Video ad company Eyeview names Rob Deichert as its new CEO

After 13 years at the helm of video advertising company Eyeview, founder Oren Harnevo is stepping down as CEO.

The company’s new chief executive is Rob Deichert, who was most recently COO at digital advertising company 33Across. The company is also announcing two other new hires — Sean Simon as senior vice president of sales and Risa Crandell as vice president of sales.

Harnevo, meanwhile, will remain on Eyeview’s board of directors.

“It’s been a long and incredible ride for the last 13 years since I co-founded Eyeview, and I feel it’s time to let a new leader help propel Eyeview to its next chapter,” he said in a statement. “2019 has been a great year for Eyeview. With strong revenue growth, and seasoned additions to our leadership team, it’s the perfect time to bring on [ad] industry veterans like Rob, Sean and Risa to accelerate our business as I depart to work on my next venture while supporting Eyeview on the board of director.”

Deichert acknowledged that it can be challenging to step into the shoes of a company’s founder, but he said he consulted with Harnevo before taking the job.

“I was just emailing with him today,” he added. “He’s going to be a great partner going forward.”

Rob Deichert

Rob Deichert

Deichert also said he has a standard on-boarding process when he joins a new company, which involves holding 30-minute, one-on-one meetings with every single person. (In this case, that means holding nearly 100 meetings.)

And while Eyeview has been around for more than a decade, Deichert suggested that there’s still plenty of room for its “outcome-based video marketing” (its specialty is video ads that are personalized based on viewer data) to grow.

In particular, he predicted that as direct-to-consumer brands are “maxing out on Facebook,” they’ll start turning back to traditional ad channels like television. With Eyeview, they can do that without losing the measurement and customization of online video.

Plex partners with Lionsgate to expand its ad-supported video library

Plex has added a new content partner for its soon-to-launch ad-supported video service. The company announced this morning its service will now also include movies from Lionsgate, which will join Plex’s existing partner Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, in helping to fill out the forthcoming video-on-demand library.

However, unlike with Warner Bros., whose videos will be limited to U.S. viewers, the deal with Lionsgate is for worldwide streaming. (There may be a few titles with geo-restrictions, Plex noted.)

“Lionsgate is one of the biggest names in the business and we know our millions of users will enjoy free access to their library of movies,” said Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, in a statement. “Plex caters to the most passionate and discerning media lovers all over the world, so it is important for us to be able to bring great content like this together in one beautiful app for all of our users across the globe.”

TechCrunch first reported on Plex’s plans to enter the ad-supported movies market back in January. The company described a strategy that is similar to Roku’s — that is, instead of just facilitating streaming through its platform, it will actually broker deals that bring a selection of free content directly to its users. It can then tap into the ad revenue that’s generated to boost its bottom line as Roku does with The Roku Channel.

Though Plex began as a media organizer, it has, in recent years, expanded to focus on becoming a one-stop-shop for all your media needs. This includes streaming and recording from live TV, streaming music by way of a TIDAL partnership, plus access to podcastsnews and web series.

Plex now has 20 million users, and while it doesn’t detail its subscriber numbers, it has achieved profitability.

That said, the one media organization challenge it hasn’t yet solved is helping users search for, discover, and track the shows and movies they want to watch outside of live TV or its ad-supported streams. Plex did once say it’s looking into paid subscriptions further down the road, as it’s a natural next step beyond the ad-supported streaming deals.

Plex says its video-on-demand library will launch later this year.

Andrew Mason’s Descript snags $15M, acquires Lyrebird to let users type text to create audio in their own voices

The boom in popularity for podcasting has given a new voice to the world of spoken word content that had been largely left for dead with the decline of broadcast radio. Now riding the wave of that growth, a startup called Descript that’s building tools to make the art of creating podcasts — or any other content that involves working with audio — a little easier with audio transcription and editing tools, has a trio of news announcements: funding, an acquisition, and the launch of a new tool that brings some of the magic of natural language processing and AI to the medium by letting people create audio of their own voices based on text that they type.

Descript, the latest startup from Groupon founder Andrew Mason, created as a spinoff of his audio-guide business Detour (which got acquired by Bose last year), is today announcing $15 million in funding, a Series A for expanding the business (including hiring more  people) that’s coming from Andreessen Horowitz (it also funded the startup’s seed round in 2017) and Redpoint.

