Creator+ raises $12M to build a film studio and streaming service focused on digital storytellers

In the words of co-founder and CEO Jonathan Shambroom, Creator+ is a new startup that will “finance, produce and distribute feature-length films from today’s top creators and emerging storytellers.”

The company is coming out of stealth today and also announcing that it has raised $12 million in funding led by Petra Group and Freestyle Capital, with participation from Jake Roper, Peter Hollens, Wendy Ayche (a.k.a. Wengie), Selina Tobaccowala, Jazwares CEO Judd Zebersky and others.

Shambroom (who’s been an executive at numerous startups and also served as general manager at Crackle) told me that one of the key aspects of the Creator+ strategy is that it controls “both sides of the equation” — it’s both producing films and building its own streaming platform, where the movies will be available for individual purchase, with no subscriptions and no ads.

He said that allows the startup to control costs and distribution, but it also “enables us to do something brand new with creators,” giving them a 50-50 split on revenue, as well as sharing audience data and ownership of the intellectual property.

“Creator” is a term that gets used pretty broadly, and Creator+ isn’t announcing any specific deals today. But co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Benjamin Grubbs (who previously led creator partnerships at YouTube) told me the company is initially focused on “storytellers and artists.”

“We recognize that there are a lot of gifted storytellers on some of these large, open, ad-supported platforms where they already reach large audiences and fan bases,” Grubbs said. “But there are constraints, whether that’s time-based or economic, on the types of stories that you can actually tell.”

So Creator+ will allow those creators to break free of some of those constraints, making feature films with budgets in the low seven figures. Shambroom said the startup wants to deliver “what people expect in a film, 90 minutes give-or-take … in many of the genres that exist today” while also allowing creators to experiment with new formats and new production technologies. In some cases, these movies could be a creator’s “passion project,” while in other cases Creator+ could match them up with the right script.

“We see a multitude of roles and opportunities for creators, both in front of or behind the camera,” Grubbs added.

Creator+ plans to put between five and 10 films into production this year, with the first titles released in 2022. Shambroom said it’s committed to supporting underrepresented storytellers and has already hired Ben O’Keefe as its head of diversity and impact. The team also has global ambitions, which is why they brought on international investors, including Malaysia-based Petra Group.

#creator, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #startups

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Quibi’s content is coming to Roku as ‘Roku Originals,’ will kick off Roku’s investment in original content

Earlier this year, Roku acquired the program catalog from Quibi, the short-form video app backed by Jeffrey Katzenberg that had failed to gain traction amid the pandemic, despite nearly $2 billion in financing. Quibi had been designed for on-the-go viewing, but launched when users were staying at home — watching TV on bigger screens and for longer periods of time. But now Quibil’s shows will return. Roku announced today that Quibi’s catalog will be rebranded as “Roku Originals,” and will arrive on The Roku Channel in the near future.

Roku says it will offer more details about its launch plans in May.

The company’s Roku Originals will become available to stream for free within The Roku Channel, the media platform’s ad-supported streaming hub for TV, movies, news, live TV, sports, and more. The originals arriving will include a range of content, including scripted and unscripted series, as well as documentaries. At launch, these will be available to users in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. only.

Quibi’s service had made headlines for its shows that featured several big names from Hollywood, including Anna Kendrick, Chrissy Teigen, Lena Waithe, Idris Elba, Kevin Hart, and Liam Hemsworth, among others. But none of the Quibi content had been compelling enough to push consumers to subscribe to Quibi’s service — that is, Quibi didn’t have a flagship show like “Game of Thrones” or a new “Star Trek” series to draw people in. It didn’t have any classics, either, like “The Office” or “Friends.” Instead, Quibi was relying on the combination of star power and its “quick bites” mobile viewing format to attract users. But the latter no longer made sense when life on-the-go had been shut down. And for escapist, short-form entertainment, users already had TikTok.

Today, Roku notes that while the Quibi shows will serve as the initial backbone for its Roku Originals catalog, it plans to launch more original programming in the future under this brand.

In 2021, the company will roll out over 75 Roku Originals, which will include Quibi’s catalog and other unreleased series that never got the chance to air on Quibi before its shutdown. This will complement The Roku Channel’s existing lineup of over 40,000 free movies and programs, and its over 165 free live, linear TV channels.

Roku’s streaming business got a big boost during the pandemic, which brought in a record $649.9 million in revenue in the fourth quarter and pushed Roku to a $65.2 million profit when Wall St. was expecting a loss. Active users were also up 39% year-over-year to 51.2 million, and The Roku Channel’s free hub grew faster, doubling to 63 million people. With originals, Roku has a chance to further retain that audience, even as the pandemic bump starts to fade and users go back to their regular lives as vaccination rates increase and workplaces re-open.

The Wall St. Journal had earlier reported Roku paid less than $100 million for Quibi’s catalog.

#internet, #internet-television, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #media-platform, #quibi, #roku, #streaming, #united-states

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Netflix’s Dominance Starts to Slow as Rivals Gain

The streaming service reported the addition of four million new customers for the first quarter, below the six million it had forecast.

#company-reports, #media, #netflix-inc, #video-recordings-downloads-and-streaming, #web-original-programming

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Netflix blames ‘lighter content slate’ for slowing subscriber growth

Netflix added 4.0 million net new subscribers in the first quarter of 2021, bringing its total subscriber base to 207.6 million, according to its latest earnings report.

Any year-over-year comparison was inevitably going to make this latest quarter seem disappointing, since Netflix grew by an unprecedented rate (15.77 million net new subscribers) during same period last year, when the pandemic first trapped global audiences at home. But these new numbers also fall short of the 210 million subscribers that Netflix had been predicting.

And while the streaming market has certainly become more competitive (with Disney+ recently passing 100 million subscribers), Netflix suggested that its lackluster growth had less to do with “competitive intensity” and more with the simple fact that it released fewer original shows and movies, thanks to pandemic-related production delays.

“We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays,” the company said. “We continue to anticipate a strong second half with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film lineup. In the short-term, there is some uncertainty from Covid-19; in the long-term, the rise of streaming to replace linear TV around the world is the clear trend in entertainment.”

Netflix noted that retention was “in line with our expectations,” and that the main issue was new user acquisition. It also said that “in early Q1, with the benefit of Bridgerton, Lupin and Cobra Kai, we were following a growth trajectory similar to recent years,” before growth dipped in March.

Pandemic-related delays will also affect the release schedule in Q2, so Netflix is only projecting 1 million net new subscribers. The release of high-profile titles should pick up again in the second half of the year, the company said, with production having resumed “in every major market, with the exception of Brazil and India.”

As for the company’s finances, revenue grew 24% year-over-year to $7.2 billion (in line with the forecast), with diluted earnings per share of $3.75. (Analysts had been predicting EPS of $2.97.) Netflix shares were down more than 11% in after-hours trading, as of 4:33pm Eastern.

#earnings, #entertainment, #media, #netflix

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Apple unveils podcast subscriptions and a redesigned Apple Podcasts app

After years of increased competition from Spotify, Apple today announced its own expansion into podcast subscriptions. At the company’s spring event this afternoon, Apple unveiled its plans for a podcasts subscription service which would allow listeners to unlock “additional benefits,” like ad-free listening, early access to episodes and the ability to support favorite creators. The service will be available as part of Apple’s newly updated Podcasts app where free podcasts are also found.

The announcement of the new service follows shortly after an industry report suggested that Spotify’s podcast listeners would top Apple’s for the first time in 2021.

Apple CEO Tim Cook briefly introduced the subscription at the launch of today’s event, noting that this was “the biggest change to Apple Podcasts since its debut.” He didn’t get into the details around pricing or functionality.

Cook also noted the Apple Podcasts app had been updated, with newly redesigned show and episode pages that make it easier to listen, follow and share podcasts. The app will also include a new “Channels” feature that lets you find shows from favorite creators and get recommendations.

Apple said the new service will be available in May to listeners in more than 170 countries and regions.

In a press release, Apple said the first premium subscriptions would come from both “independent voices and premier studios,” including Tenderfoot TV, Pushkin Industries, Radiotopia from PRX, and QCODE, as well as larger brands like NPR, the Los Angeles Times, The Athletic, Sony Music Entertainment, and others.

Apple’s plans for a podcast subscription service was previously scooped by The Wall St. Journal, which said the company was preparing to add a paid subscription option to its product, as well as by Vox Media’s Peter Kafka, who said he believed Apple would introduce a paywalled podcast subscription product at today’s event. There were also hints found in the iOS 14.5 beta, which showed a redesigned Podcasts app featuring an account button on the Listen Now tab. MacRumors had reported that show notifications had been relocated here, and suggested that managing paid subscriptions may also be found in this new area in the future.

The move to enter the subscription podcast space follows years of significant investment by the Apple Podcasts and Apple Music competitor, Spotify, also a chief Apple critic.

Spotify in February noted it had tripled the number of podcasts on its platform, year-over-year, to 2.2 million. It has also forged a variety of exclusive deals over the years with big names like Joe Rogan, Kim Kardashian, DC Comics, Michelle Obama and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, among others. And it has acquired podcast startups, ad tech and studios, including hosting and ad company Megaphone, creation tools from Anchor, content producers like Gimlet, The Ringer, and Parcast.

More recently, Spotify announced plans for its own podcast subscriptions via an Anchor feature and invested in live audio through its acquisition of live chat app Locker Room by Betty Labs. Spotify had said it would share subscription revenue with podcast creators, who would keep the majority of their earnings.

#apple, #apple-spring-hardware-event-2021, #audio, #creators, #media, #podcasting, #podcasts, #spotify, #subscriptions, #tc

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Catch&Release raises $14M to help marketers find and license content from across the web

Catch&Release founder and CEO Analisa Goodin told me that she wants to help brands break free from the limitations of stock photography — and that her startup has raised $14 million in Series A funding to achieve that goal.

Goodin explained that the company started out as an image research firm before becoming a product-focused, venture-backed startup in 2015. The Series A was led by Accel (with participation from Cervin Ventures and other existing investors), and it brings Catch&Release’s total funding to $26 million.

