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June 25, 2019
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Apple hires A&E’s Molly Thompson as its head of Documentaries

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In addition to a growing lineup of scripted fare, documentaries will be another key focus for Apple TV+, the company’s new streaming service set to launch in May. According to a new report today from Variety, Apple has hired A&E’s Molly Thompson as its head of Documentaries.

Thompson’s experience at A&E includes founding its documentary production arm, A&E IndieFilms, back in 2005. While there, several of its films earned Emmy nominations, including “Life, Animated,” “Cartel Land,” “Jesus Camp” and “Murderball.”

Cartel Land,” “Life, Animated” and “The Tillman Story,” combined, went on to win more than a half-dozen Emmys, along with other industry awards.

Thompson also has exec produced: “The Clinton Affair,” Charles Ferguson’s “Watergate” docu-series, “Studio 54,” “City of Ghosts,” “The Imposter,” “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon,” “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld,” “No Place on Earth,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and “Being Evel” — some of which were under A&E’s History Films banner.

For Lifetime Films, she exec produced two narrative features: “Lila & Eve,” which starred Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez and premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival; plus Eleanor Coppola’s “Paris Can Wait,” with Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin.

Thompson’s hiring indicates Apple’s interest in bringing content that will appeal to those who don’t regularly watch traditional TV, but instead like to stream more educational fare — like documentary films and docu-series, biographies, shows with a historical focus and other non-fiction. Plus, documentaries would give Apple a way to compete early on for Emmy attention, even if its scripted series fail to gain critical praise.

Documentaries also represent another means of competing directly with Netflix, where the format has become a huge draw for subscribers — even zeitgeist-y, at times. Netflix today has a range of documentaries that nearly everyone has seen, or has at least heard of, like “Making a Murderer,” “Wild Wild Country,” “13th,” “Amanda Knox,” “Fyre,” “Amy” and many more. This month it will have another hit in this genre, with Beyoncé’s Coachella documentary, out on April 17th.

Apple has already announced a few of its documentary efforts for Apple TV+, including Oprah’s docu-series, one of which is co-produced with Prince Harry; as well as a docu-series about extraordinary homes; and Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble’s documentary about an elephant matriarch, “The Elephant Queen.” The latter, which Apple picked up at the Toronto International Film Festival, was one of its first feature film buys.

Image credit: IMDb

Prince Harry is partnering with Oprah Winfrey on Apple TV+ series about mental health

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Prince Harry is the latest big name attached to Apple’s upcoming streaming service, Apple TV+, which was formally introduced last month. According to an announcement published to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s official Instagram account, Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey are co-creators and executive producers on an Apple TV+ docuseries focused on mental health.

“I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self,” said Prince Harry, in a statement.

“It is a huge responsibility to get this right as we bring you the facts, the science and the awareness of a subject that is so relevant during these times. Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive – sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better. I am incredibly proud to be working alongside Oprah on this vital series,” he shared.

Oprah’s involvement with Apple TV+ was first announced in June 2018, with news that she signed a multi-year deal to produce original content for Apple’s then still unnamed streaming service.

At Apple’s press event in March, the company brought Winfrey on stage to offer more details about what she had planned. That includes “Toxic Labor,” a documentary that examines the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace, and another untitled multi-part series about mental health.

Prince Harry’s involvement was not mentioned at the time.

However, he has been involved for several months, today’s announcement states.

The series, according to Winfrey, will look at how “the scourge of depression, and anxiety, post-traumatic stress, addiction, trauma, and loss, is just devastating lives daily across the globe.” The show, if it does its job right, aims to replace shame and stigma around mental health issues with “compassion and honesty,” she had said.

The topic of mental health is one Prince Harry has been focused on himself, before agreeing to co-produce the series.

As the announcement explains:

“The dynamic multi-part documentary series will focus on both mental illness and mental wellness, inspiring viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges each of us faces, and how to equip ourselves with the tools to not simply survive, but to thrive.

This commitment builds on The Duke of Sussex’s long-standing work on issues and initiatives regarding mental health, where he has candidly shared personal experience and advocated for those who silently suffer, empowering them to get the help and support they deserve.”

