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Disney+ Streaming Subscriber Growth Slows, Reaches 118 Million Worldwide

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 November 2021

US entertainment giant Disney said Wednesday its flagship streaming service grew slower than expected in the recently ended quarter as pandemic headwinds have begun to bite.

Disney+ has reached 118 million subscribers worldwide, but analysts had predicted millions more would sign up, resulting in a miss that saw the entertainment giant’s share price slip in after-market trades.

Disney Company chief executive Bob Chapek told analysts on an earnings call that the two-year-old service has faced some pandemic headwinds to landing new shows and films.

“Obviously, we are only in year two of the Disney+ launch and the hunger for content for the service is extraordinary,” he said.

“And when you have that happen at the same time that you have a pandemic and you have to shut down production, that is not a good combination,” he added.

Rival Netflix has promised to significantly bolster its line-up of original programming after suffering from pandemic-caused production delays.

Disappointing growth at Disney+ came as the company tried to regain momentum in its travel and theme park businesses, which have suffered due to the pandemic.

“We’ve made great strides in reopening our businesses while taking meaningful and innovative steps in Direct-to-Consumer and at our Parks, particularly with our popular new Disney Genie and Magic Key offerings,” Chapek said.

Impacts on parks and films

Disney also planned a major promotion on Friday to mark the two-year anniversary this week of the launch of Disney+.

More worrisome for investors, the average monthly revenue per Disney+ subscriber fell 9 percent year-over-year to $4.12 (roughly Rs. 307).

In its earnings release, the group attributed the decline to cheaper subscriptions in some markets, such as India and Indonesia.

It also noted that Disney+ is facing cost increases in terms of content production, marketing and technology.

Disney stock fell four percent by close of trading Wednesday.

But the very popular streaming service benefits from the controversial strategy of its parent company, which consists of releasing some films simultaneously in theaters and online, with an additional cost for subscribers to the platform.

After Mulan in 2020, Black Widow and Jungle Cruise were released this summer to the great displeasure of theaters and stars such as Scarlett Johansson, who criticized a loss of earnings for them.

“When they were putting out blockbuster movies at the streaming service at the same time as the theaters, that was worth the price of admission,” tech analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group said of Disney.

“But, that driver has evaporated.”

Disney has changed course of late, letting movies run in theaters for a while before making it to the streaming service, according to the analyst.

“If they are going to force you to go back to the theater again, then Disney+ becomes redundant,” Enderle said.

“At some point Disney is going to have to make a decision to favor the theaters or their service, and it is a hard decision.”

In all, Disney’s platforms (Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu) have 179 million subscriptions and have generated a turnover of $4.6 billion (roughly Rs. 34,268 crore).

The parks and merchandise business doubled its revenue to $5.5 billion (roughly Rs. 40,973 crore), thanks to the much-anticipated reopening of all its theme parks worldwide.

“We continue to be impacted by reduced operating capacities” due to health restrictions, Disney noted in its statement.

Disney also expected costs of making films and operating its other business to rise, given inflationary pressures being felt across the economy.

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Microsoft Office’s New UI Now Rolling Out for Everyone

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By ANI | Updated: 3 December 2021

American tech conglomerate Microsoft has started to roll out a new Office UI for its users this week. The visual update was originally announced earlier this year and went into testing over the summer.

Now it’s starting to roll out to all Office 365 and Office 2021 users, according to The Verge. This new Office UI is designed to match the visual changes in Windows 11, and it includes a more rounded look to the Office ribbon bar, with some subtle tweaks to the buttons throughout Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

It’s a relatively simple refresh, and Office will now match the dark or light theme that you set inside Windows. The new-look can be toggled on or off using the Coming Soon megaphone icon in the top right-hand corner of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote.

It should be available for all Windows 11 users right now, and Microsoft says 50 percent of current channel subscribers will have the visual update enabled automatically.

Most of the design changes are subtle, but Microsoft has teased more dramatic changes to its Office UI, which included moving toward more of a command bar instead of the traditional ribbon interface.

As per The Verge, it’s still expected to see these changes appear in the Web and mobile versions of Office first, and Microsoft did say last year that its bigger Office UI changes could take a year or two to roll out.

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WhatsApp Said to Win Approval to Double Payments Offering to 40 Million Users in India

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 November 2021.

WhatsApp has won regulatory approval to double the number of users on its payments service in India to 40 million, a source with direct knowledge told Reuters on Friday. The company had requested that there should be no cap on users of its payment service in India.

Instead, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) this week told the company it could double the user base to which it can offer its payment service – currently restricted to 20 million – the source said.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which recently changed its name to Meta.

The source said the new cap would still hinder the company’s growth prospects given that WhatsApp’s messenger service has more than 500 million users in India, the company’s biggest market.

It was not clear when the new cap would come into effect.

WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the NPCI declined to comment.

WhatsApp competes with Alphabet’s Google Pay, SoftBank- and Ant Group-backed Paytm, and Walmart’s PhonePe in India’s crowded digital market.

The NPCI gave WhatsApp approval to start its payments service last year after the company spent years trying to comply with Indian regulations, including data storage norms that require all payments-related data to be stored locally.