Stock media and video services are moving in this direction themselves, for example by introducing their own libraries of user-generated content. Goodin applauded this, and she said Catch&Release isn’t opposed to the use of stock photos — it integrates with these stock marketplaces. At the same time, she suggested that she has a much bigger vision.

“This isn’t just about UGC, this is about tapping into the creative potential of the internet,” she said.

After all, you can now find pretty much any kind of content you can imagine somewhere online, but “a lot of advertising agencies and brands have been trained that if a piece of content comes form internet, avoid it,” because it’s just “too hard” to figure out how to license it. (And indeed, that’s why I went with a stock photo for the lead image of this post.)

Catch&Release screenshot

Image Credits: Catch&Release

Catch&Release aims to make that process as simple as possible, first with a browser extension that allows marketers to save any media that they find on the web, anytime they think they might want to use in their own campaigns (this is the “catch” part of the process). It even presents a “licensability score,” which is a rating based on factors like the person who posted the content, the description and the comments, indicating how likely it is that a marketer will actually be able to license this content.

Then, when someone from a brand or advertising agency decides that they want to use a piece of content, they can send a licensing request with a push of a button (this is the “release”). Catch&Releases also analyzes the content for anything else that needs to be cleared or obscured, such as a company logo.

While we’ve written about other tools for licensing online content, Goodwin emphasized that Catch&Release isn’t just about finding photos for a social media campaign. Part of the goal, she said, is to erase the “stigma” around UGC, which now “represents the entire spectrum of culturally relevant content.”

For example, she showed me a Red Lobster commercial that looks like a normal TV ad, but was in fact assembled entirely from footage found online — something that’s been even more useful in the past year, with pandemic-related safety concerns around large shoots. (Catch&Release has also been used to license content for ads promoting TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon.)

Goodwin added that the new funding will allow Catch&Release to continue investing in product, engineering and marketing.

“No one has defined the commercial licensing layer for the web,” she said. “What’s got me really excited to build this product is being that layer for the internet, not just for photos and videos, but for writing, art, graphics, and building the commercial licensing engine of the web.”

#accel, #advertising-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #startups, #stock-photography, #tc, #user-generated-content

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Daily Crunch: Facebook announces new audio products

Facebook reveals its Clubhouse competitor, Parler will return to Apple’s App Store and a helicopter flies on Mars. This is your Daily Crunch for April 19, 2021.

The big story: Facebook announces new audio products

Yes, these products include new Clubhouse-style Live Audio Rooms, as well as the ability for podcasters to share long-form audio, some new Spotify integration and a shorter format called Soundbites. Facebook is starting off by testing Live Audio Rooms in Facebook Groups.

“When we launched video rooms earlier last year, groups and communities were one of the bigger areas where that took off,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with Platformer. “So, I think around audio, just given how much more accessible it is, that’ll be a pretty exciting area as well.”

The tech giants

Apple confirms it will allow Parler to return to App Store — Apple says that after Parler’s proposed updates, it should be approved for reinstatement to the App Store.

Consumer agency warns against Peloton Tread+ use, as company pushes back — The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning consumers to stop using the Tread+.

Xbox Cloud Gaming beta starts rolling out on iOS and PC this week — The service has been available in beta for Android users since last year, but it has been slow to expand to other platforms.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Clubhouse closes an undisclosed $4B valuation Series C round, as tech giants’ clones circle — We don’t know how much it raised, but it looks like Clubhouse has tripled the valuation it attained in January.

Alan raises $220M for its health insurance and healthcare super app — The company now covers 160,000 people.

General Motors leads $139M investment into lithium-metal battery developer, SES — GM is the latest big automaker to pick a horse in the race to develop better batteries for electric vehicles.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

The Klaviyo EC-1 — Klaviyo may not be a household name yet, but in many ways, this startup has become the standard by which email marketers are judged.

European VC soars in Q1 — The blockbuster first quarter was not just an American affair.

Outdoor startups see supercharged growth during COVID-19 era — Startups that provide services like camper vans, private campsites and trail-finding apps became relevant to millions of new users when COVID-19 shut down indoor recreation.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

NASA makes history by flying a helicopter on Mars for the first time — This is a major achievement, in no small part because the atmosphere is so thin on Mars that creating a rotor-powered craft like Ingenuity that can actually produce lift is a huge challenge.

An interview with Andrew Yang — The New York mayoral candidate talks Amazon, cryptocurrency and automation.

Geico admits fraudsters stole customers’ driver’s license numbers for months — The second-largest auto insurer in the U.S. has fixed a security bug that allowed fraudsters to steal customers’ driver’s license numbers from its website.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #facebook, #media, #mobile, #social

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Apple Music streaming revenue detailed in letter to artists

Streaming revenue has been a longtime concern for musicians, especially those scraping by in the wake of an industry-wide implosion of record labels. Of course, a year that has made touring an impossibility has only brought those issues into starker relief as the primary revenue source for many has completely dried up.

Apple is hoping to clarify some of the major questions around streaming revenue in a letter it sent to artists. The note, reported by The Wall Street Journal, outlines a revenue that amounts to around double what Spotify pays out.

“As the discussion about streaming royalties continues, we believe it is important to share our values,” the company notes. “We believe in paying every creator the same rate, that a play has a value, and that creators should never have to pay for featuring music in prime display space on its service.”

The company’s comment is a clear shot at Spotify’s much more varied payment model. What that actually works out to at the end of the day, however, is a slightly more complicated question. Things start at around a penny-per-stream (though it can go down from there). That amount is paid out to rights holders — be they record labels or publishers. It’s another in a long line of issues that have led many musicians to question the efficacy of intermediaries in 2021.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek fanned the flames in an interview last year, stating, “Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.”

At the end of the day, it’s a battle of pennies — or fractions thereof, for many artists. And it has become immensely difficult for mid-tier and truly independent artists to maintain a living as the world has shifted to a streaming model. Services like Bandcamp and Soundcloud have worked to make things more manageable for smaller artists, but the life of a modern musician remains a struggle — especially in the age of COVID-19.

 

#apple, #apple-music, #media, #spotify

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Soona raises $10.2M to make remote photo and video shoots easy

Soona, a startup aiming to satisfy the growing content needs of the e-commerce ecosystem, is announcing that it has raised $10.2 million in Series A funding led by Union Square Ventures.

When I wrote about Soona in 2019, the model focused on staging shoots that can deliver videos and photos in 24 hours or less. The startup still operates studios in Austin, Denver and Minneapolis, but co-founder and CEO Liz Giorgi told me that during the pandemic, Soona shifted to a fully virtual/remote model — customers ship their products to Soona, then then watch the shoot remotely and offer immediate feedback, and only pay for the photos ($39 each) and video clips ($93 each) that they actually want.

In some cases, the studio isn’t even necessary — Giorgi said that 30% of Soona’s photographers and crew members are working from home.

Soona has now worked with more than 4,000 customers, including Lola Tampons, The Sill, and Wild Earth, with revenue growing 400% last year. Giorgi said that even as larger in-person shoots become possible again, this approach still makes sense for many clients.

“There’s nothing we sell online that does not require a visual, but not every single visual requires a massive full day shoot,” she said.

Soona

Image Credits: Soona

Giorgi also suggested that Soona’s approach has unlocked a “new level of scalability,” adding, “Internally at Soona, we really believe in the remote shoot experience. It’s not only more efficient, it’s a lot more fun not having to fly a brand manager from Miami and have them spend a full day at a warehouse in New York. That’s not only cost-prohibitive, it’s also a time-consuming and exhausting process for everyone.”

The new funding follows a $1.2 million seed round. Giorgi said the Series A will allow Soona to develop a subscription product with more collaboration tools and more data about what kinds of visual content is most effective.

“There’s an opportunity own the visual ecosystem of e-commerce from beginning to end,” she said.

Giorgi also noted that Soona continues to employ its “candor clause” requiring investors to disclose whether they’ve ever faced complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination. In fact, the clause has been expanded to cover complaints around racism, ableism or anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

“In some ways it’s a gate that prevents bad actors from being involved […] but it really drives a deeper connection with the investor and the founder,” Giorgi said. “We can have conversation about our values and how we see the world. We get to have a conversation about equality and justice at at time when we’re talking a lot about equity and the cap table.”

#ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #soona, #startups, #union-square-ventures

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Substack announces a $1M initiative to fund local journalists

While the seemingly unending debate around Substack has focused on well-known writers with a national profile, the newsletter platform just announced that it will be supporting local (presumably non-famous) journalists through a new program.

The startup described Substack Local as a $1 million initiative that will fund independent writers creating local news publications. Similar to the Substack Pro program, the company will offer cash advances of up to $100,000, as well as mentorship and “subsidized access” to health insurance and design services. In exchange, Substack will take 85% of subscription revenue for a year (its cut goes back to the standard 10% after that).

Applications are due by April 29, with participants selected by a panel of judges with their own Substack publications — Zeynep Tufekci of Insight, Anne Helen Petersen of Culture Study, Dick Tofel of Second Rough Draft and Rachel Larimore, managing editor of The Dispatch.

Substack said that through this initiative, it’s also partnering with New Zealand-based Stuff to launch two new publications covering under-served regions in the country.

A Substack skeptic might suggest that programs like this are an easy way to drum up positive publicity. (Facebook and Google have also announced programs to support local news.) In Substack’s case, this comes after the platform has been criticized for bankrolling transphobic writers with big advances — just a few days ago, the company revealed that it has recently signed lucrative contracts with transgender writers including Daniel Lavery.

Regardless of motivation, the need for more local journalism is real, with news deserts created by the shutdowns and struggles of many local newspapers. If there’s going to be any hope, it seems more likely to come from new, digitally-focused publications and independent journalists.

“This is not a grants program, nor is it inspired by philanthropic intent,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Our goal is to foster an effective business model for independent local news that provides ample room for growth.”

