Entertainment

Warframe promotional stunt brings a video game gun to the real streets of New York

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, Media, Warframe | No Comments

To promote the free-to-play game Warframe, director Michael Krivicka brought a little taste of video game mayhem to New York City.

In the video above, you can see bystanders asked to pose for photos with a model of the Opticor, an elaborate gun from the game. They’re warned not to pull the trigger — but what they don’t know is that a nearby police car and mailbox have been rigged to explode. That’s exactly what happens on-camera, leading to everyone’s shock and embarrassment.

I spoke with Krivicka earlier this week to learn more about how the video was staged. He explained that the props, created by custom design and fabrication firm A2ZFX, were all synchronized with a remote control that could set off the gun, car and mailbox at the same time.

The exploding effects used compressed air, with a small team taking about 15 minutes to reset everything between each take — which also provided the time needed for bystanders to move on so that there’s always a fresh set of eyes who have “no idea what’s going to happen.”

Director Michael Krivicka, Producer Chris Yoon

Director Michael Krivicka, Producer Christopher Yoon

He also noted that this was a “very controlled environment,” with New York City police officers off-camera: “I suggest through editing that it was a lot more rogue than it really is.”

Although this is Krivicka’s first game-related video, he’s created a number of other viral marketing stunts in the past, including ones where the spooky girl from the “Ring” movies actually crawls out of a TV and a “Cobra Kai” video where casual karate moves can split motorcycles in half. The common goal, he said, is to “always bring the sci-fi to life in the real world.”

This is also the first major video produced by Krivicka’s new agency WhoIsTheBaldGuy, but he said his aims haven’t changed: “I want to really create things where people are going, ‘Oh my God, what the fuck!’ I just want to go bigger and bolder. That’s the stuff that performs really well online.”

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HQ Trivia lays off ~20% as it preps subscriptions

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Gaming, HQ Trivia, layoffs, Media, Mobile, Personnel, Rus Yusupov, Social, Startups, Talent, TC, trivia | No Comments

HQ Trivia is struggling after a mutiny failed to oust its CEO. Downloads per month are down 92% versus last June according to Sensor Tower. And now four sources confirm that HQ laid off staff members this week. One said about 20% of staff was let go, and another said six to seven employees were departing. That aligns with Digiday reporter Kerry Flynn’s tweet that 7 employees were let go bringing HQ to under 30 (shrinking from 35 to 28 staffers would be a 20% drop).

That will leave the company short-handed as it attempts to diversify revenue with the upcoming launch of monthly subscriptions. “HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month . . .  Bigger prizes . . . More ways to win. $9.99/mo. subscription” the company tweeted from the account for its second game, the Wheel Of Fortune-style HQ Words. The company has been trying to regain momentum with new hosts since the departure of Quiz Daddy aka Scott Rogowsky, HQ Trivia’s original host.

hq trivia app 1

The cuts hit HQ’s HR, marketing, and product engineering teams, according to LinkedIn profiles of employees let go. The cuts could further hamper morale at the startup following a tough first half of the year. HQ Trivia and co-founder Rus Yusupov did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

HQ Trivia employees petitioned to remove co-founder Rus Yusupov from the CEO position

Following the tragic death of co-founder and CEO Colin Kroll, Yusupov retook control. But staff found him difficult to work with as he’d allowed the product to stagnate and popularity to decline. Yusupov was slow to make changes to the app, and “no one wanted to work under Rus” a source told me.

That led 20 of 35 staffers to sign a letter to HQ Trivia’s board asking them to remove Yusupov, though it was never formally sent. Yusupov caught wind of the plot and fired two of the leaders of the petition. That further sunk morale, leading to the exit of HQ Trivia’s SVP of brand partnerships and its marketing manager. The board began a search for a new CEO, though it’s unclear how that’s panned out.

Since then, new games HQ teased in April haven’t materialized as its download rate continued to suffer. It’s dropped to the #731 US game on iOS according to AppAnnie. HQ Trivia saw just 827,000 downloads from January through June 2019, down 92% from the 10.2 million it saw in the same time frame in 2018 according to Sensor Tower. That’s the same percentage drop in downloads from June 2019 versus June 2018, indicating Rogowsky’s replacements that started in April couldn’t turn things around.

Interest in the live game show format seems to be waning as a whole. HQ Trivia fan site HQTrivia.fan shut down this week fearing the end was near for the official game, and the (Business) INSIDER-run clone of the game on Facebook Watch called Confetti stopped airing at the end of June.

HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month.

🗓 Play HQ Words every day.
💰 Bigger prizes.
🕹 More ways to win.
🔥 $9.99/mo. subscription.

RT and reply with your username for a chance to win a free year. #wordseveryday

— HQ Words (@hqwords) June 26, 2019

Rather than solely monetizing a waning audience via in-app purchases and sponsorships, HQ Words announced it would debut a $9.99 monthly subscription sometime this month that would grant access to winning “bigger prizes”. This could be a smart way to squeeze more dollars out of a smaller but more diehard audience.

While HQ Trivia was an inspiring approach to mobile gaming, its twice-daily games didn’t fit the always-on nature of mobile. It’s failed build a proper onboarding experience that gives users a taste of it games right away rather than forcing them to wait for the next scheduled match as we suggested over a year ago. Gamers are fickle, craving instant gratification, and HQ hasn’t tried to meet them in middle.

Perhaps there’s a future for HQ on cable television, or as a small but steady business on mobile catering to loyalists. But all the unfortunate events and mismanagement may make it difficult to exceed the $100 million valuation it raised money at during its peak.

 

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Stranger Things portals have appeared in Fortnite

Posted by | Entertainment, epic games, fortnite, Gaming, Netflix, Stranger Things, TC | No Comments

This summer has blessed us with a wealth of awesome television options, from Big Little Lies to Chernobyl to The Handmaid’s Tale. And the good times keep rollin’. Tomorrow, Stranger Things Season 3 drops on Netflix.

To celebrate, it would appear that Epic Games is adding portals in Fortnite’s Mega Mall.

Netflix’s Chris Lee, director of interactive games, confirmed on a panel at E3 that there would be more crossover goodness after fans noticed the Scoops Ahoy ice cream store, which is the same name of the ice cream parlor in the show, in the Fortnite Mega Mall. Today, portals (that look like the ones leading to the Upside Down in the show) were also added to the Mega Mall.

Here’s what it looks like when you enter the Portals… pic.twitter.com/PZskPcXq9u

— FortniteMaster | Stats, Guides, Esports, News (@FNMasterCom) July 3, 2019

These portals don’t actually transport you to the Upside Down, but rather to a separate shop in the Mega Mall.

Based on Fortnite’s past collaborations — the game did an in-game promo with Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War and John Wick 3, to name a few — we can expect to see plenty more Stranger Things content on The Island starting tomorrow.

Fortnite has a growing revenue opportunity from these types of native advertising/marketing promotions. The Verge cites analyst firm SuperAnalytics in saying that Epic earned $2.4 billion in 2018, estimating the revenue earned from in-game purchases and BattlePass subscriptions. There was no mention of advertising revenue, however, which seems to be a growing segment for the company.

And let’s not forget, Netflix considers Fortnite to be bigger competition than HBO or Hulu. So it’s no surprise then, maybe, that Netflix is heading on over to The Island to promote one of its most popular original series this July 4 holiday.

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Calm raises $27M to McConaughey you to sleep

Posted by | Apps, calm, Education, Entertainment, funding, Fundings & Exits, Health, lightspeed venture partners, meditation, Mobile, Recent Funding, sleep, sleep aid, Startups, TC | No Comments

Meditation app unicorn Calm wants you to doze off to the dulcet tones of actor Matthew McConaughey’s southern drawl or writer Stephen Fry’s English accent. Calm’s Sleep Stories feature that launched last year is a hit, with more than 150 million listens from its 2 million paid subscribers and 50 million downloads. While lots of people want to meditate, they need to sleep. The seven-year-old app has finally found its must-have feature that makes it a habit rather than an aspiration.

Keen to capitalize on solving the insomnia problems plaguing people around the world, Lightspeed tells TechCrunch it has just invested $27 million into a Series B extension round in Calm alongside some celebrity angels at a $1 billion valuation. The cash will help the $70 per year subscription app further expand from guided meditations into more self-help masterclasses, stretching routines, relaxing music, breathing exercises, stories for children and celebrity readings that lull you to sleep.

Calm App

The funding adds to Calm’s $88 million Series B led by TPG that was announced in February that was also at a $1 billion valuation, bringing the full B round to $115 million and Calm’s total funding to about $141 million. Lightspeed partner Nicole Quinn confirms the fund started talks with Calm around the same time as TPG, but took longer to finish due diligence, which is why the valuation didn’t grow despite Calm’s progress since February.

