Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Insatiable’ is even worse than you’ve heard

“Insatiable,” the Netflix comedy about an overweight high school girl who suddenly becomes slim and beautiful thanks to having her jaw wired shut for a summer, has been drawing controversy ever since its first trailer went online.

The reviews for the show were almost uniformly negative, yet they didn’t quite prepare me for the terribleness of the initial episodes, which alternate between feeble attempts to mine humor from hot-button issues like sexual assault and suicide, and even feebler attempts to treat those issues seriously.

To help me figure out just what makes this show so bad, I was joined by Original Content‘s original co-host, Darrell Etherington. Our ultimate question: Is this the worst thing we’ve watched for the podcast? (Yes.)

We also discuss the fact that Henry Cavill has been cast as the lead in Netflix’s adaptation of the “Witcher” video game franchise.

This episode was actually recorded more than a week ago, but I didn’t get time to edit it until after Disrupt SF. So much has happened since then — like “The Witcher”‘s showrunner leaving Twitter and Cavill apparently departing the role of Superman. (Plus, somehow, “Insatiable” has been renewed for a second season.) Still, the initial news gave us an opportunity to weigh the relative merits of the “Mission Impossible” movies, and to discuss my favorite subject, Superman’s invisible mustache in “Justice League”.

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 also can send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Netflix’s newest program certifies post-production tools for Netflix Originals

Netflix on Thursday announced a new program aimed at helping Netflix Originals artists and producers select the right tools for delivering their content to its streaming service. With the launch of the Netflix Post Technology Alliance, as the program is called, Netflix will now identify products from vendors that meet technical and delivery specifications today, and will continue to support any specifications that Netflix rolls out in the future.

The program’s focus is on certifying vendors’ products across categories, including cameras, creative editorial, color grading, and IMF packaging.

Some vendors whose products have already received certification include  Adobe, Arri, Avid, Blackmagic Design, Canon, Colorfront, Fraunhofer IIS, Filmlight, Marquise Technologies, MTI Film, Ownzones, Panasonic, Red Digital Cinema, Rohde & Schwarz, and Sony.

These products will be allowed to sport the Netflix Post Technology Alliance logo, to alert artists of their certification status.

“Manufacturers of products bearing this logo are closely partnered with Netflix,” the company explained via  a post on its tech blog. “They have early access to the Netflix technical roadmap and collaborate with Netflix on technical support, training, and updates. As Netflix technical requirements evolve, you can be assured products bearing this logo will evolve in step with us.”

The program doesn’t extend to every type of tool used in production, however. For example, it won’t include lenses.

But many other of the other tools that are used will join the program in time, as new products submit themselves for inclusion.

Netflix explains its goal here is not to dictate to artists what tools have to be used – they should use whatever best makes sense for their efforts, it says. Instead, it’s about being able to quickly identify those tools that have been vetted for delivery to Netflix, as well as being able to identify companies who plan to continue to work with the streamer’s evolving tech on an ongoing basis.

Flagging products like this could help smaller producers just getting started, and that, in turn, could help feed more content into the streaming service over time, as their works won’t get rejected for quality issues.

The program joins others Netflix already runs, including a Post Partner Program, which collaborates with post-production partners worldwide, and the Prefered Fulfillment Partner program, which represents a global network of media fulfillment companies.

 

Former Uber exec alleges ex-PR chief ‘destroyed his reputation’

A nasty legal battle is set to play out between two former Uber executives.

Eric Alexander, the ride-hailing company’s former president of business in Asia-Pacific, has filed suit against former Uber PR chief Rachel Whetstone .

Alexander blames Whetstone for his firing from Uber in June 2017, claiming her “grossly misleading statements” both internally at Uber and to the media, “destroyed his reputation.” He claims she “harbored deep seated personal animosity” against him, was jealous of his close relationship with then-CEO Travis Kalanick and frequently made racist comments about several minority groups during her tenure.

Whetstone, well-known in Silicon Valley for her comms prowess, also left Uber in 2017 and has since gone on to lead PR efforts at Facebook and now Netflix.

We’ve reached out to Whetstone, Alexander and Uber for comment.

Backstory

Last year, Alexander was very publicly ousted from Uber after obtaining the medical records of a female passenger who was raped by an Uber driver in India. Alexander had reportedly been investigating the case himself because he believed the Indian ride-hailing business Ola was behind the incident and that the competitor was trying to damage Uber’s reputation in India.

Alexander spent just over three years at the company and was a close confidant of Kalanick’s.

