Quibi series from Steven Soderbergh starring Tye Sheridan focuses on smartphone survival skills

People dramatically proclaim all the time that they don’t think they could survive without their smartphones, but a new series form the forthcoming streaming service Quibi from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman approaches smartphone survival in a much more literal way. The scripted series, which will premiere on Quibi at launch in April 2020, stars Ready Player One‘s Tye Sheridan, and counts Steven Soderbergh as an executive producer.

The series, called ‘Wireless,’ was created by Jack Seidman and Zach Wechter, who are the creators of the short film Pocket, which is shot entirely as though it was taking place on a person’s phone, almost like a screencast of that device. Wireless will similar cinematic, which is a good fit for Quibi’s short-form, made for mobile approach to original streaming content. Wechter and Seidman have a head-start in this regard, in fact, since their film collective Pickpocket is specifically aimed at making this kind of feature.

‘Wireless’ will tell the story of Sheridan’s lead character, who is described as “a self-obsessed college student whose only hope for survival is the tool he has spent his whole life learning to use: his smartphone.” Said character will apparently be trapped inside of his freshly crashed car during the action, and using the smartphone (which is low on battery) to try to survive his predicament.

Quibi has already made a whole host of slate announcements, with new ones coming all the time, but it’s going to have a lot to prove once it actually debuts, into what will be by April a very crowded streaming content market. Apple TV+ and Disney+, two new entrants from heavyweights who aren’t building a name from scratch with consumers, just debuted, and there are more coming early next year from NBC, HBO/AT&T and more.

Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plan told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers as it looks to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

HBO’s former CEO said to be in talks with Apple TV+ for an exclusive production deal

The man who oversaw the creation of some of HBO’s most highly-praised ‘prestige TV’ could soon be making shows for Apple TV+, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. Richard Plepler, who was HBO’s Chairman and CEO up until he parted ways with the company last February following its acquisition by AT&T, is nearing an exclusive production deal with Apple’s new original content streaming service, the report says.

Plepler, who spent almost 30 years at HBO, including six as its CEO during which the media company aired some of its biggest hits, including ‘Game of Thrones,’ would definitely bring some big-name industry influence to Apple’s efforts. Not that Apple TV+ lacks for that in its early offing, either: The premiere slate of original shows include Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon-led ‘The Morning Show,’ and and a show centred around Oprah’s Book Club, just to name a couple of examples.

The deal, which isn’t yet final but might be signed officially “within the next few weeks,” per the report, would be between Apple and Plepler’s RLP & Co., a production company he established after leaving HBO. There’s nothing yet to indicate what kind of projects he’d be working on for Apple TV+, but it’s a logical target for Apple’s new original content enterprise to pursue, given that its focus thus far appears to be on fewer, big budget and high-profile projects, but critical reception hasn’t been up to par with the kind of TV that HBO has a track record of producing.

Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew is on the hunt for always-on media startups

Perhaps best known for a career-making seed investment in Snapchat, Lightspeed partner Jeremy Liew is a leading investor across media and entertainment, making bets on startups like Cheddar, Giphy, HQ, SpecialGuest, Mic, Beme, Playdom, Duta and Flixster.

I spoke to him earlier this week about how he assesses the market for media startups, which led into a discussion about “always-on” forms of entertainment that add stimulation to a person’s environment, instead of commanding their full focus.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Eric Peckham: Do you have a consistent framework for evaluating potential investments?

Jeremy Liew: Our perspective is that consumer technology is now more about the consumer side than the technology side. It’s really more about pop culture than new innovations in technology. 

When we are assessing a consumer investment we ask ourselves, “does this have the potential to become part of pop culture?” One way to think about it is whether people who don’t use the product will still become familiar with what it is. Like how you can understand a reference to “Game of Thrones” even if you don’t watch it. 

Another key question is, whether there is a scalable, repeatable way for the product to reach its audience. That can be advertising, it can be word of mouth, it could be through social channels.

