Netflix says new episodes of “Arrested Development” will debut on March 15

It’s time for another hit off the juice box. Netflix announced today that it will release the remaining eight episodes of “Arrested Development’s” fifth season on March 5, ten months after the first half premiered. In the intervening time, however, the show has dealt with several controversies revolving around accusations of abusive behavior from star Jeffrey Tambor, who plays family patriarch George Bluth.

The Netflix installments of the show, which began in 2013 with season 4 and marked the show’s return after running from 2003 to 2006 on Fox, have received mixed reviews and failed to achieve the iconic status of the original episodes. The controversies surrounding the show’s cast has also dampened some fans’ enthusiasm, at least for the new seasons.

Tambor will appear in the upcoming episodes despite being fired from Amazon Studios’ “Transparent” last year after he was accused of sexual harassment by two of his colleagues on the series. Then Tambor’s “Arrested Development” co-star Jessica Walter said he had verbally abused her during filming. In a New York Times cast interview to promote the first half of season five, Walter said she was “over it now,” but tone-deaf responses from male castmates, including Jason Bateman, underscored how warped gender dynamics and Tambor’s misbehavior might have been enabled on set (Bateman later apologized).

Tambor has denied the sexual harassment accusations, but a year and a half after the MeToo Movement began taking off, it is likely to continue casting a pall over the latest installment of “Arrested Development.” The new season picks up story lines involving the Bluth company’s involvement in building the border wall and Buster’s murder trial.

Netflix cancels “Friends From College” after two seasons

Netflix comedy series “Friends From College” will not return for a third season. The show’s co-creator Nicholas Stoller announced the news earlier today on Twitter.

Despite a very poorly-reviewed first season (the Guardian referred to it as TV’s “most hateable show”),”Friends From College’s” second season was better received. But apparently that wasn’t enough to save the show, which followed a group of Harvard graduates.

In a statement to Hollywood Reporter, Netflix said “We’re grateful to creators Nick Stoller and Francesca Delbanco for creating a wise, funny and supremely relatable show. We also want to thank the hard-working crew, and we raise a glass to the amazingly talented cast including Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, Cobie Smulders, Nat Faxon, Annie Parisse, Jae Suh Park, and Billy Eichner.”

The news that Netflix is bidding adieu to “Friends From College” came a few hours after it confirmed that “The Punisher” and “Jessica Jones” will not be renewed, the last two Marvel shows after it cancelled “Iron Fist,” “Luke Cage,” and “Daredevil.” Netflix’s purge of Marvel shows may be related to the end of its deal with Disney, which plans to produce its own superhero content for its new upcoming streaming service.

Netflix office goes on lockdown over report of a potential shooter, suspect now in custody

Alarming reports popped up on Twitter late Thursday of incident involving an armed individual at Netflix’s Hollywood office on Sunset Blvd. TechCrunch has confirmed with the Los Angeles Police Department that a call reporting a man with a gun first came in at 3:53 Pacific Time. According to the LAPD, there were no shots fired, no reports of injuries and the suspect in question has been taken into custody. Though some reports on social media appeared to contradict those details, the LAPD again confirmed that there is only one suspect and that suspect is in custody. As of 5:12 Pacific Time, Netflix employees reported being allowed to leave on foot though some areas remained closed as a precaution.

Netflix first moved into the historic Hollywood Sunset Bronson studio site in 2015 and expanded its lease on the space in 2017. The company shares the location with local news outlet KTLA.

This story is developing.

It isn’t just apps. China’s cinemas broke records during Lunar New Year

China celebrated Lunar New Year last week as hundreds of millions of people travelled to their hometowns. While many had longed to see their separated loved ones, others dreaded the weeklong holiday as relatives awkwardly caught up with them with questions like: “Why are you not married? How much do you earn?”

Luckily, there are ways to survive the festive time in this digital age. Smartphone usage during this period has historically surged. Short video app TikTok’s China version Douyin noticeably took off by acquiring 42 million new users over the first week of last year’s holiday, a report from data analytics firm QuestMobile shows. Tencent’s mobile game blockbuster Honor of Kings similarly gained 76 percent DAUs during that time, according to another QuestMobile report.

People also hid away by immersing themselves in the cinema during the Lunar New Year, a movie-going period akin to the American holiday season. This year, China wrapped up the first six days of the New Year with a record-breaking 5.8 billion ($860 million) yuan box office, according to data collected by Maoyan, Alibaba’s movie ticketing service slated for an initial public offering.

