is a big lift in a country like the U.S., which spent years weaning consumers off contract-based smartphones.

That Nura jumped at the chance shouldn’t be a big surprise. Backers HAX/SOSV have been proponents of the model for some time now. I’ve visited their Shenzhen offices a few times, and the topic of HaaS always seems to come up.

In a recent email exchange, General Partner Duncan Turner described HaaS as “a great way to keep in contact with your customers and up sell them on new features. Most importantly, for start-ups, recurring revenue is critical for scaling a business with venture capital (and will help appeal to a broad set of investors). HaaS often has a low churn (as easier to put onto long-term contracts).”

#business-models, #consumer-electronics, #consumer-hardware, #duncan-turner, #economy, #eric-migicovsky, #events, #extra-crunch, #gadgets, #hardware, #hardware-as-a-service, #hbo, #headphones, #market-analysis, #marketing, #marketing-strategy, #merchandising, #netflix, #smartphones, #spotify, #startups, #subscription-services, #techcrunch-early-stage, #wearables


HBO debuts first His Dark Materials S2 trailer at San Diego Comic-Con@Home

HBO’s His Dark Materials season 2 trailer.

The trailers and sneak peeks just keep coming from the virtual San Diego Comic Con@Home, running all this weekend. HBO dropped the first trailer for the second season of His Dark Materials, an adaptation of the best-selling fantasy trilogy by Philip Pullman. While there were supposed to be eight episodes in this second season, just like S1, production was shut down due to the pandemic. So there will only be seven episodes.

(Some spoilers for S1 below.)

First published in 1995, the three books in the series are The Golden Compass (published as Northern Lights in the UK), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. They follow the adventures of a 12-year-old girl named Lyra, who lives in a fictional version of Oxford, England, circa the Victorian era. Everyone has a companion daemon in the form of an animal—part of their spirit that resides outside the body; Lyra’s is named Pantalaimon. Lyra uncovers a sinister plot that sends her on a journey to find her father in hopes of foiling said plot. That journey takes her to different dimensions (the fictional world is a multiverse) and ultimately to her own coming-of-age.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #his-dark-materials, #philip-pullman, #television


HBO Max reached 4.1M subscribers in first month, despite lack of distribution on Roku and Fire TV

HBO Max, the AT&T-owned streaming service that combines HBO with WarnerMedia content, has grown to 4.1 million subscribers, since its launch on May 27. Combined, HBO and HBO Max reached a total of 36.3 million U.S. subscribers by the end of the second quarter, according to statements made by AT&T CEO John Stankey on today’s earnings call. That figure has grown 5% from the 34.6 million subscribers the properties together had at the end of last year.

The 4.1 million figure breaks down as around 3 million retail subscribers and over 1 million were wholesale subscribers who came to the new service via one of AT&T wireless plans, where the service is bundled.

Though it’s still early days for HBO Max, these numbers indicate that the vast majority of traditional HBO customers have not yet tried HBO Max, even though it’s free for them to use. Currently, HBO customers can authenticate with HBO Max using their cable or satellite TV provider account information. HBO Now subscribers, meanwhile, are automatically upgraded to Max across Hulu, mobile apps, select ISPs, and the HBO Now site.

The HBO strategy, from a consumer perspective, has been confusing. HBO is known as premium channel with mostly adult content. This chanel had been distributed across mobile devices as HBO GO for traditional pay TV customers and HBO Now for over-the-top users. With the launch of HBO Max, the goal has been to transform HBO into a broader offering for the whole family, similar to Netflix . To do so, HBO, WarnerMedia and other licensed content was combined under one roof.

AT&T said today that HBO Max customers spent, on average, 70% more time viewing the service on a weekly basis, compared with HBO Now. It also stressed the popularity of its original content, noting that all 6 of its new originals found themselves ranked among the top 25 viewed series on the platform. By August, HBO Max will have 21 new original series on the platform.

