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YouTube continues to see ad revenue decline, 2.6% drop YOY

Alphabet reported Tuesday its latest earnings, citing that YouTube saw ad revenue fall 2.6% year over year as advertisers pulled back from the platform due to economic uncertainty. YouTube only raked in $6.69 billion in advertising revenue for the first fiscal quarter of 2023 compared to the $6.87 billion during the same period last year.
Despite the disappointing number, YouTube managed to slightly beat analysts’ expectations of $6.6 billion.
This is the third quarter in a row that YouTube’s ad revenue decreased. The downward sliding figures are a cause of concern for content creators, who look to ad revenue to earn income.
The company attempted to offer reassurance during Tuesday’s earnings call, choosing to focus on its success with the short-form video feature Shorts.
“Last year the number of channels that uploaded to Shorts daily grew over 80%. Those posting weekly on Shorts saw the majority of new channel subscribers coming from their Shorts posts,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet said.
As the platform experiences intense competition from rivals like TikTok, the company continues to focus on the Shorts to boost its growth. In November 2022, YouTube rolled out Shorts to smart TVs. Google announced in February that Shorts has reached 50 billion daily views.
“We’re seeing strong watch time, growth… monetization is also progressing nicely. People are engaging and converting on ads across Shorts at increasing rates,” added Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer.
YouTube also reiterated plans to ramp up its efforts to make YouTube more shoppable. The company partnered with Shopify last year to enable YouTubers and merchants to feature products on their channels.
“Shopping on YouTube… It’s still super early days. One highlight last year, we brought shopping to more creators and brands by partnering with commerce platforms like Shopify. Now more than 100,000 creators, artists and brands have connected their own stores to their YouTube channels to sell their products. We’re excited about the potential ahead,” Schindler said.
The company confirmed to TechCrunch in November that it plans to add shopping features to Shorts.
Overall, parent company Alphabet reported $69.8 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2023, a 3% increase from the same year-ago period.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki stepped down from her role in February, taking on an advisory role across Google and Alphabet. Neal Mohan, chief product officer, is the new CEO.
In January, Alphabet cut 6% of its workforce, which affected 12,000 employees.

YouTube Shorts begins testing shopping features and affiliate marketing

YouTube continues to see ad revenue decline, 2.6% drop YOY by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch
YouTube continues to see ad revenue decline, 2.6% drop YOY

Warner Bros. Discovery promises Max will be a more personalized, technically improved streaming service

With next month’s arrival of the new streaming service “Max” from Warner Bros. Discovery, the company is also promising a revamped product experience with an expanded feature set, improved recommendations and better performance. The new service, which combines HBO Max and Discovery+ content into one offering, will gain an updated user interface that’s delivered by way of a largely seamless transition for existing HBO Max subscribers across most platforms.
However, Discovery+ subscribers will be able to continue to watch in their standalone app, if they choose, the company noted during today’s press event where it introduced the new service and its many forthcoming originals, including a new Game of Thrones series.
Of particular interest, the company openly admitted that its current HBO Max service has a number of technical shortcomings that it now aims to address with the move to Max.
“As we started this journey 12 months ago, we did a thorough assessment of our two streaming businesses, as well as the technology and products of each. And we realized that, while both were solid, they also each had important shortcomings,” said JB Perrette, CEO and president of global streaming and games, while speaking to the gathered crowd.
“In summary, we needed to do the basics much better,” he said, before spinning his mea culpa into an odd form of praise by adding, “if we got this far with some suboptimal features and experiences, imagine what we will do when we get more of it right!”
That’s certainly an interesting way to sell things, we’d say.
Perrette said the new Max service would address several key business objectives, including user engagement, retention, more regular viewership and easier, more personalized discovery of the content offerings, to name a few.