“Nicole and Lightspeed are valuable partners as we continue to double down on entertainment through our content,” Calm’s head of communications Alexia Marchetti tells me. The startup plans to announce more celebrity content tie-ins later this summer.

Broadening its appeal is critical for Calm amidst a crowded meditation app market that includes Headspace, Simple Habit and Insight Timer, plus newer entrants like Peloton’s mindfulness sessions and Journey’s live group classes. It’s become easy to find guided meditations online for free, so Calm needs to become a holistic mental wellness hub.

While it risks diluting its message by doing so much, Calm’s plethora of services could make it a gateway to more of your personal health spend, including therapy, meditation retreats and health merchandise from airy clothing to yoga mats. But subscription fees alone are powering a big business. Calm quadrupled revenue in 2018 to reach $150 million in ARR and hit profitability.

Calm is poised to keep up its rapid revenue growth. After the launch of Sleep Stories, “it was incredible to see the engagement spike up and also the retention,” says Quinn. Users can choose from having McConaughey describe the wonders of the cosmos, John McEnroe walk them through the rules of tennis, fairy tales like The Little Mermaid and more.

Quinn tells me “Sleep Stories is now a huge percentage of the business, and also the length of time people spend on the app has gone up dramatically.” She tells me that so many startups are “trying to invent a problem where there isn’t one.” But difficulty snoozing is so widespread and detrimental that users are eager to pay for an app instead of a sleeping pill. Having the Interstellar actor talk about the universe until I pass out sounds alright, alright, alright.

Alright Alright Alright

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300M-user meme site Imgur raises $20M from Coil to pay creators

Posted by | alan schaaf, Apps, coil, Creators, Crowdfunding, cryptocurrency, eCommerce, Entertainment, funding, Fundings & Exits, Imgur, Media, Memes, micropayments, Mobile, Patreon, payments, Recent Funding, Ripple, ripple labs, Social, Startups, TC, xrp | No Comments

Meme creators have never gotten their fair share. Remixed and reshared across the web, their jokes prop up social networks like Instagram and Twitter that pay back none of their ad revenue to artists and comedians. But 300 million monthly user meme and storytelling app Imgur wants to pioneer a way to pay creators per second that people view their content.

Today Imgur announces that it’s raised a $20 million venture equity round from Coil, a micropayment tool for creators that Imgur has agreed to build into its service. Imgur will eventually launch a premium membership with exclusive features and content reserved for Coil subscribers.

Users pay Coil a fixed monthly fee, install its browser extension, the Interledger protocol is used to route assets around, and then Coil pays creators dollars or XRP tokens per second that the subscriber spends consuming their content at a rate of 36 cents per hour. Imgur and Coil will earn a cut too, diversifying the meme network’s revenue beyond ads.

Imgur

“Imgur began in 2009 as a gift to the internet. Over the last 10 years we’ve built one of the largest, most positive online communities, based on our core value to ‘give more than we take’” says Alan Schaaf, founder and CEO of Imgur. The startup bootstrapped for its first five years before raising a $40 million Series A from Andreessen Horowitz and Reddit. It’s grown into the premier place to browse ‘meme dumps’ of 50+ funny images and GIFs, as well as art, science, and inspirational tales. With the same unpersonalized homepage for everyone, it’s fostered a positive community unified by esoteric inside jokes.

While the new round brings in fewer dollars, Schaaf explains that Imgur raised at a valuation that’s “higher than last time. Our investors are happy with the valuation. This is a really exciting strategic partnership.” Coil founder and CEO Stefan Thomas who was formerly the CTO of cryptocurrency company Ripple Labs will join Imgur’s board. Coil received the money it’s investing in Imgur from Ripple Labs’ Xpring Initiative, which aims to fund proliferation of the Ripple XRP ecosystem, though Imgur received US dollars in the funding deal.

Thomas tells me that “There’s no built in business model” as part of the web. Publishers and platforms “either make money with ads or with subscriptions. The problem is that only works when you have huge scale” that can bring along societal problems as we’ve seen with Facebook. Coil will “hopefully offer a third potential business model for the internet and offer a way for creators to get paid.”

Coil Micropayments

Founded last year, Coil’s $5 per month subscription is now in open beta, and it provides extensions for Chrome and Firefox as it tries to get baked into browsers natively. Unlike Patreon where you pick a few creators and choose how much to pay each every month, Coil lets you browse content from as many creators as you want and it pays them appropriately. Sites like Imgur can code in tags to their pages that tell Coil’s Web Monetization API who to send money to.

