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Apple unveils iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur features for India, China and other international markets

Posted by | Apple, Asia, China, india, Indonesia, iOS, ireland, Japan, macos, messages, Mobile, Netflix, Norway, operating systems, siri | No Comments

Apple will roll out a range of new features and improvements that are aimed at users in India, China and other international markets with its yearly updates to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS operating systems, it unveiled today.

iOS 14, which is rolling out to developers today and will reach general users later this year, introduces new bilingual dictionaries to support French and German; Indonesia and English; Japanese and Simplified Chinese; and Polish and English. For its users in China, one of Apple’s biggest overseas markets, the iPhone-maker said the new operating system will introduce support for Wubi keyboard.

For users in India, Apple is adding 20 new document fonts and upgrading 18 existing fonts with “more weights and italics” to give people greater choices. For those living in the world’s second largest internet market, Mail app now supports email addresses in Indian script.

Apple said it will also deliver a range of additional features for India, building on the big momentum it kickstarted last year.

Messages now feature corresponding full-screen effects when users send greetings such as “Happy Holi” in one of the 23 Indian local languages.

More interestingly, iOS 14 will include smart downloads, which will allow users in India to download Indian Siri voices and software updates as well as download and stream Apple TV+ shows over cellular networks — a feature that is not available elsewhere in the world.

The feature further addresses the patchy networks that are prevalent in India — despite major improvements in recent years. Last year, Apple beamed a feature for users in India that enabled users in the nation to set an optimized time of the day in on-demand streaming apps such as Hotstar and Netflix for downloading videos.

New improvements further shows Apple’s growing focus on India, the world’s second largest smartphone market. Apple chief executive Tim Cook said earlier this year that the company will launch its online store in the country later this year, and open its first physical store next year. A source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch last month that the global pandemic had not affected the plan.

iOS 14 will also allow users in Ireland and Norway to utilize the autocorrection feature as the new update adds support for Irish Gaelic and Norwegian Nynorsk. And there’s also a redesigned Kana keyboard for Japan, which will enable users there to type numbers with repeated digits more easily on the redesigned Numbers and Symbols plane.

All the aforementioned features — except email addresses in Indian script in Mail and smart downloads for users in India — will also ship with iPadOS 14. And the aforementioned new bilingual dictionaries, new fonts for India, and localized messages are coming to macOS Big Sur.

Additionally, Apple says on the desktop operating system it has also enhanced predictive input for Chinese and Japanese results in more accurate and contextual predictions.

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Grow Credit, which builds credit scores by paying for online subscriptions, gets Mucker cash

Posted by | Android, DraftKings, Grow Credit, Jason Robins, Marqeta, mastercard, Mucker Labs, Netflix, Recent Funding, Spotify, Startups, TC | No Comments

Grow Credit, the startup that launched last year to help customers build out their credit scores by providing a credit line for online subscriptions like Spotify and Netflix, has added Mucker Labs as an investor and closed its seed round with $2 million in total commitments.

The Los Angeles startup founded by serial entrepreneur Joe Bayen, had been bootstrapped initially and then received funding from a clutch of core angel investors before signing a deal with Mucker earlier this month, according to Bayen.

Using the Marqeta platform, Grow Credit can extend a loan to customers to expand their subscription services. Using the Mastercard network for payments, and Marqeta’s tools to restrict payment access, Grow offers credit facilities to its customers to pay for their monthly subscriptions. By using Grow Credit for those payments, users can improve their credit scores by as much as 61 points in a nine-month span, says Bayen.

The company doesn’t charge any fees for its loans, but users can upgrade their service. The initial tier is free for access to $15 of credit, once a user connects their bank account. For a $4.99 monthly fee, customers can get up to $50 of subscriptions covered by the service. For $9.99 that credit line increases to $150, Bayen said.

Increases to a user’s credit score can make a significant dent in their costs for things like lease agreements for cars, mortgages for houses and better rates on other credit cards, said Bayen.

“Everything is cheaper, you can get access to a credit card with lower interest rates and better rewards,” he said. “We’re looking at ourselves as the single best route to getting access to an Apple card.”

