Twitch introduces Animated Emotes for their 10th anniversary

Twitch announced today that they will release major updates to their Emotes this month to celebrate their 10th anniversary. These new features will include Animated Emotes, Follower Emotes, and a Library for Emotes. 

Since the origin of the live streaming platform for gamers, Emotes – Twitch’s version of emojis – have been a key component of Twitch culture. They’re micro memes, and images like Kappa, TriHard, and PogChamp have come to carry meaning in the greater gaming world, even off the Twitch platform. 

“Emotes are a language that transcends countries,” said Ivan Santana, Senior Director of Community Product at Twitch. “Anywhere you are in the world, they mean the same thing for us.”

The Amazon-owned platform regularly adds new global Emotes, which can be used on any streamer’s channel. Individual creators can make custom Emotes for their own community, which paying subscribers can use across the platform. But the ability to add animated gifs as Emotes is something that the community has been asking for since Santana can remember. 

“I’ve been at Twitch for four years, and it’s something people have been asking for since before I joined,” Santana told TechCrunch. “It’s certainly been a very, very long time.” 

Streamers who lack animation skills need not worry. While the more tech-savvy among us can upload custom gifs, Twitch will provide six templates for streamers to choose from, which can animate their existing Emotes. These animations include Shake, Rave, Roll, Spin, Slide In, and Slide Out. Viewers who are sensitive to animations will be able to turn off the feature in their Chat Settings. 

Image Credits: Twitch

Twitch is also beta testing Follower Emotes, which will be available to select Partners and Affiliates. This feature creates a fun, free incentive for viewers to hit the follow button on a channel they might be checking out for the first time. When viewers follow a channel, they’ll be notified when the creator is streaming, which can lead to an eventual subscription. Twitch takes 50% of streamers’ subscription money, creating a valuable revenue stream for the company.

In Q1 of 2021, Twitch viewership hit an all-time high, growing 16.5% since the previous quarter. Twitch viewers watched 6.34 billion hours of content in Q1, making up 72.3% of the market share. That’s double the total hours watched on Twitch in Q1 of 2020. Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming earned 12.1% and 15.6% of viewership in the sector respectively. 

“For a long time, creators have been asking for better ways to attract and welcome new viewers into their channel,” said Santana. “The idea is generally to create a lot of excitement around that community, and more feelings ultimately of community.”

Creators with beta access will be able to upload up to five Emotes for their followers, but unlike Subscriber Emotes, followers won’t be able to use these across other channels. There’s no guarantee that Follower Emotes will be here to stay – Santana says it’s a feature Twitch is “experimenting” with – but if all goes well, the feature will roll out more widely later in the year.

Finally, the Library function will make it easier for creators to to swap Emotes in and out of subscription tiers without having to delete and reupload them each time. This builds upon an upgrade that launched in January, which centralized channel-specific icons into an Emotes tab on the Creator Dashboard. As usual, new Emotes have to be approved by Twitch before they’re put into use. The Library will roll out soon to all Partners and Affiliates, staggered over a few months to account for an expected increase in volume of new Emotes. 

“As Twitch has scaled, we now have millions of communities across many different cultures across the world,” Santana said. “We can hand over more of the controls of our Emote language to our community, and let them sort of evolve in a way that we never could imagine that ultimately serves them in their unique ways.”

Twitch teased that there’s more in the works to celebrate the platform’s 10th anniversary, including an official 10 Year celebration. 

#animation, #apps, #computing, #digital-media, #emotes, #entertainment, #gamers, #gaming, #livestreaming, #streaming, #twitch, #video-gaming, #video-hosting

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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

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Spotify rolls out new personalized experiences and playlists, including a mid-year review and a blended mix with a friend

Spotify today is expanding its investment in personalization features with the launch of dedicated in-app experience called Only You, which focuses on your favorite music and how you listen. The experience is similar to Spotify’s popular annual review, Spotify Wrapped, as it highlights the artists, songs, genres and other aspects of your music listening experience that are important to you, which can then be shared across social media, just as Wrapped is. The company is also today debuting Blend, a new way to create a personalized playlist with a friend.

The Only You hub will live alongside the existing Made for You hub on the Search page inside the Spotify app. In Made for You, you’ll find your other personalized playlists like Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Daily Mixes, and others, liek Your Time Capsule or Summer Rewind, for example, as well as the more recently added trio of playlist sets, Spotify Mixes.

From now through the end of the month, Only You will be a separate hub in the Spotify app, but it will ultimately be relocated to live inside the Made for You hub.

Image Credits: Spotify

The new Only You experience, meanwhile, will help you discover new trends beyond what you might see in your personalized playlists. This includes “Your Audio Birth Chart,” where the Sun is the top artist you listened to over the last 6 months, Rising is your most recent discovery, and the Moon is an artist you listen to that shows your emotional side; “Your Dream Dinner Party,” where you pick 3 favorite artists for a custom, frequently updated Spotify Mix featuring favorite songs and fresh picks; and “Your Artist Pairs,” which features unique pairings you’ve listened to recently, like those spanning genres.

It will also contain other personalized insights like the different time periods of music you’ve enjoyed, the music or podcasts you listen to at what time of day, and your favorite music genres and podcast topics.

For example, your “Song Year” will show how you’ve traveled through different periods of time, based on the tracks you listened to throughout the year. The first year that will pop up here is the year you’ve streamed the most, while the second year that appears will represent the earlier release year that you’ve listened to. The third year is the most recent song year that’s been streamed.

To gather all this data, Only You looks at your Spotify in-app listening experience over the last 6 months (Dec. 2020 – May 2021). Users must have streamed 30 tracks across 5 different artists over the past 6 months in order to be eligible for the new experience. Spotify says the data isn’t being used for ad targeting purposes. (And despite astrology’s connection to birth months and years, the “Your Audio Birth Chart” isn’t asking for users’ birth year to create this experience.)

Image Credits: Spotify

Another key part of the Only You campaign is the launch of Blend, currently in beta.

This feature will sit on the “Made for Two” shelf within the Only You hub, allowing you to invite any other Spotify user to create a playlist with you. Using similar mixing technology that powers Spotify’s Family Mix and Duo Mix in their respective plans, Blend lets you invite any other Spotify user (free user or paid subscriber) to merge their musical tastes with yours to create a curated playlist featuring songs you both like.

This playlist is updated daily and will grow with users over time as their listening habits change, Spotify says.

Because it works with free accounts, Blend could encourage more users to try Spotify so they can create a playlist with a significant other, best friend, family member or others, even if they’re not on a shared plan.

Image Credits: Spotify

Both the Only You experience and Blend build on technology Spotify had already developed to power other features, like Wrapped and various multi-user blended mixes, rather than creating something entirely new. But the bigger message Spotify wants to convey here is that it’s far ahead of competitors when it comes to personalization features. Even if rivals are duping its playlists, it wants to be the forerunner when it comes to personalized music.

Of course, that’s not always the case. The newer Spotify Mixes, for instance, were a lot like a feature Pandora had launched years prior, which created custom playlists across a number of attributes, including genre and mood. But where Spotify succeeds is its continual release of new personalization features, as it works to make its app customized to the end user. By doing so, the switching costs increase — that is, users will find it harder to jump to rival services due to how many custom playlists they may have on hand.

Spotify will begin heavily marketing the launch of Only You with a number top artists by creating sets of stats for various fandoms, including those for Harry Styles, Selena Gomez, Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, Justin Bieber, SZA and others. The campaign will run through June 30.

#apps, #artist, #media, #mobile, #mobile-apps, #music, #personalization, #playlist, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Struum launches its ‘ClassPass for streaming’ service to the public

Struum, the new streaming service from former Disney and Discovery execs, is today officially launching to the public. Unlike traditional on-demand streamers, such as Netflix, the Struum model is more akin to a “ClassPass for streaming,” as its plan is to aggregate content from smaller video services then provide access under its own subscription.

Today, the streaming landscape is dominated by larger subscription services, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+, and YouTube, who together have a 75% share of the market, according to Nielsen. But Struum believes there’s a potential for another service powered by the long tail of  the over 250 niche and speciality streamers.

Many of these smaller services offer their own subscriptions, but will never achieve Netflix-size scale because of their more limited catalog and scope. Struum offers them an alternative path to revenue. Each month, Struum customers will pay a $4.99 subscription fee to access the Struum app where they’re then provided with 100 “credits” they can use to sample and consume content — just as ClassPass did with gym classes.

Over time, if the customer continues to use their subscription to routinely access content from one service, they can then opt to become a subscriber to that service from within the Struum app. This part of the business isn’t all that different from Amazon Prime Video Channels or others like it. But the difference is that Struum’s sampling model is what helped the customer discover the niche streamer in the first place.

Struum, meanwhile, generates its own revenue from customers’ subscriptions, which it shares with its content partners. It won’t say what sort of cut it takes, however.

Image Credits: Struum

At launch, there are more than 25 partners available through the Struum app, including Tastemade, Tribeca, Cheddar News, Kocowa, Dekkoo, Magellan TV, History Hit, Gusto, Young Hollywood, Indieflix, Filmbox, Echoboom Sports, Social Club TV, Cinedigm, Magnolia Pictures, Little Dot Studios, Group 9, Stingray and SPI/Filmhub.

