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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Eminem’s publisher accuses Spotify of copyright infringement in new lawsuit

By Anthony Ha

Eminem’s music publisher Eight Mile Style has filed a lawsuit against Spotify, accusing the service of “blatant copyright infringement” in streaming “Lose Yourself” and other Eminem songs.

As explained by The Hollywood Reporter, the suit is tied Spotify’s implementation of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into law last year. Under the MMA, Spotify can obtain a compulsory license to stream a song, but it would still need to file a “notice of intention” and pay rightsholders.

However, Eight Mile says, “Spotify did not have any license to reproduce or distribute the Eight Mile Compositions, either direct, affiliate, or compulsory, but acted deceptively by pretending to have compulsory and/or other licenses.”

For example, the complaint describes the service’s treatment of “Lose Yourself” as “the most egregious example of Spotify’s willful infringement,” saying that Spotify placed the song in the Copyright Control category, which is “reserved for songs for which the copyright owner is not known so the song cannot be licensed.”

Eight Mile then characterizes this position as “absurd”: “Spotify, and [the Harry Fox Agency], its agent … certainly knew (and had the easy means to know) that Eight Mile is the copyright owner of ‘Lose Yourself.’ ”

In addition, Eight Mile claims that even though the songs in question have been “streamed on Spotify billions of times,” the service has “not accounted to Eight Mile or paid Eight Mile for these streams but instead remitted random payments of some sort, which only purport to account for a fraction of those streams.”

The complaint also takes issue with protections that Spotify might claim under the MMA, saying that if the law limits Spotify’s liability, then it represents “an unconstitutional denial of due process (both procedural and substantive), and an unconstitutional taking of vested property rights.”

This isn’t the first time Eight Mile has challenged digital music platforms: It sued Apple over copyright issues more than a decade ago, and ultimately settled.

In an emailed statement, Eight Mile’s attorney Richard Busch described this as “a very important lawsuit for all songwriters that raises vital issues for those whose songs stream on Spotify or other Digital Music Providers.”

We’ve reached out to Spotify for comment and will update if we hear back.

After a breakout year, looking ahead to the future of podcasting

By Jonathan Shieber
Justine Moore Contributor
Justine Moore is a venture investor at CRV and co-founded Cardinal Ventures alongside her sister, Olivia.
Olivia Moore Contributor
Olivia Moore is a venture investor at CRV and co-founded Cardinal Ventures alongside her sister, Justine.

2019 has been a breakout year for podcasting. According to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial report, more than half of Americans have now listened to a podcast, and an estimated 32% listen monthly (up from 26% last year). This is the largest yearly increase since this data started being tracked in 2008. Podcast creation also continues to grow, with more than 700,000 podcasts and 29 million podcast episodes, up 27% from last year.

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Thanks to this growing listener base, big companies are finally starting to pay attention to the space — Spotify plans to spend $500 million on acquisitions this year, and already acquired content studio Gimlet, tech platform Anchor, and true crime network Parcast for a combined $400 million. In the past week, Google added playable podcasts to search results, Spotify released an analytics dashboard for podcasters and Pandora launched a tool for podcasters to submit their shows.

We’ve been going to Podcast Movement, the largest annual industry conference, for three years, and have watched the conference grow along with the industry — reaching 3,000 attendees in 2019. Given the increased buzz around the space, we were expecting this year’s conference to have a new level of energy and professionalism, and we weren’t disappointed. We’ve summarized five top takeaways from the conference, from why podcast ads are hard to scale to why so many celebrities are launching their own shows.

Rise of celebrity podcasters boosts listenership

We’ve officially entered the age of celebrity podcasters. After early successes like “WTF with Marc Maron” (2009), Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s The Thing” (2011) and Anna Faris’ “Unqualified” (2015), top talent is flooding into the space. In 2017, 15% of Apple’s top 20 most-downloaded podcasts of the year were hosted by celebrities or influencers — this jumped to 32% of the top 25 in 2018. And of all the new shows that launched in 2018, 48% of the top 25 were celebrity-hosted.

Screen Shot 2019 08 21 at 1.21.50 PMThough podcasts are undermonetized compared to other forms of media, talent agents now consider them to be an important part of a well-rounded content strategy. Dan Ferris from CAA tells his clients to think of podcasting as a way of connecting with fans that is “much more intimate than social media.” Podcasts also help celebrities find a new audience. Ben Davis from WME said that while his client David Dobrik has a smaller audience on his podcast than on YouTube (1.5 million downloads per episode versus 6 million views per video), the podcast helps him reach a new group of listeners who stumble upon his show on the Apple Podcast charts.

While some podcast veterans grumble about the rise of celebrity talk shows, famous podcasters are good for the industry as a whole. Advertisers are drawn to the space by the opportunity to get to access A-list talent at lower prices. One recent example is Endeavor Audio’s fiction show “Blackout,” which starred Rami Malek, who was fresh off an Oscar win. Endeavor’s head of sales, Charlie Emerson, said brands might have to sign a “seven or eight-figure deal” to advertise alongside Malek’s content in other forms of media. Other podcasters also benefit from new listeners brought into the medium by their favorite stars — a Westwood One survey in fall 2018 found that 60% of podcast listeners report discovering shows via social media, where celebrities and influencers have huge existing audiences to push content to.

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Creator backlash against “walled garden” apps

Paid listening apps represent a fairly small percentage of podcast listenership, with production platform Anchor estimating that Apple Podcasts and Spotify control more than 70% of listenership. A venture-backed company called Luminary is trying to change this — it raised $100 million to launch a “Netflix for podcasts” this spring. Consumers pay $7.99/month to access Luminary-exclusive shows alongside podcasts that are free on other apps. Because podcasts have RSS feeds, distributors like Luminary can easily grab free content and put it behind a paywall. The platform, not the creator, benefits from this monetization.

