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Today — April 2nd 2020Your RSS feeds

Disney+ beat Netflix in recent US downloads (report)

By Anthony Ha

Netflix may still dominate global streaming, but Disney+ has made a huge splash in the United States, where it launched in November.

That much was pretty clear already, and other reports have already suggested that Disney+ was the most downloaded app and biggest search trend in the United States last year. Now a new report from mobile intelligence company Apptopia and customer engagement platform Braze suggests that Disney’s streaming service has continued its spectacular success into 2020.

The report examines the months leading up to and after the service’s U.S. launch, and it includes charts of the most popular streaming apps for the first three months of 2020.

According to those charts, Netflix was the most downloaded streaming app globally, with 59.1 million downloads, followed by YouTube at 39.4 million. Disney+ (which is currently launching across Europe and India) was number seven on the list, with 17.5 million downloads.

In the United States however, Disney+ leads with 14.1 million downloads, versus 11.9 million for Netflix (which may have already saturated the U.S. market) and 8.1 million for Hulu (which is also owned primarily by Disney).

Lest you think this is purely a one-on-one contest between Netflix and Disney, it’s also worth noting that neither of them wins on time spent in-app — instead, it’s YouTube Kids that wins in both the United States and globally.

Apptopia/Braze report

Image Credits: Apptopia and Braze

And yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to even more streaming, with the report showing a 30.7% increase in streaming sessions in March

The report suggests that the success of Disney+ means that there’s still room for new streaming services. (It might, however, simply reflect Disney’s dominance of the entertainment world. It remains to be seen whether Quibi, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max can achieve similar success as they launch in the coming months.)

The report also looks at strategies that successfully drive engagement, as measured by daily active users. It points out that the most popular brands are 21% more likely to send push notifications and 300% more likely to send in-app messages. It also concludes that “content that creates fandom is king”:

Adult Swim’s cartoon series Rick and Morty proved to be the most effective content for generating both short-term and long-term monthly active users (MAU). Over the course of the most recent season of Rick and Morty, the Adult Swim app’s daily active users (DAU) increased by 504%. Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and sporting events also drove DAU growth in a meaningful way.

 

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Netflix is currently down for many users around the world

By Catherine Shu

Netflix is currently experiencing outages around the world, but affecting mostly users in the United States and Europe. According to Down Detector, users began reporting issues around 12PM Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, and many people are still unable to connect to the streaming service on different platforms, including mobile, PCs and smart TVs.

Many people around the world are relying on Netflix for entertainment while under lockdown or quarantine measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Both Netflix’s status and help pages have notes saying “We are currently experiencing a higher than normal wait time for support via phone and chat. Please try again later or check our online help center for answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for your patience.” It is also fielding issues through its customer support Twitter account.

On March 21, Netflix said that in response to the European Union’s request for streaming services to use telecommunications networks more efficiently, it had developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on them by 25% and deployed it in Italy, Spain, the rest of the Europe and the United Kingdom before rolling it out to other places including India.

88 out of top 200 US cities have seen internet speeds decline this past week, 3 cities by more than 40%

By Sarah Perez

The impacts of telecommuting, shelter-in-place laws and home quarantines resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak are starting to impact broadband speeds across a number of U.S. cities, a new report has found. According to broadband analysis site BroadbandNow, 88 out of the top 200 most populous U.S. cities analyzed have now experienced some form of network degradation over the past week, compared with the 10 weeks prior, as more people are going online to work from home, video chat and stream movies and TV to keep themselves entertained. In a small handful of cities over the past week, there have even been significant degradations with download speeds dropping more than 40%, compared with the 10 weeks prior.

It’s not necessarily the areas hit hardest by the spread of the novel coronavirus that are experiencing the worst problems.

Cities including LA, Chicago, Brooklyn and San Francisco have seen little or no disruption in download speeds, the report claims. Seattle is also holding up well.

But New York City, now considered the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., saw download speeds drop by 24% last week, compared to the previous 10-week range. That said, NYC home network connections, which have a median speed of nearly 52 Mbps, are managing.

The good news is that in the majority of markets, network speeds are holding up.

But of the 88 out of 200 cities that saw declines, more than two dozen saw dips of either 20% below range or more, the data indicates.

These include:

Austin, TX (-44%); Charlotte, NC (-24%); Fayetteville, NC (-22%); Fort Lauderdale, FL (-29%); Hialeah, FL (-21%); Houston, TX (-24%); Irvine, CA (-20%); Jersey City, NJ (-25%); Kansas City, MO (-25%); Lawrenceville, GA (-24%); Littleton, CO (-22%); Marietta, GA (-29%); Miami, FL (-27%); Nashville, TN (-20%); New York, NY (-24%); Omaha, NE (-24%); Overland Park, KS (-33%); Oxnard, CA (-42%); Plano, TX (-31%); Raleigh, NC (-20%); Rochester, NY (-33%); St. Louis, MO (-21%) St. Paul, MN (-29%); San Jose, CA (-38%); Scottsdale, AZ (-32%); Washington, DC (-30%); and Winston-Salem, NC (-41%).

