Amazon’s new Prime Video app for Mac enables local downloads on desktop

The Amazon Prime Video app for macOS.

Enlarge / The Amazon Prime Video app for macOS. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Amazon has released a Prime Video app that runs natively on the Mac. The app offers many of the same features as the mobile app but is available in the Mac App Store.

The app is free to download but requires an Amazon account to access content. That content includes both shows and movies that stream free with Amazon Prime Video, as well as purchases and rentals from Amazon’s entire catalog. In fact, there’s a prominently placed toggle button labeled “Free to me” in the top-right corner of the app. Checking this means that you’ll just see content that is free with Prime.

The app is broken up into home, store, find, downloads, and my stuff tabs.

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#amazon, #amazon-prime, #amazon-prime-video, #apple, #mac, #mac-app-store, #macos, #macos-big-sur, #macos-monterey, #streaming-video, #tech

Twitch sues two users for harassing streamers with hate raids

Twitch filed a lawsuit late last week against two people on its own platform for running automated hate and harassment campaigns.

The harassment, often targeted at Black and LGBTQ streamers, manifests in a unique Twitch phenomenon as a “hate raid.” On Twitch, creators regularly point viewers toward another friendly account after their stream concludes to boost their audiences, a practice known as a “raid.” Hate raids invert that formula, sending swarms of bots to harass streamers who have inadequate tools at their disposal to block the influx of abuse.

The hate raids leverage Twitch’s new tagging system, which many transgender users had requested to make it easier to build community and to discover content that resonates. In May, Twitch added more than 350 new tags to help viewers sort streams by “gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ability, mental health, and more.” Accounts spreading abuse now use those tags to target racist, sexist, transphobic and homophobic harassment toward streamers, another unfortunate misuse of a tool explicitly designed to give creators a boost.

In the suit, Twitch described hate raiders as “highly motivated” malicious individuals who improvise new ways to circumvent the platform’s terms of service. Twitch named two users, “CruzzControl” and “CreatineOverdose,” in the suit but the company was unable to obtain their legal names. The users are based in the Netherlands and Austria, respectively, and their activity began in August of this year. Twitch alleges that CruzzControl alone has been linked to 3,000 bot accounts involved in hate raids.

While it’s possible that Twitch won’t be able to identify the real identities of individuals behind the recent harassment campaigns, the lawsuit could act as a deterrent for other accounts directing waves of abuse on the streaming platform.

“While we have identified and banned thousands of accounts over the past weeks, these actors continue to work hard on creative ways to circumvent our improvements, and show no intention of stopping,” the lawsuit reads. “We hope this Complaint will shed light on the identity of the individuals behind these attacks and the tools that they exploit, dissuade them from taking similar behaviors to other services, and help put an end to these vile attacks against members of our community.”

“This Complaint is by no means the only action we’ve taken to address targeted attacks, nor will it be the last,” a Twitch spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Our teams have been working around the clock to update our proactive detection systems, address new behaviors as they emerge, and finalize new proactive, channel-level safety tools that we’ve been developing for months.”

Prior to Twitch’s legal action, some Twitch creators organized #ADayOffTwitch to protest the company’s failure to offer solutions for users targeted by hate raids. People participating in the protest demanded that Twitch take decisive actions toward protecting streamers from hate raids, including letting creators deny incoming raids and screen out chat participants with newly made accounts. They also drew attention to Twitch policies that allow unlimited accounts to be linked to a single email address, a loophole that makes it easy to create and deploy armies of bot accounts.

#content-creators, #content-moderation, #online-harassment, #social, #streaming-video, #tc, #twitch

Amagi tunes into $100M for cloud-based video content creation, monetization

Media technology company Amagi announced Friday $100 million to further develop its cloud-based SaaS technology for broadcast and connected televisions.

Accel, Avataar Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners joined existing investor Premji Invest in the funding round, which included buying out stakes held by Emerald Media and Mayfield Fund. Nadathur Holdings continues as an existing investor. The latest round gives Amagi total funding raised to date of $150 million, Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi, told TechCrunch.