The challenge for Imgur will be avoiding the cannibalization of its existing content to the detriment of its non-paying users who’ve always known it to be free. “We’re in the business of making the internet better. We do not plan on taking anything away for the community” Schaaf insists. That means it will have to recruit new creators and add bonus features that are reserved for Coil subscribers without making the rest of its 300 million users feel deprived.

It’s surprising thT meme culture hasn’t spawned more dedicated apps. Decade-old Imgur precedes the explosion in popularity of bite-sized internet content. But rather than just host memes like Instagram, Imgur has built its own meme creation tools. If Imgur and Coil can prove users are willing to pay for quick hits of entertainment and creators can be fairly compensated, they could inspire more apps to help content makers turn their passion into a profession…or at least a nice side hustle.

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China to lose top spot to US in 2019 gaming market

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Apple, China, Entertainment, Facebook, Gaming, Microsoft, mobile game, Nintendo, Sony, Tencent, WeChat | No Comments

China is losing its global lead in games. By the end of 2019, the U.S. will replace China as the world’s largest gaming market, with an estimated revenue of $36.9 billion, says a new report from research firm Newzoo.

This will mark the first time since 2015 that the U.S. will top the global gaming market, thanks to healthy domestic growth in consoles. Globally, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and other console games are on track to rise 13.4% in revenue this year. Driving the growth is the continued shift toward the games-as-a-service model, Newzoo points out, on top of a solid installed base across the current console generation and spending from new model releases.

China, on the other hand, suffered from a nine-month freeze on game licenses last year that significantly shrank the stream of new titles. Though applications have resumed, industry experts warn of a slower and stricter approval process that will continue to put the squeeze on new titles. Time limits imposed on underage players will also hurt earnings in the sector.

As a result of China’s slowdown, Asia-Pacific is no longer the fastest-growing region. Taking the crown is Latin America, which is enjoying a 10.4% compound annual growth.

Despite China’s licensing blackout, Tencent remained as the largest publicly listed gaming firm in 2018, pocketing $19.73 billion in revenue. Growth slowed to 9% compared to 51% from 2016 to 2017 at Tencent’s gaming division, but the Shenzhen-based company is back on track with new blockbuster Game for Peace (和平精英), a regulator-friendly version of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, ready to monetize.

Trailing behind Tencent in the global ranking is Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Activision Blizzard.

Other key trends of the year:

Rise of instant games: Mini games played inside WeChat without installing another app are becoming mainstream in China. These games, which tend to have strong social elements and are easy to play, have attracted followers including Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) to create with their own offerings.

Facebook’s Instant Games have also come a long way since opening to outside developers in 2018. The platform now sees more than 30 billion game sessions played across over 7,000 titles. WeChat doesn’t use the same metrics, but for some context, the Chinese company boasted 400 million monthly players on mini games as of January.

Mobile momentum carries on: Mobile games will continue to outpace growth on PC and console in the coming years. As expected, emerging markets that are mobile-first and mobile-only will drive most of the boom in mobile gaming, which is on course to account for almost half (49%) of the entire sector by 2022. Part of the growth is driven by improved hardware and internet infrastructure, as well as a growing number of cross-platform titles.

Games in the cloud are here: It was a distant dream just a few years ago — being able to play some of the most demanding titles regardless of the hardware one owns. But the technology is closer than ever to coming true with faster internet speed and the imminent rollout of 5G networks. A few giants have already showcased their cloud gaming services over the last few months, with the likes of Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s xCloud and Tencent’s Start slated to test the market.

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Maker Faire halts operations and lays off all staff

Posted by | Education, Entertainment, Exit, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Hack, hardware, layoffs, MAKE, maker faire, Maker Media, Media, Personnel, robotics, Startups, Talent, TC | No Comments

Financial troubles have forced Maker Media, the company behind crafting publication MAKE: magazine as well as the science and art festival Maker Faire, to lay off its entire staff of 22 and pause all operations. TechCrunch was tipped off to Maker Media’s unfortunate situation which was then confirmed by the company’s founder and CEO Dale Dougherty.

For 15 years, MAKE: guided adults and children through step-by-step do-it-yourself crafting and science projects, and it was central to the maker movement. Since 2006, Maker Faire’s 200 owned and licensed events per year in over 40 countries let attendees wander amidst giant, inspiring art and engineering installations.

Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees” Dougherty tells TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.” Microsoft and Autodesk failed to sponsor this year’s flagship Bay Area Maker Faire.

But Dougherty is still desperately trying to resuscitate the company in some capacity, if only to keep MAKE:’s online archive running and continue allowing third-party organizers to license the Maker Faire name to throw affiliated events. Rather than bankruptcy, Maker Media is working through an alternative Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process.

“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.

The CEO says staffers understood the challenges facing the company following layoffs in 2016, and then at least 8 more employees being let go in March according to the SF Chronicle. They’ve been paid their owed wages and PTO, but did not receive any severance or two-week notice.

“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity” Dougherty admits, as his company had raised $10 million from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. “The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”

The situation is especially sad because the public was still enthusiastic about Maker Media’s products  Dougherty said that despite rain, Maker Faire’s big Bay Area event last week met its ticket sales target. 1.45 million people attended its events in 2016. MAKE: magazine had 125,000 paid subscribers and the company had racked up over one million YouTube subscribers. But high production costs in expensive cities and a proliferation of free DIY project content online had strained Maker Media.

“It works for people but it doesn’t necessarily work as a business today, at least under my oversight” Dougherty concluded. For now the company is stuck in limbo.

Regardless of the outcome of revival efforts, Maker Media has helped inspire a generation of engineers and artists, brought families together around crafting, and given shape to a culture of tinkerers. The memory of its events and weekends spent building will live on as inspiration for tomorrow’s inventors.

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The Ticket Fairy is tech’s best hope against Ticketmaster

Posted by | concerts, eCommerce, Enterprise, Entertainment, eventbrite, funding, Fundings & Exits, live music, Mobile, payments, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, The Ticket Fairy, ticketing, TicketMaster | No Comments

Ticketmaster’s dominance has led to ridiculous service fees, scalpers galore and exclusive contracts that exploit venues and artists. The moronic approval of venue operator and artist management giant Live Nation’s merger with Ticketmaster in 2010 produced an anti-competitive juggernaut. It pressures venues to sign ticketing contracts under veiled threat that artists would otherwise be routed to different concert halls. Now it’s become difficult for venues, artists and fans to avoid Ticketmaster, which charges fees as high as 50% that many see as a ripoff.

The Ticket Fairy wants to wrestle away from Ticketmaster control of venues while giving fans ways to earn tickets for referring their friends. The startup is doing that by offering the most technologically advanced ticketing platform that not only handles sales and check-ins, but acts as a full-stack Salesforce for concerts that can analyze buyers and run ad campaigns while thwarting scalpers. Co-founder Ritesh Patel says The Ticket Fairy has increased revenue for event organizers by 15% to 25% during its private beta focused on dance music festivals.

Now after 850,000 tickets sold, it’s officially launching its ticketing suite and actively poaching venues from Eventbrite as it moves deeper into esports and conventions. With a little more scale, it will be ready to challenge Ticketmaster for lucrative clients.

Ritesh’s combination of product and engineering skills, rapid progress and charismatic passion for live events after throwing 400 of his own has attracted an impressive cadre of angel investors. They’ve delivered a $2.5 million seed round for Ticket Fairy, adding to its $485,000 pre-seed from angels like Twitch/Atrium founder Justin Kan, Twitch COO Kevin Lin and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman.

The new round includes YouTube founder Steve Chen, former Kleiner Perkins partner (and Mark’s sister) Arielle Zuckerberg and funds like 500 Startups, ex-Uber angels Fantastic Ventures, G2 Ventures, Tempo Ventures and WeFunder. It’s also scored music industry angels like Serato DJ hardware CEO AJ Bertenshaw, Spotify’s head of label licensing Niklas Lundberg, and celebrity lawyer Ken Hertz, who reps Will Smith and Gwen Stefani.

“The purpose of starting The Ticket Fairy was not to be another Eventbrite, but to reduce the risk of the person running the event so they can be profitable. We’re not just another shopping cart,” Patel says. The Ticket Fairy charges a comparable rate to Eventbrite’s $1.59 + 3.5% per ticket plus payment processing that brings it closer to 6%, but Patel insists it offers far stronger functionality.

Constantly clad in his golden disco hoodie over a Ticket Fairy t-shirt, Patel lives his product, spending late nights dancing and taking feedback at the events his clients host. He’s been a savior of SXSW the past two years, injecting the aging festival that shuts down at 2am with multi-night after-hours raves. Featuring top DJs like Pretty Lights in creative locations cab drivers don’t believe are real, The Ticket Fairy’s parties have won the hearts of music industry folks.

