Entertainment

Hotstar, Disney’s Indian streaming service, sets new global record for live viewership

Posted by | 21st century fox, Amazon, Asia, cricket, Disney, Entertainment, Facebook, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Sports, streaming service | No Comments

Indian video streaming giant Hotstar, owned by Disney, today set a new global benchmark for the number of people an OTT service can draw to a live event.

Some 18.6 million users simultaneously tuned into Hotstar’s website and app to watch the deciding game of the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament. The streaming giant, which competes with Netflix and Amazon in India, broke its own “global best” 10.3 million concurrent views milestone that it set last year.

Update at 11:30 p.m. Pacific on May 13: In a statement, Hotstar confirmed that 18.6 million users simultaneously watched the game on its platform over the weekend. “The achievements of this season once again bear witness to Hotstar being the most preferred sports destination for the country. With technology as our backbone and our all-round expertise in driving scale, we are confident we will continue to break global records and set new benchmarks with each passing year,” said Varun Narang, chief product officer of Hotstar.

Hotstar topped the 10 million concurrent viewership mark a number of times during this year’s 51-day IPL season. More than 12.7 million viewers huddled to watch an earlier game in the tournament (between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians), a spokesperson for the four-year-old service said. Hotstar said the cricket series had over 300 million overall viewership, creating a new record for the streamer. (Last year’s IPL clocked a 202 million overall viewership.)

Fans of Mumbai Indians celebrate their team’s victory against Chennai Super Kings in IPL cricket tournament in India

These figures coming out of India, the fastest-growing internet market, are astounding, to say the least. In comparison, a 2012 live stream of skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumping from near-space to the Earth’s surface remains the most concurrently viewed video on YouTube. It amassed about 8 million concurrent viewers. The live viewership of the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was also a blip in comparison.

As Netflix and Amazon scramble to find the right content strategy to lure Indians, Hotstar and its local parent firm Star India have aggressively focused on securing broadcast and streaming rights to various cricket series. Cricket is almost followed like a religion in India.

In 2017, Star India, then owned by 21st Century Fox, secured the rights to broadcast and stream the IPL cricket tournament for five years for a sum of roughly $2.5 billion. Facebook also participated in the bidding, offering north of $600 million for streaming. (Star India was part of 21st Century Fox’s business that Disney acquired for $71.3 billion earlier this year.)

That bet has largely paid off. Hotstar said last month that its service has amassed 300 million monthly active users, up from 150 million it reported last year. In comparison, both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have less than 30 million subscribers in India, according to industry estimates.

In the last two years, Hotstar has expanded to three international markets — the U.S., Canada and, most recently, the U.K. — to chase new audiences. The streaming service is hoping to attract Indians living overseas and anyone else who is interested in Bollywood movies and cricket, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, told TechCrunch in an interview. The streaming service plans to enter more nations with high density of Indians in the next few quarters, Dasgupta said.

That’s not to say that Hotstar has a clear path ahead. According to several estimates, the streaming service typically sees a sharp decline in its user base after the conclusion of an IPL season. Despite the massive engagement it generates, it remains operationally unprofitable, people familiar with Hotstar’s finances said.

The ad-supported streaming service offers about 80 percent of its content catalog — which includes titles produced by Star India — for no cost to users. It also syndicates shows and movies from international partners such as HBO, ABC and Showtime — though these titles are available only to paying subscribers. One of the most watched international shows on the platform, “Game of Thrones,” will be ending soon, too.

The upcoming World Cup cricket tournament, which Hotstar will stream in India, should help it avoid the major headache for some time. In the meantime, the service is aggressively expanding its slate of original shows in the nation. One of the shows is a remake of BBC/NBC’s popular “The Office.”

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Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

Posted by | Apple, BetaWorks, charles hudson, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, epic games, Eric Hippeau, esports, Facebook, fortnite, founders fund, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Google, GV, HQ Trivia, instagram, interactive media, lerer hippeau ventures, lightspeed venture partners, Luminary Media, matt hartman, Media, mg siegler, Netflix, new media, precursor ventures, Roblox, scooter braun, sequoia capital, Sports, Spotify, starbucks, Startups, sweet capital, TC, Twitch, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media and entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms.

These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved.

To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computing power.

In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money.

Here are the media investment theses of: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Alex Taussig (Lightspeed), Matt Hartman (betaworks), Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia), Jordan Fudge (Sinai), Christian Dorffer (Sweet Capital), Charles Hudson (Precursor), MG Siegler (GV), and Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau).

Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund

In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.

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Sonic the Hedgehog director says character is getting makeover after backlash

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, sega, Sonic the Hedgehog | No Comments

In 2006, New Line Cinema added five days of reshoots for Snakes on a Plane, six months after principal filming had wrapped. The new shoots helped change the film’s rating from PG-13 to R, courtesy of, among other things, the addition of the line “I have had it with these motherf****** snakes on this motherf****** plane!”

It was an early and still one of the best known instances of a film being altered in post-production over internet consensus. The forthcoming Sonic the Hedgehog is likely still gunning for a family friendly rating.

Of course, the bizarre CGI take on the 90s character was one of dozens of glaring issues with the two-and-a-half-minute trailer, but it may well be the easiest to address without extensive reshoots. Certainly social media had no shortage of suggestions for how Sega and company could firmly remove Sonic’s feet from the furcanny valley — and hey, what’s a little post-production on top of a $90 million budget?

Jeff Fowler, who is making his feature film directorial debut with Sonic, took to Twitter to address the issue, noting, “Thank you for the support. And the criticism. The message is loud and clear… you aren’t happy with the design & you want changes. It’s going to happen.”

Thank you for the support. And the criticism. The message is loud and clear… you aren’t happy with the design & you want changes. It’s going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be… #sonicmovie #gottafixfast 🔧✌

— Jeff Fowler (@fowltown) May 2, 2019

Paramount has yet to offer an official statement on the matter, including whether such a move might impact release date. On the upside, there’s still some time, with the film not scheduled to arrive until November. And besides, the internet had plenty of suggestions on how Sonic could be improved. It always does.

Left is original screenshot. Right is my rework to make #Sonic more stylized. pic.twitter.com/IhXeAZYlQI

— Edward Pun (@EdwardPun1) April 30, 2019

The old adage among online writers is “never read the comments.” It’s a bit of self-preservation of one’s own sanity. And certainly it’s possible to be too responsive to an online fan base when creating a work of art, or whatever Sonic purports to be. But in the case of a decades-late film adaptation of a video, honestly, it might be for the best.

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Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, conference call, data privacy, data security, dating, Developer, eCommerce, Enterprise, Entertainment, events, Extra Crunch Conference Call, Facebook, Facebook Dating, facebook groups, Facebook Marketplace, facebook messenger, Facebook Watch, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, investment opportunities, marketplace, Media, Oculus, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, privacy, Security, Social, Startups, TC, transcript, Venture Capital, Virtual reality, WhatsApp | No Comments

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois discuss major announcements that came out of Facebook’s F8 conference and dig into how Facebook is trying to redefine itself for the future.

Though touted as a developer-focused conference, Facebook spent much of F8 discussing privacy upgrades, how the company is improving its social impact, and a series of new initiatives on the consumer and enterprise side. Josh and Frederic discuss which announcements seem to make the most strategic sense, and which may create attractive (or unattractive) opportunities for new startups and investment.

“This F8 was aspirational for Facebook. Instead of being about what Facebook is, and accelerating the growth of it, this F8 was about Facebook, and what Facebook wants to be in the future.

That’s not the newsfeed, that’s not pages, that’s not profiles. That’s marketplace, that’s Watch, that’s Groups. With that change, Facebook is finally going to start to decouple itself from the products that have dragged down its brand over the last few years through a series of nonstop scandals.”

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Josh and Frederic dive deeper into Facebook’s plans around its redesign, Messenger, Dating, Marketplace, WhatsApp, VR, smart home hardware and more. The two also dig into the biggest news, or lack thereof, on the developer side, including Facebook’s Ax and BoTorch initiatives.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

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Zwift CEO Eric Min on fitness-gaming and bringing esports into the Olympics

Posted by | cycling, eCommerce, Entertainment, esports, Gaming, Media, Peloton, SaaS, Sports, Strava, TC, Zwift | No Comments

The rumored IPO plans of $4 billion spinning brand Peloton marks the rise of a wave of interactive fitness startups like Mirror, Tonal, Hydrow and At Home 360 that combine a monthly subscription to recorded and/or live video classes with workout hardware.

