(Reuters) – Netflix Inc will raise its investment in content across Europe and plans to spend about $ 1 billion on original productions this year, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing people briefed on the plans.
The Netflix logo is shown above their booth at Comic Con International in San Diego, California, U.S., July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
The revised budget will be more than double that of last year, the report said.
Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur
HELSINKI (Reuters) – Hatch Entertainment, a spin-off from the game maker behind the Angry Birds franchise, is testing streaming access to mobile games the way Netflix does for movies or Spotify for music.
Hatch CEO Juhani Honkala presents the company’s mobile game streaming service at his office in Espoo, Finland March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jussi Rosendahl
The Finnish company that grew out of Rovio believes the gaming industry is ready for flat-fee monthly offers to give players a greater choice of titles and replace the irritating free-at-first, pay-later model that has dominated this decade.
“This is a new way to play mobile games, and at the moment we don’t see any direct competition,” Hatch Chief Executive and Rovio veteran Juhani Honkala told Reuters.
The streaming model faces scepticism from an industry that currently makes its money per game, charging fees for props or upgrades within games.
“High-quality content is more likely to attract new players than positioning around innovative streaming technology,” said Jack Kent, an analyst at IHS Technology.
Spotify makes its debut on the New York stock market next week in a listing that could value the business at $ 20 billion, but it took the company years to persuade music publishers of the attraction of streaming services over single music purchases.
More than 100 game developers and publishers are ready to give the new business model a try, including SEGA, Square Enix and Bandai Namco, Honkala said, though the beta version has only 10,000 user downloads so far in the Google Play store.
Hatch’s platform, which runs on Android phones and is being tested in 18 European countries, has also racked up support from U.S. wireless chip giant Qualcomm and China’s Huawei, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker.
Hatch CEO Juhani Honkala presents the company’s mobile game streaming service at his office in Espoo, Finland March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jussi Rosendahl
“We have very strong industry backing,” Honkala said.
Rovio is stepping up its investment in Hatch, looking to secure a new revenue stream after a dramatic profit warning sent its share price tumbling by 50 percent last month.
Rovio owns 80 percent of Hatch, which operates as an independent subsidiary.
Hatch CEO Juhani Honkala poses for a photo at his office in Espoo, Finland March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jussi Rosendahl
Smartphone-based games are currently dominated by a free-to-play model that makes money through in-app purchases that help players to progress.
The model rewards games that have become mass-market success stories but makes life challenging for lower-ranked titles and smaller publishers who have trouble getting discovered as players stick to games they know and have invested in.
Rovio itself has struggled in recent years to repeat the success of Angry Birds and has had trouble forecasting future revenue because of heavy marketing costs and increased competition.
Hatch now offers 100 games on its platform and it has signed up about 200 more, including SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog games, Crazy Taxi and Virtua Tennis. Honkala said the service will pay 70 percent of its revenues to the publishers of its games.
The model would also allow more room for educational or strategy games that have longer narratives, he said, adding that running the service from the cloud rather than locally on the phone should also improve the experience for multiplayer games.
The company does not have a target schedule for formal launch but Honkala said it could happen this year. He declined to say how much the subscription price would be.
Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Eric Auchard and David Goodman
MOSCOW/TORONTO (Reuters) – Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab plans to open a data center in Switzerland to address Western government concerns that Russia exploits its anti-virus software to spy on customers, according to internal documents seen by Reuters.
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Russia’s Kaspersky Lab is displayed at the company’s office in Moscow, Russia October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Picture
Kaspersky is setting up the center in response to actions in the United States, Britain and Lithuania last year to stop using the company’s products, according to the documents, which were confirmed by a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
The action is the latest effort by Kaspersky, a global leader in anti-virus software, to parry accusations by the U.S. government and others that the company spies on customers at the behest of Russian intelligence. The U.S. last year ordered civilian government agencies to remove the Kaspersky software from their networks.
Kaspersky has strongly rejected the accusations and filed a lawsuit against the U.S. ban.
The U.S. allegations were the “trigger” for setting up the Swiss data center, said the person familiar with Kapersky’s Switzerland plans, but not the only factor.
“The world is changing,” they said, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing internal company business. “There is more balkanisation and protectionism.”
The person declined to provide further details on the new project, but added: “This is not just a PR stunt. We are really changing our R&D infrastructure.”
A Kaspersky spokeswoman declined to comment on the documents reviewed by Reuters.
In a statement, Kaspersky Lab said: “To further deliver on the promises of our Global Transparency Initiative, we are finalizing plans for the opening of the company’s first transparency center this year, which will be located in Europe.”
