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Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.
For the first time, a virtual reality device received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to address pain.
Los Angeles-based therapeutic virtual reality startup AppliedVR's device to ease chronic lower back pain gained FDA approval this week.
The move opens the door to making VR a common solution for lower back pain, one of the most common chronic pain conditions in the U.S. that is also linked to deteriorating mental health and lack of productivity at work. Doctors can now use the technology to wean patients off high levels of opioids and insurance companies can subsidize the VR treatment, making it more accessible to low-income patients and broadening adoption of new technologies.
"You have to think about who pays for it. By going the FDA prescription route, that gives us a pathway to get this embedded into the rail systems of reimbursement in America," AppliedVR co-founder Matthew Stoudt said prior to the news.
The company's product, EaseVRx, follows a principle that has been studied for a long time: that pain is often less about the physical sensation and more often around the mental association of pain to stress, anxiety and isolation.
"Pain reduction is a crucial component of living with chronic lower back pain," said Christopher M. Loftus, acting director of the Office of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
"[The] authorization offers a treatment option for pain reduction that does not include opioid pain medications when used alongside other treatment methods for chronic lower back pain."
Using cognitive behavioral therapy and virtual reality, the offering takes patients with chronic lower back pain through an eight-week-long course comprising a series of modules that help them better cope with the never-ending (yet often debilitating) pain of chronic conditions.
"If they don't have access to a specialist or they don't have access to these integrated settings, you can actually bring these integrated settings to the home," Stoudt said.
Earlier this month, AppliedVR raised $36 million to push EaseVRx through the FDA pipeline, as well as create new VR offerings for a variety of pain and mental health indications. It was the first company to receive an FDA Breakthrough Device Designation as a VR treatment therapeutic for treatment-resistant fibromyalgia and chronic intractable lower back pain.
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Are the upfronts turning into TV execs’ personal “Black Mirror'' episode?
The annual feeding frenzy—in which C-suite television executives auction off highly-viewed (and costly) advertising time slots— is changing as new streaming behemoths shake up the market. The event often gives viewers and industry watchers insight on what shows are poised to become cultural phenomena, but that too seems to be disrupted at this year’s proceedings.
It’s been two years since major networks and television players convened in New York for a week, and it’s clear that technology is going to change a lot about how the process works.
Streaming, a popular way to view content, doesn’t follow traditional ad slots the way broadcast does. Nonetheless, last year ad-enabled streaming services–including Peacock and Hulu–slurped up a large slice of ad dollars. But this year may prove a turning point, as services like HBOMax and Disney Plus begin tinkering with ad-laced streaming, and Netflix promises to quickly roll out an ad-supported subscription tier. Large networks like ABC and NBC will have to start competing with streaming for the favor of companies and their ad money.
Another thing changing the market: the ads themselves. With more data at their fingertips, streaming services can offer far more personalized and targeted services than their network counterparts. Netflix and Disney collect mountains of data that can gauge what ads are most relevant to their viewers. That’s a huge plus for advertisers, even if streaming services like Disney restrict what kind of ads it will show.
Legacy TV companies have already taken note. NBCUniversal took great pains at Monday’s pitch meeting to offer their Peacock streaming service as an example of a dual streaming-and-broadcast model and lambasted streaming services that once showed disdain for advertisers and ad breaks.
“At those companies, advertising could seem like an afterthought… or even worse, a new idea for a revenue stream, but not here,” NBCUniversal’s ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “At NBCUniversal, advertising has always been an asset for our business… designed to enhance your business.”
Adding to the instability, Nielsen ratings, which has been the universal standard for measuring viewership, is being challenged. The company’s ratings were once the gold standard used, in part, to determine the time slots and networks that had the most viewers (and which became the most coveted by advertisers).
Last year, Variety reported major networks complained that the company was likely undercounting viewership due to pandemic-related restrictions, like being unable to go into peoples’ homes and making sure the data-collecting technology was properly working. In its wake, software-enabled startups have popped up to better gather data remotely.
Washington-based iSpot.tv received a $325 million investment from Goldman Sachs after acquiring similar companies including El Segundo-based Ace Metrix and Temecula-based DRMetrix. Pasadena-based tvScientific raised $20 million in April to glean adtech data from smart tvs. Edward Norton’s adtech firm EDO raised $80 million in April and booked a deal with Discovery ahead of the upfronts.