Warner Bros. Discovery to launch ‘Max’ service starting at $9.99/mo on May 23

Though the company had announced an expanded slate of new original programming earlier in the event, including new series like Big Bang Theory and True Detective spinoffs, a live-action Harry Potter, DC Comics titles like “The Penguin,” and others, the exec also acknowledged that the product itself has to do a better job at surfacing its content for subscribers.
“HBO Max has an amazing depth of content, but it’s largely unexplored because we don’t make it easy enough to find,” he said. As an example of this problem, he noted that three-quarters of its viewership came from the home screen only, while on Discovery+ the majority of usage came from other screens deeper in the app. In addition, four times as much content drives the majority of viewership on Discovery+ than on HBO Max.
Image Credits: Warner Bros. Discovery
One might argue that’s because of the nature of the programming on the respective services, where Discovery+’s lifestyle content drives repeated viewing, perhaps, compared with flagship series like “Game of Thrones” that are viewed in real time, but are not necessarily the types of shows to be rediscovered later and then rewatched. However, the company is betting that product changes will be able to improve these metrics around discoverability.
For starters, the revamped app will feature a new content navigation menu at the top that will help consumers more easily find the series and movies, as well as the new releases they may want to watch. Across the app, the company promises streamlined categories, improved content detail pages, shortcuts, dedicated brand hubs and thematic content rails, to make the app easier to explore.
HBO’s brand will still have a prominent position in this new interface, too, but will be showcased alongside the company’s other top brands that will serve as gateways to their respective content.
There will also be genre hubs to dive into different types of content and a new quick shortcut that lets users save content to a list for later viewing.
For users on the new Ultimate Ad-Free tier, the service will feature an expanded catalog of 4K UHD content, including across programming like “Game of Thrones,” “The Last of Us,” “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” “The Dark Night” trilogy and others. This catalog will expand to include all the Warner Bros. movies released this year and in the future.
Image Credits: Warner Bros. Discovery
Plus, individual user profiles will for the first time offer more personalized experiences where users are recommended new things to watch based on their prior habits and viewing, via things like “because you watched” recommendations, suggestions of what to watch next that appear when you finish a series or movie and immersive hero images tailored to the end user. This personalized experience will extend beyond the home page, too, so users are seeing tailored recommendations across the full service.
A combination of machine learning and human editorial curation will help to drive these recommendations, Perrette explained.
Parents will be able to configure their kids’ profiles, including through the use of parental controls. While that’s not new, the revamped Max will introduce a default kids profile for its new subscribers, with options for parents to set the profile to either little kids, big kids, big kids plus, pre-teens or teens — an expanded set of kids’ tiers that goes beyond those offered by some rival services, where the “kids” experience is often aimed at younger school-age children. This tends to frustrate older kids, and teens when they outgrow cartoons and other “kids” content, but aren’t yet old enough for more adult fare, like much of what HBO offers.
Under the hood, the company touted other technological improvements focused on user retention, performance and stability.
For example, Max will proactively alert customers about failed payments through notifications and on and off-product messages, including for the first time in-app alerts on connected TVs. It also added support for PayPal as another payment option and made it easier for its marketing teams to run promotional pricing without requiring weeks of engineering work.
Image Credits: Warner Bros. Discovery
The company additionally promised updates to its core architecture to deliver “faster, more reliable, and more efficient performance.” Among the changes, Max will offer a new connected TV sign-in process where users don’t have to type in their credentials with their remote and a more dependable downloads experience.
“…We maniacally focused on app performance to get our customers watching their content as fast as possible,” Perrette said. “So app start times, video start times, and the general navigation response times will be 20 to 30% faster, depending on which device you’re using.”
The exec said HBO Max app customers will be automatically updated to Max on May 23 when the shift is made. On most platforms, this update will happen automatically, but others will prompt users who open the HBO Max app to download the new Max app instead. It will then only be “two clicks” to continue watching, Perrette noted, as usernames, passwords, profiles, watch histories, watch rails and billing will carry over automatically. Discovery+ subscribers won’t be forced to transition apps but will be prompted at different times to try the new Max app.
Image Credits: Warner Bros. Discovery
The new service will offer three pricing tiers, starting at $9.99 per month for ad-supported, $15.99 per month to go ad-free and $19.99 per month for ad-free viewing with 4K UHD and Dolby Atmos. The latter two tiers also include offline downloads but are limited to either 30 or 100 downloads, respectively. The top-tier service also includes four concurrent streams instead of just two.

