How the founder of Pocketwatch sees the future of children’s entertainment

When Chris Williams founded entertainment platform Pocketwatch in 2017, he was certain that no one had yet found the right way to work with the generation of children’s talent finding its audience on platforms like YouTube.

Convinced that packaging creators under one umbrella and leveraging the expanding reach of even more media platforms could reshape the way children’s content was produced, the former Maker Studios and Disney executive launched his company to offer emerging social media talent more avenues to create entertainment that resonates with young audiences.

On the back of the breakout success of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel which counted 33.6 billion views and more than 22 million subscribers as of early November, it appears that Williams was on the right track. As he looks out at the children’s media landscape today, Williams says he sees the same forces at work that compelled him to create the business in the first place. If anything, he says, the trends are only accelerating.

The first is the exodus of children from traditional linear viewing platforms to on-demand entertainment. The rise of subscription streaming services, including Disney+, HBO Max and Apple Plus — combined with the continued demand for new children’s programming on Netflix — is creating a bigger market for children’s programming.

“If you’re a subscription-based service, what kids’ content does for you is it prevents churn,” says Williams.

That’s drawing attention from new, ad-supported streaming providers like the Roku Channel, PlutoTV and SamsungTV Plus, which are also thirsty for children’s storytelling. Williams says he sees fertile ground for new programming among the ad-based, video-on-demand services. “Kids and family content tends to be the most highly engaging that creates consumption in homes. That creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers.”

The Roku Channel and Viacom’s PlutoTV service show that there’s still demand for ad-supported, on-demand alternatives that are more curated than just YouTube. It’s a potential opportunity for more startups, as well as an opportunity for studios looking to pitch their talent and programming.

“When we’ve launched a new 24-7 video channel and AVOD library and omni services… [we] know that content is surrounded by other premium content,” says Williams.

For all of the opportunities these new platforms bring, Williams says YouTube isn’t going anywhere as one of the dominant new forces in children’s entertainment,  despite its many, many woes. In fact, one of Williams’ new initiatives at Pocketwatch is predicated on changes that YouTube is seemingly making in terms of the programming that it promotes with its algorithms.

Real X-Wings took flight at Disney’s new Star Wars ride grand opening thanks to Boeing

Boeing might be taking the last crucial steps to prepare for its first crewed Starliner capsule spaceflight, but it’s also busy turning sci-fi into reality right here on Earth – by helping Disney build X-Wing large-scale starfighters to celebrate the opening of the ‘Rise of the Resistance’ ride at Disney World in Florida.

Earlier this week when the ride opened during an evening ceremony, X-Wings “roughly the size of a family van” flew over the event, as described by The Drive, which first identified earlier spy shots of the vehicles as potentially being based on Boeing’s aerial cargo drone. Boeing has since confirmed its involvement, but they aren’t providing more info than that the X-Wings were indeed their aircraft.

In the clip below, you can see the X-Wings ascend vertically into the night sky, then hover and rotate before heading out. Don’t go squinting to see if you can spot Poe Dameron at the controls, however – these are unpiloted drones based mostly likely on the Cargo Air Vehicle design Boeing has recently shown off, which sports six rotors (you can see them in close-ups of the X-Wing included in the gallery at the end of this post).

Astute observers and Star Wars fans will note that the X-Wings feature the split-engine design introduced in the T-70 variant that are flown by the Resistance in the current trilogy, as opposed to the full cylinder engine design on the T-65 from the original trilogy. That makes perfect sense, since the Rise of the Resistance ride takes place during an encounter between the Resistance and the First Order during the current trilogy timeline.

As for Boeing’s CAV, it recently completed a three-minute test flight during which it demonstrated forward movement, after flying outdoors during a hover test for the first time earlier this year. The cargo drone is designed for industrial applications, and can carry up to 500 lbs of cargo, but it’s still in the testing phase, which makes this Star Wars demonstration even more interesting.

[gallery ids="1921346,1921347,1921348,1921349"]

Original Content podcast: Reasons to be thankful for streaming and Star Wars

Since it’s a holiday week for those of us in the United States, we’ve put together an (even more) unstructured episode of the Original Content podcast.

