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Original Content podcast: Just don’t watch Netflix’s ‘Holidate’ with your parents

You might think that a new Netflix film called “Holidate” offers holiday-themed romance that’s perfect for a family watch party. You’d be wrong.

The film stars Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey as a pair of strangers who agree (in classic romantic comedy style) to keep each other company on holidays.

And while the movie can’t be completely pigeonholed as a raunchy comedy — it also includes a dash of metatextual commentary, with a healthy dose of undiluted romantic schmaltz — “Holidate” is certainly filled with sexually frank dialogue, and a couple of its biggest set pieces go all-in on gross-out humor. So, and as one of the hosts of the Original Content podcast discovered, watching it with your family can be extremely uncomfortable.

But, assuming you avoid that awkwardness, is it actually funny? Sometimes! A word that comes up repeatedly in our review is “adequate” — Darrell embraced the film’s surprisingly dirty humor, while Anthony and Jordan were at least mildly entertained.

In addition to reviewing “Holidate,” we also discussed the implications of Netflix’s decision to remove “Chappelle’s Show” at Dave Chappelle’s request.

You can listen to our review 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 follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:11 Dave Chappelle discussion
13:50 “Holidate” review
37:39 “Holidate” spoiler discussion


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Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Away’ deftly balances space exploration and human drama

“Away,” a new drama on Netflix, tells the story of the first manned expedition to Mars — Emma Green (played by Hilary Swank) leads an international team of astronauts on the three-year mission, while her husband Matt (Josh Charles) is part of the support team back on Earth.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show starts a bit slowly, and its space sequences (particularly an early space walk) aren’t quite as thrilling as we’d hoped.

But “Away” excels at creating compelling human drama — there’s believable tension on the spaceship and in mission control, and pain and guilt on both sides as the astronauts are separated from their loved ones for the long journey to-and-from Mars.

Anthony admitted that before watching, he worried that the show might be a bit too weepy and melodramatic. Instead, he was impressed by the way it made all the storylines feel natural and important, no matter how high or low the stakes. And we also appreciated how the astronauts’ backstories are filled in via flashbacks — the third episode, focused on Chinese astronaut Lu Wang (Vivian Lu), was an early highlight.

In addition to reviewing “Away,” we also caught up on what we’ve been up to since the last regular episode two weeks ago, and we discussed a new Disney+ co-watching feature called GroupWatch.

You can listen to our review 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 follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/catch-up
5:55 Disney+ discussion
9:19 “Away” review
41:41 “Away” spoiler discussion


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VCs and startups consider HaaS model for consumer devices

I’ve been following consumer audio electronics company Nura with great interest for a few years now — the Melbourne-based startup was one of the first companies I met with after starting with TechCrunch. At the time, its first prototype was a big mess of circuits and wires — the sort of thing you could never imagine shrunk down into a reasonably sized consumer device.

Nura managed, of course. And the final product looked and sounded great; hell, even the box was nice. If I’m lucky, I see a consumer hardware product once or twice a year that seems reasonably capable of disrupting an industry, and Nura’s custom sound profiles fit that bill. But the company was unique for another reason. A graduate of the HAX accelerator, the startup announced NuraNow roughly this time last year.

Hardware as a service (HaaS) has been a popular concept in the IT/enterprise space for some time, but it’s still fairly uncommon in the consumer category. For one thing: A hardware subscription presents a new paradigm for thinking about purchases. That is a big lift in a country like the U.S., which spent years weaning consumers off contract-based smartphones.

That Nura jumped at the chance shouldn’t be a big surprise. Backers HAX/SOSV have been proponents of the model for some time now. I’ve visited their Shenzhen offices a few times, and the topic of HaaS always seems to come up.

In a recent email exchange, General Partner Duncan Turner described HaaS as “a great way to keep in contact with your customers and up-sell them on new features. Most importantly, for startups, recurring revenue is critical for scaling a business with venture capital (and will help appeal to a broad set of investors). HaaS often has a low churn (as easier to put onto long-term contracts).”

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With 170M users, Bilibili is the nearest thing China has to Youtube

Bilibili, a Chinese video streaming website that was once regarded as a haven for youth subculture, has been steadily making its way into the mainstream as users age up and content diversifies. The NASDAQ-traded company recorded a 70% year-over-year growth to reach 172 million monthly active users by the first quarter, placing it in the same rank as video services operated by Tencent and Baidu’s iQiyi.

Daily time spent per user soared to a record of 87 minutes, which is likely linked to the extended stay-at-home order imposed on students during COVID-19.

In the same period, Tencent Video reported 112 million subscribers, while iQiyi commanded 118.9 million, almost all of whom are paying. Bilibili, by contrast, saw only about 8% of its MAU paying.