‘Game of Thrones’ fans are getting a new spinoff based on characters Dunk and Egg

Warner Bros. Discovery promises Max will be a more personalized, technically improved streaming service by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch
Warner Bros. Discovery promises Max will be a more personalized, technically improved streaming service

Disney cuts metaverse division as part of broader restructuring

Walt Disney Co. has eliminated its metaverse division as part of staff cuts that promise to reduce head count by around 7,000 across the company over the next two months, reports The Wall Street Journal.
CEO Bob Iger said Monday that those layoffs would begin this week. Disney’s next-generation storytelling and consumer experiences unit, the small division that was developing metaverse strategies, looks like it’s one of the first to go.
The metaverse division is headed by Mike White, who was promoted to the role from SVP of consumer experiences and platforms in February 2022 and charged with getting Disney deeper into the web3 space. The unit aimed to find ways to tell more interactive stories in immersive formats using Disney’s extensive library of intellectual property, according to WSJ. Aside from the Disney we all know and love, that extensive library includes Pixar, Marvel and all of the Star Wars movies and shows.
All 50 or so members of the team have lost their jobs, sources told WSJ. White will remain at the company, but it’s not clear in what capacity.
The company could not be reached for comment.
Disney’s former CEO, Bob Chapek, brought White on last year with the goal of creating “an entirely new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with our stories,” according to an internal memo. Chapek also described the metaverse as “the next great storytelling frontier” and a “perfect place to pursue our strategic pillars of storytelling excellence, innovation and audience focus.”
The hiring of White and the creation of the new metaverse unit came a few months after Facebook rebranded to Meta in an attempt to identify with the futuristic technology into which CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been pouring billions of dollars.
Iger took over for Chapek in November and, despite recent developments, seems to be bullish on the metaverse. He invested in and joined the board of Genies Inc. last year, a startup that lets users create online avatars for use in metaverse applications.
The metaverse is still many years from going mainstream, which has frustrated many big tech companies that invested large sums on new entertainment formats. Despite Meta’s billions spent on the Oculus headset and building out the metaverse, there has been low user demand and general confusion among users about how to use the new technology for anything but gaming.

Last month, Disney said it would make $5.5 billion in cuts and cut 7,000 jobs as part of a broader restructuring. Like many other large conglomerates, Disney is feeling the pressure to bring costs down, and that often means cutting out expensive moonshot projects that aren’t bringing in any near-term revenue.
It’s not yet clear if Disney will continue to work on metaverse applications via other teams, since it’s a long-term bet. Zuckerberg has repeatedly asked investors to trust him, be patient and play the long game.

Disney cuts metaverse division as part of broader restructuring by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch
Disney cuts metaverse division as part of broader restructuring

What each streaming service has up its sleeve in 2023

Major streaming services have upped their game in 2022 with the launch of ad-supported tiers, new live sports deals, hugely successful original series and more. As the streaming wars continue to heat up, media companies have no choice but to raise the stakes. From the HBO Max/Discovery+ merged streaming service to Netflix’s password-sharing offering, here’s what SVOD (subscription video-on-demand) streaming services have planned for next year and beyond.
What HBO Max/Discovery+ is planning for 2023
Earlier this year, Discovery acquired WarnerMedia to form Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), becoming one of the biggest media companies in the United States.
As TechCrunch has reported many times, HBO Max and Discovery+ are combining in 2023. This spring, WBD will launch a merged streaming service that pairs HBO originals and Warner Bros. films with Discovery+’s content library of unscripted shows, documentaries and more. In total, subscribers will have access to nearly 200,000 hours of programming and over 100 brands, such as CNN, TBS, TNT, TruTV, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Food Network, TLC, HGTV, ID, Animal Planet and many others.
The streaming service will reportedly be called just “Max,” and will make its debut in the U.S. before launching in Latin America and then in Europe in 2024. While there will be an ad-free and ad-supported option, its ad-free offering will likely cost more than what subscribers pay now for HBO Max’s premium plan, which is $14.99/month.
“Max,” or whatever the company decides to call it, will be a major contender in the streaming wars. HBO, HBO Max and Discovery+ ended Q3 2022 with a combined total of 94.9 million global subscribers.
WBD is also busy planning a free ad-supported streaming (FAST) service to keep up with competitors in the FAST market, including Peacock, Pluto TV, Tubi and Amazon Freevee, among others.
Recently, the company pulled over a dozen HBO originals from HBO Max that will soon move to third-party streaming services. This includes “Westworld,” “The Nevers,” “Raised by Wolves,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “Love Life,” “Made for Love,” “Minx,” “Finding Magic Mike,” “Head of the Class,” “FBOY Island,” “Legendary,” “Gordita Chronicles” and “The Garcias.”
We predict that once WBD launches its FAST offering, it will offer these titles.