The new benchmark, however, did not reflect an expanding viewership. Rather, it came from price hikes in movie tickets, market research firm EntGroup suggests. On the first day of Year of the Pig, tickets were sold at an average of 45 yuan ($6.65), up from 39 yuan last year. That certainly put some price-sensitive audience off — though not by a huge margin as there wasn’t much to do otherwise. (Shops were closed. Fireworks and firecrackers, which are traditionally set off during the New Year to drive bad spirits away, are also banned in most Chinese cities for safety concerns.) Cinemas across China sold 31.69 million tickets on the first day, a slight decline from last year’s 32.63 million.

Dawn of Chinese sci-fi

wandering earth 2

Image source: The Wandering Earth via Weibo

Many Chinese companies don’t return to work until this Thursday, so the box office results are still being announced. Investment bank Nomura put the estimated total at 6.2 billion yuan. What’s also noticeable about this year’s film-inspired holiday peak is the fervor that sci-fi The Wandering Earth whipped up.

American audiences may find in the Chinese film elements of Interstellar’s space adventures, but The Wandering Earth will likely resonate better with the Chinese audience. Adapted from the novel of Hugo Award-winning Chinese author Liu Cixin, the film tells the story of the human race seeking a new home as the aging sun is about to devour the earth. A group of Chinese astronauts, scientists and soldiers eventually work out a plan to postpone the apocalypse — a plot deemed to have stoke Chinese viewers’ sense of pride, though the rescue also involves participation from other nations.

The film, featuring convincing special effects, is also widely heralded as the dawn of Chinese-made sci-fi films. The sensation gave rise to a wave of patriotic online reviews like “If you are Chinese, go watch The Wandering Earth” though it’s unclear whether the discourse was genuine or have been manipulated.

Alibaba’s movie powerhouse

This record-smashing holiday has also been a big win for Alibaba, the Chinese internet outfit best known for ecommerce and increasingly cloud computing. Its content production segment Alibaba Pictures has backed five of the movies screened during the holiday, one of which being the blockbuster The Wandering Earth that also counts Tencent as an investor.

Tech giants with online streaming services are on course to upend China’s film and entertainment industry, a sector traditionally controlled by old-school production houses. In its most recent quarter, Alibaba increased its stake to take majority control in Alibaba Pictures, the film production business it acquired in 2014. Tencent and Baidu have also spent big bucks on content creation. While Tencent zooms in on video games and anime, Baidu’s Netflix-style video site iQiyi has received wide acclaim for house-produced dramas like Yanxi Palace, a smash hit drama about backstabbing concubines that was streamed over 15 billion times.

Seeing all the entertainment options on the table, the Chinese government made a pre-emptive move against the private players by introducing a news app designed for propaganda purposes in the weeks leading to the vacation.

“The timing of the publishing of this app might be linked to the upcoming Chinese New Year Festival, which the Chinese Communist Party sees as an opportunity and a necessity to spread their ideology,” Kristin Shi-Kupfer, director of German think tank MERICS, told TechCrunch earlier. “[It] may be hoping that people would use the holiday season to take a closer look, but probably also knowing that most people would rather choose other sources to relax, consume and travel.”

Amazon buys Eero: What does it mean for your privacy?

In case you hadn’t seen, Amazon is buying router maker Eero. And in case you hadn’t heard, people are pretty angry.

Deluged in a swarm of angry tweets and social media posts, many have taken to reading tealeaves to try to understand what the acquisition means for ordinary privacy-minded folks like you and me. Not many had much love for Amazon on the privacy front. A lot of people like Eero because it wasn’t attached to one of the big tech giants. Now it’s to be part of Amazon, some are anticipating the worst for their privacy.

Of the many concerns we’ve seen, the acquisition boils down to a key concern: “Amazon shouldn’t have access to all internet traffic.”

Rightfully so! It’s bad enough that Amazon wants to put a listening speaker in every corner of our home. How worried should you be that Amazon flips the switch on Eero and it’s no longer the privacy-minded router it once was?

This calls for a lesson in privacy pragmatism, and one of cautious optimism.

Don’t panic — yet

Nothing will change overnight. The acquisition will take time, and any possible changes will take longer. Eero has an easy to read privacy policy, and the company tweeted that the company will “continue to protect” customer privacy, noting that Eero “does not track customers’ internet activity and this policy will not change with the acquisition.”

