Kareem Daniel has become one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful executives, exposing him to Hollywood’s slings and arrows.
Being Anna Wintour’s hairstylist may sound glamorous, but it’s his art practice that gets Andreas Anastasis talking.
At Fox News, there was little drama over the decision to project Joseph R. Biden the winner of Arizona. But the relationship between Trump and the network was never the same.
The dominance of Netflix and Disney in streaming has forced many companies to join forces. So far, Paramount has gone its own way.
The Netflix executive says he — and the company he helped build — will survive a bout of bad earnings numbers.
Misinformation posing as news has been a problem that only got worse with the ease of publishing on the Internet. But the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have raised it to new levels, driving lots of attention to rumors, errors, and outright falsehoods. Given the magnitude of the threat, there would seem to be a premium placed on ensuring the accuracy of any pandemic information. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
It’s unlikely there will be a single explanation for why that was the case. But researchers based in Paris have looked into the dynamics of pandemic news and found a potential contributor: Unreliable news sources were better at producing content that matched what readers were looking for.
Supply and demand
The researchers behind the new work treated the news ecosystem as a function of supply and demand. The audience—in this case, the Italian public—is interested in obtaining answers to specific questions or details on a topic. News sources attempt to satisfy that demand. Complicating this relationship, the news ecosystem includes organizations that don’t produce quality information. Poor reporting can be due to carelessness or to satisfy an agenda separate from providing news.
In the three years since the television industry’s biggest companies pitched their shows to advertisers in person at the so-called upfronts, the entertainment industry has been flipped on its head.
Seen as the future of CNN, the streaming channel was suddenly killed. Its soon-to-be owner, Discovery, had concerns but until the deal closed, it was constrained in guiding a competitor.
The new corporate owners of CNN are moving to end the new streaming service after a splashy debut.
The publishing platform’s founders want Substack to be an “alternate universe on the internet.” But it faces copycat rivals, an exodus by writers and a need to move beyond newsletters.
The blockbuster merger of Discovery and WarnerMedia is expected to close as soon as Friday, putting many of the biggest names in movies, TV and news under one roof.
“He was fearless and brilliant in his investigation of hypocrisies and double standards in the media, and his contribution was priceless,” his family said in a statement.
Ms. Sarnoff became the first woman to hold the job in 2019, but Discovery’s C.E.O. is expected to take over at least some of her role himself.
Western news outlets are engaging in a tense debate over balancing an urgent need to bear witness with journalists’ ability to report freely under strict new laws there.
In a nation with strict political finance laws, control over the news media has provided an avenue for the very rich to influence elections, this one more than ever.
The Russian leader is undoing the social freedoms introduced at the end of the Soviet Union, risking a return to total control and ideological isolation.
The network’s top-rated host and its president were forced out following ethical lapses, an office romance and a letter from a lawyer for “Jane Doe.”
Football saw its biggest star, Tom Brady, retire, new allegations of sexual harassment against a team owner, and a lawsuit that claimed the N.F.L. discriminates in its hiring. None of it seemed to matter on Sunday.
The Super Bowl will feature commercial breaks that embrace the usual jokes and celebrities plus a whole lot of blockchain.
Disney said its theme parks came roaring back in spite of the Omicron variant. But the company’s vast cable television business continued to shrink.
Inside the media giant, unease has been mounting: over the network’s corporate ownership, the firing of Chris Cuomo and a looming merger with Discovery.
Joe Rogan can continue to air misinformation. Spotify can continue to look the other way. Today at least, I won’t.
Ji-Young, a guitar-playing Korean American character, will bring rock music and conversations about racism to the long-running children’s show starting on Thanksgiving Day.
After years of complaints, NBCUniversal and its peers are looking for other ways to count viewers, with or without the ratings giant.
The former president began discussing a deal with a ‘blank check’ company early this year. Investors weren’t told.
The downfall of Austria’s onetime political Wunderkind put a spotlight on the cozy, sometimes corrupt, relationship between right-wing populists and parts of the news media.
People, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly and more than 40 other magazines would become part of the same company as Serious Eats and Investopedia.
Under new ownership, the online publication aimed at younger readers unveiled a revamped version of itself on Wednesday.
Australia’s top court has said media companies can be held liable for replies to their posts, prompting some to step back from the platform.
Ezra Klein and Kara Swisher join Jane Coaston to debate recent and ongoing mistakes dominating the news.
Netflix said on Monday it is launching a free mobile plan in Kenya as the global streaming giant looks to tap the East African nation that is home to over 20 million internet users.
The free plan, which will be rolled out to all users in Kenya in the coming weeks, won’t require them to provide any payment information during the sign-up, the company said. The new plan is available to any user aged 18 or above with an Android phone, the company said. It will also not include ads.
Netflix, available in over 190 countries, has experimented with a range of plans in recent years to lure customers in developing markets. For instance, it began testing a $3 mobile-only plan in India in 2018 — before expanding it to users in several other countries.
This is also not the first time Netflix is offering its service for free — or at little to no price. The company has previously supported free trials in many markets, offered a tiny portion of its original movies and shows to non-subscribers, and has run at least one campaign in India when the service was available at no charge over the course of a weekend.
But its latest offering in Kenya is still remarkable. The company told Reuters that it is making about one quarter of its movies and television shows catalog available to users in the free plan in the East African nation.
“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix, wrote in a blog post.
“And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”
The company didn’t disclose how long it plans to offer this free tier in Kenya — and whether it is considering expanding this offering to other markets.
On its past earnings calls, Netflix executives have insisted that they study each market and explore ways to make their service more compelling to all. The ability to sign up without a payment information lends credibility to such claims. Many individuals in developed countries don’t have a credit or debit card, which renders services requiring such payment instruments at the sign-up inaccessible to them.
The new push to win customers comes as the company, which is also planning to add mobile games to its offering, added only 1.5 million net paying subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, lower than what it had forecast. Netflix, which has amassed over 209 million subscribers, as well as Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services are increasingly trying to win customers outside of the U.S. to maintain faster growth rates.
