Media

Winamp returns in 2019 to whip the llama’s ass harder than ever

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, streaming, TC, Winamp | No Comments

The charmingly outdated media player Winamp is being reinvented as a platform-agnostic mobile audio app that brings together all your music, podcasts and streaming services to a single location. It’s an ambitious relaunch, but the company behind it says it’s still all about the millions-strong global Winamp community — and as proof, the original desktop app is getting an official update as well.

For those who don’t remember: Winamp was the MP3 player of choice around the turn of the century, but went through a rocky period during Aol ownership (our former parent company) and failed to counter the likes of iTunes and the onslaught of streaming services, and more or less crumbled over the years. The original app, last updated in 2013, still works, but to say it’s long in the tooth would be something of an understatement (the community has worked hard to keep it updated, however). So it’s with pleasure that I can confirm rumors that substantial updates are on the way.

“There will be a completely new version next year, with the legacy of Winamp but a more complete listening experience,” said Alexandre Saboundjian, CEO of Radionomy, the company that bought Winamp (or what remained of it) in 2014. “You can listen to the MP3s you may have at home, but also to the cloud, to podcasts, to streaming radio stations, to a playlist you perhaps have built.”

“People want one single experience,” he concluded. “I think Winamp is the perfect player to bring that to everybody. And we want people to have it on every device.”

Laugh if you want but I laugh back

Now, I’m a Winamp user myself. And while I’ve been saddened by the drama through which the iconic MP3 player and the team that created it have gone (at the hands of TechCrunch’s former parent company, Aol), I can’t say I’ve been affected by it in any real way. Winamp 2 and 5 have taken me all the way from Windows 98 SE to 10 with nary a hiccup, and the player is docked just to the right of this browser window as I type this. (I use the nucleo_nlog skin.)

And although I bear the burden of my colleagues’ derisive comments for my choice of player, I’m far from alone. Winamp has as many as a hundred million monthly users, most of whom are outside the U.S. This real, engaged user base could be a powerful foot in the door for a new platform — mobile-first, but with plenty of love for the desktop too.

“Winamp users really are everywhere. It’s a huge number,” said Saboundjian. “We have a really strong and important community. But everybody ‘knows’ that Winamp is dead, that we don’t work on it any more. This is not the case.”

This may not come as a shock to Winamp users still plugged into the scene: Following years of rumors, an update to the desktop player leaked last month, bringing it from version 5.666 to 5.8. It was a pleasant surprise to users who had encountered compatibility problems with Windows 10 but had taken the “more coming soon” notice on the website with a massive grain of salt.

This kind of thing happens a lot, after all: an old property or app gets bought, promises are made and after a few years it just sort of fades away. So a free update — in fact, 5.8 eliminates all paid options originally offered in the Pro version — bringing a bucketful of fixes is like Christmas coming early. Or late. At any rate it’s appreciated.

The official non-leaked 5.8 release should come out this week (the 18th, to be precise), and won’t be substantially different from the one we’ve been using for years or the one that leaked. Just bug and compatibility fixes that should keep this relic trucking along for a few years longer.

The update to the desktop app is basically a good faith advance payment to the community: Radionomy showing they aren’t just running away with the property and slapping the brand on some random venture. But the real news is Winamp 6, which Saboundjian says should come out in 2019.

“What I see today is you have to jump from one player to another player or aggregator if you want to listen to a radio station, to a podcast player if you want to listen to a podcast — this, to me, is not the final experience,” he explained. It’s all audio, and it’s all searchable in one fashion or another. So why isn’t it all in one place?

The planned version of Winamp for iOS and Android will be that place, Saboundjian claims. On desktop, “the war is over,” he said, and between the likes of iTunes and web apps, there’s not much room to squeeze in. But mobile audio is fractured and inconvenient.

While Saboundjian declined to get into the specifics of which services would be part of the new Winamp or how the app would plug into, say, your Spotify playlists, your Google Music library, your Podcasts app, Audible and so on, he seemed confident that it would meet the needs he outlined. There are many conversations underway, he said, but licensing and agreements aren’t the main difficulty, and of course release is still quite a ways out. The team has focused on creating a consistent app across every platform you might want encounter mobile audio. A highly improved search will also play a role — as it ought to, when your media is all lumped into one place.

No word on whether it will retain its trademark intro upon installation — “WINAMP. It really whips the llama’s ass.” I certainly hope so.

This lack of specifics is a bit frustrating, of course, but I’m not worried about vaporware. I’m worried that other services will insist on the fragmented experience they’ve created that serves their interests better than ours. But if Radionomy can navigate these tricky waters and deliver a product even a little like what they’ve described, I’ll be thrilled (and my guess is tens of millions more will be, as well). And if not, well, we’ll always have the original.

Powered by WPeMatico

Apple reportedly plans to give away its TV content, because that worked well with U2

Posted by | Apple, apple tv, Gadgets, Media | No Comments

Apple has answered two questions in one day, or rather a CNBC report citing someone within the company has. Why are the shows it’s planning so allegedly boring? And what does it plan to do to get a foot in the door in an increasingly competitive streaming-media market? They’re going to repeat the success they had with U2’s “Songs of Innocence” and just shunt it right onto everyone’s device.

To be clear, the report suggests that Apple will give its original content away for free to anyone with an iOS or tvOS device (Macs appear to be excluded). Users will find a shiny new app early next year called “TV,” in which will be Apple’s full lineup of PG-rated comedy and drama, free of charge.

Users will have the opportunity to subscribe to “channels,” for instance HBO, through which they can watch shows from those providers. Who will be allowed on this platform? It’s unclear. How will the billing work? Unclear. Will it replace standalone apps for the likes of Netflix? Unclear. How will it differ from iOS to tvOS? Unclear.

