YouTube VR finally lands on the Oculus Go

Today, Google’s YouTube VR app arrives on the $199 Oculus Go, bringing the largest library of VR content on the web to Facebook’s entry-level VR device.

YouTube brings plenty of content in conventional and more immersive video types. It’s undoubtedly the biggest single hub of 360 content and native formats like VR180, though offering access to the library at large is probably far more important to the Oculus platform.

One of the interesting things about Oculus’s strategy with the Go headset is that gaming turned out to be the minority use case following media consumption. If you find it hard to believe that so many people are out there binging on 360 videos it’s because they probably aren’t. Users have kind of co-opted the device’s capabilities to make it a conventional movie and TV viewing device, there are apps from Netflix and Hulu while Facebook has also built Oculus TV, a feature that’s still in its infancy but basically offers an Apple TV-like environment for watching a lot of 2D content in a social environment.

At the company’s Oculus Connect conference this past year CTO John Carmack remarked how about 70 percent of time spent by users on the Go has been watching videos with about 30 percent of user time has gone to gaming. Oculus has positioned itself as a gaming company in a lot of ways via its investments so it will be interesting to see how it grows its mobile platform to make the video aspect of its VR business more attractive.

With YouTube, the company has pretty easy access to effortlessly bringing a bunch of content onboard, this would have been a great partner for Oculus TV, but a dedicated app brings a lot to users. It wasn’t super clear whether Google was going to play hardball with the YouTube app and keep standalone access confined to its Daydream platform, as the company’s homegrown VR ambitions seem to have grown more subdued, it looks like they’ve had some time to focus on external platforms.

You can download the YouTube VR app here.

David Attenborough to voice Netflix’s nature conservation series, Our Planet

Netflix has persuaded everyone’s favorite naturalist, David Attenborough, to voice its forthcoming original nature documentary series, Our Planet, which is slated to put conservation squarely in the frame, not just offer glorious animal eye-candy.

It’s a timely moment to focus on conservation with climate change posing existential threats to global biodiversity — unless humans act to limit temperature rises.

Since the 1970s Attenborough has voiced and fronted myriad major BBC nature documentaries, including the recent critically acclaimed Blue Planet series.

Some of his output has been available to stream on Netflix. But now the on-demand video platform has signed the 92-year-old to voice an eight-part original nature series it’s been creating in collaboration with Silverback Films — whose director, Alastair Fothergill, was the creator of both Blue Planet and the also critically acclaimed Planet Earth documentary series — and conservation charity WWF .

Our Planet is due to premiere on Netflix on April 5 next year and is slated to showcase the planet’s “most precious species and fragile habitats”, making use of “the latest in 4k camera technology”.

Netflix said yesterday it is “delighted” that Attenborough will voice the series which will be made simultaneously available to its subscriber base, spanning more than 190 countries.

Filming for the series has been taking place in 50 countries across all continents of the world, with 600+ crew members capturing more than 3.5k filming days to bring the project together.

Speaking at WWF’s State of the Planet Address event in London yesterday, Attenborough said: “Our Planet will take viewers on a spectacular journey of discovery showcasing the beauty and fragility of our natural world. Today we have become the greatest threat to the health of our home but there’s still time for us to address the challenges we’ve created, if we act now. We need the world to pay attention. Our Planet brings together some of the world’s best filmmakers and conservationists and I’m delighted to help bring this important story to millions of people worldwide.“

“We hope it will inspire and delight hundreds of millions of people across the world so they can understand our planet, and the environmental threat it faces, as never before,” added Fothergill in another supporting statement. “By launching on Netflix at the same time all over the world, this series will enable people to connect to and understand the shared responsibility we all have. We are genuinely all in this together.”

Netflix’s says the partnership with WWF means the series will be part of a wider global project that’s intended to promote conservation awareness, including via online resources and educational programmes for schools.

The final season of House of Cards is out now

The ultimate chapter of the political drama House of Cards is officially out.

The Netflix original series is in its sixth and final season, and without a new lead.

Following sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey last year, Netflix halted production on Season 6 to review the matter. Shortly thereafter, Spacey was fired from the series and the final season was rewritten.

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) takes center stage to close out the series, assuming the presidency following the resignation of her husband.

House of Cards has been nominated for 50 Emmys thus far, and won six, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, and Directing for a Drama Series.

The final season has eight episodes, and early reviews have been generally positive.