#media, #startups, #substack

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Social audio startup Stationhead looks beyond music as it hits 100K monthly active users

When I’ve written about Stationhead in the past, I’ve focused on how the startup aims to recapture bring personality and interactivity of a live radio broadcast to streaming music. But CEO Ryan Star said his ambitions are broader now: “We’re going to be the largest social audio platform in the world.”

The startup says it’s growing quickly, with 100,000 monthly active users — a number that’s growing by 65% each month — and 500,000 total users. There are 6,300 hosts on the platform, and they created nearly 2 million live and recorded streams in the first three months of the year.

COO Murray Levison told me that the pandemic has brought more artists to the platform as they look for new ways to reach their fans. For example, Cardi B joined the fan show Bardigangradio last month, prompting 132,000 paid streams of her new single on Apple Music and Spotify during the broadcast. (Stationhead integrates with both music streaming services — when a DJ cues up a song, it’s actually playing through your account.)

At the same time, both Star (who co-founded the company due to his own frustrations as an independent musician) and Levison suggested that playing music is not quite as central to their vision as it used to be. Instead, they said Stationhead is all about live audio broadcasting, with or without music.

From a product perspective, Levison said they’re trying to build “the best broadcasting tools for creators and everybody people to use.” At the same time, he added, “Music is still at the core of what we’ve built. Just like games are to Twitch, music is our social glue.”

Ryan Star CEO Photo credit Shervin Lainez

Image Credits: Shervin Lainez / Stationhead

While the company emphasizes the live experience (which Levison described as “the core value prop”), Stationhead also supports recording shows for listening later, and apparently 50% of users are listening to both live and recorded shows. It has also been beta testing a tipping feature that will allow broadcasters to monetize their shows.

Of course, you can’t talk about social audio without talking about Clubhouse, which was attracting 2 million active users each week in January, according to CEO Paul Davison. Levison suggested that the buzz around Clubhouse has also benefited Stationhead as potential acquirers and investors get more excited about social audio. And Star argued that the companies are taking very different approaches.

“It’s in the name Clubhouse, it’s exclusive,” Star said. “It’s about social climbing and getting closer to the stage. [Stationhead is] living in the world where Cardi B was excited to meet her fans. We are for the 99 percent.”

#apps, #media, #mobile, #music, #stationhead

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Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

In business today, many believe that consumer privacy and business results are mutually exclusive — to excel in one area is to lack in the other. Consumer privacy is seen by many in the technology industry as an area to be managed.

But the truth is, the companies who champion privacy will be better positioned to win in all areas. This is especially true as the digital industry continues to undergo tectonic shifts in privacy — both in government regulation and browser updates.

By the end of 2022, all major browsers will have phased out third-party cookies — the tracking codes placed on a visitor’s computer generated by another website other than your own. Additionally, mobile device makers are limiting identifiers allowed on their devices and applications. Across industry verticals, the global enterprise ecosystem now faces a critical moment in which digital advertising will be forever changed.

Up until now, consumers have enjoyed a mostly free internet experience, but as publishers adjust to a cookie-less world, they could see more paywalls and less free content.

They may also see a decrease in the creation of new free apps, mobile gaming, and other ad-supported content unless businesses find new ways to authenticate users and maintain a value exchange of free content for personalized advertising.

When consumers authenticate themselves to brands and sites, they create revenue streams for publishers as well as the opportunity to receive discounts, first-looks, and other specially tailored experiences from brands.

To protect consumer data, companies need to architect internal systems around data custodianship versus acting from a sense of data entitlement. While this is a challenging and massive ongoing evolution, the benefits of starting now are enormous.

Putting privacy front and center creates a sustainable digital ecosystem that enables better advertising and drives business results. There are four steps to consider when building for tomorrow’s privacy-centric world:

Transparency is key

As we collectively look to redesign how companies interact with and think about consumers, we should first recognize that putting people first means putting transparency first. When people trust a brand or publishers’ intentions, they are more willing to share their data and identity.

This process, where consumers authenticate themselves — or actively share their phone number, email or other form of identity — in exchange for free content or another form of value, allows brands and publishers to get closer to them.

#advertising-tech, #column, #consumer-privacy, #digital-advertising, #ec-column, #ec-marketing-tech, #identity-management, #marketing, #media, #online-advertising, #operating-system, #privacy, #targeted-advertising

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TikTok funds first episodic public health series ‘VIRAL’ from NowThis

TikTok is taking another step towards directly funding publishers’ content with today’s announcement that it’s financially backing the production of media publisher NowThis’ new series, “VIRAL,” which will feature interviews with public health experts and a live Q&A session focused on answering questions about the pandemic. The partnership represents TikTok’s first-ever funding of an episodic series from a publisher, though TikTok has previously funded creator content.

Through TikTok’s Instructive Accelerator Program, which was formerly known as the Creative Learning Fund, other TikTok publishers have received grants and hands-on support from TikTok so they could produce quality instructive content for TikTok’s #LearnOnTikTok initiative. The program today is structured as four, eight-week cycles during which time publishers post videos four times per week.

NowThis had also participated in the Creative Learning Fund last year and was selected for the latest cycle of the Instructive Accelerator Program. But its “VIRAL” series is separate from these efforts.

NowThis says it brought the concept for the show to TikTok earlier this year outside of the accelerator program, and TikTok greenlit it. TikTok then co-produced the series and provided some funding. Neither NowThis nor TikTok would comment on the extent of the financial backing involved, however.

The “VIRAL” series itself is hosted by infectious disease clinical researcher Laurel Bristow, who spent the last year working on COVID treatments and research. Every Thursday, Bristow will break down COVID facts in easy-to-understand language, NowThis says, including things like vaccine efficacy, transmission timelines, and treatment. The show will also bust COVID myths, provide information about ongoing public health risks, and feature interviews with a cross-section of experts.

Each episode of the will be 45 minutes in length and will also include an interactive segment where the TikTok viewing audience will be able to engage in a real-time Q&A session about the show’s content. In total, five episodes are being produced, and will air starting on Thursday April 15 at 6 PM ET and will run through Thursday May 13 on the @NowThis main TikTok page.

@nowthisTune in to our new TikTok live show VIRAL on Thursdays at 6pm ET with host @kinggutterbaby

♬ original sound – nowthis

NowThis has become one of the most-followed news media accounts on TikTok, with 4.6 million followers across its news and politics channels, since launching a little over a year ago. Because of its focus on video, it’s been a good fit for the TikTok’s platform.

The approach TikTok is taking with “VIRAL’s” production, it’s worth noting, stands in contrast to how other social media platforms are handling the pandemic and COVID-19 information. While most, including TikTok, have pledged to fact check COVID-19 information, remove misinformation and conspiracies, point users to official sources for health information, and provide other resources, TikTok is directly funding public health content featuring scientists and researchers, and then promoting it on its network.

The company explained to TechCrunch its thinking on the matter.

“As the pandemic continues to evolve, we think it’s important to provide our community an outlet to dispel misinformation and communicate with public health experts in real-time,” said Robbie Levin, Manager of Media Partnerships at TikTok. “NowThis has consistently been a great partner that produces engaging and informative content, so we felt this series would be an impactful and important avenue for our users to receive credible information on our platform,” Levin noted.

While the pandemic has driven the topic of choice here, paying creators for content is not new. And TikTok isn’t the only one to do so. Instagram and Snapchat are both funding creator content for their TikTok clones, Reels and Spotlight, respectively. And new social platforms like Clubhouse are funding creators’ shows, as well.

TikTok says it’s not currently talking to other publishers to produce more series like “VIRAL,” but it isn’t ruling out the idea of expanding its creator funding and producing efforts. In addition to its accelerator program, which is continuing, TikTok says if “VIRAL” proves successful and the community responds positively, it will pursue similar opportunities in the future.

#apps, #interactive, #media, #mobile, #nowthis-news, #public-health, #real-time, #social, #social-media, #tiktok, #video, #viral

0

Plex raises $50M growth round to fuel ad-supported streaming, expansions

Streaming media software maker Plex announced today it has raised a $50 million growth equity round from existing investor Intercap ahead of its planned business expansion into rentals, purchases and subscription content. This is the first financing Plex has taken on since 2014 and is being partly used to purchase shares and options from Plex’s early seed investors and shareholders from prior acquisitions, and to give the company’s earliest employees a bit of liquidity. Of the $50 million raised, $15 million will be put to work as new growth capital.

The company declined to disclose its valuation as a result of the funding — technically Plex’s Series C — but says it resulted in a relatively low dilution for its existing investors who have stayed in, including Kleiner Perkins and Nexstar, for example. Meanwhile, some of its earliest investors were able to get a 10x return or greater on their shares.

As part of the round, Intercap chairman and CEO Jason Chapnik joined the board of directors as chairman, and Intercap president James Merkur also joined the board. Including this financing, Plex has raised more than $60 million.

To date, Plex has been cautious about fundraising because, as Plex CEO Keith Valory says, “we really hadn’t had to.” That is, the company has been profitable on its own.

But things have been changing at Plex in recent years. Though it has always catered to the home media enthusiast with its software for organizing movies, TV, music and photos on users’ home networks, Plex more seriously began to go after the larger market of cord cutters with its 2017 launch of a low-cost, DIY streaming TV service. In the years since, it expanded into free, ad-supported streaming and last year took on rivals like ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV with its own launch of a live TV service, also supported by ads.

Today, Plex now offers more than 20,000 free on-demand movies and shows and over 150 free live TV channels in 193 countries, alongside access to other content, including personal media libraries, streaming music and podcasts.

As it expanded the types of services it offers, it also lowered the barriers to entry for Plex newcomers. Users now no longer have to sign up for an account to access the ad-supported video or live linear streaming service, which impacts Plex’s business model.

Image Credits: Plex

“That is much more tailored towards paid marketing — like getting integrated into the search capabilities for devices like Roku, Fire TV or Vizio, etc. But then, also, using [search engine marketing] and Facebook and other, even on-device paid marketing programs to get people to get in and start watching something,” says Valory. “We found that the kind of paid marketing and customer acquisition costs for that business is really efficient. We’ve been able to get profitable on that marketing investment really, really quickly,” he adds.

