Posts tagged with "Disney"

Netflix posts AI job worth $900,000 amid twin Hollywood strikes

July 31, 2023

As actors and writers strike over fair compensation and protections from the encroachment of artificial intelligence, Netflix has listed a position for a machine learning product manager that will compensate somewhere between $300,000 and $900,000 a year. According to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), 87% of the guild’s actors make less than $26,000 per year, reports The Guardian.

The use of AI in the production of film and television—to write scripts, generate actors’ likenesses, or cut corners in paying creative work—has been a major point of contention in negotiations between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and SAG and the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

Writers have been striking since May; the actors joined earlier this month. The first joint strike since 1960 threatens to bring Hollywood to a complete standstill.

The machine learning product manager position, first reported by The Intercept, is a new role to “increase the leverage of our machine learning platform”, billed as “the foundation for all of this innovation”. The job lists vague qualifications related to machine learning, but alludes to the company’s farther-reaching goals for AI in “all areas of business”.

A separate “machine learning” section on the company’s website says it will use AI to “shape our catalog of movies and TV shows by learning characteristics that make content successful” and to “optimize the production of original movies and TV shows”.

This is not the only new AI position sought by Netflix. The Intercept reported that the company also is seeking to hire a technical director for generative AI at its gaming studio for up to $650,000 a year. Generative AI can produce text, images, and video from input data, which could be used to create original content or for advertising purposes.

The company’s generative AI efforts already have borne fruit: Earlier this month, Netflix premiered a new Spanish reality dating series, Deep Fake Love, in which scans of contestants’ faces and bodies are used to create “deepfake” simulations of themselves; and the company’s gaming department has used AI to produce narratives and dialogue.

Disney also has listed several machine learning-related positions, though it has not specified the salary range. During a recent earnings call, CEO Bob Iger, who has called actors’ and writers’ demands for greater compensation “unrealistic.” hinted at potential issues the company could face in integrating AI into their business model. “In fact, we’re already starting to use AI to create some efficiencies and ultimately to better serve consumers,” he said, as reported by journalist Lee Fang.

“But it’s also clear that AI is going to be highly disruptive, and it could be extremely difficult to manage, particularly from an IP management perspective.”

AI has been an intense flashpoint in the first few weeks of the joint strike, especially after Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, said that studios had “proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan, their image, their likeness; and be able to use it for rest of eternity, on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation”.

Research contact: @guardian

Private jets are descending on Sun Valley as the ‘summer camp for billionaires’ kicks off

July 13, 2023

Private jets have already begun piling up outside the small town of Sun Valley, Idaho, as some of the world’s most powerful people—among them, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Bob Iger, Oprah, and Mark Zuckerberg—head to Allen & Co’s annual conference, also known as “summer camp for billionaires.”

Business Insider reports that the Friedman Memorial Airport has already begun experiencing delays from the traffic ahead of the event, which is set to kick off on Wednesday, July 11 and go through Friday, July 14. As of Tuesday afternoon, the airport was experiencing inbound-flight delays averaging about 1 hour and 55 minutes, the flight-tracking website FlightAware reported. Flights departing from the airport don’t appear to be affected.

A spokesperson for the airport did not respond to a request for comment ahead of publication. The Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment because the agency says it does not manage the airport.

Since Tuesday morning, more than 40 private jets have flown through the nearby Friedman Memorial Airport ahead of the conference, with at least another 100 scheduled to arrive throughout the day, FlightAware said. Some planes associated with companies such as Nike already have landed in Sun Valley. Disney CEO Bob Iger was also pictured arriving at the event Tuesday.

The New York Times reported that more than 300 flights passed through the airport last year. For reference, the airport accommodates about 40 planes on a typical day. In 2021, the airport was so swamped with private jets that the FAA delayed incoming flights until traffic dropped.

