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

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

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

Movie studios and theaters face a bleak fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn

Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, as well as game producers Takeshi Otsuka and Teddy Cross.

Although the Tokyo-headquartered company is only announcing its existence today, it’s already a unicorn — it says it’s raised $100 million in Series A funding, at a valuation “just north of $1 billion.”

The round was led by Josh Buckley and Sequoia Capital, with participation from Sozo Ventures, Raymond Tonsing’s Caffeinated Capital, Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund, Taizo Son’s Mistletoe Singapore, Digital Garage, Will Smith’s Dreamers, Makers Fund and others.

Carter (Playco’s CEO) said the startup will be revealing its first games later this year. For now, he wants to talk about Playco’s vision: It’s trying to address the fact that “it’s very difficult to get two people into a single game in the App Store.” After all, downloading an app is a pretty big hurdle, especially compared to the early days of web and social gaming, when all you needed was a link.

“We’re going to bring that back,” Carter said — with Playco’s titles, sharing and playing a mobile game with your friend should be as simple as texting or calling them. “All it really takes is a hyperlink.”

He pointed to a number of technologies that can enable this “instant play” experience on mobile, including cloud gaming, HTML5 and platform-specific tools like Apple’s new App Clips. He claimed the team is “very good at this cutting edge technology” — and the company has created its own game engine — but he said technology is not the sole focus: “That’s just table stakes.”

Waldron (Playco’s president) argued that this represents the next big platform shift in gaming, and it will require “reinventing a lot of the most popular genres today” while also creating entirely new genres, in the same way that social gaming enabled new types of games.

“If you think about FarmVille, there were no farm games being advertised being in local console games store,” Waldron said. “They don’t market well; if you put up a poster for a farm game, no one wants to play.” But if your friends invite you by sending you some digital crops, then you absolutely want to play.

Carter added that enabling instant play also means that the games themselves have to be fairly straightforward, at least at first glance.

“Ultimately, as we build up the portfolio, we think about what makes the game accessible to anyone on the planet, any ethnicity, any language,” he said. “And the answer is: It has to be broadly appealing. That doesn’t mean we can’t build into it relatively interesting and deep features, but the initial impression has to be the right sort of experience that people can easily relate to.”

Carter also acknowledged that it’s unusual for a startup to raise so much money in its Series A (“It’s not your typical company, and it’s not your typical Series A”), but he said that being more ambitious with fundraising allowed Playco to quickly grow the team to 75 people.

“Bringing talented people together is the most important thing, and [thanks to the funding,] we haven’t had to make any really hard decisions,” he said.

As for how its games will make money, Waldron suggested that Playco will borrow from (but also potentially evolve) many of the existing business models in gaming.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “There’s going to be amazing things we can learn from my last company — we ended up inventing a lot of the ways these games are monetizing today … But these new technologies available today create new opportunities. The world has changed a lot since then, and I don’t think everything has caught up.”

#funding, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #josh-buckley, #justin-waldron, #michael-carter, #mobile, #playco, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc

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