Snapchat and NBC Olympics are again teaming up to produce customized Olympics content for users in the U.S. — this time, for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer. The companies had previously worked together during the Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. The PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games in 2018 reached over 40 million U.S. users, up 25% from the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In addition, 95% of those users were under the age of 35.
This younger demographic is getting harder to reach in the cord-cutting era, as many people forgo pay-TV subscriptions and traditional broadcast networks in favor of on-demand streaming services, like Netflix. That limits the reach of advertisers, impacting NBC’s bottom line.
The Snap partnership helps to fix that, as it offers NBC Olympics a way to sell to advertisers who want to reach younger fans who don’t watch as much — or any — TV. Snapchat today reaches 90% of all 13 to 24 year-olds in the U.S., and 75% of all 13 to 34 year-olds. 210 million people now use Snapchat daily.
NBC Olympics says it’s the exclusive seller of all the new customized content associated with the Games, working in partnership with Snap.
This year, it’s also putting out more content than before.
The company plans to release more than 70 episodes across four daily Snapchat shows leading up to and during the Games. That’s triple the number of episodes it offered in 2018.
For the first time, it’s creating two daily Highlight Shows for Snapchat, which will be updated in near real-time. The shows will include the must-see moments from the day in Tokyo.
In addition, two unscripted shows will air during the Games, each with two episodes per day. One, “Chasing Gold,” which first debuted during PyeongChang 2018, will follow the journeys of Team USA athletes. The second show is new this year, and will be a daily recap of the most memorable moments curated especially for Snapchat users. Both are being produced by The NBCUniversal Digital Lab.
The deal will also see Snap curating daily Our Stories during the Games, as it has done in previous years. The stories will include photos and videos from fans as well as content from the NBC Olympics.
“We know the audience on Snap loves the Olympic Games,” said Gary Zenkel, President, NBC Olympics, in a statement. “After two successful Olympics together, we’re excited to take the partnership to another level and produce even more content and coverage from the Tokyo Olympics tailored for Snapchatters, which also will directly benefit the many NBC Olympics advertisers who seek to engage further with this young and active demographic.”
Snapchat isn’t the only digital destination for Olympics content, however. NBC and Twitter teamed up to stream limited live event coverage, highlights and a daily Olympics show from the Tokyo Games. It was unclear at the time the deal was announced if NBC had opted for Twitter over Snapchat. Now we know that’s not the case — in fact, Snap’s deal with NBC is even bigger than before.
NBCU had said earlier, it expected to exceed $1.2 billion in ad sales for the 2020 Games, which are also presented on NBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, and NBC Sports’ digital platforms.
With distributed workforces all the rage in the tech community these days, startups are trying to build new tools to keep those teams connected and communicating in the ways that make folks most comfortable.
One of these companies is the Orlando, Fla.-based startup, Yac, which just raised $1.5 million in financing from a clutch of investors to reinvent voicemail for teams raised on Slack and Zoom calls.
The digital, distributed workforce is a phenomenon that’s on the rise, and the increasing number of remote workers shows no sign of slacking. Indeed, new statistics indicate that 3% of Americans are working from home full time these days.
Number of Americans working from home fulltime has nearly tripled over past 20 years, and trend is accelerating pic.twitter.com/VE2XS9VM4b
— (@hunterwalk) January 12, 2020
These remote workforces can reduce costs for both young and mature companies alike, but they come with certain trade-offs and can make communication and collaboration more difficult, according to Yac co-founder Justin Mitchell.
He points to the problems with communication and culture at Away, which contributed to the ouster of that company’s chief executive (who was later re-hired).
Yac addresses the issue of providing verbal feedback and communication asynchronously instead of needing to respond in real time. Email and voicemail also perform these asynchronous communication functions, but Mitchell says that they’re just not tools that respond to the needs of the modern workforce.
So far, there are 4,500 messages a month left on Yac’s service, and the company has around 250 daily active users.
