Disney

Streaming service Hooq shuts down, ends partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, Grab and others

Posted by | Airtel, Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, grab, hooq, Hotstar, Media, Mobile, Netflix, singtel, Southeast Asia, vodafone, Warner Bros | No Comments

Hooq, a five-year-old on-demand video streaming service that aimed to become “Netflix for Southeast Asia,” has shut down weeks after filing for liquidation and terminated its partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, ride-hailing giant Grab, and Indonesia’s VideoMax.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, discontinued the service on Thursday. It had amassed over 80 million subscribers in nearly half of the dozen markets in Asia.

“For the past 5 years, we gave you unbelievable thrills, heartrending drama, roaring laughs, awesome action, and more. Our goal was to bring you the best entertainment from here to Hollywood. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all of you who shared the journey with us,” it says on its website.

Hooq publicly disclosed that it had raised about $95 million, but the sum was likely higher. News outlet The Ken analyzed the regulatory filings last month to report that Hooq had raised $127.2 million, and its losses in the financial year 2019 had ballooned to $220, suggesting that it had received more capital.

The streaming service said last month that it could not receive new funds from new or existing investors.

Homepage of Hooq

The service counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018 and telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, as its biggest market. The company also maintained a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab, and VideoMAX in Indonesia.

Hooq brought dozens of D.C. universe titles including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and other popular TV series such as “The Big Bang Theory” to its partners. In India, users began noticing last week that those titles were disappearing from Hotstar.

A spokesperson of Hooq told TechCrunch today that its tie-ups with all its partners including Hotstar have closed. A Hotstar spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mobile operator Singtel first unveiled Hooq’s liquidation in an exchange filing last month. The Ken reported that the filing left hundreds of employees at Hooq stunned who thought the firm was doing fine financially. Nearly every employee at Hooq has been let go, with select few offered a job at Singtel, according to The Ken.

In an interview with Slator earlier this year, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said that the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles in 2020.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.

Powered by WPeMatico

Disney+ Hotstar has about 8 million subscribers

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Disney, Disney Plus, Entertainment, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile | No Comments

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.

Powered by WPeMatico

How ‘The Mandalorian’ and ILM invisibly reinvented film and TV production

Posted by | Disney, Gadgets, hardware, ILM, lucasfilm, Media, TC, The Mandalorian | No Comments

“The Mandalorian” was a pretty good show. On that most people seem to agree. But while a successful live-action Star Wars TV series is important in its own right, the way this particular show was made represents a far greater change, perhaps the most important since the green screen. The cutting edge tech (literally) behind “The Mandalorian” creates a new standard and paradigm for media — and the audience will be none the wiser.

What is this magical new technology? It’s an evolution of a technique that’s been in use for nearly a century in one form or another: displaying a live image behind the actors. The advance is not in the idea but the execution: a confluence of technologies that redefines “virtual production” and will empower a new generation of creators.

As detailed in an extensive report in American Cinematographer Magazine (I’ve been chasing this story for some time, but suspected this venerable trade publication would get the drop on me), the production process of “The Mandalorian” is completely unlike any before, and it’s hard to imagine any major film production not using the technology going forward.

“So what the hell is it?” I hear you asking.

Meet “the Volume.”

Formally called Stagecraft, it’s 20 feet tall, 270 degrees around, and 75 feet across — the largest and most sophisticated virtual filmmaking environment yet made. ILM just today publicly released a behind-the-scenes video of the system in use, as well as a number of new details about it.

It’s not easy being green

In filmmaking terms, a “volume” generally refers to a space where motion capture and compositing take place. Some volumes are big and built into sets, as you might have seen in behind-the-scenes footage of Marvel or Star Wars movies. Some are smaller, plainer affairs, where the motions of the actors behind CG characters play out their roles.

But they generally have one thing in common: They’re static. Giant, bright green, blank expanses.

Does that look like fun to shoot in?

One of the most difficult things for an actor in modern filmmaking is getting into character while surrounded by green walls, foam blocks indicating obstacles to be painted in later and people with mocap dots on their face and suits with ping-pong balls attached. Not to mention everything has green reflections that need to be lit or colored out.

Advances some time ago (think prequels-era Star Wars) enabled cameras to display a rough pre-visualization of what the final film would look like, instantly substituting CG backgrounds and characters onto monitors. Sure, that helps with composition and camera movement, but the world of the film isn’t there, the way it is with practical sets and on-site shoots.

