Media

Wattpad’s latest deal will turn its stories into TV shows and movies in Korea

Posted by | Apps, Asia, films, kids, korea, Media, Mobile, movies, Publishing, Teens, tv, wattpad | No Comments

Wattpad’s ambitions to grow beyond a storytelling community for young adults took another leap forward today with the announcement of a new partnership that will help expand its reach in Asia. The company has teamed up with Huayi Brothers in Korea, which will now be Wattpad’s exclusive entertainment partner in the region. The two companies will co-produce content sourced from Wattpad’s community as it’s adapted for film, TV and other digital media projects in the country.

Development deals like this are not new to Wattpad at this point.

In the U.S., the storytelling app made headlines for bringing to Netflix the teen hit “The Kissing Booth,” which shot up to become the No. 4 movie on IMDb for a time.

Wattpad also recently announced a second season for “Light as a Feather,” which it produces with AwesomenessTV and Grammnet for Hulu.

It additionally works with eOne, Sony, SYFY, Universal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal) and Germany’s Bavaria Fiction.

Outside the U.S., Wattpad has 26 films in development with iflix in Indonesia.

And WattPad’s feature film “After,” based on Anna Todd’s novel, will arrive in theaters on April 12.

Key to these deals is Wattpad’s ability to source the best content from the 565 million stories on its platform. Do to so, it uses something it calls its “Story DNA Machine Learning technology,” which helps to deconstruct stories by analyzing things like sentence structure, word use, grammar and more in order to help identify the next big hits using more than just readership numbers alone.

The stories it identifies as promising are then sent over to content specialists (aka human editors) for further review.

This same combination of tech and human curation has been used in the past to help source its writing award winners and is now being used to find the next stories to be turned into novels for its new U.S. publishing arm, Wattpad Books.

In addition to its hit-finding technology, studios working with Wattpad also have a way to reach younger users who today are often out of touch with traditional media, as much of youth culture has shifted online.

These days, teens and young adults are more likely to know YouTube stars than Hollywood actors. They’re consuming content online in communities like Reddit, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and elsewhere. And when it comes to reading, they’re doing more of that online, too — whether that’s through chat fiction apps like Hooked or by reading Wattpad’s longer stories.

Wattpad says it now has 70 million users worldwide, who now spend 22 billion combined minutes per month engaged with its website and app.

With the Korean deal, Wattpad is further growing its international footprint after several other moves focused on its international expansions.

For example, today’s news follows Wattpad’s raise of $51 million in funding from Tencent; its appointment of its first Head of Asia for Wattpad Studios, Dexter Ong, last year; and its hiring of its first GM of India, Devashish Sharma, who is working with local partners to turn its stories into movies, TV, digital and print in the region.

Huayi Brothers Korea hasn’t announced any specific projects from the Wattpad deal at this point, but those will follow.

“Wattpad’s model is the future of entertainment, using technology to find great storytellers and bring them to an international audience,” said, Jay Ji, CEO, Huayi Brothers Korea, in a statement. “In an era of entertainment abundance, working with Wattpad means access to the most important things in the industry: a data-backed approach to development, and powerful, proven stories that audiences have already fall in love with,” he said.

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Feel the beep: This album is played entirely on a PC motherboard speaker

Posted by | chiptunes, DOS, Gadgets, Gaming, Media, Music, retro | No Comments

If you’re craving a truly different sound with which to slay the crew this weekend, look no further than System Beeps, a new album by shiru8bit — though you may have to drag your old 486 out of storage to play it. Yes, this album runs in MS-DOS and its music is produced entirely through the PC speaker — you know, the one that can only beep.

Now, chiptunes aren’t anything new. But the more popular ones tend to imitate the sounds found in classic computers and consoles like the Amiga and SNES. It’s just limiting enough to make it fun, and of course many of us have a lot of nostalgia for the music from that period. (The Final Fantasy VI opening theme still gives me chills.)

But fewer among us look back fondly on the days before sample-based digital music, before even decent sound cards let games have meaningful polyphony and such. The days when the only thing your computer could do was beep, and when it did, you were scared.

