Roku debuts a 15-minute weekly series that recommends what to watch next

Roku is expanding its programming for its free content hub, The Roku Channel, with today’s launch of its own weekly entertainment program called “Roku Recommends.” The 15-minute show will leverage Roku’s data to highlight the Top 5 titles for viewers to stream that week. While not exactly “original programming” the way that Roku’s recent additions of its acquired Quibi content is, the series will run only on Roku, where it can be found in The Roku Channel and Featured Free, with new episodes every Thursday.

The series is the first production to emerge from the new Roku Brand Studio — a studio that aims to produce video ads and other custom branded content for ad partners. The show is produced by Funny Or Die and Mike Farah, Beth Belew, and Jim Ziegler serve as executive producers.

The show’s co-hosts include entertainment reporter and AfterBuzz TV co-founder Maria Menounos and former NFL player, Andrew “Hawk” Hawkins. The duo will present the Top 5 titles to viewers. These recommended shows or movies may come from any of the thousands of channels across the Roku platform, based on data exclusive to the platform.

“According to Nielsen data, the average streamer spends more than seven minutes searching for what to watch next,” said Chris Bruss, Head of Roku Brand Studio, in a statement. “We are uniquely positioned to use our trending data both to help consumers find incredible movies and shows and to help advertisers go beyond the traditional 30-second ad to entertain streamers who otherwise spend time in ad-free, subscription-only environments,” he added.

The series will also allow for ad sponsors. The company says it has already signed on several national advertisers, starting with Walmart, to sponsor the program. Advertisers will have access to Roku’s Measurement Partner Program to determine whether or not their integration reaches subscription video on-demand (SVOD)-only streaming users, as well as view other metrics about their video ad campaign’s reach, brand perception and impact.

The series comes at a time when the streaming landscape is shifting. Today’s streaming services regularly serve up recommended content based on what their customers are watching — Netflix, for example, shows rows of popular and trending content, as well as a Top 10 list of newly popular titles. But as the number of available streaming services grows, larger entities merge, and content jumps around as licensing agreements end and start, consumers may be more in need of a set of current recommendations from across channels and services, not just those isolated inside one service.

Amazon Fire TV’s update recently addressed this need with the introduction of a new “Find” feature that aims to make it easier for users to search and browse movies, shows and free content across its platform. Roku, however, didn’t have a recommendation system of its own.

It’s also interesting to see that Roku is willing to use its proprietary streaming data in this way — something it could choose to do more with further down the road to help build out a broader set of recommendations, if it chose.

 

#cord-cutting, #funny-or-die, #internet-television, #media, #multimedia, #player, #quibi, #roku, #streaming, #streaming-media, #streaming-services, #television, #tv, #walmart

Roku will launch original programming fueled by Quibi’s content on May 20

Roku today announced the launch of its own original programming, which will initially become available to viewers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada through the media platform’s free streaming hub, The Roku Channel, starting on May 20th. The debut lineup will include 30 titles, including both the scripted and reality programming Roku had acquired from the short-form streaming service Quibi earlier this year, following its shutdown.

Quibi, of course, had launched at an inopportune time for a service that was designed for on-the-go viewing, when it arrived in the middle of a pandemic. But some have argued that much of Quibi’s content wasn’t compelling enough to pull in the number of subscribers to make the service a success. It will be interesting to see how well that same content now fares on Roku where it will no longer be “mobile-first,” but will more likely be streamed on a big-screen TV.

Among the better-known Quibi shows that will now be joining Roku are Chrissy Teigen’s “Chrissy’s Court,” Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!,” Kevin Hart’s “Die Hart” action series, Emmy-winning “FreeRayshawn,” documentaries “Blackballed” and “Big Rad Wolf,” and reality show reboot “Punk’d.”

These and others will become Roku’s first original programs, joining the over 40,000 other free movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel. This free streaming hub has been growing rapidly, in part due to the pandemic which forced people to stay at home, but also because of broader demand for free streaming content.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, The Roku Channel reached 63 million people in U.S. households, up more than 100% year-over-year. Streaming hours also doubled year-over-year — growth that’s twice as fast as the overall Roku platform itself, the company notes. In the first quarter of 2021, The Roku Channel grew to reach an estimated 70 million people.

The full list of Roku Originals includes available for the May 20th launch include: #FreeRayshawn,” “About Face,” “Bad Ideas with Adam Devine,” “Barkitechture,” “Big Rad Wolf,” “Blackballed,” “Centerpiece,” “Chrissy’s Court,” “Cup of Joe,” “Die Hart,” “Dishmantled,”Dummy,” “Fight Like a Girl,” “Flipped, “The Fugitive,” “Gayme Show, “Iron Sharpens Iron,” “Last Looks, “Let’s Roll with Tony Greenhand,” “Most Dangerous Game,” Murder House Flip,” “Murder Unboxed,” “Nightgowns,” “Prodigy,” “Punk’d,” “Reno 911!,” “Royalties,” “Shape of Pasta,” “Thanks a Million,” and “You Ain’t Got These.”

Roku will market the shows to viewers inside The Roku Channel, through an ad unit below the left-side navigation on the Roku home screen, and even through a coveted slot in the navigation menu itself.

In addition to the 30 new programs launching in May, more Roku Originals will roll out over the course of 2021. In total, Roku acquired more than 75 titles from Quibi, in a deal that reportedly valued the content at “significantly less” than $100 million. That means Roku users will eventually gain access to the Quibi shows that had been in the pipeline, but never got a chance to debut.

Quibi’s content made sense for Roku because it was designed for ad-supported viewing and not because of Quibi’s mobile gimmicks — like “turnstyle” which made both portrait and landscape orientations look great, or horror shows that only stream after dark, for instance.

“There’s always unique ‘stunt-y’ ways to bring shows to life, and we will explore those for shows that make sense,” noted Roku VP Sweta Patel, who leads the company’s Engagement and Growth Marketing. “But it’s going to have to make sense for how our viewers view — which is primarily on a [Roku] device,” she says.

In other words, Roku viewers won’t care about all the Quibi tricks, just the content itself. However, the shows will stream through The Roku Channel mobile app, for the subset of viewers who do watch on the go.

Roku will also leverage the existing ad breaks Quibi had built into its content, it says. That means after every 8 to 10-minute long “episode,” a one-minute ad will play. That’s still a lighter ad load than traditional TV, Patel notes. The same ad-selling structure that The Roku Channel uses today will also apply to Originals, including the potential for brand sponsorships.

While Roku believes the Originals can help to bring in a younger, 18-34 year-old demographic, it’s not necessarily signaling a plan to increase investments in exclusive, original programming like this. Instead, Roku will watch to see how the new content performs and then use those insights to add more content to The Roku Channel’s library over time.

“This really It was a unique opportunity for us to get some incredible content for our growing base. We are always sourcing content and — whether that’s producing it or acquiring it — it has to make sense for our AVOD business model,” says Patel. However, now that Roku has its own programming to offer, it will make sense for the company to roll out The Roku Channel to its global markets outside the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

The company wouldn’t comment on those plans.

Alongside the launch of Roku Originals, Roku also announced a partnership with Laugh Out Loud, the comedy brand founded by Kevin Hart. It will now bring the linear channel LOL! Network to The Roku Channel, joining the now over 190 live, linear channels featured on the service.

#ad-supported-streaming, #avod, #chrissy-teigen, #media, #original-programming, #originals, #quibi, #roku, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #tc, #television, #tv

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

Daily Crunch: Roku buys Quibi’s content library

Quibi’s content will live on, Hyundai may partner with Apple and Donald Trump returns to Twitter. This is your Daily Crunch for January 8, 2021.

The big story: Roku buys Quibi’s content library

If you’re wondering what will happen to Quibi shows like “Most Dangerous Game” and “Chrissy Court,” wonder no longer: They’re going to Roku.

The streaming TV platform announced today that it has acquired the global rights to Quibi’s content library, which it plans to bring to The Roku Channel, free and ad-supported, some this year. This includes “more than a dozen” shows that never got a chance to stream on Quibi before the app shut down.

“The most creative and imaginative minds in Hollywood created groundbreaking content for Quibi that exceeded our expectations,” said Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg in a statement. “We are thrilled that these stories, from the surreal to the sublime, have found a new home on The Roku Channel.”

The tech giants

Shares of Hyundai Motor Co. climb more than 20% on potential EV deal with Apple — Hyundai said discussions are still in the “early stage.”

Google’s plan to replace tracking cookies goes under UK antitrust probe — U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority said it’s investigating “suspected breaches of competition law by Google.”

Trump returns to Twitter with what sounds like a concession speech — President Trump only had to wait 12 hours before returning to his social network of choice.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Jobandtalent tops up with $108M for its ‘workforce as a service’ platform — The startup operates a dual-sided platform that connects temp workers with employers.

Detroit’s Ludlow Ventures goes for fund four — The Detroit-based seed-stage firm is in the process of closing its fourth fund of $65 million.

Jumbotail raises $14.2M for its wholesale marketplace in India — Jumbotail said it serves more than 30,000 neighborhood stores, popularly known in India as kiranas.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

VCs discuss gaming’s biggest infrastructure investment opportunities in 2021 — Investors highlighted numerous areas for new opportunity, including specialized engines, next-gen content creation platforms and tools to port desktop experiences to mobile.

What is up with Tesla’s value? — And a bunch of other stocks, for that matter.