Practical effects were a deliberate choice for “The Child” (AKA Baby Yoda) as well.

What’s more, because of the limitations in rendering CG content, the movements of the camera are often restricted to a dolly track or a few pre-selected shots for which the content (and lighting, as we’ll see) has been prepared.

This particular volume, called Stagecraft by ILM, the company that put it together, is not static. The background is a set of enormous LED screens such as you might have seen onstage at conferences and concerts. The Stagecraft volume is bigger than any of those — but more importantly, it’s smarter.

See, it’s not enough to just show an image behind the actors. Filmmakers have been doing that with projected backgrounds since the silent era! And that’s fine if you just want to have a fake view out of a studio window or fake a location behind a static shot. The problem arises when you want to do anything more fancy than that, like move the camera. Because when the camera moves, it immediately becomes clear that the background is a flat image.

The innovation in Stagecraft and other, smaller LED walls (the more general term for these backgrounds) is not only that the image shown is generated live in photorealistic 3D by powerful GPUs, but that 3D scene is directly affected by the movements and settings of the camera. If the camera moves to the right, the image alters just as if it were a real scene.

This is remarkably hard to achieve. In order for it to work, the camera must send its real-time position and orientation to, essentially, a beast of a gaming PC, because this and other setups like it generally run on the Unreal engine (Epic does its own breakdown of the process here). This must take that movement and render it exactly in the 3D environment, with attendant changes to perspective, lighting, distortion, depth of field and so on — all fast enough so that those changes can be shown on the giant wall nearly instantly. After all, if the movement of the background lagged the camera by more than a handful frames it would be noticeable to even the most naive viewer.

Yet fully half of the scenes in “The Mandalorian” were shot within Stagecraft, and my guess is no one had any idea. Interior, exterior, alien worlds or spaceship cockpits, all used this giant volume for one purpose or another.

There are innumerable technological advances that have contributed to this; “The Mandalorian” could not have been made as it was five years ago. The walls weren’t ready; the rendering tech wasn’t ready; the tracking wasn’t ready — nothing was ready. But it’s ready now.

It must be mentioned that Jon Favreau has been a driving force behind this filmmaking method for years now; films like the remake of “The Lion King” were in some ways tech tryouts for “The Mandalorian.” Combined with advances made by James Cameron in virtual filmmaking, and, of course, the indefatigable Andy Serkis’s work in motion capture, this kind of production is only just now becoming realistic due to a confluence of circumstances.

Not just for SFX

Of course Stagecraft is probably also the most expensive and complex production environments ever used. But what it adds in technological overhead (and there’s a lot) it more than pays back in all kinds of benefits.

For one thing, it nearly eliminates on-location shooting, which is phenomenally expensive and time-consuming. Instead of going to Tunisia to get those wide-open desert shots, you can build a sandy set and put a photorealistic desert behind the actors. You can even combine these ideas for the best of both worlds: Send a team to scout locations in Tunisia and capture them in high-definition 3D to be used as a virtual background.

This last option produces an amazing secondary benefit: Reshoots are way easier. If you filmed at a bar in Santa Monica and changes to the dialogue mean you have to shoot the scene over again, no need to wrangle permits and painstakingly light the bar again. Instead, the first time you’re there, you carefully capture the whole scene with the exact lighting and props you had there the first time and use that as a virtual background for the reshoots.

The fact that many effects and backgrounds can be rendered ahead of time and shot in-camera rather than composited in later saves a lot of time and money. It also streamlines the creative process, with decisions able to be made on the spot by the filmmakers and actors, since the volume is reactive to their needs, not vice versa.

Lighting is another thing that is vastly simplified, in some ways at least, by something like Stagecraft. The bright LED wall can provide a ton of illumination, and because it actually represents the scene, that illumination is accurate to the needs of that scene. A red-lit interior of a space station, and the usual falling sparks and so on, shows red on the faces and of course the highly reflective helmet of the Mandalorian himself. Yet the team can also tweak it, for instance sticking a bright white line high on the LED wall out of sight of the camera but which creates a pleasing highlight on the helmet.

