TheWrapTech – TheWrap Covering Hollywood Mon, 20 Nov 2017 17:28:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Are ‘Authentic and Vulnerable’ Dating App Profiles the New Swiping? Thu, 16 Nov 2017 23:59:07 +0000 Sean Burch Sorry, fellas: “hookup culture” is on its death bed.

That’s what Hinge CEO Justin McLeod told TheWrap, one year after his dating app abandoned the classic “swiping” method made famous by its chief rivals, Tinder and Bumble.

“We believe and started to feel from the market that people were just over ‘hookup culture’ and all these apps were designed for games — and there was nothing there for people that wanted to get into a serious relationship,” McLeod told TheWrap.

Following its redesign last year, Hinge has embraced a more holistic approach. Yes, there’s still the standard six pictures for each profile, and users are able to fill in where they work and went to school. But, according to McLeod, Hinge wants to allow people to be “authentic and vulnerable” — or as much as they possibly can on a dating app. To do this, users pick from a slew of questions or topics and add them to their profile: “try to guess this about me,” “pet peeves,” “I will never tell my grandchildren,” or even seasonal themes like “what I am thankful for.”

Rather than swiping, Hinge users can “like” a particular part of another person’s account — also with the ability to comment on photos or question responses — to engage their potential match. Hingers get 10 free likes per day, and can sign up for an unlimited amount with a “preferred” membership, which runs for $4.99 a month for a six-month commitment. In the one year since its relaunch, McLeod said the interface has paid off in spades, with only “one in 500” conversations starting with a boring “hey.”

McLeod didn’t share user data, but said its accounts had “doubled” in the year since ditching swiping. A Hinge rep declined to comment on whether the company is pursuing another round of funding, but the New York City-based app has raised $20.6 million to date, according to Crunchbase.

Another feather in the 33-year-old CEO’s cap: People are spending less time on Hinge than its rival apps. This is typically the opposite of what a tech exec would want to see. Hinge users are only on the app for nine minutes per day; for comparison, a New York Times profile of Tinder in 2014 said users spent “up to 90 minutes” per day swiping. McLeod said Hinge sent 100,000 users on dates last month, based on exchanged phone numbers. He added this is because Hinge gives people what they want — a more “engaging” interaction that results in quick dates and long-term relationships.

“You need to spend less time on [Hinge] to find what you’re looking for. We didn’t design it like an addictive game.”

And that’s the crux of the matter for the Harvard Business School grad. Old school swiping apps, designed like video games, may have short term value, but fail to deliver in the long run.

“They’re designed to be addictive. They’re using gamification tools that turn this whole thing into a matching game. Every time you hit ‘like’ you wonder if it’s going to be a match. It almost operates like a slot machine,” said McLeod. “And it keeps people constantly in that world. It’s much easier to keep swiping than to actually engage people or get into a relationship.”

Looking to curb the Wild West nature of most apps, Bumble has carved out its niche by letting women start all match conversations. But even this, according to McLeod, is ill-suited for women looking for more than a fling.

“Being forced to talk first, if they don’t want to, doesn’t really speak to them. Generally we find that women want to be respected and treated equally, but not pandered to. Honestly, with the redesign, I think we have the most feminist app because we believe in creating a great experience for everyone equally. And generally I think forcing them to talk first isn’t really feminist, it’s sexist in the end. And women are starting to see that.”

After talking to the exec, it sounds like he’d answer his own “what I am thankful for” Q with an obvious answer: Hinge leaving swiping in the dust.

Brian Welk contributed to this story. 

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Elon Musk Hates Turtlenecks and 3 More Takeaways From His ‘Rolling Stone’ Profile Thu, 16 Nov 2017 23:19:48 +0000 Sean Burch Elon Musk somehow finds the time for a growing number of budding projects: Tesla, his electric car company; SpaceX, his rocket company; the Boring Company, his underground tunnel solution for Los Angeles traffic; and the Hyperloop, his network of tubes rapidly moving passengers at several hundred miles per hour.

One thing he doesn’t have time for, though, is turtlenecks. In Neil Strauss’ extensive profile of the tech exec in Rolling Stone, Musk recounted one photoshoot where they tried to make him wear a black turtleneck — the trademark shirt of choice for Steve Jobs. Musk wasn’t feeling it.

“If I was dying and I had a turtleneck on,” Musk told Strauss, “with my last dying breath, I would take the turtleneck off and try to throw it as far away from my body as possible.”

The funny line stood out in an otherwise illuminating and dense piece.  Here are a few other moments that stood out:

Amber Heard dumped him, and it hurt

Twitter has been fascinated over the fact that Musk is a human that feels pain and emotion like any other non-Silicon Valley “god.” But a red-eyed Musk had to collect himself when talking about the end of his relationship with Amber Heard.

“I just broke up with my girlfriend,” Musk said in his office. “I was really in love, and it hurt bad.”

Musk then added: “Well, she broke up with me more than I broke up with her, I think.”

The exec then talked about how he was in “severe emotional pain for several weeks,” and needed to “psych himself up” to make it through a Tesla Model 3 event.

“If I’m not in love, if I’m not with a long-term companion, I cannot be happy,” said Musk.

He’s not a big fan of his dad 

The South African native said at 10-years-old he felt sorry for his father when his parents split. With his brother and sister going to live with his mom, he decided to live with his dad.

“It was not a good idea,” Musk told RS.

While Musk said his dad was a “brilliant” engineer, he also said he was a “terrible human being.” The Tesla co-founder didn’t go into details, but made it sound severe:

“You have no idea about how bad. Almost every crime you can possibly think of, he has done. Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done,” said Musk.

Musk said he eventually bought his dad a car, boat, and house in Malibu after making it big in Silicon Valley, but has since lost touch with him. He was irked his dad had the audacity to say he helped fund his first company, Zip2, a claim Musk rejected.

What’s he working toward? 

There are easier projects for rich guys to tackle than space exploration and getting the world off fossil fuel. But he told Strauss he wants to do “useful things” — things that have a “value to the rest of society.”

“It would be better if we mitigated the effects of global warming and had cleaner air in our cities and weren’t drilling for vast amounts of coal, oil and gas in parts of the world that are problematic and will run out anyway,” said Musk.

And he’s still dead set on making humanity a “multiplanetary species.” Going to Mars, in his mind, is a safeguard against mass-extinction — something he points out has happened five times. “Unless you’re a cockroach or a mushroom – or a sponge – you’re f—-d.”

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Is Virtual Reality’s Steven Spielberg Still in College? Thu, 16 Nov 2017 02:24:31 +0000 Matt Pressberg Virtual reality, which thousands of people are betting billions of dollars it will be a big part of the future of entertainment, is at a crossroads.

Equipment sales have hit a plateau despite price chops, and even for those who shell out hundreds of dollars for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and a gaming PC, there’s not exactly a Netflix-sized pool of premium content to wade their way through.

That shouldn’t be too surprising – after all, the entire technology is only a few years old. But fortunately, the next generation of potential VR impresarios – and maybe even its first Steven Spielberg or James Cameron – is already working on it, with the help of one California university who’s placed a big bet on virtual reality.

Chapman University in Orange, California, is the alma mater of Hollywood power players like “Stranger Things” creators the Duffer Brothers – who recently appeared at an event on campus. And its Dodge College of Film and Media Arts also has a virtual reality program where students are producing legitimately professional work. In an industry far on entertainment’s frontier without an establishment of any kind, there’s plenty of room for upstarts to reach the top.

Luke Snedecor, a sophomore in the school’s digital arts program, showed TheWrap a VR experience he created called “At Sea” where the user interacted with a fisherman on a raft. Bending your knees allowed you to look underwater, where you could grab fish using the Oculus hand controllers and toss them to the lone mariner. There was also an underwater mine to which TheWrap led a shark, using fish as bait, keeping the fisherman out of danger.

While the project did not have the budget of some of the virtual reality experiences that are coming out of massive brands or major studios, it was hardly amateur in comparison – and was more intuitive to play with than many commercial applications. As it turns out, professional-quality VR isn’t yet exclusive to any kind of professional class.

Snedecor, who’s only been developing in virtual reality for about a year, likes the idea of working in an industry without an establishment, especially as traditional media companies are still navigating their way through digital disruption.

“There’s hope,” he said.

Bill Kroyer, a veteran animation director who helmed “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” and currently serves as the director of the Digital Arts Program, showed TheWrap “The Harvest,” Chapman’s capstone – at least, to date – virtual reality project.

While too many virtual reality experiences TheWrap has seen seem like they were in VR for VR’s sake, “The Harvest,” in which the user is shackled to a chair in a barn – is ideal for the technology. The experience was made possible by sponsorship from chip giant AMD.

“There was a legitimate reason to put it in a VR experience and design elements to match that,” Kroyer said.

Rather than rely on CGI, the experience was filmed with real actors inside a 75-year-old barn at the Burbank Equestrian Center that hadn’t been cleaned in years.

“It looked like a demented guy would own this,” Kroyer said.

The rats, bats and spiders were all computer-generated, however. It was shot with one camera on a nodal axis. And there was also a VR game type experience and AR demo in addition with the main “Harvest” narrative piece.

Madeline Warren, an associate professor on the artistic faculty, said that while most schools are focusing their forays into VR on the engineering departments, Chapman has made a deliberate decision to base it out of the film school.

“A lot of the VR development has been siloed in engineering,” she said. “They don’t have the storytelling skills.”

And even though Kroyer is a Hollywood lifer, he thinks entertainment will be only a small part of VR’s eventual impact, paling in comparison to medical and educational uses. However, entertainment is likely to be the first way most people experience the technology, so there’s a lot at stake in creating compelling and engaging stuff.

Kroyer credits Chapman’s “salon” model for encouraging a cross-disciplinary look at VR – a technology that needs storytellers arguably as much as it needs engineers to build those experiences. After all, if we want people to dedicate more and more time to immersive experiences, those virtual worlds have to be interesting – and creatives can certainly help with that.

“This is a technology that would benefit from that thinking,” Warren said.

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Virtual Reality Has a Promising Future, But Is Still Loading Wed, 15 Nov 2017 21:22:58 +0000 Sean Burch Virtual reality — with a few notable exceptions — is still a work in progress.

That’s what I was left thinking after leaving the Oculus LA holiday party on Tuesday night. The event itself was well done: set up at the trendy Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake, California, with plenty of open space and experiences to try out, a DJ spinning, and even an open bar (journalistic integrity kept me from indulging, of course).

But after checking out several of the experiences on hand, you couldn’t help but think there are still a few steps to take before VR reaches mass adoption. Confusing storylines, clunky interactions, and a sense that many of the experiences would be better as video games or short films often overrides the aesthetically breathtaking scenes playing out in front of you. Not to mention, wearing a headset is still a hurdle, compared to simply pulling out your iPhone and using an augmented reality app.