There’s opportunity beyond this initial “Peloton for X” model, however, when you look at where the gamification of at-home workout experiences can overlap with actual games. We’re in the midst of rapid growth in the gaming industry, the rise of esports and the mainstream-ing of socializing within games due to Fortnite

The virtual cycling business Zwift is a five-year-old startup that has raised more than $170 million as a pioneer of fitness-gaming ― physical sport carried out in a virtual world. Athletes join together for group rides and races within a cycling game that hooks up to their own bike trainers at home in order to reflect their movements and physical exertion. Because users are represented as players within a social game, there is the benefit of network effects, opportunity for in-game commerce and an audience viewing the competition.

I recently sat with Eric Min, Zwift’s CEO and co-founder, at the company’s London office. We discussed why he founded Zwift and how the product has evolved, the potential revenue streams available to an interactive fitness brand and Zwift’s rise as an esport with ambitions to enter the Olympics. Here’s the transcript:

Eric Peckham (TechCrunch): Do you view Zwift as a fitness company or as a gaming company where the bike trainer is just a controller?

Eric Min (Zwift): We’re the fitness company born out of gaming. While we’re a fitness brand, we’re also a game and social network, two things that are converging rapidly right now. What we’re trying to do, though, is build this social network around real-time experiences, physical experiences, and I think that’s far more interesting. Crucial to that is being hardware-agnostic though. We work with a lot of equipment out there so our users can come to the game easily.

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The team behind Baidu’s first smart speaker is now using AI to make films

Posted by | AI, alpha, animation, Apple, artificial intelligence, Asia, Baidu, Beijing, california, Entertainment, Entrepreneur, Gaming, HBO, Los Angeles, natural language processing, Pixar Animation Studios, Series A, Speaker, Virtual reality, Westworld, Y Combinator | No Comments

The HBO sci-fi blockbuster Westworld has been an inspiring look into what humanlike robots can do for us in the meatspace. While current technologies are not quite advanced enough to make Westworld a reality, startups are attempting to replicate the sort of human-robot interaction it presents in virtual space.

Rct studio, which just graduated from Y Combinator and ranked among TechCrunch’s nine favorite picks from the batch, is one of them. The “Westworld” in the TV series, a far-future theme park staffed by highly convincing androids, lets visitors live out their heroic and sadistic fantasies free of consequences.

There are a few reasons why rct studio, which is keeping mum about the meaning of its deliberately lower-cased name for later revelation, is going for the computer-generated world. Besides the technical challenge, playing a fictional universe out virtually does away the geographic constraint. The Westworld experience, in contrast, happens within a confined, meticulously built park.

“Westworld is built in a physical world. I think in this age and time, that’s not what we want to get into,” Xinjie Ma, who heads up marketing for rct, told TechCrunch. “Doing it in the physical environment is too hard, but we can build a virtual world that’s completely under control.”

rct studio

Rct studio wants to build the Westworld experience in virtual worlds. / Image: rct studio

The startup appears suitable to undertake the task. The eight-people team is led by Cheng Lyu, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who goes by Jesse and helped Baidu build up its smart speaker unit from scratch after the Chinese search giant acquired his voice startup Raven in 2017. Along with several of Raven’s core members, Lyu left Baidu in 2018 to start rct.

“We appreciate a lot the support and opportunities given by Baidu and during the years we have grown up dramatically,” said Ma, who previously oversaw marketing at Raven.

Let AI write the script

Immersive films, or games, depending on how one wants to classify the emerging field, are already available with pre-written scripts for users to pick from. Rct wants to take the experience to the next level by recruiting artificial intelligence for screenwriting.

At the center of the project is the company’s proprietary engine, Morpheus. Rct feeds it mountains of data based on human-written storylines so the characters it powers know how to adapt to situations in real time. When the codes are sophisticated enough, rct hopes the engine can self-learn and formulate its own ideas.

“It takes an enormous amount of time and effort for humans to come up with a story logic. With machines, we can quickly produce an infinite number of narrative choices,” said Ma.

To venture through rct’s immersive worlds, users wear a virtual reality headset and control their simulated self via voice. The choice of audio came as a natural step given the team’s experience with natural language processing, but the startup also welcomes the chance to develop new devices for more lifelike journeys.

“It’s sort of like how the film Ready Player One built its own gadgets for the virtual world. Or Apple, which designs its own devices to carry out superior software experience,” explained Ma.

On the creative front, rct believes Morpheus could be a productivity tool for filmmakers as it can take a story arc and dissect it into a decision-making tree within seconds. The engine can also render text to 3D images, so when a filmmaker inputs the text “the man throws the cup to the desk behind the sofa,” the computer can instantly produce the corresponding animation.

