For the first time, Netflix tops HBO for most Emmy nominations

Netflix has broken HBO’s 17-year streak as the most nominated network at the Emmy Awards.

In the nominations released this afternoon, Netflix came out slightly ahead, with 112 nominations compared to HBO’s 108. Those include Best Comedy nods for GLOW and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, as well as Best Drama nominations for The Crown and Stranger Things.

Other Netflix shows got some love as well. Jordan Crook, my co-host on the Original Content podcast, will be glad to know that Jason Bateman was nominated for his work as both actor and director on Ozark. Meanwhile, Black Mirror‘s “USS Callister” episode was nominated for Best Television Movie.

The other big streaming services had good news, too. Hulu received 27 nominations, with last year’s Best Drama winner The Handmaid’s Tale up for the big award again. Handmaid’s Tale was one of the most-nominated shows overall, although its 20 nominations were just shy of Westworld‘s 21 and Game of Thrones’ 22. (These are nominations for GoT’s seventh season, which aired last summer.)

Meanwhile, Amazon’s shows received 22 nominations, including a Best Comedy nod for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The winners will be announced in a ceremony hosted by Colin Jost and Michael Che on Sept. 17.

AI spots legal problems with tech T&Cs in GDPR research project

Technology is the proverbial double-edged sword. And an experimental European research project is ensuring this axiom cuts very close to the industry’s bone indeed by applying machine learning technology to critically sift big tech’s privacy policies — to see whether AI can automatically identify violations of data protection law.

The still-in-training privacy policy and contract parsing tool — which is called ‘Claudette‘: Aka (automated) clause detector — is being developed by researchers at the European University Institute in Florence.

They’ve also now got support from European consumer organization BEUC — for a ‘Claudette meets GDPR‘ project — which specifically applies the tool to evaluate compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Early results from this project have been released today, with BEUC saying the AI was able to automatically flag a range of problems with the language being used in tech T&Cs.

The researchers set Claudette to work analyzing the privacy policies of 14 companies in all — namely: Google, Facebook (and Instagram), Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, WhatsApp, Twitter, Uber, AirBnB, Booking, Skyscanner, Netflix, Steam and Epic Games — saying this group was selected to cover a range of online services and sectors.

And also because they are among the biggest online players and — I quote — “should be setting a good example for the market to follow”. Ehem, should.

The AI analysis of the policies was carried out in June, after the update to the EU’s data protection rules had come into force. The regulation tightens requirements on obtaining consent for processing citizens’ personal data by, for example, increasing transparency requirements — basically requiring that privacy policies be written in clear and intelligible language, explaining exactly how the data will be used, in order that people can make a genuine, informed choice to consent (or not consent).

In theory, all 15 parsed privacy policies should have been compliant with GDPR by June, as it came into force on May 25. However some tech giants are already facing legal challenges to their interpretation of ‘consent’. And it’s fair to say the law has not vanquished the tech industry’s fuzzy language and logic overnight. Where user privacy is concerned, old, ugly habits die hard, clearly.

But that’s where BEUC is hoping AI technology can help.

It says that out of a combined 3,659 sentences (80,398 words) Claudette marked 401 sentences (11.0%) as containing unclear language, and 1,240 (33.9%) containing “potentially problematic” clauses or clauses providing “insufficient” information.

BEUC says identified problems include:

  • Not providing all the information which is required under the GDPR’s transparency obligations. “For example companies do not always inform users properly regarding the third parties with whom they share or get data from”
  • Processing of personal data not happening according to GDPR requirements. “For instance, a clause stating that the user agrees to the company’s privacy policy by simply using its website”
  • Policies are formulated using vague and unclear language (i.e. using language qualifiers that really bring the fuzz — such as “may”, “might”, “some”, “often”, and “possible”) — “which makes it very hard for consumers to understand the actual content of the policy and how their data is used in practice”

The bolstering of the EU’s privacy rules, with GDPR tightening the consent screw and supersizing penalties for violations, was exactly intended to prevent this kind of stuff. So it’s pretty depressing — though hardly surprising — to see the same, ugly T&C tricks continuing to be used to try to sneak consent by keeping users in the dark.

