YouTube

YouTube’s latest experiment is a TikTok rival focused on 15-second videos

Posted by | Media, Mobile, tiktok, Video, YouTube | No Comments

YouTube is taking direct aim at TikTok. The company announced on Wednesday it’s beginning to test a new feature on mobile that will allow users to record 15-second long multi-segment videos. That’s the same length as the default on TikTok as well as Instagram’s new TikTok clone, Reels.

Users in the new YouTube experiment will see an option to “create a video” in the mobile upload flow, the company says.

Similar to TikTok, the user can then tap and hold the record button to record their clip. They can then tap again or release the button to stop recording. This process is repeated until they’ve created 15 seconds worth of video footage. YouTube will combine the clips and upload it as one single video when the recording completes. In other words, just like TikTok.

The feature’s introduction also means users who want to record mobile video content longer than 15 seconds will no longer be able to do so within the YouTube app itself. Instead, they’ll have to record the longer video on their phone then upload it from their phone’s gallery in order to post it to YouTube.

YouTube didn’t provide other details on the test — like if it would later include more controls and features related to the short-form workflow, such as filters, effects, music, AR, or buttons to change the video speed, for example. These are the tools that make a TikTok video what it is today — not just the video’s length or its multi-segment recording style.

Still it’s worth noting that YouTube has in its sights the short-form video format popularized by TikTok.

This would not be the first time YouTube countered a rival by mimicking their feature set with one of its own.

The company in 2017 launched an alternative to Instagram Stories, designed for the creation and sharing of more casual videos. But YouTube Stories wouldn’t serve the TikTok audience, as TikTok isn’t as much about personal vlogs as it is about choreographed and rehearsed content. That demands a different workflow and toolset.

YouTube confirmed the videos in this experiment are not being uploaded as Stories, but didn’t offer details on how the 15-second videos would be discoverable on the YouTube app.

The news of YouTube’s latest experiment arrived just ahead of TikTok’s big pitch to advertisers at this week’s IAB NewFronts. TikTok today launched TikTok For Business, its new platform aimed at brands and marketers looking to do business on TikTok’s app. From the new site, advertisers can learn about TikTok’s ad offerings, create and track campaigns, and engage in e-learning.

YouTube says its new video test is running with a small group of creators across both iOS and Android. A company spokesperson noted it was one of several tests the company had in the works around short-form video.

“We’re always experimenting with ways to help people more easily find, watch, share and interact with the videos that matter most to them. We are testing a few different tools for users to discover and create short videos,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “This is one of many experiments we run all the time on YouTube, and we’ll consider rolling features out more broadly based on feedback on these experiments,” they added.

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YouTube Music adds a transfer option ahead of Google Play Music’s shutdown this year

Posted by | Android, Apple, apple music, artist, computing, Entertainment, Google, Google Play, google play music, mobile software, music services, operating systems, smartphones, Software, Spotify, TC, YouTube, YouTube Music | No Comments

Google is making it easier for Google Play Music users to make the switch to the company’s now preferred music app, YouTube Music, ahead of its plans to shut down Google Play Music later this year. Starting today, Google Play Music users will be able to move their libraries, personal taste preferences and playlists to the newer YouTube Music service by way of a new “transfer” option available in the app.

The company has been steadily working to make YouTube Music its default music service, in order to eventually replace Google Play Music. Last year, for example, Google shut down the Google Play Artist Hub and began preinstalling YouTube Music on Android smartphones. It said at the time those moves were part of its broader strategy to merge the two services.

Now we have a deadline of sorts for Google Play Music’s end-of-life — sometime later this year, according to Google’s announcement.

One challenge in this transition was the ability for Google Play users to retain their personalization preferences, library and playlists from Google Play Music, when moving to the new service. Most users did not relish the idea of starting from scratch after building up years of history on Google Play Music.

That’s where today’s new “transfer” option comes in.

On YouTube Music, users will be able to now click on a “transfer” button on iOS and Android to start the transfer of their uploads, purchases, added songs and albums, personal and subscribed playlists, likes and dislikes, curated stations and personal taste preferences.

Following the transfer, users will immediately see an updated YouTube Music home screen reflecting the impact of this new data on their personalized recommendations. YouTube Music will also email users when the transfer is complete and their music has been fully added to the in-app “Library” tab.

Current customers will be alerted to the transfer option via an email that includes more detailed instructions.

Google also addressed Google Play Music user feedback by rolling out new features to YouTube Music aimed at making its newer service more compatible (in terms of feature set) with the older one.

It recently added increased playlist length (from 1,000 to 5,000 songs), support for uploads (up to 100,000 tracks — which is 50,000 more compared with Google Play Music), offline listening, lyrics and an Explore tab for discovering new music, playlists and genres.

