Pages Navigation Menu

The blog of DataDiggers

Categories Navigation Menu

Original Content podcast: ‘Tuca & Bertie’ explores friendship and sex with anthropomorphic birds

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Entertainment, Media, Netflix, original content podcast, Podcasts | 0 comments

There’s some obvious overlap between “Tuca & Bertie” and “BoJack Horseman” — they’re both talking animal cartoons on Netflix; they have a similar look, courtesy of Lisa Hanawalt (designer on “BoJack Horseman” and creator of “Tuca & Bertie”); and “BoJack” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg co-wrote the first episode of the new show.

Plus, their respective first seasons follow a similar arc, kicking off with rapid-fire humor, then increasingly shading the jokes with serious character exploration as you get further into the story.

But as guest host Brian Heater helps us explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Tuca & Bertie” is a distinct show, with a distinct sense of humor — it’s zanier and raunchier, with a refreshing frankness about sex, not to mention a talented, diverse cast of voice actors led by Tiffany Haddish (Tuca) and Ali Wong (Bertie).

And where “BoJack” went deep into an exploration of its protagonist’s depression, “Tuca & Bertie” is more interested in the complexities of female friendship, all while remaining a funny show about birds that talk, go on dates and have jobs at companies like “Conde Nest.”

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!)

If you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro and a Very Serious Discussion about laugh tracks
8:47 Spoiler-free review of Tuca & Bertie
24:43 Spoiler discussion


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Targeted ads offer little extra value for online publishers, study suggests

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Adtech, Advertising Tech, Alphabet, behavioral advertising, digital advertising, digital marketing, display advertising, Europe, Facebook, General Data Protection Regulation, IAB, Marketing, Media, Online Advertising, Privacy, programmatic advertising, Randall Rothenberg, Richard blumenthal, targeted advertising, United States | 0 comments

How much value do online publishers derive from behaviorally targeted advertising that uses privacy-hostile tracking technologies to determine which advert to show a website user?

A new piece of research suggests publishers make just 4% more vs if they were to serve a non-targeted ad.

It’s a finding that sheds suggestive light on why so many newsroom budgets are shrinking and journalists finding themselves out of work — even as adtech giants continue stuffing their coffers with massive profits.

Visit the average news website lousy with third party cookies (yes, we know, it’s true of TC too) and you’d be forgiven for thinking the publisher is also getting fat profits from the data creamed off their users as they plug into programmatic ad systems that trade info on Internet users’ browsing habits to determine the ad which gets displayed.

Yet while the online ad market is massive and growing — $88BN in revenues in the US in 2017, per IAB data, a 21% year-on-year increase — publishers are not the entities getting filthy rich off of their own content.

On the contrary, research in recent years has suggested that a large proportion of publishers are being squeezed by digital display advertising economics, with some 40% reporting either stagnant or shrinking ad revenue, per a 2015 Econsultancy study. (Hence, we can posit, the rise in publishers branching into subscriptions — TC’s own offering can be found here: Extra Crunch).

The lion’s share of value being created by digital advertising ends up in the coffers of adtech giants, Google and Facebook . Aka the adtech duopoly. In the US, the pair account for around 60% of digital ad market spending, per eMarketer — or circa $76.57BN.

Their annual revenues have mirrored overall growth in digital ad spend — rising from $74.9BN to $136.8BN, between 2015 and 2018, in the case of Google’s parent Alphabet; and $17.9BN to $55.8BN for Facebook. (While US online ad spend stepped up from $59.6BN to $107.5BN+ between 2015 and 2018.)

eMarketer projects 2019 will mark the first decline in the duopoly’s collective share. But not because publishers’ fortunes are suddenly set for a bonanza turnaround. Rather another tech giant — Amazon — has been growing its share of the digital ad market, and is expected to make what eMarketer dubs the start of “a small dent in the duopoly”.

Behavioral advertising — aka targeted ads — has come to dominate the online ad market, fuelled by platform dynamics encouraging a proliferation of tracking technologies and techniques in the unregulated background. And by, it seems, greater effectiveness from the perspective of online advertisers, as the paper notes. (“Despite measurement and attribution challenges… many studies seem to concur that targeted advertising is beneficial and effective for advertising firms.”

