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Live streams of karate and niche sports are terrifying major sports leagues – TechCrunch

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Of the 100 most-watched live telecasts in the US in 2005, 14 were sporting events; in 2015, sporting events comprised 93 of the top 100 telecasts. That shift occurred because TV shows are shifting to online or on-demand viewing, and live broadcasts of the biggest sports are the main thing TV networks have left to draw in live audiences. But the need to keep those sports on TV and off streaming services is only accelerating the rate at which young people are tuning into other sports leagues instead.

The rapid adoption of subscription video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and of social live streams on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch is enabling massive growth by sports leagues that you won’t normally see on TV. In the streaming era, more sports – and new types of sports like esports – keep thriving while interest in traditional pro leagues like the NFL and MLB declines.

OTT is where the growth is

The central narrative in the global film/TV industry right now is the response of incumbent companies to the growing dominance of Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming (aka “OTT” or over-the-top) services. The incumbents are merging to consolidate ownership of must-have shows onto a smaller number of new OTT services that will each be stronger.

The majority of American households have a Netflix subscription (i.e. access to one of Netflix’s 56M US accounts), another 20M have a Hulu subscription, the number of OTT-only households has tripled in 5 years, and 50% of US internet users use a subscription OTT service at least weekly. Almost one-third (29%) of Americans say they watch more streaming TV than linear TV, and among those age 18-29 it’s 54% (with 29% having cut the cord on linear TV entirely). People, especially young people, want to watch shows on their own time and on any device, and they get more value from a few $8-40 per month subscription platforms than a $100+ per month cable bill.

Meanwhile, social live-streaming platforms that got their start enabling people to either vlog or watch video gaming are expanding to all sorts of live broadcasting: Twitch averaged 1 million viewers at any given point of day in January, and there were 3.5 billion broadcasts over Facebook Live in the first two years after it launched (with 2 billion users viewing at least one).

We’ve hit the pivot point where media is streaming-first. Netflix is now the leading studio in Hollywood, spending $13 billion this year on content. Linear TV viewing is declining: every major cable network (except NBC Sports) has declining viewership and aging viewers. Between 2007 and 2017, the median age of primetime viewers on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox went up 8-11 years and are all in the 50s or 60s.

Major pro sporting events are the last bastion of TV networks because the dominant brands are, for the most part, only available live on TV. Beyond those, the only content getting large audiences to tune in simultaneously are a couple Hollywood awards shows and premieres or finales of a couple hit shows (Big Bang Theory and NCIS).

The exclusive broadcast rights to those live sports events – particularly the NFL, NBA, MLB, and top NCAA basketball and football games – are the last defense for major broadcast networks. They are the reason for younger Americans to not cut the cord. ESPN makes $7.6 billion per year in carriage fees from cable companies paying for the right to carry the main ESPN channel (the other ESPN channels add another $1 billion); that number is increasing even as ESPN’s viewership is declining.

Disney (ESPN’s owner) and other leading broadcasters don’t want to let people watch major sporting events online instead (at least not easily or cheaply) because doing so would pull the rug out from under their traditional revenue stream and OTT revenue (subscription + ads) won’t make up for it quickly enough. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that TV networks are paying record sums for exclusive broadcast rights to top sports leagues out of fear that losing them to a rival could be a nail in their coffin.

This strategy is delaying, not stopping the shift in consumption habits. More and more young people are tuning out (or never tuning in) to the major pro sports on TV, and the median age of their audiences shows that: 64 for the PGA Tour, 58 for NASCAR, 57 for MLB, 52 for NCAA football and men’s basketball, and 50 for the NFL…and all are getting older. (Cable news networks, the other holdouts who are still doing well on live TV face the same situation: the average age of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN viewers is now 65, 65, and 61 respectively.)

The major pro sports staying on linear TV has expanded the market opening for new sports to fill the open space with young people who mainly consume content online. In fact, a growing marketplace of different sports leagues (including esports) developing their own fanbases is an inevitability of the shift to OTT video as it lowers the barrier to entry to near-zero and let’s geographically dispersed fans unify in one place.

1. Lower barrier to entry for distribution

Lawn bowling is no longer your grandfather’s sports league. Mint Images/Getty Images

Niche sports leagues – or frankly, even big sports leagues that just aren’t at the scale of professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey – have always had a hard time getting coverage on television. But you can produce and distribute video for an online audience more cheaply than for a television audience.

