Walmart’s Vudu adds Family Play feature so viewers can skip sex, violence and substance abuse – gpgmail


Vudu, the streaming service owned by Walmart, announced a new feature today that will make it easier for viewers to avoid sex and violence in movies.

Anyone who’s watched an R-rated movie on broadcast television or on an airplane is probably familiar with films that have been “edited for content,” but Vudu’s new Family Play option gives viewers more control over what they find objectionable.

Specifically, they can turn filters on and off for sex/nudity, violence, substance abuse and language. In the first three instances, Vudu will skip the relevant scenes, and in the case of strong language, it will mute the dialog. The feature is already supported in more than 500 films.

At an advertiser event in May, Vudu leaders suggested that they will stand out from the other streaming services by creating content that can be watched by entire families, with Senior Director Julian Franco declaring, “We’re not just going to be programming for Williamsburg and Silver Lake.”

It sounds like Vudu has similar ambitions for all its original content. In a blog post today, Vice President Scott Blanksteen wrote:

With so much content available and more people watching, what if we could also be a streaming service that provides a great, safe viewing environment for families? What if we could provide our customers the flexibility to ensure that content and the Vudu experience are appropriate for everyone in the family to watch, including the youngest of viewers – kids?

A streaming service called VidAngel ran into legal trouble (and eventually declared bankruptcy) a couple of years ago when it tried to sell movies that were edited to be family-friendly. However, where VidAngel was operating independently to decrypt and edit DVDs, Vudu told Variety that it’s working with the movie studios.

Vudu also says it’s partnering with advocacy group Common Sense Media to provide ratings and reviews “from a parent’s perspective,” and to create a kid-friendly viewing mode. And it’s launching its first original series today — a remake of “Mr. Mom,” with new episodes streaming every Thursday.


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Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs – gpgmail


UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children.

Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears.

Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap.

The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency”, leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

“The potential harms outlined in this report can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement,” the committee writes in a summary of the report which it says explores “how data-rich immersive technologies are driven by business models that combine people’s data with design practices to have powerful psychological effects”.

As well as trying to pry information about of games companies, MPs also took evidence from gamers during the course of the enquiry.

In one instance the committee heard that a gamer spent up to £1,000 per year on loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts’s Fifa series.

A member of the public also reported that their adult son had built up debts of more than £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in online game RuneScape. The maker of that game, Jagex, told the committee that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month”.

In addition to calling for gambling law to be applied to the industry’s lucrative loot box mechanic, the report calls on games makers to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms, saying research into possible negative psychosocial harms has been hampered by the industry’s unwillingness to share play data.

“Data on how long people play games for is essential to understand what normal and healthy — and, conversely, abnormal and potentially unhealthy — engagement with gaming looks like. Games companies collect this information for their own marketing and design purposes; however, in evidence to us, representatives from the games industry were wilfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play,” it writes.

“Although the vast majority of people who play games find it a positive experience, the minority who struggle to maintain control over how much they are playing experience serious consequences for them and their loved ones. At present, the games industry has not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm. Moreover, both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play.”

The report recommends the government require games makers share aggregated player data with researchers, with the committee calling for a new regulator to oversee a levy on the industry to fund independent academic research — including into ‘Gaming disorder‘, an addictive condition formally designated by the World Health Organization — and to ensure that “the relevant data is made available from the industry to enable it to be effective”.

“Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users,” said DCMS committee chair, Damian Collins, in a statement.

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.

“Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products. Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”

The committee wants independent research to inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. “This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around ‘designed addiction’ and ‘excessive screen time’,” it writes, citing the government’s plan for a new Internet regulator for online harms.

MPs are also concerned about the lack of robust age verification to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games.

The report identifies inconsistencies in the games industry’s ‘age-ratings’ stemming from self-regulation around the distribution of games (such as online games not being subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, meaning voluntary ratings are used instead).

“Games companies should not assume that the responsibility to enforce age-ratings applies exclusively to the main delivery platforms: All companies and platforms that are making games available online should uphold the highest standards of enforcing age-ratings,” the committee writes on that.

“Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on self-certification from children and adults,” Collins adds.

During the enquiry it emerged that the UK government is working with tech companies including Snap to try to devise a centralized system for age verification for online platforms.

A section of the report on Effective Age Verification cites testimony from deputy information commissioner Steve Wood raising concerns about any move towards “wide-spread age verification [by] collecting hard identifiers from people, like scans of passports”.

Wood instead pointed the committee towards technological alternatives, such as age estimation, which he said uses “algorithms running behind the scenes using different types of data linked to the self-declaration of the age to work out whether this person is the age they say they are when they are on the platform”.

Snapchat’s Will Scougal also told the committee that its platform is able to monitor user signals to ensure users are the appropriate age — by tracking behavior and activity; location; and connections between users to flag a user as potentially underage. 

The report also makes a recommendation on deepfake content, with the committee saying that malicious creation and distribution of deepfake videos should be regarded as harmful content.

“The release of content like this could try to influence the outcome of elections and undermine people’s public reputation,” it warns. “Social media platforms should have clear policies in place for the removal of deepfakes. In the UK, the Government should include action against deepfakes as part of the duty of care social media companies should exercise in the interests of their users, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper.”

“Social media firms need to take action against known deepfake films, particularly when they have been designed to distort the appearance of people in an attempt to maliciously damage their public reputation, as was seen with the recent film of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi,” adds Collins.


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How Kobalt is simplifying the killer complexities of the music industry – gpgmail


Backed by over $200 million in VC funding, Kobalt is changing the way the music industry does business and putting more money into musicians’ pockets in the process.

In Part I of this series, I walked through the company’s founding story and its overall structure. There are two core theses that Kobalt bet on: 1) that the shift to digital music could transform the way royalties are tracked and paid, and 2) that music streaming will empower a growing middle class of DIY musicians who find success across countless niches.

This article focuses on the complex way royalties flow through the industry and how Kobalt is restructuring that process (while Part III will focus on music’s middle class). The music industry runs on copyright administration and royalty collections. If the system breaks — if people lose track of where songs are being played and who is owed how much in royalties — everything halts.

Kobalt is as much a compliance tech company as it is a music company: it has built a quasi “operating system” to more accurately and quickly handle this using software and a centralized approach to collections, upending a broken, inefficient system so everything can run more smoothly and predictably on top of it. The big question is whether it can maintain its initial lead in doing this, however.

The business of a song

Image via Getty Images / Mykyta Dolmatov


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Apple TV+ will cost $5.99 in Canada, £4.99 in the UK and INR 99 in India – gpgmail


At its big press event yesterday, Apple announced that its TV+ streaming service would cost $4.99 per month and a launch date on November 1. But it’s supposed to be available in more than 100 countries, so what does that pricing look like outside the United States?

The Streamable has rounded up TV+ pricing in different countries — and you can verify the number yourself by checking out the country–specific versions of Apple’s announcement.

The service will cost $5.99 CAD ($4.54 US) in Canada, £4.99 ($6.15) in the United Kingdom, 4.99€ ($5.50) in the rest of Europe, A$7.99 ($5.48) in Australia, 600 JPY ($5.57) in Japan and INR 99 ($1.38) in India. That’s significantly cheaper than Netflix or Disney+ across-the-board — though in India, it’s still more expensive than Disney-owned Hotstar.

And if that’s not affordable enough for you, you’ll also get a year of free access when you purchase select Apple hardware.

The launch titles should include “The Morning Show” (a drama set in the world of morning TV and starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell) and “See” (a post-apocalyptic series starring Jason Momoa).


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Twenty and Mappen merge to help users hang out IRL – gpgmail


Today, social networks Twenty and Mappen are joining together in a merger under the Twenty brand.

From the beginning, Twenty’s goal has been to get young people off of their phones and out in the real world with their friends. Twenty connects users with their friend groups and lets them browse fun experiences, from concerts to sports games to movies, with an easy UI for coordinating a group and making it happen. In fact, Twenty has forged relationships with orgs like Live Nation, Endeavor, Roc Nation, and Tao, which collectively produce 10,000+ events a year with an audience of over 100 million fans.