This has had the effect of squeezing out non-targeted display ads, such as those that rely on contextual factors to select the ad — e.g. the content being viewed, device type or location.

The latter are now the exception; a fall-back such as for when cookies have been blocked. (Albeit, one that veteran pro-privacy search engine, DuckDuckGo, has nonetheless turned into a profitable contextual ad business).

One 2017 study by IHS Markit, suggested that 86% of programmatic advertising in Europe was using behavioural data. While even a quarter (24%) of non-programmatic advertising was found to be using behavioural data, per its model. 

“In 2016, 90% of the digital display advertising market growth came from formats and processes that use behavioural data,” it observed, projecting growth of 106% for behaviourally targeted advertising between 2016 and 2020, and a decline of 63.6% for forms of digital advertising that don’t use such data.

The economic incentives to push behavioral advertising vs non-targeted ads look clear for dominant platforms that rely on amassing scale — across advertisers, other people’s eyeballs, content and behavioral data — to extract value from the Internet’s dispersed and diverse audience.

But the incentives for content producers to subject themselves — and their engaged communities of users — to these privacy-hostile economies of scale look a whole lot more fuzzy.

Concern about potential imbalances in the online ad market is also leading policymakers and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to question the opacity of the market — and call for greater transparency.

A price on people tracking’s head

The new research, which will be presented at the Workshop on the Economics of Information Security conference in Boston next week, aims to contribute a new piece to this digital ad revenue puzzle by trying to quantify the value to a single publisher of choosing ads that are behaviorally targeted vs those that aren’t.

We’ve flagged the research before — when the findings were cited by one of the academics involved in the study at an FTC hearing — but the full paper has now been published.

It’s called Online Tracking and Publishers’ Revenues: An Empirical Analysis, and is co-authored by three academics: Veronica Marotta, an assistant professor in information and decision sciences at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota; Vibhanshu Abhishek, associate professor of information systems at the Paul Merage School of Business, University California Irvine; and Alessandro Acquisti, professor of IT and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

“While the impact of targeted advertising on advertisers’ campaign effectiveness has been vastly documented, much less is known about the value generated by online tracking and targeting technologies for publishers – the websites that sell ad spaces,” the researchers write. “In fact, the conventional wisdom that publishers benefit too from behaviorally targeted advertising has rarely been scrutinized in academic studies.”

“As we briefly mention in the paper, notwithstanding claims about the shared benefits of online tracking and behaviorally targeting for multiple stakeholders (merchants, publishers, consumers, intermediaries…), there is a surprising paucity of empirical estimates of economic outcomes from independent researchers,”  Acquisti also tells us.

In fact, most of the estimates focus on the advertisers’ side of the market (for instance, there have been quite a few studies estimating the increase in click-through or conversion rates associated with targeted ads); much less is known about the publishers’ side of the market. So, going into the study, we were genuinely curious about what we may find, as there was little in terms of data that could anchor our predictions.

“We did have theoretical bases to make possible predictions, but those predictions could be quite antithetical. Under one story, targeting increases the value of the audience, which increases advertisers’ bids, which increases publishers’ revenues; under a different story, targeting decreases the ‘pool’ of audience interested in an ad, which decreases competition to display ads, which reduces advertisers’ bids, eventually reducing publishers’ revenues.”

For the study the researchers were provided with a data-set comprising “millions” of display ad transactions completed in a week across multiple online outlets owned by a single (unidentified) large publisher which operates websites in a range of verticals such as news, entertainment and fashion.

The data-set also included whether or not the site visitor’s cookie ID is available — enabling analysis of the price difference between behaviorally targeted and non-targeted ads. (The researchers used a statistical mechanism to control for systematic differences between users who impede cookies.)

As noted above, the top-line finding is only a very small gain for the publisher whose data they were analyzing — of around 4%. Or an average increase of $0.00008 per advertisement. 

It’s a finding that contrasts wildly with some of the loud yet unsubstantiated opinions which can be found being promulgated online — claiming the ‘vital necessity’ of behavorial ads to support publishers/journalism.

