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Yesterday — May 29th 2020Your RSS feeds

Tech talent is flocking to smaller cities, but investors aren’t

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week’s show took a break from regularly scheduled programming. Our co-host Alex Wilhelm, who usually leads us through the show, was on some much-deserved vacation, so Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas took the reigns and invited Floodgate Capital’s Iris Choi to join in on the fun. It’s Choi’s fourth time being on the podcast, which officially makes her our most tenured guest yet (in case the accomplished investor needs another bullet point on her bio page).

This week’s docket features scrappiness, a seed round and a Startup Battlefield alumnus.

Here’s what we chewed through:

  • LeverEdge raised seed funding to get you and your friends a volume discount on student loans. Fintech has been booming for years now, and startups often crop up around the painful world of student loans. Yet this startup still caught our eye, and it has a little something to do with its choice to use collective bargaining power as its modus operandi.
  • Stackin’ raises $12.6 million Series B for a text-messaging service that connects millennials to money tips, and eventually other fintech apps. According to CEO Scott Grimes, Stackin’ wants to be the “pipes that port people around fintech.” We get into if the world needs a fintech app marketplace and how it targets younger users.
  • D-ID, a Startup Battlefield alumnus, digitally de-identifies faces in videos and still images and just raised $13.5 million. We’re all worried about our privacy concerns, so the funding news was a refreshing change of pace from the usual headlines we see around surveillance. Now the company just needs to find a successful use case beyond the goodness in people’s hearts.
  • ByteDance, the Chinese parent company that owns TikTok, hit $3 Billion in net profit last year, reports Bloomberg. TikTok also recently snagged former Disney executive Kevin Mayer for its CEO. This one, as you can expect, made for an interesting conversation around privacy and bandwidth. We even asked Choi to weigh in on Donald J. Trump’s recent tweet threatening to regulate social media companies, since Floodgate was an early angel investor in Twitter.
  • We ended with a round table of sorts on how the future of work will look and feel in our new world, from college campuses to offices. We get into the vulnerability that comes with being on Zoom, the ever-increasing stupidity of “manels”, and how tech talent might be flocking to smaller cities but investors aren’t just yet.

And that was the show! Thanks to our producer Chris Gates for helping us put to this together, thanks to you all for listening in on this quirky episode, and thanks to Iris Choi for always bringing a fresh, candid perspective. Talk next week.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

The Simpsons can now be watched in 4:3 aspect ratio on Disney+, as nature intended

By Brian Heater

The greatest comedy in television history became a part of the Disney family when the mega-corporation gobbled up Fox last year, like so many forbidden donuts. Beyond having to make nice with the cartoon mouse American’s family had so openly antagonized over the decades, the deal meant that The Simpsons would have a permanent home on the new Disney+ streaming service.

That meant all 30 seasons of the longest running primetime series would be available in one place — albeit with one major catch. Disney went ahead and “remastered” the series, an act that largely involved stretching older episodes from their native 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9.

Calloo Callay! 28th of May! 4:3 @TheSimpsons begins today! @disneyplus pic.twitter.com/0n43IWk1cz

— Al Jean (@AlJean) May 28, 2020

It was, understandably, enough to raise the ire of fans paying $7 a month to watch the beloved series. The resulting episodes looked distorted and important sight gags were lost to cropping. And The Simpsons without sight gags might as well be The Thompsons. There were annoyed grunts amid the fanbase, and Disney backed slowly into the hedge.

The long promised fix is finally here. Turns out it was easier said than done. Episodes will still pop up in the remastered aspect ratio by default, but clicking into the show description and “Details” from the main menu will let you toggle that off. The move will return the shows to 4:3 up to Season 20, when the show began to be natively produced in 16:9.

Netflix, Disney+ or HBO Max? The best streaming service for your watching habits

By Brian Heater

Gone are the days of not having enough time to catch up on all of those movies and TV shows you’ve been meaning to get around to. For the foreseeable future, at least, many of us have nowhere to go and nothing but time on our hands.

We’ve already offered a few suggestions for ways to spend your newfound downtime, but there’s a more pragmatic question at-hand. With this week’s arrival of HBO Max, an overcrowded streaming market becomes even more competitive, particularly here in the United States.  Gone are the days of Netflix’s streaming supremacy (at least from a content perspective). There’s a streaming service for virtually every need and nearly every one is best at something (with the possible exception of Apple TV+ with its fairly sparse selection, and whatever is going on with Quibi).