Shiru, a programmer and musician who’s been doing “retro” sound since before it was retro, took it upon himself to make some music for this extremely limited audio platform. Originally he was just planning on making a couple of tunes for a game project, but in this interesting breakdown of how he made the music, he explains that it ended up ballooning as he got into the tech.

“A few songs became a few dozens, collection of random songs evolved into conceptualized album, plans has been changing, deadlines postponing. It ended up to be almost 1.5 years to finish the project,” he writes (I’ve left his English as I found it, because I like it).

Obviously the speaker can do more than just “beep,” though indeed it was originally meant as the most elementary auditory feedback for early PCs. In fact, the tiny loudspeaker is capable of a range of sounds and can be updated 120 times per second, but in true monophonic style can only produce a single tone at a time between 100 and 2,000 Hz, and that in a square wave.

Inspired by games of the era that employed a variety of tricks to create the illusion of multiple instruments and drums that in fact never actually overlap one another, he produced a whole album of tracks; I think “Pixel Rain” is my favorite, but “Head Step” is pretty dope too.

You can of course listen to it online or as MP3s or whatever, but the entire thing fits into a 42 kilobyte MS-DOS program you can download here. You’ll need an actual DOS machine or emulator to run it, naturally.

How was he able to do this with such limited tools? Again I direct you to his lengthy write-up, where he describes, for instance, how to create the impression of different kinds of drums when the hardware is incapable of the white noise usually used to create them (and if it could, it would be unable to layer it over a tone). It’s a fun read and the music is… well, it’s an acquired taste, but it’s original and weird. And it’s Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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T-Mobile plans to offer à la carte media subscriptions, but no TV ‘skinny bundle’

Posted by | cord cutting, Media, Mobile, skinny bundle, streaming, streaming service, streaming TV, T-Mobile, television | No Comments

T-Mobile doesn’t want to compete with other carriers or teleco’s by developing its own “skinny bundle” of streaming TV channels, the company said today on its earnings call with investors, noting the market was already oversaturated on that front. Instead, the mobile operator’s strategy will focus on helping customers pick and choose which paid TV subscriptions they want to access — a move that very much sounds like T-Mobile is going the “Amazon Channels” route with its mobile streaming plans.

According to T-Mobile President Mike Sievert, today’s customers have a number of choices for streaming TV thanks to the massive expansion of OTT (over-the-top) services that are now available.

“It’s subscription-palooza out there. Every single media brand either has or is developing an OTT solution, and most of these companies don’t have a way to bring these products to market,” he said. “They’re learning about that. They don’t have distribution networks like us; they don’t have access to the phone like we have.”

Instead, the exec explained that T-Mobile wants to help customers access paid subscriptions that already exist, by simplifying aspects of that process such as search, discovery and billing.

“We don’t have plans to develop an nth undifferentiated skinny bundle,” Sievert continued. “There are plenty of those. We think there’s a more nuanced role for us to play in helping you get access to the great media brands out there that you love, and to be able to put together your own media subscription — and smaller pieces five, six, seven or eight dollars at a time,” he said, adding that T-Mobile would begin this work in 2019.

The cord cutting-focused news site The Streamable was first to report T-Mobile’s news.

T-Mobile’s announcement comes at a time when the carrier’s mobile TV plans have been more of a focus, as everyone is trying to figure out what the carrier is up to.

Recently, a Cheddar report said T-Mobile would be launching a free mobile TV service in the weeks ahead. But that turned out to be just a “snackable content app” for T-Mobile’s Metro brand, MetroPCS, and only on two phones to start.

T-Mobile’s decision to go with an Amazon Channels-like offering, where consumers build their own “skinny bundles” by mixing and matching paid subscriptions, is not an uncommon choice. This is the same direction that many in the industry are heading, as of late.

This week, for example, Viacom said it would add paid subscriptions to its newly acquired free TV service, Pluto TV. Roku recently rolled out paid subscriptions to its free TV and movies hub, The Roku Channel. And Dish’s Sling TV last year launched à la carte paid subscriptions to premium networks, without requiring the core package subscription.

However, the mobile operators aren’t necessarily going that route. AT&T, for instance, has been leveraging its Time Warner acquisition to launch multiple streaming services. Meanwhile, Verizon (disclosure: TechCrunch parent) saw its some of its streaming TV ambitions dashed with go90’s failure last year.