Additional capital for the new round came from individual investors like DraftKings chief executive, Jason Robins; former National Football League player and hall of famer Ronnie Lott; and Sebastien Deguy, VP of 3D at Adobe.

Coming up, Grow Credit said it has a deal in the works with one very large consumer bank in the U.S. and will be launching the Android version of its app in a few weeks.

 

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Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blames coronavirus for the streaming app’s challenges

Posted by | coronavirus, COVID-19, films, IT, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Quibi, Rob Post, TC, The New York Times, the-times | No Comments

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is admitting that the short-form video service’s launch hasn’t gone the way he’d hoped — and he knows what to blame for its issues.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg said in an interview with The New York Times. “Everything. But we own it.”

Back in April, I actually asked Quibi executives about how they thought the worldwide pandemic and widespread social distancing measures might affect their launch. After all, an app designed to deliver videos under 10 minutes when you’re on-the-go seems less appealing when no one can leave their house (where you can just sit on your couch and watch Netflix).

“I’m looking to take small breaks more than ever before to stand up, walk around, go outside,” CTO Rob Post said at the time. “Our use cases are these in-between moments. Now more than ever, that use case is still present.”

Similarly, Katzenberg told The Times he’d hoped “there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place.” Instead, he argued that those moments are still happening, “but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync.”

How badly has the launch gone? Quibi says it has been downloaded around 3.5 million times, and that it currently has 1.3 million active users. That’s a significant audience, especially for a service that was only released a little over a month ago.

Still, Katzenberg admitted it’s “not close to what we wanted.” And the company is apparently adjusting its projections, which had called for the service to reach 7 million users and $250 million in subscriber revenue in its first year.

At least it sounds like Quibi is trying to learn and adapt. For one thing, the marketing has started to shift to promoting specific shows like a “Reno 911” reboot, rather than advertising the idea of Quibi itself. For another, the company said it will be adding TV viewing support for iOS users this week.

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Streaming service Hooq shuts down, ends partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, Grab and others

Posted by | Airtel, Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, grab, hooq, Hotstar, Media, Mobile, Netflix, singtel, Southeast Asia, vodafone, Warner Bros | No Comments

Hooq, a five-year-old on-demand video streaming service that aimed to become “Netflix for Southeast Asia,” has shut down weeks after filing for liquidation and terminated its partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, ride-hailing giant Grab, and Indonesia’s VideoMax.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, discontinued the service on Thursday. It had amassed over 80 million subscribers in nearly half of the dozen markets in Asia.

“For the past 5 years, we gave you unbelievable thrills, heartrending drama, roaring laughs, awesome action, and more. Our goal was to bring you the best entertainment from here to Hollywood. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all of you who shared the journey with us,” it says on its website.

Hooq publicly disclosed that it had raised about $95 million, but the sum was likely higher. News outlet The Ken analyzed the regulatory filings last month to report that Hooq had raised $127.2 million, and its losses in the financial year 2019 had ballooned to $220, suggesting that it had received more capital.

The streaming service said last month that it could not receive new funds from new or existing investors.

Homepage of Hooq

The service counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018 and telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, as its biggest market. The company also maintained a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab, and VideoMAX in Indonesia.

Hooq brought dozens of D.C. universe titles including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and other popular TV series such as “The Big Bang Theory” to its partners. In India, users began noticing last week that those titles were disappearing from Hotstar.

A spokesperson of Hooq told TechCrunch today that its tie-ups with all its partners including Hotstar have closed. A Hotstar spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mobile operator Singtel first unveiled Hooq’s liquidation in an exchange filing last month. The Ken reported that the filing left hundreds of employees at Hooq stunned who thought the firm was doing fine financially. Nearly every employee at Hooq has been let go, with select few offered a job at Singtel, according to The Ken.

In an interview with Slator earlier this year, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said that the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles in 2020.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.

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Players Ntwrk launches celebrity gaming channel backed by WME, Daylight and Stratton Sclavos

Posted by | digital media, Endeavor, Entertainment, esports, Gaming, HBO, Internet, lebron james, Netflix, Players Ntwrk, producer, sacramento kings, Spotify, TC, telecommunications, Twitch, twitch tv, video hosting, wme | No Comments

Emerging from the smoldering wreckage of Echo Fox and Vision Venture Partners, the investor Stratton Sclavos is rising again to launch a new esports-related venture — a gaming-focused digital network also backed by the WME talent agency and Daylight Holdings.

Tapping Daylight and WME’s roster of talent, Sclavos has created Players Ntwrk, a new gaming-focused production company that will look to compete with other upstarts angling to tap into esports and competitive gaming’s newly dominant place in the entertainment firmament.

Players Ntwrk will feature original programming, unscripted series, celebrity gameplay and live events tapping talent from music, traditional pro-sports and the esports gaming world.

Sclavos and the multifaceted talent manager and president of Daylight Holdings, Ben Curtis, dreamed up Players Ntwrk as a way to tie together disparate groups of athletes and entertainers around their shared love of gaming and entertainment. The network will initially leverage relationships with WME and Klutch Sports Group, the agency founded by LeBron James’ longtime manager, Rich Paul, to find talent for programming.

The network will launch on Tuesday at 5:00 pm Pacific for two hours of gameplay featuring the New Orleans Pelicans Guard/Forward Josh Hart and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox on the Players Ntwrk Twitch channel. Additional live streams will be broadcast Friday and Saturday, the company said.

Over the next 12 weeks the network will add live programming featuring all of its “First Squad” talent and experimenting with different gaming and unscripted formats. Ultimately, the network will produce between 12 and 15 hours of original programming per week by the end of the second quarter and will ramp up to 20 to 24 hours of programming per-week by the end of the year.

Initial programming is going to be devoted to charity fundraising, with proceeds going to designated charities based on direct audience donations, the company said.

Players Ntwrk’s First Squad talent roster includes:

  • Professional athletes: De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings), Josh Hart (New Orleans Pelicans), Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns) and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
  • Music and Entertainment: PARTYNEXTDOOR, Murda Beatz, producer Boi-1da, actor/former athlete Donovan Carter (Ballers)
  • Creators/Streamers: KatGunn, Sodapoppin, Cash, Jesser, Jericho, Octane, Sigils, Sonii and DenkOps

Players Ntwrk joins companies like Venn, which are angling to gain a slice of the roughly 37.5 million monthly viewers that are expected to watch live streams on Twitch by the end of 2020, according to research done by eMarketer.

“The number of viewers and subscribers consuming gaming entertainment across YouTube and Twitch tops other entertainment services such as Netflix, HBO, Spotify and ESPN combined,” said Sclavos, in a statement. “Entertainment spectacle is trumping hardcore gaming competition. That kind of engagement makes it clear; gaming entertainment is the next pop culture phenomena. PLAYERS NTWRK is the only platform embracing and executing this new reality by creating original content with the most influential people who also happen to be fans themselves.”

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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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Disney debuts its streaming service in India for $20 a year

Posted by | abc, Amazon, Apps, Asia, Disney Plus, HBO, hooq, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, mx player, Netflix, TC | No Comments

Disney+ has arrived in the land of Bollywood. The company on Friday (local time) rolled out its eponymous streaming service in India through Hotstar, a popular on-demand video streamer it picked up as part of the Fox deal.

To court users in India, the largest open entertainment market in Asia, Disney is charging users 1,499 Indian rupees (about $19.5) for a year, the most affordable plan in any of the more than a dozen markets where Disney+ is currently available.

Subscribers of the revamped streaming service, now called Disney+ Hotstar, will get access to Disney Originals in English as well as several local languages, live sporting events, dozens of TV channels, and thousands of movies and shows, including some sourced from HBO, Showtime, ABC and Fox that maintain syndication partnerships with the Indian streaming service. It also maintains partnership with Hooq — at least for now.

Unlike Disney+’s offering in the U.S. and other markets, in India, the service does not support 4K and streams content at nearly a tenth of their bitrate.

Disney+ Hotstar is also offering a cheaper yearly premium tier, priced at Rs 399 (about $5.3), that will offer subscribers access to movies, shows (but not those sourced from aforementioned U.S. networks and studios) and live sporting events; it won’t include Disney Originals.

Access to streaming of sporting events, especially of cricket matches, has helped five-year-old Hotstar become the most popular on-demand video streaming in India. During the cricket tournament Indian Premier League (IPL) last year, the service amassed more than 300 million monthly active users and more than 100 million daily active users.

It also holds the global record for most simultaneous views on a live stream, about 25 million — more than thrice its nearest competitor.

Prior to today’s launch, Hotstar offered its premium plans at 999 Indian rupees, and 365 Indian rupees. Existing subscribers won’t be affected by the price revision for the duration of their current subscription.

The service, run by Indian conglomerate Star India, offers access to about 80% of its catalog at no cost to users. The company monetizes these viewers through ads.

But in recent years, the company has begun to explore ways to turn its users into subscribers. Two years ago, Hotstar stopped offering cricket match streaming to non-paying users.

People familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Hotstar has about 1.5 million paying subscribers, lower than what most industry firms estimate. But that figure is still higher than most of its competitors.

And there are many.

India’s on-demand video market

Disney+ will compete with more than three dozen international and local players in India, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Times Internet’s MX Player (which has over 175 million monthly active users), Zee5, Apple TV+ and Alt Balaji, which has amassed over 27 million subscribers.

“The arrival of Disney+ in India is another case study in the globalization of entertainment in the digital era. For decades, the biggest companies in the world have expanded their reach into different markets. But it’s new, and actually quite profound, that everyone on earth receives the very same version of such a specific cultural product,” Matthew Ball, former head of strategic planning for Amazon Studios, told TechCrunch.

As in some other markets, including the U.S., streaming services have inked deals with telecom networks, TV vendors, cable TV operators and satellite TV players to extend their reach in India.

Most of these streaming services monetize their viewers by selling ads, and those who do charge have kept their premium plans below $3.

Why that figure? That’s the number most industry executives think — by spending years in the Indian market — that people in the country are willing to pay for viewing content. The average of how much an individual pays for cable TV, for instance, in India is also about $3.

“I think everyone is still trying to sort out the right pricing. It’s true the average Indian consumer is used to far lower prices and can’t afford more. However, we need to focus on the consumers likely to buy this, who have the requisite broadband access and income, etc,” said Ball.

Commuters drive along a road past a billboard in Mumbai advertising the Amazon Prime Video online series “The Forgotten Army”. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP via Getty Images)

At stake is India’s booming on-demand video streaming market that, according to Boston Consulting Group, is estimated to grow to $5 billion from half a billion two years ago.

Hotstar’s hold on India could make it easier for Disney+, which has launched in more than a dozen markets and has amassed over 28 million subscribers.

As the country spends about two more weeks in lockdown that New Delhi ordered last month to curtail the spread of coronavirus, this could also compel many to give Disney+ a try.

On the flip side, if the lockdown is extended, the current season of IPL, which has been postponed until mid-April, might be further delayed or cancelled altogether. Either of those scenarios could hurt the reach of Hotstar, which sees a massive drop in its user base after the conclusion of each cricket tournament.

Disney initially planned to launch its streaming service in India on March 28, the day IPL was supposed to commence. But the company later postponed the launch by six days.

Industry executives told TechCrunch that if IPL is cancelled, it could severely hurt the financials of Hotstar, which clocks more than 50% of its revenue during the 50-odd days of the cricket season.

Some said Disney+’s premier catalog might not be relevant for most of Hotstar’s user base, who seem to care about this streaming service only during the cricket season or to catch up on Indian soap operas.

Hotstar has also received criticism for censoring more content on its platform than any other streaming service in India. Last month, Hotstar blocked from streaming on its platform an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that was critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. YouTube made that segment available without any edits.

John Oliver slammed Hotstar for censoring the episode and noted that the streaming service had additionally edited out parts from his older episodes where he made fun of Disney. In 2017, Hotstar also edited out a segment from Oliver’s show in which he mocked Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco. Hotstar and Samsung had a commercial partnership.

Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment in 2017. Hotstar did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the recent controversy.