Earlier this year, Amazon introduced a free and ad-supported video streaming service within its shopping app in India to tap more customers.
A new report from Pew Research finds that around a third of U.S. adults continue to get their news regularly from Facebook, though the exact percentage has slipped from 36% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. This drop reflects an overall slight decline in the number of Americans who say they get their news from any social media platform — a percentage that also fell by 5 percentage points year-over-year, going from 53% in 2020 to a little under 48%, Pew’s study found.
By definition, “regularly” here means the survey respondents said they get their news either “often” or “sometimes,” as opposed to “rarely,” “never,” or “don’t get digital news.”
The change comes at a time when tech companies have come under heavy scrutiny for allowing misinformation to spread across their platforms, Pew notes. That criticism has ramped up over the course of the pandemic, leading to vaccine hesitancy and refusal, which in turn has led to worsened health outcomes for many Americans who consumed the misleading information.
Despite these issues, the percentage of Americans who regularly get their news from various social media sites hasn’t changed too much over the past year, demonstrating how much a part of people’s daily news habits these sites have become.
In addition to the one-third of U.S. adults who regularly get their news on Facebook, 22% say they regularly get news on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram are regular news sources for 13% and 11% of Americans, respectively.
However, many of the sites have seen small declines as a regular source of news among their own users, says Pew. This is a different measurement compared with the much smaller percentage of U.S. adults who use the sites for news, as it speaks to how the sites’ own user bases may perceive them. In a way, it’s a measurement of the shifting news consumption behaviors of the often younger social media user, more specifically.
Today, 55% of Twitter users regularly get news from its platform, compared with 59% last year. Meanwhile, Reddit users’ use of the site for news dropped from 42% to 39% in 2021. YouTube fell from 32% to 30%, and Snapchat fell from 19% to 16%. Instagram is roughly the same, at 28% in 2020 to 27% in 2021.
Only one social media platform grew as a news source during this time: TikTok.
In 2020, 22% of the short-form video platform’s users said they regularly got their news there, compared with an increased 29% in 2021.
Overall, though, most of these sites have very little traction with the wider adult population in the U.S. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans regularly get their news from Reddit (7%), TikTok (6%), LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).
There are demographic differences between who uses which sites, as well.
White adults tend to turn to Facebook and Reddit for news (60% and 54%, respectively). Black and Hispanic adults make up significant proportions of the regular news consumers on Instagram (20% and 33%, respectively.) Younger adults tend to turn to Snapchat and TikTok, while the majority of news consumers on LinkedIn have four-year college degrees.
Of course, Pew’s latest survey, conducted from July 26 to Aug. 8, 2021, is based on self-reported data. That means people’s answers are based on how the users perceive their own usage of these various sites for newsgathering. This can produce different results compared with real-world measurements of how often users visited the sites to read news. Some users may underestimate their usage and others may overestimate it.
People may also not fully understand the ramifications of reading news on social media, where headlines and posts are often molded into inflammatory clickbait in order to entice engagement in the form of reactions and comments. This, in turn, may encourage strong reactions — but not necessarily from those worth listening to. In recent Pew studies, it found that social media news consumers tended to be less knowledgeable about the facts on key news topics, like elections or Covid-19. And social media consumers were more frequently exposed to fringe conspiracies (which is pretty apparent to anyone reading the comments!)
For the current study, the full sample size was 11,178 respondents, and the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.
Facetune developer Lightricks, which operates over a dozen subscription-based photo and video editing apps across iOS and Android, now has $130 million in new funding to further grow its business. The company’s newly announced Series D round includes $100 million in primary and $30 million in secondary funding, and now values the company at $1.8 billion. To date, Lightricks has raised $335 million.
The new round was co-led by New York-based VC firm Insight Partners and Hanaco Venture Capital and includes new investors Migdal Insurance, Altshuler Shaham, and Shavit Capital. Existing investors Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Clal Tech, Harel Insurance and Finance, and Greycroft, also participated.
The company’s last round of funding was its pre-pandemic raise of $135 million, which minted the company as a unicorn.
Based in Jerusalem, Lightricks has been best known for its photo-editing app Facetune, which puts Photoshop-like retouching tools into the hands of consumers. The app quickly gained traction as online influencers tweaked their Instagram photos to look more polished, perfected, and blemish-free. This growth wasn’t without controversy, however, as some argued how image editing apps like Facetune took airbrushing too far, contributing to body image issues that now, Facebook’s internal research indicates, could have a negative effect on teenagers’ mental health.
But Facetune was only the beginning for what’s since become a mobile editing empire for Lightricks, at a time when everyone is trying to look their best online and create compelling content. Over the years, the company has rolled out the more powerful Facetune 2, along with other creativity and mobile photo apps that weren’t focused on selfies. It also expanded its product lineup beyond the creator crowd to bring a suite of tools to online marketers and small businesses. And last year, Lightricks more directly responded to the growth in online video as a form of self-expression with a new selfie retouching tool called Facetune Video — essentially the Facetune for the TikTok era.
The company benefitted from Covid-19 lockdowns, as well, as more people participated online and creators, as a group, became more well-established as a way for brands to reach consumers. During peak lockdowns, the company saw a 90% increase in usage across its apps in the U.S. Meanwhile, downloads for its popular Videoleap video editing apps jumped 70% since the start of the pandemic, as TikTok adoption also grew.
Across its suite of apps, the company now touts 29 million monthly active users, where over 5 million are paid subscribers. Its users average around 78 million monthly exports, indicating Lightricks’ sizable impact on the creator economy. In 2021, Lightricks is on track for over $200 million in revenue and plans to grow that figure by 40% in the year ahead.
To do so, the company’s strategy will change. Instead of just developing its own apps, it’s now on the hunt for potential acquisitions.