The only thing that is clear is that Apple is working from a position of massive leverage as the only company that can or has reason to launch a shared media channel through a billion-dollar giveaway. No doubt there will be other ways they’ll pinch the competition: search and Siri functionality will probably be better for TV; it’ll have integrations with other first-party apps; they’ll default users to using the TV app when they find a show they like — that sort of thing.

Some of you may be wondering: Can Apple really just spend a billion dollars on content and then give it away for free? The answer is unequivocally yes. This company is rich beyond imagining and they could do this every year if they wanted to (and in fact they might have to for a bit). Besides, this is a billion-dollar investment in a platform it hopes to entrap every other popular media company in.

Here’s the plan: First you get a base level of okay shows on the TV app so it isn’t a wasteland and people can get used to it always being there along with the other two dozen permanent apps. Then you nag some partners and channels into putting their stuff on there because it’s a “more streamlined experience” or something and collect rent when they do.

Once you have critical mass you reveal your second round of content — the good stuff — and a ridiculously cheap price, like $30 per year, or less bundled with iCloud stuff. Apple doesn’t need to make money on this, unlike other companies, so it can charge literally whatever it wants. Too low and people think it’s just a hobby, too high and they won’t pay for it on top of Netflix and HBO. Sweeten the deal with special pricing you wring out of channels because they can’t afford to leave this new walled garden, and say consumers come out ahead.

Meanwhile of course this is only available on Apple hardware, so you lock people into the ecosystem more, and maybe even sell a few Apple TVs.

Ultimately what they’re doing is buying their way into the market with a big up-front payment to shift and lock a non-trivial portion of the existing audience into their own app — a familiar maneuver.

The money, well, they’ve already spent that. And possibly on content of questionable quality. That’s the one big fault in the plan: Apple’s squeamishness may result in a TV app with a bunch of garbage on it, in which case (hopefully) no one will use it at all and the company won’t get the leverage it needs to bully other media companies into joining up.

You may remember how this kind of forced-content play worked out with U2. After they put “Songs of Innocence” on everybody’s computer, the backlash was so strong that Bono personally apologized. Turns out Apple isn’t actually a tastemaker — they just make the phones that tastemakers use.

In that case it may be that their quest to unseat the actual tastemakers of this era — the likes of Netflix and HBO, which rebuilt the TV industry from the ground up — is quixotic and doomed to failure (or at least a period of ignominious limbo).

Powered by WPeMatico

Reelgood’s app for cord cutters adds 50+ services, personalized recommendations

Posted by | Apps, cord cutting, Media, Mobile, reelgood, streaming, streaming services, TC, television, tv | No Comments

Reelgood, a startup aimed at helping cord cutters find their next binge, is out today with its biggest update yet. The company has been developing its streaming guide over the past year to solve the issues around discovery that exist when consumers drop traditional pay TV in favor of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Prime Video, and others.

The company first launched as a website in the summer of 2017 before expanding to mobile last fall. During that time, it’s grown to over a million monthly active users who now check in with Reelgood to find something new to watch.

With today’s update to its iOS app, Reelgood is adding a number of features, including personalized recommendations, curated selections, alerts for shows and movies you’re tracking, advanced search and filtering, and the ability to track content over 50 more streaming services, among other things.

As discovery is Reelgood’s focus, the updated app now offers two new types of recommendations.

One is Reelgood’s own take on “Because You Watched” – a type of viewing suggestion you’ll find today on individual services, like Netflix. But those are more limited because they’ll only suggest other shows or movies they offer themselves. Reelgood’s recommendations will instead span all the services you have access to, offering a more universal set of suggestions.

This feature is tied to Reelgood’s watch history, where you track which shows and movies you’ve seen. That means you have to use Reelgood as your tracking app as well, in order for this feature to work.

The app’s other new way of offering recommendations is less personalized – in fact, it’s random. Because sometimes serendipity is a better way to find something, a feature called “Reelgood Roulette” lets you shake your device while on the Discover tab to get a non-personalized, random suggestion.

Reelgood credits Netflix Roulette, created by Andrew Sampson, as the basis for this addition. In fact, it acquired the rights to the software last year, and then updated it to support more streaming services.

The app also now offers more powerful search and filtering capabilities involving Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb scores, plus cast and crew listings. This allows you to query up things like “Meryl Streep’s top-rated movies” or “drama series with an IMDb rating of at least 8.0 that came out in the last 3 years,” for example.

Reelgood’s search and filtering mechanisms have always been the place where it excels, but it’s less useful as a simple tracker. For that, I prefer TV Time, which lets you quickly mark entire seasons or series as “Watched” and offers discussion boards for each episode where you can post photos and memes and chat with other fans.

TV Time, however, hasn’t been as useful for making recommendations – its suggestions have been off-the-mark when I’ve tried it in the past, often leaning too heavily on network’s back catalogs than pushing me to more current or trending content. It makes me wish I could combine the two apps into one for the best of both worlds – tracking and recommendations.

The updated Reelgood app also doubles down on its own curation capabilities by offering editorial collections. For example: 2018 Emmy Nominees, IMDb’s Top 250 Movies, Original Picks, Dark Comedies, British Humour, and more. This can be a good way to find something to watch when you’re really stumped.

And as you discover new shows and movies you want to see, you can set alerts so you’ll be notified when they hit one of the streaming services you’re subscribed to, similar the tracking feature on Roku OS.

