Yes, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is indeed coming back. We knew this from previous announcements, but CBS All Access turned heads at this year’s San Diego Comic Con with an actual trailer of Sir Patrick Stewart Picarding his heart out. He says “engage!” for god’s sake.
From what I can grasp from this trailer, the plot of this Picard-centric follow-up to Star Trek: The Next Generation is that Jean-Luc has retired to a quiet life running a winery but quickly realizes that he’s not through adventuring. For some reason, he has Data stored in pieces in a drawer. He’s convinced to come out of retirement with what looks like a fairly rag-tag crew. Then Data is back somehow.
All of which is to say that this looks awesome and I wish it was here now instead of its “early 2020” release date on the CBS streaming service.
Just to get this out of the way: “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” is a great title. In fact, it’s probably the best thing about the new comedy special on Netflix .
That’s not a complaint about the special itself, which stars David Harbour (a.k.a. Chief Hopper on “Stranger Things”), as both David Harbour Jr — an actor taking on the role of Frankenstein in a play also called “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” — and David Harbour III, an actor who investigates his father’s life decades later.
If this sounds needlessly complicated don’t worry. As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the plot mostly serves as a springboard lots for jokes about actorly jealousy, Chekhov’s gun and the fact that no one can remember that Frankenstein and his monster are two different people. Anthony and Darrell, at least, found the whole thing to be pretty darn delightful.
Jordan, on the other hand, was baffled and unimpressed, and no matter how much time her co-hosts spent over-explaining the various gags, we couldn’t win her over.
In addition to our review, we discuss Netflix’s recent earnings report and try to figure out why, for one of the first times in its history, the streaming service reported a net loss in U.S. subscribers.
Netflix’s price hikes might finally be convincing some consumers to unsubscribe. The company reported net growth of 2.7 million subscribers worldwide, but it actually added 2.83 million new subscribers internationally while losing around 130,000 in the United States.
Growth was lower than expected across the board, but it underperformed more noticeably in regions where it introduced a price hike.
In a letter to the heads of the FBI and FTC, the senator wrote, “FaceApp’s location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments.”
The company’s top executives have each claimed that if the U.S. limits Facebook’s size, blocks its acquisitions or bans its cryptocurrency, Chinese companies without these restrictions will win abroad.
Slack will reset the passwords of users it believes are affected by the historical data breach. The company says this does not apply to “the approximately 99% who joined Slack after March 2015” or those who changed their password since.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering an update to the laws governing children’s privacy online, known as the COPPA Rule (or, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). The Rule first went into effect in 2000 and was amended in 2013 to address changes in how children use mobile devices and social networking sites. Now, the FTC believes it may be due for more revisions. The organization is seeking input and comments on possible updates, some of which are specifically focused on how to address sites that aren’t necessarily aimed at children, but have large numbers of child users.
The advocacy groups allege that YouTube is hiding behind its terms of service which claim YouTube is “not intended for children under 13” — a statement that’s clearly no longer true. Today, the platform is filled with videos designed for viewing by kids. Google even offers a YouTube Kids app aimed at preschooler to tween-aged children, but it’s optional. Kids can freely browse YouTube’s website and often interact with the service via the YouTube TV app — a platform where YouTube Kids has a limited presence.
According to the letter written by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Google has now collected personal information from nearly 25 million children in the U.S., and it used this data to engage in “very sophisticated digital marketing techniques.”
The groups want YouTube to delete the children’s data, set up an age-gate on the site, and separate out any kids content into its own app where YouTube will have to properly follow COPPA guidelines.
These demands are among those pushing the FTC to this action.
The Commission says it wants input as to whether COPPA should be updated to better address websites and online services that are not traditionally aimed at children but are used by kids, as well as whether these “general audience platforms” should have to identity and police the child-directed content that’s uploaded by third parties.
In other words, should the FTC amend COPPA so it can protect the privacy of the kids using YouTube?
“In light of rapid technological changes that impact the online children’s marketplace, we must ensure COPPA remains effective,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons, in a published statement. “We’re committed to strong COPPA enforcement, as well as industry outreach and a COPPA business hotline to foster a high level of COPPA compliance. But we also need to regularly revisit and, if warranted, update the Rule,” he added.
While YouTube is a key focus, the FTC will also seek comment on whether there should be an exception for parental consent for the use of educational technology in schools. And it wants to better understand the implications for COPPA in terms of interactive media, like interactive TV (think Netflix’s Minecraft: Story Mode, for example), or interactive gaming.
More broadly, the FTC wants to know how COPPA has impacted the availability of sites and services aimed at children, it says.