The Roblox Gambit — So it turns out that Roblox is worth $29.5 billion.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Stolen computers are the least of the government’s security worries — The SolarWinds breach is likely to be a bigger cybersecurity threat than any computers stolen during the pro-Trump riot on Wednesday.

Five reforms necessary to create a truly cashless society — Convenience shouldn’t come at the cost of other aspects of commerce.

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, #media, #mobile, #quibi, #roku

Quibi’s $1.75B experiment ends with Roku acquisition for “less than $100M”

Quibi, the curious “TV on your phone” service that lasted for roughly six months last year, will soon live on—as a free-with-ads channel on Roku.

After rumors began circling earlier this week, Quibi and Roku confirmed on Friday that the two companies had reached terms for an acquisition, putting most of Quibi’s hours of original programming into Roku’s hands. Most of the Quibi service involved scripted series, along with documentary and reality-TV content, and Roku will host these series on a dedicated Roku “channel” later this year, while Quibi’s previous “daily” news episodes will not be part of the deal.

Surprisingly, it’s not just a deal for last year’s content. Whatever had been previously cranking as part of the Quibi portfolio of talent and producers appears to be back on the table, with Roku telling users to expect “more than a dozen new programs” that hadn’t previously debuted on the Quibi app in 2020. Roku didn’t use today’s announcements to clarify what the programming is, but Variety pegs many of the shows as documentary miniseries, along with a horror series written by Steven Spielberg that would have originally only been available for streaming during nighttime hours.

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#gaming-culture, #quibi, #roku

Roku acquires Quibi’s content

Quibi is dead, but its shows will live on.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Roku was in talks to acquire the short-form video service’s content. And this morning, Roku announced that it has indeed reached a deal for the exclusive distribution rights to all of Quibi’s programs.

Roku said it will make this content available for free with ads on The Roku Channel. That doesn’t just include the shows that were previously available on Quibi, but also “more than a dozen” programs making “their exclusive debut on The Roku Channel” — in other words, they were created for the service but unreleased due to the app’s shutdown.

“Today’s announcement marks a rare opportunity to acquire compelling original content that features some of the biggest names in entertainment,” said Roku’s vice president of programming Rob Holmes in a statement. “We’re excited to make this content available to our users in The Roku Channel through an ad-supported model. We are also thrilled to welcome the incredible studios and talented individuals who brought these stories to life and showcase them to our tens of millions of users.”

While Roku is best known for its streaming TV devices and software, advertising is a growing part of its business. And it says The Roku Channel (which offers both free content and subscription channels) reached 61.8 million U.S. viewers in the fourth quarter of last year.

Quibi, meanwhile, announced its shutdown in October, just six months after its splashy launch. The service was focused on creating video episodes that lasted 10 minutes or less and were designed for viewing on-the-go — a poor fit for a period of pandemic and lockdowns.

In their farewell note, executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman suggested that the service failed due to a combination of bad timing and the fact that “the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service.”

“The most creative and imaginative minds in Hollywood created groundbreaking content for Quibi that exceeded our expectations,” Katzenberg said in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled that these stories, from the surreal to the sublime, have found a new home on The Roku Channel.”

It’s also worth noting that the service was initially focused entirely on mobile viewing, with no way to watch the shows on smart TVs. That eventually changed, starting with the addition AirPlay support. Now, with the Roku acquisition, it seems that shows designed to be watched on your smartphone will instead be viewed primarily on your TV.

#entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #mobile, #quibi, #roku, #startups, #streaming-television

Remembering the startups we lost in 2020

Even in a non-hell year, running a successful startup is a tremendous lift. After the events of 2020, however, no doubt many already lean businesses are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. For every company that saw increased interest in their offerings during the pandemic, there were several that simply couldn’t make it through the finish line.

We’ve put this list together for several years now. It’s not a fun task, but it seems worthwhile to commemorate the startups that have closed up shop over the past 12 months. (Some of them were acquired by larger companies before shutting down, but all of them began their life as startups, and it still felt worthwhile to mark the end of their stories.) It also offers an opportunity to examine those issues from a bit of distance to see if there are any broader takeaways for the community at large.

This year’s list is among the most diverse we’ve done, ranging from standard smaller-name closures to big blockbuster crashes like Quibi and Essential . For some, the pandemic was the final nail in the coffin, but in many cases, cracks in business models were already starting to surface well before COVID-19 ground the global economy to a screeching halt.

Atrium (2017-2020)

Total Raised: $75 million

Atrium, a 100-person legal tech startup founded by Justin Kan, shut down in March after failing to find an efficient way to replace the arduous systems of law firms. The startup even returned some of its $75.5 million in funding to its investors, including Andreessen Horowitz.

The shutdown comes after the platform had pivoted just months earlier, laying off in-house lawyers and turning into a clearer SaaS play. Ultimately, Atrium’s failure shows how difficult and unprofitable it could be to disrupt a traditional and complicated system.

The closure came just three years after it launched with the goal to build software for startups to navigate fundraising, hiring, acquisition deals and collaboration with their legal team.

Essential (2017-2020)

Total Raised: $330 million

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Big plans, big names and a boatload of money should have been enough to buy Essential a lengthy runway. Sure, Essential was entering a mature and oversaturated market, but the Playground-backed startup was doing so with $330 million in funding, a team of top industry executives and some genuinely innovative ideas.

When I spoke to the company at launch, an executive outlined a 10-year plan to become a major player in both the mobile and smart home categories. Ultimately, the company was able to eke out just under three years of life after coming out of stealth. And while it did give the world a promising handset, its connected home hub never arrived.

Timing, broader marketing issues and troubling allegations of sexual misconduct were all contributing factors that stopped Essential’s big plans dead in their tracks.

HubHaus (2016-2020)

Total Raised: $11.4 million

Image Credits: HubHaus

HubHaus, founded by Shruti Merchant, was a long-term housing rental platform rooted in the belief that adult dormitories would take off. The startup targeted working professionals in cities, and raised only around $11 million in known venture capital. When it came to raising a Series B, Merchant says the company struggled to close and lost investor interest due to WeWork’s failed IPO.

After then pivoting to a self-funded company, HubHaus was just finding footing when the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States, drastically hurting the rental market (as shown by Airbnb’s public struggles, as well). The housing company eventually decided to close down in September, leaving landlords, members and vendors in limbo and bringing on a fresh sweep of critique and controversy.

Affordable housing continues to be an issue in the Bay Area, and HubHaus’s departure from the scene underscores this truth.

Hipmunk (2010-2020)

Total Raised: $55 million

Image Credits: Hipmunk

Hipmunk, founded by Adam J. Goldstein and Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, was one of the first travel aggregation platforms on the market. The company put together information on flights, hotels and car rental all into one place so consumers could compare and contrast prices with ease.

The focus was enough for the platform to get acquired by Concur, but now after four years, the travel startup shut down. Notably, the travel startup’s closure wasn’t necessarily tied to the coronavirus pandemic. The site officially went dark on January 23, months before lockdowns came to the United States.

IfOnly (2012-2020)

Total Raised: $51.4 million

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

IfOnly had created a marketplaces of exclusive events — such as “goat yoga” — a business that faced obvious challenges during the pandemic. The startup was actually acquired by one of its investors, Mastercard, late last year, but the acquisition wasn’t announced until IfOnly revealed over the summer that it was shutting down.

Mastercard also said IfOnly’s team and technology are still part of its Priceless experience marketplace: “The IfOnly platform will continue to help advance our Priceless strategy and our combined team will be even better positioned and equipped to deliver exclusive experiences for cardholders globally.”

Mixer/Beam Interactive (2014-2020)

Total Raised: $520,000

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft shut down its Twitch competitor Mixer this year, handing off its partnerships to Facebook Gaming. The service had its roots in the software giant’s acquisition of Beam Interactive shortly after the startup won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in 2016.

Before giving up, Microsoft made some big investments in Mixer’s success, most notably signing streaming superstars Ninja and Shroud to exclusive deals. (They became free agents after the shutdown.) However, Microsoft’s gaming chief Phil Spencer said the company suffered from starting out “pretty far behind” the biggest players in the streaming market.

The Outline (2016-2020)

Total Raised: $10.2 million

Image Credits: The Outline

Despite a busy year of innovation and venture for news media platforms, The Outline, which branded itself as “the next generation version of the New Yorker” was shut down. The media site was started by Josh Topolsky and had an explicit focus on serving millennials with a digital-first news media brand.

The shutdown was part of a broader layoffs at Bustle Digital Group, which acquired the publication in 2019. Pre-acquisition, The Outline had already scaled back its editorial staff and refocused on freelance articles. (Input — a tech site that Topolsky founded for BDG — continues to publish.)

Periscope (2015-2020)

Periscope went out with more of a whimper than a bang. The startup was acquired by Twitter before it had even launched a product. With Meerkat bursting on the scene that year at SXSW, Twitter went on the offensive, buying the startup to build out its own live video offering.

Periscope’s run was decent as far as these things go, and its technology will live on as part of Twitter’s video offerings, even after the app is officially discontinued next March. But in the end, Periscope was a shell of its former self. In fact, this is a rare instance where the pandemic may have actually delayed its shutdown.

The company notes, “We probably would have made this decision sooner if it weren’t for all of the projects we reprioritized due to the events of 2020.”

