Apple to introduce A/B testing and in-app events to the App Store

Apple today announced a number of coming changes and improvements to the App Store that will help developers better target their apps to users, get their apps discovered by more people, and even highlight what sort of events are taking place inside their apps to entice new users to download the app and encourage existing users to return.

The company said its App Store today sees 600 million weekly users across 175 countries, and has paid out over $230 billion to developers since the App Store launched, highlighting the business opportunity for app developers.

However, as the App Store has grown, it’s become harder for app developers to market their apps to new users or get their apps found. The new features aim to address that.

Image Credits: Apple

One change involves the app’s product page. Starting this year, app developers will be able to create multiple custom product pages to showcase different features of their app for different users. For instance, they’ll be able to try out things like different screenshots, videos, and even different app icons to A/B test what users like the most.

They’ll also be able to advertise the dynamic things that are taking place inside their apps on an ongoing basis. Apple explained that apps and games are constantly rolling out new content and limited time events like film premieres on streaming services, events like Pokémon Go fests, or Nike fitness challenges. But these events were often only discoverable by those who already had the app installed and then opted in to push notifications.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple will now allow developers to better advertise these events, with the launch in-app events “front and center on the App Store.” The events can be showcased on the app’s product page. Users can learn more about the events, sign up to be notified, or quickly join the event, if it’s happening now. They can also discover events with personalized recommendations and through App Store search.

App Store editors will curate the best events and the new App Store widget will feature upcoming events right on users’ homescreens, too.

Apple says the feature will be open to all developers, including those who already run events and those who are just getting started.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #google-play, #instagram, #ios-8, #itunes, #mobile-software, #nike, #operating-systems, #software, #streaming-services, #wwdc-2021

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Paramount+ will launch a $4.99 monthly ad-supported subscription

If you didn’t want to shell out $9.99 per month to watch the meme-worthy iCarly reboot, now you won’t have to. On Monday, Paramount+ will launch its ad-supported Essential Plan, priced at $4.99 per month.

This less-expensive plan will replace the CBS All Access plan, which included commercials, but also granted access to local CBS stations. If you’re currently subscribed to that $5.99 per month plan, you can keep it. But starting Monday, it won’t be around anymore for new subscribers. 

What makes the Essential Plan different from CBS All Access? Subscribers on the new tier will get access to Marquee Sports (including games in the NFL, UEFA Champions, and Europa Leagues), breaking news on CBSN, and all of Paramount’s on-demand shows and movies. This includes offerings from ViacomCBS-owned channels like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel, and more. But, local live CBS station programming will no longer be included. So, if that’s a deal-breaker, you might want to subscribe to CBS All Access this weekend. 

The existing Premium Plan ($9.99 per month) removes commercials and adds support for 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision. Like other streaming services, only Premium subscribers will have access to mobile downloads. 

Both plans include access to parental controls and up to six individual profiles. The service doesn’t have a watch list at this time. But that has become a baseline feature for being competitive in this space, so it’s not a matter of if, but when. 

For comparison, the basic Netflix plan costs $8.99 per month, but only lets you watch on one screen at a time. That makes it harder to share an account with family or friends. Their standard tier is $13.99, making it a bit pricier than Paramount+.

Earlier this week, HBO Max unveiled their own lower-cost, ad-supported subscription tier, priced at $9.99 per month. The WarnerMedia-Discovery merger could also have major implications for the popular streaming service, though how that shakes out in terms of content libraries, or even possibly a combined streaming app, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately, consumers will make their decisions about which services to pay for based on a variety of key factors including content, pricing, and user experience. On the content front, Paramount+ plans to announce a slate of big-name titles when the new plan goes live on Monday, in hopes of wooing new subscribers. But the low-cost plan may also appeal to those who don’t necessarily care about top movies – they just want an affordable add-on to their current streaming lineup that provides them with access to some of the programs Netflix lacks. 

Paramount+ owner ViacomCBS said it added 6 million global streaming subscribers across their Paramount+, Showtime OTT, and BET+ services in Q1, to end the quarter with 36 million global users. Most of those come from Paramount+.

#cbs, #comedy-central, #crave, #entertainment, #epix, #hbo, #hbo-max, #national-football-league, #netflix, #nickelodeon, #paramount, #showtime, #smithsonian, #streaming-services, #television, #uefa, #viacom, #viacomcbs

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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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HBO Max launches ad-supported subscription for $9.99 per month

“Game of Thrones” might be over, but HBO Max is still breaking new ground, and even breaking the internet – this past weekend, HBO Max blacked out right before the finale of “Mare of Easttown,” likely due to traffic. But if you haven’t hopped aboard the HBO Max train yet, it might be time to try it out. Today, the streaming platform premieres an ad-supported subscription at $9.99 per month. Its existing service – which features no ads – costs $14.99 per month. Subscribers can save 15% on their subscription, no matter which version they choose, if they pre-pay for an entire year. 

The advertisements aren’t the only drawback of the more affordable subscription option. The ad-supported tier offers a maximum quality of 1080p, which is still pretty good for most consumers, unless you’re watching “Friends: The Reunion” in your 4k home theater. But, lower-tier subscribers won’t be able to download content to view offline, nor will they have access to same-day film premieres of Warner Bros.’s newest theatrical releases. However, these films will become available to stream months after release. On the bright side, ads will not appear on original HBO programming.

With just four minutes of ad time per hour, the ad-supported tier “launches with a commitment” to maintaining the lowest volume of commercials among popular streaming services. HBO Max follows in the footsteps of Hulu, which also offers a discounted subscription with ads for $5.99 per month, as opposed to $11.99 per month. But on Hulu, a half-hour show can contain almost five minutes of unskippable ad time. Meanwhile, Netflix offers its most basic plan – which allows streaming on one screen at a time without HD – for $8.99 per month. Its standard plan is $13.99 a month. Now that HBO Max has a more competitively priced option, it might give these other platforms a run for their money. 

What kinds of ads can you expect to see on HBO Max? The company says that subscribers can expect “a greater personalization in the ads they see” over time, with “more innovation in formats to come.” This could resemble the ad experience on Hulu, which has experimented with viewer-friendly binge-watch ads.

As of April 2021, HBO Max and HBO reached a combined 44.2 million subscribers, and in Q1 of the year, added 2.7 million domestic subscribers. By comparison, Netflix reported an increase of 4 million subscribers in the same period, bringing them to about 207 million global subscribers. However, only 450,000 of those new subscribers come from the US and Canada.

On June 29, HBO Max will launch in 39 Latin American markets. Later in the year, the streaming service is expected to roll out in Europe. This will only further the platform’s rapid growth – in 2019, AT&T, which owns HBO Max, set the modest goal to attain 50 million subscribers by 2025. Now, HBO Max expects it will reach between 120 million and 150 million subscribers by the same date.

The ad-supported subscription option for HBO Max is available now.

#apps, #cinemax, #companies, #entertainment, #hbo, #hbo-go, #hbo-max, #hbo-now, #hulu, #max, #netflix, #streaming-services, #television, #warner-bros

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BuffaloGrid and Techfugees launch education, solar charging initiative for refugees, aim to raise $3M

BuffaloGrid, a startup that provides phone charging and digital content to people in off-grid environments, is teaming up with the Techfugees refugee non-profit to provid free educational content and device charging to displaced people across East Africa and the Middle-East.

The initial service will see solar-powered ‘BuffaloGrid Hubs’ deployed in refugee camps across Kenya and Uganda, providing unlimited free access to education and health content, as well as other streaming services and mobile power charging.