Naturally there are some trade-offs. At 20 feet tall, the volume is large but not so large that wide shots won’t capture the top of it, above which you’d see cameras and a different type of LED (the ceiling is also a display, though not as powerful). This necessitates some rotoscoping and post-production, or limits the angles and lenses one can shoot with — but that’s true of any soundstage or volume.

A shot like this would need a little massaging in post, obviously.

The size of the LEDs, that is of the pixels themselves, also limits how close the camera can get to them, and of course you can’t zoom in on an object for closer inspection. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with Moiré patterns, those stripes you often see on images of screens.

Stagecraft is not the first application of LED walls — they’ve been used for years at smaller scales — but it is certainly by far the most high-profile, and “The Mandalorian” is the first real demonstration of what’s possible using this technology. And believe me, it’s not a one-off.

I’ve been told that nearly every production house is building or experimenting with LED walls of various sizes and types — the benefits are that obvious. TV productions can save money but look just as good. Movies can be shot on more flexible schedules. Actors who hate working in front of green screens may find this more palatable. And you better believe commercials are going to find a way to use these as well.

In short, a few years from now it’s going to be uncommon to find a production that doesn’t use an LED wall in some form or another. This is the new standard.

This is only a general overview of the technology that ILM, Disney and their many partners and suppliers are working on. In a follow-up article I’ll be sharing more detailed technical information directly from the production team and technologists who created Stagecraft and its attendant systems.

Powered by WPeMatico

Disney sells mobile game studio FoxNext Games to Scopely

Posted by | Apps, Cold Iron Studios, Disney, Fox, foxnet games, Gaming, M&A, marvel, mobile games, scopely | No Comments

Disney announced today it has sold the game studio FoxNext Games Los Angeles, the makers of “MARVEL Strike Force” and other titles, as well as Cold Iron Studios in San Jose, to the interactive entertainment and mobile game company Scopely. The studios were acquired by Disney in 2019 as a part of its $71.3 billion deal for 21st Century Fox. Disney is not, however, divesting of Fox’s full gaming lineup. The company clarified that its separate portfolio of Fox IP-licensed game titles were not a part of this deal and will continue to be a part of Disney’s licensed games business.

Acquisition terms were not disclosed.

FoxNext Games released its first title, “MARVEL Strike Force” in March 2018 and it brought in $150 million in its first year across iOS and Android. Another FoxNext title, “Storyscape,” released in early 2019, offers choose-your-own-adventure tales taking place in the world of “The X-Files” or “Titanic.” (This one is a part of Fogbank and not included in the acquisition.)

More recently, the studio soft-launched “Avatar: Pandora Rising,” a massive real-time strategy and social game set in Pandora from the movie “Avatar.”

According to data from Sensor Tower, “MARVEL Strike Force” has been downloaded more than 26 million times to date. “Storyscape” has topped 1.7 million installs. The Avatar title isn’t broadly available, as it’s still in development. It only has 100,000 downloads at present.

FoxNext’s website also notes a game based on the movie franchise “Alien” is coming soon. (This was acquired with FoxNext’s own deal for Cold Iron Studios back in 2018.)

“We have been hugely impressed with the incredible game the team at FoxNext Games has built with MARVEL Strike Force and can’t wait to see what more we can do together,” said Tim O’Brien, chief revenue officer at Scopely, in a statement about the deal. “In addition to successfully growing our existing business, we have been bullish on further expanding our portfolio through M&A, and FoxNext Games’ player-first product approach aligns perfectly with our focus on delivering unforgettable game experiences. We are thrilled to combine forces with their world-class team and look forward to a big future together,” he added.

Scopely, which hit over a billion in lifetime revenue in summer 2019, had also acquired DIGIT Game Studios last year, home to the top-grossing MMO/strategy game “Star Trek Fleet Command” and strategy MMO “Kings of the Realm.”

Other Scopely top game titles include “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem,” “The Walking Dead: Road to Survival,” “Wheel of Fortune: Free Play,” “WWE Champions 2019,” “Yahtzee with Buddies Dice Game,” “Dice with ellen,” “Scrabble Go” and many more.

With its latest acquisition, Scopely adds another top-grossing game to its lineup, expands its in-development pipeline and gains the expertise of the FoxNext team. When the transaction completes, FoxNext Games President Aaron Loeb will join Scopely in a newly created executive role and FoxNext Games SVP & GM Amir Rahimi will lead the FoxNext Games Los Angeles studio within Scopely as president, Games.

