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When Netflix Is Attacked at Cannes, Will Smith Steps Up

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Two of the films in competition at this year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival were produced by and for Netflix. It may be a watershed moment for films, given that the two movies — Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories — were produced for a TV streaming service, and not for a movie theater. At the festival’s opening press conference on May 17, renowned Spanish filmmaker and Palme d’Or prize juror Pedro Almodovar read a pre-written statement that said in part, “I personally do not conceive, not only the Palme d’Or, any other prize being given to a film and not being able to see this film on a big screen.”

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Pedro Almodovar (Laurent Emmanuel)

When Will Smith raised his voice in defense of Netflix a while later, a conversation began that reflects a seismic shift — and for some, a sobering one — in the film industry. Almodovar and Smith were each no doubt reflecting the views of many other people.

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Almodovar and Smith (Anne-Chirstine Poujoulat)

Prior to Almodovar’s statement, the mood at the press conference had been completely different. Though Cannes is always the place to see movie stars, few these days have the sheer wattage and charm of Will Smith, who had the room wrapped in the palm of his hand. “West Philadelphia is a long way from Cannes,” the star said, noting that, “I was probably 14 years old the last time I watched three movies in one day. Three movies a day is a lot!” Such is the lot of the Cannes festival juror. He also joked that he’d be trying to set a record for most outfits worn at the festival, 32, to top last year’s juror Kirsten Dunst’s 28.

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Smith and crowd crush (Loic Venance)

Almodovar claimed his stance doesn’t come from being anti-technology, saying, “All this doesn’t mean I’m not open to or don’t celebrate the new technologies. I do.” And yet another statement of his suggests otherwise. “I’ll be fighting for one thing that I’m afraid the new generation is not aware of. It’s the capacity of the hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer,” the filmmaker says. “The size [of the screen] should not be smaller than the chair on which you’re sitting. It should not be part of your everyday setting. You must feel small and humble in front of the image that’s here.” Has he not seen the gargantuan TV screens on which people watch TV these days?…

JeVois Machine Vision Camera Nails Demo Mode

JeVois is a small, open-source, smart machine vision camera that was funded on Kickstarter in early 2017. I backed it because cameras that embed machine vision elements are steadily growing more capable, and JeVois boasts an impressive range of features. It runs embedded Linux and can process video at high frame rates using OpenCV algorithms. It can run standalone, or as a USB camera streaming raw or pre-processed video to a host computer for further action. In either case it can communicate to (and be controlled by) other devices via serial port.

But none of that is what really struck me about the camera when I received my unit. What really stood out was the demo mode. The team behind JeVois nailed an effective demo mode for a complex device. That didn’t happen by accident, and the results are worth sharing.

The Importance of a Good Demo

When it comes to complex systems, a good demo mode is essentially an elevator pitch for the unit’s capabilities. To a user, it answers “what can this do, and what possibilities does it open for me?”

The JeVois camera’s demo mode succeeded in this by doing several things:

  1. Make the demo self-contained and easy to start. Require a minimum of parts or setup from the user to get started. After putting the system image onto the included SD card, I only needed to plug it in to my laptop and start a camera viewer.
  2. Make it interactive. Respond to user input immediately, and show the processes at work as much as possible.
  3. Keep it simple. The demo isn’t the device’s one and only opportunity to explain everything! Leave the user free to focus on absorbing what is being shown; avoid bogging the user down with figuring out an interface or troubleshooting issues.

Demo mode on hardware is frequently an afterthought if it exists at all, but it deserves attention and polish if for no other reason than it is the one element of a product that it is virtually certain every user will engage with.

Setup and Demo of JeVois

I had to copy a system image to the micro SD card to ensure I had the latest…

Attempted suicide on Facebook Live has a happy ending

Attempted suicide on Facebook Live has a happy ending

Facebook Live, for all its problems, may have just saved a girl’s life. Authorities used the streamed video — which Facebook didn’t immediately remove — to locate and ultimately rescue her.

The trouble started when the unnamed teenager ingested multiple pills before putting a plastic bag over her head in a Live video last week. After a friend called 911, a sheriff’s deputy — after ensuring it wasn’t a prank — made his way to the house where he found the girl alive, but unresponsive. She’s expected to make a full recovery.

