Entertainment

The drunken HQ Trivia finale before it shut down was insane

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Exit, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Humor, Matt Richards, Mobile, shut down, Social, Startups, TC, WTF | No Comments

“Not gonna lie. This f*cking sucks. This is the last HQ ever!” yelled host Matt Richards . And it just got crazier from there.The farewell game of HQ Trivia before it shut down last night was a beautiful disaster. The hosts cursed, sprayed champagne, threatened to defecate on the homes of trolls in the chat window, and begged for new jobs. Imagine Jeopardy but Trebek is hyped-up and blacked-out.

Yesterday HQ Trivia ran out of money, laid off its 25 employees, and shut down. It was in talks to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out last minute and investors weren’t willing to pour any money into the sagging game show. It had paid out $6 million in prizes from its $15 million-plus in venture capital since launching in late 2017.

But HQ was in steady decline since February 2018 when it peaked at over 2.3 million concurrent players to just tens of thousands recently. The games grew repetitive, prize money was split between too many winners, co-founder Colin Kroll passed away, original host and quiz daddy Scott Rogowsky was let go, the startup’s staff failed in an attempt to mutiny and oust the CEO, and layoffs ensued. You can read how it all went down here.

But rather than wither away, the momentary cultural phenemenon went out with a bang. “Should HQ trivia shut down? No? Yes? Or f*ck no!” Richards cackled.

You can watch the final show here, and we’ve laid out some of Richards’ and co-host Anna Roisman’s choicest quotes from HQ’s last game:

  • “If you just got here, this is HQ Trivia. It’s a live mobile gameshow. We’re gonna read about 34 questions and then you’re gonna win about 2 cents and you’re gonna fucking loooooove it” -Roisman
  • “This $5 prize is coming out of my own pocket. We ran out of money. We just kept giving it away. We gave it all to the players, to you, you loyal HQties” -Richards
  • “Take this time now to buy some extra lives. You never know when you’re going to need them. I wish we had an extra life for the company. I’m sorry. I f*cking can’t. I’m gonna cry. My dogs eat $200 worth of food a day. My dogs are gonna starve” -Richards
  • “Why are we shutting down? I don’t know. Ask our investors. What am I going to do with my fish tank? I think our investors ran out of money” -Richards
  • “Who likes healthy snacks! That’s why the investors stopped giving us money, because there wasn’t any f*cking snacks in this b*tch. We were snackless. Who the fuck can work in a place without snacks!” -Richards
  • “I met a couple who told me HQ is part of their foreplay” -Richards
  • “Who’s going to miss the HQ chat? I’m going to miss all those people telling me I don’t have eyebrows or to do the Carlton” -Richards
  • “Maybe we should close every night. These are the nicest f*cking comments I’ve ever seen. Wow, you’re finally telling me I look hot. I tried for a year and a half -Roisman
  • [Reading comments] “‘Won’t miss you at all, good riddance’” -Roisman. “Who said that? Let’s find that mothef*cker and sh*t on his porch” -Richards
  • “Hire everyone! All the people who don’t have jobs they f*cking rock!” -Richards
  • [While doing a headstand] “Someone hire me! I’m f*cking talented” -Roisman
  • “We should have unionized a long time ago” -Richards
  • [To his girlfriend] “Hello baby! I don’t got a job, you still love me?” -Richards
  • “We bought this giant bottle of champagne for when we hit 3 million players” -Richards (HQ never got there)
  • [Shakening up the champagne and opening it to a disappointing trickle] “It wasn’t as big as I thought it was gonna be” -Richards.That’s what she said. It was anti-climactic” -Roisman. “Much like this episode” -Richards. “Much like this app” -Roisman
  • “They gave me like two double shots of tequila” -Richards, on why he was drunk

Then things really went off the rails at 41 minutes in, cued up here:

  • [Upon a bunch of people getting a question wrong] “Y’all fucking fucked up!  You are dumb! I’m kidding, you’re not dumb. You fucked up. It happens” -Richards
  • [Reading the final question together] “What does Subway call it’s employees? Ham hands, sandwich artists, or beef sculptors?”
  • “520 people are splitting $5. Send me your Venmo requests and I’ll send you your fraction of a penny” -Richards

Farewell, HQ Trivia, you glorious beast.

 

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HQ Trivia shuts down after acquisition falls through

Posted by | Apps, DEADPOOL, Entertainment, Exit, founder fund, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, Rus Yusupov, Social, Startups, TC, trivia | No Comments

HQ Trivia is dead. Today the company laid off its full staff of 25 and will cease operation of its trivia, sports and word guessing games, a source close to the company confirmed.

HQ Trivia had a deal in the works to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out yesterday and investors aren’t willing to fund it any longer, CEO and co-founder Rus Yusupov said in a statement attained by CNN Business’ Kerry Flynn:

“We received an offer from an established business to acquire HQ and continue building our vision, had definitive agreements and legal docs, and a projected closing date of tomorrow, and for reasons we are still investigating, they suddenly changed their position and despite our best efforts, we were unable to reach an agreement,” Yusupov writes. “Unfortunately, our lead investors are no longer willing to fund the company, and so effective today, HQ will cease operations and move to dissolution. All employees and contractors will be terminated as of today.”

With HQ we showed the world the future of TV. We didn’t get to where we hoped but we did stretch the world’s imagination for what’s possible on our smartphones. Thanks to everyone who helped build this and thanks for playing.

— Rus (@rus) February 14, 2020

Launched in October 2017, TechCrunch wrote the first coverage of the 12-question live video trivia game started by two of the former Vine founders. Users could win real money by answering all the questions and not being eliminated in multiple daily games. HQ Trivia had raised more than $15 million, including a Series A led by Founders Fund. At one point it had more than 2.3 million concurrent players.

hq trivia app 1

But eventually the novelty began to wear off. Cheaters came in, splitting the prize money down to just a few dollars or cents per winner. Copycats emerged internationally. Engineering issues led users to get kicked out of the game.

Then tragedy struck. Co-founder Colin Kroll passed away. That exacerbated internal problems at HQ Trivia. Product development was slow, leading users to grow tired of the game. New game types and viral features materialized too late.