In addition, podcast listeners are able to visit a webpage (http://podcasts.google.com/transfer) to transfer their subscriptions and episode progress to Google Podcasts with a single click. The Google Podcasts app, like YouTube Music, will serve as Google’s default podcast listening experience, similar to how Apple’s Podcasts is its own dedicated app for audio programs.

YouTube Music has yet to rival Spotify or Apple in terms of paying music subscribers. Earlier this year, the company said YouTube Music and YouTube Premium combined to have more than 20 million paid subscribers, but it didn’t break out how many users converted to paid customers to access the music subscription offering. Meanwhile, Apple announced last year its Apple Music service topped 60 million subscribers; Spotify as of Q1 2020 now has 130 million paid subscribers.

In part, YouTube Music’s struggles are due to the fact that Google is operating two separate music services, splitting its customer base. When Google Play Music fully shuts down, that could change.

YouTube Music is being offered at the same $9.99 per month subscription price as Google Play Music, which includes on-demand streaming, background listening, offline access and an ad-free experience. For $11.99 per month, users can extend that experience to YouTube by way of YouTube Premium.

Google didn’t provide an exact date for the shutdown of Google Play Music.

“For now, users will continue to have access to both services,” the company said. “We want to ensure everyone has time to transfer their content and get used to YouTube Music, so we’ll provide plenty of notice ahead of users no longer having access to Google Play Music later this year.”

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Quibi is the anti-TikTok (that’s a bad thing)

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Media, meg whitman, messaging, Mobile, Netflix, Quibi, Remix Culture, short-form video, Snapchat Cameos, Social, Startups, TC, tiktok, YouTube | No Comments

It takes either audacious self-confidence or reckless hubris to build a completely asocial video app in 2020. You can decide which best describes Quibi, Hollywood’s $1.75 billion-funded attempt at a mobile-only Netflix of six to 10-minute micro-TV show episodes. Quibi manages to miss every trend and tactic that could help make its app popular. The company seems to believe it can succeed on only its content (mediocre) and marketing dollars (fewer than it needs).

I appreciate that Quibi is doing something audaciously different than most startups. Rather than iterating toward product-market fit, it spent a fortune developing its slick app and buying fancy content in secret so it could launch with a bang.

Yet Quibi’s bold business strategy is muted by a misguided allegiance to the golden age of television before the internet permeated every entertainment medium. It’s unshareable, prescriptive, sluggish, cumbersome and unfriendly. Quibi’s unwillingness to borrow anything from social networks makes the app feel cold and isolated, like watching reality shows in the vacuum of space.

Quibi

In that sense, Quibi is the inverse of TikTok, which feels fiercely alive. TikTok is designed to immediately immerse you in crowd-vetted content that grabs your attention and inspires you to spread your take on it to friends. That’s why TikTok has almost 2 billion downloads to date, while Quibi picked up just 300,000 on the day of its big splash into market.

Here’s a breakdown of the major missteps by Quibi, why TikTok does it better and how this new streaming app can get with the times.

What Hollywood thinks we want

Quibi feels like some off-brand cable channel, with a mix of convoluted reality shows, scripted dramas and news briefs. Imagine MTV at noon in the mid-2000s. Nothing seemed must-see. There’s no Game of Thrones or Mandalorian here. While the production value is better than what you’ll find on YouTube, the show concepts feel slapdash with novelty that quickly fades.

Chrissy Teigen as a small claims court judge? The tear-jerking “Thanks A Million” does skillfully multiply the “OMG” gratitude moment from makeover programs to happen 4X per episode. But a cooking show where blindfolded chefs have to guess what food was just exploded in their faces…(sigh)

The catalog feels like the product of TV writers being told they have 10 seconds to come up with an idea. “What would those idiots watch?” The shows remind me of old VR games that are barely more than demos, or an app built in a garage without ever asking prospective users what they need. Co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg may have produced The Lion King and Shrek, but the app’s content feels like it was greenlit by, well, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s leader Meg Whitman, who indeed is Quibi’s CEO.

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman

Despite being built for a touch-screen interface, there’s little Bandersnatch-style interactive content so far, nor are the creators doing anything special with the six to 10-minute format. The shows feel more like condensed TV programs with episodes ending when there would be a commercial break. There’s no onboarding process that could ask which popular TV shows or genres you’re into. As the catalog expands, that makes it less likely you’ll find something appealing within a few taps.

TikTok comes from the opposite direction. Instead of what Hollywood thinks we want, its content comes straight from its consumers. People record what they think would make them and their friends laugh, surprised or enticed. The result is that with low to zero production budget, random kids and influencers alike make things with millions of Likes. And as elder millennials, Gen Xers and beyond get hooked, they’re creating videos for their peers, as well. The algorithm monitors what you’re hovering over and rapidly adapts its recommendations to your style.

