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How Disney’s Investment In Entertainment Brands Like Marvel and Star Wars Will Power The Launch Of Its New Streaming Service

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At a board retreat in Orlando, Florida, in 2006, a pair of senior Disney executives predicted a seismic shift in the media landscape — one fueled by consumers who would enjoy unprecedented access to content. Their plan? Amass strong enough entertainment brands and franchises to grab the attention of viewers awash in choices.

That insight, part of a “Disney 2015” presentation by its CFO at the time, Tom Staggs, and corporate strategist Kevin Mayer, was delivered a dozen years before Netflix briefly surpassed Disney as the world’s most valuable media company in 2018. It would inform an aggressive buying binge, in the mold of the Pixar Animation Studios deal of 2006, that would roll up some of the world’s most recognizable entertainment brands under the Disney banner — Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox. These form the foundation of the coming Disney+ streaming service, which CEO Bob Iger will discuss in detail at an investor day Thursday on Disney’s manicured studio lot in Burbank, California.

Analysts say Disney’s library of blockbuster films and popular TV shows, bolstered by its recent acquisition of Fox’s film and television assets, give it a competitive advantage that should help attract subscribers — even at a time when established rivals, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have gained a substantial head-start.

Disney and Fox together account for 47% of the top 100 films of all time, based on domestic box office. That’s more than double the nearest competitor, Warner Bros., with 20 hit movies. The combined Disney and Fox libraries also command the largest share of the 100 most popular TV shows, as ranked by IMDB.  

Disney plans to mine its Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars franchises for original shows that will appear exclusively on the streaming service, including a live-action Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian, an animated series Monsters At Work, with Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprising their roles as Mike and Sully, and a series based on the Marvel archer character Hawkeye, starring Jeremy Renner.

“The amalgamation of Disney’s and Fox’s libraries will create an unparalleled combination of great, hard to recreate and memorable content,” said media analyst Michael Nathanson.

Nathanson predicts Disney+ will attract 7.1 million subscribers in its first year, growing to nearly 24 million by the end of fiscal 2022.

A question remains about whether a content company like Disney will be able to match Netflix’s technological prowess. The Los Gatos-based streaming service has been able to draw from its vast trove of user data to deliver recommendations that keep its 139 million global subscribers watching, month after month, and inform programming decisions.

Disney has stumbled on previous digital endeavors, such as DisneyLife, a U.K.-based streaming service that launched in 2015, charging £10 a month for access to some 400 movies, 4,000 TV episodes as well as songs and books. Despite a price drop, it has failed to catch on with subscribers, according to numerous published accounts.

The success of Disney+ is something Iger is staking his legacy on, describing it, during a recent investor call, as “our number one priority.”

That’s a major strategic shift for Disney, which had enabled the growth of Netflix through lucrative multi-year deals, such as the one in 2012 that gave the streaming service exclusive TV rights to new and catalog films, and another, the following year, that handed Netflix access to Marvel’s muscular superhero roster — with ABC Television Studio developing original series based on comic book characters Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

Netflix became the de facto syndicator for a number of TV shows, noted Nathanson.

The inescapable toll of cord-cutting, fanned by popular services like Netflix, caused a re-calibration inside the Mouse House. Disney’s traditional cash cow, ESPN, has shed 13 million domestic subscribers from its peak in 20013, and Disney Channel also has lost millions of pay TV viewers.

Iger shifted course in 2017, announcing that Disney would pull its content from Netflix and launch its own service in 2019. That August, the company invested $1.58 billion to acquire a majority ownership of BAMTech, the MLB-founded video streaming technology that will power Disney+. That same year, in December, Disney announced its ground-breaking deal to acquire much of Fox, a move that would position Disney as the world’s preeminent entertainment company — and bulk up its library as it prepares to do battle with Netflix.

The $71.3 billion Fox deal, which closed in March, reunited the X-Men and Fantastic Four with the rest of the Marvel universe, added The Simpsons and Ice Age to Disney and Pixar’s animated roster, and brought James Cameron’s four sequels to the box-office blockbuster Avatar under the Disney banner. It also gave Disney a controlling interest in Hulu, a streaming service jointly owned with Comcast’s NBCUniversal and AT&T’s WarnerMedia, which has amassed 25 million subscribers.