(Correction: Typos of FoxNext’s name corrected. It is FoxNext, not FoxNet; Also added info on Storyscape being excluded from the deal.) 

Powered by WPeMatico

Kid-focused STEM device startup Kano sees layoffs as it puts Disney e-device on ice

Posted by | Amazon, Barclays, China, Collaborative Fund, computing, Disney, Education, Europe, Gadgets, Google, hardware, harry potter, Intel, Kano, London, Marc Benioff, Microsoft, microsoft windows, TC, United States | No Comments

London-based STEM device maker Kano has confirmed it’s cutting a number of jobs which it claims is part of a restructuring effort to shift focus to “educational computing”.

The job cuts — from 65 to 50 staff — were reported earlier by The Telegraph. Kano founder Alex Stein confirmed in a call with TechCrunch that Kano will have 50 staff going into next year. Although he said the kid-focused learn to code device business is also adding jobs in engineering and design, as well as eliminating other roles as it shifts focus.

He also suggested some of the cuts are seasonal and cyclical — related to getting through the holiday season.

Per Stein, jobs are being taking out as the company moves from building atop the Raspberry Pi platform — where it started, back in 2013, with its crowdfunded DIY computer — to a Windows-based learning platform.

Other factors he pointed to in relation to the layoffs include a new manufacturing setup in China, with a “simpler, larger contract manufacturer”; fewer physical retail outlets to support, with Kano leaning more on Amazon (which he said is “cheaper to support”); fewer dependencies on large partners and agencies, with Stein claiming 18% of US parents with kids aged 6-12 are now familiar with the brand, reducing its marketing overhead; and a desire to shrink the number of corporate managers vs makers on its books as “we’ve seen a stronger response to our first-party Kano products — Computer Kit, Pixel Kit, Motion Sensor Kit — than expected this year”.

“We have brought on some roles that are more focused on this new platform [Kano PC], and some roles that were focused on the Raspberry Pi are no longer with us,” he also told TechCrunch.

Kano unveiled its first Windows-based PC this fall. The 11.6-inch touch-enabled, Intel Atom-powered computer costs $300 — which puts it in the ballpark price-range of Google’s Chromebook.

The tech giant has maintained a steady focus on the educational computing market — putting a competitive squeeze on smaller players like Kano who are trying to carve out a business selling their own brand of STEM-focused hardware. Against the Google Goliath, Stein touts factors such as relative repairability and attention to computing performance for the Kano PC (which he claims is “on a par with the Surface Go”), in addition to having now thrown its lot in with rival giant, Microsoft.

“The more and more we got into school environments the more and more we were in conversations with major North American distributors to schools, the more we saw that people wanted that ‘DIY’… product design, they wanted the hackability and extensibility of the kit, they wanted the tools to be open source and manipulable but they also wanted to be able to run Photoshop and to run Class Dashboard and to run Microsoft Office. And so that was when we struck the partnership with Microsoft,” said Stein.

“The Windows computing is packed with content and curriculum for teachers and an integration with Microsoft Teams which requires a different sort of development capability,” he added.

“The roles we’re adding are around subscription, they’re around the computer, building new applications and tools for the computer and continuing to enrich the number of projects that are available for our members now — so we’re doing things like allowing people to connect the sensors in their wands to household IoT device. We’re introducing, over the Christmas period, a new collaborative drawing app.”

According to Stein, Kano is “already seeing demand for 60,000 units in this next calendar year” for its Windows-based PC — which he said is “well beyond what we expect… given the price-point.

Although he did not put a figure on exact sales to date of the Kano PC.

He also confirmed Kano will be dialling back the range of products it offers next year.

It recently emerged that an own-brand camera device, which Kano first trailed back in 2016, will not now be shipping. Stein also told us that another co-branded Disney product they’d been planning for 2020 is being “put back” — with no new date for release as yet.

Stein denied sales have been lacklustre — claiming the current Star Wars and Frozen e-products have “done enough for us”. (While a co-branded Harry Potter e-wand is selling faster than expected, per Stein, who said they had expected to have stock until March but are “selling out”.)

“The reorganization we’ve done has nothing to do with growth and users,” he told us. “We are on track to sell through more units as well as products at a higher average selling price this fiscal year. We’re selling out of Wands when we expected to have stock all the way to March. We have more pre-launch demand for the Kano PC than anything we’ve ever done.”