Original Content podcast: There’s spooky fun in Netflix’s ‘Haunting of Hill House’

The new Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House” is based on the classic Shirley Jackson novel of the same name, but fans will probably have a better time if they put the book out of their mind.

Yes, the show opens with the same famous passage that begins the novel, and show and book characters have some similarities. But what writer-director Mike Flanagan has really done is use Jackson’s sinister house as the setting for a new story, focused the Crain family — driven from the house by mysterious events back in 1992, and drawn back there due to present-day tragedy.

On this episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined (just in time for Halloween) by Devin Coldewey just in time to offer our initial impressions of the show. While we had some reservations (get ready for the most extensive discussion of fill lights that you’ll ever hear on this podcast), it’s clear that “The Haunting of Hill House” managed to scare the heck out of all of us, and we were also impressed by the fact that each of the five Crain children becomes a distinct, memorable character in their own right.

If that’s not enough to convince you, it’s also worth watching the show for all the hidden ghosts, and for the formal ambition of episode six, with its long, single-take scenes that span the past and the present.

In addition to our review, we discuss the release of “Red Dead Redemption 2” and the announcement that WarnerMedia will be shutting down its FilmStruck service for classic films.

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!)

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Hold the Dark’ is beautiful, but utterly mystifying

“Hold the Dark” tells the story of Russell Core (played by Jeffrey Wright), a wolf expert who arrives in the Alaskan village of Keelut to investigate the disappearance of a young boy.

At least, that’s how the Netflix Original movie begins. On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, your regular hosts are joined by Devin Coldewey to try to untangle what actually happens in the movie.

Without spoiling anything, it’s probably safe to say that “Hold the Dark” goes in some surprising directions — it starts weird and gets weirder (and much more violent), as you can see from our iMessage correspondence below.

anthony jordan texting

There’s a talented team at work here — the movie was directed by Jeremy Saulnier (“Green Room”), and in addition to Wright, it stars Alexander Skarsgard, James Badge Dale and Riley Keogh. There’s no denying that it’s a gorgeous film, filled with stunning images of the Alaskan wilderness. In the end, though, we weren’t convinced that the wolf-y symbolism and copious bloodshed added up to much of a story.

Also, instead of recapping the latest streaming headlines like the usual, Jordan takes a few minutes at the start of the episode to express her admiration for “I Love You, America,” the Sarah Silverman-hosted talk show that recently began its second season on Hulu.

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!)

Guillermo del Toro is making a stop-motion Pinocchio movie for Netflix

Guillermo del Toro, the Academy Award-winning director of “The Shape of Water” (not to mention “Hellboy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Pacific Rim”) is making a new version of “Pinocchio” for Netflix.

I’d thought that after del Toro’s awards victory earlier this year he might finally make his long-thwarted adaptation “At the Mountains of Madness.” And while I’m not giving up hope that I’ll see a del Toro-helmed version of the classic H.P. Lovecraft horror story one day, it seems that he’s going in a different direction for now.

The official announcement from Netflix describes this as del Toro’s “lifelong passion project,” and says that it will be both a stop-motion animated film and a musical.

“No art form has influenced my life and my work more than animation and no single character in history has had as deep of a personal connection to me as Pinocchio,” del Toro said in a statement. “In our story, Pinocchio is an innocent soul with an uncaring father who gets lost in a world he cannot comprehend. He embarks on an extraordinary journey that leaves him with a deep understanding of his father and the real world. I’ve wanted to make this movie for as long as I can remember.”

This isn’t the director’s first project for Netflix — he previously created the animated series “Trollhunters,” and he has another series in the works for the streaming service, “Guillermo del Toro Presents 10 After Midnight.” Netflix says that in addition to directing the film with Mark Gustafson (“The Fantastic Mr. Fox”), he will co-write and co-produce it. The Jim Henson Company (which is also making a “Dark Crystal” prequel series for Netflix) and ShadowMachine are producing as well.

Netflix also announced today that it’s raising an additional $2 billion in debt to fund its original content plans. It says production on “Pinocchio” will begin this fall.

Netflix to raise $2 billion in debt to fund more original content

Netflix’s commitment to growing its original content collection will see the company again returning to debt markets to raise more financing, the company announced today. According a release published to its investors site, Netflix says it plans to raise $2 billion to help fund new content, including “content acquisitions, production and development, capital expenditures, investments, working capital and potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.”