Within days of Luminary’s launch, prominent podcasters and media companies (The New York Times, Gimlet and more) requested their shows be removed from the app. It’s interesting to note that YouTube has a similar premium plan — for $11.99/month, users can access and download ad-free videos. Unlike Luminary, however, YouTube, pays creators a cut of the revenue from these subscriptions based on how frequently their content is viewed.

Unsurprisingly, creator sentiment is more positive toward platforms like Spotify and Pandora . Though these companies do make money from premium subscribers who listen to podcasts, creators can choose whether or not to submit their shows. And podcasters benefit from making their shows discoverable to the existing user base of these platforms, which already dominate “earshare.” Spotify alone has 232 million MAUs, which dwarfs the 90 million people in the U.S. who listen to a podcast monthly.

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Industry anxiety around maintaining quality at scale

Podcast ad revenue has been scaling quickly, with $480 million in spend last year and a projected $680 million this year. Over the past four years, ad revenue has scaled at a 65% CAGR, and this growth is expected to continue. In its early days, the podcast ad market has largely been driven by D2C brands — you’ve probably heard hundreds of Casper, Blue Apron and Madison Reed ads. However, bigger brands are also starting to enter podcasting (Geico, Capital One and Progressive made the top 10 list for June 2019) due to the growing audience scale and increased precision around targeting and attribution.

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While many attendees were excited by the massive growth in ad revenue, others worried that it may kill what makes podcasting special. They’re particularly concerned that podcasts may go the way of online video, with annoying, generic, low CPM ads. Podcast hosts typically read their own ads, and are often true fans of the product — they share personal stories instead of reciting brand talking points. This results in premium CPMs compared to most digital media — AdvertiseCast’s 2019 survey found an average CPM of $18 for a 30-second podcast ad and $25 for a 60-second ad, more than 2x the average CPM on other digital platforms.

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While these ads are effective, they’re time-consuming and expensive to produce. Big brands interested in podcast ads often expect to reuse radio spots — they aren’t used to the process of crafting and approving a host-read ad that may only reach 10,000 listeners. Podcasters, meanwhile, value their trust with listeners and don’t want to spam them with loud, unoriginal radio ads. The tension between maintaining the quality of ads while scaling quantity was an underlying theme of most monetization discussions, and industry veterans disagree on how it will play out.

Podcasts are still undermonetized — but there is hope!

Despite the growth in ad revenue and relatively high CPMs, the industry is significantly undermonetized. Using data from Nielsen, IAB and Edison, we calculated that podcasts monetize through advertisements at only $0.01 per listener hour — less than 10 times the rate of radio. Podcast monetization per listener hour has increased over the past year, up 25% by our calculations, but still substantially lags all other forms of media.

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Why are podcasts so undermonetized? Unlike many other forms of media, the dominant distribution platform (Apple Podcasts) has no ad marketplace. Creators have historically had to approach brands themselves or sign with podcast networks to construct custom ad deals, and the “long tail” of podcasters were unable to monetize. This is finally changing. Anchor, which reported in January that it powers 40% of new podcasts, has an ad marketplace that has doubled the number of podcasts that are running ads. Other popular platforms like Radio Public have launched programs for small podcasters to opt-in to ad placements.

The second major hurdle in monetization is attribution. Podcasts have historically monetized through direct response campaigns — a podcaster provides a special URL or promo code for listeners to use when making a purchase. However, many people listen to podcasts when exercising or driving, and can’t write down the promo code or visit the URL immediately. These listeners might remember the product and make a purchase later, but the podcaster won’t get the attribution. Thomas Mancusi of Audioboom estimated that this happens in 50-60% of purchases driven by podcast ads.

Startups are trying to bring better adtech into podcasting to fix this issue. Chartable is one example — the company installs trackers to match a listener’s IP address with a purchaser’s IP address, allowing podcasters to claim attribution for listeners who don’t use their URL or promo code. Chartable currently runs on 10,000 shows, and the early results are so promising that ad agencies expect to see higher CPMs and significantly more spend in the space.

Podcast fans of the future ≠ podcast fans today

As podcasting grows, the listener base is diversifying. Edison Research looked into data on “rookie” listeners (listening for six months or less) and “veteran” listeners (listening for 3+ years), and found significant demographic differences. Only 37% of veterans are female, compared to 53% of rookies. While the plurality of veterans (43%) are age 35-54, 54% of rookies are age 12-34. Rookies are also 1.6x more likely to say they most often listen to podcasts on Spotify, Pandora or SoundCloud (43% versus 27% of veterans). And social media is an important way that rookies discover podcasts — 52% have found a podcast from video and 46% from audio on social media, compared to 41% and 37% for veterans.

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These new listeners will have a profound impact on the future of podcasting, in both the type of content produced and the way it’s distributed. Industry experts are already noting significant new demand for female-hosted podcasts, as well as audio dramas that appeal to young people looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful story. They’re advising podcasters to share clips of their content on social media, and to leverage broader listening platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud for distribution.

International markets also represent an enormous opportunity for growth. Most podcast listeners today live in the U.S. or China, but content producers are starting to see significant demand elsewhere. Castbox’s Valentina Kaledina said that many fans abroad have resorted to listening in their non-native language, with the top 100 shows in each country comprising a mix of English and local language. Adonde Media’s Martina Castro, who recently conducted the first listener survey on Spanish-language podcast fans, said that 53% of the survey’s 2,100 respondents reported listening to podcasts in English — and only 20% of them use Apple Podcasts.