We also asked ourselves, “is this product going to build a new habit?” and we assess whether the entrepreneur has a unique insight into both why this is happening and why it’s happening now.

Your colleague Alex Taussig told me you have an overarching “future of TV” thesis that’s guided a number of your investments. Tell me about that thesis and how it filters opportunities in the media & entertainment space for you.

I think you can split what used to be called TV into two core use cases: “TV as entertainment” and “TV as company.”

“TV as entertainment” is most of what Netflix, Amazon, Apple, HBO, and similar companies have been focused on. It is high-production quality entertainment you have to pay attention to. Think shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Succession,” “Orange is the New Black.”

Then there’s another classic category of TV — “TV as company,” which is stuff that’s on while you’re doing something else. You’ve got the morning show on while you’re getting the kids ready for school or you’re getting ready to go to work. That’s how you get the five hours of TV viewing per day that Americans average.

TV as entertainment has to be so good that you choose to watch it over doing anything else; TV as company you just have to not choose to turn it off.

The vast amount of attention to the move to video — with subscription video on-demand (SVOD) and so forth — has been on TV as entertainment. There are hit shows that will attract people to Netflix, or to HBO Go, to Disney+. But what causes them to stay as a subscriber after they binge-watched all the way through the stuff that brought them in the first place?

That tends to be the TV as company content. If you actually look at hours watched in television, no one is tuning in to catch the latest episode of “Shark Week” — it is just what’s on. Think about the TV Guide grid: every genre, every channel will likely have a mobile native equivalent.

Some of these already exist. ESPN — it’s a channel where men watch the best competitors in the world play the sports they used to play when they were in high school and then they talk about it with their friends. Twitch is a place where men, mostly, watch the best competitors in the world play the games they used to play when they were younger and talk about it with their friends.

Daily Crunch: HBO Max will launch in May

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. HBO Max will cost $14.99 per month and launch in May 2020

AT&T and WarnerMedia announced the pricing, launch timetable and content lineup of their HBO Max streaming service. They also revealed that HBO has placed a straight-to-series order for “House of the Dragon,” a spin-off of “Game of Thrones.”

Even though distinguishing between HBO and HBO Max will probably be a bit of a headache over the next few years, this is a service that I’m genuinely excited about, with a rich library of HBO shows and Warner Bros. films at its core. And while the price is high compared to competing services, there’s no additional cost compared to the existing HBO Now.

2. WhatsApp blames — and sues — mobile spyware maker NSO Group over its zero-day calling exploit

WhatsApp has filed a suit in federal court accusing Israeli mobile surveillance software maker NSO Group of creating an exploit that was used hundreds of times to hack into targets’ phones.

3. Tencent leads $111M investment in India’s video streaming service MX Player

Times Internet, which acquired a majority stake in MX Player in late 2017, also participated in the Series A financing round. The post-money valuation was $500 million, according to a source.

4. Spotify launches a dedicated Kids app for Premium Family subscribers

The app allows children three and up to listen to their own music, both online and offline, as well as explore playlists and recommendations picked by experts. The music selection is filtered so songs won’t have explicit content.

5. Slack investor Index Ventures backs Slack competitor Quill

Quill, a startup led by Stripe’s former creative director Ludwig Pettersson, claims to offer “meaningful conversations, without disturbing your team.”

6. Where top VCs are investing in cybersecurity

Many of the rising cybersecurity startups focus on the same or overlapping problems, which could lead to a “cybersecurity consolidation.” (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Let’s have a word about what3words with Clare Jones at Disrupt Berlin

What3words wants to map the entire world and overhaul addresses, three words at a time. The startup has divided the world into three-meter squares, each one assigned three words as an identifier.

HBO Max will cost $14.99 per month and launch in May 2020

AT&T and WarnerMedia just announced the pricing of their HBO Max streaming service, along with sharing more details about the timing and content lineup.

The service will cost $14.99 per month — the same price as HBO Now. WarnerMedia also says it will be free for HBO Now subscribers and for viewers who subscribe to HBO via AT&T. And it will launch in May of next year.