But WarnerMedia still wants to distribute “standard” HBO to its larger, existing customer base, and has a number of deals in place to do so across a variety of streaming TV services, like Hulu, and platforms, like Apple TV, in addition to numerous pay TV providers. In addition, HBO is sold as an add-on premium subscription across some platforms, like Amazon and Roku.

That makes it difficult for consumers to understand which version of HBO they can get and where it will work.

That significant challenge is made worse by the fact that WarnerMedia has not yet been able to ink deals for HBO Max with the two top streaming media platform providers in the U.S.: Amazon and Roku, which control 70% of the market. That means consumers who have heard of the new service won’t be able to find the app on these devices.

Stankey addressed this problem today when speaking to investors.

“We’ve tried repeatedly to make HBO Max available to all customers using Amazon Fire devices, including those customers that have purchased HBO via Amazon,” he said. “Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating HBO Max and its customers differently than how they’ve chosen to treat other services, and their customers.”

The comments, which notably skip over any mention of Roku, come only days before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is set to testify before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, along with CEOs from Apple, Google and Facebook, as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation of potential anti-competitive practices in the digital marketplace.

One area of concern for the Committee is the power and control the tech companies have over their digital marketplaces, where they set terms, ban apps and services from distribution, and take commissions from businesses that compete with their own.

AT&T’s issue with Amazon, in this case, has to do with how it wants to distribute HBO Max across the media platforms. With its shift in strategy, AT&T aims to offer consumers a standalone app, similar to Netflix — as it does now on Apple TV and Android TV. But Amazon and Roku want to also sell subscriptions to HBO Max like they currently do for HBO through the Amazon Prime Video Channels platform and Roku’s Premium Subscription platform on The Roku Channel.

With Roku’s investment in The Roku Channel it’s been distancing itself from being the neutral platform it once was, as it’s now motivated to make deals that benefit its own goals around The Roku Channel’s subscription marketplace, the same as other non-neutral players, like Amazon. This is not a problem unique to HBO Max, either. NBCU’s new streaming service Peacock also failed to offer Roku and Fire TV support at launch, for similar reasons. Unfortunately, the consumer is the one who ultimately loses here as tech giants grapple over not only the dollars, but who will own the customer relationship in the long run.

Without distribution, AT&T’s WarnerMedia could be challenged to meet its goals for HBO Max.

The company, however, claims it’s still on track for 50-55 million HBO Max subscribers in the U.S by 2025. As part of this strategy, WarnerMedia also plans to launch HBO Max internationally and offer a lower-cost, as-supported version of the service sometime next year.


#amazon, #hbo, #media, #netflix


WarnerMedia tries to simplify HBO branding by sunsetting HBO Go and renaming HBO Now

WarnerMedia is hoping to make things simpler for anyone wondering whether to get HBO Max, HBO Go or HBO Now.

Back in simpler times, there were only two HBO streaming apps — Go for cable subscribers, and Now for viewers who wanted a standalone streaming subscription. Then the company launched launched HBO Max last month.

Content-wise, Max encompasses the HBO library plus a bunch of additional movies and shows. Meanwhile, from an app perspective, it was released as an update to HBO Now … except on Fire TV and Roku, where WarnerMedia has yet to reach a deal to offer Max, so the app is still HBO Now.

Just typing that out made me feel tired. And after all that, here’s what WarnerMedia announced today:

Now that HBO Max has launched and is widely distributed, we can implement some significant changes to our app offering in the U.S. As part of that plan, we will be sunsetting our HBO GO service in the U.S. We intend to remove the HBO GO app from primary platforms as of July 31, 2020. Most customers who have traditionally used HBO GO to stream HBO programming are now able to do so via HBO Max, which offers access to all of HBO together with so much more. Additionally, the HBO NOW app and desktop experience will be rebranded to HBO. Existing HBO NOW subscribers will have access to HBO through the rebranded HBO app on platforms where it remains available and through play.hbo.com. HBO Max provides not only the robust offering of HBO but also a vast WarnerMedia library and acquired content and originals through a modern product.