That model is what prompted Plex to consider raising capital to grow this aspect of its business and expand in new areas, as well.

That included managing subscription content and offering rentals and purchases — something Plex began to talk about last year as part of its roadmap, saying they could potentially arrive in 2020. But then COVID hit, and though streaming itself grew — particularly ad-supported video in April through June or July — some Plex employees were hit harder than others by the pandemic. And Plex also needed more time to ready the infrastructure involved.

It’s now preparing to launch these efforts this year, perhaps initially with a video rental marketplace or a subscription aggregator. (Plex says it’s not sure which will get out of the gate first because both are being built simultaneously.)

With the subscription play, Plex isn’t looking just at selling subscriptions the way that say, Amazon or Apple do through Prime Video Channels or Apple TV Channels. It’s also considering deep linking technology to get users to their favorite streaming apps, including those from the big-name brands that otherwise wouldn’t want to be a part of someone else’s service. This could position Plex as a competitor to services like Reelgood, which today allows users to track what they’re watching and get recommendations across all their streaming apps, not just within each individual app.

Plex’s video rental (and maybe purchases) marketplace, meanwhile, will be much like any other, offering users a chance to pay for content they couldn’t find a way to stream.

Both ideas fit in with Plex’s larger goal to become a one-stop shop for all your media needs.

“We’ve always had a fairly audacious mission. You shouldn’t have to go to 20 different apps to get the content you care about. You should be able to go to one place and we should be able to do all that for you,” notes Valory.

Image Credits: Plex

To fuel its growth on both this front and for its ad-supported businesses, Plex plans to use the funds to expand its now 100-person team with investments in marketing and monetization teams, as well as on the development side.

“Certainly, there’s still way more work to do in terms of amplifying the efforts on our performance and growth marketing and engagement,” Valory says. “I mean, the business is growing super fast, so we’ve done a pretty good job, to date, of building out the muscles to get new users in the pipeline for the AVOD business. There’s still a ton of work to do there, but a lot of the muscles that we’re building there will help in terms of the top-of-funnel and increasing engagement for the whole product,” he adds.

Intercap, which led Plex’s round, is in it for the long haul — citing in particular how the fragmentation happening now in the streaming landscape could ultimately be good for Plex’s own growth.

“Content providers, creators and consumers are all paying the price for the explosion of so many streaming media services and the industry needs a trusted way for the experience to be as enjoyable as possible,” says Chapnik. “Plex has always been at the forefront of solving new media challenges and we believe they are primed to solve this problem — they are the cable company of the future.”

#avod, #intercap, #media, #movies, #plex, #streaming, #streaming-media, #streaming-tv, #tv, #vod

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Daily Crunch: Spotify unveils an in-car entertainment system

Spotify wants to have a bigger presence in your car, Apple hints at iPad-centric announcements and Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop goes on sale. This is your Daily Crunch for April 13, 2021.

The big story: Spotify unveils an in-car entertainment system

Spotify’s new device is the oddly (but memorably!) named Car Thing. While there are plenty of other ways to listen to Spotify while driving, the company said this will provide a “more seamless” and personalized experience. Car Thing includes a touchscreen, a navigation knob, voice control and preset buttons to access your favorite music, podcasts and playlists.

This is actually an updated version of an in-car device that Spotify started testing a couple years ago. While Spotify is now making Car Thing available more broadly, it sounds like the company still views this as a bit of an experiment — during this limited U.S. release, it’s available for free, with users just paying for the cost of shipping.

The tech giants

Apple’s next event is April 20 — Invites for its “Spring Loaded” event went out today, sporting what appears to be a doodle drawn on an iPad.

Microsoft’s latest Surface Laptop goes on sale this week, starting at $999 — Sometimes the classics are classics for a reason.

Facebook, Instagram users can now ask ‘oversight’ panel to review decisions not to remove content — The move expands the Oversight Board’s remit beyond reviewing (and mostly reversing) content takedowns.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Fortnite-maker Epic completes $1B funding round — The company is amassing a large portfolio of titles through acquisitions, a trend that is almost certain to continue with this latest massive round.

Home gym startup Tempo raises $220M to meet surge in demand for its workout device — Tempo’s freestanding cabinet, which the company launched in February 2020, includes a 42-inch touchscreen with a 3D motion-tracking camera that consistently scans, tracks and coaches users as they work out.

ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi — The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of “decentralized finance.”

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

What’s fueling hydrogen tech? — In 2021, the world may be ready for hydrogen.

Five product lessons to learn before you write a line of code — To uncover some basic truths about building products, we spoke to three entrepreneurs who have each built more than one company.

Expect an even hotter AI venture capital market in the wake of the Microsoft-Nuance deal — The $19.7 billion transaction is Microsoft’s second-largest to date, only beaten by its purchase of LinkedIn.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Republican antitrust bill would block all big tech acquisitions — There are about to be a lot of antitrust bills taking aim at big tech.

Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 is filling up fast — If you’re busy shoving envelopes and busting down boundaries, don’t miss your chance to exhibit in Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 in September.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#automotive, #daily-crunch, #hardware, #media, #spotify

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Netflix gives its Kids’ profiles a visual upgrade

Netflix is giving its Kids’ profiles a revamp, the company announced today. While adults’ profiles are personalized with horizontal rows of recommendations that appear as they scroll down, the Kids profiles’ redesign is more visual in nature. When kids now log in to their account on a TV, they’ll be greeted with their favorite titles and characters right at the top of the screen, Netflix says.

Previously, the layout for the Kids profile was similar to an adult’s, with rows that showed Trending shows and other suggestions from Netflix’s library (See below). Now, the top row will feature the kid’s most-watched content — and for early readers, the characters will help direct kids to the show they want to watch.

Image Credits: Netflix old Kids profile

Image Credits: Netflix new Kids profile

To customize this row for each user, Netflix uses information about what was watched to improve its recommendations. It notes that the favorite shows featured at the top of the screen will come from the full Netflix catalog, not just its original programming. For the title to appear in their row, a child must watch a show at least once, Netflix says. When selected, the background updates to reflect the chosen show, as well.

Younger kids often navigate Netflix visually. Even toddlers can be found using iPads or TV remotes, moving through Netflix like a pro, at times. And during the COVID era where parents were stuck at home trying to both entertain their little kids while homeschooling older ones and somehow also finding time to work, it makes sense to update one of the most popular “TV babysitter” apps to make it something that younger children could use on their own without parental assistance. The need to serve the overwhelmed parent was part of the thinking behind the upgrade, pitching how the update would give parents who “need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to knock out some work” time to do so. (Uninterrupted time during the pandemic? What’s that?)

Netflix says the new profiles are rolling out now to TV devices globally, but will be tested on tablets and mobile devices in the coming months.

#family, #kids, #media, #netflix, #parents, #streaming-service, #tv

0

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#media, #startups, #subscriptions, #tc

0

Inside the Fight for the Future of The Wall Street Journal

A special team led by a high-level manager says Rupert Murdoch’s paper must evolve to survive. But a rivalry between editor and publisher stands in the way.

#latour-almar, #matt-murray, #media, #murdoch-rupert, #news-and-news-media, #news-corporation, #newspapers, #story-louise, #wall-street-journal

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Wonder Dynamics raises $2.5M seed to equip indie filmmakers with AI-powered VFX

Practically every film production these days needs some kind of visual effects work, but independent creators often lack the cash or expertise to get that top-shelf CG. Wonder Dynamics, founded by VFX engineer Nikola Todorovic and actor Tye Sheridan, aims to use AI to make some of these processes more accessible for filmmakers with budgets on the tight side, and they’ve just raised $2.5 million to make it happen.

The company has its origins in 2017, after Sheridan and Todorovic met on the set of Rodrigo Garcia’s film Last Days in the Desert. They seem to have both felt that the opportunity was there to democratize the tools that they had access to in big studio films.

Wonder Dynamics is very secretive about what exactly its tools do. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr saw a limited demo and said he “could see where it will be of value in the area of world creation at modest budgets. The process can be done quickly and at a fraction of a traditional cost structure,” though that leaves us little closer than we started.

Sheridan and Todorovic (who jointly answered questions I sent over) described the system, called Wallace Pro, as taking over some of the grunt work of certain classes of VFX rather than a finishing touch or specific effect.

“We are building an AI platform that will significantly speed up both the production and post-production process for content involving CG characters and digital worlds. The goal of the platform is to reduce the costs associated with these productions by automating the ‘objective’ part of the process, leaving the artists with the creative, ‘subjective’ work,” they said. “By doing this, we hope to create more opportunities and empower filmmakers with visions exceeding their budget. Without saying too much, it can be applied to all three stages of filmmaking (pre-production, production and post-production), depending on the specific need of the artist.”

From this we can take that it’s an improvement to the workflow, reducing the time it takes to achieve some widely used effects, and therefore the money that needs to be set aside for them. To be clear this is distinct from another, more specific product being developed by Wonder Dynamics to create virtual interactive characters as part of the film production process — an early application of the company’s tools, no doubt.

The tech has been in some small scale tests, but the plan is to put it to work in a feature entering production later this year. “Before we release the tech to the public, we want to be very selective with the first filmmakers who use the technology to make sure the films are being produced at a high level,” they said. First impressions do matter.

The $2.5M seed round was led by Founders Fund, Cyan Banister, the Realize Tech Fund, Capital Factory, MaC Venture Capital, and Robert Schwab. “Because we are at the intersection of technology and film, we really wanted to surround ourselves with investment partners who understand how much the two industries will depend on each other in the future,” Sheridan and Todorovic said. “We were extremely fortunate to get MaC Venture Capital and Realize Tech Fund alongside FF. Both funds have a unique combination of Silicon Valley and Hollywood veterans.”

Wonder Dynamics will use the money to, as you might expect, scale its engineering and VFX teams to further develop and expand the product… whatever it is.

