Lost in the news of the George Floyd protests against police brutality and racism in the U.S., Facebook last week quietly noted it will now require Facebook Profile pages with large followings in the U.S. to verify their identity. The company said that profiles with sizable audiences, who also have a pattern of inauthentic behavior and whose posts rapidly go viral will be asked to verify their identity or the distribution of their posts will be impacted.
If the profile’s owner chooses not to verify their identity or the ID provided does not match the linked Facebook account, the distribution of the profile’s viral post will continue to be reduced so fewer people will see it, the company explains.
In addition, if the Profile that’s posting is also a Facebook Page admin, they’ll need to complete the Page Publishing Authorization and won’t be able to post from their Page until the account is verified through Facebook’s systems.
The company said the move to verify profiles is about transparency.
“We want people to feel confident that they understand who’s behind the content they’re seeing on Facebook and this is particularly important when it comes to content that’s reaching a lot of people,” Facebook said in a Thursday announcement.
Identify verification is not new to Facebook but the company’s use of the process has increased in recent months, following the revelation that Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on Facebook’s platform during and after the 2016 presidential election.
To address the issue, Facebook in August 2018 rolled out a new process that involved having Facebook Page managers secure their accounts and verify their locations. In December 2018, the resulting “People Who Manage This Page” section had rolled out to all Facebook Pages with a large audience. Also in 2018, Facebook began demanding ID verification for political “issue” ad buyers on debated topics of national legislative importance
Similar authentication and verification tools also rolled out to Instagram in 2018. And this April, both Facebook and Instagram began to display the location of the Facebook Page or Instagram account with a large audience on every post it shares. The company believes this transparency will allow users to better determine the reliability and authenticity of the accounts.
The timing of Facebook’s announcement about profile verification is worth noting. It arrived on the same day that Trump signed an executive order taking direct aim at social media companies, which targeted the legal structure they rely on to shield themselves from legal liability for their user-created content. It was also the same day that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Fox News to explain why it didn’t take the same action as Twitter did when it fact-checked Trump.
In a way, the change is an attempt for Facebook to showcase that it does in fact moderate its platform, by reducing the spread of viral posts from unverified sources. And that’s something the company can later point to when questioned by regulators as to how it’s addressing problems with bots and others who try to conceal their identity as they manipulate Facebook to spread their viral content.
As investors’ appetites sour in the midst of a pandemic, a three-and-a-half-year-old Indian firm has secured $10.3 billion in a month from Facebook and four U.S.-headquartered private equity firms.
The major deals for Reliance Jo Platforms have sparked a sudden interest among analysts, executives and readers at a time when many are skeptical of similar big check sizes that some investors wrote to several young startups, many of which are today struggling to make sense of their finances.
Prominent investors across the globe, including in India, have in recent weeks cautioned startups that they should be prepared for the “worst time” as new checks become elusive.
Elsewhere in India, the world’s second-largest internet market and where all startups together raised a record $14.5 billion last year, firms are witnessing down rounds (where their valuations are slashed). Miten Sampat, an angel investor, said this week that startups should expect a 40%-50% haircut in their valuations if they do get an investment offer.
Facebook’s $5.7 billion investment valued the company at $57 billion. But U.S. private equity firms Silver Lake, Vista, General Atlantic, and KKR — all the other deals announced in the past five weeks — are paying a 12.5% premium for their stake in Jio Platforms, valuing it at $65 billion.
How did an Indian firm become so valuable? What exactly does it do? Is it just as unprofitable as Uber? What does its future look like? Why is it raising so much money? And why is it making so many announcements instead of one.
It’s a long story.
Billionaire Mukesh Ambani gave a rundown of his gigantic Indian empire at a gathering in December 2015 packed with 35,000 people including hundreds of Bollywood celebrities and industry titans.
“Reliance Industries has the second-largest polyester business in the world. We produce one and a half million tons of polyester for fabrics a year, which is enough to give every Indian 5 meters of fabric every year, year-on-year,” said Ambani, who is Asia’s richest man.
“The Lovebirds” was originally slated for a theatrical release, but with movie theaters closed, Paramount decided to release the film through Netflix instead.
But even without a global pandemic, a Netflix release was probably the right call. As we discuss latest episode of the Original Content podcast, this doesn’t feel like a movie that would have done well in theaters.
It is, to be clear, a funny and watchable, thanks in large part to the charming performances of Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as a couple who have hit a rough patch in their relationship — right as they’re also embroiled in a murder mystery. (There seems to be a whole subgenre of movies about couples who are inadvertantly caught up in crime stuff.)
The plot, on the other hand, is pretty thin, and it becomes even more perfunctory as the movie tries to wrap everything up at the end. That’s particularly disappointing since “The Lovebirds” reunites Nanjiani with his “Big Sick” director Michael Showalter — do not expect it to be as good as “The Big Sick,” or even close.
Before our review, we also discuss the launch of WarnerMedia’s HBO-and-more streaming service HBO Max.
You can listen to our review 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!)
If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:25 HBO Max discussion
10:51 “The Lovebirds” review
23:41 “The Lovebirds” spoiler discussion
Today, the online film festival We Are One is kicking off 10 days of films, talks, musical performances and VR experiences.
Think of it as an attempt to recreate some of the excitement of this year’s canceled festivals, and to showcase some of the films that would have screen there. Partner festivals include the Berlin International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival.
YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl credited Tribeca for doing the “heavy lifting” of bringing all the festivals on-board and curating the lineup. He said that when Tribeca’s co-founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal first approached YouTube with the idea, “It sounded great to us, but it seemed impossible to actually execute — to get all of these important people around the world to agree to this one thing.”
However, Rosenthal and her team were able to pull it everything together in a short period of time, so YouTube is giving its part by giving the festival its online home. There will be more than 100 films screening on a schedule, just like a regular festival — although after many of the movies premiere, they will be available on-demand after it premieres for the duration of the event.
And again, it’s not just films, but the other festival programming too, like Tribeca Talks with directors like Guillermo del Toro and Francis Ford Coppola. YouTube channels like Lessons from the Screenplay, CineFix, Now You See It and La Blogotheque have also gotten involved by creating new content for the festival.
All the content is available for free, and Kyncl said that neither YouTube nor Tribeca is monetizing the event. Instead, they’re directing viewers to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Leket Israel, GO Foundation and Give2Asia.
“We just see this as an immediate response with no commercial intent on our side,” he said.
And while We Are One was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kyncl sounds hopeful that there could be similar online festivals in the future — not that any online experience can fully replace the “human connection” of an in-person festival.
“The role that youTube can play for all the festivals in the future is, we can extend their reach … whether it’s creators who may be participants in their film festivals in the future, or just audiences who are absolutely participating, but I think we can expand their universe in any way they wish,” Kyncl said. But he added, “We’ve given zero thought given to it thus far. We’re all focused on making sure we can pull this off in short amount of time.”
The lawsuit, brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice and law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, seeks to undo both the State Department’s requirement that visa applicants must disclose their social media handles prior to obtaining a U.S. visa, as well as related rules over the retention and dissemination of those records.
Last year, the State Department began asking visa applicants for their current and former social media usernames, a move that affects millions of non-citizens applying to travel to the United States each year. The rule change was part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand its “enhanced” screening protocols. At the time, it was reported that the information would be used if the State Department determines that “such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”
In a filing supporting the lawsuit, both Twitter and Reddit said the social media policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that the rules violate the First Amendment rights “to speak anonymously and associate privately.”
Twitter and Reddit, which collectively have more than 560 million users, said their users — many of which don’t use their real names on their platforms — are forced to “surrender their anonymity in order to travel to the United States,” which “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”
“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” the brief said.
“That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”
Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s policy chief for the Americas, said the social media rule “infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.” Reddit’s general counsel Ben Lee called the rule an “intrusive overreach” by the government.
It’s not known how many, if any, visa applicants have been denied a visa because of their social media content. But since the social media rule went into effect, cases emerged of approved visa holders denied entry to the U.S. for other people’s social media postings. Ismail Ajjawi, a then 17-year-old freshman at Harvard University, was turned away at Boston Logan International Airport after U.S. border officials searched his phone after taking issue with social media postings of Ajjawi’s friends — and not his own.
Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told TechCrunch at the time that Ajjawi’s case was not isolated. A week later, TechCrunch learned of another man who was denied entry to the U.S. because of a WhatsApp message sent by a distant acquaintance.
A spokesperson for the State Department did not immediately comment on news of the amicus brief.
Facebook’s R&D group, NPE Team, is launching a new app for engaging fellow fans around live events, Venue. This is the third new app to launch just this week from Facebook’s internal team focused on experimenting with new concepts in social networking. With Venue, the company aims to offer a digital companion for live events, starting with this Sunday’s NASCAR race.
The new app appears to be a challenge to Twitter, which today serves as the de facto “second screen” for commenting on live events and engaging with fellow fans. On Twitter, fans often use hashtags to add their commentary to live events that can range from TV show premieres to sports competitions to major political happenings, like live-streamed congressional hearings or the “State of the Union” presidential address, for example.
Twitter’s in-house curation team also rounds up the highlights from major events (e.g.), which are quick summaries featuring notable tweets, video clips, photos, comments and more about an event or related news story.
While there are some similarities with Twitter, Facebook’s Venue takes a different approach to the second screen.
Instead of having everyone viewing the event constantly chiming in with their own thoughts and reactions, the commentators for a given event hosted in Venue will only include well-known personalities — like journalists, current or former athletes, or aspiring “fan-analysts.” The latter could include popular social media personalities, for example.
These commentators will provide their own takes on the event and pose interactive questions and polls for those watching. The event host may also open up short, constrained chats around specific moments during the event — but fan commentary isn’t the main focus of the app.
In addition, fans don’t stay glued to their phone during the entire event when using Venue. Instead, the app sends out a notification to users when there’s a new “moment” available in the app. These “moments” aren’t like Twitter’s summaries. They’re one of the short, digital opportunities where fans can participate.
Future NASCAR races will also be hosted in Venue, with commentators including nascarcasm, FOX Sports NASCAR reporter Alan Cavanna, and NASCAR driver Landon Cassill.
“As NASCAR makes its return to action over the coming weeks, Venue will provide users with a unique and exciting way to connect with fellow race fans from around the globe – all from the safety and comfort of their own homes,” said Tim Clark, NASCAR SVP and Chief Digital Officer, in a statement. “NASCAR was built on innovation, and we couldn’t be more excited to help a great partner like Facebook’s New Product Experimentation team innovate around new platforms,” he added.
Facebook believes the new app will give viewers the chance to better engage with live events and fellow fans.
“Live broadcasts still offer the rare opportunity for millions of people to consume content simultaneously,” Facebook explained in its announcement. “Despite drawing large concurrent viewership, live broadcasts are still a mostly solo viewing experience,” it noted.
