Glitz and glamour at LA Tech Week
Good morning! LA showed off its tech chops this week, and we were there chatting with founders and investors to give you an inside look. And speaking of Hollywood, Embracer Group just bought the rights to “Lord of the Rings," but the reality is a little more complicated than it first sounds.
Dispatches from LA Tech Week
After a week of wandering the streets of LA’s Westside, chatting up founders and investors at bars, house parties and beaches, it became clear to me that Los Angeles is a tech hub like no other.
Business comes after the party in LA. Unlike other industry meetups, people at LA Tech Week seemed to mingle first, do business second.
- Many daytime events focused on wellness, and included a morning hike, a soundbath or a breathwork class. Parties started after sunset, with mansion and rooftop soirees every night of the week.
- “LA really convenes a lot,” said Minnie Ingersoll, partner at TenOneTen Ventures. “The collaborative nature here is so wonderful and so welcoming.”
- TenOneTen’s office is almost emblematic of the LA tech scene: a big house just steps from Venice beach that Ingersoll called her “weekend surf house.” Before our talk Wednesday morning, she was on the water leading more than 80 founders and investors in a surf session.
The FOMO is also very real. If you weren’t on the list, you were likely turned away at the door.
- Ingersoll, who helped plan the week, said that the number of people who signed up for events far exceeded her expectations.
- So many people were turned away that there was an “LA Tech Rejects” meetup on Tuesday. Protocol Fintech reporter Veronica Irwin told me that while 600 people signed up, only around a dozen showed up — most of whom were founders.
But LA tech is about more than Hollywood moments. While investors and founders said that LA has long been a hub for consumer-facing businesses, influenced by the city’s red carpet roots, that's beginning to change.
- LA’s social media companies, like Snap and TikTok, have made it the place to be for creators. That’s influenced how businesses across sectors have done marketing, sales and PR.
- But consumer’s not all there is. With the biggest ports in the U.S. to the West and major manufacturing towns to the East, the B2B opportunity is plentiful.
- “LA is definitely growing in a way where people realize, ‘I don't need to be investing in just entertainment or consumer,’” Solomon Hailu of Santa Monica-based March Capital told me. “There's plenty of companies to invest behind that have global implications.”
And there’s a wealth of young talent there. As the city’s tech scene grows, grads from top universities like Caltech, USC and UCLA are sticking around instead of departing for Silicon Valley, said Eva Ho, the co-founder and a managing partner at Fika Ventures.
- But if you want someone with more experience, you still have to head north. “Here, there tends to be not as good senior talent and not as good product talent,” said Grant LaFontaine, co-founder of Whatnot.
Anyway, if you find yourself with an invitation to next year’s Tech Week, I have some advice: Make sure you pack your yoga clothes. And because it’s Los Angeles, your sharpest outfits, too.
— Nat Rubio-Licht
'Lord of the Rings' rights? It’s complicated
Swedish gaming giant Embracer Group has entered the complex licensing web of “The Lord of the Rings,” and the firm’s landmark deal has further complicated the already messy media empire surrounding J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic.
Embracer purchased Middle-earth Enterprises, the name of a holding company belonging to production firm The Saul Zaentz Company, which purchased film and other media rights to LOTR back in 1976.
- We don’t know exactly how much Embracer paid because it bundled news of the deal with five other video game acquisitions, for a total of around $788 million.
- But we can assume a large bulk of that amount is reserved for those LOTR rights, which still brings up the question: How did Embracer snag iconic and lucrative media rights reportedly worth at least $2 billion for such a bargain?
- The truth is that Embracer Group did not buy all of the LOTR rights. Instead, it bought a significant chunk of them, but with major strings attached.
So who owns “The Lord of the Rings”? The answer is … a lot of different companies, with different media licensing rights being shared or sold among the various parties and even sometimes aggressively litigated over.
- The history of Middle-earth Enterprises is complicated. Just try parsing this timeline detailing how many different companies have a hand in LOTR.
