With movie theaters largely closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney is pushing back its slate of upcoming films. And at least one movie won’t be making it into theaters at all, with “Artemis Fowl” heading straight to streaming instead.
The company announced today that that the film will debut exclusively on Disney+, and that the release date will be revealed soon.
All of the Hollywood studios are scrambling to adapt to the theatrical closures. NBCUniversal broke the theatrical window by releasing “The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man” and “Emma” as streaming rentals while they were ostensibly still in theaters, and it will release “Trolls World Tour” digitally on April 10 — the same day as its official theatrical release.
Other studios followed suit. There were also reports that Paramount struck a deal to debut the Kumail Nanjiani/Issa Rae comedy “The Lovebirds” on Netflix instead of in theaters, but there’s been no announcement or release date yet.
Disney, meanwhile, already brought “Frozen 2” to Disney+ early, then took more aggressive steps for the Pixar film “Onward,” which went on-sale digitally just a few weeks after its release in theaters, and is launching on Disney+ today.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Artemis Fowl” tells the story of a young criminal mastermind of the same name, and it’s based on a series of young adult fantasy novels by Eoin Colfer. It was originally scheduled for release on August 9, 2019, before being delayed until May 29 of this year.
So why not delay it again, as Disney is doing with other films? It may simply be less of a sure bet in theaters than “Mulan,” “Black Widow” or even “Jungle Cruise.”
“Director Kenneth Branagh and his spectacular cast take viewers right into the vibrant, fantasy world of the beloved book, which fans have been waiting to see brought to life onscreen for years,” said Disney+ President of Content and Marketing Ricky Strauss. “It’s great family entertainment that is the perfect addition to Disney+’s summer lineup.”
The world’s population is aging, but the needs of elderly people are still being underserved. A United Nations report found that older people make up more than one-fifth of the population in 17 countries, and by 2100, a majority of the world’s population, or 61%, will be aged 60 and above.
One of the most urgent needs for families is caregiving, with demand outstripping the pool of qualified providers. This means many people in their thirties and forties are now part of the “sandwich generation,” juggling jobs and child care while looking after elderly relatives. This creates both an opportunity and challenge for tech startups and investors in almost every market around the world.
In Southeast Asia, Homage is addressing the issue with a platform that takes a curated approach to pairing caregivers and families, using a combination of in-person screening and its matching engine to make the process more efficient. Currently operating in Singapore and Malaysia, the startup announced earlier this year that it will use its Series B funding to expand into five new countries in the region.
Backed by investors, including HealthXCapital, Golden Gate Ventures and EV Ventures, Homage was co-founded in 2016 by chief executive officer Gillian Tee, who grew up in Singapore and was inspired by her family’s own experiences looking for caregivers. Tee says she wanted to build a platform that would make the process of matching caregivers and clients easier, and be scalable into different markets.
“It’s not the easiest space to be in, and I would say that you do need to want to be intentionally working in this space, rather than just falling into it. It goes hand in hand,” she told TechCrunch. “We found that there is a huge market opportunity, but why we’re doing it goes way beyond that.”
Giving people even more of a reason to stay home and follow the social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., HBO said it would be making 500 hours of programming free to stream over HBO NOW and HBO GO without a subscription, starting Friday, April 3.
Shows that audiences can stream include some of the best television shows ever made, like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” and other very good HBO shows like “Veep” and “Six Feet Under.”
Movie titles like “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and back catalog gems like (one of my favorite movies of all-time) “Empire of the Sun” join docuseries including “McMillion$” and “The Case Against Adnan Syed” as free-to-stream offerings as well.
The network’s distribution partners will also make the shows available to stream for free in the coming days, the company said. This offer marks the first time that HBO has made this amount of programming available for free outside of the paywall on either of its apps, the company said.
The full list of HBO content available to stream without a subscription includes:
Ballers (5 Seasons)
Barry (2 Seasons)
Silicon Valley (6 Seasons)
Six Feet Under (5 Seasons)
The Sopranos (7 Seasons)
Succession (2 Seasons)
True Blood (7 Seasons
Veep (7 Seasons)
The Wire (5 Seasons)
10 Docuseries and Documentaries
The Case Against Adnan Syed
Elvis Presley: The Searcher
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
Jane Fonda in Five Acts
True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality
We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest
20 Warner Bros. Theatricals
Arthur 2: On the Rocks
Blinded By the Light
The Bridges of Madison County
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Empire of the Sun
Happy Feet Two
Isn’t It Romantic?
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
My Dog Skip
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Red Riding Hood
That much was pretty clear already, and other reports have already suggested that Disney+ was the most downloaded app and biggest search trend in the United States last year. Now a new report from mobile intelligence company Apptopia and customer engagement platform Braze suggests that Disney’s streaming service has continued its spectacular success into 2020.
The report examines the months leading up to and after the service’s U.S. launch, and it includes charts of the most popular streaming apps for the first three months of 2020.
According to those charts, Netflix was the most downloaded streaming app globally, with 59.1 million downloads, followed by YouTube at 39.4 million. Disney+ (which is currently launching across Europe and India) was number seven on the list, with 17.5 million downloads.