Among other things, this gives us a chance to update our initial review of “The Mandalorian” by acknowledging the Disney+ show’s breakout character, known unofficially as Baby Yoda — maybe that counts as a spoiler, but he’s all over social media already, and he’s even the subject of new Disney merchandise that seems to have been rushed into production.

Beyond our “Mandalorian” catch-up, Star Wars comes up again during our discussion of things from the streaming and entertainment world that we’re thankful for.

Despite some behind-the-scenes turmoil, the Disney era at Lucasfilm has brought us some delightful films, particularly “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” It might seem kind of redundant to praise two of the most commercially successful films of all time, but it’s also an opportunity to address the online backlash and criticism directed primarily at Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

Moving beyond the galaxy far, far away, we also discuss topics like Netflix shows (“Another Life”) that we’re excited to see return, plus the streaming series (“See”) and movies (“Marriage Story”) that we’re currently enjoying.

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

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/Thanksgiving plans
5:40 “Mandalorian” follow-up
18:33 What we’re thankful for

Disney releases cringe-worthy Baby Yoda merch

Who could have guessed an adorable, big-eyed baby Star Wars alien would have generated a ton of demand for toys? Apparently not Disney, which today started to sell merchandise based on The Child from new Disney+ show The Mandalorian, commonly known as “Baby Yoda”. The shirts, bags, mugs, and phone cases all feel…forced, like Disney rushed to print them on CafePress.

“The laziest merch ever” one TechCrunch staffer said. “If only there was 40 years of Star Wars Merchandise as a precedent. They would sell ten billion yoda beanie babies” quipped another. The lack of a plush doll, baby clothes, chew-safe rubber toys for tots and dogs, or original artwork indicate Disney was so busy getting its streaming service off the ground that it didn’t realize it already had a mascot. Yoda backpacks have been a hit for decades. Where’s the Yoda baby bjorn chest pack?

Just because the little green bundle of joy isn’t technically ‘Baby Yoda’, since The Mandalorian is set after the real Yoda’s death in Return Of The Jedi, doesn’t mean Disney isn’t exploiting the term for SEO. “He may look like a ‘Baby Yoda,’ but this lovable creature is referred to as ‘The Child'” Disney notes on all the product pages.

The Disney entertainment empire has suffered these failures to predict demand before. Frozen 1 merchandise sold out everywhere as tykes around the world screamed “Let It Go”. And Guardians Of The Galaxy 2’s Baby Groot also saw demand outstrip supply until Disney started sticking the tiny tree on everything. Hopefully it won’t be long until we can get a magnetic The Child shoulder buddy so he can ride around with us like we’re his Bobasitter.

Ubiquity6’s Display.land is part 3D scanner, part social network

The world is being mapped in 3D — one brick, one bench, one building at a time. For things like hyper-accurate augmented reality, autonomous robots, and self-driving cars, 2D maps and GPS only get you so far.

Apple is building its map with lasers strapped to the top of cars. Niantic has talked about building 3D maps of parks and public spaces by way of user-submitted imagery. The Army is making 3D maps with drones.

Ubiquity6, a startup that’s spent much of the last two years quietly chipping away at the challenges of building shared augmented reality experiences, is trying something different: a social network, of sorts, for scanning and sharing 3D spaces.

The company’s first publicly launched app, Display.land, started rolling out on iOS and Android over the weekend. Part 3D scanner and part social network, it lets you scan a location or object, edit it (cropping it to just the bits you’re interested in, or adding pre-built digital objects), and share it with the world. Want everyone to see it? You can pin a scan to a map, allowing anyone panning by to explore your scan. Want to keep it private? Flip the privacy toggle accordingly.

The idea: quick and simple 3D scans of real world spaces, shareable at large or just with the people you choose. Exploring a new city and found some neat art in an alleyway? Scan it and post it for everyone to “walk” around. Renting an apartment and want to give potential tenants some idea of what the space is like? Scan it, put the link in the listing, and it’ll open right up in their browser without any downloads.