That’s a bit of stretch. Fans certainly engage with one another when chatting about live events on Twitter. And when Twitter streams the video from a live event — something Venue doesn’t do, by the way — Twitter will offer a dedicated space where users can easily see the tweets from fellow viewers. Other live video platforms, including Facebook’s own Facebook Live and Instagram Live, also include chat experiences as do YouTube Live and Twitch.
The real difference between Venue and Twitter is that it shifts the balance of power. On Twitter, everyone’s comments are given equal footing. In Venue, it’s the expert hosts leading and curating the conversation.
Facebook hasn’t announced what future events Venue may host beyond NASCAR but it sounds like it has plans to expand Venue further down the road as it refers to NASCAR as its “first” sports partner.
The Venue app is live today on iOS and Android.
After applying a fact-checking label Tuesday to a misleading vote-by-mail tweet made by US president Donald Trump, Twitter is on a roll and has labeled another of the president’s tweets — this time screening his words from casual view with what it calls a “public interest notice” that states the tweet violated its rules about glorifying violence.
Here’s how the tweet appears without further interaction:
The public interest notice replaces the substance of what Trump wrote, meaning a user has to actively click through to view the offending tweet.
Engagement options are also limited as a result by this label, meaning users can only retweet the offending tweet with a comment; they cannot like it, reply to it or vanilla retweet it.
Twitter’s notice goes on to explain why it has not removed the offending tweet entirely — and this is where the public interest element of the policy kicks in — with the company writing: “Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
Twitter appears to be shrugging off the president’s decision yesterday to sign an executive order targeting the legal shield which internet companies rely on to protect them from liability for user-created content — doubling down on displeasing Trump who has accused social media platforms generally of deliberately suppressing conservative views, despite plenty of evidence that ad-targeting platform algorithms actually boost outrage-fuelled content and views — which tends, conversely, to amplify conservative viewpoints.
In the latest clash, Trump had tweeted in reference to violent demonstrations taking place in Minneapolis sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer — with the president claiming that “THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd” before threatening to send in the “Military”.
“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Trump added — making a bald threat to use military force against civilians.
Twitter has wrestled with the issue of how to handle world leaders who break its content rules for years. Most often as a result of Trump who routinely uses its platform to bully all manner of targets — from rival politicians to hated journalists, disobedient business leaders, and even actors who displease him — as well as to dispense direct and sometimes violent threats.
Since being elected, Trump has also used Twitter’s global platform as a foreign policy weapon, firing military threats at the likes of North Korea and Iran in tweet form.
Back in 2018, for example, he teased North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with button-pushing nuclear destruction (see below tweet) — before going on to “fall in love” with the dictator when he met him in person.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
Twitter’s go-to defence for not taking offending Trump tweets down in the past has been that, as US president, the substance of what the man tweets — however mad, bad and dangerous — is inherently newsworthy.
However, more recently, the company has created a policy tool that allows it to intervene — defining terms last summer around “public interest” content on Twitter.
It warned then (almost a full year ago, in June 2019) that it might place a public interest notice on tweets that would otherwise violate its rules (and therefore merit a takedown) — in order to “to provide additional context and clarity”, rather than removing the offensive tweet.
Fast forward a year and the tech giant has started applying labels to Trump’s tweets — beginning with a fact-check label earlier this week, related to the forthcoming US election, and following up now with a public interest notice related to Trump glorifying violence.
So, finally, the tech giant seems to be inching towards drawing a limit-line around Trump in near real-time.
Explaining its decision to badge the US president’s threat to order the military to shoot looters in Minneapolis, the company writes: “This Tweet violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) May 29, 2020
“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” Twitter goes on.
It also links to its policy against tweets that glorify violence — which states unequivocally [in bold]: “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.”
Back in June, when Twitter announced the ‘abusive behavior’ label, it also warned that tweets which get screened with a public interest notice will not benefit from any algorithmic acceleration, writing: “We’ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets.”
However the newsworthiness of Twitter’s decision to finally apply its own rules vis-a-vis Trump will ensure there’s plenty of non-algorithmic amplification.
We reached out to the company with questions about its decision to apply a public interest screen on Trump’s latest tweet but at the time of writing it had not responded.
On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, put out a series of tweets defending its decision to apply a fact-check label to Trump’s earlier misleading tweets about vote-by-mail.
“This does not make us an “arbiter of truth”,” wrote Dorsey. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”
Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Dorsey’s remarks followed pointed comments made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Fox News, seeking to contrast Facebook’s claimed ‘neutrality’ when policing its platform with Twitter’s policy of taking a stance on issues such as political advertising (which Twitter does not allow).
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told the conservative news station. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
It’s notable that Dorsey used Zuckerberg’s exact turn of phrase — “arbiter of truth” — to reject Facebook’s attack on Twitter’s policy as a straw man argument.
Exposure notification and contact tracing are two related but distinct measures many public health authorities are either considering or already implementing.
Contact tracing is a practice almost as old as epidemiology itself, but today’s technology means the way that we go about tracking the spread of a contagious illness within and between communities is changing very quickly. This presents an opportunity for learning more about the opportunities and challenges presented in extending contact tracing and exposure notification via digital means.
