The Bank is betting on strong GDP for August interest rate rise | Nils Pratley

Anything less than 0.4% for the second quarter could spell yet another embarrassing delay

Here we go again. The Bank of England has restarted its drumroll in preparation for a rate hike. Andy Haldane, the Bank’s chief economist, has joined the rate-risers, expanding their number to three. As a whole, the nine-strong committee stuck to its line that the miserable 0.1% growth in GDP in the first quarter was a weather-induced blip. Its view that momentum will recover in the April to June quarter was deemed to be “broadly on track”.

Financial markets got the message. The pound rose and the likelihood of a rate-rise to 0.75% in August is now priced as a 65% probability.

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AT&T launches a low-cost live TV streaming service, WatchTV

AT&T this morning announced the launch of a second TV streaming service, called WatchTV, days after its merger with Time Warner. The lower-cost alternative to AT&T’s DirecTV Now will offer anyone the ability to join WatchTV for only $15 per month, but the service will also be bundled into AT&T wireless plans. This $15 per month price point undercuts newcomer Philo, which in November had introduced the cheapest over-the-top TV service at just $16 per month.

With WatchTV, customers gain access to over 30 live TV channels from top cable networks including A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, History, IFC, Lifetime, Sundance TV, TBS, TLC, TNT, VICELAND, and several others. (Full list below).

Shortly after launch, it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick, and VH1.

There are also over 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand, along with premium channels and music streaming options as add-ons.

While the new WatchTV service is open to anyone, AT&T is also bundling it into two new unlimited plans for no additional cost.

These plans are the AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan and the AT&T Unlimited & More plan.

The Premium plan customers will have all the same features of the existing AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced Plan, including 15 GB of high-speed tethering, high-quality video and a $15 monthly credit towards DirecTV, U-verse TV, or, AT&T’s other streaming service, DirecTV Now. They can also choose to add one other option, like HBO, Showtime, Starz, Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora Premium and VRV, for no additional fee. Add-ons can only be swapped out once per year.

The regular plan (AT&T Unlimited & More) only offers SD video streams when on AT&T’s network, including when customers are viewing WatchTV. It also includes the $15 monthly credit towards other AT&T video services and up to 4G LTE unlimited data.

The Premium plan costs $80 for a single line after the AutoPay billing credit; or $190 for 4 lines. The regular plan is $70 with the AutoPay billing credit and paperless billing. It’s $5 more per line per month then the current Unlimited Choice Enhanced plan, but when you go up to 4 lines, it works out to the same price as before, $40 per line per month.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had previously revealed the carrier’s plans for the new low-cost streaming TV service while in court defending the Time Warner merger against anti-trust claims. He used its launch as a point of rebuttal against comments about the ever-higher prices for AT&T’s DirecTV satellite service.

The Justice Department was concerned that following the merger, AT&T would raise prices on Time Warner’s HBO and Turner networks, like TNT, TBS and CNN, in order to prop up its own offerings. For now, it seems AT&T will just come up with a million different ways to generate revenue from its networks, by offering different bundles and packages to AT&T customers and other consumers.

The company also touted the merger, when announcing today’s news:

Our merger brings together the elements to fulfill our vision for the future of media and entertainment. We’ll bring a fresh approach to how media and entertainment works for you—including new offerings that integrate content and connectivity.

New $71.3 billion Disney bid for Fox tops Comcast’s

In a (perhaps not so shocking) turn of events, the Walt Disney Company has reentered its tug-of-war with Comcast over the acquisition of Fox’s film and TV divisions with a new $71.3 billion bid today. This bid is not only $18.9 billion higher than its original bid in December but it has also changed its terms, which had originally offered only stock, to offer a 50/50 split between a cash and stock payout. Importantly, this also is $6.3 billion more than Comcast’s all-cash offer earlier this month.

This new bid puts Disney back on firm footing in its battle to acquire Fox’s film and television assets, including Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, FX Productions, National Geographic Partners and a majority stake in Hulu. But, if we’ve learned anything from these updates, it’s that nothing should be set in stone just yet.

