Hotstar, India’s largest video streaming service with more than 300 million users, disabled support for Apple’s Safari web browser on Friday to mitigate a security flaw that allowed unauthorized usage of its platform, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
The incident comes at a time when the streaming service — operated by Star India, part of 20th Century Fox that Disney acquired — enjoys peak attention as millions of people watch the ongoing ICC World Cup cricket tournament on its platform.
As users began to complain about not being able to use Hotstar on Safari, the company’s official support account asserted that “technical limitations” on Apple’s part were the bottleneck. “These limitations have been from Safari; there is very little we can do on this,” the account tweeted Friday evening.
Sources at Hotstar told TechCrunch that this was not an accurate description of the event. Instead, company’s engineers had identified a security hole that was being exploited by unauthorized users to access Hotstar’s content, they said.
Hotstar intends to work on patching the flaw soon and then reinstate support for Safari, the sources said.
The security flaw can only be exploited through Safari’s desktop and mobile browsers. On its website, the company recommends users to try Chrome and Firefox, or its mobile apps, to access the service. Hotstar did not respond to requests for comment.
Chinese tech giant Alibaba is doubling down on India’s burgeoning video market, looking to fight back local rival ByteDance, Google and Disney to gain its foothold in the nation. The company said today that it is pumping $100 million into Vmate, a three-year-old social video app owned by subsidiary UC Web.
Vmate was launched as a video streaming and short-video-sharing app in 2016. But in the years since, it has added features such as video downloads and 3-dimensional face emojis to expand its use cases. It has amassed 30 million users globally, and will use the capital to scale its business in India, the company told TechCrunch. Alibaba Group did not respond to TechCrunch’s questions about its ownership of the app.
Alibaba remains one of the biggest global investors in India’s e-commerce and food-tech markets. It has heavily invested in Paytm, BigBasket, Zomato and Snapdeal. It was also supposedly planning to launch a video streaming service in India last year — a rumor that was fueled after it acquired a majority stake in TicketNew, a Chennai-based online ticketing service.
UC Web, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, also counts India as one of its biggest markets. The browser maker has attempted to become a super app in India in recent years by including news and videos. In the last two years, it has been in talks with several bloggers and small publishers to host their articles directly on its platform, many people involved in the project told TechCrunch.
UC Web’s eponymous browser rose to stardom in the days of feature phones, but has since lost the lion’s share to Google Chrome as smartphones become more ubiquitous. Chrome ships as the default browser on most Android smartphones.
The major investment by Alibaba Group also serves as a testament to the growing popularity of video apps in India. Once cautious about each megabyte they spent on the internet, thrifty Indians have become heavy video consumers online as mobile data gets significantly cheaper in the country. Video apps are increasingly climbing up the charts on Google Play Store.
In an event for marketers late last year, YouTube said that India was the only nation where it had more unique users than its parent company Google. The video juggernaut had about 250 million active users in India at the end of 2017. The service, used by more than 2 billion users worldwide, has not revealed its India-specific user base since.
T-Series, the largest record label in India, became the first YouTube channel this week to claim more than 100 million subscribers. What’s even more noteworthy is that T-Series took 10 years to get to its first 10 million subscribers. The additional 90 million subscribers signed up to its channel in the last two years. Also fighting for users’ attention is Hotstar, which is owned by Disney. Earlier this month, it set a new global record for most simultaneous views on a live-streaming event.
Love it or hate it, Game of Thrones ends this week. The series finale will air this upcoming Sunday, capping a final season that has been criticized for being too short, too rushed, and, at times, too damned hard to see. Seemingly immune to the ires of the Internet, the series’ showrunners are moving right from one heavily-debated property to another: Star Wars.
We’ve known for a while now that GoT showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff were working on at least one Star Wars movie, but details thus far had been pretty light. Where would their movie fit into the release schedule?
Thanks to a talk from Walt Disney CEO Bog Iger at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications summit today, we now know a bit more: it’ll be the next Star Wars movie released after 2019’s Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker.