To that end, we’re happy to be working with the COVID-19 Technology Task Force, as well as Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, Betaworks Studios and Hangar. We’ll be playing host on TC to their live-streamed discussion around contact tracing and exposure notification applications, including demonstrations of some of the cutting-edge products that will be available in the U.S. to tackle these challenging, but crucial, tasks. The day’s events will include a roundtable discussion followed by a series of product demos, and will take place starting at 11 AM EDT (8 AM PDT) on Wednesday, June 3.
Below, we’ve included an agenda of the confirmed speakers and demonstrations for the day so far. Note that this is work in progress, and that more speakers and demos will be added to the day’s slate as we get closer to Wednesday. To RSVP for this free event, check out this link.
11am-1pm EDT: Roundtable Discussion – Hear from researchers, healthcare professionals, and technologists, including:
1pm-2pm EDT: Contact Tracing/Exposure Notification Product Demos – Leading organizations developing applications to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, primarily through contact tracing and exposure notification, will each demo their product. Teams include:
We’ll have a live stream available on June 3 so you can follow along, as mentioned, but you can also RSVP here to register your interest. It should be a day full of interesting, expert discussion of why there’s a need to extend contact tracing and exposure notification through connected and digital means, as well as the privacy, public health and policy implications such extension necessarily carries with it.
How did yesterday’s launch of HBO Max go? We don’t have official numbers from WarnerMedia, but app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower says HBO Max was downloaded by nearly 87,000 new users across Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
That number might seem pretty low compared to other streaming launches — like the 4 million first-day installs for Disney+, or even the 300,000 installs for Quibi.
But keep in mind that HBO Max isn’t an entirely new service, either from a content perspective (it bundles HBO’s library with a wide range of other TV shows and movies) or from an app perspective, since it was released as an update for the existing HBO Now streaming app.
Sensor Tower acknowledged that these numbers do not include people who simply updated their old HBO app, but it offered another way to look at yesterday’s performance: Previously, HBO Now was averaging 16,000 new installs every day, so that’s 71,000 more downloads than normal.
It’s also worth noting that as I write this on Thursday afternoon, HBO Max is currently number two among “free” apps the App Store, behind Zoom but ahead of YouTube, Netflix, TikTok and Disney+.
Sensor Tower estimated that HBO Now and Max have been downloaded by 33 million people since launching in April 2015, compared to 260 million for Netflix, 120 million for Hulu (both Netflix and Hulu were measured starting in January 2014) and 50 million for Disney+.
If you’ve ever found yourself scrubbing your way through a long YouTube video to get to the “good” part, you’ll appreciate the new feature YouTube is launching today: Video Chapters. The feature uses timestamps that creators apply to their videos, allowing viewers to easily jump forward to a specific section of the video or rewatch a portion of the video.
YouTube was spotted testing Video Chapters back in April, but today the feature is going live for all users across iOS, Android and desktop.
Video Chapters will be automatically enabled as a line of timestamps and titles when creators add chapter information to their video’s description. The first timestamp has to be marked 0:00, followed by a space, then the chapter’s title. On the next line, you’ll type the timestamp where the next chapter starts (e.g. “2:31”), then a space and that chapter’s title. When you’re finished adding in the chapters, you save the changes and the Video Chapters will be listed as you scrub through the video.
Videos will need to have at least three timestamps that are 10 seconds or more in length in order to use the feature.
To make it easier for viewers to navigate Video Chapters, YouTube built in haptic feedback on mobile so users will feel a slight “thump” that informs them they’re moving into a new chapter, the company explains. On platforms where haptic feedback is not available, YouTube instead uses a “snapping” behavior that will snap you to the start of the chapter. That way, viewers who want to land on a precise spot near the chapter start can wait for a moment before releasing so they aren’t snapped to the start of the chapter.
In addition, users on mobile and tablet devices can also slide their finger up and down while scrubbing — without releasing — to reveal the scrubber bar and see exactly where they’re placing the playhead.
For example, YouTube has since increased the number of supported chapters across devices after realizing that it was helpful to allow the devices to determine how many chapters can be shown, based on the available screen space. That means in a video with a lot of chapters, you may see more on desktop than on mobile devices, and more appear when you’re full screen on your phone than when you’re viewing the video in the smaller, portrait player.
Because the feature requires the creator to input the timestamps, you may not see it on all videos just yet. But there are a few you can visit now if you want to see Video Chapters in action, including this Flaming Lips concert, this Radiohead concert, this Spotlight channel interview with creators, this guitar tutorial, this cooking video, this recipe video and this lecture on machine learning.
The new feature positions YouTube to be a better resource for long-form content as it becomes less cumbersome to navigate videos. The feature could even increase user engagement with some videos as viewers won’t get frustrated by having to scroll through parts they don’t want to watch, give up, then exit the video in search of a different one that’s easier to navigate. On the flip side, it could decrease total watch times, as viewers only watch particular sections of videos instead of the video’s full content.
YouTube says the new feature will not impact recommendations.
Virtual viewing parties that let people watch video together remotely have become a popular way to stay connected with friends and family amid the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier today, Hulu announced the addition of a new “Watch Party” feature for its site to make a virtual viewing experience a built-in feature of its service. Now, media software maker Plex is also today launching its own “Watch Together” feature which works both with its own collection of on-demand content and users’ personal media.
The feature is launching in beta as it’s still considered experimental, but will allow Plex users to invite friends on Plex to watch a TV show or movie together. If a user is not on Plex, you can invite them to join via the link, as well.