Finally, Reelgood’s update includes the addition of 50+ streaming services – that means there’s now support for more niche services like IndieFlix, FilmStruck, Shudder, Fandor, Crunchyroll, Mubi, AcornTV and Starz, among others.

“Reelgood 4.0 is the culmination of all we’ve learned about how people watch and the increasingly fragmented streaming world,” said Eli Chamberlin, Reelgood’s head of product and design. “Our aim with this release was to take all the streaming content out there, and display it in the most meaningful way possible so that people can get the most out of their existing streaming services without wasting countless hours browsing.”

The new app is rolling out to iOS today on the App Store.

 

Powered by WPeMatico

SoftBank leads $35M investment in sports engagement startup Heed

Posted by | Apps, Endeavor, Entertainment, Heed, Media, Mobile, Sports, Startups | No Comments

Heed, a startup looking to create new ways for sports leagues and clubs to engage with fans, is announcing that it has raised $35 million led by SoftBank Group International.

As laid out for me by CEO Danna Rabin, the company sits at the intersection of sports and IoT — which makes sense, since it was founded by Internet of Things company AGT International and talent agency Endeavor .

“Our primary mission is to connect the young audience with sports leagues and clubs,” Rabin said. “[Those] audiences are consuming less broadcast TV, consuming less of anything linearly. Sports clubs and brands are having more and more issues connecting with and reengaging those younger audiences.”

To create that connection, Heed places sensors around the match or game venue, even potentially on players’ clothing and equipment.

For example, the team let me make a couple punches using gloves with sensors inside, which were created for the mixed martial arts league UFC. Afterwards, I could see the measured force of each of my swings. (I didn’t really have any points of comparison, but I think it’s safe to say that my numbers weren’t too impressive.)

Heed

Rabin emphasized that Heed’s real focus isn’t on building fancy hardware, but rather on the artificial intelligence it uses to take that data (which can also be drawn from video and audio footage of the match) and transform it into a general narrative that can be viewed on the Heed smartphone app.

Pointing to the UFC glove, Rabin said, “We extract, only from this sensor, 70 different data points. What’s happening is, the fusion of these data points is what creates the stories.”

Put another way, the goal is to replace the generic commentary that you often get in sports coverage and live games with unique details about how the game or match is unfolding. Those aren’t just numbers like how hard someone is punching, but also inferences about a player’s emotional state based on the data.

“One of our core promises is that it’s not editorial driven,” Rabin added. “The AI is selecting what’s interesting in a match. Of course, we have a creative team that designs the formats, the visuals, how the packaging should look like, but that’s incorporated into the technology, which is automatically selecting the moments and creating the experiences with no human interpretation.”

So does Heed aim to be a technology provider or a sports media company of its own? Well, Rabin said it didn’t make sense to simply provide the tech to individual leagues or teams.

“A specific club does not have the breadth of technologies to keep evolving,” she said. Plus, she argued that the audience isn’t looking for just a one-off site with stories about one team, but an all-around destination where they can “get a bit of everything.”

In addition to the UFC, Heed is also working with EuroLeague (the European basketball league), various soccer clubs and Professional Bull Riding. In the latter case, it’s not just creating content, but actually working with the organization to create a more automated and objective form of judging.

“By leveraging AI and IoT, HEED has developed a unique platform that is changing the way fans watch and interact with sports,” said Softbank President and CFO Alok Sama. “HEED is taking a traditionally static experience and providing fans with deeper insights into the physical and emotional aspects of the sporting event by gathering and analyzing large, complex data in real time.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Spotify ends test that required family plan subscribers to share their GPS location

Posted by | families, family plan, kids, Media, Mobile, parents, Spotify | No Comments

Spotify has ended a test that required its family plan subscribers to verify their location, or risk losing accessing to its music streaming service. According to recent reports, the company sent out emails to its “Premium for Family” customers that asked them to confirm their locations using GPS. The idea here is that some customers may have been sharing Family Plans, even though they’re not related, as a means of paying less for Spotify by splitting the plan’s support for multiple users. And Spotify wanted to bust them.

Spiegel Online and Quartz first reported this news on Thursday.

Of course, as these reports pointed out, asking users to confirm a GPS location is a poor means of verification. Families often have members who live or work outside the home — they may live abroad, have divorced or separated parents, have kids in college, travel for work or any other number of reasons.

But technically, these sorts of situations are prohibited by Spotify’s family plan terms — the rules require all members to share a physical address. That rule hadn’t really been as strictly enforced before, so many didn’t realize they had broken it when they added members who don’t live at home.

Customers were also uncomfortable with how Spotify wanted to verify their location — instead of entering a mailing address for the main account, for instance, they were asked for their exact (GPS) location.

The emails also threatened that failure to verify the account this way could cause them to lose access to the service.

Family plans are often abused by those who use them as a loophole for paying full price. For example, a few years ago, Amazon decided to cut down on Prime members sharing their benefits, because they found these were being broadly shared outside immediate families. In its case, it limited sharing to two adults who could both authorize and use the payment cards on file, and allowed them to create other, more limited profiles for the kids.

Spotify could have done something similar. It could have asked Family Plan adult subscribers to re-enter their payment card information to confirm their account, or it could have designated select slots for child members with a different set of privileges to make sharing less appealing.

Maybe it will now reconsider how verification works, given the customer backlash.

We understand the verification emails were only a small-scale test of a new system, not something Spotify is rolling out to all users. The emails were sent out in only four of Spotify’s markets, including the U.S.

And the test only ran for a short time before Spotify shut it down.