Disney announced a sweeping corporate reorganization in March of 2018, to consolidate its streaming operations under the executive who’d overseen its major acquisitions, Kevin Mayer. Previously, efforts had been fragmented among the different business units, with the film and television groups pursuing different digital strategies, say former insiders.

“Depending on how aggressively Disney intends to invest, and their willingness to accept compressed profit margins, the company has a chance to become a meaningful competitor to Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video,” wrote Brian Wieser, a long-time media analyst who now oversees business intelligence for GroupM, one of the world’s largest media buyers.

-Dawn Chmielewski; Forbes Staff

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on Ka[email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Facebook Is Still Leaking Data More Than One Year After Cambridge Analytica

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Facebook said late Tuesday that roughly 100 developers may have improperly accessed user data, which includes the names and profile pictures of individuals in certain Facebook Groups.

The company explained in a blog post that developers primarily of social media management and video-streaming apps retained the ability to access Facebook Group member information longer than the company intended.

The company did not detail the type of data that was improperly accessed beyond names and photos, and it did not disclose the number of users affected by the leak.

Facebook restricted its developer APIs—which provide a way for apps to interface with Facebook data—in April 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke the month before. The goal was to reduce the way in which developers could gather large swaths of data from Facebook users.

But the company’s sweeping changes have been relatively ineffective. More than a year after the company restricted API access, the company continues to announce newly discovered data leaks.

“Although we’ve seen no evidence of abuse, we will ask them to delete any member data they may have retained and we will conduct audits to confirm that it has been deleted,” Facebook said in a statement.

The social media giant says in its announcement that it reached out to 100 developer partners who may have improperly accessed user data and says that at least 11 developer partners accessed the user data within the last 60 days.

Facebook has been reviewing the ways that companies are able to collect information and personal data about its users since the New York Times reported that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data of millions of users. Facebook later said the firm connected to the Trump campaign may have improperly accessed data on 87 million users.

The Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a $5 billion fine as a result of the breach. As part of the 20-year agreement both parties reached, Facebook now faces new guidelines for how it handles privacy leaks.

“The new framework under our agreement with the FTC means more accountability and transparency into how we build and maintain products,” Facebook’s director of platform partnerships, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, wrote in a Facebook post.

“As we work through this process we expect to find examples like the Groups API of where we can improve; rest assured we are committed to this work and supporting the people on our platform.”

Michael Nuñez

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How A BlackBerry Wiretap Helped Crack A Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Cartel

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On August 18, 2017, four men travelling in a dual-engine speedboat carrying 1,590 pounds of cocaine were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard northwest of the Galapagos Islands.

The federal agents manning the channel chose to launch a helicopter to hover over the boat. With this aggressive move, the men began to jettison the bales of coke, each with their own GPS tracker so they could be picked up at a later date, according to the government’s narrative. They attempted to flee, and when they ignored the warning shots from the helicopter, the chopper fired rounds directly at the boat, disabling it.

After the bales were collected, the government realized they had just stopped a huge amount of cocaine from entering the U.S. In total, it carried a street value of $25 million. The four men, all Ecuadorians, were swiftly arrested and charged.

Though the cartel had set up a sophisticated, multilayered operation that sought to slip coke into the country and up to Ohio via land, air and sea, they had made a crucial error: They used BlackBerry phones. As the drug barons chatted about shifting cocaine and how to avoid the narcs over BlackBerry Messenger, a wiretap on a server in Texas was quietly collecting all their communications.

In a case that’s Narcos meets The Wire, federal agents have, since June 2017, been listening in on that server. And beyond that interception, Forbes can exclusively reveal it is yielding results. On Friday, an Ohio court is unsealing charges against one of the crew’s top brass: Francisco Golon-Valenzuela, 40.

Known as El Toro, Spanish for The Bull, the Guatemalan was extradited from Panama earlier this week and is appearing before a magistrate judge today. (Forbes hasn’t yet made contact with his counsel for a response but will update if comment is forthcoming.)

