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The need-to-know takeaways from VidCon 2019

Posted by | Baidu, bytedance, Cargomatic, China, digital media, donald trump, DraftKings, events, Gaming, GGV, hans tung, Influencer Marketing, Kylie Jenner, Marketing, Media, musical.ly, new media, oprah winfrey, Singapore, social networks, Startups, STEM, synthetic media, TC, Tencent, tiktok, Twitch, Venture Capital, Video | No Comments

VidCon, the annual summit in Anaheim, CA for social media stars and their fans to meet each other drew over 75,000 attendees over last week and this past weekend. A small subset of those where entertainment and tech executives convening to share best practices and strike deals.

Of the wide range of topics discussed in the industry-only sessions and casual conversation, five trends stuck out to me as takeaways for Extra Crunch members: the prominence of TikTok, the strong presence of Chinese tech companies in general, the contemplation of deep fakes, curiosity around virtual influencers, and the widespread interest in developing consumer product startups around top content creators.

Newer platforms take center stage

GettyImages 1161447217

Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

TikTok, the Chinese social video app (owned by Bytedance) that exploded onto the US market this past year, was the biggest conversation topic. Executives and talent managers were curious to see where it will go over the next year more than they were convinced that it is changing the industry in any fundamental way.

TikTok influencers were a major presence on the stages and taking selfies with fans on the conference floor. I overheard tweens saying “there are so many TikTokers here” throughout the conference. Meanwhile, TikTok’s US GM Vanessa Pappas held a session where she argued the app’s focus on building community among people who don’t already know each other (rather than being centered on your existing friendships) is a fundamental differentiator.

Kathleen Grace, CEO of production company New Form, noted that Tik Tok’s emphasis on visuals and music instead of spoken or written word makes it distinctly democratic in convening users across countries on equal footing.

Esports was also a big presence across the conference floor with teens lined up to compete at numerous simultaneous competitions. Twitch’s Mike Aragon and Jana Werner outlined Twitch’s expansion in content verticals adjacent to gaming like anime, sports, news, and “creative content’ as the first chapter in expanding the format of interactive live-streams across all verticals. They also emphasized the diversity of revenue streams Twitch enables creators to leverage: ads, tipping, monthly patronage, Twitch Prime, and Bounty Board (which connects brands and live streamers).

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Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

Posted by | Apps, EC-1, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Media, Startups, TC, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Could Roblox create a new entertainment and communication category, something it calls “human co-experience”?

When it was a small startup, few observers would have believed in that future. But after 15 years — as told in the origin story of our Roblox EC-1 — the company has accumulated 90 million users and a new $150 million venture funding war chest. It has captured the imagination of America’s youth, and become a startup darling in the entertainment space.

But what, exactly, is human co-experience? Well, it can’t be described precisely — because it’s still an emerging category. “It’s almost like that fable where the nine blind men are touching and describing an elephant.

Everyone has a slightly different view,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Baszucki. In Roblox’s view, co-experience means immersive environments where users play, explore, talk, hang out, and create an identity that’s as thoroughly fleshed out (if not as fleshy) as their offline, real life.

But the next decade at Roblox will also be its most challenging time yet, as it seeks to expand from 90 million users to, potentially, a billion or more. To do so, it needs to pull off two coups.

First, it needs to expand the age range of its players beyond its current tween and teen audience. Second, it must win the international market. Accomplishing both of these will be a puzzle with many moving parts.

What Roblox is today

Lineup All 1

One thing Roblox has done very well is appeal to kids within a certain age range. The company says that a majority of all 9-to-12-year-old children in the United States are on its platform.

Within that youthful segment, Roblox has arguably already created the human co-experience category. Many games are more cooperative than competitive, or have goals that are unclear or don’t seem to matter much. One of Roblox’s most popular games, for instance, is MeepCity, where players can run around and chat in virtual environments like a high school without necessarily interacting with the game mechanics at all.

What else separates these environments from what you can see today on, say, the App Store or Steam? A few characteristics seem common.

For one, the environments look rough. One Robloxian put the company’s relaxed attitude toward looks as “not over-indexing on visual fidelity.”

Roblox games also ignore the design principles now espoused by nearly every game company. Tutorials are infrequent, user interfaces are unpolished, and one gets the sense that KPIs like retention and engagement are not being carefully measured.