WhatsApp has almost reached its user base of 20 million for payment services, said the source, who declined to be identified as the details are private.

Online transactions, lending and e-wallet services have been growing rapidly in India, led by a government push to make the country’s cash-loving merchants and consumers adopt digital payments.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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China Demands Tencent Submit New Apps, Updates to Inspection Before Being Uploaded: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 November 2021

China has required Tencent Holdings submit any new apps or updates for inspections before they can be uploaded after a number of its apps were found to have committed violations, Chinese financial media outlet Yicai reported on Wednesday.

Yicai, citing unnamed sources, said the Chinese social media and gaming giant had been required to do so by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) after some of its apps were found to have infringed users’ rights and interests.

It also said that MIIT had recently issued a notice to say that between November 24 to December 31, all mobile apps and their updates will need to undergo a roughly seven-day-long review before they can be uploaded to app stores.

Tencent said its apps remained functional and available for download in response to Yicai’s and other local media reports.

“We are continuously working to enhance user protection features within our apps, and also have regular cooperation with relevant government agencies to ensure regulatory compliance. Our apps remain functional and available for download,” the company said.

Chinese regulators have in over the past year mounted a wide-ranging crackdown on its tech giants, seeking to dismantle some of the industry’s long-held practices after accusing them of monopolistic behaviour and infringing user rights.

This has included a step up in checks on mobile apps by regulators. On November 3, MIIT ordered 38 apps from companies, including those of Tencent, to rectify the excessive collection of personal information.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Reddit to Shut Down TikTok-Like Dubsmash App, Integrate Video Tools With Platform

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By Reuters | Updated: 24 November 2021

Reddit is pulling the plug on its TikTok-like platform, Dubsmash, the social network said on Tuesday, just a year after buying it for an undisclosed sum to bolster its video creation tools.

The standalone Dubsmash app will not be available for download after February 22, Reddit said, as it rolled out new camera and editing features as part of its video tools.

TikTok’s massive success with short-form videos has driven other social networks to incorporate the format on their platforms, with Snap rolling out Spotlight; Facebook, now Meta Platforms, launching Instagram Reels; and Alphabet’s YouTube launching Shorts.

“The Dubsmash team has been accelerating Reddit’s video, so parts of Reddit will feel familiar to Dubsmashers,” the company said in a blog post.

Since Dubsmash’s acquisition, Reddit said it had seen 70 percent growth in overall hours watched, while the number of daily active video viewers rose by over a third.

Viewership for short videos, which the company defines as two seconds or less, has also risen by 50 percent quarter-over-quarter.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Spotify Launches ‘Netflix Hub’ on Its App to Lure Fans With Podcasts, Soundtracks From Popular Shows

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By Reuters | Updated: 24 November 2021

Music streaming platform Spotify Technology said on Tuesday it has introduced a new hub where fans can listen to all the official soundtracks, playlists and podcasts related to Netflix’s shows.

The Netflix Hub, as the companies are calling the new feature, will contain playlists from hit shows such as Money Heist and Bridgerton, as well as the official soundtrack from shows such as Squid Game. It can be accessed by both free and premium listeners.

The hub would also contain Netflix-tied podcasts including Okay, Netflix Is A Daily Joke, and The Crown: The Official Podcast, the Swedish company said in a blog post.

Spotify, which saw a rise in premium subscribers in the third quarter, has benefited from the pandemic as people turned to its music platform to stay entertained. But with growing competition from Apple Music and Amazon Music, Spotify is looking at introducing new features to attract more subscribers.

Earlier in 2019, it had also collaborated with Disney to create the Disney Hub.

Spotify said subscribers across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and India will have access to the hub.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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DuckDuckGo Introduces App Tracking Protection to Stop Apps From Tracking Android Users

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By ANI | Updated: 22 November 2021

Privacy-focused browser maker DuckDuckGo’s new tool aims to prevent apps from tracking Android users.

According to The Verge, DuckDuckGo’s tool hasn’t been rolled out as part of an update to all Android phones, nor is it available as a separate download.

It’s built into DuckDuckGo”s privacy-focused browser app, but works across your device. In a post on its blog, the company said that the tool will block “trackers it identifies in other apps from third-party companies.”

Once App Tracking Protection is enabled, it will run in the background as you use your phone. The tool recognises when an app is about to send data to a third-party tracker, and will then prevent the app from taking your information.

DuckDuckGo said that it’s “continually working to identify and protect against new trackers,” which means that your data should be kept away from any new trackers that crop up.

From the DuckDuckGo app, you should also be able to see a real-time view of trackers that the tool has blocked, along with where your data would’ve been going.

The company says that although its App Tracking Protection tool isn’t a virtual private network (VPN), your device will behave as if it is one.

“This is because App Tracking Protection uses a local ”VPN connection” which means that it works its magic right on your smartphone. However, App Tracking Protection is different from VPNs because it never routes app data through an external server,” DuckDuckGo explained in its post.

While conducting its own test, DuckDuckGo found that more than 96 percent of some of the most popular free Android apps have third-party trackers that most users are unaware of.

As per The Verge, the company also discovered that 87 percent of these apps send user data to Google, while 68 per cent send data to Facebook.

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