For example, this article, published earlier this month by a freelance journalist writing for The American Prospect, includes the claim that: “An online advertisement without a third-party cookie sells for just 2 percent of the cost of the same ad with the cookie.” Yet does not specify a source for the statistic it cites.

(The author told us the reference is to a 2018 speech made by Index Exchange’s Andrew Casale, when he suggested ad requests without a buyer ID receive 99% lower bids vs the same ad request with the identifier. She added that her conversations with people in the adtech industry had suggested a spread between a 99% and 97% decline in the value of an ad without a cookie, hence choosing a middle point.)

At the same time policymakers in the US now appear painfully aware how far behind Europe they are lagging where privacy regulation is concerned — and are fast dialling up their scrutiny of and verbal horror over how Internet users are tracked and profiled by adtech giants.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month — convened with the aim of “understanding the digital ad ecosystem and the impact of data privacy and competition policy” — the talk was not if to regulate big tech but how hard they must crack down on monopolistic ad giants.

“That’s what brings us here today. The lack of choice [for consumers to preserve their privacy online],” said senator Richard Blumenthal. “The excessive and extraordinary power of Google and Facebook and others who dominate the market is a fact of life. And so privacy protection is absolutely vital in the short run.”

The kind of “invasive surveillance” that the adtech industry systematically deploys is “something we would never tolerate from a government but Facebook and Google have the power of government never envisaged by our founders,” Blumenthal went on, before a few of the types of personal data that are sucked up and exploited by the adtech industrial surveillance complex: “Health, dating, location, finance, extremely personal details — offered to anyone with almost no restraint.”

Bearing that “invasive surveillance” in mind, a 4% publisher ‘premium’ for privacy-hostile ads vs adverts that are merely contextually served (and so don’t require pervasive tracking of web users) starts to look like a massive rip off — of both publisher brand and audience value, as well as Internet users’ rights and privacy.

Yes, targeted ads do appear to generate a small revenue increase, per the study. But as the researchers also point out that needs to be offset against the cost to publishers of complying with privacy regulations.

“If setting tracking cookies on visitors was cost free, the website would definitely be losing money. However, the widespread use of tracking cookies – and, more broadly, the practice of tracking users online – has been raising privacy concerns that have led to the adoption of stringent regulations, in particular in the European Union,” they write — going on to cite an estimate by the International Association of Privacy Professionals that Fortune’s Global 500 companies will spend around $7.8BN on compliant costs to meet the requirements of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Wider costs to systematically eroding online privacy are harder to put a value on for publishers. But should also be considered — whether it’s the costs to a brand reputation and user loyalty as a result of a publisher larding their sites with unwanted trackers; to wider societal costs — linked to the risks of data-fuelled manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable groups. Simply put, it’s not a good look.

Publishers may appear complicit in the asset stripping of their own content and audiences for what — per this study — seems only marginal gain, but the opacity of the adtech industry implies that most likely don’t realize exactly what kind of ‘deal’ they’re getting at the hands of the ad giants who grip them.

Which makes this research paper a very compelling read for the online publishing industry… and, well, a pretty awkward newsflash for anyone working in adtech.

 

While the study only provides a snapshot of ad market economics, as experienced by a single publisher, the glimpse it presents is distinctly different from the picture the adtech lobby has sought to paint, as it has ploughed money into arguing against privacy legislation — on the claimed grounds that ‘killing behavioural advertising would kill free online content’. 

Saying no more creepy ads might only marginally reduce publishers’ revenue doesn’t have quite the same doom-laden ring, clearly.

“In a nutshell, this study provides an initial data point on a portion of the advertising ecosystem over which claims had been made but little empirical verification was completed. The results highlight the need for more transparency over how the value generated by flows of data gets allocated to different stakeholders,” says Acquisti, summing up how the study should be read against the ad market as a whole.

Contacted for a response to the research, Randall Rothenberg, CEO of advertising business organization, the IAB, agreed that the digital supply chain is “too complex and too opaque” — and also expressed concern about how relatively little value generated by targeted ads is trickling down to publishers.