Path to monetization

Investors are buying into rct’s offering. The startup is about to close its Series A funding round just months after banking seed money from Y Combinator and Chinese venture capital firm Skysaga, the startup told TechCrunch.

The company has a few imminent tasks before achieving its Westworld dream. For one, it needs a lot of technical talent to train Morpheus with screenplay data. No one on the team had experience in filmmaking, so it’s on the lookout for a creative head who appreciates AI’s application in films.

rct studio

Rct studio’s software takes a story arc and dissects it into a decision-making tree within seconds. / Image: rct studio

“Not all filmmakers we approach like what we do, which is understandable because it’s a very mature industry, while others get excited about tech’s possibility,” said Ma.

The startup’s entry into the fictional world was less about a passion for films than an imperative to shake up a traditional space with AI. Smart speakers were its first foray, but making changes to tangible objects that people are already accustomed to proved challenging. There has been some interest in voice-controlled speakers, but they are far from achieving ubiquity. Then movies crossed the team’s mind.

“There are two main routes to make use of AI. One is to target a vertical sector, like cars and speakers, but these things have physical constraints. The other application, like Alpha Go, largely exists in the lab. We wanted something that’s both free of physical limitation and holds commercial potential.”

The Beijing and Los Angeles-based startup isn’t content with just making the software. Eventually, it wants to release its own films. The company has inked a long-term partnership with Future Affairs Administration, a Chinese sci-fi publisher representing about 200 writers, including the Hugo award-winning Cixin Liu. The pair is expected to start co-producing interactive films within a year.

Rct’s path is reminiscent of a giant that precedes it: Pixar Animation Studios . The Chinese company didn’t exactly look to the California-based studio for inspiration, but the analog was a useful shortcut to pitch to investors.

“A confident company doesn’t really draw parallels with others, but we do share similarities to Pixar, which also started as a tech company, publishes its own films, and has built its own engine,” said Ma. “A lot of studios are asking how much we price our engine at, but we are targeting the consumer market. Making our own films carry so many more possibilities than simply selling a piece of software.”

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Talking the future of media with Northzone’s Pär-Jörgen Pärson

Posted by | augmented reality, blockchain, content, Distributed Ledger, Entertainment, events, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, live tv, live tv streaming, Media, music streaming, Northzone, Personnel, PJ Parson, slush, Startups, streaming, Talent, TC, television, tv, tv streaming, Venture Capital, Video, video streaming, Virtual reality | No Comments

We live in the subscription streaming era of media. Across film, TV, music, and audiobooks, subscription streaming platforms now shape the market. Gaming and podcasting could be next. Where are the startup opportunities in this shift, and in the next shift that will occur?

I sat down with Pär-Jörgen “PJ” Pärson, a partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss this at SLUSH this past winter. Pärson – a Swede who now runs Northzone’s office in NYC – led the top early-stage investor in Spotify and led the $35 million Series C in $45/month sports streaming service fuboTV (which has roughly 250,000 subscribers).

In the transcript below, we dive into the core investment thesis that has guided him for 20 years, how he went from running a fish distribution to running a VC firm, his best practices for effective board meetings and VC-entrepreneur relationships, and his assessment of the big social platforms, AR/VR, voice interfaces, blockchain, and the frontier of media. It has been edited for length and clarity.

From Fish to VC

Eric Peckham:

Northzone isn’t your first VC firm — Back in 1998, you created Cell Ventures, which was more of a holding company or studio model. What was your playbook then?

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Snap CEO’s sister Caroline Spiegel starts a no-visuals porn site

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, erotica, Evan Spiegel, funding, Fundings & Exits, Media, Mobile, pornhub, pornography, Recent Funding, Social, stanford, Startups, TC | No Comments

If you took the photos and videos out of pornography, could it appeal to a new audience? Caroline Spiegel’s first startup Quinn aims to bring some imagination to adult entertainment. Her older brother, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, spent years trying to convince people his app wasn’t just for sexy texting. Now Caroline is building a website dedicated to sexy text and audio. The 22-year-old college senior tells TechCrunch that on April 13th she’ll launch Quinn, which she describes as “a much less gross, more fun Pornhub for women.”

