GeekWire Summit 2021 recap: Leaders and luminaries share insights at our annual conference


Coverage of the 2021 GeekWire Summit, bringing together business, tech and community leaders for inspiring discussions about the future.

The GeekWire Summit returned to Seattle and took a page out of our shared reality, going hybrid this week with an in-person and virtual audience for two days of fireside chats, power talks and panel discussions centered around technology, innovation, science, civic issues and more.

At Block 41 in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, the Seattle community gathered to hear from speakers including Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, entertainer and entrepreneur Ciara, robotics pioneer Yoky Matsuoka and many others. Attendees also had a chance to mingle and network at our 10th annual GeekWire Summit.

“What happens here matters everywhere,” is GeekWire’s mantra, and that certainly rang true over the past couple days on the Summit stage.

Keep scrolling for more images and links to session recaps which have been published so far — stay tuned for more coverage later this week. Read all our full Summit coverage here, as well as stories from Business Insider, Bloomberg, CNBC, and Puget Sound Business Journal reporters.

Video of all sessions will be viewable to registered GeekWire Summit attendees on-demand. Go here to register to view.

A big shout-out to Summit presenting sponsor Bank of America. We’d also like to thank our gold sponsors: Wave Business, ALLtech, EY, Martin Selig Real Estate, Microsoft, Pacaso and Slalom. Also, thanks to silver sponsors: bcra, Wilson Sonsini, Ziply Fiber, MotionForge and Genpact.

How Exactly Do Movies Make Money?


From a distance, the movie business might look pretty glamorous. Celebrities and producers glide down red carpets, clutch their Oscars, and vacation in St. Barts—just because they can. While there’s a lot of money to be made in the film industry, the economics of making movies are far from simple.

Something you’ll likely hear if you walk through the halls of any movie studio is “nobody knows anything.” And that’s true. The public can be fickle, and the industry is in flux. Just about any movie is an extremely risky investment, even a film starring big-name actors and actresses. According to the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) Theatrical Market Statistics Report for 2020, the U.S. and Canadian box office came in at $2.2 billion, down 80% compared to the previous year. Globally, the box office for films hit a low of $12 billion in 2020, down 72% over 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.1

It is not nearly as straightforward as the early days of cinema when a movie would come out in theaters, make the vast majority of its revenues via ticket sales, and then disappear. Major studios and indie filmmakers alike now spend much of their days looking for new sources of revenue, because ticket sales are no longer the be-all and end-all for films. Unfortunately, the closing of most theaters during early 2020 makes other streams of income more important than ever.


  • While there’s a lot of money to be made in the film industry, the economics of movie-making are far from simple.
  • There’s no sure path for a film to turn a profit since factors like brand awareness, P&A budgets, and the desires of a fickle public come into play.
  • Theater attendance in the U.S. has been challenging over recent years, making it even more important to earn money in foreign theaters.
  • Ever since Star Wars, merchandising has played a major role in revenue for films that appeal to children.
  • Television rights, video-on-demand, and streaming services are increasingly important sources of income for movie studios.

Movie Budgets and Costs

In general, major studios don’t disclose the full budgets for their films (production, development, marketing, and advertising). This mystery arises in part because it costs far more to make and market a movie than most people expect. For example, the production budget for a summer blockbuster like Marvel’s “The Avengers” is estimated as $220 million.2 Once you factor in marketing and advertising costs, the budget spikes.

Indeed, for many films, print and advertising (P&A) costs alone can be extremely high. A $15 million film, which is considered a small-budget movie in Hollywood, might have a promotional budget that is higher than its production budget. Many films that don’t have a built-in audience (such as those based on bestselling books like “The Hunger Games” or even “50 Shades of Grey”) need a way to get people into the theater. Romantic comedies or some children’s films need to promote themselves via TV commercials and media advertisements, and those costs add up quickly. For a movie budgeted between $40 and $75 million, its P&A budget might be over $20 million.

For any type of film, whether a blockbuster or an indie production, things like tax breaks and revenues from product placements can help pay the bills. If they’re given an incentive to shoot a film in Canada or Louisiana, producers will usually hustle to do so.