Bilibili’s growth engine is fundamentally different from the two giants though. While Tencent Video and iQiyi bet on Netflix -style, professionally produced programs, Bilibili relies on a wide array of user-generated content in the style of Youtube. The number of monthly creators grew 146% to 1.8 million, who collectively submitted 4.9 million pieces per month. Among its top creators is, lo and behold, the Communist Youth League of China.

The Youth League is among Bilibili's top 7 creators, and it gets the most likes of any contributor. It and other state-sanctioned influencers have been flooding the site with virus-related conspiracy theories and fanning anti-American sentiment. https://t.co/u5k0FTQwm2 pic.twitter.com/EbXaK7P7kY

— Zheping Huang (@pingroma) April 28, 2020

The site also has an unconventional way of monetizing its audience. It doubles as a mobile gaming platform — to be expected given its young user base — and earned half of its revenue from video games in Q1. Other avenues of revenue generation come from virtual item sales during live broadcasting, advertising, and sales from content creators who operate online shops via Bilibili.

Despite healthy user growth, Bilibili widened net loss to 538.6 million yuan or US$76.1 million in the first quarter, a steep increase from 195.6 million yuan from the year before. It cites COVID-19 in causing delays in merchandise deliveries through its platform.

Nonetheless, the company bolstered its cash reserve to 10 billion yuan or $1.14 billion after Sony’s outsized $400 million strategic investment, which would explore synergies in animation and games between the partners. The online entertainment upstart is among a small crop of companies that have attracted financing from both Alibaba and Tencent, which are long-time archrivals.

“In Q1, we still generate positive operating cash flow, and our actual cash burn in Q1 was 200 million yuan, which is much less than loss in our P&L,” Bilibili chief financial officer Fan Xin asserted during the company earnings call.

The article was updated on May 19, 2020 to reflect a corrected statement from Bilibili on the company’s cash reserve.


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Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Locke & Key’ offers spooky delights

At times, it can be hard to tell exactly who “Locke & Key” was made for.

Adapted from a comic book series written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, the show tells the story of the Locke family after they move into the mysterious Keyhouse, where they soon discover hidden keys that can be used for a variety of magical purposes.

With its emphasis on adolescent romance and magical powers, “Locke & Key” often feels like a young adult adaptation, but it also strays into darker territory, with plenty of horror, as well as a persuasive focus on the family’s ongoing trauma following the violent death of husband/father Rendell Locke.

Despite some quibbles, your Original Content podcast hosts agree that the show manages to balance these different elements effectively, with surprising plot twists, creepy visuals and a particularly compelling sibling relationship between the two teenaged Lockes, Tyler (played by Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones).

In addition to reviewing the show, we also discuss the announcement that Netflix has acquired Adam McKay’s next film, “Don’t Look Up,” which will star Jennifer Lawrence. We had less to say about the movie itself and more about our respective attitudes towards a potential asteroid apocalypse.

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
0:35 “Don’t Look Up” discussion
14:19 “Locke and Key” spoiler-free review
29:48 “Locke and Key” spoiler discussion


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Investors and startups are seeking ways to entertain and protect kids online

As streaming services like HBO Max, Netflix and Disney+ plus vie for subscription dollars and YouTube, Xumo, Kanopy, Tubi TV, Vudu and Pluto TV try to take more ad revenue from traditional television, entertainment for kids — and the tech tools that manage their screen time — are becoming more important.

On the streaming side, Netflix has been marshaling its resources for months, poaching talent like Chris Nee, creator of the “Doc Mcstuffins” Disney Channel series, Naketha Mattocks (“The Descendants”) and Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical”) — to join its stable of creative talent. HBO Max locked in several years of “Sesame Street” shows, which will be available when its service launches in May. Finally, there’s Disney+, which has racked up 28.6 million subscribers for its service as of February 3.

Disney+ already has 28.6M subscribers

Recognizing the threat, ad-supported platforms are coming up with their own responses. Some of these platforms also stream the same programs that are available on the subscription services, but as exclusivity becomes more important, audiences and entertainers can expect platforms like YouTube, Facebook and others to spend more heavily on original shows that attract younger audiences.

For instance, Facebook intends to spend $1.4 billion on programming for its Facebook Watch service, according to a report in The Information.

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Netflix adds 8.8M subscribers despite growing competition

Netflix grew by 8.8 million net subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to its latest earning report, putting its growth well ahead of its forecast of 7.6 million.

The company says it has 167 million paid memberships worldwide, with more than 100 million outside the United States. It also reported stronger-than-expected financials, with revenue of $5.47 billion and earnings per share of $1.30, compared to analyst estimates of $5.45 billion and EPS of 53 cents.

That’s all despite the launch of two major streaming services, Disney+ and Apple TV+, with more competition coming this year from WarnerMedia’s HBOMax and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

Netflix addresses the competitive landscape in its letter to shareholders, arguing that there’s “ample room for many services to grow as linear TV wanes,” and noting that during Q4, “our viewing per membership grew both globally and in the US on a year over year basis, consistent with recent quarters.”