The allegations

The allegations outlined in the lawsuit, first reported by Business Insider, don’t seem to be connected, but rather are an attempt by Alexander to portray Whetstone as a vicious, jealous and racist former colleague out for his career:

Ms. Whetstone harbored deep seated personal animosity against Mr. Alexander over his perceived higher status within Uber, as well as Mr. Alexander’s repeated efforts to curtail Ms. Whetstone’s ongoing racist comments (culminating in Mr. Alexander’s public rebuke of Ms. Whetstone in front of another Uber officer. Given the contentious relationship between the parties, upon her severance from Uber, Ms. Whetstone took the unusual step of insisting on a reciprocal non-disparagement clause that specifically referenced Mr. Alexander by name. Ms. Whetstone thereafter proceeded to violate that clause by spreading false and misleading and/or disparaging information about Mr. Alexander’s response to the rape in India. Ms. Whetstone’s derogatory statements were made in direct violation of the non-disparagement.

The lawsuit provides several examples of racist comments allegedly made by Whetstone, including that “the Chinese cannot be trusted.”

Alexander says Whetstone also went to reporters — Bloomberg’s Eric Newcomer and Recode’s Kara Swisher were named specifically — and told them “false and misleading information.”

Uber’s past catches up to it

The lawsuit, for the most part, looks to be an attempt on Alexander’s end to clear his name. According to his LinkedIn, he hasn’t pursued any new opportunities since his well-publicized exit from Uber, and that’s likely not for lack of trying.

As for Uber, despite replacing its CEO and several other top-level employees following its no good, very bad year in 2017, the company hasn’t been able to shake its scandal-ridden reputation. The mistakes made under Kalanick’s reign have and will continue to catch up to it. And nothing, not even a rebrand, can stop that.

Here’s a full look at the lawsuit.

EU to move ahead with cultural quotas for streaming services

The European Union is set to move ahead with a plan to enforce pan-European quotas on streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix to support production of locally produced film and video content.

Roberto Viola, the European Commission’s directorate general of communication, networks, content and technology told Variety that the new rules are on track to be approved in December.

“We just need the final vote, but it’s a mere formality,” he said in an interview at the Venice Film Festival.

The proposals will require that streaming services give over at least 30% of their on-demand catalogues to original productions made in each EU country where a service is provided (individual EU Member States could choose to set the content bar even higher, at 40%).

Streaming services will also have to ensure visibility and prominence for local content — so no burying the ‘European third’ in a dingy corner of the site where no one will find it, let alone stream it.

The EU lawmakers’ intention is to stand up for cultural diversity against the might of Hollywood and the flattening power of platforms — in the latter case by making platforms invest in local content production rather than just doing the easy thing of fencing yet more Marvel superhero movies.

And, frankly, if you’ve seen one superhero movie you’ve seen them all. So the move — which will probably draw loud and hair-raising screams from U.S. commentators — is, nonetheless, A Good Thing.

It is also not at all unusual in Europe, where cultural diversity is championed and measures to protect linguistic and cultural difference are not just acceptable but the welcome norm.

On the film front, some EU countries already require cinemas screen a portion of locally content, for example.

The Commission’s revision to EU audiovisual law will go further, by bolstering local content production across the region, including by placing requirements on local broadcasters to reserve a majority of airtime for European content. And also by requiring that streaming services actively promote EU works.

Hollywood + platform power is now a force so very mighty that cultural difference risks being steamrollered before it until nothing but tedious superhero tropes remain.

At least without proactive policy counteractions to unlock investments in creativity at a local level and not just protect but develop community voices. Ergo, the real superhero is a policy that battles the evil of cultural homogeneity and champions local light and color.

In Germany, which has already pushed ahead with content quotas on streaming services, a surcharge is added to subscription fees for the services to support a national production fund.

Netflix attempted to challenge the Commission’s support of Germany’s move to support its local film industry in the courts, arguing it countered EU law on state aid.

But in May the European General Court dismissed its appeal against the EC decision — saying its action was inadmissible as Netflix has no legal standing to challenge the decision.

We’ve reached out to Amazon and Netflix for comment on Viola’s comments.

Image credit: Trailer still from Blue is the Warmest Colour

Original Content podcast: Going on a true crime spree with Netflix’s ‘Evil Genius’

“Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist” is a tough title to live up to, but the Netflix docuseries pulls it off.

That’s because the story that “Evil Genius” retells is full of impossible-seeming details — it starts out with a botched bank robbery committed by a man with a bomb attached to his neck and gets stranger from there.

In the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we talk about our reactions to the show — it tells an unforgettable story, but might have benefited from tighter editing.

We also mull over the growing genre of true crime miniseries, covering “The Staircase,” plus fictionalized depictions of real-world events like “Mindhunter” and “Manhunt: Unabomber.”

And we go over some recent streaming headlines, including Hulu’s rumored revival of “Veronica Mars” and Netflix picking up the U.S. rights to “The Great British Baking Show”.