PicoBrew (2010-2020)

Total Raised: $15.1 million

Image Credits: PicoBrew

The company made beer-brewing machines that used coffee pod-style PicoPaks, then expanded into other categories like coffee and tea, but never quite attracted enough customers to make the business viable. It sold its assets earlier this year to PB Funding Group — a group of lenders recruited by then-CEO Bill Mitchell in 2018 to keep it afloat.

It’s possible that PicoBrew will live on in some form, as PB Funding Group says it’s seeking buyers for the company’s patents and other intellectual property, and that it will keep the website running in the short term so that the machines don’t stop working.

Quibi (2018-2020)

Total Raised: $1.75 billion

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman speaks about the short-form video streaming service for mobile Quibi

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman speaks about the short-form video streaming service for mobile Quibi during a keynote address January 8, 2020 at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

More so than any tech company in recent memory (with the possible exception of Theranos), Quibi’s existence feels like a fever dream. $1.75 billion in funding later and what do we have to show for it? “Fierce Queens,” a nature documentary about female animals. The HGTV-style program, “Murder House Flip.” And, of course, “The Shape of Pasta.” A show about pasta.

Early reports of the service’s demise seemed premature — if only because there was seemingly no way a company could burn through that much capital that quickly. By late-October, however, it was over. “All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote in an open letter.

Sometimes startup failures are bad timing. Sometimes it’s just plain bad luck. With Quibi, the diagnoses of what went wrong can be summed up in one word: everything.

Rubica (2016-2020)

Total Raised: $15 million

Rubica

Image Credits: Rubica

Rubica spun out of security company Concentric Advisors with the aim of offering tools that were more advanced than antivirus software, while still remaining accessible to individuals and small businesses. CEO and co-founder Frances Dewing said that when customers cut back on spending during the pandemic, the company tried to shift its focus to larger enterprise, but it failed to convince investors there was a business there.

“We were all really surprised given how relevant and needed this is right now,” she said. “Investors didn’t agree with that or see it in the same way.”

ScaleFactor (2014-2020)

Total Raised: $104 million

Businessman’s hands with calculator and cost at the office and Financial data analyzing counting on wood desk. Image Credits: Sarinya Pinngam/EyeEm / Getty Images

ScaleFactor was a startup claiming to offer artificial intelligence tools that could replace accountants for small businesses; it blamed the pandemic for cutting its revenue in half and forcing the company to shut down. However, former employees and customers told Forbes a different story — that ScaleFactor actually relied on human accountants (including an outsourced team in the Philippines) to do the work.

While it’s hardly unprecedented for a startup to fudge the truth about their level of automation versus human labor, this reportedly resulted in error-filled accounting for ScaleFactor clients. (Responding to a fact-checking email, former CEO Kurt Rathmann said the email was “filled with numerous factual inaccuracies and misrepresentation” and declined to comment further.)

Starsky Robotics (2015-2020)

Total Raised: $20 million

Self-driving trucks startup Starksy Robotics began with this first, and problematic truck. Image Credits: Starsky Robotics

“In 2019, our truck became the first fully-unmanned truck to drive on a live highway,” Starsky Robotics co-founder and CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher wrote in a Medium post in March. “And in 2020, we’re shutting down.” After five years and $20 million in funding, the autonomous trucking company shut its doors that month. It wasn’t for lack of ambition or demand — it seems safe to assume there’s still a bright future for self-driving trucks.

Ultimately, however, Starsky won’t be along for that ride — a fact Seltz-Axmacher blames largely on timing. A crowded market is certainly at play, as well, with countless companies currently pushing to bring autonomous technology to the road.

Stockwell/Bodega (2018-2020)

Total Raised: $10 million

stockwell bodega

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Founded in 2018 by ex-Googlers, Stockwell AI shut down after being unable to find business for its in-building smart vending machines that stocked everything from condoms to La Croix. The company blamed the “current landscape” (also known as the global pandemic we are experiencing) for its closure.

Stockwell AI, formerly known as Bodega, was well-funded and well-known, with more than $45 million in funding from investors that included NEA, GV, DCM Ventures, Forerunner, First Round and Homebrew. Still, even venture capital couldn’t make vending machines work well enough.

Trover (2011-2020)

Total Raised: $2.5 million

Image Credits: Trover

Another travel-focused startup bites the dust as the coronavirus limits the chance to safely explore the world (let alone your neighborhood). Trover, a photo-sharing hub for travelers acquired by Expedia, shut down in August. The startup was founded by Rich Barton and Jason Karas and was meant to connect people travelling to the same places. The startup had quite the life: it began out of the remains of TravelPost, a travel review site, and got scooped up by its parent company when it only had $2.5 million in funding. Unfortunately, its nine-year journey is over for now.

#apps, #atrium, #essential, #hipmunk, #periscope, #quibi, #startups, #tc

Silicon Valley should reward zebras, not unicorns

Silicon Valley has a unicorn problem.

While no one is calling for startups with high valuations to go extinct, there ought to be a lot fewer of them. At least that’s what many young founders have concluded after looking at the trials and travails of billion-plus-dollar private companies.

A unicorn is a mythical animal, so investors expect magical results: Lightning growth, near-monopolies and a record-setter IPO yielding 100x or 1,000x returns. A “zebra” company is different. Zebras are real animals that have evolved to fill and thrive in a particular niche. Unlike unicorn companies, zebras are lean, efficient and consistent.

Exponential growth is neither the best nor the only way for businesses to operate.

Too often, a company’s name or perceived cachet — rather than its actual product or realistic business prospects — becomes the thing it is selling. For the most recent, and maybe most damning, example of this trend, look at WeWork .

The company’s 2019 failed IPO was the corporate debacle of the decade; few businesses since Enron have fallen so far so quickly. When the market got a chance to examine the unicorn, they discovered it was really a one-trick pony with a cardboard horn. Adam Neumann built his company for net worth, not actual value, and his employees and supporters paid the price. Then again, imagine if the IPO had been a success: How much of the company’s worth would have evaporated when COVID-19 rolled around in March?

Although most tech innovation requires venture capital in today’s economy, unicorns sometimes become case studies in taking too much of a good thing. Round after round of funding can, as in the case of WeWork, disguise rickety foundations and unsound business plans.

Earlier this month, the mobile video unicorn Quibi folded less than a year after its launch. Film and TV critics weren’t surprised, and neither were those few consumers who’d heard of the company.

Well before its ill-timed launch in early April, most observers knew it was a bad idea. So why did Quibi receive so much funding? The big names attached to the company, including Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and one-time HP CEO Meg Whitman, attracted investors who somehow didn’t realize that everything about the product, from its name to its pricing, was wrong.

What a unicorn offers isn’t as important as the fact that it’s a unicorn. The opposite of a unicorn company, to my mind, is a zebra company. They may be a little odd, they may not get the front-page headlines or breathless news coverage, but they’re built to last and built to do something.

Unicorns thrive so long as they remain in the enchanted forest of endless venture rounds; zebras tough it out in the savannas of the free market. A zebra company won’t become the next behemoth like Facebook or Amazon, but neither will it become the next Quibi or WeWork.

The emergence of zebra companies like Handshake and Turo, and to some extent corporations like Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia, speaks to a broader change in our business and economic understanding. Even before the coronavirus shut down much of the world, endless growth was looking less and less attractive.

Instead of extracting ever more value from the economy, companies like Patreon realize that the same dollar can be earned multiple times as it circulates through the economy. One-way extraction of value is replaced with a circular flow of value. Exponential growth is neither the best nor the only way for businesses to operate.

For most of us, the new year will be a relief: 2020, over at last. But we shouldn’t neglect the opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the future that a new year offers. The mistakes of WeWork and Quibi are all too easy to repeat; chances are that somewhere in Silicon Valley, a venture capitalist is giving too much money to a doomed business. We’ve been too focused on the unicorns. It’s time to give the zebras the attention they deserve.

#adam-neumann, #column, #opinion, #quibi, #startups, #unicorn, #venture-capital, #wework, #zebra

Week in Review: Snapchat strikes back

Hello hello, and welcome back to Week in Review. Last week, I wrote about the possibility of a pending social media detente, this week I’m talking about a rising threat to Facebook’s biz.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here. And while I have you, my colleague Megan Rose Dickey officially launched her new TechCrunch newsletter, Human Capital! It covers labor and diversity and inclusion in tech, go subscribe!


Image: TechCrunch

The Big Story

First off, let me tell you how hard it was to resist writing about Quibi this week, but those takes came in very hot the second that news dropped, and I wrote a little bit about it here already. All I will say, is that while Quibi had its own unique mobile problems, unless Apple changes course or dumps a ton of money buying up content to fill its back library, I think TV+ is next on the chopping block.

This week, I’m digging into another once-maligned startup, though this one has activated quite the turnaround in the last two years. Snap, maker of Snapchat, delivered a killer earnings report this week and as a result, investors deemed to send the stock price soaring. Its market cap has nearly doubled since the start of September and it’s clear that Wall Street actually believes that Snap could meaningfully increase its footprint and challenge Facebook.

The company ended the week with a market cap just short of $65 billion, still a far cry from Facebook $811 billion, but looking quite a bit better than it was in early 2019 when it was worth about one-tenth of what it is today. All of a sudden, Snap has a new challenge, living up to high expectations.

The company shared that in Q3, it delivered $679 million in reported revenue, representing 52% year-over-year growth. The company currently has 249 million daily active users, up 4% over last quarter.

