Entertainment

Apple’s streaming service could feature content from partners

Posted by | Apple, apple news, apple tv, Entertainment, Gadgets, rumor | No Comments

A report from Bloomberg shares some of the details about the long-rumored video streaming service from Apple. The company should unveil this service at a press conference in Cupertino on March 25.

While Apple has been working on a ton of original content for its new streaming service, Bloomberg says that most of it won’t be ready for the launch later this month. Apple will probably share some teasers onstage, but the launch lineup will mostly feature third-party content.

Apple is probably talking with everyone, but many premium cable channels still have to decide about Apple’s streaming service. HBO, Showtime and Starz have to decide by Friday whether they want to be part of the launch.

It’s unclear if Apple is going to feature some or all content from those partners. Many of them already have a streaming service on their own, and you can access their libraries from the TV app on your Apple TV or iOS device.

Apple could streamline the experience by letting you subscribe to various content bundles in its own streaming service. Amazon already provides something similar with Amazon Prime Video Channels. Netflix and Hulu will likely remain independent services, as they compete directly with Apple’s original content effort.

When it comes to Apple’s other announcement, the company should also unveil its Apple News subscription on March 25. Apple acquired Texture last year and has been working on a digital magazine subscription for a while.

Unsurprisingly, it looks like Apple News’ magazine service is prepared to launch on macOS too pic.twitter.com/df0oyJXvjF

— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) March 12, 2019

Once again, details are still thin for this new service when it comes to pricing, availability outside of the U.S. and content.

Last month, the WSJ reported that Apple has been working with Goldman Sachs on a credit card that would integrate deeply with the Apple Wallet app. Given that Apple’s event is about services, let’s see if the company talks about this new product, as well.

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Digital publisher Serial Box raises $4.5M

Posted by | Apps, Boat Rocker Media, Entertainment, forerunner ventures, funding, Media, Mobile, Serial Box, Startups, Uzabase | No Comments

Serial Box, a startup bringing back the tradition of serialized fiction, has raised $4.5 million in seed funding.

The company actually disclosed the funding last week when announcing a partnership to produce stories about Marvel characters, but it’s sharing more details about the round — namely, the fact that it was led by Boat Rocker Media, with participation from Forerunner Ventures, 2929 Entertainment co-founder Todd Wagner and Japanese business intelligence and media firm Uzabase.

“We carefully chose trusted partners for this round of investment,” said co-founder and CEO Molly Barton in a statement. “They see the big opportunity that we do to retool reading for the smartphone age, to take the best elements of traditional book publishing and innovate with influences from the audio, podcast, gaming and TV industries.”

Serial Box publishes stories in text and audio format, broken up into weekly episodes. The first episode of each story is free — then if you’re hooked, you can pay $1.99 for additional episodes or sign up for a season pass.

The idea of making readers and listeners wait for the next chapter of the story may seem strange. Hasn’t Netflix trained us to want to binge the full season, as soon as possible? Maybe, but anyone who has watched “Game of Thrones” week-to-week knows that there’s still immense pleasure in waiting for smaller chunks of the larger story.

Behind the scenes, the company is borrowing from the TV production model, with a showrunner leading each writing time creating the stories. Serial Box writers include popular YA/science fiction/fantasy authors Gwenda Bond, Yoon Ha Lee, Max Gladstone and Becky Chambers. And, as mentioned, the company will also be publishing stories based on Marvel characters, starting with Thor.

The company says it will launch its Android app next week, with plans for more product upgrades and content partnerships in the coming months.

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Instagram prototypes video co-watching

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Facebook Watch Party, instagram, Instagram Direct, instagram video, Media, Mobile, Social | No Comments

The next phase of social media is about hanging out together while apart. Rather than performing on a live stream or engaging with a video chat, Instagram may allow you to chill and watch videos together with a friend. Facebook already has Watch Party for group co-viewing, and in November we broke the news that Facebook Messenger’s code contains an unreleased “Watch Videos Together” feature. Now Instagram’s code reveals a “co-watch content” feature hidden inside Instagram Direct Messaging.

It’s unclear what users might be able to watch simultaneously, but the feature could give IGTV a much-needed boost, or just let you laugh and cringe at Instagram feed videos and Stories. But either way, co-viewing could make you see more ads, drive more attention to creators that will win Instagram their favor or just make you rack up time spent on the app without forcing you to create anything.