A failed internal mutiny saw staffers prepare to petition the board to remove Yusupov from the CEO position. When he caught wind of the plot, organizers of the revolt were fired. Morale sunk. By July 2019, downloads were just 8% of their previous year’s, and 20% of the staff was laid off. HQ managed about 15 million all-time installs, peaking at 2 million in February 2018, while last month it had just 67,000, according to Sensor Tower.

The demise of HQ Trivia demonstrates the fickle nature of the gaming industry, and the startup scene as a whole. Momentary traction is no guarantee of future success. Products must continually evolve and adapt to their audience to stay relevant. And executives must forge ahead while communicating clearly with their teams, even amongst uncertainty, or find their companies withered by the rapid passing of time.

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The team behind Apple’s ‘Mythic Quest’ says video games aren’t the punch line

Posted by | Apple, apple tv, Entertainment, Gaming, Media, TC | No Comments

When Ubisoft first approached “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” stars Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day about creating a new show set in the video game industry, McElhenney said they weren’t interested — at least, not initially.

“Anything that we had ever seen in the past, from a movie or television show perspective, the industry was always presented in such a negative light,” he told me. “It was the butt of the joke. The characters themselves were derided, and it was very specific to geek culture … We just had no interest in that.”

And yet McElhenney, Day and “It’s Always Sunny” writer Megan Ganz ended up creating “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” which premieres on Apple TV+ this weekend. McElhenney explained that a visit to the Montreal offices of Ubisoft — publisher of “Assassin’s Creed”, “Prince of Persia” and other major game franchises — changed his mind.

“Once we went to Montreal and met all of the devs that worked at Ubisoft, that all work in communion to make these games, [we realized] how many different, disparate personalities there really were and how much they were all all united by their love of games,” he said.

So McElhenney decided that “this just seemed like a really interesting and new place to set those kinds of stories.”  And just as he assumes most “Sunny” viewers aren’t tuning in to learn the fate of Paddy’s Pub (the Philadelphia bar run by the show’s main characters), “The approach we took was, the general audience is not going to care about the success or failure of a video game, they’re going to care about the interpersonal dynamics of the characters themselves.”

Ganz also said she didn’t know much about video game development when McElhenney first approached her about collaborating on the show, but she started to see parallels between that world and a TV writers’ room.

“Except that instead of everyone being a writer, they all have very specialized jobs that they care about, like just the writing or just the design or just the money that’s being made,” she said. “And I thought, well, that’s really fun because that presents something that’s even more complex than your typical writers’ room — you have all these sort of Greek gods that all control their very specific part of the world.”

Mythic Quest

Of course, “Mythic Quest” had a writers’ room of its own, which Ganz said was divided evenly between people with deep knowledge of the industry (like Ashly Burch, who’s done extensive voiceover work on games like “Team Fortress 2” and “Fortnite,” and who also plays a game tester on the show), and those like Ganz herself, “who maybe played casually when they were younger” but ultimately didn’t know much about that world.

“We did that because ultimately, if you come up with a script or a joke that satisfies both of those people, then you’re going to satisfy as much of the audience as you possibly can,” she said.

The goal, she added, was not “pandering to the video game community,” but rather “to be authentic and not make fun of them, but also be authentic in terms of talking about some of the toxicity that happens in the video game space, the gender dynamics that are at play.”

It wasn’t just a learning process for the writers. F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for playing Salieri in “Amadeus”) plays an eccentric science fiction writer who works on the game, and he told me that when it came to video games, “I had no idea. I knew something, I was aware of it, but not the size of it, the success of it, the reach of it, my God.”

All the “Mythic Quest” writers and actors I spoke to said that their approach has evolved significantly from the original pilot script. For example, there’s McElhenney’s character Ian Grimm, the creative director of the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game that gives the show its name.

“In the first draft of the script, we made Ian a little bit more of just a straight buffoon,” McElhenney said. “We read through it and we realized it just felt false. It was missing something, that if we didn’t want this to feel like a live action cartoon — like ‘Sunny’ often does, which is by design — and we wanted these people to feel real and authentic, that we needed to believe that he really should have that position.”

The question, then was how to make him competent, but in a funny way. They went with a pilot episode where Ian and lead engineer Poppy (played by Charlotte Nicdao) end up in a passionate debate about the properties of the game’s brand new shovel. While that debate will probably seem silly to most viewers, McElhenney said it also conveys “that thing that so many people in the creative arts have, or don’t have — the ability to see the most minor detail, the reason why something is going to work, or why it might not work.”

Mythic Quest

Throughout that process, the writers also tapped Ubisoft for advice. Jason Altman, Ubisoft’s head of film and television, is an executive producer on the show, and he recalled bringing in different team members to help the writers understand everything that goes into the development process.

In addition, Ubisoft Red Storm (the studio behind the Tom Clancy game franchise) pitched in by building the game segments that we actually see on the show.

“What they created were actually small gameplay sandboxes that we could bring to set, and the actors could sit and play with them and it would actually inform their performances,” Altman said.

He acknowledged that there were challenges, like helping the “Mythic Quest” writers realize that the developers needed time to do their work — but ultimately, he said the Red Storm team had “a great time” creating something that gave the show “a real sense of authenticity.”

Ganz and McElhenney also had plenty of praise for the developers, particularly for their openness to adding silly comedic elements like ridiculous gouts of blood. McElhenney pointed to one episode that required them to create “a really believable Sieg Heil Nazi salute.”

“There’s no way they’re going to go for that, it’s going to take a follow-up phone call,” he recalled thinking. “And they were like, ‘Okay great.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what do you mean, okay great?’ They said, ‘No, we do Nazis all the time’ — and we put this in the show — ‘because Nazis make the best villains, everybody hates Nazis.”

I was also curious about why the show focuses on the development of an ongoing MMORPG, rather than launching a new game. Altman had an answer for me: “I think it represents what’s happening within the game industry. You don’t just launch a game and forget it, the development team lives with it, you’ve got live services and live events. It’s the way games are operated right now.”

Plus, he said it reflects another aspect of development, the fact that teams “don’t just spend six months together, they spend years together, and the success that they create together binds them together.”

David Hornsby — who, like McElhenney, is both a writer, executive producer and actor on the show — told me that the writers’ understanding of show’s distribution also evolved, since Apple TV+ hadn’t launched (or even been officially announced) when “Mythic Quest” first got picked up.

“We weren’t sure if it wasn’t going to be binge-able from the start, we heard incrementally,” Hornsby said. “Apple is good at keeping secrets.”