Facebook will report its Q3 earnings next week, but they’re still in a different ballpark for the time being, even if their market cap is just around 12 times Snap’s, their quarterly revenue from Q2 was about 28 times higher than what Snap just reported. Meanwhile, Facebook has 1.79 billion daily actives, just about 7 times Snapchat’s numbers.

Snap has spent an awful lot of time proving the worth of features they’ve been pushing for years, but the company’s next challenge might be diversifying their future. The company has been flirting with augmented reality for years, waiting patiently for the right moment to expand its scope, but Snap hasn’t had the luxury of diverting resources away from efforts that don’t send users back to its core product. Some of its biggest launches of 2020 have been embeddable mini apps for things like ordering movie tickets or bite-sized social games that bring even more social opportunities into chat.

Snap’s laser focus here has obviously been a big part of its recovery, but as expectations grow, so will demands that the company moves more boldly into extending its empire. I don’t think Snapchat needs to buy Trader Joe’s or its own ISP quite yet, but working towards finding its next platform will prevent the service from settling for Twitter-sized ambitions and give them a chance at finding a more expansive future.


Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Trends of the Week

These next few weeks are guaranteed to be dominated by U.S. election news, so enjoy the diversity of news happenings out there while it lasts…

Quibi is dead
Few companies that have raised so much money have appeared quite dead-on-arrival as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile video startup Quibi. This week, the company made the decision to shut down operations and call it quits. More here.

Pakistan unbans TikTok
It appears that the cascading threat of country-by-country TikTok bans has stopped for now. This week, TikTok was unblocked in Pakistan with the government warning the company that it needed to actively monitor content or it would face a permanent ban. Read more here.

Facebook Dating arrives in Europe
Facebook Dating hasn’t done much to unseat Tinder stateside, but the service didn’t even get the chance to test its luck in Europe due to some regulatory issues relating to its privacy practices. Now, it seems Facebook has landed in the tentative good graces of regulatory bodies and has gotten the go ahead to launch the service in a number of European countries. Read more here.

 

 

Until next week,

Lucas M.

#apple, #computing, #europe, #facebook, #instant-messaging, #isp, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #megan-rose-dickey, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #pakistan, #quibi, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #trader, #united-states, #vertical-video, #week-in-review

This Week in Apps: Quibi dies, Snapchat soars, Halide upgrades for iPhone 12

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

Top Stories

Quibi dies…and no one was surprised

There was so much wrong with Quibi’s premise that it’s sometimes hard to even know where to start. But at the core, its problem was that it fundamentally misunderstood how, when and why users would watch video on their phones.

The company’s thinking was that you could fund high-production value content ($100K/minute, yikes) then chop it up into smaller “bites,” add a technology layer, then call this a reinvention of cinema.

The reality is there was little demand for this sort of content, and it didn’t fit with how people want to be entertained on their phones.

When people want to appreciate high-quality filmmaking (or even TV production), they tend to want a bigger screen — they’ve spent money for their fancy high-def or 4K TV, after all. Pre-COVID, they might even pay to go a movie theater. On mobile, the production value of content is far less of a concern, if it even registers.

Quibi also misunderstood what users want to watch in terms of video on their phones when they have a few minutes to kill.

By positioning its app in this space, it had to compete with numerous and powerful sources for “short-form” content — existing apps like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook (e.g. News Feed content, Watch feeds), Instagram Stories, Snapchat and so on. This is content you don’t have to get invested in, since you’re just distracting yourself from a few minutes of boredom. It’s not a time or place to engage with a longer story — chopped or otherwise.

Quibi also cut the length of content to serve its artificial limitations — at the expense of story quality and enjoyment.

A reality show dumbed down to just its highlights is almost unwatchable, as it exposes the editors’ machinations and manipulations that are better hidden among longer stretches of fluff. And there was simply no reason to cut down movies — like Quibi’s “The Dangerous Game,” for example — into pieces. It didn’t elevate the storytelling; it distracted from it. And if you wanted a quick news update (e.g. Quibi’s “Daily Essentials”), you didn’t need a whole new app for that.

Quibi content may have been considered “high quality,” but it often wasn’t good. (I still can’t believe I sat through an episode of “Dishmantled,” where chefs had to recreate dishes of food that were thrown in their face. And Quibi had the nerve to shame YouTube’s low-quality and lack of talent?!)

Quibi also wanted to charge for its service, but its catalog wasn’t designed for families, with content that ranged from kids to adult programming. It didn’t offer parental controls. This immediately limited its competitiveness.

At launch, Quibi also limited itself to the phone, which meant it limited your ability to use the phone as a second screen while you watched a show. (There was no PiP support). TechCrunch has been writing about phones as the second screen for the better part of a decade, often with a focus on startups. But in Quibi’s case, it killed the second screen experience, seemingly forgetting that people text friends, order food, check Twitter and peek in on other apps while a TV show plays in the background. Did it really think that a reboot of “Punk’d” deserved our full attention?

Quibi naturally blamed COVID for its failure to thrive. It had imagined a world where users had ample time to kill while out and about: commuting on the subway, standing in long lines, that sort of thing.

But even this premise was flawed. It would have eventually caught up to Quibi, too; COVID just accelerated it. The issue is that Quibi imagined the U.S. as only a swath of urban metros where public transportation is abundant and standing in lines is the norm. In reality, more than half (52%) the U.S. is described as suburban, 27% is urban and 21% is rural. Non-urban commuters often drive themselves to work. Sure, they could stream Quibi during those commutes, but not really look at it. So why burn high-production value on them? And standing in long lines, believe it or not, is not actually that common in smaller cities and towns, either. If it only takes two minutes to grab a coffee or a burrito before you hop back in your car, do you really want to start a new show?

So where would that have left Quibi? Hoping for Gen Z’ers attention as they lounge around their bedrooms looking for something to do? And yet it wanted to appeal to these kids using Hollywood A-Listers they don’t even know? As COVID pressed down, it left Quibi in competition with (often arguably better) content that streamed natively on the TV from apps like Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and others where you could binge through seasons at once instead of waiting every week for a new “quick bite” to drop.

There’s more, so much more that could still be said, including the fact that a former eBay and HP CEO may not be the right person to lead a company that wanted to dazzle a younger demographic. Or how its video-flipping TurnStyle feature was clever, but added complexity to filmmaking, and was not enough of a technological leap to build a business around. Or how, no matter how much money it had raised, it was still not enough, compared with the massive budgets of competitors like Netflix and Amazon.

You can read a further post-mortem round-up here. And another here. Because we can’t get enough post-mortems, apparently.

In the meantime, TikTok still isn’t banned.

Snap hits record $50B valuation

Snapchat’s maker was forecast to bring around $555 million in revenues in Q3 but posted $679 million instead, a 52% YoY increase, in a surprise earnings beat. EPS were an adjusted $0.01, beating an expected loss of $0.04. The company also grew daily active users by 4% (11 million) to 249 million, an 18% YoY increase. Snap’s net loss of $200 million was a 12% improvement over last year, too.

As a result of the earnings, shares jumped nearly 30% the next day and its valuation cracked $50 billion for the first time, a record high.

During earnings, the company touted it now reaches 90% of the Gen Z population and 75% of millennials in the U.S., U.K. and France. User growth was attributed to new products, including Profiles, Minis, Lens creation tools and AR ads. In particular, Snap leveraged the Facebook ad boycott to reach out to brands that wanted to “realign their marketing efforts” with companies that “share their corporate values,” the company said.

Snap also just launched its TikTok competitor, Sounds on Snapchat, which lets users add licensed music to their Stories.

Weekly News Round-Up

Platforms

  • Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 14.1. The first major update to iOS 14 delivers multiple bug fixes, including those impacting widgets, streaming video and Family Setup on Apple Watch, among others. It also added support for 10-bit HDR video playback and editing in Photos on iPhone 8 and later.
  • iOS 14 bug continues to reset default email and browser apps. After updating your preferred email or browser app, iOS 14 forgets what third-party app you’ve set as the default. Yes, it was doing this before. Are we still so sure it’s a bug?
  • DOJ antitrust lawsuit goes after the multibillion-dollar deal that positioned Google as the default search engine on browsers, phones and other Apple devices.
  • AirTags patent applications describe use cases like locating the nearest defibrillator, monitoring users’ posture and playing avatar-based games, giving a little more insight into how Apple envisions the future of its smartphone-findable tags.
  • Google embraces iOS 14 widgets. Google already offered one of the more useful widgets for iOS 14 with its Search widget, which has been downloaded by “millions.” This week, it introduced more, including a Google Photos widget that let you revisit your memories, and a YouTube Music widget.
  • RCS support in Android Messages expands. Following the U.S. debut, RCS has rolled out to a number of new countries, and can now be found in Italy, Portugal, Singapore, Argentina, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Kosovo, Lithuania, New Zealand, Serbia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Australia, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Uganda and Ukraine. The last nine were just this month.

Trends

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • Buy Now, Pay Later app usage in the U.S. up 186% year-over-year as of Sept. According to Sensor Tower, apps that let consumers make purchases on payment plans have been climbing steadily this year since the COVID-19 pandemic. The report looked at Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay and QuadPay, which together have generated 18 million lifetime installs across the App Store and Google Play. Installs were up 115% YoY in September, while monthly actives were up 186%.
  • U.S. contact-tracing apps are a disjointed wreck. The WSJ examined the state of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps in the U.S. and found that states focusing on their own efforts, due to the lack of a national plan, has left a disjointed patchwork of tools. Only 10 states, plus D.C., have used the framework built by Google and Apple; 11 are piloting or building apps. The EU, meanwhile, switched on cross-border interoperability for its first batch of tracing apps.
  • Gen Z spends 10% more time using top non-game apps than older users, at 4.1+ hours per month. The figure excludes pre-installed apps and was calculated on Android devices in select markets, including the U.S. Gen Z users also engaged with non-game apps more often than older users, at 120 sessions per month per app.
  • U.S. consumers spend $20.78/mo on average on their app subscriptions, according to new data from Adjust. The 25 to 34-year-old age group spends the most on subscription apps at $25.85/mo, while those 55 and over spend the least, at $13.97/mo. In addition, more than a quarter of millennials and Gen Z consumers said they have stopped paying for other services in order to buy subscriptions on mobile app services (e.g. option for fitness apps over going to the gym).
  • Dating apps are on the rise in the U.S., says Apptopia. New users for Hily, Match, BLK, Bumble and Grindr are on pace to grow month-over-month at 32%, 28%, 20%, 18% and 11%, respectively.

 

Services

  • Amazon’s Luna game streaming service opens in early access to its first customers. The service offers a library of 50 games and works on Mac, PC, Amazon Fire TV, and iOS devices, courtesy of a web app to work around the App Store rules. Initial reviews describe the service as sometimes struggling with performance over Wi-Fi, but offering a good web app experience. Luna features some big titles but xCloud still has the better lineup. Its real killer feature, however, may be the promised Twitch integration, arriving in the future.
  • SoundCloud launches a $19.99/month DJ plan, SoundCloud DJ, that offers unlimited offline access to its catalog. Users can also stream high-quality audio and mix tracks using select DJ apps, including Virtual DJ, Cross DJ and Denon DJ.
  • Put your five-star reviews on your home screen. IMore spotted a must-have motivational tool for developers: a way to put your app’s five-star reviews as a widget on your home screen; $1.99 for this happiness boost.

Security/Privacy

Deadpool

  • Apple quietly discontinues its Apple TV Remote app. The app was removed from the App Store on Wednesday. Users are now expected to use the Remote feature built into the Control Center since iOS 12 instead.
  • Google will end support for its location-sharing Trusted Contacts app in December, and removes it from the Play Store. Users are directed to use similar features in Google Maps instead for finding friends and family.

Policies and Politics

  • Coalition for App Fairness more than doubles a month after its debut. The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), a newly formed advocacy group pushing for increased regulation over app stores, has more than doubled in size with this week’s announcement of 20 new partners. The organization, led by top app publishers and critics, including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, debuted in late September to fight back against Apple and Google’s control over app stores, and particularly the stores’ rules around in-app purchases and commissions.

App News

  • Facebook to increase investments in WhatsApp for business. The company said it will expand Shopping on WhatsApp and will charge businesses for some of the services it offers on the chat app, in order to grow revenues. This includes offering to manage businesses’ WhatsApp messages via Facebook’s own hosting services. Facebook offered this info as more of a look into its roadmap, but without specifics on new services or pricing.
  • Facebook is cloning Nextdoor. The feature is in testing in Canada and sees Facebook automatically generating neighborhood groups to connect local users with people, activities and items for sale.
  • Court approves Kik’s settlement with SEC. The ruling ends a multi-year court battle by allowing Kik to pay a one-time $5 million fine for its violation of securities law for failing to register its 2017 distribution of its Kin tokens in its ICO.
  • Roblox passes $2B in mobile player spending ahead of its planned IPO. The company’s revenues, accelerated by the pandemic, crossed the $1.5 billion mark in May 2020, then picked up another $500 million in five months, says Sensor Tower.
  • Cameo enters B2B sales. The custom celebrity video app repositions its business of personalized greetings for B2B sales through an integration and rev share agreement with corporate gifting platform Sendoso.
  • Adobe adds a chain of custody tool in the beta release of Photoshop and Behance that will fight misinformation and keep content attributed properly.
  • Stitcher’s podcasts come to Pandora as acquisition completes. The Stitcher app also got a revamp following the deal’s finalization. The move brought several bigger podcast titles in house, thanks to Earwolf, including “Freakonomics Radio,” “My Favorite Murder,” “SuperSoul Conversations from the Oprah Winfrey Network,” “Office Ladies,” “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” “Literally! with Rob Lowe,” “LeVar Burton Reads” and “WTF with Marc Maron.”
  • NYT has an iOS 14 widget now. The new widget will put NYT headlines on your home screen. Note that while the widget can be installed by anyone, if you want to click through to read, you’ll still need to be a subscriber.
  • PicsArt brings its app-based design tools to the web. The creative platform is chasing business users with the launch of its AI tools on picsart.com. The debut suite includes a template editor, background and object remover, video slideshow maker, text editor, and others.

Funding and M&A

  • Chinese tutoring app Yuanfudao has raised $2.2 billion from investors, surpassing Byju’s as the most valuable edtech company in the world, as it’s now worth $15.5 billion.
  • Retool raises $50M in funding, led by Sequoia, for its low-code tools for building internal apps that work on either desktop or mobile. The new round values the business at nearly $1 billion. Other backers include GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison, Brex Inc. founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham.
  • Syte raises $40M to bring visual shoppers to e-commerce retailers. Visual search is already popular in apps like Google, Pinterest and eBay, but Syte wants under retailers to have the option. The round was led by return investor Viola Ventures.
  • 98point6 raises $118M for its AI-powered telemedicine platform that works on web and mobile (iOS and Android).

Recommended Downloads

Halide Mark II

Image Credits: Lux

The developers of popular pro iPhone camera apps Halide and Spectre this week launched their latest creation, the Halide Mark II camera app. The new interface has been designed for one-handed operation and includes a range of new features.

These include a new gesture-based automatic and manual switcher; tactile touch for enabling and disabling features like exposure warnings, focus peaking, and loupe as you adjust exposure or focus; an overhauled manual mode; new dynamic labeling of controls and actions to explain features to new users; support for the edge-to-edge interface of the iPhone 12 models; a redesigned reviewer with a full metadata read-out; in-app memberships for photo lessons; and over 40 more changes.

A new “Coverage” feature can take a photo with Smart HDR 2/3 and Deep Fusion for maximum quality and computational processing as well as a RAW file — with only a slight delay between captures.

Image Credits: Lux

Halide Mark II also uses machine learning to process an iPhone RAW file in the app (ProRAW) with 17 steps, including detail enhancement, contrast and color adjustment and more. This feature, called Instant RAW, intelligently develops the file to get the best possible results.

And the app includes top pro tools, like a new waveform and color exposure warnings (zebras) that use XDR (Extended Dynamic Range) 14-bit RAW sampling, for accurate exposure previews and readings.

The app is $36 (currently $30 during a promo period) if you want to only pay once. Otherwise it’s $11.99 per year on subscription (currently $9.99 per year if you lock in the price now during the promo period). Subscribers to the membership plan also get perks, like custom icons. Existing Halide 1 users, unbelievably, are upgraded for free but are asked to support the app with a membership.

ClipDrop — AR Copy Paste

A new app called ClipDrop launches on iOS, Android, macOS and Windows as a new sort of “copy and paste” experience. The app uses state-of-the-art vision AI to copy images from your desktop with a screenshot to any other app (e.g. Docs, Photoshop, Canva, etc.) and it allows you to extract anything — objects, people, drawings or text.

The mobile app lets you snap photos of real-world items and then digitally transfer them to other apps or websites. In the below demo, the company shows how you could “clip” an image of an article of clothing using the camera, then import the photo into a document.

The company also just released a plugin for Photoshop that lets you drop the image into its app as a new layer with an editable mask.

The app is $39.99 per year (until November 2020, when it ups to $79.99 per year.)

Adobe Illustrator on iPad + Adobe Fresco on iPhone

Image Credits: Adobe

As part of Adobe’s virtual MAX 2020 conference this week, the company launched the first public version of its Illustrator vector graphics app on the iPad and brought its Fresco drawing and painting app to the iPhone. In time, the company plans to bring more effects, brushes and AI features to Illustrator. Fresco 2.0, meanwhile, includes new smudge brushes and support for personalized brushes, among other things.

Party Squasher

Designed for landlords, Airbnb owners or other vacation rental property owners, Party Squasher offers a hardware device and paired mobile app that counts the number of people at your house by counting the mobile phones in or around a house. The phones can be counted even if they’re not connected to the home’s Wi-Fi.

Because the device doesn’t include cameras or microphones, it’s ideal for ensuring that renters aren’t hosting large (and these days, potentially illegal) parties without violating privacy.

In the event that a large gathering is present, you’re sent a text or email so you can take action.

The device is $249 and the app charges a $199 per year subscription.

Tweets

 

The No. 1 game in the App Store is now Among Us!.

Can you guess why?

#android, #android-apps, #app-stores, #apple, #apps, #developers, #google, #ios, #ios-apps, #iphone-apps, #mobile, #mobile-apps, #quibi, #this-week-in-apps

The short, strange life of Quibi

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.”

With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service.

Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time.

A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

“We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.”

Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators.

For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics.

Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away.

Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.”

It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper.

Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

#apps, #entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #streaming-media

Quibi says it will shut down in early December

Quibi is shutting down — we know that much for sure.