“We understand that during a time of geopolitical tension, mirrored by an increasingly complex cyber-threat landscape, people may have questions and we want to address them.”
Kaspersky Lab launched a campaign in October to dispel concerns about possible collusion with the Russian government by promising to let independent experts scrutinize its software for security vulnerabilities and “back doors” that governments could exploit to spy on its customers.
The company also said at the time that it would open “transparency centers” in Asia, Europe and the United States but did not provide details. The new Swiss facility is dubbed the Swiss Transparency Centre, according to the documents.
Work in Switzerland is due to begin “within weeks” and be completed by early 2020, said the person with knowledge of the matter.
The plans have been approved by Kaspersky Lab CEO and founder Eugene Kaspersky, who owns a majority of the privately held company, and will be announced publicly in the coming months, according to the source.
“Eugene is upset. He would rather spend the money elsewhere. But he knows this is necessary,” the person said.
It is possible the move could be derailed by the Russian security services, who might resist moving the data center outside of their jurisdiction, people familiar with Kaspersky and its relations with the government said.
Western security officials said Russia’s FSB Federal Security Service, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, exerts influence over Kaspersky management decisions, though the company has repeatedly denied those allegations.
The Swiss center will collect and analyze files identified as suspicious on the computers of tens of millions of Kaspersky customers in the United States and European Union, according to the documents reviewed by Reuters. Data from other customers will continue to be sent to a Moscow data center for review and analysis.
Files would only be transmitted from Switzerland to Moscow in cases when anomalies are detected that require manual review, the person said, adding that about 99.6 percent of such samples do not currently undergo this process.
A third party will review the center’s operations to make sure that all requests for such files are properly signed, stored and available for review by outsiders including foreign governments, the person said.
Moving operations to Switzerland will address concerns about laws that enable Russian security services to monitor data transmissions inside Russia and force companies to assist law enforcement agencies, according to the documents describing the plan.
The company will also move the department which builds its anti-virus software using code written in Moscow to Switzerland, the documents showed.
Kaspersky has received “solid support” from the Swiss government, said the source, who did not identify specific officials who have endorsed the plan.
Reporting by Jack Stubbs in Moscow and Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Jonathan Weber
MEXICO CITY/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Working quietly from a shared office space in one of Mexico City’s trendiest neighborhoods, China’s ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing is planning to hit its archrival Uber where it hurts.
A man walks by under an Uber logo in Mexico City, Mexico February 6, 2018. Picture taken on February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
Mexico is one of Uber Technologies Inc’s [UBER.UL] most prized and profitable markets. The San Francisco firm boasts a near monopoly here, with seven million users in more than three dozen cities. Which is precisely why Didi wants to knock Uber from that comfortable perch.
To learn how to conquer Uber, the Chinese firm is going straight to the source. It is poaching Uber employees for its Mexico management team. Didi employees are riding incognito with Uber drivers and chatting up passengers to pinpoint weaknesses, according to people familiar with its strategy. And Didi is thinking bigger than Uber, with ambitions for bike-sharing, scooters and motorcycles in Mexico, the people say.
The Chinese firm has deep pockets, thanks to blue-chip global investors that include Apple Inc and Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp [9984.T]. In the past year alone, it has pulled in nearly $ 10 billion to help fund global expansion.
“I would not want to go to war with Didi,” said Beijing-based investor and adviser Jeffrey Towson. “They don’t lose.”
But whether Didi can beat its nemesis here is far from certain. Mexico is the Chinese firm’s first attempt at building an operation from scratch outside of Asia – a costly gambit.
What is clear is that Didi is under pressure to keep growing to justify its $ 56 billion valuation. Latin America is the newest battleground for the old rivals, and Didi will be in enemy territory.
“It’s fundamentally different when you’re jumping across an ocean,” said IHS Markit analyst Jeremy Carlson.
Didi Chuxing Technology Co is the world’s largest ride-hailing firm by number of rides, thanks to its commanding market share in China, where it has 450 million users. It completed more than 7.4 billion rides last year, not quite double Uber’s count.
Uber learned the hard way about Didi’s brawn. After waging an expensive campaign to crack the Chinese market, Uber in 2016 sold its operation to Didi in exchange for a 17.5 percent stake in the Chinese firm, which also made a $ 1 billion investment in Uber.
The titans continue to butt heads as they race to carve up the rest of the globe. Uber is the top dog in Latin America, where Brazil and Mexico rank among its largest markets outside the United States. In Mexico, Uber held an 87 percent market share as of August, according to Dalia Research, a Berlin-based consumer research firm.
Didi wants to change that. Reuters was first to report that Didi had designs on Mexico, where it began recruiting employees last year.