With their advisory board, it would be hard to make a mistake without someone calling them on it. “We’re extremely lucky to have some of the most brilliant minds from both the AI and film space,” they said, and that’s no exaggeration. Right now the lineup includes Steven Spielberg and Joe Russo (“obviously geniuses when it comes to film production and innovation”), UC Berkeley and Google’s Angjoo Kanazawa and MIT’s Antonio Torralba (longtime AI researchers in robotics and autonomy), and numerous others in film and finance who “offer us a wealth of knowledge when we’re trying to figure out how to move the company forward.”

AI is deeply integrated into many tech companies and enterprise stacks, making it a solid moneymaker in that industry, but it is still something of a fringe concept in the more creator-driven film and TV world. Yet hybrid production techniques like ILM’s StageCraft, used to film The Mandalorian, are showing how techniques traditionally used for 3D modeling and game creation can be applied safely to film production — sometimes even live on camera. AI is increasingly that part of the world, as pioneers like Nvidia and Adobe have shown, and it seems inevitable that it should come to film — though in exactly what form it’s hard to say.

#artificial-intelligence, #entertainment, #film, #film-production, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #vfx, #visual-effects

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No-code publishing platform Shorthand raises $8M

Shorthand, the Australian startup behind a no-code platform that allows publishers and brands to create multimedia stories, has raised $10 million Australian (just under $8 million U.S.) from Fortitude Investment Partners.

CEO Ricky Robinson told me via email that this is Shorthand’s first institutional round of funding, and that the company has been profitable for the past two years.

“We’ve been lucky enough to grow to where we are today through an entirely inbound, organic model that leverages the beautiful content that our customers create in Shorthand to generate leads,” Robinson wrote. “But we’ve been testing other channels with some success and the time is right to ramp up those other marketing initiatives. That’s where we’ll be spending this funding, while also investing heavily in our product to keep Shorthand at the cutting edge of storytelling innovation for the web.”

Those customers include the BBC, Dow Jones, the  University of Cambridge, Nature, Manchester City FC and Peloton. For example, BBC News used Shorthand to create this story about searching for dinosaur fossils.

The Shorthand website extols the virtues of “scrollytelling,” where a reader can trigger interesting transitions and effects simply by scrolling through the story. Robinson suggested that this is a way to make stories feel interactive and engaging “without asking your audience to learn how to interact with it.”

As you can see in the demo video above, Shorthand offers a fairly straightforward drag-and-drop interface for adding different text and media elements, as well as effects. Robinson said that unlike other tools like Webflow and Ceros, Shorthand was designed to be used by editors and writers. And although Shorthand does support the use of themes and templates, he said that’s not enough.

“You need to provide flexibility without making writers get into the weeds of web design or making them use complicated design tools,” he wrote. “The focus should be at the level of story design, not web design, and that’s really what sets Shorthand apart, and it’s why our customers are able to consistently produce highly engaging, award-winning content for their audiences.”

The company also says that demand has only increased during the pandemic, with usage quadrupling in the fourth quarter of 2020 and subscription revenue up 8.8% month-over-month in February of this year.

“The platform offers a rare combination of powerful output and simplicity of use for content creators,” said Fortitude Partner Nick Miller in a statement. “It is clear why the word is spreading about the Shorthand story and what it can do for digital communication.”

#ceros, #fortitude-investment-partners, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #no-code, #startups

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Realworld raises $3.4M to help Gen Z navigate adulthood

Realworld has a big vision — founder and CEO Genevieve Ryan Bellaire told me her goal is “simplifying adulthood.” And the New York startup has raised $3.4 million in seed funding to make it happen.

Apparently that’s something Ballaire struggled with herself in her early twenties. Despite being a lawyer with an MBA, she said she found herself “just totally unprepared for all these real world things,” whether that was figuring out housing or heath insurance — something I can definitely relate to.

“There’s tons of content out there out there that can tell you to fill out this form to sign up for a credit card, but you don’t know what you don’t know,” she said. “There’s not one place that defines adulthood.”

At the same time, there are online services that can make aspects of adulthood easier — whether that’s Lemonade for insurance, Betterment for investing or Zocdoc for doctor’s appointments. But again, finding these services and just knowing that you should use them can be a challenge, so Bellaire said Realworld is meant to serve as the “single point of entry.”

To do that, the startup has created more than 90 step-by-step playbooks, covering everything from budgeting to moving to salary negotiation. Bellaire said these are designed for members of Gen Z who are just leaving college and entering the workforce.

Realworld CEO Genevieve Ryan Bellaire

Realworld CEO Genevieve Ryan Bellaire

Of course, even if you focus on a specific age group, different twentysomethings will have different backgrounds, income levels and challenges. Bellaire said the playbooks will customize their instructions based on a user’s specific goals and circumstances, but she also argued that Realworld’s “starter pack” of 15 playbooks covers things that every adult will need to deal with in some form, such as creating budgets, finding an apartment and understanding income taxes.

The startup plans to release its first mobile app next month, and its goal is to become into Bellaire described as a “platform, marketplace and community.” The playbooks are a big piece of the platform, and eventually, Realworld could also include a marketplace for services that will help you accomplish those adulthood goals, as well as a community where users share their knowledge and advice.

Realworld initially charged for access to its playbooks, but they’re now available for free. Instead, Bellaire said the company could charge a subscription fee for additional features and for “concierge-oriented support.”

“This is one of those problems where if get it right, you can make a huge impact, but you can also have huge financial success,” she added.

It sounds like investors agree. Realworld had previously raised $1.1 million, and this new seed round was led by Fitz Gate Ventures, with participation from Bezos Expeditions (Jeff Bezos’ personal investment firm), Knightsgate Ventures, The Helm, Great Oaks VC, Copper Wire Ventures, AmplifyHer Ventures, Underdog Labs, Human Ventures and Techstars.

Amplifyher Partner Meghan Cross Breeden noted that Realworld could “corner the market on life milestones,” not just for Gen Z right now, but for “every future milestone … in the long-haul of adulthood, from buying a home to caring for a parent.”

#finance, #fitz-gate-ventures, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #realworld, #startups, #tc

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Yext co-founder unveils Dynascore, which dynamically synchronizes music and video

Howard Lerman, the co-founder and CEO of Yext, has a new startup called Wonder Inventions, which is officially launching its first product today — Dynascore.

Let’s focus on Dynascore first. Lerman said he and his team created the product to solve the problem of the ever-growing demand for video content, which often relies on stock music. But by its nature, stock music isn’t designed for a specific video or a specific length, which can lead to some awkward fits, or require producers to edit their videos to match the music since “you can’t just chop three seconds out of a song and put it together.”

Dynascore, however, can take an existing piece of music and adapt it to a video of any length. It can also adjust the music to put the transitions, pauses and endings where you want them.

Lerman and his team demonstrated this for me, taking a fitness commercial and fitting different pieces of music to it, as well as adjusting the length of the commercial and where the transitions fell. Each time, Dynascore would generate a new version of the track that flowed well with the commercial (though I got the sense that if you’ve picked the wrong song for the video, no amount of adjustment can help).

To achieve this, Lerman said Dynascore examines a song and breaks it down to “the smallest unit of music that makes musical sense,” which it calls at a “morphone.” So depending on the specifications, it can assemble those morphones in ways that maximize what the company calls “musicoherence” — basically, to make sure it still flows like a real song.

Dynascore

Image Credits: Dynascore

Lerman emphasized that Dynascore’s technology isn’t trying to write music from scratch. Instead, it’s adapting human compositions — there are Masterworks, a.k.a. classic compositions that are in the public domain, as well as around 1,000 original compositions to start.

“There’s a lot of companies out there that use AI to write music,” he said. “They train their models on Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, but the stuff that comes out of it is trash […] The critical breakthrough we realized is that computers cannot write music, the same way that AI can’t write a film and can’t write a book. But AI can reconstruct music in a way that the human ear responds to.”

After a free trial, pricing for Dynascore starts at $19 per month. It’s available as a desktop app for Mac and Windows, as well as an extension for editing software Adobe Premiere Pro. The company has also built a Developer API to integrate into other apps, starting with video builder Biteable and marketing production tool Rocketium.

Dynascore is just the first product that we should expect from Wonder Inventions, which Lerman said will develop a whole portfolio of new products.

Dynascore

Image Credits: Dynascore

“We’re not starting Wonder Inventions for a single idea,” he said. “Wonder Inventions is 20 master inventors who are some of the most creative and brilliant and people we’ve ever met, and they will develop many products that will have synergies.”

Lerman himself is serving as Wonder’s chairman while he remains CEO at Yext, which he described as his full-time job. When pressed on whether there’s a unifying vision for the company beyond making cool stuff, he replied, “Thirty years ago, when people started a business, it would be about the company. Now when a company is started, it’s about the product” — something he attributed to venture capitalists’ focus on a single, scalable idea.

“I don’t think any VC would fund Dynascore — it’s too goofy and someone would look at the [total addressable market] and say, ‘I don’t think this is a multi-billion dollar category,’” Lerman continued. He doesn’t necessarily disagree with that assessment, but he added, “It can be great first product, with more hits to come.”

#howard-lerman, #media, #startups, #tc, #yext

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Authentic Artists is building virtual, AI-powered musicians

Chris McGarry, who previously led music integration at Facebook’s Oculus, is taking a new approach to bringing music into the virtual world with his startup Authentic Artists.

McGarry pointed to virtual celebrities like Lil Miquela and virtual concerts like Travis Scott’s giant event in Fortnite as setting the stage for Authentic Artists. In a sense, the startup represents a combination of those ideas, creating virtual musicians who perform their own concerts — initially in Twitch — and can respond to audience requests.

“We are very intentionally not trying to create a digital facsimile of what already exists,” he said. “We want to use new tools to create new art, new experiences, new culture. The appeal is that these artists can really be vehicles for collaboration with the audience, so that [audience members] can selectively shape the live show.”

In fact, Authentic Artists has already held some test concerts on Twitch, and McGarry said the team was “frankly, sort of blown away by the response,” with average watch time of 35 minutes.