The “Knowledge is Freedom” joint campaign has a goal of raising $3 million over the course of the next two years.

Daniel Becerra, CEO of BuffaloGrid, said: “Our mission is to remove barriers for internet adoption and provide the next billion with information, energy, and digital skills. I hope this campaign will raise awareness of the plight of displaced people and how collectively we have the power to change things. The entire team is excited to work with Techfugees. I believe together we have the technical expertise, experience, and connections to make a real difference.”

Raj Burman, Techfugees CEO, said: “In an increasingly digital and climate change stricken world, our mission is to make sure forcibly displaced people don’t get left behind. Around 400,000 marginalized refugees reside in the Rwamwanja and Kakuma-Kalobeyei settlements camp in Uganda and Kenya respectively. Our collaboration with BuffaloGrid presents a unique opportunity for an innovative, responsible digital solution to empower displaced communities with the support of our Chapters in Kenya and Uganda to overcome the access barriers to education and health content to better their livelihoods.”

Techfugees says 80 million people (roughly one percent of humanity) have been displaced because of climate change, war, conflict, economic challenges, and persecution. This figure is expected to grow to over 1 billion displaced people by 2050.

Belfast HQ’d BuffaloGrid has raised $6.4 million to date and counts, Tiny VC, ADV, Seedcamp, Kima Ventures and LocalGlobe among its investors.

(Disclosure: Mike Butcher is Chairman of Techfugees)

#buffalogrid, #ceo, #countries, #east-africa, #energy, #europe, #internet-adoption, #kenya, #kima-ventures, #middle-east, #population, #raj-burman, #streaming-services, #tc, #techfugees, #uganda, #world

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With new owner Naver, Wattpad looks to supercharge its user-generated IP factory

Toronto-based Wattpad is officially part of South Korean internet giant Naver as of today, with the official close of the $600 million cash and stock acquisition deal. Under the terms of the acquisition, Wattpad will continue to be headquartered in, and operate from Canada, with co-founder and Allen Lau remaining CEO of the social storytelling company and reporting to the CEO of Naver’s Webtoon, Jun Koo Kim.

I spoke to Lau about what will change, and what won’t, now that Wattpad is part of Naver and Webtoon. As mentioned, Wattpad will remain headquartered in Toronto — and in fact, the company will be growing its headcount in Canada under its new owners with significant new hiring.

“For Wattpad itself, last year was one of our fastest growing years in terms of both in terms of revenue and company size,” Lau said. “This year will be even faster; we’re planning to hire over 100 people, primarily in Toronto and Halifax. So in terms of the number of jobs, and the number of opportunities, this puts us on another level.”

While the company is remaining in Canada and expanding its local talent pool, while maintaining its focus on delivering socially collaborative fiction, Lau says that the union with Naver and Webtoon is about more than just increasing the rate at which it can grow. The two companies share unique “synergies,” he says, that can help each better capitalize on their respective opportunities.

“Naver is one of the world’s largest internet companies,” Lau told me. “But the number one reason that this merger is happening is because of Webtoon. Webtoon is the largest digital publisher in the world, and they have over 76 million monthly users. Combined with our 90 million, that adds up to 166 total monthly users — the reach is enormous. We are now by far the leader in this space, in the storytelling space, in both comics and fiction: By far the largest one in the world.”

The other way in which the two companies complement each other is around IP. Wattpad has demonstrated its ability to take its user-generated fiction, and turn that into successful IP upon which original series and movies are based. The company has both a Books and a Studios publishing division, and has generated hits like Netflix’s The Kissing Booth out of the work of the authors on its platform. Increasingly, competing streaming services are looking around for new properties that will resonate with younger audiences, in order to win and maintain subscriptions.

“Wattpad is the IP factory for user generated content,” Lau said. “And Webtoons also have a lot of amazing IP that are proven to build audience, along with all the data and analytics and insight around those. So the combined library of the top IPs that are blockbusters literally double overnight [with the merger]. And not just the size, but the capability. Because before the acquisition, we had our online fiction, we have both publishing business, and we have TV shows and movies, as well; but with the combination, now we also have comics, we also have animation and potentially other capabilities, as well.”

The key to Wattpad’s success with developing IP in partnership with the creators on its platform isn’t just that its’ user-generated and crowd-friendly; Wattpad also has unique insight into the data behind what’s working about successful IP with its fans and readers. The company’s analytics platform can then provide collaborators in TV and movies with unparalleled, data-backed perspective into what should strike a chord with fans when translated into a new medium, and what might not be so important to include in the adaptation. This is what provides Wattpad with a unique edge when going head-to-head with legacy franchises including those from Disney and other megawatt brands.

“No only do we have the fan bases — it’s data driven,” Lau said. “When we adapt from the fiction on our platform to a movie, we can tell the screenwriter, ‘Keep chapter one, chapter five and chapter seven, but in seven only the first two paragraphs,’ because that’s what the 200,000 comments are telling us. That’s what our machine learning story DNA technology can tell you this is the insight; where are they excited? This is something unprecedented.”

With Naver and Webtoon, Wattpad gains the ability to leverage its insight-gathering IP generation in a truly cross-media context, spanning basically every means a fan might choose to engage with a property. For would-be Disney competitors, that’s likely to be an in-demand value proposition.

#animation, #canada, #disney, #internet, #machine-learning, #mass-media, #naver, #netflix, #publishing, #streaming-services, #tc, #toronto, #wattpad, #webtoon

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A new YouTube feature will make its connected TV ads more shoppable

YouTube today gave advertisers a sneak peek at its plans to make its video platform more shoppable. The company will soon be introducing a new interactive feature aimed at advertisers called brand extensions, which will allow YouTube viewers to learn more about a product they see on the screen with a click of a button.

The new ad format will allow the advertiser to highlight their website link or another call-to-action in their connected TV video ad. The viewer can then click the option “send to phone,” which then sends that promotion or URL directly to their mobile device, without interrupting their viewing experience.

From the mobile device, the consumer could then shop the website as they would normally — browsing products, adding items to the cart, and completing the transaction. But they can do it when they’re ready to engage with that product information, instead of having to stop their video to do so.

The advertisers will also be able to smartly target the ads to the correct audience, based on the video content. For example, a fitness video may feature a brand extension ad that shows a new pair of running shoes.

Advertisers will be able to measure the conversions generated by these brand extensions directly in Google Ads, YouTube says.

In a related e-commerce ad effort, brands can now also add browsable product images to their direct response video ads, in order to encourage interested shoppers to click to visit their website or app.

These are only a few of the efforts YouTube has been working on with the goal of expand further into e-commerce.

Consumers, and particularly younger Gen Z users, today like to watch videos and engage while they shop, leading to the emergence of numerous video shopping services — like Popshop Live, NTWRK, ShopShops, TalkShopLive, Bambuser, and others. Facebook has also invested in live shopping and video-based shopping across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meanwhile, TikTok has become a home to video-based e-commerce, with Walmart (which also tried to acquire a stake in the app when Trump was trying to force a sale) hosting multiple shopping livestreams in recent months. TikTok also found success with e-commerce as it has rolled out more tools to direct video viewers to websites through integrated links and integrations with Shopify, for example.

But YouTube still has a sizable potential audience for video shopping, as it represents 40% of watch time of all ad-supported streaming services, per Comscore data. And of the top five streaming services in the U.S. that account for 80% of the connected TV market, only two are ad-supported, YouTube noted.