Mappen, on the other hand, is a location-based social network that let users share what they were doing (and where they were doing it) with their friends. For example, users could give a status update using a Fortnite emoji tagged to their house, inviting friends to come over and play a few games.

The two companies have been in talks, and collaborating, for the past nine months looking for ways to bring the experiences together. Where Twenty has relationships with experience providers, Mappen had the audience of young people looking to connect with each other.

The end result is an all-stock deal that unifies the user experience under the Twenty brand name.

Though the announcement of the merged app didn’t go down until today, the two apps have been combined for a while and CEO Diesel Peltz says the new app has seen 33 percent month over month growth in new users. Hangouts have increased 50 percent from July to August. Peltz will lead the combined company as CEO.

For now, the new Twenty does not have a business model in place. However, the plan is to use the event partnerships to generate revenue as opposed to ads, which relies on eyeballs on screens.

“If the model is solely based on ads, you want the users to spend as much time on the platform as possible,” said Peltz. “We’re looking to create a different opportunity for people to access these experiences.”

Thus far, the combined Twenty has raised approximately $40 million from partners including Accel, Maveron, 500 Startups, Sound Ventures, as well as Roc Nation, Live Nation and Endeavor.


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Drivetime nabs $11M from Makers Fund, Amazon and Google to build voice-based games for drivers – gpgmail


Fully autonomous cars may (or may not) be just around the corner, but in the meantime, a startup that’s building in-car apps to help human drivers pass the time when behind the wheel has raised a round of funding.

Drivetime — which makes voice-based trivia quizzes, games and interactive stories that people can play while driving — has raised $11 million in funding led by Makers Fund (a prolific investor in gaming startups), with participation also from Amazon (via the Alexa Fund) and Google (via its Assistant investment program).

The startup today has eight “channels” on its platform consisting of games and stories that you can access either within a limited free-to-play tier or via a paid subscription ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year). The plan is to use the funding to continue expanding that catalog, as well as investing in deeper integrations with its new big-name strategic investors, who themselves have longstanding and deep interests in bringing more voice services and content to the in-car experience.

Co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori told gpgmail that his ultimate ambition is for Drivetime to become “the Sirius XM of interactive content” for cars, with hundreds of different channels of content.

In keeping with those plans, along with the funding, Drivetime is today announcing a key content deal.

It has teamed up with the long-running, popular gameshow Jeopardy to build a trivia channel for the platform, which lets drivers test their own skills and also play against other drivers and people they know. The Jeopardy channel will source content from the TV show’s trove of IP and come with another familiar detail: it will be narrated by Alex Trebek, with a new quiz getting published every weekday for premium users.

That social element of the Jeopardy game is not a coincidence. The San Francisco-based startup is founded by Zynga alums, with Vuori and his co-founders Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson also working together at another startup called Rocket Games since leaving the social games giant and exiting that as well, to gaming giant Penn National, for up to $170 million. That track record goes some way to explaining the strong list of investors in the new startup.

“Social and interactive formats are the next frontier in audio entertainment,” said Makers Fund Founding Partner Jay Chi, in a statement. “Niko, Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson, with a decade-long history of working together and a proven track record in building new platforms, is the best team to bring this idea to life.”

“Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon, in a separate statement. “Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”

In addition to the three investors in this latest round, prior to this Drivetime had raised about $4 million from backers that include Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb’s fund) and Access Ventures.

Vuori declined to say how many installs or active users the app has today — although from the looks of it on AppAnnie, it’s seeing decent if not blockbuster success on iOS and Android so far.

Instead, the company prefers to focus on another stat, its addressable market, which it says is 110 million drivers in North America alone.

Meanwhile, adding a Jeopardy channel is building on what has worked best so far. The most popular category at the moment is trivia, with Tunetime (a “name that tune” game) coming in second with storytelling a third.

Drivetime’s premise is an interesting one. Drivers are a captive audience, but one that has up to now had a relatively limited amount of entertainment created for it, focusing mainly on music and spoken word.