The Ticket Fairy co-founders. Center and inset left: Ritesh Patel. Inset right: Jigar Patel

Now the Y Combinator startup hopes its ticketing platform will do the same thanks to a slew of savvy features:

  • Earn A Ticket – The Ticket Fairy supercharges word of mouth marketing with a referral system that lets fans get a rebate or full-free ticket if they get enough friends to buy a ticket. Indeed, 30% of ticket buyers are now sharing a Ticket Fairy referral link, and Patel says the return on investment is $30 in revenue for each $1 paid out in rewards, with 10% to 25% of all ticket sales coming from referrals. A public leaderboard further encourages referrals, with those at the top eligible for backstage passes, free merch and bar tabs. And to prevent mass spamming, only buyers, partners and street teamers get a referral code.
  • Creative Payment Options – The startup offers “FreeFund” tickets for free events that otherwise see huge no-show rates. Users pay a small deposit that’s refunded when they scan their ticket for entry, discouraging RSVPs from those who won’t come. Buyers can also pay on layaway with Affirm or LayBuy and then earn a ticket before their debt is due.
  • Anti-Scalping – The Ticket Fairy offers identity-locked tickets that must be presented with the buyer’s ID on arrival, which means customers can’t scalp them. Instead, the startup offers a waitlist for sold-out events, and buyers can sell their tickets back to the company, which then redistributes them to a specific friend or whoever’s at the top of the waitlist at face value with a new QR code. Patel says client SunAndBass Festival hasn’t had a scalped ticket in five years of working with the ticketer.
  • Clever Analytics – Never wasting an opportunity, The Ticket Fairy lets events collect contact info and demand before ticket sales start with its pre-registration system. It can create multiple variants of ticketing sites designed for different demographics, like rock versus dance fans for a festival, track sales and demographics in real time and relay instant stats about check-ins at the door. Integration of email managers like Mailchimp and sales pixels like Facebook plus the ability to instantly retarget people who abandoned their shopping via Facebook Custom Audience ads makes marketing easier. And all the metrics, budgets and expenses are automatically organized into financial reports to eliminate spreadsheet busywork.

Still, the biggest barrier to adoption remains the long exclusive contracts Ticketmaster and other giants like AEG coerce venues into in the U.S. Abroad, venues typically work with multiple ticket promoters who sell from the same pool, which is why 80% of The Ticket Fairy’s business is international right now. In the U.S., ticketing is often handled by a single company, except for the 8% of tickets artists can sell however they want. That’s why The Ticket Fairy has focused on signing up non-traditional venues for festivals, trade convention halls, newly built esports arenas, as well as concert halls.

“Coming from the event promotion background, we understand the risk event organizers take in creating these experiences,” The Ticket Fairy’s co-founder and Ritesh’s brother Jigar Patel explains. “The odds of breaking even are poor and many are unable to overcome those challenges, but it is sheer passion that keeps them going in the face of financial uncertainty and multi-year losses.” As competitors’ contracts expire, The Ticket Fairy hopes to swoop in by dangling its sales-boosting tech. “We get locked out of certain things because people are locked in a contract, not because they don’t want to use our system.”

The live music industry can be brutal, though. Events can have slim margins, organizers are loathe to change their process and it’s a sales-heavy process convincing them to try new software. But while the record business has been redefined by streaming, ticketing looks a lot like it did a decade ago. That makes it ripe for disruption.

“The events industry is more important than ever, with artists making the bulk of their income from touring instead of record sales, and demand from fans for live experiences is increasing at a global level,” Jigar concludes. “When events go out of business, everybody loses, including artists and fans. Everything we do at The Ticket Fairy has that firmly in mind – we are here to keep the ecosystem alive.”

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YouTube will let bigot monetize if he removes link to homophobic merch

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Media, Mobile, Opinion, Policy, Social, TC, WTF, YouTube | No Comments

YouTube has made the weakest, least courageous response to mass backlash regarding its ruling yesterday that right-wing personality Steven Crowder’s racist and homophobic attacks on Vox video producer Carlos Maza didn’t violate its policies. Now YouTube says it’s demonetized Crowder’s channel because his “pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community” …but it will restore Crowder’s ability to earn a cut of YouTube ad revenue as long as he removes the link in his videos/channel to his offensive merchandise shop and fixes “all of the issues” with his channel. Specifically, Crowder’s shop sells [Warning: disturbing language not condoned by TechCrunch] “Socialism is for f*gs” t-shirts, baby onesies and beer-pong cups.