Later this summer, the lineup will grow to more than 50 partners, with additions that include BBC SELECT, REVOLT, France Channels, InsightTV, Docubay, FuelTV, The Great Courses Signature Collection, Shout Factory TV, OUTtv, SVTV, CGOOD TV and Alchimie.

In total, Struum’s partners will provide customers with access to tens of movies and TV shows across a range of categories and genres, like classic films, indies, foreign content, cult hits, lifestyle programming, reality, true crime, and more.

Image Credits: Struum

Struum’s app guides users to their interests through a simple interface where it curates content into editorial groupings organized much like the rows of recommendations you’d find in Netflix. This includes the company’s own picks (“Struum Selects”), as well as groupings by genre — like Comedy, Action Thrillers, LGBTQ + Documentaries, Class Movies, Incredible Science, and others. You can also browse by type from categories across the top, to filter by only Movies, TV shows or Shorts.

When you find something you want to watch, you can click a button to stream the content for a certain amount of credits. You can then view that content at any time for the next 30 days and even download it for offline access.

At launch, Struum’s service is available on iOS and web, and supports AirPlay and Chromecast. This summer, it will expand to more platforms, including Android, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

Image Credits: Struum

The idea for the company comes from founders Lauren DeVillier, the former head of Product for Discovery Ventures; Eugene Liew, former vice president of Product and Technology at Disney+; Paul Pastor, former executive vice president of Strategy, Revenue and Operations at Discovery Networks; and Thomas Wadsworth, the former lead of Advanced Product Development for Walt Disney Imagineering.

The team came together in 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out across the U.S., which drove increased demand for streaming content. And though that demand may be here to stay, it remains to be seen whether Struum’s ClassPass-like model makes the best sense for streaming’s long tail.

Despite its unique streaming business model, the service will effectively compete with AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) players in terms of aggregating both older and niche content. AVOD services — like Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, and others — also help users who can’t find anything they want to watch on their preferred paid subscription apps. And they often aid consumers who are in search of a particular movie or show but don’t want to pay for a rental. Struum believes by aggregating content it can encourage these users to pay for yet another subscription.

In other words, Struum will have to convince users to change their existing TV habits in order to find success, and that’s a risky bet.

But Struum believes the fragmentation of the streaming market may actually work in its favor. As consumers get fed up so many different services and content that jumps around as rights owners forge new licensing agreements, Struum could step in as someone’s fourth subscription.

We view ourselves as the ultimate complementary service and a perfect fit for TV and film lovers who are increasingly frustrated by the costs, complexity and effort required to discover and watch what they want,” noted Struum CEO Lauren DeViller.

Struum is backed by a multi-million-dollar investment from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner through his firm, Tornante Company. Other investors include Firstlight Media, whose technology powers the video service, and Gaingels, which focuses on backing LGBTQ+ founders and allies.

#apps, #classpass, #internet-television, #media, #mobile, #streaming, #streaming-service, #struum, #united-states, #video-on-demand, #video-services

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Apple launches an affiliate program for paid podcast subscriptions

Apple last month unveiled its plans for paid podcast subscriptions in a newly redesigned Apple Podcasts app. Now, it’s introducing a new program that will help podcast creators grow their subscriber base: affiliate marketing. The company’s “Apple Services Performance Partner Program,” which already exists to help market other Apple services like Apple TV, Apple News, and Apple Books, is today expanding to include paid podcasts.

The new program — “Apple Services Performance Partner Program for Apple Podcasts” (whew!) — will be open to anyone, though the company believes it will make the most sense for publishers and creators who already have an audience and a number of marketing channels where they can share these new affiliate links. When users convert by clicking through one of the links and subscribe to a premium podcast, the partner will receive a one-time commission at 50% of the podcast subscription price, after the subscriber accumulates their first month of paid service.

So, for example, if a paid podcast was charging subscribers $5 per month, the commission would be $2.50. This commission would apply for every new subscriber that signed up through the affiliate channel, and there’s no cap.

Podcast creators can also use the affiliate links to promote their own paid programs, which would allow them to generate incremental revenue.

While anyone can apply to join the affiliate program, there is an approval process involved. This is mainly about keeping spammers out of the program, and ensuring that those signing up do have at least some marketing channels where they can distribute the links. The sign-up form asks for specific criteria — like how many channels are available and how the partner intends to use them to promote the affiliate links, among other things.

The program will be made available to anyone in the 170 countries and regions where paid podcasts subscriptions are being made available.

Once approved and signed in, affiliate partners will gain access to an online dashboard where they can create links (i.e. shortened URLs) much like any other affiliate program. They can also create multiple URLs for an individual podcast to make it easier to track how well different channels are performing. The URLs can be posted on their own, tied to a “Listen on Apple Podcasts” badge, or can be made available as a QR code. The latter may make more sense when live events return, as it could be printed on signage or in flyers that were distributed during a live taping, for example. It could also be used in other sorts of advertising, including both print and digital.

Though premium podcasts already existed, until more recently that often involved paying a podcaster directly to access a private RSS feed. Smaller services like Stitcher also used subscriptions to provide paying customers with a series of perks, like ad-free listening and exclusive content. The new efforts by both Apple and Spotify are focused on wooing creators to their platforms, where they’ll take a cut of the subscription revenues. Spotify is waiving its 5% fee for the first two years, while Apple is employing its usual model of 30% in year 1 that drops to 15% in year two.

While people can begin to enroll in the new affiliate program starting today, paid podcasts aren’t actually launching until later this month, per Apple. When they do, those enrolled in the affilate program will be able to create links and begin earning commissions on subscriptions.

 

#affiliate, #affiliate-marketing, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #creators, #marketing, #media, #mobile, #podcast, #podcasters, #podcasts, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Spotify expands into the audiobooks market by partnering with Storytel

Spotify is further expanding into audiobooks — but not in the way you may think. The company today announced a new partnership with audiobooks platform, Storytel, which will allow existing Storytel subscribers to connect their account through Spotify to access their audiobooks within Spotify’s app. The partnership is the first example of what’s possible with Spotify’s recently introduced Open Access Platform, which aims to give creators and publishers a way to extend their reach.

The company briefly spoke about its plans for Open Access Platform during its press event, Stream On, earlier this year where it also detailed plans for paid podcast subscriptions, Spotify HiFi,  and other new features. The Open Access Platform gives a publisher or creator a new way to deliver their content to their existing subscriber base, by allowing their customers to stream the content through Spotify.

The technology supports using the creator or publisher’s existing login system and allows them to maintain direct control over their relationship with listeners. For example, a paid podcast could use the system to stream to existing subscribers. In Storytel’s case, however, the company offers audiobook content, not podcasts.

“We want everyone to have access to great stories, and today Storytel offers more than 500,000 audiobooks on a global basis across 25 markets,” said Jonas Tellander, Storytel founder and CEO, in the company’s announcement. “Partnering with Spotify make amazing audiobook experiences and exciting authorships easier than ever to access for our customers, while we will also be tapping into the opportunity of reaching new audiences who are on Spotify today, but have not yet experienced the magic of audiobooks,” he added.

A competitor to Audible, Storytel offers audiobooks in a variety of languages, including some in English, for a fixed monthly price. Its unlimited library access may make it a better deal for people who listen to more than one than one audiobook per month. Typically, Storytel customers would stream via the mobile app for iOS or Android.

The company has 1.6 million subscribers, per a Reuters report. Spotify, meanwhile, has 356 million users, including 158 million subscribers across 178 markets.

The integration itself will go live later in 2021, allowing Storytel customers to sign into their accounts then stream through Spotify by linking their accounts.

Spotify had dabbled in audiobooks before Storytel. In January this year, for example, it began testing the format with a handful of classics, like “Frankenstein,” “Jane Eyre,” “Persuasion,” and others, narrated by celebs. It had also previously offered the first “Harry Potter” book with chapters narrated by stars like Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham, and Dakota Fanning.

More partners for the Open Access Platform will be introduced this summer, Spotify says.

#apps, #audiobook, #creators, #media, #publishers, #spotify, #storytel, #streaming, #streaming-service, #subscription-services

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HBO Max with ads: $10/mo starting in June, and guess what it won’t include

Get the toughest soot stains out of your jerkin with Tide!

Enlarge / Get the toughest soot stains out of your jerkin with Tide! (credit: Aurich Lawson | HBO | Tide)

In a first for anything HBO-branded, the cable provider will begin offering its content for a lower price, subsidized by advertising, starting the first week of June. Game of Thrones, brought to you by Tide? Advertising is coming.

This comes as part of the wider WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max creating a new ad-supported tier. We first learned of this tier in March but now know it will cost $10 per month, as opposed to the existing $15/mo rate without advertisements. That $5/mo savings comes from more than advertising, however: WarnerMedia has confirmed that the ad-supported tier will not include “Warner Bros. Same-Day Premiere” films slated to simul-launch in theaters and on HBO Max through the remainder of 2021 (including Dune, The Matrix 4, and The Suicide Squad).

In a Wednesday press release, WarnerMedia describes the new tier as the “lightest ad load among ad-supported streamers.” Exactly how that will play out remains unclear, however, since the announcement’s language is clearly written to entice advertisers, not viewers. The announcement currently includes three examples of HBO Max ads: full-screen advertisements while content is paused; ads placed in the service’s search interface; and “brand blocks,” which appear to let a single advertiser “own a block of content” (presumably with “this episode was brought to you with limited ads by so-and-so” messaging, as opposed to Conan O’Brien’s upcoming, HBO Max-exclusive series having episodes dominated by specific bottles of hot sauce).

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#gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #streaming

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Android TV OS reaches 80M monthly active devices, adds new features

Google offered an update on its TV platform, Android OS, at its Google I/O developer event on Tuesday. The company said its Android TV OS now reaches over 80 million monthly active devices, including through its new experience Google TV for Chromecast, as well as other platforms like smart TVs. The company also previewed a series of upcoming features for Android TV OS, including a remote control feature for consumers and several developer updates around casting, emulators, and more.

The company repositioned Android TV OS last fall with the introduction of the Google TV experience. The new experience, which runs Android TV under the hood, now powers Chromecast with Google TV, smart TVs from Sony, and is coming soon to some TCL TVs. Over 80% of Android TV OS’ growth came from the U.S., Google noted, when announcing its 80 million monthly active devices milestone during the Google I/O event.

Google’s milestone may seem to put Android TV OS is ahead of rivals like Roku and Amazon Fire TV, with 53.6 million and 50+ million monthly active accounts, respectively. However, these are different measurements.

Android TV OS figures are actually calculated by counting the number of devices that were actively used in a month — which means a user with multiple devices could have those devices counted separately, but a family with multiple people watching on one device would be counted once.

Roku and Amazon define monthly active users as “accounts” that have been active in the last 30 days. That means, even if that account streams on several different devices during the time period, it would only be counted once. If Roku or Amazon were to calculate active devices as Google is doing, their numbers would be higher.

In addition, Roku and Amazon Fire TV power both their respective company’s own device lineup and select TVs from partners, but Google’s Android TV OS also powers devices and services from TV and streaming device brand partners as well as TV service providers. That means this global number includes operator-tier and set-top boxes also powered by Android TV OS. It’s a different type of market.

Google today also announced it’s adding remote control features directly in Android, so users will be able to control their TV even when their existing remote goes missing. This feature, arriving later this year, will make it easier to type in usernames and passwords or search for longer titles, Google notes. It will work for all users of Android TV OS, including Google TV.

Image Credits: Google

Meanwhile, for those building Android TV experiences, the company announced a handful of new features coming soon. A Cast Connect feature will allow users to cast from their Chrome browser on their phone or tablet to an Android TV app. Stream Transfer and Stream Expansion will allow users to transfer media to other devices or play audio on multiple devices.

Image Credits: Google

Google is also making its first Google TV Emulator available, running on Android 11, along with an Android 11 image with the traditional Android TV experience. And developers can now also use a remote that more closely mimics TV remotes directly within the Emulator.

Following developer requests, Firebase Test Lab is adding Android TV support, as well. Initially, Firebase Test Lab Virtual Devices will run the developer’s app in the cloud on Android TV emulators to scale a test across hundreds or thousands of virtual devices. Support for physical devices will come soon.

Image Credits: Google

Finally, the Android 12 Beta 1 is being made available for TV on its ADT-3 Developer Kit, starting today.

#android, #android-tv, #chromecast, #google, #google-io-2021, #google-tv, #media, #remote-control, #smart-tv, #streaming, #streaming-tv, #tc, #tv

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Apple Music subscribers will get lossless and spatial audio for free next month

Today, Apple announced that its Apple Music streaming app will get two major new audio features next month: lossless audio support and spatial audio with Dolby Atmos for a wide range of supported headphones and speakers.

Apple Music will play songs in Dolby Atmos automatically when users play the music over the built-in speakers in “the latest versions” of the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, as well as through a connected Apple TV 4K or AV receiver. Songs will also automatically use Atmos when played on AirPods or Beats headphones that have Apple’s H1 or W1 chips. Users will be able to manually enable Atmos on other headphones by tweaking the app’s settings.

Spatial audio will be limited to certain songs, but Apple says “thousands of songs” across numerous genres “including hip-hop, country, Latin, pop, and classical” will support it at launch, with more to come.

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#apple, #apple-lossless, #apple-music, #audio, #dolby-atmos, #gaming-culture, #itunes, #lossless-format, #music, #spatial-audio, #streaming, #tech

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Despite big Marvel and Star Wars shows, Disney+ falls short of targets

Meta-sitcom/adventure series <em>WandaVision</em> was one of Disney+'s most successful recent shows.

Enlarge / Meta-sitcom/adventure series WandaVision was one of Disney+’s most successful recent shows. (credit: YouTube/Disney+)

Analysts expected Disney+ to reach 109 million subscribers in Disney’s most recent financial quarter, but the streaming service fell short, landing at 103.6 million. The shortfall resulted in lower revenues than expected for the company and a small stock price stumble.

Alongside word that Netflix also saw fairly slow growth in its quarter, the news suggests that there is, in fact, a limit to the explosive growth that streaming platforms have experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Disney is staying the course with its current strategy of pumping out TV series in established Disney brands like Marvel and Star Wars, as well as releasing new motion pictures on the platform at the same time they premiere in theaters.

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#disney, #gaming-culture, #marvel, #movies, #star-wars, #streaming, #tech, #tv

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Pinterest to test live-streamed events this month with 21 creators

Pinterest is expanding into live events. The company is planning to host a three-day virtual event that will feature live-streamed sessions from top creators, including big names like Jonathan Van Ness and Rebecca Minkoff, among others. The virtual event will run inside the Pinterest app from May 24th through May 25th, and will serve as the company’s first public test of directly streaming creator content to its over 475 million global users.

The rise of the creator economy and a pandemic-fueled demand for virtual events led Pinterest to explore the idea of live streaming. Last fall, it began testing a “class communities” feature that allowed users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators used Pinterest’s boards to organize materials, notes, and other resources. These communities also included a group chat option and shopping features.

The new live-streamed sessions will operate a bit differently.

For starters, they’re not directing users off-site to Zoom for the sessions. Instead, users will launch the live-streaming experience directly inside Pinterest mobile app and remain there during the sessions. Pinterest users can also comment to interact with the creator during their stream, but there is no longer any shopping functionality, Pinterest tells TechCrunch.

Image Credits: Pinterest

The live streams allow up to five “guests” and an unlimited number of viewers. Meanwhile, moderators — which may include Pinterest employees, during this test — will help to control the experience. They will also have the ability to remove people from the chat if they do not uphold Pinterest’s Community Standards.

The forthcoming event’s lineup will focus a variety of topics, including food, design, cooking, style, and more.

Jonathan Van Ness‘ session will discuss morning rituals and self-care routines. Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff will teach Pinterest users how to style their summer wardrobe. Others featured during the event include food creators GrossyPelosi and Peter Som, who will showcase favorite recipes; Women’s Health magazine will talk about using vision boards to achieve your goals; Jennifer Alba will show how to communicate the Zodiac through sign language; and Hannah Bronfman will offer ideas for creating an at-home spa night.

In total, Pinterest will feature around 21 creators throughout the three-day event, with around 7 different session per day. Users will be directed to the live event via a new “Live” tab inside the Pinterest app for iOS and Android, where they can view the schedule and join sessions.

Image Credits: Pinterest

x”As a visual platform, people discover billions of ideas on Pinterest every day, and we’re always looking for new ways to help them bring those ideas to life,” says David Temple, Pinterest’s Head of Creators.

Temple notes Pinterest has integrated with third-party live-streaming technologies and built its own in-house messaging systems to power live interactions.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to respond to Pinner feedback for more dynamic and timely events as new interests like cooking have emerged for many in quarantine, and trends like beauty, fashion, and home renovation are on all-time highs as we move into a post-pandemic world,” Temple adds.

However, Pinterest isn’t discussing how it views the potential for live events longer-term. For the time being, it’s not offering tools that could woo creators away from other platforms where they can monetize their fans through features like donations, tips, virtual gifts, paid ticketing, subscriptions, or brand partnerships via a creator marketplace. Without such options, Pinterest could have a hard time competing for creators’ attention.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Nearly every big tech platform today is making a play for creators, and some are even willing to throw cash at them to win them over. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter are all building out features that let creators do more than build an audience to monetize through ads or brand deals. Now, fans can send creators money during or after streams, subscribe for exclusive content, pay for access and more, depending on the platform.

New types of creator services are emerging, too, including the audio chat room experience pioneered by Clubhouse (and being cloned by everyone else), as well as dozens of virtual events startups hoping to win the market.

Pinterest’s attraction among such heavy competition isn’t clear, but the company will use this experiment to learn more about what works for its own community.

Pinterest tested its live streaming technology with employees a few weeks ago, but this will be the first time the feature will be available to the public.

While the event lineup can be viewed on the web, the live streams themselves will only run inside the Pinterest app for iOS and Android starting May 24th.

#apps, #cooking, #creator, #creator-economy, #creators, #design, #digital-media, #events, #jonathan-van-ness, #live-events, #livestreaming, #mobile-applications, #mobile-apps, #pinterest, #rebecca-minkoff, #social, #social-media, #streaming, #virtual-events

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Paramount+ hits 36 million subscribers, will stream sci-fi movie Infinite

Two cool bros chat in a hangar in front of private jet.