In the United States however, Disney+ leads with 14.1 million downloads, versus 11.9 million for Netflix (which may have already saturated the U.S. market) and 8.1 million for Hulu (which is also owned primarily by Disney).
Lest you think this is purely a one-on-one contest between Netflix and Disney, it’s also worth noting that neither of them wins on time spent in-app — instead, it’s YouTube Kids that wins in both the United States and globally.
And yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to even more streaming, with the report showing a 30.7% increase in streaming sessions in March
The report suggests that the success of Disney+ means that there’s still room for new streaming services. (It might, however, simply reflect Disney’s dominance of the entertainment world. It remains to be seen whether Quibi, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max can achieve similar success as they launch in the coming months.)
The report also looks at strategies that successfully drive engagement, as measured by daily active users. It points out that the most popular brands are 21% more likely to send push notifications and 300% more likely to send in-app messages. It also concludes that “content that creates fandom is king”:
Adult Swim’s cartoon series Rick and Morty proved to be the most effective content for generating both short-term and long-term monthly active users (MAU). Over the course of the most recent season of Rick and Morty, the Adult Swim app’s daily active users (DAU) increased by 504%. Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and sporting events also drove DAU growth in a meaningful way.
As the global economy grinds to a halt, every business sector has been impacted, including the linked worlds of startups and venture capital.
But how much has really changed? If you read VC Twitter, you might think that nothing has changed at all. It’s not hard to find investors who say they are still cutting checks and doing deals. But as Q1 venture data trickles in, it appears that a slowdown in VC activity is gradually forming, something that founders have anecdotally shared with TechCrunch.
To get a better handle on how venture capitalists are approaching today’s market, TechCrunch corresponded with a number of active investors to learn how their investment selection process might be changing in light of COVID-19 and its related disruptions. We wanted to know how their investing cadence in Q1 2020 compared to the final quarter of 2019 and the prior-year period. We also asked if their focus had changed, how valuations have shifted and what their take on the LP market is today.
We heard back from Duncan Turner of SOSV, Alex Doll of TenEleven Ventures, Alex Niehenke of Scale Venture Partners, Paul Murphy of Northzone, Sean Park of Anthemis and John Vrionis of Unusual Ventures.
We’ll start with the key themes from their answers and then share each set of responses in detail.
The VCs who responded haven’t slowed their investing pace — yet.
There’s likely some selection bias at work, but the venture capitalists who were willing to answer our questions were quick to note that they wrote a similar number of checks in Q1 2020 as in both Q4 2019 (the sequentially preceding quarter) and Q1 2019 (the year-ago quarter). Some were even willing to share numbers.
Internet security company Cloudflare has pledged to double its Summer 2020 internship class, and make the entire program remote if necessary, in response to cancellations of internships programs across the country due to COVID-19.
Yelp, Funding Circle, StubHub and other companies have terminated their internship programs and hiring, citing the uncertainty of COVID-19’s impact on the economy and health. Others programs are in flux, and some are honoring programs and moving remote.
Cancellations show the virus’s impact on not just our current workforce, but our future one, too. For students entering a workforce at a potential economic downturn, the funnel into new jobs becomes especially important.
While Cloudflare’s internship program is traditionally finalized by late fall, Prince says that a flurry of emails came in from worried students once the pandemic hit the U.S: Will the internship be canceled? Will they be moving remote? How will start dates work? And what about that flight to San Francisco for on-boarding?
Keeping the program was a “no brainer” says Prince, but he said he made the decision to double the program’s size when he saw Ismyinternshipcanceled.com and TechCrunch’s coverage that cancellations were happening across the country.
“Every company is in a different position. And if this had been a banking crisis, or this has been an agricultural crisis, there wouldn’t be that much that CloudFlare could do,” Prince said. “But because this has been a crisis that’s forced us all to rely more on the internet, that is our business at Cloudflare.”
Now, Cloudflare’s program will include roughly 100 students with one mentor dedicated to each student. After reaching out to the employees to see who would volunteer to mentor, CloudFlare was able to increase the team size.
The other reason that Prince is open to allowing remote interns is because his remote staff is currently at a “high level of productivity.” That proven success gave him confidence to recreate the experience regardless of where the student is based.
The hires will be across nearly every department, with a focus on bringing on more engineers.
Prince does, however, recognize that the uptick can potentially create a difficult learning environment for students looking for a close-knit employment experience.
Another downside is that the company usually flies new hires over to San Francisco for on-boarding, and that will now be done remotely. And, at the end of the summer, the entire company convenes for an intern presentation. While the presentation will take place, with double the people and no place to host, they will look different.
Prince is calling on other companies in financially stable situations to increase intern headcount, as well. He said he’s game to collaborate with other internship trackers, like IsMyInternshipCanceled.com, to pass on worthy resumes once Cloudflare fills its summer cohort.
“The strongest teams are the most diverse teams, and I think that for us the silver lining of this remote work is that it has opened up our ability to maybe select some interns that wouldn’t have been willing to move to SF, or Austin, or London, or Lisbon,” he said.
“The worst experience if you’ve ever had an internship is that you got lost or forgotten about,” he said. “So the real limiting factor for us is to find people that can serve mentorship positions.”