A desktop view of Yac’s messaging service in action
Yac was born out of the digital design agency SoFriendly and was initially built for Product Hunt’s Maker Festival. The winning team at the event, Yac, took off as a business when the founding team got a call from Adam Draper, the third-generation venture capital investor. Draper’s Boost VC was an early backer of the company, which went on to collect additional funding from Betaworks and Active Capital.
The key, Mitchell says, is the asynchronous aspect of communication that Yac enables. As a distributed team itself, Yac and SoFriendly knew the perils and annoyances that come from the always-on, real-time communication platforms like Slack or the in-person conference call or video call via Zoom.
“We know a lot of headaches that a fully remote organization runs into,” says Mitchell. “I hope for us to be the next Zoom but for a distributed workforce.”
The company currently has six full-time employees and is using the same freemium model that made Slack so initially compelling to early-stage companies. The free version provides unlimited messaging, but there’s a cap on how long messages will remain active. For paying customers there’s no retention limit and the company provides transcription services and deeper integrations with a team’s workflows, says Mitchell. It’s all at a cost of $8 per-user and the company is launching its first paid plans this month.
“The future of meetings will be asynchronous, in your ears and hands free,” says Pat Matthews, the chief executive and founder of Active Capital. “Just look at any city and you’ll see people are no longer working in cubicles, they’re on the move, in coffee shops and multitasking. That’s the power of building for remote-first instead of office workers.”
Mitchell says the product is good for distributed teams — whether they’re distributed across floors of a building or across cities in the U.S. or around the world.
“Using Yac is kind of like calling over to a friend while you’re working, but because it’s asynchronous you don’t have to bother them. It makes working remotely a lot easier, especially when your team is scattered around the country,” says Charlie Taylor, head of Partnerships, Bose, and an early Yac user, in a statement.
Can the same thing be done with a voicemail or an email? Mitchell acknowledges that it can, but that the experience is clunky and negative. What’s more annoying than a missed call? Getting a Yac is using a Snap -like interface to send a video message.
Snapchat’s most popular yet under-exploited feature is finally getting the spotlight in 2020. Starting in February with a global release, your customizable Bitmoji avatar will become the star of a full-motion cartoon series called Bitmoji TV. It’s a massive evolution for Bitmoji beyond the chat stickers and comic strip-style Stories where they were being squandered to date.
Creating original in-house shows for its Discover section that can’t be copied could help Snapchat differentiate from the plethora of short-form video platforms out there ranging from YouTube to Facebook Watch to TikTok. Bitmoji TV could also up the quality of Discover, which still feels like a tabloid magazine rack full of scantly clad women, gross-out imagery, and other shocking content merely meant to catch the eye and draw a click.
With Bitmoji TV, your avatar and those of your friends will appear in regularly-scheduled adventures ranging from playing the crew of Star Treky spaceship to being secret agents to falling in love with robots or becoming zombies. The trailer Snapchat released previews an animation style reminiscent of Netflix’s Big Mouth.
TechCrunch asked Snap for more details, including how long episodes will be, how often they’ll be released, whether they’ll include ads, and if the company acquired anyone or brought on famous talent to produce the series. A Snap spokesperson declined to provide more details, but sent over this statement: “Bitmoji TV isn’t available in your network yet, but stay tuned for the global premiere soon!”
The Snapchat Show page for Bitmoji TV notes it is coming in February 2020. Users can visit here on mobile to subscribe to Bitmoji TV so it shows up prominently on their Discover page, or turn on notifications about its new content.
Snap has had a tough few years as many of its core features have been ruthlessly copied by the Facebook family of apps. Instagram Stories killed Snap’s growth for years and effectively stole the broadcast medium from its inventor. Facebook also ramped up it augmented reality selfie filters, added more ephemeral messaging features, and launched Watch as a competitor to Snapchat Discover.
Two years ago I wrote that Facebook was crazy not to be competing with Bitmoji too. Six months later we were first to report Facebook Avatars was in the works, and this year they launched as Messenger chat stickers in Australia with plans for a global release in 2019 or early 2020. But Facebook’s slow movement here, Google’s half-assed entry, and Twitter’s lack of an attempt have given Snapchat’s Bitmoji a massive headstart. And now Snap is finally leveraging it.