We reached out to two of the largest tech giants whose policies Claudette parsed — Google and Facebook — to ask if they want to comment on the project or its findings.

A Google spokesperson said: “We have updated our Privacy Policy in line with the requirements of the GDPR, providing more detail on our practices and describing the information that we collect and use, and the controls that users have, in clear and plain language. We’ve also added new graphics and video explanations, structured the Policy so that users can explore it more easily, and embedded controls to allow users to access relevant privacy settings directly.”

At the time of writing Facebook had not responded to our request for comment.

Commenting in a statement, Monique Goyens, BEUC’s director general, said: “A little over a month after the GDPR became applicable, many privacy policies may not meet the standard of the law. This is very concerning. It is key that enforcement authorities take a close look at this.”

The group says it will be sharing the research with EU data protection authorities, including the European Data Protection Board. And is not itself ruling out bringing legal actions against law benders.

But it’s also hopeful that automation will — over the longer term — help civil society keep big tech in legal check.

Although, where this project is concerned, it also notes that the training data-set was small — conceding that Claudette’s results were not 100% accurate — and says more privacy policies would need to be manually analyzed before policy analysis can be fully conducted by machines alone.

So file this one under ‘promising research’.

“This innovative research demonstrates that just as Artificial Intelligence and automated decision-making will be the future for companies from all kinds of sectors, AI can also be used to keep companies in check and ensure people’s rights are respected,” adds Goyens. “We are confident AI will be an asset for consumer groups to monitor the market and ensure infringements do not go unnoticed.

“We expect companies to respect consumers’ privacy and the new data protection rights. In the future, Artificial Intelligence will help identify infringements quickly and on a massive scale, making it easier to start legal actions as a result.”

For more on the AI-fueled future of legal tech, check out our recent interview with Mireille Hildebrandt.

Here’s what it was like to stumble into Netflix and Lyft’s activation for GLOW at ‘Muscle Beach’

Today at “Muscle Beach” in Venice, Calif., Netflix and Lyft joined forces for a promotional campaign in support of the streaming media site’s (really excellent) dramatization of the origin story for the women’s wrestling league — GLOW (or the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).

Your intrepid reporter was taking a walk on the beach and stumbled upon the marketing stunt (which was kind of genius).

For those of y’all who don’t know, Muscle Beach is sort of a mecca for weight lifters and body builders — including, back in the ’80s, a young Ah-nold Schwarzenegger. A history that made it an ideal spot to celebrate Netflix’s (pretty terrific) ode to all things new wave-d, hair metal-ed, neon accented, high-waisted, cocaine addled and muscle-bound.

Members of the cast posed for pictures, and wrestlers engaged in training sessions and ’80s-themed exercise classes throughout the day.

The activation will be up for the next week and included a Reebok pop-up with limited-edition ’80s styles; a photo booth and costumes for pictures; free copies of Paper Magazine and trading cards emblazoned with the pictures of each of the most popular characters from the show.

The day wasn’t without incident. Some Muscle Beach-goers got into a war of words with security over the event’s unannounced takeover of the basketball courts adjacent to the “beach.”

The second season of “GLOW” dropped today on Netflix.

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Big tech companies are looking at Hollywood as the next stage in their play for the cloud

This week, both Microsoft and Google made moves to woo Hollywood to their cloud computing platforms in the latest act of the unfolding drama over who will win the multi-billion dollar business of the entertainment industry as it moves to the cloud.

Google raised the curtain with a splashy announcement that they’d be setting up their fifth cloud region in the U.S. in Los Angeles. Keeping the focus squarely on tools for artists and designers the company talked up its tools like Zync Render, which Google acquired back in 2014, and Anvato, a video streaming and monetization platform it acquired in 2016.