Of the additional co-branded Disney e-product which is being delayed — and may not now launch at all next year, Stein told us: “The fact is we’re in negotiations with Disney around this — and around the timing of it. Given that we’re not certain we’re going to be doing it in 2020 some of the contractor roles in particular that we brought on to do the licensing sign off pieces, to develop some of the content around those brands, some of the apparatus set up to manage those partnerships — we don’t need any more.”

“We introduced three new hardware SKUs this year. I don’t think we’ll do three new hardware SKUs next year,” he added, confirming the intention is to trim the number of device launches in 2020 to focus on the Kano PC.

One source we spoke to suggested Kano is considering sunsetting its partner strategy entirely. However Stein did not go that far in his comments to us.

“We’ve been riding a certain bear for a few years. We’re jumping to a new bear. That’s always going to create a bit of exhilaration. But I think this is a place of real promise,” was how he couched the pivot.

“I think what Kano does better than anyone else in the world is crafting an experience around technology that opens up its attributes to a wider audience,” Stein also said when asked whether hardware or software will be its main focus going forward. “The hardware element is crucial and beautiful and we make some of the world’s most interesting dynamic physical products. It’s an often told story that hardware’s very hard and is brutal — and yeah, because you get it right you change the fabric of society.

“It’s hard for me to draw a line between hardware and software for the business because we’ve always been asked that and seven years into the business we’ve found the greatest things that people do with the products… it’s always when there’s a combination of the two. So we’re proud that we’re good at combining the two and we’re going to continue to do it.”

The STEM device space has been going through bumpy times in recent years as early hype and investment has failed to translate into sustained revenues at every twist and turn.

The category is certainly filled with challenges — from low barrier to entry leading to plentiful (if varied quality) competition, to the demands of building safe, robust and appealing products for (fickle) kids that tightly and reliably integrate hardware and software, to checking all the relevant boxes and processes to win over teachers and support schools’ curriculum requirements that’s essential for selling direct to the education market.

Given so many demands on STEM device makers it’s not surprising this year has seen a number of these startups exiting to other players and/or larger electronics makers — such as Sphero picking up littleBits.

A couple of years ago Sphero went through its own pivot out of selling co-branded Disney ‘learn to code’ gizmos to zoom in on the education space.

While another UK-based STEM device maker — pi-top — has also been through several rounds of layoffs recently, apparently as part of its own pivot to the US edtech market.

More consolidation in the category seems highly likely. And given the new relationship between Kano and Microsoft joining Redmond via acquisition may be the obvious end point for the startup.

Per the Telegraph’s report, Kano is in the process of looking to raise more funding. However Stein did not comment when asked to confirm the company’s funding situation.

The startup last reported a raise just over two years ago — when it closed a $28M Series B round led by Thames Trust and Breyer Capital. Index Ventures, the Stanford Engineering Venture Fund, LocalGlobe, Marc Benioff, John Makinson, Collaborative Fund, Triple Point Capital, and Barclays also participated.

TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden contributed to this report 

Powered by WPeMatico

Netflix earmarks $420M to fight Disney in India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, HBO, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Reed Hastings | No Comments

Netflix continues to bet heavily on India, one of the world’s largest entertainment markets, where it competes with more than three dozen rivals, including Disney.

Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said on Friday that the company is on track to spend 30 billion Indian rupees, or $420.5 million, on producing and licensing content in India this year and next.

“This year and next year, we plan to spend about Rs 3,000 crores developing and licensing content and you will start to see a lot of stuff hit the screens,” he said at a conference in New Delhi.

The rare revelation today has quickly become the talk of the town. “This is significantly higher than what we have invested in content over the past years,” an executive at one of the top five rival services told TechCrunch. Another industry source said that no streaming service in India is spending anything close to that figure on just content.

While it remains unclear exactly how much capital other streaming services are pouring into content, a recent KPMG report estimated that Hotstar was spending about $17 million on producing seven original shows this year, while Eros Now had pumped about $50 million into its India business to create 100 new original shows. (The report does not talk about licensing content expenses.)

Netflix, which entered India as part of its global expansion to more than 200 nations and territories in early 2016, has so far produced more than two dozen original shows and movies in the country and inked partnerships with a number of local studios, including actor Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment.