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Larger podcast producers are beginning to translate shows for non-English-speaking markets. Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez announced at the conference that the company’s hit show Dr. Death is now available in seven languages. Lopez noted that it was an expensive process, and he doesn’t expect the shows to generate profit in the near future. However, he believes that Wondery will eventually see a significant return from investing in the development of new podcast markets — and if they do, other podcast companies will likely follow in their footsteps.

BuzzFeed’s new MoodFeed recommends content based on how you’re feeling

By Anthony Ha

BuzzFeed is offering readers a new approach to finding content that fits the way they’re feeling right now.

It’s not the boring old approach of following a link on social media or search, or of typing BuzzFeed.com into your browser. Instead, on MoodFeed, readers can identify their mood, then they’ll get a list of articles that match those feelings.

There are currently six options — curious, stressed, bored, nostalgic, joyful or hungry. If you select “curious,” you’ll see a list of BuzzFeed posts about strange facts, life hacks and the like. If, on the other hand, you go with “nostalgic,” you’ll get lots of headlines about pop culture history. And if you’re not sure, you can just give the mood wheel a spin and see what it lands on.

Talia Halperin, BuzzFeed’s vice president of brand management, described this as an experiment in “getting our audience engaged and excited in a non-traditional way.” The team apparently created these recommendations by first identifying the main mood options, then “reverse-engineering” which articles would be a good fit.

And while BuzzFeed’s never offered this kind of interface before, Halperin argued that the broader strategy is one that the organization uses “all the time, in a curated, audience-focused way” — when the team is sharing and promoting articles, it’s thinking about moods and associated identities.

MoodFeed

In fact, the BuzzFeed team has actually built AI tools to help with this process, automating the ability to identify which BuzzFeed stories should be posted on which BuzzFeed pages, when “evergreen” stories should be re-promoted and at what time headlines should be shared.

In the case of MoodFeed, Halperin made it sound like this is very much an experiment, with the company still figuring out things like “how often we should refresh it, what our strategy is around that.”

At the same time, she said there’s plenty of room for expansion.

“This could scale in a really interesting way,” she added. “You may have noticed that there are only six moods, but of course, there are several different moods that come along with certain events [so we’re interested] in really being able expand to expand the moods at different times of the year.”

An Old Instagram Hoax Fools a Bunch of Celebrities

By Louise Matsakis
Instagram users like Usher, Martha Stewart, and Rick Perry posted a meme warning about a new rule that doesn't actually exist.

There’s a Thriving Market for Human Body Parts on Instagram

By Oscar Schwartz
Users quietly buy and sell human skulls, decorated and sold by macabre enthusiasts. Is the underground marketplace just a microcosm of our colonial past?

Accused of Liberal Bias, Facebook Allows Ads With ... Tubes

By Paris Martineau
Facebook will now allow ads depicting “medical tubes connected to the human body,” in response to complaints from anti-abortion groups.
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Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

By Jonathan Shieber

Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform.

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified an information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around events in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region. Over the weekend more than 1 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest what they see as an encroachment by the mainland Chinese government over their rights.

State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don’t operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee.

The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can’t access the company’s advertising products, Twitter said in a statement.

“We believe that there is a difference between engaging in conversation with accounts you choose to follow and the content you see from advertisers in your Twitter experience which may be from accounts you’re not currently following. We have policies for both but we have higher standards for our advertisers,” Twitter said in its statement.

The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence, including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process.

Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn’t apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports or travel, but if there’s news in the mix, the company will block advertising access.

Affected outlets have 30 days before they’re removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

State media has long been a source of disinformation and was cited as part of the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election. Indeed, Twitter has booted state-financed news organizations before. In October 2017, the company banned Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on its platform (although a representative from RT claimed that Twitter encouraged it to advertise ahead of the election).

 

Mammoth Media introduces Choose Your Own Adventure-style storytelling to its chat fiction app Yarn

By Anthony Ha

The chat fiction stories offered in Mammoth Media‘s mobile app Yarn are about to get more interactive.

The branching narrative mechanic should be familiar to anyone who read Choose Your Own Adventure books when they were kids — you read a story, and at certain key moments, you choose from different options that determine where the plot will go next.

More recently, the “Being Beyonce’s assistant for a day” thread on Twitter reminded everyone how fun and stressful this kind of storytelling can be. In fact, Mammoth says it’s hired the thread’s author Landon Rivera as one of the writers for this new initiative.

One thing you probably won’t recognize from your childhood reading is the fact that some of these choices aren’t free — to select them, you’ll need to spend money in the form of Yarn’s new virtual currency, gems.

Mammoth founder and CEO Benoit Vatere explained that in those cases, there might be two choices that you can select for free, plus a third that you need to pay for. Usually, it will be something that accelerates the story or sends it off in a new direction — in a horror story, you could get the option to stab someone, or in a romance story, your character could get the option to go home with someone.

Vatere added, “It’s not only being able to have a different branch in the story, but being able to play as a different character lead … Instead of being the male character, would they like to be the female character and really see a different perspective?”

He acknowledged that some of Yarn’s paying subscribers might be cranky about being asked to pay more, but he said the goal is that those subscribers can have “a full experience” without having to buy additional gems.

Yarn is launching interactive stories with titles including “Blue Ivy’s Nanny,” where it’s your first day on the job as Beyoncé’s nanny (I’m going to go ahead and guess that Rivera worked on this one); a romance story called “Playing the Field”; a horror story called “Haunted Camper” and a drama called “Trapped.” Vatere also said there are plans for branched narratives tying into existing Yarn franchises, and set in the world of Archie Comics.

