Coronavirus Updates: Jack Dorsey Donates $10M to Sean Penn COVID Fund; Cord Cutting Hits Peak; L.A.'s Reopening

Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.

  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donates $10 million to COVID-19 fund launched by Sean Penn
  • Americans slash costs with record unemployment, chief among them cutting the cord
  • L.A. County retailers open doors; as people head to trails and golf course this weekend

    L.A. County retailers open doors; as people head to trails and golf course this weekend

    Retailers across the region opened up their doors for the first time in weeks on Friday as Los Angeles County readied to open up trails, golf courses and parks over the weekend. Traffic trickled into downtown early in the morning after weeks of empty streets as Gov. Gavin Newsom eased stay-at-home orders. Retailers including clothing, toy, book and music stores can now operate with curbside services and with Mother's Day around the corner, the city's downtown flower district pulled in brisk business not seen for weeks.

    "I am already feeling a renewed sense of hope and excitement," said county Supervisor Kathryn Barger during a mid-day briefing. The first phase of easing stay at home orders came as the Los Angeles County's public health department logged 883 new cases and 51 deaths. So far, 30,296 people in the county have tested positive and 1,468 have died.

    And the region is far from returning to normal. On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to send every registered voter in California a mail-in ballot for the November presidential election. Although the election is not set to be a vote-by-mail only, those that want to vote in-person can. Guidelines on how in-person voting will work have yet to be hammered out.

    Dining establishments remained pickup or delivery only.

    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donates $10 million to COVID-19 fund launched by Sean Penn

    Sean Penn is co-founder of CORE

    Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey donated $10 million to the Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), the non-profit disaster relief group co-founded by actor Sean Penn a decade ago to provide relief to hurricane-ravaged Haiti. The donation came via Dorsey's Start Small initiative, which is bankrolling more COVID-19 testing across the U.S. and Navajo Nation. CORE stated it has set up a dozen COVID-19 test sites across California over the past five weeks and completed 100,000 tests for free through its partnerships.

    "CORE is an inspiring force for good. Not only in what they're doing by increasing our testing capacity, but also by how they're doing it," Dorsey said in a statement. "The open-source approach and work to be a model for others is exactly what this country and world needs right now." Co-founded by CORE CEO Ann Lee, the nonprofit's testing sites have launched in Atlanta, Detroit and will soon serve New Orleans and the Navajo Nation, focused on serving underserved communities, as well as first responders and essential workers, the nonprofit stated.

    Americans slash costs with record unemployment, chief among them cutting the cord

    With unemployment on the rise due to the economic fallout of COVID-19, American consumers are slashing costs -- and that starts with cutting the cord. The pandemic has led to a new quarterly record when it comes to pay-TV subscriber losses, according to research firm MoffettNathanson in a report released Friday.

    "In the context of over 30 million unemployment claims and estimates for minus 40 percent gross domestic product, it would be unseemly to resort to hyperbole to describe the carnage in pay TV in the first quarter," analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson wrote in the report. "Better that we simply report the numbers. Traditional pay TV subscriptions fell by a record 1.8 million in the first quarter, the worst quarterly result on record, bringing the annual rate of decline to 7.6 percent, also a record."

    What's worse, the numbers are expected to drop off steadily in the coming months as sports programming is likely to all but vanish from television screens. Professional and college sports have been sidelined with most states not allowing stadiums full of fans, and leagues considering teams playing in front of empty seats. The report said the "tsunami of unemployment just beginning to hit as the quarter ended, all these numbers will get worse in the second quarter." The U.S. Department of Labor reported earlier in the day that unemployment is now at a record since being tracked in 1948, with payrolls plunging 20.5 million due to the pandemic.

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    Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

    Christian Hetrick

    Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

    Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

    When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

    The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

    Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

    Read moreShow less

    Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

    Christian Hetrick

    Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

    Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

    LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

    The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

    From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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    PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

    Jamie Williams
    ­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
    Jason Wise holding wine glass
    Image courtesy of Jason Wise

    Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

    As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

    On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

    The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

    “With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

    …Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

    For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

    “Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

    But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

    So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

    “Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

    Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

    dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.