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New phone-only Quibi aims for bite of digital entertainment

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By LYNN ELBER AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Want to see Chance the Rapper prank Hollywood stars? Catch a new action thriller starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz? How about a six-minute edition of “60 Minutes”? There’s an app for that, and more.

Quibi — a snappy amalgam of “quick” and “bite” — is a mobile phone-only platform that will release its snack-sized installments of movies and TV shows each weekday. There will be seven-day-a-week dollops of news, sports and weather, gathered under the umbrella name Daily Essentials, all adding up to a mind-boggling 175-plus programs planned for this year.

It launches Monday in the U.S. and Canada with a 90-day free trial and 50 programs, all in segments no longer than 10 minutes. They include “Punk’d,” with Chance the Rapper as host and executive producer; the Hemsworth-Waltz movie “Most Dangerous Game,” and “Chrissy’s Court,” with Chrissy Teigen administering justice in small claims cases a la Judge Judy.

Others who have signed on to either produce or appear (or both) in Quibi content include Reese Witherspoon, Joe Jonas, Jennifer Lopez, Lena Waithe and Sophie Turner.

But the biggest names attached to the project are its executives: entertainment industry heavyweight Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman. In the 1980s, Katzenberg revived the Walt Disney Co.’s movie studio and its animation division with hits including “The Little Mermaid,” and in 1994 co-founded DreamWorks SGK with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. Quibi is Katzenberg’s brainchild, and he picked Whitman, also a onetime Disney executive, as the new platform’s CEO.

For Katzenberg, it’s the product that will make Quibi a winner.

“In all my years, there is one rule that has never failed, ever,” he said. “Which is, when I had my hands on great content, whether it was an animation and movies, …. whether it was TV shows, a Broadway show, a novel, anything that I had ever had in my orbit that was really good, it’s never not worked.”

There are serious believers. Quibi raised $1 billion in funding in 2018 from investors including Disney, NBCUniversal and Viacom, and announced another $750 million in a second fundraising round that closed earlier this month.

After the initial free window (the company’s response to the coronavirus crisis) Quibi will cost $4.99 a month with advertising or $7.99 for an ad-free version.

Because the company ramped up production in light of a possible writers strike last summer, Katzenberg said, it got ahead of the pandemic-caused shutdown of TV and film production. Quibi is on track for new releases through October or November under current circumstances.

It enters a marketplace crowded with new and existing streamers also vying for consumer dollars, including the upcoming HBO Max. And then, of course, there’s YouTube, awash with short-form programming minus a price tag and with a hold on the same young-adult audience that Quibi is after.

Quibi’s core business model “faces some headwinds given its focus on short-form videos, with the Goliath YouTube front and center,” said analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities. “Betting against Katzenberg has not worked out well for skeptics over his career,” he added, but he sees an uphill battle for the new platform to succeed.

Katzenberg pushes back at the idea that Quibi, with its A-list talent and the big screen-worthy quality of its movies, can be undercut by YouTube.

“Please name me a single widely distributed, widely consumed product, that when somebody came along and offered a better version, a more convenient version, or a premium version or a luxury version, that there wasn’t some group of people that went, ‘Yeah,'” he said.

It was the rise of YouTube and smartphone-streamed video that prompted Katzenberg’s interest in the creative and business opportunities they represented. He also drew inspiration from contemporary novels with chapters as brief as a few pages so that, as one bestselling writer put it, readers with just a few minutes to spare would still enjoy a complete experience.

“We’re doing movies the way Dan Brown did “‘The Da Vinci Code,'” Katzenberg said.

Quibi’s unique selling point is its Turnstyle technology, developed under Whitman’s direction, which allows users to switch between portrait and landscape viewing and always get a full-screen image minus the annoying black bar. The patented Turnstyle’s payoff for creators is how it can enhance storytelling — for instance, viewers can be given the option to shift a movie scene to the character’s perspective by flipping from horizontal to a vertical display.