That’s similar to how games on platforms like Facebook and the App Store started out, so it seems reasonable to say Roblox is just in a similarly early stage. It is — but it’s also competing directly with mobile games that are more rigorously designed. Over half of its players are on smartphones, where they could have chosen a free game that looks more polished, like Fortnite or Clash of Clans.

The more accurate explanation of why Roblox draws big player numbers is that there’s a gap in the kids entertainment market. So far, only Roblox fills that gap, despite its various shortcomings.

“The amount of unstructured, undirected play has been declining for decades. [Kids] have much more homework, and structured activities like theater after school.

One of the big unmet needs we solve is to give kids a place to have imagination,” explains Craig Donato, Roblox’s chief business officer. “If you play the experiences on our platform, you’re not playing to win. You go into these worlds with people you know and share an experience.”

Games like The Sims tried to do the same, but eventually faded in the children’s demo. Roblox’s trick has been continued growth: it provides kids with an endless array of games that unlock their imagination. But just like we don’t expect adults to have fun with Barbie dolls, it’s unlikely most adults would enjoy Roblox games.

Of course, it would be easy to point at Roblox and laugh off its ambitions to win over people of all ages. That laughter would also be short-sighted.

As David Sze, the Greylock Partners investor who led Roblox’s most recent round, pointed out: “When we invested in Facebook there was a huge amount of pushback that nobody would use it outside college.” Companies that have won over one demographic have a good chance of winning others.

Roblox has also proven its ability to evolve. At one time, the platform’s players were 90 percent male. Now, that’s down to about 60 percent. Roblox now has far more girls playing than the typical game platform.

Evolving to new demographics

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Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

Posted by | Apple, BetaWorks, charles hudson, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, epic games, Eric Hippeau, esports, Facebook, fortnite, founders fund, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Google, GV, HQ Trivia, instagram, interactive media, lerer hippeau ventures, lightspeed venture partners, Luminary Media, matt hartman, Media, mg siegler, Netflix, new media, precursor ventures, Roblox, scooter braun, sequoia capital, Sports, Spotify, starbucks, Startups, sweet capital, TC, Twitch, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media and entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms.

These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved.

To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computing power.

In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money.

Here are the media investment theses of: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Alex Taussig (Lightspeed), Matt Hartman (betaworks), Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia), Jordan Fudge (Sinai), Christian Dorffer (Sweet Capital), Charles Hudson (Precursor), MG Siegler (GV), and Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau).

Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund

In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.

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How-to video maker Jumprope launches to leapfrog YouTube

Posted by | Apps, DIY, eCommerce, Education, food, funding, Fundings & Exits, How To, instagram, Instructables, Mobile, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, Thumbtack, Video, YouTube | No Comments

Sick of pausing and rewinding YouTube tutorials to replay that tricky part? Jumprope is a new instructional social network offering a powerful how-to video slideshow creation tool. Jumprope helps people make step-by-step guides to cooking, beauty, crafts, parenting and more using voice-overed looping GIFs for each phase. And creators can export their whole lesson for sharing on Instagram, YouTube or wherever.

Jumprope officially launches its iOS app today with plenty of how-tos for making chocolate chip bars, Easter eggs, flower boxes or fierce eyebrows. “By switching from free-form linear video to something much more structured, we can make it much easier for people to share their knowledge and hacks,” says Jumprope co-founder and CEO Jake Poses.

The rise of Snapchat Stories and Pinterest have made people comfortable jumping on camera and showing off their niche interests. By building a new medium, Jumprope could become the home for rapid-fire learning. And because viewers will have tons of purchase intent for the makeup, art supplies or equipment they’ll need to follow along, Jumprope could make serious cash off ads or affiliate commerce.

The opportunity to bring instruction manuals into the mobile video era has attracted a $4.5 million seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and joined by strategic angels like Adobe Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky and Thumbtack co-founders Marco Zappacosta and Jonathan Swanson. People are already devouring casual education content on HGTV and the Food Network, but Jumprope democratizes its creation.

Jumprope co-founders (from left): CTO Travis Johnson and CEO Jake Poses

The idea came from a deeply personal place for Poses. “My brother has pretty severe learning differences, and so growing up with him gave me this appreciation for figuring out how to break things down and explain them to people,” Poses reveals. “I think that attached me to this problem of ‘how do you organize information so it’s simple and easy to understand?’ Lots and lots of people have this information trapped in their heads because there isn’t a way to easily share that.”

