Entertainment April 6, 2023
Disney’s Metaverse Cuts Have Nothing to Do with the Metaverse
Disney is making $5.5 billion of spending cuts as years of mismanagement and internal strife finally catch up to it. The fifty workers in its metaverse team are collateral damage of a civil war that has rocked the house of mouse to its very foundations.
Wider problems at the corporation include the loss of 2M Disney+ subscribers and poor box office returns for tentpole feature films including Pixar’s Lightyear and Marvel’s Ant-Man Quantumania. In Florida, a political battle with governor Ron DeSantis has resulted in the revocation of Walt Disney World’s special tax status.
The wrong narrative. Again.
When Disney confirmed its metaverse division would be cut at the tail end of March, some mainstream media outlets struggled to contain their glee. The story offered further fuel for the “metaverse in decline” narrative that many outlets have been pushing in 2023.
The narrative can be summarized thusly: job cuts at Meta, metaverse-related job cuts at Microsoft, and the loss of the metaverse division at Disney. Together these disparate incidents offer the kind of tantalizingly simple pattern that even the most uninspired journalist can spot and delight in reporting on.
The only problem is the omission of further pertinent facts which led to these events. In the case of Meta, the company hired aggressively during lockdown when technology and social media use was at its peak. The end of lockdown and a change in Apple’s terms of service significantly reduced Meta’s advertising revenues, necessitating cuts at the firm.
Microsoft recently cut its AltspaceVR offshoot as part of a wider round of layoffs. Microsoft bought out AltspaceVR in 2017. AltspaceVR was facing closure due to financial problems at that time. As a division of Microsoft the beleaguered firm failed to turn around its fortunes. Most people had never heard of AltspaceVR before the chop came, and that explains why it came.
As for Disney, it is currently engaged in a corporate civil war.
King of the dumpster fire
In February 2022, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that Disney would enter the metaverse. Chapek had replaced the previous CEO, Bob Iger, just two years earlier. With much excitement and hype, Chapek hailed the move as “the next great storytelling frontier.”
One year later and Bob Chapek’s predecessor also becomes his successor. Bob Iger returns, unceremoniously ousting Chapek from post to reclaim his place at the head of the organization. In an extraordinary move, board members fire Chapek on a Sunday night while attending an Elton John concert. He is told not to come in on Monday.
The exact reasons for the firing of Chapek remain unclear, but come amid a multitude of problems. Disney’s streaming platform Disney+ is losing subscribers fast: in February it was announced the company lost 2.4 million subscribers since just last quarter. A host of movies across divisions including Disney, Pixar and LucasFilm have underperformed.
In Florida, the corporation’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act has engendered the ire of governor Ron DeSantis. In retaliation DeSantis revoked the special tax and administrative status of Disney World. The governor recently warned that he’s not done with Disney, saying: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Bye Bob, hello Bob
Iger may be perceived as the cuddlier of the two Bobs, but his return to the top spot has been far from cosy for Disney employees. The returning Iger later tells senior management they must cut 7,000 staff from the corporations’ wage bill as part of a wider restructuring program.
The restructuring, which is now underway, will erase every division set up by former CEO Bob Chapek.
The fifty workers of the metaverse team are simply unfortunate collateral damage of corporate machinations resembling something from a George RR Martin novel. Years of mismanagement and internal strife have finally caught up to the organization and the axe must now fall.
Other executives including Victoria Alonso at Marvel have been chopped already while Kathleen Kennedy of LucasFilm is also said to be on notice.
Sadly, most of the workers now losing their jobs are not so senior and have had little to do with the problems the corporation is now facing.
Ice Cube Rubbishes AI-Generated Music as Demonic
Legendary rapper Ice Cube has spoken out against AI-generated music as well as platforms that distribute it, branding AI as “demonic.” AI-generated content in the art and entertainment industry, especially music, has garnered conversation in recent weeks.
There have been widespread AI tools in image generation ranging from voice-to-text and text-to-voice. And now AI is making songs from unauthorized reproductions of famous musicians’ voices and musical styles.
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While some have accepted such AI advancement and consider it a legitimate tool in the arts industry, some artists have expressed concern. In the most recent case, rapper and actor Ice Cube has pulled no punches about AI generated music.
