Sundance: In Miss Americana, Taylor Swift demotes the Internet

Posted by | albums, Android, Forward, instagram, internet culture, Lady Gaga, Marsha Blackburn, me, Musicians, red, songs, sundance, sundance2020, Swift, taylor, taylor swift, TC, united nations, X | No Comments

In nearly a decade of attending Sundance, I’ve never seen a scene like the premiere of the documentary Miss Americana, detailing the last year and a half or so of Taylor Swift’s life. The crowd before letting into the theater was huge, blistering with rumors about whether or not there was so many guests and press that there wouldn’t be room for ticketed attendees and whispers about which door Swift would use when arriving.

A large crowd of hopeful waitlister fans, largely young women (not extremely common for Sundance) sang Swift songs in the 30 degree chill. When Swift did arrive, the cheers were off the charts for a normally relatively reserved crowd used to seeing celebrities.

All of this buildup, of course, served to underscore the major themes of Lana Wilson’s intimate and focused profile of Swift during a period of her life that typified a major shift in her attitude towards her public and private life.

If you’re like most people, your feelings about what kind of person Swift might be are decided by crowd-sourced panel of the top few percent of the most vocal Internet users. Among those, of course, are the media.

We’re far enough now into the Internet’s third age where it’s not represented as some sort of holistic and separate entity. Instead it’s woven like a tapestry into the daily life of Swift and her camp. Tweets, Instagram posts and articles on sites like this one are presented as a third conversant in any conversation, both between Swift and Wilson and between Swift and her family.

Basically, Swift is like most of us in that regard, we have all begun to treat the collective output of the internet as an entity with a right to wedge itself into any two beings attempts to reason.

But Miss Americana is not just about Taylor vs. The Internet, it’s also reflection on how that same panel lowers its gavel differently for women, especially young women, than it does men.

The closest parallel for me is probably Lady Gaga’s 2018 documentary Five Feet Two. There are similar segments that show the teardown of the modern pop song-making process.

Swift says that those were her most nerve wracking to film because of the messy way songs sometimes come together. But they were fascinating to me, and are some of the most fun bits. Swift and her collaborators often write and sing words right off of their iPhones (I saw no Android devices at all) as they work through a track. Songs that come to have intense meaning for fans are often snapshots of Swift’s life quickly jotted down in the notes app.

About that oddity, and pretty much every other way that the public perceives her, Swift proves to be firmly and calmly self-aware. She even acknowledges that this very awareness of how she is perceived often comes across as calculation or manipulation on her part.

While Swift gets all of this criticism powered by attention economy jet fuel, her self-awareness is not unique. I see it on TikTok and other young platforms, as teens and young people come to grips with and analyze how they are manipulated and judged by those very platforms. Swift may represent a sort of prime exemplar, but the attitude is generational, imo.

The Kids are just more capable of awareness of the systems at work on them than any previous generation.

The aforementioned Gaga doc, for me, worked very well when it showcased the real physical and psychological toll of a pop career. Miss Americana does this as well, even though Gaga has focused on her ability to challenge and provoke, while Swift has — as she herself admits in the doc — held onto the concept of being a ‘good girl’, liked by everyone as her guiding principle.

Swift’s realization of the completely impossible task of pleasing the networked apparatus of fickle outrage machines that pass as the deciding body of public opinion now is the core pivot point for the doc.

That’s typified by a scene where she is faced by a panel of people, all men, who are telling her all of the reasons taking a public political stance would be dangerous, costly to her brand and damaging to her financially. The impetus is Swift’s opposition to Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn’s re-election. Swift’s experience with her sexual assault trial and Blackburn’s opposition to the Violence Against Women Act are the tipping point that pushes her to take a public political stance for the first time. Provoking her team to have a conversation that takes the rough shape of an intervention.