In fact with Facebook Live and Twitch, you can stream live video for free, and you can share clips across every social channel to attract interest. To launch your own OTT service or partner with an existing one, you don’t need to start with a massive audience from the beginning and you don’t need millions of dollars from sponsors just to break even.

Having signed over 150 new deals this year alone for its 20+ sports verticals (which will stream 2,500 live events in 2018), Austin-based FloSports has established itself as the go-to OTT partner for sports leagues with an established, passionate following that aren’t massive enough to garner regular ESPN-level coverage.

From rugby, track & field, and wrestling to bowling, competitive marching band, and ballroom dance, millions of Americans have participated in these activities in their youth and through clubs as adults but rarely see them on television. In fact, the rare instances when such sports are on TV – like their national championships – the league is usually paying large sums (potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars) for that airtime rather than getting paid by the broadcasters.

FloSports gives a home to the superfans of its partner leagues, with full coverage of the sport and commentary meant for real fans. It produces events in the manner best fit to highlight the action and turns superfans – who generally pay a subscription – into evangelists who recruit friends. There are numerous sports that have millions of participants yet no active, high-quality event coverage; those are underserved markets.

By tapping into this, FloSports properties (like FloWrestling, FloTrack, etc.) have gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers and created a surge of interest in teams like Oklahoma State’s wrestling team, which saw an 144% increase in live stream viewing and 68% growth in event attendance after joining FloWrestling (leading to them to set an all-time attendance record in the university’s basketball arena of 14,059 people). In the first half of 2018, FloSports’ various Instagram accounts collectively received 307M video views, more than the collective accounts of Fox Sports or of all NFL teams (and NFL Network).

2. Going global right away.

Johanne Defay of France at a World Surf League event. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The top pro sports leagues have geographically concentrated fan-bases that fit the geographic restrictions of TV broadcasters, which end at a country’s border. Online streaming empowers sports that have large fan bases who aren’t geographically concentrated to aggregate in the digital sphere with enough eyeballs (and paying subscriptions) to drive engagement with the sport’s content through the roof.

Since being acquired in 2015 and renamed World Surf League, the governing body of professional surfing has developed a large global following – with 6.5M Facebook fans and 2.9M Instagram followers – through the launch of live streams and on-demand video on its website and mobile app, plus partnering with third-parties like Bleacher Report’s OTT service B/R Live. Only 20-25% of WSL’s viewers are in the US but since its competitions are streamed direct-to-consumer online, they were able to reach surfers around the world right away. After seeing WSL’s Facebook Live streams garner over 14M viewers in 2017, Facebook paid up to become the exclusive live-stream provider for WSL competitions for two years, beginning this past March.

3. Immediate data on audience engagement.

As with all offline-to-online shifts, OTT video streaming captures dramatically more data on audience demographics and engagement than television does, and it does it in real-time. This makes it easier for emerging sports leagues to partner with advertisers and show immediate ROI on their sponsorships, plus it informs their understanding of how to produce their particular type of sporting event for maximum audience engagement.

Karate Combat is a year-old league that builds off the existing base of karate participants and fans around the world (numbering in the tens of millions) with a new competition format specifically intended for OTT. The league allows full-contact fighting and sets the match in a pit (rather than a traditional fighting ring) for better camera angles. It also replaces the traditional focus on having a big in-person audience (which is expensive) and instead sets the fights in exotic locations (like the fight this coming Thursday night on top of the World Trade Center).

Like many emerging sports leagues, Karate Combat is vertically integrated: the league organizing the competitions is also the one producing and streaming the event coverage over its website, mobile apps, and social channels. This not only means it captures the content-related revenue from subscribers, advertisers, and numerous OTT distribution partners, but it sees every data point about fans’ viewing behavior and their interaction with various dashboards (like biometrics on each fighter) so they can optimize both online and offline aspects of the production.

4. Online means interactive

Jujitsu fighting is now an OTT service. South_agency/Getty Images

Online viewing creates the opportunity for functionality you can’t achieve with linear TV: interactive displays overlayed on or next to live video. Viewers can pull up and click through real-time stats, change camera views, or switch overlays (think the the yellow first-down line in NFL broadcasts or coloring around a hockey puck to help you track it on the ice). Ultimately, a more interactive experience means a more social and more entertaining experience (and the sort of deep engagement advertisers value too).

FloSports’ ju-jitsu live streams (FloGrappling) give subscribers multiple live cameras each covering simultaneous matches on different mats so they can click between them. This is a more personalized experience than passively watching one broadcast on TV and it gets that subscriber actively engaged, with their behavior providing valuable data points for FloSports and their deeper interaction likely more compelling to event sponsors.