Reached for comment, a Spotify spokesperson confirmed this, saying:

“Spotify is currently testing improvements to the user experience of Premium for Family with small user groups in select markets. We are always testing new products and experiences at Spotify, but have no further news to share regarding this particular feature test at this time.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Live streams of karate and niche sports are terrifying major sports leagues

Posted by | Endeavor, Entertainment, espn, esports, Facebook Live, Gaming, Hulu, Media, mlb, NBA, Netflix, nfl, Sports, streaming TV, Twitch, ufc, Video, YouTube Live | No Comments

Of the 100 most-watched live telecasts in the US in 2005, 14 were sporting events; in 2015, sporting events comprised 93 of the top 100 telecasts. That shift occurred because TV shows are shifting to online or on-demand viewing, and live broadcasts of the biggest sports are the main thing TV networks have left to draw in live audiences. But the need to keep those sports on TV and off streaming services is only accelerating the rate at which young people are tuning into other sports leagues instead.

The rapid adoption of subscription video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and of social live streams on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch is enabling massive growth by sports leagues that you won’t normally see on TV. In the streaming era, more sports – and new types of sports like esports – keep thriving while interest in traditional pro leagues like the NFL and MLB declines.

OTT is where the growth is

The central narrative in the global film/TV industry right now is the response of incumbent companies to the growing dominance of Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming (aka “OTT” or over-the-top) services. The incumbents are merging to consolidate ownership of must-have shows onto a smaller number of new OTT services that will each be stronger.

The majority of American households have a Netflix subscription (i.e. access to one of Netflix’s 56M US accounts), another 20M have a Hulu subscription, the number of OTT-only households has tripled in 5 years, and 50% of US internet users use a subscription OTT service at least weekly. Almost one-third (29%) of Americans say they watch more streaming TV than linear TV, and among those age 18-29 it’s 54% (with 29% having cut the cord on linear TV entirely). People, especially young people, want to watch shows on their own time and on any device, and they get more value from a few $8-40 per month subscription platforms than a $100+ per month cable bill.

Meanwhile, social live-streaming platforms that got their start enabling people to either vlog or watch video gaming are expanding to all sorts of live broadcasting: Twitch averaged 1 million viewers at any given point of day in January, and there were 3.5 billion broadcasts over Facebook Live in the first two years after it launched (with 2 billion users viewing at least one).

We’ve hit the pivot point where media is streaming-first. Netflix is now the leading studio in Hollywood, spending $13 billion this year on content. Linear TV viewing is declining: every major cable network (except NBC Sports) has declining viewership and aging viewers. Between 2007 and 2017, the median age of primetime viewers on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox went up 8-11 years and are all in the 50s or 60s.

Major pro sporting events are the last bastion of TV networks because the dominant brands are, for the most part, only available live on TV. Beyond those, the only content getting large audiences to tune in simultaneously are a couple Hollywood awards shows and premieres or finales of a couple hit shows (Big Bang Theory and NCIS).

The exclusive broadcast rights to those live sports events – particularly the NFL, NBA, MLB, and top NCAA basketball and football games – are the last defense for major broadcast networks. They are the reason for younger Americans to not cut the cord. ESPN makes $7.6 billion per year in carriage fees from cable companies paying for the right to carry the main ESPN channel (the other ESPN channels add another $1 billion); that number is increasing even as ESPN’s viewership is declining.

Disney (ESPN’s owner) and other leading broadcasters don’t want to let people watch major sporting events online instead (at least not easily or cheaply) because doing so would pull the rug out from under their traditional revenue stream and OTT revenue (subscription + ads) won’t make up for it quickly enough. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that TV networks are paying record sums for exclusive broadcast rights to top sports leagues out of fear that losing them to a rival could be a nail in their coffin.

This strategy is delaying, not stopping the shift in consumption habits. More and more young people are tuning out (or never tuning in) to the major pro sports on TV, and the median age of their audiences shows that: 64 for the PGA Tour, 58 for NASCAR, 57 for MLB, 52 for NCAA football and men’s basketball, and 50 for the NFL…and all are getting older. (Cable news networks, the other holdouts who are still doing well on live TV face the same situation: the average age of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN viewers is now 65, 65, and 61 respectively.)

The major pro sports staying on linear TV has expanded the market opening for new sports to fill the open space with young people who mainly consume content online. In fact, a growing marketplace of different sports leagues (including esports) developing their own fanbases is an inevitability of the shift to OTT video as it lowers the barrier to entry to near-zero and let’s geographically dispersed fans unify in one place.

1. Lower barrier to entry for distribution

Lawn bowling is no longer your grandfather’s sports league. Mint Images/Getty Images

Niche sports leagues – or frankly, even big sports leagues that just aren’t at the scale of professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey – have always had a hard time getting coverage on television. But you can produce and distribute video for an online audience more cheaply than for a television audience.

In fact with Facebook Live and Twitch, you can stream live video for free, and you can share clips across every social channel to attract interest. To launch your own OTT service or partner with an existing one, you don’t need to start with a massive audience from the beginning and you don’t need millions of dollars from sponsors just to break even.

Having signed over 150 new deals this year alone for its 20+ sports verticals (which will stream 2,500 live events in 2018), Austin-based FloSports has established itself as the go-to OTT partner for sports leagues with an established, passionate following that aren’t massive enough to garner regular ESPN-level coverage.

From rugby, track & field, and wrestling to bowling, competitive marching band, and ballroom dance, millions of Americans have participated in these activities in their youth and through clubs as adults but rarely see them on television. In fact, the rare instances when such sports are on TV – like their national championships – the league is usually paying large sums (potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars) for that airtime rather than getting paid by the broadcasters.