In case you’re not caught up on the twists and turns of this acquisition, here’s what you missed:

In December, Disney bid to buy Fox’s film and television assets — excluding Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and a few others that will branch off to form the “New Fox” channel — for an all-stock offer of $52.4 billion. According to Disney’s release in December this was a “definitive agreement” between the companies, but that was shaken up this summer by an offer from Comcast.

In May, Comcast announced that it was considering a “superior” all-cash bid on the Fox assets and made good on that statement last week with a $65 billion offer.

Today, that scale tips once more in Disney’s favor. In response to the news, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, told Variety “We remain convinced that the combination of 21CF’s iconic assets, brands and franchises with Disney’s will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world.”

However, despite this praise, Fox’s board has stated that it retains the rights to weigh competing bids. So buckle-up, it looks like this ride isn’t over yet.

Sesame Workshop will produce children’s shows for Apple

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind beloved public television series Sesame Street, will be creating children’s TV programs for Apple .

The partnership will involve multiple shows, including live action and animated series, as well as a show with puppets. The deal does not include Sesame Street.

I’m guessing that many (most? all?) of you watched Sesame Street on the public TV network PBS, where it still airs — but in 2015, Sesame Workshop made a five-year deal where episodes are broadcast on HBO months before they make it to PBS.

Apple, meanwhile, continues to make one big content deal after another — just this week, it placed a series order for Little America, an anthology show about immigrants from Big Sick writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, as well as Office producer Lee Eisenberg and Master of None producer Alan Yang.

Unless you count unscripted efforts like Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps, none of these announced shows have actually launched yet. Apple reportedly plans to launch the first wave of its original content initiative in March of next year, presumably as part of a new subscription streaming service.

And while it’s also been reported that Apple is focused on funding family-friendly shows (as opposed to the edgier fare that you might find on Netflix or HBO), this is time it’s announced programming created specifically for kids.

Apple picks up the immigrant anthology series ‘Little America’ for its streaming service

Apple’s latest addition to its upcoming video streaming service is a timely one. The company has picked up “Little America,” a half-hour anthology series which looks at the “funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring, and surprising stories” of immigrants in America. The series comes from Oscar-nominated screenwriters of “The Big Sick,” Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) and Emily V. Gordon, and Emmy-nominated producer and writer Lee Eisenberg (“The Office,” “SMILF”).

Eisenberg will also exec produce alongside Emmy winning producer, writer and director Alan Yang (“Master of None,””Parks and Recreation”), and he will serve as showrunner.

Joshuah Bearman and Joshua Davis will executive produce for Epic Magazine, where the stories originated, alongside co-executive producer Arthur Spector.

“Little America” is being produced by Universal Television for Apple. 

The series, which was previously in development, was inspired by the true stories featured in Epic Magazine which aim to humanize immigrants at a time when nationalism and distrust of outsiders has taken root in the U.S.

As the “Little America” website explains:

Everyone here came from somewhere else. Even Native Americans crossed the Bering Strait at some point. This is the basic American idea — an identity open to all — but it can be easy to forget from inside. And that’s when politics can turn ugly, as it has recently, with our political narrative becoming a story of blame and fear. “Little America” is meant to counter that narrative with a fuller portrait of our most recent arrivals.

This is arguably Apple’s first show that has a political undertone, in the sense that it aims to increase empathy around the topic of immigration in a nation that’s currently lacking.

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently spoke out against the family separation taking place at the U.S. border, calling the situation “inhumane” and “heartbreaking,” so it’s not surprising that Apple would direct some of its investment towards a series like this.

Apple began developing the series in February, and has now given it a straight-to-series order. It’s only the second show at Apple to go that route, Deadline reports. (Octavia Spencer’s “Are You Sleeping” is the other.)

The show joins Apple’s growing roster of TV shows for its Netflix-like streaming service, reporting arriving in 2019.

Others in its lineup include s a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Storiesa Reese Witherspoon- and Jennifer Anniston-starring series set in the world of morning TVan adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, a thriller starring Octavia Spencer, a Kristen Wiig-led comedy, a Kevin Durant-inspired scripted basketball show, a documentary about extraordinary homes, a series from “La La Land’s” director, a series about Emily Dickinson, and a show inspired by kid report Hilde Lysiak.