Facebook has been hard at work on a solution for FB Live’s graphic…

Hands-on with Hulu’s new Live TV service

Hulu officially announced the launch of its live TV streaming service this morning at its Upfront presentation in New York, after earlier promising its “under $40” offering would arrive sometime this spring. The service — which is actually $39.99 per month — has a robust channel lineup, cloud DVR and combines Hulu’s existing on-demand library, including its Originals, with streaming TV and on-demand content from its broadcast partners. However, a key part to the new service is the revamped, redesigned Hulu experience.

Though Hulu’s new user interface made its debut at CES earlier this year, the company didn’t allow press to try the service for themselves at that time. Over the months since, a number of Hulu beta testers were allowed to demo the service and offer early feedback. But today’s launch is still considered a beta, as Hulu is continuing to tweak many of the details.

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At first glance, the service feels like a worthy upgrade from the existing Hulu app, which was starting to seem a little dated. The new interface instead has a mobile-first focus, with swipeable screens, larger imagery and (planned) support for push notification reminders and alerts.

But the devil is in the details, as they say.

Upgrading challenges

There are a couple of things to know if you’re interested in upgrading to the live TV service. For starters, it’s not yet available on every platform. At launch, you can stream Hulu’s live TV on Apple TV, Xbox One and Chromecast, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices. Support for other major platforms, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV/Fire TV Stick and Samsung Smart TVs, is coming soon.

I initially ran into another gotcha, too. I had subscribed to Hulu through my Roku, which prevented me from being able to upgrade to the new service. Until Roku is supported, the workaround would be to cancel your account, wait for the account to expire, then re-sign up. But that may take weeks as your account is not immediately switched off — you still have access through the billing cycle. (For the purposes of this review, I had to get help from Hulu.)

Onboarding

When you first sign into your Live TV account, Hulu will walk both existing customers and newcomers through an onboarding experience designed to customize Hulu to your preferences.

Here, users are prompted to import their existing WatchList if available, and then go through screens where they tell Hulu more about their interests. Some of the interest categories are broad — like Crime & Justice, Sci-Fi, Late Night, Action & Adventure, or News & Headlines — while others are more niche. For example, there are two categories for reality TV — one for celeb reality shows and the other for reality competition shows.

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You can also pick your favorite channels through the onboarding experience. I’m not sold on the idea that we should still be tracking favorite channels — after all, the new Hulu is supposed to be about following the content you like, not networks.

The app

The main Hulu app is organized into five main sections, accessible from the bottom of the screen: Home, My Stuff, Browse, Search and Profile (settings).

Home is where you kick-off your Hulu experience and is the company’s big bet on personalization. It’s not immediately obvious, but the section on your home screen called “Lineup” is meant to be a mix of the shows, movies and sports programming it knows you like (because you’ve favorited or watched) along with recommendations it thinks you’ll like. At first, this screen may have some misses, but the promise is that it will get better in time the more you use Hulu.

However, as many Hulu users have been conditioned to seek out and watch on-demand content, it may feel odd at first to start here with a screen designed for serendipitous discovery — especially when it’s getting things wrong.

As you move through the Home screen, you can dive into other sections, like “Continue Watching” to pick up where you left off, “My Channels” (which shows you what’s on now on your favorite stations), Sports, TV, Movies, Kids, News, Featured Movies, Hulu Originals and other suggested categories. In total, it’s 13 swipes to reach the end of the Home screen.

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Above: Flipping through Hulu’s Home screen

Unfortunately, you can’t customize this Home screen to remove any of the default categories here, which is a bummer if you’re not into sports or don’t have kids and don’t want to see these categories.

As you scroll further to the right, Hulu offers other suggestions of things you may like to watch. For now, Hulu is suggesting a lineup of shows under the “Dark Futures” category heading and another called “Magic of Disney.” The company says that these are editorial collections everyone sees at launch, but you’ll receive more personalized suggestions like this in time.

Mixing live and on demand

Hulu’s Home screen may work for people who don’t really have a show or movie in mind they want to see, and are just generally interested in finding something to watch right now. It blurs the line between live television and on demand — only marking its live TV content with a little green lightning bolt and the text “Watch Live.”