Ads are only one way YouTube will drive e-commerce traffic. Creators will also play a role.

A report from Bloomberg this past fall said YouTube was asking creators to tag and track the products they were featuring in their clips. YouTube later revealed more about this effort in February, saying it was beta testing a shopping experience that lets viewers shop from their favorite creators, and that this would roll out more broadly in 2021.

Brand extensions are separate from that effort, however, as they’re focused on giving the advertiser their own means to drive a shopping experience from a video.

YouTube says the new brand extensions ads are only the first of more interactive features the company has in store. The feature will roll out globally later this year.

#ad-technology, #ads, #adtech, #brands, #digital-marketing, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #google, #google-ads, #marketing, #online-advertising, #online-video-advertising, #shopping, #streaming-services, #video, #video-ads, #video-advertising, #youtube

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Pipe, which aims to be the ‘Nasdaq for revenue,’ raises more money at a $2B valuation

Fast-growing fintech Pipe has raised another round of funding at a $2 billion valuation, just weeks after raising $50M in growth funding, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Although the round is still ongoing, Pipe has reportedly raised $150 million in a “massively oversubscribed” round led by Baltimore, Md.-based Greenspring Associates. While the company has signed a term sheet, more money could still come in, according to the source. Both new and existing investors have participated in the fundraise.

The increase in valuation is “a significant step up” from the company’s last raise. Pipe has declined to comment on the deal.

A little over one year ago, Pipe raised a $6 million seed round led by Craft Ventures to help it pursue its mission of giving SaaS companies a funding alternative outside of equity or venture debt.

The buzzy startup’s goal with the money was to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

Just a few weeks ago, Miami-based Pipe announced a new raise — $50 million in “strategic equity funding” from a slew of high-profile investors. Siemens’ Next47 and Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Group co-led the round, which also included participation from Shopify, Slack, HubSpot, Okta, Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya, Marc Benioff, Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Republic, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six and Joe Lonsdale.

At that time, Pipe co-CEO and co-founder Harry Hurst said the company was also broadening the scope of its platform beyond strictly SaaS companies to “any company with a recurring revenue stream.” This could include D2C subscription companies, ISP, streaming services or a telecommunications companies. Even VC fund admin and management are being piped on its platform, for example, according to Hurst.

“When we first went to market, we were very focused on SaaS, our first vertical,” he told TC at the time. “Since then, over 3,000 companies have signed up to use our platform.” Those companies range from early-stage and bootstrapped with $200,000 in revenue, to publicly-traded companies.

Pipe’s platform assesses a customer’s key metrics by integrating with its accounting, payment processing and banking systems. It then instantly rates the performance of the business and qualifies them for a trading limit. Trading limits currently range from $50,000 for smaller early-stage and bootstrapped companies, to over $100 million for late-stage and publicly traded companies, although there is no cap on how large a trading limit can be.

In the first quarter of 2021, tens of millions of dollars were traded across the Pipe platform. Between its launch in late June 2020 through year’s end, the company also saw “tens of millions” in trades take place via its marketplace. Tradable ARR on the platform is currently in excess of $1 billion.

#alexis-ohanian, #baltimore, #banking, #chamath-palihapitiya, #corporate-finance, #craft-ventures, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenspring-associates, #hubspot, #investment, #isp, #joe-lonsdale, #marc-benioff, #maryland, #miami, #okta, #payment-processing, #pipe, #raptor-group, #recent-funding, #saas, #shopify, #siemens, #social-capital, #startups, #streaming-services, #tc, #telecommunications, #venture-capital

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Apple invests $50M into music distributor UnitedMasters alongside A16z and Alphabet

Independent music distribution platform and tool factory UnitedMasters has raised a $50M series B round led by Apple. A16z and Alphabet are participating again in this raise. United Masters is also entering a strategic partnership with Apple alongside this investment. 

If you’re unfamiliar with UnitedMasters, it’s a distribution company launched in 2017 by Steve Stoute, a former Interscope and Sony Music executive. The focus of UnitedMasters is to provide artists with a direct pipeline to data around the way that fans are interacting with their content and community, allowing them to connect more directly to offer tickets, merchandise and other commercial efforts. UnitedMasters also generally allows artists to retain control of their own masters.

Neither of these conditions are at all typical in the music industry. In a typical artist deal, recording companies retain all audience and targeting data as well as masters. This limits an artist’s ability to be agile, taking advantage of new technologies to foster a community. 

While Apple does invest in various companies, it typically does so out of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to promote US manufacturing or strategically in partners that make critical components of its hardware like silicon foundries or glass manufacturing. Apple does a lot more purchasing than investing, typically, buying a company every few weeks or so to supplement one product effort or another. UnitedMasters, then, would be a relatively unique partnership, especially in the music space. 

I spoke to UnitedMasters CEO Steve Stoute about the deal and what it means for the businesses 1M current artists and new ones. Stoute credits Apple executive Eddy Cue having a philosophy aligned with the UnitedMasters vision with getting this deal done. 

“We want all artists to have the same opportunity,” says Stoute. “Currently, independent artists have less opportunity for success and we’re trying to remove that stigma.”

This infusion, Stoute says, will be used to hire talent that are mission oriented to take UnitedMasters global. They’re seeking local technical talent and artists talent to build out the platform worldwide. 

“Every artist needs access to a CTO,” Stoute says. “Some of the value of what a manager is today for an artist needs to be transferred to that role.”

UnitedMasters wants to provide that technical edge at scale, allowing artists to build out their fanbase at a community level.

Currently, UnitedMasters has deals with the NBA, ESPN, TikTok, Twitch and others that allow artists to tap big brand deals that would normally be brokered by a label and manager. It also has a direct distribution app that allows publishing to all of the major streaming services. Most importantly, they can check stream, fan and earnings data at a glance. 

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue in a release statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

“UnitedMasters has completely transformed the way artists create, retain ownership in their work, and connect with their fans,” said Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz in a release. “We are excited to work with Steve and team to build a better, bigger, and far more profitable world for musical artists.” 

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry. Recent developments like NFTs, DAOs and social tokens, as well as an explosion of DTC frameworks have begun to re-write that deal. But the major players have yet to make the truly aggressive strides they need to in order to embrace this ‘artist centric’ new world. 

The mechanics of distribution have been based on a framework defined by DRM and the DMCA for decades. This framework was always marketed as a way to protect value for the artist but was in fact architected to protect value for the distributor. We need a rethinking of the entire distribution layer.

As I mentioned when reporting the UnitedMasters + TikTok deal, it’s going to be instrumental in a more equitable future for artists:

It’s beyond time for the creators of The Culture to benefit from that culture. That’s why I find this UnitedMasters deal so interesting. Offering a direct pipeline to audiences without the attendant vulture-ism of the recording industry apparatus is really well-aligned with a platform like TikTok, which encourages and enables “viral sounds” with collaborative performances. Traditional deal structures are not well-suited to capturing viral hype, which can rise and fall within weeks without additional fuel.

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community. 

A UnitedMasters tie up isn’t a straight line to that goal, but it’s definitely got the ingredients. I’m looking forward to seeing what this produces. 