But when? If you’re looking to blast through all 25 episodes of the Reno 911 revival series before Quibi calls its quits, how long do you actually have?

While it seems even Quibi isn’t 100% certain yet, they’ve at least now given users a rough idea of when they expect the plug to be pulled: early December.

As spotted by Variety, a newly published support page on the Quibi site says streaming will end “on or about December 1, 2020.” The “about” suggests that the shutdown date isn’t fully locked quite yet, but it should be sometime around then.

Will any Quibi shows find their way over to Netflix, Hulu, etc.? That’s still up in the air, too. “At this time we do not know if the Quibi content will be available anywhere after our last day of service,” the company writes in a note on the same page.

#entertainment, #quibi, #tc

Quibi’s shortform life

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Myself, along with Danny and Natasha had a lot to get through, and more to say than expected. A big thanks to Chris for cutting the show down to size.

Now, what did we get to? Aside from a little of everything, we ran through:

Whew! It was a lot, but also very good fun. Look for clips on YouTube if you’d like, and we’ll chat you all next Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #netflix, #quibi, #snapchat, #startups, #tc

Respect the hustle, not the stupidity

Yes, the media f’ing gorged on the Quibi story yesterday. We did, they did, everyone did. And really, truly, how could anyone not? Nearly $2 billion came in (with $350 million heading back), a star-studded lineup of executives and production teams, an absolutely massive advertising campaign, and a PR strategy that all but begged the sun to melt Icarus’ wings.

Our collective exhalation on the complete clusterfuck that was Quibi though leads to a legitimate and interesting question: are we obnoxiously attacking a good-faith failure? Wasn’t Quibi a bet just like every other startup, a bet that just happened to fail? A16Z’s general partner Andrew Chen put it vividly on Twitter, saying “It’s gross” and lauding the entrepreneurial challenge of building a startup:

I understand this view, deeply. In fact, all of us at TechCrunch understand this. One of the things that we pride ourselves on here is respecting the hustle. We know how hard it is to launch a startup. As a team, we collectively talk to thousands of founders every year, and we hear the heartbreaking stories and the downright trauma at times that comes with building a company. Occasionally (and yes, we focus most of our reporting here), we hear about the wins and successes too.

Let’s be honest: most startups fail. Most ideas turn out wrong. Most entrepreneurs are never going to make it. That doesn’t mean no one should build a startup, or pursue their passions and dreams. And when success happens, we like to talk about it, report on, and try to explain why it happens — because ultimately, more entrepreneurial success is good for all of us and helps to drive progress in our world.

But let’s also be clear that there are bad ideas, and then there are flagrantly bad ideas with billions in funding from smart people who otherwise should know better. Quibi wasn’t the spark of the proverbial college dropout with a passion for entertainment trying to invent a new format for mobile phones with ramen money from friends and family. Quibi was run by two of the most powerful and influential executives in the United States today, who raised more money for their project than other female founders have raised collectively this year.

Chen makes an important point that many obvious ideas in tech started as dumb ideas. That’s true! In fact, the history of technology is littered with examples of ideas that investors and the press thought were either dumb or impossible to build (which is a more polite way to say “dumb”).

Why do supposedly dumb ideas turn out to be smart? Part of the reason is that what starts out as dumb slowly iterates into something that is very smart. Facebook was just a “facebook” for checking out your classmates on college campuses. If it had ended there and withered away like many other social networks before it, we might well have put it in the waste bin of history. But Zuckerberg and his crew iterated — adding features like photos, a feed, messaging and more with an extreme focus on growth that made the product so much more than when it started.

We’ve seen this pattern again and again throughout time. Founders get feedback from users, they iterate, they pivot, they try new things, and slowly but surely they start to migrate from what might have been a very raw concept to something much more ready to compete in the ferocious marketplace of business and consumer attention today.

This was never the story with Quibi. There was never an iteration of the product, or a long-range plan to assiduously cultivate users and talent as the company found traction while carefully husbanding its capital for the inevitable tough moments in the growth of any company.

Yes, we in the commentariat do make mistakes, but analysts weren’t dumb in pointing out all of Quibi’s glaring, red-alert flaws. Those analysts were smart. They were right. They might not be right next time, of course — no analyst should get too overconfident in their predictions. But at the same time, we shouldn’t just collectively throw up our hands and declare every idea that comes our way a brilliant gift from the heavens. Most ideas are dumb, and we and everyone else have every right to point that out.

So respect the hustle. Don’t kick a hardworking entrepreneur down who is just trying to get their project out there and show it the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t call out stupid when you see it. The best entrepreneurs know that — even at its most vituperative — critical feedback is the necessary ingredient to startup success. Lauding everyone lauds no one.

#a16z, #andrew-chen, #quibi, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Daily Crunch: Quibi is shutting down

The end is in sight for Quibi, PayPal adds cryptocurrency support and Netflix tests a new promotional strategy. This is your Daily Crunch for October 21, 2020.

The big story: Quibi is shutting down

The much-hyped streaming video app led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, which raised nearly $2 billion in funding, is shutting down, according to reports in The Information and The Wall Street Journal.

Katzenberg, a longtime Hollywood executive, had blamed the coronavirus pandemic for a lackluster launch in May — an app designed for on-the-go viewing didn’t have much appeal when people were largely stuck at home. And whatever the reason, none of Quibi’s shows ever became a breakout hit.

Quibi executives confirmed the news in a post on Medium.

The tech giants

PayPal to let you buy and sell cryptocurrencies in the US — In partnership with Paxos, PayPal plans to support Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin at first.

Facebook is working on Neighborhoods, a Nextdoor clone based on local groups — Facebook said that Neighborhoods currently is live only in Calgary, Canada.

Netflix to test free weekend-long access in India — The streaming service recently stopped offering a month of complimentary access to new users in the United States.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Syte, an e-commerce visual search platform, gets $30M Series C to expand in the US and Asia — Launched in 2015 to focus on visual search for clothing, Syte’s technology now covers other verticals, like jewelry and home decor.

June’s third-gen smart oven goes up for pre-order, starting at $599 — It’s been two years since the smart oven’s last major update.

Mine raises $9.5M to help people take control of their personal data — Mine scans users’ inboxes to help them understand who has access to their personal data.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Founders don’t need to be full-time to start raising venture capital — John Vrionis and Sarah Leary of Unusual Ventures told us that lightweight investing matters in the early days of a company.

Dear Sophie: What visa options exist for a grad co-founding a startup? — The latest edition of immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn’s column answering immigration-related questions about working at tech companies.

Lessons from Datto’s IPO pricing and revenue multiple — How do you value slower, more profitable software growth?

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Sam’s Club will deploy autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in all of its US locations — Sam’s Club parent company Walmart is already using robotics to perform inventory in its own stores.

AOC’s Among Us stream topped 435,000 concurrent viewers — The purpose of the stream, which drew a massive crowd, was to get out the vote as we head into the general election.

Coalition for App Fairness, a group fighting for app store reforms, adds 20 new partners — The coalition claims that both Apple and Google engage in anti-competitive behavior.

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, #media, #mobile, #quibi

4 quick bites and obituaries on Quibi (RIP 2020-2020)

In memory of the death of Quibi, here’s a quick sendoff from four of our writers who came together to discuss what we can learn from Quibi’s amazing, instantaneous, billions-of-dollars failure.

Lucas Matney looks at what the potential was for Quibi and how it missed the mark in media. Danny Crichton discusses why billions of dollars in VC funding isn’t enough in competitive markets like video. Anthony Ha discusses the crazy context of Quibi and our interview with the company earlier this year. And Brian Heater looks at why constraints are not benefits in new products.

Lucas Matney: A deadpool company before it was even launched

#jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #startups, #wndrco

Quibi streaming service shutting down after less than 1 year

It's not a great tombstone, but... well, we'll just leave it at that. RIP Quibi.

Enlarge / It’s not a great tombstone, but… well, we’ll just leave it at that. RIP Quibi. (credit: Getty Images / Sam Machkovech)

Quibi, the video-streaming service designed to revolve around smartphone screens, is no more, according to The Wall Street Journal.

After launching only in April this year, with a $1.75 billion infusion of cash and the leadership of former NBC bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg, the service is ending as part of the closure of its holding company, Quibi Holdings LLC, according to “people familiar with the matter,” the WSJ says. The news was delivered directly by Katzenberg to the LLC’s investors on Wednesday, according to the report.

The writing appeared to be on the wall as soon as Quibi’s primary sales pitch—quick-burst videos designed to attract the average on-the-go smartphone user—fell apart all over the United States in the wake of coronavirus-related shutdowns. (People just weren’t watching videos on their phones as much this year while, say, commuting on crowded trains or going to and from schools and universities.) This issue was compounded by Quibi’s surprising lack of home-friendly ways to watch its content, with zero major launches on set-top platforms like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#gaming-culture, #quibi, #video-streaming

Quibi is dead, reports say

Plagued with growth issues, Quibi, a short-form mobile-native video platform, is shutting down, according to multiple reports. The startup, co-founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, had raised nearly $2 billion in its lifetime as a private company. Quibi did not respond to requests for comment from TechCrunch.

The company’s prolific fundraising efforts spanned prominent institutions in private equity, venture capital and Hollywood, all betting on Katzenberg’s ability to deliver another hit. The startup’s backers included Alibaba, Madrone Capital Partners, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan as well as Disney, Sony Pictures, Viacom, WarnerMedia and MGM, among others.