The Instagram co-watch code was discovered by TechCrunch’s favorite tipster and reverse-engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, who previously spotted the Messenger Watch Together code. Her past findings include Instagram’s video calling, music soundtracks and Time Well Spent dashboard, months before they were officially released. The code mentions that you can “cowatch content” that comes from a “Playlist” similar to the queues of videos Facebook Watch Party admins can tee up. Users could also check out “Suggested” videos from Instagram, which would give it a new way to promote creators or spawn a zeitgeist moment around a video. It’s not certain whether users will be able to appear picture-in-picture while watching so friends can see their reactions, but that would surely be more fun.

Instagram declined to comment on the findings, which is typical of the company when a feature has been prototyped internally but hasn’t begun externally testing with users. At this stage, products can still get scrapped or take many months or even more than a year to launch. But given Facebook’s philosophical intention to demote mindless viewing and promote active conversation around videos, Instagram co-watching is a sensible direction.

Facebook launched Watch Party to this end back in July, and by November, 12 million had been started from Groups and they generated 8X more comments than non-synced or Live videos. That proves co-watching can make video feel less isolating. That’s important as startups like Houseparty group video chatrooms and Squad screenshare messaging try to nip at Insta’s heels.

It’s also another sign that following the departure of the Instagram founders, Facebook has been standardizing features across its apps, eroding their distinct identities. Mark Zuckerberg plans to unify the backend of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram to allow cross-app messaging. But Instagram has always been Facebook’s content-first app, so while Watch Party might have been built for Facebook Groups, Instagram could be where it hits its stride.

Speaking of the Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, this article’s author Josh Constine will be interviewing them on Monday 3/11 at SXSW. Come see them at 2 pm in the Austin Convention Center’s Ballroom D to hear about their thoughts on the creator economy, why they left Facebook and what they’ll do next. Check out the rest of TechCrunch’s SXSW panels here, and RSVP for our party on Sunday.

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Camelot lets Twitch and YouTube audiences pay for what they want to see

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, Startups, TC, Twitch, Y Combinator, YouTube | No Comments

As the streaming world continues to grow, startups are looking to take advantage of the opportunity and grab a slice of the pie, and indeed create new revenue models around it entirely. 

Camelot, a YC-backed startup, is one of them.

Camelot allows viewers to place bounties on their favorite streamers, putting a monetary value on the things they want to see on stream. This could include in-game challenges like “win with no armor,” as well as stream bounties like “Play Apex” or “add a heartbeat monitor to the stream.”

When a viewer posts a bounty, other viewers can join in and contribute to the overall value, and the streamer can then choose whether or not to go through with it from an admin dashboard.

Because internet platforms can often be used for evil alongside good, cofounder and CEO Jesse Zhang has thought through ways to minimize inappropriate requests.

There is an option for streamers to see and approve the bounty before it’s ever made public to ensure that they avoid inappropriate propositions. Bounties are also paid for up front by viewers, and either returned if the creator declines the bounty or pushed through when the streamer completes the task, raising the barrier to entry for nefarious users.

Camelot generates revenue by taking a five percent stake in every bounty completed.

The platform isn’t just for Twitch streamers — YouTubers can also get in on the mix using Camelot and making asynchronous videos around each bounty. Not only does it offer a new way to generate revenue, but it also offers content creators the chance to get new insights on what their viewers want to see and what they value.

Cofounder and CEO Jesse Zhang believes there is opportunity to expand to streamers and YouTube content creators outside of the gaming sphere in the future.

For now, however, Camelot is working to bring on more content creators. Thus far, streamers and viewers have already come up with some interesting use cases for the product. One streamer’s audience bought his dog some treats, and one viewer of Sa1na paid $100 to play against the streamer himself.

Camelot declined to share how much funding it has received thus far, but did say that lead investors include Y Combinator, the Philadelphia 76ers, Soma Capital, and Plaid cofounders William Hockey and Zach Perret.

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Study says US Twitch streamers raked in roughly $87 million in 2017

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, Ninja, TC, Twitch | No Comments

A new study estimates that revenue-earning American Twitch streamers grew to nearly 9,800 in 2017 (a 59 percent increase from 2016) and made an estimated $87.1 million (representing a 30 percent YOY increase).

Twitch is one of the fastest-growing platforms for American content creators. In terms of year over year growth in number of creators themselves, Twitch falls just behind Instagram and YouTube, and ranks second behind Instagram in YOY revenue growth for those creators. (Fun Fact: Instagram’s creator-based revenue growth grew nearly 50 percent from 2016 to 2017 to $460 million, according to the study.)