Going back to the “nobody knows anything” mantra, there are some surprise hits like the indie film “Little Miss Sunshine.” That movie is a Cinderella story when it comes to film finance. Its budget was around $8 million, and it sold to distributor Fox Searchlight for $10.5 million at the Sundance Film Festival. The film made $59.89 million in U.S. theaters, which is almost unheard-of for an indie.3 By contrast, you have the Walt Disney (DIS) movie “John Carter.” It had an estimated budget of over $250 million but only made $73 million at the U.S. box office.4

So there’s no sure path for a film to turn a profit since factors like brand awareness, P&A budgets, and the desires of a fickle public come into play. Still, there are a few tried and true ways to make money from films.

Ticket Price Revenue

Theater attendance has been challenging over recent years, making it even harder for studios and distributors to profit from films. Usually, a portion of theater ticket sales goes to theater owners, with the studio and distributor getting the remaining money.

Traditionally, a larger chunk went to the studio during the opening weekend of a film. As the weeks went on, the theater operator’s percentage rose. A studio might make about 60% of a film’s ticket sales in the United States, and around 20% to 40% of that on overseas ticket sales.

The percentage of revenues an exhibitor gets depends on the contract for each film. Many contracts are intended to help a theater hedge against films that flop at the box office. That is achieved by giving theaters a larger cut of ticket sales for such films, so a deal may have the studio getting a smaller percentage of a poorly performing film and a higher percentage of a hit film’s take. You can see the securities filings for large theater chains to see how much of their ticket revenue goes back to the studios.

Studios and distributors generally make more from domestic revenue than from overseas sales because they get a larger percentage. Despite this arrangement, foreign ticket sales became more important in the early 21st century.5 That is part of the reason why you see more sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, and superhero movies. Action and special effects require no translations. They’re easy to understand, whether you’re in Malaysia or Montana. It is much harder to build a foreign audience for an indie comedy.

Merchandising Dollars

It all started with Star Wars. Since the George Lucas sci-fi saga began back in 1977, the franchise has made billions in revenue from toys alone, not to mention licensing income from other third-party companies.6 In 2015, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” brought in $700 million in retail sales.7

This strategy obviously doesn’t work for every film. You don’t see a lot of action figures for romantic comedies. However, merchandising is a cash cow for big-budget films that appeal to kids and Comic-Con fans alike. For example, Disney’s “Toy Story” franchise has brought in billions of dollars in retail sales.8

On the other hand, some analysts suggest remaining on the lookout for movie fatigue. Kids are increasingly attracted to newer types of entertainment, such as video games and YouTube.

Foreign Sales

When a producer cobbles together the budget for an independent film, selling the distribution rights in foreign territories is crucial. It helps to cover the film’s budget and hopefully brings in revenue. Independent filmmakers can actually make money if they have a great foreign sales agent who can sell their movies in key overseas markets.

Producers will often make their “wish list” when casting a film, and the list will typically be full of well-known names that “travel” overseas. If you have Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lawrence as your star, you’re much more likely to find a partner willing to buy the rights in China and France. That isn’t a guarantee that the film will make millions (or billions), but it’s about as safe a bet as you can get in this business.

Television Rights, Streaming, and VOD

Once upon a time, it was all about DVD sales. Now, it’s far more about television rights, video-on-demand (VOD), and streaming.

For some producers, selling TV and international rights is a significant source of profit because the producer doesn’t have to pay for marketing and P&A costs. Films have to leave the theater at some point, but they can remain evergreen on TV. How many times have you flipped through channels and come across “The Notebook” or “The Shawshank Redemption” yet again?

As for VOD, revenue from these deals should add hundreds of millions to a studio’s bottom line. For indie films, there are several VOD release strategies: day-and-date (movies released simultaneously in theaters and VOD), day-before-date (VOD before theatrical), and VOD-only. Many films that don’t have the special effects and big-name stars to lure people to the theater often profit from this model.

Streaming video is a new source of revenue for Hollywood movies. VOD revenues tend to dry up after a few years, but movie studios can still make money from older films by licensing them to Netflix or Amazon Prime. However, the success of original content on the streaming services also draws audiences away from traditional movies.