It will be unveiling its next generation of virtual artists in Twitch concerts starting on April 14, co-hosted by (human) Twitch streamers, who will introduce the concept to audiences — though McGarry said there’s potential for more collaboration between virtual and human stars in the future.

There are a number of different pieces to the Authentic Artists platform, working together to animate a virtual musician, generate their music and allow them to respond to audience feedback, whether that’s increasing the intensity of a song, decreasing the tempo or fast forwarding to the next song.

“Music is the lifeblood of our vision, and accordingly, we’ve invested significantly in the core audio engine,” McGarry said. He emphasized that the platform is not simply recombining music loops composed by humans, but rather generating music on its own: “We want [our virtual artists] to have autonomy, we want them to be real.”

It sounds like the team is still putting the final touches on the new artists, so I didn’t get to see a full concert experience. Instead, McGarry and his team presented renderings of these artists (including a half-human cyborg and a giant iguana) and their virtual venues, and they demonstrated the music engine, creating new compositions on-the-fly while adjusting different parameters. As McGarry put it, “These are all original compositions, generated and produced as we sit here, with no manual intervention.”

Authentic Artists is backed by investors including OVO Fund, James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, Mixi Group and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. McGarry said he’s currently more focused on finding product-market fit than on the business model, but he sees opportunities to make money through avenues such as branded music and decentralized finance/NFTs in the future.

#lupa-systems, #media, #music, #startups, #tc

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What happens to your NFTs and crypto assets after you die?

As consumers build their wealth, assets are typically tangible: cash, investments, property, cars, jewelry, art. But increasingly we’re adding a new type of asset to the mix: digital assets, whether in the form of cryptocurrency or a new asset class, NFTs.

We’re going through the biggest wealth transfer in history right now, with an estimated $16 trillion expected to change hands in the coming decades. While it’s easy to hand over the reins of a physical asset in the event of an emergency or death, it’s not as simple with digital assets.

A new Angus Reid study commissioned by Canadian online will platform Willful finds that only one in four consumers have someone in their life who knows all of their passwords and account details, which begs the question: Will consumers be prepared to pass on digital assets, or will billions in virtual goods be stuck in the digital ether?

While it’s easy to hand over the reins of a physical asset in the event of an emergency or death, it’s not as simple with digital assets.

Digital assets have been dominating the news cycle in 2021. While cryptocurrency isn’t new, it’s attracted a lot of attention in the past year because of its skyrocketing value, promotion from prominent figures like billionaire Elon Musk, and bitcoin offerings from traditional financial firms like Morgan Stanley. If you hold any type of cryptocurrency, the only way to access it is via a private key — typically a 64-digit passcode. No private key, no access to the virtual currency.

There have been many stories reported about people who purchased bitcoin and would be millionaires today if they hadn’t thrown out their hard drive or lost track of their key. One high-profile case is that of Gerald Cotten, the founder of cryptocurrency exchange Quadriga. When Cotten died in 2018, he took with him the private keys to over $250 million in client assets.

Consumers have also been inundated with stories about NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are digital assets hosted on the same blockchain that makes cryptocurrency possible. To most, it seems absurd that artist Beeple could sell a $69 million piece of art through a Christie’s auction, or that a virtual home in Toronto could sell for over $600,000, or that people would spend over $200 million trading virtual NBA highlights like we used to trade baseball cards. But this new asset class is proving that digital assets can be as valuable if not more valuable than physical assets — and similar to cryptocurrency, they likely require a private key to access them.

When someone dies, they either have a will that dictates how their assets will be distributed, or, if they die without a will, a government formula outlines how their assets will be divided. While a will outlines who should receive what, it typically doesn’t have an up-to-date asset list, nor does it contain passwords or access keys. There’s an estimated tens of billions in unclaimed assets sitting in banks today as a result of a family or executor not knowing about those accounts following an individual’s death.

But an executor can do due diligence by calling financial institutions to double-check whether the person held accounts and get access to those funds, which typically requires providing copies of the will and/or death certificate. With digital assets, it’s not as simple as calling the bank and finding out a relative had a valuable NFT. There’s no directory or central body that governs NFTs or cryptocurrency — it’s purposely decentralized, which is great for privacy but less than ideal for family members who want to figure out if someone held valuable digital assets.

And it’s not just about knowing digital assets exist — it’s about knowing how to access them. A recent study from the Angus Reid Forum, commissioned by Willful, showed that consumers under 35 are way less likely to have shared account access with loved ones (19% of those under 35 have shared account info, compared with 32% of those over 55). This makes sense, since the younger you are, the less likely you are to think about passing on assets after you die. But this tech-savvy younger demographic may leave their families in the lurch if something happens.

So what can consumers do to ensure their digital assets are protected? First, consider using a password manager like 1Password — which can store all of your account information, logins, private keys to digital assets and any other key information — and share the master access password with your executor or store it with your will.

While this can ensure easy access to your accounts in an emergency, Lee Poskanzer, the founder of Directive Communication Systems, says it can also put your family or executors at risk, highlighting that in many cases, website and app owners explicitly prohibit password sharing in their terms of service, and privacy laws in some jurisdictions prohibit account holder impersonation (in the U.S., that’s covered by the Stored Communications and Electronic Communications Privacy Act). Not to mention, accounts increasingly require two-factor authentication, which may not be easy to confirm if executors don’t have access to the person’s smartphone.

Directive Communication Systems’ platform helps manage the transfer of digital assets upon death, and Poskanzer says they don’t collect passwords for this reason. Instead, they work with the estate to provide content providers (Google, social media platforms, etc.) with required documentation, which can include a death certificate, obituary, ID or other documents. Upon meeting those requirements, which vary by company, content providers provide a data dump of an account’s contents, making them available via the cloud.

Second, consider using a digital wallet or exchange to store your digital assets — if your family has access to that, it may also include access to your private keys, depending on the wallet’s features, or the exchange itself may have a death-management process.

For example, Coinbase clearly outlines what an executor or family member can do to retrieve digital assets in case of the death of the account holder. As a backup, you can store your private key on a physical piece of paper and ensure it’s stored in a safe deposit box, fireproof safe or other safe place your executor can access in the event of your passing.

Third, create an up-to-date list of your assets that your executor and/or key family members have access to — this should include physical and digital assets, and should be reviewed and updated either annually or when you acquire a new asset or change financial institutions. Finally, create a will that clearly outlines how you want your assets to be distributed and provide specific instructions on how you want digital assets to be distributed.

Not only is this best practice to protect your assets of any kind and to appoint key roles like guardians for minor children, it will also likely be required in order to release any account contents (for example, Coinbase requires a copy of the will as part of its process to release funds to an estate).

As we go through this major wealth transfer between generations, it’s likely that banks, fintechs, crypto exchanges, social media platforms and other content providers will create clear death-management processes that make it easier to alert people about digital assets before you die and provide easy access instructions. But until that happens, following these steps means you can ensure your assets go to the people or organizations you want them to — and that they won’t be stuck in digital purgatory.

#bitcoin, #blockchain, #coinbase, #column, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #estate-planning, #media, #nfts, #private-key, #tc

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Spotify opens a second personalized playlist to sponsors, after ‘Discover Weekly’ in 2019

Spotify is opening up its personalized playlist, “On Repeat,” to advertising sponsorship. This playlist, launched in 2019 and featuring users’ favorite songs, is only the second personalized playlist on the music streaming service that’s being made available for sponsorship. Spotify’s flagship playlist, “Discover Weekly,” became the first in 2019.

The sponsorship is made possible through the company’s Sponsored Playlist ad product, which gives brands the ability to market to Spotify’s free users with audio, video and display ad messages across breaks, allowing the advertiser to own the experience “end-to-end,” the company says.

It also gives brands an opportunity to reach Spotify’s most engaged users.

When Spotify opened up “Discover Weekly” to sponsorship, for example, it noted that users who listened to this playlist streamed more than double those who didn’t. Similarly, “On Repeat” caters to Spotify’s more frequent users because of its focus on tracks users have played most often.

Since the launch of “On Repeat” in September 2019, Spotify says the playlist has reached 12 billion streams globally. Fans have also spent over 750 million hours listening to the playlist, where artists like Bad Bunny, The Weeknd, and Ariana Grande have topped the list for “most repeated” listens.

Though Spotify today offers its numerous owned and operated playlists for sponsorship, its personalized playlists have largely been off-limits — except for “Discover Weekly.” These are highly-valued properties, as Spotify directs users to stream collections powered by its algorithms, which Spotify organizes in its ever-expanding “Made for You” hub in its app. Here, users can jump in between “Discover Weekly,” and other collections organized by genre, artist, decade, and more — like new releases, favorites, suggestions, and more.

With the launch of sponsorship for “On Repeat,” brands across 30 global markets, including North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific will be able to own another of Spotify’s largest personalized properties for a time.

The first U.S. advertiser to take advantage of the sponsorship is TurboTax, which cited the personalization elements and user engagement with the playlist among the reasons why the ad product made sense for them.

“Like music, taxes are not one size fits all. Every tax situation is unique and every individual’s needs are different,” said Cathleen Ryan, VP of Marketing for TurboTax, in a statement about the launch. “We’re using Spotify’s deep connection to its engaged listeners to get in front of consumers and show them that with TurboTax you can get the expertise you need on your terms. With Spotify, we’re able to get both reach and unique targeting that ensures the right audiences know about the tools, guidance and expertise that TurboTax offers,” she added.

#ad-technology, #adtech, #advertising, #advertising-tech, #brands, #media, #personalization, #playlist, #spotify, #streaming-music, #turbotax

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Clubhouse will create billions in value and capture none of it

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was a busy week on the IPO front, Danny was buried in getting the Tonal EC-1 out, and Natasha took some time off. But the host trio managed to prep and record a show that was honestly a kick to record, and we think, a pleasure to listen to!

