Netflix’s ‘Bird Box’ success gets Hollywood clucking
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE
AP Technology Writer
Thursday, January 3
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Netflix said 45 million subscriber accounts worldwide watched the Sandra Bullock thriller “Bird Box” during its first seven days on the service, the biggest first-week success of any movie made for the company’s nearly 12-year-old streaming service.
Netflix, which typically refuses to provide viewership numbers, made the rare disclosure in a recent tweet as movie producers, writers, actors and investors continue to size up a company that has already reshaped the way the world watches video.
The first-week audience means nearly one-third of Netflix’s 137 million subscribers watched the movie from Dec. 21 through Dec. 27 — a holiday-season stretch when many people aren’t working and have more free time. Had 45 million people actually gone to a theater in the U.S. to watch “Bird Box,” it would have translated to about $400 million in box-office revenue, based on average ticket prices.
But people were watching the movie on a service for which they already had paid and had the luxury of doing so without leaving their homes. That makes watching “Bird Box” more comparable to watching a television program, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.
By that yardstick, the viewership for “Bird Box” is less impressive. For instance, the Super Bowl typically attracts 100 million to 110 million viewers in the U.S. alone. The annual telecast of the Academy Awards has drawn a U.S. audience of 26 million to 40 million in recent years. And those totals are for a single day, not a week.
Television viewership and theatrical box-office numbers are typically calculated by third-party firms, unlike the “Bird Box” figure released by Netflix. The Los Gatos, California, company has steadfastly refused to divulge its viewership because it regards the data as a competitive advantage in deciding what programs will attract subscribers. All Netflix will say about its “Bird Box” number is that it counted only accounts that watched at least 70 percent of the movie. Multiple viewers sharing a single account are counted once.
Netflix so far has made its biggest splash with highly acclaimed TV series such as “House of Cards,” ”Stranger Things,” and “The Crown.” ”Bird Box” is the latest example of the company’s resolve to become a bigger player in movies, too.
To pull it off, Netflix is borrowing billions of dollars to pay for original movies and TV series. But beyond money, Netflix needs to appease directors and actors who want their work to also be seen in movie theaters, both for their larger screens and for award consideration. That’s why Netflix has been arranging for films like “Bird Box,” ”Roma,” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” to have limited runs in theaters first.
That’s a strategy that Amazon had already been following, enabling its “Manchester By The Sea” to win Academy Awards for best actor and original screenplay in 2017. An ESPN documentary, “O.J.: Made In America,” also won an Oscar in 2017 after appearing in theaters before its debut on the TV network.
By breaking tradition and disclosing viewership numbers for “Bird Box,” Netflix cleverly created even more buzz, Pachter said. “They are masters at getting attention and they knew revealing the numbers would get the media to write about it,” he said.
That, in turn, gets the attention of movie producers and directors, as well as luring back investors who had sold off Netflix in recent weeks as part of a broader sell-off of tech stocks. The company’s stock closed Wednesday unchanged at $267.66, but has dropped 37 percent from its peak in June — a slump that has wiped out nearly $70 billion in shareholder wealth.
Netflix quickly found itself grappling with another problem Wednesday as it acknowledged censoring an episode from its “Patriot Act” series in Saudi Arabia to comply with laws in that country.
Gen Z entrepreneurs view higher education as vital to their startups
January 3, 2019
Author: Eric J. Barron, President, Pennsylvania State University
Disclosure statement: Eric J. Barron is affiliated with the Association of Public and Land Grant University Board of Directors and Chair of the APLU’s Commission on Economic and Community Engagement.
Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Today’s college students – dubbed Generation Z – are beginning to make their mark on the workplace with a distinctly unconventional and often irreverent approach to problem-solving. In my day-to-day interactions with our students, I find that this group doesn’t only ask “Why?” they ask “How can I fix that?” And their curiosity, independence, energy and assertiveness are transforming the entrepreneurial space.
These post-millennials are less like the bumbling geeks from the cast of the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley” and more in the spirit of a focused problem-solver like a young MacGyver, who would rather invent and innovate as a means to learning and discovery.
What’s energizing to a university president like me is watching this transformation take place as more and more undergraduates are partnering with public institutions and fueling the next wave of ingenuity.
