Original Content podcast: ‘El Camino’ provides a quiet coda to ‘Breaking Bad’

When a TV show gets turned into a movie, it often represents a big change of pace, with a standalone plot, a bigger budget, all made for a bigger (or at least more casual) audience.

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story” — which premiered a week ago on Netflix —doesn’t take that approach at all.

Far from telling a new story or serving as jumping on-point for new viewers, “El Camino” functions more like a two-hour epilogue to the existing show. It appears to have been made exclusively for existing “Breaking Bad” fans who were wondering about what happened to Aaron Paul’s character Jessie Pinkman after the series finale.

As we acknowledge in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, Jordan is the only regular OC host who’s actually seen the entirety of “Breaking Bad.” And she was reasonably satisfied with the film, feeling that it had some of the same strengths as “Breaking Bad” — though it didn’t quite capture the strong character development and elaborate plotting that made the series great.

Darrell, meanwhile, gets a chance to explain why he’s so resistant to “Breaking Bad,” and why nothing in “El Camino” changed his mind.

In addition to our review, we discuss Netflix’s latest earnings, in which which the streamer reported better-than-expected profits, despite still-sluggish subscriber growth in the United States.

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
2:12 Netflix Q3 earnings
16:06 “El Camino” reviews (spoilers for “Breaking Bad” but not “El Camino”)
38:20 “El Camino” spoiler discussion

VR/AR startup valuations reach $45 billion (on paper)

Despite early-stage virtual reality market and augmented reality market valuations softening in a transitional period, total global AR/VR startup valuations are now at $45 billion globally — include non-pure play AR/VR startups discussed below, and that amount exceeds $67 billion. More than $8 billion has been returned to investors through M&A already, with the remaining augmented and virtual reality startups carrying more than $36 billion valuations on paper. Only time will tell how much of this value gets realized for investors.

(Note: this analysis is of AR/VR startup valuations only, excluding internal investment by large corporates like Facebook . Again, this analysis is of valuation, not revenue.)

Digi-Capital AR/VR Analytics Platform

Selected AR/VR companies that have raised funding or generated significant revenue, plus selected corporates as of September 2019.

There is significant value concentration, with just 18 AR/VR pure plays accounting for half of the $45 billion global figure. Some of the large valuations are for Magic Leap (well over $6 billion), Niantic (nearly $4 billion), Oculus ($3 billion from exit to Facebook), Beijing Moviebook Technology ($1 billion+) and Lightricks ($1 billion). While there are unicorns, the market hasn’t seen an AR/VR decacorn yet.

Across all industries — not just AR/VR — around 60% of VC-backed startups fail, not 90% as often quoted. That doesn’t mean this many startups crash and burn, but that 60% of startups deliver less than 1x return on investment (ROI) to investors (i.e. investors get less back than they put in). To better understand what’s happening in AR/VR, let’s analyze the thousands of startup valuations in Digi-Capital’s AR/VR Analytics Platform to see where the smart money is by sector, stage and country.

How Unity built the world’s most popular game engine

What do BMW, Tencent, Pokémon Go creator Niantic, movie director Jon Favreau and construction giant Skanska have in common? They’re all using the same platform to create their products.

Founded in a small Copenhagen apartment in 2004, Unity Technologies’ makes a game engine — a software platform for building video games. But the company, which was recently valued around $6 billion and could be headed toward an IPO, is becoming much more than that.

“Unity wants to be the 3D operating system of the world,” says Sylvio Drouin, VP of the Unity Labs R&D team.

Customers can design, buy, or import digital assets like forests, sound effects, and aliens and create the logic guiding how all these elements interact with players. Nearly half of the world’s games are built with Unity, which is particularly popular among mobile game developers. 

And in the fourteen years since Unity’s engine launched, the size of the global gaming market has exploded from $27 billion to $135 billion, driven by the rise of mobile gaming, which now comprises the majority of the market.

Unity is increasingly used for 3D design and simulations across other industries like film, automotive, and architecture and is now used to create 60% of all augmented and virtual reality experiences. That positions Unity — as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg argued in a 2015 memo in favor of acquiring it — as a key platform for the next wave of consumer technology after mobile.

Unity’s growth is a case study of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. While other game engines targeted the big AAA game makers at the top of the console and PC markets, Unity went after independent developers with a less robust product that was better suited to their needs and budget. 

As it gained popularity, the company captured growth in frontier market segments and also expanded upmarket to meet the needs of higher-performance game makers. Today, it’s making a push to become the top engine for building anything in interactive 3D.

This article is part of my ongoing research into the future of interactive media experiences. This research has included interviews with dozens of developers, executives, and investors in gaming and other industries, including interviews with over 20 Unity executives.

