Spotify

Spotify expands its new Premium Duo plan to Latin America

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

Spotify’s newest paid subscription, the Premium Duo plan designed for two people, first launched this spring as a pilot test in Ireland, Colombia, Chile, Denmark and Poland. Today, Spotify says the plan is being more broadly rolled out to 14 more Latin American markets.

The new markets include: Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

The Duo plan is meant mainly for couples, though it could apply to roommates or any other two people who share the same home address.

In terms of pricing, it’s a step up from a single Premium subscription but more affordable than a Family Plan, as it’s limited to just two accounts. However, the Duo plan is discounted so it’s a better deal than buying two separate Premium accounts.

The benefits are similar to those on the Family Plan. Like the larger group plan, Duo keeps each user’s music preferences and recommendations separate from one another. And like the Family Plan, which recently added a custom mix composed of tracks everyone in the family enjoys, the Duo subscription also includes its own shared playlist, the Duo Mix. Members can easily share their playlist libraries with one another, too.

Despite now reaching 19 total markets, Spotify still refers to the Premium Duo plan as a “pilot,” which typically means the company hasn’t fully committed to bringing the service to all its users at some point. Instead, that terminology typically implies the company is continuing to evaluate the new service’s impact.

In Spotify’s case, Premium Duo’s launch in March hasn’t yet led to a massive subscription bump. When reporting its Q2 2019 earnings, the company said it added 8 million new subscribers in the quarter, which was below the estimated 8.5 million figure. It now has 232 million monthly users and 108 million paying subscribers.

That said, Duo hasn’t reached many of Spotify’s key markets where such a plan could have more of an impact to subscriber counts, including the U.S.

If you live in a supported market and already have a Premium plan you can visit your Account page on Spotify’s website to add a partner and upgrade. Both plan members will need to share the same home address.

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You can now share music from Spotify to Facebook Stories

Posted by | Apps, artists, Facebook, Facebook Stories, Mobile, Music, Social, Spotify, stories | No Comments

Spotify this morning announced a new way for you to share music with friends (or fans, if you’re an artist) — by way of a new Facebook Stories integration that includes 15-second song previews. Viewers can also optionally tap on the “Play on Spotify” button in the Story to be redirected to the Spotify app to hear more.

The feature is designed largely with artists and their teams in mind, as it gives them another way to promote their new music across Facebook’s social network. Musicians and their managers often today use the Spotify app’s sharing feature to post their content across social media, including to Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and elsewhere.

Last year, Spotify introduced a way to share music to Instagram Stories, including their albums, tracks, and playlists, as part of Facebook’s announcement that it was opening up sharing to Facebook and Instagram Stories from other, third-party apps.

At the time, the company said an integration with Facebook Stories was coming soon.

Since its launch on Instagram, the sharing feature has been mutually beneficial for both Spotify and Instagram alike, as it made users’ Stories more engaging while also sending traffic back to the Spotify app for further music discovery.

Add some music to your story 📖
Audio sharing to Facebook Stories is now available. pic.twitter.com/HSBgmxYd8G

— Spotify (@Spotify) August 30, 2019

There’s likely not as much demand for sharing to Facebook Stories, however.

In order to share the 15-second clips to Facebook Stories, you’ll tap the “Share” button from the Spotify app and choose Facebook as the destination.

Side note: We’re not seeing the option to share to News Feed as the picture Spotify published shows (see above. Instead, tapping “Facebook” launches you right into the Story interface, as shown in the tweet above. 

You can then customize your Story as you would normally using the Story editing tools and post it to your profile. Viewers will get to hear the 15-second song clip, and can then tap to go to Spotify to hear more.

Spotify had offered Facebook Story sharing in the past, but the access was later pulled.

Hi there! We’re afraid the “Share to Facebook Stories” feature is no longer supported on Spotify. Give us a shout if you have other questions /MT

— SpotifyCares (@SpotifyCares) January 30, 2019

These song previews only work when you’re sharing a single track to Stories. If you choose to share other content, like albums, playlists, or an artist profile page, viewers can click into that content, but won’t hear any preview, Spotify says.

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Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

Posted by | apple music, applovin, Blackstone, Column, communications apps, computing, Electronic Arts, epic games, France, Gaming, Germany, Glu Mobile, ketchapp, KKR, Mobile, mobile devices, mobile game, niantic, pokemon, Riot Games, RSS, Seismic, Seismic Games, social media, Spotify, supercell, Sweden, TC, Tencent, ubisoft, United Kingdom, United States, voodoo, washington DC, White House, Zynga | No Comments
Omer Kaplan
Contributor

Omer Kaplan is CMO and co-founder at ironSource.
More posts by this contributor

By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion, with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the eight previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games, and who in the market is responding to this — and how.

The gaming phenomenon

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world — that’s almost one-third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music, and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the U.S., time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television — with users spending eight more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to more than 30 minutes. Apps are the new prime time, and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games that are quick to download, easy to play and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50 — a far cry from the traditional stereotype of a “gamer.”