TikTok is fundamentally interactive. Each clip’s audio can be borrowed to produce remixes that personalize a meme for a different demographic or subculture. And because its stars are internet natives, they’re in constant communication with their fan base to tune content to what they want. There’s something for everyone. No niche is too small.

TikTok screenshots

The Fix: Quibi should take a hint from Brat TV, the Disney Channel for the YouTube generation that gives tween social media stars their own premium shows about being a grade school kid to create content with a built-in fan base. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman is a Brat co-founder.)

Take the Chrissy’s Court model, and shift it to stars who are 20 years younger. Give TikTok phenoms like Charli D’Amelio or Chase Hudson Quibi shows and let them help conceptualize the content, and they’ll bring their legions of fans. Double-down on choose-your-own-adventures and fan voting game shows that leverage the phone’s interactivity. Fund creators that will differentiate Quibi by making it look like anything other than daytime TV. And ask users directly what they want to see right when they download the app.

No screenshots

This is frankly insane. Screenshots of Quibi appear as a blank black screen. That means no memes. If people can’t turn Quibi scenes into jokes they’ll share elsewhere, its shows won’t ever become fixtures of the cultural zeitgeist like Netflix’s Tiger King has. Yes, other mobile streaming apps like Netflix and Disney+ also block screenshots, but they have web versions where you can snap and share what you want. Quibi never should have structured its deals to license content from producers in a way that prevented any way to riff on or even let friends preview its content.

TikTok, on the other hand, defaults to letting you download any video and share it wherever you please — with the app’s watermark attached. That’s fueled TikTok’s stellar growth as clips get posted to Twitter and Instagram — and drive viewers back to the app. It has spawned TikTok compilations on YouTube, and a whole culture of remixing that expands and prolongs the popularity of trending jokes and dances.

The Fix: Quibi should allow screenshots. There’s little risk of spoilers or piracy. If its deals prohibit that, then it should offer pre-approved screenshots and video clips/trailers of each episode that you can download and share. Think of it like an in-app press kit. Even if we’re not allowed to set up the perfect screenshot for making a meme, at least then we could coherently discuss the shows on other social networks.

Sluggish pacing

On mobile, you’re always just a swipe away from something more interesting. It’s like if you watched TV with your finger permanently hovering over the change channel button. Ever noticed how movie trailers now often start with a fast-forward collage of their most eye-catching scenes? Quibi seems intent on communicating prestige with its slow-building dramas like The Most Dangerous Game and Survive, which both had me bored and fast-forwarding. And that’s watching Quibi at home on the couch. While on the go, where it was designed to be consumed, slow pacing could push users with a minute or two to spare to open Instagram or TikTok instead.

None of this is helped by Quibi not auto-playing a trailer or the first episode the moment you scroll past a show on the home screen. Instead, you see a static title card for two seconds before it starts playing you an excerpt of the program. That makes it more cumbersome to discover new shows.

Where TikTok wins is in immediacy. Creators know users will swipe right past their video if it’s not immediately entertaining or obviously revving up to a big reveal. They grab you in the first second with smiles, costumes, bold captions or crazy situations. That also makes it easy for viewers to dismiss what’s irrelevant to them and teach the TikTok algorithm what they really want. Plus, you know that you can score a dopamine hit of joy even if you only have 30 seconds. TikTok makes Quick Bites feel like an understaffed sit-down restaurant.

The Fix: Quibi needs to teach creators to hook viewers instantly by previewing why they should want to watch. Since tapping a show’s card on the Quibi homepage instantly plays it, those teasers need to be built into the first episode. Otherwise, Quibi needs a button to view a trailer from its buried dedicated show pages to the preview card most people interact with on the home screen. Otherwise, users may never discover what Quibi shows resonate with them and teach it which to show and make more of.

Anti-social video club

Quibi neglects all its second-screen potential. No screenshotting makes it tough to discuss shows elsewhere, yet there’s no built-in comments or messaging to discuss or spread them in-app. Pasting an episode link into Twitter doesn’t even display the show’s name in the preview box. Nor do shows have their own social accounts to follow to remind you to keep watching.

There’s no way for friends to follow what you’re watching or see your recommendations. No leaderboards of top shows. Certainly no time-stamped, live-stream style crowd annotations. No synced-up co-watching with friends, despite a lack of TV apps preventing you from watching with anyone else in person unless you crowd around one phone.

It all feels like Quibi figured advertising would be enough. It could run contests where winners get a Cameo-esque message or chat with their favorite stars. Quibi could let you share scenes with your face swapped onto actors’ heads, deepfake-style like Snapchat’s (confusingly named) Cameos feature. It could host in-app roundtables with the casts where users could submit questions. It’s like if Web 2.0 never happened.