As the over-the-top streaming TV market is still a sliver of the larger pay TV space, it still remains to be seen which strategies and services will ultimately win over consumers. But companies are placing their bets now, experimenting, and sometimes failing then starting again.

Separately, T-Mobile today discussed its Layer3 home TV service, which was expected to launch nationwide in late 2018. That service is now planned for the first half of 2019, the company said.

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Netflix launches ‘smart downloads’ feature on iOS to automate offline viewing

Posted by | Apps, cord cutting, Downloads, iOS apps, Media, Mobile, Netflix, offline, streaming, streaming service, streaming video, tv, Video | No Comments

Netflix today is launching a new feature on iOS devices that will help make it easier to watch its shows when you’re offline. The “smart downloads” feature, as it’s called, will automatically delete a downloaded episode after you’ve finished watching, then download the next one — but only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The idea is that users will no longer have to go through the tedious work of managing their downloads — deleting those they’ve watched or downloading new titles, for example. Instead, the app can manage the downloads for you, so people can spend more time watching Netflix shows.

Smart downloads make sense for those who plan for intermittent connectivity — like commuters who take underground trains, for instance, or those who travel through dead spots where wireless coverage drops. It also makes sense for those on limited data plans, who are careful about not using streaming video apps unless they’re on Wi-Fi.

Offline features like this are key to attracting and retaining users in emerging markets where connectivity concerns are the norm. That’s likely why Netflix prioritized Android over iOS, for the initial launch of smart downloads.

The feature had first arrived on Android last summer. It’s now offered across platforms, including iOS and in the Windows 10 Netflix app, the company says.

Offline access is only one area where Netflix is focusing on the needs of those in developing markets. The company late last year also began testing a more affordable, mobile-only subscription.

Non-U.S. users accounted for 7.31 million of the 8.8 million new subscribers Netflix added in the last quarter, as the U.S. market has become more saturated.

To use smart downloads on iOS, you can toggle the option in the Netflix app settings. It then turns itself on when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, to ensure your data plan won’t be used and your device storage won’t fill up as you watch offline. The feature will alert you when the episode in question has been downloaded.

“The faster our members can get to the next episode of their favorite stories, the better. Now, fans on the Netflix iOS app can get in on the fun and convenience of Smart Downloads, spending less time managing their downloads and more time watching,” said a Netflix spokesperson in a statement about the launch. “The feature is one more way we’re making it easier for Netflix fans to take the stories they love wherever they go,” they added.

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YouTube expands test of its Instagram-like Explore tab to more devices

Posted by | algorithms, Apps, Media, Mobile, recommendations, Social, suggestions, YouTube | No Comments

YouTube is expanding the test of its “Explore” feature, a new discovery tool it first introduced as an experiment within its iPhone app last year. Similar to Instagram’s Explore page, the new YouTube feature aims to introduce users to a diverse set of personalized recommendations so they can more easily find something new to watch. The test is now available across devices, and has been updated to also suggest smaller, up-and-coming YouTube creators, the company says.

The changes to Explore were announced in a recent Creator Insiders video, where the company shares ideas it’s thinking about or testing ahead of a public debut — like a change to the “dislike” button, for example.

Last year, the company published a video to Creator Insiders where it talked about a plan to develop a new place within the YouTube app that would help people broaden their horizons when looking for something different to watch.

Today, YouTube’s recommendation technology relies heavily on past viewing activity and other in-app behavior to make its content suggestions, the company explained. With the Explore tab, however, YouTube aims to widen recommendations to include various topics, videos and channels you may not have otherwise encountered.

For instance, the Explore section might recommend videos about high-end cameras after you watched videos about telescopes. Or it might recommend videos about kittens or puppies because you watched other animal videos.

When YouTube launched Explore last year, the test was only rolled out to 1 percent of YouTube’s iPhone app users.

On testers’ devices, Explore replaces the Trending tab in the app’s navigation at the bottom of the screen. The section of Trending videos then became just another sub-category within Explore, alongside other top-level sections like Gaming, Movies, Music, Originals and more.

While Explore was initially available only to iPhone users, the test has now gone live across devices, including iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets and on the desktop, YouTube confirmed to TechCrunch. But it’s still only available to a “small amount” of testers, the company says.