In a perfect world, we would all be able to subscribe to every service and never have to leave the house again. But those $5-$15/month fees add up pretty quickly when you’re not looking. For most of us, choosing the right service or service requires a bit of strategic spending. As such, we’re going to make life a bit easier on you and your wallet by designating the top services across 10 key categories.

Again, this is a U.S.-focused list, since that’s where we’re based. But may of these services are available outside the States, or will be in the next year or two.

The best service for … Prestige TV

Winner: HBO Max

The debate about the best TV show of all time always seems to wind up on HBO. The premium cable network has transformed expectations around what television can and should do, with shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” regularly cited at the top of the list of all-time greats. And then there’s “Westworld,” “Game of Thrones,” newcomers like “Succession” and top-tier comedy like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Eastbound and Down” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” Not every series has been a slam-dunk, but as far as prestige episodic television is concerned, you’re not going to do any better than HBO. (B.H.)

The best service for … Blockbusters

Winner: Disney+

Disney has dominated the theatrical box office for the past decade, thanks to its acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm/Star Wars — not to mention the continued popularity of its animated films and live-action remakes. Disney+ is where you can catch up with almost all those big-budget hits, and it will be the streaming home for future Marvel blockbusters. (A.H.)

The best service for … Classics

Winner: Criterion Channel/HBO Max

While Criterion’s reputation can seem forbiddingly arty (see below) — and of course, some art films are stone cold movie classics — the service also offers plenty of classic Hollywood titles, like a recent retrospective showcasing Columbia noir. And if you’re a kaiju fan, it also has nearly every old-schoool Godzilla movie in its library. That said, it isn’t the only place you can find classic titles. HBO Max, in particular, is the streaming home to Turner Classic Movies, with some of the best films of all time, including “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane.” And it has a deal to offer some Criterion titles, too. (A.H.)

The best service for … Documentaries

Winner: HBO Max/CuriosityStream

As with its drama and comedy series, there’s really no one out there who can touch HBO’s documentary output. The network has consistently racked up Emmy wins since the late ’90s. It’s had some added competition from Netflix in recent years, but HBO continues to deliver, including last year’s heart-wrenching ‘Leaving Neverland.’ If you like your documentaries served with a side of more documentaries, however, there’s always CuriosityStream. $20/year will get you a boatload of original docs, broken down by category. (B.H.)

The best service for … Kids

Winner: Disney+

All the big streaming services have a selection of movies and shows for kids, but it’s hard to beat the titles in Disney’s library — all their animated classics, plus Pixar, plus Disney Channel hits like “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical.” HBO Max is a strong runner-up with Sesame Street and the full Studio Ghibli library, but if your kid wants to sing along to “Frozen” over and over again, this is where they can do it. (A.H.)

The best service for … Indies

Winner: Hulu/Criterion Channel

Most streaming services (save for Apple TV+ and Disney+) have a pretty sizable selection of indies. The quality of the films varies greatly from service to service and film to film, but nearly all of them have some hidden gems for when you’re looking to spend a bit of time outside of the studio system. As far as the mainstream ones go, I was surprised to discover during this quarantine that Hulu has the best selections of the bunch, courtesy of deals with top notch indie distributors. If you want a straight shot of the stuff, however, the Criterion Channel is your best bet — and the supplementary content is unmatched by other services. (B.H.)

The best service for … Free stuff

Winner: Tubi/Vudu

To be honest, I had no idea Tubi existed until recently. I was searching for a Korean movie about a baseball playing gorilla (it’s real, seriously), and landed on the site, where it was streaming for free with ad breaks. You would probably end up banging your head against the wall if you relied on Tubi as your sole streaming service, but its selection is surprisingly solid. There are genuinely good films in there, in amongst the dregs. There are also plenty of dregs there, if that’s your thing. Also check out Walmart’s Vudu. In addition to your standard rentals, the service also has a decent selection of free films. (B.H.)

The best service for … Star Trek

Winner: CBS All Access

It might seem silly to build an entire streaming service around a single entertainment franchise, but a) Have you met Star Trek fans? And b) That was clearly the strategy behind CBS All Access, which has already released two Trek spinoffs, “Discovery” and “Picard.” Although the newly remerged ViacomCBS seems to have broader streaming plans, Star Trek still seems like a centerpiece of that strategy, with a whole bunch of new Trek content being developed under the supervision of Alex Kurtzman. (That said, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are sufficient if you just want to rewatch The Original Series or The Next Generation.) (A.H.)

