Netflix sees record growth thanks to ‘Tiger King’ and COVID-19

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According to an article by CNN, Netflix gained 16 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2020. Stay at home ordinances have led millions to stay at home, binging popular original docu-series like Tiger King and Love is Blind.  

Netflix now has a total of 183 million subscribers globally. A spokesperson for Netflix said the platform plans to grow by an additional 7.5 million subscribers by the second quarter. The streaming giant’s first-quarter profit in 2020 more than doubled to $709 million from $344 million in the year-end quarter. This suggests that its revenue has increased by 28%, making it an astonishing $5.7 billion. Still, Netflix’s share price remained mostly unchanged in hours after trading. 

Netflix has made clear to its employees that this growth is not unique to their specific platform. Many of Netflix’s competitors have reported higher viewing and increased membership growth. This growth, however, could potentially cause issues in the future. Higher-ups at Netflix are under the realistic impression that viewing and membership growth will likely decline as social distancing efforts decrease over time. 

The company also got candid about potential disruptions to its business amid the pandemic, specifically in the realm of content production. Almost all filming has been temporarily halted worldwide, with the exception of a few countries like Korea and Iceland. Netflix, like other major content producers, has faced significant uncertainty as production and filming has been temporarily paused. With that being said, all scheduled releases for the second quarter will be released as planned. Luckily for Netflix, the company has access to a broad pipeline of content, many of which was either complete or in post-production in time for global travel and social restrictions. Still, amid all this uncertainty, Netflix remains optimistic about its future.


Health care professionals are turning to VR to learn how to treat COVID-19 patients

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As hospitals around the world continue to struggle to cope with healthcare shortages, some have begun enlisting those with little to no experience in treating infectious diseases to help meet the demand.  Doctors and nurses with expertise in other areas, as well as once retired practitioners, have stepped up to combat the spread and flatten the curve. 

When treating patients who have tested positive, healthcare workers must use extreme caution and follow strict guidelines for treating and interacting with patients. This has led some hospitals to employ an unlikely training method: virtual reality simulation. According to an article by CNN, over 300 doctors at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles have already undergone training with help from VR technology.  Among the skills being taught by VR are how to assess a patient’s symptoms and how to perform CPR while wearing protective gear. Given the limitations of time and resources, the medical field has turned to innovative, emerging technologies such as VR to help fill the gaps. 

Many hospitals have utilized software from tech startup Virti, which provides detailed feedback and metrics on procedures that medical professionals need more practice within. The company signed up 70,000 new users in the past three weeks in hospitals and universities worldwide.  VR allows doctors and nurses to make mistakes in simulation and learn from them before they treat human patients. It can be extremely beneficial to doctors who are just entering into practice as well as those who have been retired for years. Even those who have been in the field in recent years may not necessarily be trained in how to safely treat infectious disease patients, such as those tested positive for COVID-19. Most importantly, VR instills a sense of confidence in trainees that is invaluable during these uncertain and scary times. 

Early clinical research on VR training has concluded that such technology can be effective in decreasing injury, speeding up processes, and improving overall results. In fact, a 2018 study determined that people trained by VR had “lower performance errors and higher accuracy compared to those trained by conventional approaches.” With that being said, VR training should never replace traditional training methods entirely. Virtual reality is mostly intended to serve as a complementary training tool or for when time and resources are limited. 


U.S government enlists tech companies to help track the spread of COVID-19

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According to a recent article by CNN, Apple, and Google have partnered with authorities to help track exposure to COVID-19 with help from Bluetooth technology. The tech giants announced Friday that they had been working on a platform to enable contact tracing. This would allow officials to identify people who have been exposed to the virus and who they have come in contact with. 

The first interface will be built on existing public health apps and will be released in May. It will be compatible with both iOS and Android devices. In the coming months, a more comprehensive platform will be launched, which users will be able to opt-in. Users who test positive for COVID-19 can input their results into an app from a public health authority, which will be fed into an anonymous “identifier beacon.” The information will then be shared anonymously with anyone who the user potentially came in contact with, who also have the service enabled.  Users are then prompted to upload their identifier records to the cloud, where they will be notified if they were exposed to anyone who tested positive. 

Authorities across the globe have credited contact tracing as one of the critical solutions to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19.  This has led governments across the world, including Israel, Thailand, and Hong Kong, to utilize technology as a means of tracking exposure and enforcing quarantines. This U.S government has hopped on the bandwagon, turning to Silicon Valley for solutions. This comes after the government announced last month they were considering the use of cellphone location data to help track the spread of COVID-19. In fact, some companies used location tracking technology to track spring breakers who ignored social distancing warnings in Florida. North Dakota went as far as to launch its own platform, created by developers of the Bison tracking app, in hopes of improving the state’s contact tracing efforts. 

Privacy advocates have criticized the use of contact tracing technology out of fear it could be used as a surveillance tool once the pandemic ends. Tech experts have also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of Bluetooth enabled contact tracing. Apple and Google have ensured customers that privacy will be the central focus of their contact tracing efforts. Users will be required to provide explicit consent for the platform to work, and no information that could potentially identify users will be collected. 

New York City’s Hart Island experiences increased demand for burials among pandemic

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A recent article by NPR shed light on a shocking new development in New York’s fight against COVID-19. Last week, drone footage and photos began circulating on social media of what appeared to be a mass grave on New York City’s Hart Island. Hart Island, which is located off the coast of the Bronx, has served as a burial ground for the unidentified or unclaimed dead for over 150 years. 

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed public concerns affirming that while the number of burials on the island has increased, it is not directly associated with overflow due to the death toll of COVID-19. Still, he assured the public that the only people being buried on the island are those who have gone unclaimed. The people buried there are not just victims of COVID-19 but victims of several diseases and fatalities. The unfortunate reality is that the state has experienced more deaths each day than ever before, for many reasons. New York City has had more than 92,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 5,800 deaths. The majority of the state’s fatalities have occurred in New York City. 

A spokesperson for New York’s Department of Correction who oversees the burials shared that burials on Hart Island have increased “five-fold” and have required the addition of two new trenches. According to a memo from the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner, city morgues will hold a body for up to 14 days during the pandemic. Mayor de Blasio ensured the public that the city’s morgues have “the ability to deal with even more challenging situations” in terms of death tolls. In fact, the city has already enlisted refrigerated trucks to hold bodies of COVID-19 victims. In the event that temporary burials become necessary, it would be conducted on an individualized basis, so that families could reclaim the remains once the crisis is over. 

Ultimately, there is no way of knowing what the future holds for New York state or the nation as a whole. The uncertainty of the pandemic has led to unprecedented decisions on behalf of government officials and medical professionals on the front lines. At the end of the day, the well being and health of the collective is the priority, and the situation must be handled accordingly.

Olympics Postponed Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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In a recent article by the Guardian, we learned the long-awaited fate of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. After several weeks of deliberation, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics have officially been postponed. This decision came after extensive discussion between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who mutually decided postponement was “inevitable.” Both leaders reassured international audiences that canceling the Games was out of the question, and the delay was the “most appropriate response to the global disruption.” Organizers must consider the health and wellness of athletes as well as spectators from around the globe. 

Given the uncertainty of our times, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee has yet to schedule a new date. The Games will likely occur in the summer of 2021, though they could happen as soon as late 2020. Organizers have hinted at a possible April 2021 re-scheduled date, though they must consider how it could intervene with other sporting events. 

Not only has this postponement disappointed fans and athletes, but it has also taken a massive blow to Tokyo’s economy. To date, the country has spent over $12 billion on preparations for the event, not counting enormous sums spent by broadcasters and sponsors. Financial analysts across the world have estimated that the country could lose nearly $5 billion if the Games did not take place as scheduled in summer 2020. Given the economic uncertainty, Japan is already facing due to the pandemic, and it’s difficult to say how the nation will be impacted. Still, citizens of Japan seemed to have already accepted the Games would not be held even before it was officially announced. A poll conducted before the announcement determined that nearly 70% of the population did not expect the Games to continue as scheduled. 

Prior to the official announcement, nations across the globe had already announced they would not participate if the Games continued as planned. Canada became the first country to withdraw, and others eventually followed suit. Although the Olympics serve as an opportunity for countries across the globe to achieve unity together, we must focus first on conquering the enemy affecting us all, COVID-19. There is so much on the line right now, and to risk the health and safety of international athletes and fans would be careless and could likely set us back even farther than anticipated. As citizens of the world, we must work together to restore the health and well being of all those affected so we can come together again and compete alongside one another in Tokyo. 

Combatting COVID-19: Is your personal privacy at risk?

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As fear and concerns surrounding the current global health pandemic continue to worsen, governments are taking new steps in monitoring citizens. A recent article in the New York Times discusses how countries, including South Korea, Italy, and Israel, have begun harnessing surveillance footage as well as smartphone data to trace the movements and behaviors of citizens. In Italy, authorities are using location data from smartphones to determine who is obeying government lockdown procedures. 

As government officials across the world work to contain COVID-19, many have turned to digital surveillance as a means to control and monitor citizens. Health and law enforcement agencies have urged officials to employ every tool available to them to combat the growth of the pandemic. It seems few have considered how these efforts threaten personal privacy to secure public safety. 

