Amazon Prime Membership Fees See Double-Digit Hike in Five European Countries: All Details
By Agencies | Updated: 27 July 2022
Amazon Prime customers in five European countries learned Tuesday that they face double-digit price increases for the platform’s expedited delivery service. Amazon said the rises were due to increased operating costs as fuel prices have jumped higher. Beginning in mid-September, customers in France will have to pay 43 percent more for an annual subscription. Italians face a 38.6-percent hike, Spaniards 30.3 percent, and Britons and Germans 20 percent.
The rises take the price of Prime, which in addition to rapid delivery includes access to its Prime Video service, to EUR 49.90 (roughly Rs. 4,000) in Italy and Spain. It will be EUR 89.90 (roughly Rs. 7,300) in France and Germany, and GBP 95 (roughly Rs. 9,150) in Britain.
That leaves the service less costly than in the United States, where it rose by 17 percent earlier this year to $139 (roughly Rs. 11,100) per year.
Back in February, Amazon announced that it was raising the price of its annual US Prime subscriptions as it looked to offset higher costs for shipping and wages that it expected to persist this year.
With more than 200 million members globally, Prime is an incentive to consumers to direct more of their shopping to Amazon. That way, they make the most of their subscriptions. At the time, the company had not announced any changes for Prime members outside the United States
While the price hikes are much higher than inflation, analysts believe that the service costs Amazon much more than it charges and is used to lure and keep customers.
Market intelligence firm Foxintelligence estimated last year that European members of Prime bought on average twice as much on Amazon than non-members.
A handful of angry customers announced their intention to cancel the service on Twitter.
However, Amazon representatives in France were unfazed.
“What we could see in the United States was there wasn’t an opt-out surge because more and more services are offered via Prime and it still allows consumers to realise very considerable savings,” said the firm.
Fans Rejoice in AI-Generated Beatles Music as Music Studios File Copyright Claims
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 June 2023
When the Beatles broke up more than 50 years ago, devastated fans were left yearning for more. Now, artificial intelligence is offering just that. From ‘re-uniting’ the Fab Four on songs from their solo careers, to re-imagining surviving superstar Paul McCartney’s later works with his voice restored to its youthful peak, the new creations show off how far this technology has come — and raise a host of ethical and legal questions.
“I’m sobbing! This is so beautiful!!!”, wrote a listener in a typical YouTube comment for a fan-created AI cover of McCartney’s 2013 single, New, which features de-aged vocals and a bridge part ‘sung’ by his great songwriting partner and friend, the late John Lennon.
Equally impressive is a version of Grow Old With Me, one of the last songs penned by Lennon, which was posthumously released after his 1980 murder and recently remade by an AI creator who goes by Dae Lims.
With enhanced audio quality, an orchestral arrangement and harmonised backing vocals that evoke the Liverpudlian rockers’ heyday, the song’s most stirring moment comes when McCartney croons over a soaring melody with poignant lyrics about ageing. “When I hear this, I lose it. I start crying,” said music YouTuber Steve Onotera, who goes by ‘SamuraiGuitarist’ and has a million followers, in a recent video discussing the new works’ unforeseen sentimental resonance.
After the most influential band in history parted ways acrimoniously, fans were deprived of a final “happy ending,” he said. “So when we do get that reunion artificially yet convincingly created by AI, well, it’s surprisingly emotional.”
AI here, there and everywhere
Like an earlier track called Heart on a Sleeve which featured AI-generated vocals of Drake and The Weeknd and racked up millions of hits on TikTok and other platforms, these covers use scraping technology that analyzes and captures the nuances of a particular voice. The creators would have probably then sung the parts themselves and then applied the cloned voice, in a manner similar to placing a filter on a photograph..
While the results can be astonishing, getting there isn’t simple and requires skilled human operators combining new AI tools with extensive knowledge of traditional music processing software, Zohaib Ahmed, the CEO of Resemble AI, a Toronto-based voice cloning company, told AFP. “I think we’re still seeing a very small percentage of the population that can even access these tools,” he said. They need to “jump through hoops, read documentation, have the right computer, and then put it all together.”