Founding

Unity was founded in Copenhagen by Nicholas Francis, Joachim Ante, and David Helgason. Its story began on an OpenGL forum in May 2002, where Francis posted a call for collaborators on an open source shader-compiler (graphics tool) for the niche population of Mac-based game developers like himself. It was Ante, then a high school student in Berlin, who responded. 

Ante complemented Francis’ focus on graphics and gameplay with an intuitive sense for back-end architecture. Because the game he was working on with another team wasn’t going anywhere, they collaborated on the shader part-time while each pursued their own game engine projects, but decided to combine forces upon meeting in-person. In a sprint to merge the codebases of their engines, they camped out in Helgason’s apartment for several days while he was out of town. The plan was to start a game studio grounded in robust tech infrastructure that could be licensed as well.

Helgason and Francis had worked together since high school, working on various web development ventures and even short-lived attempts at film production. Helgason dropped in and out of the University of Copenhagen while working as a freelance web developer. He provided help where he could and joined full-time after several months, selling his small stake in a web development firm to his partners. 

According to Ante, Helgason was “good with people” and more business-oriented, so he took the CEO title after the trio failed to find a more experienced person for the role. (It would be two years before Ante and Francis extended the co-founder title and a corresponding amount of equity to Helgason.)

They recruited a rotating cast to help them for free while prototyping a wide range of ideas. The diversity of ideas they pursued resulted in an engine that could handle a broad range of use cases. Commercializing the engine became a focus, as was coming up with a hit game that would show the engine off to its best advantage; for indie developers, having to reconstruct an engine with every new game idea was a pain point that, if solved, would enable more creative output. 

Supported by their savings, a €25,000 investment from Ante’s father, and Helgason’s part-time job at a café, they pressed on for three years, incorporating in the second year (2004) with the name Over The Edge Entertainment.

The game they ultimately committed to launching in spring 2005, GooBall, was “way too hard to play,” says Ante and didn’t gain much traction. Recognizing that they were better at building development tools and prototypes than commercially-viable games, they bet their company on the goal of releasing a game engine for the small Mac-based developer community. Linking the connotations of collaboration and cross-compatibility, they named the engine Unity.

Shonda Rhimes signs podcast deal iHeartMedia

Shondaland, the production company founded by “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes, has signed a deal to create a new slate of podcasts for iHeartRadio over the next three years.

As part of the deal, Shondaland is launching a new division called Shondaland Audio, with executive Sandie Bailey in charge of day-to-day operations. Rhimes will be involved as well, overseeing the development of the new podcasts.

While Shondaland is known for its TV shows, it has already been moving into podcasting with Katie’s Crib, a show about motherhood from actress Katie Lowes. (The announcement says new episodes of Katie’s Crib will be part of the Shondaland Audio slate.)

This partnership seems particularly noteworthy since Rhimes helped to kick off the current wave of huge streaming deals for content creators when she signed with Netflix two years ago. There haven’t been quite as many eyebrow-raising deals in the podcasting world — but the Obamas did sign with Spotify a few months ago.

“Podcasting continues to see tremendous growth and I’m excited to partner with iHeartMedia as Shondaland expands its storytelling journey into this medium which has seemed to usher in a unique sense of boldness, intimacy and connection,” Rhimes said in a statement. “With iHeartMedia we aim to share stories that are engaging, insightful, and reflect a robust world-view while staying true to the authentic storytelling voice that has become synonymous with Shondaland.”

iHeartRadio’s parent company iHeartMedia has also shown a growing interest in podcasting, most notably with the acquisition of HowStuffWorks last year. And it’s also starting to play podcasts on its terrestrial radio stations.

AMC Theatres launches its own on-demand streaming service

AMC Theatres announced a new service today called AMC Theatres On Demand — a marketplace where members of AMC’s Stubs loyalty program can buy or rent individual movies to watch at home.

The launch of an iTunes-style, à la carte movie marketplace seems almost quaint at a time when all the major media companies seem to be following Netflix’s lead and readying their own subscription streaming services. But it’s a noteworthy bet on a slightly old-fashioned model, and it’s also interesting as an effort by the world’s largest theatrical chain to diversify, particularly as box office numbers decline.

In the announcement, AMC Theatres President and CEO Adam Aron argued that AMC has a particular advantage, because it can use its data about the movie-going habits of Stubs members to deliver targeted offers.