Their pitch was highly produced bite-sized content, packed with Hollywood star power, and designed to be “mobile-first” entertainment. For the YouTube’s and Snap’s of the world producing mainstream content on a shoestring budget, Quibi wanted to be an HBO for smartphones. Investors and pundits questioned the firm’s ability to monetize this vision, and it became clear soon after launch that the company had miscalculated.

Rumors that Quibi was shutting down began early this week. The Information wrote that Katzenberg has told people within the industry that the company might need to shut down, after unsuccessfully pitching itself as an acquisition to Apple, Facebook, and Warner Media.

In its first few months, Quibi was downloaded 3.5 million times and had 1.5 million active users. While those figures aren’t too shabby, the company had to adjust its original projections, which put the service on a trajectory to reach 7 million users and $250 million in subscriber revenue in its first year. Admitting that the launch hadn’t gone as planned, Katzenberg blamed the coronavirus for the streaming app’s challenges.

The company expanded in Australia in August with a free ad-supported tier for users. It is unclear if the tweak in the business model brought Quibi success, or if the problems for the app had to do with the business model in the first place.

Netflix earnings from earlier this week suggest that the pandemic entertainment boom is slowing. The consumer video service disappointed on new paying customer numbers, and shares were down sharply yesterday after it released its earnings report. Those numbers also potentially showcase just how crowded the market for subscription video content has gotten in the past 12 months, with players like Apple, Disney, HBO and NBC each launching new services and collectively spending billions to acquire rights to past television hits.

 

#quibi, #startups, #tc

Original Content podcast: ‘Wireless’ shows off Quibi’s Turnstyle technology

“Wireless” is probably the best showcase so far for Quibi’s Turnstyle technology.

That’s the technology that allows the streaming video app to switch seamlessly between landscape and portrait mode depending on the orientation of your phone. With other Quibi shows, you’re essentially getting two views of the same footage — but with “Wireless” (which is executive produced by Steven Soderbergh), you’re switching between traditional cinematic footage (in landscape) and a view of the protagonist’s phone (in portrait).

In this bonus episode of the Original Content podcast, director Zach Wechter told me that he and his co-writer Jack Seidman wrote the initial script — about a college student played by Tye Sheridan who gets trapped in the snow after a car crash, with only his iPhone to save him — before they decided on the phone-centric format. But when they heard about Turnstyle, “It just felt like a match made in heaven that would allow us to facilitate this idea.”

I wondered whether that required going back and adding a bunch of phone interactions to the story, but said Wechter said, “It was quite the opposite. One thing we found in testing was when the phone plot moved really fast, it would be hard, because there are these two perspectives happening at once.”

So that actually meant “reducing some fo the intriacy of the plot happening on the phone” to ensure that viewers didn’t get lost.

And if you’re wondering which mode to focus on as you watch, Wechter has some simple advice: “Go with your gut.” He said he had a “roadmap” for when he was hoping to nudge viewers to turn their phones — like when there’s a notification sound or Sheridan focuses on his phone — “but I think the most important part of the experience is that we’re not indicating when our viewers turn, that it becomes this sort of passive-but-active viewing experience.”

Wechter described making the show — essentially a feature length film divided into episodes of 10 minutes or less — as shooting “two films that had to dance together” in just 19 days. And he made things even more challenging by insisting that all the phone/FaceTime calls and even the text messages be filmed live, rather than just recording both ends separately.

“When I think about directing and my job, really the most fundamental part of it to me is making the actorss comfortable, and I think that having a scene partner is paramount,” he said. “It was a long conversation about why we couldn’t just have them act off of a recording and shoot it separately — because it took a lot of logistical effort and resources to do it — but it really makes the scenes feel very alive and realistic.”

You can listen to the full interview in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

#entertainment, #media, #mobile, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts, #quibi, #wireless

NBCU’s Peacock streaming service hits 1.5M app downloads in first 6 days

NBCU’s Peacock appears to be having a somewhat better launch than Quibi did, based on data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower. While numbers pointing to new app downloads aren’t a complete picture of consumer adoption for a cross-platform service, they can provide a window into early traction outside of any official numbers provided by the companies themselves.

In Peacock’s case, Sensor Tower says the mobile app has now been downloaded around 1.5 million times across the U.S. App Store and Google Play within its first 6 days on the market.

For comparison, that’s 25% more than the 1.2 million installs Quibi saw during the same period post-launch in the U.S., but only 12% of the 13 million downloads Disney+ generated within its first 6 days.

Sensor Tower chose not to compare Peacock with HBO Max due to the fact that HBO’s new service replaced the existing HBO Now app, which was already pre-installed on consumer devices. That would not be as apt a comparison.

Peacock, of course, doesn’t have the brand-name recognition of Disney. And arguably, its name doesn’t translate into consumers’ minds as “NBC,” despite its connection to the classic peacock logo. Disney, meanwhile, had a built-in fan base before its streaming service’s launch. And, more broadly, there was pent-up consumer demand for a more family-friendly offering, as well.

Before last week’s launch, Peacock had been available on parent company Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex platforms, but that didn’t include its mobile companion. The mobile app instead officially launched on July 15, and quickly shot up to No. 1 on the iPhone App Store, where it remained through the following day. On iPad, it ranked No. 1 between July 16 and July 18.

Today, the app has since dropped to No. 26 on iPhone (among non-game apps). Meanwhile, on Google Play, it has ranked No. 2 since July 17, and is No. 1 among non-game apps.

Quibi had also seen early traction on the app stores’ top charts shortly after its launch, ranking as high as No. 4 on iPhone on its launch day, April 6. But just over a week later it had rapidly fallen out of the U.S. iPhone app rankings, App Annie’s data indicated, dropping out of the top 50. That saw it coming in behind Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video.

Peacock hasn’t yet fallen that far, which could be a good signal.

There was also much discussion that Quibi’s failure to gain significant early traction had to do with its lack of support for TV viewing, despite launching in the middle of a pandemic when users were staying at home and watching on their living room big screens.

However, it’s worth pointing out that Peacock hasn’t yet rolled out to the two most widely-adopted living room platforms in the U.S.: Amazon Fire TV and Roku. That lends more support to the idea that Quibi hasn’t been struggling to grow because of its mobile-only nature, but because its content wasn’t drawing in viewers.

For what it’s worth, Quibi has disputed recent reports of its slow traction, noting earlier this month its app had gained 5.6 million downloads since launch — more than the 4.5 million Sensor Tower had claimed at the time.

Even if Sensor Tower’s estimates aren’t an exact science, the overall trend its figures paint is one of where neither Peacock nor Quibi have become overnight sensations at launch. Of course, the growth trajectory for any Netflix rival is sure to be tough in today’s crowded market. But these companies have made it even more difficult for consumers to connect due to their lack of a recognizable brand name and their failure to offer dedicated apps for top living room devices at launch.

#apps, #cord-cutting, #media, #peacock, #quibi, #streaming-services

’60 Minutes’ producers launch a ’10 minute or less’ Quibi series in bid to attract younger viewers

After teasing the series’ arrival for some months, Quibi is finally ready to launch its take on 60 Minutes for the social media generation. What that mainly means is content tailored to the shortened attention spans of viewers on top which the service has hung all of its hopes, dreams and $1.8 billion.

The new take on the America’s oldest newsmagazine goes under the banner  ’60 IN 6’ — slightly confusing, given that its producers are committing to a broader definition of short form content at “10 minutes or less.”

At very least, the first few episodes are timely given the current climate in the U.S. Correspondent Wesley Lowery host the first episode from Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. He’ll be sitting down with Floyd and Reverend Al Sharpton. A subsequent episode features interviews with the President of the Minnesota NAACP and local government and community members.

The series premiers two episodes this Sunday, exclusively on the Quibi app (which mercifully can now be beamed to a TV via AirPlay and Chromecast). Further episodes will be added on Mondays. It joins existing Quibi news programs from the BBC, along with the similarly formatted NBC Snapchat series, Stay Tuned, as old school media giants bank on shorter form version of traditional content as method for breaking through to younger generations. 

#60-minutes, #apps, #entertainment, #quibi

Quibi gets Chromecast support on iOS and Android

If you haven’t checked out Quibi and the lack of Chromecast support was the thing holding you back: now’s the time.

Just a few weeks after adding AirPlay support, Quibi has released another update that brings Chromecast support into the mix.

The update is live on the iOS App Store now, and is rolling out to Android devices through the week. In a tweet, Quibi Chief Product Officer Tom Conrad says that he expects the Android update to be available to all by Friday.

Quibi’s launch hasn’t been the resounding success the company hoped for, with founder Jeffrey Katzenberg openly saying that it was “not close to what we wanted.” Putting aside whether or not anyone wants to watch content on their phone in ten minute chunks, the timing certainly didn’t help; they built a thing meant to be consumed on-the-go at a time when many, many people are anything but on-the-go.

Will AirPlay or Chromecast or any other streaming option be the thing that spikes their numbers? Probably not. But for the folks who were already considering Quibi but didn’t want to be stuck watching it on their phone, it could be enough to get them to give it a spin.

#android, #chromecast, #ios, #quibi, #tc

Quibi inches towards usability by adding AirPlay streaming support

When it launched in April, Quibi carried the express mission statement of offering short form videos designed to watch on-the-fly. The service’s narrow focus rubbed a lot of potential subscribers the wrong way, with many requesting a more traditional method for watching the service’s series.

