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Amex-Abra-Crypto-Rewards-Credit-Card-thefutureparty

Amex launches its first crypto rewards credit card

Amex-Abra-Crypto-Rewards-Credit-Card-thefutureparty
Abra Crypto Card // Illustration by Kate Walker

Amex launches its first crypto rewards credit card

 

The Future. After much hesitation, Amex has announced that it’s teaming up with Abra, a crypto wallet provider and wealth management platform, to offer the Abra Crypto Card. The card will reward users in crypto for making transactions in U.S. dollars and is meant to give users the opportunity to get into DeFi investing — minus the risk of converting personal assets into cryptocurrency.

Dangling the crypto carrot

Amex and Abra announced the joint launch of their card at Coindesk’s Consensus conference last Friday.

  • The basics. Once users apply for a line of credit and are approved, they can use Abra’s exchange service to earn crypto rewards and swap those rewards for other cryptocurrencies.
  • The catch. Abra hasn’t disclosed exactly which cryptocurrencies users will be able to receive, though there will be multiple options. The card will give users an incentive to choose Abra’s own token, CPRX (Crypto Perx), over other options.
  • The horizon. Eventually, Abra plans to allow users to extend their credit lines based on their crypto balances. The goal of this service would be to encourage users to trust banks with their crypto — signaling Amex and Abra’s confidence in crypto.

The card, which launches later this year, will also feature more traditional Amex rewards options, like perks related to entertainment and dining expenses.

The move is likely the first step in a larger partnership that will allow Amex to present its users with crypto opportunities.

All abord the bandwagon
Amex has been slow to accept DeFi. With this reveal, the company is finally joining its competitors (like Visa and Mastercard) in launching a crypto rewards credit card. Major digital asset companies like Brex, Venmo, and SoFi already offer this option as well.

Widespread adoption of cryptocurrency by traditional lenders signals a shift in DeFi’s lasting power. Still, given May’s crypto crash and the rapidly changing regulatory environment, it’s hard to say whether any of this will actually diminish crypto’s volatility or whether stablecoins will replace popular unregulated alternatives in banks’ good graces.

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Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey launch a free crypto academy

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The Bitcoin Academy // Illustration by Kate Walker

Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey launch a free crypto academy

 

The Future. Jay-Z and Block CEO Jack Dorsey have joined forces to launch The Bitcoin Academy, a free crypto education program located at Marcy Houses, the public housing complex in Brooklyn where Jay-Z grew up. The Academy’s founders and teachers see crypto as a path to financial freedom—especially for the needy—but detractors worry that students of such programs stand to lose more than they could gain.

A syllabus for the self-made

Bitcoin Academy is launching its first season this summer.

  • The lessons. Crypto evangelists and success stories like Lamar Wilson and Najah J. Roberts make up the Academy’s instructors, with the curriculum focused on leveraging cryptocurrency to acquire financial independence.
  • The perks. Participants of the program will also be given MiFi devices, a one-year limited data plan, and in some cases, their own smartphone — all of which they get to keep after the program’s over. Dinner is served during classes, which occur in the evenings.
  • The icing on the cake. Participants will receive small amounts of Bitcoin too, but Dorsey and Jay-Z have been clear that the primary purpose of the program is education. It seems that investing in Bitcoin will be strongly encouraged, with the gifted amount to be used as a test case.

The Academy will hold classes twice weekly from June-September, as well as a weekend “Crypto Kids Camp” for children ages 5 to 17. While the Academy is only open to Marcy residents, Jay-Z has said he hopes to expand the program soon.

And this isn’t Jay-Z and Dorsey’s first joint venture in the crypto world. Last year, the pair made a 500 BTC investment aimed at boosting DeFi’s popularity in India and Africa.

The meek shall inherit the worst
Critics see the Bitcoin Academy as a possible form of “predatory inclusion,” in which vulnerable populations are presented with scams, subprime loans, or other fraudulent schemes disguised as opportunities. Even if the Academy’s aim is to educate students on how to sift the crypto wheat from the chaff, skeptics think they’re still encouraging people without a safety net to take risks in a notoriously volatile market.

A useful example to consider is El Salvador, which adopted Bitcoin as legal tender last year and doesn’t seem to have enjoyed the collective increase in prosperity the country expected. According to TechCrunch, nearly 70% of El Salvador’s citizens are unbanked, which means they’ll have no consumer protections if the currency tanks.

The Bitcoin Academy’s students are individuals, not nations. But for the vulnerable, the risks of investing in an unstable currency can drastically outweigh the rewards — even if you know what they are.

