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Why Maidthorn Thinks Passion Niches Are The Future For Digital

Jacob Scott

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“People don’t necessarily want more choice – what they want is curation,” argues Simon Walker, the founder of Maidthorn, which describes itself as the “creative industries incubator for next generation digital media brands”. Digital connectivity has given people access to an almost limitless amount of material on any given subject, but most of us have specific interests and passions we want indulging, Walker says. “What if we could build content-led brands that help people who are passionate about those areas to build their best lives?”

That’s the thinking behind Maidthorn, which has already launched two such brands, focused on “passion niches”. CountryLine serves a global audience with a love for country music, while Marquee TV is dedicated to the performing arts. A third venture focused on science and technology – with a working name of “Scintch” – is due for launch in the new year.

For Walker, these ventures are the natural culmination of a working lifetime spent in digital entertainment of one sort or another. “My so-called career has really had three stages,” he reflects. Walker started out as a strategy consultant working out of London, New York and Chicago – “I was the nerd in the office with a Netscape web browser in the early 1990s, so I became the digital guy”, he explains.

That saw him end up at the BBC, where he worked as the corporation’s first head of on-demand media – paving the way for the launch of the hugely successful iPlayer – followed by stints in digital roles at music group EMI and the media company Emap. “Then I had a mini mid-life crisis,” he recalls. “I’d been doing more or less the same thing for 20 years, I’d turned 40, and just had my first child – I’d always wanted to do my own thing.”

So began the third act. At Emap, Walker had observed the power of the communities centred around some of the media company’s most specialist magazines, where a passionate audience was looking for more content and opportunities to actively engage. Traditional paper-based products could only do so much to indulge that audience, but in a digital world, it would be possible to build global brands around such passions, Walker reasoned.

The idea also fitted well with Walker’s big picture view of how the digital sector might evolve. “We thought the world would polarise, with a few very large companies fighting one another for domination – call it Silicon Valley versus Hollywood – while smaller niche players focused on particular areas; there wouldn’t be much room for those caught in the middle.”

Maidthorn founder Simon Walker Oz Koca Photography

At Maidthorn, which Walker founded in 2008, the team has watched as that analysis has proved accurate. While the likes of Netflix and Amazon are taking on the entertainment giants of old, Maidthorn is focusing on those niches.

Marquee TV is a subscription service enabling people to stream dance, opera, theatre and music online – the kind of arts that the large streaming giants are less likely to focus on, but for which there is a huge global audience. CountryLine, meanwhile, offers all things country music, with content ranging from music videos to full-blown films. Both services focus on audience engagement as well as simply serving up entertainment – Walker wants subscribers to feel they are active members of their areas of passion, not passive consumers. CountryLine was launched, points out Walker, with investment from Sir Elton John. “He told us country music was his first love, because he loved the melodies, but also because he loved the storytelling.”

So far so good, but given that there are a near-infinite number of potential niches to focus on out there, how does Maidthorn decide where to focus?

New ventures have to meet five criteria, Walker explains. There must be a genuinely global audience and interest in the niche, that audience has to be underserved, and it has to be addressable (that is, possible to actually reach); there needs to be content – and rights to that content – available, and there needs to be a vision of how it might be possible to go beyond just content.

This last point is crucial, Walker adds. “This is the big trend we are going to see in the streaming world over the next five years,” he argues. “On Marquee TV, for example, you’ll be able to buy tickets to physical concerts and performances, interact with performers and other audience members, join reward schemes and so on.”

In marketing speak, this is building industry verticals – platforms of products and services built around a core offer. Walker describes it as a 360-degree brand. But the jargon aside, the idea is to create a single destination to which anyone with a particular passion will flock; if you can do that, there is an opportunity to monetise the audience in all sorts of different ways.

Walker is quick to point out that he’s an entrepreneur rather than a domain expert in country music, the performing arts of science and technology. “The trick is to find the right partner in each of these verticals,” he says. “Someone who has total credibility in the space.”

Maidthorn is then in a position to provide business support, strategic advice and access to investors – the conventional incubator approach, in other words, with a specific focus on a certain type of business.

Walker is uniquely well-placed to drive that focus, having pioneered the digitalisation of the entertainment industry for much of the past three decades. “Those first two parts of my career were really Maidthorn’s origin story,” he reflects.

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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