TIME Companies

This Is the Company Behind the Coolest New Star Wars Character

BB-8 Star Wars
Alberto E. Rodriguez—2015 Getty Images BB-8 onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16, 2015 in Anaheim, California.

Iger is credited with discovering the tech company responsible for the robot character’s movement

A little-known startup got a big shout-out at this week’s Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, Calif., thanks to Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Iger, whose media empire bought Star Wars creator Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in 2012, kept a low profile at the bi-annual gathering of the space saga’s hard-core fans. But he was sitting right in the front row of the massive convention center auditorium where a star-studded panel took place on Thursday morning, the first day of the four-day-long event.

One by one, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, director J.J. Abrams, actors Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill and others took the stage to disclose more details on the next installment of Star Wars, much to the delight of the lightsaber-toting crowd. When an adorable free-rolling robot named BB-8—a new character in the upcoming installment of the series—joined them in the spotlight, it too received a fervent round of applause. The audience went even wilder when Kennedy, who took over for company founder George Lucas in 2012, mentioned that BB-8’s graceful (and real-life) maneuverings were at least partly enabled by a small company discovered by none other than Iger.

Kennedy didn’t mention the name of the startup on stage, but when asked in an interview with Fortune she revealed that the company is Boulder, Colo.-based Sphero, which bills itself as a “connected play company, fusing digital and physical play by creating toys and robots that you control with a smart device.”

It turns out that the startup, headed by CEO Paul Berberian, was selected for Disney’s accelerator program last year, along with nine other companies. According to Disney’s website, the three-month-long program picks tech startups who want to “make an impact on the world of media and entertainment,” giving them upwards of $120,000 in investment capital. It also matches each startup with a mentor from within Disney’s executive ranks. Sphero’s mentor? You guessed it: Iger. When the tech-savvy CEO saw Sphero’s technology in action, he realized the potential application for BB-8 and connected the startup with the masterminds of the Star Warscharacters.

Executives at Sphero couldn’t be reached for comment, but the company’s website describes its signature product as an app-controlled ball that does it all. The same underlying technology, which was licensed to create the version of BB-8 that graced the stage at the Star Wars Celebration (Kennedy calls it the “Red Carpet BB-8″), allows the little bot to glide around on a ball-like structure, literally running circles around R2-D2.

What’s interesting is that Sphero also appears to be working with Disney on a Star Wars-themed toy (who wouldn’t want their own, fully-functional BB-8 rolling around their home?) It’s also worth noting that while Iger’s involvement in the film franchise has often been behind the scenes, he is deeply involved in many ways. At the same time, he’s managed to assuage the fears of apprehensive fans—Iger has a good track record when it comes to acquiring companies and letting them be, and so far he has protected Star Wars from any overt “Disneyfication.” He also has an admirable history withmaking bold bets on up-and-coming technologies, across Disney’s diverse divisions.

Sphero, of course, is still a relative unknown, and it’s not clear what other applications its technology may have within Disney or elsewhere. But after this week, the little company behind the adorable new robot might get a little more attention—and the effusive, laser-focused adulation of the Star Wars masses.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Technology & Media

An Ad-Free Paid Version of YouTube Is Definitely Coming

An employee at the Google Inc.'s YouTube Space studio in Tokyo, Japan.
Bloomberg via Getty Images An employee holding recording equipment walks past Google Inc.'s YouTube logo displayed at the company's YouTube Space studio in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, March 30, 2013. In Japan, YouTube's biggest regional success story in Asia, the company is recruiting online stars to bolster its local-language channels with more-targeted original programming and higher production values. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The service is expected to launch by the end of the year

YouTube said Wednesday it will soon launch a new subscription-based service that will let users watch videos on the website without annoying ads interrupting the clips.

The streaming video website, which is owned by Google, reportedly disclosed the planned paid service in an e-mail sent to producers of top video content and obtained by various media outlets. The e-mail did not say how much the subscription would cost or when it would become available. However, Bloomberg cited an anonymous source who said the paid service would be available before the end of this year.

YouTube also reportedly plans to update its terms of service for video partners, effective in June, to give them a 55% cut of subscription revenues, according to TechCrunch. Current YouTube content creators — including social media stars like Michelle Phan — already get a similar share of ad revenues.

Last fall, reports surfaced claiming YouTube was considering an ad-free, paid service as part of its effort to boost revenue (and, eventually, turn a profit), but the company had offered no confirmation until now.

The subscription will be Google and YouTube’s latest attempt to diversify beyond the ad-based business model for the more than a billion users who visit the streaming video site monthly. In November, YouTube introduced a test version of Music Key, the website’s ad-free, subscription music service that will cost $9.99 a month. YouTube already offers top-flight videos on certain paid channels and users can also rent or buy moves through the site.

Wednesday’s disclosure comes at a time when Google and YouTube are facing stiffer competition than ever from rival online streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu. Netflix, in particular, has been adding original content including television series and movie deals with big names like Adam Sandler to better compete with more traditional media outlets. Amazon has followed suit, adding critically acclaimed original content to its own Prime Instant Video service.

Meanwhile, traditional media outlets like HBO and CBS are also building their own subscription-based services, while startups such as Vessel — a paid video site created by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar — are taking aim directly at YouTube’s users.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.


TIME Technology & Media

11 Twitter Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

The Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile device.
Bethany Clarke—Getty Images The Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile device.


Question: What is one mistake small businesses and startups make on Twitter constantly that I should avoid?

Starting a Tweet With an ‘@’ Sign

“Twitter is best when it’s a conversation. Too often, startups will engage in that conversation by writing directly to another person or brand. Starting a tweet with a peoples’ names (i.e., “@magoosh, thank you!”) means only folks who are your fans and their fans will see the interaction. By putting a period before the “@,” your full audience will see the conversation.” — Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

Using a Different Hashtag Every Time

“It’s important to develop a consistent, branded hashtag so your following knows the best way to play along. By using a different hashtag every time, your brand is potentially missing out on an opportunity to have its message spread more effectively across Twitter.”

Sounding Off

“Too many businesses treat Twitter like a bull horn. Twitter is most effective as a listening tool and for providing followers with relevant communication. Leave status updates to sharing links and images or asking engaging questions.” — Adam Root, SocialCentiv

Tweeting Infrequently

“Next time you’re on Twitter, count how many tweets come through your feed within 10 minutes. Due to the volume on Twitter, your posts are unlikely to be seen if you’re only tweeting every so often. Instead, come up with three to five ways to talk about the same thing, schedule your tweets to go live multiple times a day and keep your stream topped up. That way, you’ll have a presence.”

Not Building Relationships With Brand Advocates

“Identify customers who are regularly interacting with you on Twitter, and go beyond retweeting their mentions. Specifically thank them, and start conversations about the industry or their work. By remembering key details about them and referencing them later (what products they own or certain projects they’re proud of), you’ll inspire brand loyalty.” — Tracy Foster, ONA

Treating Twitter and Other Social Networks the Same

“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media are not all created equal, and you should not be treating them as such. Quit tweeting the same thing you posted on Instagram and Facebook. Sure, there are outliers, and it makes sense, but you should be telling me a different part of your brand’s story on each platform.” — Blake Miller, Think Big Partners

Forgetting the ‘Social’ in Social Media

“Many companies forget the “social” part of social media and blast news about themselves and their products. Think about it in real world terms: You can’t walk into a party and start yelling about how cool your own party is. Take the time to get to know the people, join their conversations organically and figure out what about your business would interest them. Engagement goes both ways.” — Lauren Perkins, Perks Consulting

Constantly Retweeting

“Avoid constantly retweeting someone’s content. Yes, you might get followers, but no one will read your tweets because they are not original.” — Yuriy Boykiv, Gravity Media

Talking About Your Business All the Time

“With the possible exception of your family members, no one is following your business on Twitter because they want to be constantly advertised to. No more than 20 percent of your tweets should be promotional in nature. The other 80 percent should add value to your followers in some way.” — Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

Posting Controversial Tweets Just to Gain Attention

“Being controversial for the sake of gaining attention is not a good way to gain positive attention. Keep your tweets relevant, on point and conservative.” — Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

Treating Twitter Like It’s a Promotional Channel

“Twitter is somewhere people go to interact with their friends and to be social. If you treat Twitter as a place to dump blog posts and press releases and never interact with your followers, you’ll never be successful on Twitter. Think about what kind of content your customers want to see, and provide it — even if not all of it’s immediately beneficial to you.” — Emerson Spartz, Spartz

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launchedStartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Technology & Media

Tinder Hooks Up With New CEO After Roller-Coaster Year

Tinder App
Franziska Kraufmann—AP

Four months after CEO and co-founder Sean Rad said he would step down

After more than four months on the prowl for a new CEO, Tinder has finally found a match in former eBay executive Chris Payne.

Payne, who most recently lead eBay’s North America operations, is set to take over as CEO of the popular side-swiping dating app, Tinder confirmed Friday.

Payne joined eBay in 2009 when the online marketplace bought software startup Positronic, which he co-founded two years earlier. Prior to that, Payne had executive stints with Amazon and Microsoft. According to Payne’s LinkedIn account, he left eBay in December and currently sits on the board of in-flight broadband service Gogo.

The hire follows Tinder’s November announcement that CEO and co-founder Sean Rad would step down. Rad, who helped found the company three years ago, will remain with Tinder as a president and a member of the board of directors at the company, which is majority-owned by Barry Diller’s IAC. With Payne’s arrival, Rad will reportedly continue to take charge on product and marketing aspects while the new CEO will run all other operations.

In November, Rad told Forbes that Tinder would look for “an Eric Schmidt-like person” to replace him as CEO, referring to Google’s executive chairman. “Christopher brings invaluable experience running consumer technology businesses that operate at massive scale,” Rad said in a statement Friday.

Rad’s move into a less prominent role came after an up-and-down year for Tinder that saw rapid growth for the dating app along with controversy, including a sexual harassment lawsuit that paved the way for chief marketing officer Justin Mateen’s departure. Rad was also named in the lawsuit filed by Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe, which accused both Rad and Mateen of sexual harassment. The suit was settled last fall.

Payne joins Tinder as the company moves into a new phase of monetization, highlighted by its new premium service: Tinder Plus. Revealed earlier this month, the new service charges users anywhere from about $10 to nearly $20 per month (depending on their age) while offering premium features that include the ability to undo a swipe and to find potential matches in different parts of the world.

“Tinder’s incredible momentum and unique proposition leave it well positioned to be an increasingly ubiquitous part of the social fiber around the globe. I think this can be a very big business,” Payne said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Technology & Media

Millennials Are Abandoning Their TV Sets Faster Than Ever

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The cord-cutting continues for America's youth

Young people are ditching their television sets even faster than in previous years, according to new data, with traditional TV usage falling among viewers age 18-34 falling at twice the normal rate in the recent September to January season.

A new Nielsen survey shows that traditional TV usage among millennial viewers tumbled 10.6% between September and January, the New York Post reports. Since 2012, traditional TV usage had only been falling at about 4% a year from season to season.

The sudden acceleration of young people dropping TV in favor of Netflix surprised many analysts. “The change in behavior is stunning. The use of streaming and smartphones just year-on-year is double-digit increases,” Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal’s audience research chief, told the Post. “I’ve never seen that kind of change in behavior.”

In 2011, 21.7 million young adults were tuning in to their TV sets, but that figure fell to 17.8 million last month, a drop of almost 20%. That trend is likely to continue as more millennials turn to online video streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO GO and other sources.

[New York Post]

Read next: This Millennial Paid Off $23,375 in Student Loans in Just 10 Months

Listen to the most important stories of the day.


TIME Technology & Media

David Carr, Influential New York Times Columnist, Has Died at 58

He was a leading voice on media and its relationship with technology and culture

Correction appended, Feb. 13

David Carr, the veteran New York Times journalist and writer of the newspaper’s much loved Media Equation column, died on Thursday after collapsing in the newsroom.

