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PSA: Noah Centineo will absolutely destroy you in a water fight

PSA: Noah Centineo will absolutely destroy you in a water fight

There are certain things we all know to be good advice: Never work with children or animals, never get involved in a land war in Asia, and never start a water fight with a teen heartthrob.

Noah Centineo, the official internet boyfriend of 2018, probably went on The Tonight Show to promote To All The Boys 2, but there is no way the forthcoming Netflix sequel is as purely satisfying as watching him repeatedly drench an increasingly frustrated Jimmy Fallon with cold water.

What’s the best bit of this? Is it Centineo’s gleeful grin as he flings glasses all over the host’s fancy suit — starting with the crotch? Fallon’s barely concealed, possibly quite genuine, spluttering annoyance at being so comprehensively rinsed? The bit where the soaked lapel mics audibly squelch and go muffled and the pair glance like naughty children at, I’m assuming, half a dozen wincing sound techs? Read more…

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New ‘To All The Boys 2: P.S. I Still Love You’ trailer brings the drama to Lara Jean’s love triangle

New 'To All The Boys 2: P.S. I Still Love You' trailer brings the drama to Lara Jean's love triangle

Makeovers! Love triangles! Holland Taylor! The second official trailer for To All The Boys 2: P.S. I Still Love You has everything a great teen romance movie needs.

After an adorable Covey-sisters recap for anyone who hasn’t already watched To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before five to twelve times (pocket spin!), the new trailer for the sequel gives us a better look at how the recast John Ambrose McLaren (Jordan Fisher) might come between Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Notably, they’re volunteering together (cute!) and Peter K is getting a bit green-eyed (less cute!). Read more…

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Comcast launches SportsTech startup accelerator with NASCAR and others

Comcast NBCUniversal believes its can access startup innovation while supporting future Olympic gold-medalists.

The American mass media company launched its new SportsTech accelerator today, based in part, on that impetus.

TechCrunch attended a briefing with Comcast execs at 30 Rock NYC to learn more about the initiative.

The SportsTech accelerator is a partnership across Comcast NBCUniversal’s sports media brands: NBC Sports, Sky Sports and the Golf Channel.

The program brings in industry partners NASCAR, U.S. Ski & Snowboard and USA Swimming — all of whose sports broadcast on Comcast NBC channels.

Starting today, pre-Series A sports technology startups can apply to become part of a 10-company cohort.

Accepted ventures will gain $50,000 in equity-based funding and enter SportsTech’s three-month accelerator boot camp — with sports industry support and mentorship — to kick off at Comcast’s Atlanta offices August 2020.

Boomtown Accelerators will join Comcast in managing the SportsTech program, with both sharing a minimum of 6% equity in selected startups.

Industry partners, such as NASCAR and U.S. Ski & Snowboard, will play an advisory role in startup selection, but won’t add capital.

An overarching objective for SportsTech emerged during conversations with execs and Jenna Kurath, Comcast’s VP for Startup Partner Development, who will run the new accelerator.

Comcast and partners aim to access innovation that could advance the business and competitive aspects of each organization.

From McDonald’s McD Tech Labs to Mastercard’s Start Path, corporate incubators and accelerators have become common in large cap America, where companies look to tap startup ingenuity and deal-flow to adapt and hedge disruption.

Toward its own goals, SportsTech has designated several preferred startup categories. They include Business of Sports, Team and Coach Success and Athlete and Player Performance.

SportsTech partners, such as NASCAR, hope to access innovation to drive greater audience engagement. The motorsport series (and its advertising-base) has become more device-distributed, and NASCAR streams more race-day data live, from the pits to the driver’s seat.

“The focus has grown into what are we going to do to introduce more technology in the competition side of the sport…the fan experience side and how we operate as a business,” said NASCAR Chief Innovation Officer Craig Neeb.

“We’re confident we’re going to get access to some incredibly strong and innovative companies,” he said of NASCAR’s SportsTech participation.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard — the nonprofit that manages America’s snowsport competition teams  — has an eye on performance and medical tech for its athletes.

“Wearable technology [to measure performance]…is an area of interest…and things like computer vision and artificial intelligence for us to better understand technical elements, are quite interesting,” said Troy Taylor, U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Director of High Performance.

US Ski Team

Credit: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Some of that technology could boost prospects of U.S. athletes, such as alpine skiers Tommy Ford and Mikaela Shiffrin, at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

In a $7.75 billion deal inked in 2014, Comcast NBCUniversal purchased the U.S. broadcast rights for Olympic competition —  summer and winter —  through 2032.

“We asked ourselves, ‘could we do more?’ The notion of an innovation engine that runs before, during and after the Olympics. Could that give our Team USA a competitive edge in their pursuit for gold?,” said Jenna Kurath.

The answer came up in the affirmative and led to the formation of Comcast’s SportsTech accelerator.

Beyond supporting Olympic achievement, there is a strategic business motivation for Comcast and its new organization.

“The early insights we gain from these companies could lead to other commercial relationships, whether that’s licensing or even acquisition,” Will McIntosh, EVP for NBC Sports Digital and Consumer Business, told TechCrunch.

SportsTech is Comcast’s third accelerator, and the organization has a VC fund, San Francisco-based Comcast Ventures — which has invested in the likes of Lyft, Vimeo and Slack and racked up 67 exits, per Crunchbase data.

After completing the SportsTech accelerator, cohort startups could receive series-level investment or purchase offers from Comcast, its venture arm or industry partners, such as NASCAR.

“Our natural discipline right now is…to have early deliverables. But overtime, with our existing partners, we’ll have conversations about who else could be a logical value-add to bring into this ecosystem,” said Bill Connors, Comcast Central Division President.

Reading Isaac Asimov at 100

In his recently published book “Astounding,” the author Alec Nevala-Lee brings American science fiction’s Golden Age back into focus by following four key figures: John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard — and Isaac Asimov, who officially turned 100 today (his exact birth date was unknown).

Nevala-Lee’s warts-and-all portrait paints Asimov — known to his fans as the Good Doctor — far more sympathetically than the genre’s other founding fathers. He’s charming and self-deprecating, generous to other writers and editors, a politically progressive thinker and a tireless defender of science and rationality.

But Nevala-Lee is clear about another aspect of Asimov’s story: He was someone who unapologetically groped women.

As recounted in “Astounding,” Judith Merrill said Asimov was known in his younger days as “the man with a hundred hands.” Harlan Ellison wrote, “Whenever we walked up the stairs with a young woman, I made sure to walk behind her so Isaac wouldn’t grab her tush.” And Frederik Pohl even recalled Asimov telling him, “It’s like the old saying. You get slapped a lot, but you get laid a lot too.”

And these aren’t the words of Asimov’s critics or detractors; they’re his friends and peers. Asimov’s habits were so well-known that in 1962, the chairman of the World Science Fiction Convention invited him to give a talk on “The Positive Power of Posterior Pinching.”

Foundation Hari Seldon

I’d already heard rumors about Asimov’s behavior back in 2014, when I wrote a birthday essay for BuzzFeed describing him as my favorite author. But I limited the piece to my personal relationship with his work — to the ways in which the Foundation and Robot books turned me into a lifelong science fiction fan, and how his wide-ranging nonfiction expanded my horizons.