While Google just launched its LA hub, Microsoft has operated a cloud region in Southern California for a while, and started wooing Hollywood last year at the National Association of Broadcasters conference, according to Tad Brockway, a general manager for Azure’s storage and media business.

Now Microsoft has responded with a play of its own, partnering with the provider of a suite of hosted graphic design and animation software tools called Nimble Collective.

Founded by a former Pixar and DreamWorks animator, Rex Grignon, Nimble launched in 2014 and has raised just under $10 million from investors including the UCLA VC Fund and New Enterprise Associates, according to Crunchbase.

“Microsoft is committed to helping content creators achieve more using the cloud with a partner-focused approach to this industries transformation,” said Tad Brockway, General Manager, Azure Storage, Media and Edge at Microsoft, in a statement. “We’re excited to work with innovators like Nimble Collective to help them transform how animated content is produced, managed and delivered.”

There’s a lot at stake for Microsoft, Google and Amazon as entertainment companies look to migrate to managed computing services. Tech firms like IBM have been pitching the advantages of cloud computing for Hollywood since 2010, but it’s only recently that companies have begun courting the entertainment industry in earnest.

While leaders like Netflix migrated to cloud services in 2012 and 21st Century Fox worked with HP to get its infrastructure on cloud computing, other companies have lagged. Now companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are competing for their business as more companies wake up to the pressures and demands for more flexible technology architectures.

As broadcasters face more demanding consumers, fragmented audiences, and greater time pressures to produce and distribute more content more quickly, cloud architectures for technology infrastructure can provide a solution, tech vendors argue.

Stepping into the breach, cloud computing and technology service providers like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are trying to buy up startups servicing the entertainment market specifically, or lock in vendors like Nimble through exclusive partnerships that they can leverage to win new customers. For instance, Microsoft bought Avere Systems in January, and Google picked up Anvato in 2016 to woo entertainment companies.

The result should be lower cost tools for a broader swath of the market, and promote more cross-pollination across different geographies, according to Grignon, Nimble’s chief executive.

“That worldwide reach is very important,” Grignon said. “In media and entertainment there are lots of isolated studios around the world. We afford this pathway between the studio in LA and the studio in Bangalore. We open these doorways.”

There are other, more obvious advantages as well. Streaming — exemplified by the relationship between Amazon and Netflix is well understood — but the possibility to bring costs down by moving to cloud architectures holds several other distribution advantages as well as simplifying processes across pre- and post-production, insiders said.

 

Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

Anker, a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which primarily sells via Amazon, is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues.

The projector is actually an Android 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly.

Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Netflix, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine. It has speakers built in and you can cast to it via Miracast but you cannot insert a Chromecast.

If all you want to do is throw up a little Santa Clarita Diet or Ice Age on a sheet in the back yard, this thing is perfect. Because the brightness is fairly low you need solid twilight or a partially dark room to get a good picture. However, the picture is good enough and it would also make a great presentation device for a closed, dark conference room. Because of its small size and battery life – four hours on a charge – it makes for a great alternative to a full-sized projector or even a standard TV.

At $539 the Mars II is priced on par with other 720p projectors. The primary use case – connecting a computer or console via HDMI – works quite well but streaming user experience is a bit of a mixed bag. Because Anker didn’t modify the Android installation much further than adding a few default apps, some apps require a mouse to use and others can be controlled via the arrow keys on the remote or body of the device. This means that some apps – like Plex, for example – let you pick a video via the arrow keys but require you to press the “mouse” button to begin simulating a mouse cursor on the screen. It’s a bit frustrating, especially in poor lighting conditions.

One of the interesting features is the automatic focus system. Instead of fiddling with a knob or slider, you simply point this at a surface and the system projects a bullseye focus ring until the picture is in focus. The focus changes any time you move the device and sometimes it gets caught up if the screen or projector are moving. However in most cases it works perfectly fine.