“The addition of AMC Theatres On Demand, which extends our movie offerings for AMC Stubs members into their homes, makes perfect sense for AMC Theatres, for our studio partners and for our millions of movie-loving guests,” said Aron in a statement. “With more than 20 million AMC Stubs households, and with our web site and smartphone apps already being visited hundreds of millions of times annually by movie fans, AMC Theatres is in a unique position to promote specific movies with greater personalization than has ever been possible before.”

AMC Theatres On Demand has more than 2,000 films, drawn from all the major studios, available at launch. (As an extra incentive, if you buy or rent a movie distributed by Lionsgate or Paramount Pictures, you’ll get an extra three movies from the same studio.) The company says the service will be available via web, mobile apps and smart TV apps — though it doesn’t mention specific devices.

AMC has already been experimenting with new business models, responding to the popularity of the (now-defunct) MoviePass with its own theatrical subscription, Stubs A-List.

Fortnite’s black hole stunt is the kind of alpha energy we’re here for

As you are likely already aware, Epic Games is pulling a massive PR stunt that has shrunk the world’s most popular game down to a single black hole.

As part of Fortnite’s Season 10 live event, called “The End”, the entire Battle Royale Island was sucked into a black hole, with every Fortnite social media channel deleting all of its content save for a livestream of aforementioned black hole.

It’s like the game never even existed.

This has been going on for nearly 24 hours now. I’d say there’s less than one percent possibility that this is actually the end of the game.

For one thing, Fortnite is an insane revenue generator for Epic Games, a company that not only makes games but develops software for others to make games. In fact, Fortnite was actually built as a marketing vehicle for Epic’s Unreal Engine, to show off what’s possible with the technology.

No numbers have been released recently, but at one point last summer, The Verge reported that the game was making $300 million/month.

Fast forward to today, more than two years after launch, and the game is far and away the most popular video game on the planet, with 250 million registered accounts. It’s also one of the biggest esports by prize pool, with Epic pledging $100 million in prize cash for 2019.

But beyond the money (and let’s not underplay the money here), there is also some evidence that the black hole event is slated to end on Tuesday morning. A data miner who goes by Lucas7yoshi on Twitter points to code on Fortnite.com that allegedly reveals the end of the event is on Tuesday at 6AM EST. Of course, this is far from confirmed and though we’ve reached out to Epic, we haven’t heard back.

The point? Epic didn’t just delete Fortnite. (However, it’s been terribly fun to watch gamers’ temper tantrums play out on social media.)

Rather, the company is building as much hype as possible around its next chapter. With the entire map sucked into a black hole, all signs point to a brand new map.

This is important for two unequal reasons.

First and foremost, Fortnite has always taken place on the same map. Points of interest have been wiped away and replaced, and biodomes have been updated and tweaked along the way. Indeed, the ‘current’ Fortnite map is markedly different from the map the game launched with.

fortnite season1 season10

But it has been a slow transition, with one small change here and there for more than two years. Whatever the reason behind this, one symptom has undoubtedly had an effect on the game. The longer you’ve played Fortnite, the more of an advantage you have.

This is particularly true with mechanics like building. Experience in other games, be it Battle Royale or third-person shooters, doesn’t carry over into Fortnite where winning on both defense on offense rests in a player’s ability to build.

But, the map plays its part, too. Long-time players of the game know this island inside and out. They know that you can slide down this part of the mountain without taking fall damage, or that it’s difficult to jump your way onto this plateau without building. They know every single loot spawn on the map.

This has meant that, after two years, Fortnite has favored the veterans, which has left newcomers in a particularly difficult position.

Epic has tried to counter the imbalance of its players in a number of ways. For one, the game added Playground mode to give players a chance to practice in a relatively low-stakes environment. But Fortnite also made changes in the game that have given an edge to brand new players. The easiest and most obvious example of this is the introduction of the mechs in the beginning of Season 10, which were essentially unbeatable at their debut and took little to no skill to operate. Veterans were not pleased.

The piece that has been missing for the game is a good jumping-on point.

A brand new map may be the biggest opportunity yet for brand new players to join up alongside veterans of the game and have a fighting chance of being successful. For the first time, everyone will be lost. No one will know where all the loot is spawned in this or that building, or how to rotate from one point of interest to another with the greatest height advantage or the most cover.

But, instead of transitioning from the original map to a new one in a matter of hours, as is standard with every other update to a game, Epic has decided to draw this one out.

And let’s keep this in context. Most schools are off today for Columbus Day. All those kids who were excited to grind out Season 11 on their day off are now left staring into a Black Hole with nothing to do but simmer in rage or… ya know, do something else.

This is exactly the kind of alpha energy from a game maker that I am here for. The ego!