Combined HBO Max/Discovery+ service gets an earlier launch date, price hike is to be expected

What Netflix is planning for 2023
Netflix had an eventful 2022. The company launched its $6.99/month ad-supported tier, giving consumers the ability to save a few bucks on their streaming habits. The move validates a common trend in the industry right now — ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) is in. In 2023, Netflix’s “Basic with Ads” plan is predicted to have 7.5 million domestic subscribers, according to J.P. Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth.
Netflix’s subscriber base also rebounded in Q3 2022 after increasing by 2.41 million subscribers, bringing the total to 223.09 million. The company previously experienced two bleak quarters, losing a total of 1.2 million global subscribers.
As far as we know, the streamer has three notable projects in the works for 2023 and beyond.
In early 2023, Netflix will launch an “Extra Members” feature to monetize password sharing. The feature will prompt account members to pay an extra fee to add a sub-account for people sharing the streaming service.
The company has already launched a “Profile Transfer” feature, which lets a member on an existing account transfer their profile to a brand-new account and a “Manage Access and Devices” feature, which allows account owners to remotely log out of devices they don’t want to be signed in to the account.
Also coming to the streaming service next year is a livestreaming capability, with Chris Rock to be the first to test the offering for his upcoming comedy special. Live content could help the streamer attract new subs.
Unfortunately, Netflix is not planning to launch a live sports offering. During the UBS Global TMT Conference, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said, “We’ve not seen a profit path to renting big sports.”
Beyond next year, the company is continuing its investment into gaming. At TechCrunch Disrupt 2022, Netflix VP of Gaming Mike Verdu revealed that a cloud gaming offering is on the horizon. This is a smart move for Netflix as the global cloud gaming market had $1.6 billion in revenue in 2021.
Similarly, there’s a possibility that Netflix will get into PC gaming since it’s looking to hire a game director who’ll be in charge of launching a AAA PC game.
Netflix’s mobile gaming library continues to expand. Entering 2023, Netflix will have launched 50 mobile games so far.

Netflix to expand into cloud gaming, opens new studio in Southern California

What Disney+ is planning for 2023
Looking back on 2022, Disney+ experienced a lot of major changes, including the launch of its ad-supported tier as well as the unexpected return of Bob Iger as CEO.
The “Disney+ Basic” plan is $7.99/month and was launched in order to give Disney+ more subscribers. The company wants to reach 230-260 million Disney+ subscribers by 2024. In the fourth quarter of 2022, Disney+ reported 164.2 million global subscribers in total.
However, there is one major issue with the ad launch: Disney+ Basic is unavailable on Roku devices. TechCrunch estimates that Disney and Roku will reach an agreement to change that sometime in late 2023 — but that’s just a guess.
Alongside Disney+’s new subscription plan, the streamer introduced changes to the Disney Bundle as well as a price hike to its ad-free plan.
In November 2022, Bob Chapek stepped down as CEO of Disney and was replaced by Bob Iger, the former CEO, who had only vacated the spot in 2021. Hopefully, Iger can help the company achieve profitability by its fiscal 2024. In Q4 2022, when Chapek was still CEO, Disney’s direct-to-consumer division lost $1.5 billion in revenue.
In 2023, Disney+ is planning an international expansion to 30 additional countries, which would bring the total to over 160 countries. Over the summer, the streamer launched in 42 countries and 11 territories.
Also, beginning next year, Disney+ will be the exclusive international home for new “Doctor Who” episodes.
One significant feature coming to the streaming service is an exclusive shopping experience for Disney+ subscribers. The online shop, which is currently in the testing phase, offers users merchandise from Disney-owned brands, such as Star Wars, Marvel, Disney Animation Studios and Pixar. The company is also reportedly exploring the idea of a membership program similar to Amazon Prime. There are no official launch dates for either feature.