“I’m confident we’re going to give people something they’ve never seen before,” Katzenberg said. “They will decide if they’re going to value that enough to want to pay for it.”

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Study: Autonomous vehicles won’t make roads completely safe

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By TOM KRISHER AP Auto Writer

DETROIT (AP) — A new study says that while autonomous vehicle technology has great promise to reduce crashes, it may not be able to prevent all mishaps caused by human error.

Auto safety experts say humans cause about 94% of U.S. crashes, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study says computer-controlled robocars will only stop about one-third of them.

The group says that while autonomous vehicles eventually will identify hazards and react faster than humans, and they won’t become distracted or drive drunk, stopping the rest of the crashes will be a lot harder.

“We’re still going to see some issues even if autonomous vehicles might react more quickly than humans do. They’re not going to always be able to react instantaneously,” said Jessica Cicchino, and institute vice president of research and co-author of the study.

The IIHS studied over 5,000 crashes with detailed causes that were collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, separating out those caused by “sensing and perceiving” errors such as driver distraction, impaired visibility or failing to spot hazards until it was too late. Researchers also separated crashes caused by human “incapacitation” including drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs, those who fell asleep or drivers with medical problems. Self-driving vehicles can prevent those, the study found.

However, the robocars may not be able to prevent the rest, including prediction errors such as misjudging how fast another vehicle is traveling, planning errors including driving too fast for road conditions and execution errors including incorrect evasive maneuvers or other mistakes controlling vehicles.

For example, if a cyclist or another vehicle suddenly veers into the path of an autonomous vehicle, it may not be able to stop fast enough or steer away in time, Cicchino said. “Autonomous vehicles need to not only perceive the world around them perfectly, they need to respond to what’s around them as well,” she said.

Just how many crashes are prevented depends a lot on how autonomous vehicles are programmed, Cicchino said. More crashes would be stopped if the robocars obey all traffic laws including speed limits. But if artificial intelligence allows them to drive and react more like humans, then fewer crashes will be stopped, she said.

“Building self-driving cars that drive as well as people do is a big challenge in itself,” IIHS Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller said in a statement. “But they’d actually need to be better than that to deliver on the promises we’ve all heard.”

Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, a group with many self-driving vehicle companies as members, said Thursday that the study incorrectly assumes superior perception and lack of distraction are the only ways autonomous vehicles can drive better than humans.

Autonomous vehicles, for instance, can be programmed to never break traffic laws, which the study blames for 38% of crashes. “The assumption that these behaviors could be altered by passengers in ways that so dramatically reduce safety is inconsistent with what our members tell us about the culture they bring to AV development,” said a statement from the group, which includes Ford, General Motors, Waymo, Lyft, Daimler, Volkswagen and others.

Study numbers show autonomous vehicles would prevent 72% or crashes, the group said, but the vehicles are so complex that the ultimate impact is only a guess.

Yet Missy Cummings, a robotics and human factors professor at Duke University who is familiar with the study, said preventing even one-third of the human-caused crashes is giving technology too much credit. Even vehicles with laser, radar and camera sensors don’t always perform flawlessly in all conditions, she said.

“There is a probability that even when all three sensor systems come to bear, that obstacles can be missed,” Cummings said. “No driverless car company has been able to do that reliably. They know that, too.”

Researchers and people in the autonomous vehicle business never thought the technology would be capable of preventing all crashes now caused by humans, she said, calling that “layman’s conventional wisdom that somehow this technology is going to be a panacea that is going to prevent all death.”

IIHS researchers reviewed the crash causes and decided which ones could be prevented, assuming that all vehicles on the road were autonomous, Cicchino said. Even fewer crashes will be prevented while self-driving vehicles are mixed with human driven cars, she said.

Virginia-based IIHS is a nonprofit research and education organization that’s funded by auto insurance companies.

More than 60 companies have applied to test autonomous vehicles in California alone, but they have yet to start a fully-robotic large-scale ride-hailing service without human backup drivers.