New Delhi-based Amagi provides cloud broadcast and targeted advertising software so that customers can create content that can be created and monetized to be distributed via broadcast TV and streaming TV platforms like The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus and Pluto TV. The company already supports more than 2,000 channels on its platform across over 40 countries.

“Video is a complex technology to manage — there are large files and a lot of computing,” Subramanian said. “What Amagi does is enable a content owner with zero technology knowledge to simplify that complex workflow and scalable infrastructure. We want to make it easy to plug in and start targeting and monetizing advertising.”

As a result, Amagi customers see operational cost savings on average of up to 40% compared to traditional delivery models and their ad impressions grow between five and 10 times.

The new funding comes at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth. For example, Amagi grew 30 times in the United States alone over the past few years, Subramanian said. Amagi commands an audience of over 2 billion people, and the U.S. is its largest market. The company also sees growth potential in both Latin America and Europe.

In addition, in the last year, revenue grew 136%, while new customer year over year growth was 44%, including NBCUniversal — Subramanian said the Tokyo Olympics were run on Amagi’s platform for NBC, USA Today and ABS-CBN.

As more of a shift happens with video content being developed for connected television experiences, which he said is a $50 billion market, the company plans to use the new funding for sales expansion, R&D to invest in the company’s product pipeline and potential M&A opportunities. The company has not made any acquisitions yet, Subramanian added.

In addition to the broadcast operations in New Delhi, Amagi also has an innovation center in Bangalore and offices in New York, Los Angeles and London.

“Consumer behavior and infrastructure needs have reached a critical mass and new companies are bringing in the next generation of media, and we are a large part of that growth,” Subramanian said. “Sports will come on quicker, while live news and events are going to be one of the biggest growth areas.”

Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel, said Amagi is taking a unique approach to enterprise SaaS due to that $50 billion industry shift happening in video content, where he sees half of the spend moving to connected television platforms quickly.

Some of the legacy players like Viacom and NBCUniversal created their own streaming platforms, where Netflix and Amazon have also been leading, but not many SaaS companies are enabling the transition, he said.

When Kirani met Subramanian five years ago, Amagi was already well funded, but Kirani was excited about the platform and wanted to help the company scale. He believes the company has a long tailwind because it is saving people time and enabling new content providers to move faster to get their content distributed.

“Amagi is creating a new category and will grow fast,” Kirani added. “They are already growing and doubling each year with phenomenal SaaS metrics because they are helping content providers to connect to any audience.

 

#accel, #advertising-tech, #amagi, #avataar-ventures, #baskar-subramanian, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #content-creators, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #india, #mayfield-fund, #media, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #shekhar-kirani, #startups, #streaming-video, #tc, #video-content

Virtual meeting platform Vowel raises $13.5M, aims to cure meeting fatigue

Meetings are an inevitable part of the work day, but as workplaces became more distributed over the past 18 months, Vowel CEO Andy Berman says we are steadily moving toward “death by meeting.”

His virtual meeting platform is the latest to receive venture capital funding — $13.5 million — with the goal of making meetings more useful before, during and after.

Vowel is launching a meeting operating system with tools like real-time transcription; integrated agendas, notes and action items; meeting analytics; and searchable, on-demand recordings of meetings. The company has a freemium business model and will also be rolling out a business plan this fall for $16 per user per month. Extra features will include advanced integrations, security and admin controls.

The Series A was led by David Hornik of Lobby Capital, who was joined by existing investors Amity Ventures and Box Group and a group of individual investors, including Calendly CEO Tope Awotona, Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, Slack VP Ethan Eismann, former Yammer executive Viviana Faga, former InVision president David Fraga and Okta co-founder Frederic Kerrest.

Prior to starting Vowel, Berman was one of the founders of baby monitor company Nanit. The company had teams spread out around the world, and communication was tough as a result. In 2018, the company went looking for a tool that would work for synchronous and asynchronous meetings, but there were still a lot of time zones to manage, he said.

Taking a cue from Nanit’s own baby monitors that were streaming video over 17 hours a day, the idea for Vowel was born, and the company began to focus on the hypothesis that distributed work would be prevalent.