Three cities, in particular, were seeing serious network degradations of over 40%: Austin, TX (-44%), Winston Salem, NC (-41%), and Oxnard, CA (-42%). San Jose, CA was nearing this range, with a drop of 38%.

Internet service providers have been responding to the health crisis by suspending data caps, increasing base-level speeds and extending free access to low-income families during this time. But their ability to keep up with this level of high demand is being tested.

Streaming services, being one of the larger draws on bandwidth, have been lowering the quality of their streams to use less network capacity, as U.S. connectivity needs have grown. Yesterday, for example, YouTube announced it would default to SD connections to tame bandwidth demands. Amazon and Netflix have reduced stream quality in Europe. But despite record levels of network traffic in the U.S., Netflix hasn’t made any commitments to do the same in the U.S. Today, Netflix had an hour-long service interruption impacting some U.S. and European users.

Another area of concern is how well more rural areas will hold up with new stay-at-home and work-from-home orders in place. Often, these markets are only served by legacy technologies like DSL . So far, they’ve held up, BroadbandNow reports, but this could still change.

Game downloads will be throttled to manage internet congestion

By Devin Coldewey

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 percent 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, since 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.

Using 25% lower bandwidth, Disney+ launches in UK, Ireland and 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

By Ingrid Lunden

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching across 7 markets in Europe — but doing so using reduced bandwidth given the strain on broadband networks as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic. From today, it will be live in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland; Disney also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7. It’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Caught in the crossfire of Covid-19

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught in the crossfire of world events.

The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming media. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home, and many people are turning to their televisions and other screens for diversion and information.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain or distract people who are now sheltering in place. And that has put a huge strain on broadband networks. So, to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) that it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.”

There are now dozens of places to get an online video fix, but Disney has a lot of valuable cards in its hand, specifically in the form of a gigantic catalog of famous, premium content, and the facilities to produce significantly more at scale, dwarfing the efforts (valiant or great as they are) from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Apple .

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years.

In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

Netflix is reducing its traffic on ISPs by 25% in India

By Manish Singh

Netflix said on Tuesday that it is lowering its traffic on network providers by 25% in India for a period of 30 days, following a similar move in Europe in a bid to reduce the congestion on internet pipelines.

The American giant said that despite lowering the strain it puts on internet service providers, it will “maintain the quality” of its service. Amazon Prime Video said it has also started to lower the data consumption that streaming takes up on its platform, while local services Disney’s Hotstar, Times Internet’s MX Player and Zee5 say they are working to enforce similar measures.

Vijay Venkataramanan, Director of Post-Production at Netflix India, offers clarity on how reducing the traffic would impact the quality of video streams.

“Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25% while also maintaining the quality of our service. So consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan – whether it’s Ultra-High, High or Standard Definition. We believe that this will provide significant relief to congested networks and will be deploying it in India for the next 30 days,” Ken Florance, VP Content Delivery of Netflix, said in a statement to TechCrunch.

TechCrunch understands that Netflix, which maintains several different streams for a single title, is removing the highest bandwidth streams as part of this move. For most Netflix subscribers in India, this wouldn’t affect them.

The mobile-only plan that Netflix introduced in India last year is its most popular tier in the country, a person familiar with the matter said. Both mobile-only plan and the basic plan, the immediate advanced tier above it, offer limit streaming in standard definition.

Netflix’s announcement follows a local telecom group’s (Cellular Operators Association of India) appeal to on-demand video streaming services to put less burden on internet pipelines that are facing surge in usage as more people stay and work from home in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.

A report by Bank of America, obtained by TechCrunch, said this week that internet service providers in India were witnessing a 10% surge in the volume of daily traffic and data consumption. The firm analyzed traffic at internet exchanges and spoke with internet service providers to reach that conclusion, it said in the report.

More to follow…

Facebook and Disney to downgrade streaming quality in Europe due to COVID-19

By Natasha Lomas

Facebook is temporarily downgrading the quality of video streaming in Europe on its social platforms Facebook and Instagram in response to a call for action from the European Commission, per Reuters.

Disney has also said it will work to shrink bandwidth used by its streaming service, Disney+, which is due to begin launching in Europe from tomorrow.

Last week Netflix, YouTube and Amazon said they would switch to SD streaming by default in the region.

The EU’s executive has expressed concerned about the load on Internet infrastructure during the coronavirus crisis as scores of citizens log on from home to work or try to keep themselves entertained during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Telcos in the region have reported significant increases in traffic as EU Member States have called for or instructed citizens to stay at home during the public health emergency.

Collectively, streaming platforms account for a major chunk of global Internet traffic. Online video accounted for more than 60% of the total downstream volume of traffic per a 2019 Sandvine report — while in another report last month it said YouTube alone accounted for a quarter of all mobile traffic.

“To help alleviate any potential network congestion, we will temporarily reduce bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in Europe,” a Facebook spokesman also told Reuters yesterday.

We’ve reached out to Facebook with questions.

Per Reuters the measure will remain in place for as long as there are concerns about the region’s Internet infrastructure.

In related news Disney is pressing ahead with a planned launch of its new video streaming service, Disney+, in Europe starting from tomorrow but Bloomberg reports it will also take measures to reduce bandwidth utilization by at least 25% in European markets.

“We will be monitoring Internet congestion and working closely with Internet service providers to further reduce bitrates as necessary to ensure they are not overwhelmed by consumer demand,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer division, in a statement.

Last week the company said it would postpone the launch of Disney+ in India after the biggest local attraction — the Indian Premier League cricket tournament — was rescheduled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

‘The Lovebirds’ reportedly skipping theaters and heading to Netflix

By Anthony Ha

Netflix is picking up “The Lovebirds,” an upcoming romantic comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae.

“The Lovebirds” reunites Nanjiani with director Michael Showalter. Their previous collaboration, “The Big Sick,” was distributed by Amazon Studios, who gave it a theatrical release before moving to streaming.

This is part of the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced Hollywood studios to scramble as theaters close amidst a broader push for social distancing. Responses have ranged from delaying major releases to releasing movies early, either as digital rentals or via subscription streaming services like Disney+.

Paramount has already delayed a number of its releases, including “The Lovebirds” (originally scheduled for April 3) and “A Quiet Place II.” This is the first time the outbreak has prompted one of the major studios to have cancel a theatrical release entirely in favor of Netflix, but Paramount had an existing deal with the streamer and previously chose to distribute “The Cloverfield Paradox” via Netflix rather than theaters.

There does not appear to be an official announcement or release date yet. Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter are both reporting on the deal.

This approach likely makes more sense for a mid-budget romantic comedy like “The Lovebirds” than it does for a big-budget blockbuster — but according to The Wrap, Warner Bros. is even considering a streaming release for this summer’s “Wonder Woman.”

Daily Crunch: Amazon opens its first cashier-less grocery store

By Anthony Ha

Amazon expands its Just Walk Out technology beyond convenience stores, Intuit acquires Credit Karma in its biggest acquisition ever and Grab raises hundreds of millions of dollars. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 25, 2020.

1. Amazon opens its first cashierless grocery store

Amazon is opening its first grocery store to pilot the use of the retailer’s cashier-less “Just Walk Out” technology, which previously powered 25 Amazon Go convenience stores in a handful of major U.S. metros. The store is 10,400 square feet overall, making it the largest use of Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology to date.

Based in the company’s hometown of Seattle, the new Amazon Go Grocery store allows customers to shop for everyday grocery items like fresh produce, meat, seafood, bakery items, household essentials, dairy, easy-to-make dinner options, beer, wine and spirits and more.

2. Intuit confirms that it is buying Credit Karma for $7.1B in cash and stock

Intuit announced that it plans to acquire Credit Karma — the fintech startup with more than 100 million registered users, 37 million of them active monthly users, which lets people check their credit scores, shop for credit cards and loans, file taxes and more. The financial software giant says it will pay $7.1 billion for the acquisition, making this Intuit’s biggest-ever acquisition to date, and one of the biggest in the category of privately held fintech companies.

3. Grab raises up to $856M to boost payments business as rumors swirl of a merger with rival Gojek

Southeast Asian on-demand transport startup Gojek denies that it is involved in talks to merge with Grab, but today Grab announced a piece of news that could either divert attention from that story — or more likely stoke the fires of speculation that it is indeed gearing up for a deal.

4. New Netflix feature reveals the top 10 most popular programs on its service

The new top 10 list doesn’t offer any hard metrics, but it can at least help point to popular programming and highlight breakout successes Netflix might have in the future. The feature is rolling out now to users worldwide, so you may not see your list quite yet.

5. Instead of IPOs and acquisitions, exiting to community is one alternative

Greg Brodsky, who helps cooperative startups through the Start.coop accelerator, pointed to the “exit to community” idea as an option for startups looking to transition out of the more traditional Silicon Valley model. In this framework, some portion of the company is sold back to the workers or end users. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Revolut raises $500M at a $5.5B valuation

Revolut is building a financial service to replace traditional bank accounts. You can open an account from an app in just a few minutes. You can then receive, send and spend money from the app or use a debit card.

7. Firefox to enable DNS-over-HTTPS by default to US users

Mozilla will bring its new DNS-over-HTTPS security feature to all Firefox users in the U.S. by default in the coming weeks, the browser maker has confirmed. It follows a year-long effort to test the new security feature, which is designed to make browsing the web more secure and private.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Disney blocks John Oliver’s new episode critical of India’s PM Modi

By Manish Singh

Hotstar, India’s largest on-demand video streaming service with over 300 million users, has blocked the newest episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a move that has angered many of its customers ahead of Disney+’s launch in one of the world’s largest entertainment markets next month.

