streaming service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pandora launches a personalized voice assistant on iOS and Android

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, Pandora, personalization, streaming, streaming service, voice, voice assistant | No Comments

Pandora today announced the launch of its own, in-app voice assistant that you can call up at any time by saying “Hey Pandora,” followed by a request to play the music or podcasts you want to hear. The feature will allow you to not only control music playback with commands to play a specific artist, album, radio or playlist, but will also be capable of delivering results customized to you when responding to vague commands or those related to activity or mood. For example, you’ll get personalized results for requests like “play something new,” “play more like this,” “play music for relaxing,” “play workout music,” “play something I like” and others.

The company reports strong adoption of its service on voice-activated speakers, like Amazon Echo devices, where now millions of listeners launch Pandora music by speaking — a trend that inspired the move to launch in-app voice control.

“Voice is just an expected new way that you engage with any app,” notes Pandora Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips. “On the mobile app, we’re doing more than just your typical request against the catalog… asking: ‘hey, Pandora,’ to search and play or pause or skip,” he says. “What we’re doing that we think is pretty special is we’re taking that voice utterance of what someone asks for, and we’re applying our personalized recommendations to the response,” Phillips explains.

That means when you ask Pandora to play you something new, the app will return a selection that won’t resemble everyone else’s music, but will rather be informed by your own listening habits and personal tastes.

The way that result is returned may also vary — for some, it could be a playlist, for others an album and for others, it could be just a new song, a personalized soundtrack or a radio station.

“Play something new” isn’t the only command that will yield a personalized response, Pandora says. It will also return personalized results for commands related to your mood or activity — like workout music, something to relax to, music for cooking and more.

For podcasts, it can dig up episodes with a specific guest, play shows by title, or even deliver show recommendations, among other things.

Voice commands can be used in lieu of pressing buttons, too, in order to do things like add songs to a playlist or giving a song you like a thumbs up, for instance.

The new feature, called “Voice Mode,” taps into Pandora’s machine learning and data science capabilities, which is an active battleground between music services.

Spotify, for example, is well known for its deep personalization with its Discover Weekly and other custom playlists, like its Daily Mixes. But its own “voice mode” option is only available for its Premium users, according to a FAQ on the company’s website.

Pandora, meanwhile, is planning to roll out Voice Mode to all users — both free and paid.

For free users, the feature will work in conjunction with an existing ad product that allows users to opt in to watch a video in order to gain temporary access to Pandora’s on-demand service.

While this option is not live at launch, the plan is to allow any user to use the “Hey Pandora” command, then redirect free users with a request to play music on demand to instead play the opt-in ad first.

Pandora Voice Mode will launch today, January 15, to a percentage of the iOS and Android user base — around a million listeners. The company will track the speed, accuracy and performance of its results before rolling it out more broadly over the next couple of months.

Users with a Google Home device can also cast from their Pandora app to their smart speaker, and a similar feature will arrive on Alexa devices soon, the company believes.

Pandora works with Siri Shortcuts, too. That means you can now use voice to launch the app itself, then play a personalized selection of music without having to touch your phone at all.

Voice Mode will be available in the Pandora app via the search bar next to the magnifying glass.

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Report: Amazon to double down on gaming with a new streaming service

Posted by | Amazon, Gaming, streaming service, TC | No Comments

Earlier this week, when Razer announced that it would integrate Amazon’s Alexa into its gaming platform, I wondered if this was a strong signal of how Amazon may be starting to lay the groundwork for its own strategy to do more in gaming. By coincidence, today The Information reports just that: Amazon is now developing its own streamed gaming service, according to its sources. It’s already talking with publishers to stream their titles on the platform, and it aims to launch it next year.

A streamed gaming service from Amazon not only would complement what Amazon is already offering in streamed media — which today includes video, music, photo storage and more — but it will put Amazon squarely in competition with those that are working on, or have already launched, their own streamed gaming efforts. Players include Sony’s PlayStation Now, Microsoft, Google, Nvidia and Electronic Arts.

To be clear, Amazon already offers streamed gaming in a limited format. Prime subscribers get access to “Twitch Prime,” which provides users with free games every month, along with select free in-game perks. This is separate to Twitch’s mainstay product, a video streaming service that works alongside other games creating a social network of sorts, where users watch each other playing and commenting on playing games.

When Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014, many wondered if that would lead to it launching a bigger gaming service. That possibility was bolstered when Amazon acquired U.K. cloud gaming backend specialist GameSparks (in 2017 as we first reported, although only confirmed by Amazon in 2018). GameSparks’ technology has already been deployed in Amazon’s AWS service — which has a dedicated business targeting games publishers, providing everything they need, from gaming technologies to server space, analytics, backend services and more.

That is also a strong sign of how Amazon has quickly integrated the tech into its infrastructure already, and already has all the tools it needs to build a consumer service of its own.

So it has definitely taken a while, but perhaps Amazon’s own, bigger, direct-to-consumer gaming effort is what’s finally taking shape.

The idea is that Amazon’s gaming service would go head-to-head not only with console-based gaming platforms, but also a number of other big players that are tapping into the boom we’ve seen in streamed media services. Consumers now have faster, more reliable and cheaper broadband connections and are using them to replace legacy hardware and services in areas like music, television and more.

For those who are selling services in those other areas — and Amazon is one of them, by way of its Prime-fueled Amazon Music, Amazon Prime Video and its Fire TV service — providing a gaming platform not only could make the overall service more “sticky” but could attract new consumer Prime subscribers who might come specifically for the games.

But those are not the only weapons Amazon has in its arsenal. As we noted this week, we’ve seen very little application of Amazon’s AI muscle — all the voice services that have completely excited consumers, and its work in augmented reality — in media services beyond the Echo devices.

In gaming, we are starting to see small moves there — such as Razer’s integration of Alexa voice commands to control its game console — but there are ways that you could imagine that technology being incorporated into actual gameplay, which could help set Amazon apart from the very big field of competition.

There are some juicy tidbits in The Information story around the bigger news that Amazon is eyeing up a streamed gaming service that point to some of the challenges it might be facing.

It notes that Jason Kilar, the executive who used to lead Hulu, at one point was being tapped to join Amazon — where he had worked in the past — to lead the new gaming effort. That never came to pass, however — perhaps one reason why a gaming platform has been such a long time in coming.

Another issue is getting games publishers on board to a service. For many, their bread and butter comes from the sale of games that are played on consoles — usually games that are specific to one particular proprietary console — so a service that is constructed Netflix- or Amazon Prime-style, where a consumer pays a single monthly fee to access whatever content they want, when she or he wants it, could eat into those margins.

That lament is very familiar: it’s the same one from the film and music industries, whose physical sales have been massively impacted by streamed services. In those cases, we’ve seen studios and labels gradually come around by way of licensing deals and simple market forces, so it will be interesting to see if that plays out the same here.

(Also worth considering is Amazon’s existing structure for Prime Video: some films are free, including the growing selection of Amazon-produced content, but there are many shows and films that you can only watch if you pay a separate fee.)

We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment for this story and will update as we learn more.

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Spotify will now let brands sponsor its Discover Weekly playlist

Posted by | Ads, advertising, Advertising Tech, brands, Media, Mobile, Music, Spotify, streaming service | No Comments

Spotify has begun testing a new type of ad in Discover Weekly, its personalized playlist of music that’s the streaming service’s flagship feature. The company says that, for the first time, it will allow a brand to “sponsor” this playlist as opposed to just running ads. It believes many advertisers will be interested in this opportunity due to the playlist’s ability to reach heavily engaged Spotify users, and because it allows advertisers to “own the personalized listening experience” on Spotify.

According to Spotify, Discover Weekly listeners stream more than double the amount of users who don’t listen to the playlist because of the personalized experience it offers. That will make the ad product more compelling, compared with brands’ existing ability to sponsor other editorial playlists on the service.

With Spotify’s Sponsored Playlist ad product, brands can surround Spotify’s free listeners with audio or video messages in ad breaks, and gain Spotify’s help in building a collaborative marketing plan.

Microsoft will kick off the launch of branded ads by running an A.I. ad campaign called “Empowering Us All.” This will explore A.I. across sectors like Education, Healthcare and Philanthropy. Spotify says it was a good fit for the launch, as Discover Weekly is customized for each user by taking advantage of A.I. technology.

“At Microsoft we are focused on empowering every individual and organization to do more. Our work in AI is a central part of that mission to unlock human ingenuity,” said Erin Bevington, General Manager of Global Media at Microsoft, in a statement. “Our partnership with a technology innovator like Spotify offered a way for us to effectively share that message within a personalized entertainment experience powered by AI.”

Spotify recently passed 200 million monthly active users, but is now looking to new ways to generate revenue from its user base beyond simply converting free users to premium subscribers.

The company has been growing its subscriber base at a steady pace, but Wall St. hasn’t been happy with its financials. One issue is that its newer promotions, like its low-cost student and family plans, have seen its average revenue per user dropping – as of Q3 2018, it had fallen 6 percent year-over-year to $5.50. A more valuable ad product could help bring these numbers back up. 

“Personalization has quickly gone from a nice-to-have to an expected consumer experience that delights audiences and marketers are craving opportunities to be part of it” said Danielle Lee, Global Head of Partner Solutions at Spotify, in a statement. “Our new Discover Weekly ad experience positions advertisers for success and ensures that our fans are hearing messages that embody the ethos of discovery.”

Brand sponsorships for Discover Weekly are currently in beta testing, says Spotify.

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The Roku Channel adds premium subscriptions alongside its free content

Posted by | cord cutting, Media, Mobile, roku, streaming, streaming service, TC, television, tv | No Comments

The Roku Channel — Roku’s home to free, ad-supported content like movies, TV, sports and news — is expanding to include subscriptions. Essentially Roku’s own take on Amazon’s Prime Video Channels, users can now opt to add some 25 premium video subscriptions within the Roku Channel, centralizing their access to streaming services in one destination that will become more personalized over time.

At launch, consumers will be able to opt to add-on subscriptions from premium networks including Showtime, Starz, EPIX, CuriosityStream, Noggin, Baeble Music, CollegeHumor’s Dropout, Hopster, Magnolia Selects, FitFusion, Smithsonian Channel Plus, Tastemade, Viewster Anime, The Great Courses Signature Collection, MHz Choice and others.

Offering a centralized place to subscribe to paid content is a fairly significant change for Roku’s platform, where, historically, viewers would download and add apps (“channels,” in Roku’s lingo) to their Roku homepage for each service they wanted to watch. Some of those channels require subscriptions, like Netflix and Hulu, while others offer free content.

Roku in fall 2017 began to aggregate the free content from the various channels across its platform in its own Roku Channel, and combined that with content it licensed directly from studios. The Roku Channel initially featured free, ad-supported movies, giving Roku a way to further grow its advertising revenues.

Over the past year, The Roku Channel expanded to include news, sports, TV shows and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks. This pushed the channel to become one of the top five most-watched across the Roku platform.

Now, instead of being only a home to free content, The Roku Channel is working with video partners to offer an alternative way to watch their programming.

“We’ve been focused on ad-supported content and will continue to have a very robust offering there. But there’s lots of great content that’s available only in subscription services,” explained Roku’s vice president of Programming, Rob Holmes, as to why Roku wanted to introduce paid subscriptions. “We also wanted to try to improve the user experience in a lot of the same way that we did with the launch of The Roku Channel around ad-supported content,” he said. 

When you enter The Roku Channel, you’ll be able to explore the premium subscription content before making a decision as to whether or not you want to sign up. That’s a better experience than offered by some subscription apps today, where you’re presented only with a splash screen that directs you to sign up to see the content or offer a very limited view of their programming.

If you choose to subscribe to a premium network via the Roku Channel, you can use the payment card that’s already on file with Roku. Basically, you click a button and then confirm the subscription (in case you clicked by accidentally sitting on the remote), and then you’re signed up.

This method makes it easier to add and remove subscriptions, for those who follow individual shows and want to turn their subscription on and off, timed with the release of new seasons.