Ahmed’s company is one of several offering a platform that can make the technology more accessible to clients in the entertainment sector — and counts a recent Netflix documentary series “narrated” by late art icon Andy Warhol using its technology as an early success.
For Patricia Alessandrini, a composer and assistant professor at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, the recent spate of AI tracks represents a coming-of-age for a technology that has been advancing exponentially — yet largely out of public view over the past decade..
“This is a great example of what AI does very well, which is anything that’s resemblance: to train it on something existing,” she told AFP. But, she added, it flounders when it comes to new ideas. “There’s really no expectation that it’s going to replace the rich history of humans originating art and culture.”
For the music industry, the ramifications are enormous. As the technology progresses, software that will easily allow people to transform their vocals into one of their favourite singers is likely not far away.
“If they’re getting paid for their vocal license, hey, everyone’s happy,” said Onotera. “But what if they’re long since passed away? Is it up to their estate?” AI is already proving a helter-skelter impact on the copyright world.
In the case of Heart on a Sleeve, Universal Music Group was quick to assert copyright claims and have the track pulled down from streaming services, but that hasn’t stopped it from popping back up on small accounts.
Marc Ostrow, a New York-based music copyright lawyer, told AFP AI-generated music is a “grey area.”
Copyright can be asserted both by songwriters whose material is used, as well as the holders of the master recordings.
On the other hand, AI creators can argue it falls under “fair use” citing a 2015 court ruling that said Google was permitted to archive the world’s books because it wasn’t competing with sellers and was displaying only snippets.
Last month, however, the US Supreme Court tipped the balance back the other way in ruling a Warhol print of the late pop star Prince violated the copyright of the photographer who took the original image.
Add to the mix that celebrities can protect their likeness under the “right to publicity,” established when Bette Midler successfully sued Ford Motor Company in the late 1980s for using a singer that sounded like her in an ad.
Ultimately, “I think there may be voluntary industry standards… or it’s going to be done by litigation,” said Ostrow. Rights holders will also need to think about the negative PR that could come with suing over works that are clearly fan-created tributes and not intended to be monetized.
Netflix, Disney, Amazon, JioCinema to Challenge Tobacco Warning Rules for Streaming Services in India
By Reuters | Updated: 2 June 2023
Streaming giants Netflix, Amazon, and Disney on Friday privately discussed a possible legal challenge and other ways to stall India’s new tobacco warning rules, amid fears they will need to edit millions of hours of existing web content, sources said. The pushback is the latest headache for streaming giants in India, a top growth market. Companies often face legal cases and police complaints their content sometimes hurts religious sentiment, and many have self-censored content over the years. As part of India’s anti-tobacco drive, the health ministry this week ordered streaming platforms should within three months insert static health warnings during smoking scenes.
Also, India wants at least 50 seconds of anti-tobacco disclaimers, including an audio-visual, at the start and in the middle of each program. In the first signs of industry distress, executives of the three global streaming companies, and India’s Viacom18 which runs billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s JioCinema app, held a closed-door meeting, where Netflix said the rules would hit customer experience and push production houses to block their content in India, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
Executives in India also discussed ways of a possible legal challenge to assert that other ministries – IT and information & broadcasting – have powers over streaming giants, and not the health ministry, said one of the sources. The companies, and India’s health ministry, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Reuters is the first to report the industry’s planned pushback.
Already, all smoking and alcohol-drinking scenes in movies in India’s cinemas and on TV, under the law, require health warnings, but so far there were no regulations for the streaming giants, whose content has become increasingly popular. In 2013, Woody Allen stopped his film, Blue Jasmine, from being screened in India after learning about mandatory anti-tobacco warnings would be inserted into its smoking scenes. Activists have welcomed new anti-tobacco rules by India, the world’s second-largest producer of tobacco that kills 1.3 million people each year in the country. India also has stringent cigarette pack warning rules.
HEALTH VS WARNINGS “HARASSMENT”
Truth Initiative, a public health nonprofit group, in March, said 60 percent of the 15 most popular streaming shows among 15- to 24-year-olds it analyzed contained depictions of tobacco, “effectively exposing 25 million young people to tobacco imagery” in 2021. But in India, companies from Netflix to Amazon to Disney, also have popular Hindi content which often shows Bollywood actors smoking, something activists say encourages tobacco use.