TikTok, meanwhile, harnesses every conceivable social feature. Follow, Like, comment, message, go Live, duet, remix or download and share any video. It beckons viewers to participate in trending challenges. And even when users aren’t itching to return to TikTok, notifications from these social features will drag them back in, or watermarked clips will follow them to other networks. Every part of the app is designed to make its content the center of popular culture.

The Fix: Quibi needs to understand that just because we’re watching on mobile, doesn’t make video a solo experience. At first, it should add social content discovery options so you can see which friends opt in to share that they’re watching or view a leaderboard of the top programs. Shows, especially ones dripping out new episodes, are more fun when you have someone to chat about them with.

Eventually, Quibi should layer on in-app second-screen features. Create a way to share comments at the end of each episode that people read during the credits so they feel like they’re in a viewing community.

Can Quibi be more?

What’s most disappointing about Quibi is that it has the potential to be something fresh, merging classically produced premium content with the modern ways we use our phones. Yet beyond shows being shot in two widths so you can switch between watching in landscape or portrait mode at any time, it really is just a random cable channel shrunk down.

Youths act in front of a mobile phone camera while making a TikTok video on the terrace of their residence in Hyderabad on February 14, 2020 (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP) (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the few redeeming opportunities for Quibi is using the daily episode release schedule to serialize content that benefits from suspense, as Ryan Vinnicombe aka InternetRyan notes. Bingeing via traditional streaming services can burn through thrillers before they can properly build up suspense and fan theories or let late-comers catch up while a show is still in the zeitgeist. Cliffhangers with just a day instead of a week to wait could be Quibi’s killer feature.

Suspense is also one thing TikTok fails at. Within a single video, they’re actually often all about suspense, waiting through build up for a gag or non-sequitur to play out. But creators try to rope in followers by making a multi-minute video and splitting it into parts so people subscribe to them to see the next part. Yet since TikTok doesn’t always show timestamps and surfaces old videos on its home screen, it can often be a chore to find the Part Two, and there’s no good way for creators to link them together. TikTok could stand to learn about multi-episode content from Quibi.

But today, Quibi feels like a minitiaturized and degraded version of what we already get for free on the web or pay for with Netflix. Quibi charging $4.99 per month with ads or $7.99 without seems like a steep ask without delivering any truly must-see shows, novel interactive experience or memory-making social moments.

Quibi’s success may simply be a test of how bad people are at cancelling 90-day free trials (hint: they’re bad at it!). The bull case is that absentminded subscribers among the 300,000 first-day downloads and some diehard fans of the celebs it’s given shows will bring Quibi enough traction to raise more cash and survive long enough to socialize its product and teach creators to exploit the format’s opportunities.

But the bear case is already emerging in Quibi’s rapidly declining App Store rank, which fell from No. 4 overall when it launched Monday to No. 21 yesterday after just 830,000 total downloads according to Sensor Tower. Lackluster content and no virality means it might never become the talk of the town, leading top content producers to slink away or half-ass their contributions, leaving us to dine on short video elsewhere.

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‘Content network effect’ makes TikTok tough to copy

Posted by | Apps, Content Network Effect, Entertainment, Facebook, Facebook Lasso, instagram, Instagram Reels, Media, Mobile, network effects, Remix Culture, Remixes, Social, TC, tiktok, YouTube, YouTube Shorts | No Comments

Many TikTok videos don’t start from scratch, so neither can its competitors. TikTok is all about remixes where users shoot a new video to recontextualize audio pulled from someone else’s clip, or riff on an existing meme or concept. That only works because TikTok’s had time to build up an immense armory of content to draw inspiration from.

Creators will find themselves unequipped trying to get started on TikTok copycats including Facebook Lasso, and Instagram Reels which is testing in Brazil. Direct competitors like Triller and Dubsmash are racing to build up their archives. YouTube Shorts, which The Information today reported is in development, only has a shot if Google lets users harness the 5 billion videos people already watch on YouTube each day.

This is the power of what I call “content network effect”: Each piece of content adds value to the rest. That’s TikTok.

You’re likely familiar with traditional network effect — ‘a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional value as more people use it.’ It’s not just the network itself that gains value, as the value delivered to each user increases too. Today’s top social networks are shining examples. The more people there are on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, the more people you can connect to, and the more material their relevance algorithms can draw on to fill your feeds.

If you had to choose between using two identical social networks, you’re probably going to pick the one with more friends or creators already onboard. Network effects raise the switching cost of moving to a different network. Even if it has better features, fewer ads, or less misinformation and bullying, you’re unlikely to leave a robust network behind and decamp to a sparser one. That makes scaled social networks difficult to Disrupt. All the top ones have been around for almost a decade or more.

