Original Content podcast: ‘Black Mirror’ returns with one of its strongest seasons

Less than six months after releasing the disappointing interactive experiment “Bandersnatch,” Netflix’s science fiction anthology series “Black Mirror” is back with three traditionally-structured episodes.

On the latest installment of the Original Content podcast, we weigh in with our thoughts on the new season. We didn’t entirely agree on which episodes were strongest, but we agreed that there wasn’t a real misfire in the bunch.

Darrell and Jordan were most impressed the season opener, “Striking Vipers” — which uses a VR fighting game as a launching point for a thorny exploration of sexuality and friendship — while Anthony preferred “Smithereens,” in which the the driver with an Uber-style app takes a social media intern hostage. And we also had a good time with “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” which stars as Miley Cyrus as a pop star who’s merchandised as a friendly AI assistant.

Not all of the new episodes end happily, but in general, the show’s penchant for bleakness seems to have lifted (or perhaps it was simply channeled into “Bandersnatch”), leaving room for more emotional complexity. If we had any complaints, they had more to do with the relatively abbreviated season length, and with our skepticism about some of the show’s near-future technology.

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
1:33 “Black Mirror” spoiler-free review
31:00 Spoiler discussion

“Russian Doll” will return to Netflix for a second season

Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” might be ringing through your ears once again. “Russian Doll,” co-created by and starring Natasha Lyonne, has been picked up for a second season by Netflix. A release date hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the new season will have eight episodes.

The renewal was announced today by Lyonne and Netflix vice president of content acquisition and original series Cindy Holland during Recode’s Code Conference and is noteworthy for several reasons. As a dark, time-bending comedy written and directed by all women, the show is an example of how Netflix and other streaming services can give a platform to content that might otherwise have a hard time finding a distributor. Though Lyonne is a well-respected actress, she has mostly appeared in supporting roles, but her lead performance was one of the reasons “Russian Doll” became a breakout hit earlier this year.

During their Code Conference panel, Holland said “Russian Doll” was a “hit relative to cost” and underscored the “eclectic tastes” of Netflix’s audience, while Lyonne described Netflix’s algorithm as “a bit of a relief,” adding that “boundaries are sort of healthy for the creative process in a way.”

It’s Always Sunny meets Warcraft in Mythic Quest Apple TV+ trailer

He’s no Keanu, but Rob Mcelhenney’s pretty good as far as E3 cameos go. The It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star hit the stage at Ubisoft’s presser this afternoon to show off a trailer from his upcoming ridiculously named Apple TV+ series, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.

The series was created by Mcelhenney and Sunny vets Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz and produced by Ubisoft Film and Television — marking its first live action series. Details are thin at the moment, but the series is a workplace comedy set in the offices of the publishers behind the massively successful World of Warcraft-style MMORPG, Mythic Quest.

From the looks of things, the series shares more in common with The Office than Sunny, shot in a mockumentary style. Though again, the trailer doesn’t really offer much to go on. More details have been promised soon.

Apple TV+, the company’s premium streaming service, is launching this fall. 

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Always Be My Maybe’ is a surprisingly sweet romantic comedy

“Always Be My Maybe” — a new film starring and co-written by Ali Wong and Randall Park — continues Netflix’s streak of solid romantic comedies.

That said, anyone expecting it to match Wong’s delightfully dirty stand-up (showcased in the Netflix specials “Baby Cobra” and “Hard Knock Wife”) might be disappointed. Instead, “Always Be My Maybe” feels like a throwback to ’90s romantic comedies; after all, Park and Wong have cited “When Marry Met Sally” and “Boomerang” as inspirations.

On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Catherine Shu to review the film, which tells the story of Marcus (Park) and Sasha (Wong), two childhood friends who grow up together in the Bay Area, lose their virginity to each other and then drift apart — until they cross paths again in their 30s.

We didn’t all love the movie: Anthony, in particular, found some of the jokes and the character arcs to be a little formulaic. But we all had a good time, thanks to the sharply-drawn characters, the rapid-fire humor and an excellent cameo.

Anthony and Catherine also discuss how the film resonates with their own personal experiences, and how it compares to “Crazy Rich Asians.”

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 Introduction and discussion of upcoming TV shows
10:18 Spoiler-free review of “Always Be My Maybe”
26:14 Spoiler discussion

Maker Faire halts operations and lays off all staff

Financial troubles have forced Maker Media, the company behind crafting publication MAKE: magazine as well as the science and art festival Maker Faire, to lay off its entire staff of 22 and pause all operations. TechCrunch was tipped off to Maker Media’s unfortunate situation which was then confirmed by the company’s founder and CEO Dale Dougherty.