Hastings said several of the shows the company has produced in India, including A-listed cast thriller “Sacred Games” and animated show “Mightly Little Bheem,” have “traveled around the world.” More than 27 million households outside of India, said Hastings, have started to watch “Mighty Little Bheem,” a show aimed at children.

Netflix, which is expected to spend about $15 billion on content globally next year, has never shared the number of subscribers it has in India. (It has over 158 million subscribers globally.) But the company’s financials in the country, where it employs about 100 people, have improved in recent quarters. In the financial year that ended in March, the company posted revenue of $65 million and profit of about $720,000 for its India business.

The big, big, big Indian market

India has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for global technology and entertainment firms. About half of the nation’s 1.3 billion population is now online and the country’s on-demand video market is expected to grow to $5 billion in the next four years, according to Boston Consulting Group.

But the propensity — or the capacity — of most of these internet users to pay for a subscription service remains significantly low. Most services operating in India today generate the majority of their revenue from ads. And others, which rely on a recurring model, are making major changes to their offerings in the nation.

To broaden its reach in the nation, Netflix earlier this year introduced a new monthly price tier — $2.8 — that allows users in India to watch the streaming service in standard quality on a mobile device. (The company has since expanded this offering to Malaysia.)

Netflix competes with more than three dozen on-demand video streaming services in India. Chief among its competitors in the nation is Disney’s Hotstar. Hotstar’s content includes live TV channels, streaming of sports events and thousands of movies and shows, many syndicated from global networks and studios such as HBO and Showtime.

The ad-supported service offers more than 80% of its catalog at no charge to users and charges 999 Indian rupees ($14) a year for its premium tier.

Among the licensed content that Hotstar — or its operator Star India — owns in the country includes rights to stream a number of cricket tournaments. Cricket is incredibly popular in India and has helped Hotstar set global streaming records.

In May this year, Hotstar reported that more than 25 million people simultaneously watched a cricket match on the platform  — a global record. The service, at the time, had more than 300 million monthly active users.

Commenting on the competition, Hastings said the next five to 10 years is going to be “the golden age of television” as “unbelievable and unrivaled levels of investment” go into producing content. “They are all investing here in India. We are seeing more content made than ever before. It’s a great export,” he added.

Disney+, the recently launched streaming service from the global content conglomerate, is set to be available in India and Southeast Asian markets next year through Hotstar, TechCrunch reported last month.

Powered by WPeMatico

Disney’s cringe-worthy Baby Yoda merch goes on sale

Posted by | Baby Yoda, Disney, Disney Plus, eCommerce, Gadgets, Media, merchandise, star wars, TC, The Mandalorian, toys, Wearables | No Comments

Who could have guessed an adorable, big-eyed baby Star Wars alien would have generated a ton of demand for toys? Apparently not Disney, which today started to sell merchandise based on The Child from new Disney+ show The Mandalorian, commonly known as “Baby Yoda”. The shirts, bags, mugs, and phone cases all feel…forced, like Disney rushed to print them on CafePress.

“The laziest merch ever” one TechCrunch staffer said. “If only there was 40 years of Star Wars Merchandise as a precedent. They would sell ten billion yoda beanie babies” quipped another. The lack of a plush doll, baby clothes, chew-safe rubber toys for tots and dogs, or original artwork indicate Disney was so busy getting its streaming service off the ground that it didn’t realize it already had a mascot. Yoda backpacks have been a hit for decades. Where’s the Yoda baby bjorn chest pack?

The Mandalorian only hit screens and debuted the character two weeks ago, so it’s understandable that overly complicated merch isn’t available immediately. Otherwise toy production could have spoiled the little fella’s reveal. But Disney could at least offer pre-orders of better merch. The only reason not to is that it hopes hardcore fans will buy these lackluster products in the meantime, then shell out again for the good stuff.

Just because the little green bundle of joy isn’t technically ‘Baby Yoda’, since The Mandalorian is set after the real Yoda’s death in Return Of The Jedi, doesn’t mean Disney isn’t exploiting the term for SEO. “He may look like a ‘Baby Yoda,’ but this lovable creature is referred to as ‘The Child’” Disney notes on all the product pages.

The Disney entertainment empire has suffered these failures to predict demand before. Frozen 1 merchandise sold out everywhere as tykes around the world screamed “Let It Go”. And Guardians Of The Galaxy 2’s Baby Groot also saw demand outstrip supply until Disney started sticking the tiny tree on everything. Hopefully it won’t be long until we can get a magnetic The Child shoulder buddy so he can ride around with us like we’re his Bobasitter.