We did a deal with David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who are famous for ‘Game of Thrones’ and the next movie that we release will be theirs, and we’re not saying anything more about that.
It’s worth noting, however, that “next” doesn’t mean it’s coming right away.
As Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy confirmed a few weeks ago, Disney is taking a bit of a hiatus on Star Wars movies after Episode IX to spend some time figuring out how it all plays out from here. According to the release schedule that Disney/Fox published earlier this month, we likely won’t be seeing this one until the end of 2022 at the earliest.
While they’re taking a hiatus from Star Wars movies, they’re not taking a hiatus from Star Wars overall. As Iger noted today, Disney is currently working on two live-action Star Wars series (one called The Mandalorian, and one focusing on Cassian Andor around the time leading up to Rogue One) that’ll air on its upcoming Disney+ streaming service, but he also says he expects at least one additional as-of-yet unannounced series to debut before the next movie.
India’s video streaming giant Hotstar, owned by Disney, today set a new global benchmark for the number of people an OTT service can draw to a live event.
Some 18.6 million users simultaneously tuned into Hotstar’s website and app to watch the deciding game of the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament. The streaming giant, which competes with Netflix and Amazon in India, broke its own “global best” 10.3 million concurrent views milestone that it had set last year.
Hotstar topped the 10 million concurrent viewership mark a number of times during this year’s 51-day IPL season. More than 12.7 million viewers huddled to watch an earlier game in the tournament (between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians), a spokesperson for the service said. In mid-April, Hotstar said that the cricket series had already garnered 267 million overall viewership, creating a new record for the streamer. (Last year’s IPL had clocked 202 million over viewership.)
Fans of Mumbai Indians celebrate their team’s victory against Chennai Super Kings in IPL cricket tournament in India.
In 2017, Star India, then owned by 21st Century Fox, secured rights to broadcast and stream IPL cricket tournaments for five years for a sum of roughly $2.5 billion. Facebook had also participated in the bidding, offering north of $600 million for streaming. (Star India was part of 21st Century Fox’s business that Disney acquired for $71.3 billion earlier this year.)
That bet has largely paid off. Hotstar said last month that its service has amassed 300 million monthly active users, up from 150 million it had reported last year. In comparison, both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have less than 30 million subscribers in India, according to industry estimates.
In the last two years, Hotstar has expanded to three international markets — the U.S., Canada, and most recently, the UK — to chase new audiences. The streaming service is hoping to attract Indians living overseas and anyone else who is interested in Bollywood movies and cricket, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, told TechCrunch in an interview.
The streaming service plans to enter Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand in the next few quarters, Dasgupta said.
That’s not to say that Hotstar has a clear path ahead. According to several estimates, the streaming service typically sees a sharp decline in its user base after the conclusion of an IPL season. Despite the massive engagement it generates, it remains operationally unprofitable, people familiar with Hotstar’s finances said.
The ad-supported streaming service offers about 80 percent of its content catalog — which includes titles produced by Star India, and shows and movies syndicated from international partners HBO, ABC, and Showtime among others — for no cost to users. One of the most watched international shows on the platform, “Game of Thrones,” will be ending soon, too.
The upcoming World Cup cricket tournament, which Hotstar will stream in India, should help it avoid the major headache for sometime. In the meanwhile, the service is aggressively expanding its original shows slate in the nation. One of the shows is a remake of BBC/NBC’s popular “The Office.”
A coalition of child protection and privacy groups has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging it to investigate a kid-focused edition of Amazon’s Echo smart speaker.
The complaint against Amazon Echo Dot Kids, which has been lodged with the FTC by groups including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Consumer Federation of America, argues that the ecommerce giant is violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa) — including by failing to obtain proper consents for the use of kids’ data.
As with its other smart speaker Echo devices the Echo Dot Kids continually listens for a wake word and then responds to voice commands by recording and processing users’ speech. The difference with this Echo is it’s intended for children to use — which makes it subject to US privacy regulation intended to protect kids from commercial exploitation online.