While the changes are tedious to explain, it sounds like they will actually result in a (somewhat) simpler set of consumer choices. Basically:

  • The HBO Max app is going to be the primary HBO app going forward.
  • If you subscribe to HBO through one of the supported cable providers (including AT&T, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, Hulu, Optimum, Spectrum, Verizon Fios and YouTube TV), you should be able to use the HBO Max app at no additional cost.
  • If you’re trying to watch HBO on a device that doesn’t yet support HBO Max — namely, Fire TV or Roku — then you’re going to be using an app that doesn’t have all the extra content. That app has the no-frills name HBO.

See? Simple!

#entertainment, #hbo, #hbo-max, #media, #warnermedia


HBO’s latest terrifying trailer for Lovecraft Country couldn’t be more timely

HBO’s new horror series Lovecraft Country is adapted from the novel by Matt Ruff.

With impeccable timing, HBO has dropped a new trailer for its upcoming horror series, Lovecraft Country. The series is based on the 2016 dark fantasy/horror novel, of the same name by Matt Ruff, which deals explicitly with the horrors of racism in the 1950s, along with other, more supernatural issues.

As we previously reported, Ruff also found inspiration in a 2006 essay by Pam Noles describing what it was like growing up being both black and, well, a hardcore nerd. Lovecraft Country is a gripping, extremely powerful read, which is why it was one of my choices for the Ars summer reading guide. The book’s protagonist is a black veteran of the Korean War and science fiction fan named Atticus, who embarks on a perilous road trip from his home on Chicago’s South Side to a small town in rural Massachusetts. He’s looking for his estranged father, who purportedly vanished after encountering a well-dressed man driving a silver Cadillac.

Atticus’ Uncle George and childhood friend/fellow sci-fi buff, Letitia (aka Leti), comes along for the ride. Because their journey is inspired by Lovecraft, they naturally encounter all kinds of arcane rituals, magic, shape-shifters, monsters, and an alternate reality or two along the way. HBO seems to be sticking pretty closely to the novel, if the official synopsis is any indication:

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #lovecraft-country, #television, #trailers


HBO Max is live: $15/mo for a massive library, significant headaches

HBO Max is live: $15/mo for a massive library, significant headaches

Enlarge (credit: WarnerMedia)

Like it or not, another subscription streaming service has entered the chat.

This one—HBO Max—debuts across the United States on Wednesday, and it comes from the combined AT&T-Time Warner media empire. After taking shape in 2018, the new “WarnerMedia” cluster of film and TV content has since put together a streaming library of exclusive content—particularly by yoinking content away from Netflix and other partners, in apparent defiance of AT&T’s antitrust pledge to US Congress.

WarnerMedia didn’t make the service available to Ars Technica ahead of the launch, so I jumped into the fray by claiming a free seven-day trial on launch day and picked through its first day’s content and interface. I did so to answer the following question: has WarnerMedia pulled off a service worthy of a $15/month fee?

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#gaming-culture, #hbo, #hbo-max, #netflix, #streaming, #time-warner


First trailer for HBO’s Lovecraft Country blends Eldritch horrors and racism

Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams are among the executive producers of HBO’s Lovecraft Country.

H.P. Lovecraft is having a moment. January brought us Richard Stanley’s surreal film, Color Out of Space, an adaptation of the short story of the same name, in which a family on a farm encounters a glowing purple meteorite with typically horrific Lovecraftian consequences. Stanley’s film adaptation of The Dunwich Horror is rumored to be in development, the second in a planned trilogy. And now HBO has dropped the first trailer for a new series partly inspired by the works of the Cthulhu-loving horror master, called Lovecraft Country.

The series is based on the 2016 dark fantasy/horror novel, Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff, who also found inspiration in a 2006 essay by Pam Noles describing what it was like growing up being both black and, well, a hardcore nerd. The protagonist is Atticus Finch, a black veteran of the Korean War and science fiction fan who embarks on a perilous road trip from his home on Chicago’s South Side to a small town in rural Massachusetts. He’s looking for his estranged father, who purportedly vanished after encountering a well-dressed man driving a silver Cadillac.