“TV” is actually a return to Bitmoji’s roots. The startup Bitstrips originally offered an app for customizing the face, hair, clothes, and more of your avatar and then creating comic strips for them to appear in. Snap acquired Bitstrips back in 2016 for just $64.2 million — a steal not far off from Facebook snatching Instagram for under a billion. The standalone Bitmoji app blew up as soon as Snapchat began offering the avatars as chat stickers. It had over 330 million downloads as of April according to Sensor Tower despite Snapchat now letting you create your avatar in its main app.
Eventually, Snap began expanding Bitmoji’s uses. In 2017 Bitmoji went 3D and you could start overlaying them as augmented reality characters on your Snaps. The next year Snap improved their graphics, then launched the Snap Kit developer platform and Bitmoji Kit. This allows apps to build atop Snapchat login and use your Bitmoji as a profile pic. Soon they were appearing as Fitbit smart watch faces, alongside your Venmo transaction, and on Snapchat-sold merchandise from t-shirts to mugs. It’s part of a wise strategy to beat copycats by allowing allies to use real thing rather than building their own knock-off. That’s fueled the “Snapback” comeback which has seen Snap’s share price climb out of the gutter at $5.79 at the start of 2019 to $16.09 now.
One of Snap smartest innovations was Bitmoji Stories — the ancestor to Bitmoji TV. These daily Stories let you tap frame-by-frame through short comic strip-style interactions starring your avatar. Occasionally Bitmoji Stories would include rudimentary animation, but most frames were still images with text bubbles. Bitmoji could once again drive a narrative, rather than just being a communication tool. Still, they seem underutilized.
In 2019, Snapchat wised up. Bitmoji have become nearly ubiquitous amongst teens and Snapchat’s 210 million daily users. They’re the Google or Kleenex of cartoonish personalized avatars. Their goofy nature is also a perfect fit for Snapchat, and a reason they’re tough for stiffer and older tech giants to convincingly copy.
In April, Snap announced its new games platform inside its messaging feature that let you play as your Bitmoji against friends’ avatars in games ranging from Mario Party ripoff Bitmoji Party to tennis, shoot-em ups, and cooking competitions. Snap injects ads into the games, making Bitmoji key to its efforts to monetize its central messaging use case. Last month it launched custom and branded clothing for Bitmoji, which could open opportunities to earn money selling premium outfits or showing off brand sponsorships.
To truly take advantage of Bitmoji’s unique popularity, though, Snap needed to build longer-form experiences with the avatars at the center that . Stickers and Stories and games were fun, but none felt like must-see content. With Bitmoji TV, Snap may have found a way to get users to drag their friends into the app. Since everyone sees their own Bitmoji as the star, the cartoons could be more compelling then ones with impersonal characters you might find elsewhere around the web.
But Bitmoji TV’s success will depend largely on the quality of the writing. If your avatar is constantly getting into funny, meme-worthy situations, you’ll keep coming back to watch. But Snap’s teen audience has a keen nose for inauthentic bullsh*t. If the Shows feel forced, too childish, or boring, Bitmoji TV will flop. Snap would be savvy to invest in great Hollywood talent to produce the episodes.
High quality Bitmoji TV shorts could rescue Snapchat Discover from its own mediocrity. There are a few strong brands like ESPN SportsCenter on the platform, and Snap has several original Shows with over 25 million unique viewers. It’s also greenlit additional seasons of Shows like Dead Girls Detective Agency and new biopic clips from Serena Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still, a scroll through the Discover and Shows sections reveals plenty of trashy clickbait that surely scares away premium advertisers.
Bitmoji TV could offer video that’s not only fun and snackable, but out of reach for competitors who don’t have a scaled avatar platform of their own. As with the recent launch of Snapchat Cameos, the company has realized that the most addictive experiences center on its users’ own faces. Snapchat turned the selfie into the future of communication. Bitmoji TV could make an animated recreation of your selfie into the future of content.
