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.
Netflix has acquired the rights to make “Beverly Hills Cop 4” from Paramount.
Deadline, which broke the news, said the studio has been trying to restart the franchise in several forms, including a TV show.
Even with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Eddie Murphy attached to the sequel, Paramount might have been a little nervous about the film’s commercial prospects, especially since it’s been 25 years since the release of “Beverly Hills Cop 3.” And the studio (which will soon be part of the reunited ViacomCBS) has had a tough few months at the box office, most recently with the disappointing performance of “Terminator: Dark Fate.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Apple Music is taking on Spotify with the launch of a new feature, Apple Music Replay, that will allow subscribers to take a look back at their favorite music from 2019. The feature is similar in some ways to Spotify’s popular year-end review, known as Wrapped, but Apple’s version is more than just an annual summary — it’s an ongoing experience.
With Apple Music Replay, subscribers will get a playlist of their top songs from 2019, plus playlists for every year you’ve subscribed to Apple Music, retroactively. These can be added to your Apple Music Library, so you can stream them at any time, even when offline. Like any playlist, your Apple Music Replay can also be shared with others, allowing you to compare top songs with friends, for example, or post to social media.
But while Spotify’s Wrapped is more of an annual retrospective, Apple Music Replay will continue to be updated all year long, evolving as your musical tastes and interests do throughout the year. The playlist and its associated data insights will be updated on Sundays to reflect subscribers’ latest listening activity, says Apple.
That makes the playlist more of a compilation of favorites, which continues to add value throughout the year — not just at the end. And when January rolls around, the 2020 Replay playlist will be a blank slate to fill with your favorites from Apple Music’s catalog of 60 million tracks.
Apple Music Replay is available from the Apple Music app across platforms, including via the web at replay.music.apple.com.
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.
No one’s going to pay $380 for decent point-of-view video glasses and some trippy filters. But that’s kind of the point of Snapchat Spectacles 3. They’re merely a stepping stone towards true augmented reality eyewear — a public hardware beta for the Snap Lab R&D team that Apple and Facebook aren’t getting as they tinker in their bunkers.
Still, I hoped for something that could at least unlock the talents of forward-thinking video creators. Yet the unpredictable and uncontrollable AR effects sadly fail to make use of Spectacles‘ fashionable form factor in premium steel. The clunky software requires clips be uploaded for processing and then re-downloaded before you can apply the 10 starter effects like a rainbow landscape filter or a shimmering fantasy falcon. This all makes producing AR content a chore instead of a joy for something only briefly novel.
Spectacles 3 go on sale today for $380 in black ‘Carbon’ or rose gold-ish ‘Mineral’ color schemes on Spectacles.com, Neiman Marcus, and Ron Robinson in the UK, shipping in a week. Announced in August, they’re sunglasses with two stereoscopic lenses capable of capturing depth to produce “3D” photos, and videos you can add AR effects to on your phone. You also get a very nice folds-flat leather USB-C charging case that powers up the glasses four times, and a Google Cardboard-style VR viewer.
“Spectacles 3 is a limited production run. We’re not looking for massive sales here. We’re targeting people who are excited about these effects — creative storytellers” says Matt Hanover of the Snap Lab team.
Gen 1 featured a “toy-like design to get people used to wearing tech on their face”, while Gen 2 and 2.1 had a more subdued look abandoning the coral color schemes to push mainstream adoption. What Gen 3 can’t do is force a $40 million write-off due to poor sales, as V1 did after only shipping 220,000 with hundreds of thousands more gathering dust somewhere. Snap is already losing $227 million per quarter as it scrambles to break even.
So it seems with Spectacles 3 that Snap is gathering data and biding its time, trying to avoid burning too much cash until it can build a version that overlays effects atop a user’s view through the glasses. “We’re still able to get feedback from the customer and inform the future of Spectacles. That’s really the goal for us” Hanover confirms.
His CEO Evan Spiegel agrees, telling me on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt that it would be 10 years until we see augmented reality glasses worthy of mainstream consumer adoption. That’s a long time for an unprofitable company to spend competing to invest in R&D versus cash-rich companies like Facebook and Apple.
Spectacles could be worth the steep $380 if you’re a videographer for a living, perhaps making futuristic social media clips like Karen X Cheng, a creator Snap hired to demonstrate the device’s potential. They’re cool enough looking that you could wear them around Cannes or Coachella without people getting weirded out like they did with Google Glass. And as Snap’s Lens Studio lets anyone build 3D effects for Spectacles 3, perhaps we’ll see some filters and imaginary characters that are more than just a momentary gimmick.