Atticus’s Uncle George and childhood friend/fellow sci-fi buff, Leti, come along for the ride. This being inspired by Lovecraft, naturally they encounter all kinds of arcane rituals, magic, shape-shifters, monsters, and an alternate reality or two along the way.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #jordan-peele, #lovecraft-country, #television, #trailers


Coronavirus could push consumers away from influencers and toward streaming TV

As the nation struggles with a pandemic and economic uncertainty, fundamental shifts in consumer habits are leading marketers to rethink existing strategies and budgets allocated to influencers and streaming TV.

These significant shifts are nothing new; just as the dot-com bubble reduced landline penetration and boosted mobile phone adoption, the last recession pushed traditional ad spend to digital. It was an option before, but the recession accelerated the trend to targeting select audiences on social media platforms, giving rise to influencers.

Today, social media influencers are so ubiquitous, they risk becoming meaningless.

Prior to the onset of coronavirus, we saw the influencer trend diminishing while the streaming TV trend became more prominent. Today, streaming is still trending up and influencers have actually seen increased levels of engagement, but they face credibility issues, which could lead to a reduction in perceived value to brands.

Streaming has similar, if not more, targeting capabilities as social media, but now it has the eyeballs — the captive audience of quarantined Americans — up 20% this March, according to Nielsen. Marketers on a tight budget will be forced to reevaluate their relationships with influencers as they seek to increase ad spend on streaming TV services.

The evolving realms of influencers

#column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disney, #extra-crunch, #hbo, #influencer-marketing, #instagram, #market-analysis, #marketing, #media, #opinion, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-media-influencers, #social-media-platforms, #streaming-services


HBO Max debuts on May 27th with 10,000 hours of content, including a handful of originals

AT&T’s WarnerMedia announced last fall its plan was to launch the new streaming service HBO Max in May 2020 for $14.99 per month. Today, we have a solid launch date: May 27th. AT&T has also now revealed its initial programming slate for the new direct-to-consumer service, which includes over 10,000 hours of premium content from both the HBO service and past and present titles from Warner Bros., in addition to a selection of original programming.

However, some of the more high-profile original projects and new HBO series won’t arrive on launch day.

Instead, HBO Max is promising a more modest slate of original programming at its premiere, including a scripted comedy called “Love Life,” starring Anna Kendrick; the Sundance 2020 Official Selection feature documentary “On the Record;” the underground ballroom dance competition series “Legendary;” a kids competition series, “Craftopia,” hosted by YouTuber LaurDIY; the all-new “Looney Tunes Cartoons” from Warner Bros. Animation; and Sesame Workshop’s “The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.”

WarnerMedia also today released the trailers for the new shows for the first time, available on its YouTube channel.

The service’s added focus on family-friendly entertainment is meant to offer HBO a better way to compete with rival streamers, like Netflix and Disney+, in a crowded market. That said, the launch comes at a time when many families are stuck at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, in search of things to watch as a group. That could prove beneficial for HBO Max — at least in its early days, before the government lockdowns are lifted.

In the long run, HBO Max will easily convert its HBO NOW subscriber base — after all, it’s the same price — but will have to prove itself on the original front to gain new customers. And unfortunately, it no longer has a breakout hit like “Game of Thrones” to lead the way.

“Our number one goal is having extraordinary content for everyone in the family, and the HBO Max programming mix we are so excited to unveil on May 27th will bear that out,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of Warner Media Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer, in a statement about the launch. “Even in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, the all-star teams behind every aspect of HBO Max will deliver a platform and a robust slate of content that is varied, of the highest quality, and second to none. I’m knocked out by the breadth and depth of our new offering, from the Max originals, our Warner Bros library and acquisition titles from around the world, and of course the entirety of HBO,” he added.