For 15 years, MAKE: guided adults and children through step-by-step do-it-yourself crafting and science projects, and it was central to the maker movement. Since 2006, Maker Faire’s 200 owned and licensed events per year in over 40 countries let attendees wander amidst giant, inspiring art and engineering installations.

Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees” Dougherty tells TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.” Microsoft and Autodesk failed to sponsor this year’s flagship Bay Area Maker Faire.

But Dougherty is still desperately trying to resuscitate the company in some capacity, if only to keep MAKE:’s online archive running and continue allowing third-party organizers to license the Maker Faire name to throw affiliated events. Rather than bankruptcy, Maker Media is working through an alternative Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process.

“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.

The CEO says staffers understood the challenges facing the company following layoffs in 2016, and then at least 8 more employees being let go in March according to the SF Chronicle. They’ve been paid their owed wages and PTO, but did not receive any severance or two-week notice.

“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity” Dougherty admits, as his company had raised $10 million from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. “The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”

The situation is especially sad because the public was still enthusiastic about Maker Media’s products  Dougherty said that despite rain, Maker Faire’s big Bay Area event last week met its ticket sales target. 1.45 million people attended its events in 2016. MAKE: magazine had 125,000 paid subscribers and the company had racked up over one million YouTube subscribers. But high production costs in expensive cities and a proliferation of free DIY project content online had strained Maker Media.

“It works for people but it doesn’t necessarily work as a business today, at least under my oversight” Dougherty concluded. For now the company is stuck in limbo.

Regardless of the outcome of revival efforts, Maker Media has helped inspire a generation of engineers and artists, brought families together around crafting, and given shape to a culture of tinkerers. The memory of its events and weekends spent building will live on as inspiration for tomorrow’s inventors.

Original Content podcast: Director Grant Sputore explains how ‘I Am Mother’ draws from real-world robots

When I first watched the new Netflix Original film “I Am Mother,” I assumed that the robotic Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) was a CG creation. How else could you create a robot that looked so inhuman, and that that could also run around the film’s post-apocalyptic environments so gracefully?

But in a bonus interview for the Original Content podcast, director Grant Sputore estimated that 99 percent of the shots of Mother are completely practical, consisting of nothing more than a person wearing “a fancy bit of costume.”

“It’s both a budgetary thing, because we knew how we were planning to make the film — but also, we’re children of ‘80s and ‘90s cinema,” Sputore said. “So we worship at the altar of ‘Robocop’ and ‘Predator’ and the first ‘Terminator’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ and all of Stan Winston’s work, which is most of those movies … It’s for our own satisfaction, as much as anything.”

The film focuses on the relationship between Mother and her adopted human daughter (Clara Rugaard), who has been completely isolated from the outside world — until the arrival of a mysterious stranger played by Hilary Swank prompts Daughter to question everything she’s been told.

When I asked how Sputore wanted to distinguish “I Am Mother” from all the previous movies about robots, he said there are fewer than you think:

All the films that you think are about robots are largely about androids. So like ‘Blade Runner,’ for instance, is a seminal contribution to the sci-fi genre and many people would say that it’s about robots, but really it’s about androids. Which sounds like semantics, but it’s significant [from] two different points of view, One: Android movies tend to focus on the question of, do androids have feelings? ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Are they like us? Where do you draw the line between robots and humans? I feel like that question has been done … and our film is not about that at all.

Plus, of course, android movies are usually cheaper to make, because you can just use a human actor.

Sputore said he was less interested in the dividing line between humans and androids, and more in the relationship between humans and robots.

While he’s clearly spent a lot of time watching classic science fiction films, he said Mother was actually based on a real machine, namely the Atlas robot created by Boston Dynamics. And where an ’80s movie like “Terminator” might use killer robots as a way to address fears around the emergence of computers and automation, Sputore suggested that our relationship with robots has become a much more real, and much more pressing, issue.

“It’s a little more scary when people start losing their jobs to smart machines,” he said.

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!)

The Ticket Fairy is tech’s best hope against Ticketmaster

Ticketmaster’s dominance has led to ridiculous service fees, scalpers galore, and exclusive contracts that exploit venues and artists. The moronic approval of venue operator and artist management giant Live Nation’s merger with Ticketmaster in 2010 produced an anti-competitive juggernaut. It pressures venues to sign ticketing contracts under veiled threat that artists would otherwise be routed to different concert halls. Now it’s become difficult for venues, artists, and fans to avoid Ticketmaster, which charges fees as high as 50% that many see as a ripoff.

