Computer-Generated Photoreal Influencers, Avatars Are Here

Computer-generated influencers have arrived. The glamorous all-digital Miquela Sousa (also known as Lil Mequela), which was created by Los Angeles-based startup Brud, has been the star of an Ugg advertising campaign, appearing on billboards around the world. Brud believes it can create CGI social media stars that are easier to manage and monetize than human celebrities. It’s not alone in its efforts; Soul Machines, which has debuted dozens of digital humans, is launching its Digital DNA platform to make it easier to create virtual avatars. Continue reading Computer-Generated Photoreal Influencers, Avatars Are Here

Walmart Signs MGM Deal, Invests in Interactive Storytelling

Walmart is partnering with MGM, which will create short-form original series for release in 2019, to help boost content on its ad-supported streaming service Vudu. The company also invested a reported $250 million in a joint venture with New York startup Eko, which produces so-called interactive stories in which viewers control the plots of commercials and TV episodes. This investment is believed to be the largest ever made in this particular storytelling niche that has interested creatives for years but never caught on. Continue reading Walmart Signs MGM Deal, Invests in Interactive Storytelling

China Set to Toughen IP Laws in Pursuit of Tech Dominance

China wants to become the most dominant nation in artificial intelligence, and it’s got three advantages that might help that become a reality. In addition to strong government support, which includes a willingness to share data about its citizens, China also has an immense number of engineers to write software and 751 million Internet users who can test out the work they do. As China seeks to gain market share, President Xi Jinping seeks to strengthen intellectual property laws to give its startups an advantage. Continue reading China Set to Toughen IP Laws in Pursuit of Tech Dominance

Facebook Amps Up Visuals with Group Video Chat and Masks

After adding a new camera to its messaging app Messenger, Facebook is now enabling group video chatting, with support for up to six different users at the same time. The move fits in with Facebook’s strategy of emphasizing videos and photos, and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s statement on the company’s November earnings call that, “soon, we believe a camera will be the main way we share.” That may be good for Messenger users, but a challenge to several video-messaging apps just receiving venture capital infusions. Continue reading Facebook Amps Up Visuals with Group Video Chat and Masks

Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance to Support VR Startups

HTC helped put together the Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance, a coalition of 28 venture capital firms committed to investing $10 billion in virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality startups. Among the companies joining the consortium are Sequoia Capital, well known for investing in tech giants Apple and Intel; Matrix Partners; and 500 Startups. Prior to this, HTC — which created the Vive VR headset — had pledged more than $100 million to the nascent VR industry. HTC has since spun off Vive into its own separate company. Continue reading Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance to Support VR Startups

Startups Offer New Possibilities with Interactive Video Tech

Brands are getting closer to the long-awaited “shoppable video” model that provides consumers with the ability to purchase items directly through their favorite TV show or online music video. Companies are developing interactive video technology that provides direct links to items within video content via a click or touch of the screen. Israeli startup Interlude, founded by musician Yoni Bloch, has raised $18.2 million so far. Cinematique, founded by CEO Randy Ross, has raised $5.4 million and has developed touchable video tech for numerous brand partners. Continue reading Startups Offer New Possibilities with Interactive Video Tech

Stripe’s Relay Simplifies E-Commerce on Apps and Social Media

Stripe, a startup already valued at $5 billion, just introduced easy-to-use tools that enable retailers to sell goods on Twitter and e-commerce apps including ShopStyle and Spring. Dubbed Relay, the new tools strip away the complications and expense of adding a “buy button” on Twitter and other apps. Stripe says a retailer can add that button with Relay in as little as 30 seconds. In addition to Twitter, Stripe has also partnered with Facebook and Pinterest, although neither company has yet to launch Relay. Continue reading Stripe’s Relay Simplifies E-Commerce on Apps and Social Media

Facebook to Acquire Mobile Messaging Service for $19 Billion

Facebook has agreed to purchase mobile messaging company WhatsApp for $19 billion, in what marks the largest-ever acquisition of a company backed by venture capital. The deal, which comes in the wake of Facebook’s failed attempt to acquire messaging service Snapchat, includes $3 billion in restricted stock, $4 billion in cash, and $12 billion in Facebook shares. The deal easily outranks other notable startup acquisitions, including Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram, and Microsoft’s $8.5 billion Skype deal. Continue reading Facebook to Acquire Mobile Messaging Service for $19 Billion

Google Acquires Mobile Startup Bump as Apple Unveils AirDrop

Google announced it has acquired Bump, the popular mobile app that enables users to share contact info, images, videos and files by simply “bumping” mobile devices into each other. While neither company revealed specifics of the deal, a source close to the transaction told AllThingsD that Google paid between $30 and $60 million. The news comes as Apple releases its iOS 7 today, which includes a similar technology called AirDrop, a new means of wirelessly sharing files with other nearby Apple device users. Continue reading Google Acquires Mobile Startup Bump as Apple Unveils AirDrop