“Our plan is to grow into a one-stop-shop creator platform, supporting creators throughout their journey, from content creation to monetization,” says Zeev Farbman, CEO and Co-Founder of Lightricks. “To do so, we are broadening our acquisition activity, while developing other services in-house—our overall M&A objective is advancing our shift into the creator’s platform. To begin, we are planning between three to five acquisitions, each with a budget of tens of millions of dollars. However, we are also on the lookout for larger ticket size deals if there is enough conviction on both sides,” he notes.
The company will also enhance its own technology to develop tools and services that will help all creators with content production and monetization, and it will grow its team.
Currently, Lightricks has 460 employees and plans to add 60 more by the end of 2021. The longer-term goal is to grow the team to 1,000 employees by the end of 2023, across roles that include developers, designers, and marketing. While most of this growth to date has taken place in Jerusalem, over the next two years, the company plans to grow its teams locally in Haifa, as well as internationally in London and Shenzhen. It may add on other locations through M&As, as well.
The U.K. office is now the largest outside of Lightricks’ headquarters, with 23 people. This number is expected to climb to 35 by year-end and be closer to 50 or 60 by the end of 2022, with growth focused on the production of the company’s new photography app plus Customer Experience and Marketing teams, which were previously only in Israel.
In the U.S., Lightricks is focused on content.
“Our U.S.-based activity will focus mostly on our content efforts that will provide a vast array of original, acquired, and co-produced content to inspire, educate and entertain creators across the entirety of their careers,” notes Farbman. “This includes written, video, audio, short and long-form, fun and informative content,” he says.
Investors say they see the potential for Lightricks to continue to grow as the creator economy booms.
“The creator economy has changed the way we, as a society, experience social networks,” said Pasha Romanovski, Co-Founding Partner of Hanaco Ventures, in a statement. “Audiences constantly consume information through the different content channels daily. Lightricks’ platform enables creators to have a broader, more professional, and higher-quality set of tools to optimize content. At a time when we are seeing content creators monetize content on social media at new levels, it is clear that Lightricks’ platform has the ability to create a one-stop shop that will be meaningful to its users,” he added.
Weeks after Amazon introduced an updated Fire TV lineup that included, for the first time, its own TVs, Roku today is announcing its own competitive products in a race to capture consumers’ attention before the holiday shopping season. Its updates include a new Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ — the latter which ships with Roku’s newer hands-free voice remote. The company is also refreshing the Roku Ultra LT, a Walmart-exclusive version of its high-end player. And it announced the latest software update, Roku OS 10.5, which adds updated voice features, a new Live TV channel for home screens, and other minor changes.
The new Streaming Stick 4K builds on Roku’s four-year-old product, the Streaming Stick+, as it offers the same type of stick form factor designed to be hidden behind the TV set. This version, however, has a faster processor which allows the device to boot up to 30% faster and load channels more quickly, Roku claims. The Wi-Fi is also improved, offering faster speeds and smart algorithms that help make sure users get on the right band for the best performance in their homes where network congestion is an increasingly common problem — especially with the pandemic-induced remote work lifestyle. The new Stick adds support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10+, giving it the “4K” moniker.
This version ships with Roku’s standard voice remote for the same price of $49.99. For comparison, Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick Max with a faster processor and speedier Wi-Fi is $54.99. However, Amazon is touting the addition of Wi-Fi 6 and support for its game streaming service, Luna, as reasons to upgrade.
Roku’s new Streaming Stick 4K+ adds the Roku Voice Remote Pro to the bundle instead. This is Roku’s new remote, launched in the spring, that offers rechargeability, a lost remote finder, and hands-free voice support via its mid-field microphone, so you can just say things like “hey Roku, turn on the TV,” or “launch Netflix,” instead of pressing buttons. Bought separately, this remote is $29.99. The bundle sells for $69.99, which translates to a $10 discount over buying the stick and remote by themselves.
Both versions of the Streaming Stick will be sold online and in stores starting in October.
The Roku Ultra LT ($79.99), built for Walmart exclusively, has also been refreshed with a faster processor, more storage, a new Wi-Fi radio with up to 50% longer range, support for Dolby Vision, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a built-in ethernet port.
Plus, Roku notes that TCL will become the first device partner to use the reference designs it introduced at CES for wireless soundbars, with its upcoming Roku TV wireless soundbar. This device connects over Wi-Fi to the TV and works with the Roku remote, and will arrive at major retailers in October where it will sell for $179.99.
The other big news is Roku’s OS 10.5 software release. The update isn’t making any dramatic changes this time around, but is instead focused largely on voice and mobile improvements.
The most noticeable consumer-facing change is the ability to add a new Live TV channel to your home screen which lets you more easily launch The Roku Channel’s 200+ free live TV channels, instead of having to first visit Roku’s free streaming hub directly, then navigate to the Live TV section. This could make the Roku feel more like traditional TV for cord-cutters abandoning their TV guide for the first time.
Other tweaks include expanded support for launching channels using voice commands, with most now supported; new voice search and podcast playback with a more visual “music and podcast” row and Spotify as a launch partner; the ability to control sound settings in the mobile app; an added Voice Help guide in settings; and additional sound configuration options for Roku speakers and soundbars (e.g. using the speaker pairs and soundbar in a left/center/right) or in full 5.1 surround sound system).
A handy feature for entering in email and passwords in set-up screens using voice commands is new, too. Roku says it sends the voice data off-device to its speech-to-text partner, and the audio is anonymized. Roku doesn’t get the password or store it, as it goes directly to the channel partner. While there are always privacy concerns with voice data, the addition is a big perk from an accessibility standpoint.
One of the more under-the-radar, but potentially useful changes coming in OS 10.5 is an advanced A/V sync feature that lets you use the smartphone camera to help Roku make further refinements to the audio delay when using wireless headphones to listen to the TV. This feature is offered through the mobile app.
The Roku mobile app in the U.S. is also gaining another feature with the OS 10.5 update with the addition of a new Home tab for browsing collections of movies and shows across genres, and a “Save List, which functions as a way to bookmark shows or movies you might hear about — like when chatting with friends — and want to remember to watch later when you’re back home in front of the TV.
