Barack and Michelle Obama sign production deal with Netflix

Another (very) big deal for Netflix: Former U.S. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have reached an agreement to produce films and series for the streaming service.

The New York Times first reported in March that the Obamas were in “advanced negotiations” with Netflix. The goal, supposedly, was less about criticizing the Trump Administration or promoting any specific political message, and more about highlighting inspirational stories.

Netflix’s official announcement makes it sound like that continues to be what the Obamas have in mind, with Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos describing them as “uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better.”

The Obamas have formed a company called Higher Ground Productions to create this content.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Netflix has deep pockets and has shown a willingness to write very large checks.   It says the Obamas might produce “scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features” — so basically any kind of audiovisual content.

In a statement, Mr. Obama said:

One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience. That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix – we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.

Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming is scheduled for publication in November, while Barack Obama is expected to release a new memoir as well under the same deal. He’s kept a relatively low profile since leaving office, but he did make a recent appearance as the first guest David Letterman’s Netflix interview show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.

Original Content podcast: ‘Dear White People’ returns to ask more uncomfortable questions

Dear White People has a pretty provocative title — and the show, for the most part, lives up to that promise, with a sharply drawn portrait of racial tension at Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school.

It was originally a film written and directed by Justin Simien, who then reinvented the story as a Netflix series with each episode focusing on a different character; the spotlight shifts from Samantha White (played by Logan Browning), the host of the titular radio show, to many of the other students — white and black — around her.

The show just returned for season two, and on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by our colleague Megan Rose Dickey (who also co-hosts Ctrl-T) to talk about our impressions of the new episodes, the show’s politics and how it resonates with our own lives and experiences.

We also cover Netflix’s goal of hitting 1,000 originals by the end of the year and the Jordan Peel-produced series about Nazi hunters that was just picked up by Amazon. Most importantly, we try to understand why Megan has never seen The Godfather.

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.

MoviePass competitor Sinemia can’t keep up with demand

A number of people are complaining about Sinemia not delivering them their movie membership cards within the seven-day timeframe the company said it would. Although Sinemia has charged people for their memberships, the company has not been able to deliver the membership cards in a timely manner.

“We have seen strong demand for our new Sinemia membership plans and, while our processing operations have increased production, delivery times can be expected to be longer than usual,” Sinemia CEO Rifat Oguz told TechCrunch in a statement. “We greatly appreciate our subscribers’ patience while we work on preparing their cards. Please note that subscribers first month of service will not begin until their card arrives.”

Sinemia, which launched its low-cost plans earlier this month, says to expect your card to be delivered within seven days. Here’s the full text of the email Sinemia sends customers after their purchase:

We have received your payment.

We are now preparing your private card for your Sinemia Premium membership. Your card will be delivered to the shipping units within generally in 7 days, although it can vary depending on the campaign periods. Please note that the estimated time of delivery may also vary depending on the destination and workload of the shipping company at the time. You may start enjoying movie experience with SinemiaPremium right after completing your Premium card activation. You can activate your new Premium card via Sinemia mobile application or from your membership page. If you don’t have a password yet, you can create one from here. Your membership will begin right after your card is delivered.

But this is unacceptable for some customers, with some requesting refunds and others disputing the charge to their credit card company. Sinemia, however, says it has not provided any refunds.

Fortnite Battle Royale’s Solo Showdown lets players compete for up to 50,000 V-Bucks

For the first time ever, Fortnite Battle Royale players have the chance to compete with one another for a huge amount of V-Bucks, the game’s virtual currency.

Fortnite Battle Royale often adds new wacky game modes, like 50 vs 50 or the much-memed Thanos game type made in conjunction with Marvel for Avengers: Infinity War.

Unlike those other game modes, however, Solo Showdown will not change the underlying game in any way — there is no extra shield, the storm doesn’t move any faster, and there are no extra weapon sizes or different team sizes.

Instead, Solo Showdown is a way to compete with other Battle Royale players in solo mode to discover who is the true GOAT.

Players must compete in 50 matches to join the leaderboard, and placement in each of those first 50 matches will determine overall ranking.

Prize pools are as follows:

  • First Place: 50,000 V-Bucks
  • Second Place to Fourth Place: 25,000 V-Bucks
  • Fifth Place to Fiftieth Place: 13,500 V-Bucks
  • Remaining Players in Top 100: 7,500 V-Bucks

    Up until this point, V-Bucks could only be earned in increments of 100 after purchasing the Battle Pass, which lets players complete challenges and rank up to earn various cosmetic rewards and V-Bucks. Earning V-Bucks, rather than purchasing them with real money, has never netted much of a return. You can only earn enough V-Bucks to purchase maybe one mid-range item per season, or you can save them over the course of multiple seasons to purchase a high-end item.

