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Spotify expected to report subscriber slowdown | Spotify

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Spotify is expected to report this week a significant slowdown in the number of new subscribers in the first quarter, the latest pandemic winner to signal that the lockdown entertainment boom is over.

When the audio streaming company updates investors on Wednesday, it is not expected to maintain the blistering rate of new subscriber growth experienced last year. Spotify, which reported 6 million new subscribers in the first three months last year and 11 million in its most recent quarter to the end of December, has told investors not to expect the boom to continue at such a pace.

In total, Spotify added 31 million new paying subscribers last year, as coronavirus lockdown boredom fuelled a boom in listening to music, and podcasts from Michelle Obama and Kim Kardashian to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It took the number of paying customers to 155 million, and its total monthly user base – including those on its free, advertising-supported tier – to 345 million.

However, in February, Spotify forecast that in a best-case scenario it would add 29 million new paying subscribers this year while at worst it expected 17m, almost half the total last year. The news rattled investors, who sold shares and sent Spotify’s shares down 8% despite the company beating Wall Street expectations on the growth rate of subscriber numbers and advertising for last year.

Spotify has forecast an operating loss of €200m to €300m this year, compared with an operating loss of €293m in 2020.

Last week, Netflix reported a dramatic slowdown in subscribers in the first three months of 2021, ending a record run of growth during the Covid-19 pandemic and echoing the trend expected in Spotify’s numbers on Wednesday.

Despite the expected cooling of growth, Spotify continues to experience a significant pandemic bump. The company’s share price has doubled over the past year, giving it a market valuation of more than $50bn (£36bn).

Spotify has spent almost $1bn diversifying beyond its core music offering into podcasting, acquiring companies in the sector and striking key talent deals.

Daniel Ek, the founder and chief executive of Spotify, has said that the strategy has worked, making it more attractive to new customers as podcasting listening has doubled and provided a new advertising revenue stream.

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This success has not gone unnoticed by Apple, which effectively started the podcast 16 years ago but has ceded ground to Spotify. Last week, the Silicon Valley company announced the launch of Apple Podcast subscriptions, offering users new content and ad-free listening, in 170 regions.

“Apple has somewhat squandered their lead in podcasting,” said Matt Deegan, the creative director at the radio and new media consultancy Folder Media. “They have finally woken up to the fact that Spotify is about to eat their lunch in the podcasting sector if they don’t innovate. This is Apple’s fightback.”

Since venturing into podcasting in 2019, Spotify’s acquisitions include $340m to buy the networks Gimlet and Anchor, and a reported $235m to buy Megaphone, which offers advertising technology for podcasts. Spotify has also spent millions on exclusive talent deals.

“Apple’s podcasting subscription service is clearly both an offensive and defensive move against Spotify,” said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush. “Ultimately, we expect more exclusive content partnerships to be announced over the coming months to compete with Spotify in this quickly morphing podcasting arms race.”

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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