The complaint, which can be read in full via the group’s complaint website, argues that Amazon fails to provide adequate information to parents about what personal data will be collected from their children when they use the Echo Dot Kids; how their information will be used; and which third parties it will be shared with — meaning parents do not have enough information to make an informed decision about whether to give consent for their child’s data to be processed.
They also accuse Amazon of providing at best “unclear and confusing” information per its obligation under Coppa to also provide notice to parents to obtain consent for children’s information to be collected by third parties via the online service — such as those providing Alexa “skills” (aka apps the AI can interact with to expand its utility).
A number of other concerns are also being raised about Amazon’s device with the FTC.
Amazon released the Echo Dot Kids a year ago — and, as we noted at the time, it’s essentially a brightly bumpered iteration of the company’s standard Echo Dot hardware.
There are differences in the software, though. In parallel Amazon updated its Alexa smart assistant — adding parental controls, aka its FreeTime software, to the child-focused smart speaker.
Amazon said the free version of FreeTime that comes bundled with the Echo Dot Kids provides parents with controls to manage their kids’ use of the product, including device time limits; parental controls over skills and services; and the ability to view kids’ activity via a parental dashboard in the app. The software also removes the ability for Alexa to be used to make phone calls outside the home (while keeping an intercom functionality).
A paid premium tier of FreeTime (called FreeTime Unlimited) also bundles additional kid-friendly content, including Audible books, ad-free radio stations from iHeartRadio Family, and premium skills and stories from the likes of Disney, National Geographic and Nickelodeon .
At the time it announced the Echo Dot Kids, Amazon said it had tweaked its voice assistant to support kid-focused interactions — saying it had trained the AI to understand children’s questions and speech patterns, and incorporated new answers targeted specifically at kids (such as jokes).
But while the company was ploughing resource into adding a parental control layer to Echo and making Alexa’s speech recognition kid-friendly, the Coppa complaint argues it failed to pay enough attention to the data protection and privacy obligations that apply to products targeted at children — as the Echo Dot Kids clearly is.
Or, to put it another way, Amazon offers parents some controls over how their children can interact with the product — but not enough controls over how Amazon (and others) can interact with their children’s data via the same always-on microphone.
More specifically, the group argues that Amazon is failing to meet its obligation as the operator of a child-directed service to provide notice and obtain consent for third parties operating on the Alexa platform to use children’s data — noting that its Children’s Privacy Disclosure policy states it does not apply to third party services and skills.
They are also objecting to how Amazon is obtaining parental consent — arguing its system for doing so is inadequate because it’s merely asking that a credit or debit/debit gift card number be inputted.
“It does not verify that the person “consenting” is the child’s parent as required by Coppa,” they argue. “Nor does Amazon verify that the person consenting is even an adult because it allows the use of debit gift cards and does not require a financial transaction for verification.”
Another objection is that Amazon is retaining audio recordings of children’s voices far longer than necessary — keeping them indefinitely unless a parent actively goes in and deletes the recordings, despite Coppa requiring that children’s data be held for no longer than is reasonably necessary.
They found that additional data (such as transcripts of audio recordings) was also still retained even after audio recordings had been deleted. A parent must contact Amazon customer service to explicitly request deletion of their child’s entire profile to remove that data residue — meaning that to delete all recorded kids’ data a parent has to nix their access to parental controls and their kids’ access to content provided via FreeTime — so the complaint argues that Amazon’s process for parents to delete children’s information is “unduly burdensome” too.
Their investigation also found the company’s process for letting parents review children’s information to be similarly arduous, with no ability for parents to search the collected data — meaning they have to listen/read every recording of their child to understand what has been stored.
They further highlights that children’s Echo Dot Kids’ audio recordings can of course include sensitive personal details — such as if a child uses Alexa’s ‘remember’ feature to ask the AI to remember personal data such as their address and contact details or personal health information like a food allergy.
