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Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour will test Ticketmaster

Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour will test Ticketmaster

 

The Future. Tickets for Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour go on sale over the next few days, and their rollout will be Ticketmaster’s biggest test since demand for tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras tour shut the platform down in November. Averting disaster this time around might help Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, avert the regulatory crackdown that looms in their future.

Too-popular demand
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ticketmaster is preparing for an onslaught of ticket requests for the Renaissance tour.

  • The Renaissance tour is Beyoncé’s first solo tour in over six years, so demand is expected to far outpace supply.
  • That’s an issue because overwhelming demand is what crashed Ticketmaster during the release of tickets for the Eras tour, when the site received three times more bot requests than it ever had before.
  • This time, Ticketmaster is staggering ticket sale dates by city to reduce the risk of huge spikes in site traffic at any given point in time. Still, the site expects demand to exceed available tickets and will distribute them according to a lottery process.

Tickets for the North American leg of the tour go on sale February 6th.

In the spotlight
Handling this well won’t protect Live Nation from allegations of abusing their monopolistic position, and the company is likely to face federal regulation either way. But public opinion influences policy decisions, and pulling off Renaissance sales would go a long way towards convincing the public that the company can handle the market on their own, regardless of whether they should.

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Twitter revokes free access to its API

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Twitter revokes free access to its API

 

The Future. Twitter announced that it will stop providing free access to the Twitter API on February 9th, offering a “paid basic tier” in its stead. The move may help Twitter improve its difficult financial position but will also disrupt countless research projects and free open-access tools, potentially making the platform even more enemies.

A paywall play
The Verge covered what little is known about the upcoming “paid basic tier,” as well as the ramifications of the transition.

  • Twitter’s API (Applied Programming Interface) currently lets third parties access and analyze public Twitter data, which can be used to create bots and applications that connect to the platform.
  • On February 9th, creators of free programs, like novelty weather trackers or black-and-white image colorizers, will have to start charging fees for these services or shut down.
  • Scientists and students who rely on analysis of Twitter’s public data may also be forced to abandon their projects.
  • Twitter hasn’t announced how much the basic tier will cost but said that more details would come next week.

Twitter currently offers premium tiers of its API to developers who want access to extra information. The starting rate for the premium tier is reportedly $99/month but increases if subscribers want additional features.

MAYDAY, MAYDAY
This new policy is one of many extreme changes Elon Musk has made to increase the struggling company’s revenue streams. And there’s no question that Twitter’s financial situation is dire — the platform has failed to pay rent on office space.

But even if the paid basic tier for Twitter’s API makes the company money, moves like this one are likely to send users and investors running. Twitter needs approval like they need money, and money can’t buy them love.

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Spotify’s third-party billing option goes global

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Spotify’s third-party billing option goes global

 

The Future. Spotify’s test run of the User Choice Billing program — Google Play’s third-party billing option — has been a smash success, reaching 140 markets worldwide. The program allows Android users to pay third-party apps directly when making purchases of or within apps, reducing the commission the apps’ developers have to pay Google. After Spotify’s rough year in 2022, the extra cash from this program could turn things around for the music streamer.

Play on, playa
TechCrunch summarized the pilot program’s details, rollout, and prospects.

  • User Choice Billing typically reduces commissions on app purchases and in-app payments by 4%. But Spotify has a confidential deal with Google that may give the streamer more favorable terms.
  • Spotify started testing the program last November in about a dozen markets. Since then, that number has grown to 140, and Spotify hopes to eventually roll it out everywhere now that Google Play Billing is available.
  • Spotify stands to benefit from User Choice Billing because its user base is expanding — fast. The streamer beat its own user growth targets in Q4 2022, hitting 205 million paid subscribers. More subscribers mean more savings.

Quid pro quo
It makes sense that Google would give Spotify first dibs and good terms for this program. Spotify has historically been a vocal opponent of app stores, and Google faces several lawsuits from third-party developers, along with the growing threat of antitrust legislation. It would certainly help Google’s case if they’re seen playing nice with third-party apps.

Spotify, meanwhile, is seriously struggling to be profitable despite user growth — they lost over 60% of their market cap in 2022 alone. They likely need all the extra cash they can get just to recover their position.

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Unicorn startups lost almost $100 billion this year

Unicorn startups lost almost $100 billion this year

 

The Future. March 2022 was heaven for startups, with unicorns (startups valued over $1 billion) achieving a total worth of $190 billion. But now that crypto’s in deep trouble and the global economy approaches a recession, $96 billion of that has been wiped out — and steeper losses may still be on the way.

Doesn’t add up
Forbes re-evaluated these unicorns’ net worth to come up with more realistic numbers.