The software update will roll out to Roku devices over the weeks ahead. It typically comes to Roku players first, then rolls out to TVs.
The Kremlin’s propaganda system, lurid and spurious, is central to the president’s power.
In May 2020, WarnerMedia launched HBO Max into a crowded streaming landscape. In spite of early struggles, the timing couldn’t have been better. When the world was stuck at home, struggling to find new sources of entertainment amid a global pandemic, HBO’s latest attempt at an app-based platform rose in the ranks alongside fellow newly launched service, Disney+.
The platform builds on HBO’s much-loved original prestige programming, while taking advantage of a day and date approach to streaming films, which many studios have opened up to amid worldwide theater shutdowns. In particular, its sister studio Warner Bros. has premiered a number of big-budget films on the service — including “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy” — as the pandemic has shown no sign of slowing.
The past year has brought plenty of channels for the service, as well. Not everyone is thrilled about the pandemic trend of bypassing the theater. Sopranos creator David Chase was recently quoted as being “extremely angry” about the HBO Max release of the prequel — news that followed Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney over its own streaming release of “Black Widow.” The company has evolved strategies, removing its offering from Amazon Prime Channels and adding a lower-cost ad-based tier to Max.
WarnerMedia EVP and head of business operations for HBO Max Andy Forssell will be joining us at our virtual TechCrunch Disrupt next week on September 21-23 to discuss the service’s launch during a turbulent time, as well as what the future holds for the app, and video streaming in general. Prior to joining WarnerMedia in 2019, Forssell served as the COO of Otter Media and Fullscreen, Inc. and was the acting CEO and SVP of Hulu.
Disrupt starts next week. Get your ticket now for less than $100 before the price goes up in a few short days.
Following entries into the newsletter market from tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, Google is now experimenting with newsletters, too. The company’s internal R&D division, Area 120, has a new project called Museletter, which allows anyone to publish a Google Drive file as a blog or newsletter to their Museletter public profile or to an email list.
The effort would essentially repurpose Google’s existing document-creation tools as a means of competing with other newsletter platforms, like Substack, Ghost, Revue, and others, which are today attracting a growing audience.
Reached for comment, an Area 120 spokesperson declined to share further details about Museletter, saying only that it was “one of the many experiments” within the R&D group and that “it’s still very early.”
From the Museletter website, however, there is already much that can be learned about the project. The site explains how Google Drive could be monetized by creators in a way that would allow Google’s newsletter project to differentiate itself from the competition. Not only could newsletters be written in a Google Doc, other productivity apps could also be used to share information with readers. For example, a newsletter creator could offer a paid subscription plan that would allow readers to access their Google Slides. A creator who writes about finance could publish helpful spreadsheets to Google Sheets, which would be available to their subscribers.
To make this possible, Museletter publishers would create a public profile on their Google Drive, then publish any Google Drive file directly to it. This provides them with a landing page where they can market their subscriptions and showcase how many different Drive files they’ve made publically available across Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
Creators can also optionally publish to an email list — including a list brought in from other platforms. The newsletter subscriptions can be free or paid, depending on the creator’s preferences, but using Museletter itself will be free. Instead, the project aims to monetize with premium features like custom domains, welcome emails, and more.
The platform also promises tools and analytics to engage audiences and track the newsletter’s performance.
While the site doesn’t mention any plans for advertising, a success in this space could provide Google with a new ad revenue stream — and one that arrives at a time when the tech giant’s multi-billion dollar advertising market has a new challenger in the form of Amazon, whose own ad business could eventually challenge the Facebook-Google duopoly.
Google didn’t say when it plans to launch Museletter, but the website is offering a link to a form where users can request early access.
SmartNews, a Tokyo-headquartered news aggregation website and app that’s grown in popularity despite hefty competition from built-in aggregators like Apple News, today announced it has closed on $230 million in Series F funding. The round brings SmartNews’ total raise to date to over $400 million and values the business at $2 billion — or as the company touts in its press release, a “double unicorn.” (Ha!)
The funding included new U.S. investors Princeville Capital and Woodline Partners, as well as JIC Venture Growth Investments, Green Co-Invest Investment, and Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office in Japan. Existing investors participating in this round included ACA Investments and SMBC Venture Capital.
Founded in 2012 in Japan, the company launched to the U.S. in 2014 and expanded its local news footprint early last year. While the app’s content team includes former journalists, machine learning is used to pick which articles are shown to readers to personalize their experience. However, one of the app’s key differentiators is how it works to pop users’ “filter bubbles” through its “News From All Sides” feature, which allows its users to access news from across a range of political perspectives.
It has also developed new products, like its Covid-19 vaccine dashboard and U.S. election dashboard, that provide critical information at a glance. With the additional funds, the company says it plans to develop more features for its U.S. audience — one of its largest, in addition to Japan — that will focus on consumer health and safety. These will roll out in the next few months and will include features for tracking wildfires and crime and safety reports. It also recently launched a hurricane tracker.
The aggregator’s business model is largely focused on advertising, as the company has said before that 85-80% of Americans aren’t paying to subscribe to news. But SmartNews’ belief is that these news consumers still have a right to access quality information.
In total, SmartNews has relationships with over 3,000 global publishing partners whose content is available through its service on the web and mobile devices.
To generate revenue, the company sells inline ads and video ads, where revenue is shared with publishers. Over 75% of its publishing partners also take advantage of its “SmartView” feature. This is the app’s quick-reading mode, and alternative to something like Google AMP. Here, users can quickly load an article to read, even if they’re offline. The company promises publishers that these mobile-friendly stories, which are marked with a lightning bolt icon in the app, deliver higher engagement — and its algorithm rewards that type of content, bringing them more readers. Among SmartView partners are well-known brands like USA Today, ABC, HuffPost, and others. Currently, over 70% of all SmartNews’ pageviews are coming from SmartView first.