The funds will be raised in the form of senior unsecured notes, denominated in U.S. dollars and euros, it said.

This debt offering is the sixth time in under four years that Netflix is raising $1 billion or more through bonds, noted Variety, which was among the first to report the news. As of September 30, Netflix’s long-term debt had reached $8.34 billion, up 71% from $4.89 billion in the year ago quarter, it said during its last earnings, Variety’s report also noted.

Netflix recently explained during its Q3 2018 earnings that it needs to continue to invest in original programming in order to remain competitive.

“We recognize we are making huge cash investments in content, and we want to assure our investors
that we have the same high confidence in the underlying economics as our cash investments in the past.
These investments we see as very likely to help us to keep our revenue and operating profits growing for
a very long time ahead,” the letter to shareholders read.

Netflix also pointed to the increasing competition in the industry as one of the reasons why original content investment was so critical, adding that it didn’t only compete with linear TV, YouTube, gaming, social media, DVDs and pay-per-view, but with a number of new and upcoming streaming services, as well.

“Content companies such as WarnerMedia and Disney/Fox are moving to self-distribute their own content; tech firms like Apple, Amazon and others are investing in premium content to enhance their distribution platforms,” the letter also stated. “Amid these massive competitors on both sides, plus traditional media firms, our job is to make Netflix stand out so that when consumers have free time, they choose to spend it with our service,” it had said.




Original Content podcast: We can’t resist the thoughtful glamour of ‘The Crown’

We weren’t expecting to like “The Crown.”

Yes, there are talented actors and fancy costumes on-screen, and yes, there’s an acclaimed writer at the helm who specializes in dramatizing real history. But did we really need to watch another 20 hours of serious, scripted drama about England’s royal family?

Well, we were convinced to give the show a shot after it took home multiple awards at this year’s Emmys, and we were absolutely won over. It turns out that some of the questions that made us uncertain about the concept (such as: What’s the point of a monarchy in modern society?) are exactly what the show is trying to explore.

And it would be hard to overpraise those actors — not just Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, but also Matt Smith as her husband Prince Philip, Vanessa Kirby as Pricness Margaret, John Lithgow as Winston Churchill and Jared Harris as Elizabeth’s father, King George VI.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Catherine Shu to discuss the first two seasons of “The Crown,” and what we’re hoping to see in season three (with Foy and Smith replaced by older actors to play Elizabeth and Philip in middle age). We also discuss recently-revealed details about the upcoming Star Wars streaming series “The Mandalorian” and plans for an interactive episode of “Black Mirror.”

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 is planning a choose-your-own-adventure episode of ‘Black Mirror’

Netflix is doubling down on interactive TV, according to a new report from Bloomberg this morning. The streaming service is planning to develop a number of projects that will allow viewers to control the storyline’s progress in a TV show or movie, including one in an upcoming episode of the dystopian sci-fi anthology series, “Black Mirror.”

According to the report, the choose-your-own-adventure episode will be a part of “Black Mirror’s” fifth season, which arrives in December.

This is not the first time Netflix has tried interactive TV, but it’s interesting that it’s now bringing its experiment to more high-profile, adult-orientated shows.

The company had first announced its plans to offer this sort of interactive storytelling last June, but at the time, it was focused on kids’ shows. The original lineup included  “Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale,” “Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile,” and “Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout.”

These are show in the Netflix user interface with a small icon of a game controller over the show’s thumbnail to indicate its interactive, playable nature.

In December 2017, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told Bloomberg it was preparing an experimental show aimed at older audiences, after seeing how kids had responded to the format.

The forthcoming, controllable “Black Mirror” episode will be the first time Netflix has used this format in a live-action series – and it’s the first interactive show designed for adult viewers. It’s also the first of at least two confirmed live-action projects, says Bloomberg, noting also that Netflix is in the processing of negotiating the rights to others. Two of the projects are said to be adaptations of video games.

Interactive TV is still very much an experiment. It’s not clear that this is something adults will want in their viewing experience. In addition, the production of a branched narrative is far more timely and costly which can be prohibitive in scaling these projects beyond the occasional “special episode.”

But people may come to Netflix due to curiosity about the format.

Netflix’s isn’t the only company trying interactive TV. HBO’s Steven Soderbergh project Mosaic also dabbled in interactivity through a companion app for iOS and Apple TV.

Reached for comment about today’s report, a Netflix spokesperson sent TechCrunch the following response:


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!)