There are sincere elements of concern for Swift — her father gets all of her death threats and arranges for security, she said after the screening. But the comments from her staff and team included by Wilson are telling — “what is the most effective way we could ensure that half as many people come to a Taylor Swift show?”

What you won’t find in this doc is some sort of lurking personal demon. Instead the demon is the way that internet culture reduces anyone with a modicum of fame to slivers of projected personality. And, by extension, becomes the most potent engine of self doubt ever invented.

By demoting the Internet to a tool vs. a deciding force in her well being, Swift is showing fans and viewers a healthier path forward.

The two major themes explored include Swift’s desire to please an ever-demanding audience, and the endemic separation between the way creative men are judged and the way creative women are judged in the public sphere.

Both are addressed cleverly, if not in a wholly (and perhaps impossibly) satisfying way.

Wilson has executed the prime directive of a documentary film with Miss Americana. If you were of a slightly negative opinion of Swift going in, based on casual impressions generated for you by vocal minorities amplified via algorithm you will find yourself coming away with more empathy, understanding and likely respect for the Swift presented here. A portrait of a powerful woman in control coming to grips with the current costs of that command.

People on the other side of the love/hate coin are unlikely to be converted. But given that one of the through lines of the doc is Swift’s increasing ability to separate opinion from directive, it’s not likely that it will bother her — as much.

Image: Sundance

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This Week in Apps: Apple antitrust issues come to Congress, subscription apps boom, Tencent takes on TikTok

Posted by | Android, app stores, app trends, Apple, Apps, developers, iOS, Mobile, mobile apps, mobile games, this week in apps | No Comments

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

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

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

This week, there was a ton of app news. We’re digging into the latest with Apple’s antitrust issues, Tencent’s plan to leverage WeChat to fend off the TikTok threat, AppsFlyer’s massive new round, the booming subscription economy, Disney’s mobile game studio sale, Pokémon GO’s boost to tourism, Match Group’s latest investment and much more. And did you see the app that lets you use your phone from within a paper envelope? Or the new AR social network? It’s Weird App Week, apparently.

Headlines

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Vine reboot Byte officially launches

Posted by | Apps, Byte, Dom Hofmann, Mobile, Social, TC, tiktok, vine | No Comments

Two years after Vine’s co-founder Dom Hofmann announced he was building a successor to the short-form video app, today Byte makes its debut on iOS and Android. Byte lets you shoot or upload and then share six-second videos. The tiny time limit necessitates no-filler content that’s denser than the maximum 1-minute clips on TikTok.

Byte comes equipped with standard social features like a feed, Explore page, notifications, and profiles. For now, though Byte lacks the remixability, augmented reality filters, transition effects, and other bonus features you’ll find in apps like TikTok .

What Hofmann hopes will differentiate Byte is an early focus on helping content creators make money — something TikTok, and other micro-entertainment apps largely don’t offer. The app plans to soon launch a pilot of its partner program for offering monetization options to people proving popular on Byte. When asked if Byte would offer ad revenue sharing, tipping, or other options to partners, Hofmann told me that “We’re looking at all of those, but we’ll be starting with a revenue share + supplementing with our own funds. We’ll have more details about exactly how the pilot program will work soon.”

Many creators who’ve grown popular on apps like TikTok and Snapchat that lack direct monetization have tried to pull their audiences over to YouTube where they can earn a steady ad-share. By getting started paying early, Byte might lure some of those dancers, comedians, and pranksters over to its app and be able to retain them long-term. Former Vine stars turned TikTok stars like Chris Melberger. Joshdarnit, and Lance Stewart are already on Byte.

very soon, we’ll introduce a pilot version of our partner program which we will use to pay creators. byte celebrates creativity and community, and compensating creators is one important way we can support both. stay tuned for more info.

— byte (@byte_app) January 25, 2020

Staying connected with Byte’s most loyal users is another way Hofmann hopes to set his app apart. He’s been actively running a beta tester forum since the initial Byte announcement in early 2018, and sees it as a way to find out what features to build next. “It’s always a bummer when the people behind online services and the people that actually use them are disconnected from one another, so we’re trying out these forums to see if we can do a better job at that” Hofmann writes.