Six years later, Asimov remains one of my favorites (alongside Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany and Philip K. Dick). And I’ve been happy to sing his praises when he’s in the news.

Still, it seems increasingly difficult to ignore the less admirable aspects of his personality. Fans, friends and other defenders might argue (as Ellison did) that “times were different,” that Asimov saw his behavior as “harmless” and that it’s a relatively minor blemish on his otherwise laudable career. But harassment at conventions is a serious problem, and if Asimov hadn’t died in 1992, it’s hard to imagine that he would have (or should have) escaped the #MeToo era unscathed.

Television critic Emily Nussbaum confronts some of these issues in her essay “Confessions of a Human Shield,” in which she asks, “What should we do with the art of terrible men?”

In the past, Nussbaum says she followed the conventional method of separating the art and the artist: “Decent people sometimes create bad art. Amoral people can and have created transcendent works. A cruel and selfish person — a criminal, even — might make something that was generous, life-giving, and humane.” But now, she admits that “the sociopath’s approach” no longer satisfies.

Robots of Dawn

That’s particularly true with Asimov, whose personality seems inseparable from his work. One of his strengths as a writer was his ability to be clear, conversational and personal. When you read one of his science books or essays, you come away feeling like your good friend Isaac has been explaining things to you in a way that you can finally understand. Even his science fiction is usually prefaced by autobiographical essays written in that same friendly voice.

So for me, it’s not simply a question of separating the art and the artist. It’s about acknowledging that so much of what’s admirable in Asimov’s writing seems to emanate from the man himself — and that, like or it not, he did more to shape my worldview than any other single writer, convincing me (as I put it six years ago) that “ideas matter and the universe can be explained” — while also acknowledging how indefensibly he treated women.

And in the end, it may be something simpler that poses the biggest threat to Asimov’s reputation — namely, the passage of time.

Science fiction has changed dramatically in the past decade, with a gratifyingly diverse group of writers reshaping the field. A new canon is forming, one that doesn’t center on Asimov, Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. As the writer John Scalzi put it, “Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov and etc were and are titans. But remember that the titans were overthrown by newer gods — and that those gods themselves were supplanted over time.”

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This is probably how it should be. After all, Asimov’s work is very much of its era. Readers in 2020 and beyond will have an increasingly difficult time recognizing the future he depicted: a future without personal computers or the internet, and in which no one finds it remarkable that every single scientist, politician and person of importance is a man. (The major exception being the roboticist Susan Calvin, who’s still defined by her preeminence in a male-dominated field.)

Not that I think Asimov is about to fade into obscurity. In fact, Apple is producing a new TV+ series based on his Foundation stories, which take place over hundreds of years, depicting the efforts of a small group of scientists to rebuild civilization after the fall of the Galactic Empire.

So Asimov will probably be reentering the conversation soon. And despite my reservations, I’m glad.

Because for all the ways in which he might have missed major technological trends, and for all the ways in which his worldview was rooted in the 1930s and ’40s, Asimov still speaks to the challenges we face today. Not just in his famous Foundation and Robot stories, not just in the essays in which he defends science against religious fundamentalism, but also in “The Gods Themselves,” which I recently reread. Published back in 1972, the novel remains scarily prescient in its depiction of how humanity’s stupidity, greed and attachment to cheap energy can blind us to an existential threat.

And one of Asimov’s major subjects was the very passage of time that’s eroded his prominence in the field. His best work makes that it clear each generation will be eager to leave the last one behind, that it must face new problems with new ideas.

Despite his very real flaws as a writer and as a person, he encouraged us to search for those better ideas and work for that better future. That’s why his books will always have a place on my shelves. And that’s why I hope he’d be happy to give up some of that shelf space to writers who don’t look, think or write like him.

Making sense of the timeline in Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’

Making sense of the timeline in Netflix's 'The Witcher'

The Witcher‘s blend of fantasy, realism, and straight-up folk rock ballads make it one of the more interesting new shows to come out of Netflix in 2019. It is not, however, one of the streaming network’s most straightforward. 

Taking place over three timelines, The Witcher weaves all over the place and bamboozles its viewers on purpose, making it hard to discern where and when its characters are at any given time. Whether or not this timeline gambit effective is a question for another time, but for now it’s given Witcher fans (witchies?) a pretty puzzle to parse until Netflix releases Season 2. Read more…

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Snapchat will launch Bitmoji TV, a personalized cartoon show

Snapchat’s most popular yet under-exploited feature is finally getting the spotlight in 2020. Starting in February with a global release, your customizable Bitmoji avatar will become the star of a full-motion cartoon series called Bitmoji TV. It’s a massive evolution for Bitmoji beyond the chat stickers and comic strip-style Stories where they were being squandered to date.

Creating original in-house shows for its Discover section that can’t be copied could help Snapchat differentiate from the plethora of short-form video platforms out there ranging from YouTube to Facebook Watch to TikTok. Bitmoji TV could also up the quality of Discover, which still feels like a tabloid magazine rack full of scantly clad women, gross-out imagery, and other shocking content merely meant to catch the eye and draw a click.

With Bitmoji TV, your avatar and those of your friends will appear in regularly-scheduled adventures ranging from playing the crew of Star Treky spaceship to being secret agents to falling in love with robots or becoming zombies. The trailer Snapchat released previews an animation style reminiscent of Netflix’s Big Mouth.

TechCrunch asked Snap for more details, including how long episodes will be, how often they’ll be released, whether they’ll include ads, and if the company acquired anyone or brought on famous talent to produce the series. A Snap spokesperson declined to provide more details, but sent over this statement: “Bitmoji TV isn’t available in your network yet, but stay tuned for the global premiere soon!”

The Snapchat Show page for Bitmoji TV notes it is coming in February 2020. Users can visit here on mobile to subscribe to Bitmoji TV so it shows up prominently on their Discover page, or turn on notifications about its new content.

Snap realizes Bitmoji’s value

Snap has had a tough few years as many of its core features have been ruthlessly copied by the Facebook family of apps. Instagram Stories killed Snap’s growth for years and effectively stole the broadcast medium from its inventor. Facebook also ramped up it augmented reality selfie filters, added more ephemeral messaging features, and launched Watch as a competitor to Snapchat Discover.

Two years ago I wrote that Facebook was crazy not to be competing with Bitmoji too. Six months later we were first to report Facebook Avatars was in the works, and this year they launched as Messenger chat stickers in Australia with plans for a global release in 2019 or early 2020. But Facebook’s slow movement here, Google’s half-assed entry, and Twitter’s lack of an attempt have given Snapchat’s Bitmoji a massive headstart. And now Snap is finally leveraging it.

“TV” is actually a return to Bitmoji’s roots. The startup Bitstrips originally offered an app for customizing the face, hair, clothes, and more of your avatar and then creating comic strips for them to appear in. Snap acquired Bitstrips back in 2016 for just $64.2 million — a steal not far off from Facebook snatching Instagram for under a billion. The standalone Bitmoji app blew up as soon as Snapchat began offering the avatars as chat stickers. It had over 330 million downloads as of April according to Sensor Tower despite Snapchat now letting you create your avatar in its main app.