That’s true! Eero doesn’t monitor your internet activity. We scoured the privacy policy, and the most the router collects is some basic information from each device connecting to the router that it already broadcasts, such as device name and its unique networking address. We didn’t see anything beyond boilerplate language for a smart router. And there’s nothing in there that says even vaguely that Eero can or will spy on your internet traffic.

Among the many reasons, it (mostly) couldn’t even if it wanted to.

Every single time you open an app or load a website, most now load over HTTPS. And most do because Google has taken to security-shaming sites that don’t. That’s an encrypted connection between your computer and the app or website. Not even your router can see your internet traffic. It’s only rare cases like Facebook’s creepy “research” app that forces you to give it “root” access to your device’s network traffic when companies can snoop on everything you do.

If Eero starts asking you to install root certificates on your devices, then we have a problem.

Fear the internet itself

The reality is that your internet service provider knows more about your internet activity than your router does.

Your internet provider not only processes your internet requests, it routes and directs them. Even when the traffic is HTTPS-encrypted, your internet provider for the most part knows which domains you visit, and when, and with that it can sometimes figure out why. With that information, your internet provider can piece together a timeline of your online life. It’s the reason why HTTPS and using privacy-focused DNS services are so important.

It doesn’t stop there. Once your internet traffic goes past your router, you’re into the big wide world of the world wide web. Your router is the least of your troubles: it’s a jungle of data collection out there.

Props to the spirited gentleman who tweeted that he trusts Google “way more with my privacy than Amazon” for the sole reason that, “Amazon wants to use the data to sell me more stuff vs. Google just wants to serve targeted ads.” Think of that: Amazon wants to sell you products from its own store, but somehow that’s worse than Google selling its profiles of who it thinks you are to advertisers to try to sell you things?

Every time you go online, what’s your first hit? Google. Every time you open a new browser window, it’s Google. Every time you want to type something in to the omnibar at the top of your browser, it’s Google. Google knows more about your browsing history than your router does because most people use Google as their one-stop directory for all they need on the internet. Your internet provider may not be able to see past the HTTPS domain that you’re visiting, but Google, for one, tracks which search queries you type, which websites you go to, and even tracks you from site-to-site with its pervasive ad network.

At least when you buy a birthday present or a sex toy (or both?) from Amazon, that knowledge stays in-house.

Knock knock, it’s Amazon already

If Amazon wanted to track you, it already could.

Everyone seems to forgets Amazon’s massive cloud business. Most of the internet these days runs on Amazon Web Services, the company’s dedicated cloud unit that made up all of the company’s operating income in 2017. It’s a cash cow and an infrastructure giant, and its retail prowess is just part of the company’s business.

Think you can escape Amazon? Just look at what happened when Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill tried to cut out Amazon from her life. She found it “impossible.” Why? Everything seems to rely on Amazon these days — from Spotify and Netflix’s back-end, popular consumer and government websites use it, and many other major apps and services rely on Amazon’s cloud. She ended up blocking 23 million IP addresses controlled by Amazon, and still struggled..

In a single week, Hill found 95,260 total attempts by her devices to communicate with Amazon, compared to less than half that for Google at 40,527 requests, and a paltry 36 attempts for Apple. Amazon already knows which sites you go to — because it runs most of them.

So where does that leave me?

Your router is a lump of plastic. And it should stay that way. We can all agree on that.

It’s a natural fear that when “big tech” wades in, it’s going to ruin everything. Especially with Amazon. The company’s track record on transparency is lackluster at best, and downright evasive at its worst. But just because Amazon is coming in doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily become a surveillance machine. Even Google’s own mesh router system, Eero’s direct competitor, promises to “not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network.”

Amazon can’t turn the Eero into a surveillance hub overnight, but it doesn’t mean it won’t try.

All you can do is keep a close eye on the company’s privacy policy. We’ll do it for you. And in the event of a sudden change, we’ll let you know. Just make sure you have an escape plan.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ is lethally dull

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and writer-director Dan Gilroy — who worked together on the creepy crime thriller “Nightcrawler” — have reunited for a new Netflix Original film, “Velvet Buzzsaw.”

While “Nightcrawler” wasn’t perfect, it was tense and unsettling, filled with eerily beautiful shots of nighttime L.A., plus a career-best performance from Gyllenhaal. It’s hard to believe that the same team was responsible for the muddled “Buzzsaw,” a film that tries to combine art-world satire and horror movies scares, ultimately failing on both counts.