In addition, Explore has been updated to include a new section called “On the Rise,” which will feature up-and-coming YouTube creators.

Here, a shelf is shown showcasing creators with fewer than 10,000 subscribers. These suggestions are personalized to you, too, based on which channels you currently like and regularly watch.

Beneath the “Under 10K” section are other creators YouTube thinks you’ll like, based on your YouTube watch history as well as those whose channels are watched by other fans of your favorite creators.

These recommendations may include those channels with more than 10,000 subscribers, but there will be a cap on how many subscribers a creator can have to be categorized within this “On the Rise” section. (That cap is still TBD, though.)

We understand that while YouTube has expanded the experiment’s reach, it doesn’t yet have a definitive plan for rolling out to the public the Explore tab.

For now, Explore is still considered an experiment and the company is looking to gather more feedback before making a formal decision about the feature’s wider availability.

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Pandora-powered channels will come to SiriusXM’s app this year

Posted by | Media, mergers, Mobile, Music, Pandora, radio, siriusxm, streaming, streaming music | No Comments

SiriusXM this week offered a few more details on how it plans to leverage its newest asset, Pandora, following its $3.5 billion acquisition of the streaming music service last year, which officially closes on Friday. At the time of the deal, the company spoke about the potential for cross-promotion opportunities between the services and new subscription packages. Now, those efforts are getting off the ground — starting with a promotion within the Pandora app for SiriusXM subscriptions, followed by the launch of Pandora channels within the SiriusXM app.

Currently, SiriusXM offers a variety of programming packages, ranging from a cheaper ($11/mo) “Mostly Music” sampling of channels all the way up to a premium “All Access” ($21/mo) subscription. It also runs various time-limited promotions that offer its service for as little as $5 per month for a set period, like six months.

According to Sirius XM CEO James Meyer — speaking to investors on the Q4 earnings call on Wednesday — the company will now start promoting special SiriusXM packages to Pandora listeners.

The company, he said, intends “to capitalize on cross-promotion opportunities between SiriusXM’s more than 36 million subscribers across North America and Pandora’s approximately 70 million monthly active users. In early February, we will begin a targeted promotion to SiriusXM subscribers and Pandora listeners,” he noted. “Select Pandora listeners will receive an offer to obtain a unique $5 a month ‘Mostly News,’ ‘Mostly Music’ or ‘News Talk’ [SiriusXM subscription] package in their satellite-equipped vehicle.”

In other words, SiriusXM will be pushing low-cost $5 per month streaming plans within the Pandora app itself.

The company believes the cross-promotions will be successful because of the overlap in the two services’ customer bases. It found that approximately half of the owners of the SiriusXM-enabled vehicle fleet of 100 million cars have used Pandora in the past two years, for example. SiriusXM aims to leverage those Pandora listeners’ data in order to convert, retain or bring them back to SiriusXM.

In addition, the exec said that existing SiriusXM subscribers would receive extended 14-day trials to Pandora’s Premium service.

By mid-2019, the company plans to launch a new Pandora-powered channel within its own SiriusXM app, based on their favorite artist. It will also add a new radio channel to the SiriusXM app that’s driven by the latest trends from Pandora’s “billions of thumbs” — meaning the “thumbs up” (likes), songs receive within the streaming app.

Meyer spoke briefly about the challenges facing Pandora — specifically a decline in listening hours, which SiriusXM believes can be fixed by improving Pandora’s in-car listening statistics, making the Pandora app more compelling, and adding more content.

“This is just the beginning. We expect, over time, to create new, unique audio packages that will bring together the best of both services, creating a powerful platform for artists to reach their fans and to create new audiences,” said Meyer.

The merger of the two companies has not been without upheaval, though.

This week, the company announced that Pandora CEO Roger Lynch and other executives would be stepping down, including general counsel Steve Bene, CFO Naveen Chopra and chief human resources officer Kristen Robinson. Meyer will instead lead the combined company, he said, in order to streamline decision-making and increase the speed of the integrations.

SiriusXM reported record revenues for the fourth quarter and year, at $1.5 billion and $5.8 billion, respectively. Net income was $251 million for the quarter, up from a loss of $37 million in the year-ago period. Full-year 2018 net income grew 81 percent to a record $1.2 billion.