    For perspective, the most expensive items on Fortnite Battle Royale often cost around 2,000 V-Bucks, so a player with 50,000 V-Bucks is a rich player indeed.

    Fortnite Battle Royale has been free to play since its launch, and its virtual currency represents a major revenue stream for Epic Games . While items purchased in the store offer no competitive advantage, they make the game fun and fresh.

    However, the ability to earn these V-Bucks (in this large of a sum) is a welcome change to the current meta.

Amazon picks up Nazi-hunting series produced by Jordan Peele

Amazon has given a 10-episode, straight-to-series order to The Hunt, a show created by David Weil and executive produced by Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele.

The series follows a group of Nazi hunters living in New York City in 1977, who discover a broader Nazi conspiracy. As with other contemporary stories about fighting Nazis, I’m sure this will have absolutely no resonance with our current politics and culture.

Amazon is already the home of The Man in the High Castle, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel in which the Nazis won World War II.

Deadline reports that Sonar Entertainment (which is producing the series with Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions) was in talks with another network before Amazon jumped in.

This is Amazon’s first series pickup since hiring NBC executive Jennifer Salke to take over Amazon Studios in February, following the departure of Roy Price amidst sexual harassment allegations. It also comes after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has reportedly pushed the studio to focus on bigger, more mainstream shows.

Peele, meanwhile, who recently won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for writing Get Out, has a new movie in the works and is also producing Lovecraft Country for HBO.

“When David Weil first shared The Hunt with me, I immediately knew that we had to be involved,” Peele said in a statement. “It’s cathartic. It’s noir. It’s frighteningly relevant. It’s exactly what I want to see on television. I am thrilled to be working with Amazon in bringing this incredible vision to the world.”

Canal+ gives up on its cable box, switches to Apple TV

French premium cable television company Canal+ is slowly moving away from building its own set top boxes. As Next INpact spotted, you can now subscribe to Canal+ and get an Apple TV 4K with Canal+’s myCanal app already preloaded.

Canal+ has been around for decades and was the first premium TV channel in France. Over the years, the company started distributing all sorts of premium channels through satellite, cable and partnerships with internet service providers.

While you had to get your own Canal+ set top box to receive Canal+ 15 years ago, the company’s own box has slowly become irrelevant. As all the main French internet service providers give you a set top box, Canal+ has partnered with them to offer multiple add-ons to receive Canal+’s content.

When Canal+ announced its most recent device, Canal+ already said that you’d get a better experience with the myCanal app on the Apple TV.

That’s why Canal+ is betting everything on over-the-top distribution. If you don’t subscribe to Canal+ through your ISP, you can get an Apple TV 4K for €6 per month in addition to your TV package. If your internet connection isn’t fast enough or you’d rather use satellite TV, you can still get a Canal+ set top box.

But the writing is on the wall. Most people will soon watch Canal+ through myCanal on Android TV, tvOS, iOS, Android, a Samsung TV and desktop computers.

In France, Molotov and myCanal have been some of the top performing apps for tvOS and Android TV. This partnership could boost the Apple TV in France.

Netflix exec says 85 percent of new spending will go towards original content

In case you had any doubts that original content is a big priority at Netflix, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos estimated that 85 percent of the company’s total spending is going to new shows and movies.

That’s according to Variety, which reported on Sarandos’ remarks today at MoffettNathanson’s Media & Communications Summit 2018 in New York. He also said Netflix has a 470 originals scheduled to premiere between now and the end of the year, bringing the total up to around 1,000.

It’s probably not surprising that the service is prioritizing originals. After all, Netflix seems to be highlighting a new original every time I open it up, and competitors like Apple, Amazon and Hulu are ramping up their own spending.

But the depth of Netflix’s library, which is achieved by licensing content from others, has always seemed like a strength — in fact, a recent study found that licensed content generates 80 percent of Netflix viewing in the United States.

Part of the context here is that many of the studios that have sold their content to Netflix in the past are now either saving it for their own streaming services or looking to raise the prices.

And while movies account for one-third of viewing on Netflix, Sarandos pointed to new, big budget titles as one area where it no longer makes sense for the streaming service to spend a ton of money — because if you really want to catch the latest blockbuster, you probably already saw it in theaters.

“We said, maybe we can put the billion dollars we’d put in an output deal into original films,” he said.

Sarandos also sees an opportunity to develop more unscripted content like Queer Eye, and to sign big deals with high-profile showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy.

Netflix had previously projected that it would spend $7 billion to $8 billion on content this year. And just today, Netflix announced that it’s renewing Lost in Space for a second season (we were fans of season one) and picked up 10 After Midnight, a horror anthology series from Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro.