The company declined to talk openly about its plans, but details of its strategy are emerging.
Nestled on the ninth floor of a WeWork shared office building in the capital’s Juarez neighborhood, Didi is building an operation from the ground up. In foreign markets such as India and the Middle East, it purchased stakes in existing companies. But Uber is so dominant in Mexico that there is no clear investment opportunity in a local competitor, according to people familiar with Didi’s thinking.
Hungry for experienced talent, Didi is aggressively recruiting current and former Uber employees, offering to nearly double their salaries in some cases, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
At the helm of Didi’s Mexico operation is Uber veteran Lin Ma, who helped launch Uber’s ill-fated venture in China. Now Didi’s director of international operations, Ma also worked on operations at 99, the Brazilian ride-hailing startup that Didi purchased at the end of last year, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Ma and others at Didi have so far poached at least five Uber managers and specialists in Mexico who have experience in operations, logistics, strategy, marketing and driver training, a review of LinkedIn profiles shows.
Ma declined to comment.
An Uber logo is seen outside an Uber car in Mexico City, Mexico February 6, 2018. Picture taken on February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
The company has yet to recruit drivers, and it is not clear which cities it will enter first, according to a person familiar with Didi’s strategy.
Rather than compete solely on price, the person said, Didi plans to promote safe drivers and fast response times; the company has built an algorithm to help it predict 15 minutes in advance where it should dispatch vehicles.
Didi is also considering offering bike-sharing, scooters and motorcycles in Mexico, while Uber so far has stuck to ride-hailing. A broad array of transport options helped Didi prevail in China.
But the biggest difference may come down to cash. To protect drivers, the person said, Didi will not handle cash fares in Mexico.
Uber, meanwhile, has pushed Mexican lawmakers hard for the right to accept cash in a region where tens of millions lack bank accounts. The move has generated business, along with controversy.
In Brazil, Uber saw a surge of robberies and murders of its drivers after the company began accepting cash there, according to a 2017 Reuters analysis. Uber says it has added tools to authenticate riders’ identities, better protecting drivers.
An Uber driver checks the route on a mobile phone inside his car in Mexico City, Mexico February 6, 2018. Picture taken on February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
Mexico has not seen a similar wave of attacks so far. Nevertheless, Uber’s position puts it at odds with regulators in some Mexican states.
While Didi appears to be sidestepping that obstacle, it faces cultural hurdles in Latin America, according to Daisy Wu, head of international business at Yeahmobi, which helps Chinese startups go global.
Latin American consumers generally prefer U.S. brands to Chinese brands, she said, and Chinese business culture can be off-putting to local employees.
“Most of the Chinese companies that have gone to Latin America are still trying to be successful,” Wu said.
Didi, for example, bewildered Mexico job candidates by trying to schedule interviews the week of Christmas.
“I was very surprised … I was thinking, should I cancel my vacation?” one applicant told Reuters.
Uber’s lead in Latin America, meanwhile, has taken on heightened importance as it prepares for a potential initial public offering next year.
The company, which lost $ 4.5 billion last year, is facing fierce competition at home and in Asia, and a regulatory crackdown in Europe. It is also recovering from a year of scandals that saw co-founder Travis Kalanick forced out as chief executive in June amid multiple federal criminal probes and a workplace marred by sexual harassment allegations.
Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s vice president of operations for Latin America and Asia Pacific, said Uber is prepared to do what it takes to remain dominant in Mexico, a profitable market amid a sea of losses.
“Whether that’s more spending on customer acquisition or more deeply engaging with our existing customers, that will continue to be our focus,” he said.
Uber is committed to maintaining cheap fares for its basic service to keep its Mexican customers loyal, Macdonald said. But he said the company is considering adding more ride options such as upscale cars that would boost revenue.
If Uber is nervous about Didi stealing its lead in Mexico, it is not showing it. Macdonald said the learning curve is steep, something its rival is about to find out.
“Didi has significant bankroll,” Macdonald said. “But there are significant local complexities.”
Reporting by Julia Love in Mexico City and Heather Somerville in San Francisco; additional reporting by Noe Torres in Mexico City.; Editing by Marla Dickerson
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Desilu Studios plans to go public in the United States as a second stage of a proposed acquisition of Israeli technology start-up Vonetize.
The U.S. film studio famous for producing classic shows such as “I Love Lucy”, “Star Trek” and “The Untouchables” said on Friday that it had agreed a deal to take a controlling stake in Vonetize, the share price of which jumped 75 percent on Sunday.
Vonetize, whose technology enables over-the-top (OTT) live channel streaming and on-demand services, operates in 60 countries and has global partnerships with LG, Disney, Warner Brothers, Fox and Sony Universal among others.