Most of the incoming flights are operated by NetJets—a private-charter company that is the world’s biggest by fleet size and operates Embraer Phenoms and Cessna Citations alongside the giant $75 million Bombardier Global 7500.

It’s common for deep-pocket flyers to use private operators such as NetJets because it’s harder to track their location. Apple CEO Tim Cook—who is on the guest list for Sun Valley 2023—has been flying on charters instead of the company’s corporate planes since 2017.

Apple previously said the policy was implemented “in the interests of security and efficiency based on our global profile and the highly visible nature of … Cook’s role as CEO.”

The world’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, has been avoiding the public eye after selling his private jet in October because of security concerns. It’s unclear whether the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton CEO will attend this year’s summit.

Chris Pomeroy, the director of Friedman Memorial Airport, told the Times last year that he had spent months preparing for the conference in Sun Valley—a town with a population of 1,800. If he’s not careful, he said the event could cause major backups at the airport.

Pomeroy said there had been times when jets were forced to circle over the airport or park on the tarmac for more than an hour while waiting for the runway to open up.

The event has previously been the backdrop for several major business deals, including Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post and Disney‘s $19 billion ABC acquisition. Executives spend time at the summit taking part in tennis matches, golf outings, whitewater rafting, and sessions on subjects including creativity and the climate crisis.

This year’s guest list for the event reportedly includes several major players. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman are expected to attend the event alongside Jeff Bezosaccording to Bloomberg. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates are also on the guest list, Variety reports.

Research contact: @BusinessInsider

Robert Iger returns as Disney CEO, as Bob Chapek is ousted

November 22, 2022

On Sunday night,  November 20, Walt Disney’s board of directors CEO Bob Chapek with Robert Iger, the company’s former chairman and CEO who left the company at the end of last year, reports The Wall Street Journal.

“The board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the company through this pivotal period,” said Susan Arnold, chairman of Disney’s board, in a statement.

“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” she added.

The surprise change comes at a tumultuous time for Disney.

This month, the company reported weaker-than-expected fourth quarter financial results—killing the momentum built up over a strong year that saw record revenue and profits in multiple divisions, especially the one that includes theme parks.

Disney’s theme-park business has recovered strongly since the coronavirus pandemic shut down its venues across the world, but the division continues to subsidize widening losses in the streaming video business.

Chapek has said repeatedly that he expects the streaming business to be profitable by September 2024. In the most recent quarter, however, it lost $1.47 billion, more than twice the year-earlier loss.

The company also cautioned that its profitability target would only be met if there weren’t a significant economic downturn—the first time it has added such a caveat. Disney’s stock price shot up 9% to more than $100 a share in premarket trading early Monday. Some observers said the management change might benefit the company’s stock.

In anemail to employees Sunday night, Iger said he was returning to the company.

“It is with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility—and, I must admit, a bit of amazement—that I write to you this evening with the news that I am returning to the Walt Disney Company as chief executive officer,” he wrote in the email, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Several top Disney executives first learned the news that Iger was returning after they read his Sunday email, while some of them were together attending an Elton John concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles that was streamed live on Disney’s flagship streaming service Disney+, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chapek also was expected to attend the event and the company had planned for him to introduce Elton John from the stage before the concert, according to two people with knowledge of the plans, although it isn’t clear if Chapek actually was there, they said. Other Disney employees said they were baffled by Iger’s Sunday email and immediately began asking if the message to employees was real or if it came from a hacked email account.

Negotiations between Iger and the board to return as CEO were initiated only in recent days, according to a person familiar with the talks. Iger has said publicly on at least two occasions over the past year that he isn’t interested in returning to Disney. In recent months, he has focused on investing in and advising startups, particularly in the technology industry.

Adding to the surprise, Chapek, who has served as CEO since February 2020, over the summer saw his contract renewed through the end of 2024. At the time,. Arnold, the board chair, said that while the company was “dealt a tough hand by the pandemic,” Chapek “not only weathered the storm but emerged in a position of strength.”

Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall wrote in a note to clients: “Iger will be viewed as a catalyst to improve the content aspects of Disney, and we expect bigger potential strategic changes around the long-term shape of” the streaming business.

Chapek couldn’t be reached for comment.

Research contact: @WSJ

Ready to rock: Netflix sets first live-streamed event with Chris Rock special

November 14, 2022

Netflix will stream an event live for the first time next year, with comedian Chris Rock hosting a real-time special for the on-demand platform that has lured millions of viewers away from traditional broadcast television, reports Yahoo.

The standup show—which will be Rock’s second for Netflix after 2018’s “Chris Rock: Tamborine,”—will be available to watch in early 2023, the company said, without providing further details.

“Chris Rock is one of the most iconic and important comedic voices of our generation,” said Netflix Comedy VP Robbie Praw, in a statement. “We’re thrilled the entire world will be able to experience a live Chris Rock comedy event and be a part of Netflix history.

Praw added, “This will be an unforgettable moment and we’re so honored that Chris is carrying this torch.”

Netflix, which lost subscribers for the first time earlier this year before recently reporting a return to growth, has been experimenting with new models, including a cheaper subscription option subsidized by advertisements.

On Tuesday, November 8, The Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix was looking into offering live sports on its platform for the first time. Rivals including Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video already offer live events, including sports and musical events.

Netflix hosts a live comedy festival at more than 35 venues in Los Angeles, but those shows have not yet been available to stream live on its platform.

Rock, one of the world’s biggest comics, drew headlines in March when he was slapped on-stage by Will Smith at the Oscars.

Research contact: @Yahoo

Disney debuts first animated heroine to struggle with body image

October 31, 2022

Reflect, a new short film on Disney+, explores the challenges young people often face with body image—and fans are praising the concept, reports People.

An episode in the latest season of Short Circuit Experimental Films, the story centers around Bianca, who feels out of place in her ballet class and worries she is less-than her classmates. Battling her reflection, she channels her inner strength to help overcome her self-doubt by immersing herself in dance. She eventually comes to appreciate the body that had before caused her feel unsure of herself.

Director Hillary Bradfield, who worked as a storyboard artist on Avatar: The Way of Water, says it’s all about body positivity. “I feel like I’m a very body-positive person in principle,” she said in the series. “But when it’s on a personal level it’s a lot harder to be body positive.”

“Setting the story from a dancer’s perspective seemed just natural,” Bradfield said. “It’s part of the craft to be looking at your posture and checking things in the mirror, so it just seemed like a really good way to put her in that environment where she has to look at herself but she doesn’t want to.

“When people watch the short, I hope they can feel more positively about themselves and how they look—and feel okay about the tough parts of the journey,” she said. “Sometimes you go to the dark place to get to the good place and that just makes the good place that much more beautiful.”

The new programming was created to give a voice to a wider variety of people and stories — any of the artists at Disney Animation Studios can pitch an idea and have an opportunity to create their own short film.

So far, Reflect has received a lot of praise by fans who can relate to Bianca’s character.

“THIS IS NOT A DRILL! Disney+ FINALLY made a short with a Plus Size lead!” one fan wrote on Twitter. “Let’s just say I was SOBBING.”

Another commenter responded with a similar sentiment. “16 year old me needed this Disney short before I quit ballet because I didn’t want to be the fat girl in class anymore,” she wrote.

“I’m glad little ones will have this,” the second fan added. “10/10 for Reflect!”

President of Disney’s General Entertainment Content Karey Burke told employees in March that Disney aims to have at least half of its characters come from “underrepresented groups.”

Research contact: @people

Movie tickets at many U.S. theaters will cost just $3 on National Cinema Day

August 30, 2022

Movie tickets nationwide will cost just $3 on Saturday, September 3, in celebration of National Cinema Day, reports The Verge (via Associated Press). If you’ve never heard of such a holiday before (at least in the United States), that’s because it never existed until now, apparently.