The subscriptions also support seven-day free trials, trial expiration reminders and are billed together on a single statement from Roku monthly.

Also of note, when you subscribe to networks through the Roku Channel, you’ll no longer have to download the network’s standalone Roku app to watch. Instead, your subscriptions will get their own area inside The Roku Channel, making it more of a one-stop shop for your streaming services.

The networks will be shown both in The Roku Channel’s homepage and they’ll each get their own tab in the channel, too.

In fact, you currently cannot choose to watch in the network’s standalone Roku app, we understand. Over time, some networks will offer authentication for Roku Channel subscribers, but that’s not the case at launch.

Of course, this begs the question — if you can’t authenticate with the network provider, does that mean you won’t be able to watch the channel’s content, except on a Roku device?

As it turns out, you can.

Alongside the launch of channel subscriptions, The Roku Channel’s mobile app is being updated to support video playback. That means you can watch The Roku Channel content, including subscriptions, on your smartphone or tablet, as well as on the web and on your TV.

Over time, Roku’s plan is to better personalize your subscriptions and recommendations. That means the shows you actively watch will be presented in the front of the queue, and Roku will be able to recommend content across services, based on viewing behavior.

Roku says it will add more partners to The Roku Channel over time. However, many providers will not participate because they want to own the experience, end-to-end with their customers. They also may not want to share a cut of subscription revenue with Roku, as is required today to be promoted as a subscription add-on within The Roku Channel.

For the time being, Roku doesn’t plan on expanding from premium subscriptions to offer some sort of core package of subscription programming the way live TV services like Sling TV or YouTube TV now do.

“I think where we are today is really focused on these à la carte subscriptions,” Holmes said. “Ultimately, from a user standpoint, there’s a lot of value in being able to pick and choose exactly what you want to sign up for — without having to sign up for one of these base packages to start with. That’s how we think about it today.”

Support for subscriptions will begin to roll out to The Roku Channel starting later this month and will complete the phased rollout by early 2019. The new mobile app will launch in late January, as well.

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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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Plex teams with TIDAL to bring a discounted streaming music subscription to its media app

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, plex, streaming, streaming service, TC, tidal | No Comments

Media center app Plex today announced a partnership with streaming music service TIDAL, offering discounted access to TIDAL’s 60 million tracks and 244,000+ music videos for Plex Pass subscribers. The Plex Pass is the media center app’s own subscription program, which adds support for watching and recording from live TV as well as other premium features and advanced controls.

Now, Plex Pass holders will be able to add TIDAL into the mix for $8.99 per month, instead of its usual $9.99 per month price. It’s not a steep discount, but one that could prove compelling for serious Plex users who have already centralized their access to entertainment within the Plex app.

Over the past year or so, Plex has doubled down on its mission to become a one-stop shop for all your media, having added support for podcasts, streaming TV (by way of a digital antenna) and a DVR, personalized news, and, most recently, web shows. This is in addition to the software’s ability to organize your home media collections of movies, TV shows, personal video, music and photos.

The company’s goal is to capitalize on its expansive entertainment library in order to offer better recommendations across media types. That is — it could suggest podcasts or web shows based on the TV or music you enjoy, for example.

Plex customers who add TIDAL will have access to the streamer’s entire music catalog, along with artist recommendations for those who aren’t already in your media library, as well as a feature that will display the missing albums from artists in your library. The service also offers artist radio, discovery radio for finding new tunes from those not in your library, new release recommendations, music videos and more.

Universal search and playlists features will combine results from Plex’s library and TIDAL, allowing you to locate tracks from your local library alongside TIDAL tracks, and add both to the same playlist.

“An incredible music and media experience is something that matters to both TIDAL and Plex users, and the addition of TIDAL’s music streaming service within Plex makes it the only solution that organizes and curates all major media types in one place,” said Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, in a statement. “It’s another step closer to making all the media that matters to you accessible from one app, on any device, anytime.”

TIDAL will also point its subscribers to Plex as a part of the deal, giving them access to Plex’s music features and mobile app, or, in the case of Tidal HiFi subscribers ($19.99/mo), they get a Plex Pass for free.

New customers to TIDAL can sign up for a combo TIDAL/Plex Pass subscription for $9.99/mo or $19.99/mo if they want TIDAL HiFi. (Normally a Plex Pass on its own is $3.33/mo if paid annually).

Once signed up for TIDAL, Plex users can quickly merge their subscription to Plex from here.

The TIDAL subscription is available on Plex mobile and web* to start, with expansion to other TV platforms expected to follow.

*Versions required: Plex Media Server 1.14.0.5470; iOS 5.7.2; Android 7.8.0; Web 3.77.2 

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Spotify’s Premium app gets a big makeover

Posted by | Android, Apps, iOS apps, Media, Mobile, Music, Spotify, streaming, streaming service | No Comments

Spotify has given its app a big makeover, with a focus on making the experience better for its paying subscribers. The company has simplified the app’s navigation by reducing the numbers of buttons and has revamped its Search page, which now incorporates elements previously found in “Browse,” like favorite genres or music to match a mood. And it’s given its Radio service a redesign as well, with the addition of new and easy-to-use Artist Radio Playlists.

The most immediately noticeable change is the app’s navigation.

Spotify has always felt a bit cluttered, with its five navigation buttons – Home, Browse, Search, Radio and My Library. The new app has chopped this down to just three buttons – Home, Search, and My Library.

Recommendations will appear on the Home page, following the update, while discovery is powered by Search.

The Search page lets you seek out artists, albums and podcasts by typing in queries, as before. But the page is also now personalized, showing your own “Top Genres” beneath the search bar – like R&B, Rock, Hip-Hop, Kids & Family – or whatever else you listen to. This is helpful because users’ tastes can change over time, or they may share their individual Spotify account with others (instead of opting for a Family plan), which can garble their recommendations.

The “Browse” section has moved to this Search page in the redesign, and points to things like top charts, Spotify’s programmed playlists, your own personalized playlists, plus music by mood, genre, activity and more.

The Radio section got an overhaul, too.

With the update, you can search for a favorite artist or song, then immediately start listing to one of the brand-new Artist Radio playlists. These are personalized, endless streams based on your own tastes – and they’re updated regularly to stay fresh, Spotify notes.

This latter feature appears to address a recent challenge from Pandora, which tapped into its Music Genome to create dozens of personalized playlists for its users. Spotify, effectively, is turning its radio stations into personalized playlists now, too. Instead of asking users to thumbs up/down its selections, it will just create stations it knows you’ll like, based on the data it already has. These radio playlists also work offline, the company says.

The updated app for Premium users follows a redesign of the app for its free customers, announced back in April. That redesign made it easier for free users to access over a dozen playlists with songs on demand, which also included the option to skip tracks. It also reduced the number of tabs in the bottom navigation.

This week, the company also rolled out a new Android Wear application. Plus, the third-party manufacturer Mighty launched a new version of its Spotify player, which is basically an iPod Shuffle-like device that works with Spotify instead of Apple Music or iTunes.

The changes to the Spotify app comes at a time when the company is losing ground in North America to Apple. Pandora was just snatched up by Sirius XM for $3.5 billion, which could make for increased competition in the U.S., as well.

Spotify’s Premium Subscribers grew to 83 million in Q2 2018, and it has 180 million monthly actives, including free customers, which still puts it ahead of the competition, in terms of user base size.

Spotify says the redesign for Spotify Premium is rolling out to all Premium subscribers on iOS and Android globally starting today.

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Twitch is closing its Communities

Posted by | Amazon, communities, games, Gaming, streaming, streaming service, Twitch | No Comments

Say goodbye to Twitch’s Communities. The game-streaming service says it’s soon killing off this still relatively new addition to its site in favor of implementing a tagging system instead. With the changes, users will be able to filter streams by tags within a directory or across different games on the Browse page, in order to better find the sort of streams they want to watch.

The closure of Communities and addition of tags is being planned for mid-September, says Twitch.

Twitch launched Communities just last year, with the goal of better catering to users’ unique interests. For example, different types of gaming, like retro, or different activities, like speedrunning, could then have their own community. There are also communities centered around titles like Fortnite Battle Royale, PUBG, League of Legends and others, as well as those focused on creative endeavors like music, drawing, cooking, cosplay and more.