Eventually, Snap began expanding Bitmoji’s uses. In 2017 Bitmoji went 3D and you could start overlaying them as augmented reality characters on your Snaps. The next year Snap improved their graphics, then launched the Snap Kit developer platform and Bitmoji Kit. This allows apps to build atop Snapchat login and use your Bitmoji as a profile pic. Soon they were appearing as Fitbit smart watch faces, alongside your Venmo transaction, and on Snapchat-sold merchandise from t-shirts to mugs. It’s part of a wise strategy to beat copycats by allowing allies to use real thing rather than building their own knock-off. That’s fueled the “Snapback” comeback which has seen Snap’s share price climb out of the gutter at $5.79 at the start of 2019 to $16.09 now.

One of Snap smartest innovations was Bitmoji Stories — the ancestor to Bitmoji TV. These daily Stories let you tap frame-by-frame through short comic strip-style interactions starring your avatar. Occasionally Bitmoji Stories would include rudimentary animation, but most frames were still images with text bubbles. Bitmoji could once again drive a narrative, rather than just being a communication tool. Still, they seem underutilized.

In 2019, Snapchat wised up. Bitmoji have become nearly ubiquitous amongst teens and Snapchat’s 210 million daily users. They’re the Google or Kleenex of cartoonish personalized avatars. Their goofy nature is also a perfect fit for Snapchat, and a reason they’re tough for stiffer and older tech giants to convincingly copy.

In April, Snap announced its new games platform inside its messaging feature that let you play as your Bitmoji against friends’ avatars in games ranging from Mario Party ripoff Bitmoji Party to tennis, shoot-em ups, and cooking competitions. Snap injects ads into the games, making Bitmoji key to its efforts to monetize its central messaging use case. Last month it launched custom and branded clothing for Bitmoji, which could open opportunities to earn money selling premium outfits or showing off brand sponsorships.

To truly take advantage of Bitmoji’s unique popularity, though, Snap needed to build longer-form experiences with the avatars at the center that . Stickers and Stories and games were fun, but none felt like must-see content. With Bitmoji TV, Snap may have found a way to get users to drag their friends into the app. Since everyone sees their own Bitmoji as the star, the cartoons could be more compelling then ones with impersonal characters you might find elsewhere around the web.

But Bitmoji TV’s success will depend largely on the quality of the writing. If your avatar is constantly getting into funny, meme-worthy situations, you’ll keep coming back to watch. But Snap’s teen audience has a keen nose for inauthentic bullsh*t. If the Shows feel forced, too childish, or boring, Bitmoji TV will flop. Snap would be savvy to invest in great Hollywood talent to produce the episodes.

High quality Bitmoji TV shorts could rescue Snapchat Discover from its own mediocrity. There are a few strong brands like ESPN SportsCenter on the platform, and Snap has several original Shows with over 25 million unique viewers. It’s also greenlit additional seasons of Shows like Dead Girls Detective Agency and new biopic clips from Serena Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still, a scroll through the Discover and Shows sections reveals plenty of trashy clickbait that surely scares away premium advertisers.

Bitmoji TV could offer video that’s not only fun and snackable, but out of reach for competitors who don’t have a scaled avatar platform of their own. As with the recent launch of Snapchat Cameos, the company has realized that the most addictive experiences center on its users’ own faces. Snapchat turned the selfie into the future of communication. Bitmoji TV could make an animated recreation of your selfie into the future of content.

Here’s Chris Evans’ dog in a white sweater. You are welcome.

Here's Chris Evans' dog in a white sweater. You are welcome.

What could possibly be better than Chris Evans in the lush, luxe, off-white cable-knit sweater that broke the internet?

The matching version worn by his dog.

The sweater heard round the world — or, specifically, by someone sitting next to Mashable’s Nicole Gallucci at a screening of Knives Out during a moment of pure and overwhelming thirst, captured in a viral tweet — inspired waves of fans wearing similar items to screenings. 

Evans’ Knives Out character Ransom Drysdale may have been less than wholesome, but in our divided era, at least everyone can agree that Chris Evans wore the shit out of that knit. Read more…

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First reactions to ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ suggest that it’s… a lot

First reactions to 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' suggest that it's... a lot

Some people who are not you have now seen Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, and those people seem to have enjoyed it.

Of course, we won’t know its true legacy until a small handful of folks have collectively decided whether it is suitably respectful of their personal feelings and opinions.

It looks like it might take a while for everyone to work out their feelings, but here are some snap judgements from people who literally just walked out of the premiere, which was in Los Angeles on Monday night.

None of these tweets are spoilers, but just know this: The phrase “a lot” is popping up… a lot. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert roasts Republicans’ claim the impeachment hearings are ‘boring’

After the first televised impeachment hearings into Donald Trump and Ukraine on Wednesday, some people came away from watching highly respected U.S. officials add more damning evidence to an already-teetering pile wondering why they didn’t get a bit more of the ol’ razzle dazzle.

Republicans’ new line, after weeks of demanding public hearings, switched to a puerile cry of “Boringgggg!” with Kellyanne Conway saying it was “just a bunch of gossip girls.” As Stephen Colbert noted in his monologue Wednesday night, Gossip Girl was a very successful show, even if the ending left something to be desired. (Also, 13 million people watched the hearings; only 11 million watched the CMAs that same night.) Read more…

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Kristen Bell sings 17 different Disney songs in 5 minutes —including ‘Let It Go’

Holy clearance, Mickey! Who needs Disney+ when you have Frozen 2 star Kristen Bell (and also Jimmy Fallon) singing the best 17 seconds from 17 classic Disney songs?

Their takes on the overwrought duets of the 90s (and Fallon’s Elton John impression) rivals the ones you do alone in your car; and Bell’s “What do you call ’em? Oh, feet, duh” has me wishing they’d remake a bunch of Disney movies with dorky thirtysomething comediennes playing all the princesses. 

I don’t care whether you’re ‘Part Of Your World’ years old or ‘Let It Go’ years old — we were all kids once, and there’s a goosebumps moment in here for you.  Read more…

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The ‘League Of Legends’ Worlds opening ceremony was a huge holographic hip hop show

What’s better than a holographic Tupac? Holograms of rappers who are actually still alive and can consent to their images being used, you bunch of mercenary ghouls.

The League Of Legends worlds in Paris on Sunday night opened with a massive pre-show, culminating in the super-dramatic unveiling of a championship trophy that makes  the Triwizard Cup look like your chipped office mugs. 

But the centrepiece of the stage show was the first live appearance from True Damage, Riot’s latest in-game supergroup, which features champions Akali (her second musical project in the game), Yasuo, Senna, Ekko, and Qiyana.  Read more…

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Colbert mocks Republicans’ ‘desperate’ new impeachment defense strategy

Stephen Colbert summed up another weekend in the Trump era on Monday Night’s Late Show, and it still isn’t getting any less weird.