The $3 ticket price (not including tax) applies across all tickets, formats, and showtimes—and yes, this includes IMAX and 3D movies. So far, a growing list of 3,000 theaters, including popular chains, like RegalCinemark, and AMC, have agreed to take part in the new holiday.

You might not want to count out your local, independently-run theaters, either. In a list of participating theaters viewed by The Verge, we spotted several smaller locations, like the Starmax Cinemas in Vandalia, Illinois, and the Wellfleet Cinema drive-in participating theaters also will show a “special sneak peek” of upcoming movies from various studios, including Disney, Universal, Lionsgate, Paramount, Warner Bros., and more.

The Cinema Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by the National Association of Theatre Owners earlier this year, came up with National Cinema Day as a way to encourage people to return to the theaters. Labor Day weekend is a notoriously slow time for movie theaters, due to a lack of new releases, but perhaps National Cinema Day could help change that.

Movie theaters took a pretty big hit during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also have contended with a hybrid release model that has some movies hitting theaters and streaming services the same day. Last year, theaters signed deals with studios like Warner Bros.Paramount, and Disney to promise periods of in-theater exclusivity for certain films (although they’re much shorter than what they’ve been in the past).

But this summer had an impressive number of people returning to theaters, thanks to blockbusters like “Thor: Love and Thunder and Jordan Peele’s horror film “Nope.”

According to data from Comscore, this summer’s box office raked in $3.027 billion—a 134.6% increase when compared to last summer.

“After this summer’s record-breaking return to cinemas, we wanted to do something to celebrate moviegoing,” Jackie Brenneman, the Cinema Foundation’s president said in a statement. “We’re doing it by offering a ‘thank you’ to the moviegoers that made this summer happen, and by offering an extra enticement for those who haven’t made it back yet.”

Research contact: @TheVerge

BTS is coming to Disney in a major streaming deal

July 12, 2022

Disney is bringing the wildly popular South Korean boy band BTS to its streaming services, adding the world’s biggest band to its roster of digital stars, CNN Business announced first on July 12.

 The entertainment and theme park giant said on Monday, July 11, that it would add new original shows featuring members of the pop group to Disney+.

That will result in five new titles with HYBE, BTS’ management company. The firm was previously known as Big Hit Entertainment.

 At least two of the new titles will be shot with the entire band, including a taped concert special in Los Angeles and a behind-the-scenes documentary series. Disney expects the latter to debut next year.

 In a recorded video message shared with CNN Business, the band said they were looking forward to showing fans “a more up-close and personal side of us.”

 BTS has enjoyed meteoric success in recent years, attracting legions of fans around the world known as the “Army.”

 Recently, however, the seven-person group announced that they would be taking a break to explore various projects—including some on a solo basis.

The new tie-up with Disney reflects that. One forthcoming title is a reality show that will see V, a BTS star, head on vacation with other Korean celebrities, the company said.

 The band’s documentary also will take a peek into their daily lives “as they prepare for their second chapter,” Disney and HYBE said in a joint statement.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The move shows how Disney is focusing on top-tier talent as it continues to go after Netflix  and cash in on the recent wave of popularity surrounding Korean content and culture.

 Last year, for example, fans worldwide buzzed over “Squid Game,” the South Korean hit from Netflix that became the company’s top show globally. Disney said it also has found success with titles like “Snowdrop,” a Korean series that has become one of its most-watched titles throughout Asia recently.

 “This collaboration represents our creative ambition—to work with iconic content creators and top stars in Asia-Pacific so their talent can be enjoyed by mainstream audiences in multiple ways,” Jessica Kam-Engle, Disney’s head of content for Asia Pacific, said in a statement. “We believe these new titles will captivate consumers worldwide and look forward to introducing more music content on our service.”

 The move is part of a major expansion into Asian content announced by the company last October. It plans to greenlight more than 50 original titles from the region by 2023.