Byte founder Dom Hofmann

Byte is a long time coming. To rewind all the way, Hofmann co-founded Vine in June 2012 with Colin Kroll and Rus Yusupov, but it was acquired by Twitter before its launch in January 2013. By that fall, Hofmann had left the company. But 2014 and 2015 saw Vine’s popularity grow thanks to rapid-fire comedy skits and the creativity unlocked by its looping effect. Vine reached over 200 million active users. Then the unthinkable happened. Desperate to cut costs, Twitter shut down Vine’s sharing feed in late 2016 so it wouldn’t have to host any more video content. The creative web mourned.

By then, Hofmann had already built the first version of Byte, which offered more free-form creation. You could pull together photos, GIFs, drawings and more into little shareable creations. But this prototype never gained steam. Hofmann gave Vine fans hope when he announced plans to build a successor called V2 in early 2018, but cancelled it a few months later. Hofmann got more serious about the project by then end of 2018, announcing the name Byte and then beginning beta testing in April 2019.

Now the big question will be whether Byte can take off despite its late start. Between TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and more, do people need another short-form video app? Winning here will require seducing high quality creators who can get bigger view counts elsewhere. Considering there’s already a pile of TikTok competitors like Dubsmash, Triller, Firework, and Facebook’s Lasso available in the US, creators seeking stardom on a less competitive network already have plenty of apps to try. Hofmann may have to rely on the soft spot for Vine in people’s memories to get enough activity on Byte to recreate its predecessor’s magic.

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The Pentagon pushes back on Huawei ban in bid for ‘balance’

Posted by | Google, Government, hardware, huawei, Mobile | No Comments

Huawei may have just found itself an ally in the most unexpected of places. According to a new report out of The Wall Street Journal, both the Defense and Treasury Departments are pushing back on a Commerce Department-led ban on sales from the embattled Chinese hardware giant.

That move, in turn, has reportedly led Commerce Department officials to withdraw a proposal set to make it even more difficult for U.S.-based companies to work with Huawei.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper struck a fittingly pragmatic tone while speaking with the paper, noting, “We have to be conscious of sustaining those [technology] companies’ supply chains and those innovators. That’s the balance we have to strike.”

Huawei, already under fire for allegations of flouting sanctions with other countries, has become a centerpiece of a simmering trade war between the Trump White House and China. The smartphone maker has been barred from selling 5G networking equipment due to concerns over its close ties to the Chinese government.

Last year, meanwhile, the government barred Huawei from utilizing software and components from U.S.-based companies, including Google. Huawei is also expected to be a key talking point in upcoming White House discussions, as officials weigh actions against the repercussions they’ll ultimately have for U.S. partners.

The Commerce Department has yet to offer any official announcement related to the report.

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Vivo beats Samsung for 2nd spot in Indian smartphone market

Posted by | Android, Asia, counterpoint, Gadgets, hardware, india, oppo, Samsung Electronics, smartphones, Xiaomi | No Comments

Samsung, which once led the smartphone market in India, slid to the third position in the quarter that ended in December, even as the South Korean giant continues to make major bets on the rare handset market that is still growing. 158 million smartphones shipped in India in 2019, up from 145 million the year before, according to research firm Counterpoint.

Chinese firm Vivo surpassed Samsung to become the second biggest smartphone vendor in India in Q4 2019. Xiaomi, with command over 27% of the market, maintained its top spot in the nation for the tenth consecutive quarter.

Vivo’s annual smartphone shipment grew 76% in 2019. The Chinese firm’s aggressive positioning of its budget S series of smartphones — priced between $100 to $150 (the sweet spot in India) — in the brick and mortar market and acceptance of e-commerce sales helped it beat Samsung, said Counterpoint analysts.