Poses was formerly the VP of Product at Thumbtack where he helped grow the company from 8 to 500 people and a $1.25 billion valuation. He teamed up with AppNexus’ VP of engineering Travis Johnson, who’d been leading a 50-person team of coders. “The product takes people who have knowledge and passion but not the skill to make video [and gives them] guard rails that make it easy to communicate,” Poses explains.

Disrupting incumbents like YouTube’s grip on viewers might take years, but Jumprope sees its guide creation and export tool as a way to infiltrate and steal their users. That strategy mirrors how TikTok’s watermarked exports colonized the web.

How to make a Jumprope

Jumprope lays out everything you’ll need to upload, including a cover image, introduction video, supplies list and all your steps. For each, you’ll record a video that you can then enhance with voice-over, increased speed, music and filters.

Creators are free to suggest their own products or enter affiliate links to monetize their videos. Once it has enough viewers, Jumprope plans to introduce advertising, but it could also add tipping, subscriptions, paid how-tos or brand sponsorship options down the line. Creators can export their lessons with five different border themes and seven different aspect ratios for posting to Instagram’s feed, IGTV, Snapchat Stories, YouTube or embedding on their blog.

“Like with Stories, you basically tap through at your own pace,” Poses says of the viewing experience. Jumprope offers some rudimentary discovery through categories, themed collections or what’s new and popular. The startup has done extensive legwork to sign up featured creators in all its top categories. That means Jumprope’s catalog is already extensive, with food guides ranging from cinnabuns to pot roasts to how to perfectly chop an onion. 

“You’re not constantly dealing with the frustration of cooking something and trying to start and stop the video with greasy hands. And if you don’t want all the details, you can tap through it much faster” than trying to skim a YouTube video or blog post, Poses tells me. Next the company wants to build a commenting feature where you can leave notes, substitution suggestions and more on each step of a guide.

Poses claims there’s no one building a direct competitor to its mobile video how-to editor. But he admits it will be an uphill climb to displace viewership on Instagram and YouTube. One challenge facing Jumprope is that most people aren’t hunting down how-to videos every day. The app will have to work to remind users it exists and that they shouldn’t just go with the lazy default of letting Google recommend the videos it hosts.

The internet has gathered communities around every conceivable interest. But greater access to creation and consumption necessitates better tools for production and curation. As we move from a material to an experiential culture, people crave skills that will help them forge memories and contribute to the world around them. Jumprope makes it a lot less work to leap into the life of a guru.

You can watch my first Jumprope here or below to learn how to tie up headphones without knots:

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Mutiny at HQ Trivia fails to oust CEO

Posted by | Apps, Colin Kroll, founders fund, funding, HQ Trivia, Jeremy Liew, lightspeed venture partners, Mobile, Rus Yusupov, Scott Rogowsky, Social, Startups, TC, trivia, Video | No Comments

This week’s banishment of host Scott Rogowsky was merely a symptom of the ongoing struggle to decide who will lead HQ Trivia. According to multiple sources, over half of the startup’s staff signed an internal petition to depose CEO Rus Yusupov who they saw as mismanaging the company. But Yusupov then fired some core supporters of the mutiny, leading to a downward spiral of morale that mirrors HQ’s plummeting App Store rank.

TechCrunch spoke to multiple sources familiar with HQ Trivia’s internal troubles to piece together how the live video mobile game went from blockbuster to nearly bust. Two sources said HQ recently only had around $6 million in the bank but was burning over $1 million per month, meaning its runway could be dwindling. But its early investors are reluctant to hand Yusupov any more cash. “

Employees petitioned to remove HQ Trivia’s CEO Rus Yusupov

HQ reimagined gaming and mobile entertainment with the launch of its 12-question trivia game in August 2017 where players all competed live in twice-daily shows with anyone who got all the answers right split a cash jackpot. The games felt urgent since you could only participate at designated times, fun to play against friends or strangers, and winning carried a significance no single-player or non-stop online game could match.

When TechCrunch wrote the first coverage of HQ Trivia in October 2017, it had just 3500 concurrent players. But by January it had climbed to the #3 game and #6 overall app in the App Store, and grown to 2.38 million players by March. Quickly, copycats from China and Facebook entered the market. But they all lacked HQ’s secret weapon — its plucky host comedian Scott Rogowsky. Affectionately awarded nicknames like Quiz Daddy, Quiz Khalifa, Host Malone, and Trap Trebek from the “HQties” who played daily, he was the de facto face of the startup.