But for those simply seeking first-person camera glasses, I’d still recommend the Spectacles 2 at $150 to $200 depending on style which remain available. The 3D features don’t carry the weight of paying double the price for Spec 3s. And at least the 2nd-gen Specs are waterproof, which make them great for ocean play with fun underwater shooting when you don’t want to risk losing or fizzling your phone.
“We’re testing the price point and the premium aesthetic to see if it lands with this demographic” Hanover says. But Snap’s Director Of Communications Liz Markman notes that “there isn’t this perfect one-to-one overlap with the core Snap users.”
The result is that Spectacles 3 are really more for Snap’s benefit than yours.
Slick Eyewear, Now Where’s The AR?
The Spectacles 3 software is disappointing, but you’ll be delighted when you open the box. Slick black packaging reveal sturdily built metal sunglasses with a luxury matte finish. As they magnetically dislodge from their charging case, you definitely get they sense you’re trying on something futuristic.
The style concurs, with a flat black bar at the top connecting the round lenses with a camera on both corners. Unlike the old Specs that sat right on your nose, feeling heavy at times, Spectacles 3 offers adjustable acetate non-slip nose tips to keep the weight off. All the tech is built discreetly into the hinges and temples without appearing too chunky.
Tap the button either arm, and LED light swooshes in a circle to let people know you’re recording a video for 10 seconds, with multiple presses growing that to up to 60. Tap and hold to shoot a photo, and the light blinks. There’s no obnoxious yellow rubber ring to shout “these are cameras”, and the defused LEDs are more subtle than Gen 2’s dots while remaining an obvious enough signal to passersby so they’re not creepy.
One charge powers up to 70 captures and transfers to your phone over a combined Bluetooth built-in Wifi connection. The 4 gigabyte storage holds up to 100 videos or 1200 photos, and Spectacles 3 even have GPS and GLOSNASS on-board. A 4-mic array picks up audio from others and your own voice, though they’re susceptible to windshear if you’re biking or running. They shoot at 60-frames per second in 1216 x 1216 pixels resolution while photos come in at 1642 x 1642
The magnetically-sealing folding leather USB-C charging case is my favorite part. I wish I could get an even flatter one without a battery in it for my other sunglasses. It’s a huge improvement on the unpocketable bulky triangular case of the previous versions.
A Toy Not Fun Enough For The Price
So far so good, right? But then it comes time to actually see and augment what you shot.
Pairing and syncing is much easier than Gen 1. The glasses forge a Bluetooth connection, then spawn a WiFi network for getting media to your phone faster.
If you just want to share to Snapchat, you’re in luck. Spectacles content posts to Stories or messages in its cool circular format that lets viewers tilt their phones around while always staying full-screen to reveal the edges of your shots. Otherwise, you still have to go through the chore of exporting from Snapchat to your camera roll. Spectacles can at least now export in a variety of croppings for better sharing on Instagram and elsewhere.
What’s new are the 3D photos and videos. They utilize the space between the stereoscopic cameras in the corners of Spectacles employ parallax to sense the depth of a scene. After tapping the 3D button on a photo, you can wiggle the perspective of the image around to almost see around the edges of what you’re looking at. Spectacles will automatically pan back and forth for you, and export 3D photos as short Boomerang-esque six-second videos.
Unfortunately, I found that I didn’t get much sense of depth from most of the 3D photos I shot or saw. It takes a very particular kind of three-dimensional object from the right angle in the right light to much sense of movement from the wiggle. Snapchat’s algorithms also had a bad habit of mistakenly assigning bits of the foreground and background to each other, breaking the illusion. Occasionally you’ll have someone’s ear or their hair left behind and disembodied by the 3D effect.
Don’t expect these to flood social media or convince prospective Spectacles buyers. The 3D selfies you can shoot on Snapchat for free look better anyways.
The biggest problem comes with the delay when playing with 3D videos. Snapchat has to do the depth processing on its servers, so you have to wait for your video to upload, get scanned, and be re-downloaded before you can apply the 3D AR filters. On WiFi that takes about 35 seconds per 10 second video, which is quite a bore. It takes forever over a mobile connection. That means you often won’t be able to apply the filters and see how they look until you’re home and unable to reshoot anything.
The filter set is also limited and haphazard. You can add a 3D bird or balloons around you, wander through golden snow or neon arcs, overlay flower projections or rainbow waves, or sprinkle on sparkles and light-bending blobs. While the bird is cute, and the rainbows and flowers are remarkably psychedelic, none of them are more than briefly entertaining.