Vivo’s market share jumped 132% between Q4 of 2018 and Q4 of 2019, according to the research firm.

Realme, which spun out of Chinese smartphone maker Oppo, claimed the fifth spot. Oppo assumed the fourth position.

Samsung has dramatically lowered prices of some of its handsets in the country and also introduced smartphones with local features, but it is struggling to compete with an army of Chinese smartphone makers. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Realme has taken the Indian market by storm. The two-year-old firm has replicated Xiaomi’s playbook in the country and so far focused on selling aggressively low-cost Android smartphones online.

Vivo and Oppo, on the other hand, have over the years expanded to smaller cities and towns in the country and inked deals with merchants. The companies have offered merchants fat commission to incentivize them to promote their handsets over those of the rivals.

Xiaomi, which entered India six years ago, sold handsets exclusively through online channels to cut overhead, but has since established presence in about 10,000 brick and mortar stores (including some through partnership with big retail chains). The company said in September last year that it had shipped 100 million smartphones in the country.

India surpasses the U.S.

The report, released late Friday (local time), also states that India, with 158 million smartphone shipments in 2019, took over the U.S. in annual smartphone shipment for the first time.

India, which was already the world’s second largest smartphone market for total handset install base, is now also the second largest market for annual shipment of smartphones.

Tarun Pathak, a senior analyst at Counterpoint, told TechCrunch that about 150 million to 155 million smartphone units were shipped in the U.S. in 2019.

As smartphone shipments decline in most countries, India has emerged as a rare market where people are still showing great appetite for new handsets. There are nearly half a billion smartphones in use in the country today — but more than half a billion people in the nation are yet to get one.

The nation’s slowing economy, however, is understandably making its mark on the smartphone market as well. The Indian smartphone market grew by 8.9% last year, compared to 10% in the previous year.

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Sonos clarifies how unsupported devices will be treated

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Sonos | No Comments

Smart speaker manufacturer Sonos clarified its stance when it comes to old devices that are no longer supported. The company faced some criticisms after its original announcement. Sonos now says that you’ll be able to create two separate Sonos systems so that your newer devices stay up to date.

If you use a Zone Player, Connect, first-generation Play:5, CR200, Bridge or pre-2015 Connect:Amp, Sonos is still going to drop support for those devices. According to the company, those devices have reached their technical limits when it comes to memory and processing power.

While nothing lasts forever, it’s still a shame that speakers that work perfectly fine are going to get worse over time. For instance, if Spotify and Apple Music update their application programming interface in the future, your devices could stop working with those services altogether.

But the announcement felt even more insulting as the company originally said that your entire ecosystem of Sonos devices would stop receiving updates so that all your devices remain on the same firmware version. Even if you just bought a Sonos One, it would stop receiving updates if there’s an old speaker on your network.

“We are working on a way to split your system so that modern products work together and get the latest features, while legacy products work together and remain in their current state,” the company writes.

It’s not ideal, but the company is no longer holding your Sonos system back. Sonos also clarifies that old devices will still receive security updates and bug fixes — but there won’t be any new features.

I still think Sonos should add a computing card slot to its devices. This way, you wouldn’t have to replace speakers altogether. You could get a new computing card with more memory and faster processors and swap your existing card. Modularity is going to be essential if tech companies want to adopt a more environmentally friendly stance.

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Aki acquires Eyeview’s ad personalization tech

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Aki Technologies, EyeView, Fundings & Exits, M&A, Mobile, TC | No Comments

Video advertising company Eyeview shut down in December, but its technology will live on thanks to an acquisition by Aki Technologies.

Aki CEO Scott Swanson told me that he’s anticipating serious growth in the demand for ad personalization, particularly as consumers see personalization everywhere else online.