Ultimately, they did find out that all nine episodes would drop at once, which Hornsby said led them to structure the season “like a movie — we know where we are going to be in the middle of the season, the story arcs for each of our characters.”

I also brought up Apple TV+ with McElhenney, who said the team had offers from a number of studios.

“It was scary,” he said. “And I remember we were discussing it, we were like, do we go with a known quantity? Or do we jump into the waters of mystery, because even though it’s the biggest company in the world, you don’t know if it’s going to work.”

So why choose Apple? “We just felt like, if you’re gonna bet on somebody, why not bet on a trillion dollars? They seem to have the resources and something figured out.”

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Instagram prototypes letting IGTV creators monetize with ads

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Creator Monetization, Entertainment, IGTV, instagram, instagram ads, Media, Mobile, Social | No Comments

Instagram may finally let IGTV video makers earn money 18 months after launching the longer-form content hub. Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that it has internally prototyped an Instagram Partner Program that would let creators earn money by showing advertisements along with their videos. By giving creators a sustainable and hands-off way to generate earnings from IGTV, they might be inspired to bring more high-quality content to the destination.

The program could potentially work similarly to Facebook Watch, where video producers earn a 55 percent cut of revenue from “Ad Breaks” inserted into the middle of their content. There’s no word on what the revenue split would be for IGTV, but since Facebook tends to run all its ads across all its apps via the same buying interfaces, it might stick with the 55 percent approach that lets its say creators get the majority of cash earned.

Previously, Instagram only worked with a limited set of celebrities, paying “to offset small production costs” for IGTV content Bloomberg reported, but not offering a way to earn a profit. That left creators to look to sponsored content or product placement to generate cash, or to try to push their followers to platforms like YouTube where they could earn a reliable cut of ads.

A lack of monetization may have contributed to the absence of great content on IGTV. Many of the videos on the Popular page are low-grade rips of YouTube content or TV, or are clickbait teasers. That has led to mediocre view counts — only 7 million of Instagram’s billion-plus users downloading the standalone IGTV app — and Instagram dropping the homescreen button for opening IGTV.

That’s all disappointing considering TIkTok is blowing up on the back of more purposeful, storyboarded mobile video entertainment. Instagram has been looking at other ways to boost the quality of content users see, including today’s launch of unfollow suggestions.

But today, reverse engineering master and perennial TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong tipped us off to the IGTV monetization prototype she dug out of the code of Instagram’s Android app. She tells TechCrunch she first saw signs of the program a week and ago and was then able to generate screenshots of the unreleased feature. It shows an “Instagram Partner Program” with “Monetization Tools.” This seems to be different from the old “Partner Program” for business tool developers.

Users who are deemed “Eligible” according to criteria we don’t have info about could choose to “Monetize Your IGTV Videos.” The screen explains that, “You can earn money by runing short ads on your IGTV videos. When you monetize on IGTV, you agree to follow the Partner Program Monetization Policies.”

It’s not clear IGTV’s monetization policies would be different, but on Facebook they require that users:

  • Follow all its normal Community Standards about decency.
  • Share authentic content without misinformation, false news, clickbait, or sensationalism.
  • Share original content they made themselves.
  • Avoid restricted content categories including debated social issues, tragedy or conflict, objectionable activity, sexual or suggestive activity, strong language, explicit content, misleading medical information, and politics and government.

Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch the authenticity of the prototype it’s been working on and provided the following statement (that it later tweeted): “We continue to explore ways to help creators monetize with IGTV. We don’t have more details to share now, but we will as they develop further.”

Given the company is confirming this as a prototype rather than a feature being beta tested, there are no public mentions. There’s no Instagram Help Center information published about it, and Instagram might not be testing the program externally yet. There’s still a chance Instagram could change directions and never launch the monetization program or alter it entirely before any eventual launch.

Update: Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has commented on the new feature, replying to me here:

It’s no secret that we’ve been exploring this. We focused first on making sure the product had legs — else there would be little to monetize in the first place. IGTV is still in its early days, but it’s growing and so we’re exploring more ways to make it sustainable for creators.

— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) February 7, 2020

Mosseri’s argument is that monetization hadn’t started sooner because Instagram wanted to ensure there was enough content to monetize. But Instagram had the money and scale to experiment much sooner, and it could have attracted that content to monetize by dangling payment.

IGTV has improved with time as more influencers and publishers get the hang of vertical mid-length video. However, there remains a fair amount of low-quality, unoriginal, overly captioned, meme-style videos promoted on its “Popular” page, at least for me.

The slow march of creator compensation

Creator monetization has been a slow-going evolution on many of the major social networks. While YouTube was early to the space with ads, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are now testing an array of ways for influencers to earn money. Those include ad splits, subscriptions to exclusive content, tipping, connections to brands for sponsorship, merchandise sales and more.

Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier and Nico Grant reported this week that Instagram brought in $20 billion in revenue during 2019. It gets to keep that revenue since it currently doesn’t split any with creators. That contrasts with YouTube, which says it took in $15.1 billion in 2019 revenue this week in the first time it’s revealed the stat, though it has to pay out a substantial portion to creators. With Instagram now running ads in feed, Explore, and Stories, only IGTV and Direct remain as major surfaces lacking ads.

Social apps are wising up and realizing that if they want to keep their creators from straying to competitors and bringing fans with them, it needs to offer ways for people to turn their passion for creating content into a profession. IGTV spent a year and a half trying to get video makers to volunteer for free, and the result wasn’t entertaining. Now Instagram seems ready to share the proceeds if they can bring in viewers together.

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Snapchat launches Bitmoji TV: zany 4-min cartoons of your avatar

Posted by | Apps, Avatars, Bitmoji, Bitmoji Stories, Bitmoji TV, bitstrips, Entertainment, Media, Mobile, Snapchat, Snapchat Discover, snapchat shows, Social, TC | No Comments

If you were the star of every show, would you watch more mobile television? Snapchat is betting that narcissism drives resonance for its new weekly videos that put you and your friends’ customizable Bitmoji avatars into a flurry of silly animated situations. Bitmoji TV premieres on Saturday morning, and it’s remarkably funny, exciting and addictive. Think cartoon SNL on fast-forward, with you playing a secret agent, a zombie president or a Moonlympics athlete.