While discussing the topic on the Full Send Podcast, Cube made it clear he would take legal action against anyone who used AI tools to generate music using his style, as well as the platforms that play the AI-generated songs.
“Somebody can’t take your original voice and manipulate it without having to pay.”
In the video, Ice Cube continues to say that AI is demonic and will provoke a backlash from people.
“I think AI is gonna get a backlash from real people, real authentic people.”
Offenders should be sued
The former NWA rapper also talked about “Heart on my sleeve,” a song that used AI-generated vocals that imitated Drake and The Weeknd. He said authorities should act against the people who made the song.
“I think that’s terrible,” Cube says. “I don’t wanna hear that bullshit. He should sue whoever made it.”
The “Heart on my sleeve” track simulates Drake and The Weeknd trading verses about pop star Selena Gomez, who previously dated The Weeknd. Its creator, known as @ghostwriter, claimed the song was generated by software trained on the musicians’ voices.
Barely a week after it was posted, the song had been viewed more than 8.5 million times on TikTok while the full version was played 254,000 times on Spotify.
Drake expressed displeasure at the track and Universal Music Group (UMG) wrote to streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music, asking them to prevent AI companies from accessing their libraries.
“We will not hesitate to take steps to protect our rights and those of our artists,” UMG said in an email which was first obtained by the Financial Times.
Other faked AI songs that have gone viral recently include a “deepfake” of Rihanna singing Beyonce’s Cuff It and a cloned Kanye West singing the acoustic ballad Hey There Delilah.
IA Rihanna from ChatGPT singing Beyoncé’s "Cuff It" pic.twitter.com/1TAmHEDAKv
— Rihanna Facts (@Nevernyny) April 13, 2023
According to Stephanie Holland, producer Timbaland recently came under fire after he made a collaborative song with the late Notorious B.I.G using AI. While some other artists like Ice Cube have expressed their distaste about using AI to generate music using other artists’ style and likeness, others have embraced the new technology and say they’re ready to use it to their advantage.
AI as a tool for art growth
Musician Grimes recently released Elf.tech, which can be used to generate music using AI in Grimes’ style. However, the profits of the tracks made with this AI will be split 50/50 between Grimes and the maker.
French DJ David Guetta also recently used a site called uberduck.ai to mimic the voice of Eminem and added it to one of his instrumentals. He told the BBC, “I’m sure the future of music is AI.”
He did, however, say technology could only be useful “as a tool” – just like the drum machine and the sampler before it. According to a BBC report, a broad coalition of musicians and artists have launched a “Human Artistry Campaign” whose aim is to ensure AI will not erode human creativity.
Backed by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association for Independent Music and BPI has stressed that copyright protection should only be afforded to music created by humans.
In his recent appearance before Congress, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said content creators were entitled to a say on how their voices, likeness or copyrighted content were used to train AI models.
“Creators deserve control,” he said.
Altman added that his company is working on a copyright system to compensate artists whose art was used to create something new.
‘The Voice’ Reality TV Show Announces Metaverse Auditions
Reality singing competition and TV show ‘The Voice’ is throwing open the virtual door and inviting fans to enter.
From May 12, fans of the show will be able to enter the competition through VR. The latest event follows a successful trial of the concept last year.
Audition in VR
ITV Studios and metaverse developer Virtual Brand Group are teaming up to launch “The Voice Studios” (TVS), hosted in ‘Vegas City’ within Decentraland, a 3D browser-based virtual world. Last year The Voice ran a successful test of its concept in Decentraland with a virtual pop-up event. Now, TVS will become a permanent fixture.
TVS will launch with five experiences, comprising a trivia game, a treasure hunt, a dance-off, a rhythm challenge, and ‘music maker,’ a competition in which users can publish one of their own tracks and compete to win prizes. The best entries will also have the chance to compete in future seasons of the hit TV show.
The interactive environment will invite fellow TVS members to decide on winners in each category, encouraging interaction, and fostering community. The greater the level of interaction, the more features and prizes users can unlock.
Lucie Stoffers, ITV Studios’ head of brand licensing and global partnerships, revealed how TVS encourages fans to participate in the experience.