Along with that, the company has acquired a Canadian startup, Lyrebird — which had, like Descript, also built audio editing tools. Together, the two are rolling out a new feature for Descript called Overdub: people will now be able to create “templates” of their voices that they can in turn use to create audio based on words that they type, part of a bigger production suite that will also let users edit multiple voices on multiple tracks. The audio can be standalone, or the audio track for a video. (The video transcription works a little differently: when you add in words, or take them out, the video makes jumps to account for the changes in timing.)

Overdub is the latest addition to a product that lets users create instant transcriptions of audio text, which is then has already established a following among podcasters and others that use transcription software as part of their audio production suites. The product is priced in a freemium format: no charge for up to four hours of voice content, and $10 per month after that.

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In the age of fake news aided and abetted by technology, you’d be forgiven for wondering if Overdub might not be a highway to deep fake city, where you could use the technology to create any manner of “statements” by famous voices.

Mason tells me that the company has built a way to keep that from being able to happen. To activate the editing feature, users have to first record a number of repeated-back, created on the fly and in real time, which are then used to shape your digital voice profile. This means that you can’t, for example, feed an audio of Donald Trump into the system to create a version of the President saying that he is awfully sorry for suggesting that building walls between the US and Mexico was a good idea, and that this would not, in fact, make America Great Again. (Too bad.)

But if you subscribe to the idea that tech advances in NLP and AI overall are something of a Pandora’s Box, the cat’s already out of the bag, and even if Descript doesn’t allow for it, someone else will likely hack this kind of technology for more nefarious ends. The answer, Mason says, is to keep talking about this and making sure people understand the potentials and pitfalls.

“People have already have created the ability to make deep fakes,” Mason said. “We should expect that not everybody is going to follow the same constrants that we have followed. But part of our role is to create awareness of the possibilities. Your voice is your identity, and you need to own that voice. It’s an issue of privacy, basically.”

The developments underscore the new opportunity that has opened up in tapping some of the developments in artificial intelligence to address what is a growing market. On one hand, it’s a big market: based just on ad revenues alone, podcasting is expected to bring in some $679 million this year, and $1 billion by 2021, according to the IAB — one reason why companies like Spotify and Apple are betting big on it as a complement to their music streaming businesses.

On the other, the area of production tools for podcasters is a very crowded market, with a number of startups and others putting out a lot of tools that all work quite well in identifying what people are saying and transcribing it accurately.

On the front of transcription and the area where Descript is working, rivals include the likes of Trint, Wreally and Otter, among many others. Decript itself doesn’t even create its basic NLP software; it uses Google’s, since basic NLP is now an area that has essentially become “commoditized,” said Mason in an interview.

That makes creating new features, tapping into AI and other advances, all the more essential, as we look to see if one tool emerges as a clear leader in this particular area of SaaS.

“In live multiuser collaboration, there is still no other tool out there that has done what we have done with large uncompressed audio files. That is no small feat, and it has taken time to get it right,” said Mason. “I have seen this transition manifest from documents to spreadsheets to product design. No one would have thought of something like product design to be huge space but just by taking these tools for collaboration and successfully porting them to the cloud, companies like Figma have emerged. And that’s how we got involved here.”

Facebook’s new policy Supreme Court could override Zuckerberg

A real check to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s control is finally coming in the form of a 11- to 40-member Oversight Board that will review appeals to its policy decisions like content takedowns and make recommendations for changes. Today Facebook released the charter establishing the theoretically independent Oversight Board, with Zuckerberg explaining that when it takes a stance, “The board’s decision will be binding, even if I or anyone at Facebook disagrees with it.”

Slated to be staffed up with members this year who will be paid by a Facebook established trust (the biggest update to its January draft charter), the Oversight Board will begin judging cases in the first half of 2020. Given Zuckerberg’s overwhelming voting control of the company, and the fact that its board of directors contains many loyalists like COO Sheryl Sandberg and investor Peter Thiel who he’s made very rich, the Oversight Board could ensure the CEO doesn’t always have the final say in how Facebook works.

But in some ways, the committee could serve to shield Zuckerberg and Facebook from scrutiny and regulation much to their advantage. The Oversight Board could remove total culpability for policy blunders around censorship or political bias from Facebook’s executives. It also might serve as a talking point towards the FTC and other regulators investigating it for potential anti-trust violations and other malpractice, as the company could claim the Oversight Board means it’s not completely free to pursue profit over what’s fair for society.