It’s a style of content only Snapchat could pull off that relies on ubiquitous personalized avatars only Snapchat owns. The company says 70% of its daily active users, or 147 million of its 210 million, have made themselves a Bitmoji. Snapchat bought Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips in 2016 for a steal at $62.5 million, and it’s paying off. Amidst a sea of premium video and haphazard Stories that blur together across streaming services and social apps, Snapchat finally found something Facebook can’t copy.

“We really believe that we have invented a new category of entertainment. It’s scripted but it’s personalized. You could take that in a million directions,” says Bitmoji co-founder and CEO Ba Blackstock, who wrote and directed Bitmoji TV. “First and foremost, I hope that everyone who watches this has kind of a mind-blowing experience that they’ve never had before.”

Bitmoji TV, which TechCrunch was first to report Snapchat was building last month, will have its own Snapchat Show page where users can subscribe to get notifications and see new episodes on the Discover Page. Users can visit this page on mobile or tap and hold on the Snapcode below while pointing at it with the Snapchat camera to open Bitmoji TV.

The show is designed to be PG-13, with some bleeped out swearing and a little bloody violence. The shows are made out of Bitmoji’s Toronto office and are based on North American TV, film and advertising. Each episode cuts away and back to a main story, with the first two centered around an America’s Best Bitmoji game show and a Mime Cops hostage negotiation. Interspersed are “channel flips” between shorter single-gag clips that take your avatar into sit-coms, soap operas, action movies and infomercials.

The gags are ridiculous. At the basketball “Moonlympics,” a player jumps up for a dunk, but low gravity causes him to crash through the glass dome and suck all the other players into space. At Cannibal High, an school announcement says “Attention students, we’re all deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Vice Principal Schneider. To honor his legacy, today the cafeteria will be serving Vice Principal Schneider.”

You’re not alone it Bitmoji TV. There’ll be occasional celebrity guests like Randy Jackson, Andy Richter and Jon Lovitz. But your co-star in these segments is the Bitmoji of whichever person you last interacted with on Snapchat. That lets you control whether you want your best friend, your significant other or some rando alongside you. That decision will change the way you interpret the jokes and scenes. Your Bitmoji won’t talk, but their’s will.

Getting philosophical, Blackstock explains that “When you say words to me, it’s not just your words in a vacuum. They’re coming from you. You’re the medium . . . In any narrative fiction you learn about the characters, they have a back story, they have relationships that exist under the story that color it.” Who you make your supporting actor lends personal subtext that enriches each story. That’s one reason you can’t download or easily share clips of your version of Bitmoji TV, and Snap instead just lets you share a link to watch the real thing. Blackstock says it just doesn’t have the same effect if you’re not in the spotlight.

One thing you won’t find in Bitmoji TV, at least at first, are advertisements. The initial 10-episode season won’t have them. But that does seem to be the plan. When I asked Blackstock about monetizing the show, he said, “You can imagine. Discover has a business model of showing ads.” Since it make Bitmoji TV, Snapchat would get to keep that ad money rather than paying it out with revenue shares to partners or by buying content. Just as we’ve seen music and video streaming apps move to cut royalty expenses by creating content in-house, Snap seems to have the same idea.

Snapchat has yet to monetize Bitmoji directly beyond its merchandise store where you can get yours on t-shirts and mugs. Surprisingly, it doesn’t sell premium or branded clothes and looks for Bitmoji, nor does it allow brands to pay to have their apparel featured.

Snap did recently start letting people mix-and-match clothes for their Bitmoji, and when asked if that could foreshadow a revenue opportunity, Blackstock said, “You gotta build the store before you start selling the clothes . . . this was a foundational evolution designed to not only improve the experience for users but to set the stage for things to come.” You and your friends seeing your avatar’s fresh outfit on Bitmoji TV might make people care more about what their digital mini-mes wear.

Having watched the first three episodes, I’m pretty certain Bitmoji TV is going to be a hit. The show embodies the whimsy of Snapchat and the youth culture of the community who uses it. It’s rare to see something so premium but so unabashedly kooky. It’s reminiscent of the Rick and Morty “Interdimensional Cable” episodes that similarly feature rapid-fire snippets of fake and absurd TV shows.

Yet “the idea for Bitmoji TV actually precedes Bitmoji. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since those days [before Snapchat acquired it]. In a way it precedes Bitstrips. I’ve been making comics and cartoons since I was a little kid,” Blackstock tells me. “How I met two of the co-founders of Bitstrips was passing them comics in class. Even after school when we had jobs I would draw comics of my co-founder that were very compromising and I would fax them to his office to try to get him fired,” he recalls with a hearty laugh. Now he has the budget to make them TV-worthy, but just as crazy.

Snapchat has a good hunch it’s going to work because it’s been testing a comic-stripped down version called Bitmoji Stories. These still or lightly animated slideshows use the same idea of starring the avatars of you and your friends, but without full-motion video or constant audio. Indeed, 130 million people have watched Bitmoji Stories since they launched in late 2018.

As Blackstock tells me, “They were easier to make at a high volume and release ongoingly, which we could put out as a prelude to get our audience ready for personalized content — but also for us to learn from and see how people responded and figure out our own processes in terms of production.” Snapchat had animators and engineers work hand in hand to build a rendering system for Bitmoji Stories and TV. That helps it rapidly produce the personalizable content that can flex to accommodate any shaped avatar without them clipping into their surroundings.

Tonight, Bitmoji TV will receive an in-person “silent disco-style” premiere at Los Angeles’ Soho House. Guests will scan a code on the big screen, don headphones and each watch on their own phone with themselves as the star.

Snapchat’s head of original content Sean Mills tells me that “New technology will unlock new kinds of storytelling,” citing “the power of bringing a user into the experience with their best friends.” Bitmoji TV has certainly found a way to turn vanity into engagement. It’s more compelling than the mediocre originals on Facebook Watch. And it’s technologically innovative, unlike the planned lineup for Quibi.

If the modern era of visual communication began with the selfie, Snap honed it into a messaging tool. A few words were more interesting with a friend’s face behind it. The original Bitmoji chat stickers let your face say whatever you wanted even without having to get on camera. Snapchat’s new Cameo feature grafts your face into GIFs to express even more complex feelings. And now with Bitmoji TV, an animated version of your face can live out your wildest fantasies or weirdest dreams. That’s something worth tuning into.