In the episode, aired hours before the U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India, Oliver talked about some of the questionable policies enforced by the ruling government in India and recent protests against “controversial figure” Modi’s citizenship measures.

The episode is available to stream in India through HBO’s official channel on YouTube where it has garnered over 4 million views. Hotstar is the exclusive syndicating partner of HBO, Showtime, and ABC in India.

Spokespeople of Star India, which operates Hotstar, and Disney, which owns the major Indian broadcasting network, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the governing agency which regulates information, broadcasts, movies, and the press in India, said the government was not involved in any censorship discussions.

Numerous people in India began speculating on Monday whether Hotstar, which like Netflix and Amazon Prime Vide self-censors some content, would stream the new episode at 6am on Tuesday, when it typically makes new episodes of Oliver’s show available on the platform.

It became very apparent on Tuesday that the Disney-owned platform, which has a knack of censoring numerous sensitive subjects including sketches that make fun of its sponsors, was not going to risk upsetting the ruling party.

Last year, Amazon also removed an episode of the CBS show “Madam Secretary”, in which references to Hindu nationalism and extremists were made from its streaming service in India. Netflix also pulled an episode in Saudi Arabia of Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” that criticized the kingdom’s crown prince.

New Netflix feature reveals the top 10 most popular programs on its service

By Sarah Perez

Netflix is adding a new feature that will rank the 10 most popular programs on its service in your country, the company announced today. Its top 10 Overall list will display the most popular programs from across all Netflix content, including both movies and shows. In addition, separate top 10 lists for just movies and shows will be available when you switch over to either the Movies or TV show tab in the app.

These lists will be updated daily, says Netflix, and are intended to help users find out what titles everyone is watching. Before, Netflix had rows featuring both popular and trending content — but these didn’t rank content in order.

The shows and films making the list will also receive a special “top 10” badge wherever they appear on Netflix. That means if you’re searching for something to watch or browsing through your recommendations, it will be easier to see if a top 10 program is among your search results or personalized suggestions.

Netflix says this is the first time it has ever rolled out a top 10 ranking system. But the company has been experimenting with the top 10 feature before today in markets including the U.K. and Mexico. Users responded well to those additions, which is why the company decided to roll out its top 10 lists worldwide, the company says.

The Top 10 list will appear on your Netflix homescreen, but the list’s actual position will vary based on how relevant the shows and films are to you. For example, if you only watched documentaries and horror, a top 10 list filled with teen rom-com’s and comedies may not appear as high on the screen for you as it would for others.

The list itself is also designed in a way that makes it stand out from the other rows of recommendations. Instead of just displaying image thumbnails of the titles, it includes big numerals to show how those titles are ranking.

“When you watch a great movie or TV show, you share it with family and friends, or talk about it at work, so other people can enjoy it too. We hope these top 10 lists will help create more of these shared moments, while also helping all of us find something to watch more quickly and easily,” explained Netflix in a statement about the launch.

The feature arrives at a time when Netflix is feeling the pressure from increased streaming competition. User growth in the U.S. has been falling short, at the same time that rights holders pull back their content for their own rival streaming services, like NBCU’s Peacock and AT&T/WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, for example. Netflix is producing more originals than ever, but many of these are now of middling quality or are cheaper-to-produce reality programs. It hasn’t yet won a series race at the Emmy’s and its big bet on Scorsese’s “The Irishman” was one of the bigger snubs from this year’s Oscars.

The company has never been fully transparent about viewership metrics. It only releases numbers when a show or film breaks a milestone of some sort — like “The Witcher” and the 76 million households who “chose to watch” the series (meaning they watched for at least two minutes, indicating an intentional choice). The company also dismisses third-party estimates, like those from Nielsen, as undercounting its true viewer numbers.

The top 10 list doesn’t offer any hard metrics, but can at least help point to popular programming and other breakout successes Netflix may have in the future.

The top 10 lists are rolling out now to users worldwide, so you may not see your list just yet. The above photos are only samples, not the current top 10 in a specific market, Netflix notes.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Locke & Key’ offers spooky delights

By Anthony Ha

At times, it can be hard to tell exactly who “Locke & Key” was made for.

Adapted from a comic book series written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, the show tells the story of the Locke family after they move into the mysterious Keyhouse, where they soon discover hidden keys that can be used for a variety of magical purposes.

With its emphasis on adolescent romance and magical powers, “Locke & Key” often feels like a young adult adaptation, but it also strays into darker territory, with plenty of horror, as well as a persuasive focus on the family’s ongoing trauma following the violent death of husband/father Rendell Locke.

