'It's Absolutely the Silliest Thing Ever’: Google Ventures Exec on How Movie Releases Will Change

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

'It's Absolutely the Silliest Thing Ever’: Google Ventures Exec on How Movie Releases Will Change

Craig Kornblau, now entertainment and media advisor for Alphabet's venture arm, GV (formerly Google Ventures), is familiar with disruption.

As president of home entertainment at Universal Pictures managing revenue over $2 billion, he saw his booming DVD business blow up during the 2008 financial crisis as consumers tightened their spending, having decided that what they wanted from their films was not ownership but access. But that experience showed Kornblau, who began his career at Disney, that adversity also creates opportunity. Out of that sea change emerged the rise of Redbox and Netflix rentals, which, he says, kicked off the modern era of entertainment.


Craig Kornblau is entertainment and media advisor for Alphabet's venture arm, GV.

Today many argue that disruption of the entertainment industry has been accelerated by the coronavirus. As consumer behaviors and habits change, one increasingly vulnerable bulwark is the long-entrenched theatrical window, which has historically reserved an exclusive exhibition period for movie theaters.

Meanwhile streaming is increasingly available in the homes that are now our cocoons, and appears to be strengthening its hold on the future of video. As an example, Disney revealed in its most recent earnings report that its legacy businesses built on theme parks, retail and movies have been shellacked, while its streaming service Disney+ has outperformed expectations.

The upshot is that a film industry that was long tethered to screenwriter William Golding's maxim that "nobody knows anything" now finds itself shrouded in perhaps more uncertainty than ever.

For some clarity, dot.LA caught up with Kornblau to hear how his experience at both major studios and startup ventures shapes his thoughts on what the coronavirus pandemic will do to Hollywood, how the streaming wars will unfold, and which entertainment innovations he's most bullish about on the horizon.

As the forced shuttering of theaters has brought tough decisions to studios regarding what to do with their already-produced films, the sanctity of the theatrical window has come under scrutiny. Tension boiled over with a very public open-letter battle between leaders at Universal Pictures and AMC Theaters. You used to lead a business that directly followed that window of exclusivity; how do you see this playing out?

Kornblau: In reading all the articles covering those comments by Jeff Shell (Chief Executive of NBCUniversal) and Adam Aron (Chief Executive of AMC Theatres), you'd imagine the studio wants movies to come out at home the same day they reach the theater. But I don't think there are a lot of executives that want that. I think they want to not have a blackout period.

Historically, up until the pandemic, movies would come out in theaters and there'd be a 74-to-85-day delay until they were available in the home, which is absolutely the silliest thing ever. 90% of the box office is generated in 30 days on almost all movies, so films usually start to leave theaters after 30 days. Is there another industry where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent creating and marketing a product, it's only available for 30 days and then there's nowhere to use it or see it again for another 45 days?

If you're doing 90% of your business in 30 days, it's silly that there isn't an opportunity to see films at home on day 31. I think that's where the rubber will meet the road: the exhibitors will acknowledge that has to happen.

What do you think the studio heads are thinking about right now regarding their release strategy?

A lot of what they do will depend on how the coming-out party occurs. In the U.S., will theaters open incrementally, first in certain areas where people feel comfortable going to a theater? Will theaters open in some places but stay closed in places with a big chunk of America's theaters, like L.A. or New York? I think studios are thinking about whether they want to wait to release their films until they have 80% or more of the theaters open. Plus, how do you market a movie that won't come out around the country all at once?

Then on the other side, it's crystal clear that consumers are bingeing and taking full advantage of streaming. Now that we're all bound at home those consumers that haven't gotten into the SVOD/AVOD game are learning about it very quickly and embracing it. It's clear consumer habits are shifting much more broadly and quickly.

The result will be continued investment in your home theater. This has been going on for a long time but the pandemic has given more reason to invest in your home, since it's where you're spending so much time. The tech keeps getting better and people are spending more and more on their in-home experience. It may not be the home theater of a movie mogul, but it's yours.

So the hurdle to leave your home to go to a theater will keep getting higher. It's been doing that for years; it's not a radical change but it's an acceleration and amplification of a trend that's been going on for a long time.

Speaking of streaming, with so many players in the space, some analysts describe the current situation as unsustainable. Where do you think it's headed?

I think there's going to be more consolidation. The one thing that's crystal clear about technology and the world we live in today is it's made up of very few enormous companies that control an awful lot. I don't see that being any different in the world of entertainment. You don't have to look further than what's happened in music, where the six majors eventually shrunk down to three. There are an awful lot of streaming services and already consumers are questioning whether they need them. I think there will be fewer services but I think they'll have an extremely wide breadth of product to satisfy the consumer.

What's interesting to me is the appetite for risk that the major tech companies have. If you look up the top R&D spenders for last year, what you'll see at the very top is several of the biggest tech companies that happen to have streaming services. They're spending over $20bn on R&D every year. The entertainment companies aren't even on the list. You could argue their spend on content should be included in their R&D, but even if it was they may not make the list. I think we live in a world where the big get bigger and the appetite for risk gets bigger.

Do you think that appetite for risk will lead to tech companies making acquisitions?

I remember being at the studios and being fearful that Microsoft or Apple or Google was going to buy us. What became very clear very quickly, though, is that they really didn't need us. What they needed was creative talent. And with their money and their appetite for risk, they're a magnet for creative talent. It goes back to the big getting bigger. There are few tip-top creative names that haven't aligned with these big companies but the ones that have't probably will very soon. So the companies will increasingly have the content along with their tech. These are complex companies that see the power of entertainment and want to use that power to drive their entire business.

Why do you suppose they view entertainment as the way to do that?

It's the emotional connection with consumers. In my career, I stayed in home entertainment for 30 years because I never thought my business was about convincing someone to own or buy something; it was all about providing consumers an emotional experience, with amazing, culture-changing storytelling. I think the tech companies approach it similarly. Their entertainment business provides consumers with emotionally resonant experiences and stories, and that can help the rest of their business whether you're Apple trying to sell devices or Google selling services.

What types of entertainment innovation are you excited for on the horizon?

The reason I decided to work with early-stage and growth companies is, having lived in big corporate America and big entertainment companies, it's really hard to find massive innovation in large companies. I think real innovation is going to come from small companies.

There's an awful lot of attention on AR. As you sit at home, you can have experiences as if you're not at home, and I think that's a super interesting space. I'm not necessarily talking about big goggles, but experiences you can have on your smart devices -- tablet, phone. I think AR is poised for a massive explosion of growth.

The other area is the cloud. It's fascinating how before the pandemic many companies were already moving quickly to the cloud while others remained hesitant. What it translates to is now some companies are really hurting, those who had their equipment on premises, while companies that had moved their business to the cloud and can still run their business relatively easily. I think the pandemic will accelerate the movement to the cloud -- it's been happening, but I think it will create much more rapid movement there. In entertainment it'll change the face of production and distribution.

How have you seen the Los Angeles tech scene evolve throughout your career?

It's been extremely exciting to see the movement of all these enormous tech companies to L.A. They may not all be based here but they have a significant presence. It's not just Silicon Beach — it's all over the city, from Santa Monica to downtown. The spark of creativity that's been brought by these young companies that have chosen L.A. as their home rather than what may have been the traditional choice of the Bay Area is very exciting. And it's just starting.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity)

---

Sam Blake covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

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.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

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.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

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.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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