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Fortnite just officially became a high school and college sport

Posted by | delane parnell, Entertainment, epic games, esports, fortnite, Gaming, playvs, Startups, TC, video games | No Comments

Fortnite, one of the world’s most popular games, will now be an official high school sport and college sport, thanks to an LA-based startup called PlayVS.

The company has partnered with Epic Games to bring competitive league play to the collegiate and high school level. This also marks PlayVS’s entry into colleges and universities.

PlayVS launched in April of 2018 with a mission of bringing esports to high school, with a league akin to traditional sports like basketball or football. Through a partnership with the NFHS, high schools (or parents, or the students themselves) can pay $64/player to be placed in a league to compete with neighboring schools, just like any other sport.

But PlayVS partnerships go deeper than the NFHS (the NCAA of high school sports), as the company is also partnering with the publishers themselves. This is the part that puts PlayVS a step ahead of its competition, according to founder Delane Parnell .

While other companies are setting up paid competitive leagues around video games, very few if any have partnerships at the publisher level. This means that those startups could be shut down on a whim by the publishers themselves, which own the IP of the game.

PlayVS is the first to score such a partnership with Epic Games, the maker of the world’s most popular video game.

These publisher partnerships also allow PlayVS to productize the experience in a way that requires almost no lift for schools and organizations. Players simply sign into PlayVS and get dropped into their scheduled match. At the end, PlayVS pulls stats and insights directly from the match, which can be made available to the players, coaches, fans and even recruiters.

For PlayVS, the college landscape presents a new challenge. With high school expansion, the NFHS fueled fast and expansive growth. Since launch, more than 13,000 high schools have joined the waitlist to get a varsity esports team through PlayVS, which represents 68% of the country. PlayVS says that just over 14,000 high schools in the United States have a football program, to give you a comparison.

The NFHS has a relationship with the NCAA, but no such official partnership has been signed, meaning that PlayVS has to go directly to individual colleges to pitch their technology. Luckily, they’re going in armed with the most popular game in the world, and at a time when many colleges are looking to incorporate esports scholarships and programs.

And it doesn’t hurt that PlayVS has quite a bit of cash in the bank — the company has raised $96 million since launch.

Unlike the rest of the PlayVS titles, the first season of Fortnite competition will be free to registered users, courtesy of the partnership with Epic Games. Registration for the first seasons closes on February 17 for high schools, and February 24 for colleges and universities. The season officially kicks off on March 2.

The format for competition will be Duos, and organizations can submit as many teams of two as they like. The top teams will be invited to the playoffs with a chance to win a spot in the championship in May.

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Quibi execs Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman explain their big vision

Posted by | Apps, CES 2020, Entertainment, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Media, meg whitman, Mobile, Quibi, TC | No Comments

Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Quibi executives — including CEO Meg Whitman and founder/chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg — took the stage in a keynote laying out their vision for the mobile video service.

Katzenberg is a longtime Hollywood executive who led Walt Disney Studios during its animation renaissance in the late ’80s and early ’90s before co-founding Dreamworks Animation. Whitman worked at both Disney and Dreamworks, but she’s best known as the former CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

So it’s fitting that they presented Quibi as a company that exists at the intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley — as Whitman put it, creating “the very first entertainment technology platform optimized for mobile viewing.”

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What to expect in digital media in 2020

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, Media, Policy, Social, TC | No Comments

As we start 2020, the media and entertainment sectors are in flux. New technologies are enabling new types of content, streaming platforms in multiple content categories are spending billions in their fight for market share and the interplay between social platforms and media is a central topic of global political debate (to put it lightly).

As TechCrunch’s media columnist, I spoke to hundreds of entrepreneurs and executives in North America and Europe last year about the shifts underway across everything from vertically-oriented video series to physics engines in games to music royalty payments. Looking toward the year ahead, here are some of the high-level changes I expect we will see in media in 2020, broken into seven categories: film & TV, gaming, visual & audio effects, social media, music, podcasts and publishing.

Film and TV

In film and television, the battle to compete with Netflix continues with more robust competition than last year. In the U.S., Disney is off to a momentous start with 10 million Disney+ subscribers upon its launch in November and some predicting it will hit 25 million by March (including those on free trials or receiving it for free via Disney’s partnership with Verizon). Bundled with its two other streaming properties, Hulu and ESPN+, Disney+ puts Disney alongside Amazon and Netflix as the Big Three.

Consumers will only pay for so many subscriptions, often one, two, or all of the Big Three (since Amazon Prime Video is included with the broader Prime membership) then a smaller service that best aligns with their personal taste and favorite show of the moment.

AT&T’s HBOMax launches in May with a $14.99/month price tag and is unlikely to break into the echelon of the Big Three, but could be a formidable second tier competitor. Alongside it will be Apple TV+. With a $4.99/month subscription, Apple’s service only includes a small number of original productions, an HBO strategy as HBO gets bundled into a larger library. CBS All Access, Showtime, and NBCUniversal’s upcoming (in April) Peacock fall in this camp as well.

Across Europe, regional media conglomerates will find success in expanding local SVOD and AVOD competitors to Netflix that launched last year — or are set to launch in the next few weeks — like BritBox in the UK, Joyn in Germany and Salto in France. Netflix’s growth is coming from outside the U.S. now so its priority is buying more international shows that will compel new demographics to subscribe.

The most interesting new development in 2020 though will be the April launch of Quibi, the $4.99/month service offering premium shows shot for mobile-first viewing that has already secured $1 billion in funding commitments and $150 million in advertising revenue. Quibi shows will be bite-size in length (less than 15 minutes) and vertically-oriented. The company has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into commissioning established names to create dozens of them. Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro each have Quibi programs and NBC and CBS are creating news shows. The terms it is offering are enticing.

Quibi, which plans to release 125 pieces of content (i.e. episodes) per week and spend $470 million on marketing this year, is an all-or-nothing bet with little room to iterate if it doesn’t get it right the first time; it needs hit shows that break into mainstream pop culture to survive. Billionaire founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman have set expectations sky-high for the launch; expect the press to slam it in April for failing to meet those expectations and for the platform to redeem itself as a few of its shows gain traction in the months that follow.