Like most portable projectors you aren’t buying the Mars II to watch 4K video in 5.1 surround sound. You buy it to offer an alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie. That means this is great for on-the-road business presentations, campouts, outdoor movie viewing, and sleepovers. It is cheap and portable enough to be almost disposable and it’s not as heavy and hot as other, larger devices. In short, it can go anywhere, show anything, and works really well. Anker also makes the Mars, a more expensive 1080p device, but this one works just fine for about $400 less – a big drop in just about a year of brisk sales. It’s nice to see a good, low-cost manufacturer dabble in the world of complex consumer electronics and come up with a product that is truly useful and fun.

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Original Content podcast: ‘Queer Eye’ season two is even more of a tearjerker

It’s only been a couple months since we reviewed the first season of Netflix’s revival of Queer Eye, but the show’s Fab Five are already back with another eight episodes where they remake the homes, wardrobes and lives.

For season two, however, they mix things up a little — not only does the format feel more varied, but the folks being helped now include a woman and a transgendered man.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Henry Pickavet (editorial director at TechCrunch and co-host of the CTRL+T podcast) to discuss the show. We’re all fans: Queer Eye has its shortcomings, but it really works for us, with multiple episodes ending with tears, on- and off-screen.

We also recap some of the latest streaming and entertainment news, including AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, Comcast’s new bid for Fox and Netflix’s addition of Minecraft: Story Mode.

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.

Netflix’s latest hit ‘The Kissing Booth’ is a Wattpad success story

One of the most popular movies in the U.S. is a terrible teen rom-com called “The Kissing Booth,” and it’s not in theaters. Instead, this Netflix Original with its paltry 17 percent critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, shot up to become the No. 4 movie on IMDb, before more recently dropping down to No. 9. Its leads, Jacob Elordi and Joey King, also became the No. 1 and No. 6 most popular stars on IMDb’s StarMeter, respectively, shortly after the film’s launch.

The secret to the movie’s success, however, is not just a combination of teenagers’ questionable taste in entertainment and the power of Netflix’s distribution — though both play a major role, clearly.

Instead, it’s that “The Kissing Booth” is tapping into a built-in audience: teenage Wattpad users.

Yes, Wattpad.

In case you’re not familiar, Wattpad is an online site and mobile app where writers can share their original stories — often things like fan fiction or sappy love stories (ahem) — with a wide community of readers. Today, Wattpad is visited by more than 65 million monthly users, who spend a collective 15 billion minutes per month reading its online stories.

“The Kissing Booth” was one of its successes.

The original story was started on Wattpad back in 2011, and won one of the site’s “Watty Awards” that same year for “Most Popular Teen Fiction.”

The story was read a whopping 19 million times while on Wattpad, before the then 17-year-old author Beth Reekles scored a three-book deal with Random House UK in 2013 — becoming the youngest Wattpad writer to earn a book deal at that time, the company notes.

London- and L.A.-based Komixx Media — the movie’s producer, which specializes in finding young adult IP with commercial potential — reached out to the author within months of the book deal.

And Netflix ordered its adaptation of “The Kissing Booth” in 2016.

“The Kissing Booth is a great example of what is possible on Wattpad,” said Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios, the online community’s studio arm that helps make deals for its authors.

“Beth was a fresh new voice whose story connected with millions of readers all over the world on Wattpad, before becoming a published book,” he noted. “We were able to work with Netflix to market the film on Wattpad and make sure the story’s fans around the world hit ‘play’ when it started streaming. And now it’s one of the most popular movies on the planet.”

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos also confirmed to Vulture the title is one of the streaming service’s most popular, saying that “The Kissing Booth” is “one of the most-watched movies in the country, and maybe the world.”

He didn’t cite hard numbers — Netflix doesn’t do that — but the IMDb rankings indicate the movie is at least resonating with its core teen audience.