One of the most important projects I've worked on over the past couple of years is establishing an independent Oversight…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Finally, there remain serious concerns about how the Oversight Board is selected and the wiggle room the charter provides Facebook. Most glaringly, Facebook itself will choose the initial members and then work with them to select the rest of the board, and thereby could avoid adding overly incendiary figures. And it maintains that “Facebook will support the board to the extent that requests are technically and operationally feasible and consistent with a reasonable allocation of Facebook’s resources”, giving it the right to decide if it should apply the precedent of Oversight Board verdicts to similar cases or broadly implement its policy guidance.

How The Oversight Board Works

When a user disagrees with how Facebook enforces its policies, and with the result of an appeal to Facebook’s internal moderation team, they can request an appeal to the oversight board. Examples of potential cases include someone disagreeing with Facebook’s refusal to deem a piece of content as unacceptable hate speech or bullying, its choice to designate a Page as promoting terrorism and remove it, or the company’s decision to leave problematic content such as nudity up because its newsworthy. Facebook can also directly ask the Oversight Board to review policy decisions or specific cases, especially urgent ones with real-world consequences.

Facebook Oversight Board

After Zuckerberg initially laid out a blueprint for the Oversight Board a year ago, Facebook assigned a 100-person team to build out the plan for the board. It held 6 workshops and 22 round-tables plus case review simulations with 650 people from 88 countries.

The board will include a minimum of 11 members but Facebook is aiming for 40. They’ll serve three year terms and a maximum of three terms each as a part-time job, with appointments staggered so there isn’t a full change-over at any time. Facebook is looking for members with a broad range of knowledge, competencies, and expertise who lack conflicts of interest. They’re meant to be “experienced at deliberating thoughtfully and collegially”, “skilled at making and explaining decisions based on a set of policies”, “well-versed on matters relating to digital content and governance”, and “independent and impartial”. 

Facebook will appoint a set of trustees that will work with it to select initial co-chairs for the board, who will then assist with sourcing, vetting, interviewing, and orienting new members. The goal is “broad diversity of geographic, gender, political, social and religious representation”. The trust, funded by Facebook with an as yet undecided amount of capital, will set members’ compensation rate in the near future and oversee term renewals.

Facebook Oversight Board candidate review guide

What Cases Get Reviewed

The board will choose which cases to review based on their significance and difficulty. They’re looking for issues that are severe, large-scale and important for public discourse, while raising difficult questions about Facebook’s policy or enforcement that is disputed, uncertain, or represents tension or trade-offs between Facebook’s recently codified values of authenticity, safety, privacy, and dignity. The board will then create a sub-panel of five members to review a specific case.

The board will be able to question that request that Facebook provide information necessary to rule on the case with a mind to not violating user privacy. They’ll interpret Facebook’s Community Standards and policies and then decide whether Facebook should remove or restore a piece of content and whether it should change how that content was designated.

Once a panel makes a draft decision, it’s circulated to the full board who can recommend a new panel review it if a majority take issue with the verdict. Once they’ve gone through a privacy review to protect the identities of those involved with the case, the decisions will be made public. Those decisions will be archived in a database, and are meant to act as precedent for future decisions. The idea is that the decisions of the board will be binding and implemented by Facebook as long as they don’t require it to violate the law.

Facebook Oversight Board Decisions

 

Twitch acquires gaming database site IGDB to improve its search and discovery features

Amazon-owned Twitch has made a small but strategic acquisition designed to improve its search capabilities and better direct viewers to exactly the right content. The company is acquiring IGDB, the Internet Games Database (no relation to Amazon’s IMDb), a website dedicated to combining all the relevant information about games into a comprehensive resource for gamers everywhere. As a result of the acquisition, IGDB’s database will now feed into Twitch’s search and discovery feature set. However, the IGDB website itself will not be shut down.

Founded in 2015 by Christian Frithiof and a small team based in Gothenburg, Sweden, IGDB sources its gaming content both through community contributions and automation.

The site includes useful information for every game, like the genre, platforms supported, description, member and critic ratings and reviews, storyline, game modes, publisher, release dates, characters, and more. You could also find less common details like how long it would take to play the game in question, or the player perspectives the game offered, among other things.

And similar to IMDb’s mission of organizing everything associated with the entertainment industry, IGDB allowed voice talent to claim their profile on its site, in addition to listing the full credits associated with a given title.

