Original Content podcast: ‘Wireless’ shows off Quibi’s Turnstyle technology

“Wireless” is probably the best showcase so far for Quibi’s Turnstyle technology.

That’s the technology that allows the streaming video app to switch seamlessly between landscape and portrait mode depending on the orientation of your phone. With other Quibi shows, you’re essentially getting two views of the same footage — but with “Wireless” (which is executive produced by Steven Soderbergh), you’re switching between traditional cinematic footage (in landscape) and a view of the protagonist’s phone (in portrait).

In this bonus episode of the Original Content podcast, director Zach Wechter told me that he and his co-writer Jack Seidman wrote the initial script — about a college student played by Tye Sheridan who gets trapped in the snow after a car crash, with only his iPhone to save him — before they decided on the phone-centric format. But when they heard about Turnstyle, “It just felt like a match made in heaven that would allow us to facilitate this idea.”

I wondered whether that required going back and adding a bunch of phone interactions to the story, but said Wechter said, “It was quite the opposite. One thing we found in testing was when the phone plot moved really fast, it would be hard, because there are these two perspectives happening at once.”

So that actually meant “reducing some fo the intriacy of the plot happening on the phone” to ensure that viewers didn’t get lost.

And if you’re wondering which mode to focus on as you watch, Wechter has some simple advice: “Go with your gut.” He said he had a “roadmap” for when he was hoping to nudge viewers to turn their phones — like when there’s a notification sound or Sheridan focuses on his phone — “but I think the most important part of the experience is that we’re not indicating when our viewers turn, that it becomes this sort of passive-but-active viewing experience.”

Wechter described making the show — essentially a feature length film divided into episodes of 10 minutes or less — as shooting “two films that had to dance together” in just 19 days. And he made things even more challenging by insisting that all the phone/FaceTime calls and even the text messages be filmed live, rather than just recording both ends separately.

“When I think about directing and my job, really the most fundamental part of it to me is making the actorss comfortable, and I think that having a scene partner is paramount,” he said. “It was a long conversation about why we couldn’t just have them act off of a recording and shoot it separately — because it took a lot of logistical effort and resources to do it — but it really makes the scenes feel very alive and realistic.”

You can listen to the full 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 follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Conan O’Brien on how to embrace an ever-changing media landscape

“Like most of the best things in my life,” Conan O’Brien explains, with a wry smile, “the success of the podcast was a complete surprise.” The answer is a typically self-effacing one from the comedian. Since launching “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” nearly two years ago, the show has quickly risen up the podcasting charts to become one of the country’s most popular.

For those who have followed his 30-odd-year career in entertainment, it’s easy to see why. Quick-witted and almost superhumanly affable, the transition to podcasting seems almost a given in retrospect. After all, hosting a series of late-night network talk shows for decades isn’t exactly starting from scratch when it comes to launching a new entertainment venture. Nor, for that matter, is having tens of millions of Twitter followers and your own online media company, Team Coco.

Not that things have always been easy. A long-promised Tonight Show slot wasn’t all he’d hoped for, leading to a very public exit from the most-coveted show in late night after just under eight months. It was the shortest tenure in the series’ history, culminating in a televised “exit interview” with Steve Carrell that found The Office star shredding his NBC badge. But O’Brien’s late-night hiatus was short-lived. Later that year, he returned with TBS’ Conan, which will celebrate its 10th year on the air in November (and is renewed at least through 2022).

The 2018 launch of “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” found the comedian embracing the new-found freedom of podcasting.

“There are a couple of things about doing podcasts that are superior or more fun than doing a talk show,” a quarantine-haired O’Brien said in an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt this week. “When I’m doing the traditional talk show, I’m limited. For years and years and years, when it was on network television, I had to take six- and seven-minute turns, which mean I’m having a conversation with you or I’m having a conversation with someone I’ve always dreamed of talking to, whether it’s Tom Hanks or Jim Carrey or Robin Williams. Then after six or seven minutes, there has to be a laugh and we’ll take a break and we’ll be right back.

“That’s not a natural conversational flow,” he continues. “What you can do with a podcast is really incredible. I can talk to someone for an hour and 15 minutes. We try and trim them back, but for the most part, people let their guard down. The other thing I prefer: no hair and makeup. It sounds like I’m kidding. But after almost 30 years of people caking my very white face with makeup so that I look like I’m still alive.”

Team Coco has produced 10 shows in all, including shows from longtime sidekick Andy Richter and actor Rob Lowe, writers Mike Sweeney and Jessie Gaskel’s intimately titled Inside Conan and a six-part mini-series interview with SNL alum, Dana Carvey.