 The Hollywood giant said at the time that it was commissioning new shows from South Korea, Japan, Australia, Taiwan and Indonesia. Many of the programs will be presented in local languages, from Bahasa Indonesia to Mandarin.

 Netflix has also been pouring money into original Asian language content, and touting the global success of its Korean and Japanese programs in particular.

 Research contact: @CNNBusiness

Netflix may offer lower-priced, ad-supported plans

April 21, 2022

After years of resisting the idea of running advertisements on its streaming service, Netflix now is “open” to offering lower-priced tiers with ads, co-CEO Reed Hastings said on Tuesday, April 19, reports CNBC.

Hastings has long been opposed to adding commercials or other promotions to the platform, but said during the company’s prerecorded earnings conference call that it “makes a lot of sense” to offer customers a cheaper option.

“Those who have followed Netflix know that I have been against the complexity of advertising and a big fan of the simplicity of subscription,” Hastings said. “But as much as I am a fan of that, I am a bigger fan of consumer choice, and allowing consumers who would like to have a lower price and are advertising-tolerant to get what they want makes a lot of sense.”

The option likely wouldn’t be available on the service for a year or two, Hastings said. A new ad-supported tier has a lot of profit potential for Netflix, which on Tuesday reported its first subscriber loss in more than a decade.

Netflix cited growing competition from recent streaming launches by traditional entertainment companies, as well as rampant password sharing, inflation. and the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine for the recent stall in paid subscriptions.

In an effort to lure more subscribers, Netflix has increased its content spend, particularly on originals. To pay for it, the company hiked prices of its service. Netflix said those price changes are helping to bolster revenue but were partially responsible for a loss of 600,000 subscribers in the U.S. and Canada during the most recent quarter.

A lower-tier option that includes advertisements could keep some price-conscious consumers with the service and provide Netflix with a different avenue to garner funds.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s working for Hulu. Disney is doing it. HBO did it,” Hastings said. “I don’t think we have a lot of doubt that it works.”

Research contact: @CNBC

Netflix plans to offer video games in push beyond films and TV

July 19, 2021

Netflixmarking its first big move beyond TV shows and films—is planning an expansion into video games and has hired a former Electronic Arts and Facebook executive to lead the effort, Fortune Magazine reports.

Mike Verdu will join Netflix as vice president of Game Development, reporting to COO Greg Peters, the company said on Wednesday, July17. Verdu was previously Facebook’s vice president in charge of working with developers to bring games and other content to Oculus virtual-reality headsets.

In Verdu, the company has an executive who worked on popular mobile games at Electronic Arts, including titles in the Sims, Plants vs. Zombies and Star Wars franchises. He also served as chief creative officer for Zynga between 2009 and 2012.

The idea, according to a source, is to offer video games on Netflix’s streaming platform within the next year, Fortune says. The games will appear alongside current fare as a new programming genre—similar to what Netflix did with documentaries and stand-up specials. The company doesn’t currently plan to charge extra for the content, said the source, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

Netflix has been seeking ways to keep growing, especially in more saturated markets such as the United States. That’s included building out its kids’ programmingopening an online shop to sell merchandise, and tapping Steven Spielberg to bring more prestigious movies to its lineup.

The company remains well ahead of streaming rivals such as Disney+ or HBO Max, Fortune notes, but it added fewer subscribers than expected in its most recently reported quarter.

Netflix will be building out its gaming team in the coming months, according to the person familiar with the matter. The company has already started advertising for game-development related positions on its website.

Ultimately, the move may make it easier for Netflix to justify price increases in coming years. Games also serve the purpose of helping market existing shows.

Netflix has previously licensed the rights to games based on its shows—including Stranger Thing—but this new initiative is much larger in scope. The Los Gatos, California-based company has yet to settle on a game-development strategy, said the person.

In typical Netflix fashion, the company may start with just a few games and build from there.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine