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Maker Faire halts operations and lays off all staff – TechCrunch

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Financial troubles have forced Maker Media, the company behind crafting publication MAKE: magazine as well as the science and art festival Maker Faire, to lay off its entire staff of 22 and pause all operations. TechCrunch was tipped off to Maker Media’s unfortunate situation which was then confirmed by the company’s founder and CEO Dale Dougherty.

For 15 years, MAKE: guided adults and children through step-by-step do-it-yourself crafting and science projects, and it was central to the maker movement. Since 2006, Maker Faire’s 200 owned and licensed events per year in over 40 countries let attendees wander amidst giant, inspiring art and engineering installations.

“Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees” Dougherty tells TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.” Microsoft and Autodesk failed to sponsor this year’s flagship Bay Area Maker Faire.

But Dougherty is still desperately trying to resuscitate the company in some capacity, if only to keep MAKE:’s online archive running and continue allowing third-party organizers to license the Maker Faire name to throw affiliated events. Rather than bankruptcy, Maker Media is working through an alternative Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process.

“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.

The CEO says staffers understood the challenges facing the company following layoffs in 2016, and then at least 8 more employees being let go in March according to the SF Chronicle. They’ve been paid their owed wages and PTO, but did not receive any severance or two-week notice.

“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity” Dougherty admits, as his company had raised $10 million from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. “The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”

The situation is especially sad because the public was still enthusiastic about Maker Media’s products  Dougherty said that despite rain, Maker Faire’s big Bay Area event last week met its ticket sales target. 1.45 million people attended its events in 2016. MAKE: magazine had 125,000 paid subscribers and the company had racked up over one million YouTube subscribers. But high production costs in expensive cities and a proliferation of free DIY project content online had strained Maker Media.

“It works for people but it doesn’t necessarily work as a business today, at least under my oversight” Dougherty concluded. For now the company is stuck in limbo.

Regardless of the outcome of revival efforts, Maker Media has helped inspire a generation of engineers and artists, brought families together around crafting, and given shape to a culture of tinkerers. The memory of its events and weekends spent building will live on as inspiration for tomorrow’s inventors.

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Despite big Marvel and Star Wars shows, Disney+ falls short of targets

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Enlarge / Meta-sitcom/adventure series WandaVision was one of Disney+’s most successful recent shows.

YouTube/Disney+

Analysts expected Disney+ to reach 109 million subscribers in Disney’s most recent financial quarter, but the streaming service fell short, landing at 103.6 million. The shortfall resulted in lower revenues than expected for the company and a small stock price stumble.

Alongside word that Netflix also saw fairly slow growth in its quarter, the news suggests that there is, in fact, a limit to the explosive growth that streaming platforms have experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Disney is staying the course with its current strategy of pumping out TV series in established Disney brands like Marvel and Star Wars, as well as releasing new motion pictures on the platform at the same time they premiere in theaters.

Speaking to investors, Disney CEO Bob Chapek pointed to the Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian as evidence that launching new properties on streaming services can be successful, noting that merchandise sales related to the show were “extraordinary.” (In other words, people are buying a lot of Baby Yoda plushies and the like.)

As such, live-action Disney film Cruella, Marvel movie Black Widow, and Dwayne Johnson vehicle Jungle Cruise will be released simultaneously on Disney+ and in theaters, even as most theaters in the United States have now reopened as vaccination rates in the country rise.

At least on the business side of things, this subscriber tally is widely seen as a significant disappointment and a worrying trend for Disney’s goal of streaming dominance. For example, financial publication CNBC described Disney’s slowing subscriber growth as “Netflix-itis,” given that Netflix also has struggled to keep the wheels turning as fast as they used to.

Disney+’s situation is arguably more concerning, because Disney+’s monthly fee is already quite low at $7.99 per month, inclusive of UltraHD streaming—less than Netflix’s $8.99 for SD, $13.99 for HD, and $17.99 for UltraHD. That doesn’t give Disney a lot of flexibility.

Still, Disney+ is one of the most successful streaming services, and it’s a testament to that success that it is even compared directly to Netflix. Most other services like HBO Max or Paramount+ have far fewer subscribers than either Disney+ or Netflix.

Content offerings and prices are obviously the biggest factors in competition between these platforms, but tech plays a part, too. Streaming services have attempted to outdo one another in a sort of bitrate arms race. For example, HBO’s platforms used to be infamous for poor video quality compared to Netflix and others, but when HBO Max adopted 4K HDR streaming for the premiere of Wonder Woman 1984 in December, the company also significantly improved streaming quality overall.