Powered by WPeMatico

Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Disney, HBO, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, the walt disney company | No Comments

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plan told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with the Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia, among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly user base plummeted below 60 million in the weeks following the IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket season.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debuted its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed more than 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen toward the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next the IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year, as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and a large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired more than 60 engineers and researchers to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

Powered by WPeMatico

Google hires former Disney and Star executive to head its India business

Posted by | Android, Asia, bharti airtel, Disney, Google, Hotstar, india, Personnel, sequoia capital, TC | No Comments

Google said on Friday it has appointed Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive with Disney India and Star, as the manager and vice president of sales and operations for its India business.

Gupta will be replacing Rajan Anandan, who left the company in April this year to serve VC fund Sequoia Capital India as a managing director.

Gupta served as a managing director at Disney India and Star (which Disney now owns) before joining the Android -maker. (Not to be confused with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who hosts a popular medical show on CNN.) He helped Star make a major push in the digital consumers business through video streaming service Hotstar, where he aggressively worked on partnerships and licensing for cricket rights and other content.

Hotstar has cashed in on the popularity of cricket — during a major cricket season earlier this year, Hotstar claimed that more than 100 million users were enjoying its service each day and more than 300 million were doing so each month. (Facebook roped in Ajit Mohan, the former chief executive of Hotstar, to head its India operations late last year.) Gupta also held top executive roles at other companies, including Bharti Airtel telecom network.

Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive at Disney and Star, is now the head of Google’s India business

In a statement, Gupta said, “it’s an exciting opportunity to leverage the power of technology to solve some of India’s unique challenges and make Internet an engine of economic growth for people and communities. I am happy to join the passionate teams across Google and look forward to contributing to India’s digital journey as it becomes an innovation hub for the world.”

When Anandan, a long-time influential and widely respected Google executive, left the company earlier this year, Google said Vikas Agnihotri, who is the director of sales for the firm’s India operations, would be temporarily taking over the role. For Google, this was the latest in a series of high-profile departures in Asia. Karim Temsamani, head of Asia Pacific (APAC) at Google, also left the company earlier this year.

Even as India contributes little to Google’s bottom line, the company has grown increasingly focused on India and other Asian markets to develop products and services that solve local problems and address barriers that are hindering growth in these markets.

In a statement, Scott Beaumont, president of Google APAC, said the company’s operation in India “is important and strategic for its own sake but also for the innovation which then feeds breakthroughs elsewhere in Google.”

Gupta will also have to oversee some major challenges, including the fast growth of Facebook’s advertisement business in India and an antitrust issue with the local regulator.

Powered by WPeMatico

Nvidia’s new Shield TV wins the Android TV market with amazing 4K upscaling

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, Android, apple tv, artificial intelligence, AV, computing, Disney, dolby, ethernet, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, internet television, LG, Netflix, neural network, nvidia, nvidia shield, oled, online stores, Portable Media Players, RAM, Reviews, Shield Portable, shield tv, shields, smart tv, streaming devices, Streaming Media, TC, technology | No Comments

Nvidia has a new family of Android TV-based streaming devices, as tipped early via a couple of leaks from online stores. The new Nvidia Shield TV ($149) and Shield TV Pro ($199) replace the existing Shield TV generation of hardware, which debuted in 2017. Both new Shields offer new Tegra X1+ processors, which outperform the predecessor chip by about 25%, and make possible one of this Shield’s new highlight features: AI-powered 3K up-conversion for HD content.

Both Shield TV and Shield TV Pro also support Dolby Vision HDR content, as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. The differences between the two devices center mainly around physical design, with the Shield TV adopting a cylindrical tube design, and the Shield TV Pro looking more like its predecessor (basically a small set-top box form factor). The Shield TV Pro also gets more RAM (3GB versus 2GB), more storage (16GB versus 8GB), the ability to transcode 1080p streams when acting as a Plex Media Server, support for the SmartThings Link to turn it into a SmartThings smart home hub and advanced Android gaming support, along with two USB 3.0 ports.

Shield TV review

Nvidia Shield TV 4I’ve been using the Shield TV for around a week now, and this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade for anyone looking to get the best possible experience available in an Android TV home theater device. Nvidia has clearly done a lot to survey the market, look at everything that’s come out in the two years since it last updated this hardware and deliver generational improvements that help it stand out from the crowd in meaningful ways.