The decision to initiate a review of COPPA was a unanimous decision from the FTC’s five commissioners, which includes three Republicans and two Democrats.
Led by Simons, the FTC in February took action against Musical.ly (now TikTok), by issuing a record $5.7 million fine for its COPPA violations. Similar to YouTube, the app was used by a number of under-13 kids without parental consent. The company knew this was the case, but continued to collect the kids’ personal information, regardless.
“This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law,” Simons had said at the time.
The settlement with TikTok required the company to delete children’s videos and data and restrict underage users from being able to film videos.
It’s unclear why the FTC can’t now require the same of YouTube, given the similarities between the two services, without amending the law.
“They absolutely can and should fine YouTube, not to mention force YouTube to make significant changes, under the current regulations,” says Josh Golin, the Executive Director for CCFC. “As for the YouTube decision – by far the most important COPPA case in the agency’s history – it’s extremely concerning that the Commission appears to be signaling they do not have the authority under the current rules to hold YouTube accountable,” he says.
“COPPA rules could use some updating but the biggest problem with the law is the FTC’s lack of enforcement, which is something the Commission could address right away without a lengthy comment period,” Golin adds.
Online storytelling community Wattpad, also now a content feeder for streaming services and other media companies, is taking its two consumer-facing paid products global. Wattpad Premium, the ad-free subscription tier, first launched in 2017 and has only been available in a handful of countries to date. It’s now available to Wattpad’s 70 million-plus worldwide users, as of today. In addition, Wattpad’s Paid Stories, which offers exclusive, paywalled content to readers, is also now available to the global user base.
Technically speaking, Wattpad quietly launched Paid Stories globally last week, but it has now completed its rollout to all users, the company says. The stories give readers another way to support their favorite writers as they can purchase the serialized content either when the story is finished, or as it’s still being written. This past month, readers spend more than 5.5 million minutes on Paid Stories, the company says.
Users purchase access to the stories using Wattpad’s virtual currency, Coins. These Coins are sold in packs that start at $0.99 for 9 Coins, and go as high as $7.99 for 230 Coins.
With the global expansion, the two products are also being better integrated.
Now, Wattpad Premium subscribers will receive discounted Coins to buy the Paid Stories. They also receive bonus Coins — up to 66% more free Coins, the company says — every time they buy a Coin package to unlock a Paid Story.
“Our vision at Wattpad is to entertain and connect the world through stories, creating the best platform and community on the planet for every type of reader and writer,” said Wattpad General Manager, Jeanne Lam. “Every innovation and initiative at Wattpad supports that vision while improving the experience for users. Wattpad Premium and Wattpad Paid Stories give users everywhere more control over their Wattpad experience and options to enjoy the platform in new ways — whether it’s uninterrupted, ad-free reading or the chance to support the writers who make those stories possible.”
The products do generate some revenue for the company — Wattpad is No. 11 Top Grossing app in the Books category on the App Store and No. 8 on Google Play. However, the company’s bigger business these days is its content deals. Wattpad earlier this year inked a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television, and has a development deal with Universal Cable Productions, among others. Internationally, it’s working with iflix, Bavaria Fiction, Huayi Brothers Korea, Penguin Random House India, Mediaset, NL Film, Mediacorp, and eOne.
Wattpad’s stories have been turned into feature films, as well as movies and TV shows for streaming services like Netflix (The Kissing Booth) and Hulu (Light as a Feather).
These broader efforts capitalize on Wattpad’s generally younger and devoted fanbase.
For example, one of the more popular Wattpad Books titles, The QB Bad Boy & Me by Tay Marley, was read more than 26.3 million times on Wattpad, and will become available in book form on August 20, 2019.
Netflix said on Wednesday that it will roll out a cheaper subscription plan in India, one of the last great growth markets for global companies, as the streaming giant scrambles to find ways to accelerate its slowing growth worldwide.
The company said lowering its subscription plan, which starts at $9 in the U.S., would help it reach more users in India and expand its overall subscriber base. According to third-party research firms, Netflix has fewer than 2 million subscribers in India.
The company did not specify the exact amount it intends to charge users for the mobile only, cheaper plan. During the testing period, Netflix also provided some users the option to get a subscription that would only last for a week. The company also did not say if it intended to bring the cheaper plan to other markets. TechCrunch has reached out to Netflix for more details.
“After several months of testing, we’ve decided to roll out a lower-priced mobile-screen plan in India to complement our existing plans. We believe this plan, which will launch in Q3, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business in a market where Pay TV ARPU is low (below $5),” the company said in its quarterly earnings report.