Disney+ launches its ad-supported tier to compete with Netflix

What Hulu is planning for 2023
Not much happened for the Disney-owned streaming service Hulu this year, apart from annoying price increases and losing titles to rival Peacock. The streamer did however reach a milestone of 58 Emmy nominations. Hulu is also beginning 2023 with 47.2 million subscribers.
If you’ve been following the Disney/Comcast spectacle, then you know that Disney is expected to buy Comcast’s stake in Hulu by the end of 2024. Comcast owns 33%, whereas Disney owns 66%. However, when Chapek was still CEO, he alluded in a Variety interview that Disney could buy the rights sooner than that — perhaps in 2023. This depends on if Comcast “is willing to have discussions that would bring that to fruition earlier,” Chapek said.
Whenever Disney ends up buying Comcast’s stake in Hulu — either by 2023 or 2024 — the company may be planning on merging Hulu with Disney+ and ESPN+. “You know the term soft bundle and hard bundle, right? Soft bundle is, hey, buy all three services for the low price of X. The hard bundle is when things become seamless and without friction. Right now, if you want to go from Hulu to ESPN+ to Disney+, you have to go out of one app to another app. In the future, we may have less friction,” Chapek told Variety.
If Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ were to live inside one platform, many subscribers who already have the Disney Bundle would be overjoyed. While it most likely won’t be a full integration like HBO Max and Discovery+, it will still be an amalgamation of epic proportions. Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ have a combined total of 235.7 million subscribers.

Hulu raises its subscription prices today

What Amazon Prime Video is planning for 2023
Prime Video had a successful 2022, becoming the exclusive home of the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football,” which had its first game watched by 15.3 million viewers, and its “The Lord of the Rings” spinoff was the most-watched series with over 100 million viewers worldwide. “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is confirmed for a second season.
It’s fair to say that Amazon is heavily investing in content and will continue doing so for the next few years. For instance, the streaming service keeps putting money toward live sports. In 2023, the company will be the home of an exclusive NFL Black Friday game, the first Black Friday game for the league.
Amazon may also take a gamble with theatrical movies, according to Bloomberg. The publication wrote that Amazon might begin spending more than $1 billion a year to produce 12 to 15 films that will premiere in theaters before they make their debut on the streaming service. This would be a notable yet expensive gamble for the company, as it has yet to invest this much into original movies.
The streamer has various original series in the pipeline, including the greenlit limited series “Blade Runner 2099,” a “God of War” live-action series and even at least one “Warhammer 40,000” title that will have “Man of Steel” actor Henry Cavill as the lead.
Speaking of DC actors, Amazon is in the process of closing a deal with Warner Bros. to develop animated DC series for Prime Video. At the Content London conference, the Chairman of Warner Bros. Television Group, Channing Dungey, said, “We are in the process of closing a big deal with Amazon that’s going to feature some of our DC branded content in animation.” For HBO Max to share IP, especially DC content, is extremely notable and will likely boost subscription growth for Prime Video.

Amazon acquires film/TV rights to ‘Warhammer 40,000′ IP

As more SVOD streaming services shift to AVOD, we wouldn’t be surprised if Prime Video considers launching a cheaper ad-supported tier. It’s possible that such an offering would pay off big for Amazon. It’s estimated that Netflix will see $600 million in advertising sales in 2023 alone.
The move makes sense for Amazon as it already has an ad-supported service, Freevee. Amazon Prime Video is also testing an ad format called virtual product placement, which the company announced in May.

Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ starts strong with 15.3 million viewers

What Apple TV+ is planning for 2023
Apple TV+ announced its first foray into live sports this year. We suspect Apple TV+ will keep up with the trend in 2023.
In March 2022, Apple TV+ closed its first live sports deal with Major League Baseball, bringing fans “Friday Night Baseball” games as well as a live show “MLB Big Inning.” The company is launching its subscription service for Major League Soccer fans, “MLS Season Pass” in February 2023.
Like Amazon, rival Apple TV+ would benefit greatly from an ad-supported tier. Apple TV+ recently increased its subscription price to $6.99/month or $69/year.