The Bottom Line

As the saying goes, nobody knows anything in Hollywood. The film industry is in flux, and ticket sales alone don’t drive revenue. There’s merchandising, VOD, streaming video, foreign sales, and a plethora of other distribution channels that can help filmmakers, producers, and studios turn a profit. So who knows, the little indie that you invest in could just be the next “Little Miss Sunshine.” Or not. In Hollywood, there are no guarantees.

French Central Bank’s Blockchain Bond Trial Brings First Results


French central bank Banque de France has disclosed the results of its experimental program to use central bank digital currency (CBDC) to exchange and settle tokenised government bonds, potentially paving the way for the technology’s rollout in the country’s debt market.

Per the bank, the experiment confirmed that the blockchain technology allows managing post-trade market operations in CBDC, “subject to the completion of additional testing with real-world volumes,” which would also “provide the data required to make a quantification of the potential efficiency gains and cost savings that a blockchain-based infrastructure could offer for the securities business.”

“The experiment also showed us that blockchain platforms can coexist and interoperate with existing legacy settlement platforms,” according to Euroclear. Central securities depository (CSD) “functionalities can be operated on a permissioned blockchain environment while fully respecting the regulatory rules of control, confidentiality and privacy.”

However, the study also cautions that, before considering the use of a blockchain platform in production, there is still a need to execute real-life volume and performance tests.

The initiative was spearheaded by Belgium’s financial services firm Euroclear with the use of a system designed by the US tech giant IBM.

Close to 500 institutions took part in the trial, including primary dealers and custodians active in the French market, Euroclear said in a report summarizing the project’s results. These include BNP Paribas and BNP Paribas Securities ServicesCrédit Agricole CIB, the UK’s HSBC, and Société Générale.

The experiment’s goals were to verify and assess whether a large range of post-trade functionalities could be run on blockchain, identify the added value of blockchain tech and CBDC for the capital markets from a user point of view, and also to assess the potential next steps.

The “proof of concept” experiment was carried out in a test environment for which both CBDC tokens and Obligations assimilables du Trésor (OAT) securities – government bonds issued by the French Treasury – were natively issued on a blockchain ledger, the report said. The involved banks acted as OAT market players and custodians in the experiment, helping simulate the securities trades.

In the course of the trial, French business daily Les Echos commented that Banque de France is “pursuing its experiments in a rhythm propped by the forerunner of the future digital euro,” making a reference to efforts by the European Central Bank (ECB).

At the same time, the French initiative comes about six months after the European Investment Bank (EIB) launched its first bond sale using the blockchain technology. Last April, the EU institution issued EUR 100m (USD 116.5m) on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain in cooperation with Spain’s Banco SantanderSociété Générale, and the US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Should your company be using a flexible pricing model?


This week’s top story is located at the crossroads of growth marketing and software development.

Usage-based pricing (UBP) for SaaS services is becoming more popular as companies of every type automate their processes, but one important result of the shift is that companies that adopt UBP see a return on their customer acquisition costs much sooner than the competition.

This week’s coverage of software development includes articles about Battery Venture’s State of the OpenCloud report, how developers can make the most of iOS 15.0 updates and an interview with Appetiser, who we found through our TechCrunch Experts survey. As for growth marketing, I reached out to several marketers we’ve interviewed in the past to find out how they’re preparing for this year’s holiday season.

Software consulting

(TechCrunch+) We’re still just scratching the surface of the cloud’s potential: TechCrunch’s own Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm do a deep dive of the State of the OpenCloud report from Battery Ventures. Ron and Alex write, “Battery believes that the cloud market could eventually be worth $1 trillion. When you consider that the vast majority of work, development and computing will be done in the cloud at some point, the investment group’s round-number projection may prove modest.”

(TechCrunch+) Make the most of iOS 15’s updates to the App Store: Ilia Kukharev, head of ASO at AppFollow, tells us how software developers can use iOS 15.0 updates to their advantage. Kukharev says, “If an internal event is planned in the app (for example, a live broadcast), it is now possible to promote it in App Store Connect any time before the event. After review approval, the event card will be shown in search results as well as on the app page.”