Netflix also points to Google Search Trends showing much higher interest in its original series “The Witcher” than in Disney+’s “Mandalorian,” Apple TV+’s “Morning Show” or Amazon’s “Jack Ryan.”

Google Trends

That might seem like an unfair comparison, especially since Disney+ is only available in a handful of countries so far, but Netflix argues, “If Disney+ were global we don’t think the picture would be much different, to judge from the ​NL results​ where Disney+ first launched.”

In fact, Netflix says “The Witcher” is on-track to become “our biggest season one TV series ever,” with 76 million member households choosing to watch the show. It also says 83 million households chose to watch the Michael Bay-directed action film “6 Underground.”

If you’re wondering about the slightly awkward “chose to watch” phrasing — yep, Netflix is switching up the (already controversial) way that it reports viewership. While it previously shared the number of accounts that watched at least 70% of an episode or film, it’s now looking at how many members chose to watch a show or movie, and then actually watched for at least two minutes (“long enough to indicate that the choice was intentional”).

The company says this increases viewer counts by an average of 35%.

“Our new methodology is similar to the BBC iPlayer in their rankings​ based on ‘requests’ for the title, ‘most popular’ articles on the New York Times which include those who opened the articles, and YouTube view counts,” Netflix says. “This way, short and long titles are treated equally, leveling the playing field for all types of our content including interactive content, which has no fixed length.”

One dark cloud in the earnings report is what appears to be slowing growth, with 7.0 million projected net additions in Q1 of this year, compared to 9.6 million net adds in the first quarter of 2019. Netflix attributes this to “the continued, slightly elevated churn levels we are seeing in the US,” as well as more balance between Q1 and Q2 growth this year, “due in part to the timing of last year’s price changes and a strong upcoming Q2 content slate.”

As of 4:51pm Eastern, Netflix shares were up 0.41% in after-hours trading.

Netflix Q3 earnings exceed estimates, despite disappointing US subscriber growth


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Netflix begins streaming in AV1 on Android

Netflix announced this week that it has started to stream titles in AV1 on Android in what could significantly help the two-year-old media codec gain wider adoption.

The world’s biggest streaming giant said on Wednesday that by switching from Google’s VP9 — which it previously used on Android — to AV1, its compression efficiency has gone up by 20%.

At the moment, only “select titles” are available to stream in AV1 for subscribers “who wish to reduce their cellular data usage by enabling the ‘Save Data’ feature,” the American firm said.

Netflix hasn’t shared much about the benefit AV1 will provide to customers, but the new media codec’s acceptance nonetheless sends a message by itself.

Tech giants, including Google, have spent years developing and improving media codecs as consumption of data skyrocketed and low-cost devices began to sell like hotcakes. But they just can’t seem to settle on one media codec and universally support it.

Think of Safari and YouTube, for instance. You can’t stream YouTube videos in 4K resolution on Safari, because Apple’s browser does not support Google’s VP9. And Google does not support HEVC for 4K videos on YouTube.

AV1 is supposed to be the savior media codec that gets universal support. It’s royalty-free and it works atop of open-source dav1d decoder that has been built by VideoLAN, best known for its widely popular media player VLC and FFmpeg communities. It is sponsored by the Alliance for Open Media.

Who are the members of Alliance for Open Media? Nearly all the big guys: Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Nvidia, ARM, Facebook, Microsoft, Mozilla, Samsung and Tencent, among others.

But that’s not to say there aren’t roadblocks in the adoption of AV1. Compared to HEVC — the format that AV1 is supposed to replace in popularity — encoding in AV1 was noticeably slower a year ago, as per some benchmark tests.

Adoption of AV1 by various browsers, according to analytics firm StatCounter. Safari is yet to support it.

Netflix’s announcement suggests that things have improved. The streaming giant said its goal is to support AV1 on all of its platforms. “In the spirit of making AV1 widely available, we are sponsoring an open-source effort to optimize 10-bit performance further and make these gains available to all,” it said in a blog post.


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Former Google Pay execs raise $13.2M to build neo-banking platform for millennials in India

Two co-founders of Google Pay in India are building a neo-banking platform in the country — and they have already secured backing from three top VC funds.

Sujith Narayanan, a veteran payments executive who co-founded Google Pay in India (formerly known as Google Tez), said on Monday that his startup, epiFi, has raised $13.2 million in its Seed financial round led by Sequoia India and Ribbit Capital. The round valued epiFi at about $50 million.

David Velez, the founder of Brazil-based neo-banking giant Nubank, Kunal Shah, who is building his second payments startup CRED in India, and VC fund Hillhouse Capital also participated in the round.