Swanson argued that Eyeview’s technology stands out thanks to its focus on video, with “the ability to generate millions of permutations of a video creative and store them in the cloud.” It offers even more opportunities when combined with Aki’s existing platform, which delivers ads targeted for specific “mobile moments,” like whether the viewer is relaxing at home or out running errands.

Plus, the acquisition allows Aki to expand beyond mobile advertising to desktop and connected TV.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Swanson said that in addition to acquiring the technology, he’s also working to bring on old Eyeview clients and hire Eyeview team members (he estimated that he’s hired nearly 15 so far and is aiming for around 20). At the same time, he acknowledged that there are challenges in resurrecting a business that had been shut down.

“The technology itself was decommissioned, it was taken down, it was backed up in the cloud,” Swanson said. “As the acquisition proceeds, we’ll literally be taking the code base and relaunching it in the cloud … Hiring the people was super important, and then because it’s not a traditional acquisition where we get customers and stuff, we have to go call up all the customers one-by-one, just as we have to hire people one-by-one.”

Eyeview had raised nearly $80 million in funding before running out of cash and laying off a team of around 100 employees. (Aki, meanwhile, has raised only a seed round of $3.75 million back in 2016; Swanson said the company has grown organically since then.) The news came only a few months after digital media veteran Rob Deichert took over as CEO.

“While it was disappointing to have to shut down the Eyeview business, I’m very happy that the technology assets have found a home with Aki,” Deichert told me via email. “Their business is a logical fit for the technology.”

And despite Eyeview’s misfortunes, Swanson said he’s confident that the company still works as a standalone business: “Look, these guys have been running a business that was full of really happy customers who were seeing good results and seem to have been disappointed when they shut down.”

The bigger issue, he suggested, is the adtech industry as a whole, with advertisers feeling fatigued “with having too many options,” along with a lack of “appetite on the large exit side.”

“The broader trend here is for companies that operate profitably and can support themselves effectively to become a little bit more tech-enabled managed services business,” Swanson said.

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US regulators need to catch up with Europe on fintech innovation 

Posted by | Adyen, Amazon, Android, Apple, Chime, Column, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, eqt ventures, Facebook, Finance, Google, Kabbage, Libra, monzo, Open Banking, Policy, Revolut, TC, Uber, Venmo, visa | No Comments
Alastair Mitchell
Contributor

Alastair Mitchell is a partner at multi-stage VC fund EQT Ventures and the fund’s B2B sales, marketing and SaaS expert. Ali also focuses on helping US companies scale into Europe and vice versa.
More posts by this contributor

Fintech companies are fundamentally changing how the financial services ecosystem operates, giving consumers powerful tools to help with savings, budgeting, investing, insurance, electronic payments and many other offerings. This industry is growing rapidly, filling gaps where traditional banks and financial institutions have failed to meet customer needs.

Yet progress has been uneven. Notably, consumer fintech adoption in the United States lags well behind much of Europe, where forward-thinking regulation has sparked an outpouring of innovation in digital banking services — as well as the backend infrastructure onto which products are built and operated.

That might seem counterintuitive, as regulation is often blamed for stifling innovation. Instead, European regulators have focused on reducing barriers to fintech growth rather than protecting the status quo. For example, the U.K.’s Open Banking regulation requires the country’s nine big high-street banks to share customer data with authorized fintech providers.

The EU’s PSD2 (Payment Services Directive 2) obliges banks to create application programming interfaces (APIs) and related tools that let customers share data with third parties. This creates standards that level the playing field and nurture fintech innovation. And the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority supports new fintech entrants by running a “sandbox” for software testing that helps speed new products into service.

Regulations, if implemented effectively as demonstrated by those in Europe, will lead to a net positive to consumers. While it is inevitable that regulations will come, if fintech entrepreneurs take the action to engage early and often with regulators, it will ensure that the regulations put in place support innovation and ultimately benefit the consumer.