But The Ticket Fairy wants to wrestle control of venues away from Ticketmaster while giving fans ways to earn tickets for referring their friends. The startup is doing that by offering the most technologically advanced ticketing platform that not only handle sales and checkins, but acts as a full-stack Salesforce for concerts that can analyze buyers and run ad campaigns while thwarting scalpers. Co-founder Ritesh Patel says The Ticket Fairy has increased revenue for event organizers by 15% to 25% during its private beta focused on dance music festivals.

Now after 850,000 tickets sold, it’s officially launching its ticketing suite and actively poaching venues from EventBrite as it moves deeper into esports and conventions. With a little more scale, it will be ready to challenge Ticketmaster for lucrative clients.

Ritesh’s combination of product and engineering skills, rapid progress, and charismatic passion for live events after throwing 400 of his own has attracted an impressive cadre of angel investors. They’ve delivered a $2.5 million seed round for Ticket Fairy adding to its $485,000 pre-seed from angels like Twitch/Atrium founder Justin Kan, Twitch COO Kevin Lin, and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. The new round includes YouTube founder Steve Chen, former Kleiner Perkins partner and Mark’s sister Arielle Zuckerberg, and funds like 500 Startups, ex-Uber angels Fantastic Ventures, G2 Ventures, Tempo Ventures, and WeFunder. It’s also scored music industry angels like Serato DJ hardware CEO AJ Bertenshaw, Spotify’s head of label licensing Niklas Lundberg, and celebrity lawer Ken Hertz who reps Will Smith and Gwen Stefani.

“The purpose of starting The Ticket Fairy was not to be another EventBrite, but to reduce the risk of the person running the event so they can be profitable. We’re not just another shopping cart” Patel says. The Ticket Fairy charges a comparable rate to EventBrite’s $1.59 + 3.5% per ticket plus payment processing that brings it closer to 6%, but Patel insists it offers far stronger functionality.

Constantly clad in his golden disco hoodie over a Ticket Fairy t-shirt, Patel lives his product, spending late nights dancing and taking feedback at the events his clients host. He’s been a savior of SXSW the past two years, injecting the aging festival that shuts down at 2am with multi-night after-hours raves. Featuring top DJs like Pretty Lights in creative locations cab drivers don’t believe are real, The Ticket Fairy’s parties have won the hearts of music industry folks.

The Ticket Fairy co-founders. Center and inset left: Ritesh Patel. Inset right: Jigar Patel

Now the Y Combinator startup hopes its ticketing platform will do the same thanks to a slew of savvy features:

Earn A Ticket – The Ticket Fairy supercharges word of mouth marketing with a referral system that lets fans get a rebate or full-free ticket if they get enough friends to buy a ticket. 30% of ticket buyers are now sharing a Ticket Fairy referral link, and Patel says the return on investment is $30 in revenue for each $1 paid out in rewards, with 10% to 25% of all ticket sales coming from referrals. A public leaderboard further encourages referrals, with those at the top eligible for backstage passes, free merch, and bar tabs. And to prevent mass spamming, only buyers, partners, and street teamers get a referral code.

Creative Payment Options – The startup offers “FreeFund” tickets for free events that otherwise see huge no-show rates. Users pay a small deposit that’s refunded when they scan their ticket for entry, discouraging RSVPs from those who won’t come. Buyers can also pay on layaway with Affirm or LayBuy and then earn a ticket before their debt is due.

Anti-Scalping – The Ticket Fairy offers identity-locked tickets that must be presented with the buyer’s ID on arrival, which means customers can’t scalp them. Instead, the startup offers a waitlist for sold out events, and buyers can sell their tickets back to the company which then redistributes them at face value with a new QR code to a specific friend or whoever’s at the top of the waitlist. Patel says client SunAndBass Festival hasn’t had a scalped ticket in five years of working with the ticketer.

Clever Analytics – Never wasting an opportunity, The Ticket Fairy lets events collect contact info and demand before ticket sales start with its pre-registration system. It can ceate multiple variants of ticketing sites designed for different demographics like rock vs dance fans for a festival, track sales and demographics in real-time, and relay instant stats about checkins at the door. Integration of email managers like MailChimp and sales pixels like Facebook plus the ability to instantly retarget people who abandoned their shopping via Facebook Custom Audience ads makes marketing easier. And all the metrics, budgets, and expenses are automatically organized into financial reports to eliminate spreadsheet busywork.