[Update: In the wake of this article and YouTube’s focus on his homophobic slur shirts, Crowder has removed the hateful merchandise from his store.]

The unwillingness to remove Crowder from YouTube counters the frequent calls by conservative politicians and pundits that they’re discriminated against on social media. Instead, it seems YouTube is too scared of being called bias to do what’s right and enforce its policies that dictate Crowder’s content or whole channel be removed. And even if Crowder does make YouTube’s required fixes, which it’s yet to publicly detail, he can still toe the line of its hate speech policies while promoting his merchandise shop within his videos.

To clarify, in order to reinstate monetization on this channel, he will need to remove the link to his T-shirts.

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019

Sorry for the confusion, we were responding to your tweets about the T-shirts. Again, this channel is demonetized due to continued egregious actions that have harmed the broader community. To be reinstated, he will need to address all of the issues with his channel.

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019

YouTube needs to completely rethink its approach to policy and enforcement here. Otherwise it’s likely to embolden harassers and bigots across the internet.

For those just stumbling into this social media policy dumpster fire, Canadia-American conservative commentator Crowder publishes politically inflammatory videos to his 3.8 million YouTube subscribers. They often include hosting bad faith “debates” with those who disagree with him, where he uses twisted rhetoric, aggression and obstinance to goad guests into getting angry so he can paint them as crazy and wrong. He’s also known for targeting specific media figures with verbal abuse, which leads his followers to harass them in en masse.

In this case, Crowder called Vox’s Maza a “gay Mexican” and “lispy queer,” amongst other hate speech-laden taunts across multiple videos. Last week Maza compiled a viral Twitter thread detailing the abuse and imploring YouTube to enforce its policy that bans hate speech and harassment.

Yesterday, YouTube tweeted its confusing and contradictory ruling from a review of Crowder’s videos. “While we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies . . . As an open platform, it’s crucial for us to allow everyone–from creators to journalists to late-night TV hosts–to express their opinions w/in the scope of our policies. Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site . . . Even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.”

That makes zero sense considering YouTube’s policy expressly forbids this kind of content, and says it will be taken down. YouTube specifically bans content that’s deliberately meant to “humiliate someone,” that includes “hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person” or features hate speech regarding “ethnicity” and “sexual orientation.” Crowder’s content violates all of these rules, and so consistent enforcement would require its removal.

That’s why the public momentarily applauded today when YouTube announced that it suspended Crowder’s monetization. This still fell far short of what YouTube’s policies dictate, but it at least meant that Crowder couldn’t monetize his YouTube views directly, even if he could still promote his merchandise, live events and Patreo-paid subscription page. Then the internet got rightfully mad again when YouTube said he just had to remove the link to his homophobic t-shirt shop to regain monetization, given he could just promote the shop in his videos while still benefiting from his YouTube reach.

And then just as this article was published, YouTube made yet another flip-flop and apologized for all the confusion (that it caused by waffling). It now claims that “this channel is demonetized due to continued egregious actions that have harmed the broader community. To be reinstated, he will need to address all of the issues with his channel.” Yet YouTube did not respond to a request for details about exactly what must be changed.

At least in the wake of this article and YouTube’s insistence he delink offensive merch from his channel, Crowder has removed the “Socialism is for f*gs” merchandise from his shop. But he’s sure to find new ways to stoke his hateful base while avoiding a full YouTube suspension.

Crowder repeatedly links his YouTube channel and videos to his merchandise shop selling shirts featuring homophobic slurs

It’s tough to even know where to begin criticism of YouTube’s behavior here:

  • YouTube ignored Crowder’s abuse of Maza and others for years while earning money from a hateful audience
  • It only took a closer look after Maza’s thorough exposé on abuse from Crowder received 20,000 retweets and got media attention
  • YouTube claimed that “while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies,” despite clearly violating its policies
  • The company had the gall to put out a blog post about its “ongoing work to tackle hate” without any reference to the Maza situation
  • A day after saying he didn’t violate policy, YouTube reversed itself and claimed Crowder did violate policies; however, he’s only getting demonetized, some believe because he’s popular, brings his fans to YouTube and Google might face allegations of anti-conservative bias if it suspended him
  • YouTube repeatedly refused to be transparent about why Crowder’s content was or wasn’t in violation of its policies, or what he’d need to change to be remonetized; it has refused to put anyone on the record, and even emailed responses to our press inquiries were answered by an anonymous Google Press email account
  • YouTube has not made any statement about ceasing to recommend Crowder’s videos in its algorithm, which has been repeatedly shown to radicalize people by showing them more and more extreme fringe content

