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

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

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

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

OTT is where the growth is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Lower barrier to entry for distribution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Going global right away.

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

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

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

3. Immediate data on audience engagement.

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

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

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

4. Online means interactive

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

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

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

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

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

Power is in the hands of the league owners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YouTube to shut down standalone Gaming app, as gaming gets a new home on YouTube

Posted by | Apps, Creators, games, Gaming, live streaming, Mobile, Video, YouTube, youtube gaming | No Comments

YouTube will no longer maintain a separate app targeting gaming and live game streaming, the company announced today. The YouTube Gaming app, which first arrived in 2015, will be sunset sometime next spring as its host of features make their way over to YouTube’s main site.

Over the years, the YouTube Gaming app has been a place where YouTube experimented with features catering to game creators and viewers who like to watch live and recorded esports. Here, it tested things like Game Pages to make games more discoverable, Super Chat, and Channel Memberships – features which the Amazon-owned game streaming site Twitch had also popularized among the game community.

Some of YouTube Gaming’s features became so well-received that the company brought them to YouTube. For example, this June YouTube introduced channel memberships to its main site. And before that, it had brought Super Chat – a way for creators to make money from live streams – to its broader community, as well.

But while gaming remains one of YouTube’s top verticals, no one was really using the standalone YouTube Gaming app, the company says.

“We have 200 million people that are logged in, watching gaming content every single day,” Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s Director of Gaming Content and Partnerships, tells TechCrunch. “And the majority of them, quite frankly, are just not using the YouTube Gaming app for their gaming experiences,” he says.

However, data from Sensor Tower shows the app had over 11 million installs across iOS and Android, and those installs have remained consistent over time. That indicates a large number of people were at least willing to try the app. But the firm also found that its daily users were a “tiny fraction” of Twitch’s on iOS, which confirms Wyatt’s point about lack of usage.

Instead, gamers are logging into YouTube to watch gaming, Wyatt explains.

They watch a lot of gaming, too – over the last twelve months, fans streamed more than 50 billion hours of gaming content, and YouTube has over 500,000 quarterly active live gaming streamers.

In other words, YouTube’s decision to sunset the standalone app should not be seen as an admission that it’s ceding this space to Twitch – rather, that it’s now deciding to use the power of YouTube’s flagship app to better compete.

On that front, the company is today launching a new YouTube Gaming destination at youtube.com/gaming. The destination is first available in the U.S., and will roll out globally in the months ahead.

A link to the new vertical will appear in the left-side navigation bar, where you find other top-level sections like Trending and Subscriptions.

The Gaming destination will feature personalized content at the top of the page, based on what you like to watch, along with top live games, the latest gaming videos from your subscriptions, and dedicated shelves for live streams and trending videos.

Another feature, “gaming creator on the rise,” will highlight up-and-coming gaming creators who are still trying to build an audience. That’s something that many say is still an issue on Amazon-owned Twitch – often, their early days are spent streaming to no one. They soon find that they need the blessing of an existing influencer to bring more viewers to their channel.

Wyatt points out, too, that YouTube Gaming won’t be all about live streams.

“The other thing that we learned through this process was that the gaming app, and the narrative around it, was very heavily live-focused. Everybody always talked about all the live streaming and live gaming,” he says. “But what that did was underserve the vast gaming

business. So by moving it over to YouTube main, you have this beautiful combination of both the living gaming streams that are continuing to grow massively on YouTube, as well as all the other VOD content on the platform.”

There are several things that YouTube’s new Gaming destination still lacks, however. Most notably, the ability to live stream gameplay right from your phone.

That’s why the YouTube Gaming app won’t immediately disappear. Instead, it will stick around until March or maybe even April 2019, while YouTube works on porting the experience over to its main site and app.

“We’re still working through that,” Wyatt admits, when asked how the live streaming component will come to YouTube proper. “We haven’t made a decision on if [live game streaming] will be in there by March, but we do need to have a solution for easy mobile capture from the phone,” he says.

The YouTube Gaming app was never a global release, as it was only live in select markets, we should note. YouTube’s Gaming vertical will eventually be launched worldwide. That could make it more of a challenge to Twitch, as it taps into the eyeballs of YouTube’s 1.8 billion users, while also expanding to take advantage of other new YouTube features like Premieres or Merchandise.

“It’s a great opportunity to use those features,” Wyatt notes, regarding the shift from YouTube Gaming to YouTube proper. “And we’re going to keep creating more features that will that will really lend themselves to live, but ultimately we’ll be thinking about really unique ways to apply them to VOD as well,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube Kids expands to tweens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Google launches Cameos, a video Q&A app aimed at celebs and public figures

Posted by | Apps, Celebs, Google, Mobile, Posts on Google, Q&A, Search, Video | No Comments

Google has launched a new video-based Q&A app called Cameos on the App Store, which allows people to answer questions about themselves, then share those answers directly on Google. The app is aimed at celebrities and other public figures, who are often the subject of people’s Google searches. With the Cameos app, they can address fans’ questions in their own voice, instead of leaving the answers up to other websites.

The feature is an extension of the company’s “Posts on Google” platform which has been slowly rolling out over the past couple of years, giving some people and organizations the ability to post directly to Google’s search result pages.

Initially, “Posts on Google” was open only to a small number of celebrities, sports teams and leagues, movie studios and museums. But last year, it expanded to local businesses who could then publish their events, products and services. This spring, it opened up to musicians. And it had been earlier experimenting with a feature that inserted celebs’ video answers into search, as well.

Those invited to use the service have been able to post updates to Google which include text, images, video, GIFs, events, and links to other sites. In a way, it’s like Google’s version of Twitter – but with the goal of helping web searchers find answers to questions.

The new Cameos app is focused specifically on video posts.

As the App Store description explains: “Record video answers to the most asked questions on Google and then post them right to Google. Now, when people search for you, they’ll get answers directly from you.”

The app also allows celebrities using Cameos to see the top questions the internet wants answers to, so they can pick and choose which of those they want to answer. Their answers, recorded with their iPhone’s camera, will be published directly to Google search and in the Google app.

The service brings to mind Instagram’s new Q&A feature, launched this July. Via a Questions widget that’s added to an Instagram Story, users can solicit questions from their followers. The recipient can then select the questions they want to respond to, and post their replies publicly to their Instagram Story.

The feature become so popular, so quickly, that it began to dominate people’s Stories feed. There was even a bit of backlash.

Google’s Cameo video answers could be more useful, as they’d only appear when that question was searched on Google. It would also give Google a social platform of sorts – a market it has tried to compete in for years, and is now littered with failures like Orkut, Dodgeball, Latitude, Lively, Google Wave, Google Buzz, and of course, Google+. At least with Posts, Google is focusing on what it does best: Search.

Google confirmed the feature is part of its earlier efforts around Posts on Google using video. The Cameos app is part of a pilot that makes it possible for celebrities and other prominent figures to participate, a spokesperson said.

The Cameos app description also notes that it will add more questions for celebs to answer on a regular basis.

Access to use Cameos is only available upon invitation. Those interested can download the iOS app to request access.

Updated 8/9/18, 11:20 AM with Google comment

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Next iPhone could be available in grey, white, blue, red and orange

Posted by | analyst, Apple, apple inc, electronics, Gadgets, iOS, iPhone, iphone 5s, iPhone SE, LG, macintosh, ming-chi kuo, oled, Samsung, smartphone, technology, Video | No Comments

According to a supply chain report, Apple is preparing to release three iPhone lines this fall. One, a 5.8-inch iPhone X with improved specs and lower price. Two, a new 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus with an OLED screen. And three, a 6.1-inch iPhone with Face ID, which is said to come in a variety of colors including grey, white, blue, red and orange.

Ming-Chi Kuo reports, via 9to5mac, that the 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus is said to take the $1000 price point from the iPhone X. This will cause the next iPhone X to be less expensive than its current incarnation. The colorful 6.1-inch iPhone will be the least expensive model with a price tag around $700. Information about storage was not included in the report.

The least-expensive iPhone is said to resemble the iPhone X and include FaceID though Apple might concede the dual-camera option to the higher price models. The analyst expects this $700 option to account for 55% of new iPhone sales and increase through 2019.

If the part about the colors is correct, Apple is set introduce a slash of color to the monochrome phone market. Currently, phones are mostly available in greys and blacks with most vendors offering a couple of color options through special editions. That’s boring. Apple tried this in the past with its budget-minded iPhone 5c. Making its best-selling model available in colors is a distinct shift in strategy. It’s highly likely other firms such as Samsung and LG will follow the trend and push the smartphone world into a rainbow of colors.

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Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

Posted by | Apps, Creators, Entertainment, instagram, Instagram IGTV, instagram video, Mobile, Snapchat Clone, Snapchat Discover, Social, TC, Video, YouTube | No Comments

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

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Twitch now lets streamers use multiple Extensions at once

Posted by | Gaming, streaming, Twitch, Video, video gaming | No Comments

Last year, Twitch announced a suite of tools called Extensions, that allow streamers to customize their channel pages with interactive features, including polls, leaderboards, schedules and more. Today, Twitch is making Extensions even more useful by allowing streamers to run up to three of these overlays at the same time on their video, plus three more below the video player, for a total of six that can be active on their channel at any time.

This update, Twitch says, will allow streamers to better customize their channels in unique ways, while engaging and retaining their fans.

To enable multiple Extensions, streamers will visit their channel dashboard’s redesigned Extensions Manager, where Extensions can now be sorted by category, like Extensions for Games, Music, Streamer Tools, and others. There’s also a “Partner Picks” section here which is where top creators are sharing their favorites.

Alongside the launch, a number of developers have released new and updated Extensions that are designed to work with one another. However, Twitch does note that there will be some exceptions based on the area needed to display the Extension itself. That is, you can’t put overlays on top of one another.

In addition to the better customization options, there’s another reason why streamers may be interested in adding multiple Extensions: monetization.

In April, Twitch introduced a new revenue stream for creators and developers alike with the launch of Bits in Extensions. This allows developers to customize their Extensions with other interactive experiences they can charge for using Bits. That allows viewers to pay using Twitch’s virtual currency to unlock the features, and the streamer gets a portion of the revenue for hosting the Extension on their channel.

By combining multiple Extensions that use Bits on their channel pages, streams and developers will be able to generate additional revenue thanks to this expansion.

Twitch says there are over 250 Extensions live today, over 30 of which can be combined with others, and 35 that offer paid experiences via Bits. There are thousands of Extensions in development, as well.

All channels will be able to use the new customization options starting today.

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Musical.ly kills its standalone live-streaming app Live.ly

Posted by | Apps, live streaming, live video, live.ly, Mobile, musical.ly, Social, Video | No Comments

Musical.ly is merging the functionality from its two-year old live-streaming platform Live.ly into its main app, and has disabled Live.ly’s standalone app as part of the transition process. The Live.ly app will eventually be pulled from the App Store and Google Play, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. Instead of being able to go live, Live.ly users are presented with a message about the changes, informing them that live streaming has now moved over to Musical.ly.

This change is also confirmed via Live.ly’s App Store update text, which says:

Live.ly is becoming part of musical.ly!
– You can go live on musical.ly right now! Plenty of live content there!

Live.ly first launched in May 2016, offering Musical.ly users a live-streaming platform, where the streams were directly viewable on Musical.ly, as well as within the Live.ly mobile app.

As the video creator streamed, they’d see a count of how many people were watching, and would see hearts float up across the screen when viewers “liked” their content — an experience that’s very similar to Twitter/Periscope and Facebook Live. Viewers could also chat with the streamer, and engage in real-time conversations.