SmartNews’ app has proven to be very sticky, in terms of attracting and keeping users’ attention. The company tells us, citing App Annie July 2021 data, that it sees an average time spent per user per month on U.S. mobile devices that’s higher than Google News or Apple News combined.
The company declined to share its monthly active users (MAUs), but had said in 2019 it had grown to 20 million in the U.S. and Japan. Today, it says its U.S. MAUs doubled over the last year.
According to data provided to us by Apptopia, the SmartNews app has seen around 85 million downloads since its October 2014 launch, and 14 million of those took place in the past 365 days. Japan is the largest market for installs, accounting for 59% of lifetime downloads, the firm noted.
“This latest round of funding further affirms the strength of our mission, and fuels our drive to expand our presence and launch features that specifically appeal to users and publishers in the United States,” said SmartNews co-founder and CEO Ken Zuzuki. “Our investors both in the U.S. and globally acknowledge the tremendous growth potential and value of SmartNews’s efforts to democratize access to information and create an ecosystem that benefits consumers, publishers, and advertisers,” he added.
The company says the new funds will be used to invest in further U.S. growth and expanding the company’s team. Since its last fundraise in 2019, where it became a unicorn, the company more than doubled its headcount to approximately 500 people globally. it now plans to double its headcount of 100 in the U.S., with additions across engineering, product, and leadership roles.
The Wall Street Journal reports SmartNews is exploring an IPO, but the company declined to comment on this.
The SmartNews app is available on iOS and Android across more than 150 countries worldwide.
Google’s streaming TV service, YouTube TV, announced today it’s adding more Spanish-language networks to its base membership package and is preparing to launch an add-on package that will include even more Spanish-language content. Starting today, all subscribers will gain access to three new TV networks at no additional cost: Univision, UniMás, and Galavisión. These will join YouTube TV’s existing lineup of over 85 live TV channels, which today include top networks like Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and others, in addition to entertainment networks like those from Discovery and ViacomCBS.
The additions will bring to YouTube TV members a range of new Spanish-language content, including primetime series like “La Desalmada” and “Vencer El Pasado” arriving this fall, reality competition series “Nuestra Belleza Latina” on September 26, plus the 22nd Annual Latin Grammy Awards on November 18. The additions also bring sports programming like the Campeones Cup on September 29, and ongoing match-ups from Liga MX, UEFA Champions League, MLS, and the Mexican National Team, the company says.
Univision also noted that subscribers in top Hispanic markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and others, will be able to access Univision and UniMás’ local news, weather, and other programming. Plus, YouTube TV will carry Univision’s video-on-demand content library at launch, and subscribers will be able to use their YouTube TV credentials to authenticate with the company’s “TV everywhere”-powered Univision app.
The companies did not disclose the financial terms of their new agreement, but the deal hasn’t come with a price increase. YouTube TV, however, has been steadily hiking prices since its debut. It increased the service’s pricing to $64.99 last summer, following the new additions of 14 ViacomCBS networks, for example. But last month, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said there would be no new price increases in the near-term.
While the new channels will reach all subscribers, YouTube TV also announced plans to introduce a new add-on package that will be available for an additional monthly cost. This will include other Spanish-language networks like Sony Cine, CNN Español, Discovery en Español, Estrella TV, Cinelatino, Fox Deportes, and others. YouTube TV is not yet sharing the full lineup nor the price of the add-on just yet, but said it would offer more details in the “coming months.”
The Spanish-language network Pantaya will also be offered in the weeks ahead for an additional $5.99 per month, providing access to Spanish-language movies and exclusive original series, all of which are on-demand.
“We are delighted to partner with YouTube TV to expand Univision’s robust portfolio of networks and stations to include YouTube TV,” said Hamed Nasseri, Univision Vice President, Content Distribution, in a statement. “Amid the popularity of streaming services as well as the growing influence of our Hispanic community, this is an important step to ensure that our audience has access to our leading Spanish-language news, sports, and entertainment wherever they consume content. We are excited for today’s launch and recognize YouTube TV’s continued commitment to serving our growing and influential Hispanic audience.”
YouTube TV is not the first streamer to cater to an audience looking for Spanish-language content. In 2018, Hulu added its own Spanish-language bundle called ‘Español,’ which now gives subscribers live programming from networks including ESPN Deportes, NBC Universo, CNN En Español, History Channel En Español, Discovery en Español, and Discovery Familia. Hulu, however, doesn’t carry Univision but does offer Telemundo. Fubo TV, meanwhile, offers Univision and Telemundo and provides an Español plan with dozens of Spanish-language channels.
If anything, YouTube TV had been behind in terms of catering to Spanish speakers until now, and this offering will make it more competitive with rival services.
This summer, Spotify launched its live audio app and Clubhouse rival, Spotify Greenroom, with the promises of more programming to come in the months ahead to augment its then primarily user-generated live content. Today, the company is making good on that earlier commitment, with the launch of six new shows on Spotify Greenroom focused on pop culture and music, in addition to what Spotify calls “playlist-inspired shows” — meaning those that are inspired by Spotify’s own playlists.
This includes a new show based on the popular playlist Lorem, which launched in 2019, showcasing an eclectic mix of music that has included indie pop, R&B, garage rock, hip-hop, and more, focused on a younger, Gen Z audience. That playlist today has over 884,000 “likes” on Spotify and has risen to become one of the places new artists are able to break through on the platform. Now, Lorem listeners will be connected to “Lorem Life,” a Spotify Greenroom show that will feature a mix of culture and discussions about music, the environment, sustainability, fashion, and space, Spotify says. The show is hosted by Gen Z influencers and TikTok stars, Dev Lemons and Max Motley, who will engage with other artists and influencers. It begins airing on Wednesday, September 15, at 9 PM ET.
