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

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.

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          On this week's episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, hear from Chang Xu, partner at Basis Set Ventures, a $140 million fund focused on AI and automation - technology that transforms the way people work.

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          Minnie Ingersoll
          Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.

          Despite — or in many cases because of — the raging pandemic, 2020 was a great year for many tech startups. It turned out to be an ideal time to be in the video game business, developing a streaming ecommerce platform for Gen Z, or helping restaurants with their online ordering.

          But which companies in Southern California had the best year? That is highly subjective of course. But in an attempt to highlight who's hot, we asked dozens of the region's top VCs to weigh in.

          We wanted to know what companies they wish they would have invested in if they could go back and do it all over again.

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          Ben Bergman

          Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

          https://twitter.com/thebenbergman
          ben@dot.la
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