‘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.”

 

Are virtual concerts here to stay?

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the music industry to experiment seriously with virtual concerts.

Historically, musicians and their managers have been careful about challenging the traditional concert model that became their main source of income as revenue from album sales disappeared.

Is the current surge of virtual concerts here to stay or will it be abandoned as soon as large in-person gatherings are permitted again and the novelty of concerts in Fortnite wears off?

For the middle tier of recording artists, virtual concerts are shaping up to be a worthwhile part of their business portfolio, generating healthy income and engaging a geographically dispersed base of core fans. For the top tier of artists — those who perform in stadiums and arenas — the opportunity cost of virtual concerts doesn’t make financial sense to do very often once in-person concerts return. That said, a couple such performances each year can unlock a lot of the untapped potential revenue from fans who can’t attend their normal concerts.

Virtual concerts are having their moment

There’s no opportunity cost to trying a virtual concert during a pandemic. Artists aren’t performing, touring, shooting videos or even doing in-person sessions with songwriters. With everyone stuck at home, fans will forgive a disappointing attempt at performing online and artists have time to experiment. Live Nation, the dominant concert promotion and venue management company, has even converted its site to curating a schedule of virtual performances.

Virtual concerts have been growing in three formats: video streaming platforms, within the virtual worlds of video games and virtual reality.

Concerts via video

Walmart partners with Tribeca to turn 160 store parking lots into drive-in theaters

Just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, Walmart announced a partnership with Tribeca Enterprises (most notably the purveyors of the film festival of the same name) that’s set to convert 160 store locations into makeshift drive-in movie theaters.

The move is an extension of the existing Tribeca-led Drive-In program that has already announced events for a handful of cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Arlington, TX, Miami and Seattle, with help from IMAX and AT&T. The Hollywood Reporter has a bit more detail about the new initiative. Details are still pretty thin, but the involvement of such a ubiquitous retailer could help extend the program to communities outside of the aforementioned urban centers.

Walmart Drive-In follows a number of smaller scale initiatives that have helped the largely extinguished category see a resurgence as consumers are understandably wary of returning to an indoor theater experience as COVID-19 continues to spike across the country. Most theaters have relied on older films — in fact, Jurassic Park recently hit number one at the U.S. box office nearly 30 years after its release on the strength of the new trend.

The Walmart screenings are set for August through October, with Tribeca at the helm of the film selection. No word yet on the schedule, but Tribeca’s previously announced selection includes Selena, The Bodyguard, Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Jerry Maguire, Space Jam, Love & Basketball, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, Mean Girls, Superbad, Girls Trip, Bridesmaids, Talladega Nights, The Fast and The Furious, Goldfinger, Casino Royale,  Inside Out, The Lego Movie and Spy Kids.

Spotify expands Premium Duo subscription tier aimed at couples to U.S., India, dozens of other markets

Spotify today announced it is expanding Premium Duo, a feature that allows two people who live at the same place — say couples or flatmates — to share one subscription plan while maintaining their own individual accounts, to dozens of new markets.

Premium Duo is a remarkable concept from Spotify, which it first began testing in March last year and expanded to 19 markets months later. Starting Wednesday, Spotify Premium Duo is now available in 55 markets.

The new subscription offering is remarkable mostly because it’s solving a problem that very few people face today. At a glance, it appears that Premium Duo is designed to help people save money and gain access to a shared playlist that represents music they both cherish.

Two people can split the cost by joining Premium Duo, and it would save them a few bucks had they subscribed to the music streaming service individually. The problem is that if you are looking to save money, you can save even more by subscribing to Spotify’s family plan that supports six members in a group.

In the U.S., Premium Duo is priced at $12.99 a month. In India, it’s priced at Rs 149 a month ($2). (In India, subscriptions to Spotify, Apple Music, Apple TV+ and a vast range of services are more affordable generally.)

Spotify says it also creates a special Duo Mix playlist for participating members of a Premium Duo tier that will comprise songs both listeners like. But it offers a similar feature for members of the family plan as well.

I think I have figured out why Premium Duo exists. On its website, Spotify says that “with two separate accounts you can both enjoy your own music without having to take turns.” Couples, Spotify will really appreciate if both of you got your own paid accounts instead of listening to the streaming service from one account.

Alex Norström, who is Spotify’s “Chief Freemium Business Officer” said in a statement that the streaming giant was proud to launch Spotify Premium Duo. “With two individual Premium accounts, you can both listen independently, uninterrupted and get all of your personalized playlists and features tailored just for you. We are thrilled to bring this unique Spotify Premium plan to even more markets around the world.”

Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch on programming in a digital world

In the war between subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Starz has been growing on the sidelines and fighting to be the preferred add-on for consumers on top of their primary subscription. That journey has required the longtime premium cable TV network to rethink its target audience, content strategy and pricing.

It now has more than two million subscribers on its direct-to-consumer video platform and roughly seven million subscribers when including all the users of other SVOD services in the U.S. who pay for Starz as an add-on. I recently spoke to Jeffrey Hirsch, the company’s CEO since last September (and COO before that), about how he defines Starz’ overall strategy now and the process through which his team determined new pricing, new content strategy and international expansion.

Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

TechCrunch: Who do you think of as Starz’ core audience?

Jeffrey Hirsch: What we found from the data was women were driving our transition from the old world to the new world. We did a bunch of research and realized that women are twice as likely to buy apps under $10, their lifetime value is higher, they are more loyal and they become a guerilla marketing engine for the company.

We refined our programming strategy domestically to focus premium content on the female audience. There’s three kinds of demos underneath that: There is a general female point of view, there is an African American female point of view and there is a Latina point of view. If you look at our programming, we got there based on the strength of our show “Power,” which is our biggest show and is 65% African American female, and then “Outlander,” which is over 80% female.

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

Where to open a game studio

With the game industry booming, more entrepreneurs are evaluating where to base their new startup or open a new office for their existing company. The U.S. government’s block on H1-B and L-1 visas will encourage American game startups to add an office abroad much sooner than they otherwise would have. But where?

This spring, I surveyed a number of gaming-focused VCs about which cities are the best hubs for game studios targeting the Western games market. Several locales stood out as heavily recommended — which I’ve shared below — but the most interesting takeaway was the lack of consensus.

Game studios are far less geographically concentrated than other categories of VC-backed startups. While there are odes on Twitter and conference stages that “you can build a successful startup anywhere,” most investors will push founders to locate themselves in the SF Bay Area, or at least in LA, NYC or London. Meanwhile, the most common piece of advice from those I spoke to: You should probably not base a gaming startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Access to the right talent is the top priority, as is the ability to retain them. Proximity to investors matters, but a successful game quickly turns a profit, which reduces the need for outside funding beyond Series A (and U.S. and European VCs who focus on gaming tend to be very international in scope). Quality of life, ease of obtaining visas and access to strategic partners all play into the decision as well and will weigh these recommendations differently depending on who you are and the games you’re developing.

Three notes:

  • I focused on qualitative research, gauging the assessments of top investors who track new startups in the sector about where the action is right now. 
  • The scope of this survey is limited to studios targeting the Western gaming market, so leading hubs in Asia weren’t included.
  • I group cities by metropolitan area so, for example, San Francisco includes Redwood City and Seattle includes Bellevue.

North America

In North America, Los Angeles is the clear favorite with Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver all receiving many endorsements as the other top hubs. Regarding cities with the most interesting gaming startups recently, Ryann Lai of Makers Fund said, “It is hard to name a single best location, but Toronto, Culver City (in Los Angeles), Orange County (next to Los Angeles) have gotten increasingly popular among gaming founders lately.”

What went wrong with Quibi?

Two months after Quibi’s high-profile launch as a short-form mobile-native TV app led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, it is evident the startup is greatly underperforming relative to the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on content and marketing. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report, “daily downloads peaked at 379,000 on its April 6 launch day but didn’t exceed 20,000 on any day in the first week of June, according to Sensor Tower.” The article says Quibi is on pace for just 2 million subscribers by year-end, from its predicted 7.2 million. Most of the current subscriber base is on free trials, so even just maintaining the current pace of subscriber growth for several more months will be challenging. Quibi hasn’t released any of its own stats on subscribers, which it almost certainly would do to combat the negative perception among investors and press, if the stats showed a lot of traction.

I argued in 2018 that Facebook should turn its IGTV into a Quibi competitor, and I continue to believe there’s untapped opportunity for premium, mobile-native storytelling apps. So what went wrong with Quibi? There appear to have been four key mistakes:

  1. Miscalculating the risk of launching during the COVID-19 lockdown.
  2. Failing to see the central role of interactivity in mobile-native entertainment.
  3. Creating misaligned financial incentives with the wrong content partners.
  4. Launching Quibi like a movie instead of like a startup.