Image Credits: Steve Stoute

#advanced-manufacturing-fund, #alphabet, #andreessen-horowitz, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-store, #artist, #ben-horowitz, #ceo, #co-founder, #companies, #cto, #eddy-cue, #espn, #executive, #general-partner, #manufacturing, #music-industry, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #sony-music, #spotify, #steve-stoute, #streaming-services, #tc, #twitch, #united-states, #unitedmasters

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Tencent Music now has joint labels with all ‘big three’ record labels

The music streaming arm of Tencent is further tightening its ties with the “big three” record label companies, its major licensing partners. Tencent Music Entertainment announced Tuesday that it has formed a new joint label with Warner Music Group, following similar deals with Universal Music Group in August 2020 and Sony Music Entertainment in early 2018.

The collaboration will take advantage of “Warner Music’s global resources and experience in supporting artists’ careers, as well as TME’s massive influence in mainland China’s music and entertainment market,” TME says in an announcement.

The joint label established with UMG similarly aims to bring international artists to China, one of the world’s fastest-growing music markets, and take Chinese musicians abroad.

Alongside the label deal, TME and WMG have signed a multi-year licensing agreement, an extension of their decade-long collaboration.

TME has ongoing licensing relationships with all three major record labels and some have manifested in equity relationships. In January, a Tencent-led consortium increased its total stake in UMG to 20%.

TME also operates some of China’s most popular online music services. Through its family of music streaming apps including QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music, TME collectively commands 622 mobile monthly active users as of the fourth quarter.

Paying ratio remains relatively low, however, with 9% of the users paying in the quarter, up from 6.2% in the previous year.

But TME has another major revenue stream that distinguishes it from Western streaming services like Spotify: social entertainment. This category includes the karaoke app WeSing which monetizes through the sales of virtual gifts, which are bought by users and sent to performers they appreciate. It mirrors real-life fan-idol interaction.

The segment contributed $854 million to Q4 revenue, compared to $423 million generated from user subscription and digital music sales.

#asia, #china, #entertainment, #media, #record-labels, #sony-music-entertainment, #spotify, #streaming-services, #tencent, #tencent-music, #tencent-music-entertainment, #tme, #universal-music-group, #warner-music-group

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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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Netflix shares soar as it passes 200M paying subscribers

Netflix capped off a year of impressive streaming growth by adding 8.5 million net new paying subscribers during the fourth quarter.

That means the streaming giant now has a total of 204 million paying subscribers worldwide — net growth of 37 million new subscribers for the full year, up from 28 million net additions in 2019.

The company also reported that it brought in $6.64 billion in revenue and earnings per share of $1.19 during Q4, compared to analyst predictions of $6.63 billon in revenue and EPS of $1.39.

In response to the earnings report, Netflix shares were up 12.4% in after-hours trading (as of 4:43pm Eastern).

Looking ahead, Netflix projected that it will add 6.0 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2021 — the same as its old forecast for Q4, and less than half the 15.8 million subscribers that Netflix added in Q1 2020 (right as lockdowns were beginning in the United States).

The company’s investor letter also highlights a number of hit titles from the quarter, projecting that 72 million households will “choose to watch” (watch at least two minutes of) “The Midnight Sky” in its first 28 days of release, while 68 million households chose to watch “Holidate.” It also said the most recent season of “The Crown” was its most popular yet, with more than 100 million households choosing to watch the show “since its initial launch.”

“In addition to titles with big viewership, we also aspire to have hits that become part of the cultural zeitgeist,” Netflix said. “In 2020 alone, we had ​’Tiger King,​’ ‘​Bridgerton​’ and ​’The Queen’s Gambit​.’ … In fact, Netflix series accounted for nine out of the 10 most searched shows globally in 2020, while our films represented two of the top 10.”

The company acknowledged growing competition from new(-ish) streaming services like Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max, but its user numbers still put it far ahead of any streaming competition — Disney+, for example, had 86.8 million subscribers as of early December (Disney’s service launched a little over a year ago and is still rolling out globally).

“Our strategy is simple: if we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” Netflix said. “This past year is a testament to this approach. Disney+ had a massive first year (87 million paid subscribers!) and we recorded the biggest year of paid membership growth in our history.”

eMarketer analyst Eric Haggstrom made a similar point in a statement:

Netflix ended 2020 on a high note, adding over 36 million subscribers and passing 200 million subscribers. Despite increasing competition from Disney and others, Netflix had its strongest year yet and will look to grow further in 2021, with a strong content release slate already planned. So far, Netflix has been a clear winner of the streaming wars.

#earnings, #media, #netflix, #streaming-media, #streaming-services

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Hulu’s live TV service gains 14 new channels as result of ViacomCBS deal

A new agreement between Hulu and ViacomCBS will bring 14 new channels to Hulu’s live TV streaming service, while also renewing the deal that allows Hulu to carry various CBS broadcast stations and Showtime. According to ViacomCBS, the new multi-year distribution deal will for the first time allow Hulu + Live TV subscribers to stream cable networks like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, VH1, CMT, Nick Jr., TV Land, BET Her, MTV2, NickToons, TeenNick and MTV Classic.

With the Hulu agreement in place, the two top live TV streaming services available in the U.S. will now carry the ViacomCBS channel lineup. Hulu with Live TV is the largest of the two, with 4.1 million subscribers as of Disney’s Q4 earnings. Meanwhile, YouTube TV has 3 million subscribers, as of Alphabet’s Q4 earnings.

ViacomCBS had forged its agreement with Google-owned YouTube TV earlier in 2020, which introduced the same channel lineup and had allowed the streamer to keep carrying CBS broadcast stations and the premium subscription channel Showtime.

Hulu + Live TV will now also be able to continue to carry CBS stations including CBS Sports Network, Pop TV, Smithsonian Channel, and The CW, as well as Showtime.

Offering the ViacomCBS cable lineup to live TV streamers represents a different strategy than Viacom had in the past, before the 2019 merger with CBS. In previous years, it allowed a deal with Hulu to fall through as well as those with other streamers, like the now-shuttered PlayStation Vue. In the meantime, the company focused on more traditional carriage agreements with pay TV operators.

 

During its first full year as a newly combined company, ViacomCBS in 2020 has pursued a different course. It got the major carriage deals done with Comcast, Dish, Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent), Nextstar, Meredith, Cox and Sinclair, but it also hashed out agreements with YouTube TV and Hulu for incremental revenues.

For streaming service customers, however, these deals aren’t always welcome. While it’s nice to gain access to new channels, agreements like this have also resulted in increased subscription prices. YouTube TV, for example, hiked its price 30% in June 2020 due to the addition of the ViacomCBS channels.

Hulu had announced in November 2020 that it would also raise the prices of its Live TV service to $65 per month starting on Dec. 18, 2020, due to the rising costs of programming. It didn’t attribute the price hike to any specific deal at the time, but it now seems clear the ViacomCBS-led expansion of its Live TV service was a factor in that decision.

The ViacomCBS deals with YouTube TV and now Hulu do raise the question as to how the company plans to attract customers to its own forthcoming streaming service, Paramount+. The service, which will be an expanded and rebranded version of CBS All Access, is set to launch in 2021. Though ViacomCBS channels are not its only draw, they do make up a far bit of its offering, in addition to the library content, CBS channels, and original series, like the new “Star Trek” shows.

“We are excited to have reached an expanded agreement with Hulu that underscores the value of our powerful portfolio of brands to next-generation TV platforms and viewers,” said Ray Hopkins, President, U.S. Networks Distribution, ViacomCBS, in a statement about the new deal. “Hulu continues to be a great partner, and this agreement ensures that Hulu + Live TV subscribers are now able to enjoy the full breadth of our leading content across news, sports and entertainment for the first time.”

#cbs, #cbs-all-access, #hulu, #media, #streaming-services, #united-states, #viacom, #viacomcbs

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Hulu UX teardown: 5 user experience fails and how to fix them

Hulu is the first major streaming platform to offer a social watching experience. And with most major league sports now being allowed to resume behind closed doors, Hulu’s combined proposition with ESPN will likely help entertain the service’s 30+ million users over the winter months.

But users have a surplus in choice of streaming services right now, so how will Hulu stay competitive?

With the help of UX expert Peter Ramsey from Built for Mars, we’re going to give Hulu an Extra Crunch UX teardown, demonstrating five ways it could improve its overall user experience. These include easy product comparisons, consistent widths, proportionate progress bars and other suggestions.

Comparing features inside packages

If your product/service has different tiers/versions, ensure that the differences between these options are obvious and easy to compare.

The fail: Hulu has four different packages, but the listed features are inconsistent between options, making it incredibly difficult to compare. Instead of using bullet points, they’ve buried the benefits within paragraphs.

The fix: Break the paragraphs down into bullet points. Then, make sure that the bullet points are worded consistently between options.

 

Steve O’Hear: I’m really surprised this one got past the marketing department. Not a lot to say except that I would argue that when UX, including layout and copywriting decisions, become decoupled from business goals and customer wants, a company is in trouble. Would you agree that’s what has happened here?

Peter Ramsey: Honestly, this happens all the time. I think it’s just a symptom of the designers building things that look nice, not things that work nicely. I probably raise this issue on about one-third of the private audits I do — it’s that common.

Keep a consistent width

Try to maintain a consistent page width throughout a single journey — unless there’s a major benefit to changing the width.

The fail: During the Hulu sign-up process, the page width doubles at a totally unnecessary point. This is disorienting for the user, with no obvious rationale.

The fix: Hulu has a pretty consistent first-half of their journey and then it drops the ball. I’d redesign these “extra-wide” pages to be the default width.

#developer, #entertainment, #hulu, #media, #peter-ramsey, #streaming-services, #tc, #usability, #user-experience, #ux, #video

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Venn, a network hoping to be gaming’s answer to MTV, raises $26 million

VENN , the streaming network hoping to be gaming culture’s answer to MTV, has raised $26 million to bring its mix of video game-themed entertainment and streaming celebrity features to the masses.

The financing came from previous investor Bitkraft, one of the largest funds focused on the intersection of gaming and synthetic reality, and new investor Nexstar Media Group, a publicly traded operator of regional television broadcast stations and cable networks around the U.S.

The investment from Nexstar gives Venn a toehold in local broadcast that could see the network’s shows appear on regular broadcast televisions in most major American cities, and adds to a roster of Nexstar properties including CourtTV, Bounce, and Ion Television. The company has over 197 television stations and a network of websites that average over 100 million monthly active users and 1 billion page views, according to a statement from Ben Kusin, Venn’s co-founder and chief executive.

“VENN is a new kind of TV network built for the streaming and digital generation, and it’s developing leading-edge content for the millennial and Gen Z cultures who are obsessed with gaming,” Nexstar Media Group President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Thomas E. Carter said in a statement. “Gaming and esports are two fast growing sectors and through our investment we plan to distribute VENN content across our broadcast platform to address a younger audience; utilize VENN to gain early access to gaming-adjacent content; and present local and national brands with broadcast and digital marketing and advertising opportunities to reach younger audiences.”

It’s unclear how much traction with younger audiences Venn has. The company’s YouTube channel has 14,000 subscribers and its Twitch Channel boasts a slightly more impressive 57.7 thousand subscribers. Still, it’s early days for the streaming network, which only began airing its first programming in September.

Since its launch a little over a year ago, Venn has managed to poach some former senior leadership from Viacom’s MTV and MTV Music Entertainment Group, which has been the model the gaming-focused streaming network has set for itself. Jeff Jacobs, the former senior vice president for production planning, strategies and operations at MTV’s parent company, Viacom and most recently an independent producer for Viacom, the NBA, Global Citizen and ACE Universe.

Venn is currently available on its own website and various streaming services as well as through partnerships with the Roku Channel, Plex, Xumo, Samsung TV Plus and Vizio.

The company has also managed to pick up some early brand partnerships with companies including Subway, Draft Kings, Alienware, Adidas and American Eagle.

 

#adidas, #alienware, #companies, #draft-kings, #internet-television, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #plex, #roku, #samsung, #streaming-services, #tc, #television, #united-states, #venn, #viacom, #vizio, #xumo

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Don’t buy the hype: Free VPNs are bad for your privacy

VPNs are in high demand as Americans scramble to keep access to TikTok and WeChat amid a looming government ban. There are dozens of free VPNs out there that promise to protect your privacy by keeping you anonymous on the internet and hiding your browsing history.

Don’t believe it. Free VPNs are bad for you.

The internet is a hostile place for the privacy-minded. Internet providers can sell your browsing history, governments can spy on you, and tech titans collect huge amounts of data to track you across the web. Many have turned to VPNs, or virtual private networks, thinking that they can protect you from snoopers and spies.

But where VPNs try to solve a problem, they can also expose you to far greater privacy risks.

TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet has an explainer on what a VPN is. In short, VPNs were first designed for employees to virtually connect to their office network from home or while on a business trip. These days,

VPNs are more widely used for hiding your online internet traffic, and tricking streaming services into thinking you’re another country when you’re not. That same technique also helps activists and dissidents bypass censorship systems in their own countries.

VPNs work by funneling all of your internet traffic through an encrypted pipe to the VPN server, making it more difficult for anyone on the internet to see which sites you are visiting or which apps you are using.

But VPNs don’t inherently protect your privacy or give you anonymity. VPNs simply divert all of your internet traffic from going to your internet provider’s systems into the VPN provider’s systems instead.

That begs the question: Why should you trust a VPN that promises to protect your privacy more than your internet provider? The answer is that you can’t, and you shouldn’t.

By far some of the worst offenders are the free VPNs.

As the old adage goes, if it’s free then you are the product. What that means is that they make money off you — specifically, your data. Like any service that costs nothing, VPNs are often supported by ads. That means taking your internet traffic and selling it to the highest bidder to serve you targeted ads while you’re connected to the VPN. Other free VPNs have been accused of injecting ads into the websites that you visit.

While there are paid and premium VPNs that are generally more mindful about your privacy, they aren’t anonymous as they can be linked to your billing address. Paid VPNs also don’t solve the problem of funneling all of your internet traffic to a potentially untrustworthy company.

Some VPN providers also claim to protect your privacy by not storing any logs or track which websites you visit or when. While that may be true in some cases, there’s no way you can be completely sure.

In fact, some VPN providers have claimed they don’t store any logs — but were proven completely false.

Take UFO VPN, which at the time had about 20 million users. It claimed to have a zero-logging policy. But security researchers found the company’s logging database exposed to the internet, no password needed. The database was packed with logs of user activity, including which websites users were visiting.

Former NYPD director of cyber intelligence and investigations Nick Selby, now the chief security officer at fintech startup Paxos, said he only uses VPN providers that he knows do not store any logs. During his time as a police officer he would serve search warrants and know which providers were “the best at giving me nothing,” he told TechCrunch.

It’s not to say that all VPNs are unscrupulous or invading your privacy. Much of the problem with VPNs is that you can’t look under the hood and see what’s going on with your data. Standalone VPNs, like Algo and WireGuard, let you create and control your own VPN server through a cloud service, like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Digital Ocean. But remember: your encrypted data is stored on another company’s cloud, making it potentially susceptible to being grabbed by the authorities.