“People initially thought we were crazy, but then the pandemic hit, and everyone was learning how to work remotely,” Berman told TechCrunch. “As we now go back to hybrid work, we see this as an opportunity.”

In 2017, Harvard Business Review reported that executives spent 23 hours in meetings each week. Berman now estimates that the average worker spends half of their time each week in meetings.

Vowel is out to bring Slack, Figma and GitHub components to meetings by recording audio and video that can be paused at any time. Users can add notes and see where those notes fall within a real-time transcription that enables people who arrive late or could not make the meeting to catch up easily. After meetings are over, they can be shared, and Vowel has a search function so that users can go back and see where a particular person or topic was discussed.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team in product, design and engineering. Vowel plans to hire up to 30 new people over the next year. The company recently closed its beta test and has amassed a 10,000-person waitlist. The public launch will happen in the fall, Berman said.

Workplace productivity and office communication tools are not new concepts, but as Berman explained, became increasingly important when homes became offices over the past 18 months.

Competitors took different approaches to solving these problems: focusing on video conferencing or audio or meeting management with plugins. Berman says an area where many have not succeeded yet is integrating meetings into the typical workflow. That’s where Vowel comes in with its “meeting OS,” he added.

“Our goal is to make meetings more inclusive and worthwhile, which includes the prep, the meeting and the follow-up,” Berman said. “We see the future will be about knowledge management, so the difference between what we are doing is ensuring you can catch up quickly and keep that knowledge base. A Garner report said that 75% of workplace meetings will be recorded by 2025, and that is a trend we are reinventing from the ground up.”

David Hornick, founding partner at Lobby Capital, said he became acquainted with Vowel from its existing investor Amity Ventures. Hornick, who sits on the GitLab board, said GitLab was one of the largest distributed companies in the tech space, prior to the pandemic, and saw first-hand the challenge of making distributed teams functionable.

When Hornick heard about Vowell, he said he “jumped quickly” on the opportunity. His firm typically invests in platform businesses that have the capacity to transform business spaces. Many are pure software, like Splunk or GitLab, while others are akin to Bill.com, which transformed how small businesses manage financial operations, he added.

All of those combine into a company, like Vowel, especially given the company’s vision for a meeting OS to transform a meeting space that hadn’t moved forward in decades, he said.

“This was quickly obvious to me because my day is meetings — an eight-Zoom day is a normal day — I just wish I could remember everything,” Hornick said. “Speaking with early customers using the product, when I asked them what they would do if this ever went away, the first thing they said was ‘cry,’ and, because there was no alternative, would return to Zoom or other tools, but it would be a big setback.”

#amity-ventures, #andy-berman, #artificial-intelligence, #box-group, #cloud, #david-hornik, #enterprise, #funding, #knowledge-management, #lobby-capital, #meetings, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #saas, #software, #startups, #streaming-video, #tc, #video-conferencing, #vowel, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Spatial audio is coming to Netflix on iPhone and iPad

If you use AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, your mobile Netflix-watching is about to get a bit more immersive. Yesterday, Netflix confirmed that it has begun rolling out spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14 after the feature was spotted by a Reddit user.

Netflix joins streaming competitors like HBO Max, Disney+, and Peacock in enabling this feature, while other popular apps like Amazon Prime Video and YouTube still don’t have this functionality. Still, Netflix said the rollout won’t be immediate — users who have the update should be able to toggle it on or off in the Control Center.

Recently, Apple has been emphasizing its spatial audio features. The company first announced that it would bring spatial audio to AirPods Pro during the WWDC conference in 2020 — during this year’s conference, Apple added that Apple Music subscribers would gain access to spatial audio and lossless audio streaming at no extra charge. This even supports dynamic head tracking, which adjusts the sound when you move your head.  The Android version of the Apple Music app also supports spatial and lossless audio. In February, Spotify said it would rollout a high-end subscription service, Spotify HiFi, which would enable lossless audio, though there’s been no news since.

Last month, Netflix revealed that it start looking toward mobile gaming in addition to its original movies and television series. The company has already experimented with interactive entertainment with projects like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and its Stranger Things games.