FloSports gives a home to the superfans of its partner leagues, with full coverage of the sport and commentary meant for real fans. It produces events in the manner best fit to highlight the action and turns superfans – who generally pay a subscription – into evangelists who recruit friends. There are numerous sports that have millions of participants yet no active, high-quality event coverage; those are underserved markets.

By tapping into this, FloSports properties (like FloWrestling, FloTrack, etc.) have gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers and created a surge of interest in teams like Oklahoma State’s wrestling team, which saw an 144% increase in live stream viewing and 68% growth in event attendance after joining FloWrestling (leading to them to set an all-time attendance record in the university’s basketball arena of 14,059 people). In the first half of 2018, FloSports’ various Instagram accounts collectively received 307M video views, more than the collective accounts of Fox Sports or of all NFL teams (and NFL Network).

2. Going global right away.

Johanne Defay of France at a World Surf League event. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The top pro sports leagues have geographically concentrated fan-bases that fit the geographic restrictions of TV broadcasters, which end at a country’s border. Online streaming empowers sports that have large fan bases who aren’t geographically concentrated to aggregate in the digital sphere with enough eyeballs (and paying subscriptions) to drive engagement with the sport’s content through the roof.

Since being acquired in 2015 and renamed World Surf League, the governing body of professional surfing has developed a large global following – with 6.5M Facebook fans and 2.9M Instagram followers – through the launch of live streams and on-demand video on its website and mobile app, plus partnering with third-parties like Bleacher Report’s OTT service B/R Live. Only 20-25% of WSL’s viewers are in the US but since its competitions are streamed direct-to-consumer online, they were able to reach surfers around the world right away. After seeing WSL’s Facebook Live streams garner over 14M viewers in 2017, Facebook paid up to become the exclusive live-stream provider for WSL competitions for two years, beginning this past March.

3. Immediate data on audience engagement.

As with all offline-to-online shifts, OTT video streaming captures dramatically more data on audience demographics and engagement than television does, and it does it in real-time. This makes it easier for emerging sports leagues to partner with advertisers and show immediate ROI on their sponsorships, plus it informs their understanding of how to produce their particular type of sporting event for maximum audience engagement.

Karate Combat is a year-old league that builds off the existing base of karate participants and fans around the world (numbering in the tens of millions) with a new competition format specifically intended for OTT. The league allows full-contact fighting and sets the match in a pit (rather than a traditional fighting ring) for better camera angles. It also replaces the traditional focus on having a big in-person audience (which is expensive) and instead sets the fights in exotic locations (like the fight this coming Thursday night on top of the World Trade Center).

Like many emerging sports leagues, Karate Combat is vertically integrated: the league organizing the competitions is also the one producing and streaming the event coverage over its website, mobile apps, and social channels. This not only means it captures the content-related revenue from subscribers, advertisers, and numerous OTT distribution partners, but it sees every data point about fans’ viewing behavior and their interaction with various dashboards (like biometrics on each fighter) so they can optimize both online and offline aspects of the production.

4. Online means interactive

Jujitsu fighting is now an OTT service. South_agency/Getty Images

Online viewing creates the opportunity for functionality you can’t achieve with linear TV: interactive displays overlayed on or next to live video. Viewers can pull up and click through real-time stats, change camera views, or switch overlays (think the the yellow first-down line in NFL broadcasts or coloring around a hockey puck to help you track it on the ice). Ultimately, a more interactive experience means a more social and more entertaining experience (and the sort of deep engagement advertisers value too).

FloSports’ ju-jitsu live streams (FloGrappling) give subscribers multiple live cameras each covering simultaneous matches on different mats so they can click between them. This is a more personalized experience than passively watching one broadcast on TV and it gets that subscriber actively engaged, with their behavior providing valuable data points for FloSports and their deeper interaction likely more compelling to event sponsors.

The display might also highlight live comments from friends or friends-of-friends in order to draw viewers into a more social experience. Discussion of a specific live stream with others watching it has been a central feature for Twitch and Facebook Live and enables the league or team streaming the event to directly engage with fans around the world.

An exception to the OTT-first strategy may be in sports that are entirely new and have zero existing base of participants or fans. Karate, surfing, and video-gaming all have millions of passionate participants around the world, going back decades. A new league like the 3-year-old Drone Racing League (DRL), which has raised $21M in venture capital to develop the sport of competitive drone racing, has to artificially stimulate the development of a fanbase if it doesn’t want to wait years for grassroots competitions to create a critical mass of fans even for a niche OTT service. It’s unsurprising then that DRL has focused on striking TV deals with ESPN, Sky Sports, ProSiebenSat.1, and others to thrust it in front of large audiences from the start, like a new game show hoping its format will entice enough people to take interest.

Power is in the hands of the league owners

Ari Emanuel, chief executive officer of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The best position to be in right now is the owner of a sports league that’s rapidly growing in popularity. The competition for audience by both traditional media companies and tech platforms leaves a long list of distribution partners eager for must-have, exclusive content – especially content like sports events that fans want to want live together – and willing to pay up.

Moreover, vertical integration to control your fans’ content viewing experience and own your relationship with them has never been easier. There are direct subscriptions, advertisers, event sponsors, event tickets, a portfolio of possible OTT distribution deals, and merchandising. The potential revenue streams a league can develop are only more numerous when you add in launching a fantasy sports league – like World Surf League has done – and the recent nationwide legalization of sports betting in the US.