“While very few people get to be in a studio where ‘The Voice’ is being recorded, let alone receive a tailored gift from their favorite coach, it will now be possible for all fans to get access and have fun in this new immersive experience,” said Stoffers.
A massive competition
The Voice currently runs in 148 versions right around the world. TVS is being launched to coincide with the final weeks of Season 23 of the US competition, which airs on NBC.
The singing competition features unknown artist contestants who are coached by established stars. In the blind audition phase, the contestants each sing a song while coaches facE away from them. If one of the coaches likes what they hear, they press a button to face the contestant and add them to their roster.
This season the show’s coaches have been Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper, Niall Horan, Blake Shelton, and Carson Daly. Past contestants on the show include Koryn Hawthorne, Nicolle Galyon, Cassadee Pope, and Sawyer Fredericks.
Following last year’s trial of virtual auditions, The Voice and Virtual Brand Group (VBG) found that engagement with the show was much higher than through other social media.
Data showed that fans spent an average of 49 minutes per session engaging with the show and its content in the metaverse. That figure amounts to 13x more engagement than on traditional social media platforms.
VBG CEO Justin Hochberg said that TVS represents “the future of entertainment, fashion and youth-culture marketing,” and that ultimately, “Building the next generation with Vegas City [in Decentraland] that is bigger and better for the show, advertisers and fans was the obvious logical step.”
Pepe Token Soars 2,400% in 14 Days Amid Huge Investor Demand
Viral sensation Pepe Token has become one of the hottest cryptocurrencies in circulation in recent weeks, turning small capital investments into mammoth gains.
Pepe Token, a cryptocurrency introduced to the market in April 2017 as a tribute to internet meme Pepe the Frog, gained 1,175% in its opening month, data from CoinMarketCap shows.
PEPE, which appeared as a tradable asset on supporting exchanges on April 17 with an opening price of $0.00000005685, closed the month on April 30 at $0.0000007247. On May 1, the crypto asset rose to an all-time high (ATH) price of $0.000001439.
Pepe Token’s rise down to several factors
Supported by sixteen exchanges, Pepe Token is available on OKX, Uniswap, Gate.io, Huobi Global, BitMart, DigiFinex, Poloniex, MEXC Global, BingX, CoinEx, NovaDAX, BKEX, LBank, CoinW, BTCEX, and Ox Protocol.
Accessibility is a major factor in any crypto-asset’s growth, and the ease with which traders found the asset made it simple for them to pour millions of dollars in liquidity into it. PEPE’s daily trading volume soared by over 1,000% from around $47 million on April 17 to approximately $523 million on the day of its peak on Labor Day.
OKX, which has over 20 million users, topped the charts with more than $100 million in daily volume. It was followed by decentralized exchange (DEX) Uniswap, and others such as Gate.io, Huobi Global, and Bitget.
PEPE is now the third-largest meme coin by market value
The tokenomics of PEPE show that the project has a total and maximum supply of 420.69 trillion and all the tokens are in circulation, per CoinMarketCap.
The token was exchanging hands for $0.000001287 and multiplying it by 420.69 trillion results in about $541 million, which is the project’s market capitalization.
Dogecoin (DOGE) remains the largest meme coin by market value with roughly $10 billion and it’s followed in second place by Shiba Inu (SHIB) with around $6 billion.
With more than $500 million, PEPE has surpassed other popular meme-inspired projects such as Floki Inu (FLOKI), Bone ShibaSwap (BONE), Dogelon Mars (ELON), Baby Dogecoin (BabyDoge), and MonaCoin (MONA).
Does PEPE have a future?
As of the first two weeks of its existence, the project has profited from being widely known for its different types of frogs (sad, feels, angry, smug, and you will never).
Several meme coins have been created over the years to replicate the success of Dogecoin but many of them go extinct within six months.
Only time will tell if PEPE can weather the storm and become a mainstay in a market where the number of cryptocurrencies is on its way to reaching 24,000 before the end of the year.
With that said, Binance, the largest crypto exchange by daily volume, is yet to list the token on its platform. Considering Binance sees at least $1 billion in liquidity daily, the announcement of PEPE/USDT on Changpeng Zhao’s platform could take the token to new heights.
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