For example, take the new “Blade Runner 2049” experience. I knew it was a red flag when I put on my headset and saw the last person had given up midway through, but I pressed forward. I started off in a flying car traveling through future-LA, receiving directions from a blonde-haired woman on a screen to my right. What was she saying? I’m not exactly sure, since the DJ was blasting Daft Punk in the background, but it seemed like an important mission. I was able to play with some of the gadgets in the car, but they didn’t seem to impact anything happening on screen.

Next thing I knew, I was facing a man that looked vaguely like a brown-haired Louis C.K. in an underground cellar. And then I shot him … because he was a replicant or something? I’m not sure why I shot him — it wasn’t my call. The blonde-haired woman appeared again on screen and gave me more directions. She then showed me a replay of the brown-haired Louis C.K. being beaten up. I guess he wasn’t dead? (Sorry, I didn’t see the movie, either.)

Yours truly, “immersed” in “Blade Runner 2049”

After being told to look to a wall on my right and press the controller in my hand, a few nifty infrared documents flashed in front of me. If this sounds vexing, that’s because it was. Rather than wait to see if I’d actually do much else, other than passively going through the experience, I tapped out and took off my headset, too.

Undeterred, I also checked out an NBA three-point shootout experience. In the past, competitive or multi-player experiences have always seemed like the best bet for VR (think a next-level Nintendo Wii). But following body movements is still consistently inconsistent for VR. In my first round, I made an embarrassingly low three shots in 30 seconds, using my normal jump shot.

Looking to redeem myself,  in case anyone had watched my pathetic performance, I quickly went for round two. My score was much better, hitting 10 bombs and feeling briefly like Steph Curry. But it was fleeting, since I knew I was using a form that was in no way close to how someone would shoot in a real game — with my arms firing the shot the moment the virtual ball hit my virtual fingertips. Down the line, going head to head with a friend in an experience like this would be fun, but there’s still a disconnect between movements in reality and VR.

The rock climbing experience right next to me didn’t seem like a better bet, either. One attendee took off her headset and told TheWrap “I feel dizzy” — the dreaded line the industry has been fighting to remedy.

Still, this isn’t to say the event was completely in vain. Many of the experiences were eye-catching, including a Marvel “Powers United” vehicle and a journey through the “land of the dead” with Disney Pixar’s “Coco” companion piece. And Facebook’s “Spaces,” allowing friends to hangout in VR from across the globe, looks promising. But as another attendee put it, the experiences ultimately left the viewer feeling “really impressed by the technology, but not all that engaged with the actual experiences.”

VR has hit a purgatory stage, where the novelty is wearing off, but the technology isn’t full formed. These are hiccups you’d expect from an emerging industry. I look forward to checking out more next year, and hopefully not feeling compelled to take off my headset and re-enter “normal” reality.

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Binge and Flush? Netflix Says 13 Million Users Watch in Public Bathrooms Tue, 14 Nov 2017 16:03:33 +0000 Sean Burch Netflix is hesitant to release anything resembling ratings for its shows, but it did share some info on public streaming habits on Tuesday — and yes, a ton of people are “Netflix and chilling” (ugh) on the go.

According to a survey of 37,000 Netflix subscribers across 22 countries, 67 percent of viewers download and watch their shows on the move.

Some of the viewing habits might catch you by surprise: 37 percent admitted to watching at work, 22 percent said they’d cried while streaming in public, and 12 percent copped to Netflixing in public bathrooms. (I won’t even touch the doorknob in a public bathroom without using my shirt, but that’s just me.)

With 109 million-plus Netflix subscribers worldwide, that would mean nearly 13 million people have made it a habit of binge-watching and flushing.

In addition, Netflix reported that 44 percent of viewers said they’ve been caught by someone watching over their shoulder. But if the worst thing someone catches you watching is “Stranger Things,” you’re life isn’t going too bad.

“Netflixing in public has become a social norm with 60 percent of Americans watching more movies and shows in public this year than last,” Eddy Wu, Netflix director of production innovation, said in a statement.

“The introduction of the Netflix download feature has given users the freedom to watch their favorite movies and shows wherever they want, like during their commute or waiting in line, and for some… that means at work or even in a public restroom.”

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Wikileaks Asked Donald Trump Jr. to Tell Dad to Contest 2016 Election Results Mon, 13 Nov 2017 23:48:06 +0000 Sean Burch Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange is in desperate need of a pen pal while holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, apparently.

A new report from The Atlantic highlights several direct messages it says it obtained that were composed from the Wikileaks Twitter account and sent to Donald Trump Jr., before and after the 2016 U.S. election. (The Atlantic said the Twitter DMs are part of a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the election.)

Wikileaks, the self-described “transparency organization” — which has made a name off releasing classified information — wanted to work with the president’s son on several under-the-radar projects, including sharing its work and, most glaringly, contesting the results of the election.

At the time, Hillary Clinton seemed en route to a victory on election day. The Wikileaks account sent Trump Jr. a direct message hours before results were finalized, imploring him to urge his dad to push back on the final tally.

“Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred–as he has implied that he might do,” the Wikileaks Twitter account sent to Trump Jr., according to the report.

Trump Jr. didn’t respond. As The Atlantic put it, he “mostly ignored” the Wikileaks Twitter messages, but “at no point” rebuffed them.

On Oct. 3, 2016, the account reached out to Trump Jr. and asked him to share a quote from Hillary Clinton asking if they could “just drone” Assange. “Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr. responded later. “It’s amazing what she can get away with.”

Trump Jr. also responded to a Wikileaks message on an anti-Trump political action committee in Sept. 2016, saying he’d “ask around”; he then emailed Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and brother-in-law Jared Kushner to see if they’d heard anything.

Other requests from Wikileaks went without a response, according to the report. The account asked Trump Jr. about leaking his father’s tax returns, and the possibility of pushing Assange — who has been in hiding for five years to avoid a rape charge in Sweden, and now extradition to the States — as an Australian ambassador to the USA.

Attorney Alan Futerfas told The Atlantic Trump Jr. has worked with Congressional authorities looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“Over the last several months, we have worked cooperatively with each of the committees and have voluntarily turned over thousands of documents in response to their requests,” said Futerfas. “Putting aside the question as to why or by whom such documents, provided to Congress under promises of confidentiality, have been selectively leaked, we can say with confidence that we have no concerns about these documents and any questions raised about them have been easily answered in the appropriate forum.”

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Trump Is About to Shatter His Personal Twitter Record Mon, 13 Nov 2017 21:07:49 +0000 Sean Burch Nearly one year into his time at the White House and President Trump is putting his upping his stride — as a tweeter.

A trip to Asia hasn’t curtailed the commander-in-chief from using his self-described big hands to furiously type away on his favorite social media platform. In fact, as Bloomberg outlined on Monday, he’s been on a hot streak, on pace to fire off 723 tweets by the end of November.

That’d blow away his most prolific month on the social media platform, when he lobbed 485 tweets in September.

He’s been trending upward, too, since he’d already set personal records in June and July. Bloomberg noted he fired a single-day record of 51 tweets on Nov. 7, while he was visiting South Korea. President Trump covered the full spectrum: Thanking President Moon for a top notch trip, mildly clowning Ed Gillespie for losing the Virginia race for governor, and, of course, touting the stock market’s strong performance.

It was the presidential equivalent of Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game.

He toned it down a bit when he reached China, but picked back up over the weekend in Vietnam. And yes, there was a “there/they’re” typo in his tweet about Russia.

So far, the only thing that has slowed him down this month was the rogue Twitter employee that deactivated his account for 11 minutes.

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Tivo Taps Enrique Rodriguez as New CEO Mon, 13 Nov 2017 15:34:44 +0000 Sean Burch Trailblazing TV-recording service Tivo (remember that?) announced on Monday its board of directors has unanimously tapped Enrique Rodriguez to be its next CEO. Rodriguez will also join the San Carlos, California-based company’s board.

Rodriguez is joining from AT&T, where he was an executive vice president and the company’s chief technical officer. He’s spent decades in the tech and media space, with stops at Sirius XM, Cisco and Microsoft, where he was VP of Xbox Partnerships.

“Enrique is an exceptional leader and strategist who has the energy and passion that will position TiVo for success,” said Jim Meyer, chairman of Tivo’s board, said in a statement. “He knows the company and our industry inside and out, and will be able to move quickly with implementing initiatives that we believe will position the company for future success and add value for our stockholders.”

Rodriguez will start immediately, and will take over for Thomas Carson.

Tivo first launched its service in 1999, and quickly became synonymous with TV recording and delayed viewing.

But the company has felt the tides turning against it in recent years, with viewing habits becoming more fractured and the rise of streaming services like Netflix releasing entire seasons at a time.

Tivo’s stock is down about 20 percent in 2017, but is up 1.75 percent to $17.15 a share in early trading on Monday.

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Snapchat’s Redesign: Lifesaver or Death Rattle? Fri, 10 Nov 2017 21:25:25 +0000 Sean Burch Nothing reeks of panic like an app redesign only eight months after going public.

But that’s where we are with Snapchat and its parent company, Snap Inc., after a third straight lackluster quarter — punctuated by underwhelming sales and feeble user growth  — has investors running for the hills.

“Honestly, Snap is looking like Myspace right now,” a former high-ranking employee at Myspace told TheWrap.

That’s not what you want to hear if you’re CEO Evan Spiegel, who co-founded the revolutionary picture-messaging app in 2011. But the parallel is hard to miss: Snapchat had a major lead on its rival, Instagram, when it came to time-sensitive messaging. That lead was squandered, much like Myspace was ultimately swept aside by Facebook. (It hasn’t helped that Instagram has used Snapchat as its tech equivalent of a minor league team, copying several key features, including “Stories.”)

Where’d it go wrong? According to one Los Angeles-based digital marketing executive, Snap missed the influencer boat by “shunning” creators. Consequently, the exec switched his celebrity clients from posting and promoting content on Snapchat to Instagram, once the latter added features like “Stories” and live video.

“They let Instagram swoop in. I don’t know that many celebrities that spend that much time on the [Snapchat],” said the executive. “Unless [Snap is] going to go and really help them grow their followings to a crazy amount, I’m just not going to get what I get on Instagram.”

A major app redesign is coming in December, aiming to belatedly tap into influencers. As Business Insider reported, Snapchat will still open to the camera. But on the left side it’ll feature content from friends, while the right side will highlight sports, content from Snapchat’s publishing partners, and “Stories from verified celebrities on Snapchat.” For once, it’s Snapchat taking a page out it competition’s book, mirroring the curated search page of Instagram.