“I don’t want to set a number goal,” O’Brien says. “I’m amazed — in two years, we’ve rolled out 10 different podcasts, some of them unscripted, but some scripted ones, as well. I’m not sitting around saying, ‘hey, we’ve got to get to 35 podcasts by this point.’ Because I’d like them to be good.”

The talk show has soldiered on, as well, undergoing its own transformations in the process.

In 2019, the program was retooled for a half-hour format. O’Brien dropped the desk and the suit, adopting a looser format perhaps inspired in part by the new freedoms afforded by his podcasting ventures. When COVID-19 made the in-person show an impossibility, he started working from home like so many others, switching to remote Zoom interviews. Throughout it all, “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” continued posting weekly interviews.

Asked whether he planned to continue his late-night show after the contract runs out in a couple of years, O’Brien seemed unsure.

“I think it’s a mistake to think of it as, will you stop doing the show, and only do the podcast? Or will you retire and then quietly work on your letters in a shack? I love to create things. I have a lot of energy. I love to try and make people laugh. And so I see All of this converging, I think the message that I would have for everybody watching TechCrunch Disrupt right now is that people need to open up their minds a little bit. If I’m making podcasts, it doesn’t prohibit me from also maybe do maybe doing something, it doesn’t have to necessarily be for Turner, it could be for anybody.”

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Multiple decades of success, it seems, have put O’Brien in the relatively unique position of being able to be somewhat platform-agnostic. Not being tied to a single medium is a strong place to be when it comes to bracing oneself for the unexpected technological changes that will continue to disrupt and upend the entertainment industry.

“Five years from now our entertainment may come in pill form,” he says. “You could binge The Sopranos. You could just take a whole bottle of Sopranos and then just drink a lot of water and then, you know, just don’t need any red meat.

“This is gonna sound far-fetched, but I think this is the most excited I’ve been in my career, because there were so many ways to be creative. There are so many ways to make people laugh, and I enjoy these new opportunities. I think when you’re someone who has been around as long as I have, you have a choice. You can be afraid of change, or you can be delighted by it.”

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer say that their accelerator can help diversify Hollywood

Impact Creative Systems (formerly Imagine Impact) is bringing a startup accelerator-style approach to finding fresh creative talent, and it announced this morning that, with funding from venture capital firm Benchmark,  it’s spinning out from Imagine Entertainment — the production company founded by director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer.

Right after the news broke, the accelerator’s founders — Howard, Grazer and CEO Tyler Mitchell — joined us at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference to discuss their vision. Grazer (whose films with Howard include “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind” and the upcoming “Hillbilly Elegy” for Netflix) recalled the Hollywood of 25 years ago, which he described as an “opaque” system where original writers often struggled to break in, and he felt that Impact could “democratize access to Hollywood.”

“How can we create opportunity to have access to the epicenter of employment in the media business, which is Hollywood?” he said.

For starters, Mitchell described what he claimed is a scalable system for evaluating 2,000 script submissions every week.

“We were able to build a system that leverages both technology as well as expert systems evaluating not just the writers, but the readers — almost like financial analysts — and try to come up with metrics in a world where there aren’t stats,” he said.

Mitchell also noted that in Impact’s first cohort of 87 writers, 39% were BIPOC, 10% were LGBTQ and it was split 50-50 between men and women, with 11 different countries represented.

“If you try to find the most talented writers in the world, they’re going to look like the world,” he said.

Howard made a similar point, saying that this diversity results from an interest in “fresh new voices” with “no statistical goals or agendas in mind — it’s just happening in a really honest way.” (At the same time, interviewer Ingrid Lunden couldn’t help but observe that this was a panel of three white men discussing diversity.)

Asked whether they’re interested in finding new talent from social media, Howard pointed to Grazer as the one who’s always encouraging him to “know what’s going on up north” (a.k.a. in Silicon Valley).

“Right now we’re in a creative renaissance with podcasts and Instagrams … finding their way into the center of the narrative,” Howard said.

Grazer said he often looks at YouTube, in particular. At the same time, he cautioned that creating content for these online platforms requires a different skill set than writing movies or TV.

“It doesn’t reduce the likelihood of their success necessarily, but it’s a different art form,” he said. “Because writing a teleplay or a screenplay, even the greatest playwrights can’t do that particular thing — you have to be trained.”

Still, Imagine found at least one idea in an Instagram Story, developing a comedic show around an actor (Grazer didn’t want to say who it is, but it’s probably Arnold Schwarzenegger) with a donkey named Lulu and a miniature horse named Whiskey. Apparently the show has attracted multiple bidders, and as for where it will end up, Grazer said, “It sort of seems like Amazon. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

Original Content podcast: Disney’s ‘Mulan’ remake is fun, if you can forget the controversy

Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” comes with some serious baggage.

First, the film has drawn political controversy for its star’s statements in support of the action Hong Kong police  against protestors, as well as the fact that “Mulan” was filmed, in part, in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has held Muslim ethnic minorities in detention camps.