Described as one of various organizers and leaders of the unnamed cartel, El Toro is charged with conspiring to distribute at least 5 kilograms or more of cocaine on the high seas. As a result, he’s facing between 10 years and life in prison.

A key to BlackBerry 

For any organized crime operation, BlackBerry has always been a poor choice. No longer extant since being decommissioned in spring this year, BlackBerry Messenger did encrypt messages, but the Canadian manufacturer of the once-ubiquitous smartphone had the key. And all messages went through a BlackBerry-owned server. If law enforcement could legally compel BlackBerry to hand over that key, they would get all the plain-text messages previously garbled into gibberish with that key.

Compare this to genuine, end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal; they create keys on the phone itself and the device owner controls them. To spy on those messages, governments either have to hack a target device or have physical access to the phone. Both are tricky to do, especially for investigations of multinational criminal outfits. Police can put a kind of tap on a WhatsApp server, known as a pen register.

This will tell them what numbers have called or messaged one another, and at what date and time, but won’t provide any message content. This makes those apps considerably more attractive to privacy-conscious folk than those where the developer holds the keys, though sometimes to the chagrin of law enforcement.

It’s unclear how or when the DEA got access to the BlackBerry server. A so-called Title III order was issued, granting them court approval to carry out the wiretap, though that remains under seal.

It proved vital to the investigation. “There would be no case without the without the Title III on BlackBerry Messenger,” said Dave DeVillers, who was recently nominated as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “The defendants, the seizures, the conspiracy were all identified with the Title III.”

A spokesperson for BlackBerry said: “We do not speculate or comment upon individual matters of lawful access.” The company has, however, previously made its stance on encryption public: Unlike other major tech providers like Apple or Google, BlackBerry will hand over the keys if it’s served with a legitimate law enforcement request.

If the police did receive a key from BlackBerry, it wouldn’t be the first time. Back in 2016, it emerged that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had decrypted more than one million BlackBerry messages as part of a homicide investigation dating back to 2010.

As per reports from that time, it’s possible to use one of BlackBerry’s keys to unlock not just one device’s messages, but those on other phones too. Forbes asked the DOJ whether investigators would’ve been able to access other, innocent people’s BlackBerry messages as part of this wiretap, but hadn’t received a response at the time of publication.

Fishermen and spies

However those BlackBerry messages were intercepted, they helped illuminate a dark criminal conspiracy constructed of myriad parts. As revealed in today’s indictment, made known to Forbes ahead of publication, the gang employed “load coordinators.” Think of them as project managers, helping locate drivers for trucks and boats while finding people to invest in the cocaine.

Fishermen and other maritime workers were also allegedly recruited. They would help both in refueling the drug baron’s ships, but also helping transport the powder, prosecutors said.

Other individuals became ad hoc spies, sharing information on the activities and locations of police and military personnel trying to intercept shipments, according to the government’s allegations. Other coconspirators sheltered individuals who were at risk of extradition—not that it saved El Toro.

Forbes first became aware of the investigation in 2017, when a search warrant detailed various BlackBerry intercepts. In one, a pair of cartel employees discussed having to put some cocaine transports on hold because of a multinational maritime exercise—the Unitas Pacifico 2017—taking place in their shipment lanes, according to the warrant. BlackBerry wasn’t the only major tech provider to help on the case; That search warrant was for a Google account linked to one of the suspects, which investigators believe was used for further logistics.

The investigation has revealed that the 2017 seizure wasn’t the only time the cops had disrupted what was evidently a criminal enterprise worth hundreds of millions. In May 2016, long before the BlackBerry wiretap went up and the investigation into the cartel had begun in earnest, U.S. authorities intercepted 1,940 pounds of coke near the Guatemalan-Mexico border, worth another $30 million.

Despite such successes, DeVillers told Forbes the American government will never interdict its way to ending the drug trade. “We can only disrupt it,” he added. “And if we turn the tools used by the cartels to run their organization against them, we do just that.”

-Thomas Brewster; Forbes

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