Yet HQ had some shaky foundations. Co-founder Colin Kroll, who’d also started Vine with Yusupov and sold it to Twitter, had been fired from Twitter after 18 months for being a bad manager, Recode reported. He’d also picked up a reputation of being creepy around female employees, as well as Vine stars, TechCrunch has learned. Rapid growth and an investigation by early HQ investor Jeremy Liew that found no egregious misconduct by Kroll paved the way for a $15 million investment. The round was led by Founders Fund’s Cyan Bannister, and it valued HQ at over $100 million.

Yusupov failed to translate that cash into sustained growth and product innovation. His public behavior had already raised flags. He yelled at a Daily Beast reporter after the outlet’s Taylor Lorenz interviewed Rogowsky without Yusupov’s approval, threatening to fire the host. “You’re putting Scott’s job in jeopardy. Is that what you want? . . .  Please read me your story word for word,” Yusupov said. When he learned Rogowsky had expressed his preference for salad restaurant chain Sweetgreen, Yusupov shouted “He cannot say that! We do not have a brand deal with Sweetgreen! Under no circumstances can he say that.” The next day, Yusupov falsely claimed he’d never threatened Rogowsky’s job.

With HQ’s bank account full, sources say Yusupov was extremely slow to make decisions, allowing HQ to stagnate. The novelty of playing trivia for money via phone has begun to wear off, and people increasingly ignored HQ’s push notifications to join its next game. But beyond bringing in some guest hosts and the option to buy a second chance after a wrong answer, HQ ceased to evolve. HQ fell to the #196 game on iOS and the #585 overall app as concurrent players waned.

That’s when things started to get a bit Game Of Thrones.

Pawns In A CEO War

Liew pushed for HQ to swap Kroll into the CEO spot in September 2018 while moving Yusupov to Chief Creative Officer, which was confirmed despite an HR complaint against Kroll for aggressive management. However, three sources tell TechCrunch that Yusupov pushed that HQ employee to file the complaint against Kroll. As the WSJ reported after Kroll’s death, that employee later left the startup because they felt that they’d been exploited. “There was definitely what felt like manipulation there, and that’s also why that employee resigned from the company.” one source said. Another source said that staffer “believed Rus used their unhappiness about work to use them as a pawn in his CEO war and not because Rus actually cared about resolving things.”

Cyan of Founders Fund stepped down from HQ’s board after the decision to swap out Yusupov due to her firm’s reputation of keeping founders in control, Recode’s Kurt Wagner reported. Sources say that despite Kroll’s reputation, the staff believed in him. “Colin loved HQ and was dedicated to all the employees more than Rus. Rus cares about Rus. Colin cared about the content” a source tells me. 

Three sources say that in a desperate ploy to retain power and prevent Kroll’s rise, Yusupov suggested Rogowsky, a comedian with no tech or management experience, be made CEO of HQ Trivia. He even suggested the company film a reality show about Rogowsky taking over. That idea was quickly shot down as preposterous.

“It was a very personal desperation tactic not to have Colin be CEO. It was not a professionally thought-out idea” a source tells me, though another said it was always hard to tell if Yusupov’s crazy ideas were jokes. Both Yusupov and HQ Trivia declined to respond to multiple requests for comment, but we’ll update if we hear back.

HQ Trivia co-founder Colin Kroll passed away in December

Then tragedy struck in December. Kroll, then CEO, was found dead in his apartment from a drug overdose. Employees were distraught over what would happen next. “Colin’s plan was to ship fast, and get new things out there” a source says, noting that Kroll had pushed for the release of HQ’s first new game type HQ Words modeled after Wheel Of Fortune. “He wasn’t perfect but in the time he was in charge, the ship started to turn, but when Rus took over again it was like the 9 months where we did nothing.”

Coup d’éHQ

By February 2019, HQ’s staff was fed up. Two sources confirm that 20 of the roughly 35 employees signed a letter asking the board to remove Yusupov and establish a new CEO. With HQ’s download rate continuing to sink, they feared he’d run the startup into the ground. One source suggested Yusupov might rather have seen the whole startup come crashing down with the blame placed on the product than have it come to light that he played a large hand in the fall. The tone of the letter, which was never formally delivered but sources believe the board knew of, wasn’t accusatory but a plea for transparency about the company’s future and the staff’s job security.