WarnerMedia had been steadily announcing the shows it had greenlit for HBO and HBO MAX to whet consumers’ appetite for the service, pre-launch. These included a “Game of Thrones” spin-off for HBO called “House of the Dragon,” plus new shows from Elizabeth Banks, Issa Rae and Mindy Kaling; new DC Comics titles “Green Lantern” and “Strange Adventures” from “Arrow’s” producer; and reboots of classics ranging from “Grease” to “Gossip Girl” to “Dune,” and more.

Last week, WarnerMedia also revealed the first three J.J. Abrams series for HBO Max, including “Duster,” “The Shining” offshoot “Overlook” and an untitled DC Comics project focused on characters in the Justice League Dark universe.

However, many of its more anticipated projects weren’t mentioned today as being in HBO MAX’s near-term future.

Instead, the next set of Max Originals to arrive this summer and fall include “The Flight Attendant,” starring and executive produced by Kaley Cuoco; all-new original episodes of DC fan favorite “Doom Patrol;” the return of the mystery comedy “Search Party;” a three-part documentary series, “Expecting Amy,” starring comedian Amy Schumer; sci-fi series “Raised by Wolves” from director and executive producer Ridley Scott; the adult animated comedy “Close Enough” from J.G. Quintel (creator of Cartoon Network’s Emmy-winning “Regular Show”); and “Adventure Time: Distant Lands-BMO,” the first of four breakout specials resurrecting Cartoon Network’s Emmy-winning franchise “Adventure Time.”

In fact, the biggest draw in terms of can’t-get-it-elsewhere content may end up being the unscripted cast reunion special for “Friends,” which will arrive later this year, once it’s able to be filmed.

The service will also soon include the full run of “Friends,” along with the libraries of “The Big Bang Theory;” (new) “Doctor Who;” “Rick and Morty;” “The Boondocks;” “The Bachelor;” “Sesame Street;” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air;” CW shows such as “Batwoman,” “Nancy Drew” and “Katy Keene;” the first season of DC’s “Doom Patrol;” “The O.C.;” “Pretty Little Liars;” the CNN catalog of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown;” and more.

“South Park,” “Gossip Girl” and “The West Wing” will be added in the first year.

Feature films to arrive will include “Crazy Rich Asians,” “A Star is Born,” “Aquaman” and “Joker,” along with others it acquired from the Criterion Collection and the acclaimed Studio Ghibli. Classics will include “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Matrix,” “The Goonies,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Citizen Kane,” “Gremlins” and the “LEGO” movies, along with every DC film from the last decade, including “Wonder Woman,” “Justice League,” and every “Batman” and “Superman” movie from the last 40 years.

In total, HBO Max promises a library of over 2,000 feature films in the first year.

And finally, the service will also pull from WarnerMedia’s library of movies and TV, New Line and library titles from DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth and Looney Tunes. And it will offer a selection of classic films curated in partnership with TCM, plus third-party acquired series and movies.

#att, #entertainment, #hbo, #hbo-max, #media, #movies, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #tc, #television, #tv, #warnermedia


Players Ntwrk launches celebrity gaming channel backed by WME, Daylight and Stratton Sclavos

Emerging from the smoldering wreckage of Echo Fox and Vision Venture Partners, the investor Stratton Sclavos is rising again to launch a new esports related venture — a gaming-focused digital network also backed by the WME talent agency and Daylight Holdings.

Tapping Daylight and WME’s roster of talent, Sclavos has created PLAYERS NTWRK, a new gaming-focused production company that will look to compete with other upstarts angling to tap into esports and competitive gaming’s newly dominant place in the entertainment firmament.

Players Ntwrk will feature original programming, unscripted series, celebrity gameplay and live events tapping talent from music, traditional pro-sports, and the esports gaming world.

Sclavos and the multifaceted talent manager and president of Daylight Holdings, Ben Curtis, dreamed up Players Ntwrk as a way to tie together disparate groups of athletes and entertainers around their shared love of gaming and entertainment. the network will initially leverage relationships with WME and Klutch Sports Group, the agency founded by LeBron James’ longtime manager, Rich Paul, to find talent for programming.

