Original Content podcast: ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ is a goofy delight

The new Netflix comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”  should win anyone over, even if you’re not a huge Will Ferrell fan and have no idea what Eurovision is.

The film stars Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as the titular Icelandic musical duo, who are pursuing a lifelong dream of winning at the enormous international musical competition. The film features cameo appearances from past Eurovision performers, and it feels less like a parody and more like a celebration — albeit one that fully embraces the insane costumes and over-the-top production numbers.

The Icelandic accents fade in and out, while the script — written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele — can feel a bit by-the-numbers. But it’s all easy to forgive, thanks to the movie’s obvious goofiness.

“The Story of Fire Saga” also benefits from some memorable performances. McAdams, for one, brings a surprising conviction to her dramatic scenes and her (obviously lip synched) songs. The movie’s also a treat for Dan Stevens fans, as the “Legion” actor goes deliciously over-the-top as the Russian singer Alexander Lemtov.

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

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:24 “Eurovision Song Contest” review
22:21 “Eurovision Song Contest” spoiler discussion

Dating app S’More adds blurred video calling and launches in LA

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down dating app S’More — at least according to CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who said that the app’s daily active user count doubled in March and hasn’t gone down since.

“When people are working form home, they have much more time to dedicate to their relationships,” Cohen-Aslatei told me.

The app (whose name is short for “something more”) launched last fall and has supposedly attracted nearly 50,000 users. The goal is to move beyond the superficiality of most dating apps, where you first learn about another user and then unlock visual elements (like a profile photo) as you interact.

Cohen-Aslatei said the team has also spent more on marketing to attract a diverse audience, both in terms of racial diversity (something S’more reinforces by not allowing users to filter by race) and sexual orientation, with 15% of users identifying as LGBTQ.

Of course, dating someone new can be challenging when meeting up in-person poses real health risks, but Cohen-Aslatei said S’More users have gotten creative, like remote dinners where they order each other takeout from their favorite restaurants. And now that things are reopening (though some of those reopenings are getting pulled back), users are asking, “How do we transition these virtual relationships into IRL?”

S'More video calling

Image Credits: S’More

To give users more ways to interact, the S’More team recently launched a video calling feature. But Cohen-Aslatei noted, “We had to to create it in a way that was really fitting for our app … Women actually don’t want to see a guy right away, when you don’t know if they’re a creep.”

So in S’more’s video calling, the video is blurred for the first two minutes, which means you’ve got to actually start an interesting conversation before you can see who you’re talking to, and before they see you (a concept that may be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind”).

S’More has also expanded geographically, launching last week in Los Angeles (it was already available in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago). And it recently started its a video series of its own on Instagram’s IGTV — the S’More Live Happy Hour, where celebrities offer dating advice.

“There’s this negative history of dating apps perpetuating negative online behaviors, fake images, catfishers,” Cohen-Aslatei said. “But now we’re going into a new era of authenticity, where we’re going from super vain to super authentic. S’more is one of those apps that’s going to lead you in that direction.”

‘Westworld’ creators are developing a ‘Fallout’ TV series for Amazon

“Fallout,” the post-apocalyptic video game franchise published by Bethesda Softworks, is being turned into a TV series by Kilter Films, the production company of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.

The series, which began in 1997, takes place in an alternate future with a retro tone, after a nuclear war has turned most of the world into a wasteland. The games have continued in the two decades since, most recently with the release of “Fallout 76.”

The show — currently in development, with a series commitment from Amazon Studios — is part of Nolan and Joy’s overall deal with streaming service, which they signed last year for a reported $150 million.

The husband-and-wife team is best known for creating HBO’s new version of “Westworld” (based on a Michael Crichton film from the 1970s). They’re also working on an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel “The Peripheral.”

“Fallout is one of the greatest game series of all time,” Nolan and Joy said in a statement. “Each chapter of this insanely imaginative story has cost us countless hours we could have spent with family and friends. So we’re incredibly excited to partner with Todd Howard and the rest of the brilliant lunatics at Bethesda to bring this massive, subversive, and darkly funny universe to life with Amazon Studios.”

 

Project M acquires punk rock satire site The Hard Times

Matt Saincome knows that compared to many of the startup acquisitions that we write about on TechCrunch, selling a website for a little over $1 million (mostly cash, with a little stock) isn’t a huge deal.

