Tech news roundup: 11th August

Aug 11, 2023
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In this week's tech news, we cover Disney tackles pricing and password issues; EC probes Adobe's Figma acquisition; Microsoft expands Bing Chat; Paramount+ grows with Showtime; WhatsApp adds screen sharing; WeWork reports a loss; YouTube fights spam in Shorts; and X (formerly Twitter) introduces video calls.

Disney Raises Streaming Service Prices and Addresses Password Sharing

Disney has recently revealed an increase in the prices for its popular online streaming platforms, Disney+ and Hulu. Amidst a decreasing number of subscribers, this marks the second time in the past year that the entertainment giant has implemented such an increase. From October 12, a new ad-free bundle combining Disney+ and Hulu will be available for $19.99 per month, while the ad-supported versions of these services will remain at $7.99 per month.

The pricing isn't the only thing changing; Disney is also taking steps to curb password sharing on its streaming platforms, taking cues from Netflix's approach. Disney's CEO Bob Iger acknowledged that password sharing has been "significant" within Disney Plus and is therefore in the process of devising methods to control it. New account-sharing terms will be announced by the end of the year, with an anticipated rollout in 2024.

But it's not all about restrictions and price increases. Disney is also looking to expand its reach by offering its ad-supported service in additional markets, such as Canada and select European countries. Iger expressed enthusiasm about these changes during an earnings call, stating, “I’m pleased to share that our ad-supported Disney+ subscription offerings will become available in Canada and in select markets across Europe, beginning November 1st, while a new ad-free bundled subscription plan featuring Disney+ and Hulu will be available in the U.S.”

These moves by Disney reflect broader trends in the streaming industry, as companies seek to monetize their platforms more effectively and clamp down on unauthorized sharing. Whether these changes will affect subscriber numbers positively or negatively remains to be seen, but they certainly mark a notable shift in Disney's streaming strategy.

EC Investigates Adobe's Proposed Acquisition of Figma

The European Commission (EC) has recently publicized the launch of a comprehensive investigation into Adobe's planned $20 billion purchase of digital design software competitor Figma. This inquiry arises from concerns that this acquisition might diminish competition within the international arenas of interactive product design software and digital asset creation tools.

The heart of the investigation lies in evaluating if the acquisition of Figma will cut down competition, thereby affecting the overarching design software market. The EC has identified Figma as the undisputed market leader in the domain of interactive product design tools. It further notes the unlikelihood of any other substantial players entering the market if the acquisition goes through. While Adobe is recognized for leading in digital asset creation tools, Figma's current status as a moderating force over Adobe places it as a vital competitor in the industry. Consequently, Adobe's acquisition of Figma might obstruct Figma from maintaining its influential role.

Interestingly, this transaction didn't meet the EU merger regulations' turnover thresholds, meaning Adobe and Figma were not obliged to notify European authorities. However, EU member countries hold the power to refer cases to the EC if they perceive a transaction might shrink competition within their market. In this instance, more than a dozen member states did precisely that, forwarding the acquisition to the EC for thorough examination.

The EC has expressed its intention to reach a conclusion by December 14, 2023. This matter sheds light on the complexities of major tech acquisitions and how regulatory bodies are actively striving to maintain a competitive landscape in the rapidly evolving technological world. It's a story that not only industry insiders but anyone interested in the balance of power within the tech industry should closely follow.

Bing Chat Expanding to Third-Party Browsers: More Features and Milestones Revealed

Microsoft has unveiled plans to take its Bing Chat service beyond its in-house platforms, heralding a new era for the interactive search feature. Soon, Bing Chat will be accessible through third-party browsers on both desktop and mobile devices, marking a significant stride towards enhancing competition with other prominent AI search tools.

Currently exclusive to the Bing mobile app and Microsoft's Edge browser, this extension of Bing Chat is poised to expose more users to its unique capabilities, such as generating summarized answers and creating images. The intention is to position Bing Chat as a formidable alternative to features like Google's generative AI search.