With these demographic, geographic and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on games

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90 million in Pocket Gems and$126 million in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5 million in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M million from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2 million from several investors — one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokémon GO has generated $2.3 billion in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250 million players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, which are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming — not just of gaming studios, but all those who have a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400 million minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later, Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750 million. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55 billion in revenue, so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon GO game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses — providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology and employees locally — as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game.” They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options — for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France,” in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The U.K. Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund — calling the U.K. “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The U.K. Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the U.K. to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program, saying that the U.K. gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced.” But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling, the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over in Germany, and the government has allocated €50 million of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.

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AT&T is offering free Spotify to select Unlimited subscribers

Posted by | Apple, Apps, AT&T, Mobile, Spotify | No Comments

AT&T is sweetening the deal on its Unlimited & More Premium plan this week, with the addition of free Spotify Premium. That amounts to a $10-a-month savings for those paying the $80 a month for the wireless service. The plan offers one of seven free partner services, including HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, VRV, Pandora and now Spotify .

There’s fine print, because of course there is. The deal applies specifically to the Unlimited & More Premium plan, while other AT&T subscribers can get a six-month trial of Premium for free. After that time, things revert to the regular price.

Existing Spotify Premium subscribers, meanwhile, can keep their account but get the service for free by signing up on all of the proper places on AT&T’s site.

The deal mirrors a similar partnership between Verizon and Apple Music, the services’ largest competitors, respectively. AT&T is currently the U.S.’s largest carrier by a slight edge. Spotify, meanwhile, continues to have a sizable advantage in paid subscriber numbers at more than 100 million to Apple’s 60 million.

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Google’s new version of Android Auto focuses on Assistant

Posted by | Android, Android Auto, Apple, apple carplay, Assistant, automotive, CarPlay, computing, Google, Google Assistant, google now, linux, mobile software, operating system, operating systems, Polestar, product manager, smartphone, smartphones, Spotify, TC, Transportation, virtual assistant | No Comments

Google is starting to roll out an updated version of its in-car platform, Android Auto, that aims to make it easier and safer for drivers to use.

The version, which was first revealed during Google I/O 2019, has a dark theme, new fonts and color accents, more opportunities to communicate with Google’s virtual assistant and the ability to fit wider display screens that are becoming more common in vehicles.

Android Auto, which launched in 2015, is not an operating system. It’s a secondary interface — or HMI layer — that sits on top of an operating system and brings the look and feel of a smartphone to the vehicle’s central screen. Rival Apple introduced its own in-car platform, Apple CarPlay, that same year.

Automakers, once hesitant to integrate Android Auto or Apple CarPlay into vehicles, have come around. Today, Android Auto is available in more than 500 car models from 50 different brands, according to Android Auto product manager Rod Lopez.

Car owners with Android Auto support will start to see the new design over the next few weeks. However, updates will not be made to the standalone version of Android Auto, a smartphone app that gave users access to the platform even if their car wasn’t compatible with Android Auto. Google says it plans to “evolve” the standalone phone app from Android Auto to the Assistant’s new driving mode in the future.

Meanwhile, the in-car version features some important changes, notably more opportunities for drivers to use their voice — and not their hands — to interact with Android Auto. Users will notice the Google Assistant badge on Android Auto, that when tapped will provide information about their calendar, or read the weather report or news.

3Android Auto Google Assistant Badge

Other new features include a new app launcher designed to let users access their favorite apps with fewer taps. A button on the bottom-left of the screen launches this feature. Once deployed, users will see app icons, with the most commonly used ones featured in the top row.

Android Auto has also improved its navigation, which is perhaps the most commonly used feature within the platform. Now, the navigation bar sits at the bottom of the display and allows users to manage multiple apps. This improvement means users won’t miss an exit or street while they’re listening to Spotify .

4Android Auto Media

The navigation feature also pops up as soon as the driver connects with Android Auto. If a route is already queued up on a phone, Android Auto will automatically populate the directions.

This latest version also has a new notification button — located on the bottom-right corner — that houses recent calls, messages and alerts. Drivers can tap the mic button or say “Hey Google” to have the Google Assistant help make calls, send messages and read notifications.

Google has also developed an operating system called Android Automotive OS that’s modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. Instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars. Polestar, Volvo’s standalone performance electric car brand, is going to produce a new vehicle, the Polestar 2, that has an infotainment system powered by Android Automotive OS.

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What lower Netflix pricing tells us about competing in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Apps, Asia, China, Cred, Disney, Facebook, Finance, FreeCharge, funding, Fundings & Exits, Google India, HBO, Hotstar, iPhone, LinkedIn, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Paytm, Reed Hastings, Satyan Gajwani, SnapDeal, Spotify, Tim Cook, Times Internet, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma | No Comments

At a conference in New Delhi early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was confronted with a question that his company has been asked many times over the years. Would he consider lowering the subscription cost in India?