Enlarge / Actor Mark Wahlberg confers with director Antoine Fuqua on the set of Infinite. (credit: Mark Wahlberg)

On the heels of revealing that it has reached just shy of 36 million subscribers, streaming service Paramount+ has announced that it will stream at least one original movie each week, including the long-delayed Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor sci-fi film Infinite.

In March, the streaming service CBS All Access was rebranded as Paramount+, and it got a huge injection of new content directly resulting from the merger between parent company CBS and Viacom. ViacomCBS, the resulting new conglomerate, owns a vast swath of Hollywood brands and studios, including CBS, Showtime, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures, and others. The desire to show all of that content under one streaming platform’s roof was reportedly a key driver of the merger.

Given that CBS All Access was one of traditional Hollywood’s first forays into a streaming service to compete with previous platforms from tech companies like Netflix and Amazon, the service represented a big shift. Since then, we’ve been wondering whether the rebranding has propped up the streaming service, which before the merger was best known for its various Star Trek reboot series.

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#cbs-all-access, #gaming-culture, #infinite, #paramount, #paramount-pictures-mark-wahlberg, #sci-fi, #science-fiction, #streaming, #tech, #tv, #viacomcbs

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Amazon’s over-the-top business, including IMDb TV and Twitch, tops 120M monthly viewers

Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV is getting its own mobile app. The company announced the news today at its first-ever Newfront’s presentation to advertisers, where it also shared that its over-the-top streaming businesses combined — meaning, IMDb TV, Twitch, live sports like Thursday Night Football, Amazon’s News app, and others — have now grown to over 120 million monthly viewers.

IMDb TV viewership, in particular, jumped 138% year-over-year, Amazon noted.

The ad-supported service, which likely benefited from the same pandemic bump that drove streaming service viewership higher across the board last year, is something of a rival to other free, ad-supported streamers, like Fox’s Tubi, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV, or Roku’s The Roku Channel. However, more like Roku’s hub, Amazon leverages IMDb TV to help it sell its own media devices by promising users easy access to free, streaming content.

Today, that’s resulted in the IMDb TV app seeing the majority of its usage on Fire TV. But over the past several months, the app has become more broadly available, with launches on Roku, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation 4 consoles, Xbox One and Series X devices, LG Smart TVs, Nvidia, Sony Android TV, and TiVo Android TV devices, Amazon says.

Now it will get its own dedicated mobile app, as well, instead of only a small section inside the IMDb app where the service’s content can be found today on smartphones. The new standalone app will arrive this summer on both iOS and Android, says Amazon.

Amazon also told advertisers about IMDb TV’s current user base, noting that 62% were in between ages 18 and 49. And they spend 5.5 hours per week on the app, on average.

The forthcoming mobile launch was one of several announcements Amazon made today at its Newfronts presentation today.

The company also detailed its upcoming IMDb TV slate, including unscripted series Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road DiaryBug Out and Untitled Jeff Lewis Project as well as scripted releases Blessed and Highly Favored, Greek Candy, Primo, The Fed, and The Pradeeps of Pittsburgh, PA. Music duo Tegan and Sara’s memoir High School will be adapted as an original series for IMDb TV. IMDb TV also announced a new crime drama Leverage: Redemption and police drama On Call. 

IMDb TV parent company, Amazon, meanwhile, expanded its deal with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, which now run 11 seasons, starting with the 2022 season instead of the following year.

#amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #digital-media-players, #imdb, #media, #mobile, #mobile-app, #streaming, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv

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Netflix launches its shuffle feature, now called ‘Play Something,’ to users worldwide

Netflix today is officially launching a feature that will make it easier to find something to watch when you’re stuck browsing and unable to make a decision. The service is introducing a tool called “Play Something” to users worldwide — the final iteration that “shuffle” feature you may have already seen during Netflix’s tests over the past year. When selected, Netflix will play another show or movie it thinks you’ll like, based on your interests and prior viewing behavior.

In other words, it won’t play random content, but will instead bring up either a movie or show you’re already watching, a series or movie on your list, an unfinished series or movie you may want to revisit, or a brand new series or film that Netflix’s personalization algorithms suggest.

The feature has been in testing under various names and styles for some time. A year ago, the feature was called Shuffle Play, for example. During its Q4 earnings, Netflix said the shuffle feature would roll out to its worldwide users sometime in the first half of 2021, describing it as a way for users to “instantly watch a title chosen just for them.”

For today’s launch, not much has changed beyond the feature’s name and style.

Image Credits: Netflix

The new option can be found on Netflix’s TV app underneath your profile name, on the navigation menu to the left of your screen and on the tenth row on your Netflix homepage — a location that hopes to find users after they’ve been scrolling for some time without landing on anything they want to watch.

Netflix users with screen-readers can use Text-to-Speech (TTS) to use Play Something, the company notes.

While Netflix is always testing features that make it easier for users to jump from browsing to watching, this feature in particular comes at a time when Netflix is seeing slower subscriber growth — something it’s blaming on the lighter content slate due to COVID. But the reality is that Netflix is no longer the only streamer in town. And some of the content it has shipped has been weak, as evident in the growing list of cancellations. It has also lost top titles like “The Office” to rivals as rights’ holders have pulled their content back to their own new services.

Image Credits: Netflix

For those reasons, too, Netflix needs a way to addict its current user base to what’s available in its existing catalog before they churn out.

The new Play Something feature is available today on Netflix on TVs, and will soon begin testing on mobile devices, starting with Android.

#media, #netflix, #streaming, #streaming-service, #streaming-tv, #television, #tv

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#DealMonitor – #EXKLUSIV Lansdowne Partners übernimmt Idagio – Picus Capital investiert in sento – Heartcore Capital setzt auf Likeminded


Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 20. April werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.

INVESTMENTS

Bitmovin
+++ Swisscom Ventures, Climb Ventures und die Altinvestoren Atomico, Highland Europe und Constantia New Business investieren 25 Millionen US-Dollar in Bitmovin. Insgesamt flossen nun schon 68 Millionen Dollar in das Unternehmen. Das Startup aus Klagenfurt am Wörthersee bietet eine Infrastruktur an, um Videos auf allen Geräten zu übertragen und ohne Buffering abzuspielen. Das junge Unternehmen wurde 2013 von Stefan Lederer, Christian Timmerer und Christopher Müller gegründet. Das Unternehmen will “diese Investition nutzen, um den weiteren Ausbau seiner Produkt- und Innovationsführerschaft im Streaming-Bereich voranzutreiben”.
Mehr über Bitmovin

sento
+++ Picus Capital (Alexander Samwer) investiert in das Münchner Startup sento. Die Jungfirma, die von Lucian Riediger, Felix Krauth und Nimar Blume (alle TUM bzw. CDTM) gegründet wurde, positioniert sich als “cloudbasierte EDI Plattform für die Supply Chain”. IN eigener Sache schreibt das Startup: “Wir entwickeln die leistungsfähigsten und intuitivsten Tools für den Aufbau und die Skalierung moderner Lieferketten”. Picus Capital hält nun rund 34,2 % an sento. Zudem ist Alasco-Gründer Sebastian Schuon am Unternehmen beteiligt. Details gibt es im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

Likeminded 
+++ Heartcore Capital steht gemeinsam mit vor einem siebenstelligen Investment in Likeminded. Das recht junge Berliner Startup, dass von Kimberly Breuer, Maximilian Heberger und Stefan Anca gegründet wurde, bietet Gruppenkurse samt psychologischer Betreuung an. Im Hintergrund des Startups wirken Ex-Project A-Macher Christian Weiß und Chronext-Gründer Philipp Man. Zuletzt hielt Man rund 30 % am Unternehmen. Details gibt es im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

Verbally
+++ Die Berliner Angel-Mafia – darunter unter anderem Robert Maier, Ivo Scherkamp, Just Willem Beyer, Johannes Schaback, Lukas Brosseder und Oliver Roskopf – investiert gemeisam mit Inventures Collective in Verbally. Das Startup, das von Adam Stanski und Robert Schütze, zuletzt Happycar, gegründet wurde, kümmert sich um die “Entwicklung und den Vertrieb von Software im Bereich der Kommunikationsanalyse”.  Details gibt es im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. #EXKLUSIV

bex
+++ Ein deutsches Family Office mit Sitz in München und Osnabrück investiert eine siebenstellige Summe in das Stuttgarter Startup bex. “Für bex ist es nach der PreSeed-Finanzierung über 800.000 EUR durch die L-Bank bereits die zweite erfolgreiche Finanzierungsrunde”, teilt die Jungfirma mit. Das Startup, das 2019 von den Ex-Würth-Mitarbeitern Lennart A. Paul und Johannes Keller gegründet wurde, positioniert sich als “Lieferservice für Baumaterial in Bau und Handwerk”.

tradingtwins
+++ Engelhardt Kaupp Kiefer & Co. investiert rund 1 Million Euro in die junge B2B-Matchmaking-Plattform tradingtwins. Das Kölner Startup möchte kleinen Unternehmen dabei helfen, “in nur wenigen Minuten und ohne Risiko optimale Investitionsentscheidungen zu treffen”. Die Jungfirma, die von Christian Schäfers, Marc Wittkamp und Gary Kunkel geführt wird, setzt dabei auf digitale Ausschreibungen. Mehr über tradingtwins