The display might also highlight live comments from friends or friends-of-friends in order to draw viewers into a more social experience. Discussion of a specific live stream with others watching it has been a central feature for Twitch and Facebook Live and enables the league or team streaming the event to directly engage with fans around the world.

An exception to the OTT-first strategy may be in sports that are entirely new and have zero existing base of participants or fans. Karate, surfing, and video-gaming all have millions of passionate participants around the world, going back decades. A new league like the 3-year-old Drone Racing League (DRL), which has raised $21M in venture capital to develop the sport of competitive drone racing, has to artificially stimulate the development of a fanbase if it doesn’t want to wait years for grassroots competitions to create a critical mass of fans even for a niche OTT service. It’s unsurprising then that DRL has focused on striking TV deals with ESPN, Sky Sports, ProSiebenSat.1, and others to thrust it in front of large audiences from the start, like a new game show hoping its format will entice enough people to take interest.

Power is in the hands of the league owners

Ari Emanuel, chief executive officer of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The best position to be in right now is the owner of a sports league that’s rapidly growing in popularity. The competition for audience by both traditional media companies and tech platforms leaves a long list of distribution partners eager for must-have, exclusive content – especially content like sports events that fans want to want live together – and willing to pay up.

Moreover, vertical integration to control your fans’ content viewing experience and own your relationship with them has never been easier. There are direct subscriptions, advertisers, event sponsors, event tickets, a portfolio of possible OTT distribution deals, and merchandising. The potential revenue streams a league can develop are only more numerous when you add in launching a fantasy sports league – like World Surf League has done – and the recent nationwide legalization of sports betting in the US.

Endeavor, the parent company of Hollywood’s powerful WME-IMG talent agency, seems to have recognized this and is an early mover in the space. It bought two sports leagues that have relied on TV deals and event attendance revenue – UFC for $4B and the smaller but rapidly growing Professional Bull Riders for $100M – and, since they each own their content, launched direct-to-consumer subscription platforms (UFC Fight Pass and PBR Ridepass) for super-fans and cord-cutters. (Endeavor also paid $250M to acquire Neulion, the technology company whose infrastructure powers the OTT services of the UFC, PBR, World Surf League, and dozens of others.)

There’s opportunity for new streaming platforms focused on being the media partner for these emerging sports leagues. Inevitably, the opportunity for bundling will consolidate many of the niche subscriptions onto a small number of leading sports OTT platforms, and that’s a powerful market position for those platforms.

What is unclear is if they can defend themselves as the incumbent media and tech companies come around to this phenomenon and commit billions toward capturing the market. The leading sports broadcasting companies all have OTT offerings and want to make them as compelling to potential subscribers as possible even if they exclude content from the biggest pro sports. A larger company that can afford to spend huge sums on exclusive sports streaming rights (like Disney with ESPN/ABC, Comcast with NBC/Sky Sports, CBS with CBS Sports Network, or Discovery with Eurosport) might opt to buy a company like FloSports as part of their deep dive into the space or they might just aim to outbid them when a league’s contract comes up for renewal.

The hope for an independent OTT platform devoted to emerging sports leagues is they get big enough, fast enough that they can afford to keep winning the rights to emerging leagues as those leagues grow and offers from competitors bid prices up. These dedicated OTT services will likely have to secure long-term – think ten years – streaming rights deals or acquire control of some popular new sports leagues outright to hold their own.

Like online distribution triggered an explosion of digital publishing brands and social influencers for every imaginable niche, the rise of high-quality live streaming and subscription OTT services will allow a lot more sports leagues to build an audience and revenue base substantial enough to thrive. There’s more variety for consumers and resources than ever for those with a rapidly growing league to attract fans worldwide.

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Mario Party Superstars is the “Greatest Hits album” the series deserves

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Enlarge / “Yeah, Waliuigi time!”

Since the Mario Party series launched in 1998 on the N64, it has played host to over 1,000 mini-games spread across 15 titles (depending on how you count). The question behind Mario Party Superstars on the Switch is whether you can find 100 of those mini-games that are actually good.

The answer is a resounding yes. By focusing on the best and most enduring mini-game design from over two decades, Superstars is probably the most consistently enjoyable game in the series’ long run. But if you’re not already on board with Mario Party‘s slow pace and heavy reliance on luck, there’s nothing here that will change your mind.