The move, according to Spiegel, will make Snapchat “easier to use.” But it also threatens to undermine what made Snapchat cool in the first place — that it wasn’t overly saturated with celebrity shilling and  that it wasn’t easy for everyone to use. (If your aunt can use it, how “cool” can it be?) Spiegel acknowledged this, saying there’s a “strong likelihood” the redesign will be “disruptive” and potentially scare off many of its 178 million users.

Peter Csathy, chairman of CREATV, a media and tech-focused business development and advisory firm, told TheWrap he sees why the company is rolling the dice.


“The market is clearly telling Snap they can’t continue to do what they’ve done, in order to succeed in the future,” said Csathy. “Snap has proven itself to innovate and be very successful in innovating. At the same time, if the experience is changing in a meaningful way, then there’s a real risk to the base its built all this time that have come to know it and love it. But things naturally evolve, too… it’s a very risky proposition, but Snap has no choice but to take significant risks.”

The LA-based marketing executive, on the other hand, isn’t convinced Snap’s gamble will pay off.

“It just seems like they’re grasping at straws at this point,” said the executive. “It’s a weird Sophie’s Choice they have to make: how to grow up without losing the last remaining bastion of what’s special, which is younger people using it for messaging.”

But according to Csathy, that’s Snapchat saving grace — its strength among Gen Z’ers. A recent Piper Jaffray survey found nearly half (47 percent) of 4,100 teens polled said Snapchat is their preferred social media platform, giving it a healthy lead on both Instagram (24 percent) and Facebook (9 percent). As long as Snapchat can keep them in the fold after its redesign, companies will still look to Snapchat, according to Csathy.

“We know that the big media companies are still obsessed with working with Snapchat, and they’re still obsessed with reaching that audience,” said Csathy. “Let’s not forget the fact [Snapchat] still has this massive brand and this massive asset in the customer base, and the marketers and media companies crave that.”

Here’s the situation for Snap: It has a sticky, game-changing platform that has failed to substantially grow its user base since going public. It has made moves to shore up its ad business, but its sales haven’t met Wall Street expectations. In the meantime, Instagram has aggressively ripped off its key attributes and added new features to boot.

The moves have paid off, with Instagram Stories now boasting 120 million more daily users than Snapchat. The “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” axiom doesn’t apply here. Snap’s business is at a crossroads. While its upcoming redesign blinks “desperation” in neon lights, it might be the catalyst needed to remind everyone why it was so appealing in the first place.

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Disney Dips on Q4 Earnings Miss, Bob Iger Touts Upcoming Streaming Service Thu, 09 Nov 2017 21:22:24 +0000 Sean Burch and Matt Pressberg The Walt Disney Company reported underwhelming fourth quarter earnings on Thursday, as the company deals with the headwinds affecting cable colossus ESPN and the lack of studio releases for the quarter.

After the bell, the entertainment giant posted revenue of $12.78 billion and earnings of $1.07 cents a share for the three months ended Sept. 30, failing to meet Wall Street estimates. On average, analysts anticipated Disney would report $13.27 billion in sales and earnings of $1.14 cents a share.

Shares of Disney stock dipped three percent in after-hours trading to about $99 a share.

CEO Bob Iger boasted the company’s upcoming streaming service in his statement accompanying earnings.

“No other entertainment company is better equipped to navigate the ever-evolving media landscape, thanks to our unparalleled collection of brands and franchises and our ability to leverage IP across our entire company,” said Iger. “We look forward to launching our first direct-to-consumer streaming service in the new year, and we will continue to invest for the future and take the smart risks required to deliver shareholder value.”

Disney’s revenue decreased three percent year-over-year, as its studio and cable networks were down. Disney pulled in $218 million in revenue from its studio during Q4 — compared to the $381 million it made during the same period last year.

Disney didn’t release any films during the quarter, explaining the quiet performance of its studio, which set a global box office record last year. But the next three months should be stacked with big screen hits, including “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in December. And the success of “Thor: Ragnarok,” which has already passed $500 million at the box office after its release last week, will also show up on the balance sheet.

Disney made waves earlier in the week when it emerged the Mouse House had been looking at buying Fox’s TV and movie businesses. The deal would bring top franchises like “X-Men” into the Disney fold and bolster the studio’s arsenal as it prepares to launch its own streaming service in 2019. The added content would come in handy as Disney prepares to fight mainstays like Netflix, while also doubling its stake in Hulu to 60 percent.

The company is also preparing to debut an over-the-top ESPN service next year to counteract the waning strength of its sports cash cow. ESPN peaked at 100.1 million subscribers in 2011, but cord-cutting has eroded its once-teflon standing, as the cable network has dropped more than 12 million subscribers since its heyday. At an estimated $7 per subscriber each month, that’s a lot of scratch. Cable revenues of $3.95 billion were flat year-over-year for Disney, but Sports Illustrated reported on Thursday another 100 ESPN staffers would be let go after Thanksgiving.

One bright spot for Disney during Q4 was its theme parks, which saw revenues increase six percent to $4.7 billion.

Heading into Thursday, Disney shares had been in a bit of a holding pattern for the last three months, hovering between $97 and $103 a share.

Disney will discuss the earnings on a conference call at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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Twitter Halts Verifications After ‘Unite the Right’ Organizer Gets Blue Checkmark Thu, 09 Nov 2017 18:29:45 +0000 Sean Burch If you’ve been on the cusp of receiving Twitter’s coveted blue checkmark, you’re going to have to wait longer.

Twitter announced on Thursday it is pausing its verification process, one day after Jason Kessler, the organizer of the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, received a blue checkmark.

Events in Charlottesville resulted in the death of protester Heather Hayer — who Kessler called a “fat, disgusting communist” in the aftermath.

In a tweet outlining the decision, the social platform said, “verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance.” Verifications have been “paused” until the company can resolve the “confusion.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey followed up the message with a tweet of his own, saying the company should’ve “communicated faster.”

“Our agents have been following our verification policy correctly, but we realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered. And we failed by not doing anything about it,” tweeted Dorsey. “Working now to fix faster.”

After asking how the system currently works, a Twitter spokesperson pointed TheWrap to its page outlining verification details, where it says “a verified badge does not imply an endorsement by Twitter.” The spokesperson did not have details on expected changes to the policy.

The blue checkmark has been seen as a sign of authority on the platform and comes with perks “regular” accounts do not enjoy. Access to analytics, notification adjustments, and preferential placement in search results come with verification. The badge lets users know you are indeed looking at the real Kim Kardashian’s account, for example, rather than the 50,000 bootleg versions.

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Roku Stock Leaps 47 Percent on Massive Jump in Streaming Hours, New Customers Thu, 09 Nov 2017 15:57:02 +0000 Sean Burch Roku just sent another clear signal the streaming revolution is here to stay.

The company’s stock, which specializes in streaming hardware, has rocketed up 47 percent in early morning trading on Thursday, after posting sales that easily surpassed Wall Street expectations for its first quarter as a publicly traded company.

Roku hauled in $124.8 million in revenue — about $14 million more than anticipated — and posted an adjusted loss of 10 cents per share, easily besting the $1.37 per share loss analysts had forecast.

“Our higher margin platform segment is the key driver of our growth and gross margin expansion, and our advertising business has more than doubled in size year-to-date,” said CEO Anthony Wood in a statement on Wednesday.

The family of Roku streaming devices run from about $30 to $130, and have become increasingly popular as content giants like Netflix have gained steam in recent years.

Two numbers stood out in particular for Roku: a 48 percent year-over-year increase in active accounts, along with a nearly 60 percent jump in hours spent streaming. With Roku boasting about 50 percent of the streaming device market when it went public in September, its third quarter performance shows the company hasn’t slowed down in bringing more users into the fold.

Roku also saw substantial growth from its ad business, which Chief Financial Officer Steve Louden had mentioned to TheWrap as an area the company was well positioned to take advantage of.

“We’re founded on the belief that all TV will be streamed,” said Louden. “In the U.S. alone there’s $70 billion alone in traditional TV advertising that’ll increasingly come to streaming. And we’ve positioned ourselves as a leader in the over-the-top advertising space.”

The Los Gatos, CA.-based company said it could break even in Q4.

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Greta Van Susteren Announces She’s Working on Mobile APP Called ‘Sorry’ Wed, 08 Nov 2017 20:48:06 +0000 Jon Levine Greta Van Susteren, a broadcast veteran of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, is ready for her next act — a mobile app —  the details of which she announced on Wednesday in a lengthy Facebook post.

“Chances are you may need my new APP (at least once in a while) or know someone who does need it (and maybe more than once in a while!) I know I have needed this APP,” she said.

Though Van Susteren noted that app design was a totally new venture for her, she said she wanted to try something new and dove into the project after leaving Fox News in September 2016.

So what is the app?

According to Van Susteren, it’s a platform that will allow people to accept or reject apologizes between their friends privately or publicly for celebrities. The app will be called “Sorry.”

As she puts it:

You will get to ‘accept or reject’ apologies from a friend (kept private between you and your friend) or ‘accept or reject’ apologies of public figures which we ALL get to see and vote to accept or reject. We all get to see what others think about accept or reject of public apologies when we see the numbers roll in on those very public apologies. Eg, imagine if you and everyone else got to vote ‘accept or reject’ when Kathy Griffin apologized? Was it enough? or not? And how would she know if her apology was accepted without the vote counter? Or how about when a cable news network apologizes for a blunder? A politician for cheating on a spouse? Dove Soap for that commercial? Facebook is sorry about the Russia stuff? LA Times columnist apologizes for description of Sarah Huckabee. Accept or reject? Even India’s biggest airline is apologizing today. It is just endless

Van Susteren says she hopes it will one day be as popular as AOL.

“You know ‘you’ve got mail,'” she writes. “Well … I am hoping people will start saying ‘you need the APP.'”

We’ll keep you updated on the IPO.

In the meantime, you can read Van Susteren’s full announcement below.

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How Is Trump Able to Tweet in China Despite Country’s ‘Great Firewall’? Wed, 08 Nov 2017 17:19:01 +0000 Sean Burch Not even China’s notorious “Great Firewall” can stop President Trump from tweeting.

The commander-in-chief has been actively posting on his favorite social network while traveling across Asia this week, including his current stop in China — where Twitter is banned. He posted a nice photo collage earlier on Wednesday, highlighting a few moments from the “beautiful welcome” China has graced him with.

The president is using “special equipment,” according to NBC’s Peter Alexander, to circumvent China’s draconian internet policies, which ban major sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google.

So how’s President Trump still firing off tweets? He’s the most powerful man on the planet, so chances are he has a better workaround than the average visitor. But there are a few options. There’s a strong likelihood Trump is using a virtual private network, securely encrypting his data and allowing him to bypass the digital roadblocks. TheWrap’s own Jon Levine used a VPN to scan the web while living in China for four years.

