LA Tech Updates: Disney Earnings Include Big Mulan News; Microsoft Backs Irvine Chipmaker

Here are the latest updates on news affecting Los Angeles' startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for more.

Today:

  • Disney Plus Surpasses 60 Million Subscribers
  • Rocket Lab Boosts Payload Capacity
  • Microsoft Backs Maker of Voice-Activated Chip, Syntiant, in $35M Round

          Disney Plus Surpasses 60 Million Subscribers

          black smartphone Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

          Disney's earnings report Tuesday quantified the damage wrought by COVID-19 in the company's third quarter — which was entirely enveloped by the pandemic.

          Each of Disney's four business segments suffered losses except for its direct-to-consumer and international operations, which includes the company's streaming app, Disney Plus.

          The company also released new details about its release plans for the blockbuster live-action film, Mulan.

          First, the revenue figures by segment, compared to 2019's corresponding quarter:

          • Media Networks fell 2% to $6.6 billion
          • Parks, Experiences and Products tumbled 85% to $2 billion
          • Studio Entertainment dropped 55% to $1.7 billion
          • Direct-to-Consumer and International climbed 2% to $4 billion

          Disney Plus now has over 60 million subscribers, the company reported, a milestone Disney had previously announced it hoped to surpass by 2024. Add in ESPN+ and Hulu, and the company's total subscriber count now tops 100 million. Disney chief executive Bob Chapek said these numbers give the company confidence to "pursue even more innovative and bold initiatives as we grow our business."

          The day's headline-grabber: Disney will release Mulan on Disney Plus in most markets where the service is available, including the U.S., rather than premiere it on the big screen. That's a big shock to the movie industry, where the theatrical release window usually gives movie theaters an exclusive several-months period to show films before they reach home viewers. Mulan, which was originally meant to hit theaters in March, is perhaps the highest-profile and biggest-budget film to be released direct-to-consumer. It will be available on September 4th for a price of $29.99.

          Chapek called the decision a "one-off event" rather than a new way of doing business. It was the first call of Chapek's without his predecessor Bob Iger on the line.

          Rocket Lab Improves Payload Capacity

          Rocket Lab increased the payload capacity for its Electron launch vehicle to 600 pounds, far above the 225 kg it could support when the Electron launch vehicle first appeared in 2017.

          "When we created Electron, we set out to develop a launch vehicle that small satellite operators would turn to when they needed a dedicated ride to a unique orbit on their schedule," founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.

          "We're proud to be delivering that capability and continuing to evolve our launch and satellite services to meet the market's ever-changing needs."

          The company attributes the improvement to advanced battery technology.

          The Long Beach-based lab is known for its 3-D printed and electric pump engines, known as Rutherford Engines, which company says are 90% more efficient than traditional gas pump engines. Their printing time: 24 hours.

          Rocket Lab is set to launch again later this month.

          Microsoft Backs Maker of Voice-Activated Chip, Syntiant, in $35M Round

          Microsoft's venture fund M12 led a $35 million investment round in Irvine-based Syntiant, a semiconductor-making company that's produced tiny voice recognition chips — smaller than a flea — that are faster than many others on the market.

          The company, which is also backed by Amazon's Alexa Fund, makes an "always-on voice interface" that reacts to speech. It has already shipped out a million of the units which are put into cellphones, smart speakers, earbuds and laptops.

          The venture capital arm of chip maker Applied Materials, Inc. also joined in the lead for the Series C round, along with Atlantic Bridge Capital, Alpha Edison and Miramar Digital Ventures also joined the round. The company has raised a total of $65 million since it was founded by four veterans of the chip industry.

          "It is a tremendous honor to know that some of the world's leading tech investors are supporting our growth stage, as we deliver our deep learning voice solution to customers across the globe," said Kurt Busch, co-founder and CEO of Syntiant. "We are especially thrilled that production volumes of applications using our neural decision processors are increasing and expect orders to ramp even higher throughout the remainder of 2020.

          It's estimated that the speech and voice recognition market is expected to reach $26.8 billion by 2025, according to report by Meticulous Research.

          Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

          An L.A. security startup that has already signed on clients in tech, gaming, cannabis and entertainment is coming out of stealth mode just as the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol and this week's presidential inauguration has brought safety to the forefront.

          HiveWatch provides companies with a central platform that uses multiple sensors across buildings to help better respond to physical security threats.

          Read more Show less

          It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.

          "Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.

          Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.

          Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.

          "We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.

          Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.

          "You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.

          The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and CORE Response prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.

          Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.

          "Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.

          Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.

          "We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.

          Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.

          Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.

          "It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."

          After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.

          Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.

          Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.

          "As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."

          An earlier version of this story misidentified CORE Response.

          Snap promoted executive Ben Schwerin to be its new senior vice president of content and partnerships, as the company seeks to grow its content business to challenge rival TikTok.

          As part of the reorganization, Chief Strategy Officer Jared Grusd, who previously oversaw content, will become a strategic advisor to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

          Read more Show less
          RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS

          Trending