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 also can send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Netflix releases the trailer for Orson Welles’ final film

“The Other Side of the Wind” has had a long, torturous path to completion.

In a way, it’s one of the final chapters in the longer saga of Orson Welles — who, after making “Citizen Kane” (often cited as the greatest film of all time) and “The Magnificent Ambersons,” spent most of the ensuing decades in Europe, piecing together the funding for projects like “Chimes at Midnight.”

He shot “The Other Side of the Wind” throughout the 1970s and even managed to edit part of the film before running out of funding. Since his death in 1985, Peter Bogdanovich and other Welles supporters have tried to complete the film, but they’ve been stymied by additional legal and financial issues.

Until recently, that is, when Netflix stepped in to fund the work. The streaming giant’s involvement did cause some additional issues, namely its absence from the Cannes Film Festival (the festival passed a rule last year that effectively blocks Netflix films from participating), but the movie is set to screen this fall at the Venice and New York film festivals, then launch on Netflix on November 2.

As further proof that this really is happening, Netflix has released the first trailer. While the trailer is a bit cryptic, it gives us a good look at Jack Hannaford, the reactionary director at the center of the film — he’s played by John Huston, the legendary director and occasional actor who also portrayed the villain in “Chinatown.”

Netflix tests a bypass of iTunes billing in 33 markets

Netflix is one of the highest-grossing apps on the iOS App Store, but it looks like the video streaming giant is contemplating how it might make an even bigger margin on its iPhone and iPad users.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Netflix, in its own words, is “testing the iTunes payment method” in 33 countries. More specifically, Netflix is testing how to bypass iTunes. Until September 30, new or lapsed subscribers in selected markets across Europe, Latin America and Asia will be unable pay using iTunes. They are instead getting redirected to the mobile web version to log payment details directly with Netflix.

The test was first spotted by NDTV in India last week, with users also flagging changes on Twitter. Journalist Manish Singh (in a tweet he then deleted) subsequently said Netflix was running a two-month experiment. A customer support agent contacted by us earlier today confirmed that the test has actually been running since June, starting first in 10 countries and then expanding to 33 from August 2 until September 30.

“During this time, customers in these countries may experience any of the following when launching the Netflix app on an iOS (mobile or tablet) device: 1. Ability to sign up in app with only iTunes Mode Of Payment. 2. Ability to log into Netflix but not sign up (sign up only via mobile browser),” he wrote. “We are constantly innovating and testing new signup approaches on different platforms to better understand what our members like. Based on what we learn, we work to improve the Netflix experience for members everywhere.”

Asked for more clarification, a spokesperson, provided a statement echoing the same words also used by the customer support agent.

The full list of countries where the billing test is running is as follows: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and Thailand.

Although Netflix is calling this a test, it’s notable that the company has been gradually shifting its customer relationships on other platforms to develop more direct billing with its users.

As of May 2018, Netflix stopped allowing new or rejoining customers to use Google Play to pay for its service. “If you are currently billed by Google Play, you can continue to use Google Play billing until your account is cancelled,” the company notes on a help page about the change, which is in line with how it appears to be testing billing now on iOS.

Changing the billing to a direct format means that Netflix bypasses giving Google and Apple a cut on those subscriptions. Currently, Apple takes a 30 percent cut on the first year of a subscription, which goes down to 15 percent for subsequent years.

Apple has something of the upper hand especially when it comes to newer apps or those still building up their user bases: it controls the App Store on iOS devices, and with active billing details for a large number of these users, Apple greatly reduces friction for enticing users to sign up and subscribe to a service (the same goes for in-app purchases, too, although that is less relevant to Netflix).

But the math and strategy change for the biggest app publishers, who have their own brands (and even their own memes). These might be more willing to take the chance of creating a little bit more friction in exchange for a bigger return.

Although it’s not elaborating too much about what it is doing, this might be particularly the case for Netflix. In July, the company posted a miss in its quarterly revenues and subscriber additions. Growth may be slowing, so now might be a good time for the company to refocus the margins its making on its 130 million+ users.

The test for payments comes at the same time that Netflix is making other tests and tweaks to its service, including an experiment to see how well video promos between episodes do with users (they seem to universally dislike them), and closing off the option to leave user reviews on videos.

If the billing test grows, or becomes a permanent thing, as it has with Google, it looks like Apple might soon need to update its subscription pages for developers:

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Additional reporting Jon Russell

As promised, Netflix’s user reviews are no more

Netflix user reviews are no more. Sure, chances are pretty decent you didn’t realize Netflix still had reviews at this point, but the video streaming giant has delivered on its promise to do away with the one-time mainstay of the service.

Last month, it informed recent users that reviews would be sunset soon. Netflix dropped the feature this week with little fanfare, simply updating the “How do I post reviews on Netflix” section of its help page to read, “You can no longer post reviews on Netflix.” Fair enough, I guess.