It’s a tactic that most Silicon Valley companies have adapted to in the country over the years. Uber rides aren’t as costly in India as they are elsewhere. Spotify and Apple Music cost less than $2 per month to users in the country. YouTube Premium as well as subscriptions to U.S. news outlets such as WSJ and New York Times are also priced significantly lower compared to the prices they charge in their home turf.

Hastings had also come prepared: He acknowledged that the entertainment viewing industry in India is very different from other parts of the world. To be sure, much of the pay-TV in India is supported by ads and the access fee remains too low ($5). But that was not going to change how Netflix likes to roll, he said.

“We want to be sensitive to great stories and to fund those great stories by investing in local content,” he said. “So yes, our strategy is to build up the local content — and of course we have got the global content — and try to uplevel the industry,” he said, identifying movie-goers who spend about Rs 500 ($7.25) or more on tickets each month as Netflix’s potential customers.

GettyImages 992527026 1

Indian commuters walking below a poster of “Sacred Games”, an original show produced by Netflix (Image: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than a year and a half later, Netflix has had a change of heart. The company today rolled out a lower-priced subscription plan in India, a first for the company. The monthly plan, which restricts usage of the service to mobile devices only, is priced at Rs 199 ($2.8) — a third of the least expensive plan in the U.S.

At a press conference in New Delhi today, Netflix executives said that the lower-priced subscription tier is aimed at expanding the reach of its service in the country. “We want to really broaden the audience for Netflix, want to make it more accessible, and we knew just how mobile-centric India has been,” said Ajay Arora, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix.

The move comes at a time when Netflix has raised its subscription prices in the U.S. by up to 18% and in the UK by up to 20%.

Netflix’s strategy shift in India illustrates a bigger challenge that Silicon Valley companies have been facing in the country for years. If you want to succeed in the country, either make most of your revenue from ads, or heavily subsidize your costs.

But whether finding users in India is a success is also debatable.

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Netflix will roll out a lower-priced subscription plan in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, prime video, Spotify | No Comments

Netflix said on Wednesday that it will roll out a cheaper subscription plan in India, one of the last great growth markets for global companies, as the streaming giant scrambles to find ways to accelerate its slowing growth worldwide.

The company added 2.7 million new subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, it said today, far fewer than the 5 million figure it had forecasted earlier this year.

The company said lowering its subscription plan, which starts at $9 in the U.S., would help it reach more users in India and expand its overall subscriber base. The new plan will be available in India in Q3. According to third-party research firms, Netflix has fewer than 2 million subscribers in India.

Netflix started to test a lower-priced subscription plan in India and some other markets in Asia late last year. The plan restricts the usage of the service to one mobile device and offers only the standard definition viewing (~480p). During the period of testing, which was active as of two months ago, the company charged users as low as $4.

The company did not specify the exact amount it intends to charge users for the cheaper mobile-only plan. During the testing period, Netflix also provided some users the option to get a subscription that would only last for a week. The company also did not say if it intended to bring the cheaper plan to other markets. TechCrunch has reached out to Netflix for more details. (Update: Netflix declined to elaborate at this point.)

“After several months of testing, we’ve decided to roll out a lower-priced mobile-screen plan in India to complement our existing plans. We believe this plan, which will launch in Q3, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business in a market where Pay TV ARPU is low (below $5),” the company said in its quarterly earnings report.

The India challenge

Selling an entertainment service in India, the per capita GDP of which is under $2,000, is extremely challenging. The vast majority of companies that have performed exceedingly well in the nation offer their products and services at a very low price.

Just look at Spotify, which entered India earlier this year and for the first time decided to offer full access to its service at no cost to local users. Even its premium option that features playback in higher quality costs Rs 119 ($1.6) per month.

That’s not to say that winning in India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, can’t be rewarding. Disney-owned streaming service Hotstar, which offers 80% of its content catalog at no cost, has amassed more than 300 million monthly active users. There are about 500 million internet users in India, according to industry reports.

In fact, Hotstar set a global record for most simultaneous views to a live event — about 25.3 million users — during the recently concluded ICC cricket world cup. It broke its own previous records. Hotstar’s free offering comes bundled with ads, while its ad-free premium option costs Rs 999 ($14.5) for year-long access.

Amazon, another global rival of Netflix, bundles its Prime Video streaming service in its Prime membership, which includes access to faster delivery of packages and its music service, for Rs 999 a year.

For Netflix, the decision to lower its pricing in India comes at a time when it has hiked the subscription cost in many parts of the world in recent quarters. In the U.S., for instance, Netflix said earlier this year that it would raise its subscription price by up to 18%.

During a visit to India early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the country could eventually emerge as the place that would bring the next 100 million users to his platform. “The Indian entertainment business will be much larger over the next 20 years because of investment in pay services like Netflix and others,” he said.

So far, Netflix has largely tried to lure customers through its original series. (Many popular U.S. shows such as NBC’s “The Office” that are available on Netflix’s U.S. catalog are not offered in its India palate.) The company, which has produced more than a dozen original shows and movies for India, this week unveiled five more that are in the pipeline.

“We are seeing nice, steady increases in engagement in India. Growth in that country is a marathon and we are in it for the long haul,” Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said during an earnings call today.

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Apple says Spotify exaggerated how much ‘App Store tax’ it pays

Posted by | Apple, Apps, eu, Mobile, Spotify | No Comments

In March, Spotify filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission over the so-called “Apple tax” and claims of restrictive rules regarding the App Store. In the time since, Apple has responded with the launch of a website that takes aim at the anti-trust, anti-competitive claims against it, and most recently, a deep dive into how the process of app approvals works, by way of a CNBC profile. Now, Apple has responded to the EC complaint with its own filing that says Spotify is only paying this “Apple tax” on less than 1 percent of its paid subscribers.

This news was first reported by Music Business Worldwide (MBW) and German site Der Spiegel.

Specifically, Apple’s filing says that Spotify only pays a 15% “app tax” (revenue share) on just 0.5% of its 100 million premium subscribers, or around 680,000 customers. This revenue share only impacts those customers Spotify acquired during the 2014-2016 time frame who signed up for the subscription through an in-app purchase. Afterward, Spotify switched off the option to sign up in the app.

This is in contrast to the claim made by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on the company’s blog in March, where he wrote that “Apple requires that Spotify and other digital services pay a 30% tax on purchases made through Apple’s payment system.”

In addition, MBW reports, citing an unnamed source, that Spotify pays even less than the standard 15% for those customers who signed up through in-app purchase due to label discounts. The source told the outlet that Spotify just wants to “pay nothing.”

However, Spotify’s claim goes beyond the Apple tax.

It also said that Apple used its App Store power to penalize the competitor in other ways — like limiting Spotify’s ability to communicate with customers, or even send emails to its iOS users. Spotify said Apple also blocked its iOS upgrades — something it brought to light years ago. Apple, meanwhile, has always maintained it has treated Spotify like any other app developer.

Apple’s responses to these latter points were also sneaked into the recent CNBC piece where a “longtime Apple veteran” who was only identified as “Bill,” made certain to tell the news site that he had “called Spotify when an update was rejected” — e.g. because Spotify had been emailing customers and asking them to pay the music streamer directly outside the App Store.

In addition to Spotify’s EU complaint, Apple is facing other attacks against its App Store in the U.S. courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May ruled against Apple to allow an App Store antitrust case to proceed.

And in June, two app developers proceeded to sue Apple over its App Store practices, making similar claims about Apple’s 30% commission on app sales and its requirement to price apps in tiers ending in 99 cents.

Apple had earlier responded to Spotify’s complaint in length on its own website. The company, in part, said that:

After using the App Store for years to dramatically grow their business, Spotify seeks to keep all the benefits of the App Store ecosystem — including the substantial revenue that they draw from the App Store’s customers — without making any contributions to that marketplace. At the same time, they distribute the music you love while making ever-smaller contributions to the artists, musicians and songwriters who create it — even going so far as to take these creators to court.

Apple’s approach has always been to grow the pie. By creating new marketplaces, we can create more opportunities not just for our business, but for artists, creators, entrepreneurs and every “crazy one” with a big idea. That’s in our DNA, it’s the right model to grow the next big app ideas and, ultimately, it’s better for customers.

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Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: All you need to know

Posted by | Anchorage, Andreessen Horowitz, Apps, blockchain, coinbase, cryptocurrency, Developer, eBay, eCommerce, Facebook, Farfetch, Finance, funding, Libra Association, Libra Cryptocurrency, Lyft, Mobile, Move coding language, payments, PayPal, Policy, privacy, Ribbit Capital, Social, Spotify, stablecoin, stripe, TC, Thrive Capital, Uber, Union Square Ventures, visa | No Comments

Facebook has finally revealed the details of its cryptocurrency, Libra, which will let you buy things or send money to people with nearly zero fees. You’ll pseudonymously buy or cash out your Libra online or at local exchange points like grocery stores, and spend it using interoperable third-party wallet apps or Facebook’s own Calibra wallet that will be built into WhatsApp, Messenger and its own app. Today Facebook released its white paper explaining Libra and its testnet for working out the kinks of its blockchain system before a public launch in the first half of 2020.

Facebook won’t fully control Libra, but instead get just a single vote in its governance like other founding members of the Libra Association, including Visa, Uber and Andreessen Horowitz, which have invested at least $10 million each into the project’s operations. The association will promote the open-sourced Libra Blockchain and developer platform with its own Move programming language, plus sign up businesses to accept Libra for payment and even give customers discounts or rewards.

Facebook is launching a subsidiary company also called Calibra that handles its crypto dealings and protects users’ privacy by never mingling your Libra payments with your Facebook data so it can’t be used for ad targeting. Your real identity won’t be tied to your publicly visible transactions. But Facebook/Calibra and other founding members of the Libra Association will earn interest on the money users cash in that is held in reserve to keep the value of Libra stable.

Facebook’s audacious bid to create a global digital currency that promotes financial inclusion for the unbanked actually has more privacy and decentralization built in than many expected. Instead of trying to dominate Libra’s future or squeeze tons of cash out of it immediately, Facebook is instead playing the long-game by pulling payments into its online domain. Facebook’s VP of blockchain, David Marcus, explained the company’s motive and the tie-in with its core revenue source during a briefing at San Francisco’s historic Mint building. “If more commerce happens, then more small businesses will sell more on and off platform, and they’ll want to buy more ads on the platform so it will be good for our ads business.”

The risk and reward of building the new PayPal

In cryptocurrencies, Facebook saw both a threat and an opportunity. They held the promise of disrupting how things are bought and sold by eliminating transaction fees common with credit cards. That comes dangerously close to Facebook’s ad business that influences what is bought and sold. If a competitor like Google or an upstart built a popular coin and could monitor the transactions, they’d learn what people buy and could muscle in on the billions spent on Facebook marketing. Meanwhile, the 1.7 billion people who lack a bank account might choose whoever offers them a financial services alternative as their online identity provider too. That’s another thing Facebook wants to be.

Yet existing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum weren’t properly engineered to scale to be a medium of exchange. Their unanchored price was susceptible to huge and unpredictable swings, making it tough for merchants to accept as payment. And cryptocurrencies miss out on much of their potential beyond speculation unless there are enough places that will take them instead of dollars, and the experience of buying and spending them is easy enough for a mainstream audience. But with Facebook’s relationship with 7 million advertisers and 90 million small businesses plus its user experience prowess, it was well-poised to tackle this juggernaut of a problem.

Now Facebook wants to make Libra the evolution of PayPal . It’s hoping Libra will become simpler to set up, more ubiquitous as a payment method, more efficient with fewer fees, more accessible to the unbanked, more flexible thanks to developers and more long-lasting through decentralization.

“Success will mean that a person working abroad has a fast and simple way to send money to family back home, and a college student can pay their rent as easily as they can buy a coffee,” Facebook writes in its Libra documentation. That would be a big improvement on today, when you’re stuck paying rent in insecure checks while exploitative remittance services charge an average of 7% to send money abroad, taking $50 billion from users annually. Libra could also power tiny microtransactions worth just a few cents that are infeasible with credit card fees attached, or replace your pre-paid transit pass.

…Or it could be globally ignored by consumers who see it as too much hassle for too little reward, or too unfamiliar and limited in use to pull them into the modern financial landscape. Facebook has built a reputation for over-engineered, underused products. It will need all the help it can get if wants to replace what’s already in our pockets.

How does Libra work?

By now you know the basics of Libra. Cash in a local currency, get Libra, spend them like dollars without big transaction fees or your real name attached, cash them out whenever you want. Feel free to stop reading and share this article if that’s all you care about. But the underlying technology, the association that governs it, the wallets you’ll use and the way payments work all have a huge amount of fascinating detail to them. Facebook has released more than 100 pages of documentation on Libra and Calibra, and we’ve pulled out the most important facts. Let’s dive in.

The Libra Association — crypto’s new oligarchy

Facebook knew people wouldn’t trust it to wholly steer the cryptocurrency they use, and it also wanted help to spur adoption. So the social network recruited the founding members of the Libra Association, a not-for-profit which oversees the development of the token, the reserve of real-world assets that gives it value and the governance rules of the blockchain. “If we were controlling it, very few people would want to jump on and make it theirs,” says Marcus.

Each founding member paid a minimum of $10 million to join and optionally become a validator node operator (more on that later), gain one vote in the Libra Association council and be entitled to a share (proportionate to their investment) of the dividends from interest earned on the Libra reserve into which users pay fiat currency to receive Libra.

The 28 soon-to-be founding members of the association and their industries, previously reported by The Block’s Frank Chaparro, include:

  • Payments: Mastercard, PayPal, PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm), Stripe, Visa
  • Technology and marketplaces: Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook/Calibra, Farfetch, Lyft, Mercado Pago, Spotify AB, Uber Technologies, Inc.
  • Telecommunications: Iliad, Vodafone Group
  • Blockchain: Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Inc., Xapo Holdings Limited
  • Venture Capital: Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures
  • Nonprofit and multilateral organizations, and academic institutions: Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, Women’s World Banking

Facebook says it hopes to reach 100 founding members before the official Libra launch and it’s open to anyone that meets the requirements, including direct competitors like Google or Twitter. The Libra Association is based in Geneva, Switzerland and will meet biannually. The country was chosen for its neutral status and strong support for financial innovation including blockchain technology.

Libra governance — who gets a vote

To join the association, members must have a half rack of server space, a 100Mbps or above dedicated internet connection, a full-time site reliability engineer and enterprise-grade security. Businesses must hit two of three thresholds of a $1 billion USD market value or $500 million in customer balances, reach 20 million people a year and/or be recognized as a top 100 industry leader by a group like Interbrand Global or the S&P.

Crypto-focused investors must have more than $1 billion in assets under management, while Blockchain businesses must have been in business for a year, have enterprise-grade security and privacy and custody or staking greater than $100 million in assets. And only up to one-third of founding members can by crypto-related businesses or individually invited exceptions. Facebook also accepts research organizations like universities, and nonprofits fulfilling three of four qualities, including working on financial inclusion for more than five years, multi-national reach to lots of users, a top 100 designation by Charity Navigator or something like it and/or $50 million in budget.

The Libra Association will be responsible for recruiting more founding members to act as validator nodes for the blockchain, fundraising to jump-start the ecosystem, designing incentive programs to reward early adopters and doling out social impact grants. A council with a representative from each member will help choose the association’s managing director, who will appoint an executive team and elect a board of five to 19 top representatives.

Each member, including Facebook/Calibra, will only get up to one vote or 1% of the total vote (whichever is larger) in the Libra Association council. This provides a level of decentralization that protects against Facebook or any other player hijacking Libra for its own gain. By avoiding sole ownership and dominion over Libra, Facebook could avoid extra scrutiny from regulators who are already investigating it for a sea of privacy abuses as well as potentially anti-competitive behavior. In an attempt to preempt criticism from lawmakers, the Libra Association writes, “We welcome public inquiry and accountability. We are committed to a dialogue with regulators and policymakers. We share policymakers’ interest in the ongoing stability of national currencies.”

The Libra currency — a stablecoin

A Libra is a unit of the Libra cryptocurrency that’s represented by a three wavy horizontal line unicode character ≋ like the dollar is represented by $. The value of a Libra is meant to stay largely stable, so it’s a good medium of exchange, as merchants can be confident they won’t be paid a Libra today that’s then worth less tomorrow. The Libra’s value is tied to a basket of bank deposits and short-term government securities for a slew of historically stable international currencies, including the dollar, pound, euro, Swiss franc and yen. The Libra Association maintains this basket of assets and can change the balance of its composition if necessary to offset major price fluctuations in any one foreign currency so that the value of a Libra stays consistent.

The name Libra comes from the word for a Roman unit of weight measure. It’s trying to invoke a sense of financial freedom by playing on the French stem “Lib,” meaning free.

The Libra Association is still hammering out the exact start value for the Libra, but it’s meant to be somewhere close to the value of a dollar, euro or pound so it’s easy to conceptualize. That way, a gallon of milk in the U.S. might cost 3 to 4 Libra, similar but not exactly the same as with dollars.

The idea is that you’ll cash in some money and keep a balance of Libra that you can spend at accepting merchants and online services. You’ll be able to trade in your local currency for Libra and vice versa through certain wallet apps, including Facebook’s Calibra, third-party wallet apps and local resellers like convenience or grocery stores where people already go to top-up their mobile data plan.

The Libra Reserve — one for one

Each time someone cashes in a dollar or their respective local currency, that money goes into the Libra Reserve and an equivalent value of Libra is minted and doled out to that person. If someone cashes out from the Libra Association, the Libra they give back are destroyed/burned and they receive the equivalent value in their local currency back. That means there’s always 100% of the value of the Libra in circulation, collateralized with real-world assets in the Libra Reserve. It never runs fractional. And unliked “pegged” stable coins that are tied to a single currency like the USD, Libra maintains its own value — though that should cash out to roughly the same amount of a given currency over time.

When Libra Association members join and pay their $10 million minimum, they receive Libra Investment Tokens. Their share of the total tokens translates into the proportion of the dividend they earn off of interest on assets in the reserve. Those dividends are only paid out after Libra Association uses interest to pay for operating expenses, investments in the ecosystem, engineering research and grants to nonprofits and other organizations. This interest is part of what attracted the Libra Association’s members. If Libra becomes popular and many people carry a large balance of the currency, the reserve will grow huge and earn significant interest.

The Libra Blockchain — built for speed

Every Libra payment is permanently written into the Libra Blockchain — a cryptographically authenticated database that acts as a public online ledger designed to handle 1,000 transactions per second. That would be much faster than Bitcoin’s 7 transactions per second or Ethereum’s 15. The blockchain is operated and constantly verified by founding members of the Libra Association, which each invested $10 million or more for a say in the cryptocurrency’s governance and the ability to operate a validator node.

When a transaction is submitted, each of the nodes runs a calculation based on the existing ledger of all transactions. Thanks to a Byzantine Fault Tolerance system, just two-thirds of the nodes must come to consensus that the transaction is legitimate for it to be executed and written to the blockchain. A structure of Merkle Trees in the code makes it simple to recognize changes made to the Libra Blockchain. With 5KB transactions, 1,000 verifications per second on commodity CPUs and up to 4 billion accounts, the Libra Blockchain should be able to operate at 1,000 transactions per second if nodes use at least 40Mbps connections and 16TB SSD hard drives.

Transactions on Libra cannot be reversed. If an attack compromises over one-third of the validator nodes causing a fork in the blockchain, the Libra Association says it will temporarily halt transactions, figure out the extent of the damage and recommend software updates to resolve the fork.

Transactions aren’t entirely free. They incur a tiny fraction of a cent fee to pay for “gas” that covers the cost of processing the transfer of funds similar to with Ethereum. This fee will be negligible to most consumers, but when they add up, the gas charges will deter bad actors from creating millions of transactions to power spam and denial-of-service attacks. “We’ve purposely tried not to innovate massively on the blockchain itself because we want it to be scalable and secure,” says Marcus of piggybacking on the best elements of existing cryptocurrencies.

Currently, the Libra Blockchain is what’s known as “permissioned,” where only entities that fulfill certain requirements are admitted to a special in-group that defines consensus and controls governance of the blockchain. The problem is this structure is more vulnerable to attacks and censorship because it’s not truly decentralized. But during Facebook’s research, it couldn’t find a reliable permissionless structure that could securely scale to the number of transactions Libra will need to handle. Adding more nodes slows things down, and no one has proven a way to avoid that without compromising security.

That’s why the Libra Association’s goal is to move to a permissionless system based on proof-of-stake that will protect against attacks by distributing control, encourage competition and lower the barrier to entry. It wants to have at least 20% of votes in the Libra Association council coming from node operators based on their total Libra holdings instead of their status as a founding member. That plan should help appease blockchain purists who won’t be satisfied until Libra is completely decentralized.

Move coding language — for moving Libra

The Libra Blockchain is open source with an Apache 2.0 license, and any developer can build apps that work with it using the Move coding language. The blockchain’s prototype launches its testnet today, so it’s effectively in developer beta mode until it officially launches in the first half of 2020. The Libra Association is working with HackerOne to launch a bug bounty system later this year that will pay security researchers for safely identifying flaws and glitches. In the meantime, the Libra Association is implementing the Libra Core using the Rust programming language because it’s designed to prevent security vulnerabilities, and the Move language isn’t fully ready yet.

Move was created to make it easier to write blockchain code that follows an author’s intent without introducing bugs. It’s called Move because its primary function is to move Libra coins from one account to another, and never let those assets be accidentally duplicated. The core transaction code looks like: LibraAccount.pay_from_sender(recipient_address, amount) procedure.

Eventually, Move developers will be able to create smart contracts for programmatic interactions with the Libra Blockchain. Until Move is ready, developers can create modules and transaction scripts for Libra using Move IR, which is high-level enough to be human-readable but low-level enough to be translatable into real Move bytecode that’s written to the blockchain.

The Libra ecosystem and the Move language will be completely open to use and build, which presents a sizable risk. Crooked developers could prey on crypto novices, claiming their app works just the same as legitimate ones, and that it’s safe because it uses Libra. But if consumers get ripped off by these scammers, the anger will surely bubble up to Facebook. Yet still, Calibra’s head of product tells me, “There are no plans for the Libra Association to take a role in actively vetting [developers],” Calibra’s head of product Kevin Weil tells me.

Even though it’s tried to distance itself sufficiently via its subsidiary Libra and the association, many people will probably always think of Libra as Facebook’s cryptocurrency and blame it for their woes.

Read our full story on the dangers of Libra’s unvetted developer platform

Libra incentives — rewarding early businesses

The Libra Association wants to encourage more developers and merchants to work with its cryptocurrency. That’s why it plans to issue incentives, possibly Libra coins, to validator node operators who can get people signed up for and using Libra. Wallets that pull users through the Know Your Customer anti-fraud and money laundering process or that keep users sufficiently active for over a year will be rewarded. For each transaction they process, merchants will also receive a percentage of the transaction back.

Businesses that earn these incentives can keep them, or pass some or all of them along to users in the form of free Libra tokens or discounts on their purchases. This could create competition between wallets to see which can pass on the most rewards to their customers, and thereby attract the most users. You could imagine eBay or Spotify giving you a discount for paying in Libra, while wallet developers might offer you free tokens if you complete 100 transactions within a year.

“One challenge for Spotify and its users around the world has been the lack of easily accessible payment systems – especially for those in financially underserved markets,” Spotify’s Chief Premium Business Officer Alex Norström writes. “In joining the Libra Association, there is an opportunity to better reach Spotify’s total addressable market, eliminate friction and enable payments in mass scale.”

This savvy incentive system should massively help ratchet up Libra’s user count without dictating how businesses balance their margins versus growth. Facebook also has another plan to grow its developer ecosystem. By offering venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures a portion of the reserve interest, they’re motivating to fund startups building Libra infrastructure.