Despite some quibbles, your Original Content podcast hosts agree that the show manages to balance these different elements effectively, with surprising plot twists, creepy visuals and a particularly compelling sibling relationship between the two teenaged Lockes, Tyler (played by Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones).

In addition to reviewing the show, we also discuss the announcement that Netflix has acquired Adam McKay’s next film, “Don’t Look Up,” which will star Jennifer Lawrence. We had less to say about the movie itself and more about our respective attitudes towards a potential asteroid apocalypse.

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
0:35 “Don’t Look Up” discussion
14:19 “Locke and Key” spoiler-free review
29:48 “Locke and Key” spoiler discussion

Netflix acquires Adam McKay’s asteroid comedy ‘Don’t Look Up,’ Jennifer Lawrence will star

By Anthony Ha

Netflix announced today that it has acquired “Don’t Look Up,” a comedy written and directed by Adam McKay, with Jennifer Lawrence attached to star.

The story sounds like a funhouse reflection of one of today’s other headlines, focusing on two “low-level astronomers” who try to warn the world about the dangers of an asteroid that’s approaching Earth. Netflix has an aggressive timeline in place, with shooting scheduled to start in April, followed by a planned release later this year.

While McKay started his career as a “Saturday Night Live” writer and then the director of Will Ferrell comedies like “Anchorman” (he and Ferrell also co-founded Funny or Die), the focus of his recent work has shifted to business and politics. He wrote (or co-wrote) and directed “The Big Short” and “Vice,” and he’s also an executive producer and director on “Succession.”

It’s also worth noting that McKay and Lawrence have another project in development — a movie about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes that’s based on John Carreyrou’s book “Bad Blood.”

“I’m so thrilled to make this movie with Jen Lawrence,” McKay said. “She’s what folks in the 17th century used to call ‘a dynamite act.’ And the fact that Netflix sees this movie as a worldwide comedy sets the bar high for me and my team in an exciting and motivating way.”

Online learning marketplace Udemy raises $50M at a $2B valuation from Japanese publisher Benesse

By Ingrid Lunden

The internet has, for better or worse, become the default platform for people seeking information, and today one of the companies leveraging that to deliver educational content has raised some funding to fuel its next stage of growth. Udemy, which provides a marketplace offering some 150,000 different online learning courses from business analytics through to ukulele lessons, has picked up $50 million from a single investor, Benesse Holdings, the Japan-based educational publisher that has been Udemy’s partner in the country. The investment values Udemy at $2 billion post-money, it said.

This is a big jump since the startup last raised money, a $60 million round in 2016 that valued it at around $710 million (according to PitchBook data). With this round, Udemay has raised around $130 million in funding.

The plan will be to use the funding to expand all of Udemy’s business, which includes a vast array of courses for consumers that can be purchased a la carte — to date used by some 50 million students; as well as enterprise services, where Udemy works with companies like Adidas, General Mills, Toyota, Wipro, Pinterest and Lyft and others — 5,000 in all — to develop and administer subscription-based professional development courses. Udemy’s president Darren Shimkus describes this as a “Netflix-style” model, where users are presented with a dashboard listing a range of courses that they can take on demand.

Udemy will also be looking at improving how courses are delivered, as well as consider new areas it might move into more deeply to fit what Shimkus described as the biggest challenge for the company, and for the global workforce overall:

“The biggest challenge is for learners is to figure out what skills are emerging, what they can do to compete best in the global market,” he said. “We’re in a world that’s changing so quickly that skills that were valued just three or four years ago are no longer relevant. People are confused and don’t know what they should be learning.” That’s a challenge that also stands for businesses, he added, which are trying to work out what he described as their “three to five year human capital roadmap.”

The investment will also include a specific boost for Udemy’s international operations, starting with Japan but extending also to other markets where Udemy has seen strong growth, such as Brazil and India.

“We’ve worked closely with Benesse for several years, and this investment is a testament to the strength of our relationship and the opportunity ahead of us,” said Gregg Coccari, CEO of Udemy, in a statement. “Udemy is on a mission to improve lives through learning, and so is Benesse. 2020 will be a milestone year where we serve millions more students and enable thousands of businesses and governments to upskill their employees. This growth wouldn’t be possible without our expert instructors who partner with us every step of the way as we build this business.”

Benesse’s business spans instructional materials for children through to courses for adults both online and in in-person training centers — one of the better-known brands that it owns is Berlitz, which operates both virtual courses as well as a network of physical schools — and Udemy has been developing content alongside Benesse both in Japanese as well as English, Shimkus said, targeting both consumer and business markets.

“Access to the latest workplace skills is crucial for success everywhere, including Japan; and Udemy is the world’s largest marketplace enabling professional transformation. With this partnership, we envision a world where more people can continue to learn continuously throughout their lives,” said Tamotsu Adachi, Representative Director, President and CEO of Benesse Holdings Inc., in a statement. “Udemy and Benesse are incredibly synergistic businesses. This investment is the next progression in our business relationship and demonstrates our confidence in what we can accomplish together.”

