Filmhub—a Santa Monica-based company cutting out Hollywood’s middle-man to allow filmmakers to distribute their content straight to streaming services—has raised $6.8 million in seed funding led by Silicon Valley venture giant Andreesen Horowitz.
The round included participation from investors including 8VC, FundersClub, Eleven Prime, Rupa Health CEO Viswanathan, Candid CEO Nick Greenfield and Codecov CEO Jerrod Engelberg, TechCrunch reported.
Filmhub provides filmmakers with a way to distribute their work directly to big-name streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV without relinquishing their rights. The startup was co-founded in 2016 by Klaus Badelt, a composer and producer who has written scores for films such as “Gladiator,” “The Thin Red Line” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Filmhub co-founder and CEO Alan d’Escragnolle told Deadline Hollywood that Filmhub’s goal is to empower filmmakers through “ownership and monetization opportunities”.
Should Filmhub continue to grow in reach and viability, it could mark a major shift away from the traditional studio model, where filmmakers are often forced to surrender the rights to their work. Filmhub aims to solve this by offering filmmakers a no-frills, 80/20 revenue split with no upfront payment. The startup’s model also speaks to the growing power of streaming services, with viewers increasingly ditching their cable boxes in favor of the 200-plus streaming platforms available in the U.S. as of last year.
Filmhub is also finding synergies with like-minded startups in its hometown. It recently partnered with Struum, a Los Angeles-based platform that has been dubbed “ClassPass for streaming” and compiles content created by smaller video streaming services under its own subscription.
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The pandemic raged on in 2021, forcing Californians to grapple with lockdowns and troubling variants while tech giants pushed their return to offices in perpetuity. Through it all, tech’s boom time largely carried on as startups notched new fundraising records, thanks in no small part to blockchain hype, NFTs and web3.
Yet the exuberance was measured by weak IPOs, political pressure, and roaring demands from workers at Activision Blizzard, Netflix and Amazon, which altogether offered a taste of accountability for leaders in the industry. These and other key stories defined a whirlwind year for big tech and startups alike.
1. Tech Workers Speak Out
Netflix Employees, Counterprotesters Clash in Tense Walk-Out\u00a0Over Dave Chappelle Special Samson Amore
Through several walkouts and an open letter calling for CEO Bobby Kotick’s resignation, Activision Blizzard employees repeatedly pressed the game maker in the second half of the year over its handling of reports of gender inequality, harassment, and retaliation.
Workers urged the company to address its "frat boy" culture and end forced arbitration, while the “Call of Duty” and “Candy Crush” publisher warned employees to “consider the consequences” of unionizing.
At Netflix, workers and counter protestors clashed over an incendiary stand-up special from Dave Chappelle. GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group, criticized the multi-million dollar production, saying “Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities.” In response to criticism, co-CEO Ted Sarandos said Netflix has a "strong belief that content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm."
Meanwhile, Amazon faced protests across 22 countries this year over its wages, taxes, and impact on the planet. In Los Angeles, progressive advocacy groups Courage California and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy hosted a virtual town hall for Amazon workers over its warehouse policies on Cyber Monday.
2. Streaming Shakes Up Hollywood
In the movie business, organized workers challenged Netflix, Apple, Disney, and Amazon over a contract that sets pay and quality-of-life standards for tens of thousands of behind-the-scenes crew members.
The standoff nearly ground production to a halt in Hollywood, and came as streaming giants won big at the Academy Awards and the Emmys. Ultimately, the crew members’ union (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) narrowly passed a new three-year deal, but not by popular vote, indicating an appetite for pushback in the years to come.
3. Political Pressure Ramps Up
It was a banner year for congressional committees and hearings, although few if any national laws targeting tech came to pass thanks to a deadlocked Congress.
Leaders at Facebook and Google defended their practices while lawmakers probed their role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. And Santa Monica-based Snap, TikTok and YouTube fielded questions on social media drug sales and child safety issues while distancing themselves from Facebook.
However, California instituted a number of laws aimed in part at tech, including a rule requiring warehouses to disclose productivity quotas and new protections for workers who speak out about discrimination and harassment. Plus, a state judge ruled California’s gig worker law Prop. 22 unconstitutional, though the battle over the ballot initiative is far from over.
4. Billionaires Touch Space
Wearing a cowboy hat, Jeff Bezos gets a welcome-back hug while crewmate Oliver Daemen, the world's youngest spacefarer, is helped out of the New Shepard capsule.
Elon Musk’s personal space travel plans, however, remain a mystery.
5. EVs Get Their Moment
As extreme weather hammered the globe, investors plowed funds into climate tech — a vast sector featuring experimental carbon capture machines, electric bikes and scooters, hydrogen cars, heat pumps and everything in between.
Electric vehicles in particular stole the show this year as public investors sent Tesla’s and Rivian’s market caps into the stratosphere. Though Rivian’s stock has since cooled off amid supply issues, at its height it topped the market caps of GM, Ford and Volkswagen while reporting little to no revenue.
A major infrastructure bill pushed by the Biden Administration could also rev up electric car sales. If it passes next year, it could give consumers a tax break on the cars and accelerate the development of a nationwide charging network.