Overall, Vatere said he’s hoping that this will lead to more engagement from Yarn readers, while also opening up new opportunities for monetization.

“Subscription is a great model, but subscription has a cap,” he said. That’s why Mammoth is experimenting with virtual currency, and why it plans to make these stories available to non-subscribers.

After data incidents, Instagram expands its bug bounty

By Zack Whittaker

Facebook is expanding its data abuse bug bounty to Instagram.

The social media giant, which owns Instagram, first rolled out its data abuse bounty in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw tens of millions of Facebook profiles scraped to help swing undecided voters in favor of the Trump campaign during the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

The idea was that security researchers and platform users alike could report instances of third-party apps or companies that were scraping, collecting and selling Facebook data for other purposes, such as to create voter profiles or build vast marketing lists.

Even following he high profile public relations disaster of Cambridge Analytica, Facebook still still had apps illicitly collecting data on its users.

Instagram wasn’t immune either. Just this month Instagram booted a “trusted” marketing partner off its platform after it was caught scraping millions of users’ stories, locations and other data points on millions of users, forcing Instagram to make product changes to prevent future scraping efforts. That came after two other incidents earlier this year where a security researcher found 14 million scraped Instagram profiles sitting on an exposed database — without a password — for anyone to access. Another incident saw another company platform scrape the profile data — including email addresses and phone numbers — of Instagram influencers.

Last year Instagram also choked developers’ access as the company tried to rebuild its privacy image in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Dan Gurfinkel, security engineering manager at Instagram, said its new and expanded data abuse bug bounty aims to “encourage” security researchers to report potential abuse.

Instagram said it’s also inviting a select group of trusted security researchers to find flaws in its Checkout service ahead of its international rollout, who will also be eligible for bounty payouts.

Read more:

MIT built a better way to deliver high-quality video streams to multiple devices at once

By Darrell Etherington

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Depending on your connection and the size of your household, video streaming can get downright post-apocalyptic — bandwidth is the key resource, and everyone is fighting to get the most and avoid a nasty, pixelated picture. But a new way to control how bandwidth is distributed across multiple, simultaneous streams could mean peace across the land — even when a ton of devices are sharing the same connection and all are streaming video at the same time.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab created a system they call “Minerva” that minimizes stutters due to buffering, and pixelation due to downgraded stream, which it believes could have huge potential benefits for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that increasingly serve multiple members of a household at once. The underlying technology could be applied to larger areas, too, extending beyond the house and into neighborhoods or even whole regions to mitigate the effects of less than ideal streaming conditions.

Minerva works by taking into account the varying needs of different delivery devices streaming on a network — so it doesn’t treat a 4K Apple TV the same as an older smartphone with a display that can’t even show full HD output, for instance. It also considers the nature of the content, which is important because live-action sports require a heck of a lot more bandwidth to display in high quality when compared to say a children’s animated TV show.

Video is then served to viewers based on its actual needs, instead of just being allocated more or less evenly across devices, and the Minerva system continually optimizes delivery speeds in accordance with their changing needs as the stream continues.

In real-world testing, Minerva was able to provide a quality jump equivalent to going from 720p to 1080p as much as a third of the time, and eliminated the need for rebuffing by almost 50%, which is a massive improvement when it comes to actually being able to seamlessly stream video content continuously. Plus, it can do all this without requiring any fundamental changes to network infrastructure, meaning a streaming provider could roll it out without having to require any changes on the part of users.

Watch the trailer for the Apple TV+ drama ‘The Morning Show’

By Anthony Ha

Apple is giving viewers their first extended look at “The Morning Show,” a drama starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.

Previously, all that we’d seen from the show were a few brief clips in a broader promo for Apple’s upcoming subscription service TV+, followed by an ominous teaser trailer that was literally just shots of a TV control room, accompanied by audio clips where people talked about how incredibly  important the news business is.

This trailer dials down the Aaron Sorkin vibe and sets up up a story where Aniston and Carrell are longtime hosts of a morning TV show — but Carrell gets fired, so a search for fresh talent leads the producers to a younger reporter played by Reese Witherspoon.

While the story and characters appear to be fictional, they draw on the real-world drama depicted in Brian Stelter’s book “Top of the Morning.”

“The Morning Show” is scheduled to debut sometime this fall on Apple TV+. This will likely to be one of the first titles on the service (which still doesn’t have an announced price or launch date), but Apple has a lot more content in the works.

Disney+ comes to Canada and the Netherlands on Nov. 12, will support nearly all major platforms at launch

By Darrell Etherington

Disney+ will have an international launch that begins at the same time as its rollout in the U.S., Disney revealed. The company will be launching its digital streaming service on November 12 in Canada and The Netherlands on November 12, and will be available in Australia and New Zealand the following week. The streaming service will also support virtually every device and operating system from day one.

Disney+ will be available on iOS, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Android, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Roku and Xbox One at launch, which is pretty much an exhaustive list of everywhere someone might want to watch it, leaving aside some smaller proprietary smart TV systems. That, combined with the day-and-date global markets, should be a clear indicator that Disney wants its service to be available to as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible.

Through Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple TV devices, customers will be able to subscribe via in-app purchase. Disney+ will also be fully integrated with Apple’s TV app, which is getting an update in iOS 13 in hopes of becoming even more useful as a central hub for all a user’s video content. The one notable exception on the list of supported devices and platforms is Amazon’s Fire TV, which could change closer to launch depending on negotiations.