“The world is running effectively the biggest work from home experiment,” Prince said. “It’s going to be an experiment for us, and hopefully a great experience for interns as well.”
And of course, if COVID-19 is no longer a threat come summer, Prince says that students will have the option to work remotely or come to San Francisco.
More broadly, Cloudflare has no plans for layoffs and is continuing to hire through the pandemic.
Cloudflare, which debuted on the public market in September, launched soon after the financial crisis of 2008. Prince had run out of money and asked his mother for loans. Michelle Zatlyn, the co-founder of Cloudflare, was part of one of the few Google internship classes that didn’t get return offers.
So, with few options, Zatlyn and Prince worked on a school project together in business school. Their project ended up becoming Cloudflare, and their other classmates went on to found Thredup and Rent the Runway.
For the co-founders, “options drying up” was part of the founding story of what is now a billion-dollar business. So when it came to seeing other interns in the same place, Cloudflare felt right at home to help.
In just a few weeks, homeschooling has gone from a rarity to a baseline in homes across the country.
Jonah Liss, a 16-year-old student at International Academy of Bloomfield Hills in Michigan, was sent home out of precaution due to the coronavirus outbreak.
While the transition has been okay for Liss, who has used some of the extra time to create a service to help those impacted by COVID-19, he recognized that other students are experiencing some pain points; not everyone has access to the same technology outside of school, so they can’t complete assignments. The school, he says, isn’t giving tests because they have no way to prove students aren’t cheating. And learning doesn’t feel personalized.
“It can be difficult to learn in an environment where there is less structure, direct instruction and ability to ask as many questions as possible,” Liss said. His school is placing emphasis on Google Classroom, Hangouts, Zoom and Khan Academy — all currently free for schools that have been shut down.
Edtech companies are seeing a usage surge because they’re offering services for free or at discounted rates to schools that are scrambling to switch to remote learning. But when students return to campus, many of the hurdles to adopting education technology will persist.
And as edtech startups find their time in the spotlight, these emerging challenges must be addressed before companies can truly convert those free customers into paying ones.
Grab announced today that it has hired Peter Oey as its new chief financial officer. Prior to joining Grab, Oey was the chief financial officer at LegalZoom, an online legal services company based near Los Angeles.
Before that, he served the same role at Mylife.com, an online platform that aggregates information about people based on public records. Oey also held financial leadership positions at Activision for twelve years, including corporate controller.
In a statement, Grab said Oey will be based in Singapore and report to co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan. He will also work with Grab president Ming Maa, who took over many responsibilities from Grab’s last CFO, Linda Hoglund, when she left in 2016. Grab said Maa will continue to lead its strategic business planning.
Grab, which acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia business in March 2018, has reportedly been in discussions to merge with merge with rival GoJek.
Grab, whose services include ride-sharing, food delivery and online financial services provider GrabPay, also announced in February that it had raised a total of $856 million from Japanese investors Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and TIS INTEC, to grow its financial services and digital payments infrastructure.
In a press statement, the company said that in 2019, GrabFood’s gross merchandise volume grew by over 400%, while GrabPay increased payment volume by 170%, thanks to strong performance in Indonesia.
Tan said “Last year, we made tremendous progress in growing our food delivery, payments and financial services business. The growth of these businesses give us a good foundation for achieving long-term sustainable growth for our company. I’m excited to welcome Peter to the Grab family where his extensive experience scaling rapidly growing technology companies makes him a valuable addition to our business.”
Grab has raised a total of about $9.9 billion from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund, which invested $1.46 billion into the company last year. Tan told CNBC last November that the company will not go public until its entire business is profitable.
More than a decade after announcing that it would keep Polaroid’s abandoned instant film alive, The Impossible Project has done the… improbable: It has officially become the brand it set out to save. And to commemorate the occasion there’s a new camera, the Polaroid Now.
The convergence of the two brands has been in the works for years, and in fact Impossible Project products were already Polaroid-branded. But this marks a final and satisfying shift in one of the stranger relationships in startups or photography.
I first wrote about The Impossible Project in early 2009 (and apparently thought it was a good idea to Photoshop a Bionic Commando screenshot as the lead image) when the company announced its acquisition of some Polaroid instant film manufacturing assets.
Polaroid at the time was little more than a shell. Having declined since the ’80s and more or less shuttered in 2001, the company was relaunched as a digital brand and film sales were phased out. This was unsuccessful, and in 2008 Polaroid was filing for bankruptcy again.
This time, however, it was getting rid of its film production factories, and a handful of Dutch entrepreneurs and Polaroid experts took over the lease as The Impossible Project. But although the machinery was there, the patents and other IP for the famed Polaroid instant film were not. So they basically had to reinvent the process from scratch — and the early results were pretty rough.
But they persevered, aided by a passionate community of Polaroid owners, continuously augmented by the film-curious who want something more than a Fujifilm Instax but less than a 35mm SLR. In time the process matured and Impossible developed new films and distribution partners, growing more successful even as Polaroid continued applying its brand to random, never particularly good photography-adjacent products. They even hired Lady Gaga as “Creative Director,” but the devices she hyped at CES never really materialized.