The announcement came at an event for investors and media, where HBO’s Casey Bloys also revealed that the network has greenlit a Game of Thrones spin-off called House of the Dragon, based on George R.R. Martin’s book of Westerosi history, Fire and Blood (perhaps explaining why a previously announced spin-off that was recently canceled).

The company also revealed that HBO Max will be the exclusive streaming home of South Park. Plus, Elizabeth Banks, Issa Rae and Mindy Kaling are all developing new shows for the service — and Arrow and Riverdale producer Greg Berlanti announced that he’s working on the new DC Comics-related titles Green Lantern and Strange Adventures.

Today’s presentation for began with lots of commentary about all the corporate synergies between AT&T, WarnerMedia (which AT&T acquired last year) and the service’s namesake HBO.

WarnerMedia’s entertainment and direct-to-consumer chairman Bob Greenblatt said HBO Max will have 10,000 hours of content at launch, including the HBO library, films from Warner Bros. and original content “appealing to all the younger demos.” Ten thousand hours sounds like a lot, but Greenblatt acknowledge it’s less than some competitors (presumably Netflix): “We actually think our value proposition improves when we narrow some of the options.”

Screen Shot 2019 10 29 at 7.43.07 PM

HBO Max Chief Content Officer Kevin Reilly made a similar point, noting that on average, half of the usage on subscription streaming services comes from the top 100 titles, so “quality over quantity” is important. To illustrate that quality, he pointed to titles like Sesame Street, as well as the Lord of the Rings movies, The Hobbit movies, The Matrix trilogy and The Conjuring films, plus every Superman and Batman movie from the past 40 years.

“We’re all-in with DC and the associated brand-love that DC generates,” Reilly said.

He also noted the service will stream the 90’s classic Friends, as well as The Big Bang Theory, for which it reportedly paid over $1 billion.

As for originals, Reilly said the company plans to launch 31 Max Originals series (combined with HBO series, that makes for 69 original shows on HBO Max in its first year). Half of them, apparently, will be targeted at a young adult audience, with most of the episodes released on a weekly basis — Reilly argued that this allows for more cultural impact, “rather than fading quickly after a binge and burn.”

In terms of the product itself, WarnerMedia’s Executive Vice President Andy Forssell argued that “despite a decade of SVOD evolution, it’s still too hard to find something to watch,” and said HBO Max will “blend the smart use of data with real human touch, and present them via novel product experiences.”

He then showed off how the service will include curated highlights sections focusing on things like Friends episodes with high-profile guest stars. Forssell acknowledged that this might not seem revolutionary, but he argued that it offers a “significant deviation from how SVOD services have used screen real estate.”

It will also expand HBO’s Recommended by Humans feature, where celebrities and other real people can recommend their favorite movies and TV shows. And there will be kids’ profiles and shared profiles — so that the watching you do with others won’t interfere with the progress and recommendations from your own solo viewing.

Screen Shot 2019 10 29 at 7.42.30 PM

In July, AT&T first announced its plans for HBO Max, but the details around launch and pricing weren’t yet known. Instead, the attention so far has been on HBO Max’s content lineup.

The service aims to capitalize on HBO’s reputation for premium fare to attract consumers — many of whom already pay $15 per month for HBO Now. But it will pad that HBO library with a combination of programming from other WarnerMedia properties like Cinemax, New Line, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., The CW, CNN, TNT, TBS, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, Crunchyroll, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes, and others.

We now know HBO Max will be home to Game of Thrones and its upcoming spin-offs, plus favorite HBO series like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Deadwood, Westworld, and others.

It’s also bringing back Gossip Girl, rebooting Grease, making a Dune TV show, and streaming all 21 Studio Ghibli films.

Other HBO Max shows will include a Riverdale spin-off Katy Keene; Search Party; Batwoman; Adventure Time; Stephen King’s The Outsider; Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams’ horror series Lovecraft Country; Joss Whedon’s The Nevers; Julian Fellowes’ (Downton Abbey) The Gilded Age; David E. Kelley’s The Undoing; Rules of Magic, a prequel to Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic; The Boondocks; and Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai; plus back catalog content like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Pretty Little Liars, Doctor Who (2005 and onward), The West Wing, Top Gear, The Office (original version), and others.