“We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV,” the company said in its quarterly earnings report.

Spatial audio is popular among video game players — so while this update will enhance the streaming video experience on iPhone and iPad, perhaps we’ll see this feature at play in eventual Netflix mobile games, too.

#airpods, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #audio-streaming, #control-center, #entertainment, #headphones, #ios, #ios-14, #ipad, #iphone, #netflix, #streaming-video

Epic Games buys artist community ArtStation, drops commissions to 12%

One the same day as Fortnite maker Epic Games goes to trial with one of the biggest legal challenges to the App Store’s business model to date, it has simultaneously announced the acquisition of the artist portfolio community ArtStation — and immediately lowered the commissions on sales. Now standard creators on ArtStation will see the same 12% commission rate found in Epic’s own Games Store for PCs, instead of the 30% it was before. This reduced rate is meant to serve as an example the wider community as to what a “reasonable” commission should look like. This could become a point of comparison with the Apple App Store’s 30% commission for larger developers like Epic as the court case proceeds.

ArtStation today offers a place for creators across gaming, media, and entertainment to showcase their work and find new jobs. The company has had a long relationship with Epic Games, as many ArtStation creators work with Epic’s Unreal Engine. However, ArtStation has also been a home to 2D and 3D creators across verticals, including those who don’t work with Unreal Engine.

The acquisition won’t change that, the team says in its announcement. Instead, the deal will expand the opportunities for creators to monetize their work. Most notably, that involves the commission drop. For standard creators, the fees will drop from 30% to 12%. For Pro members (who pay $9.95/mo for a subscription), the commission goes even lower — from 20% to 8%. And for self-promoted sales, the fees will be just 5%. ArtEngine’s streaming video service, ArtStation Learning, will also be free for the rest of 2021, the company notes.

The slashed commission, however, is perhaps the most important change Epic is making to ArtStation because it gives Epic a specific example as to how it treats its own creator communities. It will likely reference the acquisition and the commission changes during its trial with Apple, along with its own Epic Games Store and its similarly low rate. Already, Epic’s move had prompted Microsoft to lower its cut on game sales, too, having recently announced a similar 30% to 12% drop.

In the trial, Epic Games will try to argue that Apple has a monopoly on the iOS app ecosystem and it abuses its market power to force developers to use Apple’s payment systems and pay it commissions on the sales and in-app purchases that flow through those systems. Epic Games, like several other larger app makers, would rather use its own payment systems to avoid the commission — or at the very least, be able to point users to a website where they can pay directly. But Apple doesn’t allow this, per its App Store guidelines.

Last year, Epic Games triggered Fortnite’s App Store expulsion by introducing a new direct way to pay on mobile devices which offered a steep discount. It was a calculated move. Both Apple and Google immediately banned the game for violating their respective app store policies, as a result. And then Epic sued.

While Epic’s fight is technically with both Apple and Google, it has focused more of its energy on the former because Android devices allow sideloading of apps (a means of installing apps directly), and Apple does not.

Meanwhile, Apple’s argument is that Epic Games agreed to Apple’s terms and guidelines and then purposefully violated them in an effort to get a special deal. But Apple says the guidelines apply to all developers equally, and Epic doesn’t get an exception here.

However, throughout the course of the U.S. antitrust investigations into big tech, it was discovered that Apple did, in fact, make special deals in the past. Emails shared by the House Judiciary Committee as a part of an investigation revealed that Apple had agreed to a 15% commission for Amazon’s Prime Video app at the start, when typically subscription video apps are 30% in year one, then 15% in year two and beyond. (Apple says Amazon simply qualified for a new program.) Plus, other older emails revealed Apple had several discussions about raising commissions even higher than 30%, indicating that Apple believed its commission rate had some flex.

Ahead of today’s acquisition by Epic Games, ArtStation received a “Megagrant” from Epic during the height of the pandemic to help it through an uncertain period. This could may have pushed the two companies to further discuss deeper ties going forward.