“One week’s worth of data from one unidentified publisher does not make for a projectible (sic) piece of research. Still, the study shows that targeted advertising creates immense value for brands — more than 90% of the unnamed publisher’s auctioned ads were sold with targeting attached, and advertisers were willing to pay a 60% premium for those ads. Yet very little of that value flowed to the publisher,” he told TechCrunch. “As IAB has been saying for a decade, the digital supply chain is too complex and too opaque, and this diversion of value is more proof that transparency is required so that publishers can benefit from the value they create.”

The research paper includes discussion of the limitations to the approach, as well as ideas for additional research work — such as looking at how the value of cookies changes depending on how much information they contain (on that they write of their initial findings: “Information seem to be very valuable (from the publisher’s perspective) when we compare cookies with very little information to cookies with some information; after a certain point, adding more information to a cookie does not seem to create additional value for the publisher”); and investigating how “the (un)availability of a cookie changes the competition in the auction” — to try to understand ad auction competition dynamics and the potential mechanisms at play.

“This is one new and hopefully useful data point, to which others must be added,” Acquisti also told us in concluding remarks. “The key to research work is incremental progress, with more studies progressively adding a clearer understanding of an issue, and we look forward to more research in this area.”

This report was updated with additional comment


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Twitch Prime adds its first non-gaming ‘loot’ with access to anime streaming service Crunchyroll

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in crunchyroll, game streaming, Gaming, Media, streaming service, TC, twitch, twitch prime | 0 comments

Twitch Prime, the game streaming service’s version of Amazon Prime, has typically focused on offering subscribers free loot and other game-related perks since its debut a few years ago. Now, that’s changing. Twitch Prime is today rolling out its first-ever non-gaming “loot” — a 30-day subscription to the anime streaming service Crunchyroll Premium.

Crunchyroll is a top destination for watching anime online, with more than 45 million registered users and 2 million paying subscribers who usually pay $7.99 per month for its “Premium” tier. The service’s library includes more than 1,000 series and 30,000 episodes. And the wider Crunchyroll brand includes things like mobile games, events, merchandise and more.

The two companies, Twitch and Crunchyroll, already had a long-term relationship before today. For the past two years, Crunchyroll made the game streaming site the exclusive live streaming home to its annual Anime Awards show, for example, and it operates its own Twitch channel. This past year, Twitch also streamed an exclusive pre-show anime marathon where more than 1.3 million online viewers watched a collective nearly 19 million minutes. The official Twitch stream of the Anime Awards show also reached nearly half a million unique viewers.

Given the Twitch audience’s clear interest in anime, a partnership that could potentially convert some of those fans to paying subscribers makes sense for Crunchyroll.

Meanwhile, for Twitch, the move serves as a way to test expanding Twitch Prime offers to a new category — free trials of subscriptions. The larger subscription market is booming, with some saying how everything from transportation to entertainment to groceries will eventually become subscription-based. Helping those companies reach Twitch’s younger demographic — and specifically those who are already paying for a subscription with Twitch itself — could help a service boost sign-ups.

While most streaming subscriptions today offer a free trial to interested users, smaller players often still struggle with discovery amid a growing number of new entrants on the market ranging from live TV services to video-on-demand and, soon, to big-name newcomers like Apple TV+ and Disney+, for example.

Twitch and Crunchyroll declined to say what sort of revenue share would take place if Twitch Prime members elect to continue with a paid subscription when the free month wrapped.

“While we constantly focus on delighting Crunchyroll fans, we also feel it’s our responsibility to continue to proliferate the popularity of anime to new audiences,” said Eric Berman, head of partnerships at Crunchyroll, in a statement. “We pride ourselves on working with like-minded, fan-focused partners and are excited to offer all Twitch Prime members a free pass to Crunchyroll right in time for the huge spring anime season,” he added.

The Crunchyroll Premium subscription offered to Twitch Prime members is twice as long as the company’s free trial, and it doesn’t require users to enter a credit card to take advantage of the perk.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Amazon Fire TV tops 34 million users, potentially widening its lead over Roku

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, cord cutting, fire tv, Hardware, Media, roku, streaming, Streaming Media, streaming media players | 0 comments

Amazon Fire TV’s lead over rival streaming platform Roku is widening. In January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Amazon said it had “well over” 30 million Fire TV users compared with Roku’s then 27 million active users. In roughly four months’ time, Fire TV has grown to more than 34 million active users, according to new statements made by Amazon this week. Meanwhile, Roku grew its account base by 2 million in the first quarter of 2019, to reach 29.1 million active accounts, per its earnings report this month.

The new figures for Amazon Fire TV were shared yesterday by Fire TV GM and global head of Marketing, Growth & Engagement, Jen Prenner, at the Pay TV Show during a panel titled “The Battle for Your Living Room: Sticks, Boxes, and Smart TV Platforms.”

Amazon also claims that Fire TV has grown to become the No. 1 streaming media player platform in the U.S., U.K., Germany, India and Japan, thanks to its strong sales momentum.

When Amazon first announced its user number at CES, there was some question as to how those figures were calculated. Roku typically defines an “active” account as one that has streamed through its platform over the past 30 days. Amazon, at the time, had only spoken about users more generally, without characterizing them as “actives.”

However, yesterday’s comments referenced “active users,” Amazon says, not just a total number of users.

Roku notes that its active account figures may include a family with multiple people (i.e. several “users”) — something it wants to note because of how the newly reported growth figures make it look. And until Amazon chooses to define how it determines an active user, it’s not possible to fully understand how to compare the two. Update: However, Fire TV devices today are registered to one person’s Amazon user’s account information. Once set up, it’s certainly possible for multiple people to watch the same Fire TV device. And if they’re not switching profiles, then Amazon — like Roku — wouldn’t have a way to track individual user data either.

Update, 5/15/19 3:45 PM: Amazon confirmed it measures “users” the exact same way Roku measures “accounts.”

Roku dominated U.S. streaming player market share last year, but Fire TV has likely gained ground internationally. Today, the Fire TV ships worldwide to a wide range of countries, all of which can use the device to stream Prime Video content. Roku, meanwhile, ships to a couple dozen countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and parts of Latin America. However, Roku last year had to stop sales in Mexico until it addressed issues involving access to pirated content, which were only resolved in October.

Fire TV also benefits from Amazon’s frequent and steep discounts on its hardware devices — including those over the holiday shopping period, where Fire TV Stick became a best seller. It’s been known to sell devices at cost or below, in an effort to gain market share. Plus, today’s consumers may be drawn to Fire TV because of its built-in access to Alexa — something that makes it one of the cheapest ways to get the popular voice assistant into the home.

Amazon is focused this year on expanding access to content and Alexa voice controls on Fire TV. On the content front, it recently came to an agreement with Google that allows it to finally bring YouTube to Fire TV, and following that, YouTube TV and YouTube Kids. It also has plans to support both Disney+ and Apple TV+ later this year, the company says.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Original Content podcast: We’re not impressed by Netflix’s ‘Extremely Wicked’ Ted Bundy movie

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Entertainment, game of thrones, Media, Netflix, original content podcast, Podcasts | 0 comments

Despite its grandiose title, Netflix’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” turns out to be surprisingly forgettable.

In this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Brian Heater to review the film, which features Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy and Lily Collins as his initially unsuspecting girlfriend Liz Kendall.

The film is ostensibly about their relationship, but director Joe Berlinger and screenwriter Michael Werwie can’t quite seem to commit — they end up dramatizing the broader story of Bundy’s capture and trials, while only intermittently returning to Kendall in the film’s second half.

Bundy’s actual murders also get short shrift. While one might argue that we already know he’s a killer and don’t necessarily need to see grisly recreations of his work, by being so coy about Bundy’s murderous side, the film ends up feeling strangely unbalanced and empty.

We also continue our discussion of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” with a review of the often-frustrating episode “The Last of the Starks.” We’re particularly concerned about what’s being set up as the show’s endgame, and where it’s taking Daenerys.

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!)

If you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
1:29 “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” review (mild spoilers for the movie and for real-life events)
42:35 “Game of Thrones”/”Last of the Starks” discussion (spoilers ahoy!)