Another alternative, according to Quartz, is relying on “satellite links and secure government-issued phones” from the White House Communications Agency. And if Trump is really playing fast and loose with it, he can try what works for many foreign visitors to China: simply hopping on Wi-Fi and surfing from there.

This isn’t as easy a maneuver for Chinese natives, where the firewall impacts all domestic devices. VPN apps were a popular way to reach banned sites, but the Chinese government has started to crack down on those, too, in 2017. They’ve been purged from the App Store in China, where all VPN apps now require government approval.

Luckily for President Trump, these measures haven’t impacted his Twitter schedule.

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Ex-Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Subpoenaed to Testify Before Congress Wed, 08 Nov 2017 16:06:12 +0000 Sean Burch Marissa Mayer is in Washington — not exactly by her choice.

The former Yahoo CEO has been subpoenaed to appear in front of the Senate Commerce Committee to testify on cybersecurity breaches on Wednesday after declining several requests to appear voluntarily.

Congress thinks Mayer is well-equipped to discuss the topic since she was at the helm of Yahoo in 2013, when 3 billion of its accounts had their data compromised by a hack. She was also in charge the following year, when another hack hit 500 million accounts.

The subpoena, first reported by The Hill, was issued on Oct. 25, after legislators repeatedly attempted to get Mayer to appear. There’s now a squabble over her decision to testify, with Mayer agreeing to speak after a Verizon representative — the company that took over Yahoo — had agreed to talk as well. But as of Tuesday, the subpoena was still in effect.

Yahoo’s major breach didn’t come to light until 2016, shaving $350 million off Verizon’s buyout price for the internet stalwart. Verizon ended up paying about $4.5 billion altogether.

The push to have Mayer testify comes on the heels of Equifax’s massive hack, which left nearly half of the U.S. population vulnerable to having their personal information stolen.

You can watch Mayer, as well as Equifax execs, testify on Wednesday here.

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Twitter Expands 280 Character Limit to Everyone, Users Yawn: ‘What Is This, Infinity War?’ Tue, 07 Nov 2017 23:05:23 +0000 Ashley Boucher and Sean Burch If you weren’t one of the chosen users selected to take part in the 280 character limit expansion Twitter began testing in September, good news: the social media giant announced Tuesday that expansion is being rolled out for everyone.

The only exceptions are people who tweet in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean because “these languages have always been able to say more with their Tweets because of the density of their writing systems.”

The switch marks a landmark change for the San Francisco-based company, which has been tethered to its 140 character max since its launch in 2006. Its 330 million monthly active users will have access to the new threshold by Tuesday night.

Twitter says it found that users with the longer limit experienced “more engagement (Likes, Retweets, @mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter” from their longer tweets. But, overall, it found that having a higher character limit didn’t necessarily lead to longer tweets overall.

“We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often. But importantly, people Tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained,” Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen wrote in a blog post.

She added that “only 5 percent of Tweets sent were longer than 140 characters and only 2 percent were over 190 characters” during the test.

Brevity preserved or not, it seems Twitter users were largely ‘meh’ about the changes. Some mocked the implications for long-winded users. Others noted it comes while users still want more to be done about harassment and hate speech. Others noted that now Trump has 280 characters too. Others just had fun lamenting the end of what we’ll call classic Twitter. Or as writer Britt Hayes put it, “what is this Infinity War.”

Read on for a sampling.

On the other hand, some users celebrated the change.

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Snap CEO Evan Spiegel Says Snapchat Redesign in the Works Tue, 07 Nov 2017 22:27:14 +0000 Sean Burch It’s not just old people who think Snapchat is confusing.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said as much in a prepared statement on Tuesday, after the company posted underwhelming third quarter earnings.

“One thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,” said Spiegel in the statement. “As a result, we are currently redesigning our application to make it easier to use.”

Spiegel added the facelift will make it easier for Snapchatters to discover content on the app.

Snapchat has been a favorite of Gen Z users, but its user growth left much to be desired for the third quarter in a row. The Venice, CA.-based company added only 4.5 million daily active users in the third quarter — a 3 percent quarter-over-quarter increase.

Snapchat now has 178 million DAUs — trailing the 300 million its chief rival, Instagram Stories, boasts. At the same time, the company failed to meet Wall Street’s expectations for sales. Snap pulled in $207.9 million in revenue, falling short of analyst estimates by nearly $30 million.

Shares of Snap were down 16 percent in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

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Snap Flops Again, Stock Tanks 20 Percent on Limp Q3 User Growth Tue, 07 Nov 2017 21:20:51 +0000 Sean Burch and Matt Pressberg Evan Spiegel’s social network continues to make investor money disappear, as Snap reported hugely disappointing earnings for the third quarter in a row, sending its stock down nearly 20 percent after hours.

After the bell, Snap reported $207.9 million in revenue and a loss of 14 cents a share for the three months ended Sept. 30 —  falling short of analyst estimates of $237 million in revenue, but slightly beating earnings estimates of 15 cents a share.

Snap reported 178 million daily active users — less than the 180.5 million it projected. It added 4.5 million DAUs for the quarter, representing only a 3 percent increase over last quarter. And even as Snap continues to scale, their hosting costs continue to increase, jumping 11 percent per user quarter-over-quarter.

Compounding matters, Snap’s sales underwhelmed once again. One piece of good news, though, was average revenue per user was up significantly for the second straight quarter, moving to $1.17 ARPU — a 12 percent quarter-over-quarter increase.

Snap has seemingly thrown in the towel on Spectacles, its much maligned camera-sunglasses, writing off $39.9 million in losses for the quarter.

Snap had been heavily scrutinized for committing the cardinal sin of middling user growth and uninspiring sales in its first two quarters as a public company; that trend continued during the third quarter. At the same time, it’s been constantly and unfavorably compared to its chief rival, Instagram, which has copied many of Snap’s features. Instagram Stories recently reported it has 300 million daily active users.

Yet even with its ugly start as a publicly traded company, there had been signs Snap is on the verge of a turnaround. The Venice, CA.-based company has been working to beef up its strength as a go-to platform for advertisers, with a quarter to integrate its GPS-based measurement of ad-to-foot traffic feature. And just last Friday, Snap acquired Metamarkets to provide ad data for marketers.

And while Spiegel was widely mocked — including by TheWrap — for touting its animated dancing hot dog as the “first augmented reality superstar,” the bet on AR has paid dividends according to brands, but hasn’t shown up in its quarterly results so far. Companies have turned to Snap for its AR lenses (think Taco Bell using a Taco face filter to push its products). “Snapchat seem to be leading the AR innovation since their product is centered around the camera, and they have scale to continually test, iterate and improve quickly,” one marketing expert told Business Insider last week.

Another feather in Snap’s cap has been its continued popularity with Gen Z’ers. A Piper Jaffray survey last month found nearly half (47 percent) of 4,100 teens polled said Snapchat is their preferred social media platform — holding a massive lead on both Instagram (24 percent) and Facebook (9 percent).

Snapchat has added several unscripted shows this year, including dating shows like “Phone Swap,” that target its cherished young demo. Chief Technology Officer Bobby Murphy hinted there’s more content to come back in August, saying “we can expect to see scripted shows on Snapchat before the end of the year.”

Heading into Tuesday, Snap’s stock had mirrored its apparent bounce back, rising 29 percent since trading below $12 the day after its Q2 earnings report. But even with its hot streak, shares were trading below its $17 debut and the $29 high-mark it hit immediately following its IPO in March.

The company will hold a call at 5:00 p.m. ET to discuss its earnings.

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Twitter Apologizes for ‘Bisexual’ Search Glitch, Promises Fix Tue, 07 Nov 2017 19:30:17 +0000 Sean Burch Twitter responded on Tuesday to the flack it has received for barring the word “bisexual” from appearing in its search results, saying in a series of tweets the “technical issue” stemmed from a list of words that “frequently appear alongside adult content.”

“Searches for certain words related to sexuality did not populate complete results. We apologize for anyone negatively impacted by this bug,” said a message from Twitter’s Support account.  “It is not consistent with our values as a company.”

Twitter searches for “bisexual” and “bisexuality” come up empty handed, with no results for “video,” and only a few stray tweets for “news” and “photo” searches. Many LGBTQ users on the social platform noticed the dearth of content, bringing it to Twitter’s attention.

Twitter said it’ll be auditing its list of banned terms and “making changes during the next 24 hours to correct this mistake.”

The San Francisco-based company has moved to being more decisive in how it regulates content on its platform. Wired had a look at an internal email last month that showed Twitter will be cracking down on “non-consensual nudity” and “unwanted sexual advances.” The platform will also be looking closer at content that “glorifies” violence and posts from hate groups. And now, you can add tweaking its search results to its list of fixes.

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Sia Tweets Naked Photo Before Paparazzo Can Sell It: ‘Everyday Is Christmas!’ Tue, 07 Nov 2017 15:52:31 +0000 Sean Burch

Sia: 1, sleazy photographer: 0.

The Australian music star took to Twitter late on Monday — or Tuesday, if she was down under — to pre-empt an unnamed paparrazo who was looking to sell naked pictures of her.

“Someone is apparently trying to sell naked photos of me to my fans. Save your money, here it is for free,” tweeted the “Chandelier” singer. “Everyday is Christmas!”

Sia decided to beat the photographer to the punch, sharing a screenshot of one of the pictures; the pic also included a message indicating there were an “additional 14 images.”

In related news, Sia has a new album, “Everyday Is Christmas,” due out on November 17.

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‘I’ on iPhone Keyboard Doesn’t Work Right Now, Customers Complain Mon, 06 Nov 2017 16:34:06 +0000 Sean Burch Irritating. Irksome. Infuriating.

Maybe even: “I hate this.”

These are some of the words several iOS users couldn’t use this weekend when describing the iPhone’s inability to type a capital “I” on their keyboards. But alas, you or a friend, or someone you saw on social media likely ran into this issue.

The capital “I” has been replaced with an exclamation point and a question mark for users hit by the bug. Others have seen the letter replaced with “A” and a series of horizontal black lines. The switch has impacted users on iOS 10 and 11.

Apple did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on an expected fix for the problem, but did post a brief support note on the matter this weekend. The bandaid lets users replace a capital “I” with a lowercase “i” — which will look odd, but not as odd as the bizarre exclamation point-question mark combo.

Apple’s short-term solution doesn’t seem to be working for everyone. TheWrap’s own Beatrice Verhoeven ran into the “i” problem this weekend and said the workaround did nothing.

It sounds like the fix needs a fix, too. For now, the best move is to download a third-party keyboard to your iPhone, like Google’s GBoard.

We’ll update you if Apple gets back with a more substantial remedy. CEO Tim Cook is probably wondering why this couldn’t have happened with the letter “x” instead, as millions of customers await their new iPhone Xs in the mail.