“Over the last seven years, we’ve worked hard to enable creators to showcase their work, connect with opportunities and make a living doing what they love,” said Leonard Teo, CEO and co-founder of ArtStation, in a statement. “As part of Epic, we will be able to advance this mission and give back to the community in ways that we weren’t able to on our own, while retaining the ArtStation name and spirit.”

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #artist, #computing, #energy, #epic-games, #epic-games-store, #gaming, #google, #ma, #mobile-devices, #software, #streaming-video, #united-states, #unreal-engine

YouTube to expand Shorts to the U.S., add 4K and DVR to YouTube TV, launch in-video shopping and more in 2021

YouTube has a host of big product updates coming this year, and it just detailed a lot of them in a blog post from Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. Google’s streaming video site plans to expand its TikTok-esque Shorts mobile video creation and consumption tool to the U.S. (it’s currently in beta in India), make YouTube TV a more full-featured in-home cable alternative, add customization and control options to YouTube Kids and more.

Many of the product updates detailed by Mohan are expansions of existing tests and beta features, but there are also entirely new developments that could significantly change how YouTube works for both creators and audiences. YouTube’s focus on monetization and new formats also indicates a desire to keep creators happy, which makes a lot of sense in the context of the platform’s popular new mobile-first competitor TikTok.

Here’s a TL;DR of everything YouTube announced today for its 2021 roadmap:

  • Expansion of its in-video e-commerce shopping experience beyond the current limited beta
  • Expansion of Applause tipping feature
  • YouTube Shorts launching in the U.S.
  • Adding the ability for parents to specify individual channels and videos for their kids to be able to watch on YouTube Kids
  • New features for user playlists on YouTube Music, and making those playlists more discoverable to others
  • A new paid add-on coming to YouTube TV that offers 4K streaming, DVR for off-line playback, and unlimited simultaneous in-home streams
  • Automatic video chaptering for some videos that don’t have creator-defined ones
  • A redesigned YouTube VR experience focused on accessibility, search and better navigation

YouTube has a big year planned, and some of these changes could significantly alter the dynamics of the platform. Making it possible for every creator to turn their channel in a mini shopping channel has a lot of potential to alter what it looks like to build a business on the platform, while YouTube TV’s transformation narrows the gap even further between that service and traditional cable and satellite provider offerings.

#ecommerce, #google, #india, #neal-mohan, #social-media, #software, #streaming-video, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video, #video-hosting, #virtual-reality, #world-wide-web, #youtube, #youtube-music

Apple launches a U.S.-only music video station, Apple Music TV

Apple is expanding its investment in music with today’s launch of “Apple Music TV.” The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour livestream of popular music videos and other music content, including, exclusive video premieres, curated music video blocks, live shows, fan events, chart countdowns and guest appearances.

The service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but is instead offered as a new feature within two of Apple’s existing entertainment apps. At launch, you can watch Apple Music TV from within the Browse tab of either the Apple Music app or the Apple TV app. (Accessible via apple.co/AppleMusicTV).

While Apple Music is a paid subscription service, Apple Music TV will be free to users in the U.S., the company says.

To kick off its launch, Apple Music TV today began with a countdown of the top 100 most-streamed songs ever across all of Apple Music, based on U.S. data.,

During brief tests of the new service, we found it to be a fairly basic (if uncensored) experience. The video stream only offered artist and song details at the beginning, instead of as the music played. It also didn’t take advantage of the integration with Apple Music to offer additional features to paying subscribers — like being able to favorite the song or add it to a playlist, for instance.

The stream would stop when the Apple Music app was closed, as it didn’t support background play.

Image Credits: Apple

There also weren’t any on-screen tools to share what you were watching via a social media post. You had to dig to find the “share” button under the three-dot, “more” menu. This would give you a link to tweet, but wouldn’t pre-fill it with text or hashtags, like the artist name or song.

While listening, you could stop the livestream and then return after a short pause. But after a bit, the stream would disconnect and the thumbnail of the paused music video reverts to the placeholder Apple Music TV image. When live, the text and icons will be shown in red. They revert to white when you’ve disconnected, as a visual cue.