The group’s complaint also flags the risk of other children having their data collected and processed by Amazon without their parents consent — such as when a child has a friend or family member visiting on a playdate and they end up playing with the Echo together.
Responding to the complaint, Amazon has denied it is in breach of Coppa. In a statement a company spokesperson said: “FreeTime on Alexa and Echo Dot Kids Edition are compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Customers can find more information on Alexa and overall privacy practices here: https://www.amazon.com/alexa/voice [amazon.com].”
At the time of writing the FTC had not responded to a request for comment on the complaint.
Over in Europe, there has been growing concern over the use of children’s data by online services. A report by England’s children’s commissioner late last year warned kids are being “datafied”, and suggested profiling at such an early age could lead to a data-disadvantaged generation.
Responding to rising concerns the UK privacy regulator launched a consultation on a draft Code of Practice for age appropriate design last month, asking for feedback on 16 proposed standards online services must meet to protect children’s privacy — including requiring that product makers put the best interests of the child at the fore, deliver transparent T&Cs, minimize data use and set high privacy defaults.
A new trailer for “Spider-Man: Far From Home” has just been released, and it’s setting up a way for Marvel to finally unite the disparate elements of its franchises.
The trailer contains a pretty huge spoiler for “Avengers: Endgame,” so be prepared, but it also reveals how Disney’s super-heroically successful Marvel franchise will enter the next phase of its development (after 22 films and nearly $21 billion in box office receipts).
The secret, it seems, to the next iteration of Marvel movies and shows will be through the concept of the multiverse that was first floated in the Academy Award-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
In the new film, a super-powered being from another version of Earth (apparently) needs the help of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to stop some evil from destroying the world.
The concept of multiple-versions of Marvel heroes opens the door for appearances of heroes from other franchises that have never been under the Marvel umbrella or incorporated fully into the Marvel universe (heroes from titles like The Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Blade, to name a few).
Some folks have even speculated that it could be a way to draw Anthony and Joe Russo (who had taken the reins on the Avengers movies from Joss Whedon) back to do another arc based on the “Secret Wars” Marvel comics of from 1984 and 1985.
No matter what ends up happening, expect to see the web-swinger become one of the mainstays of the new Marvel Universe and the hero Marvel will seemingly hang more than one franchise on.
There’s a seemingly insatiable demand for Theranos content. John Carrerou’s best-selling book, Bad Blood has already inspired an HBO documentary, The Inventor, an ABC podcast called The Dropout, a prestige limited series starring SNL’s Kate McKinnon was just announced, and Jennifer Lawrence is reportedly going to star in the feature film version of this tawdry “true crime meets tech” tale. That’s before getting started on the various and sundry cover stories and think pieces about her fraud.
I think it’s fair to say the Theranos story has been sufficiently well-documented and I’m worried that this negative perception may be reinforced now that UBiome founder Jessica Richman has been placed on administrative leave. While it’s hard to pass on a chance to stoke startup schadenfreude, perhaps we could focus less on these rare, unrepresentative, and dispiriting examples? Instead, Hollywood could put the spotlight on women who pioneered the bleeding edge of tech and actually produced billion-dollar successes. Here are a few candidates ready for their close-ups:
Judith Faulkner, founder and chief executive officer, Epic Systems
Judith Faulkner – Founder/CEO, Epic Systems
In the late 1970s, the picture of a working woman in Wisconsin was likely Laverne or Shirley. Little did anyone know that in the basement of a Victorian manse in Madison, the future of healthcare was being coded by Judith Faulkner, the founder and CEO of what would become Epic Systems. Epic is arguably the most impactful startup in the history of health software, and Faulkner was building medical scheduling software before most people could even picture a PC. Her efforts established the Electronic Medical Records market as we know it and today, her company manages records for over 200 million people, employs nearly 10,000, and generates around $2.7B per year in revenue — not bad for a math graduate who never raised any venture capital.
One might argue that the origins of medical software are too tepid to make for exciting TV, but something tells me the kind of CEO who hires Disney alums to design her corporate campus and dresses up like a wizard to address her employees might make for a compelling subject.