VPNs can be useful, but it’s important to know their limitations. Just don’t rely on them to protect your privacy or your anonymity.

#computing, #digital-ocean, #director, #internet, #internet-traffic, #privacy, #security, #streaming-services, #virtual-private-networks, #vpn, #web-services

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Netflix test puts a ‘Shuffle Play’ button right on your home screen

Don’t know what you’re in the mood to watch? Netflix’s new “Shuffle” feature could help. The company confirms it’s currently testing a feature that puts a big button labeled “Shuffle Play” right on the Netflix home screen, beneath your user profile icon. When pressed, Netflix will randomly play content it thinks you’ll like. This could be a movie or show you’re currently watching, something you’ve saved to your list, or a title that’s similar to something you’ve already watched, the company says.

The new button is currently showing up on the Netflix app for TV devices, much to many users’ surprise. Some users thought the addition could be fun or useful, while others just seem confused.

The company tells TechCrunch the idea behind the feature is to help its members quickly and easily find content that’s tailored to their tastes. This is a challenge Netflix has addressed over the years through a variety of features and tests, like screensavers on its TV apps, pre-roll videos, and even promotional content showcased on the home screen. Ultimately, the company wants the experience of using Netflix to feel more like watching traditional TV — meaning you can just turn it on and something starts playing. (Of course, that’s also what gave us the annoying auto-playing feature, which Netflix finally allowed users to disable with an update earlier this year.)

The new “Shuffle Play” button is the latest in a long series of tests where Netflix has tried to make a shuffle concept work. Last year, for example, Netflix tried out a shuffle mode that let you click on a popular show to start playing a random episode. This may have worked well when users wanted to play a random episode of their default pick, like the “The Office” or “Friends,” but Netflix is losing the former in 2021 and it has already lost the latter.

More recently, some Netflix users discovered a shuffle option called “Play Something” in their TV app’s sidebar navigation. (See below)

Netflix confirmed these are all variations on the general “shuffle mode” concept, which it’s been trying out across surfaces, including what it calls the “profile gate,” as well as the side menu and the main screen. Currently, the “Shuffle Play” button on the profile screen is the only test that’s still underway, we’re told.

The company said it started to roll out the new test to members worldwide last month and only on TV devices. Netflix has yet to make a decision about if or when it will launch a shuffle feature publicly, as it needs to first collect feedback from each different test and compare the results.

#cord-cutting, #netflix, #streaming, #streaming-services, #streaming-video, #tc, #tv, #video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotify debuts new podcast top charts across 26 markets

Spotify is today introducing a new feature aimed at helping people discover interesting and popular podcasts. The company this morning announced the launch of two brand-new podcast charts, Top Podcasts and Trending Podcasts, which will showcase both the overall most-listened to and the biggest movers, respectively. The new feature will arrive in the Spotify mobile app across 26 markets. In addition, category-level charts will be available in 7 of the 26, including the U.S., U.K., Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Germany and Australia.

The new charts will replace the existing “Top Shows” chart to offer a better discovery experience that separates popular from trending and offers, in some cases, category-level detail.

Music services have long since used top charts to help users find new music and discover artists, and Spotify hopes the same will be true for podcasts. Like its music charts, Spotify’s podcast charts will also be updated regularly to help users keep up with which podcasts are seeing the most engagement and growth.

Image Credits: Spotify

The Top Podcasts charts will include the overall most popular audio programs, geared for stability and integrity, as determined by recent listener numbers, Spotify explains. This chart will be updated on a monthly basis, giving users a look at which shows have longer-lasting influence. Users will also be able to view the top podcasts for any market where they’re available, not just their own.

Meanwhile, the Trending Podcasts charts use an algorithm that will blend for discovery of newly-launched shows along with the fastest-climbing shows. This will be focused more on helping creators secure a place on the charts to help reach a new audience.

In the seven markets where category-level data is available, Spotify will also separate out the Top and Trending Podcasts by genre — like True Crime, Comedy, News, Lifestyle & Health, TV, Educational, Business & Technology, Celebrities, Sports & Recreation, and others. At the category level, the Top Podcasts charts will list the top 200 overall shows in the selected region and the Trending chart will show the top 50 rapidly rising shows.

Image Credits: Spotify

Related to this, podcasters will also see an updated experience in Spotify’s online dashboard, Spotify for Podcasters, which will now alert them when their podcast is charting. They can then turn this notification into a visual card to share across social media to help further market their podcast.

Podcasts have been of significant interest to all streaming services, and particularly Spotify, in recent years. The company has acquired podcasting software and studios, made deals to secure exclusive and original content (including Joe Rogan) and it has invested in software features like podcast playlists and algorithmic recommendations to introduce podcasts to Spotify’s millions of users.

Today, the service offers over 1 million podcasts, up from the 700,000-plus it was reporting in March. And despite the coronavirus impact on where users listen to podcasts, Spotify said podcast consumption was up by “triple digits” in the first quarter of the year, compared with Q1 2019.

#media, #mobile, #podcasting, #podcasts, #spotify, #streaming-music, #streaming-services

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Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Impact entertainment “accelerator” inks deal with Netflix

Imagine Impact, the entertainment accelerator launched by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard to try and bring Silicon Valley-style mentorship and project development techniques to Hollywood, has inked a development deal with Netflix and is looking for submissions.

Under the agreement, Impact will identify and develop film ideas in four specific genres over the next year that they will then bring to Netflix to produce and distribute, through a global submission process.

The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the agreement.

“Netflix is the most innovative content creation and distribution company of the last decade, leading the way in streaming since 2007 and changing the original content game with House of Cards in 2013,” said Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Tyler Mitchell, co-founders of Impact, in a joint statement. “As Impact continues to evolve the way that global talent is discovered, projects are developed and how the creative industry connects, this partnership demonstrates both companies’ commitment to improving the development system in order to generate more original, quality IP to meet the growing demand.”

The first genre that Imagine Impact is looking for pitches in is “large scale action-adventure movies for all audiences.” Writers need to submit an idea and a writing sample from today through July 6.

Launched two years ago, Imagine Impact is a program that Howard, Grazer and Mitchell established to cultivate writing talent by combining the Silicon Valley mentorship model from accelerators like Y Combinator with the Hollywood storytelling magic that Grazer and Howard have perfected over decades as two of the entertainment industry’s most celebrated producers and writers, actors and directors.

The Imagine Impact vetting process involves both experienced readers and a natural language processing system that the talent incubator developed internally. From its first cohort through to last year’s team of presenters, Imagine Impact not only provides mentorship, but brings selected screenwriters to Los Angeles for an intensive period of workshopping, subsidized by the accelerator.

From the beginning, the Imagine Impact team recognized that Netflix was democratizing storytelling and creating a global platform for talent. Hollywood, the founders felt, was the best place to nurture that talent, according to interviews with the founders conducted at the company’s last demo day.

Since the first Impact program, the accelerator program has accepted 65 writers and paired them with industry experts including Akiva Goldsman of “A Beautiful Mind” fame. So far, 62 developed projects have come out of the process with 22 sold or set-up with major studios, networks and streaming services, including Godwin Jabangwe’s Tunga, an original animated family adventure musical inspired by the mythology of the Shona culture of Zimbabwe set up at Netflix, the company said. 