Better to be lucky than to be good

Mario Party Superstars is a game dripping with nostalgia, from the music and sound effects to the menu screen drawn straight from the first game. The structure of the main game is completely unchanged as well. Four human or computer-controlled players take turns rolling a 10-sided die to move around a board, trying to pass spots where they can buy the stars needed to win the game. After everyone has rolled, all four players face off in a mini-game where they can earn coins that can be used to buy stars or items that can help them or hinder others.

The Switch's graphical power means this level looks more scrumptious than ever.
Enlarge / The Switch’s graphical power means this level looks more scrumptious than ever.

Nintendo has made some strong choices for the five available classic boards, which come from the N64 editions of the game. The options offer a full range of complexity, from the basic “walk in a circle” of Yoshi’s Tropical Island to the constantly branching paths of Woody Woods to the complicated day-night cycle of Horror Land. Series fans will get a kick out of seeing these classic boards fully upgraded for the HD era, too—Peach’s birthday cake, in particular, is a mouth-watering visual splendor compared to the unappetizing low-res polygons of the N64 original.

Nintendo has thrown in some small quality-of-life improvements to help the slow pace of moving around these boards, too. You can now fast-forward through cut-scene animations, for instance, and you don’t have to watch as computer players compete in mini-games and item games without any human intervention. “Fast” options for movement speed and text mean you can also blow through a lot of the tedious waiting for your turn to come around, especially when playing against multiple computer opponents (you can also throw some emoji-style Mario-themed stickers on the screen to pass the time in between turns).

But none of these improvements changes the core gameplay of Mario Party, which, for good or ill, is still heavily dependent on luck. Sure, there is some basic strategy involved in navigating the boards skillfully, especially when it comes to deciding when to buy and use items to their best effect. And yes, winning more coins from mini-games still has a decent correlation with doing well in the overall match.

Still, a huge portion of the outcome of a Mario Party Superstars match depends on nothing more than rolls of the dice and the huge swings that can come from landing on certain spaces. No matter how skillfully you play, there’s often nothing you can do to prevent a lucky player from reaching a star before you. You can’t always avoid landing on a coin-sapping Bowser space or encountering a Chance Time space that transfers your hard-earned stars to another player in one fell swoop.

Horror Land is one of the more skill-based boards in the game, but in the end, it still comes down to luck.
Enlarge / Horror Land is one of the more skill-based boards in the game, but in the end, it still comes down to luck.

With the right group of friends (and possibly the right beverages), it’s possible to let go and accept this chaos, laughing and cringing along with your playmates as the whims of chance affect your fates. If you want a game that directly rewards skillful play relative to your opponents, though, Mario Party is still the last place you should look.

Maximum mini-games

In most Mario Party titles, every random mini-game selection meant waiting to see if you would end up with a fun, well-designed option or a tedious time-waster. Mario Party Superstars largely avoids this problem, removing most of the tedium by picking the cream of the crop for a veritable Greatest Hits album of previous games’ mini-game selections.

There are still a small handful of mini-games that are completely dependent on luck, amounting to a coin flip drawn out over a couple of minutes. And there are a few more that measure nothing but how fast you can mash a button or two, a tedious exercise in the best of circumstances.

Jumping up this vine might be simple, but it still rewards skill and focus.
Enlarge / Jumping up this vine might be simple, but it still rewards skill and focus.
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We test GeForce Now’s new “3080” upgrade, discover unmatched cloud-gaming power

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Enlarge / GeForce Now works on all of these devices. But you’ll want to double check whether your ideal combination of hardware, screen, and Ethernet connection will get you up to either 1440p resolution and 120 fps, or 2160p resolution and 60 fps. If so, GeForce Now’s new 3080 subscription tier might be perfect for you.

Nvidia

The prospect of buying a reasonable new GPU in 2021 remains a crapshoot, and that says nothing about your hopes of buying a higher-end option anywhere near MSRP values. In a chip-shortage universe, there’s not a ton we can do to change this unfortunate reality, outside of asking greedy cryptominers to please donate their high-end GPUs to people who want to play games with the things.

For some people, cloud gaming might be a good alternative. This concept lets gamers connect their much weaker hardware (netbooks, set-top boxes) to supercomputer farms. So long as they can maintain a decent broadband connection and endure hits to button-tap latency (and bandwidth overages), they can, on paper, expect higher-end gaming. But so far, we haven’t seen impressive computing power in that marketplace. Stadia in particular launched as a woefully underpowered service, while the biggest PC-centric cloud option, Nvidia GeForce Now, has a mix of power limitations and usability frustrations.