Meanwhile, live sports remains the last hope of broadcast TV networks as all other shows go to streaming. Consumers still value watching sports in real-time. Streaming services are coming for live sports too, however, and will make progress toward that goal in 2020. Three weeks ago, DAZN secured the rights to the 2021/22 season of Germany’s Champions League, beating out broadcaster Sky which has shown the matches for the last 20 years. Amazon and YouTube continue to explore bids for sports rights while Facebook and Twitter are stepping back from their efforts. YouTube’s “YouTube TV” and Disney’s “Hulu with Live TV” will cause more consumers to cancel cable TV subscriptions in 2020 and go streaming-only.

The winners in the film & TV sector right now are top production companies. The war for streaming video dominance is driving several of the world’s wealthiest companies (and individuals) to pour tens of billions of dollars into content. Large corporations own the distribution platforms here; the only “startups” to enter with strength — DAZN and Quibi — have been launched by billionaires and started with billion-dollar spending commitments. The entrepreneurial opportunity is on the content creation side — with producers creating shows not with software developers creating platforms.

Gaming

The gaming market is predicted to grow nearly 9% year-over-year from $152 billion globally in 2019 to $165 billion in 2020, according to research firm Newzoo, with roughly 2.5 billion people playing games each year. Gaming is now widespread across all demographic groups. Casual mobile games are responsible for the largest portion of this (and 45% of industry revenue) but PC gaming continues to grow (+4% last year) and console gaming was the fastest growing category last year (+13%).

The big things to watch in gaming this year: cross-platform play, greater focus on social interaction in virtual worlds and the expansion of cloud gaming subscriptions.

Fortnite enticed consumers with the benefits of a cross-platform game that allows players to move between PC, mobile and console and it is setting expectations that other games do the same. Last October we saw the Call of Duty franchise come to mobile and reach a record 100 million downloads in its first week. This trend will continue and it will spread the free-to-play business model that is the norm in mobile games to many PC and console franchises in the process.

Gaming is moving to the social forefront. Many people are turning to massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like Fortnite and PUBG to socialize, with gameplay as a secondary interest. Games are virtual worlds where players socialize, build things, and own assets much like in the real world. That results in an increasingly fluid interplay between socializing in games and in physical life, much as socializing in the virtual realms of social apps like Instagram or Twitter is now viewed as part of “real world” life.

Expect VCs to bet big on the thesis that “games are the new social networks” in 2020. Large investment firms that a year ago wrote off the category of gaming as “content bets” not fit for VC are now actively hunting for deals.

On this point, there are several startups (like Klang Games, Darewise Entertainment, Singularity 6 and Clockwork Labs) that raised millions in VC funding to create open world games that will launch (in beta at least) in 2020. These are virtual worlds where all players exist in the same instance of the world rather than being capped at 100 or so players per instance. Their vision of the future: digital realms where people will contribute to in-game economies, create friendships and ultimately earn income just like their “real-world” lives. Think next-gen Second Life. Expect them to take time to seed their worlds with early adopters in 2020 before any of them gain mainstream traction in 2021.

Few are as excited about social interaction in games as Facebook, it seems. Eager to own critical turf in the next paradigm shift of social media, Facebook will accelerate its gaming push this year. In late 2019, it acquired Madrid-based PlayGiga — which was working on cloud gaming and 5G technology — and the studio behind the hit VR game Beat Saber. It also secured exclusive rights to the VR versions of popular games like Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” and “Splinter Cell” for Oculus. Horizon, its virtual world for social interaction within VR, is expected to launch this year as well.

Facebook is betting on AR/VR as the paradigm shift in consumer computing that will replace mobile; it is pouring billions into its efforts to own the hardware and infrastructure pieces which are several years of R&D away from primetime. In the meantime, the consumer shift to social interaction in virtual worlds is occurring in established formats — mobile, PC, and console — so it will work to build the bridge for consumers from that to the future.

Lastly, cloud gaming was one of last year’s biggest headlines with the launch of Google Stadia and you should expect it to be again this year. By moving games to cloud hosting, consumers can play the highest quality games from lower quality devices, greatly expanding the market of potential players. By bundling many such games into a subscription offering, Google and others hope to entice consumers to try many more games.

As TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney argued, however, cloud gaming is likely a feature for existing subscription gaming platforms — namely Playstation Now and Xbox Game Pass — more so than the basis for a new platform to differentiate. The minor latency inherent in playing a cloud-hosted game makes it unattractive to hardcore gamers (who would rather download the game). Next to Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, Stadia’s limited game selection fails to stand out. The competition will only heat up this year with the expected entry of Amazon. Google needs to launch the Stadia integration with YouTube and the Share State feature that it promoted in its Stadia announcement to really drive consumer interest.

Visual and audio effects

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ByteDance & TikTok have secretly built a deepfakes maker

Posted by | Apps, artificial intelligence, bytedance, deepfakes, douyin, Entertainment, face swapping, Media, Mobile, Policy, privacy, Social, TC, tiktok | No Comments

TikTok parent company ByteDance has built technology to let you insert your face into videos starring someone else. TechCrunch has learned that ByteDance has developed an unreleased feature using life-like deepfakes technology that the app’s code refers to as Face Swap. Code in both TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin asks users to take a multi-angle biometric scan of their face, then choose from a selection of videos they want to add their face to and share.

With ByteDance’s new Face Swap feature, users scan themselves, pick a video and have their face overlaid on the body of someone in the clip

The deepfakes feature, if launched in Douyin and TikTok, could create a more controlled environment where face swapping technology plus a limited selection of source videos can be used for fun instead of spreading misinformation. It might also raise awareness of the technology so more people are aware that they shouldn’t believe everything they see online. But it’s also likely to heighten fears about what ByteDance could do with such sensitive biometric data — similar to what’s used to set up Face ID on iPhones.

Several other tech companies have recently tried to consumerize watered-down versions of deepfakes. The app Morphin lets you overlay a computerized rendering of your face on actors in GIFs. Snapchat offered a FaceSwap option for years that would switch the visages of two people in frame, or replace one on camera with one from your camera roll, and there are standalone apps that do that too, like Face Swap Live. Then last month, TechCrunch spotted Snapchat’s new Cameos for inserting a real selfie into video clips it provides, though the results aren’t meant to look confusingly realistic.

Most problematic has been Chinese deepfakes app Zao, which uses artificial intelligence to blend one person’s face into another’s body as they move and synchronize their expressions. Zao went viral in September despite privacy and security concerns about how users’ facial scans might be abused. Zao was previously blocked by China’s WeChat for presenting “security risks.” [Correction: While “Zao” is mentioned in the discovered code, it refers to the general concept rather than a partnership between ByteDance and Zao.]