In terms of pricing, the service will run $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year in Canada, and €6.99 per month (or €69.99 per year) in the Netherlands. In Australia, it’ll be $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year, and in New Zealand, it’ll be $9.99 and $99.99 per year. All prices are in local currency.

That compares pretty well with the $6.99 per month (or $69.99 yearly) asking price in the U.S., and undercuts the Netflix pricing in those markets, too. This is just the Disney+ service on its own, however, not the combined bundle that includes ESPN Plus and Hulu for $12.99 per month, which is probably more comparable to Netflix in terms of breadth of content offering.

 

Roku launches a Kids & Family section on The Roku Channel, plus parental controls

By Sarah Perez

Roku’s home entertainment hub, The Roku Channel, is expanding into programming for children. The company this morning announced plans to aggregate kids and family movies and TV alongside the channel’s other content, including its free, ad-supported movies and television, live TV and subscriptions. In addition to the launch of the new “Kids & Family” section on The Roku Channel, Roku is also rolling out Parental Control features to give parents more control over what their kids can watch when accessing the channel.

The latter — while useful for families who don’t want the kids stumbling upon their HBO or Cinemax subscriptions — will also be a hindrance when the parents go to watch their own shows in The Roku Channel, due to Roku’s current lack of user profiles.

Meanwhile, the new kids section is not home to original content, but rather takes advantage of Roku’s ability to aggregate the streaming content on its own platform — including both free content from other channels and digital creators, as well as kid-friendly content from the family’s paid subscriptions.

At launch, the Kids & Family section will offer 7,000 free, ad-supported TV episodes and movies from 20 partners, including Allspark (a Hasbro company), DHX Media, Happy Kids TV, Lionsgate, Mattel, Moonbug, pocket.watch and others. This will bring a mix of classic franchises and favorite characters to the channel, like Care Bears, The Cat in the Hat, Leapfrog, Little Baby Bum, My Little Pony, Rev & Roll, Super Mario Brothers, Thomas & Friends and more. 

This content will be mixed in with live, linear streams from Moonbug, pocket.watch and XUMO-powered partners Ameba, BatteryPop and KidGenius. There also will be five exclusive episodes of Ryan’s World by pocket.watch available.

In addition, the new section can pull in premium content for kids from services like Blue Ant Media’s ZooMoo, CONtv, Dove Channel, HBO, Hopster, NOGGIN, Starz or Up Faith.

That allows access to more well-known kids’ brands, like Bubble Guppies, Dora the Explorer, PAW Patrol, Peppa Pig and family-friendly movies, including Adventures of Elmo in Groucholand, Muppets Take Manhattan and more.

In total, there are nearly 30 partners participating in the Kids & Family section. Notably absent, however, are top sources for kids’ shows, like Netflix and Hulu. These larger streaming services want to own the user experience end-to-end and collect their own data.

Screen Shot 2019 08 19 at 9.12.49 AMRoku says it will collect “non-user level data” from the new section, in order to see, in aggregate, which programs are popular. But it will not use data to personalize the experience for kids, target kids with ads, or make recommendations.

Instead, the content in the Kids & Family section is organized by age range, character and theme in an interface that resembles Netflix’s Kids’ profile layout.

The ad load is also lighter than elsewhere on The Roku Channel, the company says.

“For The Roku Channel overall, we have on average, approximately half of the advertising time of traditional ad-supported linear TV. So it’s a really light ad load. And we think that something’s really resonated with users. When we look at a Kids & Family viewing experience, we want to even further reduce that advertising time. So we’re taking it down to 40% of the advertising time on traditional linear,” says Roku’s VP of Programming Rob Holmes.

He adds that the advertisers are kid-appropriate, and are vetted and served internally by Roku.

Ad revenue is the only way the new section will be monetized. Roku tells us the premium content for kids will only be displayed to existing subscribers, as it’s not in the business of trying to upsell to children.

The launch follows several other recent developments for The Roku Channel, now one of Roku’s top five channels and a big selling point for Roku devices and TVs.

Since its 2017 launch, which focused on aggregating free movies, the company has expanded into newssports, TV shows and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks, as well as paid subscriptions from networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, EPIX and more.

Roku closed out its second quarter with 30.5 million active accounts, up by 1.4 million from the prior quarter, and revenue up 59% year-over-year, to $250.1 million. The company’s platform business is now the primary revenue driver, up 86% year-over-year to reach $167.7 million in the quarter. Users streamed 9.4 billion hours of content on Roku in Q2.

Media companies have been heavily investing in kids’ programming, especially in the cord-cutting era, which gives Roku a large library to tap into. However, the biggest names in kids’ streaming — like Netflix and soon, Disney (with Disney+) — will not participate in aggregated sections like this, which ultimately limits their ability to become a true one-stop-shop for everything you want to stream.

The Roku Channel is rolling out in the U.S. today, on Roku devices, the web, the Roku mobile app and select Samsung smart TVs.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Wu Assassins’ is a punching, kicking delight

By Anthony Ha

When we reviewed “Another Life” last week, we described it as an old-fashioned science fiction space show, something that’s been absent from TV for the past decade or so. “Wu Assassins” is another new Netflix series, and it’s also is a kind of a throwback — this time to ’90s martial arts series like “Vanishing Son” and “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”

As we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Wu Assassins” — which tells the story of Kai, a San Francisco chef who receives mystical powers and must battle powerful nemeses known as the Wu Lords — has plenty of delightfully cheesy writing and special effects. But it’s set apart from those older shows in a couple key ways.