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TSMC is considering a 3 nm foundry in Arizona

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Enlarge / In a few years, Phoenix residents will be seeing a lot more of this logo.

Reuters reports that TSMC—Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the chip foundry making advanced processors for Apple, AMD, and Qualcomm—is beefing up its plans to build factories in Arizona while turning away from an advanced plant in Europe.

Last year, TSMC announced that it would invest $10-$12 billion to build a new 5 nm capable foundry near Phoenix, Arizona. According to Reuters’ sources, TSMC officials are considering trebling the company’s investment by building a $25 billion second factory capable of building 3 nm chips. More tentative plans are in the works for 2 nm foundries as the Phoenix campus grows over the next 10-15 years as well.

US President Joe Biden called for $50 billion to subsidize US chip manufacturing facilities, and the US Senate may take action on the item this week. Strong domestic manufacturing capacity is seen as critical, since US chip firms such as Nvidia and Qualcomm rely on Asian manufacturing facilities. TSMC would be competing with Samsung and Intel to secure these Biden administration subsidies.

Intel and Samsung are also increasing investment in US manufacturing facilities. Intel is building two new fabs in Arizona near its existing Chandler facility, and Samsung is building a $17 billion plant in Texas.

The European Union is also courting domestic chip manufacturing facilities—its industry commissioner Thierry Breton has spoken to officials from both Intel and TSMC. The talks seem to have gone better for Intel than TSMC. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger proposed a $10 billion deal to build a new European factory, while TSMC officials say that although European possibilities aren’t ruled out, they have no plans to build there.

TSMC’s focus on the US rather than Europe may have a lot to do with the company’s market—in Q1 2021, 67 percent of its sales were in North America, 17 percent were in Asia Pacific, and only 6 percent came from Europe and the Middle East. The majority of TSMC’s European clients are auto manufacturers who buy cheaper and less-advanced chips.

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Google Pixel 6 leak shows off distinctive new design

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The Pixel 6 promises to be a landmark device for Google, as it is expected to mark the debut of the Google-developed “Whitechapel” SoC, instead of the Qualcomm chips the search giant has shipped in all of its previous devices. To go along with the revamped insides, it appears the outside is seeing some major design changes, too—if the newest leak is to be believed.

This first look at the Pixel 6 design comes to us from YouTuber Jon Prosser. Prosser claims he was sent live, hands-on images of the device, and while he isn’t sharing the actual images, he teamed up with a render artist to depict the device based on those images.

Prosser’s track record when it comes to Google leaks is not the greatest. Just last month he claimed the Pixel 5a was “canceled,” but that assertion was publicly shot down by Google. This leak has a bit more believability to it, as it was also backed up by Android Police’s Max Weinbach, though he says the colors aren’t accurate.

The most striking thing about the design is the back, which now features a big horizontal camera bump that stretches edge to edge across the phone. It’s definitely distinctive. The renders show two sizes, which Prosser says will be called the “Pixel 6” and “Pixel 6 Pro.” Previously Google named the bigger phone “XL,” but the Pixel line, which has always been about chasing Apple, naturally had to align with Apple’s naming scheme. Prosser doesn’t have exact specs, but the Pro model has three rear cameras, and the base model has two.

Google is reportedly teaming up with Samsung to build the Pixel 6’s Whitechapel SoC, and maybe that’s why the front of the Pixel 6 looks kind of Samsung-y. The Pixel 5 had shallow corners, while the Pixel 6 has sharper display corners, making it look more like a Galaxy Note. The Pixel 5 had a hole punch off to the left side, while the Pixel 6, like a modern Samsung phone, puts it in the center. Prosser also said that “the glass curves around the edges a bit,” which would also make it more like a Samsung phone, as the Pixel 5 display was flat. Another change is an in-screen fingerprint reader; Google has previously gone with a rear capacitive reader.

Nobody knows the specs of this phone yet, and unlike most flagships, there is actually a potential for variance here, since the Pixel 5 was a mid-range phone with a Snapdragon 765G SoC. Is this still a mid-range phone? Will Google’s SoC make any noise from a performance standpoint, or is it just a play for more control over the SoC kernel and a longer window for software updates? We still have a ton of unanswered questions about this phone, but fortunately for us, Google’s hardware team is not great at keeping secrets.

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