The best service for … Arthouse

Winner: Criterion Channel

Been missing trips to the local arthouse theater? With places like the Anthology Film Archives, Museum of the Moving Image and Angelika temporarily shut down here in New York, I’ve been finding some respite in the Criterion Collection’s truly excellent curated selection of films. While it’s true that sometimes the best thing for the pandemic is a little mindless movie watching, if you want to take in some culture without leaving the house, Criterion’s got you covered. (B.H.)

The best service for … a lot of everything

Winner: Netflix

You may be wondering why we’ve barely mentioned the streaming world’s biggest player. That’s because Netflix isn’t actually the best in any one category — at least in our view. Instead, it’s pretty good in a whole bunch of categories, whether that’s older TV shows, classic films, original series like “The Crown” and “Stranger Things,” reality hits like “Tiger King” and original movies like “The Irishman.” So if you want a single service that scratches a whole bunch of different itches, Netflix is still your best bet.

Hulu’s biggest redesign in years offers a more standardized experience, improved navigation and discovery

By Sarah Perez

Hulu today will begin rolling out its largest redesign in years. The company is moving towards a more standardized, even Netflix-like user interface featuring collections laid out vertically within the Home screen, while tiles within the collections are laid out horizontally, in scrollable rows. However, the end result is not a Netflix clone, as Hulu continues to make use of its editorial imagery to highlight select titles and now uses a variety of tile sizes to communicate information about the content it recommends.

Hulu will also simplify its top-level navigation, moving categories like “TV,” “Movies,” and “Sports” to the top of the screen, to make it easier for users to drill down into the type of content they watch.

These changes follow Hulu’s first big redesign in 2017 which arrived alongside the launch of Hulu’s Live TV experience. Though that update did help to differentiate Hulu from other streaming services, it also overcomplicated the user interface. Hulu’s customer feedback forums were filled with complaints about the interface being too difficult to navigate and the confusing layout.

To some extent, today’s changes are an acknowledgment on Hulu’s part that its interface had room for improvement. They’re also meant to make it easier for viewers who move between other Disney-owned services, like Disney+ or ESPN+, the company says.

“When we launched the current experience three years or so ago, it was a pretty radical change,” admits Jason Wong, Hulu’s Director of Product Management. “I think a standard has emerged as people have adopted streaming — it’s evident, and not just within the Disney family,” he continues. “We know that the majority of users have between three to five different services, and I think all of them employ this orientation on the living rooms devices.”

Though a desire for more uniformity with the other Disney streaming service was part of the consideration for the changes, Hulu says the overall redesign has been in the works for a year and a half — well before Disney acquired Fox and took operational control of Hulu.

The redesigned user interface combines what works on other streaming services with Hulu’s own unique features.

For instance, Hulu now organizes content into familiar, scrollable horizontal rows, but it continues to showcase its standout titles with bold, cinematic imagery, along with title art, color sampling, and a gradient in larger tiles — much as it did before. However, in the new interface, not all of Hulu’s content gets thrown into this large template. (Seen below).

Instead, the large templates will be used to pull in users to start watching new content — like Hulu’s originals or other shows that are popular on the service. Meanwhile, more familiar content — like shows you’re currently watching or those in your “My Stuff” — may not be displayed in the same way.

As you scroll down through the revamped Hulu Home screen, you’ll notice the content is broken up by a variety of differently-sized tiles. In addition to the large, masthead template, there are other larger templates appearing throughout the experience as well as medium and smaller, standard templates. This design encourages users to pause their scroll and consider the highlighted titles, as opposed to getting lost in a sea of titles.

In addition, Hulu is turning its recommendation engine on the selection of the collections and tiles. Every module on the screen can be powered by either editorial curation or algorithms, or some combination of both.

At the top of the Home screen, collections like “Movies for You” or “TV for You” will appear for all users, but as you continue to scroll down, suggested collections will become more personalized to people’s unique interests. While Hulu isn’t being as explicit as Netflix with its “Because You Watched X” collections, it is powering its suggestions based on what content the user has been engaging with.

For example, in a row of Sci-Fi Movie recommendations for someone who regularly watched that genre, it may remove the movies you had already watched or gave a thumbs down to from its row of suggestions. It may also remove those from a subgenre you never watched, like Sci-Fi/Horror, while promoting those from another subgenre you watch more often.