India is a hot market for streaming giants, and executives fear business impact and higher costs. Ambani’s JioCinema has just in recent weeks signed multiple content deals with NBCUniversal and Warner Bros, bringing popular shows like ‘Succession’ and ‘The Office’ to its platform. Together, the companies have millions of hours of content.
“New content being created needs to be changed and old content needs to be modified. It could require insertion of ad-type warning in between,” said Kaushik Moitra, partner at Bharucha & Partners who advises streaming firms and production houses. During the Friday meeting, Amazon and other companies made the point there was no way films can be edited in three months, said the second source, adding the industry decided to consult lawyers and write letters in protest.
Dylan Mohan Gray, a filmmaker who directed documentaries such as ‘Fire in the Blood’, said the new Indian rules amount to ‘harassment’, saying that murder, war, and extremely violent crime scenes were not regulated in the same way. “Smoking, which though certainly a serious public health problem, is both legal and a massive source of government revenue in this country,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Netflix Says Its $7-a-Month Ad-Supported Subscription Tier Now Has Nearly 5 Million Monthly Active Users
By Reuters | Updated: 18 May 2023
Netflix’s recently launched ad-supported tier reaches nearly 5 million active users per month, executives said on Wednesday in a pitch that emphasised the breadth of its programming to potential advertisers.
The streaming video pioneer launched a $7-per-month (roughly Rs. 500) option with commercials last November in 12 markets, including the US, as an alternative to ad-free plans that start at $10 (roughly Rs. 1,000) a month. It was designed to attract more customers and add a new revenue stream as competition for online viewers intensified.
On Wednesday, Netflix made its first presentation to advertisers at the annual ritual known as the upfronts, where networks aim to lock in ad commitments for upcoming shows. Walt Disney, Comcast and other companies also are vying for digital ad dollars.
Netflix executives stressed the company’s wide range of programming, from sci-fi hit Stranger Things to Korean drama Squid Game and upcoming action movie sequel Extraction 2.
“No other entertainment company aspires to create great movies and shows across so many genres in so many countries, and for such a broad, diverse audience,” said Bela Bajaria, chief content officer for Netflix.
Jeremi Gorman, Netflix’s president of worldwide advertising, said that global monthly active users had reached 5 million. Monthly active users count all adult profiles used on one account with ads. Children’s profiles do not run commercials.
Netflix reported 232.5 million paying subscribers around the world as of the end of March.
Executives said they wanted to work with advertisers to create new types of advertising that could only be done on a digital service. For instance, a 30-minute commercial could play out over several days, with a story unfolding each time a viewer watches a show on Netflix, co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos said.
“You can’t do that in linear TV because people don’t live on one channel,” Sarandos said.
Netflix had planned to make the ad presentation live in New York but switched to a virtual event to avoid protests from striking members of the Writers Guild of America.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
PVR-INOX Will Shut Down Around 50 Loss-Making Cinema Screens Over the Next 6 Months
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 17 May 2023
Leading cinema exhibitor PVR INOX plans to close around 50 loss-making screens, having an accelerated depreciation. “The company plans to shut down approximately 50 cinema screens over the next 6 months,” said PVR INOX in its investor’s update for the fourth quarter and financial year ending on March 31, 2023.
These properties are loss-making, or housed in malls which have reached the end of their life cycle with little hope of any revival. “The company has taken an accelerated charge of the depreciation in its books and written off the WDV of assets,” it said.
PVR-INOX has been created after the merger of two leading cinema brands PVR and INOX Leisure. The merger was effective from February 6, 2023.
The merged entity is operating 361 cinemas with 1,689 screens across 115 cities by the end of FY23 in India and Sri Lanka.
The merged entity is operating 361 cinemas with 1,689 screens across 115 cities by the end of FY23 in India and Sri Lanka.
“Of these, 9 screens have been opened till date, 15 screens are awaiting license for commercial opening and 152 screens are currently under various stages of fit out,” it said.