The writing is on the wall for Facebook — the platform is losing market share, fast, among young users.
Edison Research’s Infinite Dial study from early 2019 showed that 62% of U.S. 12–34 year-olds are Facebook users, down from 67% in 2018 and 79% in 2017. This decrease is particularly notable as 35–54 and 55+ age group usage has been constant or even increased.
There are many theories behind Facebook’s fall from grace among millennials and Gen Zers — an influx of older users that change the dynamics of the platform, competition from more mobile and visual-friendly platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, and the company’s privacy scandals are just a few.
We surveyed 115 of our Accelerated campus ambassadors to learn more about how they’re using Facebook today. It’s worth noting that this group skews older Gen Z (ages 18–24); we suspect you’d get different results if you surveyed younger teens.
Overall penetration is still high, as 99% of our respondents have Facebook accounts. And most aren’t abandoning the platform entirely — 59% are on Facebook every day, and another 32% are on weekly. Daily Facebook usage is much lower than Instagram, however, which 82% of our respondents use daily and 7% use weekly.
Data from our scouts also confirms that the shift in usage in the last few years is particularly dramatic among younger users. 66% report using Facebook less frequently over the past two years, compared to 11% who use it more frequently (23% say their usage hasn’t changed).
What’s most interesting is what college students are using Facebook for. When we were in high school and college in the early/mid 2010s, our friends used Facebook to post (broadcast) content via their status, photos, and posts on friends’ Walls. Today, very few students use Facebook to “broadcast” content. Only 5% of our respondents say they regularly upload photos to Facebook, 4% post on friends’ Walls, and 3.5% post content to the Newsfeed (statuses). What are they doing instead?
No one’s going to pay $380 for decent point-of-view video glasses and some trippy filters. But that’s kind of the point of Snapchat Spectacles 3. They’re merely a stepping stone towards true augmented reality eyewear — a public hardware beta for the Snap Lab R&D team that Apple and Facebook aren’t getting as they tinker in their bunkers.
Still, I hoped for something that could at least unlock the talents of forward-thinking video creators. Yet the unpredictable and uncontrollable AR effects sadly fail to make use of Spectacles‘ fashionable form factor in premium steel. The clunky software requires clips be uploaded for processing and then re-downloaded before you can apply the 10 starter effects like a rainbow landscape filter or a shimmering fantasy falcon. This all makes producing AR content a chore instead of a joy for something only briefly novel.
Spectacles 3 go on sale today for $380 in black ‘Carbon’ or rose gold-ish ‘Mineral’ color schemes on Spectacles.com, Neiman Marcus, and Ron Robinson in the UK, shipping in a week. Announced in August, they’re sunglasses with two stereoscopic lenses capable of capturing depth to produce “3D” photos, and videos you can add AR effects to on your phone. You also get a very nice folds-flat leather USB-C charging case that powers up the glasses four times, and a Google Cardboard-style VR viewer.
“Spectacles 3 is a limited production run. We’re not looking for massive sales here. We’re targeting people who are excited about these effects — creative storytellers” says Matt Hanover of the Snap Lab team.
Gen 1 featured a “toy-like design to get people used to wearing tech on their face”, while Gen 2 and 2.1 had a more subdued look abandoning the coral color schemes to push mainstream adoption. What Gen 3 can’t do is force a $40 million write-off due to poor sales, as V1 did after only shipping 220,000 with hundreds of thousands more gathering dust somewhere. Snap is already losing $227 million per quarter as it scrambles to break even.
So it seems with Spectacles 3 that Snap is gathering data and biding its time, trying to avoid burning too much cash until it can build a version that overlays effects atop a user’s view through the glasses. “We’re still able to get feedback from the customer and inform the future of Spectacles. That’s really the goal for us” Hanover confirms.
His CEO Evan Spiegel agrees, telling me on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt that it would be 10 years until we see augmented reality glasses worthy of mainstream consumer adoption. That’s a long time for an unprofitable company to spend competing to invest in R&D versus cash-rich companies like Facebook and Apple.