TechCrunch checked out Quinn’s private beta site, which is pretty bare bones right now. Caroline tells us she’s already raised less than a million dollars for the project. But given her brother’s success spotting the next generation’s behavior patterns and turning them into beloved products, Caroline might find investors are eager to throw cash at Quinn. That’s especially true given she’s taking a contrarian approach. There will be no imagery on Quinn.

Caroline explains that “There’s no visual content on the site — just audio and written stories. And the whole thing is open source, so people can submit content and fantasies, etc. Everything is vetted by us before it goes on the site.” The computer science major is building Quinn with a three-woman team of her best friends she met while at Stanford, including Greta Meyer, though they plan to relocate to LA after graduation.

“His dream girl was named ‘Quinn’ “

The idea for Quinn sprung from a deeply personal need. “I came up with it because I had to leave Stanford my junior year because I was struggling with anorexia and sexual dysfunction that came along with that,” Caroline tells me. “I started to do a lot of research into sexual dysfunction cures. There are about 30 FDA-approved drugs for sexual dysfunction for men but zero for women, and that’s a big bummer.”

She believes there’s still a stigma around women pleasuring themselves, leading to a lack of products offering assistance. Sure, there are plenty of porn sites, but few are explicitly designed for women, and fewer stray outside of visual content. Caroline says photos and videos can create body image pressure, but with text and audio, anyone can imagine themselves in a scene. “Most visual media perpetuates the male gaze … all mainstream porn tells one story … You don’t have to fit one idea of what a woman should look like.”

That concept fits with the startup’s name “Quinn,” which Caroline says one of her best guy friends thought up. “He said this girl he met — his dream girl — was named ‘Quinn.’ ”

Caroline took to Reddit and Tumblr to find Quinn’s first creators. Reddit stuck to text and links for much of its history, fostering the kinky literature and audio communities. And when Tumblr banned porn in December, it left a legion of adult content makers looking for a new home. “Our audio ranges from guided masturbation to overheard sex, and there’s also narrated stories. It’s literally everything. Different strokes for different for folks, know what I mean?” Caroline says with a cheeky laugh.

To establish its brand, Quinn is running social media influencer campaigns where “The basic idea is to make people feel like it’s okay to experience pleasure. It’s hard to make something like masturbation cool, so that’s a little bit of a lofty goal. We’re just trying to make it feel okay, and even more okay than it is for men.”

As for the business model, Caroline’s research found younger women were embarrassed to pay for porn. Instead, Quinn plans to run ads, though there could be commerce opportunities too. And because the site doesn’t bombard users with nude photos or hardcore videos, it might be able to attract sponsors that most porn sites can’t.

Evan is “very supportive”

Until monetization spins up, Quinn has the sub-$1 million in funding that Caroline won’t reveal the source of, though she confirms it’s not from her brother. “I wouldn’t say that he’s particularly involved other than he’s one of the most important people in my life and I talk to him all the time. He gives me the best advice I can imagine,” the younger sibling says. “He doesn’t have any qualms, he’s very supportive.”

Quinn will need all the morale it can get, as Caroline bluntly admits, “We have a lot of competitors.” There’s the traditional stuff like Pornhub, user-generated content sites like Make Love Not Porn and spontaneous communities like on Reddit. She calls $5 million-funded audio porn startup Dipsea “an exciting competitor,” though she notes that “we sway a little more erotic than they do, but we’re so supportive of their mission.” How friendly.

Quinn’s biggest rival will likely be outdated but institutionalized site Literotica, which SimilarWeb ranks as the 60th most popular adult website, 631st most visited site overall, showing it gets 53 million hits per month. But the fact that Literotica looks like a web 1.0 forum yet has so much traffic signals a massive opportunity for Quinn. With rules prohibiting Quinn from launching native mobile apps, it will have to put all its effort into making its website stand out if it’s going to survive.

But more than competition, Caroline fears that Quinn will have to convince women to give its style of porn a try. “Basically, there’s this idea that for men, masturbation is an innate drive and for women it’s a ‘could do without it, could do with it.’ Quinn is going to have to make a market alongside a product and that terrifies me,” Caroline says, her voice building with enthusiasm. “But that’s what excites me the most about it, because what I’m banking on is if you’ve never had chocolate before, you don’t know. But once you have it, you start craving it. A lot of women haven’t experienced raw, visceral pleasure before, [but once we help them find it] we’ll have momentum.”