Despite its simplicity, Apple Music TV gives Apple an immediate new home for its music-related original content, which over the years has included exclusive interviews, concert films, and more. It also provides Apple with another advantage with it goes to negotiate with artists for their premieres, as it introduces additional platform for reaching an artist’s fans — not only with the premiere itself, but by offering artists blocks of airtime leading up to their next debut that they can use to promote their releases.

The new station can also leverage content produced for the Apple Music 1 (formerly Beats 1) radio station, as it goes about running these promotions.

For example, on Thursday, October 22, Apple Music TV will promote the upcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You” with music video blocks featuring his greatest videos, plus as exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, and a special livestream fan event.

Fridays, meanwhile, will focus on new music. This Friday, October 23, at 9 AM PT Apple Music TV will showcase two new exclusive video premieres – Joji’s “777” and SAINt JHN’s “Gorgeous.”

Apple Music TV’s biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that it’s freely accessible to millions of Apple device owners.

But it may struggle for traction as it lacks the features that make other livestream fan events or premieres engaging — like group chats or direct interactions with creators.

Instead, it’s more like a traditional TV broadcast — even MTV-like — compared with other online destinations where artists today connect with fans and promote their albums, like YouTube, VEVO, or more recently, Facebook, which just this year launched music videos.

Apple didn’t say if it planned to expand the new station outside the U.S.

#apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-tv, #apps, #ios, #media, #mobile, #music, #streaming-video

Twitch launches Watch Parties to all creators worldwide

Twitch is doubling down on making its site more than just a place for live streaming gaming video. Last fall, the Amazon-owned company began testing a new feature called “Watch Parties,” which lets creators stream Amazon Prime Video content to viewers with Amazon Prime. This spring, Twitch opened up Watch Parties to its biggest streaming channels in the U.S., adding support for over 70 movies and TV shows from Prime Video at launch. Today, Twitch says the feature is now available to creators worldwide.

With the global expansion, Twitch streamers can host a Watch Party featuring any title that’s included with a Prime or Prime Video subscription in their region. Of course, if creators are streaming to an international audience, they’ll want to find content everyone can watch. These titles will be identified with a label reading “Broadly Available,” which means most Prime subscribers on Twitch can view the content.

As the content is streamed to viewers, the Twitch streamer’s own webcam will appear in the video player above Chat, so the community can watch how they react. Viewers can also show support for the streamer as they would normally, using features like Bits or subscribing to their channel, for example.

To use the feature, streamers will first need to add the Watch Party Quick Action to Stream Manger, then connect Watch Parties with their own Prime or Prime Video account. When it’s time to stream, they’ll just select the TV show or movie they want to watch, the go live.

The launch comes at a time when co-viewing experiences like this have been on the rise due to the coronavirus pandemic. People staying home under quarantines and lockdown have turned to co-watching to stay connected with family and friends. The browser extension Netflix Party went viral in the early days of the pandemic in the U.S., and since then major streaming services including Prime Video and Hulu have rolled out their own co-watching features, too.

Twitch has also found traction amid the pandemic as a home to more non-gaming content. Musicians, for example, have turned to Twitch to stream to fans. Other areas of its site, like “Just Chatting,” have boomed as well.

Twitch says it’s now working to make Watch Parties available on mobile devices — a feature it expects to launch in the next several months.

#amazon, #streaming, #streaming-video, #tc, #twitch, #watch-parties

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

Amazon Prime Video will finally offer one of Netflix’s most basic features

Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

Enlarge / Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

At long last, Amazon Prime Video is catching up to competitors like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ with a key feature: user profiles. The feature is rolling out in the mobile and set-top box versions of the Prime Video app starting today.

The feature allows multiple people sharing an Amazon Prime subscription to maintain separate watch histories and watch lists. Additionally, Amazon has made a distinction between user profiles for kids and profiles for adults, with different rules. Users can configure up to six profiles in any mix of children’s and adults’ profiles. All this is rolling out starting today, but it won’t reach all users right away.

According to TechCrunch, multiple user profiles were supported in India and Africa previously, and they are only now making their way to the rest of the world, including the United States. The rollout brings Amazon closer to feature parity with Netflix and other big streaming players. The majority of major apps in this space offered this feature, but there are some outliers—like CBS All Access.

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#amazon, #amazon-prime, #amazon-prime-video, #gaming-culture, #streaming-video, #tech, #tv, #video

Top cybersecurity VCs share how COVID-19 has changed investing

The coronavirus pandemic is, without doubt, the greatest challenge the world has faced in a generation. But the wheels of the world keep turning, albeit slower than during normal times.

But where the world has faced challenges, the cybersecurity industry remains largely unscathed. In fact, some cybersecurity businesses are doing better than ever because cybersecurity has emerged as one of the few constants we all need — even during a pandemic.

The vast majority of the global workforce is (or has been) working from home since the start of the lockdown, and the world had to quickly adjust. Tech companies pushed their technology and services to the cloud. Businesses had to shift from not just securing their office network but also preventing threats against their highly distributed employees working from their own homes. And, hackers are retooling their attacks to be coronavirus themed, making them far more likely to succeed.

All of these things — and more — need security. Or, as one investor told us: “Many of these trends were already underway, but COVID-19 is an accelerant.” That’s helped cybersecurity firms weather the storm of this pandemic.

We spoke to a dozen cybersecurity VCs to hear their thoughts on how COVID-19 has changed the investment landscape:

Here’s what they told us. (Answers have been edited for clarity.)

Ariel Tseitlin, Scale Venture Partners

Security budgets haven’t been affected nearly as much as broader IT spend. We continue to see existing portfolio companies raise follow-on financings, and we continue to meet with companies for new potential investments. The big change in my criteria for new investments is that a company must be able to continue growing in the current environment. We don’t know how long this downturn will last, so I don’t buy into the promise of “as soon as the economy recovers, growth will resume.”

Shardul Shah, Index Ventures

On Microsoft’s last earnings call, chief executive Satya Nadella said: “As COVID-19 impacts every aspect of our work and life, we have seen two years worth of digital transformation in two months.” This acceleration has actually created momentum for a number of cybersecurity businesses, which is why the best companies continue to draw significant interest from investors. I serve on the board of security firm Expel, which raised $50 million in the middle of this crisis.

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Houseparty expands beyond video chat with co-watching of live events

Houseparty, the video chat app that’s seen a surge of growth during quarantine, is preparing to expand its service in a new direction: co-watching live video with friends. The company on Friday will launch its first experiential event series called In The House, which will feature over 40 celebrities who will dance, talk, cook, sing, workout, and more, over the course of three days.

Viewers of the event will be able to sing and dance with Alicia Keys and DaBaby; cook with Bad Bunny, José Andrés, and Christina Tosi; workout with Cam Newton and Terry Crews; and dance with Derek Hough and Addison Rae, for example.

Newer additions who were just confirmed this afternoon include Katy Perry, John Legend, David Blaine, Lindsey Harrod, Gabi Butler, Snoop Dogg, CHVRCHES, and Dua Lipa.

They join other participants already scheduled on the In The House website, including Zooey Deschanel, Keegan-Michael Key, Tinashe, Miguel, Robin Arzon, Jermey Fall, Jalaiah, Roy Choi, Chef Mike, The Shoe Surgeon, Jen Atkin, Aquaria, Westside Gunn, Ralph Garman, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Craig Robinson, Justin Willman, Conrad Rocha, Kerri Verna, Cam Newton, Marissa Mullen, Dr. Woo, JB Smoove, 2 Chainz, and Neil Patrick Harris,

The event will run from Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 directly in the Houseparty app. To join in, you open the app when the content is live. Once there, you’ll see a billboard for the show that’s currently airing. This billboard will appear 30 minutes before each broadcast so you can subscribe to the event and receive a push notification when the show starts.

These live streams are not meant to be watched alone like other live videos often are –where users can only participate by typing in group chats or sending virtual likes.  Instead, the idea is to join your friends on Houseparty in a group video chat, as usual, then tune into the live content and watch together.

You’ll see a TV icon appear when there’s a new stream to watch, Houseparty notes.