The network will launch on Tuesday at 5:00pm Pacific for two hours of gameplay featuring the New Orleans Pelicans Guard/Forward Josh Hart and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox on the Players Ntwrk Twitch channel. Additional live streams will be broadcast Friday and Saturday, the company said.

Over the next twelve weeks the network will add live programming featuring all of its “First Squad” talent and experimenting with different gaming and unscripted formats. Ultimately, the network will produce between twelve and fifteen hours of original programming per week by the end of the second quarter and will ramp up to twenty to twenty-four hours of programming per-week by the end of the year.

Initial programming is going to be devoted to charity fundraising, with proceeds going to designated charities based on direct audience donations, the company said.

PLAYERS NTWRK’s First Squad talent roster includes:

  • Professional athletes: De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings), Josh Hart (New Orleans Pelicans), Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns), and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
  • Music and Entertainment: PARTYNEXTDOOR, Murda Beatz, producer Boi-1da, actor/former athlete Donovan Carter (Ballers)
  • Creators/Streamers: KatGunn, Sodapoppin, Cash, Jesser, Jericho, Octane, Sigils, Sonii and DenkOps

Players Ntwrk joins companies like Venn, which are angling to gain a slice of the roughly 37.5 million monthly viewers that are expected to watch live streams on Twitch by the end of 2020, according to research done by eMarketer.

“The number of viewers and subscribers consuming gaming entertainment across YouTube and Twitch tops other entertainment services such as Netflix, HBO, Spotify and ESPN combined,” said Sclavos, in a statement. “Entertainment spectacle is trumping hardcore gaming competition. That kind of engagement makes it clear; gaming entertainment is the next pop culture phenomena. PLAYERS NTWRK is the only platform embracing and executing this new reality by creating original content with the most influential people who also happen to be fans themselves.”

#digital-media, #endeavor, #entertainment, #esports, #hbo, #internet, #lebron-james, #netflix, #producer, #sacramento-kings, #spotify, #tc, #telecommunications, #twitch, #twitch-tv, #video-hosting, #wme


Plot Against America: HBO’s alternate-history series is too stuck on the present

Logo for HBO's adaptation of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America

Enlarge (credit: HBO)

This review contains mild spoilers about the series’ basic premise but leaves most major plot beats of both the TV series and the original book unspoiled. We have seen all six episodes of the limited-run TV series, whose first episode debuts on HBO on March 16, but only mention the first two episodes.

With fantasy and sci-fi skyrocketing as some of the most popular television genres, we’re seeing the rise of that realm’s subgenres—most notably the alternate-history subset, which was once shelved alongside stories of dragons and elves. The latest, The Plot Against America, is HBO’s most recent crack at the category. But from what we’ve seen of the first season in preview form (its first episode premieres Monday, March 16), the series trips over itself to make a point about today’s political landscape and, in the process, undermines its message.

The late author Philip Roth took inspiration for his 2004 alternate-history novel from the real-life figure of Charles Lindbergh, the 1920s-era aviator who became a superstar celebrity decades before there was a term for it. Lindbergh, who lived abroad in the 1930s, was an open supporter of non-intervention and Nazi Germany, and his return to America in 1939 prompted stories in the press that he might run for president. His Iowa speech of 1941, in which he blamed the “three most important groups” of “the British, the Jews, and the Roosevelt administration” for World War II, illustrated his anti-Semitic views. His influence at the time was so substantial, President Roosevelt felt it necessary to publicly rebuke him for it.

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Westworld S3, episode 1: O brave new world, that has such hosts in it


Enlarge / SYMBOLISM, YO. (credit: HBO)

“Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” —Joel 2:17, KJV

“The real gods are coming. And they’re very angry.” —Dolores Abernathy

This piece contains heavy spoilers for the season three premiere of Westworld. You probably won’t want to read it until after you’ve seen the episode.

Westworld‘s third season premiere, “Parce Domine,” is the first episode of the show to be set completely outside the park (well, okay, unless you count that post-credits scene). We don’t see the familiar dim corridors of the Mesa even once, nor do we hear the name “Robert Ford” uttered a single time. Dolores has slipped her bonds, wearing a stolen body and carrying five pearls out with her, and she is free.