Recreate Coalition says these numbers are very conservative based on the methodology of the study and the fact that it’s limited to the U.S.

The growth of Twitch is predicated on a few obvious trends, as well as a very nuanced relationship between a streamer and his or her respective audience.

In the case of the former, “live” digital experiences continue to be a fascination for startups and consumers alike. While Twitch and YouTube have offered live broadcasts for a while, social media companies have followed along with their own live-streaming products. In fact, Betaworks dedicated a season of its accelerator program to “live” startups, calling the program LiveCamp.

With regards to the latter, things get more interesting. The relationship between a viewer and a streamer is similar to our relationships with other famous celebrities, artists and athletes, but puts the viewer far closer to the action.

Streamers don’t just pop up briefly in articles, TV interviews or on Twitter or Instagram. They spend hours and hours each day just sitting there, doing whatever it is they do on stream and chatting with their viewers. You can get to know their personality, talk to them and they talk back to you!

It’s a bizarre combination that has proven financially fruitful for these streamers, especially at a time when the gaming industry itself is growing by double-digit percentages YOY for the past two years.

A tier of elite, hyper-popular streamers such as Shroud, DrDisrespect, Dakotaz and of course Ninja are leading the way for others as they continue to gain followers. In fact, Ninja just partnered with Wicked Cool Toys to introduce to the market a line of actual toys. Ninja himself made nearly $10 million in 2018.

But as the gaming world explores new genres and esports grow, there seems to be plenty of room for streamers to make a name (and a pretty penny) for themselves.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post included a few too many zeroes, stating that U.S. Twitch streamers made $87 billion instead of $87 million. It has been corrected for accuracy with my apologies.

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Apple acquires talking Barbie voicetech startup PullString

Posted by | Apple, Apps, artificial intelligence, Developer, Entertainment, Exit, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, hardware, M&A, pullstring, Startups, TC, toytalk, voice apps, voice assistant | No Comments

Apple has just bought up the talent it needs to make talking toys a part of Siri, HomePod, and its voice strategy. Apple has acquired PullString, also known as ToyTalk, according to Axios’ Dan Primack and Ina Fried. TechCrunch has received confirmation of the acquistion from sources with knowledge of the deal. The startup makes voice experience design tools, artificial intelligence to power those experiences, and toys like talking Barbie and Thomas The Tank Engine toys in partnership with Mattel. Founded in 2011 by former Pixar executives, PullString went on to raise $44 million.

Apple’s Siri is seen as lagging far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, not only in voice recognition and utility, but also in terms of developer ecosystem. Google and Amazon has built platforms to distribute Skills from tons of voice app makers, including storytelling, quizzes, and other games for kids. If Apple wants to take a real shot at becoming the center of your connected living room with Siri and HomePod, it will need to play nice with the children who spend their time there. Buying PullString could jumpstart Apple’s in-house catalog of speech-activated toys for kids as well as beef up its tools for voice developers.

PullString did catch some flack for being a “child surveillance device” back in 2015, but countered by detailing the security built intoHello Barbie product and saying it’d never been hacked to steal childrens’ voice recordings or other sensitive info. Privacy norms have changed since with so many people readily buying always-listening Echos and Google Homes.

In 2016 it rebranded as PullString with a focus on developers tools that allow for visually mapping out conversations and publishing finished products to the Google and Amazon platforms. Given SiriKit’s complexity and lack of features, PullString’s Converse platform could pave the way for a lot more developers to jump into building voice products for Apple’s devices.

We’ve reached out to Apple and PullString for more details about whether PullString and ToyTalk’s products will remain available.

The startup raised its cash from investors including Khosla Ventures, CRV, Greylock, First Round, and True Ventures, with a Series D in 2016 as its last raise that PitchBook says valued the startup at $160 million. While the voicetech space has since exploded, it can still be difficult for voice experience developers to earn money without accompanying physical products, and many enterprises still aren’t sure what to build with tools like those offered by PullString. That might have led the startup to see a brighter future with Apple, strengthening one of the most ubiquitous though also most detested voice assistants.