The India challenge
Selling an entertainment service in India, the per capita GDP of which is under $2,000, is extremely challenging. The vast majority of companies that have performed exceedingly well in the nation offer their products and services at a very low price. Just look at Spotify, which entered India earlier this year and for the first time decided to offer full access to its service at no cost to local users. Even its premium option that features playback in higher quality costs Rs 119 ($1.6) per month.
That’s not to say that winning in India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, can’t be rewarding. Disney-owned streaming service Hotstar, which offers 80% of its content catalog at no cost, has amassed more than 300 million monthly active users. There are about 500 million internet users in India, according to industry reports.
In fact, Hotstar set a global record for most simultaneous views to a live event — about 25.3 million users — during the recently concluded ICC cricket world cup. It broke its own previous records. Hotstar’s free offering comes bundled with ads, while its ad-free premium option costs Rs 999 ($14.5) for a year-long access.
Amazon, another global rival of Netflix, bundles its Prime Video streaming service in its Prime membership, which includes access to faster delivery of packages and its music service, for Rs 999 a year.
For Netflix, the decision to lower its pricing in India comes at a time when it has hiked the subscription cost in many parts of the world in recent quarters. In the U.S., for instance, Netflix said earlier this year that it would raise its subscription price by up to 18%.
During a visit to India early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the country could eventually emerge as the place that would eventually add the next 100 million service to his platform. “The Indian entertainment business will be much larger over the next 20 years because of investment in pay services like Netflix and others,” he said.
So far, Netflix has largely tried to lure customers through its original series. (Many popular U.S. shows such as NBC’s “The Office” that are available on Netflix’s U.S. catalog are not offered in its India palate.) The company, which has produced more than a dozen original shows and movies for India, this week unveiled five more that are in the pipeline.
Netflix’s continued subscription price hikes might finally have reached the end of some customers’ patience in the U.S., judging from an overall paid subscriber decline the company reported in its quarterly earnings for its fiscal second quarter 2019 results. The company’s overall growth for paid subscribers climbed by 2.7 million worldwide, but it actually added 2.83 million new subscribers around the world – while losing around 130,000 net in the U.S. to account for the difference.
Netflix’s price for consumers went up from $10.99 to $12.99 during its fiscal Q2 reporting period, which definitely could account for some of the fall-off. The company doesn’t seem to have anticipated such a strong reaction, however, since it had anticipated a net 5.0 million subscriber growth number as of last quarter, based at least in part on the 5.5 million it added in paying customers during Q2 2018.
The company specifically says that it missed its subscriber growth adds more significantly in regions where it introduced a price hike, vs. those where it did not – though its growth was lower than expected in all regions where it operates. You might think that some of its shedding of users in the U.S. has to do with competition, but the company points out that most of its material competitors are actually just announced, not available in market, so it thinks this isn’t really a significant cause.
Instead, Netflix points at its content library, as well as those pricing changes in markets where they do apply. The Q2 content slate caused fewer new sign-ups than the company expected, it said in its earnings release. That’s despite strong four-week performance numbers from When They See Us (25 million households), Our Planet (33 million), Murder Mystery (73 million), The Perfect Date (48 million) and Always Be My Maybe (32 million).
Still, the company thinks it will add a whole heap of new subscribers in Q3 this year, with an expectation of 7 million paid membership adds, which is significantly up from the 6.1 million it added last year. One big reason for this optimism might be that it’s going to launch a new, mobile-only and more affordable tier for India, which will launch during the quarter.
Netflix’s stock price is down more than 10 percent after hours as of this writing based on these results. The full Q2 Netflix earnings are available here.
“Gossip Girl,” the soapy CW drama about wealthy teenagers behaving badly in New York City’s Upper East Side, is returning to TV thanks to HBO Max.
Specifically, the streaming service has placed a 10-episode, straight-to-series order for an updated version of the show. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Joshua Safran (a writer and executive producer on the original show) will be spearheading the new series, while Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (the original creators) have signed on as executive producers.
It’s not clear yet whether any “Gossip Girl” stars will return, but Safran described this as an “extension” of the previous show, focusing on a new generation of teenagers.
To be clear, this won’t be on HBO proper, but instead on the yet-to-launch WarnerMedia streaming service now known as HBO Max, which will include HBO and other streaming content (including new shows and also “Friends”).
“Gossip Girl” initially aired from 2007 to 2012. It was never a huge ratings hit, but it had passionate fans, and particularly in its early seasons, it spurred plenty of adoring and/or scandalized headlines — maybe that’s what a new streaming service is looking for.
And this is where I acknowledge that I was, for a while, one of those fans. I loved the first season and tried to binge it in a single night, but my interest faded rapidly during season two, and I only returned for the ridiculous finale. Still, when the show was working, it was about as fun and addictive as TV gets.