Ultimately, Quibi’s launch was a disappointing one, with founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for the service’s rocky start. It was a strange assertion, given how other streaming services have thrived amid lockdowns. In the same interview, the exec also alluded to the addition of support for streaming to TV.

The move followed an earlier suggestion that the feature was already on the roadmap, though the pandemic and Quibi’s disappointing performance may have accelerated the launch of a feature, which honestly ought to have been present since day one. Quibi has just delivered on that promise, by adding support for Apple’s AirPlay. That means iOS users can now stream Quibi’s frustratingly short content directly to their AirPlay-enabled sets.

Chief Product Officer Tom Conrad noted the change on Twitter, “Sure we designed Quibi for on-the-go, but these days visiting the family room is like a day trip… so AirPlay support is live for iOS in Quibi 1.3.” What’s more, support for Chromecast streaming will arrive next month, according to the executive.

Interesting that the news comes the day HBO is launching its eagerly anticipated Max service, the latest powerhouse in an already crowded streaming market. But it’s certainly nice to see the company continuing to evolve after what’s been mostly regarded as a disappointing launch. Now might we recommend doing something about show length?

#airplay, #apple, #apps, #quibi

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blames coronavirus for the streaming app’s challenges

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is admitting that the short-form video service’s launch hasn’t gone the way he’d hoped — and he knows what to blame for its issues.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg said in an interview with The New York Times. “Everything. But we own it.”

Back in April, I actually asked Quibi executives about how they thought the worldwide pandemic and widespread social distancing measures might affect their launch. After all, an app designed to deliver videos under 10 minutes when you’re on-the-go seems less appealing when no one can leave their house (where you can just sit on your couch and watch Netflix).

“I’m looking to take small breaks more than ever before to stand up, walk around, go outside,” CTO Rob Post said at the time. “Our use cases are these in-between moments. Now more than ever, that use case is still present.”

Similarly, Katzenberg told The Times he’d hoped “there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place.” Instead, he argued that those moments are still happening, “but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync.”

How badly has the launch gone? Quibi says it has been downloaded around 3.5 million times, and that it currently has 1.3 million active users. That’s a significant audience, especially for a service that was only released a little over a month ago.

Still, Katzenberg admitted it’s “not close to what we wanted.” And the company is apparently adjusting its projections, which had called for the service to reach 7 million users and $250 million in subscriber in its first year.

At least it sounds like Quibi is trying to learn and adapt. For one thing, the marketing has started to shift to promoting specific shows like “Reno 911” reboot, rather than advertising the idea of Quibi itself. For another, the company said it will be adding support TV viewing support for iOS users this week.

#jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #mobile, #quibi, #tc

Quibi reportedly kills its show about Snapchat’s founding

Newly launched mobile streaming service Quibi is killing one of its more highly anticipated series — a show depicting Snapchat’s origin story, focused on founder Evan Spiegel. The news was exclusively reported by Variety on Tuesday, which did not detail the source of its news.

Plans for the Snapchat show were first announced at SXSW in 2019, when Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman took the stage to talk about their plans for the new streaming service and its unique technology for mobile viewing.

The Snapchat series was to be based on the screenplay “Frat Boy Genius” by Elissa Karasik, which had depicted Spiegel as a hard-partying Stanford student, according to a review of the much-hyped script by Vulture.

“It is the story of how [Spiegel] built and created Snapchat, which is one of the great social platforms of our time,” touted Katzenberg, at the event. “And we want to tell a story that is as compelling and interesting about the creation of Snapchat and Evan’s story as ‘[The] Social Network’ was for Facebook,” he added.

The show was meant to appeal to Quibi’s target audience of young, on-the-go millennials and Gen Z users who were looking to watch short-form videos while out and about — for example, while riding the subway, waiting for an appointment, standing in line and more.

However, Quibi launched its service at a time when its users are no longer running around town. These days, everyone is sheltering in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And real-world activities are canceled, so there’s nothing much to do but go for walks or stream Netflix.

Quibi’s launch-day downloads had indicated a lack of pent-up demand for the mobile service, topping only around 300,000 after the first day.

However, in an interview with CNBC, Quibi CEO Meg Whitman has since confirmed the app’s first-week downloads have now reached 1.7 million. But these installs were boosted by a high-profile partnership between Quibi and T-Mobile, which is offering the service for free for a year to its unlimited wireless customers on family plans.

Whitman also said Quibi was accelerating its plans to add support for casting features that would allow Quibi content to play on televisions.

The company had earlier confirmed at CES in January that AirPlay and Chromecast were on its roadmap, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed Quibi’s plans. People today are watching movies and TV at home on their big TV screens, and may not be looking for “quick bites” of video they can binge in a few minutes’ time.

Quibi and Snapchat have been asked for comment. We’ll update if any are provided.

#media, #quibi, #snapchat, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv

This Week in Apps: COVID-19 contact tracing apps, virtual dating on the rise, Quibi makes a debut

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, including Apple and Google’s plans to team up on a contact tracing platform and other COVID-19 apps worldwide. We’re also looking at how WhatsApp is fighting fake news, and how home quarantines are impacting online grocery and dating applications. In non-COVID-19 news, we look at Quibi’s debut, Facebook’s new app for couples and a possible iOS version of Android’s “Slices,” among other things.

Coronavirus Special Coverage

Apple and Google partner on COVID-19 tracing tools

Apple and Google announced on Friday a plan to join forces to create a decentralized tracing tool to help people determine if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The first phase of the project is an API that public health agencies can integrate into their own apps. This will be followed by a system-level contact tracing system that works across iOS and Android and is opt-in. The system will involve transmitting an anonymous ID over Bluetooth. The servers will relay your last 14 days of rotating IDs to other devices that look for a match based on time spent and distance between two devices. If a match is found, you’re notified so you can get tested and self-quarantine.

The APIs will be available in May, while the Bluetooth-based system will be released in the months ahead.

Other COVID-19 apps in the news

  • EU suggests standardization: This week, the EU began pushing for its 27 nations to develop common standards for coronavirus tracking technologies that would make apps interoperable or even perhaps develop a single app to be used across the bloc, Bloomberg reported. Today, multiple developers in the U.K., Germany and elsewhere are working on mobile phone apps to track people who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, but the data will be harder to aggregate and understand in its fractured state.
  • France to develop a contact-tracing app: France is officially working on a smartphone app to slow the spread of COVID-19, by tracking people living in France. The app will leverage the PEPP-PT protocol, which will involve an open standard using BLE to identify other phones running the app.
  • How Chinese apps handled COVID-19: A post from Dan Grover analyzes how Chinese apps from major tech companies like Baidu, WeChat, Alipay and others worked to help people get through the coronavirus crisis by offering statistics, e-medicine, tools for quarantine, e-commerce and tools to check your exposure. By comparison, the U.S. has largely just added PSAs from the CDC and WHO to their platforms, instead of having offered more robust solutions. The pros and cons of both are debated from an app-centric point of view, which makes for interesting reading from a more technical perspective.
  • COVID-19 symptom checker from startup Zoe arrives in U.S.:  A free iOS and Android application called COVID Symptom Tracker was originally developed in partnership with food science startup Zoe and released first in the U.K. After a million downloads, the app is now launching in the U.S.
  • Stanford Medicine app helps first responders get tested: Stanford, in partnership with Apple, launched an app that helps first responders get access to drive-thru coronavirus tests. This includes front-line workers like police officers, firefighters and paramedics. The service is limited to Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California for now, but will later expand to other states.

#apps, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #extra-crunch, #quibi, #tc

Equity Monday: Hunting for green shoots amidst the startup data

Good morning friends, and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a short-form audio hit to kickstart your week.

Before we jump into today’s show, don’t forget that the long-form Equity that we’ve done for more than three years still drops on Friday. Last week’s was a particular delight, so make sure you’re caught up. Ready? Let’s go.

This weekend was busy, with Quibi launching, folks in the UK attacking 5G towers and Skype trying to steal some of Zoom’s thunder. News was dominated, as always, by COVID-19, this time leading to a stock market bump as some data from the disease appeared to take a short breather with — depending on which tracker you favor — fewer folks contracting the infection in the last 24 hours than the day prior; investors are hunting for any positive signal to trade on, and that appears to have been enough.

What’s coming up this week? Not earnings, or at least not the sort of earnings reports that we care about. Instead, we’re keeping eyes peeled for Q1 VC data and economic information from the United States. Here in the States Friday is off, remember, so this is a short week.

Next, two venture rounds:

  • Valispace, a Germany-based startup that also has folks in Portugal, raised €2.2M recently led by JOIN Capital. The startup calls itself “Github for hardware,” which TechCrunch summarized as a “collaboration platform for engineers, allowing them to develop better satellites, planes, rockets, nuclear fusion reactors, cars and medical devices” with a browser-based app.
  • And Vertical Future just raised £1.1M. It’s doing vertical farming, a topic that I’ve read about every few years but now appears to really be a thing! That’s exciting. Vertical Future raised a bigger round last year, and is generating food today in production sites.

Finally, we close with a question: How many more startups are going to die this year, compared to 2019, and what do their deaths mean for staff and investors alike? Will the end of so-called “tourist” money harm young companies or will it merely cull the silly?

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