Between the president officially leaving New York City (for tax reasons) and Titanic-groping a baseball player at the White House as thanks for donning a MAGA hat, it’s been an interesting few days. Then, of course, there’s the impeachment latest.

In the face of House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff releasing transcripts of the inquiry testimony, which the GOP had been decrying as “secretive,” Colbert explains that some Trump defenders are thinking they might switch to a new tactic: admitting that there may have been a quid pro quo, then just trying to downplay the negative spin. Read more…

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HBO Max just announced how much you’ll pay for 10,000 hours of content

HBO announced on Tuesday that their streaming service HBO Max will launch in May 2020 for $14.99 a month (existing HBO customers and HBO Now direct subscribers will get it bundled for free), as well as a feature it calls “human-powered discovery.” 

“Talent & influencers will be the humans behind our Recommended by Humans feature, sharing the content they love and why it’s worth watching,” it announced in a tweet.

The service will also offer “co-viewing”, a joint profile that gives recommendations based upon joint views without interfering with personal profiles.

In addition, the company announced a Game of Thrones prequel as the crown jewel in their upcoming slate for HBO. Co-created by George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal, the Targaryen prequel House of the Dragon will also be written by Condal, and both he and Miguel Sapochnik will act as showrunners. Read more…

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Original Content podcast: If you haven’t watched ‘Succession’ yet, what are you even doing?

You’ve probably already heard that HBO’s “Succession” (which recently completed its second season) is amazing. And as three East Coast tech reporters, we were probably the easiest targets for the show’s many charms.

Still, we felt like we had to talk about it. In fact, our “Succession” review on this episode of the Original Content podcast is perhaps our most epic discussion so far. And we probably would have gone for even longer, if we thought anyone would still be listening.

The series revolves around the Roy family, whose patriarch Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) founded and still leads the Waystar Royco media empire. Throughout the course of the two seasons, his four children — heir apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong), political fixer Shiv (Sarah Snook), snarky smart aleck Roman (Kieran Culkin) and libertarian weirdo Connor (Alan Ruck) — all take turns vying for their father’s attention and scheming against him.

All three of us loved “Succession,” but even without a long argument about the show’s merits, there was still plenty for us to debate: How a story with such morally bankrupt characters can still be so compelling, to what extend those characters are motivated by love versus hate versus greed (and whether they can even tell the difference) and who, in the end, deserves to sit on the corporate throne.

We also discuss next week’s launch of Disney+ and Apple TV+, and which shows we’re most excited about finally watching.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:41 Apple/Disney discussion
10:16 “Succession” spoiler-free review
25:50 “Succession” spoiler discussion

Let Ringo Starr, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots distract you with an adorable toy-instruments version of ‘Yellow Submarine’

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We all live in… a hell world that’s rapidly warming beyond compatibility with civilization and is also largely governed by micro-souled mooseknuckles! Fortunately, there are some nice things to distract us while we fail to reach for the emergency brake in this particular handbasket to hell, like the above video of Ringo Starr, The Roots, and Jimmy Fallon singing the sweet, damply utopian ditty “Yellow Submarine” accompanied by toy instruments.

Soon we will all live beneath the waves. Until then, let’s pretend we live in the sunny 2D-animated acid flashback that happened every time the other three Beatles let Ringo near the mic, bless him. Read more…

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Megan Thee Stallion officially kicks off ‘Hot Girl Fall’ with an autumnal banger (feat. Jimmy Fallon)

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From back-to-school supplies and pun Halloween costumes to pie-baking and drunk hayrides: Megan Thee Stallion’s teamed up with Jimmy Fallon to celebrate all the reasons leaf-peeping season is far, far superior to 2019’s warm weather mega-meme, Hot Girl Summer. 

“Nothing makes me hotter than some temperate weather / Cause the summer was dope, but the fall’s even better,” Meg informs us, pulling her turtleneck way up over her face and rocking plaid thigh-high boots.

Speaking of, Tariq, aka The Roots’ Blackthought, also jumped in for a verse about how much he really, really loves plaid.

Just don’t try and masc up the name, Jimmy. Hot Girl Fall (aka Thotumn) is for everyone. Read more…

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New Star Wars doc unravels the series’ funniest and most enduring mystery

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Most Star Wars fans are familiar with the famous A New Hope blooper where a random, nameless Stormtrooper doinked their head on a Death Star bulkhead. A true classic.

The identity of the clumsy Imperial soldier has been a mystery for as long as the movie has existed. And now, a new Jamie Stangroom documentary titled The Empire Strikes Door (omg), is poised to solve it.

This whole thing looks like a hoot, from the “Every generation has an idiot” tagline to the lineup of legitimate Star Wars celebrities who apparently lent their time to getting this thing made. I can’t wait to watch. It’ll be out Sept. 25 on Stangroom’s YouTube page. Read more…

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MoviePass is dead (for real this time)

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MoviePass, the once uber-popular movie subscription service, is shutting down. For real.

In a press release published on Friday and first noticed by CNBC, Helios and Matheson Analytics — MoviePass’ parent company — announced the shutdown of the service. Subscriptions will cease to work on Saturday.

“MoviePass notified its subscribers that it would be interrupting the MoviePass service for all its subscribers effective September 14, 2019, because its efforts to recapitalize MoviePass have not been successful to date,” says the statement. “The Company is unable to predict if or when the MoviePass service will continue.” Read more…

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Seth Meyers uses hilarious sports mascot fails to explain Trump’s John Bolton mess

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Look, nobody seems to really know what happened between Donald Trump and recently-former national security adviser John Bolton — not even the TV hosts who were getting texts from Bolton himself live on air, contradicting Trump’s tweets claiming Bolton was fired. But Seth Meyers does his best in Wednesday night’s A Closer Look segment.

After touching on Trump’s “scary stories” about refugees from Hurricane Dorian’s swathe of destruction in the Bahamas (“He should hold his rallies in the dark, holding a flashlight under his face — he’s like a racist Stephen King”), Meyers gets into the really terrifying stuff about John Bolton.  Read more…

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Full-length ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ trailer: more Arnie, more plot, more callbacks

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On Aug. 29, 1997, Skynet became self-aware. On Aug. 30, 2019, a new trailer for Terminator: Dark Fate became available. And as in the teaser released in May, it would very much like to emphasise that the Rise Of The Machines/Genisys/Salvation timeline is as dead as… well, all of humanity in the future.

If you’d like to be surprised, look away now, because this trailer is packed with details designed to reassure you that this is the Terminator franchise, classic flavour. We get Mackenzie Davis’s I-come-from-the-future exposition explaining that Sarah Connor did not, in fact, avert Judgement Day; Linda Hamilton’s Connor smirking and wisecracking like the apocalypse-averting veteran she is (complete with a callback I’d rather have been surprised by); and some absolutely wild-looking fight scenes — including a moment where Gabriel Luna’s evil new-model nanomorph appears to split itself into two separate humanoids. Read more…

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Taylor Swift called out Trump for ignoring her Equality Act petition at the VMAs

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Taylor Swift opened the 2019 VMAs with a performance of her single “You Need To Calm Down” — in which she famously, finally, Said Gay Rights. She picked up the Video For Good award for the clip, peppered with celebrities and icons of queer pop culture, but allowed her co-executive producer and BFF Todrick Hall to give that acceptance speech. 