Appetiser’s co-founders discuss building client relationships and getting to MVP: Anna had a chance to interview Appetiser’s co-founders Jamie Shostak and Michael MacRae. They discussed how Appetiser came to be, how they also work with clients on growth, and more. MacRae says, “When we build your team at Appetiser, it will be your team! Join standups, ideate with your team, discuss challenges or even have one-on-ones. We replicated the structure of successful startups with in-house teams, and then we rebuilt it in an agency form.”

Growth marketing

(TechCrunch+) Why more SaaS companies are shifting to usage-based pricing: Anna spoke with OpenView’s operating partner, Kyle Poyar, about OpenView’s 2021 State of Usage-Based Pricing Report and shares the highlights of their conversation with us. Anna says, “The survey also looks into how companies that adopt flexible pricing models perform compared to their counterparts, and how it impacts them more broadly.”

(TechCrunch+): The holiday shopping season is coming: How are growth marketers preparing?: Miranda Halpern chatted with several marketers that we’ve come to know through our TechCrunch Experts project about how they’re preparing for holiday campaigns this year while facing the pandemic, supply chain issues, and more. “To maximize order flow and meet customer expectations, Dick said her company moved up its campaign start dates by 2-3 weeks and plans to lean more heavily on SMS and email campaigns than in the past.”

It’s the latest in a series of deals and partnerships for News Direct.


LONDON: Global digital communications company Investis Digital has inked a channel partnership with news and content distribution service News Direct.

Via this partnership, Investis Digital clients will be able to more efficiently and cost effectively distribute press releases, while clients using Investis Digital’s Connect.ID Intelligence tool will be able to connect with News Direct’s distribution service, the companies said. They will also have access to News Direct’s new feature, called SimpliFi, that allows for a simpler process when distributing earnings releases.

SimpliFI allows investor relations professionals to copy and paste earnings content into News Direct’s content studio, without losing control of or sacrificing the security of their data. In addition to the distribution service, users will also be able to access analytics and an Equity Impact Report.

This is the latest in a series of partnerships for News Direct, including with content company Broadry, DS Simon Media, Latinx Newswire, Pop Culture Newswire.

Investis Digital provides digital communications to clients across agencies, using a proprietary approach called Connected Content. News Direct is a news and content distribution service for marketing and comms professionals. It provides an automated platform with flat-rate pricing.

Creatio Partners with Whale Cloud to Accelerate Digital Transformation for Telcos


BOSTONNov. 5, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Creatio, a global vendor of one platform to automate industry workflows and CRM with no-code, today announced its strategic partnership with Whale Cloud (formerly ZTEsoft), a leading technology company providing software solutions and services for telecommunications and multiple industries, to accelerate digital transformation for telco organizations worldwide by offering customers with superior experience across the entire customer journey. Whale Cloud is a Chinese-based company that provides Cloud, Analytics and AI-based software solutions to Telecom operators, Industrial enterprises, and Government sectors.

The new alliance will leverage the Whale Cloud 20+ years of experience in the market, their expertise in enabling business and operational innovation for customers in 80+ countries, and Creatio’s award-winning offering. New partners believe that the combination of their strengths will empower organizations to increase the bottom line and substantially grow through rapid workflows automation, operational excellence, and streamlined customer relationship management.

“Our core focus is to enable organizations globally with the enterprise-ready no-code platform that allows both IT and business users to automate workflows and create apps in a blink of an eye. With this partnership we are aiming to combine compelling digital experience and expertise from both sides to provide customers worldwide with cutting-edge solutions and top-notch services,” said Alex Donchuk, Senior Vice President, Global Channels at Creatio.

Whale Cloud targets to fast-track the digital transformation process of the telecom industry and extend the benefits of this transformation across industries and marketplaces to help service providers, enterprises, and governments to create massive value in the digital economy.