So, for your morning walk, here’s what we have for you:

It was a mix of laughs, ‘aha’ moments, and honest conversations about how complex ambition in startups should be. One listener the other day mentioned to us that the pandemic made it harder to carve out time for podcasts, since listening was often reserved for commutes. We get it, and in true scrappy fashion, we’re curious how you’ve adapted to remote work and podcasts. Let us know how you tune into Equity via Twitter and remember that we’re thankful for your ears!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#cameo, #clubhouse, #discord, #equity, #equity-podcast, #funding, #fundings-exits, #harlem-capital, #linkedin, #mac-venture-capital, #media, #miami, #microsoft-excel, #pipe, #podcasts, #spotify, #startups, #substack

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ILM shows off the new Stagecraft LED wall used for season 2 of ‘The Mandalorian’

The first season of The Mandalorian last year wasn’t just a great show, it was the result of an entirely new paradigm in film and TV production. Stagecraft, the enormous LED-wall volume ILM used to shoot that season has since been expanded and updated to be better, faster, and easier to use.

In a behind-the-scenes video, directors and others from the production weigh in on how the system makes everything easier, and enumerate the improvements for the 2.0 version.

The most recognizable piece of Stagecraft is “the volume,” an enormous space inside a two stories and a roof of high-resolution LED-based displays. With physical sets placed in the center, the feeling of being in a larger space is real — and if you shoot it right, you can’t tell a virtual background from a real one.

Fundamentally this is huge, allowing “on location” shoots to combine with intricate sets (and regardless of weather or travel schedules), but far more gracefully than the soundstages or portable green screens that actors have stood in front of for decades. Not only that but it pulls together many disparate parts of the production process into one shared process.

“What’s wonderful about this system is now everyone is on the same page,” said Robert Rodriguez, who directed several episodes of the show (as well as numerous films), in the ILM video. “It inspires the actors, it inspires the filmmaker to now see what they’re shooting. You know, it’s like you’re painting with the lights on finally.”

But while it would be difficult to call Stagecraft anything but a rousing success, it’s still very much a work in progress. As an end-to-end system it must integrate with dozens of renderers, color suites, cameras, pre- and post-production software, and of course the LED walls themselves, which are always improving.

Producers look at a bank of screens with images from the set of The Mandalorian on them.

Image Credits: ILM

“By the second season, ILM developed some software that was specific to this technology and to what the hardware was capable of,” said Jon Favreau, executive producer of the show and indefatigable patron of new technology in cinema.

There were lots of specific requests from various members of the team, plus the usual bug squashing and performance improvements, leading to an improved workflow. Plus the volume itself has gotten bigger and better.

“It also has forced us into having a more efficient workflow that draws pre-production, post-production, production, all into one continuous pipeline,” Favreau said. Not only is it more natural and better looking than ordinary location or green screen techniques, it’s faster — they’re working through 30-50 percent more script pages per day, which any producer will tell you is unbelievable.

I plan to dig deeper into the technical improvements and pipelines that ILM, Disney, Unreal, and other companies have put together to make this all possible. In the meantime you can watch the behind the scenes video below:

#cinema-tech, #disney, #entertainment, #ilm, #industrial-light-and-magic, #led-walls, #media, #stagecraft, #star-wars, #the-mandalorian, #unreal, #unreal-engine

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The Weeknd will sell an unreleased song and visual art via NFT auction

Abel Tesfaye, the Super Bowl-headlining musician known as The Weeknd, is the latest artist to embrace the excitement around NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

Specifically, he’s teaming up with Nifty Gateway, the same marketplace that worked with Beeple to auction off a piece of digital art for $6.6 million earlier this year (a very impressive number, though quickly overshadowed by the $69 million that another Beeple piece sold for through Christie’s).

The Weeknd and Nifty Gateway will be holding a sale on Saturday with two main components, both of them involving a previously unreleased song — which will not be available on any other platforms in the future — plus visual art developed by Strange Loop Studios in consultation with The Weeknd.

There will be a flash sale of three different pieces of art, each with different filtered clip of the song. These pieces will be available in unlimited quantities, albeit for a limited amount of time. And there will be a 24-hour exclusive auction of a one-of-a-kind piece — accompanied by the song, full and unfiltered.

“Blockchain is democratizing an industry that has historically been kept shut by the gatekeepers,” The Weeknd said in a statement. “I’ve always been looking for ways to innovate for fans and shift this archaic music biz and seeing NFT’s allowing creators to be seen and heard more than ever before on their terms is profoundly exciting. I intend to contribute to this movement and can see that very soon it will be weaved into the music industry’s mechanics.”

NFTs are basically assets on the blockchain tied to digital art, whether that’s images, audio, video or another format. The art itself is usually reproducible, but the NFTs indicate the true ownership. Interest has exploded in recent months, thanks to auctions at eye-popping prices, as well as hopes that the technology will bring more financial benefits to artists in the digital world. At the same time, they’ve also faced criticism for factors including their energy usage and resulting impact on climate change.

The auction will begin at 11am Pacific on Saturday, April 3.

#cryptocurrency, #media, #tc

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Spotify adds three new types of personalized playlists with launch of ‘Spotify Mixes’

Spotify this morning announced it’s significantly expanding its selection of personalized playlists with the addition of three new categories of playlists under the heading of “Spotify Mixes.” This collection will include artist mixes, genre mixes, and decade mixes — meaning you’ll gain access to a sizable number of new mixes with easy-to-understand titles, like 2010s Mix, R&B Mix, Pop Mix, Drake Mix, Selena Gomez Mix, and so on — or whatever reflects your own tastes and interests.

The company says the idea for the Spotify Mixes was inspired by its Daily Mixes, launched in fall 2016.

The Daily Mixes had been one of the company’s first big expansions in personalization beyond its flagship playlist, Discover Weekly, as they introduced a large set of playlists that reflected users’ listening history. Today, Daily Mixes bring together your recent listens with other tracks to keep you engaged — and the new Spotify Mixes essentially do the same, as they’re populated with music you like plus “fresh tracks.” The difference is that the new mixes have clearer names and a more specific focus, in some cases.

The Spotify Mixes will be available to all users globally, including both Free users and Premium subscribers. At launch, you can find them within Search in the “Made for You” hub.

You’ll easily spot them, too, as Spotify has already populated its app with a selection of mixes in the top three rows of the “Made for You” hub. Here, you’ll find “Your Genre Mixes,” “Your Artist Mixes,” and “Your Decade Mixes” —  each with a horizontally scrollable selection of mixes to get you started. Spotify says each mix category will be updated frequently and will always have several playlists available.

The new feature somewhat competes with a similar offering on Pandora, launched three years ago. The SiriusXM-owned music app had used its Music Genome technology to create personalized playlists across a number of attributes, including also genre and mood. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, necessarily, Pandora’s launch had instantly expanded its users’ access to personalized playlists by the dozens. It’s actually a bit surprising that it took Spotify as long as it did to offer a competitive response.

Spotify says the new playlists are rolling out today to global users.

 

#media, #music, #personalization, #playlists, #spotify

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Free Extra Crunch membership included with TC Early Stage tickets

TechCrunch Early Stage is coming up this week, and all attendees can get 3 months of free access to Extra Crunch as a part of a ticket purchase. Extra Crunch is our members-only community focused on founders and startup teams, and it features over 100 exclusive articles per month. 

Head here to buy your ticket to TC Early Stage

Extra Crunch unlocks access to our weekly investor surveys, private market analysis, and in-depth interviews with experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other core startup topics. Get feedback on your pitch deck through Extra Crunch Live, and stay informed with our members-only Extra Crunch newsletter. Other benefits include an improved TechCrunch.com experience and savings on software services from AWS, Crunchbase, and more.

Learn more about Extra Crunch benefits here, and buy your TC Early Stage tickets here

What is TC Early Stage? 

TC Early Stage is a two-day virtual event where early-stage founders can take part in highly interactive group sessions with top investors and ecosystem experts. This includes everything from fundraising and operations to product lifecycle and recruiting.

The event will take place April 1-2, and we’d love to have you join. View the event agenda here, and purchase tickets here

Once you buy your TC Early Stage pass, you will be emailed a link and unique code to claim the free trial of Extra Crunch.

Already bought your TC Early Stage ticket?

Existing pass holders will be emailed with information on how to claim the free 3 months of Extra Crunch membership. All new ticket purchases will receive information over email immediately after the purchase is complete.

Already an Extra Crunch member?

We’re happy to extend a free 3 months of access to existing users. Please contact extracrunch@techcrunch.com, and mention that you are existing Extra Crunch members who bought a ticket to TC Early Stage. 

What if I buy a ticket to both Early Stage 1 and 2?

You get 6 months of free access. 

#media, #subscriptions

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YouTube tests hiding dislike counts on videos

YouTube announced today it will begin testing what could end up being a significant change to its video platform: it’s going to try hiding the dislike count on videos from public view. The company says it will run a “small experiment” where it will try out a few different designs where dislike counts are no longer shown, however none will see the “dislike” button itself removed entirely.

The company announced the tests on Twitter, but then further explains further in a community forum post that the goal is not to remove the ability for users to signal they disliked a video — creators will still have access to the video’s like and dislike count from YouTube Studio and dislikes will still help power YouTube’s recommendation algorithms.

Instead, YouTube says that the idea to try hiding dislikes is based on creator feedback.

“We’ve heard from creators that the public dislike counts can impact their wellbeing, and may motivate a targeted campaign of dislikes on a creator’s video,” the announcement reads. “So, we’re testing designs that don’t include the visible like or dislike count in an effort to balance improving the creator experience, while still making sure viewer feedback is accounted for and shared with the creator.”

Of course, there can be a sort of mob mentality that accompanies the use of the Like and Dislike buttons on YouTube. But seeing the dislike count can also help to signal to others when videos are clickbait, spam or misleading, which can be helpful.

YouTube showed off one potential design being tested simply shows the same button layout but instead of a number of dislikes, the word “Dislike” appears underneath the thumbs down icon.

There will be no way to opt out of the test if you see the changes appear when you’re logged into YouTube — you’ll only be able to share feedback, the company notes.

To be clear, however, YouTube isn’t yet committed to removing the dislike count for everyone at this time. The feedback from this test will help inform YouTube as to if, when or how it will release designs like this more broadly.

