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Electronic Arts Acquires Canadian Studio Metalhead Software

BY TRILBY BERESFORD | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren 

The deal will see EA Sports grow the developer’s ‘Super Mega Baseball’ franchise as well as pursue new gaming and sports experiences. 

Electronic Arts has acquired Canadian video game studio Metalhead Software, developer of the Super Mega Baseball franchise.

The acquisition, of which terms were not disclosed, will see EA Sports grow the franchise as well as develop new gaming and sports experiences.

“We’re all players of Super Mega Baseball, and we’ve long admired the work of the Metalhead team. It’s a unique and beloved franchise among sports gamers — the balance and depth of gameplay, and the unique style of the content, makes it super fun to play with friends. We look forward to supporting and investing in the team so they can continue to build out more amazing games that delight sports fans around the world,” said Cam Weber, EA Sports executive vp and general manager. “EA SPORTS continues to expand, and we’re deeply excited to create more unique and interactive experiences that blur the lines between sports and entertainment.”

Metalhead was founded by Scott Drader and Christian Zuger in 2009, and operates out of its headquarters in Victoria, British Columbia. “Our team has worked hard over the years to refine a formula that uniquely mixes an arcade style with deep on-field gameplay and innovative co-operative and competitive multiplayer experiences,” said Drader. “In this next chapter, we’re excited to leverage EA’s power and reach to bring our titles to a broader audience and to take some ambitious next steps in the development of our future titles.”

EA Sports, which is in a period of rapid expansion, includes FIFA, Madden NFL and PGA Tour, as well as live service offerings on PC and mobile devices.


 

 

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Snapchat Boosts Creators in New Content Push

BY ALEX WEPRIN | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren

The mobile video company adds shows from Megan Thee Stallion and Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, and launches a Creator Marketplace to bring together marketers and creators.

Snapchat is leaning into its stable of creators for its latest slate of Snapchat Originals.

Among the new offerings are a show hosted by Megan Thee Stallion called Off Thee Leash,which will see the singer connect with her celebrity friends and their pets, and Charli vs. Dixie, which will see Charli and Dixie D’Amelio face off in challenges. Both shows are being produced by Will Smith’s Westbrook Media.

Also in the works is a scripted YA drama Breakwater set in the world of climate refugees, and an unscripted series called Coming Out, which will follow six people as they come out to their friends and family for the first time. Other docuseries in the works include Meme Mom, Twinning Out and Lago Vista.

Snap also plans to explore augmented reality programming that makes its users the star. The first such effort, dubbed The Me and You Show, will let users and their friends star in a sketch comedy series using the company’s cameo tech.

The company is also launching what it calls a “Creator Marketplace,” which will connect marketers with lens creators and developers, as well as Snap stars, to create new advertising experiences on the platform. The Marketplace will launch this month for augmented reality creators, and expand over time.

In its Newfront presentation Wednesday, Snap also revealed new viewership data around its programming. The company said that over 400 million people watched shows on Snapchat, including 90 percent of U.S. Gen Z, and that over 100 million people watch entertainment content monthly in Snapchat Discover. Over 85 million users watch sports content each month, and in 2020 some 200 million users watched news content.


 

 

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Facebook Oversight Board Upholds Trump Ban

BY Ashley Cullins, Alex Weprin | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren #picks-all

The platform suspended the former president indefinitely following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but the Oversight Board leaves the door open to Trump returning in the future.

Facebook’s Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld the social media giant’s decision to suspend President Donald Trump in the final days of his presidency. However, the Board also required Facebook to justify the indefinite nature of the ban, and left the door open to Trump returning to the platform in the future.

“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” the Oversight Board wrote in its ruling. “However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.”

The Board added that “It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.”


 

 

 

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Technology News

Tribeca Festival Reveals Inaugural Podcasts Program

by Hilary Lewis | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren

 

The audio selections include a talk between Jason Reitman and ‘Radiolab’s’ Jad Abumard and a preview of Apple TV+’s Siegfried & Roy podcast.

The 2021 Tribeca Festival has revealed the lineup for its first-ever podcasts program.

The festival has curated an official selection of podcasts, world premiere fiction and non-fiction stories and special events like live recordings and discussions with influential figures in audio.