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Game downloads will be throttled to manage internet congestion

Posted by | Akamai, cloud gaming, content delivery network, coronavirus, COVID-19, games, Gaming, Microsoft, Netflix, Nintendo, software downloads, Sony, Steam | No Comments

For the billions stuck at home during the global effort to flatten the curve, gaming is a welcome escape. But it’s also a bandwidth-heavy one, and Microsoft, Sony and others are working to make sure that millions of people downloading enormous games don’t suck up all the bandwidth. Don’t worry, though, it won’t affect your ping.

A blog post by content delivery network Akamai explained a few things it is doing to help mitigate the tidal wave of traffic that the internet’s infrastructure is experiencing. Although streaming video is of course a major contributor, games are a huge, if more intermittent, burden on the network.

Akamai is “working with leading distributors of software, particularly for the gaming industry, including Microsoft and Sony, to help manage congestion during peak usage periods. This is very important for gaming software downloads, which account for large amounts of internet traffic when an update is released,” the post reads.

Take the new “Call of Duty: Warzone” battle royale game, released last week for free and seeing major engagement. If you didn’t already own the latest CoD title, Warzone was a more than 80-gigabyte download, equivalent to dozens of movies on Netflix . And what’s more, that 80 gigs was likely downloaded at the maximum bandwidth home connections provided; streaming video is limited to a handful of megabits over the duration of the media, nowhere close to saturating your connection.

And Warzone isn’t alone — there are tons of high-profile games being released at a time when many people have nothing to do but sit at home and play games — PC game platform Steam posted a record 20 million concurrent players the other day, and one analysis saw a 400% increase in gaming traffic. So gaming is bigger than ever, while games are bigger than ever themselves.

As a result, gaming downloads will be throttled for the foreseeable future, at least in some markets. “Players may experience somewhat slower or delayed game downloads,” wrote Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan in a brief blog post. I’ve asked Microsoft, Nintendo and Valve for comment on their approach as well.

It’s important to note that this should not apply to the rest of the gaming experience. Unlike downloading games, playing games is a remarkably low-bandwidth task — it’s important for packets to be traded quickly so players are in sync, but there aren’t a lot of them compared with even a low-resolution streaming video.

The best thing to do is to set your games to be downloaded overnight, as local infrastructure will be less taxed while everyone in your region is asleep. If you have downloads or updates coming during the day, don’t be surprised if they take longer than usual or are queued elsewhere.

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Netflix fights new streaming rivals with Samsung partnership

Posted by | Media, Mobile, Netflix, Samsung, Samsung Unpacked 2020, streaming, streaming service | No Comments

As the streaming battles heat up, Netflix is hoping a new partnership with Samsung will help it fend off rivals. At Samsung’s Unpacked event this week, the mobile device maker announced a deal with Netflix that will bring to its Galaxy smartphones special bonus content associated with several Netflix original shows. The partnership also allows Netflix to more deeply integrate its streaming service with Samsung devices.

The latter part of the partnership involving device integration is fairly standard. In Netflix’s case, Samsung will allow users to launch Netflix content by way of its voice assistant Bixby. Netflix will also deliver recommendations to Samsung users, and will be better integrated into specific Samsung mobile features, like search and its discovery platform, Samsung Daily.

It’s not unusual for Samsung to work with tech companies to offer tighter integration and distribution for their app. For example, Samsung and Spotify announced a formal partnership in 2018, which has since resulted in consumer-facing features like Spotify’s deep integration with the new Galaxy Buds+, Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Z Flip.

The new Netflix content partnership, on the other hand, is unique.

Though Netflix didn’t go so far as to announce original series or movies only available to Samsung users, it will offer bonus content to Samsung device owners that won’t be found elsewhere. This includes behind-the-scenes footage, companion stories and other bonus content — much of it filmed by the Samsung Galaxy S20’s new camera, of course.

Initially, bonus content will be available for shows including “Narcos: Mexico,” “Sintonia,” “Elite” and “Netflix is a Joke.” Netflix says more bonus content will become available in the future.

The two companies have a decade-long relationship, which has seen them working together on joint marketing campaigns and other advertising. However, they’ve not before done a content deal like this.

“The mission of this partnership [is] to make the Netflix viewing experience on Samsung mobile the absolute best it can be,” said Netflix CMO Jackie Lee-Joe, announcing the company’s plans at Samsung’s event. “This means that even more users can enjoy our best-in-class stories across all genres through even better product integration with Galaxy mobile devices,” she noted.