The newly combined company will have more than 100 million listeners in North America, with nearly 40 million self-paying subscribers and more than 75 million on trials or using ad-based products.

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Foxconn pulls back on its $10 billion factory commitment

Posted by | alibaba, Amazon, Asia, China, Foxconn, Gaming, Government, india, Kakao, korea, Media, nexon, Policy, wisconsin | No Comments

Well that didn’t last long.

In 2017, Foxconn announced the largest investment of a foreign company in the United States when it selected Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin for a new manufacturing facility. Buttressed by huge economic development grants from Wisconsin, an endorsement from President Trump, and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou’s vision of a maker America, the plant was designed to turn a small town and its environs into the futuristic “Wisconn Valley.”

Now, those dreams are coming apart faster than you can say “Made in America.”

In an interview with Reuters, a special assistant to Gou says that those plans are being remarkably scaled back. Originally designed to be an advanced LCD factory, the new Foxconn facility will instead be a much more modest (but still needed!) research center for engineers.

It’s a huge loss for Wisconsin, but the greater shock may be just how obvious all of this was. I wrote about the boondoggle just a few weeks ago, as had Bruce Murphy at The Verge a few weeks before that. Sruthi Pinnamaneni produced an excellent podcast on Reply All about how much the economic development of Mount Pleasant tore the small town asunder.

The story in short: the economics of the factory never made sense, and economics was always going to win over the hopes and dreams of politicians like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who championed the deal. Despite bells and whistles, televisions are a commodity product (unlike, say, airfoils), and thus the cost structure is much more compatible with efficient Asian supply chains than with American expensive labor.

Yet, that wasn’t the only part of the project that never made any sense. Foxconn was building in what was essentially the middle of nowhere, without the sort of dense ecosystem of suppliers and sub-suppliers required for making a major factory hum. (Plus, as a native of Minnesota, I can also attest that Wisconsin is a pile of garbage).

Those suppliers are everything for manufacturers. Just this past weekend, Jack Nicas at the New York Times observed that Apple’s advanced manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas struggled to find the right parts it needed to assemble its top-of-the-line computer, the Mac Pro:

But when Apple began making the $3,000 computer in Austin, Tex., it struggled to find enough screws, according to three people who worked on the project and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

In China, Apple relied on factories that can produce vast quantities of custom screws on short notice. In Texas, where they say everything is bigger, it turned out the screw suppliers were not.

There are of course huge manufacturing ecosystems in the United States — everything from cars in Detroit, to planes in Washington, to advanced medical devices in several major bio-hubs. But consumer electronics is one that has for the most part been lost to Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and of course, China.

Geopolitically, Foxconn’s factory made a modicum of sense. With the increasing protectionism emanating from Western capitals, Foxconn could have used some geographical diversity in the event of a tariff fight. The company is Taiwanese, but manufacturers many of its products on the mainland.

And of course, a research center is still an enormous gain for a region of Wisconsin that could absolutely use high-income, professional jobs. Maybe the process of rolling out a next-generation manufacturing ecosystem will take more time than originally anticipated, but nothing is stopping further expansion in the future.

Yet, one can’t help but gaze at the remarkable naïveté of Wisconsin politicians who offered billions only to find that even massive subsidies aren’t enough. It’s a competitive world out there, and the United States has little experience in these fights.

India may put friction on foreign firms to protect domestic startups

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the major battles for tech supremacy is over the future of the Indian IT market, which is rapidly bringing more than a billion people onto the internet and giving them robust software services. I’ve talked a bit about data sovereignty, which mandates that Indian data be stored in Indian data centers by Indian companies, pushing out foreign companies like Amazon, Google, and Alibaba.

Now, it looks like India is taking a page from the Asian tiger-school of development, and is going to increasingly favor domestic firms over foreign ones in key industries. Newley Purnell and Rajesh Roy report in the WSJ:

The secretary of India’s Telecommunications Department, Aruna Sundararajan, last week told a gathering of Indian startups in a closed-door meeting in the tech hub of Bangalore that the government will introduce a “national champion” policy “very soon” to encourage the rise of Indian companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. She said Indian policy makers had noted the success of China’s internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the person said. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for more details on the program or its timing.