It has realigned all upcoming handovers of new sites for fit-outs till the time business fully recovers. “The company has robust pipeline of screens signed up for development over the next 5 years,” it added.
PVR INOX had on Monday reported a consolidated net loss of Rs 333.99 crore and revenue from operations was at Rs 1,143.17 crore for the fourth quarter that ended on March 31, 2023.
“We believe increased footfall growth is the only key driver of revenue growth in FY24, as SPH (Spend per head)/ATP (Average Ticket Price) are 16 percent/ 30 percent higher than pre-COVID level,” said Taurani.
Management is not concerned about losing some screens in the pipeline since there is a huge opportunity.
Streaming Giants Like Netflix, Disney+, and Prime Video Battle for Anime Supremacy
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 May 2023
From R-rated sci-fi to teen biker gang adventures, streaming platforms are locked in an intensifying battle for dominance in one of the entertainment sector’s hottest and most lucrative mediums: anime. Fuelled in part by the pandemic, the popularity of the cartoons pioneered in Japan has created a goldmine for streaming giants such as Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime.
The global anime market was valued at $28.6 billion (about Rs. 2,34,825 crore) in 2022, according to Grand View Research, and is forecast to double in value by 2030. “The peak may still be ahead of us,” Aya Umezu, CEO of Tokyo-based entertainment consulting firm GEM Partners, told AFP. “We doubt the competition in anime will slow down soon.”
Globally, demand for anime increased by 35 percent from 2020 to 2021, according to industry specialist service Parrot Analytics. It is little wonder, then, that international streamers are scrambling for ways to capitalise on the surging interest. Recent years have seen Disney+, a relative latecomer to anime, start offering fan favourites also found elsewhere like Demon Slayer, Spy x Family, and Jujutsu Kaisen.
“Having them can prevent subscription cancellations — that’s how strong these IPs (intellectual properties) are,” Umezu said. Offering these titles is seen as a baseline, and far from sufficient to win the loyalty of anime fans with increasingly diverse options available. That has meant platforms are looking to either secure exclusive rights to the content or co-produce their own original anime in a bid to stand out.
Breaking open the market
Last year, Disney+ announced exclusive streaming rights to season two of the smash-hit teen biker gang saga Tokyo Revengers, part of a lucrative deal with publishing giant Kodansha.
Amazon Prime has also sought to ‘monopolise’ blockbusters, said anime expert Tadashi Sudo, including One Piece Film: Red — Japan’s highest-grossing movie last year.
Netflix has proven something of an outlier in this market, going beyond snatching up existing hits to work directly with animation studios, granting them an unusual amount of creative leeway to make new stories.
Traditionally, Japanese anime emerges from ‘production committees’ made up of publishers, TV broadcasters, toy-makers and other industry players. These have long had a key role in broadening revenue possibilities for a series, from character merchandising to gaming. Netflix ruffled industry feathers when it teamed up directly with Tokyo animation studio Production I.G in 2018, bypassing the system.
“Some [in the anime industry] were upset because they thought we would destroy what they had built over all these years,” Production I.G president Mitsuhisa Ishikawa said. He went as far as likening Netflix to the ‘Black Ships’ — the 19th-century US vessels that forced the opening of Japan after hundreds of years of trade isolation. “The domestic way of making anime was suddenly forced open,” he said.
Netflix has reaped the rewards, with its original content making it “the platform that drove the largest increase in global demand for anime in 2021”, said Christofer Hamilton of US-based Parrot Analytics.
But even streaming goliaths with worldwide influence have comparatively small audience numbers in Japan. That raises red flags for some industry players, especially publishers who want maximum exposure for anime adaptations of their manga titles and worry exclusive streaming deals would limit their reach in Japan.
There is “a clash of two opposing interests — between platforms who want more exclusives and production committee players who want as little of a monopoly (for streaming services) as possible”, said anime specialist Sudo. Experts say this conflict often leads to Netflix original deals being based on works that are less likely to become national sensations like Demon Slayer.
None of Netflix’s original anime made their top-20 most-watched list for Japan users in 2022, according to GEM Partners senior data analyst Shota Ito. The streamer is, however, an attractive prospect for studios with more commercially challenging projects that the traditional market could find too niche.
