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Facts, entertainment: 16 fascinating things we’ve learned from podcasts

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McDonald’s chips are scientifically less tasty than they used to be

Podcast: Revisionist History
Episode: McDonald’s Broke My Heart

During my many years working at McDonald’s, I must have cooked several tonnes of fries. I thought I knew all there was to know about those chips until I heard an episode from series two of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. Older heads would claim some McDonald’s products aren’t as tasty as they used to be, but I thought it was some middle-aged fantasy about how things were “better in the old days”, as a sceptical Gladwell describes that same suspicion. But they were right: McDonald’s altered the formula of the beef fat used to cook the fries in 1990, and the reasons for the change are fascinating, as are the food scientists who recreate the old-fashioned chips. It’s a perfect episode from Gladwell, the master of drawing novelty from unlikely places. Do you want fries with that? Yes, but only if they’re cooked in Formula 47. Andy Welch

Donald Trump’s father was such a bigot, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about him

Podcast: The Dollop
Episode: 300A, Donald Trump

This popular comedy-history podcast chronicles the lives of historical figures, with an emphasis on the cruel, unusual and inept. Fittingly, then, the two-parter for the show’s 300th episode recounts the storied history of one Donald J Trump. Inevitably, much unsavouriness about the current Potus’s past is uncovered. Yet, if anything, his father, the humbly titled Fred Christ Trump, comes off even worse. A notorious real estate magnate who was investigated by a US Senate committee for profiteering, Trump Sr’s segregationist rental policies prompted one tenant, the folk singer Woody Guthrie, to write a song about how much of a scumbag he was. “Old Man Trump knows/ Just how much racial hate/ He stirred up/ In the bloodpot of human hearts,” Guthrie sang. Who else might those lyrics apply to, eh? Gwilym Mumford

99% Invisible.

Those wobbling inflatables outside car showrooms are based on Trinidad carnival dancers

Podcast: 99 % Invisible
Episode: Inflatable Men
Are they “Tube Men”? “Fly Guys”? “Air Dancers”? They are not. They are “Tall Boys” and, while you’ve seen them everywhere from the opening ceremonies of sporting events to the forecourts of garages, you probably have no idea as to their origins. As this episode of the beloved design podcast reveals, they were invented by Trinidadian carnival artist Peter Minshall, who imagined them emulating the “limpid and loose” dance moves of the carnival. What he failed to foresee though was that, after an appearance at the 1996 Olympics, he would be beaten to a patent and would have to deal with seeing his undulating creations swaying towards him every time he went for a drive. Happily, he seems to have taken it graciously in his stride. Phil Harrison

Hackers are trying to steal your username – and it’s a booming business

Podcast: Reply All
Episode: The Snapchat Thief

It is impossible to listen to the internet-flavoured podcast Reply All and not learn something, whether that’s “what is that strange song that only one person can remember hearing in the 90s?” (in the episode The Case of the Missing Hit) or where the word incel came from (in INVCEL). Sometimes its revelations are particularly disturbing, however, such as those found in episode 130, The Snapchat Thief. It turns out that if you have a coveted social media handle – think @lizard – your account could be held to ransom by scammers and sold for thousands of dollars. While compelling, the whole thing might just be enough to make you want to start a new life as a Luddite. Or at least change your username. Hannah J Davies

Ed Miliband didn’t want to debate the badger cull as he feared that he looked too much like a badger

Podcast: Reasons to Be Cheerful
Episode: 21, Time to Talk
Remember David Cameron’s 2013 badger cull? It might not have happened, if only Ed Miliband had different hair – at least according to ex-aide Ayesha Hazarika on Miliband’s political podcast Reasons to Be Cheerful. “We’re just about to walk into PMQs, when Ed spins round, grabs me by my lapels and goes: ‘I need you to answer a question honestly – am I a badger?’” Despite being armed with six tough questions on the topic as well as the attack line of “From hug a hoodie to gas a badger!”, Miliband refused to bring up the subject until he’d dragged a series of bemused aides into a room and interrogated them on his similarity to Bodger’s best friend. “I can’t believe we didn’t win the 2015 general election,” Hazarika says. Alexi Duggins

Everything Is Alive.

Most announcements on the tube are voiced by a husband-and-wife team

Podcast: Everything Is Alive
Episode: Chioke, Grain of Sand

In this series of chats with inanimate objects – a chainsaw, a mirror, a Jack o’ Lantern – host Ian Chillag interviews a grain of sand. The discussion turns to “Inspector Sands”, a code word used for fire or bomb threats. They call up Elinor Hamilton who, together with husband Phil Sayer, has voiced announcements for large parts of the London Underground. Most of her recordings are friendly reminders about which trains to catch, while Phil voiced messages people really needed to listen to, such as Inspector Sands and “Mind the gap” (“apparently you needed a man to do that”, she says). Phil died in 2016 but his voice is still heard by commuters every day. “I feel very privileged,” says Hamilton. “A lot of people would give anything to hear their husband’s voice again. And mine won’t shut up.” Kathryn Bromwich