Unfortunately for Live.ly users, there was little warning about the shut down, and it seems that, for some, live streaming on Musical.ly is not working as expected.

One regular Live.ly user posted to YouTube about the shutdown, complaining that after she made the switch to Musical.ly for her live stream as instructed, but no people were online watching and no likes and comments were showing up, either. This appears to be some sort of glitch, as viewers, likes, comments and other Live.ly core features are displaying for others who have been transitioned to the Musical.ly-based live-streaming experience.

Not everyone will be able to go live directly on Musical.ly today, as the addition of live-streaming support is a phased rollout.

However, the company says it remains committed to investing in live-streaming functionality, despite the Live.ly shutdown. We’re told that the majority of live-stream viewership was already taking place on Musical.ly’s main app, so it made sense for the company to consolidate the live video alongside the other short, lip sync videos Musical.ly is known for.

The closure of Live.ly is one of the first major changes to the Musical.ly product following its acquisition by Chinese media company Bytedance for up to $1 billion in November 2017.

Under its new ownership, Musical.ly launched a $50 million fund to help build out its creator community, but has also faced criticism for having poor content moderation capabilities — something that’s especially concerning given that a large part of its viewership audience is children.

It is also now facing a new threat: this month, Facebook began testing a Musical.ly competitor called Lip Sync Live.

The increased competition may have played a role in having Musical.ly consolidate its resources in order to focus on its flagship app, not its spinoff.

The main Musical.ly app has a reported 200 million registered users, 60 million of whom are active on a monthly basis.

Live.ly has been downloaded 26 million times to date, 87 percent on iOS. The U.S. accounts for about 70 percent of installs, according to data from Sensor Tower.

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Apple Pay tests ‘order ahead’ for drinks at music festivals

Posted by | Apple, Apple Pay, Apps, eCommerce, Mobile, order ahead, payments, TC, Video | No Comments

Apple is fixing one of the worst parts of the concert experience: waiting in line for a beer while you miss your favorite song. Last week’s BottleRock music festival near San Francisco was the first to try a new “order ahead with Apple Pay” feature that Apple hopes to bring to more events. You just open the festival’s app, select the closest concession stand, choose your drinks, Apple Pay with your face or fingerprint and pick up the beverages at a dedicated window with no queue.

Check out our demo video below.

BottleRock’s upscale wine and oldies music fest, 100 miles from the tech giant’s headquarters, has become a testbed for Apple Pay. Last year, every concession stand got equipped with the Square’s Apple Pay-ready point of sale system and special fast lanes for customers who used it instead of cash or credit card. Thirty percent of all transactions at BottleRock were made with Apple Pay, according to an Apple spokesperson, proving people wanted a faster way to get back to the show.

With order ahead, your drinks are ready for pick up so you don’t even have to break your dance stride. Having gone to 14 Coachellas, I’d learned to forego booze rather than risk losing my friends or a chance to hear that hit single while stewing in the beer garden lines. But Apple Pay powered the best concert commerce experience I’ve had yet. I’m sure I’m not the only one who knocked back a few more drinks last weekend because it was so convenient.

That’s why I foresee music festivals jumping at the chance to integrate into their apps order ahead with Apple Pay. They and their vendors will see more sales, while attendees see more music. Meanwhile, it’s a smart way for Apple to reach a juicy demographic. Apple Pay is especially helpful when you’re in a rush, but festival goers will return home more likely to use it day-to-day.

Often times, music festival tech, like friend-finding apps and location-based alerts, can interrupt the moment. Apple Pay succeeds here by fading away, keeping you in harmony with the present.

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GIF lord Imgur caves to video to hasten profitability

Posted by | Advertising Tech, alan schaaf, Apps, Finance, Imgur, Mobile, Social, TC, Video | No Comments

Imgur is the internet’s best time sink, where 250 million monthly users silently consume an endless community-curated collection of absurd GIFs, inspiring tales, pop science explainers and giant meme dumps. But what it’s never had is video. That was a differentiator that made it ideal for quiet browsing in class, on public transit or in bed. Since none of the content required audio, you never had to worry about grabbing your headphones or disturbing those around you.