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As autonomy stalls, lidar companies learn to adapt

Posted by | automotive, baraja, dji, Gadgets, hardware, Innoviz, Lidar, robotics, TC, Velodyne | No Comments

Lidar sensors are likely to be essential to autonomous vehicles, but if there are none of the latter, how can you make money with the former? Among the industry executives I spoke with, the outlook is optimistic as they unhitch their wagons from the sputtering star of self-driving cars. As it turns out, a few years of manic investment does wonders for those who have the wisdom to apply it properly.

The show floor at CES 2020 was packed with lidar companies exhibiting in larger spaces, seemingly in greater numbers than before. That seemed at odds with reports that 2019 had been a sort of correction year for the industry, so I met with executives and knowledgeable types at several companies to hear their take on the sector’s transformation over the last couple of years.

As context, 2017 was perhaps peak lidar, nearing the end of several years of nearly feverish investment in a variety of companies. It was less a gold rush than a speculative land rush: autonomous vehicles were purportedly right around the corner and each would need a lidar unit… or five. The race to invest in a winner was on, leading to an explosion of companies claiming ascendancy over their rivals.

Unfortunately, as many will recall, autonomous cars seem to be no closer today than they were then, as the true difficulty of the task dawned on those undertaking it.

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NBC partners with Snapchat on four daily shows for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Posted by | Media, Mobile, NBC, NBC Olympics, olympics, Snap, Snapchat, Social | No Comments

Snapchat and NBC Olympics are again teaming up to produce customized Olympics content for users in the U.S. — this time, for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer. The companies had previously worked together during the Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. The PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games in 2018 reached over 40 million U.S. users, up 25% from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In addition, 95% of those users were under the age of 35.

This younger demographic is getting harder to reach in the cord-cutting era, as many people forgo pay-TV subscriptions and traditional broadcast networks in favor of on-demand streaming services, like Netflix. That limits the reach of advertisers, impacting NBC’s bottom line.

The Snap partnership helps to fix that, as it offers NBC Olympics a way to sell to advertisers who want to reach younger fans who don’t watch as much — or any — TV. Snapchat today reaches 90% of all 13 to 24-year-olds in the U.S., and 75% of all 13 to 34-year-olds; 210 million people now use Snapchat daily.

NBC Olympics says it’s the exclusive seller of all the new customized content associated with the Games, working in partnership with Snap.

This year, it’s also putting out more content than before.

The company plans to release more than 70 episodes across four daily Snapchat shows leading up to and during the Games. That’s triple the number of episodes it offered in 2018.

For the first time, it’s creating two daily Highlight Shows for Snapchat, which will be updated in near real-time. The shows will include the must-see moments from the day in Tokyo.

In addition, two unscripted shows will air during the Games, each with two episodes per day. One, “Chasing Gold,” which first debuted during PyeongChang 2018, will follow the journeys of Team USA athletes. The second show is new this year, and will be a daily recap of the most memorable moments curated especially for Snapchat users. Both are being produced by The NBCUniversal Digital Lab.

The deal will also see Snap curating daily Our Stories during the Games, as it has done in previous years. The stories will include photos and videos from fans as well as content from the NBC Olympics.

“We know the audience on Snap loves the Olympic Games,” said Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics, in a statement. “After two successful Olympics together, we’re excited to take the partnership to another level and produce even more content and coverage from the Tokyo Olympics tailored for Snapchatters, which also will directly benefit the many NBC Olympics advertisers who seek to engage further with this young and active demographic.”

Snapchat isn’t the only digital destination for Olympics content, however. NBC and Twitter teamed up to stream limited live event coverage, highlights and a daily Olympics show from the Tokyo Games. It was unclear at the time the deal was announced if NBC had opted for Twitter over Snapchat. Now we know that’s not the case — in fact, Snap’s deal with NBC is even bigger than before.

NBCU said earlier it expected to exceed $1.2 billion in ad sales for the 2020 Games, which are also presented on NBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports’ digital platforms.

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