A 1940s newspaper editor used to crash far-right rallies and challenge fascists to a fight

Podcast: Working Class History
Episodes: 35-37, The 43 Group

How’s this for campaigning journalism? On 17 August 1947 Frederic Mullally, the political editor of the Sunday Pictorial (these days known as the Sunday Mirror), squared up to the growing British fascist movement in print, calling them “dupes” and “imbeciles” and announcing that he would attend their rally in east London that very evening to “see the stuff” they were made of. He did so and was narrowly saved by the 43 Group, a Jewish-led gang of militant anti-fascists, from a fatal beating. The story of the 43 Group forms a standout set of episodes of Working Class History, a deep dive into historical struggles against bigotry and oppression. Jack Seale

Orson Welles subsisted on giant plates of steak tartare

Podcast: You Must Remember This
Episode: Polly Platt, the Invisible Woman, Part Four

The sixth season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This, about old Hollywood, dives into the unfinished memoir of the late film producer Polly Platt. In 1970, Platt arrives to work on Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, and the director insists on making her his “signature” dinner. Using “three pounds of top-of-the-round beef” for two people, Platt recalls, “he would fix this giant serving of steak tartare, mashing it around in this great big bowl with his own hands. Then he’d plop an Orson-sized pile of it on a plate. When I didn’t finish mine, he would actually be hurt.” The pair washed it down with an entire bottle of brandy – and then ate it again the next night. Welles died of a heart attack at 70. Issy Sampson

From Disneyland to hallucinogens, every writer is guided by a small set of obsessions

Podcast: Longform Podcast
Episode: 347

Michael Pollan has written books on hallucinogens, caffeine addiction, cooking, eating and architecture. His journalism is even more wide-ranging (one highlight is his 1997 piece on community friction in the Disneyland Florida town of Celebration). Yet, as he says in his June 2019 episode of the Longform podcast, his work is always underpinned by a small set of what he calls “final questions”. Every writer has these, he says: the persistent curiosities that shape the worldview you bring to any subject. His are “nature and God”. Working out what yours are is harder than it sounds – it took Pollan finishing his second book to decipher his. Laura Snapes

Stephen Hawking held a soiree for time-travellers – but only told them after it finished

Podcast: Cartridge
Episode: Stephen Hawking’s Time Travel Party

In an unusually high-minded episode of this video game podcast we learn that on 28 June 2009, Professor Stephen Hawking held a party at the University of Cambridge specifically for time-travellers, with Krug champagne and hors d’oeuvres. In order to prevent frauds from attending, the renowned theoretical physicist only announced the party after it had finished. Sadly, no one turned up. Theories as to why Hawking was left as a Billy No Mates include: he sent the invites to an alternative reality; time-travellers don’t like hors d’oeuvres; or Hawking had them all killed to avoid disrupting the time-space continuum and imploding the universe. Rich Pelley

Christina Aguilera.
By gum … Christina Aguilera. Photograph: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

If you ever see Christina Aguilera live, avoid sitting in the third row

Podcast: Legends Only
Episode: 10 Years of Christina Aguilera’s Bionic

This riotous pop culture podcast hosted by NYC-based “media gays” Bradley Stern and T Kyle MacMahon focuses on pop star-related escapades. Occasionally it also unleashes anniversary specials, including a two-hour dissection of Christina Aguilera’s near career-killing Bionic album. Despite being a pop obsessive, I’d somehow missed the fact that seconds before a performance of heart-tugging ballad You Lost Me live on The Today Show, Xtina had removed a piece of gum from her mouth and lobbed it into the third row. The crowd-shot video, entitled “Christina Aguilera throws gum at her fans”, is fast approaching 600,000 views on YouTube, making it one of her most enduring hits. Michael Cragg

There were a surprising number of illegal Bible games on Nintendo in the early 90s

Podcast: Apocrypals
Episode: Spiritual Warfare Is Good, Actually

In each instalment of Apocrypals, non-believers Benito Cereno and Chris Sims read a different Bible text and, in their own words, try not to be jerks about it. It sounds like Sunday school but is actually a delight, combining erudition, irreverence and nods to Van Halen. In a recent episode, the pair went deep on a series of bootleg 1990s video games based on Bible stories. Cruddy knock-offs such as Super 3D Noah’s Ark sold hundreds of thousands of copies despite being completely unsanctioned by Nintendo. Was this a cynical cash grab or a devilishly smart way to promote Christian values? It’s hella fun finding out. Graeme Virtue

Pete Doherty would fall asleep on stage during Babyshambles gigs

Podcast: 22 Grand Pod
Episode: Alan McGee

With its title riffing on 22 Grand Job by the Rakes, there is no mistaking the subject matter of this series: the grimy indie scene of the mid-00s. Each week, interviewers Harry H and Tom Atkin of the Paddingtons interview one of the era’s protagonists. While they haven’t got round to scene king Pete Doherty yet, the interview with Patrick Walden of Babyshambles reveals that the band went onstage in such a state of disrepair that Doherty would catch a nap mid-gig. Alan McGee also tells the bloodcurdling story of how, three days into managing the Libertines, he turned round to find Carl Barât with his eye dangling from its optic nerve after an encounter with a sink. The first operation on it sewed it back incorrectly; McGee had to stump up £8,000 to get it fixed. Alex Needham

Memory Palace.
Memory Palace.