The 3D objects often glitch through real pieces of scenery, and you can’t control them at all. No summoning the bird mid-video. My favorite trick, learned from Karen X Cheng, was to export unedited and filtered versions of a video and splice them together on my computer as scene in my demo video above. You can’t actually do that from within Snapchat.
One extra feature the team is working on is to let you see a special colored light flash on the glasses’ internal recording-on signal to alert you to incoming Snaps from certain friends. If that’s popular, would Snap try giving us more notifications through that light? Hanover says “potentially in the future.”
Snap will have to build a lot cooler filters with interactivity if they’re going to compel creators to fork over $380 for Spectacles 3. It could hope to rely on its Lens Studio community platform, but so few developers or users will have the glasses that most will stick to making and using filters for phones.
Spectacles 3 are too expensive to be a toy, but don’t excel at being much more. Videography influencers might enjoy having a pair in their tool bag. But it’s hard to imagine anyone not sharing content professionally paying for the gadget.
Iteration vs Ideation
“We’re now pushing to elevate the technology and the design to master depth technically” Hanover tells me. “Holing ourselves up within an R&D center for years and years? That’s not our approach. It’s important to meet the customer where they are today and continue to iterate and get that feedback.”
But this iteration doesn’t feel like Snap meeting the customer where they are. That raises the question of whether Snapchat is really getting enough data out of the whole endeavor to justify publicly releasing Spectacles at all. The company will have to hope that testing short-term is worth thinking short-term, when it’s trying to win the long-term war in augmented reality eyewear.
Following the merger of CBS and Viacom announced earlier this year, the combined company today confirmed its plans to restructure its content and digital leadership teams in order to streamline operations. Among the changes, which were first reported by The Wall St. Journal on Sunday, are the departures of Comedy Central Head Kent Alterman and Viacom Networks COO Sarah Levy. Meanwhile, CBS Chief Creative Officer David Nevins will add BET to his responsibilities, while President of MTV, VH1, CMT, and Logo Chris McCarthy, will now become President of Entertainment & Youth Brands, ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks.
This will put McCarthy in charge of Comedy Central, Paramount Network, Smithsonian Channel and TV Land brands.
Nevins, in addition to BET, will also oversee CBS Television Studios, the CBS Television Network’s Entertainment division, the Showtime Networks and Pop, The CW, and the programming of streaming service CBS All Access.
In terms of children’s content, Nickelodeon President Brian Robbins will oversee kids and young adult-focused programming as President, Kids & Family Entertainment, ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks. That puts him back in charge of Awesomeness, which he co-founded and sold to Viacom in 2018, in addition to Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Nick Jr., TeenNick, Nicktoons and Nickelodeon Studios.
ViacomCBS also said that Carolyn Kroll Reidy will continue her role as President and Chief Executive Officer of Simon & Schuster, Inc. And Jim Gianopulos will continue as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures, a role that includes oversight of Paramount Animation, Paramount Features, Paramount Players and Paramount TV.
The exec shuffles follow other announcements about the combinations of the two companies’ advertising sales and content distribution teams.
In addition, the company had previously announced Joe Ianniello would serve as Chairman and CEO of CBS, which includes oversight of CBS Television Network (including CBS Entertainment, CBS News, and CBS Sports), CBS Television Studios, CBS Interactive (including CBS All Access) and CBS Television Stations. However, he lost oversight of Showtime and Pop TV to President and CEO of Viacom and ViacomCBS, Bob Bakish.
Also previously reported was that CBS Interactive chief Jim Lanzone had left for Benchmark Capital, to be replaced by Marc DeBevoise. This puts DeBovise in charge of digital operations and reporting to Bakish.
Viacom Digital Studios Kelly Day will continue in her role and report to DeBevoise, the company also said today. And CBS CTO Phil Wiser will become ViacomCBS CTO.
These leadership changes are meant to consolidate operations while keeping the production arms of CBS Television Studios and Viacom’s counterpart, Paramount Television, separated, The WSJ said.
Beyond the exec shuffle itself, ViacomCBS also detailed how it plans to maximize its combined assets, on the content from. The company announced this morning it’s putting into place a new “Content Council” that will work to “maximize the use of IP and talent relationships” across the company. The council will be chaired by Nevins and include all the content leaders.
“ViacomCBS will be one of the largest premium content creators in the world, with the capacity to produce content for both our own platforms and for others,” said President and CEO of ViacomCBS Bob Bakish, in a statement. “This talented team of content leaders will work together to ensure we realize the full power of our brands, our deep relationships with the creative community and our intellectual property to drive our growth as a combined company,” he added.