In 2017, the student became the master as Impossible’s CEO purchased the Polaroid brand name and IP. They relaunched Impossible as “Polaroid Originals” and released the OneStep 2 camera using a new “i-Type” film process that more closely resembled old Polaroids (while avoiding the expensive cartridge battery).
Polaroid continued releasing new products in the meantime — presumably projects that were under contract or in development under the brand before its acquisition. While the quality has increased from the early days of rebranded point-and-shoots, none of the products has ever really caught on, and digital instant printing (Polaroid’s last redoubt) has been eclipsed by a wave of nostalgia for real film, Instax Mini in particular.
But at last the merger dance is complete and Polaroid, Polaroid Originals, and The Impossible Project are finally one and the same. All devices and film will be released under the Polaroid name, though there may be new sub-brands like i-Type and the new Polaroid Now camera.
Speaking of which, the Now is not a complete reinvention of the camera by far — it’s a “friendlier” redesign that takes after the popular OneStep but adds improved autofocus, a flash-adjusting light sensor, better battery, and a few other nips and tucks. At $100 it’s not too hard on the wallet, but remember that film is going to run you about $2 per shot. That’s how they get you.
It’s been a long, strange trip to watch but ultimately a satisfying one: Impossible made a bet on the fundamental value of instant film photography, while a series of owners bet on the Polaroid brand name to sell anything they put it on. The riskier long-term play won out in the end (though many got rich running Polaroid into the ground over and over) and now with a little luck the brand that started it all will continue its success.
Broadband constellation satellite operator OneWeb will file for bankruptcy protection in the U.S., likely some time Friday, after attempts to secure new funding, including from existing investor SoftBank, fell through, TechCrunch has learned. The Financial Times also reported on the failure of its funding attempt on Friday, based on its own separate sources. The company will be laying off most of its staff, with a team remaining in place to continue to operate its existing satellites in space, according to our sources.
OneWeb, founded in 2012 as WorldVu Satellites, had been seeking to build out a constellation of broadband internet satellites that would operate in low Earth orbit, providing low-cost connections to customers on the ground with coverage that extends into more remote and hard-to reach areas that are not addressed by current ground-based networks.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that OneWeb had been considering a bankruptcy protection filing, while also weighing other options. One of those other options was a new funding round targeting a raise of around $2 billion. The company had previously raised $3 billion over multiple rounds, including a $1.3 billion and $1.2 billion round in 2019 and 2016 respectively, both of which had SoftBank as lead investor.
OneWeb also just completed a launch earlier in March, bringing the total number of its satellites in orbit to 74. The company then reduced its headcount by as much as 10% through layoffs we reported last week.
This latest step essentially means that OneWeb had exercised all other options for continued cash to stay afloat, and it required considerable reserves in order to continue its planned rapid pace of launches, with the ultimate aim of putting over 650 satellites in orbit in order to provide its service globally. SoftBank backing away as an investor leaves a big hole that’s difficult to fill in terms of scale and depth of pockets among the rest of the VC field, and the company has been stepping away from a number of its more high-profile investments since encountering difficulties of its own in terms of returning value on the biggest checks its cut, including for WeWork .
OneWeb’s funding situation can’t have been helped by the current global comic climate, also, rocked as it has been by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Reports suggest that at least some investors are taking a more conservative approach, suggesting that traditional routes to securing more investment may have proven more difficult to unlock than usual.
Two Tesla employees, who had been working at home for nearly two weeks, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an internal email sent Thursday morning by the company’s head of environmental, health, and safety department and viewed by TechCrunch .
The employees were not symptomatic in the office, and both are quarantined at home and recovering well, according to the email from Tesla’s EHS department head Laurie Shelby. Their co-workers, who were already working from home for nearly two weeks as well, were notified so they can quarantine, the email read. The email did not disclose what locations the employees were working at.
“In both cases, interactions with the individuals had a low likelihood of transmission based on the minimal staff onsite and social distancing measures we took earlier this month,” Shelby wrote in the email.
Tesla could not be reached for comment. Business Insider previously reported on the same internal email.
The email has heightened concern among several Tesla employees that TechCrunch has spoken to, as they weigh the risk of coming into work or using paid-time off or unpaid leave to stay at home. Tesla employs more than 48,000 people at its headquarters, factories, sales and service centers and delivery hubs throughout the U.S. While some employees are able to work from home, the company still has workers at its delivery and service centers as well as an estimated 2,500 people at its Fremont, Calif. factory.
Tesla suspended production at its Fremont factory beginning March 23, days after a shelter-in-place order went into effect in Alameda County due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some basic operations that support Tesla’s charging infrastructure and what it describes as its “vehicle and energy services operations” have continued at the factory, which under normal circumstances employs more than 10,000 people.
The decision to suspend production at Fremont came after a multi-day public tussle between the automaker and local officials in Alameda County over what was considered an “essential” business.
Tesla has also suspended operations at its factory in Buffalo, N.Y., except for “those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains,” the company said in a statement. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday that he plans to reopen the Buffalo factory to produce ventilators, a critical piece of medical equipment used in severe cases of COVID-19.