John Glenn thought he saw a message from God in space. It was actually the contents of his toilet

Podcast: The Memory Palace
Episode: The Glowing Orbs

Brilliant, bite-sized history series The Memory Palace reached celestial heights with an episode about Ohio-born John Glenn, who was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. Over a gently tinkling soundtrack, host Nate DiMeo tells of the mysterious dancing lights that began to swirl round Glenn as he floated in space. Glenn, a religious man, decided they were a gift from God; it took more than 30 years for less holy minds to solve the mystery. What had looked to the astronaut like tiny seraphs were in fact particles of urine – Glenn’s own – expelled from the capsule on its journey around the Earth. Fiona Sturges

Alan Moore will never watch the Watchmen

Podcast: Cinematic Universe
Episode: 105

When news broke last weekend of the death of journalist Seb Patrick, many paid tribute to his career spent celebrating geek culture. Particularly loved was this podcast in which he and James Hunt dissected comic book-inspired movies. In one fascinating episode, the pair explained why they wouldn’t be covering the recent Watchmen TV show. Watchmen is now a cultural behemoth, but when the comic launched in 1986 nobody could have imagined it would still be available to buy a month later – let alone 34 years. That was why creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons signed a contract with DC that dictated the rights to the story would revert to them as soon as the comic was out of print. Unfortunately, it was a roaring success and has never been allowed to go out of print, a decision Moore believes was in part a ploy to swindle him out of his dues. It’s why he is never involved with any of the cash-ins, and why Patrick and Hunt refused to recognise Watchmen the show. Toby Moses

Dogs are pretty impressive – even if Louis Theroux isn’t a fan

Podcast: Grounded With Louis Theroux
Episode: Rose McGowan

This fact comes from Theroux – “not a dog person” – less than a minute into his lockdown chat with actor and activist Rose McGowan. She’s been prescribed a therapy puppy, and Theroux tries to ingratiate himself with her by sharing fascinating dog facts. (They can sniff out cancer, it turns out.) In this 10-part series, Theroux remotely interviews people he’s “always been interested in meeting but have never had the chance to”; others include Watford footballer Troy Deeney and YouTuber KSI. Expect all the probing questions of his TV documentaries with added insight into Louis’s own lockdown life. Plus, it turns out, the oft-impersonated interviewer is not too bad at impressions himself. Leah Harper

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Dune Shows WB Learned Nothing From Zack Snyder’s DCEU

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Dune Shows WB Learned Nothing From Zack Snyder's DCEU

The handling of Dune and its necessary sequel shows Warner Bros. failed to learn its lesson from Justice League and their original DCEU plans with Zack Snyder. Despite the fallout of Snyder’s departure from the DC franchise, the studio handed another epic, bug budget sci-fi project to an auteur director without fully committing to the creative vision.

After Man of Steel, Warner Bros. announced a slate of director-driven DCEU projects surrounding Zack Snyder’s planned Justice League arc, seemingly committing to Snyder’s vision for the DC universe, but after a rocky start, the Snyderverse was abandoned, leaving the future of the DCEU in the lurch. While there was a specific plan in place for a grand culmination of Snyder’s 5-part Justice League story, including a number of spin-offs from other directors, Warner Bros. says there’s no plans to see this original plan to completion, meaning the story set up by the original slate of DCEU films will never be fully realized.


Related: The Snyder Cut Proves WB Killed Their Best Chance to Compete With Marvel

While WB gave auteur director Denis Villeneuve $165 million to adapt the first half of the epic sci-fi novel Dune, the studio decided not to approve the sequel until after they could see how the initial installment, only half the story, performed at the box office. This continues WB’s history of embarking on big director-driven projects without fully committing to the vision, an approach that is virtually guaranteed to ensure the resulting product will be less than its original conception, even if a Dune sequel still happens.

WB’s Failed Director-Driven DCEU Plan

Justice League Snyder cut snyderverse

After the success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Bros. had Nolan develop a modern adaptation for Superman, and Nolan selected Zack Snyder as the director due to his approach with his adaptation of Watchmen. Man of Steel became the highest-grossing Superman movie, so Warner Bros. had Snyder develop a larger DCEU plan, which became Snyder’s 5-part Justice League saga. The story would center on Superman but would bring in the rest of the Justice League members, and a full slate of movies was planned, including Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps., and a solo Batman movie. Warner Bros.’original DCEU plan was to follow the model established by Nolan with The Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel by bringing in directors with distinct styles to head each project, including David Ayer, Patty Jenkins, Rick Famuyiwa, James Wan, and Ben Affleck.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were among 2016’s top-grossing movies, but their polarizing reviews resulted in notoriously low Rotten Tomatoes scores, resulting in Warners taking drastic action to change plans for the rest of the franchise. The changes immediately impacted Justice League the most even though it was already in production, resulting in conflict with Snyder that eventually resulted in him exiting the project following a family tragedy, allowing WB to bring in Joss Whedon to drastically reshape the project in reshoots, abandoning most of the sequel set-up and erasing as much of Snyder’s distinctive style as possible. The fallout impacted almost all the remaining movies in the slate. Aquaman was already in production, but both Famuyiwa and Affleck left their respective movies. Versions of The Flash and The Batman are coming out next year, but both are drastically different versions than originally planned (and The Batman isn’t even part of DCEU canon)