I’m not sure the average streaming service user arrives with the desire to first browse suggestions, though. Once you make the decision to ditch cable, you generally make watching TV a less passive experience. When you log onto a streaming service, you tend to first follow your favorites and then look for recommendations when you’ve binged your way past the shows you had been tracking and now want something new.

I’m also not fully convinced that combining favorites…

Hulu now serves up 50 Live TV channels for $40 a month

Hulu now serves up 50 Live TV channels for $40 a month

Hulu is taking on cable like never before with the beta launch of its Live TV service that offers more than 50 live channels for $39.99 a month.

That includes ABC, CBS, Cartoon Network, CNN, FX, ESPN, National Geographic, Syfy, TBS and Vieland, among others. Subscribers also get access to local sports and news channels, as well as Hulu’s entire streaming library that costs $8 a month on its own and includes over 3,500 exclusive shows, movies and kids’ entertainment titles.

You don’t need a cable box: Hulu’s service works on Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, as well as Android

Hulu Announces Marvel’s Runaways, Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 & More!

Hulu Announces Marvel's Runaways, Handmaid's Tale Season 2 & More!

Hulu announces Marvel’s Runaways, Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 & more!

Today at the Hulu Upfront Presentation at Madison Square Garden Theater, the company announced a multitude of innovative advertising tools, original series orders and content licensing agreements, and reported significant audience growth to 47 million total unique viewers. Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins, SVP of Advertising Sales Peter Naylor and SVP and Head of Content Craig Erwich took the stage to unveil the company’s newest advances in technology, content and advertising, alongside Hulu Original Series like Marvel’s Runaways, with talent including J.J. Abrams, Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel, Sarah Silverman, Mindy Kaling, Jeff Daniels and Josh Hutcherson.

“As we expand our business to offer live TV, we’re also more than doubling our investment in original programming and exclusively licensed content to continue growing our premium streaming library,” said Hopkins. “Coupled with all of the new product and measurement solutions we’re offering advertisers, Hulu is delivering the most compelling, engaging and valuable TV experience to consumers and brands alike.”

Hulu’s 2017 Upfront announcements include:

Hulu Original Series The Handmaid’s Tale Renewed for Season 2

On the heels of its extraordinary week one premiere, Hulu is pleased to announce that it has picked up The Handmaid’s Tale for a second season, set to debut in 2018.

Based on the award-winning, best-selling novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale premiere has been watched by more Hulu viewers than any other series premiere – original or acquired – on the service, drawing acclaim from both fans and critics.

“The response we’ve seen to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in just one week since its premiere has been absolutely incredible. It has been an honor to work with this talented team of cast and creators to develop a series that has struck such a chord with audiences across the country,” said Erwich. “As we continue to expand our strong slate of original programming, The Handmaid’s Tale is exactly the type of gripping and thought-provoking storytelling we want to bring to viewers. We can’t wait to explore the world of Gilead and continue Margaret’s vision with another season on Hulu.”

The Handmaid’s Tale follows the story of life in the dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was formerly part of the United States. The series is created, executive produced and written for television by Bruce Miller (The 100), who serves as the series’ showrunner. The Handmaid’s Tale is executive produced by Miller, Warren Littlefield (Fargo), Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears and Ilene Chaiken. Margaret Atwood is a consulting producer for the series. The Handmaid’s Tale is produced by MGM Television and marks the first collaboration for an original series between Hulu and MGM.

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The Handmaid's Tale
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Gripping Drama Series The First and Marvel’s Runaways Ordered to Series

Today, Hulu announced the addition of two new series to its slate of original programming.

The streaming service has picked up Marvel’s Runaways in its first series order with Marvel Television. The fan-favorite and groundbreaking comic book series will be brought to life on Hulu by the team behind The O.C. and Gossip Girl, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. Schwartz and Savage will serve as Co-Showrunners/writers and will executive produce the series along with Marvel’s Jeph Loeb and Jim Chory.

Marvel’s Runaways is the story of six diverse teenagers who can barely stand each other but who must unite against a common foe – their parents. The popular classic explores the younger side of the Marvel Universe in a coming of age, new action series that will premiere on Hulu in the winter.