The email comes just two days after reports of at least two positive COVID-19 cases at SpaceX, another company headed up Musk. The positive cases at SpaceX sent some employees into quarantine, CNBC reported. The company is making hand sanitizer in house and taking other steps to protect nervous workers, according to CNBC. TechCrunch could not reach SpaceX for comment.
COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has rippled through corporate and industrial America. Manufacturers have suspended production of vehicles, tech companies have ordered employees to work from home and city, county and state governments have issued a variety of orders to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.
For instance, California Gv. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home directive that ordered all nonessential businesses to close and for residents to only leave their homes for essential needs like groceries or to visit the pharmacy. Other states where Tesla has operations such as New York are also under a stay-at-home order.
Musk’s actions during the pandemic have caused a variety of reactions among employees, critics and his millions of Twitter followers. He has appeared dismissive of COVID-19 in emails to employees and on Twitter, where he has spread a misinformation on the disease, including that children are “essentially immune,” a statement that contradicts with information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In one internal email sent to SpaceX employees, Musk noted that they were more likely to die in a car crash than from the disease.
Even as Musk seemed to downplay the disease, he has also stepped up to donate medical supplies needed by hospitals and has directed employees to not come to work if they feel ill or are uncomfortable. Tesla employees have received emails from human resources head Valerie Workman that if they could not or were reluctant to come to work they could use PTO or take unpaid time off after they exhaust their PTO. The email told one employee (who spoke to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity) that they would be not be penalized for their decision or face disciplinary action for attendance based on health or impossibility to come to work.
Musk has also donated essential personal protective equipment to hospitals that are facing a shortage of these supplies and has committed to trying to help ramp up production of ventilators.
There are already a number of resources available for mapping the spread of confirmed COVID-19 cases both in the U.S. and globally, but IBM and its subsidiary The Weather Company have launched new tools that bring COVID-19 mapping and analysis to more people via their Weather Channel mobile app and weather.com.
Existing tools are useful, but come from fairly specialized sources including the World Health Organization (WHO) and Johns Hopkins University. This new initiative combines data fro these same sources, including global confirmed reported COVID-19 cases, as well as reported data from sources at both the state and county level. This is collected on a so-called “incident map” that displays color-coded reported case data for states and counties, as well as on state-wide trend graphs and through reporting of stats including relative percentage increase of cases week-over-week.
On top of these sections built into the core, consumer-facing Weather.com products, IBM has also launched a more in-depth analytics reporting dashboard, providing views of global reported COVID-19 cases, as well as rate of spread based on available data, county-by-county stats and more.
This information from IBM, which runs on its Watson and Cognos Analytics tools, are intended for use by both researchers and public officials – but they’re also meant for general public consumption. IBM is also providing resources including fact-checking resources and practical guidance for both COVID-19 patients and the general public, to help not only inform people about the spread of the virus, but also the steps they can take to protect themselves and others.
One of the key elements of COVID-19 mitigation is making sure that the average American has access to reliable and accurate information, including the most up-to-date guidelines about social distancing and isolation from trusted experts including the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That makes this a key resource in the ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, since it resides in an app that is among the most popular pieces of software available for smartphones. There are around 45 million or so monthly active users of the Weather Channel app, which means that this information will now be readily accessible by a large percentage of the U.S. population.
Esports racing, helped by record-setting viewership, is hitting the big time.
Fox Sports said Tuesday it will broadcast the rest of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series, following Sunday’s virtual race that was watched by 903,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
While those numbers are far below the millions of viewers who watch NASCAR’s official races — the last one at Phoenix Raceway reached 4.6 million — it still hit a number of firsts that Fox Sports found notable enough to commit to broadcasting the virtual racing series for the remainder of the season, beginning March 29.
The races will be simulcast on the FOX broadcast network, Fox Sports iRacing and the FOX Sports app. Races will be available in Canada through FOX Sports Racing.
Virtual racing, which lets competitors race using a system that includes a computer, steering wheel and pedals, has been around for years. But it’s garnered more attention as the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has prompted sports organizers to cancel or postpone live events, including the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, NBA, NHL and MLB seasons as well as Formula 1 and NASCAR racing series.
(And Jeff helps him notice a bit of damage ) pic.twitter.com/5gFgl1f0e3
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 22, 2020
NASCAR ran its first virtual race in the series on Sunday in lieu of its planned race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was canceled due to COVID-19. Not only was it the most watched esports event in U.S. television history, it was Sunday’s most-watched sports telecast on cable television that day.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 22, 2020
“This rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television viewers across the country in a very positive way,” Brad Zager, FOX Sports executive producer said in a statement. “We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time, and we are excited to expand coverage of this brand-new NASCAR esports series to an even wider audience.”
Granted, there aren’t any live sports to watch in this COVID-19 era. Still, it bodes well for the future of esports, perhaps even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
“The response on social media to last Sunday’s race has been incredible,” said four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who is announcer for Fox NASCAR. “We were able to broadcast a virtual race that was exciting and entertaining. It brought a little bit of ‘normalcy’ back to the weekend, and I can’t wait to call the action Sunday at Texas.”
You can see what the virtual racing looks like here in this clip from Fox Sports.