Snyder’s plan was very clearly leading to a big culmination, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice teasing a post-apocalyptic “Knightmare” future that had been conquered by Superman who was under the control of DC ultra-baddie, Darkseid. Snyder would eventually get the chance to release his intended version of the movie, the 4-hour long Zack Snyder’s Justice League, spurring excitement for what would have been, but with no plans for Snyder to return and the current slate servicing a different plan, Warner Bros. seems content to leave this epic set-up forever unresolved.

Related: The Latest Restore The SnyderVerse Trend Proves It’s Not Going Away

The odd part is Warner Bros.’ biggest successes with DC movies have always come from the bold visions of distinct directors like Richard Donner, Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and even Zack Snyder, while attempts to make more broadly appealing crowd-pleasers didn’t work, like Batman & Robin, Superman Returns, and Green Lantern. As if to double down on the point, Snyder’s Watchmen, Batman v Superman, and Justice League saw significant changes for their theatrical releases, only for Snyder’s director’s cuts to be nearly universally regarded as the superior product. Despite the problems caused by their decision to abandon the original DCEU plans, Warner Bros. didn’t learn their lesson and made similar decisions with Villeneuve’s Dune.

Warner Bros. Repeated Their DCEU Mistakes With Dune

Why WB betting big on Dune Villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was lauded by critics, but bombed at the box office, bringing in less than $260 million from a $150 million budget, failing to hit the typical twice-budget break-even point. Blade Runner 2049 was Villeneuve’s highest-grossing movie, despite its box office failure, but his ability to adapt stunning high-concept sci-fi convinced Warner Bros. to hand him the reins to Dune, although they didn’t opt to film it back-to-back with a sequel, or even greenlight a sequel at all, despite knowing Villeneuve was only adapting half the book in the first movie.

While WB’s caution is understandable due to Villeneuve’s box office history, the willingness to begin work on the $165 Dune part 1 without committing to part 2 upfront immediately shortchanges the franchise’s potential. Under this strategy, the absolute best-case scenario was Villeneuve produces a monster hit with an incomplete story and WB has to start the sequel from scratch and can’t capitalize on Dune‘s performance for three years. In addition to the time delay, they also miss out on the massive cost savings of shooting back-to-back, reducing the overall profitability of both movies. The worst-case scenario would be the movie flops and the whole thing looks like a massive, ill-conceived blunder on the part of WB, who would have a massive bomb on their hands after entrusting a big-budget sci-fi epic to an auteur director whose last big-budget sci-fi epic also flopped. While Villeneuve and WB escaped harsh criticism for Blade Runner 2049 due to the movie’s quality, that likely wouldn’t be the case if Dune flopped, since the movie is only half the story of the Dune book, and adapting it would likely burn a chance for another director to take a swing at the property in the near future.

Meanwhile, committing to the whole vision up-front would have been better all-around, even if WB’s concerns came true and Dune flopped.  The cost-savings of back-to-back production would at least partially offset box office losses, audiences wouldn’t be deprived of the second half of the story, and there’s always the chance the sequel could be a bigger hit, salvaging the hypothetical losses from part 1. Like with Blade Runner 2049, the quality of the film would offset a lot of the criticism over the box office losses.

Dune had a solid box office opening and seems to have fair chances of getting a sequel, but it won’t be soon enough for audiences hungry for a sequel and may see a reduced budget, ironically missing out on the cost savings that could have accompanied a back-to-back sequel production. If Warner Bros. was willing to take the risk of the first installment, why not commit to the whole vision?

Warner Bros. Needs To Follow Through On Director Driven Visions

New Warner Bros. Logo

Warner Bros. has a history of being a studio that takes big swings on grand director visions, but changes in leadership in recent years, such as the departure of former Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov (who brought iconic directors like Nolan, Affleck, Snyder, the Wachowskis, and others to the studio) has seen a rise in situations like Justice League and Dune. As if to punctuate the severity of the decline, Nolan decided to make his next movie at Universal after working with Warner Bros. exclusively for nearly 20 years.

Related: Nolan’s Massive Universal Deal Could Reinvent Blockbusters Post-Pandemic

The problem isn’t that the days of bold director-driven projects are in the rearview mirror at Warner Bros., those still exist, there’s even a new Matrix movie coming out December, but there is a concerning pattern of self-sabotage of big projects brought on by a lack of trust in their directors. Situations like Justice League and Dune make the studio’s decision-making suspect and erode consumer confidence in their projects, particularly for big IP adaptations.

