With movie theaters closed thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown, movie studios have had to make big decisions about the future of their films. Many studios have moved the release dates for their blockbusters into the far future, altering their timelines. Most notable has been the Marvel studios releases, some films being pushed over a year past their release dates. Other studios have adjusted their release styles instead. The biggest alteration was for
Trolls World Tour.
The film was scheduled to release in theaters just after the lockdown began. But, Universal decided to forego the theater and release the movie directly to premium video on demand (PVOD), renting the film for $19.99. As a family movie, this rental price is lower than a trip to the theater and it allows everyone to enjoy it in the safety and comfort of their own home. A win-win for families for sure, but what about for Universal? As it turns out, the move worked wonders - possibly exceeding the box office gross it would have had if it had premiered in theaters. It definitely exceeded the take form the original movie in 2016, taking in more in three weeks of PVOD than the original did in 5 months of theater showings.
And therein lies the problem. It was far more lucrative for Universal to forego the theater and go direct to PVOD. Theaters, which are already in trouble because of months of lost revenue, do not want to hear that their business model is not good for the studios which make the films that keep them going. However, Universal recognizes that some films are simply made for the big screen, while others can thrive on a small screen. As such, the company has said that it will evaluate its release of future films, potentially breaking the longstanding tradition of the box office window.
This window is the gap between the theatrical exclusivity and additional release platforms. There is no legal requirement to maintain this window, but it has been around for a long time. Removal of the window would mean Universal might release movies in theaters and PVOD at the same time, immediately adjacent, or any other combination that they see fit. This did not sit well with the CEO of AMC, Adam Aron. In a letter sent to Universal chairman Donna Langley,
Effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.
Don't expect this grandstanding to last, however, as this will do far more damage to AMC than it will to Universal if the last few weeks is any indication. That will become even more important as reports indicate that theaters, including AMC, might file bankruptcy following the lockdown.
Last year, as part of its inquiry into the way big tech companies use their market positions to compete with those who rely on these companies, Amazon representatives were asked about their use of data. In particular, Nate Sutton, Amazon's Associate General Counsel was asked about the company's use of seller data on its platform to determine its own product offerings. Mr. Sutton said that Amazon does not use information about its sellers to compete against them. Those words are at the center of a new controversy for the company.
, a bipartisan House panel has requested that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appear before the panel to answer questions. Those questions, once again, revolve around Amazon's use of seller data to build its own product line. The report, which cites conversations with more than 20 previous employees in the private label division of the company, states that Amazon regularly uses data about sellers on the platform to plan its product moves. Wall Street Journal report
One example cited is a trunk organizer. Employees were urged to research the top seller in the category on the platform, including which features were most important to customers, the best price at which the product sold, and what Amazon's profit was for hosting the product. After this research, Amazon launched its own branded trunk organizer, based on the research conducted.
Congress does not generally appreciate being lied to, which is probably why the concept of perjury exists. If there was any question about whether that's how they feel here, their
letter to Bezos makes their feelings clear. They expect that Bezos will appear in front of the panel voluntarily, but are prepared to subpoena him if necessary. If it turns out that the company lied to Congress last year, there could be big problems for the company in the future. The company, however, has continued to insist that they do not use competitor data to develop their own products and take the accusations seriously.
This past year has seen a lot of changes to the landscape of the virtual reality market. We saw
the end and then open sourcing of Google Daydream. This was followed closely by Gear VR closing shop. This week, another big hit is coming to the landscape, with SteamVR support likely coming to an end for Apple computers. This would include older and current OSX and macOS implementations.
In this age of staying home, virtual reality should be seeing its renaissance. VR offers a way to escape reality and explore an alternate experience without leaving our homes. This would seem the ideal time for people to be experimenting with the technology, and yet, a whole platform is being abandoned instead. This move is not a surprise, as macOS has never been a popular platform for gaming. While it has always struggled to attract game development, the company hurt the momentum even further when they eliminated 32-bit applications, including games, in macOS Catalina.
But, the end of SteamVR for macOS does not signal anything other than Valve's recognition that its efforts to maintain virtual reality on Apple computers is not equaled by the results. The development of anything of value for macOS is a larger undertaking than developing for Windows or Linux. As such, the number of resources required are often higher than these other platforms. However, as Apple has never been a destination for gaming, the higher cost for fewer gamers is not a good investment.
Valve has no intention of moving away from either the Windows or Linux versions of SteamVR, which is good news for gamers since statistically, that's where they are. Eliminating support for macOS will give the company more resources to keep those projects going and, more importantly, keep them fresh. No timeline has been given on the official end of support, but expect it to be a slow retirement.
Since the concept of contact tracing was first announced, it has
faced privacy and accuracy concerns. While Apple and Google addressed concerns, other firms who have been tapped for additional technologies are still under fire. One of the most recent to draw attention is a company that is used to the negative spotlight - Clearview AI. Many people around the world have been worried about the privacy and accuracy of the technology. These are definitely two topics that should stay as far apart as possible.
However, despite the obviousness of the fallout here, Clearview has been in talks to use its facial recognition technology in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. A lot of people see this as a ploy by the company to get involved in government processes so that they can work their magic in selling their law enforcement products. One of the loudest oppositions to Clearview being involved in this fight is Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who
sent a letter to the company asking for information on their discussions and plans. In fact, he demands that the company turn over the names of any agencies they are in discussions with, and any contract terms they are working on or have signed.
The rationale behind this demand is the fear of Clearview's technology. For starters, the accuracy of the technology has been questionable at best, and basing a medically-focused program around dubious tracing could be harmful to people. Using their facial identification in large crowds to determine who has been in contact could inaccurately mark people as sick and spread false panic.
More importantly, however, is the increase in public privacy violations. Clearview stores all images it is sent for analysis indefinitely, meaning that any image captured and processed by this system would be stored forever and used to expand its facial identification system. By installing cameras attached to the system in high trafficked areas, Clearview would have a better idea of who it has NOT identified. This will certainly be contested by more than just a single Senator. Expect privacy and consumer advocacy groups to be right behind.