Endeavor, the parent company of Hollywood’s powerful WME-IMG talent agency, seems to have recognized this and is an early mover in the space. It bought two sports leagues that have relied on TV deals and event attendance revenue – UFC for $4B and the smaller but rapidly growing Professional Bull Riders for $100M – and, since they each own their content, launched direct-to-consumer subscription platforms (UFC Fight Pass and PBR Ridepass) for super-fans and cord-cutters. (Endeavor also paid $250M to acquire Neulion, the technology company whose infrastructure powers the OTT services of the UFC, PBR, World Surf League, and dozens of others.)

There’s opportunity for new streaming platforms focused on being the media partner for these emerging sports leagues. Inevitably, the opportunity for bundling will consolidate many of the niche subscriptions onto a small number of leading sports OTT platforms, and that’s a powerful market position for those platforms.

What is unclear is if they can defend themselves as the incumbent media and tech companies come around to this phenomenon and commit billions toward capturing the market. The leading sports broadcasting companies all have OTT offerings and want to make them as compelling to potential subscribers as possible even if they exclude content from the biggest pro sports. A larger company that can afford to spend huge sums on exclusive sports streaming rights (like Disney with ESPN/ABC, Comcast with NBC/Sky Sports, CBS with CBS Sports Network, or Discovery with Eurosport) might opt to buy a company like FloSports as part of their deep dive into the space or they might just aim to outbid them when a league’s contract comes up for renewal.

The hope for an independent OTT platform devoted to emerging sports leagues is they get big enough, fast enough that they can afford to keep winning the rights to emerging leagues as those leagues grow and offers from competitors bid prices up. These dedicated OTT services will likely have to secure long-term – think ten years – streaming rights deals or acquire control of some popular new sports leagues outright to hold their own.

Like online distribution triggered an explosion of digital publishing brands and social influencers for every imaginable niche, the rise of high-quality live streaming and subscription OTT services will allow a lot more sports leagues to build an audience and revenue base substantial enough to thrive. There’s more variety for consumers and resources than ever for those with a rapidly growing league to attract fans worldwide.

Powered by WPeMatico

Old media giants turn to VC for their next act

Posted by | 21st century fox, Activision Blizzard, Axel Springer, bertelsmann, Entertainment, epic games, Gaming, Hearst, Media, Naspers, Netflix, Sky, Tencent, Venture Capital, WndrCo | No Comments

The Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 eras weren’t kind to the world’s largest media conglomerates, throwing their business models into question, creating whole new categories of content consumption, and bringing online competition to subscription and ad pricing. Many of the media giants from the 1990s and early 2000s remain market leaders with multi-billion dollar valuations, however, and have become active investors in startups as a tactic to help themselves evolve.

Of the traditional media companies that have committed to corporate venturing, there are two distinct strategies: those whose investing seems to be about replacing the historic classifieds section of newspapers and diversifying into a range of consumer-facing marketplaces, and those whose investing is concentrated on capturing an early glimpse (and early equity stake) in startups reshaping media.

Replacing Classifieds, Investing in Marketplaces

Mathias Doepfner, CEO of Axel Springer. The company’s startup accelerator is one of the most active in Europe. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

Given the first crisis newspaper groups faced from tech startups in the 1990s and early 2000s was the rise of online classifieds sites (like Craigslist) and transactional marketplaces (like eBay and Amazon), the disruption of their lucrative classified ads revenue stream drove their attention to e-commerce.

Aside from Hearst, the major US newspaper and magazine chains – like Gannett, News Corp, Meredith Corp / Time Inc, and Digital First Media – haven’t made many investments in startups. Perhaps the financial straits of most US newspaper companies have left little cash for VC investments that won’t pay off for years in the future.

But in Northern and Central Europe, where news readership and even print publishing remain healthy by comparison, the leading media groups have been aggressively investing in marketplace and e-commerce startups across the continent over the last decade.

Europe’s leading publisher, Axel Springer has made itself an established player in the European startup scene. Axel Springer’s Digital Ventures team has backed marketplaces from Caroobi (for cars) to Airbnb, and their Berlin-based accelerator (run in partnership with Plug & Play) has invested in over 100 young startups, like digital bank N26, boat rental marketplace Zizoo, and influencer-brand marketplace blogfoster. In a move more strategic to its business, the 15,000-employee group made a large investment in augmented reality unicorn Magic Leap this past February as well, forming a partnership to leverage its content IP in the process.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Schibsted, Sweden’s Bonnier, and Germany’s Hubert Burda Media (best know to many in tech for their annual DLD conference in Munich) and Holtzbrinck Publishing are each globally active, multi-billion dollar publishers who operate active early- or growth-stage VC portfolios composed mainly of e-commerce brands and marketplaces.

The most iconic corporate venture investment by a newspaper conglomerate (or any company for that matter) is without question the $32M check written into 3-year-old Chinese social web startup Tencent in 2001 by the South African publishing group Naspers (founded in 1915). Tencent, now valued around $400B, is Asia’s largest and most powerful digital media company and Naspers’ 31% stake was worth roughly $175B in March 2018 when it sold $10B in shares.

As a result, Naspers has transformed into a holding company that incubates, acquires, and invests in online marketplace businesses around the globe (though it still maintains a relatively small publishing unit).

The challenge for traditional media companies investing in startups beyond the realm of media is that even if wildly successful, those investments neither give them a distinct advantage in media itself nor make their business model like that of a tech company by way of osmosis. These investments can be flashy distractions to make management and shareholders call the company innovative while it fails to actually re-envision its core operations. Investing in Airbnb or BaubleBar doesn’t address the key challenges or opportunities a traditional publishing group faces.

Therefore the best case scenario in this strategy seems to be that these companies find enough financial success that they just transition out of the content game and become holding companies for other types of consumer-facing brands the way Naspers has. But even then the path seems uncertain: despite all its other activities, Naspers’ market cap is less than the value of its Tencent shares…it’s not clear that the best case scenario necessarily transforms the core organization.