The service has slowly evolved its recommendation engine over the year, putting plenty of effort into one of its primary drivers of user engagement. Review were slowly moved into the background to make way for new features, including the current thumbs up/thumbs down offering.

As Variety notes, while some continued to use reviews up until the end, the loss of reviews hasn’t exactly been met with a widespread backlash from users. Not a thumbs up, nor a thumbs down, so much as a collective indifference to the end of once key feature. 

Original Content podcast: ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ is a charming high school romance

While Hollywood’s interest in romantic comedies seems to be fading, Netflix has been picking up some of the slack. Just a few months ago, it released the tremendously fun Set It Up. And now we’ve got To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, a high school romance based on the young adult novel by Jenny Han.

To All The Boys tells the story of Lara Jean Covey (played by Lana Condor), a teenager who’s written love letters to all of her crushes, but never sent them — until the beginning of the movie, when they mysteriously end up in the hands of the titular boys.

Naturally, this leads to intense mortification and embarrassment, particularly when Lara Jean is so desperate to hide her feelings on her sister’s ex Josh (Israel Broussard) that she agrees to pretend to date her former (?) crush Peter (Noah Centineo).

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by our colleague Taylor Nakagawa to review the film. Taylor wasn’t entirely won over — after all, you can probably guess most of what happens next based on the bare bones plot description above. But your regular hosts Anthony and Jordan enjoyed it anyway, particularly the movie’s tremendously charming leads.

We also discuss Crazy Rich Asians, one of the rare Hollywood rom coms to make it onto the big screen, and how the filmmakers turned down an offer from Netflix. And we cover the week’s streaming news, including Netflix’s exclusive deal with Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and the reports that Amazon is in talks to buy a theater chain.

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 also can send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Netflix tests video promos in between episodes, much to viewers’ dislike

Netflix is testing video promos that play in between episodes of shows a viewer is streaming, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The promos are full-screen videos, personalized to the user, featuring content Netflix would have otherwise suggested elsewhere in its user interface – like on a row of recommendations, for example. The promos also displace the preview information for the next episode being binged, like the title, description, and thumbnail that previously appeared on the right side of the screen.

The test was first spotted by Cord Cutters News, following a Reddit thread filled with complaints. A number of Twitter users are angrily tweeting about the change, too. (See below examples.)

We understand the introduction of promos in between the episodes is not a feature Netflix is rolling out to its subscribers at this time.

Instead, it’s one of the hundreds of tests Netflix runs every year, many of which are focused on how to better promote Netflix’s original programming to its customers.

This test is currently live for a small percentage of Netflix’s global audience.

And unlike some prior tests, the promos may feature any content in Netflix’s catalog – not just its original programming.

There is some misinformation about the way the test works out there because of what may be user error on the part of the original Reddit user, or an undocumented bug.

Image credit: Reddit user WhyAllTheTrains via this post

The original Reddit post said these new video promos are “unskippable,” noting there’s a Continue button with a countdown timer on it that looks similar to the one you’d see on a YouTube ad.

But we understand that the test in question does allow users to push that Continue button at any time to move forward to the next episode.

The promos, in other words, are interruptive, but they are not unskippable.

Needless to say, consumer reaction to these promos – which consumers perceive as advertisements – has been fairly critical so far. Netflix is a paid subscription service, not an ad-supported one like Hulu with Limited Commercials. That means customers expect on-demand viewing with no ads. And they think of anything that disrupts their viewing as an advertisement, as a result.

But Netflix is always trying to figure out how to better showcase its content for subscribers, in order to help them discover new shows and keep them engaged.

It has run many experiments like this over the years, not all of which pan out. For example, last year it toyed with pre-roll video previews, and more recently it began a test that promotes its shows on the background of the login screen.

Only when Netflix sees data that proves a test increases user engagement or another metric it cares about will it roll out the feature to all subscribers. That’s been the case with those auto-playing trailers, for instance. While not necessarily beloved, they seem to be doing the job.

The company’s longer-term goal is to make its user interface more video-rich and personalized, so it’s not surprising that it’s finding new ways to insert video into that experience.

Netflix, reached for comment about the new test, offering the following statement:

At Netflix, we conduct hundreds of tests every year so we can better understand what helps members more easily find something great to watch. A couple of years ago, we introduced video previews to the TV experience, because we saw that it significantly cut the time members spend browsing and helped them find something they would enjoy watching even faster. Since then, we have been experimenting even more with video based on personalized recommendations for shows and movies on the service or coming shortly, and continue to learn from our members.

In this particular case, we are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster. It is important to note that a member is able to skip a video preview at anytime if they are not interested.

Tweets from testers: