Media

Amazon Echo speakers now play friendly with Apple Music

Posted by | Amazon Echo, apple music, Gadgets, Media, TC | No Comments

Amazon recently said Apple Music would find its way onto Amazon Echo devices sometime soon — and sure enough, it appears to be rolling out now.

To make Alexa work with Apple’s streaming service, you should just have to jump into the newly updated iOS/Android Alexa app and link up your account. You can find the option under Settings > Music.

Once done, commands like “Alexa, play music by Halsey on Apple Music” should work. Or, if you don’t want to have to say the “… on Apple Music” bit every time, you can just set Apple Music as the default service. If you don’t have a specific artist in mind, you an also request playlists or genres.

One catch: as 9to5mac points out, it appears this currently only works with Amazon Echo speakers, and not yet with third-party speakers (like the Sonos ONE or Polk’s Audio Command sounder) that happen to have Alexa-support built in.

Not a fan of Apple’s offering? Alexa also works with Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Deezer and Amazon’s own Music service.

Using Google devices, rather than Amazon’s? Alas, still no word on if/when proper Apple Music support might come to Google Home.

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Facebook Portal adds games and web browser amidst mediocre Amazon reviews

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, facebook messenger, Facebook Portal, Gadgets, hardware, Media, privacy, smart displays, Social, TC, Video | No Comments

After receiving a flogging from privacy critics, Facebook is scrambling to make its smart display video chat screen Portal more attractive to buyers. Today Facebook is announcing the addition of a web browser, plus some of Messenger’s Instant Games like Battleship, Draw Something, Sudoku and Words With Friends. ABC News and CNN are adding content to Portal, which now also has a manual zoom mode for its auto-zooming smart camera so you can zero in on a particular thing in view. Facebook has also added new augmented reality Story Time tales, seasonal AR masks, in-call music sharing through iHeartRadio beyond Spotify and Pandora that already offer it and nickname calling so you can say “Hey Portal, call Mom.”

But the question remains who’s buying? Facebook is already discounting the 10-inch-screen Portal and 15-inch Portal+. Formerly $100 off if you buy two, Facebook is still offering $50 off just one until Christmas Eve as part of a suspiciously long Black Friday Sale. That doesn’t signal this thing is flying off the shelves. We don’t have sales figures, but Portal has a 3.4 rating on Amazon, while Portal+ has a 3.6 — both trailing the 4.2 rating of Amazon’s own Echo Show’s 2. Users are griping about the lack of Amazon Video support for Ring doorbells, not receiving calls and, of course, the privacy implications.

Personally, I’ve found Portal+ to be competent in the five weeks since launch. The big screen is great as a smart photo frame and video calls look great. But Alexa and Facebook’s own voice assistant have a tough time dividing up functionality, and sometimes I can’t get either to play a specific song on Spotify, pause or change volume or other activities my Google Home has no trouble with. Facebook said it was hoping to add Google Assistant to Portal, but there’s no progress on that front yet.

The browser will be a welcome addition, and allow Facebook to sidestep some of the issues around its thin app platform. While it recently added a Smart TV version of YouTube, now users can access lots of services without those developers having to commit to building something for Portal given its uncertain future.

The hope seems to be that mainstream users who aren’t glued to the tech press where Facebook is constantly skewered might be drawn in by these device’s flashy screens and the admittedly impressive auto-zooming camera. But to overcome the brand tax levied by all of Facebook’s privacy scandals, Portal must be near perfect. Without the native apps for popular video providers like Netflix and Hulu, consistent voice recognition and more unique features missing from competing smart displays, the fear of Facebook’s surveillance may be outweighing people’s love for shiny new gadgets.

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YouTube Music turns its Top Charts into playlists

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, streaming, streaming music, streaming service, YouTube, YouTube Music | No Comments

Earlier this year, Apple Music launched some of its top charts as playlist series. Today, YouTube is doing something similar. The company announced it’s making its YouTube Charts available as playlists in YouTube Music to users across the 29 markets where the music service is live. Each market will receive five of these “charts playlists” — three specific to their country, and two global lists, the company says.