First, there’s the fact that Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais (who you might recognize from “The Raid” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) plays as Kai — he’s not a great dramatic actor, but once the action starts, he becomes a blur of punches and kicks.

The producers have surrounded Uwais with other other accomplished martial artists, so the resulting fight scenes are extraordinary. “Wu Assassins” includes a couple big set pieces, but even more remarkably, every single fight (and there are plenty) feels like it’s been choreographed for the perfect mix of beauty and brutality.

Even better, there’s Byron Mann’s performance as Uncle Six, a ruthless triad boss who has a long history with Kai. Mann brings real charisma and humanity to his performance, and he turns his dramatic scenes with Uwais into absolute highlight of the show. Plus, he’s just as compelling when he’s called upon to beat the crap out of his enemies.

In addition to praising “Wu Assassins,” we also discuss the CBS-Viacom merger and listener response to our review of “Another Life.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:40 “Another Life” listener response
11:51 CBS/Viacom merger
20:30 “Wu Assassins” review
33:52 “Wu Assassins” spoiler discussion

Week in Review: Snapchat beats a dead horse

By Lucas Matney

Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Netflix might have some rough times ahead as Disney barrels towards it.


3d video spectacles 3

The big story

There is plenty to be said about the potential of smart glasses. I write about them at length for TechCrunch and I’ve talked to a lot of founders doing cool stuff. That being said, I don’t have any idea what Snap is doing with the introduction of a third-generation of its Spectacles video sunglasses.

The first-gen were a marketing smash hit, their sales proved to be a major failure for the company which bet big and seemingly walked away with a landfill’s worth of the glasses.

Snap’s latest version of Spectacles were announced in Vogue this week, they are much more expensive at $380 and their main feature is that they have two cameras which capture images in light depth which can lead to these cute little 3D boomerangs. One one hand, it’s nice to see the company showing perseverance with a tough market, on the other it’s kind of funny to see them push the same rock up the hill again.

Snap is having an awesome 2019 after a laughably bad 2018, the stock has recovered from record lows and is trading in its IPO price wheelhouse. It seems like they’re ripe for something new and exciting, not beautiful yet iterative.

The $150 Spectacles 2 are still for sale, though they seem quite a bit dated-looking at this point. Spectacles 3 seem to be geared entirely towards women, and I’m sure they made that call after seeing the active users of previous generations, but given the write-down they took on the first-generation, something tells me that Snap’s continued experimentation here is borne out of some stubbornness form Spiegel and the higher-ups who want the Snap brand to live in a high fashion world and want to be at the forefront of an AR industry that seems to have already moved onto different things.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

tumblr phone sold

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • WordPress buys Tumblr for chump change
    Tumblr, a game-changing blogging network that shifted online habits and exited for $1.1 billion just changed hands after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) unloaded the property for a reported $3 million. Read more about this nightmarish deal here.
  • Trump gives American hardware a holiday season pass on tariffs 
    The ongoing trade war with China generally seems to be rough news for American companies deeply intertwined with the manufacturing centers there, but Trump is giving U.S. companies a Christmas reprieve from the tariffs, allowing certain types of hardware to be exempt from the recent rate increases through December. Read more here.
  • Facebook loses one last acquisition co-founder
    This week, the final remnant of Facebook’s major acquisitions left the company. Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell announced he was leaving. Now, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus are all helmed by Facebook leadership and not a single co-founder from the three companies remains onboard. Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook’s turn in audio transcription debacle:
    [Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission]
  2. Google’s hate speech detection algorithms get critiqued:
    [Racial bias observed in hate speech detection algorithm from Google]
  3. Amazon has a little email mishap:
    [Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders]

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. My colleague Danny Crichton wrote about the “tech” conundrum that is WeWork and the questions that are still unanswered after the company filed documents this week to go public.

WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points

…How is margin changing at its older locations? How is margin changing as it opens up in places like India, with very different costs and revenues? How do those margins change over time as a property matures? WeWork spills serious amounts of ink saying that these numbers do get better … without seemingly being willing to actually offer up the numbers themselves…

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we published a major deep dive into the world’s next music unicorn and we dug deep into marketplace startups.

Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.

Startup ads are taking over the subway

By Anthony Ha

If you’re a New Yorker, one of the easiest ways to keep up-to-date on the latest consumer products — furniture, beauty products, mobile apps, you name it — is to hop on the subway.

Even before you board, you may find yourself walking through a station filled with colorful startup ads. And once you’re actually on the train, you may find yourself surrounded by even more of those of ads.

It felt very different when I first moved to New York in 2013, back when the only companies that seemed to buy subway ads were local colleges, law firms and sketchy-sounding surgeons. Over the next few years, I noticed that the companies I wrote about in TechCrunch were starting to show up on the subway walls.

These ads are managed by Outfront Media, which has an exclusive contract with the MTA and says it’s worked with more than 150 startups and direct-to-consumer brands since 2018.

“Startups and DTC brands, now more than ever before, are looking for ways to raise awareness and gain market share among a heavy competitor set,” said Outfront’s chief product experience officer Jason Kuperman via email. “For these brands, it is all about testing and learning, and leveraging out-of-home (OOH) [advertising] and advertising on the subway allows them to do just that.”

Kuperman added that when they launch their subway campaigns, many of these startups are unknown, so they “find value in a permanent place to advertise that people pass through every day.”

From out-of-home to in transit

John Laramie, CEO of out-of-home advertising agency Project X, agreed that there’s been a big shift over the past few years.

He and I first spoke in 2011 about startups buying billboard ads alongside Silicon Valley’s main highway, Route 101. More recently, he told me, “Fast forward to the last four years, and who cares about the 101? It’s all about the New York City subway.”