NASCAR isn’t the only racing series to turn to esports. Formula 1 announced last week that it would host an esports series, the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, with a number of current F1 drivers alongside a number of other stars.
The virtual Formula 1 races will use Codemaster’s official Formula 1 2019 PC game and fans can follow along on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, as well as on F1.com. The races will be about half as long as regular races, with 28 laps. The first race took place March 22. The first-ever virtual round of the Nürburgring Endurance Series kicked off on March 21.
Disney+ launches in seven European countries, Microsoft admits to a “critical” Windows security flaw and we review the new iPad Pro. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 24, 2020.
As expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching its streaming service across seven markets in Europe — but doing so using reduced bandwidth given the strain on broadband networks as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
So starting today, Disney+ will be live in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland; Disney also confirmed a delayed debut in France on April 7. This is the largest multi-country launch for the service so far.
The security flaw, which Microsoft deems “critical” — its highest severity rating — is found in how Windows handles and renders fonts, according to the advisory posted Monday. The bug can be exploited by tricking a victim into opening a malicious document. Once the document is opened — or viewed in Windows Preview — an attacker can remotely run malware, such as ransomware, on a vulnerable device.
Matthew Panzarino has been using an iPad Pro as his main portable work machine for the past 18 months. This week, he tried out the latest version of the device, concluding that it offers an attractive refresh for new buyers — but not for owners of the 2018 model.
Ford has announced the details of its current manufacturing efforts around building much-needed medical supplies for frontline healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients. Its efforts include building Powered Air-Purifying Respirators with partner 3M.
The TechCrunch team was curious —especially in the wake of the troubled Casper IPO — about how investor sentiment might have shifted and what venture capitalists are looking for in the category, so we asked some smart investors. (Extra Crunch membership required.)
Starting today, anybody in the U.S. can sign up and get a Revolut debit card. For this launch, Revolut has partnered with Metropolitan Commercial Bank for the banking infrastructure — deposits are FDIC-insured up to $250,000.
Firefox Better Web with Scroll combines the tracking protection built into Mozilla’s Firefox browser with the ad-free browsing experience offered by Scroll. Anyone in the United States who’s interested in trying this out can sign up for a Firefox account and install the Better Web with Scroll extension.
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Now you can scroll Instagram together with friends, turning a typically isolating, passive experience into something more social and active. Today Instagram launched Co-Watching, which lets friends on a video chat or group video chat browse through feed posts one user has Liked or Saved, or that Instagram recommends.
Co-Watching could let people ooh, ahh, joke, and talk about Instagram’s content instead of just consuming it solo and maybe posting it to a chat thread so friends can do the same. That could lead to long usage sessions, incentivize users to collect a great depository of Saved posts to share, and spur more video calls that drag people into the app. TechCrunch first reported Instagram was testing Co-Watching a year ago, so we’ll see if it managed to work out the technical and privacy questions of operating the feature.
The launch comes alongside other COVID-19 responses from Instagram that include:
-Showing a shared Instagram Story featuring all the posts from you network that include the “Stay Home” sticker
-Adding Story stickers that remind people to wash their hands or keep their distance from others
-Adding coronavirus educational info to the top of results for related searches
-Removing unofficial COVID-19 accounts from recommendations, as well as virus related content from Explore if it doesn’t come from a credible health organization
-Expanding the donation sticker to more countries so people can search for and ask friends for contributions to relevant non-profits
These updates build on Instagram’s efforts from two weeks ago which included putting COVID-19 prevention tips atop the feed, listing official health organizations atop search results, and demoting the reach of coronavirus-related content rated false by fact checkers.
But Co-Watching will remain a powerful feature long after the quarantines and social distancing end. The ability to co-view content while browsing social networks has already made screensharing app Squad popular. When Squad launched in January 2019, I suggested that “With Facebook and Snap already sniffing around Squad, it’s quite possible they’ll try to copy it.” Facebook tested a Watch Together feature for viewing Facebook Watch videos inside Messenger back in April. And now here we are with Instagram.
The question is whether Squad’s first-mover advantage and option to screenshare from any app will let it hold its own, or if Instagram Co-Watching will just popularize the concept and send users searching for more flexible options like Squad. “Everyone knows that the content flooding our feeds is a filtered version of reality” Squad CEO Esther Crawford told me. “The real and interesting stuff goes down in DMs because people are more authentic when they’re 1:1 or in small group conversations.”
With Co-Watching Instagram users can spill the tea and gossip about posts live and unfiltered over video chat. When people launch a video chat from the Direct inbox or a chat thread, they’ll see a “Posts” button that launches Co-Watching. They’ll be able to pick from their Liked, Saved, or Explore feeds and then reveal it to the video chat, with everyone’s windows lined up beneath the post.
Up to six people can Co-Watch at once on Instagram, consuming feed photos and videos but not IGTV posts. You can share public posts, or private ones that everyone in the chat are allowed to see. If one participant is blocked from viewing a post, it’s inelligible for Co-Watching.