This live, co-watching experience is made possible thanks to Houseparty’s newly launched video player. The player is designed to sit on your screen but not cover up your friends’ faces, allowing you to watch and chat at the same time.

The live show is over, it will only re-air once, exactly 12 hours after the original show time. Then, it’s gone forever.

Houseparty soft-launched the video player last week when it hosted a virtual prom experience with D-Nice. But that was more of a test run ahead of this much larger and longer live event.

The company doesn’t see this weekend’s virtual celeb party as a one-off event, however. Instead, Houseparty sees this as the first of many live co-watching experiences still to come.

“While many entertainers have turned to performing online during these unprecedented times, this event is different from anything that has happened in the past few months. This is not just another virtual music festival – this weekend’s lineup is a curation of shared experiences: cooking demos, comedy shows, fitness secrets, dance parties, sing-a-longs, and more,” Houseparty spokesperson, Kimberly Baumgarten, told TechCrunch.

“Now that we have this live player it allows us to create more interactive experiences for our users to enjoy together in the future. This content will be additive to the Houseparty video chat experience for our users,” she said.

Watching video together is an activity that’s been booming during quarantine, as friends binge Netflix together through extensions like Netflix Party or join Twitch ‘Watch Parties.‘ Shared experiences, like tuning into virtual concerts or DJ sets on Instagram Live, are popular, too. (If only Google hadn’t shut down its experimental Uptime app for YouTube co-viewing! Darn!)

By focusing on co-watching within group video chats, Houseparty is in closer competition with Instagram, which just this March introduced co-watching of feed photos and videos. But Houseparty is offering planned and scheduled experience — allowing users to coordinate when they’ll join each other in the app, instead of leaving it up to chance.

Quarantine may have rushed this co-watching video technology into development and adoption. But it seems the next step for our high-speed connections was not just to “go live” in order to be watched, but the creation of a world where everyone goes live together — whether performer or viewer.

#apps, #celeb, #co-watching, #houseparty, #live-event, #live-video, #media, #mobile, #social-app, #social-media, #streaming-video, #video-chat, #virtual-events

AWS launches the $995 Elemental Link for streaming video to its cloud

AWS today announced the launch of the Elemental Link, a small hardware device that makes it easy to connect a live video source to the AWS Elemental Media Live service for broadcast-grade live video processing in the cloud. The $995 Link, which weighs in at less than a pound, is meant to allow Media Live users to connect a camera or video production setup to the AWS cloud.

The fanless Link has an Ethernet port and inputs for either an HD-SDI or HDMI cable. In the AWS Management Console, it’ll show up as a media source for MediaLive and it’ll automatically adapt the streaming video based on available bandwidth.

In sophisticated environments, dedicated hardware and an associated A/V team can capture, encode, and stream or store video that meets these expectations,” explains AWS’s Jeff Barr in today’s announcement. “However, cost and operational complexity have prevented others from delivering a similar experience. Classrooms, local sporting events, enterprise events, and small performance spaces do not have the budget or the specialized expertise needed to install, configure, and run the hardware and software needed to reliably deliver video to the cloud for processing, storage, and on-demand delivery or live streaming.”

Amazon obviously has quite a bit of experience with streaming video, not only because of the broadcast networks it partners with but also thanks to Twitch.

The Link devices aren’t meant for Twitch streamers, though. AWS is clearly targeting these devices at more sophisticated organizations that are already using the AWS cloud for their broadcast infrastructure. And while the Link takes away some of the complexities of managing the streaming hardware, the MediaLive cloud piece isn’t exactly as trivial to manage as the more consumer-grade live streaming platforms available today. For those platforms, OBS Studio and a maybe a prosumer switcher like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini is all you need to get started with a multi-camera setup anyway.

Barr says AWS is working on a CloudFormation-powered solution that can take care of setting up the output from MediaLive and make actually doing something with the video that’s coming from the Link devices a bit easier.

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #ethernet, #hdmi, #jeff-barr, #medialive, #streaming-media, #streaming-video, #tc, #twitch, #twitch-tv