While other games worry about getting as many players on their servers as possible at any given second of any day, Fortnite is taking a few days off to let you really miss it. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. For both old and new players, a new map means a fresh start and a fresh reason to get excited about Fortnite.

Much less critically, a new map addresses competition.

EA’s Apex Legends remains one of the biggest threats to Fortnite. The Battle Royale game had an explosive (and reportedly expensive) launch and hit 50 million users faster than Fortnite did at launch. But interest in the game petered out until very recently, when EA introduced a brand new map for the first time.

The new map, called World’s Edge, reinvigorated the player base. It’s been out for about two weeks now.

With Epic’s black hole stunt, the publisher is having a true snap back moment.

“Go play your other game, if you must, or better yet just stare longingly into this cryptic black hole,” Fortnite is saying. “You’ll come running back the moment you hear I’ve returned.”

Original Content podcast: For better or for worse, ‘The Politician’ is absolutely bonkers

We all agree: “The Politician” is a crazy show that tries to do everything at once.

After all, why settle for a fast-talking satire about a high school election; a more serious treatment of wealth, illness and emotional turmoil; or a showcase for the musical talents of “Dear Evan Hansen” star Ben Platt? Instead, why not watch a show that tries to encompass all of that and more?

Still, the hosts of the Original Content podcast found themselves split on whether they actually liked it. Jordan and Darrell admitted that they were strangely compelled by the whole thing, but they ultimately found the mixture of gaudy production design, over-the-top melodrama and serious emotion to be exhausting.

Anthony, meanwhile, couldn’t defend the show’s treatment of weighty subjects like suicide, but he was still delighted by the rapid-fire dialogue and “The Politician”‘s apparent determination to entertain at all costs.

This is Ryan Murphy’s first production for Netflix — and since the “Glee” and “American Horror Story” creator signed a $300 million deal with the streaming service last year, the show is attracting extra scrutiny.

In this case, Murphy created the series with his “Glee” co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. Platt stars as Payton Hobart, the titular politician, with each season focusing on a different election in Payton’s career, starting with his run for high school president.

The show mines the gap between the grandness of Payton’s ambition and the triviality of the election for laughs, but that contrast also makes it hard to take Payton seriously at all. And while Jordan and Darrell admire the incredible cast (which also includes Jessica Lange, Gwyneth Paltrow and Bette Midler), they had a particularly hard time with the season finale, which they argue was little more than a trailer for season two.

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’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:37 Disrupt recap
9:30 “The Politician” review (mild spoilers)
31:14 “The Politician” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: Malka Older on reviving the clones of ‘Orphan Black’ for Serial Box

“Orphan Black” ended its five-season run back in 2017, but Serial Box is currently continuing the story with “Orphan Black: The Next Chapter,” a weekly series of e-books and audiobooks.

While spinoff novels and licensed fiction are nothing new, I was particularly interested in this revival because Serial Box is a venture-backed startup bringing back the tradition of serialized fiction. Plus, ‘The Next Chapter” feels particularly official because the audio version is narrated by Tatiana Maslany, whose starring turn as the show’s various clones was so central to its appeal.

So for a bonus episode of the Original Content podcast, I spoke to Malka Older, the head writer of “Orphan Black: The Next Chapter.”

Older was a fan of the series, and she explained that by jumping several years ahead in the “Orphan Black” timeline, the writing team could “give the original series space to breathe” and find a new approach to its big themes.

While Older noted that she has no problem depicting large corporations as villains — something she’s done in her own novels — she wanted to do something new here:

We started thinking more about governments. And particularly when you come to these questions of biotechnology and genetics, governments are increasingly getting involved and trying to figure out what their role is in regulating them —or facilitating them for economic reasons. And then we’re also seeing security questions and things like biometric security become much more pervasive. So to start thinking about how that would effect the lives of these clones was just a really rich seam to open up.

We also cover some topics that should be interesting to non-“Orphan Black” fans, like the appeal of serialized fiction versus binge-watching. Older noted that if you wait for all the weekly installments to come out, you can still binge “The Next Chapter,” but she also said, “Not all of us have the opportunity to really binge everything. And it’s not always bad to have structural constraints on how much you can consume at one time.”

You can listen to the interview 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!)

How I Podcast: Broken Record’s Justin Richmond

The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs.

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Criminal/This Is Love’s Lauren Spohrer
Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale
Jesse Thorn of Bullseye
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

190712 BrokenRecord Raconteurs 0664 1

This week, we’ve got the producer and “fourth co-host” of Broken Record, Justin Richmond. Richmond actually does much of the talking for the popular music podcast, but you would probably bill yourself as number four if you were sharing mic time with Rick Rubin, Malcolm Gladwell and former New York Times editor Bruce Headlam.