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

India’s most popular services are becoming super apps

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Asia, China, Cloud, Developer, Facebook, Finance, Flipkart, Food, Foodpanda, Gaana, Gaming, grab, haptik, hike, India, MakeMyTrip, Media, Microsoft, microsoft garage, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, mx player, payments, Paytm, paytm mall, reliance jio, saavn, SnapDeal, Social, Startups, Tapzo, Tencent, Times Internet, Transportation, Truecaller, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, WeChat | 0 comments

Truecaller, an app that helps users screen strangers and robocallers, will soon allow users in India, its largest market, to borrow up to a few hundred dollars.

The crediting option will be the fourth feature the nine-year-old app adds to its service in the last two years. So far it has added to the service the ability to text, record phone calls and mobile payment features, some of which are only available to users in India. Of the 140 million daily active users of Truecaller, 100 million live in India.

The story of the ever-growing ambition of Truecaller illustrates an interesting phase in India’s internet market that is seeing a number of companies mold their single-functioning app into multi-functioning so-called super apps.

Inspired by China

This may sound familiar. Truecaller and others are trying to replicate Tencent’s playbook. The Chinese tech giant’s WeChat, an app that began life as a messaging service, has become a one-stop solution for a range of features — gaming, payments, social commerce and publishing platform — in recent years.

WeChat has become such a dominant player in the Chinese internet ecosystem that it is effectively serving as an operating system and getting away with it. The service maintains its own app store that hosts mini apps and lets users tip authors. This has put it at odds with Apple, though the iPhone-maker has little choice but to make peace with it.

For all its dominance in China, WeChat has struggled to gain traction in India and elsewhere. But its model today is prominently on display in other markets. Grab and Go-Jek in Southeast Asian markets are best known for their ride-hailing services, but have begun to offer a range of other features, including food delivery, entertainment, digital payments, financial services and healthcare.

The proliferation of low-cost smartphones and mobile data in India, thanks in part to Google and Facebook, has helped tens of millions of Indians come online in recent years, with mobile the dominant platform. The number of internet users has already exceeded 500 million in India, up from some 350 million in mid-2015. According to some estimates, India may have north of 625 million users by year-end.

This has fueled the global image of India, which is both the fastest growing internet and smartphone market. Naturally, local apps in India, and those from international firms that operate here, are beginning to replicate WeChat’s model.

Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Paytm Vijay Shekhar Sharma speaks during the launch of Paytm payments Bank at a function in New Delhi on November 28, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

Leading that pack is Paytm, the popular homegrown mobile wallet service that’s valued at $18 billion and has been heavily backed by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that rivals Tencent and crucially missed the mobile messaging wave in China.

Commanding attention

In recent years, the Paytm app has taken a leaf from China with additions that include the ability to text merchants; book movie, flight and train tickets; and buy shoes, books and just about anything from its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall . It also has added a number of mini games to the app. The company said earlier this month that more than 30 million users are engaging with its games.

Why bother with diversifying your app’s offering? Well, for Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm, the question is why shouldn’t you? If your app serves a certain number of transactions (or engagements) in a day, you have a good shot at disrupting many businesses that generate fewer transactions, he told TechCrunch in an interview.

At the end of the day, companies want to garner as much attention of a user as they can, said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner of research and advisory firm Convergence Catalyst.

“This is similar to how cable networks such as Fox and Star have built various channels with a wide range of programming to create enough hooks for users to stick around,” Kolla said.

“The agenda for these apps is to hold people’s attention and monopolize a user’s activities on their mobile devices,” he added, explaining that higher engagement in an app translates to higher revenue from advertising.

Paytm’s Sharma agrees. “Payment is the moat. You can offer a range of things including content, entertainment, lifestyle, commerce and financial services around it,” he told TechCrunch. “Now that’s a business model… payment itself can’t make you money.”

Big companies follow suit

Other businesses have taken note. Flipkart -owned payment app PhonePe, which claims to have 150 million active users, today hosts a number of mini apps. Some of those include services for ride-hailing service Ola, hotel booking service Oyo and travel booking service MakeMyTrip.