The idea of national champions is simple. Unlike the innovation world of Silicon Valley, there are obvious sectors in an economy that need to be fulfilled. Food and clothes have to be sold, deliveries made, all kinds of industrial goods need to be built. Rather than creating a competitive market that requires high levels of duplicate capital investment, the government can designate a few companies to take the lead in each market to ensure that they can invest for growth rather than in, say, marketing costs.

If done well, such policies can rapidly industrialize a country’s economic base. When done poorly, the lack of competition can create lethargy among entrepreneurs, who have already won their markets without even trying.

The linchpin is whether the government pushes companies to excel and sets aggressive growth targets. In Korea and China, the central governments actively monitored corporate growth during their catch-up years, and transferred businesses to new entrepreneurs if business leaders failed to perform. Can India push its companies as hard without market forces?

As the technology industry matures in the West, entrepreneurs will look for overseas as their future growth hubs. The challenge is whether they will be let in at all.

Video game geopolitics

Nexon’s MapleStory2 game is one of its most profitable (Screenshot from Nexon) .

Korea and Japan are two of the epicenters of the video game industry, and now one of its top companies is on the auction block, raising tough questions about media ownership.

Nexon founder Kim Jung Ju announced a few weeks ago that he was intending to sell all of his controlling $9 billion stake in the leading video game company. The company has since executed something of a multi-stage auction process to determine who should buy those shares. One leading candidate we’ve learned is Kakao, the leading internet portal and chatting app in Korea.

The other leading candidate is China-based Tencent, which owns exclusive distribution rights in China of some of Nexon’s most important titles.

Tencent has been increasingly under the sway of China’s government, which froze video game licensing last year as it worked to increase content regulation over the industry. Now the question is whether it will be politically palatable to sell a leading star of Korea’s video game industry to its economic rival.

From the Financial Times:

Mr Wi added that Nexon would be an attractive target for Tencent, which pays about Won1tn in annual royalties to the South Korean game developer. But selling the company to Tencent would be “politically burdensome” for Mr Kim, given unfavourable public opinion in South Korea towards such a sale, he cautioned.

“Political risks are high for the deal. Being criticised for selling the company to a foreign rival, especially a Chinese one, would be the last thing that Mr Kim wants,” said Mr Wi.

Such concerns around Chinese media ownership have become acute throughout the world, but we haven’t seen these concerns as much in the video game industry. Clearly, times have changed.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

Share your feedback on your startup’s attorney

My colleague Eric Eldon and I are reaching out to startup founders and execs about their experiences with their attorneys. Our goal is to identify the leading lights of the industry and help spark discussions around best practices. If you have an attorney you thought did a fantastic job for your startup, let us know using this short Google Forms survey and also spread the word. We will share the results and more in the coming weeks.

What’s Next

  • More work on societal resilience

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

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Netflix thinks ‘Fortnite’ is a bigger threat than HBO

Posted by | fortnite, Gaming, Media, Mobile, Netflix | No Comments

Netflix thinks “Fortnite” is a bigger threat to its business than HBO. The company in its latest quarterly earnings report released on Thursday said that while its streaming service now accounts for around 10 percent of TV screen time in the U.S., it no longer views its competition only as those services also providing TV content and streaming video.

“We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” the company’s shareholder letter stated. “When YouTube went down globally for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time…There are thousands of competitors in this highly fragmented market vying to entertain consumers and low barriers to entry for those with great experiences.”

In other words, Netflix today sees its competition as anyone in the business of entertaining their customers, and eating up their hours of free time in the process. That includes breakout gaming hits like “Fortnite.”

Netflix’s statement comes at a time when the internet, mobile and gaming have been shifting consumer’s focus and attention away from watching TV.

In fact, all the way back in 2012, mobile industry experts were warning that time spent in mobile apps was beginning to challenge television. And a few years ago, apps finally came out on top. For the first time ever, time spent inside apps exceeded that of TV.

Fortnite, in particular, has capitalized on this change in consumer behavior and has now grown to more than 200 million players. (Netflix just reached 139 million, for comparison’s sake.)