Desilu said it had bought a 10 percent stake in cash from controlling shareholders at a company valuation of $ 50 million and received an option to buy a further 44 percent in the next 12 months.
Vonetize said on Sunday that Desilu would list in the United States to finance the deal for the rest of its proposed stake in the Israeli business.
Another route could be that Vonetize would dual-list on Nasdaq this year and then merge Desilu into that listing through a share-swap transaction, said Vonetize CEO Noam Josephides.
Some 40 percent of Vonetize’s shares are in free float.
Josephides said that Vonetize already has approval for a Nasdaq listing this year but a decision had yet to be reached.
Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by David Goodman
HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s Ant Financial Services Group is planning to raise up to $ 5 billion in fresh equity that could value the online payments giant at more than $ 100 billion, people familiar with the move told Reuters.
A fundraising would bring Ant, in which e-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is taking a one-third stake, a step closer to a hotly anticipated initial public offering by establishing a more current valuation.
Ant’s last fundraising in 2016 valued the owner of Alipay, China’s top online payment platform, at about $ 60 billion. The new round should start with a valuation of between $ 80 billion to $ 100 billion, the people said.
Ant is currently in talks to appoint advisers for the fundraising which is expected to be launched in the next couple of months, they added.
Ant declined to comment on its fundraising plans. All the people spoke to Reuters on the condition they not be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
While no timetable for an IPO has been set, nor any location yet chosen, Ant’s plans are being viewed as a pre-IPO fundraising, the people said. A pre-IPO round is an increasingly common move by sought-after Chinese companies to establish valuations and widen their investor base ahead of going public.
It was not immediately clear how the company plans to use the fresh cash.
The exact timing and size of the fundraising still depends on investor feedback but any deal will add to an already hectic pace of domestic and offshore fundraising by Chinese tech firms that are looking to expand both at home and abroad.
Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com is raising funds for its logistics unit with a target of attracting at least $ 2 billion, while live-video streaming start-up Kuaishou is nearing the close of a $ 1 billion funding round, sources have said.
Ant’s own existing investments include stakes in Paytm, the Indian mobile payment and e-commerce website, and Thai financial technology firm Ascend Money.
Last month, however, Ant suffered a setback when a U.S. government panel rejected its $ 1.2 billion offer for money transfer company MoneyGram International over security concerns.
At home, in addition to its core online payments business, which Ant says has 520 million yearly users, the company also offers wealth management, credit scoring, micro lending and insurance services.
Last week, Alibaba announced it would take a 33 percent stake in Ant – replacing the current system where Alibaba receives 37.5 percent of Ant’s pre-tax profit – in what was viewed as an important step ahead of any IPO.
Alibaba set up Alipay in 2004, modeling the business on PayPal, to help Chinese buyers shop online, and later controversially spun it off ahead of its own listing in 2014. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, controls Ant, according to Alibaba filings with the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ant is considered by some analysts as one of the most valuable Alibaba assets due to its unique position in Chinese e-commerce.
Current shareholders in Ant include large state-owned institutions such as China Life Insurance, China Post Group – parent of Postal Savings Bank of China – and a unit of China Development Bank.
Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee and Julie Zhu; Additional reporting by Kane Wu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Edwina Gibbs
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission plans to fine Sinclair Broadcasting Corp $ 13.3 million after it failed to properly disclose that paid programming that aired on local TV stations was sponsored by a cancer institute, three people briefed on the matter told Reuters.
The proposed fine, which covers about 1,700 spots including commercials that looked like news stories that aired during newscasts for the Utah-based Huntsman Cancer Institute over a six-month period in 2016, could bolster critics of Sinclair’s proposed $ 3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co.
Sinclair Broadcasting and a spokesman for the FCC declined to comment. Sinclair, which has told reporters previously the violations were unintentional, disclosed the investigation in financial filings.
Sinclair, which owns more than 170 U.S. television stations and is the largest U.S. operator, announced plans in May to acquire Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets as well as cable network WGN America and digital multicast network Antenna TV, extending its reach to 72 percent of American households. The FCC and Justice Department are reviewing Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune.
The proposed fine, which was approved by the five-member FCC earlier this week but has not yet been made public, is significant, officials said. The penalty represents an average fine of about $ 7,700 for each of the improperly aired spots but is significantly less than the maximum fine Sinclair could have faced under the law.
Sinclair will have the opportunity to respond to the proposed fine before it becomes final.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski
Last night was the premiere of the last trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy. A lot of stuff wasn’t new, but what was new was that our new villain explained herself. And Nebula got enough screentime to help us chart her path.