And although it’s less weighty, it’s also hard to escape the business context: “Mulan” is one of the first big Hollywood blockbusters (along with “Tenet”) to be released after the pandemic shuttered movie theaters around the world. Warner Bros. opted to release “Tenet” in theaters, while Disney is bringing “Mulan” to Disney+ with a hefty price tag of $29.99. (There’s still a theatrical release in some markets, including China.)

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we acknowledge all of that context while also doing our best to discuss the merits of the film itself. It’s arguably the best of Disney’s live-action remakes, and it’s certainly gorgeous to watch, with some thrilling action scenes and beautiful landscape shots.

At the same time, Jordan argued that it doesn’t live up to the animated original, and we both agreed that the script can feel sleight and forgettable — particularly in the shadow of those real-world controversies. Plus, it’s hard to justify the current price, unless you’ve got kids who are eager to see it. Otherwise, you can probably wait until December 4, when “Mulan” becomes available to regular Disney+ subscribers.

Before we jump into our review, we also talk about this coming week’s virtual Disrupt conference.

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!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:31 Disrupt preview
6:33 “Mulan” review
35:10 “Mulan” spoiler discussion

Recorded music revenue is up on streaming growth, as physical sales plummet

With touring ground to a halt for the foreseeable future, 2020 has become the most difficult year for musicians in recent memory. One’s ability to survive on music depends on a variety of factors, of course, including things like audience, reach and how their fans access their output.

The world of recorded music has been a mixed bag throughout the pandemic. New industry figures from the Recording Industry Association of America out this week show that revenue for recorded music is actually up for the first half of 2020, owing, unsurprisingly, to the growth of music streaming.

With vastly more people stuck inside seeking novel methods of entertainment, paid subscriptions (Spotify, Apple Music, et al.) are up 24% year-over-year. Revenues on streaming music are up 12% overall, hitting $2.4 billion for the first half of the year. The figured has been hampered by an overall drop in ad sales that certainly isn’t limited to the music industry. That has had a sizable impact on services like YouTube, Vevo and Spotify’s free tier.

Physical sales of CDs and vinyl took a massive hit to an already rocky foundation, down 23% for that time period. Streaming now makes up 85% of all revenue in the U.S., with physical sales only commanding 7% — just slightly higher than the 6% made by digital downloads. It’s a troubling figure, given the difficulty many more independent artists have faced in monetizing streaming.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek faced backlash from the industry for comments surrounding streaming revenue. “There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough,” the executive said in a recent interview.

The comments came as many musicians have struggled to keep their heads above water during a sustained touring hiatus. They also come as the streaming service has continued to pump money into acquisitions in an attempt to build out its podcasting presence.

Watch the first trailer for the insanely star-studded ‘Dune’

That strange feeling? That’s the sensation of being excited about new movies again.

Now that theaters are slowly reopening (though not yet in New York or most of California, and I am 100% okay with that), studios are once again releasing trailers to hype up their scheduled releases for 2020 and beyond. Today, we finally got the first trailer for a new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel “Dune.”

The story focuses on the desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, which has become the key location in a galactic power struggle — it’s the only source of the spice melange, necessary for both space travel and immortality. Paul Atreides (played here by Timothée Chalamet) comes to Dune as teenaged royalty, but palace intrigue soon threatens his life and turns him an uncomfortable messiah figure to the planet’s inhabitants, known as Fremen. (The trailer suggests that Paul’s “jihad” in the books has become a “crusade” in the movie.)

As a book, “Dune” has been sequeled, prequeled, turned into multiple TV miniseries and adapted into beloved computer games. Most famously, David Lynch directed (then disowned) a film version in 1984. And while Lynch’s “Dune” has some striking moments, it was also a box office bomb, and very few book fans would consider it a faithful or successful adaptation. (Alejandro Jodorwosky’s unsuccessful attempt to film the book was the subject of a separate documentary.)

This time around, “Dune” is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, who previously helmed “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049.” And it boasts an all-star cast — Chalamet is joined by Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem, among others.

Unlike the Lynch version, this new “Dune” is only expected to adapt the first half of the book, with a planned sequel handling the rest. And while Warner Bros. is releasing the film, its parent company WarnerMedia is also planning a spinoff TV series for HBO Max, with Villeneuve directing the pilot.

“Dune” is currently scheduled for release in theaters on December 18, 2020. Will that actually happen? Well, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” (also from Warner Bros.) is the first blockbuster movie in theaters since the pandemic began, and it seems to be doing pretty well, particularly outside the United States.

 

Original Content podcast: ‘Teenage Bounty Hunters’ is more interested in relationships than bounty hunting

“Teenage Bounty Hunters” has one of the most memorable — if not entirely appealing — titles of any new show on Netflix .