At a hastily convened all-hands meeting in late February, HQ investor Liew told the company his fund Lightspeed would support a search for a new CEO to replace Yusupov, and provide that new CEO with funding for 18 more months of runway. Liew told the staff he would step down from the board once that CEO was found, but the search continues and so Liew remains on HQ’s board.

Mostly everyone was on Jeremy’s side as no one wanted to work under Rus. Jeremy wasn’t trying to screw him over the way Rus would screw other people over. He just wanted to do what was right, getting behind what everyone wanted” a source said of Liew. 

Instead, HQ’s board moved forward with instituting a new executive decision-making committee composed of Yusupov, HQ’s head of production Nick Gallo, and VP of engineering Ben Sheats. Yusupov would remain interim CEO, and he continued to cling to power and there’s been little transparency about the CEO replacement process. Until a new CEO is found, HQ must subsist on its existing funds. The staff is “always worried about running out of runway” and are given vague answers when they ask leadership about how much money is left.

On March 1st, the committee emerged from a meeting and fired three employees — two who had spearheaded the petition and been vocal about Yusupov’s failings.

One who wasn’t fired was Rogowsky, despite sources saying at one point he’d tried to organize the staff to go on strike. Other employees had been cautious about standing up to Yusupov. “Everyone was terrified of retaliation. Their fears have totally been validated” a source explains. Engineers and other staffers with strong employment prospects began to drain out of the company. Those left were just trying to hold onto their jobs. Without inspiring leadership or a strategy to reverse user shrinkage, recruiting replacements would prove difficult.

Yusupov remains on the board, along with Tinder CEO Elie Seidman who Yusupov appointed to his additional common seat. Liew retains his seat until the new CEO is found and given that seat. And Kroll’s seat appears to have gone to Lightspeed partner Merci Victoria Grace. Lightspeed and Cyan of Founders Fund declined to respond to requests for comment.

[Update: Seidman tells TechCrunch that the he sees the internal struggle for the CEO role as over now that Yusupov has accepted that a new CEO will be installed. That search is moving along, and the CEO chosen will report to the board but otherwise be given full autonomy to run the company as they choose. That includes having hiring and firing power over Yusupov. He did not dispute any other claims from this article. Seidman rightly believes HQ has contributed important ideas to the mobile gaming ecosystem, and now it’s the startup’s responsibility to turn those ideas into a steady business.]

Losing Face

Tensions at HQ and a desire to diversify his prospects led Rogowsky to pick up a side gig hosting baseball talk show ChangeUp on the DAZN network, TMZ reported this week. He’d hoped to continue hosting HQ during its big weekend contests. But tensions with Yusupov and the CEO’s desire for the host to remain exclusively at HQ led negotiations to sour causing Rogowsky to leave the startup entirely. TechCrunch was first to report that he’s been replaced by former HQ guest host Matt Richards, who Yusupov bluntly told me Friday had polled higher than Rogowsky in a SurveyMonkey survey of HQ’s top players.

In tweets, Rogowsky revealed that that “Sadly, it won’t be possible for me to continue hosting HQ concurrently as I had hoped” noting, “I wasn’t given the courtesy of a farewell show.” Finding a way to preserve Rogowsky’s ties to HQ likely would have been best for the startup.  TechCrunch had raised the concern a year ago that unless Rogowsky was properly locked in with an adequate equity vesting schedule at HQ, he could leave. Or worse, he could be poached by Facebook, Snapchat, or YouTube to host an HQ competitor.

“Rus is a visionary but not a good leader. He is extremely manipulative in an unproductive way. He’s a dude who just cares a lot about his reputation” a source noted. “A lot of the negative sentiment amongst staff is the belief that he cares more about his reputation than the company itself.”

HQ’s next attempt to revive growth appears to be HQ Editor’s Picks, is described as “a new live show on your phone where our host shows funny viral videos and you decide on who gets paid.” Finally it seems willing to embrace the potential of interactive live video entertainment outside of trivia and puzzles. HQ Editor’s Picks will face an uphill battle, since HQ dropped out of the top 1500 iOS apps last month, according to App Annie. Sensor Tower estimates that HQ saw just 8 percent as many downloads in March 2019 as March 2018.