Many fear that this could open new doors to new and more evasive surveillance techniques in the future. Many have cited the actions taken after 9/11 as a possible hint of what is to come. As technology continues to advance, authorities now have access to location tracking and facial recognition technologies. Many fear these technologies may eventually be repurposed to further political agendas of those in power. Still, many argue that in the event of an emergency, such as a pandemic, some liberties must be sacrificed to save lives. 

These actions are starting to hit close to home, as the White House has recently announced they would be working with Google, Facebook, and other tech companies to about using location data to track virus patients whereabouts. These actions would require tapping into the phone data of thousands of Americans for public health surveillance. Following this announcement, members of Congress spoke out uring the President and Vice President to take measures that would ensure the protection of said data. 

Earlier this month, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio posted to Twitter, sharing details about a Westchester lawyer who potentially tested positive for COVID-19. The tweet included personal information, including his place of work and the names of schools attended by his children. Within hours, reporters had identified the man, classifying him as “patient zero” in the state. The lawyer’s wife soon took to Facebook, asking the public to focus on mitigation efforts, rather than targeting and finger-pointing at the family. This is just one example of the risk involved in harvesting and then sharing the personal data of civilians amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Negligence and carelessness could potentially put targets on the backs of patients, leading to dangerous and even potentially fatal backlash. 


The Case For and Against School Closures Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Over the last week, our country, and others across the globe have taken drastic measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. One such action is the canceling or temporary postponement of in-person classes. Many colleges and universities, as well as high schools, middle and elementary schools, have closed their doors nationwide. These unprecedented decisions have been made in hopes of “flattening the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic. However, some argue that this decision could result in collateral damage, forcing citizens to make tough decisions to practice social distancing. An article featured in the New York Times discusses the case for and against nationwide school closures. 

The biggest concern that prompted the closure of schools was fear that infections would spread faster, leading to increased hospitalization that could potentially overwhelm the nation’s hospital systems. By limiting contact with others, and flattening the curve, the number of infected individuals can be more easily managed. Although many school-aged children appear to experience few, if any symptoms, they can still carry the virus, which is fatal to older populations. Alongside this, adults are more “reliable” in terms of their ability to carry out simple precautions such as washing their hands and avoiding touching their faces. School environments are often breeding grounds for disease, as children are in close contact with others and packed into small areas. With schools being open, older employees are at risk as they may interact with hundreds of students from across the region daily. 

Those who are against shutting down schools cite the apparent disruption to education that closures will cause. Sure, some schools can move to online learning. However, many are not prepared for this change. Alongside this, some students may have little to no access to the internet, let alone devices necessary for online class participation. Many feel this will set students back significantly, as most are losing up to an entire semester’s worth of education. In terms of concerns related to childcare, roughly 1.5 million students are homeless, using a school as a haven. Others who have a home cannot be left alone, leaving parents to forfeit their work salaries to care for their children.

In some cases, children may be left under the care of their grandparents, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We could also potentially face a shortage of healthcare workers in the event they are forced to stay home and care for their children. Perhaps most importantly is the issue of food. Nearly 30 million children depend on school for lunch, 15 million depending on school for breakfast. With two essential meals lost as a result of school closures, millions of children will be left hungry. 

With all this in mind, it should come to no surprise that this has been a very tough decision for schools across the country to make. We are being forced to choose between a lesser of two evils, with no clear winners. We can only hope that these measures will contain the spread effectively and sooner than currently projected. As summer approaches, such cancellations could impact camp, and other summer programs depended on by parents and young children for child care, safety, and food. 

SXSW Canceled as Austin City Officials Declare A Local Disaster

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As fears surrounding the spread of COVID-19 continue to increase, we are beginning to see the impact of the crisis on virtually all sectors of economic, political, and social life. Countless national events have been canceled or postponed until further notice to combat and contain coronavirus. An article published by CNN on Friday reported that South by Southwest is now among one of the latest cancelations as other large-scale future events await their fate. 

SXSW Austin’s annual tech, film, and music conference was officially canceled last Friday due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. This decision came just two days after Autin public health officials announced that the annual event would continue as planned despite several high-profile dropouts and public demand to cancel the event. Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster that effectively canceled the event, which was scheduled to take place March 13th-22nd. This marks the first time in 34 years that the event has been canceled. In a statement released by SXSW organizers, they explained, “We are devastated to share this news with you. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.” Organizers have not yet ruled out the possibility of rescheduling and are working to develop an online alternative. Further information is said to be shared with prospective attendees in the coming days. 