Several companies including Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise had pledged to do it during the past two years, but those plans were delayed when the industry pulled back after an Uber automated test vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in March 2018 in Tempe, Arizona.

Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk last year promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis would start operating in 2020. But recently he has said he hopes to deploy the system with humans monitoring it in early 2021, depending on regulatory approval.

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Germany, France hope cloud data project to boost sovereignty

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By GEIR MOULSON Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Germany and France on Thursday launched a project to set up a European cloud computing platform that they hope will enhance European economic sovereignty in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and break the continent’s dependence on U.S. and Chinese companies.

The platform, entitled GAIA-X, is meant to be up and running — at least in prototype form — at the beginning of next year and be open to users from outside Europe that commit to adhere to European standards. German Economy Peter Altmaier said that the aim is “nothing less than a European moonshot in digital policy.”

Germany and France will set up a non-profit association to coordinate and organize the data infrastructure, Altmaier said. Conceived last year and initially announced in October, GAIA-X follows on the heels of an existing push by the European Union’s two biggest economies to set up a car battery consortium aimed at catching up with Asian rivals.

The cloud computing project “could not have been more timely” as Europe tries to dig itself out of a deep recession caused by the coronavirus crisis, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

“With the COVID crisis, companies massively shifted to teleworking. This makes the need for (a) secure and European cloud solution all the more urgent,” Le Maire told a news conference by video link from Paris.

“The crisis also showed that the giant tech companies are the winners … the European digital space has to be protected,” he added, pledging that the new platform “will ensure the application of policy rules based on EU values and standards.”

“We are not China, we are not the United States — we are European countries with our own values and our own economic interests that we want to defend,” Le Maire said. He stressed the importance of “interoperability,” allowing companies to switch easily to the new system without losing any data.

The two ministers said the project has brought together 22 companies in France and Germany, including Dassault Systemes, Orange, Siemens, SAP, Robert Bosch and Deutsche Telekom. They didn’t give financial details. Le Maire called on “all other European companies and countries” to join the initiative.

Beyond that, “the idea is that we invite companies across the world providing their cloud services according to European standards and rules,” Altmaier said. “Everyone who wants to have the label of GAIA-X will have to respect and to satisfy several sets of rules,” including on interoperability and data migration.

He said that the project’s success “will be crucial for Germany, for France and for Europe as far as our economic strength, our competitivity and our sovereignty are concerned.”

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Snapchat to stop ‘promoting’ Trump amid uproar over tweets

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Snapchat to stop 'promoting' Trump amid uproar over tweets

By BARBARA ORTUTAY AP Technology Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Snapchat will stop “promoting” President Donald Trump on its video messaging service, the latest example of a social media platform adjusting how it treats this U.S. president.

Last week, Twitter placed fact-check warnings on two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted problems with the November elections. It demoted and placed a stronger warning on a third tweet about Minneapolis protests that read, in part, that “when the looting starts the shooting starts.”

Snapchat’s action is more limited. It means only that the president’s posts will no longer show up in the app’s “Discover” section, which showcases news and posts by celebrities and public figures. Trump’s account will remain active on Snapchat and visible to anyone who searches for or follows it.

The decision, which Snap — the owner of Snapchat — says was made over the weekend, puts the Santa Monica, California-based company in Twitter’s camp after that company escalated its actions against Trump.

Facebook, meanwhile, has let identical posts stand, although the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg face growing criticism over the decision.

“We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover,” Snap said in a statement Wednesday. “Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America.”

Snapchat has 229 million daily active users. Twitter, by comparison, has 166 million. Unlike Twitter and even Facebook, Snapchat is generally used as a private communications tool, with friends sending each other short videos and images and, to a lesser extent, following celebrities and other accounts.

In a tweet, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said Snap CEO Evan Spiegel “would rather promote extreme left riot videos & encourage users to destroy America than share positive words of unity, justice, and law & order from our President.”

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