The show aims to serve as aural linear notes in an era when musical context has gone the way of the 8-track and the original Ramones. The show’s guests have been a who’s who of popular musicians, including recent guests Jack White, Tyler the Creator and Ezra Koenig. Season three of the show kicked off recently and is available for listening at Broken Record Podcast. Next week, Richmond will interview rapper, producer, actor and former Fugee, Wyclef Jean.

Most days I work out of the greatest podcast studio there is: Shangri La, perched above one of my favorite Malibu beaches. OK, it might not be a podcast studio. Built by Bob Dylan’s band, The Band, in the mid ’70s, it’s where they recorded their last album as a group. They also taped the interview scenes from “The Last Waltz” there with Martin Scorsese. Bob Dylan’s tour bus was marooned there and has since been turned into a recording space. Black Sabbath recorded their last record there. Neil Young has used it, Run the Jewels, Eric Clapton, Kendrick Lamar … everyone. It’s one of the perks of working on a podcast with Rick Rubin.

There are two studios at Shangri La we typically use. One is in the main studio, with a beautiful API console and U87 microphones. Rick and a guest sit in the control room above the studio’s “live” room and overlook a beautiful green landscape and the ocean. Typically the windows are open so you can often hear helicopters flying by, motorcycles speeding down PCH or birds chirping. But it gives the recordings character. The other place we record is in what we call “The Chapel.” It’s a small charming building that looks like, you guessed it, a chapel. We also use U87’s down there and the console is from the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. It used to be at Rick’s old Laurel Canyon studio where he recorded the Red Hot Chili Peppers and countless other groups in the ’90s and early 2000s. These bits of history are what make creating a music podcast from there so surreal and fun.

IMG 7596

But some days my studio space is challenging (though, honestly, still very fun). Our first episode for Season 3, for example, is Malcolm and Rick talking with the Raconteurs — primarily Brendan Benson and Jack White. We taped the episode in Jack White’s sunroom at a home of his in the Detroit area. As you can tell from the picture, it’s a beautiful space, but there’s a lot going on … and we’re far from our usual Malibu digs. Luckily, Bill Skibbe, who does the mastering for Jack’s Third Man Records stuff, was able to pull up with a wonderful mobile rig.

However, Rick wasn’t in Michigan — he was in Italy. We were initially going to have him FaceTime in and sync himself with an RE-20 on his end, but the internet on both ends was a little shoddy. So we ended up putting my iPhone in the middle of the room with Rick on speaker. It was a nightmare to reduce the bleed of any and every sound coming through the phone on Rick’s end, but we painstakingly got it done. 

Because Rick, Malcolm and Bruce keep very busy schedules we have a bunch of other studios lined up across the country that provide wildly different environments. But somehow we’re managing to unify the Broken Record sound.

As Sinai Ventures returns first fund, partner Jordan Fudge talks new LA focus

At age 27, Jordan Fudge is quietly making a splash in the VC world.

Fudge is the managing partner of Sinai Ventures, a multi-stage VC fund that manages $100 million and has more than 80 portfolio companies including Ro, Drivetime, Kapwing, and Luminary. His 2017 investment in Pinterest — a secondary shares deal from his prior firm that was rolled into Sinai when he spun out — will have returned the value of Sinai’s Fund I by itself once the lockup on shares expires next week.

Fudge and co-founder Eric Reiner, a Northwestern University classmate, hired staff in New York and San Francisco when Sinai launched in early 2018. Today, they’re centralizing the team in Los Angeles for its next fund, a bet on the rising momentum of the local startup ecosystem and their vision to be the city’s leading Series A and B firm.

Fudge and Reiner have intentionally stayed off the radar thus far, wanting to prove themselves first through a track record of investments.

Kwaku EDITS V2

Jordan Fudge. Image via Sinai Ventures

A part-time film financier who also serves on the board of LGBT advocacy non-profit GLAAD, Fudge describes himself as an atypical VC firm founder, an edge he’s using to carve out his niche in a crowded VC landscape.

I spoke with Fudge to learn more about his strategy at Sinai and what led to him founding the firm. Here’s the transcript (edited for length and clarity):

Eric Peckham: Tell me the origin story here. How did Sinai Ventures get seeded?

Jordan Fudge: I was working for Eagle Advisors, a multi-billion dollar family office for one of the founders of SAP, focused on the tech sector across public markets, crypto, and eventually VC deals. Two years in, I pitched them on spinning out to focus on VC and they seeded Sinai with the private investments like Compass and Pinterest I had done already, plus a fresh fund to invest out of on my own. It was $100 million combined.