After the loss of its spirit animal Rogowsky, the employees’ chosen leader Kroll, the supervision of veteran investor Cyan, and its product momentum, tough questions are what remain for HQ Trivia. The company’s struggles have paralyzed its progress towards finding a new viral mechanic or game format that attracts users. While HQ Words is fun, it’s too similar to its trivia competition to change the startup’s trajectory. And all of the in-fighting could scare off any talent hoping to turn HQ around. Unfortunately, securing an extra life for the game will take a more than a $3.99 in-app purchase.

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Talking the future of media with Northzone’s Pär-Jörgen Pärson

Posted by | augmented reality, blockchain, content, Distributed Ledger, Entertainment, events, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, live tv, live tv streaming, Media, music streaming, Northzone, Personnel, PJ Parson, slush, Startups, streaming, Talent, TC, television, tv, tv streaming, Venture Capital, Video, video streaming, Virtual reality | No Comments

We live in the subscription streaming era of media. Across film, TV, music, and audiobooks, subscription streaming platforms now shape the market. Gaming and podcasting could be next. Where are the startup opportunities in this shift, and in the next shift that will occur?

I sat down with Pär-Jörgen “PJ” Pärson, a partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss this at SLUSH this past winter. Pärson – a Swede who now runs Northzone’s office in NYC – led the top early-stage investor in Spotify and led the $35 million Series C in $45/month sports streaming service fuboTV (which has roughly 250,000 subscribers).

In the transcript below, we dive into the core investment thesis that has guided him for 20 years, how he went from running a fish distribution to running a VC firm, his best practices for effective board meetings and VC-entrepreneur relationships, and his assessment of the big social platforms, AR/VR, voice interfaces, blockchain, and the frontier of media. It has been edited for length and clarity.

From Fish to VC

Eric Peckham:

Northzone isn’t your first VC firm — Back in 1998, you created Cell Ventures, which was more of a holding company or studio model. What was your playbook then?

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T-Mobile’s mobile TV service to include Viacom channels like MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central & more

Posted by | cord cutting, Media, Mobile, mobile tv, streaming service, T-Mobile, television, tv, Viacom, Video | No Comments

T-Mobile and Viacom this morning announced a deal that will bring Viacom’s TV channels — like MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, Paramount and others — to T-Mobile’s new mobile video service planned for later this year. The agreement will allow T-Mobile to offer live, linear feeds of the Viacom channels as well as on-demand viewing.

To date, the carrier’s mobile video plans have been murky. Last year, T-Mobile acquired the Denver-based startup Layer3 TV in order to launch a new over-the-top video service in 2018. It missed that window, saying that it needed more time to work on features and make “quality improvements.”

The company later said that it didn’t want to offer another Amazon Channels-like “skinny bundle” consisting of individual subscriptions to various channels, but wanted to offer something more differentiated where customers could create their own media subscriptions in “smaller pieces,” like “five, six, seven or eight dollars at a time.”

Today, T-Mobile says it still plans to move forward with both its home and mobile TV offerings, made possible by the acquisition of Layer3 TV. The in-home TV service is designed to leverage 5G technology to replace cable. Meanwhile, Viacom will be a “cornerstone launch partner” for T-Mobile’s mobile TV efforts, on track for a launch this year.

“Viacom represents the best of the best, most-popular brands on cable, so they are an amazing partner for us,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, in a statement. “TV programming has never been better, but consumers are fed up with rising costs, hidden fees, lousy customer service, non-stop BS. And MacGyvering together a bunch of subscriptions, apps and dongles isn’t much better. That’s why T-Mobile is on a mission to give consumers a better way to watch what they want, when they want,” he said.

Not much is known about T-Mobile’s mobile TV plans at this point, like a more specific launch time frame or price points. It’s also unclear if T-Mobile will go the route of bundling in its TV service with its mobile plans. That’s been a popular strategy for AT&T, which today operates two over-the-top services — a low-end service called WatchTV designed for bundling and its more premium service DirecTV Now. (It also plans to launch another featuring Warner Bros. content.)

Viacom has deals with other carriers besides T-Mobile, having recently renewed its contract with AT&T for DirecTV Now carriage. It also participates in various other streaming services, including its own service (by way of acquisition) Pluto TV, and has invested in Philo.

“Today’s landmark announcement marks a major step forward in our strategy to accelerate the presence of our brands on mobile and other next-generation platforms,” said Bob Bakish, Viacom president and CEO, in a release. “We’re so excited to partner with T-Mobile to provide millions of subscribers with access to our networks and more choice in a new service that will be unlike any other in the market.”