However, Microsoft has subtly emphasized that to attain the optimal user experience, the Microsoft Edge browser is the recommended choice. Test reports have indicated that Bing Chat's functionality is somewhat limited in browsers like Chrome, where it only supports five messages per conversation and has a 2,000 character limit, as opposed to Edge's 30 messages and 3,000 character threshold.

This announcement is not just about expansion, but also a celebration of Bing Chat's growth and innovations. Microsoft took the opportunity to introduce new features like visual search and Dark Mode in Bing Chat. Additionally, they proudly shared some remarkable milestones for Bing Chat, boasting over 1 billion chats and more than 750 million images created within the chatbot.

While eager users will have to wait for an exact launch date for third-party browser support, Microsoft assures that the update is just around the corner. This promising development continues to cement Bing Chat's role as a progressive and user-friendly tool in today's technology landscape.

Paramount+ Sees Substantial Growth with Showtime Integration and Expansion Plans

Paramount has kicked off Q2 2023 with an impressive boost in subscribers for its streaming service, Paramount+, with a remarkable addition of 700,000 subscribers. This growth can be attributed to the integration of Showtime in June, which replaced the previous premium ad-free $9.99 per month plan with a new integrated plan at $11.99 per month. The Paramount+ subscriber count now stands tall at around 61 million, a significant leap from the 60 million reported just last quarter.

Not only has the subscriber base seen growth, but the viewing hours for both Paramount+ and the ad-supported streaming TV service Pluto TV have skyrocketed by 35% globally. With direct-to-consumer services being a focus, Paramount Global announced a robust revenue of $1.67 billion, with streaming services contributing a hefty $1.23 billion, and advertising chipping in more than $400 million.

CEO and President Bob Bakish has unveiled ambitious global expansion plans for Paramount. These include the introduction of ad-supported tiers of Paramount+ in selected international markets as part of the company's future strategy. Meanwhile, Pluto TV's reach has extended to 35 markets worldwide, strengthening its global presence.

During the latest earnings call, Paramount Global also disclosed the sale of the Simon & Schuster publishing house to KKR for a deal worth $1.62 billion. This decision came after the merger with ViacomCBS was halted by the U.S. District Court, in response to a complaint from the Justice Department. As a result, Paramount's stock surged nearly 5% in after-hours trading, reflecting the positive sentiments around the company's growth and strategic moves.

WhatsApp Unveils Screen Sharing for Video Calls

WhatsApp, the popular messaging service owned by Meta, is taking another step forward in bridging communication and collaboration by introducing a screen sharing feature during video calls. This recent development aims to rival traditional video conferencing platforms such as Microsoft Meet, Google Meet, Zoom, and Apple's FaceTime.

The exciting new feature was announced by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on his Facebook post and Instagram channel. With this addition, users will now be able to share documents, photos, and even shopping carts with their contacts during video calls. This reinforces a more interactive and engaging virtual connection, mirroring the functionalities found in mainstream video-conferencing apps.

Accessing screen sharing on WhatsApp is as simple as tapping or clicking the “Share” icon, and users will have the flexibility to choose between sharing specific applications or their entire screen. This phased feature rollout has begun and is available on Android, iOS, and Windows Desktop.

Alongside this launch, WhatsApp is also extending support for video calling in Landscape mode, providing a broader and more immersive viewing experience compared to the existing Portrait mode. This enhancement could particularly come in handy while using the screen sharing feature.

This move by WhatsApp emphasizes the growing importance of screen sharing in today's digitally connected world. While screen sharing has been an essential part of video-conferencing applications, WhatsApp's extension to Android, iOS, and desktop platforms brings this critical feature to a broader audience. As we saw in 2021 with Apple's introduction of native screen sharing for iOS users, WhatsApp's embrace of this capability reflects a continued trend towards more robust and accessible virtual communication tools.

WeWork's Ongoing Struggles: A Net Loss of $397 Million for Q2 and a Shaky Future

WeWork, the well-known flexible workspace provider, is confronting yet another setback as it recently revealed the unsettling reality that its future as a going concern is in substantial doubt. This announcement is hardly surprising to those following WeWork's journey, as the company has grappled with ongoing challenges, including a steady decline in demand for its co-working spaces. This has been exacerbated by an increase in remote working and a widespread corporate shift away from traditional office spaces.