“Two is better than one—by cooperating with Creatio, we are able to expand our solution portfolio and serve our customers better than ever. Seamless experience, reduced friction, and increased revenue can be achieved by this strategic collaboration,” said Steven Cho, Chief Marketing Officer at Whale Cloud international.

About Creatio 

Creatio is a global vendor of one platform to automate industry workflows and CRM with no-code and a maximum degree of freedom. Millions of workflows are launched on our platform daily in 100 countries by thousands of clients. Genuine care for our clients and partners is a defining part of Creatio DNA.

About Whale Cloud

Whale Cloud Technology Co., Ltd (“Whale Cloud”) is a leading technology company specializing in telecom software development and delivery, cloud computing, big data analytics, AI-enabled service operations, IoT, smart city solutions and other professional services including planning and consulting. Founded in 2003, the company provides services to various market segments including telecom operators, governments, and enterprises around the world. Formerly known as ZTEsoft, Whale Cloud was later invested by China’s largest technology and eCommerce giant in the year 2018. At present, Whale Cloud’s business scope extends from telecom markets to vertical industries. It has built its core competitiveness in communications software, operation services, cloud computing, big data analytics, AI, and Internet architecture.

As interest in fusion energy ignites, Helion lands $500M from OpenAI CEO, Facebook co-founder


Pacific Northwest tech leaders have shown their support for fusion. Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures has invested in Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has backed General Fusion; and TAE found support from the late Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Gates.

Helion’s Series E round was led by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, former president of Y Combinator and Helion board chairman. His contribution to the round was $375 million — the biggest investment he’s ever made, Altman told CNBC. Existing investors, including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Mithril Capital and Capricorn Investment Group, also participated in the round. The company launched nearly a decade ago and previously raised $72 million in venture capital and $5 million in government grants.

Axios reported that Helion is now valued at $3 billion.

The idea of creating energy on Earth through the fusion of nuclei dates back decades, and the Sun is a massive fusion machine. So what’s taken the technology so long to get here?

“It turned out to just be much, much harder than we thought,” said Chris Hansen, a University of Washington senior research scientist working on fusion. “The conditions that you need to enable fusion to happen and generate energy are just extremely, extremely challenging.”

se A Helion engineer. (Helion Photo)

For years, scientists have predicted that human-made fusion energy was only a few years out, but that day never seemed to arrive.

Kirtley himself predicted in 2013 that he’d have a design that could be commercially deployed by 2019. Limited funding hampered Helion’s efforts, he said. But over the years, Helion kept making progress. It has developed a technology that creates a pulsating, high-strength magnetic field needed to generate the conditions for fusion. Earlier this year, the company said it was the first commercial facility to exceed 100 million degrees Celsius in its prototype generator — an important benchmark for supporting fusion.

There are still challenges ahead. Helion’s fusion system uses deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, and an isotope of helium as its fuel. The ideal temperature for its fusion is 200 million degrees Celsius, though it works at much lower temperatures. And if that sounds really hot, it is. The center of the sun is a balmy 15 million degrees, by comparison. That said, the company has been able to keep cranking up its heat capacity as it develops new generators.

The bigger technical hurdle, Kirtley said, is with fuel recycling. Helion’s process is to inject the fuel into the system, create fusion that is directly converted into electricity, exhaust the fuel, separate out the helium isotopes and repeat the process. That loop currently takes 10 minutes to complete. The goal is to bring that down to once a second. Helion engineers have been able to speed up the process at a smaller scale, and now have to ramp it up.

The company is also working to build out its ability to manufacture the electronics and materials used in the generators. While that requires a larger real estate footprint and more employees, the hope is the strategy will help Helion avoid supply chain disruptions.

Kirtley expects the current headcount of 63 employees to more than double to 130 by 2024. They’re going to be hiring skilled technical staff, technicians, machinists, engineers and other scientists.

“This funding lets build the team, build the manufacturing and build that Polaris generator system,” he said. Because wind, solar and hydropower aren’t going to be enough to wean the world off fossil fuels.

“We need our data centers and our factories and our Tesla truck charging stations powered by industrial-scale, clean, carbon-free electricity,” Kirtley said, “and fusion, we believe, is that answer.”