Upcoming literary adaptions include Tokyo Vice, The Flight Attendant, CirceMade for LoveStation Eleven, and Anna K: A Love Story. 

More recently, HBO Max has announced a new documentary on Anthony Bourdain, an overall deal with Lisa Ling, a documentary about Amy Schumer, a Melissa McCarthy comedy film, a documentary with Monica Lewinsky, and a new deal with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot (the deal allows Bad Robot to make TV under the WarnerMedia umbrella and then sell it to other streaming services).

Abrams was part of today’s event. He said it’s too early to announce any specific programming under the new deal — Bad Robot already works with HBO on titles like Westworld, and Abrams has a new show in the works called Demimonde — but he declared, “There’s no company that values storytelling more than WarnerMedia.”

And for classic movie lovers who mourn the loss of FilmStruck, Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff said the service will offer a rich library of films from the Warner Bros. and MGM catalog, curated titles from Turner Classic Movies, as well as “decades and decades of more great titles from The Criterion Collection.”

AT&T said on Monday it plans to spend about $2 billion on the service over the next two years and aims to sign up some 50 million subscribers by 2025.

The service will arrive at a time when competition in the streaming market is heating up. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video’s successes have paved the way for new entrants like Apple TV+, which launches Friday, and Disney+, which arrives mid-November. NBCU is also joining next year with its streaming service Peacock, which will offer The Office and other classic shows, alongside new originals, like a Battlestar Galactica reboot.

These streamers are gaining at the expense of traditional TV, which has impacted other parts of AT&T’s business.

In the third quarter, it lost another 1.2 million satellite and fiber-optic-TV customers as well as 195,000 AT&T TV Now (previously DirecTV Now) subscribers. AT&T’s profit was down 22% year-over-year to $3.7 billion and revenue had fallen 2.5% to $44.6 billion.

Eventually, AT&T’s plan is to merge its AT&T TV Now live TV service into HBO Max and add on a discounted ad-supported tier to HBO Max to make it more affordable.

Original Content podcast: If you haven’t watched ‘Succession’ yet, what are you even doing?

You’ve probably already heard that HBO’s “Succession” (which recently completed its second season) is amazing. And as three East Coast tech reporters, we were probably the easiest targets for the show’s many charms.

Still, we felt like we had to talk about it. In fact, our “Succession” review on this episode of the Original Content podcast is perhaps our most epic discussion so far. And we probably would have gone for even longer, if we thought anyone would still be listening.

The series revolves around the Roy family, whose patriarch Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) founded and still leads the Waystar Royco media empire. Throughout the course of the two seasons, his four children — heir apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong), political fixer Shiv (Sarah Snook), snarky smart aleck Roman (Kieran Culkin) and libertarian weirdo Connor (Alan Ruck) — all take turns vying for their father’s attention and scheming against him.

All three of us loved “Succession,” but even without a long argument about the show’s merits, there was still plenty for us to debate: How a story with such morally bankrupt characters can still be so compelling, to what extend those characters are motivated by love versus hate versus greed (and whether they can even tell the difference) and who, in the end, deserves to sit on the corporate throne.

We also discuss next week’s launch of Disney+ and Apple TV+, and which shows we’re most excited about finally watching.

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
0:41 Apple/Disney discussion
10:16 “Succession” spoiler-free review
25:50 “Succession” spoiler discussion

HBO Max scores all 21 Studio Ghibli films

HBO’s streaming services have long succeeded on the strength of original programming, but in a post AT&T acquisition world, the company is having to create a streaming service supergroup of exceptional content to lure consumers into coughing up more cash.

HBO has been on a shopping spree for its HBO Max service. It bought right to Friends and The Big Bang Theory, and now it’s using its outsized checkbook to bring beloved Japanese animation group Studio Ghibli’s films onto the web exclusively on its platform for U.S. subscribers.