In addition, Hulu announced a straight-to-series order for The First (working title), a drama set in the near future about the first human mission to Mars. The series is created and written by Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe, and BAFTA Award-nominated Beau Willimon (House of Cards, Ides of March), who also serves as executive producer alongside his producing partner Jordan Tappis.

The First explores the challenges of taking the first steps toward interplanetary colonization. “It’s a story about the human spirit,” said Willimon. “About our indomitable need to reach for unknown horizons. About people working toward the greatest pioneering achievement in human history. And about the cost of that vision, the danger and sacrifice – emotional, psychological, and physical – that’s required to achieve it. How ordinary, imperfect people band together and overcome a myriad of obstacles to grasp the extraordinary.”

The series will go into production later this year and is slated to premiere on Hulu in 2018. Westward Productions – founded by Willimon and Tappis – will own and produce The First. The series will be co-financed by Hulu, Channel 4 and IMG.

The First and Runaways join Hulu’s growing original programming slate, which includes The Handmaid’s Tale, The Looming Tower, Future Man, The Mindy Project, I Live You, America, National Treasue, Casual, The Path, Difficult People, Shut Eye and Chance.

Award Winning FX Series Atlanta to Stream Exclusively On Hulu

Today, Hulu also announced that it will be the exclusive subscription streaming home to FX’s award-winning, breakout freshman comedy series, Atlanta.

Following its critically-acclaimed first season on FX, Atlanta took home two 2017 Golden Globe Awards for Best TV Comedy series and Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy for star Donald Glover. The complete first season of the series will become available to stream…

Hulu’s Live TV Service Is Now Available in Beta With 50 Channels for $40 Per Month

At its Upfront presentation this morning, Hulu showed off more details of its new live streaming service, and announced that the service is now available in a public beta starting today. Interested users can sign-up here.

Hulu first announced its live TV service back in at its Upfront’s in May 2016 and since then, we’ve seen the live TV cordcutting market become more crowded, with new offerings from DirecTV Now and YouTube TV. Even traditional cable operators, like Verizon and Comcast, are planning on getting into the online TV space. With traditional cable subscriptions falling, it makes sense that the networks and the providers are looking at other sources of income.

But what makes Hulu’s approach to live TV a bit different—as we noted when we got a preview of the service back at CES in January—is that it combines live TV with the huge catalog of content that Hulu already offers. So if you subscribe to Hulu’s new live offering, you get access to live feeds from ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, CNN, and so on, but you also get access to Hulu originals and that massive back catalog of movie and TV content.

The service, which has the tongue-twister name Hulu with Live TV, is available starting at $40 a month. That $40 a month offers access to more than 50 live channels, access to Hulu’s standard $8 a month subscription service (you can pay an extra $4 and get the catalog content commercial free), and 50 hours of cloud DVR recordings. The $40 plan offers access to six user profiles and two simultaneous streams at once.

If you want to stream from more than two devices at once, Hulu is offering an “Unlimited Screens” plan for $15 a month, which offers unlimited streams in the home, and up to three simultaneous streams outside the home. There is also an “Enhanced Cloud DVR” bundle for $15 a month that offers subscribers access to 200 hours of DVR recordings that automatically skip through recorded…

Facebook First-Quarter Earnings: What To Watch

Robinhood Reinvents Stock Trading Without The Fees

Facebook reports its third quarterly earnings on Wednesday after markets close. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Facebook reports its first quarterly earnings on Wednesday after markets close.

Wall Street is expecting another strong quarter for Facebook FB +0.20%, as the social network continues to grow its massive mobile advertising business and sustain solid user growth across its suite of apps.

Analysts polled by Yahoo Finance expect adjusted earnings for the first quarter, ending March 31, of $1.12, up from 77 cents in the same period last year, and revenue of $7.8 billion, up 46% from the same period a year earlier when Facebook reported revenue of $5.4 billion. For the full year, the same analysts expect revenue of $27.6 billion, and earnings, excluding some items, of $6.25 per share.

Facebook shares closed on Tuesday at $152.78, and the stock is up about 33% since the beginning of this year as of Tuesday’s close. Facebook stock has risen about 15% since the company last reported earnings in February, compared to a 5% rise in the S&P over the same period. Facebook is set to report earnings after the markets close on Wednesday.