The whole thing is also incredibly short-sighted. It’s common for a franchise to overcome early stumbles only for those movies to be well regarded after the franchise finds its footing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had several films in Phase 1 that were considered underwhelming at the time and Fast and Furious powered through several films with a mediocre reception to become one of the biggest franchises in film. Even films like the original Blade Runner got poor reviews and underperformed at the box office and are now considered required viewing. In the case of the DCEU, Warner Bros. was scared away from Zack Snyder’s plan because of reviews for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that movie was so impactful in the zeitgeist that WB’s attempts to pivot away from Snyder couldn’t outpace their momentum, and they eventually had to cave to demands for the Snyder Cut when simply committing to the plan and finishing the plan they started would have seen Zack Snyder’s arc completed by now, allowing them to start fresh without having to deal with the unending reminders of the incomplete Snyderverse.

Fortunately, Dune is well received and performing well at the box office, which bodes well for sequel potential, but the lost time, momentum, and wasted money will ultimately hold back the complete vision from what it could have been if they’d produced the movies back-to-back. If WB wants to retain (or regain) its reputation for being the studio that produces this kind of movie, they need to gain some confidence and stop with the half measures and deliver on the director visions they sell to audiences.

Next: Why Warner Bros Losing Christopher Nolan Is Such A Big Deal

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Capturing the entertainment proclivities of racing fans

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Simon Fraser, XB Net: Capturing the entertainment proclivities of racing fans

Simon Fraser, XB Net: Capturing the entertainment proclivities of racing fans
Image Source: XB Net

Simon fraser, Senior Vice President of International at XB Net, discusses how XB Net is taking the sting out of protracted integration processes for sportsbook operators.

Backed by 1/ST Technology, Fraser walks us through the ways that XB Net is helping bettors to engage in all aspects of horse racing, before explaining how the company plans to use the Breeders’ Cup to broaden North American racing’s international reach.

SBC Americas: For those that might not know, can you tell us a little bit about XB Net? What’s the story behind the company and which markets are you targeting?

SF: XB Net provides a comprehensive North American racing service to international gaming operators across both fixed-odds and pool betting. The service covers the popular codes of thoroughbred, quarter-horse, harness and greyhound racing. Our key markets currently include the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.

We manage the rights and distribute this premium content (data, odds, live broadcast and video streaming) on behalf of a broad progressive portfolio of global partners, allowing them to deploy ground-breaking technologies to attract and educate new audiences.

We’re lucky enough to be backed by a true powerhouse in 1/ST Group, whose consumer-facing brand forms a world-class technology, entertainment, and real estate development company with thoroughbred horse racing wagering at its heart – anchored by best-in-breed horse racing operations at the company’s premier racetracks, including (to name but a few): Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park – home of the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series; Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course – site of the legendary Preakness Stakes.

And now the stateside stage is set for this year’s flagship finale at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships (5-6 November) in Del Mar. It all represents 1/ST’s continued movement towards redefining thoroughbred horse racing for a modern audience, and optimizing the ecosystem that drives it.

As a result, we can draw from an unrivalled network of over 60 North American tracks which account for over 75% of U.S. racing, opening the door to many of the planet’s most prestigious horse races.

SBC Americas: How is XB Net ensuring that it stands out from the competition?

SF: That aforementioned deep well of resources and racetracks isn’t a bad place to start from when you’re trying to positively delineate XB Net from the competition. And as a basic premise, we are planning to work with our partners across the globe to increase the awareness of North American horse racing, both as an exciting sport and as a high-quality betting medium.

By harnessing low-latency feeds from more than 2,500 meetings, showcasing over 25,000 races per year, North American racing is steadily accruing more global viewers and bettors, especially after a spell in which the pandemic has badly disrupted, if not decimated, so many events on the typical sporting calendar. While many of those sports have since recovered from the treatment table, North American racing – which mostly continued unaffected during the outbreak – has largely retained its enlarged audience share.

In the UK, some of that success and enduring retention can be attributed to the popular nightly pictures on Sky Sports Racing, whose friendly, informative GFN was instructive in “home-schooling” many new viewers to North American racing during the lockdowns.

Accordingly, with many heads having been turned by North American racing, the sport is now pulling up a comfortable seat in their wider entertainment choices. Particularly considering the nature of its rapid-cycling events, which conveniently fill the recreational gaps for drop-in audiences who might like a bet. Providing the right content at the right time remains so important, wherever you stick your pin on the international map.

XB Net’s steady stream of short-form premium content captures eyeballs and improves digital hang-time, allowing our partners to engage untapped audiences, deliver 24/7 horse racing, and also guard against any unforeseen impediments to the global sporting calendar.

SBC Americas: Tell us about your EasyGate™ products. How are they eliminating the complexity of North American racing?

SF: EasyGate is a breakthrough multitote technology and software architecture, providing structured race content, betting pathways and secure track video streams to our partners. Long story short, EasyGate navigates an intuitive path through the complexity of North American racing (from streaming formats to different data sources and their multivariate components), and also simplifies access to other content from other countries.

We give operators everything they need to succeed and take the sting out of protracted integration processes – just plug in and go, whatever the channel.