All 21 films from the studio, including classics like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle will be coming in 2020. The Wind Rises will be coming to the service in fall of 2020, the rest will come earlier in the spring.

This deal is hugely noteworthy for Studio Ghibli, as their classic films weren’t available to watch or download online legally in any capacity. It also seems that much of that was on purpose, and it seems that this long-held belief was changed with some of that HBO moola.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but here’s what a representative told Polygon this year.

“Studio Ghibli does not make their films available digitally, whether for download or streaming, anywhere in the world… They continue to believe that presentation is vital and particularly appreciate opportunities for audiences to experience the films together in a theatrical setting.”

This is a big win for HBO because anyone would’ve assumed that Studio Ghibli would’ve partnered with Disney, if anyone, for a streaming deal given their long-term relationship, but HBO Max seems to be keeping the checkbook handy and won this deal because of it.

Amazon’s ‘Fleabag’ wins four Emmys, including best comedy series

Amazon must be pretty happy after tonight’s primetime Emmy Awards, where its shows “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” dominated the comedy categories.

“Fleabag” did particularly well, winning the big award for Comedy Series, as well as additional awards for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, pictured above), Writing for a Comedy Series (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Directing for a Comedy Series (Harry Bradbeer).

Meanwhile, last year’s Comedy Series winner “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won this year’s awards for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Alex Borstein) and Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Tony Shaloub).

Netflix didn’t go home empty handed, either. “Ozark” won for Directing for a Drama Series (Jason Bateman) and Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Julia Garner), while Jharrel Jerome was named the best Lead Actor in a Limited Series for his performance in “When They See Us.” And “Bandersnatch,” the interactive episode of “Black Mirror,” won for Television Movie.

This was also a big night for HBO, which retook the lead in Emmy nominations from Netflix, setting a new record for the most nominations in the process. And it went into the evening having already won 25 Creative Arts Emmy Awards (those are the technical awards that they don’t get included in the big ceremonies), compared to Netflix’s 23.

That included taking the best Drama Series award for “Game of Thrones” (yes, that’s for the show’s controversial final season), which also won Peter Dinklage his fourth Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. “Chernobyl,” meanwhile won three awards, including Limited Series.

And for fans of HBO’s “Succession” (a.k.a. most of my Twitter feed), I’ll note that series creator Jesse Armstrong the drama writing award for the season one finale.

You can see the full list of winners here.

Amazon’s ‘Fleabag’ wins four Emmys, including best comedy series

Amazon must be pretty happy after tonight’s primetime Emmy Awards, where its shows “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” dominated the comedy categories.

“Fleabag” did particularly well, winning the big award for Comedy Series, as well as additional awards for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, pictured above), Writing for a Comedy Series (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Directing for a Comedy Series (Harry Bradbeer).

Meanwhile, last year’s Comedy Series winner “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won this year’s awards for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Alex Borstein) and Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Tony Shaloub).

Netflix didn’t go home empty handed, either. “Ozark” won for Directing for a Drama Series (Jason Bateman) and Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Julia Garner), while Jharrel Jerome was named the best Lead Actor in a Limited Series for his performance in “When They See Us.” And “Bandersnatch,” the interactive episode of “Black Mirror,” won for Television Movie.

This was also a big night for HBO, which retook the lead in Emmy nominations from Netflix, setting a new record for the most nominations in the process. And it went into the evening having already won 25 Creative Arts Emmy Awards (those are the technical awards that they don’t get included in the big ceremonies), compared to Netflix’s 23.

That included taking the best Drama Series award for “Game of Thrones” (yes, that’s for the show’s controversial final season), which also won Peter Dinklage his fourth Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. “Chernobyl,” meanwhile won three awards, including Limited Series.

And for fans of HBO’s “Succession” (a.k.a. most of my Twitter feed), I’ll note that series creator Jesse Armstrong the drama writing award for the season one finale.

You can see the full list of winners here.