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Here’s a Completely Fake Pro-Trump Twitter Account Created by Russian Trolls Fri, 03 Nov 2017 19:02:59 +0000 Sean Burch More than 70,000 followers looked to Twitter personality Jenna Abrams for her thoughts on a myriad of hot-button topics, from political correctness to segregation to President Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The right-leaning account offered pearls of wisdom, like this nugget from April 2016: “To those people, who hate the Confederate flag. Did you know that the flag and the war wasn’t about slavery, it was all about money.”

Tweeted amid the rise of alt-right-leaning media personalities, including Milo Yiannopoulos and Tomi Lahren, its sounds pretty familiar.

The only difference with Abrams is — she doesn’t exist. She was the creation of the Internet Research Agency, a pro-Kremlin troll farm funded by the Russian government, according to a House of Representatives investigation, cited by The Daily Beast.

Data turned over by Twitter and Facebook helped congressional investigators peg Abrams to the Russian agency — which has been in the headlines lately for leveraging social media sites like Facebook and Twitter before and after the 2016 U.S. election.

Abrams — who operated under the the handle @Jenn_Abrams  for three years — quickly became a high-profile rabble rouser on Twitter. Roseanne Barr responded to one of her tweets, calling a mutual enemy a “pro-pedophile.” Russian propaganda expert and former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul routinely got into arguments with her. Ex-White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn retweeted her. And Abrams’ tweets were featured on an array of websites, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Buzzfeed.

Russian agents went the extra yard to make Abrams appear as real as possible. Her Twitter profile included a Gmail account, a Medium blog and a GoFundMe account (perhaps Putin doesn’t pay that well). Abrams didn’t just talk about politics, either, touching on pop culture issues like the Kardashians and, of course, “manspreading.”

“Her” account has since been suspended by Twitter,  but her legacy brings attention to how effectively Russian trolls can pose as American personalities online. Read the full Daily Beast report here.

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4 Takeaways From Apple’s Q4 Earnings Beat, From Apple Music to Tim Cook’s Love of AR Thu, 02 Nov 2017 22:39:16 +0000 Sean Burch It was the same old song and dance when Apple reported its fourth quarter earnings on Thursday afternoon, with the company easily blowing past analyst expectations as it hauled in $52.6 billion in revenue — its fourth straight quarter beating revenue estimates.

The company took a victory lap on its earnings conference call, patting itself on the back for better-than-expected iPhone sales and a record $8.5 billion in services revenue.

But there was plenty more for Apple fanboys to drool over on the call: here are a few points that stood out.

Tim Cook Still Loves Augmented Reality 

As you might remember, Cook had said AR is so cool it makes him want to “yell out and scream” earlier this year. Apparently that’s still the case. Less than five minutes into the call, CEO Tim Cook was touting the future of augmented reality.

The exec said the App Store now sports more than 1,000 AR-enabled apps, with its latest iOS update bringing the technology to millions of devices. “AR is going to change the way we will use technology forever,” said Cook, setting his sights high.

Cook pointed to several use cases, from humanitarian causes to pulling up stats while at a game.

Apple Watch Sales Are Up — But How Many Were Sold? 

The Apple Watch continues to gain steam, with Cook saying the device had “over 50 percent” growth for the third consecutive quarter. Still, the company has been mum on reporting exact sales figures; analysts have estimated 2-3 million Watches were sold last quarter.

Apple has doubled down on its push to own the fit-tech market, hyping the Watch as a go-to workout partner. This case is only backed up by the Watch now being cell-enabled. Altogether, its wearable business is humming along, with its revenue increasing 75 percent year-over-year.

Music — Still Popular!

Speaking of 75 percent, Apple Music subscriptions are up 75 percent year-over-year. (The company passed 30 million subs in September.) We can finally say, once and for all, Napster is dead.

Macs Aren’t Dead

Apple is making money in so many different ways, it’s getting hard to keep track. But even its old fallbacks are reaching new heights, with Apple VP Luca Maestri saying Macs had its “biggest year ever.” Sales swelled to 5.4 million computers in the fourth quarter — a 25 percent year-over-year increase.

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Apple Cruises to Q4 Earnings Beat, Races to All-Time High in After-Hours Trading Thu, 02 Nov 2017 20:40:48 +0000 Sean Burch Even before the iPhone X hits the market, Apple continues to rake in the cash, beating analyst revenue estimates by nearly $2 billion — buoyed by better-than-expected iPhone sales — when it posted its fourth quarter earnings on Thursday.

The world’s biggest tech company reported revenue of $52.6 billion and earnings of $2.07 cents a share for the three months ended Sept. 30 — running past Wall Street estimates. Analysts anticipated Apple would post $50.7 billion in sales and earnings of $1.87 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters data. Apple’s revenue increased 12 percent year-over-year.

“We’re happy to report a very strong finish to a great fiscal 2017, with record fourth quarter revenue, year-over-year growth for all our product categories, and our best quarter ever for Services,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a statement accompanying its earnings. “With fantastic new products including iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, Apple Watch Series 3, and Apple TV 4K joining our product lineup, we’re looking forward to a great holiday season, and with the launch of iPhone X getting underway right now, we couldn’t be more excited as we begin to deliver our vision for the future with this stunning device.”

Apple sold 46.7 million iPhones during the fourth quarter, passing analyst estimates of 46.1 million. Its Services business — encompassing iCloud, movie downloads, and Apple Care — hit $8.5 billion in revenue, a 34 percent jump year-over-year. Investors liked what they were seeing, as shares of Apple surged 3 percent in after-hours trading to a new all-time high of about $173 a share.

With the Nov. 3 release of the highly anticipated iPhone X — starting at a crisp $999 — Wall Street also had its eyes pinned on Apple’s Q1 forecast as well, expecting the company to share a mammoth $84.9 billion revenue forecast. Apple obliged, projecting it’ll pull in between $84-$87 billion next quarter.

It was an eventful yet unique quarter for Apple, as it debuted its slate of new products in Sept., as usual, but held off on launching its premier iPhone for months due to production delays. Apple fans eager for a new device had to subside on the iPhone 8 for now — which was met with tepid crowds when it debuted. The wait for the iPhone X has investors looking for a “super cycle” of phone upgrades during the upcoming quarter, as its facial recognition software and button-less screen sets it apart from previous models.

“We believe it is likely that initial demand for iPhone 8 is being negatively impacted by customers waiting for iPhone X,” said Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson in a client note shared with TheWrap. “We have factored this concern into our model by pushing more iPhone units out of the Sep/Dec quarters and into Mar/Jun.”

Still, even with more than half of its sales stemming from the iPhone, Apple isn’t a one-trick pony. Between the iPad, Mac sales, its services business, and the Apple Watch — which Cook recently said was the top-selling watch in the world — the company has been able to buy its time waiting for the full iPhone rollout. And with the Watch now being cell-enabled, analysts told TheWrap Apple will soon be selling more than the estimated 2-3 million it shelled out last quarter.

Apple started to dip its toes into the original content game as well during the fourth quarter. The company is putting $1 billion into shows during the year ahead, aiming for family-friendly content that plays to a wide audience. Its initial run of programming, including a spin-off version of James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” has done little to turn heads. But for a company sitting on more than $250 billion in cash, there’s little stopping the Silicon Valley mainstay from going full-throttle in its chase for Hollywood stardom.

At the same time, Wall Street has kept its love affair going strong with Apple; in the last three months, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company gaining 8 percent and pushing its stock to an all-time high of about $168 a share as markets closed Thursday. Apple has charged up 44 percent since the beginning of 2017 — swelling its market cap to $867 billion as it pushes towards becoming the first trillion-dollar company.

The company will hold a conference call to discuss earnings at 5:00 p.m. ET.

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Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies Now Worth More Than Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Combined Thu, 02 Nov 2017 15:16:30 +0000 Sean Burch A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say, and bitcoin’s latest monster run has propelled all cryptocurrencies to surpass the combined market cap of financial titans Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

Bitcoin — the dominant digital currency on the market — zoomed to record highs above $7,300 early on Thursday, growing its market cap to about $120 billion. Added together with other popular cryptos like ethereum and litecoin, the budding industry now has an aggregate market cap (coin price multiplied by the amount in circulation) greater than the $186.2 billion added together between Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, according to

So what spurred bitcoin’s big move? CME Group’s decision to offer bitcoin futures — allowing investors to bet on the price of the cryptocurrency rising or falling by a certain date — on Tuesday sparked its jump from around $6,100 a coin to its current levels above $7,000. The decision from the institution, which dubs itself “the world’s leading and most diverse derivatives marketplace,” gave bitcoin a major vote of confidence and is seen as a step towards its widespread acceptance on Wall Street.

Blowing past the $7,000 threshold was the latest benchmark in bitcoin’s meteoric rise in 2017. The granddaddy cryptocurrency, which was first introduced in early 2009, has rocketed up more than 866 percent in the last year, according to data from exchange site

JP Morgan Chase head honcho Jamie Dimon briefly turned out the lights on the party in September, saying bitcoin is “just not a real thing.”

“[Bitcoin’s] worse than tulip bulbs. It won’t end well. Someone is going to get killed,” said Dimon at a Barclays conference. “Currencies have legal support. It will blow up.”

The dig, along with China cracking down on cryptocurrencies, sent bitcoin spiraling down to about $3,000 in mid-September. But rumors of bitcoin’s demise were greatly exaggerated, as the digital currency has already doubled in the two months following Dimon’s comments.

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Mark Zuckerberg Vows to Stop Russian Facebook Trolls: ‘I Am Dead Serious About This’ Wed, 01 Nov 2017 21:47:03 +0000 Sean Burch On the heels of Facebook representatives testifying on Capitol Hill — along with banner Q3 earnings from the social media giant — CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that he’s “dead serious” when it comes to dealing with Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Zuckerberg kicked off his company’s third quarter earnings conference call Wednesday with tough talk about preventing the spread of pro-Kremlin misinformation, saying it’s of paramount importance for his company to root out Russian trolls.

“Protecting our community is more important than maximizing profits,” he said.

The exec reiterated what Facebook had told congressional investigators earlier in the week — that the company would be doubling its ad review team from 10,000 to 20,000. Zuckerberg added the company would be implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning to fight the spread of fake news.

“I am dead serious about this,” said Zuckerberg.

After the social network posted another earnings beat — including a whopping $10.33 billion in revenue during the third quarter — Zuckerberg emphasized the company’s efforts in a statement. “We’re investing so much in security that it will impact our profitability,” he said.

Still, the investment in security could easily be seen as a way for Facebook to protect its most valuable asset — its users. Scaring away a healthy slice of its 2.07 billion monthly users due to the specter of fake Russian content would be a body blow to a company raking in advertising dollars.