To generate revenue, IGDB provided a developer API that’s been free to use for smaller shops or $99 per month for up to 50K requests. Interested partners, (e.g. ASUS), could reach out to request special pricing. To date, IGDB was working with several thousand API users, we understand. 

Screen Shot 2019 09 17 at 2.50.00 PM

Twitch confirmed the acquisition to TechCrunch in a statement.

Millions of people come to Twitch every day to find and connect with their favorite streamers and communities, and we want to make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for,” a spokesperson said. “IGDB has developed a comprehensive gaming database, and we’re excited to bring them on to help us more quickly improve and scale search and discovery on Twitch.”

Deal terms were not disclosed, but it was likely a small deal, from a financial standpoint. IGDB is only a 10-person team and had raised just $1.5 million to date, according to data from Crunchbase.

From a strategic standpoint, however, the acquisition is much more impactful.

Twitch CEO Emmett Shear has spoken publicly about the issues surrounding Twitch’s search functionality and how it needs to improve on that front.

“We want every place on Twitch to help you get discovered. Today, nearly one in three people who come to Twitch use Search to find what they’re looking for. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that our search function hasn’t always been the best experience,” Shear had said earlier this year, speaking at TwitchCon Berlin.”One wrong letter and your search results may come back empty, or direct you to a very different streamer than the one you were looking for. So we’re going to fix search so it actually works,” he promised.

In recent weeks, there were hints that something was going on at IGDB.

In a blog post dated August 19, 2019, IGDB announced it was starting a “large scale migration of our backend, database, and hosting” and said that the service was “about to undergo some changes, some temporary and others more permanent.” As a part of its changes, it shut off the ability for users to sign-up or update their profiles, and it shut down its pulse news, feed, and recommendations features.

Now a part of Twitch, IGDB will merge its free and premium APIs into one free tier, will clean up other features, and migrate infrastructure. Its IGDB website will continue to remain online.

“Our mission has always been to build the most comprehensive gaming database in the world. Such a monumental undertaking can be quite challenging when you are a small startup team,” reads an IGDB blog post. “By joining Twitch, we will be able to tap into their experience, resources, and skills, which will enable us to accelerate our progress and deliver the version of IGDB we all always dreamed about. Not only that, our companies share the same culture, core values, and passion for gaming– making this the perfect fit,” the post said.

It was common industry knowledge Twitch previously used competing data provider Giantbomb. As is often the case, the company may have been in discussions with IGDB about making switch which led to the acquisition. (The company declined to say how it can about.) What had made IGDB different from other API providers, like Mobygames, is that it allowed its API to be used commercially, including by competing projects, and it allowed caching and storing data on local databases.

The entire 10-person team from IGDB will remain based in Sweden, but will report into Twitch through its Viewer Experience organization.

 

 

 

In a social media world, here’s what you need to know about UGC and privacy

In today’s brand landscape, consumers are rejecting traditional advertising in favor of transparent, personalized and most importantly, authentic communications. In fact, 86% of consumers say that authenticity is important when deciding which brands they support. Driven by this growing emphasis on brand sincerity, marketers are increasingly leveraging user-generated content (UGC) in their marketing and e-commerce strategies.

Correlated with the rise in the use of UGC is an increase in privacy-focused regulation such as the European Union’s industry-defining General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the along with others that will go into effect in the coming years, like the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and several other state-specific laws. Quite naturally, brands are asking themselves two questions:

  • Is it worth the effort to incorporate UGC into our marketing strategy?
  • And if so, how do we do it within the rules, and more importantly, in adherence with the expectations of consumers?

Consumers seek to be active participants in their favorite companies’ brand identity journey, rather than passive recipients of brand-created messages. Consumers trust images by other consumers on social media seven times more than advertising.

Additionally, 56% are more likely to buy a product after seeing it featured in a positive or relatable user-generated image. The research and results clearly show that the average consumer perceives content from a peer to be more trustworthy than brand-driven content.

With that in mind, we must help brands leverage UGC with approaches that comply with privacy regulations while also engaging customers in an authentic way.

Influencer vs user: Navigating privacy considerations in an online world

AT&T faked DirecTV Now numbers, lawsuit alleges

AT&T faked the numbers for its DirecTV Now streaming service ahead of the company’s Time Warner merger, according to a lawsuit filed by investors, Bloomberg reported. The suit alleges the media giant pressured employees to boost DirecTV Now’s numbers by secretly adding the product to existing customers’ accounts. It also claims the company touted DirecTV Now’s user growth, when in reality, subscribers were leaving as their promotional periods ended and the service’s price hikes were limiting new sign-ups.