A 2011 survey by Gallup found 77 percent of students in grades 5 through 12 said they want to be their own boss and 45 percent planned to start their own business. Today, many of those students are now in college.
For example, when I first met Hunter Swisher as an undergraduate plant pathology student at Penn State, he was busy turning scientific turfgrass research that he learned about in class into a commercial product and startup company.
Swisher saw commercial potential in his professor’s research and worked closely with him to transfer that knowledge into a possible viable product. Swisher connected with the university’s startup incubator and vast alumni network, put in the work, and became a CEO of his own small business before he walked across the stage at commencement in 2016. Today, his company Phospholutions has five employees and counting and their treatment is being used on more than 50 golf courses in 10 states, including at the legendary Oakmont and Marion golf courses.
Swisher is not alone in pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams while still in college. He is just one of many entrepreneurs starting their own companies by leveraging resources at their colleges and universities.
Penn State, Indiana University, University of North Carolina, Georgia Tech, University of Michigan, Ohio State and other leading public institutions all have thriving entrepreneurial centers that are available to all students, as well as community members and businesses. Penn State alone has opened 21 entrepreneurial spaces across Pennsylvania, and in just two years, we’ve engaged with more than 4,500 students.
Moving scientific discoveries into a breakthrough business opportunity is powering economic growth and creating jobs. Consider that nationally – in 2017 alone – the Association of University Technology Managers reported:
- $68.2 billion in research expenditures
- 1,080 startups formed
- 24,998 invention disclosures
- 15,335 new U.S. patent applications filed
- 7,849 licenses and options executed
- 755 new products created
Undergraduate students at public universities are fueling this trend
Traditionally, higher education has focused their investment on faculty entrepreneurs, hoping to find a breakthrough like the next Gatorade (University of Florida) or Lyrica (Northwestern University). Since universities don’t own the rights to undergraduate intellectual property, there has been less incentive to support these efforts.
While we universities are taking a risk on students without a guaranteed immediate return on investment, we think the potential outcomes – for example in alumni support and building our local economies – are worth it.
With their minds set on this entrepreneurial future, a common narrative has emerged that students are skipping college to start their own businesses. In reality, 8 in 10 students believe college is important to achieving their career goals. Sixty-three percent of those same students – all between the ages of 16 and 19 – said they want to learn about entrepreneurship in college, including how to start a business.
Land-grant and public institutions are contributing the practical education that can contribute to economic growth and development. Indeed, generally speaking talent-driven innovation was identified as the most important factor by the Deloitte-U.S. Council on Competitiveness.
Through skills training and engaged entrepreneurial experiences, students are realizing the profound impact they can have by solving a problem as well as overcoming obstacles, failures and flops – all under the umbrella of university guidance and resource support.
Innovation is inspiring and a wise investment
Research and education have always opened doors that benefit the nation we serve. Today, public colleges and universities are well-positioned to transform our economy and infuse it with innovation and energy. As chair of the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) newly formed Commission on Economic and Community Engagement (CECE), I’m working with universities and our government partners to identify key areas crucial to maximizing the impact of public research universities.
By the end of this year, tens of millions of Generation Zers will enter the workforce. The challenge for higher education will be how to help the world of business to better harness the many talents, energy and inquisitiveness that Generation Zers bring to the table. The many partnerships that universities have formed with entrepreneurial students serve as an important first step toward this goal.
Five reasons Bitcoin could enter a more extreme death spiral
January 2, 2019
Author: Daniele Bianchi, Assistant Professor of Finance, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick
Disclosure statement: Daniele Bianchi consults to Aaro Capital Ltd in London.
Partners: University of Warwick provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
Back in December 2017, when its price reached close to US$20,000, Bitcoin looked like it had finally disrupted financial markets with the potential to enter the mainstream. A year later and things looked quite different. Bitcoin is now steadily trading below US$4,000 and has been constantly on a downward ride over the last year, losing more than half of its market capitalisation.
And yet cryptocurrency enthusiasts seem to ignore the fact that Bitcoin could yet enter an even more extreme death spiral. Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency whose market capitalisation has been hammered. Sell offs have happened across the board, with the price of major alternative coins such as Ripple and Ethereum falling in the past year.