Lost In Space is coming back for a second season

Netflix today announced that it will release a second season of Lost In Space, the big-budget sci-fi program that debuted in April.

The series is a revamp of the original show from the 1960s. Season One, which included 10 episodes, follows the Robinson family on their journey from Earth to Alpha Centauri. Along the way, they stumble across extraterrestrial life and a wide array of life-or-death situations.

Many of the elements from the original show have been reimagined, not least of which being the role of Mr. Smith going to Parker Posey, who plays the delightfully wicked villain.

We reviewed the show on the Original Content podcast in this episode, and struggled to find any meaningful flaws.

SongTrust has inked deals with over 150,000 songwriters for royalties management

The music industry is finally seeing some daylight after years of sales declines and revenue attrition. As industry organizations announce year-on-year growth, songwriters are turning to royalty management organizations like SongTrust in increasing numbers. In just under a year SongTrust added 50,000 songwriters, 5,000 publishers, and now holds 1 million copyrights. The company said that one-in-five new professional songwriters are using SongTrust’s platform.

Signs of the music industry’s comeback are everywhere, SongTrust noted. They’re visible in the 8.1 percent increase in global recorded music revenues; in the second straight year that the German publishing rights body, GEMA, topped 1 billion Euros in revenue; and in the record financial results recorded by the PRS for Music — an increase of 14.7 percent over 2016.

More good news is coming to songwriters and rights holders in the form of the Music Modernization Act that’s now making its way through Congress.

Technology is something that the music industry’s back end has sorely needed. Performers, producers and songwriters avail themselves of the latest technologies in the studios and stages around the world and are then reduced to Excel spreadsheets and outmoded tracking systems to follow their songs through various distribution channels. And digital technologies like sampling, and distribution platforms like Spotify and others have complicated the process even further.

There’s a whole range of tools that are coming to market to help professionalize the back end of the industry, so that artists can get paid their fair share.

Songtrust was born out of Downtown Music Publishing, a publishing and rights management firm that manages rights for artists, such as Frank Sinatra, One Direction and Santigold. 

On Fridays, HQ Trivia will let you see your friends’ answers during the game

HQ, the live trivia game that is now seeing up to 2 million players per game, is introducing some new social features, including answer sharing with friends.

The company has been testing this feature across a small group of users already, but on Friday the feature will roll out to all HQ users.

Here’s how it works: Users can connect their address book to HQ and add their friends. Once they have added friends, they can see which of their friends are playing the game alongside them. Users can put their own avatar on the answer to a question to share their choice, which is viewable by friends.

The idea is that answer sharing mimics what many people do while playing HQ IRL, yelling out answers to their coworkers in the office or sharing with their friends and family in a bar or at home.

“We understand the power of the crowd and playing together,” said HQ product manager James Ruben. “That doesn’t necessarily exist everywhere. Our goal is to spread that power to people who maybe aren’t playing in the office together.”

This comes on the heels of HQ’s introduction of “Friends on HQ” from April, which let users see friends playing in the same quiz and see their progress through the game. Answer sharing simply takes that a step further.

Interestingly, answer sharing won’t be available on each HQ Trivia quiz. Instead, the feature will debut on Friday of this week, and continue to be available on Friday games.

“We understand that it’s a change to the game play,” said Ruben. “Friday is an interesting time to experiment and try out answer sharing because Fridays tend to be a bit more social than other days.”

Alongside answer sharing, HQ is also adding yet another social layer to the game with Nearby Friends. The feature will allow HQ players to see other people (not in their address book) who are in the same quiz as them and physically nearby, perhaps in the same office building or in the same bar or restaurant.

Finally, HQ is making it easier to upload the address book and connect with friends on the app.

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HQ is an interesting business in that it’s taking an almost old-school approach to advertising/sponsorship. As opposed to social networks like Facebook, which collect as much data as possible about users to sell advertisements against that data, HQ is focused more on getting as many engaged eyeballs in the same place as possible, a bit like television advertising.

HQ doesn’t have that much information on users beyond their phone number, device type, username, and other basic information commonly gleaned by app developers. With the introduction of Friends on HQ, the company gets a bit more insight into users. But that’s not necessarily the reason for the update.

Instead, HQ wants to make these games as engaging as possible, and what’s more engaging than competing with or cheering along your friends and family.

The company is also taking a measured approach to advertising and sponsorship, working with partners that make sense for the HQ community and making those sponsorships as native as possible.

For example, HQ recently ran a $250,000 game with Warner Brothers as a sponsor, plugging the film Ready Player One within the graphics and even in some of the questions. The company also had Duane “The Rock” Johnson host a $300,000 game as part of the actor’s promotion of his upcoming movie Rampage.

Answer sharing will be available to everyone on Friday, but easier address book upload and Nearby Friends are soon to come for Android users.