Udemy’s expansion comes at a time when online education overall has generally continued to grow, although not without bumps.

Among those that compete at least in part with it, Coursera last year announced a $103 million round of funding at a $1 billion+ valuation and made its first acquisition to expand how it teaches programming and other computer science subjects. And in Asia, Byju’s in India is now valued at $8 billion after a quick succession of large growth rounds. We’ve also heard that Age of Learning, which quietly raised at a $1 billion valuation in 2016, is also gearing up for another round.

On the other hand, not all is rosy. Another big name in online learning, Udacity (not to be confused with Udemy), laid off 20% of its workforce amid a larger restructuring; and further afield, Kano — which merges online learning with DIY hardware kits — has also laid off and restructured in recent months. Meanwhile, we don’t seem to hear much these days from LinkedIn Learning, another would-be competitor that was rebranded Lynda.com after it was acquired by the social networking site (itself owned by Microsoft).

Unlike Coursera and others that aim for full degrees that are potentially aiming to disrupt higher education, Udemy focuses on short courses, either simply for the student’s own interest, or potentially for certifications from organizations that either help administer the courses or “own” the subject in question (for example, Cisco for networking certifications, or Microsoft regarding one of its software packages, or the PMI for a course related to project management).

Those courses are delivered by individuals who form the other half of Udemy’s two-sided marketplace. In the 10 years that it’s been in business, Udemy has worked with some 57,000 instructors to develop courses, and in the marketplace model, Shimkus told TechCrunch that those instructors have been netted $350 million in payments to date. (He would not disclose Udemy’s cut on those courses, nor whether the company is currently profitable.)

The company has a lot of areas that it has yet to tackle that present opportunities for how it might evolve. Working with enterprises but with a large base of consumer usage, there is, for example, a lot of scope to develop more data analytics about what is used, what is popular, and how to tailor courses in a better way to fit those models to improve outcomes and engagement. Another area potentially could see Udemy moving deeper into specific subject areas like language learning, where it offers some courses today but has a lot of scope for growing, particularly leaning on what Benesse has with Berlitz. To date, Udemy has made no acquisitions, but that is also an area that Shimkus said could be an option.

Netflix fights new streaming rivals with Samsung partnership

By Sarah Perez

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 exclusive 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 exclusives 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 exclusive content will be published on Samsung Daily, plus Samsung.com, and Samsung’s social channels “for all to enjoy.”

“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.

Netflix fishes for new subscribers in US with free stream of ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’

By Sarah Perez

Netflix is looking to get young adults hooked on its service by making its popular teenage rom-com, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” available to stream for free to everyone in the U.S., including non-subscribers. This isn’t the first time Netflix has offered free streaming — it teased Brits last year by offering an episode of “The Crown” for free, and has run similar tests in markets like India and parts of South America. But this is one of the only times it has targeted the U.S. with such an offer.

Love is in the air! To celebrate, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is available for everybody in The US (and additional selected markets) to watch through March 9! pic.twitter.com/7I0c8omKqg

— Netflix US (@netflix) February 11, 2020

The offer of a free Netflix movie comes at a critical time for the service.

The company has hit a wall in terms of subscriber growth in the U.S., even as it’s expanding worldwide. During last month’s earnings, Netflix missed its forecast for U.S. subscriber growth for the third straight quarter, with just 423,000 domestic subscriber additions. Meanwhile, it surpassed expectations overseas with 8.3 million subscribers added instead of the 7 million expected.

Netflix has downplayed the impact of new streaming services, like Disney+ and Apple TV+, on its U.S. growth. But in reality, Netflix will soon be one of many streaming options for U.S. consumers to choose from — HBO Max, NBCU’s Peacock and mobile-only Quibi are set to arrive this year, filling up an already crowded market.

In addition, Netflix’s slowing growth in the U.S. also can be attributed to, in part, continued price increases for a catalog that’s now more dependent than ever on Netflix’s original programming to keep subscribers hooked. And those originals haven’t always performed well. In Q2, for example, the company even singled out its weak content slate for driving fewer paid net adds than anticipated.

Beyond that, there’s also growing criticism that Netflix’s originals just aren’t as good as they used to be.

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” on the other hand, is more of an exception. While the film itself is a cute, if fairly conventional, high school romance story, it became one of Netflix’s “most viewed” original films to date. The movie, and other Netflix rom-coms like it, were watched by 80 million subscribers over the summer in 2018, the company also said. These films appeal to an underserved market — people hungry for lightweight romances at a time when the industry is delivering anything but.

By year-end 2018, Netflix had greenlit a sequel to its breakout hit. That movie, “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You,” has now arrived — making for a perfect time to promote the original.

Non-members are able to watch the free movie on the web and Android OS now through March 9. No credit card will need to be provided to watch.

Update: Confirmed with Netflix this is not the first time in U.S. It is one of the most high-profile U.S. free streams, however. 