Investing in the Next Generation of Media

Thomas Rabe, CEO of German media group Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann is unique in treating startup investments as a dedicated division of the conglomerate. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The other track for “old media” giants has been to focus on venture capital as a means to uncover the future of the media business so the old guard can learn from the new generation of media entrepreneurs and react to market changes sooner than competitors. Intriguingly, it is consistent that the conglomerates who have taken this strategy are ones whose operations in television, radio, data, and telecom outweigh any involvement in newspapers.

Bertelsmann, Hearst, and 21st Century Fox have been the most aggressive corporate venture investors in startups working to shape the future of media, whether it be through streaming video services, crowdsourced storytelling platforms, or augmented reality.

With annual revenue over €17B, Bertelsmann is one of the largest media companies in the world, spanning television production and broadcasting (RTL Group), book publishing (Penguin Random House), newspapers, magazine publishing (Grüner + Jahr), and education. Unlike of media companies though, it treats venture investments in media startups as a key division of its company rather than as a side project.

The company’s core Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI) invests across the US and Europe in companies like Audible, Mic, The Athletic, and Wondery (and in funds like Greycroft and SV Angel) but there are also the 3 regionally-focused funds investing in China, India, and Brazil plus the education-focused University Ventures fund it anchors in NYC. Collectively, Bertelsmann teams made 40 new startup investments in 2017 and generated €141M in venture returns, according to their 2017 Annual Report.

The investment arm of Hearst, one of America’s largest publishers with $10.8B in 2017 revenue, has likewise been a major backer of BuzzFeed, Pandora, Hootesuite, and Roku not to mention Chinese language app LingoChamp, live entertainment brand Drone Racing League, VR capture startup 8i, and dozens of other media-related startups. Hearst’s ownership in these ventures makes strategic sense: they provide market insights relevant to the core businesses, offer immediate partnership opportunities, and would be strategic acquisition targets that evolve the company’s position in a changing market.

21st Century Fox and Sky Plc (in which 21st Century Fox owns a 39% stake and is trying to acquire outright) have both made a whole slate of startup investments across the media sector in the last few years. In addition to its $100M investment in live-streaming platform Caffeine (announced on September 5) and similarly massive investment in WndrCo’s NewTV venture led by Meg Whitman, Fox has invested repeatedly in sports-centric OTT service fuboTV, hit newsletter brand TheSkimm, VR studio WITHIN, and fantasy sports app Draftkings with Sky often co-investing or building meaningful stakes in international startups like iflix (a leading streaming video service in Southeast Asia and the Middle East).

Since traditional media giants own extensive intellectual property of hit shows, films, and often exclusive rights to popular live events – not to mention established distribution channels to tens or hundreds of millions of people – there are immediate partnerships that can be signed to benefit both a startup and the incumbent. The incumbents often re-invest repeatedly to build their ownership and deepen the alignment between the companies, which rarely happens when media companies invest in marketplace startups.

Tencent’s always-be-evolving model

The new crop of digital media giants that includes Netflix, Snap, VICE, and BuzzFeed aren’t doing much if any strategic investing. Instead they’re keeping focused on growth of their core product offering. The notable exception is China’s Tencent.

In addition to dominating China’s booming messaging app sector with WeChat and QQ, owning 75% market share of music streaming in China, and being the world’s leading games publisher through its own studios (Riot Games, Supercell, etc.) and its minority stakes in Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, and others, Tencent has taken a strategy of investing often and early in promising digital media startups…and it has its tentacles in everything.

Based on Crunchbase data, Tencent has done over 300 investments in startups. It is likely the most active venture investor in China, where most of its portfolio is concentrated, but also backs Western media startups like SoundHound, Wattpad, Spotify, Smule, and Wonder Workshop.

Tencent can give distribution to these upstarts through its vast portfolio of digital properties and it can keep tabs on what new content formats or business models are gaining traction. It operates from a mindset of perpetually evolving, and trying to snatch up startups whose products could be key assets in the future of content creation, distribution, or monetization. This approach is one both old media giants and the next gen of unicorn media startups should consider.

The pace of innovation is moving so fast, and so many new doors are opening up – from subscription streaming and esports to voice interfaces and augmented reality – that corporate venture as a core strategy can unlock opportunities for the organization to evolve early, before it ends up being categorized as “old media”.

Powered by WPeMatico

YouTube Kids adds a whitelisting parental control feature, plus a new experience for tweens

Posted by | children, families, kids, Media, Mobile, parental controls, parents, streaming video, TC, Video, YouTube, youtube kids | No Comments

YouTube Kids’ latest update is giving parents more control over what their kids watch. Following a change earlier this year that allowed parents to limit viewing options to human-reviewed channels, YouTube today is adding another feature that will give parents the ability to explicitly whitelist every channel or video they want to be available to their children through the app.

Additionally, YouTube Kids is launching an updated experience to serve the needs of a slightly older demographic: tween viewers ages 8 through 12. This mode adds new content, like popular music and gaming videos.

The company had promised in April these changes were in the works, but didn’t note when they’d be going live.

With the manual whitelisting feature, parents can visit the app’s Settings, go to their child’s profile, and toggle on an “Approved Content Only” option. They can then handpick the videos they want their kids to have access to watch through the YouTube Kids app.

Parents can opt to add any video, channel, or collection of channels they like by tapping the “+” button, or they can search for a specific creator or video through this interface.

Once this mode is enabled, kids will no longer be able to search for content on their own.