Since the movie launched on Netflix, the published book has also shot up the charts. It’s ranking in the top 10 of three “Teen” categories on Amazon, as of the time of writing, including No. 10 in the “Contemporary Teen Romance” category.

Of course, going from an online story to one of the most popular releases in the country is not unique to Wattpad. “50 Shades of Grey” famously began online as “Twilight” fan fiction, for example. But Wattpad has a different audience for its romantic fare than the more adult “50 Shades.” And studios, both traditional and digital, are taking notice.

Most recently, Sony Pictures Television acquired the rights to Wattpad story “Death is my BFF,” which was read more than 92 million times, and Hulu gave a straight-to-series order to “Light as a Feather,” which saw more than 2.9 million Wattpad reads. “Cupid’s Match,” which had over 36 million reads, got a pilot on CW Seed.

Wattpad has also worked with TurnerUniversal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal), eOne and Paramount Pictures, among others.

Critical reviews of “The Kissing Booth,” are, as you may expect, fairly negative.

It’s panned as “lazy and amateur,” “clumsy and ham-handed” and just simply “not a good movie.”

But critical interest in films and what people actually watch are often disconnected. That’s certainly the case here as “The Kissing Booth” has an audience score of 71 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s better than the top theatrical release, “Ocean’s 8,” which has a 52 percent score; or the even the No. 2 movie, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which is at 65 percent.

“The Kissing Booth” may not be a “good” film, but that hardly seems to matter at this point.

It’s popular among a largely younger crowd — a key target for streaming services. These kids and young adults have grown up watching TV and movies on mobile and computer screens, and often stay home from theaters. And they’re reading their fiction on the web and in mobile apps, too.

Netflix has catered to this young audience before, with arguably “bad” but popular original films like “Bright” (26 percent critics versus 85 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes); or the “so bad it’s good” holiday film “A Christmas Prince.”

With Netflix’s now 125 million subscribers and its $1.5 billion in new debt financing, the service has the potential to tap into any key demographic like this time and time again, and serve up a hit — terrible as it may be. And that hit can reach a mass audience, bigger than cable TV or even the Hollywood productions in theaters, in some cases. Hopefully, at least some of them will be “good” by all measures, though, not just viewership.

Netflix and Alphabet will need to become ISPs, fast

This week completely scrambled the video landscape, and its implications are going to take months to fully understand.

First is the district court’s decision to approve the merger of AT&T and Time Warner announced just moments ago. That will create one of the largest content creation and distribution companies in the world when it closes. It is also expected to encourage Comcast to make a similar bid for 21st Century Fox, further consolidating the market. As Chip Pickering, CEO of pro-competition advocacy org INCOMPAS put it, “AT&T is getting the merger no one wants, but everyone will pay for.”

But the second major story was the final (final final) repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality rules yesterday that will allow telecom companies like AT&T to prioritize their own content over that of competitors. In the past, AT&T didn’t have all that much content, but the addition of Time Warner now gives them a library encompassing Warner Bros to TBS, TNT, HBO, and CNN. Suddenly, that control over prioritization just got a lot more powerful and profitable.

The combination of these two stories is spooking every video on demand service from YouTube to Netflix . If Comcast bids and is successful in buying 21st Century Fox, then connectivity in the United States will be made up of a handful of gigantic content library ISPs, and a few software players that will have to pay a premium to deliver their content to their own subscribers. While companies like Netflix and Alphabet have negotiated with the ISPs for years, the combination of these two news stories puts them in a significantly weaker negotiating position going forward.

While consumers still have some level of power — ultimately, ISPs want to deliver the content that their consumers want — a slow degrading of the experience for YouTube or Netflix could be enough to move consumers to “preferred” content. Some have even called this the start of the “cableification” of the internet. AT&T, for instance, has wasted no time in creating prioritized fast lanes.