Planetly
+++ Seriengründer und Investor Lars Hinrichs investiert mit seiner Investmentfirma Cinco Capital in das Berliner Startup Planetly – siehe Gründerszene. Das Klima-Startup Planetly, das von Anna Alex (Outfittery) und Benedikt Franke (Helpling) gegründet wurde, entwickelt eine Software, mit der Unternehmen ihren CO2-Fußabdruck ermitteln können. 468 Capital, Speedinvest, Cavalry Ventures und einige Business Angels investierten bereits in die Jungfirma. Mehr über Planetly

Workpath
+++ André Christ (LeanIX), Christian Köhler (Partner Strategy Engineers), Christopher Freese (BCG), Jonas Rieke (Personio), Jörg Beyer (LeanIX), Maximilian Hasler (Konux) und Sebastian Walter (Celonis) investieren in WorkpathDas Münchner Startup, 2017 von Johannes Müller, Thomas Obermüller und Pascal Fritzen gegründet, hilft Unternehmen dabei, ihre Strategien durch OKRs erfolgreich umzusetzen. signals Venture Capital investierte zuletzt eine siebenstellige Summe in das Unternehmen. Mehr über Workpath

Roy Kombucha
+++ DCM, die Filmproduktion von Dario Suter, Christoph Daniel, Marc Schmidheiny und Joel Brandeis, Jan Dzulko (Everphone) sowie Timo Lehnert und Helge Wieneke (beide Friends2Grow) investieren 400.000 Euro in Roy Kombucha. Das Berliner Food-Startup, das 2019 von Rupert Hoffschmidt und Fabio Carlucci gegründet wurde, setzt auf das Lifestyle-Getränk Kombucha.

EXITS

Idagio
+++ Der englische Investor Lansdowne Partners, hinter dem vor allem Steven Heinz steckt, übernimmt das Berliner Startup Idagio, einen kostenpflichtiger Streamingdienst für klassische Musik. In den vergangenen Jahren flossen mehr als 24 Millionen Euro in das Unternehmen, das von  Till Janczukowicz und Christoph Lange gegründet wurde. Investoren von Idagio waren insbesondere Tengelmann Ventures (TEV), btov Partners und Macquarie. Im Geschäftsjahr 2019 erwirtschaftete das Unternehmen einen Verlust in Höhe von 10,2 Millionen Euro (Vorjahr: 7,8 Millionen). Insgesamt kostete der Aufbau von Idagio bsi Ende 2019 bereits 25,2 Millionen. Lansdowne Partners hält nun 82,9 % an Idagio. Details gibt es im aktuellen Insider-Podcast. Mehr über Idagio #EXKLUSIV

Anzeige
+++ In unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar berichten wir einmal in der Woche über neue Startups. Alle Startups stellen wir in unserem kostenpflichtigen Newsletter kurz und knapp vor und bringen sie so auf den Radar der Startup-Szene. Jetzt unseren Newsletter Startup-Radar abonnieren und 30 Tage kostenlos testen!

Mindance
+++ Die pme Familienservice Gruppe übernimmt das Leipziger E-Health-Startup Mindance. Das Unternehmen, das 2017 von Robin Meier und Lukas Stenzel gegründet wurde, bietet Firmen die Möglichkeit, die psychische Gesundheit und mentale Fitness ihrer Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter zu fördern. “Durch die Zusammenarbeit mit dem pme Familienservice werden wir die jahrzehntelange Erfahrung des Work-Life-Pioniers nutzen, um psychische Gesundheitsförderung fest in Unternehmen zu verankern”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. In der Vergangenheit investierten unter anderem der High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF), der Technologiegründerfonds Sachsen (TGFS) und Elevation Investments in Mindance. Mehr über Mindance

DIE HÖHLE DER LÖWEN

BeerBag
+++ In der fünften Folge der neunten Staffel investierte Regal-Löwe Ralf Dümmel 20.000 Euro in BeerBag und sicherte sich dabei 30 % am Unternehmen. Hinter dem Projekt von Tilmann Rothe verbirgt sich ein Rucksack zum Tragen von Bierkisten.

MyEy
+++ In der fünften Folge der neunten Staffel investierte Pharma-Löwe Nils Glagau 150.000 Euro in MyEy und sicherte sich dabei 15 % am Unternehmen. Mit MyEy entwarf Gründer Chris Geiser einen veganen Ei-Ersatz. Nach der Show platzte der Deal leider.

Qinao 
+++ In der fünften Folge der neunten Staffel investierten Regal-Löwe Ralf Dümmel und Sales-Löwe Carsten Maschmeyer 300.000 Euro in Qinao (in der Sendung noch als Nao unterwegs) und sicherten sich dabei 25 % am Unternehmen. Das Startup, das von Maximiliane Staiger, Nadja Fischer und Annette Steiner-Kienzler gegründet wurde, bietet Nahrungsergänzungsmittel an. Ursprünglich wollten die Gründerinnen 300.000 Euro für 20 % Firmenanteile einsammeln.

Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#aktuell, #beerbag, #bex, #bitmovin, #cinco-capital, #climatetech, #climb-ventures, #dcm, #food, #handwerk, #heartcore-capital, #idagio, #koln, #lansdowne-partners, #leipzig, #likeminded, #mindance, #munchen, #musik, #myey, #picus-capital, #planetly, #qinao, #roy-kombucha, #sento, #streaming, #supply-chain, #swisscom-ventures, #tradingtwins, #venture-capital, #verbally, #workpath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Plex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Plex

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

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

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

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

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

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SoftBank Vision Fund 2 invests $160M in media localization provider Iyuno-SDI Group

Iyuno-SDI Group, a provider of translated subtitles and other media localization services, announced today it has raised $160 million in funding from SoftBank Vision 2. The company said this makes the fund one of its largest shareholders.

Iyuno-SDI Group was formed after Iyuno Media Group completed its acquisition of SDI Media last month. In a recent interview with TechCrunch, Iyuno-SDI Group chief executive officer David Lee, who launched Iyuno in 2002 while he was an undergraduate in Seoul, described how the company’s proprietary cloud-based enterprise resource planning software allows it to perform localization services—including subtitles, dubbing and accessibility features—at scale.

Iyuno also built its own neural machine translation engines, trained on data from specific entertainment genres, to help its human translators work more quickly. The company’s clients have included Netflix, Apple iTunes, DreamWorks, HBO and Entertainment One.

Now that its merger is complete, Iyuno-SDI Group operates a combined 67 offices in 34 countries, and is able to perform localization services in more than 100 languages.

SoftBank Group first invested in Iyuno Media Group through SoftBank Ventures Asia, its venture capital arm, in 2018. SoftBank Vision 2 will join Lee and investors Altor, Shamrock Capital Advisors and SoftBank Ventures Asia Corporation on Iyuno-SDI Group’s board of directors.

#asia, #entertainment, #fundings-exits, #iyuno-media-group, #iyuno-sdi-group, #localization, #sdi-media, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #south-korea, #startups, #streaming, #tc

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Valve releases Steam Link app on Apple’s Mac App Store

A screenshot from Steam Link for macOS.

Enlarge / A screenshot from Steam Link for macOS. (credit: Valve)

Valve has launched a standalone app for Steam Link on Apple’s macOS App Store, adding a new option for Mac users who want to play games on machines that are often labeled as poor choices for gaming.

Steam Link allows users to stream games from a gaming PC to a supported device on the same local network and to play those games with a MFI or Steam controller.

Valve already offered a full Steam app for macOS, but it takes up 1GB of space and has a reputation for being clunky. In contrast, the Steam Link app has a minimalist interface that appears to be designed with game controller peripherals in mind.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #games, #mac, #macos, #steam, #steam-link, #streaming, #tech, #valve

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HBO Max will get a cheaper, ad-supported tier in June

A shot from the upcoming <em>Dune</em> adaptation, which will hit theaters and HBO Max this year.

Enlarge / A shot from the upcoming Dune adaptation, which will hit theaters and HBO Max this year. (credit: Chiabella James/Warner Bros.)

This June, HBO Max will get a cheaper, ad-supported subscription plan, parent company AT&T told investors today. However, a specific price and launch date have not been announced. Right now, an ad-free subscription to HBO Max costs $14.99 monthly in the United States.

There is one major catch, though: the ad-supported version of the service will not stream the much-hyped Warner Bros theatrical releases. Those films include Wonder Woman 1984, which showed simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters in December of 2020, and Dune, which is expected to premiere this year.

HBO will join Paramount+, Hulu, and some other streaming services in offering (at least) two tiers—one relatively low-cost one that involves pre-roll or mid-roll advertising, and one with a higher monthly fee that involves no ads. Still, some of HBO Max’s competitors, like Disney+ or Netflix, do not do sold advertising at all.

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#att, #hbo, #hbo-max, #streaming, #tech, #tv

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Apple teams with Common Sense Media to curate podcasts for kids

Apple announced this morning it’s teaming up with Common Sense Media to curate a selection of kid-friendly podcasts in the U.S. in light of what appears to be growing interest in spoken word entertainment among families. That interest, in part, may have been prompted by the pandemic and parents’ desire to reduce kids’ screen time for entertainment.