The eight-month-old startup is working on a neo-banking platform that will focus on serving millennials in India, said Narayanan, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“When we were building Google Tez, we realized that a consumer’s financial journey extends beyond digital payments. They want insurance, lending, investment opportunities and multiple products,” he explained.

The idea, in part, is to also help users better understand how they are spending money, and guide them to make better investments and increase their savings, he said.

At this moment, it is unclear what the convergence of all of these features would look like. But Narayanan said epiFi will release an app in a few months.

Working with Narayanan on epiFi is Sumit Gwalani, who serves as the startup’s co-founder and chief product and technology officer. Gwalani previously worked as a director of product management at Google India and helped conceptualize Google Tez. In a joint interview, Gwalani said the startup currently has about two-dozen employees, some of whom have joined from Netflix, Flipkart, and PayPal.

Shailesh Lakhani, Managing Director of Sequoia Capital India, said some of the fundamental consumer banking products such as savings accounts haven’t seen true innovation in many years. “Their vision to reimagine consumer banking, by providing a modern banking product with epiFi, has the potential to bring a step function change in experience for digitally savvy consumers,” he said.

Cash dominates transactions in India today. But New Delhi’s move to invalidate most paper bills in circulation in late 2016 pushed tens of millions of Indians to explore payments app for the first time.

In recent years, scores of startups and Silicon Valley firms have stepped to help Indians pay digitally and secure a range of financial services. And all signs suggest that a significant number of people are now comfortable with mobile payments: More than 100 million users together made over 1 billion digital payments transaction in October last year — a milestone the nation has sustained in the months since.

A handful of startups are also attempting to address some of the challenges that small and medium sized businesses face. Bangalore-based Open, NiYo, and RazorPay provide a range of features such as corporate credit cardsa single dashboard to manage transactions and the ability to automate recurring payouts that traditional banks don’t currently offer. These platforms are also known as neo-bank or challenger banks or alternative banks. Interestingly, most neo-banking platforms in South Asia today serve startups and businesses — not individuals.


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India’s ruling party accused of running deceptive Twitter campaign to gain support for a controversial law

Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in India, has been accused of running a highly deceptive Twitter campaign to trick citizens into supporting a controversial law.

First, some background: The Indian government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last month that eases the path of non-Muslim minorities from the neighboring Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain Indian citizenship.

But, combined with a proposed national register of citizens, critics have cautioned that it discriminates against minority Muslims in India and chips away at India’s secular traditions.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of people in the country — if not more — have participated in peaceful protests across the nation against the law. The Indian government, which has temporarily cut down internet access and mobile communications in many parts of India to contain the protests, has so far shown no signs of withdrawing the law.

On Saturday, it may have found a new way to gain support for it, however.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday tweeted a phone number, urging citizens to place a call to that number in “support of the CAA law.”

Thousands of people in India today, many affiliated with the BJP party, began circulating that phone number on Twitter with the promise that anyone who places a call would be offered job opportunities, free mobile data, Netflix credentials, and even company with “lonely women.”

The story of CAA support, in four pictures… pic.twitter.com/ueLNmqDRr8

— Meghnad (@Memeghnad) January 4, 2020

Desperate times call for desperate measures…#CAA pic.twitter.com/zzMGDyMmPP

— SamSays (@samjawed65) January 4, 2020

This is absolutely fake. If you want free Netflix please use someone else's account like the rest of us. https://t.co/PHhwdA3sEI

— Netflix India (@NetflixIndia) January 4, 2020

Huffington Post India called the move latest “BJP ploy” to win support for its controversial law. BoomLive, a fact checking organization based in India, reported the affiliation of many of these people to the ruling party.

We have reached out to a BJP spokesperson and Twitter spokespeople for comment.

First time in 70 years that a legislation passed by Parliament needs huge rallies, promises of sex, jobs and Netflix accounts to drum up support.

— Rohini Singh (@rohini_sgh) January 4, 2020

If the allegations are true, this won’t be the first time BJP has used Twitter to aggressively promote its views. In 2017, BuzzFeed News reported that a number of political hashtags that appeared in the top 10 Twitter’s trends column in India were the result of organized campaigns.

Pratik Sinha, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, last year demonstrated how easy it was to manipulate many politicians in the country to tweet certain things after he gained accessed to a Google document of prepared statements and tinkered with the content.

Last month, snowfall in Kashmir, a highly sensitive region that hasn’t had internet connection for more than four months, began trending on Twitter in the U.S. It mysteriously disappeared after many journalists questioned how it made it to the list.

Very curious what is going on with this “trend” about a Kashmir, which hasn’t had internet since August. It’s not labeled an ad. What’s going on here @Jack? pic.twitter.com/KGF8kiPO0o

— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) December 22, 2019

When we reached out, a Twitter spokesperson in India pointed TechCrunch to an FAQ article that explained how Trending Topics work. Nothing in the FAQ article addressed the question.


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