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Apple fails to block porn & gambling ‘Enterprise’ apps

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Developer, Entertainment, Gambling, Gaming, Mobile, payments, Policy, pornography, TC, WTF | No Comments

Facebook and Google were far from the only developers openly abusing Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program meant for companies offering employee-only apps. A TechCrunch investigation uncovered a dozen hardcore pornography apps and a dozen real-money gambling apps that escaped Apple’s oversight. The developers passed Apple’s weak Enterprise Certificate screening process or piggybacked on a legitimate approval, allowing them to sidestep the App Store and Cupertino’s traditional safeguards designed to keep iOS family-friendly. Without proper oversight, they were able to operate these vice apps that blatantly flaunt Apple’s content policies.

The situation shows further evidence that Apple has been neglecting its responsibility to police the Enterprise Certificate program, leading to its exploitation to circumvent App Store rules and forbidden categories. For a company whose CEO Tim Cook frequently criticizes its competitors for data misuse and policy fiascos like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica, Apple’s failure to catch and block these porn and gambling demonstrates it has work to do itself.

Porn apps PPAV and iPorn (iP) continue to abuse Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program to sidestep the App Store’s ban on pornography. Nudity censored by TechCrunch

 

TechCrunch broke the news last week that Facebook and Google had broken the rules of Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program to distribute apps that installed VPNs or demanded root network access to collect all of a user’s traffic and phone activity for competitive intelligence. That led Apple to briefly revoke Facebook and Google’s Certificates, thereby disabling the companies’ legitimate employee-only apps, which caused office chaos.

Apple issued a fiery statement that “Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.” Meanwhile, dozens of prohibited apps were available for download from shady developers’ websites.

Apple offers a lookup tool for finding any business’ D-U-N-S number, allowing shady developers to forge their Enterprise Certificate application

The problem starts with Apple’s lax standards for accepting businesses to the enterprise program. The program is for companies to distribute apps only to their employees, and its policy explicitly states “You may not use, distribute or otherwise make Your Internal Use Applications available to Your Customers.” Yet Apple doesn’t adequately enforce these policies.

Developers simply have to fill out an online form and pay $299 to Apple, as detailed in this guide from Calvium. The form merely asks developers to pledge they’re building an Enterprise Certificate app for internal employee-only use, that they have the legal authority to register the business, provide a D-U-N-S business ID number and have an up to date Mac. You can easily Google a business’ address details and look up their D-U-N-S ID number with a tool Apple provides. After setting up an Apple ID and agreeing to its terms of service, businesses wait one to four weeks for a phone call from Apple asking them to reconfirm they’ll only distribute apps internally and are authorized to represent their business.

With just a few lies on the phone and web plus some Googleable public information, sketchy developers can get approved for an Apple Enterprise Certificate.

Real-money gambling apps openly advertise that they have iOS versions available that abuse the Enterprise Certificate program

Given the number of policy-violating apps that are being distributed to non-employees using registrations for businesses unrelated to their apps, it’s clear that Apple needs to tighten the oversight on the Enterprise Certificate program. TechCrunch found thousands of sites offering downloads of “sideloaded” Enterprise apps, and investigating just a sample uncovered numerous abuses. Using a standard un-jailbroken iPhone. TechCrunch was able to download and verify 12 pornography and 12 real-money gambling apps over the past week that were abusing Apple’s Enterprise Certificate system to offer apps prohibited from the App Store. These apps either offered streaming or pay-per-view hardcore pornography, or allowed users to deposit, win and withdraw real money — all of which would be prohibited if the apps were distributed through the App Store.

A whole screen of prohibited sideloaded porn and gambling apps TechCrunch was able to download through the Enterprise Certificate system

In an apparent effort to step up policy enforcement in the wake of TechCrunch’s investigation into Facebook and Google’s Enterprise Certificate violations, Apple appears to have disabled some of these apps in the past few days, but many remain operational. The porn apps that we discovered which are currently functional include Swag, PPAV, Banana Video, iPorn (iP), Pear, Poshow and AVBobo, while the currently functional gambling apps include RD Poker and RiverPoker.

The Enterprise Certificates for these apps were rarely registered to company names related to their true purpose. The only example was Lucky8 for gambling. Many of the apps used innocuous names like Interprener, Mohajer International Communications, Sungate and AsianLiveTech. Yet others seemed to have forged or stolen credentials to sign up under the names of completely unrelated but legitimate businesses. Dragon Gaming was registered to U.S. gravel supplier CSL-LOMA. As for porn apps, PPAV’s certificate is assigned to the Nanjing Jianye District Information Center, Douyin Didi was licensed under Moscow motorcycle company Akura OOO, Chinese app Pear is registered to Grupo Arcavi Sociedad Anonima in Costa Rica and AVBobo covers its tracks with the name of a Fresno-based company called Chaney Cabinet & Furniture Co.