The suit says a variety of tactics were used to promote the idea that DirecTV Now was growing organically. For example, it claims that employees were taught how and encouraged to convert activation fees that customers typically had to pay to upgrade their phones into DirecTV Now subscriptions. This involved the customer being told the fee was being “waived,” when instead the customer was charged anyway and the payment was applied to up to 3 DirecTV Now accounts using fake emails.

One former employee even said that around 40%-50% of customers he dealt with in early 2017 were complaining about being charged for DirecTV Now, which they had never signed up for. This was supported by other employees, the suit cites, and was a directive that came top from upper management to the sales channel.

In addition, the suit speaks to overly aggressive sales quotas, high churn from deeply discounted promotions, technical issues, and unsustainable pricing. It noted how AT&T finally disclosed that by the end of 2018, none of the 500,000 heavily discounted DirecTV Now subscribers remained on the service, and subscriptions had dropped by 267,000 as a result. In April 2019, it reported another 83,000 subscribers had left the service, and in July, 168,000 had abandoned it.

But ahead of the Time Warner merger, AT&T touted the service’s success, the suit said. It didn’t disclose any of the risks associated with DirecTV Now, despite SEC obligations. The plaintiffs believe AT&T should have noted what made its stock risky, including the fact that DirecTV Now was not profitable, its growth had been dependent on aggressive promotions, and it faced severe technical challenges.

“By buying AT&T’s securities at these artificially inflated and artificially maintained prices, the Class members suffered economic losses, which losses were a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ fraudulent conduct,” the suit states.

“We plan to fight these baseless claims in court,” AT&T said in a statement to Bloomberg.

DirecTV Now had a rough start to begin with, having suffered heavily from glitches, including freezing, buffering, and more. While that can happen at first with new streaming services, AT&T’s glitches were bad enough that many wanted to cancel.

TechCrunch reported in 2017 how customers complained they weren’t able to get refunds from AT&T, even though they weren’t able to use the service as promised. Some had even filed complaints with the FCC, we found. In January, we also noted how the service’s price hikes and promotional packages ending led to a sizable loss of subscribers and that AT&T was “losing the cord cutters.”

The filing of the lawsuit comes at a time where AT&T has seen much upheaval. This month, activist investor  Elliott Management Corp. disclosed its $3.2 billion stake in AT&T and criticized the company’s acquisition strategy. It also suggested that AT&T should sell some assets that don’t fit its future direction, like the DirecTV satellite service and Mexican wireless business.  AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson defended the company’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner today, in response to this criticism.

In addition, AT&T CEO of Communications, John Donovan, recently announced his retirement, with WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey being promoted to president and chief operating officer at AT&T.

The full complaint is below.

 

NBCU’s streaming service ‘Peacock’ announces originals slate, including a Battlestar Galactica reboot

NBCUniversal is sharing a few more details about its new streaming service, due to launch in April 2020, including the service’s name and content lineup. In a nod to the NBC logo, the service will be called “Peacock,” (yes, really), and will offer subscribers over 15,000 of content, including both film and TV, plus original content.

Notably, Peacock will be home to “The Office,” which Netflix will lose as a result of NBCU paying $500 million to pull the hit from Netflix when its deal ends in 2021. Peacock will also host other classic shows, like “Parks and Recreation,” plus news, sports, late-night TV, and Spanish-language programming, along with films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination, and others.

In terms of its popular and classic TV lineup, Peacock will include: “30 Rock,” “Bates Motel,” “Battlestar Gallactica,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Cheers,” “Chrisley Knows Best,” “Covert Affairs,” “Downton Abbey,” “Everyone Loves Raymond,” “Frasier,” “Friday Night Lights,” “House,” “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “King Of Queens,” “Married…With Children,” “Monk,” “Parenthood,” “Psych,” “Royal Pains,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Superstore,” “The Real Housewives,” “Top Chef,” and “Will & Grace.”