The setup involves the death of a mysterious artist, leaving behind a trove of strangely compelling paintings. Soon, though, everyone involved in promoting or selling these paintings starts dying too.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jon Shieber to try to understand what went wrong here. The movie isn’t particularly funny or scary — instead, we’re stuck with obvious jabs at the hypocrisy of the art world, interrupted by boring, unimaginative death scenes. And while Gyllenhaal is trying something in his portrayal of pompous art critic Morf Vandewalt, the results are more head-scratching than compelling.

This episode isn’t just one long pan, though. We also offer our (considerably more positive) impressions of the Netflix series “Russian Doll,” which stars co-creator Natasha Lyonne as a New Yorker who keeps dying and repeating the night of her 36th birthday. And we discuss Super Bowl streaming numbers and new details about Disney’s streaming service.

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 reportedly paid $10M for campaign documentary featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Freshman Congresswomen and meme queen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is headed to Netflix. The streaming service said this week that it has snapped up ‘Knock Down the House,’ a Sundance award-winning documentary profiling the campaigns of four female progressive candidates, including Ocasio-Cortez, in the 2018 midterm election.

The documentary raised money via a Kickstarter campaign last year and it grabbed the Festival Favorite Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, beating 121 other contenders to land the highest number of audience votes.

That acclaim and the rising star of Ocasio-Cortez looks to have made the picture a hot commodity. Deadline reports that Netflix is spending $10 million to secure the film, a price that — if true — would make it the most expensive Sundance documentary deal to date. It apparently beat off competition from NEON, Focus, Hulu and Amazon to land the production, according to Deadline.

‘Knock Down the House’ is produced by New York’s Jubilee Films and it profiles the campaigns of Las Vegas businesswoman Amy Vilela, Saint Louis nurse Cori Bush, coal miner’s daughter Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia and New York-based Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who worked double shifts at restaurants to pay her family’s bills.

None of the women had previous political experience, but they gained attention after taking on heavyweight incumbents because they believed that the American system needed to change. Of the challengers, only Ocasio-Cortez won the vote and made it to Washington.

“It is a transcendent moment when skilled filmmakers are able to train their lens on a major transformation,” Lisa Nishimura, VP of Original Documentaries for Netflix, said in a statement. “With intimacy and immediacy, [filmmakers] Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnik, bring viewers to the front lines of a movement, as four women find their voice, their power and their purpose, allowing all of us to witness the promise of true democracy in action.”

This is not Netflix’s first major foray into U.S. political programming. The company signed up former U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle in a production deal announced last year, although the exact content that’ll come from that collaboration is not clear at this point.

“They have their eyes on film and television, fiction and non-fiction. They want to do programming, storytelling that fits in with what they did during the presidency, obviously,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said last year, although he did rule out a focus on politics.

Obama was the first guest on David Letterman’s Netflix show and he indirectly features in the company’s catalog under ‘Barry,’ a drama that’s based on his life as a college student.

Netflix launches ‘smart downloads’ feature on iOS to automate offline viewing

Netflix today is launching a new feature on iOS devices that will help make it easier to watch its shows when you’re offline. The “smart downloads” feature, as it’s called, will automatically delete a downloaded episode after you’ve finished watching, then download the next one — but only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The idea is that users will no longer have to go through the tedious work of managing their downloads — deleting those they’ve watched or downloading new titles, for example. Instead, the app can manage the downloads for you, so people can spend more time watching Netflix shows.

Smart downloads make sense for those who plan for intermittent connectivity — like commuters who take underground trains, for instance, or those who travel through dead spots where wireless coverage drops. It also makes sense for those on limited data plans, who are careful about not using streaming video apps unless they’re on Wi-Fi.

Offline features like this are key to attracting and retaining users in emerging markets where connectivity concerns are the norm. That’s likely why Netflix prioritized Android over iOS, for the initial launch of smart downloads.

The feature had first arrived on Android last summer. It’s now offered across platforms, including iOS and in the Windows 10 Netflix app, the company says.

Offline access is only one area where Netflix is focusing on the needs of those in developing markets. The company late last year also began testing a more affordable, mobile-only subscription.

Non-U.S. users accounted for 7.31 million of the 8.8 million new subscribers Netflix added in the last quarter, as the U.S. market has become more saturated.

To use smart downloads on iOS, you can toggle the option in the Netflix app settings. It then turns itself on when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, to ensure your data plan won’t be used and your device storage won’t fill up as you watch offline. The feature will alert you when the episode in question has been downloaded.

“The faster our members can get to the next episode of their favorite stories, the better. Now, fans on the Netflix iOS app can get in on the fun and convenience of Smart Downloads, spending less time managing their downloads and more time watching,” said a Netflix spokesperson in a statement about the launch. “The feature is one more way we’re making it easier for Netflix fans to take the stories they love wherever they go,” they added.