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Hollywood won’t bat an eye at the prospect of a recession, but viewers might

Recession-Cinema-Video-Game-Industry-thefutureparty
Illustration by Kate Walker

Hollywood won’t bat an eye at the prospect of a recession, but viewers might

 

The Future. Persistent inflation, supply pressures from the war in Ukraine, and the Federal Reserve’s rate-hike program all boost the likelihood of a coming recession. For Hollywood, that could spell losses, not just in theater ticket sales but streaming subscriptions and ad revenue. If there is an economic downturn, the entertainment industry may have to revise its entire business model.

Troubled waters
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently warned of an approaching economic “hurricane” that could severely curtail consumer spending. Many disagree with his forecast, but if it does come true, the entertainment industry has done little to prepare for it.

  • The optimist’s take. Cinema and video game industry professionals both scoffed at the idea that a recession could hurt their businesses, claiming that people lean on entertainment during hard times to keep their spirits up.
  • The cynic’s take. As food and gas prices skyrocket, people probably won’t consider entertainment expenses essential — including streaming subscriptions and movie tickets. With subscription sales and theater turnout already faltering, the industry needs a new way to either boost revenue or cut costs.
  • The bitter pill. Ever since Snap released its Q2 guidance, tech and media stocks have both tanked on a large scale. The reason is that digital advertising is faltering even without a recession, partly because some products, like cars, are flying off the shelves without help from ads.

Recent weeks have seen the longest streak of losses for tech stocks since the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s. Thanks to streaming and digital advertising, the entertainment industry is deeply tied to tech, so even if there’s not a widespread recession, Hollywood may still suffer.

Land of the free (streaming services)
So far, this is all theoretical. Some signs that a recession has actually arrived would be hiring freezes, especially when followed by wider layoffs — in other words, short-term cost-cutting measures.

But if things get bad enough, some big players might have to take more drastic measures. According to The Hollywood Reporter, this might mean transitioning away from paid subscriptions in favor of free, ad-supported streaming (“FAST”) services, which would appeal to those who feel they can’t afford to pay. Any big streamer to adopt this model could force its competitors to follow suit.

Welcome to the golden age of… cable TV, basically.

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Netflix might buy Roku, but should they?

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Roku // // Illustration by Kate Walker

Netflix might buy Roku, but should they?

 

The Future. The internet (and Roku’s stock) lit up on Wednesday following a rumor that Netflix might acquire Roku. If it happens, the acquisition could answer both companies’ revenue problems, as Netflix fights its way into the ad space and Roku seeks wider distribution for its offerings. On the other hand, fiscal strain and opposing philosophies could make the deal crash and burn, that is, if it’s even happening.

Everybody talks
The buzz kicked up after Business Insider reported Roku employees were discussing a possible acquisition after the video-streaming company prevented them from selling their vested stock. Neither Netflix nor Roku have confirmed the rumor.

  • The Netflix angle. Netflix’s shared subscriber numbers have dropped lately, and the streamer has been looking to supplement revenue by building out an ad business — precisely what Roku already has.
  • The Roku angle. Roku, meanwhile, has been investing heavily in original content, a bet that’s largely paid off. But it could be a bigger payoff if Roku’s distribution skyrocketed —and who better to make that happen than Netflix, who could feature Roku’s content on its platform ad-free?
  • A huge acquisition costing both money and time might make the purchase ill-advised– or unrealistic as both companies have been spending lots of cash either aggressively expanding or trying to erase a deficit.

Not to mention Roku CEO Anthony Wood, who’s famously strong-willed and invested in growing Roku rather than selling it.

Survival of the biggest
Still, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Netflix and Roku are at least in discussions. Recent years have been full of huge acquisitions, like Amazon’s purchase of MGM and the bidding war between the big dogs of streaming over exclusive rights to stream sports games.

The explosive proliferation of content and viewing platforms of the past decade seems to be entering a new phase — consolidation. The field has become so large and competitive that players like Netflix can no longer count on subscriber growth (which had to stop sometime), and instead have to either trim the competition or pad their margins with ads.

We may be entering a new era of commercial breaks.

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An Indian blockbuster’s success flips the script for movie theaters

An Indian blockbuster’s success flips the script for movie theaters

 

The Future. The premiere of Tollywood blockbuster RRR smashed box offices throughout India (and the U.S.) despite a nonexistent international advertising campaign. Now that streaming platforms have changed the game for moviegoers and theaters alike, audiences may turn out for a different type of cinematic experience — something warmer and more communal.

Thinking inside the box
After becoming the second highest-grossing Indian film in U.S. box office history, RRR raked in $12-$15M on its opening weekend in the States alone, prompting many theaters to schedule specialty screenings or even repeat daily showtimes.