Most importantly, Quinn wants all women to feel they have rightful access to whatever they fancy. “It’s not about deserving to feel great. You don’t have to do Pilates to use this. You don’t have to always eat right. There’s no deserving with our product. Our mission is for women to be more in touch with themselves and feel fucking great. It’s all about pleasure and good vibes.”

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Digging into Apple’s media transformation

Posted by | Apple, Apple Card, apple news, apple tv, Apps, conference calls, Entertainment, Gaming, Media, original content, subscriptions, TC, transcripts | No Comments

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Panzarino, offered his analysis on the major announcements that came out of Apple’s keynote event this past Monday.

Behind a series of new subscription and media products, Apple has set the stage for one of the largest transformations in the company’s history. Matthew touches on all of Apple’s major product initiatives including Apple’s new credit card, its push into original content, its subscription gaming platform, and its subscription news service, which features Extra Crunch as one of the debut publications.

“I don’t think many of the things that Apple announced here, on an individual basis, are earth-shattering. I think it shapes up to be a really solid, nice offering for people with some distinct advantages but at the same time it’s not breaking huge molds here. I think the same thing applies across all of the offerings that they put out there.

I just felt that together, it’s solid but not scintillating and we need to see how they develop, how they launch, and then what they do with these platforms…

…Seems relatively straightforward. However, some of the stuff people have glossed over is very intriguing.”

Matthew goes into more detail on why he didn’t view the announcements as individually earth-shattering, and why he sees compelling opportunities for Apple to position its offerings as a symbiotic ecosystem. He also goes under the hood to discuss some of Apple’s overlooked competitive advantages in media and to paint a picture of how Apple’s new product lines might evolve in the long-term.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

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Apple TV+ makes Facebook Watch look like a joke

Posted by | Amazon Prime Video, apple tv, Apps, Entertainment, Facebook Watch, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Social, streaming video, TC | No Comments

Apple flexed its wallet today in a way Facebook has been scared to do. Tech giants make money by the billions, not the millions, which should give them an easy way to break into premium video distribution: buy some must-see content. That’s the strategy I’ve been advocating for Facebook but that Apple actually took to heart. Tim Cook wrote lines of zeros on some checks, and suddenly Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah became the well-known faces of Apple TV+.

Facebook Watch has…MTV’s The Real World? The other Olsen sister? Re-runs of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Actually, Facebook Watch is dominated by the kind of low-quality viral video memes the social network announced it would kick out of its News Feed for wasting people’s time.

And so while Apple TV+ at least has a solid base camp from which to make the uphill climb to compete with Netflix, Facebook Watch feels like it’s tripping over its own feet.

Today, Apple gave a preview of its new video subscription service that will launch in fall offering unlimited access to old favorites and new exclusives for a monthly fee. Yet even without any screenshots or pricing info, Apple still got people excited by dangling its big-name content.

Spielberg is making short films out of the Amazing Stories anthology that inspired him as a child. Abrams is spinning a tale of a musician’s rise called Little Voice Witherspoon and Aniston star in The Morning Show about anchoring a news program. Oprah is bringing documentaries about workplace harassment and mental health. Apple even has the Seasame Street gang teaching kids how to code.

This tentpole tactic will see Apple try to draw users into a free trial of Apple TV+ with this must-see content and then convince them to stay. And a compelling, exclusive reason to watch is exactly what’s been missing from…Facebook Watch. Instead, it chose to fund a wide array of often unscripted reality and documentary shorts that never felt special or any better than what else was openly available on the Internet, let alone what you could get from a subscription. It now claims to have 75 million people Watching at least one minute per day, but it’s failed to spawn a zeitgeist moment. Even as Facebook has scrambled to add syndicated TV cult favorites like Firefly or soccer matches to free, ad-supported video service, it’s failed to sign on anything truly newsworthy.

That’s just not going to fly anymore. Tech has evolved past the days when media products could win just based on their design, theoretical virality, or the massive audiences they’re cross-promoted to. We’re anything but starved for things to watch or listen to. And if you want us to frequent one more app or sign up for one more subscription, you’ll need A-List talent that makes us take notice. Netflix has Stranger Things. HBO has Game Of Thrones. Amazon has the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Disney+ has…Marvel, Star Wars, and the princesses. And now Apple has the world’s top directors and actresses.

Video has become a battle of the rich. Apple didn’t pull any punches. Facebook will need to buy some new fighters if Watch is ever going to deserve a place in the ring.

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