However, the rise of voice-based interfaces and interactivity using natural language — spurred by the rise of personal assistant apps and in-home hubs like Amazon’s Echo — have opened a new opportunity, developing interactive, voice-based content for drivers to engage with more proactively.

You might think that this sounds like a recipe for a car accident. Won’t a driver get too distracted trying to remember the fourth President of the United States, or who was known as the Father of the Constitution? (Hint: it’s the same guy.)

Vuori claims it’s actually the reverse: having an interactive game that requires the driver to speak out loud can focus him or her and keep the driver more alert.

“We are double-dipping in safety,” he said. “On the one hand, we embody the safety aspects of Alertness Maintaining Tasks (AMTs). But we also act as a preventative, meaning that while players engage with Drivetime, they are not engaging with anything else.”

While the content today may serve as a way of keeping drivers from doing things they shouldn’t be doing while in a car, there is another obvious opportunity that might come as drivers become less necessary and themselves will need other things to occupy themselves.

Longer term, the Jeopardy deal could usher in other channels based on popular gameshows. Sony Pictures Television Games, which owns the rights to it, also owns Wheel of Fortune, and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

“We are thrilled to work with Sony Pictures Television Games to bring Jeopardy, the greatest game show on the planet, to an underserved audience that desperately needs interactive entertainment the most – the 110 million commuters in North America driving to and from work by themselves every day,” said Vuori said in a statement.

Interestingly, despite the growth of “skills” for Alexa or apps for Google Home and other home hubs, and the overall popularity of these as a way of interacting with apps and sourcing information, Vuori says that he hasn’t seen any competition emerge yet from other app developers to build voice-based entertainment for drivers in the way that Drivetime has.

That gives the company ample opportunity to continue picking up new users — and more details with publishers and content companies looking for more mileage (sorry) for their legacy IP and new business.

“Drivetime is one of the early pioneers in creating safe, stimulating entertainment for drivers in the car,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, founding lead of the Google Assistant Investments Program, noted in a statement. “More and more people are using their voice to stay productive on the road, asking the Google Assistant on Android and iOS phones to help send text messages, make calls and access entertainment hands free. We share Drivetime’s vision, and look forward to working with their team to make the daily commute more enjoyable.”


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Amazon’s ‘Carnival Row’ mixes fairies, politics and murder – gpgmail


“Carnival Row” offers an unlikely mix of genres, laying out a murder mystery in a world of fairies and other mythical creatures, while also delivering a healthy dose of allegorical politics.

And as we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show (recently released on Amazon Prime Video) does take some getting used to. There’s a certain clumsiness in the way the opening episode insists on its grittiness and adult themes — and most viewers will probably need some time before they stop gawking at the fairy sex and focus instead on the story and characters.

Once they do, though, “Carnival Row” offers plenty of rewards. Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star as Philo and Vignette — a police investigator and a “fae” refugee, respectively, who have a complicated romantic past together. Bloom and Delevingne may not be entirely up to the task of creating complex and memorable characters, but the world that creators Travis Beacham and René Echavarria have built around them is rich, detailed and strange.

The pair is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Jared Harris (“The Crown”) and Indira Varma (“Game of Thrones”) — and ultimately, the fantasy, the politics and the mystery do come together in satisfying ways.

In addition to reviewing “Carnival Row,” we also discuss YouTube’s settlement with the FTC and listener response to last week’s review of “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.”

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 Introduction
2:11 “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” listener response
15:03 “Carnival Row” review (minor spoilers for the first episode)
33:47 “Carnival Row” spoiler discussion


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Hulu will adapt Margaret Atwood’s sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – gpgmail


MGM and Hulu announced today that they will be adapting “The Testaments,” Margaret Atwood’s sequel to her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The series has been key in establishing Hulu’s reputation as a home for original content. It was the first streaming original to win an Emmy for Best Drama, and was recently renewed for a fourth season.

The novel, meanwhile, was published back in 1985. The show followed its blueprint during its first season, telling the story of a woman named June (played by Elisabeth Moss), trapped in a dystopian, patriarchal society called Gilead.