Jam lets you safely share streaming app passwords

By Josh Constine

Can’t afford Netflix and HBO and Spotify and Disney+…? Now there’s an app specially built for giving pals your passwords while claiming to keep your credentials safe. It’s called Jam, and the questionably legal service launched in private beta this morning. Founder John Backus tells TechCrunch in his first interview about Jam that it will let users save login details with local encryption, add friends you can then authorize to access your password for a chosen service, and broadcast to friends which of your subscriptions have room for people to piggyback on.

Jam is just starting to add users off its rapidly growing waitlist that you can join here, but when users get access, it’s designed to stay free to use. In the future, Jam could build a business by helping friends split the costs of subscriptions. There’s clearly demand. Over 80% of 13-24 year olds have given out or used someone else’s online TV password, according a study by Hub of over 2000 US consumers.

“The need for Jam was obvious. I don’t want to find out my ex-girlfriend’s roommate has been using my account again. Everyone shares passwords, but for consumers there isn’t a secure way to do that. Why?” Backus asks. “In the enterprise world, team password managers reflect the reality that multiple people need to access the same account, regularly. Consumers don’t have the same kind of system, and that’s bad for security and coordination.”

Thankfully, Backus isn’t some amateur when it comes to security. The Stanford computer science dropout and Thiel Fellow founded identity verification startup Cognito and decentralized credit scoring app Bloom. “Working in crypto at Bloom and with sensitive data at Cognito, I have a lot of experience building secure products with cryptography at the core.

He also tells me since everything saved in Jam is locally encrypted, even he can’t see it and nothing would be exposed if the company was hacked. It uses similar protocols to 1Password, “Plaintext login information is never sent to our server, nor is your master password” and “we use pretty straightforward public key cryptography.” Remember, your friend could always try to hijack and lock you out, though. And while those protocols may be hardened, TechCrunch can’t verify they’re perfectly implemented and fully secure within Jam.

Whether facilitating password sharing is legal, and whether Netflix and its peers will send an army of lawyers to destroy Jam, remain open questions. We’ve reached out to several streaming companies for comment. When asked on Twitter about Jam helping users run afoul of their terms of service, Backus claims that “plenty of websites give you permission to share your account with others (with vary degrees of constraints) but users often don’t know these rules.” 

However, sharing is typically supposed to be amongst a customer’s own devices or within their household, or they’re supposed to pay for a family plan. We asked Netflix, Hulu, CBS, Disney, and Spotify for comment, and did not receive any on the record comments. However, Spotify’s terms of service specifically prohibit providing your password to any other person or using any other person’s username and password”. Netflix’s terms insist that “the Account Owner should maintain control over the Netflix ready devices that are used to access the service and not reveal the password or details of the Payment Method associated to the account to anyone.”

Some might see Jam as ripping off the original content creators, though Backus claims that “Jam isn’t trying to take money out of anyone’s pocket. Spotify offers [family plan sharing for people under the same roof]. Many other companies offer similar bundled plans. I think people just underutilize things like this and it’s totally fair game.”

Netflix’s Chief Product Officer said in October that the company is monitoring password sharing and it’s looking at “consumer-friendly ways to push on the edges of that.” Meanwhile, The Alliance For Creativity and Entertainment that includes Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Comcast, and major film studios announced that its members will collaborate to address “piracy” including “what facilitates unauthorized access, including improper password sharing and inadequate encryption.”

That could lead to expensive legal trouble for Jam. “My past startups have done well, so I’ve had the pleasure of self-funding Jam so far” Backus says. But if lawsuits emerge or the app gets popular, he might need to find outside investors. “I only launched about 5 hours ago, but I’ll just say that I’m already in the process of upgrading my database tier due to signup growth.”

Eventually, the goal is not to monetize not through a monthly subscription like Backus expects competitors including password-sharing browser extensions might charge. Instead “Jam will make money by helping users save money. We want to make it easy fo users to track what they’re sharing and with whom so that they can settle up the difference at the end of each month” Backus explains. It could charge “either a small fee in exchange for automatically settling debts between users and/or charging a percentage of the money we save users by recommending more efficient sharing setups.” Later, he sees a chance to provide recommendations for optimizing account management across networks of people while building native mobile apps.

“I think Jam is timed perfectly to line up with multiple different booming trends in how people are using the internet”, particularly younger people says Backus. Hub says 42% of all US consumers have used someone else’s online TV service password, while amongst 13 to 24 year olds, 69% have watched Netflix on someone else’s password. “When popularity and exclusivity are combined with often ambiguous, even sometimes nonexistent, rules about legitimate use, it’s almost an invitation to subscribers to share the enjoyment with friends and family” says Peter Fondulas, the principal at Hub and co-author of the study. “Wall Street has already made its displeasure clear, but in spite of that, password sharing is still very much alive and well.”