YC-backed Lokal wants to bring local news, classifieds to 900 million Indians in their regional languages

By Manish Singh

Each month millions of Indians are coming online for the first time, making India the last great growth market for internet companies worldwide. But winning them presents its own challenges.

These users, most of whom live in small cities and villages in India, can’t speak English. Their interests and needs are different from those of their counterparts in large cities. When they come online, the world wide web that is predominantly focused on the English-speaking masses, suddenly seems tiny, Google executives acknowledged at a media conference last year. According to a KPMG-Google report (PDF) on Indian languages, there will be 536 million non-English speaking users using internet in India by 2021.

Many companies are increasingly adding support for more languages, and Silicon Valley giants such as Google are developing tools to populate the web with content in Indian languages.

But there is still room for others to participate. On Friday, a new startup announced it is also in the race. And it has already received the backing of Y Combinator (YC).

Lokal is a news app that wants to bring local news to hundreds of millions of users in India in their regional languages. The startup, which is currently available in the Telugu language, has already amassed more than two million users, Jani Pasha, co-founder of Lokal, told TechCrunch in an interview.

lokal homescreen

There are tens of thousands of publications in India and several news aggregators that showcase the top stories from the mainstream outlets. But very few today are focusing on local news and delivering it in a language that the masses can understand, Pasha said.

Lokal is building a network of stringers and freelance reporters who produce original reporting around the issues and current affairs of local towns and cities. The app is updated throughout the day with regional news and also includes an “information” stream that shows things like current price of vegetables, upcoming events and contact details for local doctors and police stations.

The platform has grown to cover 18 districts in South India and is slowly ramping up its operations to more corners of the country. The early signs show that people are increasingly finding Lokal useful. “In 11 of the 18 districts we cover, we already have a larger presence and reader base than other media houses,” Pasha said.

Before creating Lokal, Pasha and the other co-founder of the startup, Vipul Chaudhary, attempted to develop a news aggregator app. The app presented news events in a timeline, offering context around each development.

“We made the biggest mistake. We built the product for four to five months without ever consulting with the users. We quickly found that nobody was using it. We went back to the drawing board and started interviewing users to understand what they wanted. How they consumed news, and where they got their news from,” he said.

“One thing we learned was that most of these users in tier 2 and tier 3 India still heavily rely on newspapers. Newspapers still carry a lot of local news and they rely on stringers who produce these news pieces and source them to publications,” he added.

But newspapers have limited pages, and they are slow. So Pasha and the team tried to build a platform that addresses these two things.

Pasha tried to replicate it through distributing local news, sourced from stringers, on a WhatsApp group. “That one WhatsApp group quickly became one of many as more and more people kept joining us,” he recalls. And that led to the creation of Lokal.

Along the journey, the team found that classifieds, matrimonial ads and things like birthday wishes are still driving people to newspapers, so Lokal has brought those things to the platform.

Pasha said Lokal will expand to three more states in the coming months. It will also begin to experiment with monetization, though that is not the primary focus currently. “The plan is to eventually bring this to entire India,” he said.

A growing number of startups today are attempting to build solutions for what they call India 2 and India 3 — the users who don’t live in major cities, don’t speak English and are financially not as strong.

ShareChat, a social media platform that serves users in 15 regional languages — but not English — said recently it has raised $100 million in a round led by Twitter. The app serves more than 60 million users each month, a figure it wants to double in the next year.

Twitter to test a new filter for spam and abuse in the Direct Message inbox

By Sarah Perez

Twitter is testing a new way to filter unwanted messages from your Direct Message inbox. Today, Twitter allows users to set their Direct Message inbox as being open to receiving messages from anyone, but this can invite a lot of unwanted messages, including abuse. While one solution is to adjust your settings so only those you follow can send you private messages, that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people — like reporters, for example — want to have an open inbox in order to have private conversations and receive tips.

This new experiment will test a filter that will move unwanted messages, including those with offensive content or spam, to a separate tab.

Unwanted messages aren’t fun. So we’re testing a filter in your DM requests to keep those out of sight, out of mind. pic.twitter.com/Sg5idjdeVv

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) August 15, 2019

Instead of lumping all your messages into a single view, the Message Requests section will include the messages from people you don’t follow, and below that, you’ll find a way to access these newly filtered messages.

Users would have to click on the “Show” button to even read these, which protects them from having to face the stream of unwanted content that can pour in at times when the inbox is left open.

And even upon viewing this list of filtered messages, all the content itself isn’t immediately visible.

In the case that Twitter identifies content that’s potentially offensive, the message preview will say the message is hidden because it may contain offensive content. That way, users can decide if they want to open the message itself or just click the delete button to trash it.

The change could allow Direct Messages to become a more useful tool for those who prefer an open inbox, as well as an additional means of clamping down on online abuse.

It’s also similar to how Facebook Messenger handles requests — those from people you aren’t friends with are relocated to a separate Message Requests area. And those that are spammy or more questionable are in a hard-to-find Filtered section below that.

It’s not clear why a feature like this really requires a “test,” however — arguably, most people would want junk and abuse filtered out. And those who for some reason did not, could just toggle a setting to turn off the filter.

Instead, this feels like another example of Twitter’s slow pace when it comes to making changes to clamp down on abuse. Facebook Messenger has been filtering messages in this way since late 2017. Twitter should just launch a change like this, instead of “testing” it.