SANTA BARBARA, CA – FEBRUARY 09: Lynda Weinman speaks onstage (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)
After those folded in the early 1980s, she taught herself enough computer graphics to become a freelance animator on movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which in turn led to her becoming a teacher at the prestigious Art Center College of Design. Her academic pedigree provided the launching pad to write an influential textbook, that in turn gave her the star power to strike out on her own as one of the first web celebrities.
Keep in mind; this dramatic arc only covers the time before she started the eponymous Lynda.com, and bootstrapped it to a $1.5B exit in EdTech — an industry most VCs and entrepreneurs fear to tread. In terms of material for a memoir, Hannah Horvath has nothing on Lynda Weinman.
FRAMINGHAM, MA – MAY 30: Shira Goodman, former chief executive at Staples, poses for a portrait in Framingham, MA on May 30, 2017. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Shira Goodman – CEO, Staples.com
Shira Goodman has arguably done more for online shopping in the US than anyone not named Bezos. She didn’t found Staples, but she did start and scale its “delivery business,” as she humbly calls it, to the point where it became the 4th largest ecommerce company in the US.
At a time when more nimble startups were disrupting big-box retailers, Shira did what few of her contemporaries could do — rapidly shifted a multi-billion dollar legacy company in an ancient industry into the future, and eventually became CEO of the entire enterprise. She did this while also raising three children and supporting her husband when he decided to change careers and go to Rabbinical school. Sitcoms have been premised on less, and since two versions of The Office have captivated audiences, perhaps it’s time to provide the perspective from the CEO of Dunder-Mifflin HQ?
Helen Greiner, co-founder, iRobot
Helen Greiner – Co-founder, iRobot
From C. A. Rotwang in Metropolis to Tony Stark in the Marvel movies, there have been plenty of cinematic explorations of robot builders, but the story of iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner might be more interesting than anything yet committed to celluloid. As a recent grad from MIT, Greiner spent a substantial chunk of the 1990s applying her mechanical genius to everything from a mechatronic dinosaur for Disney to a store cleaning robot with the potential for mass destruction for SC Johnson.
Far from an ivory tower academic, Grenier helped the government deploy search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero after 9/11, cave-clearing ‘bots in Afghanistan, and the bomb-disposing Packbot she developed has saved the lives of thousands of service members. Grenier, at age 38, took her company public and made the Jetson’s vision of a robot housekeeper a reality in the form of the Roomba.
CAMBRIDGE, MA – MARCH 15: Kelsey Wirth, who has a grassroots organization called Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing For A Livable Climate (Photo by Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Kelsey Wirth – Co-founder, Align Technologies
While the original startup bros were inflating the tech bubble in the late 1990s, Kelsey Wirth was pioneering 3-D printing, which at the time was as fantastical as anything Theranos promised. Wirth’s story as the co-founder of Align Technology is especially compelling in the way it shares some surface similarities with Holmes’ narrative. Prominent skeptics of Invisalign cast doubts on the company in its early days, noting that the startup’s PR had outstripped its clinical validation. Wirth had to solve seemingly intractable technical challenges including scanning misaligned incisors, developing algorithms to overcome underbites, pioneering new manufacturing process, convincing the FDA to clear the product, and then selling it across the country — armed only with an English lit degree and an MBA. Despite the long odds of curing crossbites with software, Wirth started what has become a publicly-traded business that is currently worth over 20 billion dollars.
Most of these founders faced setbacks, including external obstacles and those of their own making. There were layoffs, bad deals, and few of these stories had perfectly happy endings. Still, while a contemporary startup can earn plaudits for simply repackaging CBD and pushing it on Facebook, these entrepreneurs demonstrated a level of ambition rarely seen among modern upstarts.
The sensational focus on Elizabeth Holmes’ misdeeds steal focus from a group of landmark female entrepreneurs and waste a tremendous opportunity to inspire the next generation with heroic tales instead of fables of fabrication. None of these accounts have the black and white morality of the Theranos debacle, but these founders cleared hurdles both scientific and social. They flipped the script and made history, surely Hollywood can find some drama in that.