Hulu’s editors will also have the ability to rank certain titles first (or within a range), for those times when they want to better highlight a title — like a new release that serves as a tentpole to a genre.

The end result is a row of suggestions personalized and ranked based on your individual tastes, but one that also benefits from human curation.

According to Jim Denney, Hulu VP and Head of Product Management, the user interface redesign will not only help users to better navigate the streaming service, it will also improve discovery.

“One of the things [we wanted to improve on] is around density — giving people enough of a view into Hulu’s catalog. We’ve got one of the largest catalogs of any service available,” Denney explains. Plus, he noted, “When we look at our current [user interface], there are several ways to achieve the same thing. We want to close some of those gaps so it becomes more obvious which path to follow so users don’t get lost.”

These changes speak directly to the user complaints from years’ past, and lay the groundwork for more improvements over time.

Further down the road, Hulu plans to turn its recommendation engine not only on the titles it suggests but on the presentation of those titles to the individual user, too. That means choosing which titles appear in larger or smaller modules, for example, or how and when those modules appear. A new user, for example, might see more of the larger tiles highlighting top Hulu shows compared with how may an existing user would see. Hulu expects to roll this out sometime in 2021.

The new Hulu interface will roll out this week, initially on tvOS and Roku first. In July, it will expand to other platforms and a larger group of users.

Daily Crunch: Disney’s streaming chief departs for TikTok

By Anthony Ha

TikTok enlists a big name from Disney as its new CEO, Walmart is shuttering its Jet e-commerce brand and EasyJet admits to a major data breach.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 19, 2020.

1. Disney streaming exec Kevin Mayer becomes TikTok’s new CEO

Mayer’s role involved overseeing Disney’s streaming strategy, including the launch of Disney+ last fall, which has already grown to more than 50 million subscribers. He was also seen as a potential successor to Disney CEO Bob Iger; instead, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Bob Chapek was named CEO in a sudden announcement in February.

Mayer was likely an attractive choice to lead TikTok not just because of his streaming success, but also because hiring a high-profile American executive could help address politicians’ security concerns about the app’s Chinese ownership.

2. Walmart says it will discontinue Jet, which it acquired for $3B in 2016

Walmart tried to put a positive spin on the news, saying, “Due to continued strength of the Walmart.com brand, the company will discontinue Jet.com. The acquisition of Jet.com nearly four years ago was critical to accelerating our omni strategy.”

3. EasyJet says 9 million travel records taken in data breach

EasyJet, the U.K.’s largest airline, said hackers have accessed the travel details of 9 million customers. The budget airline said 2,200 customers also had their credit card details accessed in the data breach, but passport records were not accessed.

4. Where these 6 top VCs are investing in cannabis

The results paint a stunning picture of an industry on the verge of breaking away from a market correction. Our six respondents described numerous opportunities for startups and investors, but cautioned that this atmosphere will not last long. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

5. Brex brings on $150M in new cash in case of an ‘extended recession’

Where upstart companies aren’t cutting staff, they are often reducing spend — which is bad news for Brex, since it makes money on purchases made through its startup-tailored corporate card. But co-founder Henrique Dubugras seems largely unbothered on how the pandemic impacts Brex’s future.

6. Popping the hood on Vroom’s IPO filing

Yesterday afternoon, Vroom, an online car buying service, filed to go public. What does a private, car-focused e-commerce company worth $1.5 billion look like under the hood? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Experience marketplace Pollen lays off 69 North America staff, furloughs 34 in UK

Founded in 2014 and previously called Verve, Pollen operates in the influencer or “word-of-mouth” marketing space. The marketplace lets friends or “members” discover and book travel, events and other experiences — and in turn helps promoters use word-of-mouth recommendations to sell tickets.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Disney streaming exec Kevin Mayer becomes TikTok’s new CEO

By Anthony Ha

Kevin Mayer, head of The Walt Disney Company’s direct-to-consumer and international business, is departing to become CEO of TikTok, as well as COO of the popular video app’s parent company ByteDance.

Founder Yiming Zhang will continue to serve as ByteDance CEO, while TikTok President Alex Zhu (formerly the co-founder of the predecessor app Musical.ly) becomes ByteDance’s vice president of product and strategy.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join the amazing team at ByteDance,” Mayer said in a statement. “Like everyone else, I’ve been impressed watching the company build something incredibly rare in TikTok – a creative, positive online global community – and I’m excited to help lead the next phase of ByteDance’s journey as the company continues to expand its breadth of products across every region of the world.”