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the series tells the story of Sterling (played Maddie Phillips) and Blair Wesley (Anjelica Bette Fellini), fraternal twins who end up working for bounty hunter/yogurt shop owner Bowser (Kadeem Hardison) in order to make some extra cash.

While the bounty hunting provides the initial hook for the show, the writers mostly use it as a comic counterpoint as they explore the culture of an affluent, evangelical corner of Atlanta, and then as Sterling and Blair’s relationships become increasingly complicated. The plotting in “Teenage Bounty Hunters” can occasionally feel a bit aimless, but in the end, we  ended up feeling impressed and — despite the show’s silly name —surprisingly invested in the characters.

In addition to “Teenage Bounty Hunters,” we also discuss the news that Netflix is making a series based on Cixin Liu’s “Three-Body Problem” novels.

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!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:39 “Three Body Problem” discussion
12:18 “Teenage Bounty Hunters” spoiler-free review
33:55 “Teenage Bounty Hunters” spoiler discussion

Media Roundup: Patreon joins unicorn club, Facebook could ban news in Australia, more

Welcome to the very first edition of Extra Crunch’s Media Roundup. Over the past few months, we’ve launched features like Decrypted, Deep Science and The Exchange, which aggregate and analyze the latest news in a given sector, so it seemed overdue to do something similar for media.

The goal is to provide a regular update on what entrepreneurs in the content or advertising business should be thinking about. That doesn’t just mean startup funding — we’ll track the broader landscape, including platform policies that could affect everyone — which is just as important as knowing who’s getting checks.

If you have any thoughts on what you’d like to see included in future roundups, please let me know in the comments below.

Let’s get started.

Facebook may ban news sharing in Australia

This is part of an ongoing dispute between Facebook and the Australian government, which has created a plan that would require Facebook and Google to share revenue with Australian news publishers whose content appears on their services. Both companies have a complicated relationship with the news business, with many publishers both relying on large platforms for traffic while also resenting the fact that those platforms take the vast majority of digital ad revenue.

In an attempt to improve that relationship, Google and Facebook have committed in recent years to investing hundreds of millions of dollars in journalism — and while those efforts are commendable, it’s worth asking whether publishers should be entitled to more by law, not just as a gift.

Now streaming on Netflix globally: Select original shows and movies for non-subscribers

Over the past year, Netflix has attempted to expand its appeal in part by making a title or two free to non-paying users in select markets. Now the American giant is extending this test to users across the globe — with a larger free catalog.

The on-demand video streaming service is currently offering select Netflix Original movies and TV shows including “Stranger Things”, “Murder Mystery”, “Elite”, “Bird Box”, “When They See Us”, “The Two Popes”, “Our Planet”, and Grace and Frankie” to non-paying subscribers across all the nearly 200 nations and territories where it is operational.

“We’re looking at different marketing promotions to attract new members and give them a great Netflix experience,” a Netflix spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement.

Users do not need to create an account to view these free shows or movies, Netflix says. The free viewing, first spotted by Gadgets 360, is available only through web browsers. On a support page, Netflix says Android users can access this offer through their mobile browser as well — but iOS users can’t.

This isn’t the first time Netflix has tested making a title free to non-paying users. The streaming giant, which had over 151 million subscribers at the end of second quarter this year, has previously made “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” available to users in the U.S.

It also made “Bard of Blood”, a movie it produced in India, free to users in the country. It also made talk show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” available to users for free on YouTube. The company had initially planned to make only first two episodes free on YouTube.

But this is the first time Netflix is making so many shows and movies available to non-paying users across the globe. The company has not shared how long it plans to run this experiment.

Speaking of India, the streaming giant has run several experiments in the country. It has made Netflix available for a few cents for the first month for new users, and tested several affordable plans.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘High Score’ is a selective tour through video game history

“High Score” is a new Netflix documentary series that looks back at the early years of the video game industry.

Across six episodes, key developers, artists, executives and even players discuss the initial arcade and home console boom, the emergence of Nintendo, the rise of adventure and role-playing games, the battle between Sega and Nintendo, the success and ensuing controversy over fighting games like Mortal Kombat and the development of 3D gameplay in Starfox and Doom.

We review “High Score” on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, which inevitably leads us to get a little wistful our own relationship with these classic games.

For older gamers, the series provides some pleasant jolts of nostalgia, and it’s also a useful primer for anyone who isn’t familiar with the industry’s history. It also taking time to highlight some lesser-known stories, and it’s full of fun touches, like retro animation illustrated moments that weren’t captured on film.

It’s worth remembering, though, that “High Score” focuses on just a few key figures and a few key games, which means that a number of important developments are ignored or only touched on briefly.

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!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:33 “High Score” review