Southeast Asia’s Grab is adding Netflix-like video streaming to its ride-hailing app

Grab is Southeast Asia’s top ride-hailing firm thanks to its acquisition of Uber’s local business last year. Its biggest competitor gone, the company is on a push to go beyond transport and become an everyday ‘super app’ and that strategy just embraced video streaming today.

That’s because Grab is integrating video-on-demand service HOOQ — a local equivalent to Netflix — into its core ride-hailing app. The company, which is valued at $11 billion and raising a $5 billion round, already offers a range of services including food deliveries, payments, grocery delivery, travel deals and more. But, beyond utility, the focus is now shifting to entertainment, a category where Grab’s app currently sports only basic games.

Grab’s focus on these additional non-transportation services is designed to retain the attention of users and keep them engaged with its app even when they don’t need a ride. In that spirit, Grab announced a partnership platform last summer that’s aimed at helping companies in adjacent industries where it sees a fit to be integrated into its app. The benefit is potential access to Grab’s 130 million registered users which, aside from Western services like Facebook and Google, represents one of the largest digital platforms in Southeast Asia, where Grab is present in eight countries.

The rollout of HOOQ began earlier this month with Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous country, the key focus initially.

The HOOQ ‘mini app’ doesn’t require a log-in, but existing HOOQ users can sign-in.

The companies didn’t disclose financial details, but HOOQ CEO Peter Bithos suggested Grab would receive a cut of revenue generated by subscription sign-ups generated by its app.

Leaning on Grab’s presence is certainly the appeal for HOOQ, which was started in 2015 by Singapore telco Singtel, Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers. Initially, a play to out-localize Netflix in Southeast Asia, HOOQ has recast its position somewhat in recent times — that’s included a free, advertising-supported tier launched last year and content deals with other on-demand services, including Hotstar in India.

Bithos, the HOOQ CEO, told TechCrunch that he believes Grab can support its growth and pivot from a cheaper but all-subscriber Netflix challenger to a freemium service that requires scale.

“Our strategy is around finding digital partners where we are complementary,” he explained in an interview. “We are building our tech and partnerships so that customers can easily bump into us without having to download an app or sign up to a different service.”

The HOOQ presence in Grab will include its full content library, Bithos confirmed.

“The deal is part of a much broader strategy for us,” he added. “We’re inverting the customer experience and putting HOOQ into other people’s products.”

Video in ride-hailing apps may sound unique but Go-Jek, Grab’s arch-rival headquartered in Indonesia, last year waded into video content, both through partnerships and its own productions. Even Uber has flirted with “in-ride content” to engage users, but it hasn’t delved into video yet.

With Go-Jek making the leap, it figures that Grab has followed with its own solution. Bithos said he is confident that the HOOQ-Grab tie-in is superior.

“Go-Jek hasn’t been able to get to anything like the scale or reach that we’ve got,” he said.

He suggested that the partnership allows Grab to focus on what it does best — rides — rather than other areas; that’s a concern that some sections of Grab’s user base have raised with its foray into other services.

“They don’t have to build video tech or focus on it,” he explained.

Original Content podcast: Fyre Festival docs shine light on a social media-fueled disaster

Netflix and Hulu have each released their own documentaries about the infamous Fyre Festival, and the hard-working hosts of the Original Content podcast have watched both of them.

We’re joined this week by Brian Heater, and the three of us are unanimous on one thing: If you’re only going to watch one of these documentaries, make it “Fyre” on Netflix. It’s the better-made movie, offering a clearer retelling of what actually went wrong at the first-time music festival in the Bahamas.

But if you’ve got the time, watching both films will give you a fuller picture. “Fyre Fraud” on Hulu is the one that scored interview with Fyre mastermind Billy McFarland — though the interview becomes increasingly awkward as he evades or outright refuses to answer many of the filmmakers’ questions (and they’ve taken heat for apparently paying McFarland for the interview).

More interestingly, the Hulu film makes more of an effort to connect the Fyre Festival to the bigger picture of millennial and influencer culture. In fact, McFarland’s fake-it-till-you-make-it ethos sometimes felt uncomfortably close to what we’ve seen when writing about tech startups.

The Oscar nominations were also announced this week, so we discussed the Best Picture nods received by Netflix’s “Roma” and by “Black Panther” — the first superhero film nominated in this category.

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!)