You can see a full list of the policy-violating apps we found:

Apple refused to explain how these apps slipped into the Enterprise Certificate app program. It declined to say if it does any follow-up compliance audits on developers in the program or if it plans to change admission process. An Apple spokesperson did provide this statement, though, indicating it will work to shut down these apps and potentially ban the developers from building iOS products entirely:

“Developers that abuse our enterprise certificates are in violation of the Apple Developer Enterprise Program Agreement and will have their certificates terminated, and if appropriate, they will be removed from our Developer Program completely. We are continuously evaluating the cases of misuse and are prepared to take immediate action.”

TechCrunch asked Guardian Mobile Firewall’s security expert Will Strafach to look at the apps we found and their Certificates. Strafach’s initial analysis of the apps didn’t find any glaring evidence that the apps misappropriate data, but they all do violate Apple’s Certificate policies and provide content banned from the App Store. “At the moment, I have noticed that action is slower regarding apps available from an independent website and not these easy-to-scrape app directories” that occasionally crop up offering centralized access to a plethora of sideloaded apps.

Porn app AVBobo uses an Enterprise Certificate registered to Fresno’s Chaney Cabinet & Furniture Co

Strafach explained how “A significant number of the Enterprise Certificates used to sign publicly available apps are referred to informally as ‘rogue certificates’ as they are often not associated with the named company. There are no hard facts to confirm the manner in which these certificates originate, but the result of the initial step is that individuals will gain control of an Enterprise Certificate attributable to a corporation, usually China/HK-based. Code services are then sold quietly on Chinese language marketplaces, resulting in sometimes 5 to 10 (or more) distinct apps being signed with the same Enterprise Certificate.” We found Sungate and Mohajer Certificates were farmed out for use by multiple apps in this way.

“In my experience, Enterprise Certificate signed apps available on independent websites have not been harmful to users in a malicious sense, only in the sense that they have broken the rules,” Strafach notes. “Enterprise Certificate signed apps from these Chinese ‘helper’ tools, however, have been a mixed bag. Zoe example, in multiple cases, we have noticed such apps with additional tracking and adware code injected into the original now-repackaged app being offered.”

Porn apps like Swag openly advertise their availability on iOS

Interestingly, none of the off-limits apps we discovered asked users to install a VPN like Google Screenwise, let alone root network access like Facebook Research. TechCrunch reported this month that both apps had been paying users to snoop on their private data. But the iOS versions were banned by Apple after we exposed their policy violations, and Apple also caused chaos at Facebook and Google’s offices by temporarily shutting down their employee-only iOS apps too. The fact that these two U.S. tech giants were more aggressive about collecting user data than shady Chinese porn and gambling apps is telling. “This is a cat-and-mouse game,” Strafach concluded regarding Apple’s struggle to keep out these apps. But given the rampant abuse, it seems Apple could easily add stronger verification processes and more check-ups to the Enterprise Certificate program. Developers should have to do more to prove their apps’ connection with the Certificate holder, and Apple should regularly audit certificates to see what kind of apps they’re powering.

Back when Facebook missed Cambridge Analytica’s abuse of its app platform, Cook was asked what he’d do in Mark Zuckerberg’s shoes. “I wouldn’t be in this situation” Cook frankly replied. But if Apple can’t keep porn and casinos off iOS, perhaps Cook shouldn’t be lecturing anyone else.

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Apple turns Ariana Grande and other musicians into Memoji for its latest ads

Posted by | animoji, Apple, apple music, Entertainment, Media, Mobile | No Comments

Just in time for the Grammy Awards, Apple has unveiled three new ads for Apple Music, featuring new singles from Ariana Grande, Khalid and Florida Georgia Line.

In each video, the musicians have been transformed in Memoji (the human-style Animoji variant that was announced last year), which lip synch to their latest songs. The ads probably won’t change any minds when it comes to Memoji and Animoji — but if you like the format, they are fun.

Apple actually created similar ads with Animoji lip synching to Childish Gambino and Migos before last year’s Grammys.

As The Verge points out, if you watch to the end of the videos and pay attention to the small print, you’ll notice that these Memoji were “professionally animated.” So don’t feel too bad if your lip-synching Animoji videos don’t look quite as good.