The Tribeca Podcasts program is curated by audio storytelling manager Leah Sarbib as well as an advisory board including Serial co-creator Sarah Koenig, 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, Crooked Media chief content officer Tanya Somanader, iHeartMedia digital audio group CEO Conal Byrne, Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad, Missing & Murdered creator Connie Walker and co-host of Spotify’s How to Save a Planet, produced by Gimlet Media, Alex Blumberg.

Highlights of the podcast lineup include a discussion between Oscar-nominated filmmaker Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Ghostbusters: Afterlife) and Abumrad, a preview of Apple TV+’s new Siegfried & Roy podcast produced by Will Malnati and investigative journalist and Emmy-winning filmmaker Steven Leckart.

The Festival will also feature a discussion between the hosts of San Quentin State Prison-created and -produced podcast Ear Hustle and previews of new podcasts Hot White Heist and Red Frontier as well as a live recording of nonfiction podcast Resistance.

“The past few years have seen an explosion in the popularity of podcasts, making this the perfect time to introduce our inaugural Tribeca Podcast Program,” said Tribeca Festival co-founder and Tribeca Enterprises CEO Jane Rosenthal. “We look forward to welcoming the creative forces behind this year’s most anticipated new programs.”

Festival director and vp, programming, Cara Cusumano added, “From Immersive in 2013, to TV in 2016, Tribeca has always been at the forefront of embracing new modes of cinematic storytelling. Now with Tribeca Podcasts, we are once again expanding the scope of our programming to spotlight the innovative creators and stories happening in the audio form.”

Tribeca Enterprises chief content officer Paula Weinstein said, “2020 saw so many people seek new forms of entertainment as theaters, sports arenas and museums had to temporarily close their doors. For so many podcasts became not only a source of entertainment, but also a source of comfort. We’re thrilled to launch Tribeca Podcasts at this year’s Festival.”

The 2021 Tribeca Festival is set to run from June 9-20 in New York.


 

 

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Technology News

New AI Tool Offers Subtitling and Dubbing Alternative

by Carolyn Giardina | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren 

 

The system, from the U.K.’s Flawless, is designed to create lip-synced versions of movies and other content in multiple languages.

A London-based tech startup, called Flawless, is introducing an alternative to more traditional dubbing and subtitling processes, using AI as part of a system designed to create lip-synced versions of movies and other content in multiple languages.

The process begins with recording an actor speaking the dialog in the required language, as one would in a dubbing process, explains co-founder and filmmaker Scott Mann. The new audio and picture would then be delivered to Flawless, which would effectively use its AI-driven system to create a lip-synced picture. Mann says it is largely an automated process of retiming mouth movement, but then digital effects artists would finesse the results as needed before Flawless would deliver the final version to the client.

Flawless’ technology, which uses AI as well as neural networks, was developed in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute in Germany. You can get a glimpse of the potential in clips from A Few Good Men, Forrest Gump and Mann’s 2015 Lionsgate’s thriller Heist, which appear in this marketing video that the company published online.

Mann suggests that the technology also could hold wider applications, potentially in reshoots and ADR.

“Sound and vision syncing up is what brings films to life, it’s part of the magic of cinema that creates an immersive, believable experience,” Mann says, contending that “until now, for foreign translations, that was not possible and the outdated techniques of dubbing actually harmed the films script and performances, greatly reducing the overall quality of the work.”  He suggests that with the new technology, viewers would see a more “authentic translation of the original material, allowing you to fully experience and feel the film as the filmmakers and actors intended.”

Mann reports that Flawless is currently in talks with several undisclosed studios and streaming networks about the technology.


 

 

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Technology News

TikTok’s New CEO: ByteDance Exec Shouzi Chew

by Alex Weprin | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren

 

TikTok interim head Vanessa Pappas will become COO of the red-hot mobile video app.

TikTok has a new CEO.

The red-hot mobile video app has named Shouzi Chew, the CFO of parent company ByteDance, as its new CEO. Chew will also continue to serve as CFO of the parent company. Vanessa Pappas, who had been the interim head of TikTok, will shift to a new role as COO of the company.

“The leadership team of Shou and Vanessa sets the stage for sustained growth,” said Yiming Zhang, founder and CEO of ByteDance, in a statement announcing the new leadership team. “Shou brings deep knowledge of the company and industry, having led a team that was among our earliest investors, and having worked in the technology sector for a decade. He will add depth to the team, focusing on areas including corporate governance and long-term business initiatives.”