Starting a new scan is simple: hit the “new” button, find some particularly interesting bit of geometry to focus on, and hit “begin”. As you radiate away from the initial focal point, you’ll see your camera view filling with countless colored spheres. Each sphere represents a geometric feature that the camera has captured, helping to highlight the areas that have been sufficiently covered.

As you roam, a bar starts to stretch across the bottom of your screen. Once it seems like you’ve captured enough geometry for a complete mesh , the app will let you know — but if you want your scan to be more true to life, you’re free to continue scanning until the bar is completely full.

Between the point cloud data and all of the photographic textures being captured, these scans can get pretty big. My test scans were coming in at a few hundred megabytes. That’ll eat your data up quick if you’re uploading over a cell network, so you’ve got the option to hold off on uploading until you’re back on WiFi. Once uploaded, Ubiquity6 will take a few minutes to process everything, crunching all of the raw data into a model you can fly around and explore.

While the scans it makes are rarely perfectly true to life, it’s… really damned wild what they’re pulling off with just your phone’s RGB camera and its assorted built-in sensors. With a bit of practice and sufficient lighting, the scans it can pull off are rather incredible. Check out this scan of Ron Mueck’s Mask II sculpture from the SFMOMA, for example — or this pool from a skatepark in SF’s mission district. (And note that it’s all rendering live in the browser; you can scroll to zoom, orbit around, etc.)

Scanning/editing/sharing is free. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even open up your scan in a browser and download it in a file format (OBJ, PLY, or GLTF) that’s ready to be fiddled with in your desktop 3D modeling software of choice. As for how they’ll make money? The company plans to charge companies that need a bit more than the base offering — if a company wants to 3D scan a space at the highest possible fidelity, for example, they can pay extra for the added processing time.

Meanwhile, they’re laying the ground work for what seems to be the company’s actual interest: shared, multiplayer augmented reality experiences. For now these scans are mostly static — you can add cutesy 3D models like treasure chests and floating butterflies to mix it up a bit, but they’re mostly there just to be pretty. In time, though, they’re looking to add gaming elements; think games that automatically unlock when you walk into a certain physical space, with physics and functionality determined by the real-world geometry around you.

Ubiquity6 has raised a little over $37M to date. It’s backed by KPCB, First Round, Index Ventures, Benchmark, and Gradient, and was part of Disney’s 5th accelerator class.

Original Content podcast: Disney’s ‘Mandalorian’ is never boring

Disney’s shift to streaming is officially underway with this week’s launch of Disney+  along with its flagship show, the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian.”

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we discuss our initial reactions to the new streaming service.

It turns out that we had fairly different responses: Anthony was impressed by the breadth of the content library (nearly every Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars film, along with 30 seasons of “The Simpsons”), while Darrell was more interested in the original content. Jordan, meanwhile, found herself initially excited about the library, only to wonder how much time she really needs to spend watching her childhood favorites.

As for that original content, we also have a spoiler-free review of “The Mandalorian.” Disney is releasing episodes on a weekly basis, with two episodes live as of publication — but only one available when we recorded. And even though we’re in the age of extra-long streaming episodes, “The Mandalorian”‘s chapters only run 30 or 40 minutes each so far.

Still, we found plenty to talk about. After all, one reason for that brevity may be the visual richness of what’s on-screen, with enough beautiful new worlds and spectacular battles to stand alongside any of the Star Wars feature films.

And the fast pace means we were never bored: The show introduces Pedro Pascal as a silent-but-deadly bounty hunter, along with Werner Herzog as a client who sends him after a mysterious target.

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

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:38 “The Morning Show” listener response
9:24 Disney+ discussion
37:34 “The Mandalorian” review (spoiler free)

Quibi series from Steven Soderbergh starring Tye Sheridan focuses on smartphone survival skills

People dramatically proclaim all the time that they don’t think they could survive without their smartphones, but a new series form the forthcoming streaming service Quibi from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman approaches smartphone survival in a much more literal way. The scripted series, which will premiere on Quibi at launch in April 2020, stars Ready Player One‘s Tye Sheridan, and counts Steven Soderbergh as an executive producer.