“But in the world of punk comedy media? Whoo boy!” he said.

Saincome is happy to poke fun at himself — he is the co-founder and CEO of a satirical punk news website, after all — but he also sounded genuinely proud of what he’s built with The Hard Times. He never raised outside funding, and while there have been acquisition offers in the past, he was always afraid that they might threaten the site’s voice.

“I had always been the financial backstop,” Saincome told me. Still, at a certain point, “That started to become irresponsible.”

So he’s happy that there will be a bit of a financial windfall (not to mention health care and benefits) for himself, his co-founder and editor in chief Bill Conway and their editorial staff, plus a pay bump for freelancers. He also suggested that the acquisition will allow The Hard Times to invest more seriously in its editorial strategy, for example by building out its podcast network.

“If you like The Hard Times, it’s just going to be The Hard Times on steroids,” he said. “It’s very much the same direction, but better and secured.”

The acquiring company is Project M Group, a digital media and e-commerce company founded in 2016 that has also acquired Revolver Magazine and Inked Magazine.

Here’s how founder and CEO Enrique Abeyta laid out the Project M model: “We go out and acquire existing media properties with an audience, and we reinvigorate or relaunch or put some capital behind them to grow those audiences. Then we tie that into a vertically integrated e-commerce platform.”

After all, it’s no secret that many online publishers have struggled to make the digital advertising model work. And given Revolver’s focus on heavy metal and rock, and Inked’s focus on tattoos, there are some natural commerce opportunities — for example, if you’re reading an article about Metallica, you might also want to buy a Metallica T-shirt.

At the same time, Abeyta emphasized the importance of authenticity in the publications that Project M acquires, and he said that post-acquisition, they don’t become any more corporate.

“I’m a tattooed, mohawked guy running this company out of my house in Cave Creek, Arizona,” he said. “We’re the least corporate thing on Planet Earth … Our whole vibe when we partner with these entrepreneurs is, we want to work with the entrepreneur and the brand.”

So the entire Hard Times team, including Saincome, will remain involved. At the same time, the site’s old parent company will continue to own and operate the related gaming and technology site Hard Drive.

Saincome said he’ll also continue running OutVoice, a separate startup building freelancer payment tools. In fact, one of the results of the deal is that all of Project M’s publications will be using OutVoice.

“My role at Hard Times is going to be the visionary, brand-builder sort of guy,” he said. That should free up a lot of his time and energy from worrying about day-to-day business concerns, and he promised, “I’m going to take that energy and pump it back right into OutVoice .”

Daily Crunch: Apple and Google block banned apps in India

Banned Chinese apps are beginning to disappear from India’s app stores, Palantir is raising more funding and Venmo starts testing Business Profiles.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 2, 2020.

1. Apple and Google block dozens of Chinese apps in India

Two days after India blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, Google and Apple have started to comply with the government’s order and are preventing users in the world’s second-largest internet market from accessing those apps.

UC Browser, Shareit, Club Factory and other apps are no longer listed on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. In a statement, a Google spokesperson said that the company had “temporarily blocked access to the apps”on Google Play Store as it reviews the order.

2. SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

Palantir, the controversial and secretive big data and analytics provider, has reportedly been eyeing up a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

3. Venmo begins piloting ‘Business Profiles’ for small sellers

Business Profiles offer small sellers and other sole proprietors the opportunity to have a more professional profile page on its platform. Sellers can share key business details like address, phone number, email, website and more.

4. Tesla delivered 90,650 vehicles in second quarter, a smaller than expected decline

Tesla said Thursday that it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline from the same period last year, prompted by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — like suspending production for weeks at its main U.S. factory. But the company still managed to beat expectations despite the headwinds.

5. Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects

From larger fund investors like Mark Suster and Kara Nortman at Upfront Ventures to Dana Settle at Greycroft Partners; to early-stage investors like Will Hsu at Mucker Capital; TX Zhuo at Fika Ventures, the responses were generally upbeat about the future opportunities for Los Angeles startups. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Dish closes Boost Mobile purchase, following T-Mobile/Sprint merger

T-Mobile today announced that it has closed a deal that divests Sprint’s pre-paid businesses, including Boost and Virgin Mobile. The whole thing was a key part of T-Mobile’s bid to merge with Sprint.

7. AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Many AR startups made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion. Lucas Matney argues that a key error was thinking that an AR glasses company should be hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on first-party software experiences. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: Tesla becomes the most valuable automaker in the world

Tesla hits a financial milestone, Discord is now valued at $3.5 billion and we unpack the 👁👄👁 phenomenon.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 1, 2020.

1. Tesla blows past Toyota to become most valuable automaker in the world

In 10 years, Tesla has gone from public market newbie to the most valuable automaker in the world. The electric automaker had long since passed the valuations of Ford and GM — and in January, it became the most valuable U.S. automaker ever when its market capitalization hit $81.39 billion.

Still, a few automakers remained ahead of Tesla globally, until today. Tesla shares popped this morning, and the company’s market cap now stands at nearly $208 billion, surpassing Toyota.

2. Discord now has a $3.5B valuation and $100M for a sales pitch lighter on the gaming

“It turns out that, for a lot of you, it wasn’t just about video games anymore,” wrote co-founders Jason Citron and Stanislav Vishnevskiy in a blog post. Discord, they said, is “a place to have genuine conversations and spend quality time with people, whether catching up, learning something or sharing ideas.”

3. What 👁👄👁.fm means for Silicon Valley

In 36 hours, a diverse group of young entrepreneurs and technologists used a mysterious meme to raise more than $200,000 for three charities supporting people of color and the LGBTQ community: The Okra Project, The Innocence Project and The Loveland Foundation.

4. Facebook bans ‘violent network’ of far-right boogaloo accounts

Facebook took action to remove a network of accounts Tuesday related to the “boogaloo” movement, a firearm-obsessed anti-government ideology that focuses on preparing for and potentially inciting a U.S. civil war.

5. Dear Sophie: Is immigration happening? Who can I hire?

Lawyer Sophie Alcorn lays out the current immigration landscape for a Bay Area recruiter. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. YouTube TV hikes price to $64.99 per month following new channel additions

The bump in pricing is now one of several price increases YouTube TV has seen since its debut, due to the rising costs of programming for the streaming TV service — with the cord cutting trend now accelerating due to the pandemic.

7. NASA pays out $51 million to small businesses with big ideas

NASA has announced its latest batch of small business grants, providing more than 300 businesses a total of $51 million in crucial early-stage funding. These “phase I” projects receive up to $125,000 to help bring new technologies to market.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Match Group completes separation from IAC, new board includes Wendi Murdoch and Ryan Reynolds

IAC and Match Group announced that they have completed a “full separation.”

Previously, Match Group (which owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and Match itself) was a publicly-traded company, with digital holding company IAC as its majority shareholder. Last year, the companies announced a plan that would see IAC’s ownership of Match distributed to IAC’s shareholders — a plan that is complete as of this morning.

The separation also involves a leadership change, with Mark Stein and Gregg Winiarski stepping down from the Match Group board. The company has four new board members: ExecOnline CEO Stephen Bailey, the NBA’s executive president for digital media Melissa Brenner, investor and entrepreneur Wendi Murdoch and actor Ryan Reynolds (also an owner of Aviation American Gin and Mint Mobile).

“Most millennials and Gen Z can’t remember what dating was like before the advent of Tinder, OkCupid and Hinge,” Reynolds said in a statement. “These brands have enormous responsibility and opportunities to affect societies, all while embracing new technologies and remaining at the forefront of pop culture. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the team on their future growth and success.”

Shar Dubey will continue to serve as Match Group’s CEO, a position she took at the beginning of this year, while Joey Levin remains a both IAC’s CEO and Match Group’s executive chairman.

“This is just the largest transaction at the core of our strategy throughout these 25 years,” said IAC Chairman Barry Diller in a statement. “Be opportunistic, be balance sheet conservative, build up enterprises and when they deserve independence let them have it. Be a conglomerate and an anti-conglomerate, a business model that has been unique to us.”

Facebook expands its fan subscription program

Facebook is expanding the availability of the tools it offers to help game streamers and other online creators make money.

The social network first launched fan subscriptions in early 2018, giving a small group of creators in the United States and the United Kingdom the ability to charge their fans a $4.99 monthly fee for exclusive content and a fan badge for their profiles.