“It’s truly gratifying to have the opportunity to support the most creative and inspiring community out there, and to work alongside a management team that fully believes in that community,” Pappas added. “I’m excited to deepen my partnership with Shou, and develop an even richer TikTok platform to provide people around the world a meaningful and entertaining experience. The TikTok journey is just beginning.”

Pappas had been leading the company since August, when Kevin Mayer stepped down from the CEO post after just a few months. Mayer had been a high-profile poach from The Walt Disney Co., but after TikTok was targeted by the Trump administration and threatened with being shut down, he opted to depart. He was recently named chairman of sports streaming service DAZN.

TikTok has had a meteoric rise in the U.S. and around the world, driven by an algorithm credited with having an uncanny ability to predict what users want to watch, and able to identify and promote new creators. It has also quickly caught the attention of Hollywood, which is trying to recruit TikTok stars to other, more traditional platforms.

Still, its fast rise has also brought with it along legal woes. In addition to the proposed ban from the Trump administration over parent company ByteDance’s ties to China (the Biden administration has not weighed in on whether they will see to proceed), TikTok has had to settle a children’s privacy suit from the FTC, and a class-action suit also focused on privacy concerns.


 

 

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Technology News

Tubi to Launch Fox-Backed Original Programming Slate

by Alex Weprin | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren

 

Genre shows and movies, animated shows from Bento Box Entertainment, and documentary fare are part of the initial 140 hours of Tubi programming.

Tubi, the Fox Corp.-owned free streaming video service, plans to launch a full slate of original programming in the fall, including content developed by Fox Entertainment.

The streaming service plans to unveil its plans and make its pitch to advertisers at its newfronts presentation next week.

For its initial slate of 140+ hours of content, Tubi will focus on originals in some of its more popular genres, what the company is calling “pockets of passion.” Among the launch slate will be animated programming from Fox’s Bento Box Entertainment (Bob’s Burgers), as well as original documentaries from Fox Alternative Entertainment. Other genres will include sci-fi, romance, thrillers, Black cinema, with Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi saying that the company has developed a “content intelligence” engine to help decide what genres to explore.

Tubi currently has more than 30,000 movies and TV shows, and more than 40 million active users.

“Tubi has the unique ability to understand its audience, their interests, their curiosities and their obsessions which we call ‘pockets of passion.’ This could be anything audiences crave from rom-coms to Black Cinema, female-led dramas to anime, 80s action movies, and so much more,” said Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier in a statement.  “That’s why Fox and Tubi together matter for you. We are simply building a new and better way to maximize advertising investment. Our future is together.”

Fox acquired Tubi a little over a year ago for $440 million, using proceeds from its stake in Roku. In March, Fox’s CFO said that Tubi’s ad revenue will eclipse $300 million this year, and that over time it should pass the Fox broadcast network in terms of ad revenue.


 

 

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Technology News

Amazon Says “Over 175 Million” Prime Members Streamed Movies and Shows in Past Year

by Alex Weprin | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren

 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos added that “streaming hours are up more than 70 percent year-over-year.”

Amazon is finally shedding some light on how many of the company’s users watch Amazon Prime Video programming.

In its first quarter 2021 earnings report, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that “as Prime Video turns 10, over 175 million Prime members have streamed shows and movies in the past year, and streaming hours are up more than 70 percent year-over-year.” Bezos went on to note the critical and award success of Amazon’s programming, and the success of Amazon Web Services, which now has a $54 billion annual run rate. “We love Prime Video and AWS, and we’re proud to have them in the family,” he said.

The comment from Bezos suggests that the vast majority of Prime members watch at least some Amazon content, which includes series like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and films like One Night in Miami. Amazon also streams the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. The company revealed earlier this month that it now has more than 200 million paying subscribers.

For comparison, Netflix had about 204 million worldwide subscribers at the end of 2020, with Disney+ now above 100 million.

Overall for the quarter, Amazon revenue surged above $108 billion, up more than 40 percent year-over-year.