On the film side, the service promises  “American Pie,” “Bridesmaids,” “Knocked Up,” “Meet the Parents,” “Meet the Fockers,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Back to the Future,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Casino,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Erin Brockovich,” “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” “Field of Dreams,” “Jaws,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Shrek,” and “The Breakfast Club.” It will also feature films from the franchises: “Bourne,” “Despicable Me,” and “Fast & Furious.”

peacock homepage

What’s more interesting (or concerning, if you’re a “Battlestar Galactica” fan) are Peacock’s plans for original content. This includes a reboot of the sci-fi classic (nooo, don’t do it!), as well as reboots of “Saved by the Bell,” and “Punky Brewster.”

The company this morning announced the following originals:

  • “Dr. Death,” based on the true-crime podcast starring Jamie Dornan, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Slater
  • A “Battlestar Galactica” reboot from Golden Globe winner and Emmy-nominated “Mr. Robot” and “Homecoming” EP Sam Esmail
  • “Brave New World,” based on the dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley and starring Alden Ehrenreich (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”) and Demi Moore
  • “Angelyne,” a limited series from Emmy Rossum
  • “One of Us Is Lying,” based on the New York Times best-selling young adult mystery-thriller.
  • “Rutherford Falls,” co-created by Emmy and Peabody Award-winner Mike Schur, Ed Helms, and Sierra Teller Ornelas, and starring Ed Helms
  • “Straight Talk,”from Emmy Award nominee Rashida Jones and NAACP Image Award winner Jada Pinkett Smith;
  • “Saved By the Bell” reboot from Emmy Award winner Tracey Wigfield (“30 Rock”), featuring original cast members including Elizabeth Berkley and Mario Lopez
  • “Punky Brewster,” starring Soleil Moon Frye as a grown-up version of her former character;
  • A new season of “A.P.Bio,” starring Glenn Howerton and Patton Oswalt
  • The second movie spinoff from the long-running series “Psych.”
  • A new “Saturday Night Live” docuseries, “Who Wrote That,” from creator Lorne Michaels, exploring the famous personalities in front of and behind the camera
  • An original talk show series from Jimmy Fallonin collaboration with Matador Content and Universal Television Alternative Studio
  • A weekly late-night show starring Amber Ruffin and executive produced by Seth Meyers
  • Another spinoff of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives” franchise.

Much was already known about NBCU’s streaming service, ahead of today. The company had already discussed its vision and the launch time frame during Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call. At the time, NBCU noted the serivce’s April 2020 arrival, as well as its monetization strategy.

The company said then that the service would be ad-supported with a paid, ad-free option. It has not yet announced its pricing or distribution plans, however.

The service is launching at a time when competition among streamers is heating up, as more companies enter the fray to battle with Netflix. In addition to the big three — Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu — Disney+ is poised to launch Nov. 12, and Apple just announced Apple TV+ would arrive Nov 1. HBO Max is also right around the corner, in spring 2020.

Surprisingly, it’s the classic shows that the media giants are fighting over, in massive, multi-billion dollar deals.

NBCU snagged “The Office,” Netflix’s most-watched series, for $500 million. WarnerMedia (HBO Max) grabbed “Friends” from Netflix for $425 million. Netflix got back in the game yesterday, with a $500 million-plus deal for “Seinfeld” that includes global streaming rights. And just this morning, WarnerMedia broke records with a multi-billion dollar streaming deal for “Big Bang Theory,” for HBO Max.

Peacock, its terrible name notwithstanding, has a shot at grabbing at least some of the market, given its decent back catalog, which includes hits like “The Office” and “Parks and Rec,” and its access to a larger film library. It also snagged some high-caliber Hollywood names for its originals.

The service will be heavily promoted during the Summer Olympics, airing on NBC.

“The name Peacock pays homage to the quality content that audiences have come to expect from NBCUniversal – whether it’s culture-defining dramas from innovative creators like Sam Esmail, laugh-out-loud comedies from legends like Lorne Michaels and Mike Schur, blockbusters from Universal Pictures, or buzzy unscripted programming from the people who do it best at Bravo and E!,” said Bonnie Hammer, Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer and Digital Enterprises, in a statement about today’s news. “Peacock will be the go-to place for both the timely and timeless – from can’t-miss Olympic moments and the 2020 election, to classic fan favorites like ‘The Office’.”

 

Netflix acquires global streaming rights for ‘Seinfeld’ starting in 2021

Netflix has just scored a major content deal that could help it stem the loss of subscribers as competition among streamers heats up. The company announced it has acquired the global streaming rights to the popular sitcom “Seinfeld,” which will bring all 180 episodes of the Emmy winner to Netflix subscribers starting in 2021.