Except for TikTok. The Chinese music/video app has managed to demonstrate a new concept of “content network effect”. In its case, each video uploaded to the app makes every future potential video more valuable. That’s because all the content on TikTok serves as remix fodder for the rest. Every song, dance, joke, prank, and monologue generates resources for other creators to exploit. It’s a bottomless well of inspiration.

Remixability, the ultimate creative tool

TikTok productizes remix culture by making it easy to “use this sound”. Tap the audio button on any video and it becomes yours. Click through and you’ll see all the other videos that use it. TikTok even offers a whole search engine for sorting through sounds by categories like Trending, Greatest Hits, Love, Gaming, and travel. Sometimes remixes are based on an idea rather than an audio. #FlipTheSwitch sees couples instantly swapping clothes when the light flicks off, and has collected over 3.6 billion videos across over 500,000 remixed versions of the video.

You can even duet with the original creator, sharing your video and theirs side-by-side simultaneously. A solo performance becomes a chorus as more duets are hitched together. Meanwhile, remixes of remixes of remixes provide an esoteric reward for hardcore users who recognize how a gag has evolved or spiraled into absurdity.

Other apps in the past have spawned video responses, hashtags, quote-tweets, surveys, and chain letters and other ways for pieces of content to interact or iterate. And there’s always been parodies. But TikTok proves the power of forging a social app with content network effect at its core.

Facilitating remixes offers a way to lower the bar for producing user generated content. You’d don’t have to be astoundingly creative or original to make something entertaining. Each individual’s life experiences inform their perspective that could let them interpret an idea in a new way.

What began with someone ripping audio of two people chanting “don’t be Suspicious, don’t be suspicious” while sneaking through a graveyard in TV show Parks & Recs led to people lipsyncing it while trying to escape their infant’s room without waking them up, leaving the house wearing clothes they stole from their sister’s closet, trying to keep a llama as a pet, and photoshopping themselves to look taller. Unless someone’s already done the work to record an audio clip, there’s nothing to inspire and enable others to put their spin on it.

TikTok’s archive vs the world

That’s why I wrote that Mark Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok after the CEO told Facebook’s staff that “I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for Stories”. Facebook and Instagram found massive success cloning Snapchat Stories because all they had to do was copy its features. Stories are autobiographical life vlogging. All you need are the creative tools, which Instagram and Facebook rebuilt, and people to share to, which the apps had billions of.

But TikTok isn’t about sharing what you’re up to like Stories that typically start from scratch since each user’s life is different. It’s micro-entertainment powered by content network effect. If TikTok competitors give people the same video recording features and distribution potential, they’ll still be missing the archive of source material.

Facebook’s Lasso looks just like TikTok but it’s failed to gain steam since launching in November 2018. Instagram Reels smartly copies TikTok’s remixing tools, but if the Brazilian tests go well and it eventually launches in English, it will start out flat footed.

When YouTube launches Shorts, as The Information’s Alex Heath and Jessica Toonkel report it’s planning to do before the end of the year, it will be buried inside its main app. That could make it impossible to compete with a dedicated app like TikTok that opens straight to its For You page. Its one saving grace would be if YouTube unlocks its entire database of videos for remixing.

Thanks to its position as the default place to host videos and its experience with searchability that Facebook and Instagram lack, YouTube Shorts could at least have all the ingredients necessary. But given YouTube’s non-stop failures in social with everything from Google+ to YouTube Stories to its dozen deadpooled messaging apps, it may not have the chef skills necessary to combine them.

[Postscript: Or maybe YouTube will be worse at cloning TikTok than anyone. Record labels and YouTube should understand that short videos promote rather than pirate music, as TikTok propelling Lil Nas X and many other musicians up the charts prove. But if YouTube ruthlessly applies Content ID and takes down Shorts with unauthorized audio, the feature is dead in the water.]

Other social networks should consider how the concept applies to them. Could Facebook turn your friends’ photos into collage materials? Could Instagram let you share themed collections of your favorite posts? Remix culture isn’t going away, so neither will the value of fostering content network effects. With video consumption outpacing professional production, remixes are how the world will stay entertained and how amateurs can contribute creations worthy of going viral.

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Google hits pause on Chrome and Chrome OS releases

Posted by | Android, chrome os, computing, Google, google chrome os, google-chrome, operating systems, TC, YouTube | No Comments

Google today announced that it is pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases “due to adjusted work schedules.”

The company confirmed that we will still see security updates, though, which will get merged into version 80, the browser’s current stable release version. “We’ll continue to prioritize any updates related to security, which will be included in Chrome 80,” the team writes in today’s brief announcement.