The series, called ‘Wireless,’ was created by Jack Seidman and Zach Wechter, who are the creators of the short film Pocket, which is shot entirely as though it was taking place on a person’s phone, almost like a screencast of that device. Wireless will similar cinematic, which is a good fit for Quibi’s short-form, made for mobile approach to original streaming content. Wechter and Seidman have a head-start in this regard, in fact, since their film collective Pickpocket is specifically aimed at making this kind of feature.

‘Wireless’ will tell the story of Sheridan’s lead character, who is described as “a self-obsessed college student whose only hope for survival is the tool he has spent his whole life learning to use: his smartphone.” Said character will apparently be trapped inside of his freshly crashed car during the action, and using the smartphone (which is low on battery) to try to survive his predicament.

Quibi has already made a whole host of slate announcements, with new ones coming all the time, but it’s going to have a lot to prove once it actually debuts, into what will be by April a very crowded streaming content market. Apple TV+ and Disney+, two new entrants from heavyweights who aren’t building a name from scratch with consumers, just debuted, and there are more coming early next year from NBC, HBO/AT&T and more.

Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plan told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers as it looks to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

Google hires former Disney and Star executive to head its India business

Google said on Friday it has appointed Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive with Disney India and Star, as the manager and vice president of sales and operations for its India business.

Gupta will be replacing Rajan Anandan, who left the company to serve VC fund Sequoia Capital India as a managing director in April this year.

Gupta served as a managing director at Disney India and Star (which now Disney owns) before joining the Android -maker. He helped Star make a major push in the digital consumers business through video streaming service Hotstar, where he aggressively worked on partnerships and licensing for cricket rights and other content.

Hotstar has cashed in on the popularity of cricket — during a major cricket season earlier this year, Hotstar claimed that more than 100 million users were enjoying its service each day and more than 300 million were doing so each month. (Facebook roped in Ajit Mohan, the former chief executive of Hotstar, to head its India operations late last year.) Gupta also held top executive roles at other companies including Bharti Airtel telecom network.

Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive at Disney and Star, is now the head of Google’s India business

In a statement, Gupta said, “it’s an exciting opportunity to leverage the power of technology to solve some of India’s unique challenges and make Internet an engine of economic growth for people and communities. I am happy to join the passionate teams across Google and look forward to contributing to India’s digital journey as it becomes an innovation hub for the world.”

When Anandan, a long-time influential and widely respected Google executive, left the company earlier this year, Google said Vikas Agnihotri, who is the director of sales for the firm’s India operations, would be temporarily taking over the role. For Google, this was the latest in a series of high profile departures in Asia. Karim Temsamani, head of Asia Pacific (APAC) at Google, also left the company earlier this year.

Even as India contributes little to Google’s bottom line, the company has grown increasingly focused on India and other Asian markets to develop products and services that solve local problems and address barriers that are hindering growth in these markets.

In a statement, Scott Beaumont, President of Google APAC, said company’s operation in India “is important and strategic for its own sake but also for the innovation which then feeds breakthroughs elsewhere in Google.”

Gupta will also have to oversee some major challenges, including the fast growth of Facebook’s advertisement business in India and an antitrust issue with the local regulator.

Disney+ will launch in the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain in March 2020

Disney+ will launch in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands on November 12th, a bit shy of a week from today. On November 19th, it’ll expand to Australia and New Zealand.

But what about the rest of the world?

Disney has kept quiet about its plans for other countries, presumably because going live in another country is a little more complicated than just flipping a switch. Every country tends to have different privacy/tax laws regarding subscription services, and rights and licensing for each bit of content has to be detangled with respect to existing deals.

Now, at least, we’ve got a launch date for five more countries: Disney says that Disney+ will launch in the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31st.

This news might be slightly less intriguing for folks in the U.K., who’ve had streaming access to a pretty massive collection of Disney stuff by way of DisneyLife — a streaming service that served as a test run of sorts for Disney since its launch back in 2015. But hey, The Mandalorian!

One thing worth noting: Don’t expect Disney+ to be exactly the same around the world. Thanks to those aforementioned rights/licensing deals that may already be in place around the world, as Disney puts it, “Titles may vary by territory.”