The Top 100 Songs and the Top 100 Music Videos will be offered both as local and global playlists, while the Top 20 Trending Songs will be offered as a local playlist.

This latter playlist is updated several times per day in order to offer a real-time view into current music trends in a specific country. It’s also the first “dedicated external signal of the country’s most-viewed new music on the YouTube platform,” Google explained in a blog post this afternoon.

The other Top 100 Songs and Music Video charts are calculated differently and updated less often. The Top Songs is based on the overall performance of a song on YouTube by view count, which includes counting all the official versions of a song — meaning, the official music video, the user-generated content that uses the official song and lyric videos.

The Top Songs chart is updated weekly, according to YouTube’s documentation on how the charts are calculated.

The Top 100 Music Videos ranks the official music videos by view count in the previous week. It’s also updated weekly.

By comparison, YouTube Music’s Top Songs and Music Videos charts seem to have the potential to be more stale than those on rival services. For example, when Apple announced its Top 100 Songs chart would be available both as global and local playlists, it said it would update them daily at 12 AM PT based on Apple Music streams. Spotify’s top charts are also available both as daily and weekly charts.

“The charts, currently topped globally by Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u, next,‘ are the most accurate reflection of what’s happening in music culture and based purely on the number of views from more than 1 billion global music fans on YouTube each month,” noted the post, which does speak to YouTube Music’s strength.

Apple Music and Spotify are both fighting to break into the triple-digit millions in terms of paying customers, while Spotify is nearing 200 million total actives. But YouTube has a billion-plus users from which to generate its data. That’s not insignificant.

The new charts-turned-playlists are now available in the YouTube Music app. The playlists will appear on users’ home screens and be surfaced through search, says YouTube.

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Facebook Watch is finally growing as payouts get spread thin

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Facebook, Facebook Watch, Facebook Watch Party, Fidji Simo, Media, Mobile, Social, streaming video, TC | No Comments

Both Facebook Watch and Instagram’s IGTV have yet to become superstar video platforms, leaving Facebook at risk as more people seek streaming entertainment instead of status updates. So today Facebook is trying to build some buzz for Watch with new stats and rollouts. The free video hub that combines original content, sports and cult favorite TV shows like Firefly now has 400 million users watching at least one minute per month. That’s not a ton of engagement amongst a wide audience. But on the brighter side, there are 75 million users watching at least one minute per day with a much more promising average of 20 minutes per day.

Though that’s just 5 percent of Facebook’s 1.5 billion daily users, it indicates that if Facebook can get people hooked on its ad-supported shows, it could squeeze serious viewing time out of them. Just four months ago, Facebook was saying that only 50 million people spent at least 1 minute per month on Watch, so it’s making strong progress.

Watch is now available worldwide on desktop and Facebook Lite, as well as the main Facebook app. And it’s rolling out ad breaks to 40 countries after an initial launch in five in August. It’s also renewing four shows for a second season: Huda BossFive PointsSacred Lies & Sorry For Your Loss.

But The Information reports that news media executives feel that while some shows are getting satisfactory viewership, ad revenue has been underwhelming. Six months ago, Facebook commissioned news programs from outlets like CNN and BuzzFeed. Facebook reportedly now plans to pay news video content producers less per show as it seeks to spread the same $90 million budget across more programs, potentially with a greater focus on international markets. That cut-back could make producing some shows tough, but at least the execs believe Facebook understands it must prioritize monetization for its content partners.

To the end, Facebook plans to offer more options for advertisers like more targeting capabilities, and expanding its In-Stream Reserve premium ad inventory inside the top-quality Watch shows. For individual video creators, Ad Breaks will become more widely available, including within game streams from esports stars. Facebook is also planning to expand its Brand Collabs Manager to additional countries so creators can get hooked up with sponsorship deals, and let more creators sign up fans for Patreon-style subscription payments.