SBC Americas: Tote betting, and arguably horse racing in general, across the UK has had a tricky few years. How is XB Net making sure that racing is still the ‘product of choice’ for your partners?

SF: Our ability to present North American racing as a fixed-odds product allows us to take advantage of the UK market where Tote betting will always be a marginal betting product. Elsewhere, innovation around in-running betting can really allow horse racing to catch-up on any lost ground and reconsolidate its market position.

The complex variables of horse racing have meant this sport, for so long the retention backbone of many operators, hadn’t previously been able to seize the opportunities that other sports have secured with in-play. After all, nowadays, betting products must smoothly transition from pre-play to in-play, which is why operators must employ the latest trading tools and reactive in-play odds to attract modern-day audiences.

XB Net has now successfully trialed a ground-breaking feed that couples the Starting Price with the best of automated trading via Total Performance Data’s (TPD) astonishing array of consequential in-running analytics, including stride length, stride frequency and sectional timings enabled by saddle-cloth GPS tracking. These variables are accordingly harvested in-play by TPD’s machine-learning trading tools whose algorithms train themselves on race pace for precise pricing that delivers a distinct step-change in live fixed-odds wagering.

SBC Americas: How does your company help bolster revenue and support sometimes struggling traditional racetracks?

SF: I’d take issue with the word struggling. On the US side of the pond, the prize money at most tracks is very positive and betting turnover is up significantly. As a core technology in the wider arsenal of 1/ST and 1/ST Technology, XB Net is part of a broader company wide goal to sustain a successful business model while ensuring all stakeholders who work in the industry are cared for and supported.

That means delivering a fresh and holistic racing experience for the fans which captures the entertainment proclivities of every age group at the racetrack, especially the younger generation that is coming through. We are embracing this challenge and opportunity (sometimes two sides of the same coin!) at every touchpoint we have with our customers.

Just take our recent efforts with Historical Horse Racing (HHR) and how these terminals can provide workarounds for their local racetracks, increasing revenues where slots aren’t legal. As a result, HHR games can bolster revenues at traditional racetracks through direct new gaming revenue for operators who are directly tied to horse racing.

We also pay back a percentage to each host racetrack for every single wager placed, using each respective track’s historical races. This is akin to the simulcast live horse racing host-fee structures, in addition to paying horse racing industry stakeholders for the requisite historical race information data (e.g. Equibase).

At the tracks, our teams are working to modernize the horse racing experience, leveraging technology to bring an on-demand, digital experience to our customers. Ultimately, we’re targeting a growing audience looking for quick-fire action and engaging gameplay experiences driven by end-user thinking and the best interfaces that support that. Providing opportunities for consumers to engage in all aspects of horse racing – from live racetrack visits to simulcast viewing, online wagering and mobile – is the best way to grow our sport in a modern world.

SBC Americas: XB Net holds the international distribution rights for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. In what ways is this agreement helping to broaden North American racing’s international reach?

SF: Self-evidently, our three-year contract extension with the Breeders’ Cup was a welcome endorsement of our team’s efforts over the past few years. The agreement comprises worldwide broadcast and video-streaming distribution rights from the Breeders’ Cup whose 2021 renewal, consisting of 14 Championship races and over $31 million in prize money and awards, is fast-approaching (5-6 November) at Del Mar racetrack in California next month. Del Mar is one of my favourite venues in all of sport, and its most common epithet of “where the surf meets the turf” tells you what sets it apart.

When the standard-bearer for elite North American racing selects you to further broaden the international reach of its world-class festival, you must be doing something right, and I’m pleased to say that sports fans and bettors around the globe can look forward to even more coverage of the World Championships.

You’re even seeing a suite of domestic host broadcasters (for example Sky Sports Racing and ITV in the UK) broadcasting all 14 races this year, which is ideal for growing the sport. Of course, the increasingly international make-up of these fields, bringing the best horses together from all around the world, only adds to the allure and transcendent appeal of the Breeders’ Cup for global audiences.

SBC Americas: And how will you help optimise and increase the returns to North American racing following what has undoubtedly been a challenging economic period?

SF: For us, it’s all about expanding markets and coverage, coupled with enhancements to our cutting-edge technologies. We’ve already launched in India, while we also have new Tote and fixed-odds roll-outs set for Asia and Africa.

Regarding the race tracks themselves, the more we can add to the service, the better-value our proposition will inherently become through sheer economies of scale. Again, we can return these cost advantages to the tracks. That even applies in Australia, where we’ve recently agreed a deal to add thoroughbred racing from the principal racing state of Victoria to our service which runs off the same infrastructure. We’re thrilled to be able to add more world-class contests for our partners, with the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival already capturing players’ imaginations.

As for what’s under the hood, we’re always refining and fine-tuning, despite having some of the most durable and trusted tech around. For instance, we actually just classified our pari-mutuel totalisator and fixed-odds wagering platform as a “legacy” product.