When she won the fan-voted Video Of The Year, however, she took the mic and proceeded to back up the video’s message, surrounded again by Hall as well as other members of the YNTCD cast such as Trinity the Tuck and Jade Jolie.

“In this video, several points were made, so you voting for the video means that you want a world where we’re all treated equally under the law, regardless of who we love, regardless of how we identify,” she said. Read more…

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‘Breaking Bad’ Netflix movie drops tense first trailer

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Where the hell is Jesse Pinkman?

That’s what cops want to know in the first teaser for the forthcoming Breaking Bad story, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.  And Skinny Pete isn’t saying a word.

“In the wake of his dramatic escape from captivity, Jesse must come to terms with his past in order to forge some kind of future,” a release from Netflix explains.

The thriller is written and directed by Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, and will star Aaron Paul. 

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie hits Netflix Oct. 11 Read more…

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‘The Mandalorian’ Star Wars footage raises plenty of questions

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“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Those words, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars about Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine, have passed into legend. They heralded the arrival of arguably the movie’s most iconic moments, the scenes where it mutates into a Sergio Leone-loving Space Western. Few remember what Kenobi said next: “We must be cautious.”

And cautious is exactly what the Star Wars franchise has been since then, returning to the Mos Eisley template fewer times than you might think. Mos Espa, the Tatooine spaceport in The Phantom Menace, offered pratfalls and podracing rather than tense Western standoffsThe Force Awakens and Rogue One had their desert planet moments, but both focused on those planets’ stormtrooper occupations at the expense of the scum-and-villainy underbelly. The first Star Wars movie to go full Space Western, Solo, was also the first Star Wars movie not to make its budget back at the box office.  Read more…

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The first reactions for ‘IT Chapter Two’ are in and everyone’s obsessed with Bill Hader

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Get your therapist on speed dial, because IT Chapter Two is nearly here to retraumatise you with everything from a scary clown to how harrowing growing up is — and the first reactions are in as critics and fans stream out of the first screenings.

The overall mood is: IT Chapter One, but more. If you found yourself picking holes in the first movie, you’ll probably be frustrated again; if you loved the personal stakes and the characters, there’s that in spades here, with performances from the adult Losers to rival any “serious” drama; and the ending might make you cry.

And if it made you lose sleep, you can look forward to more of that too. Read more…

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Ninja accuses Twitch of pushing porn on his unused account

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Ninja has beef with Twitch, the platform where he first found fame.

The superstar streamer whose real name is Richard Tyler Blevins now reps Microsoft’s competing Mixer, as of Aug. 1. But he left behind a community of 14.7 million followers on Twitch, and now he’s claiming Twitch is exploiting the community he built without his permission.

Blevins laid it all out in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday. He starts by explaining his new streaming situation on Mixer and describes what he says was a “smooth” transition off of Twitch. “Super professional, we haven’t said anything bad or negative about Twitch, obviously, because we haven’t needed to.” Read more…

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Original Content podcast: ‘Years and Years’ takes an unsettling look at the next decade

“Years and Years” is an unusual show. It’s a co-production of HBO and the BBC, and in the course of six hourlong episodes, it covers a span of more than 10 years in our near future.

During that time, we see the rise of a terrifying Trump-style politician in the United Kingdom named Vivian Rook (played by Emma Thompson), along with lots more political, economic and technological upheaval. All of this is seen through the eyes of Manchester’s Lyons family — grandmother Muriel and adult siblings Rory, Edith, Daniel and Rosie, plus their spouses and children.

No one in the family is a major power player; they simply watch everything change with a growing sense of dread. That, in large part, is what makes the show effective — it feels true to the experience of trying to get on with your life while the world shifts around you.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we spend the entire hour reviewing the show. We had some reservations about the finale — which seemed to abandon the strengths of the previous episodes — but even so, we were impressed by the series, and by the way it brought so many of our fears to life.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:23 “Years and Years” review
30:07 “Years and Years” spoiler discussion

‘Moulin Rouge!’ on Broadway is one hell of a fun spectacle

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The spectacle of Moulin Rouge! begins not with the opening number, but from the moment you walk into the glamorous, immersive theater decked out with a giant windmill on one side and a larger-than-life elephant on the other. Then, as you actually focus on what is on the stage, you’re greeted with seductive dancers strutting around in their burlesque best, making eyes at patrons as they find their seats and begin to even attempt to take in all the wonder around them. 

Welcome to the Moulin Rouge.

This bombastic, enchanting and altogether magical Broadway musical, based on the Oscar-nominated 2001 film of the same name by Baz Lurhmann, is a love letter to love, most especially the all-consuming, desperate kind of love that songwriters have been trying to put into words over and over again for centuries.  Read more…

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‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 breaks viewership record, Netflix claims

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Did you watch Stranger Things 3 over Fourth of July weekend? If so, you’re not alone.

According to Netflix, the new season was such a popular viewing pick that it actually broke the service’s four-day record, with 40.7 million “household accounts” tuning in. And 18.2 million of those, or about 44 percent, have already completed all eight episodes.

.@Stranger_Things 3 is breaking Netflix records!

40.7 million household accounts have been watching the show since its July 4 global launch — more than any other film or series in its first four days. And 18.2 million have already finished the entire season.

— Netflix US (@netflix) July 8, 2019 Read more…

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‘Stranger Things’ fan theories explain why this character is totally still alive

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This post contains spoilers for Season 3 of Stranger Things

Our tears have not even dried yet after the devastating revelation that our beloved Sheriff Hopper died sacrificing himself in the Stranger Things Season 3 finale. 

But fans are already on the case with convincing theories about why he’s actually, probably, definitely still alive. The writers themselves even appear to have purposefully left that door open, with a conspicuous mention of an “American” prisoner at the Russian facility in the end credits scene.

But there are more subtle hints, too. And redditors are desperately scrounging for all of them to help us all remain in the denial phase of this grieving process. Read more…

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Former ‘Iceman’ writer shines a light on Marvel’s struggles with representation

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In January, there was much excitement around comic book writer Sina Grace, his Iceman series for Marvel Comics, and his latest creation: Shade, Marvel’s first drag queen superhero.

Much has changed since thenIceman is apparently done after five issues, Shade is now called Darkveil, and, with his Marvel work seemingly concluded, Grace has quite a bit to say about how the comics publisher operates behind the scenes, specifically with regard to a creative product that caters to audiences outside the heteronormative “standard” (if there really is such a thing, or ever was).

A little background may be in order: In 2015, an All New X-Men comic revealed that Bobby Drake, the human behind the mutant superhero Iceman, is gay. Then, two years later in 2017, Grace kicked off a solo Iceman series that further explored Bobby’s identity. Read more…

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‘Dead to Me’ lives, gets renewed for second season

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Netflix’s Dead to Me will live on to Season 2.

The addictive dark comedy starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini has been renewed for a second season, Deadline reports.

The return of 2 Broke Girls creator Liz Feldman’s twist-filled series was announced on Monday, although a premiere date is yet to be revealed. 