Still, the biggest barrier to adoption remains the long exclusive contracts Ticketmaster and other giants like AEG coerce venues into in the US. Abroad, venues typically work with multiple ticket promoters who sell from the same pool, which is why 80% of The Ticket Fairy’s business is international right now. In the US, ticketing is often handled by a single company except for the 8% of tickets artists can sell however they want. That’s why The Ticket Fairy has focused on signing up non-traditional venues for festivals, trade convention halls, newly built esports arenas, as well as concert halls.

“Coming from the event promotion background, we understand the risk event organizers take in creating these experiences” The Ticket Fairy’s co-founder and Ritesh’s brother Jigar Patel explains. “The odds of breaking even are poor and many are unable to overcome those challenges, but it is sheer passion that keeps them going in the face of financial uncertainty and multi-year losses.” As competitors’ contracts expire, The Ticket Fairy hopes to swoop in by dangling its sales-boosting tech. “We get locked out of certain things because people are locked in a contract, not because they don’t want to use our system.”

The live music industry can brutal, though. Events can have slim margins, organizers are loathe to change their process, it’s a sales heavy process convincing them to try new software. But while record business has been redefined by streaming, ticketing looks a lot like it did a decade ago. That makes it ripe for disruption.

“The events industry is more important than ever, with artists making the bulk of their income from touring instead of record sales, and demand from fans for live experiences is increasing at a global level” Jigar concludes. “When events go out of business, everybody loses, including artists and fans. Everything we do at The Ticket Fairy has that firmly in mind – we are here to keep the ecosystem alive.”

AT&T’s WarnerMedia might be punting on its original streaming service plans

WarnerMedia’s plans for a three-tiered streaming service appear to be influx. The AT&T-owned company is reportedly scrapping that idea and opting instead to offer HBO, Cinemax and the library of Warner Bros. content in a single subscription service that would cost between $16 and $17 a month, Wall Street Journal reported citing unnamed sources.

The service would first be offered as a beta product later this year and could be offered broadly as early as next March.

TechCrunch will update the article if WarnerMedia responds to a request for comment.

This latest development follows a number of changes over at WarnerMedia, including the departure of HBO CEO Richard Pleper and Turner president David Levy.

Former NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has joined as chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer, putting him in charge of HBO, TBS, truTV and the WarnerMedia streaming service.

AT&T first opened up in November about its plans for its WarnerMedia streaming service. The company said at the time, that the service would have three tiers — an entry-level, movie-focused service; a premium tier with original programming and blockbusters as well as a bundle that includes them both.

During an earnings call a few months later,  AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson expounded on the service and said it would have a “two-sided business model.” The idea was to include subscription-based, commercial-free programming on the high-end as well as an entry-level portion of the service will be ad-supported, according to the Stephenson’s comments at the time..

Whatever the structure ultimately ends up being, the aim is to leverage the entertainment properties AT&T gained by way of its Time Warner acquisition last year.

‘Socially Inept,’ a comedy startup founded by Microsoft employees, roasts tech bros

Everyone gets a kick out of mocking the quintessential San Francisco techie, Patagonia vest and all. ‘Socially Inept,’ a new traveling comedy cohort, is making a business out of it.

The group has been roasting the tech scene in hubs across the U.S., including Seattle, where the company is based, as well as Los Angeles, Austin and San Francisco, since last summer.

It’s made out of current and former techies themselves. Co-founders Jesse Warren and Austin Nasso have a history at Microsoft . Warren recently left his full-time gig at the tech giant, while Nasso has yet to let go of the 9 to 5. Lee Yang, a producer, is concurrently building another startup called Epitome.io.

The hope is that the traveling comedy show will gain followers across the U.S. and perform shows in dozens of cities. That way, the entire team can commit to the effort full-time.

At their shows, Socially Inept taps local comedic talent to roast willing local tech workers.

“On the one hand they are wealthy and intelligent which puts them in a sort of ‘elevated status.’ It’s hard to really punch down on a recent college grad who makes $130,000 per year,” Warren recently told GeekWire. “However, despite their high status they typically have many funny characteristics and interests such as their social awkwardness, obsession with self-help, inability to properly dress themselves, and fascination with the television series ‘My Little Pony.'”

The show is making its way back to San Francisco this Thursday for a night of tech-themed insults at Cobb’s Comedy Club. Warren and Nasso, along with local comedians Tony Zavala and Julie Ash will be doing the honors of roasting.

Majelan is a personal podcast player with premium content

Meet Majelan, a French startup that wants to make podcasts more accessible. Behind the scene, Majelan is the startup created by former Radio France CEO Mathieu Gallet and Arthur Perticoz. The app is launching today on iOS and Android in the coming days.