The idea of hiding — instead of entirely deleting — unwanted content is something Twitter has been testing in other areas, too. Last month, for example, it began piloting a new “Hide Replies” feature in Canada, which allows users to hide unwanted replies to their tweets so they’re not visible to everyone. The tweets aren’t deleted, but rather placed behind an extra click — similar to this Direct Message change.

Twitter is updating is Direct Message system in other ways, too.

At a press conference this week, Twitter announced several changes coming to its platform, including a way to follow topics, plus a search tool for the Direct Message inbox, as well as support for iOS Live Photos as GIFs, the ability to reorder photos and more.

8 million Android users tricked into downloading 85 adware apps from Google Play

By Zack Whittaker

Dozens of Android adware apps disguised as photo taking and editing apps have been caught serving ads that would take over users’ screens as part of a fraudulent money-making scheme.

Security firm Trend Micro said it found 85 individual apps downloaded more than eight million times from the Google Play — all of which have since been removed from the app store.

More often than not adware apps will run on a user’s device and will silently serve and click ads in the background and without the user’s knowledge to generate ad revenue. But these apps were particularly brazen and sneaky, one of the researchers said.

“It isn’t your run-of-the-mill adware family,” said Ecular Xu, a mobile threat response engineer at Trend Micro. “Apart from displaying advertisements that are difficult to close, it employs unique techniques to evade detection through user behavior and time-based triggers.”

The researchers discovered that the apps would keep a record when they were installed and sit dormant for around half-an-hour. After the delay, the app would hide its icon and create a shortcut on the user’s home screen, the security firm said. That, they say, helped to protect the app from being deleted if the user decided to drag and drop the shortcut to the ‘uninstall’ section of the screen.

“These ads are shown in full screen,” said Xu. “Users are forced to view the whole duration of the ad before being able to close it or go back to app itself.”

When the app unlocked, it displayed ads on the user’s home screen. The code also checks to make sure it doesn’t show the same ad too frequently, the researchers said.

Worse, the ads can be remotely configured by the fraudster, allowing ads to be displayed more frequently than the default five minute intervals.

Trend Micro provided a list of the apps — including Super Selfie Camera, Cos Camera, Pop Camera, and One Stroke Line Puzzle — all of which had a million downloads each.

Users about to install the apps had a dead giveaway: most of the apps had appalling reviews, many of which had as many one-star reviews as they did five-stars, with users complaining about the deluge of pop-up ads.

Google does not typically comment on app removals beyond acknowledging their removal from Google Play.

Read more:

YouTube shuts down music companies’ use of manual copyright claims to steal creator revenue

By Sarah Perez

YouTube is making a change to its copyright enforcement policies around music used in videos, which may result in an increased number of blocked videos in the shorter term — but overall, a healthier ecosystem in the long-term. Going forward, copyright owners will no longer be able to monetize creator videos with very short or unintentional uses of music via YouTube’s “Manual Claiming” tool. Instead, they can choose to prevent the other party from monetizing the video or they can block the content. However, YouTube expects that by removing the option to monetize these sorts of videos themselves, some copyright holders will instead just leave them alone.

“One concerning trend we’ve seen is aggressive manual claiming of very short music clips used in monetized videos. These claims can feel particularly unfair, as they transfer all revenue from the creator to the claimant, regardless of the amount of music claimed,” explained YouTube in a blog post.

To be clear, the changes only involve YouTube’s Manual Claiming tool which is not how the majority of copyright violations are handled today. Instead, the majority of claims are created through YouTube’s Content ID match system. This system scans videos uploaded to YouTube against a database of files submitted to the site by copyright owners. Then, when a match is found, the copyright holder owner can choose to block the video or monetize it themselves, and track the video’s viewership stats. 

The Manual Claiming tool, on the other hand, is only offered to partners who understand how Content ID works. It allows them to search through publicly available YouTube videos to look for those containing their content and apply a claim when a match is found.

The problem with the Manual Claiming policy is that is was impacting creator content even when the use of the claimed music in videos was very short — even a second long — or unintentional. For example, a creator who was vlogging may have walked past a store that was playing the copyrighted song, but then could lose the revenue from their video as a result.

In April, YouTube said it was looking to address this problem. And just ahead of this year’s VidCon, YouTube announced several well-received changes to the Manual Claiming Policy. It began to require that copyright owners specify the timestamp in the video where the claim occurs — a change that YouTube hoped would create additional friction and cut down on abuse.

Creators were also given tools of their own that let them easily remove the clip or replace the infringing content with free-to-use tracks.

These newly announced changes go even further as they remove the ability for the copyright owner to monetize the infringing video at all. Copyright holders can now only prevent the creators themselves from monetizing the video, or they can block the content. However, given the new creator tools for handling infringing content, it’s likely that creators in those situations would just address the problem content in order to keep their video online.

“As always, the best way to avoid these issues is to not use unlicensed content in your videos, even when it’s unintentional music playing in the background,” noted YouTube.

It also urged creators to utilize its resources like the YouTube Audio Library and to read up on YouTube’s dispute process policies before uploading content that the creator believes is a copyright exception due to  Fair Use.

YouTube says the changes will apply to all new manual claims, starting in mid-September.

Once enforcement begins, copyright owners who repeatedly fail to adhere to the policies will lose access to the Manual Claiming tool.

The response from the creator community, not surprisingly, has been positive as creators thanked YouTube for finally listening to them and responding to their concerns over this sort of copyright claim abuse.

🥁New today

A policy preventing Copyright owners from making $ on manual claims for:

🎵Short song clips (ex: 5 sec of a song)
🎵Unintentional audio (ex:🎶from passing cars)

Claimants can still block monetization or the video itself, but timestamps help you edit out the claim.

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) August 15, 2019

 

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