The news was first reported by The New York Times and subsequently confirmed in announcements from ByteDance and Disney.

Mayer’s role involved overseeing Disney’s streaming strategy, including the launch of Disney+ last fall, which has already grown to more than 50 million subscribers. He was also seen as a potential successor to Disney CEO Bob Iger; instead, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Bob Chapek was named CEO in a sudden announcement in February.

Mayer was likely an attractive choice to lead TikTok not just because of his streaming success, but also because hiring a high-profile American executive could help deflect politicians’ security concerns about the app’s Chinese ownership.

Over at Disney, Rebecca Campbell (most recently president of Disneyland Resort, who also worked on the Disney+ launch as the company’s president for Europe, Middle East and Africa) is taking over Mayer’s role, while Josh D’Amaro is taking on Chapek’s old job as chairman of Disney parks, experiences and products.

In a statement, Chapek said:

As we look to grow our direct-to-consumer business and continue to expand into new markets, I can think of no one better suited to lead this effort than Rebecca. She is an exceptionally talented and dedicated leader with a wealth of experience in media, operations and international businesses. She played a critical role in the launch of Disney+ globally while overseeing the EMEA region, and her strong business acumen and creative vision will be invaluable in taking our successful and well-established streaming services into the future.

 

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ director Taika Waititi is making a Star Wars movie

By Anthony Ha

Taika Waititi already reinvigorated the Thor franchise. Now he’s looking to do the same for Star Wars.

Waititi is probably best-known for directing “Thor: Ragnarok” — easily the best of the Thor movies and one of the most delightful films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. More recently, he wrote and directed the Nazi comedy “Jojo Rabbit,” for which he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

He’s actually worked in the Star Wars universe already, directing the first-season finale of “The Mandalorian” on Disney+ (and also lending his voice to a droid assassin).

According to the announcement from Disney (presumably timed with its annual “May the 4th” promotional event for Star Wars), Waititi will be directing a Star Wars film, which he will co-write with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”). The movie does not yet have a release date — Waititi probably needs to get the next Thor sequel done first.

Star Wars and Lucasfilm are in a bit of flux right now, with the recent “Rise of Skywalker” wrapping up the nine-film Skywalker Saga to mixed reviews and significant lower box office than either “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi.” Former Disney CEO Bob Iger even admitted that the company “might’ve put a little bit too much in the marketplace too fast.”

While “The Mandalorian” looks like a hit, and although there are more Star Wars shows in the works for Disney+, it’s not clear what’s next for the franchise on the big screen. In addition to Waititi’s film, “Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson is also supposed to be working on his own trilogy, while “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have apparently abandoned their Star Wars plans to focus on their work for Netflix.

Disney’s announcement confirms previous reports of Waititi’s move to Star Wars, and it confirms another rumor — that Leslye Headland is developing a Star Wars series for Disney+, which she will write, executive produce and showrun. Since Headland was co-creator and showrunner of “Russian Doll” (my favorite streaming show of 2019), this is good news indeed.

Coronavirus could push consumers away from influencers and toward streaming TV

By Walter Thompson
Jay Prasad Contributor
Jay Prasad is chief strategy officer for LiveRamp TV, a data-connectivity platform leveraged by brands and their partners to deliver exceptional experiences.

As the nation struggles with a pandemic and economic uncertainty, fundamental shifts in consumer habits are leading marketers to rethink existing strategies and budgets allocated to influencers and streaming TV.

These significant shifts are nothing new; just as the dot-com bubble reduced landline penetration and boosted mobile phone adoption, the last recession pushed traditional ad spend to digital. It was an option before, but the recession accelerated the trend to targeting select audiences on social media platforms, giving rise to influencers.

Today, social media influencers are so ubiquitous, they risk becoming meaningless.

Prior to the onset of coronavirus, we saw the influencer trend diminishing while the streaming TV trend became more prominent. Today, streaming is still trending up and influencers have actually seen increased levels of engagement, but they face credibility issues, which could lead to a reduction in perceived value to brands.

Streaming has similar, if not more, targeting capabilities as social media, but now it has the eyeballs — the captive audience of quarantined Americans — up 20% this March, according to Nielsen. Marketers on a tight budget will be forced to reevaluate their relationships with influencers as they seek to increase ad spend on streaming TV services.