Nielsen also lost its accreditation with the Media Ratings Council, and without a standard ratings guide for the industry, navigating the upfronts will be a far more uncertain and nebulous process for both networks and advertisers.
With tens of billions of dollars on the line, advertisers are demanding more than just well-produced shows networks and streaming services alike—sophisticated ad placements is the name of the game.
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Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Samson is also a proud member of the Transgender Journalists Association. Send tips or pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him
The Los Angeles Tourism Department partnered with curiosities and travel website Atlas Obscura for a first of its kind digital interactive map of L.A. County’s top attractions, just in time for the summer influx of tourists.
Image courtesy of the L.A. Tourism Dept.
The “Discover Los Angeles” map can be broken down by neighborhood or by a series of “guides,” which all feature as part of the larger promotional campaign roll-out known as the Explorer’s Guide to L.A
Atlas Obscura and the Tourism Department also published a hardcover edition of the Explorer’s Guide, along with several other speciality breakout guides, including the Meeting Planners Guide, artistic Visitor’s Map and, for those with more expensive tastes, the L.A. Luxury Guide to the city’s pricier pursuits. The paper versions of the guides have QR codes for travelers to scan and take information with them on the go.
This year’s collaboration with Atlas Obscura gives the Tourism Department’s previous guide a much-needed update – it was previously a whopping 136-page PDF document created in 2020.
The Explorer’s Guide includes a mix of places you’d expect to see on the map, like Griffith Park and the museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. It also has some unlikely spots sourced from Atlas Obscura’s network of local explorers who recommended their favorite places to visit: the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Venice Canals or the Watts Towers, a stunning, monumental public art exhibit of mosaic steel towers that was built by one Italian immigrant over a 34-year period.
30 neighborhoods are discussed in the guide, from classic tourist destinations like Hollywood and beach cities like Santa Monica and Venice to lesser-known but still exciting enclaves like Leimert Park, Frogtown and Little Ethiopia. There’s also several maps for specific interests – taqueria lovers will find new spots to nosh with the taco map, and there’s also a map of the Downtown Arts District, spots to stargaze and sports venues.
“For myself and the writers and editors on this project, many of them L.A. natives, getting to write and curate the official visitors guide to the city of L.A. was an absolute dream,” Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras said in a statement. “We hope that these guides will inspire all the curious travelers arriving in L.A., to try new things, as well as providing new adventures for longtime L.A. residents. There is really no limit to what L.A. has to offer.”
Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
Two groups representing social media giants are trying to block a Texas law protecting users’ political social media content.
NetChoice—whose members include the Culver City-based video-sharing app TikTok—and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court, the Washington Post reported Friday. HB 20, which went into effect Wednesday, allows residents who believe they were unfairly censored to sue social media companies with over 50 million U.S. users. Tech companies would also have to integrate a system for users to oppose potential content removal.
The law, which was initially signed by Governor Greg Abbott in September, was previously barred by a federal district judge but was lifted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. NetChoice and CCIA claim the law violates the First Amendment and seek to vacate it by filing the application with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
“[The law] strips private online businesses of their speech rights, forbids them from making constitutionally protected editorial decisions, and forces them to publish and promote objectionable content,” NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese said in a statement.
The two lobbying groups also represent Facebook, Google and Twitter. The latter is undergoing its own censorship conundrum, as Elon Musk has made it a central talking point in his planned takeover.
Tech companies and policymakers have long clashed on social media censorship—a similar law was blocked in Florida last year, though Governor Ron DeSantis still hopes it will help in his fight against Disney. In the wake of the 2021 insurrection in the capital, Democratic lawmakers urged social media companies to change their platforms to prevent fringe political beliefs from gaining traction.
Conservative social media accounts like Libs of TikTok have still managed to gain large followings, and a number of right-wing platforms have grown from the belief that such sentiments lead to censorship.
Having citizens enforce new laws seems to be Texas’ latest political strategy. A 2021 state law allows anyone to sue clinics and doctors who help people get an abortion, allowing the state to restrict behavior while dodging responsibility.