From that perspective, you could liken Jam to sex education. Password sharing abstinence has clearly failed. At least people should learn how to do it safely.

PROTIP: Feeling lonely? Go to your Netflix settings, click "Sign out of all devices," and wait a few hours.

Voilà! If you check your phone now, you'll find you have several new texts from friends you haven't spoken to in years.

John Backus (@backus) January 15, 2020

Netflix’s movies only won two Oscars this year

By Anthony Ha

Although Netflix received 24 nominations (the most of any studio) at this year’s Oscars, its films only ended up winning two awards.

Laura Dern was named Best Actress in a Supporting Role for playing Nora, a flashy divorce attorney in “Marriage Story” — the only award that “Marriage Story” won from its six nominations.

And “The Irishman” came up empty-handed despite being nominated in 10 categories. Both films were nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, awards that ultimately went to the night’s big winner “Parasite.”

Netflix’s only other Oscar for the evening was for “American Factory,” which won the award for Best Documentary Feature. The film was the first to emerge from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production deal with Netflix. (Despite rumors to the contrary, the Obamas were not on-hand to accept the award.)

Last year, Netflix’s “Roma” won the awards for cinematography, foreign language film and director. There was some speculation that it might have beaten “Green Book” for Best Picture if it had been released by a traditional studio, but it had other disadvantages. For one thing, a foreign language film had never won the big award — until tonight, when “Parasite” emerged victorious.

And perhaps this would have been the year of “Parasite” regardless; it certainly deserved all the awards. Still, “The Irishman” seemed like Netflix’s biggest swing yet. It was made for a reported budget of $160 million, directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese and brought Al Pacino and Robert De Niro back together on-screen. Maybe next year.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s Taylor Swift documentary feels like a guarded self-portrait

By Anthony Ha

“Miss Americana,” a new Netflix documentary about Taylor Swift, is worth watching — if you go in with the right expectations.

At least, that’s according to two out of three hosts of the Original Content podcast. Darrell was the holdout; he didn’t hate the movie or think it was poorly made, but he’s much more skeptical about celebrity culture in general and argues that everyone would be better off ignoring celebrities altogether.

Your other hosts don’t go quite that far. Instead, we admit to a guarded admiration for Swift and her music, and we enjoyed “Miss Americana” as a window into Swift’s world. Not a completely transparent window — despite being directed by Lana Wilson, the film feels like it was guided by Swift’s perspective, focusing on her chosen themes of tabloid persecution and political awakening — but a revealing one nevertheless.

What comes across clearly is the utter insanity of the musician’s life, lived under intense (and often unfair) media scrutiny.

The film also demonstrates the extraordinary talent, ambition and luck that Swift must have needed to get where she is. And it boasts a few glimpses into her songwriting and recording process, and into what appears to have been an agonizing decision to endorse Democrat Phil Bredesen’s ultimately unsuccessful run for one of Tennessee’s Senate seats in 2018.

In addition to reviewing the film, we also discuss Netflix’s decision to make auto-play previews optional.

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’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:28 Netflix auto-play discussion
5:02 “Miss Americana” review

Daily Crunch: Netflix makes autoplay previews optional

By Anthony Ha

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Netflix’s horrible autoplay previews can be turned off

Netflix’s autoplay trailers are now optional. That’s it. That’s the news.

And here’s how to turn them off now: Click “Manage Profiles,” choose your profile, then untick “Autoplay previews while browsing on all devices.”

2. Instagram prototypes letting IGTV creators monetize with ads

Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch that it has internally prototyped an Instagram Partner Program that would let creators earn money by showing advertisements along with their videos. By giving creators a sustainable and hands-off way to generate earnings from IGTV, those creators might be inspired to bring more and higher-quality content to the service.

3. Carta debuts fund to invest in startups that tap into its platform

Carta has created an investing vehicle called Carta Ventures. The well-funded unicorn hopes to foster an ecosystem around its core products and services.

4. SoftBank-backed Fair puts the brakes on weekly car rentals for Uber drivers

When Fair laid off 40% of its staff in October, CEO Scott Painter promised it wasn’t shuttering its leasing services to on-demand fleets. But just one week later, Painter was removed as CEO and replaced in the interim by Adam Hieber, a CFA from Fair investor SoftBank.

5. Is your startup using AI responsibly?

Since they started leveraging the technology, tech companies have received numerous accusations regarding the unethical use of artificial intelligence. Gramener’s Ganes Kesari says that to address the issue, fixing the model is not enough. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. NASA panel recommends Boeing software process reviews after revealing second Starliner issue

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel is recommending that Boeing’s software testing processes undergo a review, following the discovery of another problem with the on-board system that was in operation during the CST-100 Starliner uncrewed Space Station docking test launch in December.

7. Motorola embraces the stylus life on its budget G series

This morning, at an event in Chicago, Motorola introduced two new entries into the G line: the Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus, which will run $300 and $250, respectively.

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