This week, Nvidia moves forward with its most intriguing cloud-gaming service upgrade yet: GeForce Now 3080, named after its powerful RTX 3080 GPUs. Preorders for that service are now officially live, and depending on your willingness to compromise, you might want to look into it.

We’ve tested its pre-release version for the past week, and the results have, quite frankly, been dreamy. This $198/year service tier works on two fronts: it opens up connections to more powerful Nvidia servers, and it unlocks more options on the local end for anyone using the service. The result is a white-hot stunner that rivals the computing power you can muster with a locally owned RTX 3080 Ti.

How GeForce Now fits into the stream-iverse

The catch, of course, is that GeForce Now is still the most unwieldy cloud-gaming option on the market. To its credit, the service is also the most flexible and storefront-agnostic.

Thus, before I get to the best parts of Nvidia’s new “GeForce Now 3080” option—its faster performance, its higher maximum resolution, and its higher maximum frame rate—I should set the stage for how the service works and compares to its contemporaries, so bear with me.

Most cloud-gaming services demand that you rely on their store ecosystems in one way or another. You can only play games on Google Stadia if you buy those games’ Stadia-exclusive versions (or access freebies via the paid Stadia Pro subscription service). If you want to stream games within Xbox Game Streaming, you have to pay for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and you can only stream that service’s selection of approximately 200 games—as opposed to additional Xbox games you individually purchase. And Amazon Luna offers a variety of “channels,” each with individual costs and unique content, that you can pick and stack the same way you might do with video-streaming subscription services.

The cost of GeForce Now, conversely, has nothing to do with games you might buy or borrow and everything to do with the Nvidia hardware you’re leasing in the cloud. In some ways, GeForce Now is just a cloud computer that you can use as you see fit. When you use GeForce Now, you log into other storefronts on its server farm, load games you’ve already purchased, and play them using their profiles and save files. Nvidia’s cloud-gaming service doesn’t care where or how you buy games. It just wants to power them.

One big catch, however, is that some game publishers do not allow Nvidia to stream their games. (Remember: when you buy a game via an online storefront, you’re only paying for access to a license. This, among other things, means publishers can yank your access around in exactly this way.) Upon the service’s 2019 launch, Nvidia was forced to remove games that it originally supported after certain publishers cried foul—particularly games from Activision Blizzard’s Battle.net service. In good news, over time, many more games have been added to the service from the following storefronts, now totaling a little over 1,100 games:

  • Steam
  • Epic Games Store
  • Ubisoft Connect
  • EA Origin

Up until this week, GeForce Now only had two tiers: $98/year or free. The latter includes performance downgrades and required waits in server queues, so if too many people are using the service, you have to wait behind paying customers. That free option is a decent way to basically confirm that your ideal streaming device—a smartphone, a set-top box, or a weak netbook—can connect to the service and translate your gamepad taps or keyboard-and-mouse frenzies to cloud-streamed video games. But it’s not great for image quality or computing power.

RTX 3080 tier wins, even at a higher resolution

The paid version, meanwhile, includes rudimentary “Nvidia RTX” support. Its server instances include Nvidia’s proprietary GPU cores that are dedicated to ray tracing and Deep Learning Super-Sampling (DLSS), but only a few per instance, as powered by an RTX-upgraded variant of Nvidia’s Tesla T10 server-grade GPU. The results are generally powerful enough to get average, modern PC games up to a steady 1080p, 60 fps refresh, usually with a number of graphical bells and whistles enabled.

As I’ve previously attested, if you’re within the right geographic range of Nvidia’s servers and have a low-ping wired Ethernet connection, you can expect all-but-unflinching performance while playing with mouse-and-keyboard on a variety of shooters on the service. But 1080p resolution at 60 fps and medium settings is basically what the rest of the streaming fray offers. How much more juice can the same Nvidia app ecosystem muster, especially if Nvidia itself, manufacturer of so many high-end GPUs, applies its own hardware upgrade?

The best way to answer that is to let a few of its compatible games do the talking. These are the exact same PC versions of games that you might install on your own computer, after all, and some come with built-in benchmark sequences. Thus, I ran a few tests on the existing $98/year service, dubbed the “founders” tier, before Nvidia invited me to a pre-release test of the $198/year “3080” tier so I could compare the sheer power of both server options.