Instead, we’re replacing it with a next-gen wagering platform that will play a key role as 1/ST Technology continues to deliver on our vision to build upon the strengths of our current gambling platform while also extending its capabilities (e.g. quickly adding new bet types) – increasing speed to market, enhanced support of our customers’ needs, and unlocking the ability to efficiently onboard new consumers via verticals such as sports betting, esports, and other emerging opportunities. In short, it will allow us to react to the market with peerless agility.

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Window on Arts & Entertainment: Oct. 14, 2021 | Diversions

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Window on Arts & Entertainment: Oct. 14, 2021 | Diversions

The Majesty of Rock set to perform at First Friday Seminole

SEMINOLE — The Majesty of Rock, one of Florida’s most prestigious bands, will salute the music of Journey and Styx at First Friday Seminole, on Friday, Nov. 5, 6 to 9 p.m., on the main street in front of Studio Movie Grill at Seminole City Center, 11201 Park Blvd. N., Seminole.

Sponsored by Seminole City Center and The Rotary Club of Seminole Lake, this will be the final First Friday Seminole of 2021. The event will feature a variety of Seminole City Center merchants, food, prizes, and games, as well as a special concert by The Majesty of Rock. Attendees are asked to bring their own chairs. Coolers are not allowed. Vendors other than Seminole City Center tenants are not permitted.

The Majesty of Rock features the voice of John D’Agostino, coupled with the exceptional musical talents of four equally sophisticated and experienced musicians. That combination soon propelled the group to become one of the premier Journey reverence bands of our time. The band strives to re-create the exact sounds and nuances of Journey. Their passion for authenticity and attention to detail go a long way toward ensuring that the audience feels like they’re at a real Journey concert.

While the band has enjoyed performing the music of Journey, front man John D’Agostino also loves another American super group: Styx. Turns out the rest of the band are huge Styx fans, too. So, they began adding some of Styx’s best tunes to their already expansive repertoire of Journey material.

CWP to stage ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’






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The cast and crew of the Carrollwood Players Theatre production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” include, front row, from left, Kaedin Cammareri, stage manager; Jason Goetluck as Spike; and Pauline Lara as Nina; and, back row, Se’a Ryan as Sonia; Stephanie Russell Krebs as Cassandra; Kenneth Grace as Vanya; Kari Velguth as Masha; and Alicia Spiegel, director.




TAMPA — Carrollwood Players Theatre will present its production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang, running Oct. 15-30, at the theater, 4333 Gunn Highway, Tampa.

Tickets are $24. Tickets now on sale at tinyurl.com/vanyacwp. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; and Sundays, 2 p.m. For information, call 813-265-4000 or visit carrollwoodplayers.org.

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play.

Middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia share a home, where they bicker and complain about the circumstances of their lives. When Marsha, their movie-star sister, swoops in with her new boy toy, Spike, old resentments flare up, eventually leading to threats and chaos. Contributing to the excitement are a sassy maid who can predict the future, and a lovely young aspiring actress who can’t. Audiences will discover why Durang is lauded as the master of mining the absurdities of human folly.

Presented with the support of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, this production will be directed by Alicia Spiegel.

“‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ is not exactly a well-known show, and the title can be a bit hard to remember … but audiences won’t soon forget the hilarious storyline,” Spiegel said. “I think everyone will relate to the family/relationship dynamics in this modern comedy laced with emotional baggage and heartfelt moments.”

The cast features Kenneth Grace as Vanya, Se’a Ryan as Sonia, Kari Velguth as Marsha, Jason Goetluck as Spike, Pauline Lara as Nina, and Stephanie Russell Krebs as Cassandra.

“Our cast has been perfecting their characters for almost a year a half since we were supposed to put this show on in April 2020 before the world changed,” Spiegel continued. “Luckily, CWP has decided to put it on this season and we are very ready to entertain audiences. They will be treated to sibling rivalry, a sexy young man barely wearing anything, a clairvoyant housekeeper whose predictions can’t be trusted, and a sweet girl next door who doesn’t know what she’s in for.”

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc., New York.

Carrollwood Players offers a limited number of free tickets to every performance for low-income families receiving Florida SNAP benefits. For more information, visit carrollwoodplayers.org/theatreforall/.

Syd Entel Galleries to present Borowski glass exhibition

SAFETY HARBOR — An opening reception for a new glass exhibition by the world-famous Glass Studio Borowski will take place Friday, Nov. 12, 4 to 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 13, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Syd Entel Galleries and Susan Benjamin Glass Etc., 247 Main St., Safety Harbor.

The Borowski’s “Odd Birds Walk of Fame,” a tribute to 20th century celebrities in glass, will run through Nov. 27. The show is open to the public. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call 727-725-1808 or email linda@sydentelgalleries.com.

Borowski is one of the leading modern glass studios worldwide. Stani Jan Borowski transforms the iconic Fat Gonzo light object into the wildly successful Odd Bird Series. The Odd Bird series has continued to grow into a collection of 22 famous celebrities from the world of art, music, media and science. These hand-blown glass creations are a work of art, unique and distinctive. All are wildly imaginative with recognizable characteristics of the many famous characters, such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Elton John, Micheal Jackson, and Marilyn Monroe.