Using Libra

So how do you actually own and spend Libra? Through Libra wallets like Facebook’s own Calibra and others that will be built by third-parties, potentially including Libra Association members like PayPal. The idea is to make sending money to a friend or paying for something as easy as sending a Facebook Message. You won’t be able to make or receive any real payments until the official launch next year, though, but you can sign up for early access when it’s ready here.

None of the Libra Association members agreed to provide details on what exactly they’ll build on the blockchain, but we can take Facebook’s Calibra wallet as an example of the basic experience. Calibra will launch alongside the Libra currency on iOS and Android within Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and a standalone app. When users first sign up, they’ll be taken through a Know Your Customer anti-fraud process where they’ll have to provide a government-issued photo ID and other verification info. They’ll need to conduct due diligence on customers and report suspicious activity to the authorities.

From there you’ll be able to cash in to Libra, pick a friend or merchant, set an amount to send them and add a description and send them Libra. You’ll also be able to request Libra, and Calibra will offer an expedited way of paying merchants by scanning your or their QR code. Eventually it wants to offer in-store payments and integrations with point-of-sale systems like Square.

The Libra Association’s e-commerce members seem particularly excited about how the token could eliminate transaction fees and speed up checkout. “We believe blockchain will benefit the luxury industry by improving IP protection, transparency in the product life cycle and — as in the case of Libra — enable global frictionless e-commerce,” says FarFetch CEO Jose Neves.

Privacy — at least from Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained some of the philosophy behind Libra and Calibra in a post today. “It’s decentralized — meaning it’s run by many different organizations instead of just one, making the system fairer overall. It’s available to anyone with an internet connection and has low fees and costs. And it’s secured by cryptography which helps keep your money safe. This is an important part of our vision for a privacy-focused social platform — where you can interact in all the ways you’d want privately, from messaging to secure payments.”

By default, Facebook won’t import your contacts or any of your profile information, but may ask if you wish to do so. It also won’t share any of your transaction data back to Facebook, so it won’t be used to target you with ads, rank your News Feed, or otherwise earn Facebook money directly. Data will only be shared in specific instances in anonymized ways for research or adoption measurement, for hunting down fraudsters or due to a request from law enforcement. And you don’t even need a Facebook or WhatsApp account to sign up for Calibra or to use Libra.

“We realize people don’t want their social data and financial data commingled,” says Marcus, who’s now head of Calibra. “The reality is we’ll have plenty of wallets that will compete with us and many of them will not be in social, and if we want to successfully win people’s trust, we have to make sure the data will be separated.”

In case you are hacked, scammed or lose access to your account, Calibra will refund you for lost coins when possible through 24/7 chat support because it’s a custodial wallet. You also won’t have to remember any long, complex crypto passwords you could forget and get locked out from your money, as Calibra manages all your keys for you. Given Calibra will likely become the default wallet for many Libra users, this extra protection and smoother user experience is essential.

For now, Calibra won’t make money. But Calibra’s head of product Kevin Weil tells me that if it reaches scale, Facebook could launch other financial tools through Calibra that it could monetize, such as investing or lending. “In time, we hope to offer additional services for people and businesses, such as paying bills with the push of a button, buying a cup of coffee with the scan of a code or riding your local public transit without needing to carry cash or a metro pass,” the Calibra team writes. That makes it start to sound a lot like China’s everything app WeChat.

A global coin

Facebook got one thing right for sure: Today’s money doesn’t work for everyone. Those of us living comfortably in developed nations likely don’t see the hardships that befall migrant workers or the unbanked abroad. Preyed on by greedy payday lenders and high-fee remittance services, targeted by muggers and left out of traditional financial services, the poor get poorer. Libra has the potential to get more money from working parents back to their families and help people retain credit even if they’re robbed of their physical possessions. That would do more to accomplish Facebook’s mission of making the world feel smaller than all the News Feed Likes combined.

If Facebook succeeds and legions of people cash in money for Libra, it and the other founding members of the Libra Association could earn big dividends on the interest. And if suddenly it becomes super quick to buy things through Facebook using Libra, businesses will boost their ad spend there. But if Libra gets hacked or proves unreliable, it could cost lots of people around the world money while souring them on cryptocurrencies. And by offering an open Libra platform, shady developers could build apps that snatch not just people’s personal info like Cambridge Analytica, but their hard-earned digital cash.

Facebook just tried to reinvent money. Next year, we’ll see if the Libra Association can pull it off. It took me 4,000 words to explain Libra, but at least now you can make up your own mind about whether to be scared of Facebook crypto.

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What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

Posted by | Apple, e3 2019, events, Gadgets, Gaming, Google, Hulu, Media, Microsoft, Netflix, Nintendo, Sony, Spotify, stadia, Streaming Media, ubisoft, Uplay, xbox | No Comments

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

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