The viewing stats have likely been bolstered by the addition of all episodes of Joss Whedon’s old TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly that users can binge watch for hours on end; indeed, 12 million Watch Party group video sessions have been launched to date, helping shows go viral. Facebook is now testing live picture-in-picture commentating that could let actors host viewing parties that feel like you’re sitting in the living room beside them. Facebook’s VP of video Fidji Simo writes that “With Facebook Watch, we set out to demonstrate what it looks like to build deep bonds through watching online video, instead of just having a passive viewing experience.”

Simo also notes that “People can find videos on Facebook in a number of different places — Watch, News Feed, Search, Pages and more — and all of these can feel different. We want to make the experience of watching video feel immersive no matter where you discovered it. As part of this effort, we’ll be testing a few things in the coming months, like creating a darker background whenever you immerse yourself into a video on mobile.”

Facebook has yet to concentrate its funding on a blockbuster tentpole video series — its Game of Thrones or House of Cards. The closest thing it has is the Elizabeth Olsen show Sorry For Your Loss, though viewership has been somewhat weak. Next year Facebook Watch will debut a revived and social media-infused web version of MTV’s Real World. But tapping its deep pockets to pay for one must-see original scripted series could help wedge Watch into people’s lives.

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Podcast industry aims to better track listeners through new analytics tech called RAD

Posted by | ad tech, Ads, Advertising Tech, analytics, Media, Mobile, Podcasts | No Comments

Internet users are already being tracked to death, with ads that follow us around, search histories that are collected and stored, emails that report back to senders when they’ve been read, websites that know where you scrolled and what you clicked and much more. So naturally, the growing podcast industry wanted to find a way to collect more data of its own, too.

Yes, that’s right. Podcasts will now track detailed user behavior, too.

Today, NPR announced RAD, a new, open-sourced podcast analytics technology that was developed in partnership with nearly 30 companies from the podcasting industry. The technology aims to help publishers collect more comprehensive and standardized listening metrics from across platforms.

Specifically, the technology gives publishers — and therefore their advertisers, as well — access to a wide range of listener metrics, including downloads, starts and stops, completed ad or credit listens, partial ad or credit listens, ad or credit skips and content quartiles, the RAD website explains.

However, the technology stops short of offering detailed user profiles, and cannot be used to re-target or track listeners, the site notes. It’s still anonymized, aggregated statistics.

It’s worth pointing out that RAD is not the first time podcasters have been able to track engagement. Major platforms, including Apple’s Podcast Analytics, today offer granular and anonymized data, including listens.But NPR says that data requires “a great deal of manual analysis” as the stats aren’t standardized nor as complete as they could be. RAD is an attempt to change that, by offering a tracking mechanism everyone can use.

Already, RAD has a lot of support. In addition to being integrated into NPR’s own NPR One app, it has commitments from several others that will introduce the technology into their own products in 2019, including Acast, AdsWizz, ART19, Awesound, Blubrry Podcasting, Panoply, Omny Studio, Podtrac, PRI/PRX, RadioPublic, Triton Digital and WideOrbit.

Other companies that supported RAD and participated in its development include Cadence13, Edison Research, ESPN, Google, iHeartMedia, Libsyn, The New York Times, New York Public Radio and Wondery.

NPR says the NPR One app on Android supports RAD as of now, and its iOS app will do the same in 2019.

“Over the course of the past year, we have been refining these concepts and the technology in collaboration with some of the smartest people in podcasting from around the world,” said Joel Sucherman, vice president, New Platform Partnerships at NPR, in an announcement. “We needed to take painstaking care to prove out our commitment to the privacy of listeners, while providing a standard that the industry could rally around in our collective efforts to continue to evolve the podcasting space,” he said.

To use RAD technology, publishers will mark within their audio files certain points — like quartiles or some time markers, interview spots, sponsorship messages or ads — with RAD tags and indicate an analytics URL. A mobile app is configured to read the RAD tags and then, when listeners hit that spot in the file, that information is sent to the URL in an anonymized format.