Early original content on Netflix reflected this, and was heavy on shows critics say evoked the hardcore sci-fi anime of a few decades ago. Among these was Devilman Crybaby, the tale of a ‘demon-boy’ that featured violence and nudity galore.
“My sense is that creators wanted to do something with us that they had little chance to do under the existing system,” Netflix chief anime producer Taiki Sakurai told AFP. That initial ‘experimental’ push has since given way to a broader roster, including comedy, traditional ‘shonen’ targeting young boys and even a stop-motion project starring a teddy bear. Long-standing fans also have other dedicated services to turn to, including the huge online anime library Crunchyroll.
Netflix content director Yuji Yamano is convinced the market is far from saturated, though, and believes competition will only make “the industry even more exciting”. “Globally, I only see more room for growth in anime.”
Modern Love Chennai to Stream May 18 on Amazon Prime Video
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 8 May 2023
Streaming service Prime Video on Monday announced that the Tamil version of its Modern Love anthology series will premiere on May 18. This is the third Indian adaptation of Modern Love, the internationally acclaimed Original anthology helmed by John Carney, following Modern Love Mumbai (Hindi) and Modern Love Hyderabad (Telugu).
Modern Love Chennai brings together six brilliant creators of Indian cinema Bharathiraja, Balaji Sakthivel, Rajumurugan, Krishnakumar Ramakumar, Akshay Sundher, and Thiagarajan Kumararaja.
According to the makers, the upcoming six-episode anthology presents “a bouquet of compelling and unique love stories set in the city of Chennai that explore relationships, push boundaries, and open minds”.
After the successful launch of Modern Love Mumbai and Modern Love Hyderabad, Aparna Purohit, head of India Originals, Prime Video, said the streamer is excited to bring the third Indian edition of the well-acclaimed international franchise, Modern Love, to the service.
“At Prime Video, we are constantly working towards bringing locally rooted stories that have a universal appeal. Modern Love Chennai celebrates and explores love in all its beauty, joy, and glory, hand-in-hand with the intricacies and complexities that go with the emotion. It has been wonderful collaborating with Thiagarajan Kumararaja and all the other wonderful directors to tell these heart-warming stories that explore the city’s culture and nuances,” Purohit said in a statement.
Kumararaja, the creator of the series and writer-director of one of the episodes ‘Ninaivo Oru Paravai’, said Modern Love Chennai was an interesting challenge since love stories were never his cup of tea.
“It has been a pleasure to partner with Prime Video to bring the latest Indian edition to the viewers. With these stories, we have explored and celebrated the old-world charm of the city, which remains rooted in a distinct blend of tradition and modernity. All the stories in this anthology take us through the journey of exploring the very complicated, and yet very simple, emotion — love — in all its eclectic forms,” he added.
‘Ninaivo Oru Paravai’, directed by Kumararaja, features Wamiqa and PB, and has music composed by veteran director Ilaiyaraaja. Ilaiyaraaja has also scored for ‘Margazhi’, directed by Akshay Sundher, and Bharathiraja’s “Paravai Kootil Vaazhum Maangal”.
Rajumurugan has directed ‘Lalagunda Bommaigal’, an episode that has music composed by Sean Roldan, and features Sri Gouri Priya, Vasudevan Murali, and Vasundhara.
Director Balaji Sakthivel’s chapter is titled ‘Imaigal’, starring Ashok Selvan and T.J. Bhanu, with music composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja.
‘Kaadhal Enbadhu Kannula Heart Irukkura Emoji’ is directed by Krishnakumar Ramakumar and has a score composed by G.V. Prakash Kumar. It features Ritu Varma, Samyuktha Viswanathan, Pawan Alex, and Aniiruth Kanakarajan.
‘Margazhi’ features Sanjula Sarathi, Chu Khoy Sheng, and Srikrishna Dayal, and ‘Paravai Kootil Vaazhum Maangal’ stars Kishore, Ramya Nambessan, and Vijayalakshmi.
Modern Love Chennai is produced under the banner of Tyler Durden and Kino Fist.
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