In addition to the Odd Bird Series, the gallery will have on hand a huge selection of work from the Borowski art objects, studio line and outdoor collection.

Cool Art Shop presents artisan holiday ornament tree

DUNEDIN — The Professional Association of Visual Artists will celebrate the upcoming holiday season with the annual Holiday Ornament Tree featuring handcrafted artisan ornaments, holiday décor, small gift items, and holiday greeting cards by various PAVA fine art and fine craft artists.

The tree is on display at The Cool Art Shop, 1240 County Road 1, Dunedin, in the Independence Plaza Square, through Thursday, Dec. 23. An open house reception will take place Friday, Oct. 15, 6 to 8 p.m., at the shop.

In addition to the Holiday Ornament Tree, The Cool Art Shop also displays and sells PAVA’s artists’ artwork which is comprised of an impressive collection of both visual and functional art for sale in both 2D and 3D mediums including painting, ceramics, photography, mixed media, drawing, pastels, sculpture, and jewelry in all price points. The artwork is rotated on a 6- to 8-week basis to keep the artwork fresh and new. Shop hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

PAVA is a nonprofit organization run by volunteer artists to serve local artisans and support the arts community in the Tampa Bay area. It provides exhibition, education and grant opportunities for its members. Additionally, PAVA supports local art centers, and is a local sponsor of the Pinellas County Regional National Scholastic Art Awards where scholarships are provided to students for art instruction. Visit www.pava-artists.org.

Mat Kearney concert canceled

CLEARWATER — The Mat Kearney concert scheduled at the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on Wednesday, Nov. 3, has been canceled.

Ticket holders will be contacted about refunds. For more information, visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.

Creative Clay virtual exhibit opens

ST. PETERSBURG — Creative Clay presents “Celebrating Disability Employment Awareness,” October’s virtual exhibit, featuring artwork by Creative Clay’s member artists who actively create, market and sell their work. The exhitib opened Oct. 9.

This new exhibit coincides with National Disability Employment Awareness Month. According to the United States Department of Labor, the theme this year is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” which reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Creative Clay promotes inclusion by empowering its artists to create art that is exhibited in its Good Folk Gallery, exhibited throughout the community and online, and market themselves as working artists. Many of Creative Clay’s member artists engage in training for potential employment. Creative Clay’s artists receive commission on all works sold.

NDEAM is held each October to commemorate the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy. Employers, community organizations, state and local governments, advocacy groups and schools participate in celebrating NDEAM through events and activities centered around the theme of America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.

Creative Clay’s Virtual Gallery also includes the artwork of many of Creative Clay’s member artists. All artwork is for sale through our online gallery at creativeclay.org.

St. Pete Arts Alliance awards to help young artists

ST. PETERSBURG — Awards received from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s Funding Futures Program allowed 14 talented Pinellas County students to attend an arts camp this summer.

These students aspire to be musicians, actors, dancers, writers or visual artists. Creative Clay, American Stage, St. Pete MAD and others nominated creative, aspiring at-risk and/or low income students to attend their arts programs for the summer while parents of these students filled out applications showing artistic and financial need.

St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s Funding Futures programs are dedicated to helping students nurture their creative interests and develop their expressive talent by providing funding to eligible students and connecting them to local after school arts programs or summer arts camps.

“It’s not just about the art for these students,” said Tracy Kennard, associate director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “It’s about gaining confidence, understanding collaboration and feeling compassionate towards others and how the simple act of learning new artistic traits, can teach skills that are the building blocks of a promising future in any industry.”

The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s Funding Futures Student Award program is designed to identify and encourage talented at-risk and/or low income emerging artists, ages 10-17 in Pinellas County seeking St. Petersburg programs in the categories of dance, music, jazz, voice, theater, digital arts, photography, cinematic arts, literary or visual arts. Funding Futures is open to all talented artists regardless of ethnic, social or economic background, or ability/disability.

Major funding sources from Tampa Bay Times Employee Matching Gifts, Suncoast Credit Union Foundation, and the Jacarlene Family Foundation have helped build the Funding Futures Grant Program for the past six years. For information on supporting this program, visit stpeteartsalliance.org/donate.

Livingston Taylor, Tom Chapin concert rescheduled

CLEARWATER — Due to a scheduling conflict, Livingston Taylor and Tom Chapin have rescheduled their concert at the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre.

Tickets purchased for the concert on Friday, April 1, will be honored on the new date, Sunday, April 3, at 8 p.m. Tickets, starting at $29, are on sale now. Visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.

Sinbad show postponed

CLEARWATER — The Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre recently announced stand-up comedian Sinbad has postponed his upcoming performance scheduled for Saturday, April 16, at 8 p.m.

Tickets will be honored on the new date to be announced soon. For more information, visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.

Steep Canyon Rangers reschedule Capitol Theatre show

CLEARWATER — The Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre recently announced that the Steep Canyon Rangers concert originally scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m., has been rescheduled.

Tickets will be honored on the new date Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at 8 p.m. Tickets, starting at $25, are on sale now. Visit www.RuthEckerdHall.com.

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