Android TV now ships on a lot of smart TVs, and there have been many generations of Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices introduced since we last saw a new Shield from Nvidia — all of which adds up to needing to really do something special to ask for $149.99 from consumers to invest in a new dedicated streaming media box. Nvidia has always delivered a lot of value for the upfront cost of their streaming hardware, with consistent updates over the life of the devices that add plenty of new features and improvements. But this new hardware packs in some excellent features not possible with software alone, and that are also unique when you look across the options available in this category.

AI upscaling

Chief among the additions Nvidia has made here is the AI upscaling made possible with the new Tegra X1+ chip. You might have heard of “upscaling” before, and you might even think that your TV already handles that well. But what you probably don’t know is that often content from streaming media sources doesn’t actually get upscaled by your TV, which means if you have a 4K display but are often watching YouTube or other services with large quantities of non-4K content, you might not be getting the most out of your hardware.

Nvidia has addressed this with on-device 4K upscaling, which is powered by on-device machine intelligence that has been trained on a deep neural network to turn both 720p and 1080p signals into much sharper, 4K-equivalent images. Having used this on a variety of content, including media streamed from YouTube, non-4K Netflix content and stuff from Plex, I can attest to its ability to produce visibly sharper images that look great, especially on my LG C8-series OLED 4K TV.

The Shield TV’s tech is trained on popular movies and TV shows, and so does a remarkably good job of guessing what the 4K version of the HD image it’s looking at should properly look like. Considering that there’s a ton of content out there that hasn’t been made available in 4K, despite now a lot of TVs supporting that resolution, this is a big advantage for Nvidia, and again one that they uniquely offer among their peers.

Dolby everything

These new Shields also support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across more services than anything else out there on the market right now. These HDR and surround sound modes really do offer the best audio-visual experience you can get, provided you have TVs and audio output equipment that supports them. But what you might not know is that even on other streaming hardware that technically support these standards, they might not be supported across all services.

Shield TV supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Vudu and Movies Anywhere, so you should be getting the most out of these technologies, too. I asked about the forthcoming Apple TV+ service, which is rolling out to Roku devices, for instance, but Nvidia didn’t have any news to share just yet — it does seem like it’s a good idea to stay tuned on that front, however.

Like AI Upscaling, Dolby support across everything might not seem like a big competitive advantage, but it’s absolutely a decision-tipping factor for people looking for the best possible A/V experience in a home streaming device.

New and improved remote

Nvidia Shield TV 5Nvidia is shipping the new Shield TVs with a brand new redesigned remote in the box. There’s a dedicated “Netflix” button, which is a nice touch, but the remote overall is just an improvement over both Shield remotes past and other competing remotes, in every way. It’s powered by AAA batteries (included) and it has a new pyramid-shaped body design that makes it easier and more pleasant to hold.

There are also lots of new buttons! Yes, Nvidia actually put buttons on their remote control — what a novel concept! Whereas the remote from the last generation seemed to be adopting a lot of the questionable choices Apple has long been making on their remotes, this one feels like it’s made with humans in mind, with dedicated play/pause, back, forward, volume and other buttons. A wealth of buttons.

This remote also has automatic backlighting, which will serve you well when using it in a darkened room. Because of the bulkier body design, it also stands on its end, and there’s a lost remote finding function, too. Chalk up a win for human-centric design with this remote, as it’s a joy to use.

Simple physical design

The design of the device is not flashy, but it is smart. There’s an Ethernet port, a power connector, an HDMI port and a micro SD card slot, dividing across both ends of the tube. This makes it perfect for placing behind a console or media bench, on the ground or next to your other power cables.

It still provides hardwired connectivity options in case you do things like in-home game streaming or GeForce NOW cloud gaming, and it offers expandable storage via the microSD slot.

Bottom line

Nvidia’s new Shield is a great option for anyone looking for a versatile streaming device, with access to all of Google’s Play Store apps for Android TV, and support for the latest AV standards. Its real bonus advantage is that AI upscaling, however, which is something that Nvidia is uniquely poised to do well, and which goes a long way in making that $149.99 price point, seem like a tremendous value.

SHIELD TV Family

Powered by WPeMatico