That world is not automatic though, because Alphabet, Netflix, and other video streaming services have options on how to respond.

For Alphabet, that will likely mean a redoubling of its commitment to Google Fiber. That service has been trumpeted since its debut, but has faced cutbacks in recent years in order to scale back its original ambitions. That has meant that cities like Atlanta, which have held out for the promise of cheap and reliable gigabit bandwidth, have been left in something of a lurch.

Ultimately, Alphabet’s strategic advantage against Comcast, AT&T, and other massive ISPs is going to rest on a sort of mutually-assured destruction. If Comcast throttles YouTube, then Alphabet can propose launching in a critical (read: lucrative) Comcast market. Further investment in Fiber, Project Fi, or perhaps a 5G-centered wireless strategy will be required to give it to the leverage to bring those negotiations to a better outcome.

For Netflix, it is going to have to get into the connectivity game one way or the other. Contracts with carriers like Comcast and AT&T are going to be more challenging to negotiate in light of today’s ruling and the additional power they have over throttling. Netflix does have some must-see shows which gives it a bit of leverage, but so do the ISPs. They are going to have to do an end-run around the distributors to give them similar leverage to what Alphabet has up its sleeve.

One interesting dynamic I could see forthcoming would be Alphabet creating strategic partnerships with companies like Netflix, Twitch, and others to negotiate as a collective against ISPs. While all these services are at some level competitors, they also face an existential threat from these new, vertically-merged ISPs. That might be the best of all worlds given the shit sandwich that we have all been handed this week.

One sad note though is how much the world of video is increasingly closed to startups. When companies like Netflix, which today closed with a market cap of almost $158 billion, can’t necessarily get enough negotiating power to ensure that consumers have direct access to them, no startup can ever hope to compete. America may believe in its entrepreneurs, but its competition laws have done nothing to keep the terrain open for them. Those implications are just beginning.

‘Arrested Development’ struggles to shake off recent controversies

Netflix’s revival of Arrested Development may have had a mixed reception from critics and fans, but the dysfunctional Bluth family isn’t done yet.

Five years after the premiere of the much-anticipated fourth season, Arrested Development is back for season five — or rather, the first eight episodes of the season, with more to follow later this year. On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney to discuss our thoughts on the show.

For many fans, this new season may feel like a return to form. Not everything works — there’s still some awkward editing and greenscreen — but it’s back to the format of the show’s classic episodes, with lots more delightful bickering between characters like Michael (Jason Bateman), George Michael (Michael Cera), Gob (Will Arnett), Maeby (Alia Shawkat) and Lucille (Jessica Walter).

Unfortunately, it’s tough to talk about the show’s quality without also acknowledging a recent group interview with The New York Times, where actor Jeffrey Tambor was asked about yelling at Walter, who apparently started crying while a number of the male cast members to seemed to defend Tambor’s behavior. They’ve since apologized, but we still wrestle with how the controversy changes our perception of the show.

We also talk about another big piece of streaming news, namely Amazon’s decision to revive The Expanse after it was canceled by Syfy.

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.

Original Content podcast: ‘Dear White People’ returns to ask more uncomfortable questions

Dear White People has a pretty provocative title — and the show, for the most part, lives up to that promise, with a sharply drawn portrait of racial tension at Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school.

It was originally a film written and directed by Justin Simien, who then reinvented the story as a Netflix series with each episode focusing on a different character; the spotlight shifts from Samantha White (played by Logan Browning), the host of the titular radio show, to many of the other students — white and black — around her.

The show just returned for season two, and on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by our colleague Megan Rose Dickey (who also co-hosts Ctrl-T) to talk about our impressions of the new episodes, the show’s politics and how it resonates with our own lives and experiences.

We also cover Netflix’s goal of hitting 1,000 originals by the end of the year and the Jordan Peel-produced series about Nazi hunters that was just picked up by Amazon. Most importantly, we try to understand why Megan has never seen The Godfather.

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.