Participation in the subscription program was limited until today. In a blog post, Facebook now says that any creator in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States that meets the subscription eligibility criteria (having 10,000 followers or more than 250 return viewers, and either 50,000 post engagements or 180,000 watch minutes in the last 60 days, as well as abiding by Facebook’s general monetization policies) should be able to sign up to participate.

The company monetizes these subscriptions by taking up to 30% of subscription revenue. (It only collects revenue on subscribers acquired after January 1, 2020.)

Facebook subscriptions

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook is also expanding the availability of Stars, a virtual currency that fans can use to tip their favorite creators. Creators in Australia, Canada, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States can now participate.

“We’re seeing the traditional notion of a creator evolve as comedians, artists, fitness instructors, athletes, small businesses and sports organizations use video and online events to connect with their audience,” wrote Product Marketing Director Yoav Arnstein, Product Marketing Director and Head of Creator & Publisher Experience Jeff Birkeland. “To better support our partners, we’re improving the tools that help creators earn money and manage their presence on Facebook.”

Beyond subscriptions and virtual currencies, the company says it’s giving creators new ways to make money through advertising, including image and post-roll ads in short-form videos (60 to 180 seconds), as well as ads in live videos.

Lastly, Facebook says it’s improving the Creator Studio tool with features like Comment Insights (which show how comments on posts can affect engagement and audience size) and the ability to log in using Instagram credentials.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Politician’ returns for an entertaining but pointless Season 2

When “The Politician” debuted on Netflix last year, it divided the hosts of the Original Content podcast. After season two, we were more united: The show is not good.

To be clear, “The Politician” is still pretty entertaining, thanks to a consistent dedication to packing as many ridiculous plot twists as possible into any given episode. But the glibness of its approach to contemporary politics feels emptier than ever.

As teased at the end of season one, the show has jumped forward a few years from titular politician Payton Hobart’s contentious election for student body president. Payton (played by Ben Platt) is now a student at NYU, and he’s launched a longshot campaign for the seat currently occupied by veteran New York State Senator Dede Standish (Judith Light).

While Platt’s performance remains compelling — especially in the rare moments when he gets a chance to sing — Payton still feels like a teenager playacting as a real politician, and his climate change-focused platform feels only distantly related to the concerns of real-world environmental activists.

Even worse, Payton is sidelined for stretches of the show as its writers become increasingly obsessed with Standish’s complicated love life. Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with a series that wants to explore non-traditional relationships, but we couldn’t escape the suspicion that they just thought it was hilarious to make Platt, Light and Bette Middler (playing Standish’s chief of staff Hadassah Gold) say the word “throuple” as often as possible.

Before we get to our review, we also discuss our excitement (particularly Anthony’s) after seeing the first trailer for “Foundation,” an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction series coming to Apple TV+ next year.

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

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:30 “Foundation” discussion
12:02 “The Politician” review
29:29 “The Politician” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: ‘The Politician’ returns for an entertaining but pointless Season 2

When “The Politician” debuted on Netflix last year, it divided the hosts of the Original Content podcast. After season two, we were more united: The show is not good.

To be clear, “The Politician” is still pretty entertaining, thanks to a consistent dedication to packing as many ridiculous plot twists as possible into any given episode. But the glibness of its approach to contemporary politics feels emptier than ever.

As teased at the end of season one, the show has jumped forward a few years from titular politician Payton Hobart’s contentious election for student body president. Payton (played by Ben Platt) is now a student at NYU, and he’s launched a longshot campaign for the seat currently occupied by veteran New York State Senator Dede Standish (Judith Light).

While Platt’s performance remains compelling — especially in the rare moments when he gets a chance to sing — Payton still feels like a teenager playacting as a real politician, and his climate change-focused platform feels only distantly related to the concerns of real-world environmental activists.

Even worse, Payton is sidelined for stretches of the show as its writers become increasingly obsessed with Standish’s complicated love life. Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with a series that wants to explore non-traditional relationships, but we couldn’t escape the suspicion that they just thought it was hilarious to make Platt, Light and Bette Middler (playing Standish’s chief of staff Hadassah Gold) say the word “throuple” as often as possible.

Before we get to our review, we also discuss our excitement (particularly Anthony’s) after seeing the first trailer for “Foundation,” an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction series coming to Apple TV+ next year.

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

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:30 “Foundation” discussion
12:02 “The Politician” review
29:29 “The Politician” spoiler discussion