The series’ first season follows Jen (Applegate) who scrambles to solve her husband’s hit-and-run murder. In the meantime, she befriends Judy (Cardellini), who’s dealing with her own loss. 

But guys, there’s a big secret afoot, all leading to that crazy Season 1 finale.

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‘Game of Thrones’ finale defended by ‘Seinfeld’ star Jason Alexander

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Game of Thrones is done and dusted, wrapping up its polarising eighth and final season with an equally debated finale.

While many have criticised the final episode of the beloved HBO series, there are some who have jumped to defend it.

And if anyone knows a thing or two about polarising TV series finales, it’s the Seinfeld cast.

Star of the legendary sitcom Jason Alexander, better known as your ol’ pal George “Can’t-Stand-Ya” Constanza, has offered up kind words for the Game of Thrones crew on Twitter.

“I know a little something about finales and disappointed fans,” he wrote on Tuesday.

“My advice: live in joy that you are part of something that moves people so. You were all magnificent. My family and I loved it all. Thanks.” Read more…

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‘Game of Thrones’ season finale sets record as HBO’s most-viewed episode ever

Despite disappointing many longtime fans of the show, the “Game of Thrones” series finale set a new record for HBO as the most viewed episode in the network’s history. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the episode reached 13.6 million viewers during its initial airing on Sunday night, which rose to 19.3 million once replays and early streaming was included. The record was previously held for a short time by the season’s penultimate episode, which drew in 12.48 million viewers when first aired and a total of 18.4 million during its first night.

The eighth and last season of “Game of Thrones,” which premiered in 2011, averaged 44.2 million viewers through Sunday after streaming, on-demand, DVRs and replays were added in, or 10 million more than the season 7 average, said HBO .

The previous HBO series finale with the most viewers was “The Sopranos” with 11.9 million viewers, though that was in 2007, before streaming and other digital services took off.

 

Robert Pattinson is reportedly your next Batman

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Robert Pattinson is the next Dark Knight, it appears.

When Batman returns to the big screen in 2021, the face behind his trademark cowl will reportedly belong to the Twilight star, sources told Variety

The publisher reports the deal hasn’t been 100 percent sealed, but that Pattinson is expected to be confirmed soon. 

Deadline, however, reported the star has not yet been confirmed, noting that director Matt Reeves and Warner Bros merely have Pattinson on a short list alongside Tolkien star Nicholas Hoult.

Ben Affleck bowed out of his role in Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe with an announcement in late January. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert invokes ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in slamming Alabama’s abortion ban

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Alabama’s near-total abortion ban has made many of us furious, including Stephen Colbert, who tackled the legislation on The Late Show on Wednesday night. 

“That, is either an overreach by the Alabama GOP, or some pretty intense viral marketing for the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale,” Colbert quipped. 

“I don’t get it. If a TV show has to become reality, why can’t it be Star Trek, so they can beam me off this planet?”

The bill threatens doctors with 99-year jail terms if convicted of performing one in-state, and offers no exception for victims of rape or incest. 

“By the time those doctors get out of jail in Alabama, it will be 1895,” Colbert joked. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Read more…

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‘Saints Row: The Third’ is still one of the most batsh*t video games in existence

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Saints Row: The Third lives again.

The 2011 game comes to Nintendo Switch on May 10, and it’s the same ridiculously over-the-top story of superstardom, gang warfare, and government malfeasance you remember.

Or not? Even if we accept that time has actually flowed normally since early 2017 — a tall order when every day ages us all another 10 years, I know — it’s been a long time since Saints Row: The Third showed up. If you’re not familiar with the series, or just want to catch up, let’s talk about why it matters.

Finding the right footing

It’s always funny to think back on how Saints Row, the series, started as an opportunistic knock-off. Read more…

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George Clooney launches a PSA against ‘dumbf**kery’

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In light of the UN’s dire warning about the Earth’s accelerating extinction rate, George Clooney has stepped up for a PSA against people and their “dumbfuckery.”

“Dumbfuckery is highly contagious, affecting the minds of even the most stable geniuses,” the actor joked on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Tuesday night.

Focusing his attention on climate change, vaccinations, and the dinosaurs, it’s the kind of reminder that we shouldn’t need — but unfortunately do. Read more…

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Cersei teases aftermath after the battle in eerie ‘Game of Thrones’ preview

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If you can see through your tears, the scenes for next week on Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 is here. And it is all about the bloody aftermath that will seemingly follow the Long Night we just survived.

“We Have won the Great War,”  Daenerys says. “Now we will win the Last War.”

Surprisingly, this strongman tactic appears to work on the ice cold northerns, who seem to finally be warming up to their new dragon king. Read more…

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The first reactions to ‘Avengers: Endgame’ are in, and it’s one heck of a finale

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Welcome to the end.

The world premiere of Avengers: Endgame took place on Monday evening, with critics and industry peeps getting a look at the much-hyped film before it hits cinemas.

Based on the first reactions on social media, the epic, three-hour long Endgame is a satisfying conclusion to a series which began 21 films ago, with most reviewers leaving positive comments about the film.

As Mashable’s Angie Han and Ali Foreman noted, Endgame is quite the send off.

#AvengerEndgame is an immensely satisfying payoff, not just to Infinity War but to all the films that came before. This is why the MCU. (And I say this as someone who was not especially enamored of Infinity War, FWIW.) ♥️💙💜

— Angie J. Han (@ajhan) April 23, 2019 Read more…

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Douyu, China’s Twitch backed by Tencent, files for a $500M U.S. IPO

Douyu, a Chinese live streaming service focused on video games, has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as it prepares to raise up to $500 million on the NYSE less than a year after its archrival floated on the same stock market.

Wuhan-based Douyu, whose name translates as “fighting fish”, is the second Twitch -like service backed by Tencent to go public in the United States. Its direct competitor Huya, who has a similarly fierce name “tiger’s teeth” and also counts Tencent as a major investor, raised $180 million from its NYSE listing last May.

It’s not surprising for Tencent to hedge its bets in esports streaming, given the giant relies heavily on video games to make money. For example, Tencent can use some of its portfolio companies’ ad slots to get the word out about its new releases. Indeed, Douyu’s filing shows it received a hefty 27.48 million yuan ($4.09 million) in advertising fees from Tencent last year.

As Douyu warns in its prospectus, its alliance with Tencent can be tenuous.

“Tencent may devote resources or attention to the other companies it has an interest in, including our direct or indirect competitors. As a result, we may not fully realize the benefits we expect from the strategic cooperation with Tencent. Failure to realize the intended benefits from the strategic cooperation with Tencent, or potential restrictions on our collaboration with other parties, could materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.”

But there are nuances in the giant’s ties to China’s top two live streaming services that could mean more affinity between Tencent and Douyu. The social media and gaming behemoth is currently Douyu’s largest shareholder with a 40.1 percent stake owned through its wholly-owned subsidiary Nectarine. Over at Huya, Tencent is the second-largest stakeholder behind YY, the pioneer in China’s live streaming sector that had spun off Huya.