  • The movie. The latest offering from S. S. Rajamouli, RRR (“Rise, Roar, Revolt”), is a three-hour epic about folk heroes forming an unlikely alliance to fight the British raj in 1920s India. With a budget equivalent to $72M, it’s one of the most expensive Indian films to date.
  • The legacy. Rajamouli’s Baahubali film franchise holds the current record for the highest-grossing Indian movie ever made, so domestic audiences knew what they were getting with RRR — a heartfelt action story devoid of the ironic self-awareness typically found in Hollywood blockbusters.
  • The wait. Initially slated to be released in January 2020, RRR was delayed twice by the pandemic, pushing its opening night by more than two years, further intensifying hype around the film.

While RRR has been in U.S. theaters, it’s also been available to stream on Netflix — which hasn’t seemed to dampen viewer turnout.

Bigger is better
For one thing, streaming means movie theaters are getting fewer big releases, which has driven them to diversify their offerings to cast a wider net. On the other hand, that also pressures them to prioritize big films like MCU productions, which aren’t quite as much fun at home.

Unlike Marvel movies, RRR draws on an entirely different cultural canon, resulting in a more hammy and unself-conscious product than most American fare. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a close second. As streaming continues to play a more dominant role in how fans see movies, theaters may take inspiration from films like RRR and only show the most exciting (and simply fun) movies — the kind that viewers can enjoy even if they don’t speak the language or know the characters.

Hollywood used to own that space. But maybe not for much longer.

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The hotel industry’s hot streak

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The hotel industry’s hot streak

 

Future. The pandemic hit hotels especially hard, but now they’re making a comeback in equal measure. Rising wages, pandemic savings, and market conditions have made hotels feasible expenses or investments for the moment– but is the boom here to stay?

Say goodbye to staycations
In the first three months of 2022, hotel sales surpassed $12.5 billion. According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s a record since 2016.

    • The red-hot market has led to record acquisitions. For example, Xenia Hotels & Resorts, Inc. recently purchased the W Nashville hotel for $950,000/room in a $329 million deal.
    • One reason for the boom could be inflation. Everyone’s got to deal with rising labor costs, but the hotel industry can cope with general price inflation better than most businesses, thanks to its ability to set new prices for its rooms daily.
    • Likewise, sharply rising property values grew hotel value 18% YoY as of March. Their growth has outpaced that of hotel profits — but that mismatch actually augurs well for the industry’s future since analysts expect profits to catch up soon.

Hotels are recovering from their pandemic slump, but it’s worth pointing out that the industry’s prognosis is still worse than it was before the pandemic.

Yes, vacancy

Relocation fever and the broad shift to remote work has generally lowered the demand for temporary lodging. Rising prices and home mortgage rates could eventually reduce Americans’ disposable income, and rising interest rates could hurt hotel investment by improving bond yields, leading investors to pursue those instead.

Nevertheless, some hotels are trying to accommodate this shift in the nature of work by launching subscription services for long-distance commuters and hybrid workers that would guarantee members one night’s stay per month in a hotel. Keep it short and sweet.

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Toyota takes the high road with hydrogen cars

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Mirai // Courtesy of Toyota

Toyota takes the high road with hydrogen cars

 

Future. As global investment in hydrogen power picks up, Toyota is selling more models of its hydrogen-powered car, the Mirai, than ever before. But with EV infrastructure taking off and hydrogen infrastructure barely chugging, is it too late to harness the most abundant fuel in the universe?

All gassed up

Investors have funneled over $80 billion to hydrogen research and infrastructure (like building hydrogen-powered airplanes), and now many are looking to hydrogen to solve carbon emissions problems, from fueling vehicles to storing energy for the power grid.

    • Hydrogen fuel cells can store energy and have become much cheaper and more efficient in recent years. Unlike electric, hydrogen can power boats and planes, and refuel cars nearly as fast as gasoline can.
    • But the cheapest (and most popular) way to manufacture hydrogen isn’t clean at all. Not only would H2 plants need to be built immediately, they’d also need to run on renewables and would be far costlier to produce than current methods.
    • The other major hurdle for Toyota: hydrogen fueling stations only exist in California. We need more fueling stations, but those each cost $2 million to build — so supply waits for demand waits for supply…

There’s a workaround, though. Hydrogen makes sense for shipping and delivery companies since a few centralized fueling locations littered along planned routes would mitigate the drawback of refuel access. If that happened, the resulting infrastructure might be sufficient to spike consumer demand.

The wet blanket
Many believe it’s still too late for hydrogen cars. But in the long run, given the enormous overhauls to urban infrastructure that climate change will require, it would likely be better to install hydrogen infrastructure than to do nothing at all.

General hydrogen power is another story. Ships and planes have no clean-energy alternative to hydrogen, and the fuel could still support power grids and decarbonize major industries like steel production. There’s a silver lining to every cloud.