The Viacom-CBS merger is expected to fully close in December.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the launch of Apple’s new subscription streaming service. There were reports that the company was committed to staying family friendly, rather than exploring the adult content and creative liberties that both premium cable and streaming can offer. Plus, most of the trailers were pretty underwhelming.
For our 100th (!) episode, your regular Original Content podcast hosts are joined by TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez to discuss all the Apple TV+ shows we’ve sampled so far — “For All Mankind,” “See,” “Dickinson” and even “Snoopy in Space.” And we were pleasantly surprised by what we found.
Just a few episodes in, “For All Mankind” (an alternate history in which the Soviet Union won the race to the moon) and “See” (set in a world where everyone has lost the sense of sight) have turned some of us into fans. And even “Dickinson” — which has the seemingly impossible task of telling Emily Dickinson’s story using modern slang— turns out to be a strange and watchable experiment.
We save our most extensive discussion for the most high-profile title of the bunch: “The Morning Show,” which stars Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy, longtime host of an AM news show also called “The Morning Show,” and Reese Witherspoon as local news anchor Bradley Jackson, whose confrontation at a coal mine protest ends up going viral right as Alex’s show implodes, thanks to sexual misconduct allegations against her longtime co-host Matt Kessler (played Steve Carell).
Obviously, the show has star power, and the leads are supported by talented and familiar faces like Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
The performances are all strong, with Aniston and Witherspoon carrying the show: Aniston convincingly portrays a woman who’s both devastated by the revelations of her on-screen partner’s behavior and desperate to seize the opportunity that these revelations create. Witherspoon, meanwhile, adds complex shading to perhaps her trademark role as a spunky, ambitious upstart.
The writing, on the other hand, is a bit uneven. There’s an unfortunate tendency towards speechifying about big themes like The Role of Journalism in America — at times, it feels almost Sorkin-esque, but without the eloquence or snappiness of Aaron Sorkin’s best dialogue.
So far, though, the speeches have been balanced out by strong characterization and some satisfyingly dramatic twists.
The company announced an updated, cleaner design that does away with information density, instead giving more room to the videos and their titles. Other new features include an “Add to Queue” option on the desktop, a desktop version of YouTube’s stop suggesting feature and more.
The design changes, which started rolling out yesterday, are focused on the desktop and tablet versions of YouTube, not the YouTube mobile website or app.
Disney has revealed more details about its international streaming plans. Keep in mind, though, that Disney+ won’t be exactly the same in every territory, thanks to rights/licensing deals that may already be in place.
Across the board, the company is trying to find ways to become more innovative, especially around its work in AI. Microsoft is unusually open about this process, too, and actually made it a focus at this week’s Ignite conference. (Extra Crunch membership required.)
Alibaba is doubling down on its logistics affiliate Cainiao, two years after acquiring a majority stake in the firm. The Chinese giant said today it would invest an additional 23.3 billion yuan (about $3.33 billion) to raise its equity in Cainiao to 63%.
This is the first time there’s been a high-bandwidth satellite network for any central Arctic ground-based use, Kepler says, and this connection isn’t just a technical demo: it’s being used for the hundreds of researchers in the MOSAiC team.
Sir Martin Sorrell has enjoyed huge success, having built the world’s biggest advertising conglomerate, WPP, over 32 years. He’s also out for revenge, after he left WPP due to allegations of misconduct.
Disney+ will launch in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands on November 12th, a bit shy of a week from today. On November 19th, it’ll expand to Australia and New Zealand.
But what about the rest of the world?
Disney has kept quiet about its plans for other countries, presumably because going live in another country is a little more complicated than just flipping a switch. Every country tends to have different privacy/tax laws regarding subscription services, and rights and licensing for each bit of content has to be detangled with respect to existing deals.
Now, at least, we’ve got a launch date for five more countries: Disney says that Disney+ will launch in the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31st.
Just announced: #DisneyPlus will be available in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain (and more to be announced soon) starting on March 31st. Please note: Titles may vary by territory. pic.twitter.com/lE6nzBeaXy
This news might be slightly less intriguing for folks in the U.K., who’ve had streaming access to a pretty massive collection of Disney stuff by way of DisneyLife — a streaming service that served as a test run of sorts for Disney since its launch back in 2015. But hey, The Mandalorian!
One thing worth noting: Don’t expect Disney+ to be exactly the same around the world. Thanks to those aforementioned rights/licensing deals that may already be in place around the world, as Disney puts it, “Titles may vary by territory.”