On Tuesday, Facebook’s General Counsel Colin Stretch told the Senate Intelligence Committee 126 million users had been exposed to Russian troll content before and after the 2016 election. This number ballooned another 20 million on Wednesday when Stretch added in the number of accounts hit on Instagram, the company’s popular photo-sharing app.

Moving forward, Facebook said it’ll be adding a “paid for by” tag to its political ads, giving users insight into the source behind ads on its platform.

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Facebook Posts Mammoth 3Q Earnings, Investors Smash ‘Like’ Button in After-Hours Trading Wed, 01 Nov 2017 20:14:42 +0000 Sean Burch Facebook beat analyst expectations on its third quarter earnings on Wednesday, reporting a massive 47 percent jump in revenue year-over-year behind continued mobile ad strength, as the world’s biggest social network swelled to 2.07 billion monthly users and continued pulling in ad dollars.

The social network posted revenue of $10.33 billion and earnings of $1.59 cents a share for the three months ended Sept. 30 — easily running past Wall Street estimates. Analysts anticipated Facebook would report $9.84 billion in sales and earnings of $1.28 cents a share.

The cash haul represented a 47 percent jump in revenue year-over-year — giving the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company its 10th straight quarterly revenue beat. Profits followed suit, soaring 79 percent year-over-year.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg credited the company’s growth in a statement about the impressive quarter, but hinted at lingering fallout from Russian trolls using the platform during the 2016 U.S. election.

“Our community continues to grow and our business is doing well,” said Zuckerberg. “But none of that matters if our services are used in ways that don’t bring people closer together. We’re serious about preventing abuse on our platforms. We’re investing so much in security that it will impact our profitability. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”

Facebook hit a new all-time high of about $186 in early after-hours trading.

As usual, it was an eventful quarter for the world’s biggest social media company.

Facebook has been mired in controversy in recent months, as more details continue to trickle out on how Russian trolls leveraged the platform to spread disinformation during the 2016 election. Making matters worse in the public’s eye, Facebook has changed its assessment of the damage on a routine basis — saying 10 million accounts were vulnerable to pro-Kremlin content. Then 126 million. And then, hours before its quarterly earnings, 146 million. To combat the spread of misinformation, the company announced last week it’ll add a “paid for by” tag to its political ads ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

At the same time, its business has been clicking on all cylinders.

The company continued gobbling up users around the world, moving from 2.01 to 2.07 billion users during the third quarter — a 16 percent year-over-year increase. After posting a 17 percent increase in user growth last quarter, Facebook has settled into a quarterly double-digit improvement rate.

Advertisements continue to be the name of the game for Facebook, as the company forms a duopoly with Google; more than 80 percent of all new online ad dollars funnel towards the two companies. Facebook continues to dominate mobile ads, with 88 percent of the company’s ad dollars stemming from mobile.

Instagram, its popular photo-sharing app, crossed the 800 million monthly active user threshold in September. Its daily use continued to swell, too, with 500 million DAUs. Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition of the company in 2012 continues to look like one of the great business coups of the past decade, providing the advertising behemoth another platform to offer its clients.

Another vehicle to run ads against: Facebook’s Watch, its new original content tab launched in August. Facebook aimed for shows 30-minutes-and-under, and partnered with hundreds of outlets to load Watch with full stable. Watch hasn’t generated much buzz, at least for now, but with the company planning on spending $1 billion on content, its angling to become a streaming powerhouse in its own right.

And as long as Facebook continues to rake in the ad revenue, Wall Street hasn’t cared about its fake news problem. Facebook’s stock slowly crept up 7 percent in the past three months, with shares touching an all-time high of about $182.50 as markets closed on Wednesday.

The company will hold a conference call to discuss its earnings at 5 p.m. PT.

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Facebook Has Updated Its Number of Accounts Hit by Russian Trolls – Again Wed, 01 Nov 2017 19:24:39 +0000 Sean Burch Another day, another Facebook update on how many accounts were exposed to Russian propaganda during the 2016 U.S. election.

The social network told congressional investigators on Wednesday pro-Kremlin trolls targeted 146 million accounts across its platforms — an increase of 20 million from its previous estimate.

Facebook’s General Counsel Colin Stretch told the Senate Intelligence Committee the additional 20 million stemmed from Instagram, the popular photo-sharing app owned by the company. Stretch left the door open to the figure being amended, saying its Instagram data “is not as complete” as its revue of posts on Facebook.

The Putin-backed Internet Research Agency harnessed Facebook and Instagram to touch on “hot button” issues before and after the 2016 election, including immigration and race relations. In another meeting with Congress on Tuesday, Stretch had said 80,000 posts were created by the IRA; Stretch added it represented a “small amount” of content in the News Feed, about 0.04 percent, but “any amount is too much.”

This was a stark jump from what Facebook had initially reported — with the company turning over 3,000 Russian ads in September.

To counteract fake news moving forward, Facebook said its beefing up its ad team from 10,000 to 20,000 reviewers, and incorporating artificial intelligence tools to track down shady posts. Last week, the company announced it’ll start adding “paid for by” tags to its political ads ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

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iPhone X Wins Early Raves: ‘Clearly the Best iPhone Ever Made’ Wed, 01 Nov 2017 16:24:28 +0000 Sean Burch Most tech-heads are loving the new iPhone X.

Reviewers are falling over themselves to tout Apple’s latest flagship device, which went on pre-sale last week and is set to drop on Nov. 3.

And with the phone coming in at a cool $999 and sporting some major changes — the exiling of the classic home button, the biggest display in iPhone history and facial recognition software, for starters — there was plenty for reviewers to touch on.

Starting with the design, CNBC’s Todd Haselton said that the “iPhone X hardware is the best I’ve ever seen Apple make.” He added the device “feels like a $1,000 phone,” which is nice to know, since it is a $1,000 phone.

Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff raved about the “stunning” 5.8-inch screen that covers the entire front-facing surface of the phone, calling it it “the best iPhone display I have ever seen.”

James Titcomb of The Telegraph echoed that sentiment, saying, “From the moment you pick it up, it’s the screen that pops out at you.”

Buzzfeed’s Nicole Nguyen noted “more software bugs than usual” in the latest iOS update and said the “phone isn’t for everyone.” Nevertheless, its bright, easy-to-read display and nifty facial ID security made it a “damn good phone.”

And this is how most reviewers felt. The Evening Standard called it the “best iPhone yet.” Same for The Verge, saying its “clearly the best iPhone ever made.” In his initial diagnosis, Business Insider’s Steve Kovach said the device “gives a great first impression.”

How about facial recognition, though? Let’s get into it. Apple’s new security system — which projects thousands of invisible light beams to a user’s face to unlock — seems to be, for the most part, performing above expectations. TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino said “at several points, the unlock procedure worked so well in pitch black or at weird angles that I laughed out loud.”

Facial ID’s ability to work in the dark wasn’t lost on Gizmodo’s Alex Cranz. “Best yet, it works totally well even in situations when you would expect a facial recognition system to definitely fail,” said Cranz. “Trying to open my phone in pitch black room or after whipping my glasses off my face? No problem!”

That’s a relief. But it wasn’t all gravy, all the time. Light, rather than darkness, seemed to throw off The Verge’s Nilay Patel as he tried to open his device.

“I took a walk outside our NYC office in bright sunlight, and Face ID definitely had issues recognizing my face consistently while I was moving until I went into shade or brought the phone much closer to my face than usual,” said Patel. “I also went to the deli across the street, which has a wide variety of lights inside, including a bunch of overhead florescent strips, and Face ID also got significantly more inconsistent.”

And hopefully you don’t have a nefarious sibling running around, because identical twins had a decent chance of fooling facial ID, according to several tests.

Other than that, the reviewers seem to be telling you to enter full “Futurama” mode for the latest, greatest iPhone.

TheWrap will remain neutral, of course.

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Facebook, Google, Twitter Grilled Over 2016 Election: 5 Takeaways From Congressional Hearing Wed, 01 Nov 2017 00:46:55 +0000 Sean Burch Representatives for Facebook, Google and Twitter went to Washington hat-in-hand on Tuesday to address congressional investigators. The topic at hand: The influence of Russian-backed fake news on the 2016 U.S. election and how to prevent future manipulation.

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch opened the remarks on the tech side, insisting that “we take what happened on Facebook very seriously. The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible.” Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett and Google Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado echoed those comments, establishing what would become a familiar pattern as Facebook answered questions, and they said, essentially, us too.

No solutions were reached, but senators were able to vent at the tech giants, who detailed their response to the problem. Here are some key takeaways from big tech’s grilling in D.C.:

Hundreds of Millions of People Were Affected

An hour into the hearing, Facebook said 126 million people were exposed to one of the 80,000 posts pushed by Russian agents. This happened both before and after the 2016 election. Stretch stressed it represented a “small amount” of content in the News Feed — about 0.04 percent — but “any amount is too much.”

Edgett said Twitter suspended 2,752 accounts tied to the Russian Internet Research Agency between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, 2016, and had turned over the user handles to congressional investigators.

Google’s Salgado said $4,700 in ads were purchased by the IRA — in comparison to about $100,000 paid for on Facebook. All three representatives aimed to thread the needle on multiple occasions, reiterating a similar refrain: the overall impact was minor, yet any amount of foreign intervention is too much.

Social Media Giants Tout Marketing, AI-Focused Defensive Steps 

The three companies said they’re doubling down on their ability to detect political meddling. Facebook is increasing its ad review team from 10,000 to 20,000. Twitter is adding “hundreds” of workers to its own team. Salgado said in 2018 Goole will “release a transparency report for election ads and pair that with a library of election ad content that will be accessible to researchers.” Notably, all pointed to machine learning and artificial intelligence tools that’ll be used to weed out shady content.

During the hearing, Senator Al Franken demanded that Facebook to commit to not taking currencies from hostile foreign governments, like North Korea.

“I can tell you we’re not going to permit political advertising by foreign actors,” Colin Stretch said, but he added that this wouldn’t prevent such entities from switching to paying in U.S. dollars.

They Don’t Know if Other Countries Conduct Fake News Campaigns

Things got interesting when Senator John Kennedy took the mic about 70 minutes into the hearing. The Republican from Louisiana asked Facebook’s Stretch how many advertisers the social network has. Stretch said the platform had five million monthly advertisers. Kennedy then rattled off several countries — China, Turkmenistan, North Korea — and asked if they also used Facebook to post manipulative content.

“I’m not aware of other foreign actors running the same sort of campaign,” said Stretch.

“How can you be aware?” Kennedy jumped in to ask. “You have five million advertisers, and you’re going to tell me you’re able to trace the origin of all of those advertisements… you don’t have the ability to know who all of those advertisers are.”