Given that Gallet was previously at the head of all French public radios, the company has already raised $4.5 million from Idinvest Partners, Jacques Veyrat, Kima Ventures, Fabrice Larue and others.

At a press conference, Gallet said that Majelan isn’t the Netflix of podcasts. “It’s an experience that is 99.99% free. We are a content aggregator, an RSS feed aggregator,” he said.

But it doesn’t mean that the company hasn’t been inspired by Netflix, Spotify, Molotov and other streaming platforms. So let’s unpack what all of this means.

A more personal podcast player

Podcasts are an interesting content format. If you listen to the same host for a while, it feels like you know them and they’ve become your friends. But many podcast players provide a dry experience that feels more like using Google News than interacting with people you listen to.

Majelan gets the basic rights when it comes to podcast players. Pretty much like the Apple Podcasts app, you can search for podcasts, download and listen to episodes. If you like what you’re hearing, you can subscribe to a podcast and get new episodes when they’re released. It’s a true podcast player as you can even paste a podcast URL to add any podcast you want.

But Majelan thinks Apple Podcasts and the iTunes podcast directory are reminiscent of a phone book — Apple Podcasts is by far the leading podcasting app right now. It’s hard to find content and you don’t get any customized recommendations.

In other words, you probably know someone who wants to get into podcasts but doesn’t know where to start.

“The homepage is completely editorialized by the Majelan teams — they create topic-based playlists. They have listened to hours and hours of content and we already have 50 playlists,” Gallet said.

Each playlist is a collection of podcast episodes based on a specific subject — for instance the S01E01 playlist is all about TV series. Some playlists are based on a mood, such as “tropical shower”. The editorial team will regularly update playlists, phase out some of them and add new ones. It works like Spotify playlists made by the Spotify team.

On the search page, Majelan is using a grid view of buttons so that you can find podcasts on your favorite subjects (cooking, soccer, crime stories, philosophy, romance, etc.).

The Majelan team has met with the French TV and radio archive institue INA to learn how to tag a giant library of content. They are now manually tagging thousands of podcasts with hundreds of tags so that you can find the perfect podcast for your.

After you listen to podcasts for a while, you’ll find personalized recommendations in a tab called “For You”. This is an algorithm-driven tab that will soon tell you why Majelan thinks you’ll like a particular podcast.

A premium podcast network

Majelan’s business model is as interesting as the app itself. The company doesn’t show you any banner ad and doesn’t insert audio ads. Instead, you can subscribe to Majelan+ for €4.99 per month, or €1.99 per podcast ($5.57 and $2.22 respectively) — companies can sponsor curated playlists though.

Subscribers don’t get any premium feature, but they can access Majelan+ content. The company doesn’t mix premium content with free content for now. You have to head over to the Majelan+ tab to see premium content and listen to teasers and episodes.

There are 20 premium podcasts at launch. Half of them have been produced and recorded in the Majelan studio, and half of them have been produced with partners. Majelan is distributing those podcasts and sharing revenue with those creators.

Launch partners include INA, Universal Music, Society, Sara Yalda’s conferences and Clique.TV interviews. When it comes to in-house content, there are podcasts for kids, teens and adults.

For instance, Mautpassant(s) features short stories written by Mautpassant and read by famous TV anchors. “Tu deviendras grand” talks about the childhood of historical figures.

It’s all about data

By controlling the player, Majelan is collecting a ton of data about podcasts. For instance, the startup knows when people usually stop listening to a podcast. They can spot some trends and adjust their premium content based on what users want.

On each episode, you can react with various emojis, such as a heart, a thumbs up, a fire emoji, etc. Majelan plans to let podcast creators access this data in the Majelan back end. The company doesn’t want to monetize this data itself.

And this is the challenge with all podcast startups. Apple has been a neutral actor and its podcast directory has been open to anyone. For instance, you can create a podcast player and leverage Apple’s podcast directory for free. But many creators in the podcast community don’t want to see a well-funded private actor ruin everything.

So far, Majelan has had a cautious approach. Sure, you won’t be able to access Majelan+ content from another podcast player. But Majelan isn’t alienating the podcast ecosystem by monetizing free podcasts with audio ads for instance. It’s a fine line, so let’s see if the startup can keep the right balance over time.

Eventually, Majelan thinks audio content isn’t just about podcasts. The company plans to launch audiobooks and play with different formats to make audiobooks more accessible.

Everything has been designed to work in other languages and you can already switch the app to another language. And the startup should launch curated playlists and premium content in other languages soon.