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Twitch launches a four-person ‘Squad Stream’ feature to help creators get discovered

Posted by | broadcasting, Creators, Gamers, Gaming, Media, streaming, Twitch, Video, video player | No Comments

Twitch today announced the launch of a new feature called “Squad Stream,” which offers a way for up to four creators to go live and stream together within one window. The feature will allow creators to grow their communities by teaming up with others, as it gives streamers increased exposure by playing to a wider range of fans.

Helping viewers find new people to follow is an area of ongoing interest for the company which has, in the past, faced accusations from smaller streamers who complain they just broadcast to empty channels and have trouble growing a fan base.

To address this, Twitch today offers a feature called Raids, which allows creators to work together to grow their respective communities by driving traffic to each other’s channels. Squad Streams is an expansion on that as it’s actually allowing streamers to broadcast together. That is, instead of redirecting traffic, they’re sharing it.

To participate in Squad Streams, creators can join up with one another from their dashboard by way of a new Squad Stream widget. They can then start their own squad by inviting others to join in, or they can accept an invite to join another squad. By default, any channels the streamers follow, have friended or are on the same team can send out Squad Stream invites. But this can be changed in the settings.

During streams, viewers get to watch all creators in one window, which gives them different views on the action, Twitch explains.

During streaming, fans can chat or cheer whoever is in the primary slot — an option they get to choose by clicking on any of the channels’ video player to make in the larger screen. Ads will play only in the primary slot, and viewership also only gets counted when a channel is in the primary slot, Twitch also notes.

Unfortunately, the feature is launching first to Partners — the top-level streamers who are less in need of growing their community than smaller streamers. Twitch says this rollout strategy is due to the need for video quality options (transcodes) on the Squad Streams — an option Partners have on their streams by default. (Affiliates only receive them as they’re available, with priority access.)

The video quality options allows the Squad Stream feature to display the video in the non-primary slots in a lower-quality mode, like 480p. Most streamers, however, stream in 720p or above, which is why the options are needed for Squad Stream to work, says Twitch.

The company says its plan is to roll out Squad Stream to Affiliates and all other streamers in time, as it expands its transcodes capacity.

Squad Stream’s launch is being kicked off by a schedule of four-person streams over the weeks ahead. (A full schedule is here.) Users can also look for the Squad Stream tag on the main Twitch page to find these streams.

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TikTok spotted testing native video ads

Posted by | ad tech, Ads, advertising, Advertising Tech, Apps, bytedance, Mobile, native ads, Social, TC, tiktok, Video, video ads | No Comments

TikTok is testing a new ad product: a sponsored video ad that directs users to the advertiser’s website. The test was spotted in the U.S. TikTok app, where a video labeled “Sponsored” from the bike retailer Specialized is showing up in the main feed, along with a blue “Lean More” button that directs users to tap to get more information.

Presumably, this button could be customized to send users to the advertiser’s website or any other web address, but for the time being it only opened the Specialized Bikes (@specializedbikes) profile page within the TikTok app.

However, the profile page itself also sported a few new features, including what appeared to be a tweaked version of the verified account badge.

Below the @specializedbikes username was “Specialized Bikes Page” and a blue checkmark (see below). On other social networks, checkmarks like this usually indicate a user whose account has gone through a verification process of some kind.

Typical TikTok user profiles don’t look like this — they generally only include the username. In some cases, we’ve seen them sport other labels like “popular creator” or “Official Account” — but these have been tagged with a yellowish-orange checkmark, not a blue one.

In addition, a pop-up banner overlay appeared at the bottom of the profile page, which directed users to “Go to Website” followed by another blue “Learn More” button.

Oddly, this pop-up banner didn’t show up all the time, and the “Learn More” button didn’t work — it only re-opened the retailer’s profile page.

As for the video itself, it features a Valentine’s Day heart that you can send to a crush, and, of course, some bikes.

The music backing the clip is Breakbot’s “By Your Side,” but is labeled “Promoted Music.” Weirdly, when you tap on the “Promoted Music” you’re not taken to the soundbite on TikTok like usual, but instead get an error message saying “Ad videos currently do not support this feature.”

Rolling through TikTok and got an ad from Specialized Bikes that just takes you to their profile when you tap “Learn more” but then brings up “video ads do not support this feature” when you tap on the promoted music track. pic.twitter.com/hBmedThVON

— Jeff Higgins (The Cool One) (@ItsJeffHiggins) February 14, 2019

The glitches indicate this video ad unit is still very much in the process of being tested, and not a publicly available ad product at this time.