  • Since companies are disincentivized to give brutally honest answers about their own valuations, Forbes made new estimates by consulting three private market pricing data providers and averaging all of their valuations for a given company.
  • Some unicorns — like Stripe, Instacart, and Checkout.com — preemptively slashed their own valuations (sometimes by up to 70%) to avoid a crisis of investor confidence. Forbes took these new estimates at face value.
  • Finally, a few companies that ran out of cash have had to complete “down rounds” of fundraising that exposed them to reevaluation by the market. In Klarna’s case, that meant knocking their valuation from $45.6 billion down to $6.7 billion in July 2022.
  • The data suggests that outside China, there are now 32 unicorn billionaires worth $94 billion, down from 44 billionaires worth $190 billion last year.

This data excludes Chinese billionaires whose involvement with the Chinese government makes their wealth hard to measure.

The bigger they are…
To avoid more “down rounds,” many struggling tech companies are instituting widespread layoffs, including Scale AI, Gemini, Brex, and others. But that’s likely only a stopgap solution for many firms, whose valuations were unjustifiably high during the tech boom.

Money runs out, and when it does, there will most likely be more down rounds… And the unicorn herd will continue to thin.

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The DOJ looks hard at Live Nation Entertainment

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The DOJ looks hard at Live Nation Entertainment

 

The Future. Live Nation Entertainment (LYV) is under federal investigation again. The company (which formed in 2010 when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged services), controls 70% of the ticketing and live event venues markets, but that may not last if the government finds the firm guilty of abusing its monopoly.

Are you not entertained?
CNBC reported on the event giant’s long and troubled history with regulators and creators.

  • In 2010, Live Nation and Ticketmaster were allowed to merge if they accepted a consent decree that prohibited Live Nation from punishing venues for using a ticketer other than Ticketmaster…
  • … But in 2019, the DOJ found LYV guilty of doing just that. LYV settled with the government and extended their consent decree.
  • Then LYV drew widespread ire in November 2022, when demand for tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour crashed Ticketmaster, and many pre-registered fans were unable to get tickets.
  • Now the DOJ’s investigating LYV again for potential abuse of its monopoly position to stifle industry competition.

Bombing with the audience
The chorus of people who object to LYV’s practices has only grown louder. Clyde Lawrence of the band “Lawrence” testified in Tuesday’s Senate hearing that LYV’s control over ticketing and event venues has allowed them to force Lawrence to ticket through their platform in many cities.

The 2010 merger legally requires LYV to give their rival, Anschutz Entertainment Group, access to their ticketing software to enable competition. But Anschutz claims that LYV locked them out during the Taylor Swift fiasco. LYV may be about to get booed off the stage

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AI can make eye contact for you

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Illustration by Kate Walker

AI can make eye contact for you

 

The Future. The past few years have seen the rise of AI tools that can edit videos (and selfies) in real-time to make people look like they’re making eye contact with their cameras when they aren’t. The technology can be entertaining when used on movie footage, but what happens when everyone can use it on real-time video calls?

More than meets the eye
The Verge interviewed professional VFX specialist Daniel Hashimoto about his opinions and use of the technology.

  • Hashimoto marveled at how easy it was to use. He simply linked his browser to NVIDIA’s Broadcast app, which then made real-time edits to any video footage he accessed online.
  • Hashimoto was also impressed by the software’s “incredible” color-matching and lighting abilities.
  • What’s more, the technology is subtle: if an actor has clearly angled their head away from the camera, the software will intuit that they’re looking at something else and hold off from editing.

Looking ahead
Hashimoto expressed certainty that “every video conferencing tool will have some version of this within the next little while” — and it’s already being used this way.

Some disapprove of the tool, claiming it makes users maintain an unnaturally intense stare. But others — including many on the autism spectrum — struggle with eye contact and are happy to have a tool that does it for them. Regardless, most people agree on one thing: it makes movies hilarious.

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Justin Bieber sells his back catalog for $200 million

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Justin Bieber sells his back catalog for $200 million

 

The Future. Justin Bieber just sold the rights to his music catalog to Hipgnosis Songs Capital for $200 million, the highest sum any artist has ever fetched from the music company for their catalog. Several other artists have taken this route in recent years —  we may be seeing the beginning of a new era of catalog sales.

The fine print
Forbes summarizes the details of the deal, which Hipgnosis announced yesterday.

  • Hipgnosis now owns all of the publishing rights, masters recordings, and neighboring rights of the 290 songs Bieber released through 2021.
  • Universal Music Group will still own Bieber’s recorded music masters.
  • Last September, Bieber called off the world tour for his sixth album, Justice, after revealing his struggle with Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome, which caused Bieber partial facial paralysis. It’s possible — though not confirmed — that this deal signals the end of Bieber’s career as a live performer.