But the lack of video was also holding Imgur back. Sometimes you need to hear a crazy cat meow, or a baby giggling, or a crappy robot explode. So users would have to hunt down the “sauce,” aka the GIF’s source video, on another site. Oh, and advertisers love video and will pay a boatload more for it than a silent GIF or static image.

And so, Imgur is evolving with today’s launch of video. You can check them out, including this ream of popular GIFs reunited with their soundtracks, on the Imgur Unmuted channel.

The shift comes at a pivotal moment for the company. Launched in 2009, founder Alan Schaaf bootstrapped the startup to 130 million monthly visitors over the course of five years before finally taking a $40 million Series A from Andreessen Horowitz in 2014. Two years later it augmented its flimsy banner ads with full-screen promoted posts while trying not to damage the irreverent nature of the app.

Imgur’s Chief Operating Officer Roy Sehgal, its Sheryl Sandberg, tells me that as of recently “we were cash flow positive” before revealing “we expect to be profitable this year.”

Video could push Imgur to that milestone. The more organic video posts from users, the easier it will be for Imgur to slide in lucrative video ads. Facebook printed money with the same strategy, rolling out auto-play video in 2014 to pave the way for video ads that command high prices from businesses. Imgur recently began allowing video ads, but they stuck out, seeming to violate the app’s code of silence. Now Imgur is training its users to tolerate or even embrace audio and video.

Next comes video editing

Starting today, everyone can watch videos on Imgur, while iOS users can post video, with that opening to more people soon. Wisely, sound is off by default so you won’t get accidentally blasted, and technically you could just pretend they’re GIFs if you don’t click the audio button in the bottom right. They’re also limited to 30 seconds, so you won’t have lengthy YouTube reposts or as many copyright concerns, and they can be trimmed in the uploader.

“We’ve been making the transformation from an image community to a community-powered entertainment platform,” says Sehgal. Video could keep Imgur’s legion of users growing, and make sure they can experience today’s hottest content in whatever format it’s made for.

“We realized there was a vector of content we were not supporting that we thought our users would want,” Sehgal notes. The launch comes following the addition of much-requested Favorites folders and chat, and the Snapchat Stories-esque Snacks GIFs that no one asked for.

But video will bring a new sense of FOMO to those watching discretely. They’ll either have to swipe past the videos or miss the aural dimension. That could splinter Imgurians, who are otherwise united by a homescreen that shows identical top-rated content to everyone, unlike the fractured and personalized landing pages of most social networks. Some of Imgur’s funniest content relies on inside jokes powered by everyone having the right prerequisite knowledge from seeing the same things.

“They are definitely surprised,” says Sehgal, but he claims “the reaction has been very positive.” That’s not exactly clear from reading the Imgur Most Viral homepage, which just got a desktop redesign with bigger previews and easy access to popular tags you can explore. GIFs and still images still dominate and I’ve hardly seen any videos.

That could change as Imgur plans on equipping users with new editing tools to help them turn generic clips into weird and wacky stuff people love to upvote. Imgur’s existing Video-To-GIF creation tool has been a hit. Hopefully future editing tools will let people add custom subtitles, stickers, interjected titling screens and more. Those will be crucial to keep video from making Imgur generic.

Alan Schaaf, founder of Imgur, and his sister/community director Sarah Schaaf, speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt

The pivot to video may be inevitable for all online content. Combined with every app from Instagram to Netflix to Airbnb adopting Snapchat’s Stories, there’s an unsettling convergence going on. Video may be the most vivid and emotive medium. Yet we’ll lose something if there’s a social network singularity where they all have the same features.

Imgur is looking to become a business that’s palatable to a mass audience with video. But it must take care not to forfeit esoteric absurdity that’s made it a vacation from the overwhelming news and envy spiraling of other feeds.

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