Spectacles could be worth the steep $380 if you’re a videographer for a living, perhaps making futuristic social media clips like Karen X Cheng, a creator Snap hired to demonstrate the device’s potential. They’re cool enough looking that you could wear them around Cannes or Coachella without people getting weirded out like they did with Google Glass. And as Snap’s Lens Studio lets anyone build 3D effects for Spectacles 3, perhaps we’ll see some filters and imaginary characters that are more than just a momentary gimmick.
But for those simply seeking first-person camera glasses, I’d still recommend the Spectacles 2 at $150 to $200 depending on style. The 3D features don’t carry the weight of paying double the price for Spec 3s. And at least the 2nd-gen Specs are waterproof, which make them great for ocean play with fun underwater shooting when you don’t want to risk losing or fizzling your phone.
“We’re testing the price point and the premium aesthetic to see if it lands with this demographic” Hanover says. But Snap’s Director Of Communications Liz Markman notes that “there isn’t this perfect one-to-one overlap with the core Snap users.”
The result is that Spectacles 3 are really more for Snap’s benefit than yours.
The Spectacles 3 software is disappointing, but you’ll be delighted when you open the box. Slick black packaging reveal sturdily built metal sunglasses with a luxury matte finish. As they magnetically dislodge from their charging case, you definitely get they sense you’re trying on something futuristic.
The style concurs, with a flat black bar at the top connecting the round lenses with a camera on both corners. Unlike the old Specs that sat right on your nose, feeling heavy at times, Spectacles 3 offers adjustable acetate non-slip nose tips to keep the weight off. All the tech is built discreetly into the hinges and temples without appearing too chunky.
Tap the button either arm, and LED light swooshes in a circle to let people know you’re recording a video for 10 seconds, with multiple presses growing that to up to 60. Tap and hold to shoot a photo, and the light blinks. There’s no obnoxious yellow rubber ring to shout “these are cameras”, and the defused LEDs are more subtle than Gen 2’s dots while remaining an obvious enough signal to passersby so they’re not creepy.
One charge powers up to 70 captures and transfers to your phone over a combined Bluetooth built-in Wifi connection. The 4 gigabyte storage holds up to 100 videos or 1200 photos, and Spectacles 3 even have GPS and GLOSNASS on-board. A 4-mic array picks up audio from others and your own voice, though they’re susceptible to windshear if you’re biking or running.
The magnetically-sealing folding leather USB-C charging case is my favorite part. I wish I could get an even flatter one without a battery in it for my other sunglasses. It’s a huge improvement on the unpocketable bulky triangular case of the previous versions.
So far so good, right? But then it comes time to actually see and augment what you shot.
Pairing and syncing is much easier than Gen 1. The glasses forge a Bluetooth connection, then spawn a WiFi network for getting media to your phone faster.
If you just want to share to Snapchat, you’re in luck. Spectacles content posts to Stories or messages in its cool circular format that lets viewers tilt their phones around while always staying full-screen to reveal the edges of your shots. Otherwise, you still have to go through the chore of exporting from Snapchat to your camera roll. Spectacles can at least now export in a variety of croppings for better sharing on Instagram and elsewhere.
What’s new are the 3D photos and videos. They utilize the space between the stereoscopic cameras in the corners of Spectacles employ parallax to sense the depth of a scene. After tapping the 3D button on a photo, you can wiggle the perspective of the image around to almost see around the edges of what you’re looking at. Spectacles will automatically pan back and forth for you, and export 3D photos as short Boomerang-esque six-second videos.
Unfortunately, I found that I didn’t get much sense of depth from most of the 3D photos I shot or saw. It takes a very particular kind of three-dimensional object from the right angle in the right light to much sense of movement from the wiggle. Snapchat’s algorithms also had a bad habit of mistakenly assigning bits of the foreground and background to each other, breaking the illusion. Occasionally you’ll have someone’s ear or their hair left behind and disembodied by the 3D effect. Don’t expect these to flood social media or convince prospective Spectacles buyers.