- Embracer purchased the film rights to the LOTR trilogy and “The Hobbit,” as well as video game, board game, merchandise, theater production and theme park rights.
- It did not get TV rights to series longer than eight episodes. Those remain with the Tolkien Estate, which still owns the original literary works and manages publishing rights with HarperCollins.
But Embracer now has a lot of opportunities. “Rings of Power'' is just one example of the kind of big-budget media product the gaming giant can now help produce.
- On the table are of course new video games. Prior LOTR games have largely been developed by a mix of Electronic Arts, Warner Bros.’ game division and other, smaller studios.
- Thanks to its prolific buying spree over the last two years, Embracer now has nearly 13,000 employees across 120 internal studios that can develop not only video games, but also board games, merchandise and other productions.
- Embracer has spent upwards of $9 billion on nearly six dozen acquisitions since the start of 2022 when you include its May purchase of Square Enix Europe properties and Thursday’s acquisition spree.
- “Other opportunities include exploring additional movies based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien,” the company said in its press release, “and [continuing] to provide new opportunities for fans to explore this fictive world through merchandising and other experiences."
— Nick Statt
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People are talking
General Motors’ Kristen Siemen said the company is making big strides in EV charging:
- “One main pillar of equitable climate action is infrastructure access and that there aren’t charging deserts in communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change.”
Google employees wrote a letter to management asking for equal access to abortion benefits:
- “We demand that Alphabet acknowledges the impact this Supreme Court ruling has on all its workers.”
Irana Wasti and Sofya Pogreb joined Bill.comas CPO and COO, respectively. Wasti recently worked at Typeform, and Pogreb's from NEXT Insurance.
Steve Park is leaving Meta for Roblox, where he'll serve as the first Asia-Pacific head of public policy. Park was Meta's government relations head for South Korea and Japan for years.
Sue Quackenbush and Nicole Fitzpatrick joined Dynatrace as chief people officer and general counsel, respectively. Quackenbush is from Vonage, and Fitzpatrick is from Akamai.
Victoria Godfrey is Indigo’s new CMO. Godfrey was most recently the SVP at DentaQuest.
Darcie Henry is Flexport’s first CHRO. Henry was previously at Snap and worked for over two decades at Amazon before that.
Jason Holmes and Amy Kilpatrick joined Contentful as president of revenue and field operations and CMO, respectively. Holmes is from Showpad, and Kilpatrick’s a former Mailchimp leader.
In other news
Why wasn't tech more concerned about the corporate minimum tax rate in the Inflation Reduction Act? The deal may have come together so fast that companies didn't have time to react.
Dan Price's public persona hid his abuse and hostility that dozens of people described to The New York Times. The now-former CEO of Gravity Payments used social media to keep his image intact, while he used that notoriety to pursue women who said he hurt them emotionally and physically, NYT reported.
Qualcomm may be getting back into the server chip game. The company’s reportedly building a new server chip within its Nuvia unit and talking with AWS as a potential client.
Crypto.com quietly laid off hundreds more employees after initially laying off 260, sources told The Verge, but CEO Kris Marsalek won’t tell workers the exact number.
Snap’s scrapping plans for Pixy, its flying selfie camera, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company just launched the product publicly four months ago.
Yes, people do use Apple Pay. It took some time, but the number of people using the service has skyrocketed over the past couple years.
Your data point of the day: Streaming represented a 34.8% share of total TV consumption among American TV households, ahead of cable and broadcast for the first time.
What are you doing online?
You're not the only one feeling guilty about the amount of time you spend online. According to a survey by Online Tech Tips, a little less than half of respondents think they spend too much time online, and over half of them would rather give up their phone for a year than have their browsing history published. Here are some other highlights from the survey:
- Americans are self-conscious about the things they search for. Lots of people are looking up personal advice, medical symptoms and details about another person’s life.
- People want to hide their online activity. They said they’d rather not show their partners, kids, parents, friends or bosses what they are searching for.
- People are good at hiding their online searches, too. Over half of Americans use an incognito window or private browser when looking things up.
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