Via a new website at Apple.co/showsforkids (which launches Apple Podcasts), Apple has collaborated with Common Sense Media to group podcasts by age group as well as by theme. At launch, the collection features creators like Tinkercast, American Public Media, Gen-Z Media, Pinna, Tumble, Highlights, WNYC Studios, Rebel Girls, and Nickelodeon, among others.

In addition to groups by age, there are also four thematic collections available: Common Sense Media Picks, which are all-time family favorites; One More!, which features mysterious tales and action-packed dramas; Kids Know Best, which feature shows picked by kids themselves; and Story Time, which are story-driven shows.

Image Credits: screenshot of Apple Podcasts

The site will be updated monthly to feature new and popular shows and to introduce timely collections around historical and cultural moments, like Women’s History Month or Back to School ideas, Apple says.

The company also notes the selection of shows is curated using the same sort of research-backed approach that Common Sense Media applies to other entertainment, like TV shows, movies, books, apps and games.

The launch follows Apple’s recent debut of an “Apple for Kids” website that helps parents set up devices for kids and learn about Family Sharing options, highlighting an increased interest in catering to the needs of families.

But unlike with kids’ use of Apple devices, the current market for kids’ podcasts is small — none of Apple’s top 100 podcasts are directed towards kids, for example.

However, industry experts believe the kids market may grow alongside the overall adult podcast market. Plus, as Morning Consult recently reported, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped drive new interest in the audio format as parents struggled to keep kids entertained at home.

Case in point: one leading kids’ podcast, “Wow in the World” by NPR, saw 94% increase in downloads in the 13 weeks post-COVID compared with pre-COVID, the report said.

In another recent analysis, NPR’s 2020 Spoken Word Audio Report found that 15% of U.S. adults were now listening to children’s spoken word audio — an indication that many parents were already co-listening with kids. In addition, research from Kids Listen, a nonprofit advocacy group for kids’ podcast, found that 89% of kids who listen to podcast are ages 8 or under, Morning Consult pointed out.

Apple, it’s worth noting, has been rumored to be considering a new podcast subscription service to challenge Spotify, The Information reported year earlier this . In the weeks since that report, Apple has seemingly begun to pay more attention to the format, having launched a new editorial franchise, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, to highlight interesting creators.

Adding kids’ programing could play into Apple’s future ambitions, perhaps, as 64% of parents who listen to podcasts said they’re likely to purchase a paid subscription to podcasts for their kids.

The new collection is live in the U.S. in Apple Podcasts.

#apple, #children, #families, #kids, #media, #parents, #podcasts, #streaming, #trends

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Amazon Fire TV expands live TV features, adds Alexa support for live content

Amazon is rolling out a new experience for its Fire TV platform that puts more focus on subscription-free streaming and other live content. The company today announced several new services are being integrated into its suite of Live features, including Xumo and its own IMDb TV and Amazon news app. The company also soon plans to add Plex, it notes.

All four of the services are available for free with ads and don’t require a subscription, Amazon says. These channels and their content will appear in Fire TV’s Live tab in the “On Now” rows, as well as in the Universal Channel Guide on the Fire TV app.

With the additions, Amazon says there are now over 400 live streaming channels from across 20 providers that can be accessed from Fire TV’s live channel guide — including services like YouTube TV, Sling TV, Tubi, Pluto TV, Philo, Prime Video Channels, Prime Video Live Events (like Thursday Night Football), and more.

Amazon also notes that more than 200 of those channels are available for free with ads, and don’t need a subscription to watch.

Free, live streaming content is becoming a battleground for both Amazon and Roku, the top two streaming media platforms in the U.S. But they’re taking different approaches to the format.

Amazon’s section showcasing free, live content has become more of a part of its overall Fire TV interface, instead of a separate channel you have to launch. This speaks to Amazon’s design philosophy with Fire TV, whose interface largely resembles that of a streaming service.

“We’ve always taken a content-forward approach when designing Fire TV. When you turn on your TV, you’re going to see shows, movies, and sports — not just rows of apps,” said VP & GM of Amazon Fire TV, Sandeep Gupta. “This philosophy extends to our approach to live content. We’re continuing to invest heavily in Live TV and so are our content partners. We’re expanding that today with the addition of new integrations, Alexa capabilities, and enhanced content discovery mechanisms,” he added.

Meanwhile, Roku offers its own hub with always-on free movies and TV shows, called The Roku Channel, which helps to serve as a starting point for cord cutters who are looking for something to watch after they’ve ditched traditional pay TV. But unlike Fire TV, Roku’s design is, in fact,  “rows of apps.” This makes its interface simple to use and less cluttered — something many people seem to prefer. Here, The Roku Channel is just another app to launch, not a part of the Roku interface.

Roku also makes The Roku Channel available online and as a standalone mobile app, just like other free streaming services. And this week, it integrated most of The Roku Channel’s free content with its main Roku.com website, in order to reach more consumers.

Separately, Fire TV offers its own app, but limits itself to live content, not on-demand, ad-supported shows and movies.

In addition to today’s newly announced live TV integrations, Amazon also says its live TV programs are now Alexa-enabled.

That means you can say things like “Alexa, play Good Morning America” or “Alexa, play the Seahawks game,” to launch a specific live TV program by name. This will work with the Alexa Voice Remote, on the Fire TV Cube, and with Fire TVs paired with an Echo device.

Live TV programs will also appear in the “App Peak” (hover) feature on the newly updated Fire TV interface. This feature will show you what’s on a given channel when you hover over it in the main navigation, and works on Fire TV Stick (3rd gen.) and Fire TV Stick Lite, for the time being.

As a result of its expansions and live TV integrations — not to mention the pandemic that’s kept people at home for entertainment — Amazon says that engagement with live streaming apps on Fire TV has more than doubled in the last 12 months, up by over 130%.

Amazon says the new features are rolling out today to Fire TV devices.

#amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #fire-tv, #live-tv, #media, #streaming, #tv

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Amazon’s GameOn app, a platform for sharing mobile gaming clips, launches on iOS,

Mobile gaming hasn’t seen the same demand for streaming content in the past as desktop has, but Amazon sees a market there to extend Twitch’s dominance. After launching on Android back in November, the company’s mobile streaming centric app has just launched on Apple’s App Store.

The app lets users record short clips (anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes of content) of gameplay from a variety of titles that support screen recording capture. Users can screen record these clips directly into the GameOn library at which point they can add commentary or additional edits before publishing to the GameOn platform or sharing links to the platform on other sites.

The GameOn platform is interestingly fully disconnected from Twitch with separate branding and different channels. Amazon has been partnering with streamers to wholly focus on mobile gaming while promoting challenges unique to the app.

Developers have been increasingly vigilant about brining more full-featured ports of desktop titles to mobile though the lack of sophisticated controls has made this a challenge. As gaming platforms aim to bring cloud streaming networks to iOS there could end up being more demand for shot-on-mobile content and titles that users control with a gamepad, but this will depend on whether the App Store grows more amenable to these platforms over time.

#amazon, #android, #app-store, #computing, #gameon, #gaming, #internet, #mass-media, #mobile-game, #streaming, #twitch, #video-hosting

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SoundCloud adjusts revenue model for indie artists

We’ve known for a long time that music streaming royalties are fundamentally broken. As revenue has shifted away from sales of physical music, it’s become increasingly difficult for many independent artists to make a living off recorded music. But all of that has come to a head as the pandemic has stripped live music out of the equation entirely.

Some services have looked to buck the trend. The immensely popular Bandcamp Fridays are a notable example, offering all revenue to artists and labels one day a month. And now SoundCloud is looking to shake up how it pays its own independent creators — a move that could prove a nice boon for musicians on a service that’s lent its name to at least one popular musical subgenre.

The site will institute a new revenue structure at the beginning of next month. Soundcloud breaks down “Fan-powered” royalties thusly,

Fan-powered royalties are a more equitable and transparent way for independent artists who monetize directly with SoundCloud to get paid. The more fans listen on SoundCloud, and listen to your music, the more you get paid.

Under the old model, money from your dedicated fans goes into a giant pool that’s paid out to artists based on their share of total streams. That model mostly benefits mega stars.

Under fan-powered royalties, you get paid based on your fans’ actual listening habits. The more of their time your dedicated fans listen to your music, the more you get paid. This model benefits independent artists.

The service is available for independent artists who monetize their pages through select Pro accounts. There are a number of factors that go into the final payment (the first of which will arrive in May), including whether listeners have a subscription, the amount they’ve listened to one artist relative to others and ads they’ve listened to. The fine print is available here.

Musicians have become increasingly vocal about their inability to live off of streaming revenue as the pandemic has cut off major income sources over the past year. Spotify, in particular, has drawn harsh criticism as the company has spent hundreds of millions on podcast acquisitions while maintaining old revenue models for musicians.

#apps, #enterprise, #music, #royalties, #soundcloud, #streaming

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Instagram launches ‘Live Rooms’ for live broadcasts with up to four creators

Instagram today announced it’s adding a much-requested feature to its app with the launch of “Live Rooms,” which allow up to four people to broadcast live together at the same time. Previously, the app only allowed users to live stream with one other person, similar to Facebook Live. The company says it hopes Live Rooms will open up more creative opportunities in terms of live broadcast formats to allow for things like live talk shows, expanded Q&A’s or interviews, jam sessions for musicians, live shopping experiences, and more.