6. Mega Deals: the New Normal
Whether we’re in a tech bubble or not, this year startup valuations and deal counts soared as outside cash poured into the scene. In October, Pitchbook released a report counting 600 mega-deals (funding rounds of at least $100 million) this year in the U.S. alone — 138% more than it saw in the entirety of 2019. The data firm attributed the jump in part to a surge of funding from hedge funds and other non-traditional investors.
While many reports on the final quarter of the year are due out in January, seed deals hit new highs in L.A. during the first half of 2021. The pattern continued in the third quarter, mirroring the global trend. Among the driving forces was Web3, a term encompassing everything from speculative blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies to NFT-landen mobile games.
7. Tech Races to Go Public -- and Stumbles
Apple, Microsoft, Google and plenty of other major tech stocks surged this year, but most newcomers to the public market stumbled in 2021. From their debuts, investment app Robinhood’s stock dropped 45% to about $19 per share, salad maker Sweetgreen slipped about 43% to nearly $28 per share, wine subscription company Winc fell around 60% to $4.81 per share, and scooter giant Bird declined about 10% to 7.47 per share (all as of December 17).
Many tech firms went public (or at least announced plans to do so) through special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs. These shell companies have risen in popularity in recent years as vehicles to take businesses public, typically speedier and at a lower upfront cost than a traditional IPO. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission has scrutinized the practice and cautioned investors about the risks involved in such deals, which typically perform worse than traditional IPOs.
That doesn’t mean SPACs will disappear in 2022. A number of tech firms are poised to go public via SPACs, including fraud prevention firm TeleSign and digital banking company Dave, and United Talent Agency recently launched its own gaming-focused SPAC on the Nasdaq.
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For a long time, Garrett Rothstein couldn’t shake the idea that people waste so much time figuring out what show or movie is available on which platform.
Even as he was working at Quibi, the splashy-but-ill-fated mobile streaming app, the thought gnawed at him. But the 32-year-old kept that thought—and the underlying ambition to create a service that simplifies the binge-watch process—at bay, content to stay focused on his day job in ad sales at Quibi.
But then, in October 2020, Quibi suddenly went bust, and Rothstein found himself with all the time in the world.
“Having that unemployment kind of forced upon me, I don't like using the word ‘fate’ but it felt like it was presented in front of me,” he said. “It was an opportunity that I should take advantage of.”
Garrett Rothstein, co-founder of Queue.
Now, a year later, that opportunity is finally seeing the light of day. Last week, Rothstein and Spencer Rascoff (who also co-founded dot.LA) debuted Queue, the new social watch list app that wants to cut down on time wasted searching for a show to binge.
The Los Angeles-based startup allows users to look up any movie or show, see where it’s streaming, and start watching.
“The streaming world has become so fragmented, with so many different streaming services constantly popping up,” Rothstein said. “And so in Queue, we want to replace that messy Notes app in your phone that most people tend to keep track of what it is that they want to watch.”
According to Leichtman Research Group, Inc, 78% of the U.S. population uses one or more of the top streaming services - Netflix, AmazonPrime, and Hulu. Even though on Netflix alone, there are 5,800 content titles, 39% of people still have a difficult time trying to decide what to watch next.
Rothstein spent most of his professional career working in consumer startups. He had some notable stints at Snap and Bird before going to work in ad sales at Quibi, a streaming service that shut down in October 2020, just six months after launching.
While there are other platforms like Letterboxd and Cinetrak trying to solve the “what to watch” problem, Queue is leaning on real recommendations from real friends. “We believe that the people that know you the best are given the right to provide the best recommendation and those are your real friends from real life, and that's who we want to connect you with,” Rothstein said.
Queue has a variety of features that increase user engagement in the app. Aside from the watch list, Queue has also gamified the experience by including badges where users can unlock them by watching different genres. Like other platforms, Queue has a social feed that shows a reverse chronological list of what your friends are watching and queuing.
In the user’s queue, the tab is divided into three categories: “all titles,” “out now,” and “coming soon.”
Each user also has an IQ score visible on their profile which continues to grow the more shows and movies you watch. Similar to Netflix, Queue's discover page is updated daily and shows each user the top 10 trending titles of all the major platforms including what’s in theaters.
With over 40 streaming services, on demand channels, and movie theater availability on the app, content at the user’s disposal. On average, people take up to 9.4 minutes to decide what to watch next according to Nielsen, an information and technology services provider.
“Instead of having the consumer bounce around from Netflix then to Hulu then Prime to see what's hot on each of those platforms,” Rothstein said. “You can see everything in one very clean view on Queue.”
Once you mark things as watched, Queue will automatically populate your social feed and allow the user to see what their friends and family are watching.
“We know that most people turn to their friends when they're looking for recommendations on what it is that they want to watch next,” Rothstein said.
Even though the app is free, Queue collects affiliate marketing fees. If users subscribe to streaming platforms due to titles they have seen on the app, Queue will also receive an affiliate commission from that purchase.
While monetization is key to a successful company, Rothstein said, “Right now we're really heads down on growing our user base, working on retention and making sure we're shipping a world class product.”Queue is only available for iPhone users, but will be available in the Google Play store in 2022. Currently, the app only displays U.S. titles as the startup is focused on the U.S. market, but Rothstein said they are looking at having International availability in the future.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Garrett Rothstein's first name.
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