In 2018, Fortnite — along with other multiplayer games like PUBG — pushed forward a trend toward cross-platform gaming that’s capable of reaching consumers wherever they are, similar to streaming apps like Netflix. According to a recent report from App Annie, this is just the tip of the iceberg, too. Cross-platform gaming, including not only Fortnite and PUBG, but also whatever comes next, is poised to grow even further in 2019.

Notably, Fortnite, too, has become a place where you don’t just go to play — but rather “hang out.” For kids and young adults, the game has replaced the mall or other parts of the city where kids and teens just go to be around friends and socialize, wrote tech writer Owen Williams on his blog Charged.

“Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it’s become the coveted ‘third place’ for millions of people around the world,” he said.

Roblox, with it over 70 million players, serves a similar purpose.

That means it’s also a real threat to Netflix’s time. If gamers are hanging around a virtual space with friends, they have less time to stream TV. (And perhaps — given that many of the youngest Netflix never got cable to begin with — less desire to watch TV to begin with.)

“I think about it really is as winning time away, entertainment time from other activities,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on Thursday, discussing the threat from those competing for users’ time. “So, instead of doing Xbox or Fortnite or YouTube or HBO or a long list, we want to win and provide a better experience. No advertising on demand. Incredible content,” he said.

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Dolby quietly preps augmented audio recorder app “234″

Posted by | Apps, audio, Audio Recording, augmented audio, dolby, Entertainment, Media, Mobile, Social, soundcloud, TC | No Comments

Dolby is secretly building a mobile music production app it hopes will seduce SoundCloud rappers and other musicians. Codenamed “234” and formerly tested under the name Dolby Live, the free app measures background noise before you record and then nullifies it. Users can also buy “packs” of audio effects to augment their sounds with EQs settings like “Amped, Bright, Lyric, Thump, Deep, or Natural”. Recordings can then be exported, shared to Dolby’s own audio social network, or uploaded directly to SoundCloud through a built-in integration.

You could call it VSCO or Instagram for SoundCloud.

234 is Dolby Labs’ first big entrance into the world of social apps that could give it more face time with consumers than its core business of integrating audio technology into devices by other manufacturers. Using 234 to convince musicians that Dolby is an expert at audio quality could get them buying more of those speakers and headphones. And by selling audio effect packs, the app could earn the company money directly while making the world of mobile music sound better.

Dolby has been covertly testing Dolby Live/234 since at least June. A source tipped us off to the app and while the company hasn’t formally announced it, there is a website for signing up to test Dolby 234. Dolby PR refused to comment on the forthcoming app. But 234’s sign-up site advertises it saying “How can music recorded on a phone sound so good? Dolby 234 automatically cleans up the sound, gives it tone and space, and finds the ideal loudness. it’s like having your own producer in your phone.”

Those with access to the Dolby 234 app can quickly record audio or audio/video clips with optional background noise cancelling. Free sound editing tools including trimming, loudness boost, and bass and treble controls. Users can get a seven-day free trial of the Dolby’s “Essentials” pack of EQ presets like ‘Bright’ before having to pay, though the pack was free in the beta version so we’re not sure how much it will cost. The “Tracks” tab lets you edit or share any of the clips you’ve recorded.

Overall, the app is polished and intuitive with a lively feel thanks to the Instagram logo-style purple/orange gradient color scheme. The audio effects have a powerful impact on the sound without being gimmicky or overbearing. There’s plenty of room for additional features, though, like multi-tracking, a metronome, or built-in drum beats.

For musicians posting mobile clips to Instagram or other social apps, 234 could make them sound way better without much work. There’s also a huge opportunity for Dolby to court podcasters and other non-music audio creators. I’d love a way to turn effects on and off mid-recording so I could add the feeling of an intimate whisper or echoey ampitheater to emphasize certain words or phrases.

Given how different 234 is from Dolby’s traditional back-end sound processing technologies, it’s done a solid job with design and the app could still get more bells and whistles before an official launch. It’s a creative move for the brand and one that recognizes the seismic shifts facing audio production and distribution. As always-in earbuds like Apple’s AirPods and voice interfaces like Alexa proliferate, short-form audio content will become more accessible and popular. Dolby could spare the world from having to suffer through amazing creators muffled by crappy recordings.

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