“Brian and Ron run one of the most creative and forward-thinking production companies in the business,” said Tendo Nagenda, Vice President of Netflix Films. “Having worked with them and Imagine Entertainment on the upcoming Hillbilly Elegy and Tick, Tick … Boom!, we were excited to extend our partnership to Imagine Impact on this new endeavor. We are looking forward to being a part of this new way stories and talent are discovered and mentored.”

 

#brian-grazer, #films, #imagine, #los-angeles, #mentorship, #netflix, #ron-howard, #streaming-services, #tc, #vice-president, #y-combinator, #zimbabwe

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How will digital media survive the ad crash?

When I first met Bustle Digital Group’s Jason Wagenheim, it was right as New York City was beginning to go into lockdown. The BDG offices were empty thanks to the company’s newly instituted work-from-home policy, but it still seemed reasonable to meet in-person to learn more about BDG’s broader vision.

At the time, Wagenheim — a former Fusion and Condé Nast executive who joined BDG as chief revenue officer before becoming president in February — acknowledged that we were entering a period of uncertainty, but he sounded a note of cautious optimism for the year ahead.

Since then, of course, things have been pretty rough for the digital media industry (along with the rest of the world), with a rapid reduction in ad spending leading to layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. BDG (which owns properties like Elite Daily, Input, Inverse, Nylon and Bustle itself) had to make its share of cuts, laying off two dozen employees, including the entire staff of The Outline.

And indeed, when I checked back in with Wagenheim, he told me that he’s anticipating a 35% decline in ad revenue for this quarter. And where he’d once hoped BDG would reach $120 or $125 million in ad revenue this year, he’s now trying to figure out “what does our company look like at $75 or $90 million?”

At the same time, he insisted that executives were determined not to completely dismantle the businesses they’d built, and to be prepared whenever advertising does come back.

We also discussed how Wagenheim handled the layoffs, how the company is reinventing its events sponsorship business and the trends he’s seeing in the ad spending that remains. You can read an edited and condensed version of our conversation below.

TechCrunch: We should probably just start with the elephant in the room, which is that you guys had to make some cuts recently. You were hardly the only ones, but do you want to talk about the thought process behind them?

Jason Wagenheim: Yeah, we ended up having to say goodbye to about 7% of our team, and we had salary reductions to the tune of 18% company-wide for those that made over $70,000. And then we had 30% pay cuts for executives.

You’ve read about all this, I’m sure. It was a really, really hard decision. We spent two weeks in planning, dozens of spreadsheets, negotiating with our investors on a plan that would keep the company moving forward, but [had to] be very sober to the reality of what was happening around us. But also most importantly for us, for our executive team, we weren’t about to disassemble the company that we spent the last 12 to 18 months building.

#amazon, #bustle-digital-group, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #elite-daily, #extra-crunch, #jason-wagenheim, #kelloggs, #market-analysis, #media, #netflix, #podcasts, #startups, #streaming-services, #unilever

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44 million US adults now use ‘borrowed’ accounts to access streaming services

Cutting the cord with cable or satellite TV used to mean a cost savings. But with the growing number of streaming services on the market, many consumers are finding that becoming a cord cutter is just as expensive, if not more so, as being a pay TV customer. As a result, many consumers continue to “borrow” a friend or family member’s subscription. According to a new study by Cordcutting.com, there are now more than 44 million U.S. adults who are “mooching” a streaming service subscription today.

Specifically, the number of moochers is going up for both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but is declining slightly for Hulu.

The streaming services haven’t yet cracked down on password sharing, despite the potential revenue loss attributed to mooching.

For example, if Netflix were to charge everyone who’s mooching for their own account, it could generate a estimated $356 million in additional membership fees per month. Combined, the top four streaming services — Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+ — could generate $2.72 billion in revenue from subscription fees if they were able to get all their moochers to pay.

In reality, though, not everyone borrowing a subscription would pay if access was taken away.

The study found that only 47% of Netflix moochers said they would buy a subscription if they lost access, followed by 41% of Disney+ viewers, 38% of Prime Video viewers and just 36% of Hulu viewers.

The streaming service operators often see these halfway-committed consumers as in the process of being addicted to their content, which may translate to their own subscription in time — when they ween themselves off mom or dad, for example, or get a better-paying job.

In most cases, moochers are borrowing an account belonging to their parents, the study found. Others borrow from siblings or a partner, and, in a few cases, some moochers are still streaming from an ex’s account.

There are even apps designed to make mooching easier. For example, Do Not Pay in March launched an extension designed to share Netflix passwords with friends. An app called Jam is preparing to launch its own questionably legal password-sharing service, too.

Despite the sizable number of moochers today — 44+ million up from 34+ million in 2019 — the overall percentage is declining, the report found.

Compared with its 2019 survey, the percentage of moochers has dropped to 11.6%, down from 17%. The change was largely attributed to declines in those sharing Amazon Prime Video credentials.

As it turns out, many Prime Video moochers have since turned into Prime members, where Prime Video is included. Over the past couple of years, Amazon has added some 50 million new subscribers to its membership program, which now tops 150 million worldwide. With built-in access, these new members no longer need to mooch.

Of course, the number of moochers may change as the impact of the pandemic and unemployment play out.

One thing we do know, however, is that COVID-19 has sent streaming skyrocketing.

Nielsen recently reported streaming was up 36% between February and March, with the average person watching doubling the amount of streaming video compared with the same time last year.

Cordcutting.com’s analysis estimates there are now 142.5 million streaming consumers in the U.S., and now 34% — or 63.4 million — have fully cut the cord with pay TV. That’s up 4 percentage points since its last survey in 2019. Gen Z is the most likely demographic to have cut the the cord, as 45% are streaming-only customers, while just 17% of Baby Boomers are.

Netflix continues to be the most popular, followed by Prime Video, Hulu, then newcomer Disney+.

The full report is here.

#cord-cutting, #media, #streaming-services

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In conversation with Sasha Astafyeva, Atomico’s new consumer-focused investment partner

European VC firm Atomico announced this week that it has hired Sasha Astafyeva as a new investment partner.

Astafyeva previously spent three years as a principal at Felix Capital . In her new role, she’ll lead “sourcing, due diligence, and management” of consumer tech companies, according to a company statement.

Originally from Ukraine, Astafyeva was previously head of business intelligence and strategy at Lyst, a London-based online fashion marketplace. She has also worked at online real estate marketplace VivaReal as the company’s VP of finance and business intelligence and did a stint at Dafiti, a Latin American online fashion company.

We caught up with Astafyeva for a conversation that spanned the coronavirus crisis’ impact on her area of interest, new trends during and potentially after lockdown and how it feels to be a consumer-focused investor in turbulent times.

TechCrunch: Congratulations on joining Atomico as a partner. However, isn’t this a terrible time to be a consumer-focused VC, given that we are facing the worst downturn in many of our lifetimes?

Sasha Astafyeva: Thank you for the congratulations, first of all! I’m very excited to join the team and help lead our consumer-focused efforts. It is absolutely an interesting time to join as we find ourselves in a world with highly elevated levels of uncertainty, tremendous economic hardships across the world and varying, and often fast-changing, responses of countries to this new reality. I think that we are only seeing the beginning of this and time will tell what our new reality will look like.