Co-Watching could finally provide an answer to Instagram’s Time Well Spent problem. Research shows how the real danger in social network overuse is passive content consumption like endless solo feed scrolling. It can inspire envy, poor self-esteem, and leave users deflated, especially if the highlights of everyone else’s lives look more interesting than their own day-to-day reality. But active sharing, commenting, and messaging can have a positive effect on well-being, making people feel like they have a stronger support network.
With Co-Watching, Instagram has found a way to turn the one-player experience into a multi-player game. Especially now with everyone stuck at home and unable to crowd around one person’s phone to gab about what they see, there’s a great need for this new feature. One concern is that it could be used for bullying, with people all making fun of someone’s posts.
But in general, the idea of sifting through cute animal photos, dance tutorials, or epic art could take the focus off of the individuals in a video chat. Not having one’s face as the center of attention could make video chat less performative and exhausting. Instead, Co-Watching could let us do apart what we love to do together: just hang out.
Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching across 7 markets in Europe — but doing so using reduced bandwidth given the strain on broadband networks as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic. From today, it will be live in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland; Disney also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7. It’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.
“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”
Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.
The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
The expansion of Disney+ has been caught in the crossfire of world events.
The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming media. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home, and many people are turning to their televisions and other screens for diversion and information.
That means huge demand for new services to entertain or distract people who are now sheltering in place. And that has put a huge strain on broadband networks. So, to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) that it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.”
There are now dozens of places to get an online video fix, but Disney has a lot of valuable cards in its hand, specifically in the form of a gigantic catalog of famous, premium content, and the facilities to produce significantly more at scale, dwarfing the efforts (valiant or great as they are) from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Apple .
Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.
Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).
With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years.
In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.
Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.
An Indonesian startup called Newman’s is using telemedicine to help Indonesian patients get care for stigmatized health issues. Part of Y Combinator’s winter 2020 batch, the startup launched last month with prescription hair loss treatments and plans to expand into other verticals, including erectile dysfunction and smoking cessation.
Newman’s was founded by Elsen Wiraatmadja, Alfred Ali and Anthony Suryaputra and motivated partly by their own experiences with hair loss in their twenties.
“It was a rather depressing period. It affected our confidence, our jobs and we didn’t know who to talk to and what to do,” says Suryaputra. “Even going to the doctor for treatment was an awkward process and it was expensive to pay for medications. We talked to other men and they faced the same issues.”
Hair loss treatments with minoxidil and finasteride, the two most common clinically-proven ingredients, require a prescription in Indonesia and it can be difficult to book consultations since the country has a relatively low number of physicians. The price of a doctor’s visit, which the founding team says is usually about US $30, and treatments, is also prohibitive for many people.
Newman’s works directly with manufacturers for its hair loss products, which contain minoxidil and finasteride. By cutting out distribution and retail middlemen, their margins are higher, and they use some of that revenue to pay doctors on the platform. This enables them to make consultations free and also offer a 100% money-back guarantee to encourage patients to use products for at least three months, since it usually takes that amount of time to see results.
For doctors, online consultations through Newman’s platform saves time and allows them to see more patients. Before booking an appointment for hair loss, Newman’s users complete a questionnaire and upload photos, which help their doctors determine treatments and shorten consultation times for hair loss to as little as five minutes. There are currently about 15 doctors on Newman’s (with plans to add more from a waiting list) who see about 10 to 15 patients through the platform per day.
The startup will launch in other men’s health verticals before expanding into women’s health, with an emphasis on issues that patients are often reluctant to seek help for because of stigma or cost.
“Right now we’re focused on hair loss because it personally affects us and a lot of other men,” says Suryaputra. “With other verticals, like erectile dysfunction, there are the same dynamics. It’s embarrassing and in Southeast Asia, the taboo around erectile dysfunction is a lot stronger than in the United States.”
Newman’s will continue to focus on Indonesia, where data from the World Bank shows there are much less physicians per 1,000 patients than in the United States or nearby countries like Thailand and Singapore.
“We cannot create more doctors, so we have to make seeing patients more efficient for them,” says Suryaputra.
iPrice Group, which helps comparison shoppers in Southeast Asia by pulling together prices from different e-commerce platforms, has closed a $10 million Series B. Led by ACA Investments, the round also included participation from Daiwa PI Partners and returning investors Line Ventures, Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund.
The company’s last funding announcement, from Line’s venture capital arm, was in May 2018 and its new round brings iPrice’s total funding so far to about $19.8 million.
The company said it has more than 20 million monthly visitors and about 5 million transactions were made through its platforms in 2019. Its core iPrice unit accounted for about half of its revenue and operated at a 30% EBITDA margin, a level of profitability the company expects its other businesses to hit in the next two to three years.
iPrice will use its funding to develop product discovery features, including recommendations and professional product reviews. The platform currently partners with “super apps,” like Line and Home Credit, that offer a wide array of services, through one app.
iPrice began by collecting coupons and discount codes when it launched, before expanding into price aggregation to help consumers navigate the growing roster of e-commerce platforms in Southeast Asia, such as Zalora, Shoppee and Lazada.