Another new “playlist-inspired” show is “The Get Up LIVE.” If the name sounds familiar, it’s because “The Get Up” was introduced last fall as Spotify’s own take on a daily morning show by mixing music with talk radio-style content led by hosts who discuss the news, pop culture, entertainment, and other topics. To date, that content has not been provided as a live program, however. Instead, the show has been pre-recorded then made available as a playlist that gives listeners the feel of a daily FM radio show. Now, “The Get Up’s” co-hosts Kat Lazo and Xavier “X” Jernigan will record their show live on Greenroom, starting on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 11 AM ET.
This odd time seems to contradict Spotify’s original intention of providing a show for those who commute to the office. But with the rise of remote work in the face of the unending pandemic, addressing the commuter audience may be of less interest, with the new program. However, Spotify tells us “The Get up LIVE” will be complementary to the daily show, which will still run as normal — that’s why it has a later airing.
Other new Greenroom shows include “A Gay in the Life,” hosted by the married couple, actor Garrett Clayton and writer and educator Blake Knight, who will discuss LGBTQIA+ news and issues (weekly, 8 PM ET, starting today); “Take a Seat,” hosted by Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam of the “Watch What Crappens” podcast, who will recap reality shows and dive into other pop culture fascinations (weekly, 10 PM ET, starting today); “The Movie Buff,” hosted by film buff and comedian Jon Gabrus, who will review and break down the latest hot movies (weekly, 11 PM ET, starting today); and “The Most Necessary: Live,” a complement to Spotify’s “Most Necessary” playlist, where host B.Dot will discuss up-and-comers in hip-hop (weekly, 9 PM ET, starting Tuesday).
In addition to the new programs, Deuxmoi’s show “Deux Me After Dark” will also air this evening (Sept. 13) at 9 PM ET to recap the red carpet looks and gossip from this year’s Met Gala alongside guest Hillary Kerr, co-founder of Who What Wear.
Greenrom is now available to listeners in over 135 global markets and has been quietly expanding with live audio from sports site and podcast network “The Ringer” as well as from artists like Pop Smoke, the company says. Other programs added include Men In Blazers, Deaux Me After Dark, True Crime Rewind and Ask The Tarot.
The app had gotten off to a slower start this year, given its roots had been in sports talk live programming, which didn’t necessarily connect with Spotify’s music fans. Plus, it has faced growing competition from not only Clubhouse, which inspired its creation, but also other top social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Discord, and more. Without dedicated programs to garner user interest in yet another live audio app, the company had only seen 141,000 new downloads for Greenroom on iOS a little over a month after its launch, and fewer on Google Play. But Spotify’s long-term vision for the service was to more closely tie Greenroom to the music, artists, programs, and podcasts that were already available on its flagship music streaming app — and these new shows are an example of that plan in action.
Media technology company Amagi announced Friday $100 million to further develop its cloud-based SaaS technology for broadcast and connected televisions.
Accel, Avataar Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners joined existing investor Premji Invest in the funding round, which included buying out stakes held by Emerald Media and Mayfield Fund. Nadathur Holdings continues as an existing investor. The latest round gives Amagi total funding raised to date of $150 million, Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi, told TechCrunch.
New Delhi-based Amagi provides cloud broadcast and targeted advertising software so that customers can create content that can be created and monetized to be distributed via broadcast TV and streaming TV platforms like The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus and Pluto TV. The company already supports more than 2,000 channels on its platform across over 40 countries.
“Video is a complex technology to manage — there are large files and a lot of computing,” Subramanian said. “What Amagi does is enable a content owner with zero technology knowledge to simplify that complex workflow and scalable infrastructure. We want to make it easy to plug in and start targeting and monetizing advertising.”
As a result, Amagi customers see operational cost savings on average of up to 40% compared to traditional delivery models and their ad impressions grow between five and 10 times.
The new funding comes at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth. For example, Amagi grew 30 times in the United States alone over the past few years, Subramanian said. Amagi commands an audience of over 2 billion people, and the U.S. is its largest market. The company also sees growth potential in both Latin America and Europe.
In addition, in the last year, revenue grew 136%, while new customer year over year growth was 44%, including NBCUniversal — Subramanian said the Tokyo Olympics were run on Amagi’s platform for NBC, USA Today and ABS-CBN.
As more of a shift happens with video content being developed for connected television experiences, which he said is a $50 billion market, the company plans to use the new funding for sales expansion, R&D to invest in the company’s product pipeline and potential M&A opportunities. The company has not made any acquisitions yet, Subramanian added.
In addition to the broadcast operations in New Delhi, Amagi also has an innovation center in Bangalore and offices in New York, Los Angeles and London.
“Consumer behavior and infrastructure needs have reached a critical mass and new companies are bringing in the next generation of media, and we are a large part of that growth,” Subramanian said. “Sports will come on quicker, while live news and events are going to be one of the biggest growth areas.”
Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel, said Amagi is taking a unique approach to enterprise SaaS due to that $50 billion industry shift happening in video content, where he sees half of the spend moving to connected television platforms quickly.
Some of the legacy players like Viacom and NBCUniversal created their own streaming platforms, where Netflix and Amazon have also been leading, but not many SaaS companies are enabling the transition, he said.
When Kirani met Subramanian five years ago, Amagi was already well funded, but Kirani was excited about the platform and wanted to help the company scale. He believes the company has a long tailwind because it is saving people time and enabling new content providers to move faster to get their content distributed.
“Amagi is creating a new category and will grow fast,” Kirani added. “They are already growing and doubling each year with phenomenal SaaS metrics because they are helping content providers to connect to any audience.
Apple Music announced today that it’s created a process to properly identify and compensate all of the individual creators involved in making a DJ mix. Using technology from the audio-recognition app Shazam, which Apple acquired in 2018 for $400 million, Apple Music is working with major and independent labels to devise a fair way to divide streaming royalties among DJs, labels, and artists who appear in the mixes. This is intended to help DJ mixes retain long-term monetary value for all creators involved, making sure that musicians get paid for their work even when other artists iterate on it. And, as one of Apple’s first major integrations of Shazam’s technology, it appears that the company saw value in
Historically, it’s been difficult for DJs to stream mixes online, since live streaming platforms like YouTube or Twitch might flag the use of other artists’ songs as copyright infringement. Artists are entitled to royalties when their song is played by a DJ during a live set, but dance music further complicates this, since small samples from various songs can be edited and mixed together into something unrecognizable.