The 58-year-old journalist joined the Times in 2002 as a business reporter covering the magazine industry, and had been writing extensively about the state of the media and its evolution since then. He also published a book titled The Night of the Gun in 2008, a memoir that documented his recovery from drug addiction.

He had previously worked as a contributing writer to the Atlantic Monthly and New York magazine, and was also a media writer for Inside.com.

Read More: TIME’s 2008 review of The Night of the Gun

Carr’s impact on the media industry and its people was evidenced by an outpouring of condolence and support on social media — not just from his own colleagues but from journalists around the world — following the announcement of his death.

Carr is survived by his wife Jill, a Shake Shack executive, and three daughters.

Hours before his sudden death, Carr interviewed whistleblower Edward Snowden via satellite link along with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras about their Oscar-nominated documentary Citizenfour. Watch Carr’s final interview below.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the job held by David Carr’s wife. She is international operations manager for Shake Shack.

TIME Culture

No, Blogs Are Not Dead

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

In an era where institutions are dying, individual media is still king

I started my first blog 15 years ago, about the same time Andrew Sullivan embraced the form. Sullivan’s highly publicized decision to end his blog doesn’t surprise me, but it is not the “end of blogging,” despite some premature obits to that effect. I can testify to that firsthand. I still run two blogs: FutureofCapitalism.com (which is about exactly what its name says) and Smartertimes.com, the latter the very same blog (examining the sins of The New York Times) that launched me on this path.

But Sullivan’s departure from the blog world is a good moment to reconsider a revolutionary form that has matured–and to think about what is essential about blogs and makes them likely to endure. (Credit, or hat-tip, as bloggers might put it, to this question of essential nature, is due to the Greek philosopher Plato, and a reminder that even when writing about new technology, it always helps to have a grounding in the classics of humanities.)

The pajamas—what bloggers other than myself were widely reported to wear as they typed away—aren’t essential. But blogs are well positioned to survive, in part because a blog is about an individual, not an institution, in an era when individuals matter more than institutions.

The value to the reader of a blog is provided by the individual journalist, not the brand for which he or she happens to write. Andrew Sullivan’s readers followed him from AndrewSullivan.com to Time, the Atlantic, and the Daily Beast. People read Jeffrey Goldberg’s reporting on the Middle East because it is by Jeffrey Goldberg. It doesn’t matter to readers whether it appears in The New Yorker, Atlantic, or Bloomberg View. Paul Krugman’s readers don’t care whether he is writing in Slate, The New York Times, or The New York Review of Books. If Krugman left The New York Times and started writing for the Washington Post, readers would follow him there, just as technology columnist Kara Swisher’s readers followed her from the Wall Street Journal to Recode.

Blogs, by their nature, offer a point of view and have a voice, and that’s the way that journalism and media are heading. The advantage of the blog over the publication or media outlet is fundamental here: It’s less complicated for an individual to form and express an opinion than for an institution to express one. Bloggers, unlike old-fashioned journalists, don’t follow the convention of attempting to pretend not to have any opinions about the news they are covering. They also are freer to express idiosyncratic, outsider views than newspaper columnists, even the best of whom are constrained by their institutions and their audiences.

And while the ability to produce opinion quickly can be abused, blogs provide the kind of connection and curation that is necessary to understand a world with so much news and information. Successful blogs use hyperlinks to send us out into the web; the blog is guide and greeter. A great blogger can be a personal information concierge, and is likely offering that service for free. Blogs are often bargains.

And not just for readers. The blog’s most enduring feature is the low barrier to entry. Anyone can start one, and that remains the subversive, democratizing, revolutionary beauty of it. The Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge, one guy with a laptop, can drive the news cycle as decisively as 100-year-old institutions with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in printing presses or television studios, highly educated editors or super-attractive anchors.

I’ve been on both sides of this divide. I ran the Harvard Crimson, a century-old institution with a brick building and presses in the basement. I worked at and have written for big newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, and I tried to revive in print an old newspaper brand, the New York Sun, with a news and editorial staff that eventually totaled more than 50. Since the Sun ceased print publication in September 2008, I’ve been operating FutureOfCapitalism.com and SmarterTimes.com for a cost that is less than 1 percent of what was spent producing the Sun.

As Andrew Sullivan acknowledged in his retirement note, bloggers are prone to burnout. But so are old-fashioned journalists. In some ways it is easier to take a vacation when you have colleagues to keep things running while you are gone. In other ways, though, it may be easier to take your laptop along and blog from the beach when you don’t have a staff back at the office to worry about. The best bloggers, such as Glenn Reynolds, Elizabeth Spiers and Megan McArdle, combine blogging with other activities, such as teaching and book writing. I’ve found blogging and book-writing to be a nice combination of the fast and slow games, the instant and the long-lasting.

I’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of the old media world, and of the blog world, too. Blogging runs the risk of solipsism. The reporting resources and reputations of institutions are useful in getting phone calls returned, landing interviews, gaining access, and attention. But the issue isn’t whether, given a choice, we might return to the pre-blog world, or inhabit or invent, as Ben Smith imagines, a “post-blog” world. There is no turning back. Like it or not, we live in a blog media world.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and Smartertimes.com and author of JFK, Conservative and Samuel Adams: A Life. He wrote this article for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Technology & Media

Overstock.com to Take On Amazon With Streaming Service

The service's launch is set for mid-2015

Mega online retailer Overstock.com plans to launch a video on demand and streaming service to rival Amazon, the company’s CEO announced Tuesday.

Overstock plans to launch its VOD service by mid-2015 with 30,000 and begin streaming both original and acquired content, the Hollywood Reporter reports.

The website will use analysis of product searches by its 25 million to 40 million unique visitors a month to determine what movies and TV shows to make available, CEO Patrick Byrne said. The service will be available to customers of Overstock’s loyalty program, which costs $20 a year.

“We will be a competitor to Amazon,” Byrne said. “We think our loyalty program is better than Amazon’s. We give you five to 25 percent back on what you spend. So we pay people back for their digital downloads.”


TIME Technology & Media

AOL Stock Rises on Rumors of Verizon Takeover

AOL Verizon Takeover Rumors
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images The AOL logo is posted on a sign in front of the AOL Inc. offices on February 7, 2011 in Palo Alto, California.

Inside sources say Verizon sees AOL as a strong partner for online video content

AOL shares climbed by nearly 13% in after-hours trading Monday evening, after news broke of a possible joint venture with Verizon.

Bloomberg News, citing anonymous sources, reported that the telecoms giant had approached AOL to discuss a joint venture or an acquisition deal that would expand its video offerings for mobile devices. The sources said that the deal was in its early, speculative stages and no concrete terms had been proposed to date.

AOL’s advertising platform, which automatically matches buyers to sellers, could reportedly be combined with Verizon’s video content. Both companies declined to publicly comment on the deal.

Read more at Bloomberg News.

TIME Technology & Media

Now You Can Live Stream NBC Shows Online

NBC Logo At Entrance Of GE Building
Oliver Morris—Getty Images A nighttime view of the NBC logo at the entrance to the General Electric (GE) Building where the NBC Studios and the Rainbow Room are located, Midtown Manhattan, New York, May 27, 2013.

The announcement marks a significant step in an industry wide campaign to bring TV to mobile devices

NBC will live stream programs to computers, tablets and other mobile devices, the broadcaster announced on Tuesday, as part of an industry wide push to deliver television content across a wider variety of devices.

The broadcaster eschewed the standalone subscription model favored by HBO and CBS, however, choosing instead to deliver online content to cable and satellite subscribers at no additional cost, the Wall Street Journal reports. Viewers will have to authenticate their pay-TV subscription in order to access the shows.

The initiative marks a significant step forward in the industry’s “TV Everywhere” campaign, which commits to broadcasting television content online, but has been stymied by internecine squabbles over revenue sharing agreements. NBC Universal said in a statement that it was “committed to supporting the TV Everywhere ecosystem.”

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

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