However, I would respectfully challenge the idea that it’s a terrible time to be a consumer-focused investor today. There are sectors of the consumer space that have been resilient and have even thrived, in the current environment, and speaking in a more macro way, I do think that there will be a trickle-down impact to other sectors of the economy beyond consumer as we continue to see the full effects of the current crisis. The task becomes for all of us, not only consumer investors but investors in general, to think about long-term impacts of the current situation we find ourselves in and adjust accordingly.

#atomico, #consumer-products, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #ecommerce, #education, #entertainment, #europe, #extra-crunch, #felix-capital, #health, #lyst, #market-analysis, #online-food-delivery, #physical-retail, #sasha-astafyeva, #startups, #streaming-services, #tc, #ukraine, #venture-capital

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Coronavirus could push consumers away from influencers and toward streaming TV

As the nation struggles with a pandemic and economic uncertainty, fundamental shifts in consumer habits are leading marketers to rethink existing strategies and budgets allocated to influencers and streaming TV.

These significant shifts are nothing new; just as the dot-com bubble reduced landline penetration and boosted mobile phone adoption, the last recession pushed traditional ad spend to digital. It was an option before, but the recession accelerated the trend to targeting select audiences on social media platforms, giving rise to influencers.

Today, social media influencers are so ubiquitous, they risk becoming meaningless.

Prior to the onset of coronavirus, we saw the influencer trend diminishing while the streaming TV trend became more prominent. Today, streaming is still trending up and influencers have actually seen increased levels of engagement, but they face credibility issues, which could lead to a reduction in perceived value to brands.

Streaming has similar, if not more, targeting capabilities as social media, but now it has the eyeballs — the captive audience of quarantined Americans — up 20% this March, according to Nielsen. Marketers on a tight budget will be forced to reevaluate their relationships with influencers as they seek to increase ad spend on streaming TV services.

The evolving realms of influencers

#column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disney, #extra-crunch, #hbo, #influencer-marketing, #instagram, #market-analysis, #marketing, #media, #opinion, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-media-influencers, #social-media-platforms, #streaming-services

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AT&T loses 897K more pay TV subscribers in Q1 2020, adding pressure to HBO Max launch

AT&T gave a first look into how the pay TV business is faring amid the coronavirus pandemic…and it’s not great. The company reported today as a part of its Q1 2020 earnings that its traditional pay TV services, including DIRECTV and its newer streaming option AT&T TV, saw a combined net loss of 897,000 subscribers in the quarter. Meanwhile, its over-the-top streaming service, AT&T TV Now, also lost 138,000 subscribers, following a number of price hikes.

The company’s newer pay TV service, AT&T TV, only just became available nationwide in March. But despite its “streaming” nature — it ships with an Android TV-powered box to deliver TV over the internet — consumers may have already caught on to the fact that it’s still just the worst of pay TV wrapped up in a new delivery mechanism.

The streaming service is expensive compared with today’s over-the-top and video-on-demand options. It’s also laden with fees for things like activation, early termination and additional set-top boxes. And its bundle with AT&T Internet offers each service for $39.99/month for the first 12 months, but ties subscribers into 2-year contracts where prices climb in the second year.

AT&T’s Q1 TV subscriber numbers indicate how quickly the pay TV market is imploding. And perhaps it will decline even more rapidly now that people no longer want to risk coronavirus exposure by having service techs install equipment in their homes. While AT&T TV’s DIY installation may help in that area, it’s unclear if the new service will ever broadly appeal to consumers in the streaming era.

AT&T ended the quarter with 18.6 million pay TV subscribers, down from 19.5 million in Q4 when it lost 945,000 subscribers.

This all puts much more pressure on WarnerMedia to deliver with its May 27th launch of HBO Max. The new direct-to-consumer streaming service promises all of HBO, plus original content, and a library of movies, classic TV and film, fan favorites, and more. But at only $14.99 per month, it won’t be able to replace the lost revenue from high-priced pay TV subscriptions — only offset it.

AT&T also today admitted how the coronavirus outbreak has forced it to rethink its theatrical model.

Just yesterday, WarnerMedia announced the new kids movie “Scoob!” would skip theaters and head straight into homes, where it will be offered at either a $19.99 rental or $24.99 digital purchase. It will later have its “exclusive streaming premiere” on HBO Max.

“We’re rethinking our theatrical model and looking for ways to accelerate efforts that are consistent with the rapid changes in consumer behavior from the pandemic,” said WarnerMedia CEO and AT&T COO John Stankey, as reported by The Wrap.

“When theaters are closed, it’s hard to generate revenue,” he said. “And I don’t expect that’s going to be a snapback. I think that’s going to be something we’re going to have to watch the formation of consumer confidence, not just about going to movies, just in general about being back out in public and understanding what’s occurring there,” Stankey noted.

Overall, AT&T missed on both revenue and earnings in Q1, largely citing impacts from the coronavirus outbreak which reduced earnings by 5 cents per share ($433 million). Total revenue in the quarter was $42.8 billion, short of Wall St. estimates of $44.2 billion. Adjusted EPS was 84 cents per share, versus an expected 85 cents.

A $600 million decline in revenue was attributed to lost ad sales, specifically those that were expected from now-postponed live sports events like March Madness, as well as lower wireless equipment sales.

AT&T’s WarnerMedia division — which includes HBO and Turner broadcast networks in addition to Warner Bros. theatrical releases — was heavily impacted by the pandemic, as well, reporting $7.4 billion in revenue, down from $8.4 billion a year earlier.

“The COVID pandemic had a 5 cents per share impact on our first quarter. Without it, the quarter was about what we expected — strong wireless numbers that covered the HBO Max investment, and produced stable EBITDA and EBITDA margins,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T Chairman and CEO, in a statement. “We have a strong cash position, a strong balance sheet, and our core businesses are solid and continue to generate good free cash flow — even in today’s environment. In light of the pandemic’s economic impact, we’ve already adjusted our capital allocation plans and suspended all share retirements,” he added.

The company said it will continue investing in 5G and broadband, two of its only bright spots in the quarter, in addition to investments in HBO Max.

AT&T withdrew its financial guidance due to the “lack of visibility related to COVID-19 pandemic and recovery,” it said.

#att, #cord-cutting, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #hbo-max, #media, #pay-tv, #streaming, #streaming-services, #television, #tv

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Using 25% lower bandwidth, Disney+ launches in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching across 7 markets in Euopre — but doing so using reduced bandwidth given the strain on broadband networks as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic. From today, it will be live in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; and Disney also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Caught in the crossfire of Covid-19

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught in the crossfire of world events.

The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming media. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home, and many people are turning to their televisions and other screens for diversion and information.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain or distract people who are now sheltering in place. And that has put a huge strain on broadband networks. So, to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) that it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.”

There are now dozens of places to get an online video fix, but Disney has a lot of valuable cards in its hand, specifically in the form of a gigantic catalog of famous, premium content, and the facilities to produce significantly more at scale, dwarfing the efforts (valiant or great as they are) from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Apple .

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years.

In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

#amazon, #animation, #apple, #austria, #belgium, #broadband, #chairman, #companies, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #deutsche-telekom, #disney, #disney-channel, #e-commerce, #emmy, #entertainment, #europe, #executive, #france, #germany, #google, #internet-television, #ireland, #italy, #kevin-mayer, #lg, #media, #microsoft, #mobile-phones, #national-geographic, #netflix, #pixar, #pixar-animation-studios, #portugal, #roku, #smart-tv, #sony, #spain, #streaming-media, #streaming-media-players, #streaming-services, #switzerland, #telefonica, #the-walt-disney-company, #the-simpsons, #united-kingdom

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