The end result is that podcasters know just what parts of the audio file their listeners heard, and is able to track this at scale across platforms. (RAD is offering both Android and iOS SDKs.)

While there’s value in podcast data that goes beyond the download, not all are sold on technology.

Most notably, the developer behind the popular iOS podcast player app Overcast, Marco Arment, today publicly stated his app will not support any listener-tracking specs.

Yes. I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers.

I won’t be supporting any listener-behavior tracking specs in Overcast. Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes. https://t.co/mplhnrmCsc

— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) December 11, 2018

“I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers,” Arment wrote in a tweet. “Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes,” he said.

The developer also pointed out this sort of data collection required more work on the podcasters’ part and could become a GDPR liability, as well. (NPR tells us GDPR compliance is up to the mobile apps and analytics servers, as noted in the specs here.)

In addition to NPR’s use of RAD today, Podtrac has also now launched a beta program to show RAD data, which is open to interested publishers.

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Netflix just had a record-breaking November on mobile

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Netflix, sensor tower, streaming, streaming services, TC | No Comments

Netflix just broke new records on consumer spending in its mobile apps, according to new data app intelligence firm Sensor Tower has shared with TechCrunch. In November, Netflix pulled in an estimated $86.6 million in worldwide consumer spending across its iOS and Android apps combined — a figure that’s 77 percent higher than the $49 million it generated last November. That’s a new record.

Before, the biggest month Netflix had to date was July 2018, when it grossed an estimated $84.7 million. At the time, that was the most it had made on mobile since it began monetizing on mobile in September 2015.

To date, Netflix has grossed more than $1.58 billion on mobile.

The firm didn’t speculate as to what, specifically, drove Netflix to break records again in November, but there are probably a few factors at play, including the trend toward cord cutting and shift toward streaming services for traditional “TV” viewing.

But most notably is the increasing revenue coming to Netflix from its international markets.

Sensor Tower did point out that Netflix’s U.S. app revenue grew 76 percent year-over-year in November, but other countries contributing more than $1 million in gross revenue were higher. For example, Germany grew 90 percent, Brazil was 94 percent, South Korea was 107 percent and Japan was 175 percent.

However, the U.S. still accounts for the majority of Netflix’s in-app subscription revenue, at 57 percent in November, or $49.4 million. But with Netflix’s international expansion, its share is declining. When Netflix first began offering subscriptions in fall 2015, the U.S. then accounted for 71 percent of its revenue.

Netflix in recent weeks has been doubling down on mobile. The company is now testing a mobile-only subscription aimed at making its service more affordable in Asia and other emerging markets.

In Q3, the company gained nearly 7 million new subscribers, with 5.87 million of those coming from international markets.

Image credit: Sensor Tower 

Note: Post updated with corrected percentages after publication due to a Sensor Tower calculation error. 

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MoviePass announces new pricing plans for 2019

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mitch Lowe, Mobile, moviepass | No Comments

It’s been a rocky year for MoviePass, something that CEO Mitch Lowe acknowledged in an interview this week with Variety.

“We have a lot to prove to all our constituents,” Lowe said. “We don’t just have to prove ourselves to our members, we also have to prove ourselves to the investment community, our employees, and our partners. We believe we’re doing everything that we possibly can to deliver a great service and we’re in the process of fixing all the things that went wrong.”

To that end, the company is launching a new pricing structure that will take effect in January. If you like paying $9.95, don’t worry: You’ll still be able to do that (at least in some geographies). If, on the other hand, you’re willing to pay a little more, you’ll no longer be limited by the ever-changing list of movies that MoviePass is supporting on a given day.

So there are now three tiers, each of them offering three movie tickets each month. There’s Select, which will cost between $9.95 and $14.95 per month (depending on geography), and will only allow viewers to watch certain movies on certain days; All Access, which costs between $14.95 and $19.95 and allows you to go to any standard screening; and Red Carpet, which costs between $19.95 and $24.95 and includes one IMAX, 3D or other large-format screening each month.

The company says that this new structure will allow it to break even on the tickets it’s selling — a key step to making the business model work.