Stretch said their ability to see “behind the activity” — whether the advertisers are shell corporations — is something Facebook can’t do.

Companies Insist They’re Technology Platforms, Not Media

Kennedy then turned his ire to Google, asking a question that has increasingly popped up following Russia’s fake news war — “are you a media company or a neutral technology platform?”

“We’re a technology platform,” said Salgado, before telling Kennedy “we’re not a newspaper. We’re a platform for sharing of information, that can include news from sources such as newspapers.”

“Isn’t that what newspapers do?” added a vexed Kennedy.

The three companies also pushed back on being content makers. Twitter and Google said they don’t make any content, while Facebook said less than one percent of the content on its platform is made by the social network.

After The Election, Fake News Operations Changed Tactics

Facebook and Twitter said Russian trolls primarily focused on “hot button” issues like immigration to rile up users. But this strategy shifted after 2016 election, with accounts calling into question President Trump’s win.  “We saw a lot of activity fomenting discord about the validity of his election,” said Stretch.

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More Than 100 Million People Saw Russian-Backed Content on Facebook (Report) Mon, 30 Oct 2017 23:29:26 +0000 Sean Burch Facebook will tell Congressional investigators on Tuesday more than 100 million users saw Russian-backed content on its platform before and after the 2016 U.S. election, according to an internal copy of its prepared remarks obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

The social network estimated “about 126 million people” were exposed to the pro-Kremlin posts between Jan. 2015 and Aug.  2017, stemming from a single Russian firm, the Internet Research Agency. The figure dwarfs what Facebook had shared earlier this month in a blog post, where it said an “estimated 10 million people in the U.S.” saw adertisements purchased by Russian agents.

Facebook’s new figure stretches beyond ads, including organic content like events and free posts. Altogether, the I.R.A. spit out 80,000 pieces of content — a stark jump from the 3,000 ads Facebook had turned over to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch will be testifying alongside Twitter and Google representatives when he meets with the Senate judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism on Tuesday.

“Many of the ads and posts we’ve seen so far are deeply disturbing–seemingly intended to amplify societal divisions and pit groups of people against each other,” Stretch will say, according to the prepared remarks seen by WSJ.  “They would be controversial even if they came from authentic accounts in the United States. But coming from foreign actors using fake accounts they are simply unacceptable.”

To combat fake news in future elections, Facebook said last week it was hiring thousands of workers to review posts, and introducing a “paid for by” tag on its political ads.

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Apple Engineer Fired After Daughter’s iPhone X Video Goes Viral Mon, 30 Oct 2017 16:53:07 +0000 Sean Burch Bring Your Family to Work Day has cruelly backfired on one ex-Apple employee.

YouTuber Brooke Amelia Peterson posted a vlog last week with a roughly one-minute look at the iPhone X, a few days before it was released to the masses, while visiting her dad, engineer Ken Bauer, at Apple’s campus in Cupertino, Calif.

The seemingly innocent video, with Peterson walking her viewers through some of the X’s nifty new features, ended up having major repercussions, with Peterson releasing a follow-up video saying her dad had been let go by Apple over her iPhone X clip.

“I had no idea this was a violation,” said Peterson. “At the end of the day, when you work for Apple, it doesn’t matter how good of a person you are, if you break a rule, they just have no tolerance.”

Apple has a policy against filming on campus, as well as showing off unreleased products. Peterson’s initial video –which recorded private employee-only QR codes and product codenames while highlighting its features — quickly racked up views, hitting YouTube’s trending videos section.

Peterson said she complied with Apple’s request to take down the video after she was notified, but ultimately her dad was let go. She added her dad “fully apologizes” and takes “full responsibility for the one rule he broke.”

“We’re not angry, we’re not bitter,”  an emotional Peterson said. “My dad had a really great run at Apple.”

Apple did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on Bauer being let go.

Peterson had concluded her cheery first video by saying, “I almost want to become an engineer so I can work at Apple.” After a tearful defense of her dad in her follow-up post, and Apple letting him go for the indiscretion, it’s hard to believe that’s still the case.

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YouTube TV Gets Apple TV App, at Long Last Mon, 30 Oct 2017 15:44:54 +0000 Sean Burch It’s about to get a whole lot easier to watch YouTube TV on, well, your TV.

YouTube’s $35-a-month skinny bundle is adding a TV app for smart TVs, gaming consoles, and a slew of streaming devices, including Apple TV.

Within the “next few days,” according to Google, users will be able to stream via Nvidia Shield and Android TV, along with the Xbox One family of game consoles. And the new app will  continue rolling out in the upcoming weeks, with it going live on several smart TV makers (LG, Samsung, Sony) and its long-awaited Apple TV arrival.

Since its launch in April, users have been able to stream using their mobile devices or desktop, but had to use either Chromecast or Apple Airplay to project YouTube TV onto their screens.

Google has been expanding YouTube TV’s reach in recent months, with the service now available in “all top 50 metro areas,” covering two-thirds of the U.S. YouTube TV sports 40 channels, including the big four networks and popular cable channels like ESPN and FX.

The lack of a TV app had been an Achilles’ heel for YouTube to this point, with competitors Hulu and Sling already featured on Apple TV. Now, its poised to take another step towards grabbing even more cord-cutters. If you’re inclined to give it a test run, YouTube TV offers a seven-day trial before the $35 monthly charge kicks in.

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Facebook Increases Transparency With ‘Paid for by’ Label on Election Ads Fri, 27 Oct 2017 18:57:13 +0000 Sean Burch Facebook is aiming to make its massive ad business more transparent, announcing on Friday political advertisers will face an increased level of verification when running election-related campaigns.

Starting with U.S. federal elections, Facebook will add a “paid for by” tag to political ads, allowing users to click for more details on the advertiser. “Like other ads on Facebook, you will also be able to see an explanation of why you saw that particular ad,” said Facebook VP of Ads Rob Goldman in a post on the decision.

“We remain deeply committed to helping protect the integrity of the electoral process on Facebook,” continued Goldman. “And we will continue to work with our industry partners, lawmakers and our entire community to better ensure transparency and accountability in our advertising products.”

For advertisers that fail to comply with Facebook’s new rules, the social network will use artificial intelligence to verify details behind political campaigns. The update will roll out “starting next month,” with Facebook planning on extending it to countries outside the U.S. as well.

In a post on his personal page, CEO Mark Zuckerberg built on the company’s new policies, adding it wanted to complete its rollout ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Zuckerberg added the company is “adding thousands of people to our review teams,” to go along with its AI tools, to monitor ads.

“When someone buys political ads on TV or other media, they’re required by law to disclose who paid for them,” said Zuckerberg in the post. “Now we’re bringing Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency.”

At the same time, Facebook is adding another layer of verification to its Pages, with users being able to click “View Ads” on a particular Page and see the ads its running.

Facebook’s move comes one day after Twitter banned advertisements from state-funded Russian outlets Sputnik and RT.

Company execs are expected to meet with congressional investigators next Tuesday — the same day it reports its third quarter earnings.

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Amazon Rockets 13 Percent to All-Time High, Makes Jeff Bezos Even More Rich Fri, 27 Oct 2017 17:29:45 +0000 Sean Burch After posting yet another strong quarter that has made Wall Street analysts and investors weak in the knees, Amazon’s stock raced past its all-time high on Friday, rocketing up 13 percent on bigger-than-expected sales and the prospect of a mammoth holiday season.

Shares of Amazon flew past $1,100 for the first time ever in early morning trading, after the internet e-commerce monolith bested revenue expectations by more than $1.5 billion for the third quarter — raking in $43.74 billion during what is usually a “down” period for the company as it ramps up to end the year.

The Seattle-based company continues to find ways to funnel money back into its ecosystem. CEO Jeff Bezos noted the company had increased customers on Alexa-enabled devices “5x” in the last year. Amazon’s voice control system makes it increasingly easy for customers to buy its products — something that’ll pay dividends after Amazon closed its nearly $14 billion buyout of Whole Foods last quarter. Ordering organic beat juice and having it Amazon-droned to your apartment is apparently the way of the future.

Another reason Amazon continues to dominate? Its data. The more the company knows about its customers, the easier it is to keep them in the fold — and keep them forking over the dough. Even the black sheep member of the Amazon family helps the cause here: On the company’s quarterly call on Thursday, CFO Brian Olsavsky pointed to the strength of its video business in continuing to grow Amazon Prime.

“The video business is having great results with our most important customer base, our Prime customers,” said Olsavsky. “We have a lot of data. We see viewing patters and sales patterns. We can see which video resonates with Prime members, and which doesn’t. We’re always looking for more impactful shows, more shows that resonate with our customer base and what they want to see.”

As its cloud service business has started to plateau, investors will continue to look for the company to boost its revenue from other avenues. With its fourth straight growth quarter, and the company projecting it’ll make a 28 to 38 percent jump during the fourth quarter in comparison to last year, Amazon has Wall Street convinced it can keep pulling rabbits out of its hat.

And if for some reason your name isn’t Jeff Bezos and you’re still worried about where he ranks in the “world’s richest person” hierarchy, today was a good day. The 53-year-old exec has added a cool $7 billion to his Schwab account in the last 24 hours, pushing him back to the top of the billionaire food chain with a whopping $90 billion net worth. That’ll buy you a grip of organic hummus.

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Twitter Bans Advertising by Some Russia-Based Outlets Thu, 26 Oct 2017 20:54:42 +0000 Sean Burch Twitter is saying nyet to Russian propaganda.

The social platform announced on Thursday it’s banning advertising from pro-Kremlin news outlets RT and Sputnik, stemming from its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

“We did not come to this decision lightly, and are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter,” the company said in a blog post.

Twitter also pointed to an investigation from the “U.S. intelligence community” earlier this year, indicating RT and Sputnik attempted to “interfere with and disrupt the 2016 Presidential election, which is not something we want.”

While being banned from advertising, Sputnik and RT (which rebranded itself from “Russia Today” in 2009) are allowed to continue operating their accounts.

Twitter has pulled in $1.9 million in advertising from RT since 2011, including about $275,000 in U.S.-based advertising last year. The company said it’ll be donating the money to “support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections.”

In a post quickly following Twitter’s announcement, RT pushed back against the company’s ban, calling it “absolutely groundless and greatly-misleading.”

“Twitter representatives pitched to RT a large-sum advertising proposal,” the state-owned outlet said in its post. “It was developed around promoting RT’s US election coverage on the micro-blogging platform. This proposal was eventually declined by RT.”

Last month, Twitter told the Senate and House intelligence committees it had “took action” against 201 Russian troll-farms peddling fake news. The company added it’s updating its tools to weed out fake news, including automation to detect “non-human activity patterns” and spam accounts connected to a single source.