The timing of this addition is critical for Netflix, as “Seinfeld” will go to air the same year that the streamer loses one of its most-watched pieces of content: re-runs of “The Office.” It also will follow Netflix’s loss of another iconic sitcom — “Friends” exits the service in 2020.

Despite the age of the content in question, these are still highly expensive deals because of the evergreen nature of the shows and their ability to reach new fans who weren’t old enough to have watched the shows when they originally aired.

Beyond that, these re-runs have massive audiences. For example, Nielsen found that “The Office” is the most-watched show on Netflix, despite the streamer’s multi-billion-dollar investments in its own original content, which is far more heavily promoted across its platform.

And that original content isn’t performing well, as of late, making it even more critical for Netflix to hold on to at least some of its classic library content. Last quarter, the company lost U.S. subscribers for the first time since 2011. The company didn’t cite increased competition as a factor, as many of its challengers — like Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max — have yet to launch. Instead, it pointed to price hikes and a programming slate that failed to attract subscribers.

Meanwhile, Netflix was recently outbid for rights to “The Office,” as NBCU paid $500 million to pull the hit from Netflix when its deal ends in 2021. Netflix also lost “Friends” to WarnerMedia, which paid $425 million to bring the classic show to its new service HBO Max for five years, starting in 2020.

Given the “Seinfeld” deal with Sony Pictures Television is for worldwide distribution to Netflix’s roughly 150 million subscribers, its price should be in that same ballpark, if not quite a bit higher (Netflix isn’t discussing deal terms).

“Seinfeld is the television comedy that all television comedy is measured against. It is as fresh and funny as ever and will be available to the world in 4K for the first time,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, in a statement. “We can’t wait to welcome Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer to their new global home on Netflix.”

Classic sitcoms aren’t the only things Netflix has been dropping, as of late.

It also this year exited the Marvel superhero business with the cancellations of “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher,” after having already axed “Iron Fist,” “Luke Cage” and “Daredevil,” ahead of the launch of Disney+. And it has canceled a number of other under-performing series, including “The OA,” “Tuca & Bertie,” “Designated Survivor,” “She’s Gotta Have It” and its remake of “One Day at a Time.”

The new deal with Sony Pictures Television will bring “Seinfeld” to Netflix for the first time, and follows other efforts between the streamer and comedian, including “Comedians in Cars” and “Jerry Before Seinfeld.”

“Seinfeld is a one-of-a-kind, iconic, culture-defining show. Now, 30 years after its premiere, Seinfeld remains center stage,” said Mike Hopkins, Chairman Sony Pictures Television, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Netflix to bring this beloved series to current fans and new audiences around the globe.”

Will Smith and Ang Lee are coming to Disrupt SF

We’re announcing a big addition to the Disrupt SF Agenda: Will Smith and director Ang Lee will be joining us to discuss their upcoming film “Gemini Man.”

They’ve both had long careers in the movie business — Lee’s titles include “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain” (which won him an Academy Award for Best Director) and “Life of Pi” (ditto). And Smith, of course, has starred in countless box office hits, most recently “Aladdin,” while also delivering critically-acclaimed performances in films like “Ali” and “Concussion.”

But they’re not resting on their laurels. “Gemini Man” features Smith in a dual role — he plays assassin Henry Brogan, as well as Junior, a younger clone who’s been sent to kill his older self — with “jaw-dropping” effects from Weta Digital.

“Gemini Man” and Netflix’s new Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman” take different approaches (“The Irishman” uses effects to make its actors look younger, while “Gemini Man”‘s Junior is full CGI creation), but they both point to a new cinematic world, where stars like Smith, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino can play themselves at any age, without relying on younger counterparts or resorting to heavy and unconvincing layers of makeup.

We’ll talk to Lee and Smith about what it was like working with these effects, and how else they might change the way movies get made. We’ll also ask about the future of the industry, Lee’s other experiments with cutting-edge technology and Smith’s startup investments through Dreamers Fund, which he created with Japanese athlete Keisuke Honda.

Smith and Lee join an absolutely star-studded agenda that includes the likes of Marc Benioff, Evan Spiegel, Marillyn Hewson, Chris Dixon, Shan-Lyn Ma, and Ashton Kutcher in his debut as a Battlefield Finals judge.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of San Francisco. Tickets are available here.