Only, she’s not free—not really. Not yet, at least.

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Now streaming on Hotstar in India: Disney+

Disney+ has arrived in India — weeks ahead of its scheduled launch date. The American giant revamped Hotstar app and populated the on-demand video streaming service with Disney+ original catalog on Wednesday morning (local time).

Unlike in most other markets such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia; in India, Disney is launching Disney+ through an existing service. As part of its deal with Fox last year, Disney now owns Star India and all of its properties including Hotstar. The company has said that Hotstar, at its peak, had about 300 million monthly active users and 100 million monthly active users.

The service, bundled with Disney+, is currently available at no additional charge to existing Hotstar subscribers — who pay Rs 999 ($14) for a year — though the premium tier carries a new yearly sticker price of Rs 3,588 ($48). (Worth pointing out that earlier the premium tier had a sticker price of about Rs 2,500, though Hotstar has been discounting it at Rs 999.)

In addition to everything Hotstar previously offered — about 4,000 titles — the “Disney+ Hotstar” adds more than a dozen original titles from Disney, including “Diary of a Future President,” “Disney Family Sundays,” “Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings,” “Encore,” “High School Musical,” “The Mandalorian,” and “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.”

“For our India users we’re bringing the world’s best stories from the best storytellers at Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars. 200+ movies, 100+ shows and 30+ originals!” the Disney+ Hotstar app’s description says.

A Hotstar spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company will have more to share on Friday. TechCrunch first reported about Disney’s plan to launch Disney+ launch in India. Disney former chief executive Bob Iger said earlier last month that the company will expand Hotstar to Southeast Asia and launch Disney+ in the region through it.

Some users have pointed out that the in-app player is not able to stream some titles seamlessly. And that the titles are available in full-HD (1080P), instead of their native 4K (UHD) resolution. Hotstar in India has yet to add support for 4K.

The early rollout of Disney+Hotstar comes at a rough time for Disney that has received criticism for censoring John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show.

The streaming service, which is the exclusive streaming syndicating partner for HBO, Showtime, and ABC in India, blocked a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight” that was critical of India’s ruling party and its leader, Narendra Modi .

In the most recent episode of the show, Oliver called out Hotstar for censoring his show and said the streaming service had also edited out a few jokes about Disney from some of his recent episodes. The company has yet to comment on the censorship issue.

That aside, India is going to be a key overseas market for Disney+ and one where it already has a perceived lead over rivals Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video and dozens of other services — all of which have lowered their price to win customers in India.

Hotstar has cashed in on the popularity of cricket in the country that has boosted its usage and relevance in the country. Star India has secured broadcasting and streaming rights to most cricket tournaments. In an interview in 2018, James Murdoch, then chief executive of Fox, said, “it’s tough for anyone else in India. They want cricket, but we have left nothing for them.”

Tussle for some of those rights continues.

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #hbo, #hotstar, #james-murdoch, #john-oliver, #media, #narendra-modi, #netflix, #the-walt-disney-company


Westworld season 3: I can show you the world (and then murder you)

Oh Jesse. You are about to have to go through some things here.

Enlarge / Oh Jesse. You are about to have to go through some things here. (credit: HBO)

All right, everyone. Bring yourselves back online. Here we go.

I’ve now had about a week with the first four episodes of Westworld‘s third season. Those four episodes represent half of season three, which clocks in at a total of eight episodes (unlike seasons one and two, which each had 10).

On one hand, four episodes is a significant chunk of the season, and I’ve got a lot of spoiler-y opinions and thoughts and theories that I can’t yet get into. On the other hand, past experience with the show strongly suggests that the really big stuff will remain hidden until the very last episode of the season—and four episodes is just enough to get a taste of what’s to come.

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#androids, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #hosts, #robots, #these-violent-delights-have-violent-ends, #westworld, #westworld-s3, #westworld-season-3, #westworld-season-three