But the system has become less helpful as Twitch itself, the number of streamers and the number of communities grew. Today, there’s a lot of overlap between different Communities or between Communities and games, says Twitch.

This is attributable, in part, to the open nature of Communities — there are many with similar names, and no good way to tell what makes them different from one another at first glance.

“Communities were one solution for giving viewers information to help them decide what to watch, but viewers weren’t able to see that information while browsing within a directory they were interested in,” the company noted in an announcement.

It also found that Communities weren’t driving viewers to watch streams — in fact less than 3 percent of Twitch viewership was from users who found streams through the Communities feature. That points to a pretty broad failure of Communities serving as a discovery feature.

Twitch now hopes that the implementation of tags will make things better on that front.

The company says it will add tags to the site in mid-September, and these will be used to identify a stream across Twitch’s directory pages, the homepage, search, channel pages and everywhere else. The main Directory pages and the Browse page will also be able to be filtered by these tags, some of which will be auto-generated.

Twitch says it will automatically add tags like game genres, and some in-game features it can auto-detect — another project it now has in the works. But most of the tags will be selected by the streamer — not user-generated, to be clear, but selected.

Streamers will be able to suggest new tags, however.

The tags will appear alongside the video thumbnail, stream title and the game or category being streamed.

The change is one that speaks to the limitations of portal-like interfaces being used to access a large amount of information — that is, browsing to a particular section to find things you like, then scrolling through those results takes too much time. It isn’t that helpful in the long run. Tagging lets users filter information, paring down, in this case, a large number of Twitch streams to find just those you like.

That being said, not all Twitch users are happy about the changes. But some are happy about it and others are cautiously optimistic about tagging.

So in case you haven’t heard the news, @Twitch is removing Communities because “they werent being used” which means that The Cookout Community page that we’ve built up over this past year wont exist a month from now. We will have to come up with new ways to find each other. pic.twitter.com/95fKSgTwB0

— The Villain. (@DennyVonDoom) August 9, 2018

It is with a heavy heart i must share the sad news,That Twitch Communities will be removed,say goodbye to Communities we are being introduced to Tags. Unsure on how this will work out on twitch. I only have but one thing to say, Everything We Do Will Remain The Same #CESupport pic.twitter.com/OjkGXjoYgP

— Letseuq [CE] (@Letseuqion) August 10, 2018

We feel communities gave streamers a sense of self identity that was much needed

It is worrisome to see tags implemented instead of more freeform communties as it removes agency from the streamers in how they choose to define their stream and themselves.

What are your thoughts?

— TwitchKittens (@TwitchKittens) August 9, 2018

It’s a shame that @Twitch are removing Communities, but the implementation of tags is a really cool idea, and I look forward to the possibility of seeing a #StreamersConnected tag.

— Lt Zonda [SC] (@LTZONDA) August 9, 2018

I’m happy with it to be honest, 3 communities is extremely limiting anyway especially when the majority of people have more than 3. I dunno how anyone was supposed to find community pages easily, think more traffic came from external sources and game listings than community pages

— OK Sauce (@oksaucedesu) August 10, 2018

Honesty, I don’t see how this’ll hurt anyone. You can still make communities outside of Twitch. Then you can just use a tag instead. Same idea really. What is a community? A bunch of people using the same tag? I’m still not even part of a community.

— Vanilla Bizcotti (@VanBiztheRapper) August 10, 2018

The interesting thing about @Twitch rolling out this tags feature is that they’re gonna eventually include them on mobile….which they never did for Communities. So how can you accurately measure the usefulness of the Communities feature if not everybody had access to it?

— Jae. (@JaeTheTerrible) August 10, 2018

Everyone is getting up in arms about Twitch removing communities. Believe it or not, communities can be used to push away gamers just as much as bring them together.

— Vanilla Bizcotti (@VanBiztheRapper) August 10, 2018

Twitch says tagging will first launch on the web, and the company will then listen to feedback about missing tags before launching the feature on mobile.

The mid-September launch date could change, but is the target for now.

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