The platform is divided into verticals, including electronics and appliances, fashion and automotive, and now claims to aggregate more than 1.5 billion products from more than 1,500 e-commerce partners. It says it is the leading product aggregator in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
In a press statement, ACA Investments chief investment officer Tomohiro Fujita said, “The e-commerce industry in Southeast Asia is at its emerging stage and we see huge potential. iPrice Group will play an important role, especially with its comprehensive coverage of markets in Southeast Asia. It’s the prime gateway to online shopping.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today that it would allow new diagnostics technologies to be used to test for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at elite academic hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country.
The agency’s new initiative comes as critics have assailed various U.S. government agencies for being woefully underprepared to effectively address the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country despite being aware of the potential risks the virus posed since the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China in early December.
As the first diagnosed cases of the new virus appeared in the country, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had conducted only 459 tests. Meanwhile, China had five commercial tests for the coronavirus on the market one month ago and can now conduct up to 1.6 million tests per week. South Korea has tested another 65,00 people so far, according to a report in Science Magazine. Initial tests in the U.S. were hampered by the distribution of test kits which contained a faulty reagent — rendering the kits useless.
The CDC isn’t the only U.S. agency criticized for its mishandling of the response to a potential outbreak. On Thursday a whistleblower complaint was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services alleging that the agency sent over a dozen employees to Wuhan to evacuate American citizens from the country without the proper training or protective gear, as first reported by The Washington Post.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration is opening the doors for research centers across the country to use new technologies that have yet to be approved for emergency use in order to dramatically increase the number of tests healthcare facilities can perform.
“We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, in a statement. “We will continue to help to ensure sound science prior to clinical testing and follow-up with the critical independent review from the FDA, while quickly expanding testing capabilities in the U.S. We are not changing our standards for issuing Emergency Use Authorizations. This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation.”
The new policy allows laboratories to begin to use validated COVID-19 diagnostics before the FDA has completed review of the labs’ Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests, the agency said in a statement.
In cases where the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that there’s a public health emergency or a significant potential for a public health emergency, the FDA can issue these EUAs to permit the use of medical products that can diagnose, treat, or prevent a disease. The HHS secretary determined that the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus was just such an emergency on February 4.
So far, the FDA has authorized one EUA for COVID-19 that’s already being used by the CDC and some public health labs, the agency said.
“The global emergence of COVID-19 is concerning, and we appreciate the efforts of the FDA to help bring more testing capability to the U.S.,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).
Development of new diagnostics tests are handled by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the HHS Office responsible for preparedness and response to health issues.
“This step may reduce development costs, speed the process for availability at more testing sites, incentivize private development and, ultimately, help save lives,” said Rick Bright, the BARDA’s director.
Startups like the Redwood City, Calif.-based genome sequencing device manufacturer, Genapsys, and Co-Diagnostics, another molecular diagnostics startup out of Salt Lake City, have been approached by the Chinese government and European testing facilities, respectively.
In the U.S. a number of large, publicly traded companies and startups are pursuing new diagnostics tools that can be used to identify the novel strain of the coronavirus.
“At BARDA, we are identifying industry partners to develop rapid diagnostics that can be used in commercial and hospital labs or even doctors’ offices so that medical professionals and their patients have the information they need to take action,” Bright said.
In emerging markets, up to 80% of the population may have to rely on informally-run public transport to get around. Literally, privately-run buses and cars. But journey-planning apps that work well for commuters in developed markets like New York or London do not work well in emerging markets, which is why you can’t just flip open an app like Citymapper in Lagos, Nigeria. Furthermore, mobility is a fundamental driver of social, political, and economic growth and if you cannot get around then you can’t grow as a country. So it’s pretty important for these emerging economies.
WhereIsMyTransport specialises in mapping these formal and informal public transport networks in emerging markets. They have mapped 34 cities in Africa and are mapping cities in India, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Its integrated mobility API includes proprietary algorithms, features, and capabilities designed for complex transit networks in these emerging markets.
It’s now raised a $7.5 million Series A funding round led by Liil Ventures, that also includes returning investors Global Innovation Fund and Goodwell Investments, plus new strategic investment from Google, Nedbank, and Toyota Tsusho Corporation (TTC).
The platform now has more than 750,000 km of routes in 39 cities and the new strategic investment will drive further international expansion.
Devin de Vries, said: “We make the invisible visible, by collecting all kinds of data related to public transport and turning the data into information that can be shared with the people who need it most. In emerging markets, the mobility ecosystem is complex; informal public transport doesn’t behave like formal public transport. Data and technology solutions that work well in London or San Francisco wouldn’t make anything like the same impact, if any at all, in the cities where we work. Our solutions are designed specifically to overcome these contextual challenges.”
Mr. Masato Yamanami, Automotive Division’s CEO of Toyota Tsusho Corporation. “Our division’s global network, that covers 146 countries, is primarily focused on new emerging countries where people rely on informal public transport. Through strategic collaboration with WhereIsMyTransport, we will establish better and more efficient mobility services that help to resolve social challenges and contribute to the overall economic development of nations, primarily emerging nations.”
Alix Peterson Zwane, Chief Executive Officer, Global Innovation Fund said: “Informal and often unreliable mass transit is a significant problem that disproportionately affects poor people. We are excited to continue to work with WhereIsMyTransport to make mass transportation in emerging cities more accessible and more efficient.”