The evolving realms of influencers

Disney+ Hotstar has about 8 million subscribers

By Manish Singh

We finally know just about how many subscribers Hotstar has amassed over the years in India. “Approximately 8 million.”

Disney said on Wednesday that its eponymous streaming service now has over 50 million subscribers, nearly 8 million of whom are in India, where it launched its service atop Hotstar less than a week ago.

Five-year-old Hotstar is the most popular on-demand streaming service in India with more than 300 million users. The service and its operator, Indian network Star India, were picked up by Disney as part of its $71 billion deal with Fox last year.

For years, people in the industry have been curious about Hotstar’s premium subscriber base — to no luck. Most estimates have suggested it had about 1.5 million to 2 million subscribers. Executives at rival firms have expected that figure to be lower.

In fact, a months-long analysis conducted by one streaming firm in India concluded recently that there were 2 million paying subscribers for music and video services. So 8 million is a huge milestone.

But ARPU that Disney will clock from these 8 million subscriber is going to be far lower. Disney+ Hotstar is available in India at a yearly subscription cost of about $20. (That’s the revised subscription cost. Prior to Disney+’s launch in India, Hotstar charged about $13.) The service also offers a lower-cost tier that costs less than $5.5 a year.

And for that $20 a year, subscribers of Disney+ Hotstar get access to a wide-ranging catalog that includes access to Disney Originals in English as well as several local languages, live sporting events, dozens of TV channels, and thousands of movies and shows, including some sourced from HBO, Showtime, ABC and Fox that maintain syndication partnerships with the Indian streaming service.

“I think everyone is still trying to sort out the right pricing. It’s true the average Indian consumer is used to far lower prices and can’t afford more. However, we need to focus on the consumers likely to buy this, who have the requisite broadband access and income, etc,” Matthew Ball, former head of strategic planning for Amazon Studios, told TechCrunch in a recent conversation.

Disney+ competes with more than three dozen international and local players in India, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Times Internet’s MX Player (which has over 175 million monthly active users), Zee5, Apple TV+ and Alt Balaji, which has over 27 million subscribers.

Most of these services monetize their viewers through ads, and have kept their monthly subscription price below $3.

Disney+ has more than 50M subscribers

By Anthony Ha

The Walt Disney Company just announced that its streaming service Disney+ has more than 50 million subscribers.

The service launched less than five months ago, and apparently had 28.6 million subscribers as of February 3.

These “paid subscriber” numbers include subscribers who are bringing in revenue for Disney but are not paying for the service themselves. (TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon is offering a year of free Disney+ to some customers.) It also includes 8 million subscribers in India, where Disney+ launched last week as part of Hotstar, a popular streaming service that Disney owns thanks to the acquisition of Fox.

While Disney has been relatively slow to release scripted streaming originals after the initial splash of “The Mandalorian,” it has been bringing its films like “Frozen 2,” “Onward” and the upcoming “Artemis Fowl” to the service at an accelerated pace, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting theatrical closures.

The service has also been expanding internationally, launching in eight Western European countries — the U.K., Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland — in the past two weeks.

“We’re truly humbled that Disney+ is resonating with millions around the globe, and believe this bodes well for our continued expansion throughout Western Europe and into Japan and all of Latin America later this year,” said Kevin Mayer, the chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international business, in a statement.

In its latest earnings report, Netflix (which is far more global than Disney+ right now) said it has 167 million paid memberships worldwide.

‘Artemis Fowl’ is skipping theaters for Disney+

By Anthony Ha

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.”

Disney debuts its streaming service in India for $20 a year

By Manish Singh

Disney+ has arrived in the land of Bollywood. The company on Friday (local time) rolled out its eponymous streaming service in India through Hotstar, a popular on-demand video streamer it picked up as part of the Fox deal.

To court users in India, the largest open entertainment market in Asia, Disney is charging users 1,499 Indian rupees (about $20) for a year, the most affordable plan in any of the more than a dozen markets where Disney+ is currently available.

Subscribers of the revamped streaming service, now called Disney+ Hotstar, will get access to Disney Originals in English as well as several local languages, live sporting events and thousands of movies and shows, including some sourced from HBO, Showtime, ABC and Fox that maintain syndication partnerships with the Indian streaming service. It also maintains partnership with Hooq — at least for now.

Unlike Disney+’s offering in the U.S. and other markets, in India, the service does not support 4K and streams content at nearly a tenth of their bitrate.