Don’t expect any new feature updates anytime soon, though. Chrome version 81 is currently in beta testing and will likely remain in this channel for now. Like so much in this current situation, it’s unclear when Google plans to resume regular updates.

Earlier this week, Google also noted that Android app reviews will likely now take longer as the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced in-office staffing levels. The same holds true for YouTube. As YouTube is taking measures to protect its staff, it says it’ll rely more on its AI algorithms to moderate content (which in turn will likely lead to more false positives and YouTube taking down more videos that weren’t actually violating its terms).

With most of Google (and other tech companies) now working from home, we’ll likely see more of these announcements in the future as the impact of this crisis becomes clearer in the coming weeks.

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FTC votes to review influencer marketing rules & penalties

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, eCommerce, FTC, Government, Influencer Marketing, instagram, Media, Mobile, Policy, Social, TC, tiktok, YouTube | No Comments

Undisclosed influencer marketing posts on social media should trigger financial penalties, according to a statement released today by the Federal Trade Commission’s Rohit Chopra. The FTC has voted 5-0 to approve a Federal Register notice calling for public comments on questions related to whether The Endorsement Guides for advertising need to be updated.

“When companies launder advertising by paying an influencer to pretend that their endorsement or review is untainted by a financial relationship, this is illegal payola,” Chopra writes. “The FTC will need to determine whether to create new requirements for social media platforms and advertisers and whether to activate civil penalty liability.”

Currently the non-binding Endorsement Guides stipulate that “when there is a connection between an endorser and a seller of an advertised product that could affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement, the connection must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed.” In the case of social media, that means creators need to note their post is part of an “ad,” “sponsored” content or “paid partnership.”

But Chopra wants the FTC to consider making those rules official by “Codifying elements of the existing endorsement guides into formal rules so that violators can be liable for civil penalties under Section 5(m)(1)(A) and liable for damages under Section 19.” He cites weak enforcement to date, noting that in the case of department store Lord & Taylor not insisting 50 paid influencers specify their posts were sponsored, “the Commission settled the matter for no customer refunds, no forfeiture of ill-gotten gains, no notice to consumers, no deletion of wrongfully obtained personal data, and no findings or admission of liability.”

Strangely, Chopra fixates on Instagram’s Branded Content Ads that let marketers pay to turn posts by influencers tagging brands into ads. However, these ads include a clear “Sponsored. Paid partnership with [brand]” and seem to meet all necessary disclosure requirements. He also mentions concerns about sponcon on YouTube and TikTok.

Additional targets of the FTC’s review will be use of fake or incentivized reviews. It’s seeking public comment on whether free or discounted products influence reviews and should require disclosure, how to handle affiliate links and whether warnings should be posted by advertisers or review sites about incentivized reviews. It also wants to know about how influencer marketing affects and is understood by children.

Chopra wisely suggests the FTC focus on the platforms and advertisers that are earning tons of money from potentially undisclosed influencer marketing, rather than the smaller influencers themselves who might not be as well versed in the law and are just trying to hustle. “When individual influencers are able to post about their interests to earn extra money on the side, this is not a cause for major concern,” he writes, but “when we do not hold lawbreaking companies accountable, this harms every honest business looking to compete fairly.”

While many of the social media platforms have moved to self-police with rules about revealing paid partnerships, there remain gray areas around incentives like free clothes or discount rates. Codifying what constitutes incentivized endorsement, formally demanding social media platforms to implement policies and features for disclosure and making influencer marketing contracts state that participation must be disclosed would all be sensible updates.

Society has enough trouble with misinformation on the internet, from trolls to election meddlers. They should at least be able to trust that if someone says they love their new jacket, they didn’t secretly get paid for it.

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YouTube partners with Merchbar to sell music artists’ swag underneath videos

Posted by | artists, Creators, Media, merchandise, merchbar, Mobile, YouTube | No Comments

YouTube is partnering with Merchbar on a new integration that will allow artists to sell their official merchandise to their worldwide fans from a shelf just below the video. The addition is the latest deal focused on helping video creators make more money from their videos, beyond the revenue brought in through advertisements and subscriptions.

Last year, YouTube announced a series of enhancements to the platform which focused on revenue generation, including channel memberships, premieres, merchandise and more.

The merchandise feature was one of the more notable additions, as it lets creators put a shelf beneath their video where they can sell directly to fans. For example, they could sell their branded apparel like shirts and hats and other items.

At launch, YouTube had partnered with custom t-shirt maker Teespring on the effort. Earlier this year, the Merch shelf gained several more partners, including CrowdmadeDFTBAFanjoyRepresent and Rooster Teeth.

The company claimed at the time that “thousands” of channels had more than doubled their revenue as a result of Merch shelf and other integrations, like Super Chat and Channel Memberships.

youtube merchbar

With this new Merchbar partnership, YouTube is now focused on serving its artist community.

Merchbar today carries more than 1 million items from 35,000 artists, making it one of the largest music merchandise aggregators worldwide. Now, YouTube artists who have an Official Artist Channel on the platform will be able to promote their merchandise right beneath their music videos. (Marshmello, never one to shy away from a marketing opportunity, made a soccer jersey exclusively for Merchbar and YouTube.)

As with prior merchandise integrations, the new Merchbar shelf will sit directly under videos on both desktop and web. Users can also click through from the shelf to the artist’s Merchbar website. In prior merchandise partnerships, YouTube took a small cut of transactions on items sold through its site. It didn’t say what sort of deal it has with Merchbar, however.

The launch comes at a time when Google is more heavily invested in its YouTube Music service, a Spotify and Apple Music rival designed to offer both music and videos, including content not found elsewhere, like live performances or remixes. The company recently made the YouTube Music app the default music app on Android, which should boost its adoption.

Eligible artists who have a Merchbar store offering U.S. fulfillment can sign up for the new merch shelf from YouTube Studio.

The feature is launching first in the U.S., and will later expand internationally.

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YouTube Music is launching three new personalized playlists

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, personalization, streaming service, TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019, YouTube, YouTube Music | No Comments

YouTube Music is preparing to better challenge Spotify and others with the launch of three new personalized playlists — Discover Mix, New Release Mix and Your Mix — said YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan in an onstage interview this morning at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019.

Discover Mix, YouTube Music’s version of Spotify’s Discover Weekly, had already been spotted in the wild back in September. But it wasn’t yet broadly available. The other two hadn’t yet launched.

“Our YouTube Music app has been out now for a couple of years, we’ve launched the YouTube Premium service and the app and now 71 different countries,” noted Mohan. “And as we’ve rolled it out, we’ve gotten lots of feedback from our users about what they’d love to see,” he continued. “And one of the things that they tell us repeatedly is, they love the fact that, through a combination of things like machine learning and human beings that are music lovers, we put all this great music in front of our users in the YouTube Music app,” he said.

disrupt neal mohan youtube 0142

According to Mohan, the Discover Mix will focus on helping users uncover new artists and music they might like, including tracks from artists you’ve never listened to before as well as lesser-known tracks from artists you already love.

The playlist takes advantage of your historical listening data on YouTube Music and on YouTube, he said.

New Release Mix, meanwhile, is YouTube Music’s version of Spotify’s Your Release Radar, and features the most recent release from your favorite artists.

Finally, Your Mix is a playlist that combines the music you love with songs you haven’t heard yet but will probably like, based on your listening habits.

The mixes will be updated weekly, and will be made available to all users worldwide, where they’ll be found on the “Mixed for You” shelf on the home screen, or by searching in the app.

All three will launch sometime later this month, but YouTube doesn’t have an exact date.

The additions arrive at a time when Google is preparing to transition its Google Play Music users over to YouTube Music, which makes it a much bigger threat to existing music streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora and others.

While YouTube Music hasn’t yet replaced Play Music entirely or shut down the older app, it did just make YouTube Music the default music app that ships with new Android devices, instead of Google Play Music.

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YouTube Originals become ad-supported and free after September 24th

Posted by | Mobile, original programming, originals, streaming, videos, YouTube, YouTube Premium | No Comments

In an email distributed to YouTube Premium subscribers, the company confirmed that access to YouTube’s original programming will no longer be exclusive to Premium customers after September 24th, 2019. Instead, many of YouTube’s Originals series, movies and live events will be offered to all YouTube viewers for free, supported by ads. Premium members, however, can watch the content ad-free.

In addition, Premium subscribers will have access to all the available episodes in a series right when they premiere, says YouTube, and they’ll be able to download them for offline viewing.

There will also continue to be some exclusive subscriber-only content, in the form of things like director’s cuts and extra scenes from YouTube Originals.

YouTube previously announced its plans to make its original programming available for free, following a larger shift in strategy for the video platform. According to a Deadline report from last November, YouTube had been reassessing its scripted development plans with a goal of refocusing on unscripted shows and specials. It also stopped taking new scripted pitches.

The company found some success with scripted content, the report noted — like Cobra Kai, which at the time had 100 million views and a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. But the company was also finding success with celebrity content, like Katy Perry: Will You Be My Witness and Will Smith’s Grand Canyon bungee stunt, for example.

This is the direction YouTube may be aiming to pursue next, Deadline said.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Variety recently reported on a new crowdfunding service for YouTube creators, Fundo, which allows start to invite fans to virtual meet & greet sessions and other paid online events. However, this project is not from YouTube or Google itself, but rather its in-house incubator, Area 120, which operates more independently. That said, it reflects YouTube’s larger interest in the creation of new revenue streams for creators beyond ads and subscriptions.