The partnership comes at a critical time for Netflix. Its subscriber growth in the U.S. has gone flat, even as its international growth is booming. More importantly, perhaps, is how Netflix is coming up against a whole host of new streaming competitors with money to burn — including Disney+, Apple TV+, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, NBCU’s Peacock and Quibi.

What’s worse is that these new streaming services already have ways to tightly integrate with mobile devices or have partnerships allowing them to distribute their service to millions.

For example, [TechCrunch parent] Verizon is offering its mobile subscribers a free year of Disney+. Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile streaming service Quibi is partnering with T-Mobile. NBCU owner Comcast has its own mobile network, Xfinity Mobile, and HBO Max hails from AT&T’s WarnerMedia. And Apple, for now, is just giving away Apple TV+ for free to anyone who buys a new iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac.

That leaves Netflix without a competitive distribution strategy. And its only viable option to get similar global scale is Samsung, which had an 18.8% worldwide market share in Q4 2019 (in terms of shipments), compared with Apple’s 20%. Samsung also has solid distribution in key international markets where Netflix is seeing its strongest growth.

One argument against the Samsung partnership is that offering bonus content to Samsung users could alienate those watching Netflix on other platforms. Forbes even referred to the move as “controversial.” However, a Netflix spokesperson confirmed with TechCrunch that the special content will be published on Samsung Daily, plus Samsung.com, and Samsung’s social channels “for all to enjoy.”

They also told us that Samsung won’t have the exclusive rights to the content — in fact, Netflix has the right to publish the content to its own social media channels, if it chooses.

“We believe this significant partnership will provide millions of Samsung Mobile users across the globe the best mobile entertainment experience, and make discovering new stories around the world easier than ever,” said Lee-Joe.

Update, 2/13/20 4:30 PM ET to add that Netflix has the rights to publish the bonus content, too, making this a non-exclusive deal. 

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Netflix begins streaming in AV1 on Android

Posted by | alliance for open media, Amazon, Android, Apple, Apps, Facebook, Google, Media, Microsoft, Mobile, Netflix, nvidia, Videolan | No Comments

Netflix announced this week that it has started to stream titles in AV1 on Android in what could significantly help the two-year-old media codec gain wider adoption.

The world’s biggest streaming giant said on Wednesday that by switching from Google’s VP9 — which it previously used on Android — to AV1, its compression efficiency has gone up by 20%.

At the moment, only “select titles” are available to stream in AV1 for subscribers “who wish to reduce their cellular data usage by enabling the ‘Save Data’ feature,” the American firm said.

Netflix hasn’t shared much about the benefit AV1 will provide to customers, but the new media codec’s acceptance nonetheless sends a message by itself.

Tech giants, including Google, have spent years developing and improving media codecs as consumption of data skyrocketed and low-cost devices began to sell like hotcakes. But they just can’t seem to settle on one media codec and universally support it.

Think of Safari and YouTube, for instance. You can’t stream YouTube videos in 4K resolution on Safari, because Apple’s browser does not support Google’s VP9. And Google does not support HEVC for 4K videos on YouTube.

AV1 is supposed to be the savior media codec that gets universal support. It’s royalty-free and it works atop of open-source dav1d decoder that has been built by VideoLAN, best known for its widely popular media player VLC and FFmpeg communities. It is sponsored by the Alliance for Open Media.

Who are the members of Alliance for Open Media? Nearly all the big guys: Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Nvidia, ARM, Facebook, Microsoft, Mozilla, Samsung and Tencent, among others.

But that’s not to say there aren’t roadblocks in the adoption of AV1. Compared to HEVC — the format that AV1 is supposed to replace in popularity — encoding in AV1 was noticeably slower a year ago, as per some benchmark tests.

Adoption of AV1 by various browsers, according to analytics firm StatCounter. Safari is yet to support it.

Netflix’s announcement suggests that things have improved. The streaming giant said its goal is to support AV1 on all of its platforms. “In the spirit of making AV1 widely available, we are sponsoring an open-source effort to optimize 10-bit performance further and make these gains available to all,” it said in a blog post.

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