Plex says the co-viewing experience is supported on both its free selection of on-demand movies and TV shows as well as on content from a user’s personal library without limitations. However, unlike Hulu’s new feature, Watch Together doesn’t currently include a built-in chat function. Instead, Plex simply handles the playback of the content and keeping it in sync between the different parties.
The company hasn’t put a specific cap on the number of users who can join a Watch Together session.
The company’s FAQ explains the number of people who can join will depend on your own server hardware where the Plex Media Server software runs, in addition to your network connection, disk speed, and the content being shared. If you add too many people to the session, you’ll experience playback issues, Plex warns.
Once a session begins, users can join from multiple devices or rejoin if they accidentally leave early, but no new people can be added. Unlike Hulu’s new co-watching feature, anyone who pauses the stream will pause the playback for all users, not just themselves.
At launch, Plex’s Watch Together feature works on Apple and Android platforms, including Apple TV and iOS/iPadOS, as well as on Android mobile and Android TV. Support for Roku will come soon after with other platforms to follow.
During testing, it will also be available for free to all users instead of only those who pay for a Plex Pass subscription. That will allow the company to gain more feedback about bugs and feature requests from a wider user base. But it will a paid offering in the future when the initial preview period wraps.
Co-watching video has become a popular activity during coronavirus lockdowns and quarantines.
One extension Netflix Party has seen a spike in usage as U.S. consumers were forced to shelter-in-place due to the coronavirus outbreak. HBO also recently partnered with browser extension Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience that supports up to 20 people. Social apps like Instagram and HouseParty have rolled out co-watching capabilities, too.
Plex says the new Watch Together feature is live today in beta.
Hulu today is introducing a new feature called “Hulu Watch Party,” its first social feature that will allow viewers to virtually watch Hulu together at the same time while in separate locations and chat with one another within the Hulu app. The feature is being tested first on Hulu.com for Hulu’s “No Ads” subscribers for the time being.
It will work with thousands of movies and shows in Hulu’s on-demand streaming library, the company says.
To see which programs are available for this Watch Party viewing experience, users will look for a new “Watch Party” icon on the title’s Details page. They will then be given a link to invite their family and friends to join their Watch Party session, which can support up to 8 people in total.
While watching, users can chat with one another in real-time through a built-in chat function.
Plus, users will be able to control their own playback of the title without impacting the group’s experience — in other words, it’s not the same sort of shared stream experience as some similar services offer. But this way, users suffering from a poor connection or those in need of a bathroom break can rejoin the group when they’re ready. A handy “Click to Catch Up” button in the chat window will get them back in sync, if desired.
Viewers must be 18 or older to start or join Watch Party sessions, Hulu says.
The addition of the social feature comes following a surge of interest in apps and extensions that enable virtual watch parties for streaming services amid the pandemic. One browser plugin, Netflix Party, even went viral as U.S. consumers were forced to shelter-in-place during coronavirus lockdowns. HBO, meanwhile, recently partnered with browser extension Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience that supports up to 20 people.
But unlike the existing options, Hulu’s Watch Party doesn’t require a browser plugin or extension of any kind. Instead, the feature works within Hulu’s website itself on both Mac and PC computers.
This makes Hulu the first major streamer to offer a co-watching experience directly on its site.
However, other video apps have experimented with co-watching before today. Streamer Philo once toyed with the idea, but the feature never made it out of testing. YouTube tested a co-watching app Uptime a few years ago. Korean and Chinese Drama app Viki, which is offered in the U.S., currently offers a (very amusing) real-time commenting section that allows for a group chat experience. And Instagram in March rolled out co-watching features, too.
Hulu Watch Party is live starting today on Hulu.com.
Gone are the days of not having enough time to catch up on all of those movies and TV shows you’ve been meaning to get around to. For the foreseeable future, at least, many of us have nowhere to go and nothing but time on our hands.
We’ve already offered a few suggestions for ways to spend your newfound downtime, but there’s a more pragmatic question at-hand. With this week’s arrival of HBO Max, an overcrowded streaming market becomes even more competitive, particularly here in the United States. Gone are the days of Netflix’s streaming supremacy (at least from a content perspective). There’s a streaming service for virtually every need and nearly every one is best at something (with the possible exception of Apple TV+ with its fairly sparse selection, and whatever is going on with Quibi).
In a perfect world, we would all be able to subscribe to every service and never have to leave the house again. But those $5-$15/month fees add up pretty quickly when you’re not looking. For most of us, choosing the right service or service requires a bit of strategic spending. As such, we’re going to make life a bit easier on you and your wallet by designating the top services across 10 key categories.
Again, this is a U.S.-focused list, since that’s where we’re based. But may of these services are available outside the States, or will be in the next year or two.
The best service for … Prestige TV
Winner: HBO Max
The debate about the best TV show of all time always seems to wind up on HBO. The premium cable network has transformed expectations around what television can and should do, with shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” regularly cited at the top of the list of all-time greats. And then there’s “Westworld,” “Game of Thrones,” newcomers like “Succession” and top-tier comedy like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Eastbound and Down” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” Not every series has been a slam-dunk, but as far as prestige episodic television is concerned, you’re not going to do any better than HBO. (B.H.)
The best service for … Blockbusters
Disney has dominated the theatrical box office for the past decade, thanks to its acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm/Star Wars — not to mention the continued popularity of its animated films and live-action remakes. Disney+ is where you can catch up with almost all those big-budget hits, and it will be the streaming home for future Marvel blockbusters. (A.H.)