Along with the news of the changes to YouTube Originals, the email to Premium subscribers also alerted them to the addition of a “Recommended Downloads” feature on the Library tab, which lets them browse and download videos from YouTube’s algorithmic suggestions. And it noted YouTube Music changes, like the ability to switch between video and audio and the launch of “smart downloads,” which automatically download up to 500 songs from Liked Songs and other favorite playlists and albums.

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AlphaSense, a search engine for analysis and business intel, raises $50M led by Innovation Endeavors

Posted by | Alphabet, alphasense, analyst, Android, ceo, Companies, computing, Enterprise, Eric Schmidt, fda, Finance, Google, google search, Innovation Endeavors, lexis nexis, Recent Funding, search engine, Startups, Trader, Tribeca Venture Partners, Wolfram Alpha, YouTube | No Comments

Google and its flagship search portal opened the door to the possibilities of how to build a business empire on the back of organising and navigating the world’s information, as found on the internet. Now, a startup that’s built a search engine tailored to the needs of enterprises and their own quests for information has raised a round of funding to see if it can do the same for the B2B world.

AlphaSense, which provides a way for companies to quickly amass market intelligence around specific trends, industries and more to help them make business decisions, has closed a $50 million round of funding, a Series B that it’s planning to use to continue enhancing its product and expanding to more verticals.

The company counts some 1,000 clients on its books, with a heavy emphasis on investment banks and related financial services companies. That’s in part because of how the company got its start: Finnish co-founder and CEO Jaakko (Jack) Kokko had been an analyst at Morgan Stanley in a past life and understood the labor and time pain points of doing market research, and decided to build a platform to help shorten a good part of the information-gathering process.

“My experience as an analyst on Wall Street showed me just how fragmented information really was,” he said in an interview, citing as one example how complex sites like those of the FDA are not easy to navigate to look for new information and updates — the kind of thing that a computer would be much more adept at monitoring and flagging. “Even with the best tools and services, it still was really hard to manually get the work done, in part because of market volatility and the many factors that cause it. We can now do that with orders of magnitude more efficiency. Firms can now gather information in minutes that would have taken an hour. AlphaSense does the work of the best single analyst, or even a team of them.”

(Indeed, the “alpha” of AlphaSense appears to be a reference to finance: it’s a term that refers to the ability of a trader or portfolio manager to beat the typical market return.)

The lead investor in this round is very notable and says something about the company’s ambitions. It’s Innovation Endeavors, the VC firm backed by Eric Schmidt, who had been the CEO of none other than Google (the pace-setter and pioneer of the search-as-business model) for a decade, and then stayed on as chairman and ultimately board member of Google and then Alphabet (its later holding company) until just last June.

Schmidt presided over Google at what you could argue was its most important time, gaining speed and scale and transitioning from an academic idea into a full-fledged, huge public business whose flagship product has now entered the lexicon as a verb and (through search and other services like Android and YouTube) is a mainstay of how the vast majority of the world uses the web today. As such, he is good at spotting opportunities and gaps in the market, and while enterprise-based needs will never be as prominent as those of mass-market consumers, they can be just as lucrative.

“Information is the currency of business today, but data is overwhelming and fragmented, making it difficult for business professionals to find the right insights to drive key business decisions,” he said in a statement. “We were impressed by the way AlphaSense solves this with its AI and search technology, allowing businesses to proceed with the confidence that they have the right information driving their strategy.”

This brings the total raised by AlphaSense to $90 million, with other investors in this round including Soros Fund Management LLC and other unnamed existing investors. Previous backers had included Tom Glocer (the former Reuters CEO who himself is working on his own fintech startup, a security firm called BlueVoyant), the MassChallenge incubator, Tribeca Venture Partners and others. Kokko said AlphaSense is not disclosing its valuation at this point. (I’m guessing though that it’s definitely on the up.)

There have been others that have worked to try to tackle the idea of providing more targeted, and business-focused, search portals, from the likes of Wolfram Alpha (another alpha!) through to Lexis Nexis and others like Bloomberg’s terminals, FactSet, Business Quant and many more.

One interesting aspect of AlphaSense is how it’s both focused on pulling in requests as well as set up to push information to its users based on previous search parameters. Currently these are set up to only provide information, but over time, there is a clear opportunity to build services to let the engines take on some of the actions based on that information, such as adjusting asking prices for sales and other transactions.

“There are all kinds of things we could do,” said Kokko. “This is a massive untapped opportunity. But we’re not taking the human out of the loop, ever. Humans are the right ones to be making final decisions, and we’re just about helping them make those faster.”

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