Paytm (the first two images from left) and PhonePe offer a range of services that are integrated into their payments apps

What works for PhonePe is that its core business — payments — has amassed enough users, Himanshu Gupta, former associate director of marketing and growth for WeChat in India, told TechCrunch. He added that unlike e-commerce giant Snapdeal, which attempted to offer similar offerings back in the day, PhonePe has tighter integration with other services, and is built using modern architecture that gives users almost native app experiences inside mini apps.

When you talk about strategy for Flipkart, the homegrown e-commerce giant acquired by Walmart last year for a cool $16 billion, chances are arch rival Amazon is also hatching similar plans, and that’s indeed the case for super apps.

In India, Amazon offers its customers a range of payment features such as the ability to pay phone bills and cable subscription through its Amazon Pay service. The company last year acquired Indian startup Tapzo, an app that offers integration with popular services such as Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato, to boost Pay’s business in the nation.

Another U.S. giant, Microsoft, is also aboard the super train. The Redmond-based company has added a slew of new features to SMS Organizer, an app born out of its Microsoft Garage initiative in India. What began as a texting app that can screen spam messages and help users keep track of important SMSs recently partnered with education board CBSE in India to deliver exam results of 10th and 12th grade students.

This year, the SMS Organizer app added an option to track live train schedules through a partnership with Indian Railways, and there’s support for speech-to-text. It also offers personalized discount coupons from a range of companies, giving users an incentive to check the app more often.

Like in other markets, Google and Facebook hold a dominant position in India. More than 95% of smartphones sold in India run the Android operating system. There is no viable local — or otherwise — alternative to Search, Gmail and YouTube, which counts India as its fastest growing market. But Google hasn’t necessarily made any push to significantly expand the scope of any of its offerings in India.

India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, and Facebook’s marquee app too has more than 250 million users in the nation. WhatsApp launched a pilot payments program in India in early 2018, but is yet to get clearance from the government for a nationwide rollout. (It isn’t happening for at least another two months, a person familiar with the matter said.) In the meanwhile, Facebook appears to be hatching a WeChatization of Messenger, albeit that app is not so big in India.

Ride-hailing service Ola too, like Grab and Go-Jek, plans to add financial services such as credit to the platform this year, a source familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

“We have an abundance of data about our users. We know how much money they spend on rides, how often they frequent the city and how often they order from restaurants. It makes perfect sense to give them these valued-added features,” the person said. Ola has already branched out of transport after it acquired food delivery startup Foodpanda in late 2017, but it hasn’t yet made major waves in financial services despite giving its Ola Money service its own dedicated app.

The company positioned Ola Money as a super app, expanded its features through acquisition and tie ups with other players and offered discounts and cashbacks. But it remains behind Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, all of which are also offering discounts to customers.

Integrated entertainment

Super apps indeed come in all shapes and sizes, beyond core services like payment and transportation — the strategy is showing up in apps and services that entertain India’s internet population.

MX Player, a video playback app with more than 175 million users in India that was acquired by Times Internet for some $140 million last year, has big ambitions. Last year, it introduced a video streaming service to bolster its app to grow beyond merely being a repository. It has already commissioned the production of several original shows.

In recent months, it has also integrated Gaana, the largest local music streaming app that is also owned by Times Internet. Now its parent company, which rivals Google and Facebook on some fronts, is planning to add mini games to MX Player, a person familiar with the matter said, to give it additional reach and appeal.

Some of these apps, especially those that have amassed tens of millions of users, have a real shot at diversifying their offerings, analyst Kolla said. There is a bar of entry, though. A huge user base that engages with a product on a daily basis is a must for any company if it is to explore chasing the super app status, he added.

Indeed, there are examples of companies that had the vision to see the benefits of super apps but simply couldn’t muster the requisite user base. As mentioned, Snapdeal tried and failed at expanding its app’s offerings. Messaging service Hike, which was valued at more than $1 billion two years ago and includes WeChat parent Tencent among its investors, added games and other features to its app, but ultimately saw poor engagement. Its new strategy is the reverse: to break its app into multiple pieces.

“In 2019, we continue to double down on both social and content but we’re going to do it with an evolved approach. We’re going to do it across multiple apps. That means, in 2019 we’re going to go from building a super app that encompasses everything, to Multiple Apps solving one thing really well. Yes, we’re unbundling Hike,” Kavin Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike, wrote in an update published earlier this year.