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Amazon Delivers Blowout Q3 Earnings, Stock Jumps 7 Percent After Hours Thu, 26 Oct 2017 20:04:52 +0000 Matt Pressberg and Sean Burch Amazon continues to deliver for its investors, as the internet commerce behemoth posted another monster quarter, blowing past expectations on revenue and earnings.

After the close of markets Wednesday, Amazon reported revenue of $43.74 billion and earnings of 52 cents a share for the three months ended September 30. For the corresponding period last year, Amazon generated $32.71 billion in revenue and earnings of 52 cents a share. Analysts had projected $42.14 billion in revenue and earnings of 3 cents a share on average.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos emphasized the growth of the company’s Alexa voice assistant protocol (and the Echo robot speakers that use it) when detailing the company’s many milestones in the quarter.

“In the last month alone, we’ve launched five new Alexa-enabled devices, introduced Alexa in India, announced integration with BMW, surpassed 25,000 skills, integrated Alexa with Sonos speakers, taught Alexa to distinguish between two voices, and more. Because Alexa’s brain is in the AWS cloud, her new abilities are available to all Echo customers, not just those who buy a new device,” Jeff Bezos said in a statement. “And it’s working — customers have purchased tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices, given Echo devices over 100,000 5-star reviews, and active customers are up more than 5x since the same time last year. With thousands of developers and hardware makers building new Alexa skills and devices, the Alexa experience will continue to get even better.”

Amazon also provided guidance for the fourth quarter of the year, estimating its total revenue to be between $56 billion to $60.5 billion, which would be a 28 to 38 percent increase over the fourth quarter of last year.

Amazon Studios is largely viewed as a sweetener to get people to sign up for Prime, but after a string of expensive shows that failed to make an impact — and sexual harassment allegations against chief Roy Price — the company has changed its top leadership. Price, head of unscripted Conrad Riggs and head of comedy and drama Joe Lewis have all left the company in this month.

However, Amazon’s entertainment business remains a small part of the total enterprise. The company enjoyed another successful Prime Day July 11, which Amazon said delivered more sales than any other day in its history. It also absorbed Whole Foods this past quarter, closing its $13.7 billion buyout of the organic market in August.

The deal was part of a concerted effort to start plowing its massive sales back into the company. On its earnings call back in July, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky hinted at the third quarter being a heavy investment period as it ramps up for the holiday season. (Amazon’s fourth quarter sales counted for nearly a third of its total sales in 2016.) And just this week, Amazon announced Amazon Key, a smart lock and camera-enabled system that would allow its delivery drivers to drop off packages inside people’s homes.

Amazon’s dominance was reinforced in September, when the company announced its plans to build a second headquarters capable of accommodating up to 50,000 workers. The project kicked off a massive bidding war, with 238 cities falling over themselves to woo the global powerhouse. “Jeff, come home,” Richard Berry, mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, pleaded with Bezos. “We’d love to have you.”

At the same time, Wall Street has kept its love affair going with Amazon. Since hitting its all-time high of about $1,050 before its second quarter earnings, shares of Amazon have hovered between $950 and $1,000 for the last three months.

On the company’s earnings call Thursday afternoon, Olsavsky reiterated Amazon’s commitment to video, even with the resent executive turmoil. Olsavsky said Amazon video users spend more money on Prime, making it essential for the company to keep them engaged.

“We have a lot of data. We see viewing patters and sales patterns. We can see which video resonates with prime members, and which doesn’t,” said Olsavsky. “We’re always looking for more impactful shows, more shows that resonate with our customer base and what they want to see.”

Olsavsky didn’t include details on upcoming shows or its content budget for 2018.

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Twitter Soars 16 Percent on Strong User Growth, Smaller Losses Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:18:27 +0000 Sean Burch Twitter said it’s been overestimating its monthly active users for years, and Wall Street doesn’t seem to care.

Shares of the social platform have rocketed up nearly 15 percent in early morning trading on Thursday, after the company hinted at imminent profits in its third quarter earnings report — despite announcing it had been miscalculating its MAUs by millions.

“We discovered that since the fourth quarter of 2014 we had included users of certain third-party applications as Twitter MAUs that should not have been considered MAUs,” the company mentioned in a statement accompanying its earnings.

The error led to the company slashing 2 million users off the first half of 2017 and another million from the fourth quarter of 2016.

But investors let it slide, after Twitter reported it had added 4 million MAUs during the third quarter — a 14 percent jump year-over-year. (Apparently their internal calculations can now be trusted.) The bump pushes Twitter’s MAU count to 330 million, although the company still held back on releasing its number of daily active users.

Another reason Wall Street is happy? Despite seeing its revenue drop 4 percent year-over-year, Twitter slashed its losses and hinted at turning a profit by the end of 2017. The San Francisco-based company posted a loss of $21 million during the third quarter, in comparison to its $103 million net loss during the third quarter of 2016.

“We will likely be GAAP profitable,” the company mentioned in its forward outlook.

Twitter reported revenue of $590 million and 10 cents earnings per share, beating expectations of $586.7 million and 5 cents a share.

“This quarter we made progress in three key areas of our business: we grew our audience and engagement, made progress on a return to revenue growth, and achieved record profitability,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in a statement.

After earnings, Twitter breached $20 a share for the first time since July.

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Apple Wants Only Family-Friendly Original Shows: No Cursing, Nudity or Violence Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:01:30 +0000 Sean Burch Well, Apple’s old marketing slogan was “think different.”

While streaming powerhouses like Netflix make their bones on gritty shows like “Narcos” and “House of Cards,” Apple is aiming for a more family-friendly approach as it jumps into original content, according to a new report by Bloomberg.

The tech juggernaut held up its August release of “Carpool Karaoke” — a spinoff of James Corden’s popular segment driving around and singing with celebs — to scrub “foul language and references to vaginal hygiene,” Bloomberg wrote.

And Apple is also axing any “nudity, raw language, and violence” from original programming debuting on its Apple Store, according to producers and potential content partners that spoke with Bloomberg.

The brand-obsessed company is seeking comedies and dramas with “broad appeal” — think NBC’s “This Is Us” more than Netflix’s “Ozark” or HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

These constraints are part of Apple’s game plan to push its shows internationally as well, but have made the budding video wing appear “conservative and prickly” to producers pitching new shows to the deep-pocketed new player in the content world, according to Bloomberg.

Former Sony execs Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg joined the company earlier this year to lead its push into original shows, with about $1 billion ready to be spent in the year ahead. For reference, that’s about half of what HBO is spending in 2017, and pales in comparison to the $7 billion Netflix has earmarked for next year. Still, with more than $250 billion sitting around in cash, Apple has the ammo necessary to reinforce its content push if it’s going well.

“We’re out to be creative, move culture and do something Apple is adding value to,” said SVP Eddie Cue at the Code Conference back in February.

But the company’s aversion to “edgier fare,” as Bloomberg puts it, could stymie its plans to carve out its slice of the industry. Apple’s version of “Carpool Karaoke” has failed to gain much traction with audiences despite star power like Will Smith on its debut episod .

Planet of the Apps,” the company’s first push into original content in June, struggled to catch on as well; the “Shark Tank” for apps show was met with a collective “meh” from viewers, even with judges Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, and Will.I.Am brought into the fold.

Wall Street has been watching Apple’s Hollywood maneuvers as well. Drexel Hamilton analyst Brian White recently told TheWrap the company needs to “keep it interesting” if it wants to make a splash in the content game.

“I think if they do that — find that ‘House of Cards,’ find that ‘Breaking Bad,’ — they need something like that that’s so unique and different, and, in a way, almost a little shocking,” said White.  “That would grab the attention of an audience. ‘Mr. Robot’ is another one. Those kind of shows that are so unique it can really grab the attention of a mass audience, not just someone interested in music or apps.” 

As Apple continues to roll out its shows heading into 2018, it’ll be hard-pressed to strike the delicate balance of interesting yet censored content it appears to be targeting.


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IMAX Has Blockbuster 3rd Quarter Earnings, Spurred by ‘Dunkirk’ and ‘It’ Thu, 26 Oct 2017 12:57:00 +0000 Sean Burch It wasn’t a blockbuster summer for Hollywood, but that didn’t stop IMAX from reporting a banner third quarter earnings on Thursday, with major releases like “Dunkirk” and “It” pushing the giant-screen company to an 18 percent year-over-year increase at the domestic box office.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, IMAX reported $98.8 million million in revenue and an adjusted earnings per share of 8 cents. That compares with the $86.6 million in revenue and earnings of $0.12 cents a share IMAX hauled in during the corresponding period last year. Analysts had expected the company to report revenue of $86.4 million and earnings of 1 cent per share.


“Despite overall cinema industry challenges, it was our strongest third quarter ever, underpinned by our outperformance on blockbuster-titles such as ‘Dunkirk.’ Internationally, box office from our international, ex-China network, now exceeds that of our domestic business,” said  CEO Rich Gelfond in a statement.

“In fact, we grew box office in this segment by 25 percent year-over-year. And given 25 percent of our backlog is slated for markets outside of North America and China, we anticipate this piece of our business to become even more meaningful over time.”

IMAX’s domestic box office was up 18 percent, despite overall ticket sales declining 14 percent for the industry. The company pulled in about $219 million in gross domestic box office — up from $186.3 during the third quarter of 2016. Gelfond noted it was the company’s “highest-grossing third quarter ever.”

Internationally, IMAX added about $5 million year-over-year in China, hovering near $60 million for the third quarter.

On the company’s conference call on Thursday, Gelfond said IMAX was able to weather Hollywood’s poor summer because its bread-and-butter remains blockbuster experiences like Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.”

It’d been a rough year to date for IMAX, with its shares falling about 33 percent since the beginning of 2017. After back-to-back underwhelming quarters, IMAX was relying on a strong summer slate to rally its performance.

The critically panned “Marvel’s Inhumans” debuted on IMAX screens in September, but failed to make much of an impact, despite premiering weeks ahead of its TV launch. Gelfond gave it a lukewarm review himself, saying it did “fine” in its opening weekend.

IMAX was sent scrambling after the smashing release of “It,” working to get the horror flick on as many screen as it could. Despite the belated reaction, the move ended up paying off, with “It” raking in more than $10 million — setting an IMAX box office record for a September release in the process.

“Dunkirk” was another major player for IMAX in the third quarter, with the movie taking in 23 percent of its total box office receipts on the giant screen. The company also pointed to the movie’s strong international performance in countries like Japan and India.

IMAX added 49 new theater installations during the third quarter, adding it expects to install about 165 for the year.

Moving forward, IMAX pointed to its continued push into virtual reality, along with robust pre-sales for “The Last Jedi,” as reasons the company expects to close out 2017 on a high note.

Shares of IMAX are trading up about 1 percent in pre-market trading.

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