Facebook has recently come under scrutiny for its handling of violent and sensitive video content, especially live streamed footage. On a recurring basis, Facebook has enabled violent videos to be visible on the social network for hours before being removed or flagged with a warning label. At Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the issue, addressing the murder of Robert Godwin Sr. in Cleveland, Ohio, which had been broadcast in a video on Facebook for hours before the company took it down. “We have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” Zuckerberg said on stage.

Facebook has made some big product updates since it last reported earnings, in large part, taking aim at its competitor Snapchat. Facebook has launched a version of Snapchat’s pioneering “Stories” feature, chains of photo and video messages with special effects, across its suite of apps: Facebook’s flagship app, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. (The copycat strategy appears to be hampering Snapchat’s user growth. The app most recently reported 158 million daily active users. By contrast, Instagram has 700 million monthly users, while WhatsApp and Messenger have 1.2 billion monthly users.) Facebook also unveiled new effects for its cameras, such as falling snow and Picasso-like lenses. At F8, Zuckerberg’s biggest product news was Facebook making its camera an augmented reality (AR) platform. Facebook has started opening its AR platform to developers, a move which could be key to maintaining user engagement in the coming years.

Investors will be eager to hear any insights Facebook shares on its plans to invest in augmented reality and virtual reality (and sales of Facebook’s Oculus headset), updates on video monetization and viewership and plans to monetize messaging. Here are four areas investors will be closely watching:

1. User growth and engagement: Facebook has continued to see solid user growth and engagement, despite its mammoth size and reports that original sharing of posts and photos is declining somewhat on its main app. For the fourth quarter, Facebook reported 1.86 billion monthly active users, up 17% from a year…

Hollywood Writers and Studios, Scrambling to Avert Strike, Reach Last-Minute Deal

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood writers reached a tentative deal for a new three-year contract with television and movie studios early Tuesday, averting a strike in dramatic overtime negotiations.

At nearly 1 a.m. on the West Coast, weary union leaders, including Patric Verrone, the former president of the Writers Guild of America, West, emerged from the offices of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of studios, and said that a favorable contract had been drawn up.

In a statement posted on its website, the Writers Guild, West, said it had made “unprecedented gains.” It added, “Did we get everything we wanted? No. Everything we deserve? Certainly not. But because we had the near-unanimous backing of you and your fellow writers, we were able to achieve a deal that will net this guild’s members $130 million more, over the life of the contract, than the pattern we were expected to accept.”

In a one-sentence joint statement, writers and the producers’ alliance said that they had secured “a tentative agreement on terms for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement.”

The previous contract between studios and more than 12,000 writers expired at midnight. The Writers Guild of America, West, and the Writers Guild of America, East, had vowed to go on strike as soon as Tuesday morning.

Union negotiators had locked horns with their studio counterparts all the way through. On Sunday, studios had made a new offer — one reflecting improvements in some areas (health care) and scant movement in others (raises for streaming series) — and the unions on Monday made counteroffers that held a hard line on multiple demands, according to three people briefed on the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings.

A deal only started to take shape as midnight approached, with both sides scrambling to find common ground.

As the news spread, union loyalists flooded Twitter with messages of relief and self-congratulation, even though details of the agreement were few. “Victory!!!” wrote Phillip Iscove, a creator of the Fox drama “Sleepy Hollow.”

Writers and studios did not…

Twitter to launch 24/7 news streaming service with Bloomberg

Twitter’s transformation into a TV network is edging ever closer as the company is teaming up with Bloomberg to create a 24/7 news streaming service directly on the social network.

The announcement comes as little surprise, given Twitter’s recent escapades in the video-streaming realm. The company announced last week that 800 hours of live premium video was viewed by 45 million viewers in Q1 2017, up 31 percent on the previous quarter, with a myriad of video partnerships over the past 12 months helping to drive new users to the platform. Last year it won the rights to stream Thursday night NFL games, while it also partnered with BuzzFeed for a U.S. presidential election livestream and nabbed some PGA golf coverage. More recently it has signed video deals across sports, esports,…