Disney+ Hotstar is also offering a cheaper yearly premium tier, priced at Rs 399 (about $5.3), that will offer subscribers access to movies, shows (but not those sourced from aforementioned U.S. networks and studios) and live sporting events; it won’t include Disney Originals.

Access to streaming of sporting events, especially of cricket matches, has helped five-year-old Hotstar become the most popular on-demand video streaming in India. During the cricket tournament Indian Premier League (IPL) last year, the service amassed more than 300 million monthly active users and more than 100 million daily active users.

It also holds the global record for most simultaneous views on a live stream, about 25 million — more than thrice its nearest competitor.

Prior to today’s launch, Hotstar offered its premium plans at 999 Indian rupees, and 365 Indian rupees. Existing subscribers won’t be affected by the price revision for the duration of their current subscription.

The service, run by Indian conglomerate Star India, offers access to about 80% of its catalog at no cost to users. The company monetizes these viewers through ads.

But in recent years, the company has begun to explore ways to turn its users into subscribers. Two years ago, Hotstar stopped offering cricket match streaming to non-paying users.

People familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Hotstar has about 1.5 million paying subscribers, lower than what most industry firms estimate. But that figure is still higher than most of its competitors.

And there are many.

India’s on-demand video market

Disney+ will compete with more than three dozen international and local players in India, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Times Internet’s MX Player (which has over 175 million monthly active users), Zee5, Apple TV+ and Alt Balaji, which has amassed over 27 million subscribers.

“The arrival of Disney+ in India is another case study in the globalization of entertainment in the digital era. For decades, the biggest companies in the world have expanded their reach into different markets. But it’s new, and actually quite profound, that everyone on earth receives the very same version of such a specific cultural product,” Matthew Ball, former head of strategic planning for Amazon Studios, told TechCrunch.

As in some other markets, including the U.S., streaming services have inked deals with telecom networks, TV vendors, cable TV operators and satellite TV players to extend their reach in India.

Most of these streaming services monetize their viewers by selling ads, and those who do charge have kept their premium plans below $3.

Why that figure? That’s the number most industry executives think — by spending years in the Indian market — that people in the country are willing to pay for viewing content. The average of how much an individual pays for cable TV, for instance, in India is also about $3.

“I think everyone is still trying to sort out the right pricing. It’s true the average Indian consumer is used to far lower prices and can’t afford more. However, we need to focus on the consumers likely to buy this, who have the requisite broadband access and income, etc,” said Ball.

Commuters drive along a road past a billboard in Mumbai advertising the Amazon Prime Video online series “The Forgotten Army”. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP via Getty Images)

At stake is India’s booming on-demand video streaming market that, according to Boston Consulting Group, is estimated to grow to $5 billion from half a billion two years ago.

Hotstar’s hold on India could make it easier for Disney+, which has launched in more than a dozen markets and has amassed over 28 million subscribers.

As the country spends about two more weeks in lockdown that New Delhi ordered last month to curtail the spread of coronavirus, this could also compel many to give Disney+ a try.

On the flip side, if the lockdown is extended, the current season of IPL, which has been postponed until mid-April, might be further delayed or cancelled altogether. Either of those scenarios could hurt the reach of Hotstar, which sees a massive drop in its user base after the conclusion of each cricket tournament.

Disney initially planned to launch its streaming service in India on March 28, the day IPL was supposed to commence. But the company later postponed the launch by six days.

Industry executives told TechCrunch that if IPL is cancelled, it could severely hurt the financials of Hotstar, which clocks more than 50% of its revenue during the 50-odd days of the cricket season.

Some said Disney+’s premier catalog might not be relevant for most of Hotstar’s user base, who seem to care about this streaming service only during the cricket season or to catch up on Indian soap operas.

Hotstar has also received criticism for censoring more content on its platform than any other streaming service in India. Last month, Hotstar blocked from streaming on its platform an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that was critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. YouTube made that segment available without any edits.

John Oliver slammed Hotstar for censoring the episode and noted that the streaming service had additionally edited out parts from his older episodes where he made fun of Disney. In 2017, Hotstar also edited out a segment from Oliver’s show in which he mocked Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco. Hotstar and Samsung had a commercial partnership.

Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment in 2017. Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the recent controversy.

Disney+ beat Netflix in recent US downloads (report)

By Anthony Ha

Netflix may still dominate global streaming, but Disney+ has made a huge splash in the United States, where it launched in November.

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.

Apptopia/Braze report

Image Credits: Apptopia and Braze

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.