MoviePass fans will likely remember that the company appeared to be running out of money over the summer, leading it to announce a price increase, only to back away from the price hike in favor of adding limitations on how many movies and which movies subscribers could see.

Meanwhile, the New York attorney general’s office said it was investigating MoviePass for possible securities fraud, and parent company Helios and Matheson said it would spin off MoviePass into a separate company. (TechCrunch’s parent company has a stake in MoviePass.)

The competition is growing. And app store intelligence company Sensor Tower says MoviePass only added 12,000 new users to its mobile app last month, down 97 percent from the growth it was seeing at its high point in January.

In addition to rethinking its pricing, MoviePass is also making organizational changes. The company told The New York Times that although Lowe will remain CEO, he’ll be handing over responsibility for day-to-day operations to Executive Vice President Khalid Itum.

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Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project goes live for all

Posted by | Apps, genome, Media, Mobile, Pandora, Podcasts, streaming | No Comments

Last month, Pandora announced it would soon be bringing its “Genome” technology to a new space outside of music: it would leverage a similar classification system to make podcast recommendations, too. Initially, the feature was only available to select users on mobile devices, ahead of a broader public launch. Today, Pandora says its Podcast Genome Project has gone live for all users.

Like Pandora’s Music Genome is its music information database capable of classifying songs across 450 different attributes — Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project is a cataloging system designed to evaluate content. But its focus is on audio programs instead of music.

The Podcast Genome Project can currently evaluate content across more than 1,500 attributes, including MPAA ratings, production style, content type, host profile and more, alongside other listener signals, like thumbs, skips, replays and others. It uses a combination of machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and collaborative filtering methods to help determine listener preferences, the company says.

Pandora then combines this data with human curation to make its podcast recommendations.

These recommendations are live now in the Pandora app’s “Browse” section, under the banner “Recommended Podcasts For You.” Podcasts will also be discoverable throughout the app in the Now Playing screen, search bar, in the podcast backstage passes and in the episode backstage passes.

At launch, the app is aggregating more than 100,000 podcast episodes in genres like News, True Crime, Sports, Comedy, Music, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Kids, Health and Science, the company adds.

Podcasters can also now ask to be included in Pandora’s app by filling out a form here.

Longer-term, a better recommendation system for podcasts could help Pandora as it becomes more integrated with its acquirer SiriusXM. The deal will likely bring SiriusXM’s exclusive programming to Pandora’s subscribers, which would greatly increase the number of audio programs available on its service. Putting the right programs in front of the most interested customers could then drive more people to upgrade to a paid subscription, impacting Pandora’s bottom line.

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Spotify for Xbox One now works with Cortana voice commands

Posted by | Gamers, Gaming, Media, Music, Spotify, streaming, xbox | No Comments

Spotify arrived on the Xbox One back in August 2017 to give gamers the option of streaming their own tunes while in a gaming session. Today, Spotify is upgrading its app with a few key additions, including most notably support for Cortana voice control, along with other personalization features. With Cortana, gamers will be able to speak their music requests instead of using the controller. That means they can command the music — including being able to play, skip and pause songs — without having to leave their current gaming session, Spotify says.

Before, gamers would have to use Spotify Connect via an app on their phone, tablet or laptop to control or change the music while gaming.

For example, you’ll be able to say things like “Hey, Cortana, play my playlist on Spotify,” or “Hey Cortana, play my Discover Weekly on Spotify.”

This upgrade is currently only available in the U.S., however.

The new app is also introducing an updated experience that’s designed to make it easier for Spotify users to access recently played songs, plus your “Made for You” hub, and your music library.

Previously, Xbox One users only had access to basic Spotify controls, like play, pause, and skip plus visuals like the cover art and artist and song name. Now, they have personalized content recommendations, and the ability to playback content right from the Guide menu.

This part of the update is rolling out more broadly, including the U.S., as well as in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and the U.K.

Options like repeat and shuffle are available, too, as are a selection of curated gaming playlists, over on Spotify’s “Gaming Hub” if you get stumped as to what to play.