Winfrey also went on “CBS This Morning” to talk more about mental health, the series, and how she came to partner with Prince Harry on the project.

She had asked him what he thought were the most important issues facing the world, and he had replied with two: climate change and mental health.

“As you know, he’s spoken about his own issues and what he went through after his mother died and how being able to talk about it has benefitted him,” Winfrey told CBS. “It’s a passion of his and at the end of the conversation, I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to be doing this thing with Apple. I said it’s a big concern of mine, too … And I was telling him about this Apple platform and he said at the end of the conversation, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help.’ And I go ‘as a matter of fact…”

The multi-part docuseries still doesn’t have a name, but will arrive in 2020 following the public debut of Apple TV+, scheduled for later this fall. 

 

Digging into Apple’s media transformation

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Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Panzarino, offered his analysis on the major announcements that came out of Apple’s keynote event this past Monday.

Behind a series of new subscription and media products, Apple has set the stage for one of the largest transformations in the company’s history. Matthew touches on all of Apple’s major product initiatives including Apple’s new credit card, its push into original content, its subscription gaming platform, and its subscription news service, which features Extra Crunch as one of the debut publications.

“I don’t think many of the things that Apple announced here, on an individual basis, are earth-shattering. I think it shapes up to be a really solid, nice offering for people with some distinct advantages but at the same time it’s not breaking huge molds here. I think the same thing applies across all of the offerings that they put out there.

I just felt that together, it’s solid but not scintillating and we need to see how they develop, how they launch, and then what they do with these platforms…

…Seems relatively straightforward. However, some of the stuff people have glossed over is very intriguing.”

Matthew goes into more detail on why he didn’t view the announcements as individually earth-shattering, and why he sees compelling opportunities for Apple to position its offerings as a symbiotic ecosystem. He also goes under the hood to discuss some of Apple’s overlooked competitive advantages in media and to paint a picture of how Apple’s new product lines might evolve in the long-term.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

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VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filling one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as it has just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There also are plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eyeing PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by nonprofit parent VideonLAN, racked up its three millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from École Centrale Paris students in 1996.

HQ Trivia’s downloads drop off as it hits Apple TV

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HQ Trivia’s app store ranking has continued to sink the past three months, but it’s hoping a new version on your television could revitalize growth. HQ today launched an Apple TV app that lets users play the twice-daily live quiz game alongside iOS Android players. “Everything about the game is still the same – same questions, same time, same rules” says a spokesperson, except you’ll play with the Apple TV remote instead of their phone’s screen. But that might not be enough to get HQ’s player count rapidly growing again.

According to App Annie’s app store ranking history, on iOS HQ has fallen from the #1 US Trivia game to #10, from the #44 game to #196, and from the #151 overall app to #585. It’s exhibited a similar decline on Android.

 

The question is whether this is just a summer lull as people spend time outside and students aren’t locked in the schedule of school, or if HQ is in a downward spiral beyond seasonal fluctuations. But if we zoom out, you can see that HQ has been in dropping down the charts through the school year since peaking in January. At one point it climbed as high as the #3 game and #6 overall app. The app’s record high of concurrent players has also declined from a peak of 2.38 million in late March.

Meanwhile, new clones keep popping up. After the initial wave of Chinese live trivia apps, now US television studios are getting into the mix. This week Fox unveiled ‘FN Genius’ which looks and works almost exactly that same as HQ. There are also new 1-on-1 trivia games like ProveIt that let players bet real money on whether they can outsmart their opponent.

Fox’s FN Genius. Image via Deadline

With themed games, celebrity hosts, big jackpots like a recent $400,000 prize, and new features like the ability to see friends’ answers, HQ has tried to keep its app novel. But it’s also encountered cheaters and people playing with multiple phones that make normal players feel like they’ll never win. While the live aspect adds urgency, it can also feel interruptive with time as users aren’t always available for its noon and 6pm pacific games. HQ may need to come up with some new viral hooks or ways to revive lapsed players if it’s going to make good on the $15 million its parent company raised in March.

 

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