Apple Music already hosts thousands of mixes, including sets from Tomorrowland’s digital festivals from 2020 and 2021, but only now is it formally announcing the tech that enables it to do this, even though Billboard noted it in June. As part of this announcement, Studio K7!’s DJ Kicks archive of mixes will begin to roll out on the service, giving fans access to mixes that haven’t been on the market in over 15 years.
“Apple Music is the first platform that offers continuous mixes where there’s a fair fee involved for the artists whose tracks are included in the mixes and for the artist making those mixes. It’s a step in the right direction where everyone gets treated fairly,” DJ Charlotte de Witte said in a statement on behalf of Apple. “I’m beyond excited to have the chance to provide online mixes again.”
For dance music fans, the ability to stream DJ mixes is groundbreaking, and it can help Apple Music compete with Spotify, which leads the industry in paid subscribers as it surpasses Apple’s hold on podcasting. Even as Apple Music has introduced lossless audio, spatial audio, and classical music acquisitions, the company hasn’t yet outpaced Spotify, though the addition of DJ mixes adds yet another unique music feature.
Still, Apple Music’s dive into the DJ royalties conundrum doesn’t necessarily address the broader crises at play among live musicians and DJs surviving through a pandemic.
Though platforms like Mixcloud allow DJs to stream sets and monetize using pre-licensed music, Apple Music’s DJ mixes will not include user-generated content. MIDiA Research, in partnership with Audible Magic, found that user-generated content (UGC) — online content that uses music, whether it’s a lipsync TikTok or a Soundcloud DJ mix — could be a music industry goldmine worth over $6 billion in the next two years. But Apple is not yet investing in UGC, as individuals cannot yet upload their personal mixes to stream on the platform like they might on Soundcloud. According to a Billboard report from June, Apple Music will only host mixes after the streamer has identified 70% of the combined tracks.
Apple Music didn’t respond to questions about how exactly royalties will be divided, but this is only a small step in reimagining how musicians will make a living in a digital landscape.
While these innovations help get artists compensated, streaming royalties only account for a small percentage of how musicians make money — Apple pays musicians one cent per stream, while competitors like Spotify pay only fractions of cents. This led the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to launch a campaign in March called Justice at Spotify, which demands a one-cent-per-stream payout that matches Apple’s. But live events remain a musician’s bread and butter, especially given platforms’ paltry streaming payouts — of course, the pandemic hasn’t been conducive to touring. To add insult to injury, the Association for Electronic Music estimated in 2016 that dance music producers missed out on $120 million in royalties from their work being used without attribution in live performances.
Roku’s expansion into original content continues with news that the streaming platform and device maker will debut its first original feature-length film during the 2021 holiday season. In partnership with Lionsgate, Roku announced it will introduce a movie based on the Emmy-winning TV series “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” which will air on its free streaming hub, The Roku Channel later this year.
The new movie, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas,” will continue where the series left off following its season 2 finale and series cancellation, which had upset fans who had taken to social media in hopes of saving the show by finding it a new home. Roku, as it turns out, is that home — not only will it air the new film, it will also make all 25 episodes of the series available to stream for free on The Roku Channel in the U.S. later this fall.
The feature film, meanwhile, begins production this month in Vancouver, and will see a number of actors reprising their roles, including Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Andrew Leeds, Alice Lee, Michael Thomas Grant, Kapil Talwalkar, David St. Louis, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Gallagher, and Bernadette Peters. Details of the film’s plot are still limited, however, noting only that it will be a continuation of Zoey’s journey as she “navigates work, family, love and everything in between.”
While a significant move for fans who simply wanted more of their favorite show, it’s a bigger step forward for Roku and its original content strategy. The company had already tested consumers’ appetite for original series by acquiring the content catalog from the short-lived streaming service Quibi earlier this year, whose shows then launched to The Roku Channel as the company’s first set of Roku Originals. The debut lineup included 30 titles, but Roku is continuing to roll out more shows as the year progresses. Last month, for instance, it released 23 more of those shows to its collection. The company also recently decided to reinvest in at least one previously Quibi-owned series by greenlighting a second season of “Most Dangerous Game.”
But until now, Roku has not invested in full-length movies.
Movies make a good fit for The Roku Channel, of course, as the free streaming is supported by advertising — and movies, due to their length, offer more ad slots to be filled. In fact, The Roku Channel got its start as free movies hub, before later expanding to include TV shows and other types of content, like news and sports.
So far, Roku’s original programming seems to be connecting with viewers. The company says its top 5 streamed TV shows this summer (May 20-July 18) were all Roku Originals.
The new film is produced by Lionsgate in association with the Tannenbaum Company, Feigco Entertainment, and Universal Music Group’s Polygram Entertainment and Zihuatenejo Productions. The series creator Austin Winsberg will write and executive produce. Richard Shepard, who filmed the show’s pilot, will direct. Kim Tannenbaum, Eric Tannenbaum, Paul Feig, David Blackman, and Daniel Inkeles will also serve as executive producers.
The movie will air on The Roku Channel during the holidays in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
Earlier this year, Apple officially discontinued Music Memos, an iPhone app that allowed musicians to quickly record audio and develop new song ideas. Now, a new startup called Tape It is stepping in to fill the void with an app that improves audio recordings by offering a variety of features, including higher-quality sound, automatic instrument detection, support for markers, notes, and images, and more.
Walther had previously spent three and a half years at Spotify, following its 2017 acquisition of the audio detection startup Sonalytic, which he had co-founded. Nash, meanwhile, is a classically trained opera singer, who also plays bass and is an engineer.