Last year, Hipgnosis acquired Justin Timberlake’s catalog for $100 million.

Join the chorus
Though the latest and (financially) greatest to do so, Bieber is just one of many celebrity musicians to sell their catalogs this year. Yes, members of The Doors and Dr. Dre have all either already sold rights or are currently in the selling process.

As music streaming continues to reorganize musicians’ financial incentives, more of them may opt for a catalog sale rather than rely on pittances derived from numbers of listens.

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Gen AI paints a troubling picture for art schools

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Gen AI paints a troubling picture for art schools

 

The Future. Art school instructors need to create academic policies regarding AI image generators — even as they struggle to familiarize themselves with the technology. While many argue that generators are a legitimate means of creative expression, most agree that their use challenges the very idea of artistic originality, especially for professional creators.

Disorder in the court
Vice covers the diverse range of attitudes art instructors hold toward generators like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and DALL-E 2.

  • Instructors of classical craft classes (where students draw or paint objects from real life) often discourage generative AI use, even for inspirational purposes, claiming that relying on them stunts the development of essential skills.
  • Conversely, some digital media teachers encourage engagement with this tech, reasoning that artists should experiment with every tool available to them.
  • Classes focused on professional practice and business skills, meanwhile, see these technologies as very threatening for legal and proprietary reasons.

Who’s plagiarizing anyway?
None of the teachers interviewed by Vice had caught their students passing off AI-generated work as their own. They said student critique greatly increased the chance that plagiarized work would be recognized as such. But they were concerned that current high school students might soon be able to fool admissions boards with entirely AI-generated portfolios.

Broad academic policy decisions will likely follow legal decisions over whether human artists can gain proprietary rights over art made with image generators. If the technology is seen as fundamentally plagiaristic, academic institutions will probably agree.

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Sundance faces an uncertain future

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Sundance faces an uncertain future

 

The Future. Thanks to the pandemic, the Sundance Film Festivals of 2021 and 2022 were entirely remote — and set back-to-back sales records. But this year’s festival — the first in-person event in years — comes on the heels of a huge correction in streaming, and Sundance may have to pivot to recapture its old magic.

Ups and downs
Vulture covers the roller coaster Sundance has been on since the pandemic started three years ago.

  • 2020 set a record for Sundance, with Hulu paying $17.5 million for the rights to stream Palm Springs — the highest price ever fetched by a Sundance film.
  • 2021 was even better. CODA became the first Sundance film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It also nabbed a $25 million price tag from Apple TV+ for exclusive streaming rights.
  • But now that recent media and streaming layoffs have cast doubt on the long-term viability of streaming models, those windfalls may be long gone. It doesn’t help that critically acclaimed art-house films like Tár and She Said — like those in Sundance’s wheelhouse — were box-office flops.
  • This year’s in-person festival still features a virtual attendance option. Whether the inclusion of the latter weakens the appeal of in-person attendance remains to be seen.

Complicating predictions even further is the possibility of an upcoming writers’ strike.

Good riddance?
Less industry money is circulating in 2023 than in recent years, so it seems unlikely that this year’s festival will achieve the same commercial success, all while showcasing innovative films that may be financially risky.

But that poses the question of whether Sundance should even want to do both. Some hope that the market shakeup caused by streaming budget cuts will restore some of the festival’s old magic: the in-person exchange of ideas.

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Advertisers flock to TikTok despite widespread bans

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Advertisers flock to TikTok despite widespread bans

 

The Future. TikTok is facing more scrutiny than ever, with dozens of US institutions banning the app due to espionage concerns. But ad spend on TikTok is also stronger than ever, suggesting that the platform may be uniquely resilient to the political pressures that plague other platforms.

Clocking In
Fast Company covers TikTok’s standout success in an industry that’s generally struggling to attract advertisers.

  • According to a recent market research report, 60% of surveyed ad buyers said TikTok was their preferred online video advertising platform.
  • Many of these agencies expect their clients’ TikTok ad spend to grow by 50% this year.
  • TikTok was the most downloaded app in 2022, with 138 million US users and 1 billion users globally.

TikTok charges less for ads than other major platforms like Meta, which may stunt its revenue but grow its advertising appeal.

Can’t touch this
Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter caused a mass defection of protesting users to platforms like Mastodon. So why does TikTok seem invulnerable to political opinion?

The answer may be that advertisers care about what consumers think, and TikTok’s audience cares less about the app’s data usage than Twitter’s audience dislikes Elon Musk. The format of Tiktok’s short videos may just lend itself less to political content than other platforms’ text-based forums do.

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