But ByteDance could bring convincingly life-like deepfakes to TikTok and Douyin, two of the world’s most popular apps with over 1.5 billion downloads.

Zao in the Chinese iOS App Store

Zao in the Chinese iOS App Store

Hidden inside TikTok and Douyin

TechCrunch received a tip about the news from Israeli in-app market research startup Watchful.ai. The company had discovered code for the deepfakes feature in the latest version of TikTok and Douyin’s Android apps. Watchful.ai was able to activate the code in Douyin to generate screenshots of the feature, though it’s not currently available to the public.

First, users scan their face into TikTok. This also serves as an identity check to make sure you’re only submitting your own face so you can’t make unconsented deepfakes of anyone else using an existing photo or a single shot of their face. By asking you to blink, nod and open and close your mouth while in focus and proper lighting, Douyin can ensure you’re a live human and create a manipulable scan of your face that it can stretch and move to express different emotions or fill different scenes.

You’ll then be able to pick from videos ByteDance claims to have the rights to use, and it will replace with your own the face of whomever is in the clip. You can then share or download the deepfake video, though it will include an overlayed watermark the company claims will help distinguish the content as not being real. I received confidential access to videos made by Watchful using the feature, and the face swapping is quite seamless. The motion tracking, expressions and color blending all look very convincing.

Watchful also discovered unpublished updates to TikTok and Douyin’s terms of service that cover privacy and usage of the deepfakes feature. Inside the U.S. version of TikTok’s Android app, English text in the code explains the feature and some of its terms of use:

Your facial pattern will be used for this feature. Read the Drama Face Terms of Use and Privacy Policy for more details. Make sure you’ve read and agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy before continuing. 1. To make this feature secure for everyone, real identity verification is required to make sure users themselves are using this feature with their own faces. For this reason, uploaded photos can’t be used; 2. Your facial pattern will only be used to generate face-change videos that are only visible to you before you post it. To better protect your personal information, identity verification is required if you use this feature later. 3. This feature complies with Internet Personal Information Protection Regulations for Minors. Underage users won’t be able to access this feature. 4. All video elements related to this feature provided by Douyin have acquired copyright authorization.

ZHEJIANG, CHINA – OCTOBER 18 2019 Two U.S. senators have sent a letter to the U.S. national intelligence agency saying TikTok could pose a threat to U.S. national security and should be investigated. Visitors visit the booth of Douyin (Tiktok) at the 2019 Smart Expo in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang province, Oct. 18, 2019.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Costfoto / Barcroft Media via Getty Images.

A longer terms of use and privacy policy was also found in Chinese within Douyin. Translated into English, some highlights from the text include:

  • “The ‘face-changing’ effect presented by this function is a fictional image generated by the superimposition of our photos based on your photos. In order to show that the original work has been modified and the video generated using this function is not a real video, we will mark the video generated using this function. Do not erase the mark in any way.”

  • “The information collected during the aforementioned detection process and using your photos to generate face-changing videos is only used for live detection and matching during face-changing. It will not be used for other purposes . . . And matches are deleted immediately and your facial features are not stored.”

  • “When you use this function, you can only use the materials provided by us, you cannot upload the materials yourself. The materials we provide have been authorized by the copyright owner”.

  • “According to the ‘Children’s Internet Personal Information Protection Regulations’ and the relevant provisions of laws and regulations, in order to protect the personal information of children / youths, this function restricts the use of minors”.

We reached out to TikTok and Douyin for comment regarding the deepfakes feature, when it might launch, how the privacy of biometric scans are protected and the age limit. However, TikTok declined to answer those questions. Instead, a spokesperson insisted that “after checking with the teams I can confirm this is definitely not a function in TikTok, nor do we have any intention of introducing it. I think what you may be looking at is something slated for Douyin – your email includes screenshots that would be from Douyin, and a privacy policy that mentions Douyin. That said, we don’t work on Douyin here at TikTok.” They later told TechCrunch that “The inactive code fragments are being removed to eliminate any confusion,” which implicitly confirms that Face Swap code was found in TikTok.

A Douyin spokesperson tells TechCrunch “Douyin follows the laws and regulations of the jurisdictions in which it operates, which is China.” They denied that the Face Swap terms of service appear in TikTok despite TechCrunch reviewing code from the app showing those terms of service and the feature’s functionality.

This is suspicious, and doesn’t explain why code for the deepfakes feature and special terms of service in English for the feature appear in TikTok, and not just Douyin, where the app can already be activated and a longer terms of service was spotted. TikTok’s U.S. entity has previously denied complying with censorship requests from the Chinese government in contradiction to sources who told The Washington Post that TikTok did censor some political and sexual content at China’s behest.

Consumerizing deepfakes

It’s possible that the deepfakes Face Swap feature never officially launches in China or the U.S. But it’s fully functional, even if unreleased, and demonstrates ByteDance’s willingness to embrace the controversial technology despite its reputation for misinformation and non-consensual pornography. At least it’s restricting the use of the feature by minors, only letting you face-swap yourself, and preventing users from uploading their own source videos. That avoids it being used to create dangerous misinformational videos like the slowed down one making House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seem drunk, or clips of people saying things as if they were President Trump.

“It’s very rare to see a major social networking app restrict a new, advanced feature to their users 18 and over only,” Watchful.ai co-founder and CEO Itay Kahana tells TechCrunch. “These deepfake apps might seem like fun on the surface, but they should not be allowed to become trojan horses, compromising IP rights and personal data, especially personal data from minors who are overwhelmingly the heaviest users of TikTok to date.”

TikTok has already been banned by the U.S. Navy and ByteDance’s acquisition and merger of Musical.ly into TikTok is under investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in The United States. Deepfake fears could further heighten scrutiny.

With the proper safeguards, though, face-changing technology could usher in a new era of user-generated content where the creator is always at the center of the action. It’s all part of a new trend of personalized media that could be big in 2020. Social media has evolved from selfies to Bitmoji to Animoji to Cameos, and now consumerized deepfakes. When there are infinite apps and videos and notifications to distract us, making us the star could be the best way to hold our attention.