The founders, who had played in a band together for many years, were inspired to build Tape It because it was something they wanted for themselves, Walther says. After ending his stint at Spotify working in their new Soundtrap division (an online music startup Spotify also bought in 2017), he knew he wanted to work on a project that was more focused on the music-making side of things. But while Soundtrap worked for some, it wasn’t what either Walther or his friends had needed. Instead, they wanted a simple tool that would allow them to record their music with their phone — something that musicians often do today using Apple’s Voice Memos app and, briefly, Music Memos — until its demise.
“Regardless of whether you’re an amateur or even like a touring professional…you will record your ideas with your phone, just because that’s what you have with you,” Walther explains. “It’s the exact same thing with cameras — the best camera is the one you have with you. And the best audio recording tool is the one you have with you.”
That is, when you want to record, the easiest thing to do is not to get out your laptop and connect a bunch of cables to it, then load up your studio software — it’s to hit the record button on your iPhone.
The Tape It app allows you to do just that, but adds other features that make it more competitive with its built-in competition, Voice Memos.
When you record using Tape It, the app leverages A.I. to automatically detect the instrument, then annotate the recording with a visual indication to make those recordings easier to find by looking for the colorful icon. Musicians can also add their own markers to the files right when they record them, then add notes and photos to remind themselves of other details. This can be useful when reviewing the recordings later on, Walther says.
“If I have a nice guitar sound, I can just take a picture of the settings on my amplifier, and I have them. This is something musicians do all the time,” he notes. “It’s the easiest way to re-create that sound.”
Another novel, but simple, change in Tape It is that breaks longer recordings into multiple lines, similar to a paragraph of text. The team calls this the “Time Paragraph,” and believes it will make listening to longer sessions easier than the default — which is typically a single, horizontally scrollable recording.
The app has also been designed so it’s easier to go back to the right part of recordings, thanks to its smart waveforms, in addition to the optional markers and photos. And you can mark recordings as favorites so you can quickly pull up a list of your best ideas and sounds. The app offers full media center integration as well, so you can play back your music whenever you have time.
However, the standout feature is Tape It’s support for “Stereo HD” quality. Here, the app takes advantage of the two microphones on devices like the iPhone XS, XR, and other newer models, then improves the sound using A.I. technology and other noise reduction techniques which it’s developed in-house. This feature is part of its $20 per year premium subscription.
Over time, Tape It intends to broaden its use of A.I. and other IP to improve the sound quality further. It also plans to introduce collaborative features and support for importing and exporting recordings into professional studio software. This could eventually place Tape It into the same market that SoundCloud had initially chased before it shifted its focus to becoming more of a consumer-facing service.
But first, Tape It wants to nail the single-user workflow before adding on more sharing features.
“We decided that it’s so important to make sure it’s useful, even just for you. The stuff that you can collaborate on — if you don’t like using it yourself, you’re not going to use it,” Walther says.
Tape It’s team of three is dually based in both Stockholm and Berlin and is currently bootstrapping.
The app itself is a free download on iOS and will later support desktop users on Mac and Windows. An Android version is not planned.
Microsoft today is introducing its own personalized news reading experience called Microsoft Start, available as both a website and mobile app, in addition to being integrated with other Microsoft products, including Windows 10 and 11 and its Microsoft Edge web browser. The feed will combine content from news publishers, but in a way that’s tailored to users’ individual interests, the company says — a customization system that could help Microsoft to better compete with the news reading experiences offered by rivals like Apple or Google, as well as popular third-party apps like Flipboard or SmartNews.
Microsoft says the product builds on the company’s legacy with online and mobile consumer services like MSN and Microsoft News. However, it won’t replace MSN. That service will remain available, despite the launch of this new, in-house competitor.
To use Microsoft Start, consumers can visit the standalone website MicrosoftStart.com, which works on both Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge (but not Safari), or they can download the Microsoft Start mobile app for iOS or Android.
The service will also power the News and Interests experience on the Windows 10 taskbar and the Widgets experience on Windows 11. In Microsoft Edge, it will be available from the New Tab page, too.
At first glance, the Microsoft Start website it very much like any other online portal offering a collection of news from a variety of publishers, alongside widgets for things like weather, stocks, sports scores and traffic. When you click to read an article, you’re taken to a syndicated version hosted on Microsoft’s domain, which includes the Microsoft Start top navigation bar at the top and emoji reaction buttons below the headline.
Users can also react to stories with emojis while browsing the home page itself.
This emoji set is similar to the one being offered today by Facebook, except that Microsoft has replaced Facebook’s controversial laughing face emoji with a thinking face. (It’s worth noting that the Facebook laughing face has been increasingly criticized for being used to openly ridicule posts and mock people — even on stories depicting tragic events, like Covid deaths, for instance.)
Microsoft has made another change with its emoji, as well: after you react to a story with an emoji, you only see your emoji instead of the top three and total reaction count.
But while online web portals tend to be static aggregators of news content, Microsoft Start’s feed will adjust to users’ interests in several different ways.
Users can click a “Personalize” button to be taken to a page where they can manually add and remove interests from across a number of high-level categories like news, entertainment, sports, technology, money, finance, travel, health, shopping, and more. Or they can search for categories and interests that could be more specific or more niche. (Instead of “parenting,” for instance, “parenting teenagers.”) This recalls the recent update Flipboard made to its own main page, the For You feed, which lets users make similar choices.
As users then begin to browse their Microsoft Start feed, they can also click a button to thumbs up or thumbs down an article to better adjust the feed to their preferences. Over time, the more the user engages with the content, the better refined the feed becomes, says Microsoft. This customization will leverage A.I. and machine learning, as well as human moderation, the company notes.
The feed, like other online portals, is supported by advertising. As you scroll down, you’ll notice every few rows will feature one ad unit, where the URL is flagged with a green “Ad” badge. Initially, these mostly appear to be product ads, making them distinct from the news content. Since Microsoft isn’t shutting down MSN and is integrating this news service into a number of other products, it’s expanding the available advertising real estate it can offer with this launch.
The website, app and integrations are rolling out starting today. (If you aren’t able to find the app yet, you can try scanning the QR code from your mobile device.)