The best service for … Classics
Winner: Criterion Channel/HBO Max
While Criterion’s reputation can seem forbiddingly arty (see below) — and of course, some art films are stone cold movie classics — the service also offers plenty of classic Hollywood titles, like a recent retrospective showcasing Columbia noir. And if you’re a kaiju fan, it also has nearly every old-schoool Godzilla movie in its library. That said, it isn’t the only place you can find classic titles. HBO Max, in particular, is the streaming home to Turner Classic Movies, with some of the best films of all time, including “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane.” And it has a deal to offer some Criterion titles, too. (A.H.)
The best service for … Documentaries
Winner: HBO Max/CuriosityStream
As with its drama and comedy series, there’s really no one out there who can touch HBO’s documentary output. The network has consistently racked up Emmy wins since the late ’90s. It’s had some added competition from Netflix in recent years, but HBO continues to deliver, including last year’s heart-wrenching ‘Leaving Neverland.’ If you like your documentaries served with a side of more documentaries, however, there’s always CuriosityStream. $20/year will get you a boatload of original docs, broken down by category. (B.H.)
The best service for … Kids
All the big streaming services have a selection of movies and shows for kids, but it’s hard to beat the titles in Disney’s library — all their animated classics, plus Pixar, plus Disney Channel hits like “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical.” HBO Max is a strong runner-up with Sesame Street and the full Studio Ghibli library, but if your kid wants to sing along to “Frozen” over and over again, this is where they can do it. (A.H.)
The best service for … Indies
Winner: Hulu/Criterion Channel
Most streaming services (save for Apple TV+ and Disney+) have a pretty sizable selection of indies. The quality of the films varies greatly from service to service and film to film, but nearly all of them have some hidden gems for when you’re looking to spend a bit of time outside of the studio system. As far as the mainstream ones go, I was surprised to discover during this quarantine that Hulu has the best selections of the bunch, courtesy of deals with top notch indie distributors. If you want a straight shot of the stuff, however, the Criterion Channel is your best bet — and the supplementary content is unmatched by other services. (B.H.)
The best service for … Free stuff
To be honest, I had no idea Tubi existed until recently. I was searching for a Korean movie about a baseball playing gorilla (it’s real, seriously), and landed on the site, where it was streaming for free with ad breaks. You would probably end up banging your head against the wall if you relied on Tubi as your sole streaming service, but its selection is surprisingly solid. There are genuinely good films in there, in amongst the dregs. There are also plenty of dregs there, if that’s your thing. Also check out Walmart’s Vudu. In addition to your standard rentals, the service also has a decent selection of free films. (B.H.)
The best service for … Star Trek
Winner: CBS All Access
It might seem silly to build an entire streaming service around a single entertainment franchise, but a) Have you met Star Trek fans? And b) That was clearly the strategy behind CBS All Access, which has already released two Trek spinoffs, “Discovery” and “Picard.” Although the newly remerged ViacomCBS seems to have broader streaming plans, Star Trek still seems like a centerpiece of that strategy, with a whole bunch of new Trek content being developed under the supervision of Alex Kurtzman. (That said, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are sufficient if you just want to rewatch The Original Series or The Next Generation.) (A.H.)
The best service for … Arthouse
Winner: Criterion Channel
Been missing trips to the local arthouse theater? With places like the Anthology Film Archives, Museum of the Moving Image and Angelika temporarily shut down here in New York, I’ve been finding some respite in the Criterion Collection’s truly excellent curated selection of films. While it’s true that sometimes the best thing for the pandemic is a little mindless movie watching, if you want to take in some culture without leaving the house, Criterion’s got you covered. (B.H.)
The best service for … a lot of everything
You may be wondering why we’ve barely mentioned the streaming world’s biggest player. That’s because Netflix isn’t actually the best in any one category — at least in our view. Instead, it’s pretty good in a whole bunch of categories, whether that’s older TV shows, classic films, original series like “The Crown” and “Stranger Things,” reality hits like “Tiger King” and original movies like “The Irishman.” So if you want a single service that scratches a whole bunch of different itches, Netflix is still your best bet.
Stringr, a video-focused startup that says it can help news organizations adapt to the challenges of COVID-19, is announcing that it’s raised $5.75 million in new funding.
When I wrote about the the company at the end of 2015, it was creating a marketplace that connected news organizations with videographers who could provide them with news footage. Since then, co-founder and CEO Lindsay Stewart (a former TV news producer herself) told me the network has grown to more than 100,000 videographers.
At the same time, Stringr has added new tools for things like live streaming, transcription and editing, creating what Stewart described as “the most efficient video production platform.”
And she suggested that media companies need a platform like this more than ever. Yes, some Stringr customers are just using the service when they need footage, but she said others see Stringr as a purely cloud-based solution for producing news programming “when nobody’s coming into the office.”
And speaking of footage, newsrooms are going to need help on that front too, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic having a dramatic impact on the media industry’s bottom line.
“I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that media companies … the business model, even more than before COVID, has been challenged,” Stewart added. So those companies are turning to Stringr for help in figuring out “how they become as cost effective as they possibly can, while still providing a valuable service to society overall.”
Stringr has also launched a division called Embed Studios that taps into the startup’s videographer network to create content for brands including Corcoran, Zillow, HBO Max, Amazon, Lightworkers, TikTok, Mastercard, United Way and MGM.
The company has now raised a total of $7.25 million. The new funding comes from Thomson Reuters, as well as previous investors G5 Capital and Advection Growth Capital.