Thanks to Parul Singh, Elizabeth Condon, and Alyssa Rosenzweig for reviewing drafts of this post.
TV broadcasting company Sinclair will buy 21st Century Fox’s 21 regional sports networks from Disney for $10 billion, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Sinclair was one of several bidding for the sports networks, which had also seen interest from Liberty Media, MLB, and Big 3 Basketball LLC. Sinclair had come out on top thanks to its mostly-cash deal, according to a report last week from Fox Business crediting unknown sources.
The earlier report had also pegged the deal price of $10 billion.
Disney had come to own the regional sports networks by way of its $71.3 billion purchase of Fox, which closed in March. That acquisition gave it more movies, TV and IP including film titles like “The Shape of Water,” “Avatar,” and “Deadpool,” TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “Atlanta,” and majority ownership of Hulu.
The company agreed to sell off the sports networks in order to win government approval for the Fox deal.
Separate from the new deal with Sinclair, Disney sold off the YES Network, the most prominent of the 22 regional sports networks it was looking to unload. The buying group, which included the New York Yankees, Amazon, as well as Sinclair, had agreed to pay $3.5 billion for the network, according to other media reports.
The WSJ confirmed this as well, noting the deal hadn’t been finalized.
The new agreement with Sinclair will see it acquiring other major sports networks, including channels in L.A. and Detroit.
Comcast is in talks about selling its 30 percent stake in Hulu to Disney, according to a report from CNBC this morning. The discussions are still in early stages. Comcast is considering whether the timing is right for the sale, as Hulu’s valuation could still increase over time. But if Comcast is less certain about Hulu’s future, it may want to unload its minority stake now, then use the cash to pay down its other debt — like that from its $39 billion acquisition of Sky, for example.
The report weighs the broader set of pro’s and con’s associated the potential deal, noting that retaining the stake could give Comcast a bargaining chip with Disney further down the road, among other advantages. But it’s also unclear how much Hulu aligns with Comcast’s long-term strategic plans — especially considering it has plans for its own streaming service in 2020.
In addition, Hulu is expected to generate losses, and won’t turn profitable until 2024, Disney has said. It also plans to expand Hulu outside the U.S., which is an added cost.
Disney today has majority ownership of Hulu, following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s 30 percent stake and this month’s deal with AT&T. The latter saw Disney picking up AT&T’s 9.5 percent stake for $1.43 billion. The AT&T deal valued Hulu at $15 billion. That means Comcast’s stake could be worth roughly around $5 billion.
Up until recently, Comcast was not looking to sell its ownership in Hulu. A Variety report from February said that Comcast didn’t want to exit the joint venture at this time, even though Disney was itching to buy them out. It’s natural that Disney and Comcast would still be having an ongoing dialog about this, given Disney’s ambitions. But the new report today seems to indicate these talks are now of a more serious nature — perhaps because Disney is upping what it’s willing to pay.
Comcast today provides 17 percent of Hulu’s content, and it doesn’t plan to remove that content any time soon, including after the launch of the NBC streaming service, CNBC said.
For the last year or so, you could ask the Google Assistant on your Google Home device to read your kids a story. Today, just in time for National Tell a Story Day, Google is bringing this feature to Android and iOS phones, too. It’ll be available in English in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and India.
When you asked the Assistant on your phone to tell you a story before, you’d get a short inspirational quote or maybe a bad joke. Having two different experiences for the same command never really made much sense, so it’s good to see Google consolidate this.
The available stories range from tales about Blaze and the Monster Machines to more classic bedtime stories like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’
That’s in addition to other story features like ‘read along,’ which automatically plays sound effects as you read from a number of Disney Little Golden Books. That’s obviously the cooler feature overall, but the selection of supported books remains limited. For longer stories, there’s obviously audiobook support.
Or you could just sit down with your kids and read them a book. That’s also an option.