While this is a lot of manual labor on parents’ part, it does serve the needs of those with very young children who aren’t comfortable with YouTube Kids’ newer “human-reviewed channels” filtering option, as mistakes could still slip through.

A “human-reviewed” channel means that a YouTube moderator has watched several videos on the channel, to determine if the content is generally appropriate and kid-friendly, but it doesn’t mean every single video that is later added to the channel will be human-reviewed.

Instead, future uploads to the channel will only go through YouTube’s algorithmic layers of security, the company has said.

YouTube Kids expands to tweens

The other new feature now arriving will update YouTube Kids for an older audience who’s beginning to outgrow the preschool-ish look-and-feel of the app, and the way it sometimes pushes content that’s “for babies,” as my 8-year old would put it.

Instead, parents will be able to turn on the “Older” content level setting that opens up YouTube Kids to include less restricted content for kids ages 8 to 12.

According to the company, this includes music and gaming videos – which is basically something like 90% of kids’ YouTube watching at this age. (Not an official stat. Just what it feels like over here.)

The “Younger” option will continue to feature things like sing-alongs and other age-appropriate educational videos, but YouTube Kids’ “Older” mode will let kids watch different kinds of videos, like music videos, gaming video, shows, nature and wildlife videos, and more.

YouTube stresses to parents that its ability to filter content isn’t perfect – inappropriate content could still slip through. It needs parents to participate by blocking and flagging videos, as that comes up.

It’s best if kids continue to watch YouTube while in parents’ presence, of course, and without headphones, or on the big screen in the living room where you can moderate kids’ viewing yourself.

But there are times when you need to use YouTube as the babysitter or a distraction so you can get things done. The new whitelisting option could help parents feel more comfortable letting their kids loose on the app.

Meanwhile, older kids will appreciate the expanded freedom. (And you won’t be constantly begged for your own phone where “regular YouTube” is installed, as a result.)

YouTube says the parental controls are rolling today globally on Android and coming soon to iOS. The “Older” option is rolling out now in the U.S. and will expand globally in the future.

Correction: An earlier version of this post referenced the lack of a blacklisting feature. This was incorrect – blacklisting by channel or video is possible. This section was removed shortly after publishing. Apologies for the error. 

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook rolls out photo/video fact checking so partners can train its AI

Posted by | Apps, artificial intelligence, Facebook, Facebook AI, Facebook Fake News, fact checking, Media, Mobile, Policy, Social, TC | No Comments

Sometimes fake news lives inside of Facebook as photos and videos designed to propel misinformation campaigns, instead of off-site on news articles that can generate their own ad revenue. To combat these politically rather than financially motivated meddlers, Facebook has to be able to detect fake news inside of images and the audio that accompanies video clips. Today its expanding its photo and video fact checking program from four countries to all 23 of its fact-checking partners in 17 countries.

“Many of our third-party fact-checking partners have expertise evaluating photos and videos and are trained in visual verification techniques, such as reverse image searching and analyzing image metadata, like when and where the photo or video was taken” says Facebook product manager Antonia Woodford. “As we get more ratings from fact-checkers on photos and videos, we will be able to improve the accuracy of our machine learning model.”

The goal is for Facebook to be able to automatically spot manipulated images, out of context images that don’t show what they say they do, or text and audio claims that are provably false.

In last night’s epic 3,260-word security manifesto, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that “The definition of success is that we stop cyberattacks and coordinated information operations before they can cause harm.” That means using AI to proactively hunt down false news rather than waiting for it to be flagged by users. For that, Facebook needs AI training data that will be produced as exhaust from its partners’ photo and video fact checking operations.

Facebook is developing technology tools to assist its fact checkers in this process. “we use optical character recognition (OCR) to extract text from photos and compare that text to headlines from fact-checkers’ articles. We are also working on new ways to detect if a photo or video has been manipulated” Woodford notes, referring to DeepFakes that use AI video editing software to make someone appear to say or do something they haven’t.

Image memes were one of the most popular forms of disinformation used by the Russian IRA election interferers. The problem is that since they’re so easily re-shareable and don’t require people to leave Facebook to view them, they can get viral distribution from unsuspecting users who don’t realize they’ve become pawns in a disinformation campaign.

Facebook could potentially use the high level of technical resources necessary to build fake news meme-spotting AI as an argument for why Facebook shouldn’t be broken up. With Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp combined, the company gains economies of scale when it comes to fighting the misinformation scourge.

Powered by WPeMatico

Sinemia takes aim at MoviePass again, with new $9.99 plan

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, sinemia, Startups | No Comments

Sinemia continues its campaign to take advantage of MoviePass’s high-profile struggles and win over the better-known movie ticket subscription service’s customers. Today, it announced a new plan priced at $9.99 per month.

MoviePass, after all, recently announced that it would be keeping its monthly subscription price at $9.95, but limiting subscribers to three movies per month (with discounts on additional tickets).

The new Sinemia tier also includes three tickets each month, but it has the additional benefit of allowing subscribers to buy tickets for any 2D, non-IMAX screen, and to buy those tickets in advance. MoviePass, in contrast, is rotating the available movies each day, and it requires subscribers to buy their tickets at the theater, on the same day as the screening.

Just a couple weeks ago, Sinemia announced a refer-a-friend program that rewards subscribers who convince their friends to leave other subscription services. The company makes no secret of the fact that it’s targeting MoviePass in particular — in today’s announcement, it describes the new plan as one that “matches MoviePass’ latest.”

Sinemia offers a variety of other options, ranging from $3.99 per month for one ticket, to $14.99 for three tickets, with IMAX and 3D access.

Powered by WPeMatico