Apple to launch ‘MLS Season Pass’ subscription on February 1

What Paramount+ is planning for 2023
Paramount+ is ending 2022 with 46 million global subscribers, which was mainly driven by the new partnership with Walmart+, which has a reported 16 million subscribers, as well as offering its premium subscription on The Roku Channel and YouTube. More recently, Paramount+ reported a record number of subscriber sign-ups in November when it premiered its latest hit series “Tulsa King,” starring Sylvester Stallone.
Looking ahead, Paramount+ plans to reach 100 million subs by 2024 and increase streaming content spending to $6 billion, up from $2 billion in 2022. It also has plans to expand international growth, which includes 150 international original titles by 2025.
With the release of high-budget films like “Top Gun: Maverick” and Paramount+ continuing to rely on popular IP, the streamer will likely achieve substantial subscriber growth in 2023. Plus, Paramount+ recently launched an in-app Showtime bundle, giving subscribers access to more content.
That being said, a merger between Paramount+ and Showtime is likely imminent. During Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia + Technology Conference, CEO of Paramount Global, Bob Bakish, confirmed that talks of a merger had taken place internally. While a decision hasn’t been made yet, integrating Showtime into Paramount+ would be the best move for the company.
A price increase is also in the future plans for Paramount+. During the company’s third-quarter earnings call, Paramount Global Executive Vice President and CFO, Naveen Chopra, said that “opportunities to increase price on Paramount+” is to be expected.

Paramount+ offers US subscribers in-app Showtime bundle

What Peacock is planning for 2023
Peacock had a big win in 2022 as it doubled its number of paid subscribers to 18 million this year alone. This was mainly thanks to NBC and Bravo next-day episodes that it pulled from Hulu earlier this year. Peacock was also the Spanish-language streaming home for all World Cup games.
In terms of other content coming to the streaming service in 2023, Peacock will premiere the “John Wick” prequel series, “The Continental,” as well as original series like “Poker Face,” starring “Russian Doll” star Natasha Lyonne. The streamer also recently announced its first original adult animation series, “In the Know,” which will feature “Beavis and Butt-Head” creator Mike Judge and “Silicon Valley” actor Zach Woods.
Beginning in 2023, Peacock will be the exclusive streaming partner of JetBlue, marking a notable deal that will broaden its service to more subscribers.
While things are looking up for Peacock next year, some non-paying subscribers might be very disappointed in the next 12 months or later. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell stated that “at some point” the company wants to convert Xfinity users to paid subscribers of Peacock. This means customers of Comcast’s Xfinity cable and internet services might not be able to get the streaming service as a free perk anymore. However, this move would make sense for Peacock since 30 million monthly active users can access the streaming service at no additional cost.

Peacock adds live TV from all local NBC stations to its Premium Plus tier

What each streaming service has up its sleeve in 2023 by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch
What each streaming service has up its sleeve in 2023

Camera maker Canon leans into software at CES

Depending on whether you spend most of your time in hospitals, offices or in the great outdoors, when you hear “Canon,” your mind will likely go to medical scanning equipment, high-end printers or cameras. At CES this year, the 85-year-old company is leaning in a new direction, with an interesting focus on software applications.
At the show, the imaging giant showed off a direction it has been hinting at before, but this time relying far less on its own hardware, and more on the software the company has developed, in part as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic casting a shadow over people’s ability to connect. To the chorus of “meaningful communication” and “powerful collaboration,” the Japanese imaging giant appears to be plotting out a new course for what’s next.