TikTok parent ByteDance only just began to experiment with advertising in the U.S. and U.K. in January.

So far, public tests have only included an app launch pre-roll ad. But according to a leaked pitch deck published by Digiday, there are four TikTok ad products in the works: a brand takeover, an in-feed native video ad, a hashtag challenge and a Snapchat-style 2D lens filter for photos; 3D and AR lens were listed as “coming soon.”

TikTok previously worked with GUESS on a hashtag challenge last year, and has more recently been running app launch pre-roll ads for companies like GrubHub, Disney’s Kingdom Hearts and others. However, a native video ad hadn’t yet been spotted in the wild until now.

According to estimates from Sensor Tower, TikTok has grown to nearly 800 million lifetime installs, not counting Android in China. Factoring that in, it’s fair to say the app has topped 1 billion downloads. As of last July, TikTok claimed to have more than 500 million monthly active users worldwide, excluding the 100 million users it gained from acquiring Musical.ly.

That’s a massive user base, and attractive to advertisers. Plus, native video ads like the one seen in testing would allow brands to participate in the community, instead of interrupting the experience the way video pre-rolls do.

TikTok and Specialized declined to comment.

 

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Instagram thinks you want IGTV previews in your home feed

Posted by | Apps, Creators, IGTV, instagram, Mobile, Opinion, Social, Video | No Comments

If you can’t beat or join them… force feed ’em? That appears to be Instagram’s latest strategy for IGTV, which is now being shoved right into Instagram’s main feed, the company announced today. Instagram says that it will now add one-minute IGTV previews to the feed, making it “even easier” to discover and watch content from IGTV.

Uh.

IGTV, you may recall, was launched last year as a way for Instagram to woo creators. With IGTV, creators are able to share long-form videos within the Instagram platform instead of just short-form content to the Feed or Stories.

The videos, before today, could be viewed in Instagram itself by tapping the IGTV icon at the top-right of the screen, or within the separate IGTV standalone app.Instagram’s hope was that IGTV would give the company a means of better competing with larger video sites, like Google’s YouTube or Amazon’s Twitch.

Its users, however, haven’t found IGTV as compelling.

As of last fall, few creators were working on content exclusively for IGTV, and rumor was the viewing audience for IGTV content remained quite small, compared with rivals like Snapchat or Facebook. Many creators just weren’t finding it worth investing additional resources into IGTV, so were repurposing content designed for other platforms, like YouTube or Snapchat.

That means the bigger creators weren’t developing premium content or exclusives for IGTV, but were instead experimenting by replaying the content their fans could find elsewhere. Many are still not even sure what the IGTV audience wants to watch.

IGTV’s standalone app doesn’t seem to have gained much of a following either.

The app today is ranked a lowly No. 228 on the U.S. App Store’s “Photo and Video” top chart. Despite being run by Instagram — an app that topped a billion monthly users last summer, and is currently the No. 1 free app on iOS — fewer are downloading IGTV.

After seeing 1.5 million downloads in its first month last year — largely out of curiosity — the IGTV app today has only grown to 3.5 million total installs worldwide, according to Sensor Tower data. While those may be good numbers for a brand-new startup, for a spin-off from one of the world’s biggest apps, they’re relatively small.Instagram’s new video initiative also represents another shot across the bow of Instagram purists.

As BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos opined last year, “I’m Sorry To Report Instagram Is Bad Now.” Her point of concern was the impact that Stories had on the Instagram Feed — people were sharing to Stories instead of the Feed, which made the Feed pretty boring. At yet, the Stories content wasn’t good either, having become a firehose of the throwaway posts that didn’t deserve being shared directly on users’ profiles.

On top of all this, it seems the Instagram Feed is now going to be cluttered with IGTV previews. That’s. Just. Great.

Instagram says you’ll see the one-minute previews in the Feed, and can tap on them to turn on the audio. Tap the IGTV icon on the preview and you’ll be able to watch the full version in IGTV. When the video is finished, you’re returned to the Feed. Or, if you want to see more from IGTV, you can swipe up while the video plays to start browsing.

IGTV previews is only one way Instagram has been developing the product to attract more views in recent months. It has also integrated IGTV in Explore, allowed the sharing of IGTV videos to Stories, added the ability to save IGTV Videos and launched IGTV Web Embeds.

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