It sounds like the Reuters investment is part of a broader partnership where the wire service’s customers can request video footage from Stringr. In fact, Stewart said that the startup’s work with Reuters is also pushing it to recruit videographers globally, starting in western Europe. (It was previously focused on the United States and the United Kingdom.)
Freepik, a Malaga-Spain based website which offers a curated freemium marketplace of vector graphics and stock photos fed by a community of contributing designers and photographers, is being acquired by investment and private equity firm EQT.
The EQT Mid Market Europe fund has entered into an agreement to acquire a majority stake of Freepik from its founders and management team, who will remain on as minority owners, with co-founders, Alejandro and Pablo Blanes and Joaquin Cuenca, continuing to lead the company day to day, the pair said in a press release today.
EQT believes favorable global trends are set to feed Freepik’s business, with the PE firm pointing to factors such as the increasing shift to digital advertising, the “global democratization of content production” via social media and the surge in mobile media and online gaming — areas it says have shown resilience to downturns and recessions.
Freepik, which was founded back in 2010 and claims to be the largest freemium provider of digital visual content in the world, has some 32 million monthly visitors to its site, 20M registered users and 5BN downloads to date — with the site offering more than 10M graphic resources, including icons, vectors, photos, and templates.
Freemium users of the repository can access “thousands” of graphical resources, while premium fee-paying users have access to a far wider selection of content and unlimited downloads. All submissions are reviewed, with only a subset selected for the marketplace. While content sourcing is data-driven, based on Freepik crunching download data to better understand consumer demand.
On the supplier side, Freepik has a network of over 450 in-house freelancer graphical designers in addition to 9,000+ external contributors, per its website. It operates under two additional brands (Flaticon and SlidesGo).
EQT said today it will support Freepik’s accelerated growth by investing in its proprietary content library, UX and tech platform — including AI and tool integration capabilities. Broadening Freepik’s market penetration in markets such as the US and Asia is another goal for the acquisition, given EQT’s slated “digital expertise” and global presence.
Commenting in a statement, Victor Englesson, partner at EQT Partners and investment advisor to EQT Mid Market, said: “We are impressed by Freepik’s achievements and EQT is proud to partner with its co-Founders to help achieve its full potential. Freepik is supported by numerous positive secular megatrends and represents a truly thematic investment, which fits strongly with EQT’s focus on growth investments and partnerships with world class management teams.”
EQT is a prolific investor in and buyer of tech startups, acquiring the likes of b2b payment transfer business Banking Circle and commercial Linux distribution Suse in recent years. It’s also recently invested in Peanut, a social network for mothers; Anyfin (consumer loans refinancing); Netlify (microservices for building websites); and Wolt (food delivery), to name a few. The firm has more than €62BN in raised capital and some €40BN in assets under management across 19 active funds.
“We are very excited to partner with EQT and look forward to working together,” added Freepik co-founder Cuenca in another statement on the acquisition. “EQT’s digital and sector expertise, global platform, combined with local presence across Europe, the US and Asia, as well as its extensive network of advisors will be key to our future success and of great value for the strengthening of our management team.”
The value of the acquisition has not being disclosed. The transaction is expected to close in June 2020.
TikTok isn’t the only new media app with a Chinese background that’s making waves in the U.S. News Break, a news app founded by China’s media veteran Jeff Zheng with teams in Beijing, Shanghai, Seattle and Mountain View, has ranked No. 1 among all free iPhone news apps on the U.S. App Store several times since January 2019, according to third-party data Sensor Tower provided to TechCrunch.
Positioned as a news aggregator focused on local reporting, the platform surged to be the third-most downloaded U.S. iOS app across the board in mid-March this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fledgling news app announced this week a substantial boost as it onboards Harry Shum as its board chairman. Shum is the former president of Microsoft AI and Research Group and played a key role in establishing the Microsoft Research Asia lab, which has trained a raft of China’s top AI talents including the founder of autonomous driving unicorn Momenta.
Former Microsoft executive Harry Shum joins News Break, a local news aggregator founded in the U.S. by a Chinese media veteran (Photo source: News Break)
News Break is staffed with other storied overseas Chinese tech bosses. Jeff Zheng, the founding chief executive, headed up Yahoo Labs in Beijing where he oversaw algorithm improvements in search, media, advertising and mobile. In 2011, he left Yahoo to launch Yidian Zixun, the Beijing-based startup seen early on as the main rival of Toutiao, the hit news app that made ByteDance a household name in China before Douyin emerged. Together with other algorithm-driven news apps, the duo changed the habits of hundreds of millions in China from consuming human-curated news to machine-recommended content with minimal human oversight.
News Break is Zheng’s effort to replicate Yidian Zixun’s success in foreign markets with his co-founder Ren Xuyang, a former Baidu executive. Founded in Silicon Valley in 2015, News Break now boasts 23 million monthly users with a growing network of over 10,000 content providers. Sensor Tower estimated the app has more than 50 million installs globally across iOS and Android devices, among which more than 99% are from the U.S.
Screenshots of the News Break app (Source: News Break)
The type of personalized reading experience pioneered by Toutiao is now a default feature across media apps in the U.S., said (in Chinese) Vincent Wu, chief operating officer of News Break, at an event in Silicon Valley. To stand out from the crowd, the company serves up local news and happenings for readers, for Wu observed that America’s mainstream media focus overwhelmingly on national affairs and celebrity gossip, “news that’s irrelevant to my day-to-day.”