In addition to the ability to live stream with more people, Instagram also touts how the new feature can help creators to make more money. Last year, in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, Instagram introduced badges as a way for fans to support their favorite creators during a live video. Once purchased, the badges appear next to a fan’s name throughout the live video, helping them to stand out in the comments and unlock other special features, like placement on the creator’s list of badge holders and access to a special heart.

Badges became more broadly available last fall, at three price points: $0.99, $1.99, or $4.99.

With Live Rooms, fans can buy badges to support the hosts (one badge per person) as well as use other interactive features like Shopping and Live Fundraisers. The company says it’s also now developing other tools, like moderator controls and audio features that will roll out in the months to come.

To start a Live Room, you’ll swipe left and select the Live camera option, then title the Room and tap the Room icon to add guests. Here, you’ll see a list of people who’ve already requested to go live with you and you’ll be able to search for other guests to add.

Image Credits: Instagram

When you start the Live Room, you’ll remain at the top of the screen while guests are added. The guests can be added all at once or individually, depending on your preference. This allows for opportunities to add “surprise guests” to live streams to keep fans engaged.

The ability to add more guests to a live stream can also help a creator grow their follower base, as all the guests’ followers are notified about the Live Room, in addition to your own.

For safety reasons, any person that’s been blocked by any of the Live Room participants will not have access to join the live stream. Plus, any guests who have previously had their live access revoked due to violations of Instagram’s Community Guidelines won’t be able to join any Live Rooms.

During live broadcasts, the hosts can also report and block comments and use comment filters to maintain a safer experience for all viewers.

Live broadcasts became an increasingly important way for creators, business owners and brands to stay connected with followers during the pandemic, which shut down in-person live events, including concerts, shows, classes, conferences, meetups, and more. Instagram reported a 70% increase in Live views from February to March, for instance, as creators and businesses shifted their work online.

Image Credits: Instagram

As the pandemic wore on throughout 2020 and into 2021, the lack of in-person connection has allowed for other opportunities and even new social networks to grow. Live audio platform Clubhouse, for example, has seen rapid adoption, particularly by the tech and creative crowds, who today use the app to tune into live shows, chat sessions, and even big-name interviews. Twitter is now building a rival, and reportedly, so is Facebook.

But while Clubhouse offers a very different experience, it still operates in the same broader space of allowing fans to connect with high-profile individuals of some sort — entrepreneurs and founders, celebrities, market experts, thought leaders, influencers, and so on. And because users’ time is limited, seeing this type of activity shift to non-Facebook owned platforms is likely of concern to Instagram and its parent.

Meanwhile, in the live video broadcasting space, Instagram today faces a number of competitors, from those focused on a particular niche — like game streaming site Twitch, live shopping apps, and more— as well as general purpose live platforms offered by YouTube and TikTok. (The latter was spotted offering a four-up live stream format just last month, in fact.)

Instagram says Live Rooms are rolling out now to both iOS and Android to all global markets. The company expects the rollout to reach 100% of its user base within the week.

 

#apps, #clubhouse, #facebook, #instagram, #instagram-live, #livestreaming, #mobile, #social, #social-media, #social-networks, #streaming, #tiktok, #video-hosting

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Spotify to launch Spotify Audience Network, an audio ad marketplace

Spotify provided more details today about how it plans to monetize its investments in podcasts. The company said it’s launching a new audio advertising marketplace, the Spotify Audience Network, which will allow advertisers to reach listeners across Spotify’s own Originals and Exclusives, as well as podcasts via Megaphone and creation tool Anchor, and its ad-supported music, all in one place. The company also said it plans to offer podcasts on its self-serve ad platform, Spotify Ad Studio, starting with Spotify Originals and Exclusives in the U.S., in a beta test phase.

This will expand to include third-party podcasts in the future, the company noted today during its live online event, “Stream On.”

Currently, Spotify Ad Studio is being used by advertisers across 22 markets following its 2017 launch, to reach Spotify music listeners with both audio and video advertisements. Spotify said the service is its fastest-growing buying channel, but didn’t provide specific figures to detail that growth.

Image Credits: Spotify

However, the larger news on the advertising side was the launch of the new audio ad marketplace, Spotify Audience Network. Similar to some of its other forward-looking announcements today, Spotify was light on details about how exactly Spotify Audience Network would work — saying only that it’s in the “early stages of developing the offering,” and it expects to be able to share more at a later date.

However, the company positioned the marketplace as a “game changer,” particularly for podcasters looking to make money from ads, as well as for advertisers who want to reach Spotify’s audience of hundreds and millions, both on and off Spotify.

This news follows an investigative report by The Verge earlier this year which found Spotify was the main sponsor for Anchor advertising to date — despite its promises to find sponsors for smaller podcasters. It now appears Spotify has been in the process of building out its ad marketplace and tooling to make good on those promises, and may not have prioritized advertiser outreach in the meantime.

Image Credits: Spotify

Spotify today also spoke about how its recent acquisition of Megaphone would allow it to scale its Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI) technology, launched in early 2020, to publishers beyond its own Originals and Exclusives audio programs. Today, SAI is available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the U.K., and will expand to other new markets in 2021.

Since its debut, SAI has been rolling out new features like audience-based buying, native ad placements, and reporting on creative performance. Later this year, Spotify says it will make SAI available to Megaphone podcast publishers and “leading” Anchor creators.

But Anchor creators won’t be limited to advertising to grow revenues.

Spotify also briefly noted it will, in a few months, begin beta testing a new feature that will allow Anchor creators to publish paid podcast content to Spotify aimed at their most dedicated fans, as TechCrunch previously reported.

 

#ad-tech, #advertising, #advertising-tech, #anchor, #media, #megaphone, #music, #podcast, #podcasts, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Apple TV+ arrives on Google TV devices, starting with Chromecast

Google announced today the Apple TV+ streaming service has now arrived on the Google TV platform, starting with Chromecast with Google TV. It will also become available on Google TVs from both Sony and TCL, with expansions to other Android TV-powered devices in the months to come, Google says.

Google TV was first introduced last September as the new way Google will refer to its interface for Chromecast, where it combines streaming services, live TV via YouTube TV, and other Google offerings into one user interface — making it more competitive with similar offerings from Apple and Amazon. Today, the platform supports a wide range of top streaming services, like Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max, Peacock, Prime Video, CBS All Access, Hulu, Soing, and others, including, of course, YouTube.

With the added support for Apple TV+, users who already have subscriptions will be able to tune into its original programming, which includes movies, documentaries and series like “Ted Lasso,” “For All Mankind,” “Servant,” “The Morning Show,” “Dickinson,” and others. The app also provides access to the user’s library of movies and shows purchased from Apple, recommendations, and supports Family Sharing. The latter allows up to 6 family members to share a subscription to Apple TV+ and Apple TV channels.

Following the app’s launch on Google TV, users in the U.S. will be able to browse Apple’s Originals in Google TV’s personalized recommendations and surface its content in search results. Users can also ask Google Assistant to open the Apple TV app or they can request an Apple Original title by name. And they’ll be able to add Apple TV+ programming to the Google TV Watchlist. Google says these features will arrive in the “coming months,” however, instead of at launch.

The launch makes Google TV one of the last of the major streaming device platforms to support Apple’s streaming service, which is otherwise broadly available.

Apple TV+ had debuted in November 2019 for Apple customers, and later rolled out to non-Apple platforms including, that same year, Roku devices and Amazon’s Fire TV platform. Today, it’s also now available across a variety of smart TVs by Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Sony; gaming consoles including PlayStation (PS4 & PS5) and Xbox (One, Series X, Series S): and via the web.

 

#android-tv, #apple, #apple-tv, #apple-tv-plus, #chromecast, #google, #google-tv, #media, #streaming, #streaming-services

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Apple TV+ acquires a “sci-fi courtroom drama” about a murderous robot doll

Astronauts stand in a row on the lunar surface.

Enlarge / A shot from For All Mankind‘s second season. (credit: Apple+)

More science fiction is headed to Apple TV+, according to a new video and report. Apple has published a “first look featurette” video and related augmented reality app for its alternate-history space-program drama For All Mankind‘s second season, and the report claims that a drama about a robot accused of murder will soon begin production.

The latter will be a feature film called Dolly and is based on a short story written by Elizabeth Bear. According to Deadline, Apple acquired the film “following a competitive bidding war” involving four bidders, including multiple studios and another streaming company.

The film is described as a science fiction take on a courtroom drama, with the premise that a robotic doll murders its owner but “shocks the world by claiming she is not guilty and asking for a lawyer.”

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#apple, #apple-tv, #dolly, #for-all-mankind, #foundation, #gaming-culture, #sci-fi, #science-fiction, #streaming, #tech

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Netflix acquires the rights to all 22 Redwall books, plans film and series

An anthropomorphized mouse holds up a sword and a shield.