 

Daily Crunch: Disney+ launches in seven European countries

By Anthony Ha

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.

1. Using 25% lower bandwidth, Disney+ launches in UK, Ireland and 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

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.

2. Microsoft says hackers are attacking Windows users with a new unpatched bug

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.

3. Review: 100,000 miles and one week with an iPad Pro

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.

4. Ford, 3M, GE and the UAW to build respirators, ventilators and faceshields for coronavirus fight

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.

5. Where top VCs are investing in D2C

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.)

6. Revolut launches its neobank in the US

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.

7. Mozilla expands its partnership with ad-free subscription service Scroll

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.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Using 25% lower bandwidth, Disney+ launches in UK, Ireland and 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

By Ingrid Lunden

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.

Caught in the crossfire of Covid-19

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.

Facebook and Disney to downgrade streaming quality in Europe due to COVID-19

By Natasha Lomas

Facebook is temporarily downgrading the quality of video streaming in Europe on its social platforms Facebook and Instagram in response to a call for action from the European Commission, per Reuters.

Disney has also said it will work to shrink bandwidth used by its streaming service, Disney+, which is due to begin launching in Europe from tomorrow.

Last week Netflix, YouTube and Amazon said they would switch to SD streaming by default in the region.

The EU’s executive has expressed concerned about the load on Internet infrastructure during the coronavirus crisis as scores of citizens log on from home to work or try to keep themselves entertained during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Telcos in the region have reported significant increases in traffic as EU Member States have called for or instructed citizens to stay at home during the public health emergency.

Collectively, streaming platforms account for a major chunk of global Internet traffic. Online video accounted for more than 60% of the total downstream volume of traffic per a 2019 Sandvine report — while in another report last month it said YouTube alone accounted for a quarter of all mobile traffic.

“To help alleviate any potential network congestion, we will temporarily reduce bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in Europe,” a Facebook spokesman also told Reuters yesterday.

We’ve reached out to Facebook with questions.

Per Reuters the measure will remain in place for as long as there are concerns about the region’s Internet infrastructure.

In related news Disney is pressing ahead with a planned launch of its new video streaming service, Disney+, in Europe starting from tomorrow but Bloomberg reports it will also take measures to reduce bandwidth utilization by at least 25% in European markets.

“We will be monitoring Internet congestion and working closely with Internet service providers to further reduce bitrates as necessary to ensure they are not overwhelmed by consumer demand,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer division, in a statement.

Last week the company said it would postpone the launch of Disney+ in India after the biggest local attraction — the Indian Premier League cricket tournament — was rescheduled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Applications are open for the latest Disney accelerator program

By Jonathan Shieber

The Walt Disney Company is now accepting applications for its 2020 Disney Accelerator, the company said today.

The accelerator accepts ten growth-stage startups for a three-month mentorship program that provides access to the creativity, imagination and expertise of Disney — including unique access to Disney’s leadership team.

“We created the Disney Accelerator six years ago to explore the incredible innovation that could occur between The Walt Disney Company and companies working on the forefront of technology,” said David Min, Vice President, Corporate Innovation, The Walt Disney Company, in a statement. “Not only has the Disney Accelerator become the premier and longest-running media and entertainment accelerator in the industry, but the program has also launched a number of products, experiences, and cutting-edge technologies. We look forward to discovering new companies and technologies through this year’s program that will continue to position Disney as a leader in today’s dynamic media environment.”

Companies in the accelerator get space in Disney’s Glendale, Calif. campus and a small amount of investment capital.

Some previous graduates from the company’s accelerator include Epic Games, the maker of Unreal Engine and the creator of Fortnite, joined the Disney Accelerator in 2017 (the same year that Fortnite launched).

Epic has worked with Disney’s Industrial Light & Magic team on technology used in the Disney+ series, “The Mandalorian”. the company also worked on tech for rides like Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.

Other graduates from the accelerator include programmable robot manufacturer, SpheroStatMuse, a voice and text-based search for sports stats and information; and the game-based learning platform, Kahoot!

“Our participation in and ongoing relationship with the Disney Accelerator has brought creative inspiration and larger business perspective to Kahoot!, contributing to our growth and development,” said Eilert Hanoa, CEO, Kahoot!, in a statement “By combining the strength and reach of our platform with the magic and mentorship of Disney, we’ve been able to make learning even more awesome. The Disney Accelerator has been key to unlocking many opportunities for us as a company.”

 

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