“Only high-quality, hyper-relevant local news can provide valuable information to readers,” he added.
Particle Media, the Delaware-registered operating entity of News Break, has raised over $20 million to date from investors including IDG Capital, ZhenFund and Ding Lei, the founder of Chinese online media and gaming giant NetEase.
Updated on May 28, 2020 with app download data.
That brings the company’s total VC to $4 million, which Carry1st will deploy to support and invest in game publishing across Africa.
The startup — with offices in New York, Lagos, and South Africa — was co-founded in 2018 by Sierra Leonean Cordel Robbin-Coker, American Lucy Parry, and Zimbabwean software engineer Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu.
Robbin-Coker and Parry met while working in investment banking in New York, before forming Carry1st.
“I convinced her to avoid going to business school and instead come to South Africa to Cape Town,” Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch on a call.
“We launched with the idea that we wanted to bring the gaming industry…to the African continent.”
The startup has already launched two games as direct downloads from its site, Carry1st Trivia and Hyper!.
“In April, [Carry1st Trivia] did pretty well. It was the number one game in Nigeria, and Kenya for most of the year and did about one and a half million downloads.” Robbin-Coker said.
Image Credit: Carry1st
The startup will use a portion of its latest round and overall capital to bring more unique content onto its platform. “In order to do that, you need cash…to help a developer finish a game or entice a strong game to work with you,” said Robbin-Coker.
The company will also expand its distribution channels, such as partnerships with mobile operators and the Carry1st Brand Ambassador program — a network of sales agents who promote and sell games across the continent.
The company will also invest in the gaming market and itself.
“We want to dedicate at least a million dollars to actually going out and acquiring users and scaling our user base. And then, the final piece is really around the tech platform that we’re looking to build,” said Robbin-Coker.
That entails creating multiple channels and revenue points to develop, distribute, and invest in games on the continent, he explained.
Image Credits: Carry1st
Robbin-Coker compared the Carry1st’s strategy in Africa as something similar to Sea: an Asia regional mobile entertainment distribution platform — publicly traded and partially owned by Tencent — that incubated the popular Fornite game.
“We’re looking to be the number one regional publisher of [gaming] content in the region…the publisher of record and the app store,” said Robbin-Coker.
That entails developing and distributing not only games originating from the continent, but also serving as channel for gaming content from other continents coming into Africa.
That generates a consistent revenue stream for the startup, Robbin-Coker explained, but also creates opportunities for big creative wins.
“It’s a hits driven business. A single studio will work and toil in obscurity for a decade and then they’ll make Candy Crush. And then that would be worth $6 billion, very quickly,” Carry1st’s CEO said.
He and his team will use a portion of their $4 million in VC to invest in that potential gaming success story in Africa.
The company’s co-founder Lucy Parry directs aspirants to the company’s homepage. “There’s a big blue button that says ‘Pitch Your Game’ at the bottom of our website.”
On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—rarely one to pick a political fight—took to his own platform to clarify the company’s decision.
Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Per our Civic Integrity policy (https://t.co/uQ0AoPtoCm), the tweets yesterday may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots). We’re updating the link on @realDonaldTrump’s tweet to make this more clear.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
In the statement, Dorsey referenced comments Mark Zuckerberg made to Fox News contrasting Facebook’s obsessively neutral approach to policing its platform with Twitter’s present situation. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Dorsey also denounced Trump’s online supporters and surrogates for going after the company’s executives, asking the Twitter’s newly energized critics, inspired by Trump’s own ire toward the company, to “please leave our employees out of this.”
On Dorsey’s own account and the official Twitter Safety account, the company clarified that its decision to add a fact-checking link to two of Trump’s tweets stemmed specifically from the possibility that they might “confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.”
We added a label to two @realDonaldTrump Tweets about California’s vote-by-mail plans as part of our efforts to enforce our civic integrity policy. We believe those Tweets could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) May 28, 2020
In the tweets the company added a label to—but did not hide or remove—the president states falsely that California’s governor is “sending ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state no matter who they are or how they got there.” In reality, the state is only sending the ballots to registered voters. Trump also made fear-mongering false claims about the integrity of mail-in voting, a system already widely used around the country in the form of absentee ballots.
With his clarification, Dorsey linked to what Twitter calls its “civic integrity policy,” a set of rules prohibiting certain kinds of “manipulative behavior” on the platform. Per those rules, misleading information about how to vote, the documents required to vote or the date and time of an election of other civic process are prohibited. Under the policy, broader claims about elections “such as unsubstantiated claims that an election is ‘rigged'” are not prohibited.
Twitter’s list of possible enforcement actions includes forcing users to delete the tweets, locking their account if the misinformation is present in a bio or permanent suspension “for severe or repeated violations of this policy.”
Though the timing might be coincidental, Tuesday’s move by Twitter came on the heels of a series of tweets from Trump promoting a baseless conspiracy theory that MSNBC host and political rival Joe Scarborough was responsible for the death of a Congressional intern almost two decades prior.
On Wednesday evening, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president would soon sign an executive order “pertaining to social media,” widely expected to be a shocking though likely unsubstantial strike back at Twitter’s policy enforcement choices this week. The order may rehash the White House’s previous stalled efforts to threaten Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a vital legal provision underpinning the modern internet—and wield power against social media companies through the FTC and FCC.
Alluding to the expected retaliation, Trump tweeted “Stay Tuned!!!” to his more than 80 million followers.