In the future, updates to this Enhanced Background Mode, as Spotify calls the new experience, may include the ability to promote game specific content for major game launches, Spotify says.

The update will require the latest version of the Spotify app, which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store, the company notes.

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App stores to pass $122B in 2019, with gaming and subscriptions driving growth

Posted by | App Annie, app stores, app-store, Apps, games, Gaming, Media, Mobile, mobile video | No Comments

Mobile intelligence and data firm App Annie is today releasing its 2019 predictions for the worldwide app economy, including its forecast around consumer spending, gaming, the subscription market and other highlights. Most notably, it expects the worldwide gross consumer spend in apps — meaning before the app stores take their own cut — to surpass $122 billion next year, which is double the size of the global box office market, for comparison’s sake.

According to the new forecast, the worldwide app store consumer spend will grow five times as fast as the overall global economy next year.

But the forecast also notes that “consumer spend” — which refers to the money consumers spend on apps and through in-app purchases — is only one metric to track the apps stores’ growth and revenue potential.

Mobile spending is also expected to continue growing for both in-app advertising and commerce — that is, the transactions that take place outside of the app stores in apps like Uber, Amazon and Starbucks, for example.

Specifically, mobile will account for 62 percent of global digital ad spend in 2019, representing $155 billion, up from 50 percent in 2017. In addition, 60 percent more mobile apps will monetize through in-app ads in 2019.

Mobile gaming to reach 60% market share

As in previous years, mobile gaming is contributing to the bulk of the growth in consumer spending, the report says.

Mobile gaming, which continues to be the fastest growing form of gaming, matured further this year with apps like Fortnite and PUBG, says App Annie . These games “drove multiplayer game mechanics that put them on par with real-time strategy and shooter games on PC/Mac and Consoles in a way that hadn’t been done before,” the firm said.

They also helped push forward a trend toward cross-platform gaming, and App Annie expects that to continue in 2019 with more games becoming less siloed.

However, the gaming market won’t just be growing because of experiences like PUBG and Fortnite. “Hyper-casual” games — that is, those with very simple gameplay — will also drive download growth in 2019.

Over the course of the next year, consumer spend in mobile gaming will reach 60 percent market share across all major platforms, including PC, Mac, console, handheld and mobile.

China will remain a major contributor to overall app store consumer spend, including mobile gaming, but there may be a slight deceleration of their impact next year due to the game licensing freeze. In August, Bloomberg reported China’s regulators froze approval of game licenses amid a government shake-up. The freeze impacted the entire sector, from large players like internet giant Tencent to smaller developers.

If the freeze continues in 2019, App Annie believes Chinese firms will push toward international expansion and M&A activity could result.

App Annie is also predicting one breakout gaming hit for 2019: Niantic’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which it believes will exceed $100 million in consumer spend in its first 30 days. Niantic’s Pokémon GO, by comparison, cleared $100 million in its first two weeks and became the fastest game to reach $1 billion in consumer spend.

But App Annie isn’t going so far as to predict Harry Potter will do better than Pokémon GO, which tapped into consumer nostalgia and was a first-to-market mainstream AR gaming title.

Mobile video streaming

Another significant trend ahead for the new year is the growth in video streaming apps, fueled by in-app subscriptions.

Today, the average person consumers more than 7.5 hours of media per day, including watching, listening, reading or posting. Next year, 10 minutes of every hour will be spent consuming media across TV and internet will come from streaming video on mobile, the forecast says.

The total time in video streaming apps will increase 110 percent from 2016 to 2019, with consumer spend in entertainment apps up by 520 percent over that same period. Most of those revenues will come from the growth in in-app subscriptions.

Much of the time consumers spend streaming will come from short-form video apps like YouTube, TikTok and social apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

YouTube alone accounts for 4 out of every 5 minutes spent in the top 10 video streaming apps, today. But 2019 will see many changes, including the launch of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, for example.

App Annie’s full report, which details ad creatives and strategies as well, is available on its blog.

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