I guess you can (officially) use your fancy Canon camera as a webcam studio now

“Canon is creating ground-breaking solutions that help people connect in more ways than we ever could have imagined, redefining how they work and live at a time when many of them are embracing a hybrid lifestyle,» said Kazuto Ogawa, president and CEO, Canon U.S.A., Inc, in a press briefing at CES 2023. “Canon’s ultimate role is to bring people closer together by revealing endless opportunities for creators. Under our theme of ‘Limitless Is More,’ we will show CES 2023 attendees what we are creating as a company focused on innovation and a world without limits.”
Among other things, Canon showed off a somewhat gimmicky immersive experience tied in with M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming thriller movie, “Knock at the Cabin.” The very Shyamalanesque movie trailer will give you a taster of the vibe. At the heart of things, however, Canon is tapping into a base desire in humanity; to feel connected to one another. The company is desperate to show off how its solutions can “remove the limits humanity faces to create more meaningful communication,” through four technologies it is showing off at the trade show this year.
Canon U.S.A. CEO Kevin Ogawa on stage at CES 2023 along with M. Night Shyamalan. Image Credits: Haje Kamps/TechCrunch
3D calling: Kokomo
The flagship solution Canon is showing off is Kokomo, which the company describes as a first-of-its-kind immersive VR software package. It is designed to combine VR with an immersive calling experience. The solution is pretty elegant: Using a VR headset and a smartphone, the Kokomo software enables users to see and hear one another in real time with their live appearance and expression in a photo-real environment.
The Kokomo solution brings 3D video calling to a home near you. Image Credits: Canon
In effect, the software package scans your face to learn what you look like, then turns you into a photo-realistic avatar. The person you are in a call with can see you — sans VR headset — showing your physical appearance and facial expressions. The effect is to experience a 3D video call. At the show, Canon is demoing the tech by letting visitors step into a 1×1 conversation with the “Knock at the Cabin” characters.
We spoke with the team behind Kokomo to figure out how the project came about, why Canon is dipping its toe in standalone software, what the future of this technology is, and how it is going to make money.

With Kokomo VR meeting software, Canon takes a step away from its hardware roots

Realtime 3D video: Free Viewpoint
Aimed at the sports market, Free Viewpoint is a solution that combines more than 100 high-end cameras with a cloud-based solution that makes it possible to move a virtual camera to any location. The software takes all the video feeds, creating a point-cloud-based 3D model that enables a virtual camera operator to create a number of angles that would otherwise have been impossible: Drone-like replay footage, swooping into the action, for example, or detailed in-the-thick-of-things-type footage, enabling viewers to see plays from the virtual perspective of one of the players.
In the U.S., the system has already been installed at two NBA arenas (including at the home of the Cavaliers and the Nets). The video can be broadcast live or compiled into replay clips. Canon also points out that the system enables “virtual advertising and other opportunities for monetization,” so I suppose we have that to look forward to as well.

Canon takes tentative step towards eliminating photographers with robotic PICK camera

Returning to the “Knock at the Cabin” theme, at CES, Canon showed off a virtual action scene captured with the Free Viewpoint video system, captured at Canon’s Volumetric Video Studio in Kawasaki, Japan. The effect of watching an action scene “through the eyes” of various characters was a wonderfully immersive experience.
Augmented reality tech: MREAL
Canon also showed off some earlier-stage tech that isn’t quite ready for prime-time viewing yet, including MREAL. This is tech that helps integrated simulation-like immersive worlds, merging the real and the virtual worlds. Use cases might include pre-visualization for movies, training scenarios and interactive mixed-reality entertainment. The company tells TechCrunch that the technology is in the market research phase.
The company is trying to figure out what to develop further and how to market the product. In other words: Who would use this, what would they use it for and what would they be willing to pay for it.

Augmented reality’s half-decade of stagnation

Remote presence: AMLOS
Activate My Line of Sight (AMLOS) is what Canon is calling its solution for hybrid meeting environments, where some participants are in person, while others are off-site. If you’ve ever been in a meeting in that configuration, you’ll often find that attending remotely is a deeply frustrating experience, as the in-person meeting participants are engaging with each other while the remote attendees are off on a screen somewhere.
Canon hopes that AMLOS can help solve that; it’s a software-and-camera set of products aiming to improve the level of engagement. It adds panning, tilting and zooming capabilities to remote camera systems, giving remote users the ability to customize their viewing and participation experience. So far, the solution is not quite intuitive enough to overcome the barrier of not being in the room, but it’s certainly better than being a disembodied wall of heads on a screen.

Camera maker Canon leans into software at CES by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch
Camera maker Canon leans into software at CES