 

Taiwan-based media startup The News Lens raises Series C for its international growth plans

The News Lens launched in 2013 as an independent news site for Taiwanese readers disenchanted with the country’s tabloid-ridden media. Now it has 9 million monthly unique readers, offices in Taipei and Hong Kong and just announced it has raised a Series C. The Taipei-based startup did not disclose the exact amount of the round, but founder and CEO Joey Chung told TechCrunch it’s between $3 million to $4 million.

The round includes participation from Dorcas, Hazel Asset Management, Walden International and returning investor North Base Media. Individual investors in the round include Steve Chen, co-founder and former chief technology officer of YouTube, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Charles Huang, the co-creator of Guitar Hero.

At the very beginning, The News Lens was a Facebook page that shared news and analysis before launching its eponymous site with original content and videos. Now the startup envisions its future as a media group, with several brands. Earlier this year, The News Lens acquired two Taiwanese content producers, tech news site Inside and sports site Sports Vision, which still operate as separate brands. The News Lens’ two other verticals are its flagship news site, which now has Chinese-language editions for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as an English version for international readers, and ELD, which covers lifestyle and fashion.

The News Lens will use some of its new capital to launch its in-house content management and data analytics platform and plans to gain more international readers through strategic partnerships or acquisitions of other Chinese-language online media companies.

 

Football matches land on your table thanks to augmented reality

It’s World Cup season, so that means that even articles about machine learning have to have a football angle. Today’s concession to the beautiful game is a system that takes 2D videos of matches and recreates them in 3D so you can watch them on your coffee table (assuming you have some kind of augmented reality setup, which you almost certainly don’t). It’s not as good as being there, but it might be better than watching it on TV.

The “Soccer On Your Tabletop” system takes as its input a video of a match and watches it carefully, tracking each player and their movements individually. The images of the players are then mapped onto 3D models “extracted from soccer video games,” and placed on a 3D representation of the field. Basically they cross FIFA 18 with real life and produce a sort of miniature hybrid.

Considering the source data — two-dimensional, low-resolution, and in motion — it’s a pretty serious accomplishment to reliably reconstruct a realistic and reasonably accurate 3D pose for each player.

Now, it’s far from perfect. One might even say it’s a bit useless. The characters’ positions are estimated, so they jump around a bit, and the ball doesn’t really appear much, so everyone appears to just be dancing around on a field. (That’s on the to-do list.)

But the idea is great, and this is a working if highly limited first shot at it. Assuming the system could ingest a whole game based on multiple angles (it could source the footage directly from the networks), you could have a 3D replay available just minutes after the actual match concluded.

Not only that, but wouldn’t it be cool to be able to gather round a central location and watch the game from multiple angles on it? I’ve always thought one of the worst things about watching sports on TVs is everyone is sitting there staring in one direction, seeing the exact same thing. Letting people spread out, pick sides, see things from different angles to analyze strategies — that would be fantastic.

All we need is for someone to invent a perfect, affordable holographic display that works from all angles and we’re set.

The research is being presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Salt Lake City, and it’s a collaboration between Facebook, Google, and the University of Washington.

Original Content podcast: ‘Queer Eye’ season two is even more of a tearjerker

It’s only been a couple months since we reviewed the first season of Netflix’s revival of Queer Eye, but the show’s Fab Five are already back with another eight episodes where they remake the homes, wardrobes and lives.

For season two, however, they mix things up a little — not only does the format feel more varied, but the folks being helped now include a woman and a transgendered man.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Henry Pickavet (editorial director at TechCrunch and co-host of the CTRL+T podcast) to discuss the show. We’re all fans: Queer Eye has its shortcomings, but it really works for us, with multiple episodes ending with tears, on- and off-screen.

We also recap some of the latest streaming and entertainment news, including AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, Comcast’s new bid for Fox and Netflix’s addition of Minecraft: Story Mode.

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 also can send us feedback directly.