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Snapchat will launch Bitmoji TV, a personalized cartoon show

Posted by | Apps, Avatars, Bitmoji, Bitmoji Stories, Bitmoji TV, Entertainment, Facebook Avatars, Media, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Snapchat Discover, snapchat shows, Social | No Comments

Snapchat’s most popular yet under-exploited feature is finally getting the spotlight in 2020. Starting in February with a global release, your customizable Bitmoji avatar will become the star of a full-motion cartoon series called Bitmoji TV. It’s a massive evolution for Bitmoji beyond the chat stickers and comic strip-style Stories where they were being squandered to date.

Creating original in-house shows for its Discover section that can’t be copied could help Snapchat differentiate from the plethora of short-form video platforms out there ranging from YouTube to Facebook Watch to TikTok. Bitmoji TV could also up the quality of Discover, which still feels like a tabloid magazine rack full of scantly clad women, gross-out imagery, and other shocking content merely meant to catch the eye and draw a click.

With Bitmoji TV, your avatar and those of your friends will appear in regularly-scheduled adventures ranging from playing the crew of Star Treky spaceship to being secret agents to falling in love with robots or becoming zombies. The trailer Snapchat released previews an animation style reminiscent of Netflix’s Big Mouth.

TechCrunch asked Snap for more details, including how long episodes will be, how often they’ll be released, whether they’ll include ads, and if the company acquired anyone or brought on famous talent to produce the series. A Snap spokesperson declined to provide more details, but sent over this statement: “Bitmoji TV isn’t available in your network yet, but stay tuned for the global premiere soon!”

The Snapchat Show page for Bitmoji TV notes it is coming in February 2020. Users can visit here on mobile to subscribe to Bitmoji TV so it shows up prominently on their Discover page, or turn on notifications about its new content.

Snap realizes Bitmoji’s value

Snap has had a tough few years as many of its core features have been ruthlessly copied by the Facebook family of apps. Instagram Stories killed Snap’s growth for years and effectively stole the broadcast medium from its inventor. Facebook also ramped up it augmented reality selfie filters, added more ephemeral messaging features, and launched Watch as a competitor to Snapchat Discover.

Two years ago I wrote that Facebook was crazy not to be competing with Bitmoji too. Six months later we were first to report Facebook Avatars was in the works, and this year they launched as Messenger chat stickers in Australia with plans for a global release in 2019 or early 2020. But Facebook’s slow movement here, Google’s half-assed entry, and Twitter’s lack of an attempt have given Snapchat’s Bitmoji a massive headstart. And now Snap is finally leveraging it.

“TV” is actually a return to Bitmoji’s roots. The startup Bitstrips originally offered an app for customizing the face, hair, clothes, and more of your avatar and then creating comic strips for them to appear in. Snap acquired Bitstrips back in 2016 for just $64.2 million — a steal not far off from Facebook snatching Instagram for under a billion. The standalone Bitmoji app blew up as soon as Snapchat began offering the avatars as chat stickers. It had over 330 million downloads as of April according to Sensor Tower despite Snapchat now letting you create your avatar in its main app.

Eventually, Snap began expanding Bitmoji’s uses. In 2017 Bitmoji went 3D and you could start overlaying them as augmented reality characters on your Snaps. The next year Snap improved their graphics, then launched the Snap Kit developer platform and Bitmoji Kit. This allows apps to build atop Snapchat login and use your Bitmoji as a profile pic. Soon they were appearing as Fitbit smart watch faces, alongside your Venmo transaction, and on Snapchat-sold merchandise from t-shirts to mugs. It’s part of a wise strategy to beat copycats by allowing allies to use real thing rather than building their own knock-off. That’s fueled the “Snapback” comeback which has seen Snap’s share price climb out of the gutter at $5.79 at the start of 2019 to $16.09 now.

One of Snap smartest innovations was Bitmoji Stories — the ancestor to Bitmoji TV. These daily Stories let you tap frame-by-frame through short comic strip-style interactions starring your avatar. Occasionally Bitmoji Stories would include rudimentary animation, but most frames were still images with text bubbles. Bitmoji could once again drive a narrative, rather than just being a communication tool. Still, they seem underutilized.

In 2019, Snapchat wised up. Bitmoji have become nearly ubiquitous amongst teens and Snapchat’s 210 million daily users. They’re the Google or Kleenex of cartoonish personalized avatars. Their goofy nature is also a perfect fit for Snapchat, and a reason they’re tough for stiffer and older tech giants to convincingly copy.

In April, Snap announced its new games platform inside its messaging feature that let you play as your Bitmoji against friends’ avatars in games ranging from Mario Party ripoff Bitmoji Party to tennis, shoot-em ups, and cooking competitions. Snap injects ads into the games, making Bitmoji key to its efforts to monetize its central messaging use case. Last month it launched custom and branded clothing for Bitmoji, which could open opportunities to earn money selling premium outfits or showing off brand sponsorships.

To truly take advantage of Bitmoji’s unique popularity, though, Snap needed to build longer-form experiences with the avatars at the center that . Stickers and Stories and games were fun, but none felt like must-see content. With Bitmoji TV, Snap may have found a way to get users to drag their friends into the app. Since everyone sees their own Bitmoji as the star, the cartoons could be more compelling then ones with impersonal characters you might find elsewhere around the web.

But Bitmoji TV’s success will depend largely on the quality of the writing. If your avatar is constantly getting into funny, meme-worthy situations, you’ll keep coming back to watch. But Snap’s teen audience has a keen nose for inauthentic bullsh*t. If the Shows feel forced, too childish, or boring, Bitmoji TV will flop. Snap would be savvy to invest in great Hollywood talent to produce the episodes.

High quality Bitmoji TV shorts could rescue Snapchat Discover from its own mediocrity. There are a few strong brands like ESPN SportsCenter on the platform, and Snap has several original Shows with over 25 million unique viewers. It’s also greenlit additional seasons of Shows like Dead Girls Detective Agency and new biopic clips from Serena Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still, a scroll through the Discover and Shows sections reveals plenty of trashy clickbait that surely scares away premium advertisers.

Bitmoji TV could offer video that’s not only fun and snackable, but out of reach for competitors who don’t have a scaled avatar platform of their own. As with the recent launch of Snapchat Cameos, the company has realized that the most addictive experiences center on its users’ own faces. Snapchat turned the selfie into the future of communication. Bitmoji TV could make an animated recreation of your selfie into the future of content.

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