The company also touted its sports offerings, noting that it will get exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football beginning in 2023 (and WWE president Nick Khan told analysts last week that he believes Amazon is trying to secure earlier exclusive access), as well as a handful of New York Yankees games, which will stream for free to Prime members in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

On Thursday, Amazon also announced a new global head of sports marketing, Marc Patrick. “He will be responsible for developing breakthrough multimedia entertainment campaigns for our live sports offerings and will work closely with the NFL as the marketing lead for Thursday Night Football on Prime Video. Marc will also partner with Studios on sports docuseries and sports-themed content,” wrote Amazon Studios CMO Ukonwa Ojo in a note to staff.

Amazon also touted its work on building the backbone of the entire streaming ecosystem. Even as Prime Video competes with the likes of Netflix and Disney+, Amazon announced that “The Walt Disney Company [is] working with AWS on the expansion of Disney+ to more than 100 million subscribers around the world.”


 

 

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Technology News

Domino’s Brought Back ‘The Noid’ to Test Its Self-Driving Delivery Vehicles

By Jelisa Castrodale | FoodAndWine.Com

Troy Warren 

 

In the mid-1980s, Domino’s Pizza created a villain that challenged its intrepid delivery drivers, doing everything in its power to keep them from getting the chain’s pies to hungry customers. In a series of commercials, the Noid, a rubbery-looking, stop-motion clay creature, tried everything from freezing pizzas so they’d arrive cold, to crushing them with weights, to blowing them up with tiny bombs. (Spoiler alert: He never pulled any of this off.) 

The Noid’s original run only lasted a few years, but Domino’s has decided to bring him back, if only to see if he can stop the company’s new autonomous delivery vehicles. “The Noid is Domino’s oldest and most famous villain, and the pizza delivery testing we’re doing with Nuro’s autonomous vehicle is exactly the kind of technology innovation that could provoke the Noid to return,” Kate Trumbull, Domino’s vice president of advertising, said in a statement. “However, after 35 years of practice in avoiding the Noid, we’re pretty confident we know how to defeat it.”

The Noid’s new nemesis is Nuro’s R2 robot, the driverless vehicle that is being rolled out for deliveries from one store in Houston’s Woodland Heights neighborhood “on select dates and times,” according to the company. Any customer who opts-in for the robo-delivery will receive a text with a unique PIN. When the R2 rolls up outside their home, they’ll need to enter the PIN on its touchscreen, and the doors will open for them to collect their hot pizzas. (Although customers don’t have to tip the R2, they will still have to pay a delivery fee.) 

Domino’s site explains that this collaboration with Nuro is just a “test intended to keep us ahead in the world of technology” and it does not expect it to affect the jobs or livelihoods of its human delivery drivers. Plus, they’ve already created one job—although it’s for the Noid. 

In addition to appearing in a new Domino’s commercial, the Noid also has a cameo in Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!, a new mobile game that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the adventurous island-dwelling marsupial. Domino’s has also released some limited-edition ‘Avoid the Noid’ merch that is currently available on Amazon; all proceeds from the t-shirts and tumblers will be donated to the nonprofit Domino’s Partners Foundation, which provides the company’s franchise or corporate team members with financial help following accidents, natural disasters, medical emergencies, or the death of someone in their immediate family. 

Perhaps the Noid might turn out to be a good guy after all. 


 

 

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Technology News

Clubhouse ‘NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys’ Stars Sign With WME (Exclusive)

by Etan Vlessing | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren 

 

Eight college friends launched an American bar simulation on the social audio app during the pandemic and quickly went viral.

The NYU Girls, stars of the Clubhouse comedy show NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys, have signed with WME.

The group is made up of eight college friends who launched an interactive comedy room with a dating-game format that went viral overnight on the new social audio platform. As the NYU Girls now look to cement their Clubhouse show as a cross-platform franchise, WME will help build their businesses across brands and endorsements, digital content, podcasts, live events, books, and TV and film.

Following the show’s premiere, NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys has attracted guests B.J. Novak, Diplo, Nick Viall, TikTok star Griffin Johnson and Clubhouse founder Paul Davison. The show follows the Clubhouse “shoot your shot” format by offering an online simulation of an American bar where audience members can be brought up onstage to speak and can “buy a drink” for another listener.

If chosen to come onstage, participants get to shoot their shot by pitching themselves as romantic prospects to others in the Clubhouse room. The NYU Girls moderators offer a virtual replacement for that night out at a bar with friends denied due to the ongoing pandemic.

They are also defining the live-audio playbook for integrating marketing brands natively into the Clubhouse platform.