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British Columbia takes reforestation to the skies

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Aerial seeding // Illustration by Kate Walker

British Columbia takes reforestation to the skies

 

Future. Reforestation efforts are testing out drones that can aerially reseed miles of woods charred by devastating wildfires. If trials are successful, drones could combine with manual replanting to speed up forest recovery — and restore the land that many indigenous communities depend on.

Canada dry

The reforestation is headed by First Nations communities and other land management programs that tend the woods of British Columbia, which saw its worst fire season in history when the Plateau Complex struck in 2017.

    • Forests can usually recover from fires on their own (thanks to pine cones and seeds dispersed by wind), but the Plateau Complex generated such intense heat that, in some places, no seeds could survive.
    • In aerial seeding, seeds from distant nurseries are embedded in dense missiles of soil and nutrients, loaded into the drone, and fired into the earth from the air.
    • This round of planting put half a million pucks in the ground.
    • In certain places — like southerly-facing slopes or lowlands — pucks aren’t likely to take hold, but they’re excellent for high-elevation areas or places people can’t easily reach.

Results of the trial will be clear within the year when surveyors return (with the help of drones) to see what percentage of trees survived the planting.

Man’s best friend?
Drones won’t totally replace manual replanting — the backbreaking work that can often plant 1,000-3,000 trees per day. But the two can work in tandem; trees planted from either method can connect underground to rapidly rebuild.

Such cooperative solutions to modern problems — which leave demand for human labor intact — are probably why so many young people believe in tech. Machines won’t solve all our problems for us, but they can help us do it.

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The Third Floor wants to play the movie industry

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The Third Floor wants to play the movie industry

 

Future. The Third Floor, an animation studio that creates rough video-game-esque animated storyboards for Hollywood blockbusters, announced that it would start making feature-length animated films and TV shows. Recent improvements in affordable CGI tools have lowered the barrier to entry for visual storytelling so that smaller firms can try their hand at it — which could democratize Hollywood.

Started from the… top
The Third Floor’s development from attic passion project to full-fledged animation studio bodes well for those with big dreams and small pockets.

  • Formed from the team that animated “Star Wars: Episode III” on the third floor of the Skywalker Ranch, The Third Floor began as a group of people who liked their jobs too much to disband.
  • Initially providing simple storyboards made from Maya software, The Third Floor’s products improved as the firm introduced LED walls and video game rendering software like the Unreal Engine.
  • Now The Third Floor has 500 employees and works on 30 or so projects simultaneously, including titles like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Loki — in other words, the best of the best of special effects.

The Third Floor’s COO Joshua Wassung said that the company’s ideal clientele going forward are those who hope to make animated content that looks good without shelling out the budget of a Pixar film.

We’re all friends here
This shouldn’t necessarily put Pixar, Disney, or Marvel on high alert. The streaming wars mean that demand for animated content is so high that there will likely be enough work to go around for a long time, and big studios with big budgets will still likely have a monopoly on top-shelf visuals.

What outfits like The Third Floor have to offer are affordability and speed. The real-time rendering enabled by software like the Unreal Engine can shorten the production pipeline (and lighten the bill) by cutting review and rendering times by 70%. Let the games begin.

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Adidas gives power to the players with NIL program for NCAA athletes

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Adidas gives power to the players with NIL program for NCAA athletes

 

Future. Adidas announced on Wednesday that it’s launching a NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) program for NCAA D1 athletes at Adidas-partnered schools, which will allow over 50,000 student-athletes to finally monetize their personal brands. The move could lead competing sponsors to launch similar programs — which would only sweeten the deal for the players.

From pay-your-way to play-for-pay
Though some student-athletes have been able to make money since the NCAA leadership changed their rules in 2019, there’s never been a large-scale NIL network like this one.

  • Student-athletes’ main source of income from the program would be commissions based on ad sales, but Adidas will also allow them to make money for every sponsored social media post.
  • Adidas plans to spend $600M in the first year of the program alone — and that’s just on HBCUs and Power 5 conference partners.
  • The program’s reveal coincides with the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which protects athletes from sex-based discrimination. Adidas is honoring that legislation with a step towards equity and equality for (and between) student-athletes.

For context, college sports made schools $14 billion last year. So when student-athletes are making nothing… well, it’s easy to see why critics have called the model unfair.

Bidding war
Gatorade and Nike already have sponsorship programs in place that partner with particularly hot NCAA stars. But Adidas could force them to recalibrate to remain competitive — or bring new sponsors into the fold to capitalize on the opportunity.

That would be great for players who’d benefit from any kind of corporate contest for their affections. But even if this doesn’t happen, the Adidas NIL program is a step in the right direction.

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