Then, without additional source material to draw on, the show’s creative team came up with their own plot for seasons two and three. It sounds like Atwood’s sequel (scheduled for publication on September 10) avoids covering the same ground by jumping 15 years into the future.

It’s not clear whether “The Testaments” will become a spinoff series on Hulu, or if story elements will simply be incorporated into later seasons of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The official announcement simply says the studios are talking to series showrunner Bruce Miller about “how the upcoming novel can become an important extension to the immensely popular award-winning series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’”

“Margaret Atwood is one of the visionary storytellers of her generation,” said Hulu’s senior vice president of originals Craig Erwich in a statement. “From her award-winning poetry, short-stories and novels, Margaret has continually pushed boundaries and broken barriers to bring innovative stories to life.”


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Joseph Gordon-Levitt is coming to Disrupt SF 2019 – gpgmail


Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perhaps best known for his acting across films like 10 Things I Hate About You, 500 Days of Summer, and Snowden. But times weren’t always peachy for Gordon-Levitt as a creative. After leaving the movie business to go to college, he realized the limits of the industry on his potential as a creative. He decided he wanted to take his creativity into his own hands and launched a message board where he’d post films, songs, etc.

But what started as a side hobby has turned into a production company in its own right, using technology to allow dozens of people to collaborate on a creative project together. And, more importantly, it gives each contributor fair credit for their work, paying out individual creatives based on how much of their work was featured in the final product.

Obviously, it goes without saying that we’re thrilled to have Joseph Gordon-Levitt join us at gpgmail Disrupt SF in October.

Far too rarely do we see creatives supported by the platforms where they post their work. With the current media landscape, and the ever-growing dominance of social media, the relationship between platform and creative is strained at best. And more importantly, it incentivizes all the wrong things.

From an interview in VentureBeat:

If what you’re going for is posting on YouTube, or Instagram, or platforms that monetize through the ad model, where they’re really just going for sheer volume and have the ability to manipulate people through ads, virality is the measure of success. And I think this is exactly at the heart of what’s interesting to me about doing [HitRecord]. I think if that is your measure of success, you’re going to undermine a lot of what’s actually meaningful and joyful about creativity. And I’m actually concerned for the human race’s creative spirit, because so much of our collective creativity is now destined for these platforms that are monetized by this sort of attention economy model. And it twists one’s understanding of one’s own creativity, and what the value of being creative is.

At Disrupt SF, we’ll discuss the growth of the HitRecord platform, plans for that fresh $6.4 million in Series A funding, and how founders can seize this moment to provide collaborative tools that align creatives with the platforms they’re using.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of San Francisco. Tickets are available here.


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Netflix’s new ‘Dark Crystal’ is a visual delight, no nostalgia needed – gpgmail


“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” returns viewers to the world of Thra — a distant, magical planet ruled over by the sinister, long-lived Skeksis, who have lied their way into ownership of the titular crystal and dominance of the elf-like Gelflings.

The series is a prequel to Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s 1982 film “The Dark Crystal” — but two out of your three hosts at the Original Content podcast haven’t seen the original movie, so our opinions weren’t colored by nostalgia.

Like the Henson/Oz film, “Age of Resistance” relies on sophisticated puppetry to bring a complex fantasy world to life. It’s genuinely dazzling, with sprawling cities, steampunk machinery and all manner of fantasy creatures all fully realized, and often captured in fast-moving scenes of kinetic action.

On the other hand, for some of us, the puppetry wasn’t quite up to the task when the show got darker and more serious. It’s hard to care about family drama and romance when your lead characters have limited facial mobility, or to feel the weight of the show’s numerous death scenes (we’re not talking “Game of Thrones”-level here, but still) when the person dying is played by puppet.

To balance out our fantasy-heavy review, we kick things off by catching up on what Jordan and Darrell think of the latest season of “Bachelor in Paradise.”

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
0:50 “Red Sea Diving Resort” listener reaction
6:01 “Bachelor in Paradise” recap
26:10 “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” spoiler-free review


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