When it comes to the financial terms, the rivaling pair is in a head-on race. In 2018, Douyu doubled its net revenues to $531.5 million. Huya held an edge as it earned $678.3 million in the same period, also doubling the amount from a year ago.

Huya may have learned a few things about monetizing live streaming from 14-year-old YY as it managed to pull in more revenues despite owning a smaller user base. While Douyu claimed 153.5 million monthly active users in the fourth quarter, Huya had 116.6 million.

How the two make money also diverge slightly. In the fourth quarter, 86 percent of Douyu’s revenues originated from virtual items that users tipped to their favorite streaming hosts, with the remaining earnings derived from advertising and more. By contrast, Huya relied almost exclusively on live streaming gifts, which made up 95.3 percent of total revenues.

douyu

Screenshot of a Douyu live streaming session 

As Douyu grows its coffers to spend on content as well as technologies following the impending IPO, competition in China’s live streaming landscape is set to heat up. Just earlier this month, Huya raised $327 million in a secondary offering to invest in content and R&D. Like many other businesses anchored in content, Huya and Douyu depend tremendously on quality creators to keep users loyal. Both have offered sizable checks to live streaming hosts, promising to grow the internet celebrities into bigger stars.

And they’ve extended the battlefield outside China as emerging media forms, most exemplified by short video services Douyin (TikTok’s China version) and Kuaishou, threaten to steal people’s eyeball time away. Both bite-size video apps now enjoy a much bigger user base than their live streaming counterparts.

“We intend to further explore overseas markets to expand our user base through both organic expansion and selective investments,” noted Douyu in its IPO filing.

In a similar move, Huya’s overseas expansion is also well underway. “In addition to our vigorous domestic growth, we have successfully leveraged our unique business model to enter new overseas markets. We believe we are delivering long-term value through strategic investments in overseas markets in 2019 and beyond,” said Huya chief executive Rongjie Dong in the company’s Q4 earnings report.

Revelation that Goombas might have arms and hands rocks video game world

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Not since Mario’s nipples has the video game world been rocked this hard by a revelation about anatomy: Goombas have arms and hands!

The discovery of these appendages comes courtesy of photos of a Goomba keshi rubber figure (an eraser) shared to Twitter by user Joe Piconi, which shows the Goomba with his arms and hands folded behind his back, thus giving him the armless appearance.

Goombas have arms and hands. They are folded neatly behind their backspic.twitter.com/nRXVi6u92f

— Joe Piconi (@joepiconi) April 19, 2019

This is a potentially stunning revelation given that, for decades, the Goombas have been able to do all kinds of activities, like baseball and bowling, without using these hidden arms.  Read more…

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Jimmy Fallon plays that game he truly hates with a brave Kate Beckinsale

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Plunge your hands into a box and try to guess what’s inside it without looking. It’s a truly horrific concept for a game, one that’s generated plenty of fun times on The Tonight Show.

But Jimmy Fallon always gets pretty squeamish playing “Can You Feel It,” as do his guests. On Wednesday, the late night show host invited The Widow star Kate Beckinsale to play, and there was plenty of screaming (mainly on Fallon’s part).

“It’s sticky and wet. It’s a poo! It’s a huge poo!” Beckinsale said of some innocent cinnamon buns.

“I hate this game so much,” Fallon said, hesitantly putting his hands into earthworm-filled dirt. Read more…

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World record holder Hugh Jackman demonstrates a record he didn’t quite break

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Apart from being Ryan Reynolds’ greatest all-time rival, Hugh Jackman is a Guinness World Record holder.

The Missing Link star dropped by The Tonight Show on Monday to trade jackets with Jimmy Fallon and talk world records.

Jackman holds the record for the longest career as a live action Marvel superhero: 16 years 228 days as X-Men‘s Wolverine — he shares the record with Patrick Stewart, who has played Professor Charles Xavier for the exact same amount of days.

But Jackman’s record isn’t the only title he’s tried for, as the star explained he and his brother clocked up many valiant attempts at Guinness glory — one of which is the most coins caught on one’s elbow.  Read more…

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Stephen Colbert calls the Mueller report conclusion ‘worse than the finale of ‘Lost”

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It was a lengthy, almost two-year wait for the Mueller report to be delivered, and Stephen Colbert thought it was, well, anticlimactic.

In a monologue opening The Late Show on Monday, Colbert said the report’s findings, which found that there was no proof of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, was “worse than the finale of Lost.”

“What about the smoke monster, was it real or not? And if not, why have so many members of Trump’s campaign plead guilty to lying about meeting with the smoke monster?” Colbert quipped.

“Why couldn’t this have been like the ending of Seinfeld? Still disappointing, but at least they’re all in jail.” Read more…

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Apple TV+ makes Facebook Watch look like a joke

Apple flexed its wallet today in a way Facebook has been scared to do. Tech giants make money by the billions, not the millions, which should give them an easy way to break into premium video distribution: buy some must-see content. That’s the strategy I’ve been advocating for Facebook but that Apple actually took to heart. Tim Cook wrote lines of zeros on some checks, and suddenly Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah became the well-known faces of Apple TV+.

Facebook Watch has…MTV’s The Real World? The other Olsen sister? Re-runs of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Actually, Facebook Watch is dominated by the kind of low-quality viral video memes the social network announced it would kick out of its News Feed for wasting people’s time.

And so while Apple TV+ at least has a solid base camp from which to make the uphill climb to compete with Netflix, Facebook Watch feels like it’s tripping over its own feet.

Today, Apple gave a preview of its new video subscription service that will launch in fall offering unlimited access to old favorites and new exclusives for a monthly fee. Yet even without any screenshots or pricing info, Apple still got people excited by dangling its big-name content.

Spielberg is making short films out of the Amazing Stories anthology that inspired him as a child. Abrams is spinning a tale of a musician’s rise called Little Voice Witherspoon and Aniston star in The Morning Show about anchoring a news program. Oprah is bringing documentaries about workplace harassment and mental health. Apple even has the Seasame Street gang teaching kids how to code.

This tentpole tactic will see Apple try to draw users into a free trial of Apple TV+ with this must-see content and then convince them to stay. And a compelling, exclusive reason to watch is exactly what’s been missing from…Facebook Watch. Instead, it chose to fund a wide array of often unscripted reality and documentary shorts that never felt special or any better than what else was openly available on the Internet, let alone what you could get from a subscription. It now claims to have 75 million people Watching at least one minute per day, but it’s failed to spawn a zeitgeist moment. Even as Facebook has scrambled to add syndicated TV cult favorites like Firefly or soccer matches to free, ad-supported video service, it’s failed to sign on anything truly newsworthy.

That’s just not going to fly anymore. Tech has evolved past the days when media products could win just based on their design, theoretical virality, or the massive audiences they’re cross-promoted to. We’re anything but starved for things to watch or listen to. And if you want us to frequent one more app or sign up for one more subscription, you’ll need A-List talent that makes us take notice. Netflix has Stranger Things. HBO has Game Of Thrones. Amazon has the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Disney+ has…Marvel, Star Wars, and the princesses. And now Apple has the world’s top directors and actresses.