In the latest report, WeWork announced a staggering net loss of $397 million for the second quarter, with revenue falling at $877 million. These financial figures point to a concerning trend for the 13-year-old company, whose survival now depends on a meticulous 12-month plan designed to enhance liquidity and profitability.

The company's plan focuses on a multipronged approach, involving restructuring negotiations for favorable lease terms, cutting rent and tenancy costs, reducing member churn and increasing new sales, curbing expenses and capital outlay, and exploring new avenues for additional capital. These might include issuing debt or equity securities or asset sales.

The stock market reacted strongly to the news, sending WeWork's shares plummeting by 33% to 13 cents after the announcement, a shadow of its former valuation. At its peak, WeWork was a giant with a valuation of $47 billion after a SoftBank-led funding round in January 2019. But those days are long past, and the company has since faced upheaval, including the infamous departure of co-founder and then-CEO Adam Neumann due to allegations of arrogance and poor management.

WeWork has been on a very public path to redemption, seeking to reverse both investor and public perception. The coming months will be critical as the company strives to execute its turnaround plan and restore confidence in its model and leadership. The world will undoubtedly be watching to see if WeWork can overcome this daunting hurdle and regain its footing in the ever-changing landscape of flexible workspaces.

YouTube Takes Action Against Spam with New Restrictions on Shorts

YouTube has announced significant changes to its short-form video platform, Shorts, in an effort to combat the pervasive issue of spam. Starting on August 31st, links appearing in Shorts comments, descriptions, and the vertical live feed will no longer be clickable. The measure comes as a part of the company's concerted effort to hinder scammers and spammers from misleading users through malicious links.

The decision is a serious one, especially considering YouTube's existing measures to detect and remove spammy links. The problem, however, has persisted, leading YouTube to disable these links altogether. This change not only emphasizes the growing concern over user security but also marks a new phase in YouTube's proactive approach to maintaining a secure environment.

These changes will be rolled out gradually, meaning that not all links will be instantly affected come August 31st. Alongside these changes, YouTube is also removing clickable social media icons from all desktop channel banners, which have been exploited to mislead users.

While the new policy aims to protect users from harmful content like malware and phishing scams, it also acknowledges the needs of legitimate content creators. These creators often rely on links to monetize their content, recommend products, and promote brands. To support these creators, YouTube has assured that it will be introducing new ways for them to include links in their content safely.

By taking this strong stance against spam, YouTube is reinforcing its commitment to the safety and integrity of its platform, even though it may be considered an extreme measure. The changes demonstrate a careful balance between security and the interests of content creators, reflecting a user-centric approach that both protects and empowers its community.

X Launches Video Calls: A New Chapter in Social Networking

X, the platform many recognize as the former Twitter, is setting its sights on becoming an "everything app," and CEO Linda Yaccarino is leading the way. In a recent interview on CNBC with Sara Eisen, Yaccarino confirmed that video calls will soon be a feature on the app, furthering the company's transformation and innovation.

"Imagine being able to make video chat calls without ever giving out your phone number to anyone on the platform," Yaccarino emphasized during her interview. This announcement isn't just about video calls; it's about redefining X's identity. In addition to video calls, Yaccarino shed light on other upcoming features like long-form videos, creator subscriptions, and a new venture into the payments sphere. All these additions are part of X's strategic plan to reshape itself as an all-encompassing social platform.

The hints about this exciting feature didn't begin with Yaccarino, however. X designer Andrea Conway teased her followers by tweeting, “just called someone on X,” accompanied by four head-exploding emojis. Initially, this cryptic message left followers pondering if Conway was referring to voice calls, video calls, or both. Now, with Yaccarino's official confirmation, it appears Conway was indeed hinting at a video calling feature that is actively under development.

This move by X signals a fresh approach, catering to a user base that demands more features and flexibility. It signifies a bold step forward for the company, reflecting their ambition to stand apart in an ever-evolving technological landscape. With video calls on the horizon and other exciting innovations in the pipeline, X is undoubtedly a platform to watch closely in the coming months.

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