Enlarge / The book cover for the first book in the series, Redwall. (credit: Penguin Random House)

Netflix has acquired the rights to all 22 books in Brian Jacques’ fantasy series Redwall, marking the first time that rights to the entire series have been purchased by one film or television company. Netflix made a deal for the rights with book publisher Penguin Random House Children, according to Deadline.

This is a major franchise move even for Netflix, as the books are considered classics by many and have sold more than 30 million copies. The series follows the fantasy adventures of noble and heroic talking animals. Every book in the series was written by author Brian Jacques, who passed away in 2011 shortly before the publication of the 22nd book.

The streaming network plans to create both a feature film and an event TV series. The film will be based on the series’ first book, which is simply titled Redwall. The screenplay will be written by Patrick McHale, who is best known as the creator of Cartoon Network’s critically acclaimed animated miniseries Over the Garden Wall.

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#animation, #brian-jacques, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #penguin-random-house, #redwall, #streaming, #tv

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Spotify confirms it’s (finally) testing a live lyrics feature in the U.S.

Spotify this morning confirmed it’s testing a new, synced lyrics feature in the U.S. market, following a report from Engadget. Though the streaming music service today offers live lyrics in a number of markets — 27, in fact, including its recent launch in South Korea — it has not offered lyrics in the U.S. for many years. Instead, Spotify here runs the “Behind the Lyrics” feature provided in partnership with Genius, which offers a combination of lyrics and trivia about the song being played.

Reached for comment, Spotify said the new Lyrics feature rolled out as a test for some users in the U.S. starting today.

“We can confirm we’re currently testing our lyrics feature to a select number of users in the U.S.,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience. Some of those tests end up paving the way for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning.”

The company declined to share additional details about its plans, but did note that its U.S. partner on the new Lyrics feature is Musixmatch — a service that already powers Spotify’s lyrics feature in various non-U.S. markets.

This is not the first time Spotify has run a lyrics feature in the U.S., to be clear. The streaming service had originally worked with Musixmatch from 2011 through 2016, before ending that relationship to instead partner with Genius. But despite ongoing user demand for lyrics’ return, Spotify never brought the feature back to the U.S.

In more recent years, however, Spotify rekindled its relationship with Musixmatch. Last year, it announced the launch of real-time lyrics in, then, 26 worldwide markets across Southeast Asia, India and Latin America. This had been the first time lyrics were offered in 22 of these 26 markets, as only Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico had some form of prior lyrics support via other providers.

Spotify’s ongoing lack of support for lyrics in the U.S. has given its streaming music competitors an advantage. Amazon Music, for example, allowed users to view lyrics as songs played and tied the feature to its Alexa voice platform, so consumers could ask Alexa to search for songs by lyrics. Meanwhile, the updated version of Apple Music that rolled out with iOS 12 in 2018 included a way to search by lyrics, instead of just artist, album or song title. It later added live, synced lyrics with the launch of iOS 13. Siri can also respond to commands that involve lyrics.

Musixmatch additionally confirmed it has partnered with Spotify on the new U.S. test.

“Musixmatch is keeping growing at a fast pace thanks to our continued investment we’ve made [over] a decade. We’re focused now on bringing more data to continue enriching the audio experience globally,” Musixmatch CEO and founder Max Ciocciola told TechCrunch.

Because the lyrics feature is only a test, you may not see it yourself in the Spotify app, due to its limited availability. Spotify has not said if or when the test may be expanded.

#lyrics, #media, #mobile, #music, #musixmatch, #spotify, #streaming

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YouTube’s lo-fi music streams are all about the euphoria of less

Brake lights blur in the city at night.

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Dion Lewis was trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. Last August, when a storm left his Chicago neighborhood without electricity for a week, he improvised. Lewis had recently created a YouTube page for tutorials about the various aspects of computer programming called Code Pioneers, and that first night, unable to record, he decided to gather his wife and daughter for some quality time. Together in their living room surrounded by flickering candles, the three of them sat listening to songs Lewis “previously downloaded to use as background music” in his video tutorials. They included tracks like RalphReal’s “Mix It Up” and “Wallflowers” by the Portland experimentalist musician Bad Snacks.

The next morning, moved by what he’d heard, Lewis grabbed his DJ controller, headphones, and used “the last amount of power” in his laptop to make “Late Night Coding in Chicago”—a 32-minute stream of soothing lo-fi hip-hop songs and, to date, one of the most-watched videos on his YouTube page.

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#gaming-culture, #hip-hop, #music, #streaming, #youtube

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Gaming sites are still letting streamers profit from hate

Gaming sites are still letting streamers profit from hate

Enlarge (credit: MrLonelyWalker | Getty Images)

In today’s attention economy, platforms are megaphones and audiences are income. Shut off the megaphone and the income goes away. Bad guy go bye-bye. Throughout the last year, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and beyond have reckoned with their social responsibility not to amplify and monetize hate in what has become known as “the great deplatforming.” But what about when the megaphone is off and the cash keeps flowing in?

A WIRED investigation has uncovered dozens of far-right and white supremacist figures who monetize or have monetized through financial services essential to Twitch and YouTube’s full-time gamers: Streamlabs and StreamElements. Booted off traditional streaming sites, these figures have fled to more underground, less-moderated streaming services like DLive, where integrations with Streamlabs and StreamElements let viewers send monetary donations alongside public messages to streamers. Unlike PayPal, which has been cutting off white supremacists since at least 2017, Streamlabs and StreamElements’ role in buoying extremists has flown under the radar.

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#dlive, #gaming-culture, #paypal, #racism, #streaming

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Spotify hints toward plans for podcast subscriptions, à la carte payments

Spotify again signaled its interest in developing new ways to monetize its investments in podcasts. In the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, chief executive Daniel Ek suggested the streaming media company foresees a future where there will be multiple business models for podcasts, including, potentially, both ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte options.

The company, which also revealed its podcast catalog has grown to now 2.2 million programs, said it’s seen increasing demand for the audio format in recent months.

For example, 25% of Spotify’s monthly active users now engage with podcasts, up from 22% just last quarter. Podcast consumption is also increasing, with listening hours having nearly doubled year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Today, podcasts on Spotify’s platform are available to both free and paid users and are monetized with ads. This is still a key focus for the company — Spotify even recently acquired a podcast hosting and monetization platform, Megaphone, to help make streaming ad insertion technology available to its third-party publishers while also growing its targetable podcast inventory.

But Spotify recently put its feelers out about different means of monetizing podcasts, too.

Late last year, for instance, the company was spotted running a survey that asked its customers if they would be willing to pay for a standalone podcast subscription, and if so what would it look like and how much would it cost?

At the time, the survey offered a few different concepts.

At the low end, a subscription could offer ad-supported exclusive episodes and bonus content for $3 per month. This would be similar to Stitcher Premium, which today provides exclusives from top shows and other bonus episodes. But Spotify’s suggested version included ads, while Stitcher Premium is ad-free.

A middle option suggested a plan that would be even closer to Stitcher Premium, with exclusive shows and bonus material but no ads. This even matched Stitcher Premium’s price of $5 per month. And at the high-end, subscribers could get early access to ad-free interviews and episodes for $8 per month.

A survey, of course, is only meant to gauge consumer demand for such a subscription, and doesn’t indicate that Spotify has a new product in the works. (Spotify said the same when asked to comment on the news at the time.)

However, it’s clear that investors also want to know what Spotify is thinking when it comes to recouping its sizable investments in podcasts.

Asked if Spotify thought customers would be willing to pay for podcasts, Ek on the earnings call responded that he believed there were several new models that could be explored.

“I think we’re in the early days of seeing the long-term evolvement of how we can monetize audio on the internet. I’ve said this before, but I don’t believe that it’s a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “I believe, in fact, that we will have all business models, and that’s the future for all media companies — that you will have ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte sort of in the same space, of all media companies in the future.”

“And you should definitely expect Spotify to follow that strategy and that pattern,” Ek added, more definitively.

The answer seemed to indicate that Spotify is considering some of the ideas in that recent survey — of getting consumers to pay for some podcasts, instead of accessing them all for free or having them bundled into their music subscription.

Of course, that would change the meaning of the word “podcasts,” which today refers to freely distributed, serialized audio programs that get distributed via RSS feeds.

If Spotify chooses to paywall podcasts behind subscriptions or à la carte payments, then they’re no longer really podcasts — they’re a new sort of premium audio program.

This is an area where Spotify has plenty of room to grow, considering the significant investment it has made in podcasts over the years. To date, that’s included buying up content producers like Gimlet Media, The Ringer and Parcast, as well as signing top creators like Joe Rogan, Addison Rae, Kim Kardashian West, DC Comics, Michelle Obama and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, among others. Spotify also bought podcast tools like Anchor and other ad technology and hosting services.

The advantage with podcasts is that Spotify has the ability to monetize them in multiple ways at once — with ads and subscriptions or direct payments, if it chose. And, of course, there are no licensing fees or royalties to contend with, as with streaming music.

Spotify could also adjust the podcast payments model as needed to fit its different geographies and the way customers around the world prefer to consume and pay for podcast content.

None of this thinking was about near-term launches, Ek also clarified.

“I think it’s early days, though, to specifically kind of look at how that could play out,” he said, talking about how the different models could take shape. “But, obviously, if that were to be the case, that revenue profile would be different than how we do music.”

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