YouTube wouldn’t be the first to experiment with removing metrics from a social app. Instagram has also been testing removing the number of positive engagements (Likes), in order to make the experience feel more authentic and less about chasing clout. And Facebook this year removed the “Like” button from Facebook Pages, in favor of the more accurate “Followers” measurement. However, in the case of removing just the dislike count and not the likes, viewers may misunderstand a video’s true popularity.

The company hasn’t said how long the tests will run before it has enough feedback to make a decision on the feature’s permanence.

 

#creators, #dislikes, #google, #like-button, #media, #social, #social-media, #videos, #youtube

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Acast expands its support for paid podcasts with Acast+

After partnering with Patreon last year to support patron-only podcasts, Acast has developed a full suite of subscription tools called Acast+.

The company has experimented with paywalled podcasts beyond Patreon in the past, but Acast+ appears to be its most comprehensive offering yet. Podcasters who run ads from Acast will be able to introduce a variety of other paid options, such as ad-free streams, exclusive episodes and early access to content.

Listeners will be able to access this content from the podcast players of their choice, including Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In exchange, Acast will take a cut of subscription revenue — Vice President of Product Matt MacDonald described this as “part of the overall package of using Acast,” with podcasters benefiting from having the full monetization experience managed within Acast. That means they can upload and manage access to all their content from a single system (rather than having separate paid and free feeds) while also getting the “full revenue picture” of both their advertising income and subscription income.

MacDonald said it’s also crucial that Acast is supporting subscription access across podcast players, rather than creating a listening app or destination of its own.

“”That’s a really clear distinction,” he said. “We want to make sure the podcaster’s listeners are their listeners. We’re just giving them a financial tool to help them build a relationship with the listeners that are supporting their show.”

Acast co-founder Johan Billgren also noted that podcasters can customize the experience down to the names of the subscription tiers and even what subscribers are called. He also said that after the launch of Acast+, the company will continue working with Patreon.

“We want to give the most options to the creator,” Billgren said. “They are in charge of their relationship, and if Patreon is the best option for them, we want to give them that option.”

Acast+

Image Credits: Acast

More broadly, he suggested that Acast+ reflects “a big shift” as podcasts go from from being “completely free and ad-funded” to a pursuing a broader range of business models.

“I think that the financial relationship is an expression of the overall relationship,” MacDonald added. (Listener relationship-building was also a theme in Acast’s acquisition of RadioPublic last month.) But certainly the financial side is important: “There are a number of times that I’ve heard podcasters say, ‘If I could make just a little bit more money, I could squeak out another episode.’ We’re giving them the financial pathways to do that.”

Acast+ is currently in beta testing and accepting signups from interested podcasters.

#acast, #media, #podcasts, #startups, #tc

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NFTs are part of a larger economic development in finance capital

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are trending hotter than pogs right now, and the number of articles published on the subject in the last few weeks has ballooned into the thousands. So a pardon must be begged at the outset here, but the overlooked potential of token economies is simply too important to let slip away.

NFTs are but one small part of a much larger development in the world of finance capital. What leaves some scratching their heads and chuckling could, within a decade, completely transform the model of investment that has been in place since the rise of Silicon Valley.

Non-fungible what?

NFTs have had a strange first step into the spotlight, bringing wealth to a very small group of people and making most people simply perplexed. Before NFTs are written off as a flash in the pan, it might be worth considering that NFTs were never designed to be very useful in traditional investment frameworks.

It can be hard to imagine how this might all play out, but we are already seeing the outlines of this new economy begin to poke through the dried-out skin of the old model.

An auction house selling a $69 million JPEG is akin to a horse-and-buggy driver strapping a small nuclear reactor to the top of the cab and declaring, “This is an atomic buggy!” as the horse continues to chug along, doing all the work. You’ll get the attention of bystanders, but nothing has fundamentally changed here.

Each of the headline-grabbing NFT sales seen recently are instances of exactly this kind of backward thinking. And the bystanders criticizing the buggy driver and saying, “nuclear reactors are hype,” are not really seeing the long-term implications, or they just don’t like horses.

Whales, dogs and unicorns

From early conceptions of investment as a way to fund transoceanic ship voyages, to the rise of venture capital as we know it today, the entire cosmos of finance capital has remained an elite sport. This is because the current model is based on big investors getting big wins.

Almost the entire world of finance capital is structured on big whales and unicorns, mythical creatures that mere mortals consider themselves lucky to have glimpsed. The word “structured” is chosen here carefully, as the “big-dog” theory of capital is literally built on powerful intermediaries that facilitate the will of these top investors.

The invention of bitcoin is an epochal event in the development of finance. Bitcoin itself has crystallized into merely another playground of power, but the technological tremors it left in its wake are starting to emerge as the real game-changers. Primarily, distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) — of which blockchain is but one instance — are a breakthrough on par with being able to send a message instantaneously to a person on the other side of the world.

DLTs mean that finance capital no longer has a need for powerful intermediaries — or intermediaries of any kind. Middlemen are currently very necessary in order for parties to establish trust in transactions, trades contracts or investments. Paying for the services of these middlemen can be written off as the cost of doing business for large companies and wealthy individuals, but these expenses remain prohibitive barriers for many.

DLTs break down these barriers because trust is established by and built into the very architecture of the network itself. With DLTs, anybody with an internet connection can do big-dog-style business deals at whatever level they can afford, and the way that these deals are transacted is through tokens.

Token economies will be transformative

DLT economies are going to be adopted by all of the major investment players in the next few years as the advantages of decentralizing investment are too numerous to ignore — lower friction for transactions due to automation, much quicker (real-time) results and analysis of market conditions, greater security through transparency, and a higher level of customization for financial products and services. The adoption of decentralized finance by major players will have a net-positive impact for everyone else.

Tokens are the lifeblood of this new system, and non-fungible tokens are just one type of token. In this emerging model, there are payment tokens that behave like money, security tokens that are comparable to stocks, utility tokens that provide functions like space or bandwidth and hybrid tokens that mix these tokens into new forms. If it sounds a bit confusing and exciting, that’s because it is.

The main takeaway to understand here is that tokens are going to replace not just stocks and other investment products but also the entire idea of having middlemen between you and your purchases, whether that middleman is an investment broker, a credit card company, a platform provider or a bank. The decentralized economy is going to be a much more open and direct kind of market.

The rubber hits the road like this

It can be hard to imagine how this might all play out, but we are already seeing the outlines of this new economy begin to poke through the dried-out skin of the old model. These protrusions are most apparent where economic reality doesn’t really make sense.

Think of the emerging gig economy, where nobody really seems to have a steady job anymore, where each of us is some kind of professional mercenary, moving from gig to gig. Think of the huge number of subscriptions that most of us carry like millstones around our necks. Think of the paradoxically frustrating relationship of musicians to streaming platforms, or artists to galleries. Think about the amount of crushing poverty that still remains on our planet.

These are all instances of models of living and working not really fitting into old containers. We can all sense that these aspects of our lives aren’t really functioning optimally, but we can’t quite say why and we certainly don’t know what the solution might look like. Decentralized, tokenized economies have the potential to erase all of these pain points, paradoxes and kludges and replace them with something much more intuitive and elegant.

This new reality is easy to imagine in some of its attributes: Instead of nine different subscriptions, you can just pay directly for the content that you want, when you want it. Instead of artists giving up half of their earnings to galleries or musicians giving, well, all of their earnings to streaming platforms, they now just take direct payment for their work through fluid networks built by and for this type of content. Instead of paying brokers to facilitate your investments, you can now just invest directly in the enterprises that interest you, including formerly out-of-reach sectors like real estate investment. Instead of crushing poverty and fiercely protected borders between classes, we break down barriers and give everyone access to value.

Many of the other developments in a token economy have yet to be imagined, and this is probably the most exciting aspect of all. When we distribute the economy globally, in a way that allows anyone with an internet connection the ability to interact and contribute in a meaningful way, we are unlocking the value of untapped assets that are worth literally trillions of dollars. So what is holding us back, and how do we get there as soon as possible?

The work ahead is very clear

The hardest part of unlocking this new economy has already been achieved — we have the technological understanding of how to distribute and decentralize a system of consensus that combines with a system of digitizing assets for trade and investment.

The remaining work that will actually bring this system online is fairly obvious — first and foremost, we need to take a look at the ecological impacts that this new system has had in its infancy. We should absolutely outlaw mining farms or set the strictest limits for how much of their energy comes from nonrenewables. If the backbone of this new economy is destroying the planet, we need to shut it down before it grows, full stop. The system needs to be ecologically sustainable.

The second most immediate concern is that there are currently no standards, no common network, that the multitude of different cryptocurrencies and tokens agree on. It’s astounding and absolutely frustrating that the various cryptos are hardly even talking about this.

It’s as if we have a bunch of different companies not only inventing the light bulb but also inventing their own light sockets and wiring protocols, and each one is insisting that they are the best and they will win out in the end. Light bulbs are great, but can we please agree on one socket? This beautiful new economy will never get off the ground unless we build a neutral, interoperable network, and this network needs to be feeless and scalable.

The last cause of immediate concern is regulation and legal frameworks. There are too many people still in crypto that have some kind of anarchist’s deathwish to just be completely left outside, and this is not serving the long-term goals of our communities.

I’m all for knocking intermediaries out of the value chain, but this doesn’t automatically entail the establishment of a never-never land that no regulatory agencies are invited to. Legal frameworks for decentralized economies go hand in hand with our ethos of open-source, community-building, transparent operations. We all need to be advocates for thorough and precise regulation of our nascent technology.

With ecology, interoperability and regulation as our watchwords, we can begin work on building the actual apps and other infrastructure that will allow users to leverage the power of a new economy. The uses are limitless, from selling excess electricity to your regional smart power grid, to investing in your favorite artists’ network, to accepting direct payment for your own labor, to — yes — buying NFTs, which will make a lot more sense in the new economy.

#bitcoin, #blockchain, #blockchains, #column, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #media, #nfts, #opinion

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