It is not clear what the catalyst was for these price drops and selling. But what is clear is that cryptocurrency prices struggle to find a floor for a number of reasons. These range from the rising cost of mining, regulatory concerns, market manipulation, speculative trading, sky high power consumption, and the increasing scepticism from both the public and the world’s established financial industry.
1. Rising cost of mining
If its price continues to drop and the mining costs do not fall to the same extent, the incentives to update the public ledger and validate transactions can quickly disappear, threatening the very existence of Bitcoin as a viable payment system.
Bitcoin is dependent on a system of miners that verify transactions and record them on a digital ledger called the blockchain. This prevents copies being made of the digital tokens. As a reward for the energy and time involved, miners are rewarded in Bitcoin.
But the amount of work involved in mining keeps increasing (making it more costly), as the mining process was always designed to get more and more difficult, to limit the number of new Bitcoin that get issued. Seeing as mining requires vast amounts of energy, a number of miners have shut down their operations, as Bitcoin’s declining value has made mining less profitable.
This is worrying for Bitcoin’s viability as there needs to be a minimum number of miners at work to maintain the public blockchain ledger. Without the mining activity, cryptocurrencies are just a set of encrypted numbers with no value. Any rational investor would stand clear of mining if the cost of mining is higher than the future price.
2. Regulatory concerns
Regulators across the world are beginning to act on cryptocurrencies with diverging views. While countries like Switzerland and Malta are trying to become hubs for cryptocurrency businesses, others like China and the US have cracked down on cryptocurrency markets.
A case in point comes from the US markets regulator, the SEC. It announced in November 2018 that operators of two initial coin offerings (ICOs) must pay fines and restitution as they broke the law by selling unlicensed securities. This hardly comes as a surprise. In fact, it is likely only the beginning of a decisive intrusion of regulatory bodies in the opaque ecosystem of ICOs. Such a development might be enough to spook some investors to abandon cryptocurrencies altogether.
Read more: Bitcoin’s rollercoaster ride reflects the biggest issue facing cryptocurrencies: regulation
Advocates of cryptocurrencies insist that more institutional investors will get involved in the space thanks to new products such as crypto-specific exchange-traded funds (ETFs). They expect these to take off in the same way that ETFs have become massively popular for conventional investors. But the SEC has not approved any crypto ETFs, and it would be overly optimistic to assume that this will happen in the near future.
3. Market manipulation
Market manipulation and speculative activity are also important concerns when it comes to the crypto market, which could have been priced into recent performance. My recent research shows how well-informed traders buy cryptocurrencies in bulk, which pushes the price up and gets other buyers to follow suit, until the well-informed traders sell and send the price down, which again everybody follows.
Again, this hardly comes as a surprise. Cryptocurrency markets are incredibly opaque. Anyone paying attention to cryptocurrency trading knows that this kind of pump-and-dump activity and fictitious orders are designed to artificially move prices, exacerbating price swings at the expenses of, perhaps unsophisticated, retail investors.
4. Power consumption
A third concern behind the constant price drop is the increasing costs of equipment and electricity. Bitcoin mining is incredibly power hungry. And this power demand is becoming so high in regions where mining is concentrated, such as Canada, that authorities are starting to deny supply to mining facilities.
Again, this could threat the very survival of any cryptocurrency which is based on mining. This represents the vast majority.
5. Industry scepticism
Large drops in prices are accompanied by a persistent scepticism around cryptocurrencies. To some extent this is due to the fact that the promise to bypass the mainstream, centralised economic system and enable peer-to-peer payments has been disappointing so far.
Major players in the world of finance, such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and JP Morgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, constantly express their deep scepticism of cryptocurrencies, suggesting Bitcoin and the likes still face an uphill battle for acceptance.
The one upside to all this is that, although cryptocurrencies may have entered a death spiral, the blockchain economy is here to stay. As well as allowing safe peer-to-peer lending and transactions, it is being used to build more efficient supply chains and in the evolution of the internet of things – to name just a few of its applications. This will only grow as it is applied to everything from education to the media.