Many, however, were not surprised by the decision to cancel as many of the event’s biggest names, including Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Vevo, pulled out just days before the cancelation. Twitter was the first major company to pull out followed soon after by Facebook, Intel, Vevo, and Mashable. TikTok later came to the same decision, promising to explore “alternative ways” to bring content to prospective audiences. Following the dropouts, organizers announced new keynote speakers, including Hilary Clinton and Andrew Yang. Organizers ensured the public that they were working with local, state, and federal agencies to ensure the event would go safely, despite existing circumstances. Each year, the conference draws thousands of visitors to the city of Austin. According to reports, last year, the event generated approximately $355.9 million for the local economy. Many local businesses are concerned about the potential repercussions of the event’s cancellations, particularly for the local economy. 


Is TikTok Manufacturing Millionaires?

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According to a new report published by the Guardian, TikTok viral stars could potentially bring in earnings of up to $1 million per post. Given these numbers, it should come to no surprise that more than half of millennials and Gen Zers aspire to become social media influencers. TikTok has quickly become the go-to site for overnight celebrities as its algorithm alone enables virality. Platforms like YouTube and Instagram tend only to reward those who already have achieved fame. This factor has led to the rapid growth of the app and subsequent commercialization. 

Those who achieve virality on TikTok could potentially make a lucrative career out of their success on the platform. According to current research, popular TikTokers can charge up to $200,000 per post for brand collaborations and promotions. As the app continues to expand, researchers predict TikTokers will cost as much as $1 million per post as soon as next year. In exchange for a 15-60 second post, brands are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. Estimates suggest users can charge up to $0.005 per follower for sponsored posts and collaborations. This perfectly demonstrates the value and reach of the app and the profit potential that has attracted users. 

Among the app’s most successful accounts is that of 17-year-old Loren Gray from Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Gray is considered the most marketable creator on the app. This fact has led researchers to estimate earnings of over $197,000 per post. Loren’s popularity on the app has secured her record deals with major labels, including Virgin Records and Capitol Records. She shares new videos daily and has received over 2 billion likes collectively. Just last year, Gray was paid to participate and promote a “guac song dance-off” by Chipotle. This being only one of countless brand collaborations, the 17-year-old has shared with her more than 38 million followers. 

For some, $1 million for a 15-60 second post is unheard of and downright ridiculous. According to industry strategy professionals, this signals a significant shift in the industry. Brands are now allocating funds to digital marketing, and in turn, moving away from more traditional media and advertising conventions. Popular Tiktokers have the potential to make or break a product launch for a brand and allow brands to spread their message at the touch of a button. The influence held by these individuals makes their platform invaluable, and brands across the globe are willing to spare no expense to collaborate. 

Could China’s Public Health Crisis Lead to a Global Economic Crisis?

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With more than 1,300 dead and approximately 60,000 infected, the coronavirus has left China amid a public health crisis. The virus has led businesses across the country to close their doors, affecting China’s domestic economy as well as the global economy. A recent article by CNN spotlights one of the industries most affected by the crisis, the entertainment industry, mainly focusing on the Hollywood film industry.

Disney’s long-awaited release of its live-action remake of Mulan is set to hit theaters in North America on March 27th. Mulan tells the story of a female Chinese warrior, fighting to protect her country from invaders. Disney invested over $200 million in the remake, expecting it to be wildly successful among Chinese box offices. China is the second-largest movie market in the world, the United States taking the top spot. Disney anticipated that the release of Mulan would break records across China. The success of the film now depends on how the country recovers from this crisis and how quickly businesses across the country can operate as usual. Given the fact China is the second-largest movie market in the world, a large portion of ticket sales depends on Chinese box offices. A film cannot gross millions or even billions worldwide without help from Chinese moviegoers. Although Mulan could still perform well on a global scale, with China out of the equation, for now, its success is limited.  

Although the crisis in China has raised concerns among countless studios set to release films in China, the case of Mulan is different. Disney created Mulan to be a “tailor-made success in China.” This is likely due to the fact the storyline of Mulan has “significant roots in Chinese lore.” This factor has made China a crucial player in the film’s release strategy and subsequent success following release. Alongside, Disney has built extensive infrastructure across China in recent years through theme parks and merchandising. Disney was hoping for significant pay off with the release of Mulan. The film features an international cast and revised storyline, making it more “straightforward” than the original animated version of the film. Given the cultural relevance and family-friendly nature of the film, Disney was expecting massive success, as family films are among the most successful films among Chinese audiences. Just last year, China contributed over $9 million to international box office sales. This continued disruption across the Chinese film market has the potential to affect studios beyond just Disney alone. Studios must now consider how to achieve success in releases with China out of the equation.