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Nintendo’s Mario Kart mobile game won’t launch until the summer

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Entertainment, Gaming, iPhone, Mario, mario kart, Mobile, Nintendo, shigeru miyamoto, TC | No Comments

It’s been a long year for Nintendo fans waiting on Mario Kart Tour to come to mobile and, unfortunately, more patience is required after the game’s launch was moved back to this summer.

Nintendo announced plans to bring the much-loved franchise to smartphones one year ago. It was originally slated to launch by the end of March 2019, but the Japanese games giant said today it is pushing that date back to summer 2019.

The key passage sits within Nintendo’s latest earnings report, released today, which explains that additional time is needed “to improve [the] quality of the application and expand the content offerings after launch.”

The checkered flag has been raised and the finish line is near. A new mobile application is now in development: Mario Kart Tour! #MarioKartTour Releasing in the fiscal year ending in March 2019. pic.twitter.com/8GIyR7ZM4z

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) February 1, 2018

It’s frustrating but, as The Verge points out, you can refer to a famous Nintendo phrase if you are seeking comfort.

Shigeru Miyamoto, who created the Mario and Zelda franchises, once remarked that “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”

There’s plenty riding on the title — excuse the pun. Super Mario Run, the company’s first major game for the iPhone, showed its most popular IP has the potential to be a success on mobile, even though Mario required a $9.99 payment to go beyond the limited demo version. Mario Kart is the most successful Switch title to date, so it figures that it can be a huge smash on mobile if delivered in the right way.

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Sapphire Ventures bets big on esports and entertainment with new $115M fund

Posted by | Adidas, Entertainment, fitbit, Gaming, major league baseball, new york jets, Paytm, San Jose Sharks, Sapphire Ventures, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Sports, Startups, TC, tom brady, Venture Capital | No Comments

Sapphire Ventures, formerly the corporate venture capital arm of SAP, has lassoed $115 million from new limited partners (LPs) to invest at the intersection of tech, sports, media and entertainment.

A majority of the LPs for the new fund, called Sapphire Sport, have ties to the sports industry, from City Football Group, which owns English Premier League team Manchester City, to Adidas, the owners of the Indiana Pacers, New York Jets, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others.

The firm plans to do five to six investments per year, sized between $3 million and $7 million. So far, they’ve deployed capital to five startups: at-home fitness system Tonal, live soccer streaming platform mycujoo, digital sports network Overtime, ticketing and events platform Fevo and gaming studio Phoenix Labs. Sapphire began backing tech startups in 2008; in 2016, the firm closed on $1 billion for its third flagship venture fund.

Sapphire managing director and co-founder Doug Higgins is leading the effort alongside newly tapped partner Michael Spirito, who joined from 21st Century Fox, where he focused on business development and digital media for the Fox Sports-owned Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network, in September.

Higgins was an investment manager at Intel Capital for four years prior to co-launching Sapphire. Throughout his career, he’s managed the firm’s investments in LinkedIn, DocuSign, Square and more.

“We invest in anything that tech is disrupting,” Higgins told TechCrunch. “We were early investors in Fitbit, so we saw the beginning of digital fitness and how tech can impact the lives of anyone, not just high-performance athletes … We are also investors in Square, TicketFly and Paytm and what we’ve been seeing — the dream as a VC — is these massive markets in the sports, media and digital health world that are getting disrupted by tech.”

Sapphire is betting its traditional and well-established venture platform, coupled with the expertise of leading sports entities on board as LPs, will give it a competitive edge as it targets some of the best emerging sports tech companies.

“We see a lot of FOMO happening in this world, where everyone wants to have a play, but to make the best investment you need to have the widest perspective,” Higgins said. “So if you’re a team owner of a particular football team you are going to make better decisions if you are able to share perspectives with owners of other teams.”

“The best entrepreneurs, the ones we all want to invest in, there’s not a draft, they have to select you,” he added.

Investment in esports and gaming has skyrocketed, surpassing a total of $2.5 billion in VC funding in 2018. According to PitchBook, a handful of startups have already raised a total of $65 million in VC backing this year, including a $10.8 million financing for ReKTGlobal, a provider of esports infrastructure services.

“You can’t ignore the numbers on esports,” Higgins added. “They just continue to grow massively and people who have teenage kids, like myself, [those kids] want to grow up to be the next ninja, not the next Tom Brady .”

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