The above benchmarks for the computationally brutal Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (no ray tracing) and Watch Dogs Legion (substantial ray tracing) are explained in their captions. To summarize: all tests from the newer 3080 service tier are run at a higher 1440p resolution, yet they still soundly outpace the same tests run at a lower 1080p resolution on the service’s founders tier. Sadly, we couldn’t run these tests with a frame time chart attached, so we’re left with Ubisoft’s vague, squiggly line charts. Still, all of those benchmarks do come with crucial “lowest 1 percent” counts, and when those are higher (which they are, by a large margin, in the 3080 tier), you can expect fewer frame time stutters and refresh rate dips.

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Pixar’s Lightyear turns Buzz into a non-toy astronaut—with new voice—in 2022

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Enlarge / Coming in June 2022 to “theaters.”

While nobody was necessarily asking for an origin story film about Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear, the combined powers of Disney and Pixar sure seem intent on making such a concept look as appealing and epic as possible. Seriously: if you think the concept sounds like a straight-to-VHS cash-in on paper, we strongly encourage that you watch Wednesday’s dramatic reveal of Lightyear, coming “to theaters” (and no mention of Disney+ thus far) on June 17, 2022.

The film’s debut 90-second trailer, embedded below, skips over the important context found in its “read more” crawl on YouTube, which suggests that the toy version of Buzz Lightyear, who was embraced by Toy Story‘s Andy as a toy, an animated series character, a video game star, and more, was based on someone else entirely. As Disney Pixar explains:

The sci-fi action-adventure presents the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear—the hero who inspired the toy—introducing the legendary Space Ranger who would win generations of fans.

However, this description doesn’t clarify whether the more realistic-looking version of Lightyear in next year’s film is as real in the Toy Story version of Earth as characters like Andy (and that this version of our planet is patrolled by “Space Ranger” astronauts) or if this is another fictional story inside that world, from which more cartoonish Buzz Lightyear versions eventually followed. While waiting for Al “Chicken Man” McWhiggin to return our emails on the question, we instead found a definitive answer at Entertainment Weekly, whose reporter Nick Romano interviewed film director Angus MacLane on the matter.

“In the Toy Story universe, [Lightyear] would be like a movie that maybe Andy would have seen, that would have made him want a Buzz Lightyear figure,” MacLane explains to EW. In other words: it’s as if the Michael Keaton version of Batman came before the campier Adam West turn. (Also, if supersonic, interstellar space travel exists on Andy’s Earth, it has yet to be chronicled with definitive logic and science by Disney Pixar. We’ll keep waiting for that spinoff.)

Lightyear‘s premiere teaser emphasizes exploration and a variety of interstellar locales, since it’s otherwise mostly devoid of any dialogue—with the massive exception of new character voice actor Chris Evans (Captain America) offering an abbreviated blurt of “and…” at its conclusion. He says this to his apparent crewmate, a new character named Alicia Hawthorne, who begins the sentence with the familiar call-out of “to infinity.” As of press time, Hawthorne’s voice actor is uncredited—though throughout the trailer, we see this new character in both full Space Ranger regalia and in more subdued control-room garb, so she’s likely to figure largely in the final film.

If you’re looking for an epic sci-fi universe worthy of Andy’s childhood adoration, this trailer has it in spades. A swampy, Dagobah-like planet, which Lightyear examines with a rusty, bipedal droid at his side. A NASA-grade preparation, countdown, and launch sequence, punctuated by a mysterious power source being loaded into a spaceship. A hyperspeed blast of a one-man spacecraft toward and past an apparent version of Earth’s Sun. Lightyear’s eerie, lonely stare-down of a colonized, Mars-like planet while dressed in sweats. A harrowing dive through inky-black space, with the only light coming from his own deteriorating spaceship. And a creepy, talking robo-cat that Lightyear apparently befriends at some point but is clearly reluctant about.

The trailer is punctuated by arguably the 18 quadrillionth use of David Bowie’s “Starman” in a film trailer, albeit with its traditional guitars and percussion replaced by a full string section and thunderous drums. Today’s reveal caps off a vague mention that sneaked past a lot of fans in March of this year, when Disney’s massive slate of internal, Marvel, Pixar, Fox, and other studios’ films included a text-only blurb on something called “Lightyear” coming in June 2022. That’s apparently what this film is, though a ton of questions—particularly about connections to other fictional characters in the Buzz Lightyear toy-verse—will likely remain unanswered until the film gets closer to its theatrical launch.

Lightyear premiere trailer.

Listing image by Disney Pixar

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