Hopefully this will be a turning point in news coverage and public perception of Google and YouTube. Facebook’s spread of misinformation and Twitter’s failure to police harassment have dominated the conversation of social media’s dangers to society. But it’s YouTube that willfully suggests the most salacious and eye-catching content to users to keep them watching ads, even if it’s promoting bigotry. And since it pays stars directly, unlike Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, it’s uniquely responsible for creating a profession out of hatred.

Perhaps this situation will lead to more calls from viewers and advertisers to #BoycottYouTube. But if members of the tech community really want to drive change, they should message their friends who work at YouTube or Google and ask why they work at a company that operates this way. That monetizes harassment and radicalization while refusing to take a strong stand against it. When backlash hits not just pecks at Google’s profits but harms its recruiting efforts in a brutally competitive talent market, that’s when we might finally see it do the right thing.

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Spotify is building shared-queue Social Listening

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Mobile, Social, Spotify, spotify social, streaming music, TC, turntable.fm | No Comments

Want to rock out together even when you’re apart? Spotify has prototyped an unreleased feature called “Social Listening” that lets multiple people add songs to a queue they can all listen to. You just all scan one friend’s QR-style Spotify Social Listening code, and then anyone can add songs to the real-time playlist. Spotify could potentially expand the feature to synchronize playback so you’d actually hear the same notes at the same time, but for now it’s a just a shared queue.

Social Listening could give Spotify a new viral growth channel, as users could urge friends to download the app to sync up. The intimate experience of co-listening might lead to longer sessions with Spotify, boosting ad plays or subscription retention. Plus, it could differentiate Spotify from Apple Music, YouTube Music, Tidal and other competing streaming services.

A Spotify spokesperson tells TechCrunch that “We’re always testing new products and experiences, but have no further news to share at this time.” Spotify already offers Collaborative Playlists friends can add to, but Social Listening is designed for real-time sharing. The company refused to provide further details on the prototype or when it might launch.

The feature is reminiscent of Turntable.fm, a 2011 startup that let people DJ in virtual rooms on their desktop that other people could join where they could chat, vote on the next song and watch everyone’s avatars dance. But the company struggled to properly monetize through ad-free subscriptions and shut down in 2014. Facebook briefly offered its own version called “Listen With…” in 2012 that let Spotify or Rdio users synchronize music playback.

Spotify Social Listening was first spotted by reverse-engineering sorceress and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She discovered code for the feature buried in Spotify’s Android app, but for now it’s only available to Spotify employees. Social Listening appears in the menu of connected devices you can open while playing a song beside nearby Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. “Connect with friends: Your friends can add tracks by scanning this code – You can also scan a friend’s code,” the feature explains.

A help screen describes Social Listening as “Listen to music together. 1. On your phone, play a song and select (Connected Devices). You’ll see a code at the bottom of the screen. 2. On your friend’s phone, select the same (Connected Devices) icon, tap SCAN CODE, and point the camera at your code. 3. Now you can control the music together.” You’ll then see friends who are part of your Social Listening session listed in the Connected Devices menu. Users can also copy and share a link to join their Social Listening session that starts with the URL prefix https://open.spotify.com/socialsession/. Note that Spotify never explicitly says that playback will be synchronized.

With streaming apps largely having the same music catalog and similar $9.99 per month premium pricing, they have to compete on discovery and user experience. Spotify has long been in the lead here with its algorithmically personalized Discover Weekly playlists, which were promptly copied by Apple and SoundCloud.

Oddly, Spotify has stripped out some of its own social features over the years, eliminating the in-app messaging inbox and instead pushing users to share songs over third-party messaging apps. The deemphasis in discovery through friends conveniently puts the focus on Spotify’s owned playlists. That gives it leverage over the record labels during their rate negotiations as it’s who influences which songs will become hits, so if labels don’t play nice their artists might not get promoted via playlists.

That’s why it’s good to see Spotify remembering that music is an inherently social experience. Music physically touches us through its vibrations, and when people listen to the same songs and are literally moved by it at the same time, it creates a sense of togetherness we’re too often deprived of on the internet.

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