The biggest problem comes with the delay when playing with 3D videos. Snapchat has to do the depth processing on its servers, so you have to wait for your video to upload, get scanned, and be re-downloaded before you can apply the 3D AR filters. On WiFi that takes about 35 seconds per 10 second video, which is quite a bore. It takes forever over a mobile connection. That means you often won’t be able to apply the filters and see how they look until you’re home and unable to reshoot anything.
The filter set is also limited and haphazard. You can add a 3D bird or balloons around you, wander through golden snow or neon arcs, overlay flower projections or rainbow waves, or sprinkle on sparkles and light-bending blobs. While the bird is cute, and the rainbows and flowers are remarkably psychedelic, none of them are more than briefly entertaining.
The 3D objects often glitch through real pieces of scenery, and you can’t control them at all. No summoning the bird mid-video. My favorite trick, learned from Karen X Cheng, was to export unedited and filtered versions of a video and splice them together on my computer as scene in my demo video above. You can’t actually do that from within Snapchat.
Snap will have to build a lot cooler filters with interactivity if they’re going to compel creators to fork over $380 for Spectacles 3. It could hope to rely on its Lens Studio community platform, but so few developers or users will have the glasses that most will stick to making and using filters for phones.
Spectacles 3 are too expensive to be a toy, but don’t excel at being much more. Videography influencers might enjoy having a pair in their tool bag. But it’s hard to imagine anyone not sharing content professionally paying for the gadget.
“We’re now pushing to elevate the technology and the design to master depth technically” Hanover tells me. “Holing ourselves up within an R&D center for years and years? That’s not our approach. It’s important to meet the customer where they are today and continue to iterate and get that feedback.”
But this iteration doesn’t feel like Snap meeting the customer where they are. That raises the question of whether Snapchat is really getting enough data out of the whole endeavor to justify publicly releasing Spectacles at all. The company will have to hope that testing short-term is worth thinking short-term, when it’s trying to win the long-term war in augmented reality eyewear.
To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, I’m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now.
Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New York’s top consumer VCs:
Consumer health and banking startups were recurring areas of interest, and there’s a sense that apps and product brands which provide a deeper sense of community are an untapped opportunity.
At USV, we are focused on opportunities that broaden access by leveraging technology to increase value and decrease cost in big buckets of consumer spend. In doing so, we are looking for ways to make products and services previously available to a select segment available to many more. In particular, we have been investing in areas of consumer health where the delivery mechanism not only makes the care more convenient but also more affordable and higher quality; products and platforms in financial services that change the traditional underlying model to drive financial health for a mass customer; and opportunities that create new access to education both for kids and lifelong learners.
Within each of these segments, I’ve been very interested in how new communities are forming inside products–users that come for a specific offering are forming allegiance and increasing engagement by interacting with other users. I think that is a trend we will only see accelerate.
People are bored on their phones, not of their phones. I am most excited to meet founders working on consumer apps that bring happiness and fun to a mass consumer audience, as I continue to believe we are in the early days of mobile and the app store is not dead.
These apps may look like a game, they may be a game, or they may be a new feed, but TikTok, Twitch, HQ, Yolo and other Snap app kit apps, Tinder and others have shown consumers want new apps, the barrier for adoption and retention is just very high. All apps and games have a half-life, creating something with a very long one is really hard, but the demand is sitting on the phone scrolling thorough feeds, waiting for some new fun. We are excited about apps that allow people to interact with others in different ways, in new worlds, using new hardware, or new interfaces.
With the rise of the sober curious movement, we invested in Kin Euphorics, offering consumers a sexy option to an alcoholic drink, creating a social experience around a non-alcoholic beverage that doesn’t exist in the market today. With beer sales decreasing five years in a row, brands like Heineken are offering alcohol-free alternatives catering to this growing audience.
With the decline of religion, we have seen the rise of what we call the “rise of the alternate community.” Consumers are looking for ways to connect online and offline based on specific interests. Examples of this in our portfolio include The Wonder, a membership model for familyhood, Peanut, a social network for modern motherhood, and Co-Star, an astrology app.