Video has become a battle of the rich. Apple didn’t pull any punches. Facebook will need to buy some new fighters if Watch is ever going to deserve a place in the ring.

Miley Cyrus celebrates ‘Hannah Montana’ anniversary with cute throwback photo

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It’s been 13 years since the first episode of Hannah Montana landed on the Disney Channel, and Miley Cyrus has marked the occasion with a sweet Twitter tribute.

The 26-year-old pop icon shared a photograph of her younger self, with a caption noting the significant date for the beloved series. 

“It’s the 13th anniversary of the first HM episode to air,” she wrote. The pilot episode of Hannah Montana, titled “Lilly, Do You Want to Know a Secret?” premiered on March 24, 2006.

According to Billboard, the image shows Cyrus at the Nashville airport, ready to fly to Los Angeles to the Hannah Montana set. So, she did hop off the plane at LAX, but we see no cardigan. Read more…

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‘Shazam!’ is a superhero movie for kids, and that’s a great thing

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It’s been a long time since superheroes could be dismissed as mere kid stuff, thanks to stories as intelligent as Black Panther or as disturbing as The Dark Knight or as gleefully inappropriate as Deadpool.

But lost in all the praise over how mature and thoughtful and boundary-pushing these films can be is the fact that, well, superheroes are kid stuff. Most of us first fell in love with these larger-than-life crusaders as children, over comic books or Saturday morning cartoons or family trips to the multiplex.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus thinks she’s a good liar. Jimmy Fallon finds out.

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You know what, Julia Louis-Dreyfus could sell us anything.

But we’re not so sure how she is effective is at selling a lie, however, as exemplified when she stepped into a round of “Box of Lies” with The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon on Thursday.

The Veep star is good fun, but boy, not so convincing when it comes to trying to dupe Fallon into thinking that she’s got a horse with a huge collection of sandals and high heels in front of her. Read more…

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PicsArt hits 130 million MAUs as Chinese flock to its photo editing app

If you’re like me, who isn’t big on social media, you’d think that the image filters that come inside most apps will do the job. But for many others, especially the younger crowd, making their photos stand out is a huge deal.

The demand is big enough that PicsArt, a rival to filtering companies VSCO and Snapseed, recently hit 130 million monthly active users worldwide, roughly a year after it amassed 100 million MAUs. Like VSCO, PicsArt now offers video overlays though images are still its focus.

Nearly 80 percent of PicsArt’s users are under the age of 35 and those under 18 are driving most of its growth. The “Gen Z” (the generation after millennials) users aren’t obsessed with the next big, big thing. Rather, they pride themselves on having niche interests, be it K-pop, celebrities, anime, sci-fi or space science, topics that come in the form of filters, effects, stickers and GIFs in PicsArt’s content library.

“PicsArt is helping to drive a trend I call visual storytelling. There’s a generation of young people who communicate through memes, short-form videos, images and stickers, and they rarely use words,” Tammy Nam, who joined PicsArt as its chief operating officer in July, told TechCrunch in an interview.

PicsArt has so far raised $45 million, according to data collected by Crunchbase. It picked up $20 million from a Series B round in 2016 to grow its Asia focus and told TechCrunch that it’s “actively considering fundraising to fuel [its] rapid growth even more.”

picsart

PicsArt wants to help users stand out on social media, for instance, by virtually applying this rainbow makeup look on them. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

The app doubles as a social platform, although the use case is much smaller compared to the size of Instagram, Facebook and other mainstream social media products. About 40 percent of PicsArt’s users post on the app, putting it in a unique position where it competes with the social media juggernauts on one hand, and serving as a platform-agnostic app to facilitate content creation for its rivals on the other.

What separates PicsArt from the giants, according to Nam, is that people who do share there tend to be content creators rather than passive consumers.

“On TikTok and Instagram, the majority of the people there are consumers. Almost 100 percent of the people on PicsArt are creating or editing something. For many users, coming on PicsArt is a built-in habit. They come in every week, and find the editing process Zen-like and peaceful.”

Trending in China

Most of PicsArt’s users live in the United States, but the app owes much of its recent success to China, its fastest growing market with more than 15 million MAUs. The regional growth, which has been 10-30 percent month-over-month recently, appears more remarkable when factoring in PicsArt’s zero user acquisition expense in a crowded market where pay-to-play is a norm for emerging startups.

“Many larger companies [in China] are spending a lot of money on advertising to gain market share. PicsArt has done zero paid marketing in China,” noted Nam.

Screenshot: TikTok-related stickers from PicsArt’s library

When people catch sight of an impressive image filtering effect online, many will inquire about the toolset behind it. Chinese users find out about the Armenian startup from photos and videos hashtagged #PicsArt, not different from how VSCO gets discovered from #vscocam on Instagram. It’s through such word of mouth that PicsArt broke into China, where users flocked to its Avengers-inspired disappearing superhero effect last May when the film was screening. China is now the company’s second largest market by revenue after the U.S.

Screenshot: PicsArts lets users easily apply the Avengers dispersion effect to their own photos

A hurdle that all media apps see in China is the country’s opaque guidelines on digital content. Companies in the business of disseminating information, from WeChat to TikTok, hire armies of content moderators to root out what the government deems inappropriate or illegal. PicsArt says it uses artificial intelligence to sterilize content and keeps a global moderator team that also keeps an eye on its China content.

Despite being headquartered in Silicon Valley, PicsArt has placed its research and development center in Armenia, home to founder Hovhannes Avoyan. This gives the startup access to much cheaper engineering talents in the country and neighboring Russia compared to what it can hire in the U.S. To date, 70 percent of the company’s 360 employees are working in engineering and product development (50 percent of whom are female), an investment it believes helps keep its creative tools up to date.

Most of PicsArt’s features are free to use, but the firm has also looked into getting paid. It rolled out a premium program last March that gives users more sophisticated functions and exclusive content. This segment has already leapfrogged advertising to be PicsArt’s largest revenue source, although in China, its budding market, paid subscriptions have been slow to come.

picsart 1

PicsArt lets users do all sorts of creative work, including virtually posing with their idol. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

“In China, people don’t want to pay because they don’t believe in the products. But if they understand your value, they are willing to pay, for example, they pay a lot for mobile games,” said Jennifer Liu, PicsArt China’s country manager.

And Nam is positive that Chinese users will come to appreciate the app’s value. “In order for this new generation to create really differentiated content, become influencers, or be more relevant on social media, they have to do edit their content. It’s just a natural way for them to do that.”

‘The Simpsons’ and Deadpool celebrate the completion of the Disney-Fox merger

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All your Fox are belong to us.

At the strike of 12:02 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Disney officially completed its takeover of 21st Century Fox.

The mammoth $71 billion acquisition includes Fox’s film and television units, plus its 60 percent stake in streaming giant Hulu, among interests in other businesses. 

As the acquisition kicked in, Marvel star Ryan Reynolds celebrated the Disney-Fox merger on Twitter.

“Feels like the first day of ‘Pool,” he wrote, with an image of his onscreen counterpart Deadpool sitting in a Disney-labelled school bus. Read more…

More about Entertainment, Disney, Deadpool, Fox, and The Simpsons