And Reliance Jio, of course

For the rest, the race is still on, but there are big horses waiting to enter to add further competition.

Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of conglomerate Reliance Industry that is owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is planning to introduce a super app that will host more than 100 features, according to a person familiar with the matter. Local media first reported the development.

It will be fascinating to see how that works out. Reliance Jio, which almost single-handedly disrupted the telecom industry in India with its low-cost data plans and free voice calls, has amassed tens of millions of users on the bouquet of apps that it offers at no additional cost to Jio subscribers.

Beyond that diverse selection of homespun apps, Reliance has also taken an M&A-based approach to assemble the pieces of its super app strategy.

It bought music streaming service Saavn last year and quickly integrated it with its own music app JioMusic. Last month, it acquired Haptik, a startup that develops “conversational” platforms and virtual assistants, in a deal worth more than $100 million. It already has the user bases required. JioTV, an app that offers access to over 500 TV channels; and JioNews, an app that additionally offers hundreds of magazines and newspapers, routinely appear among the top apps in Google Play Store.

India’s super app revolution is in its early days, but the trend is surely one to keep an eye on as the country moves into its next chapter of internet usage.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

The Oscars won’t change their rules to exclude streaming

Posted by on Apr 24, 2019 in academy awards, Entertainment, Media, Netflix | 0 comments

It looks like movies produced by Netflix and other streaming services will be able to compete for next year’s Academy Awards without any changes to eligibility.

After the Netflix Original film “Roma” was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s ceremony and ultimately took home the awards for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography, the Academy’s Board of Directors was mulling possible rule changes.

The crux of the debate seems to be Netflix’s theatrical strategy. The company insisted for years that it was willing to release its movies in theaters, but it would not hold those titles back from the streaming service, which meant that most large chains were unwilling to screen them. Netflix finally eased up on this practice last year, with “Roma” (and a handful of other films) opening in theaters before they launched on Netflix, but with a much shorter theatrical window than is traditional.

Director Steven Spielberg was reportedly an advocate for changing the rules in a way that would have made it harder for Netflix movies to compete — perhaps by requiring that films play exclusively in theaters for four weeks.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice weighed in, sending a letter to the Academy stating that if it makes eligibility changes that “eliminate competition without procompetitive justification, such conduct may raise antitrust concerns.”

Now the Academy has put out a press release summarizing rules changes voted on by its Board of Governors (like renaming the Foreign Language Film award to International Feature Film).

The release notes that the board voted not to change Rule Two, Eligibility, which describes the theatrical run needed to be eligible for an Oscar. It says that “a film must have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles County commercial theater, with at least three screenings per day for paid admission” in order to be eligible — but the film can also be released on “nontheatrical media” at the same time.

“We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions,” said Academy President John Bailey in a statement. “Our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration. We plan to further study the profound changes occurring in our industry and continue discussions with our members about these issues.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Original Content podcast: Making sense of the surreal terrors in Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’

Posted by on Apr 13, 2019 in Entertainment, Jordan Peele, Media, original content podcast, Podcasts, US | 0 comments

Jordan Peele fans who go to his latest film “Us” hoping to find another “Get Out” may be disappointed: Where Peele’s directorial debut lent itself to straightforward political allegory, the follow-up feels murkier and stranger.

“Us” is a nightmarish journey into a world invaded by sinister doppelgangers. The film does, eventually, offer a rationale for what’s happening, but the surreal imagery (and the unsettling work by the cast, led by Lupita Nyong’o) will stick with you in a way that the explanations do not.

On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Megan Rose Dickey to review the film. Now that it’s been a few weeks since “Us” hit theaters, it feels like the right time to argue about what actually happened, dig into the film’s symbolism and see which fan theories resonate.

We also talk about our expectations after watching the first trailer for the next Star Wars film, “The Rise of Skywalker,” which is meant to wrap up the whole nine-episode story.

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!)


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Turns out The Correspondent isn’t opening a US newsroom after all

Posted by on Mar 28, 2019 in Media, Startups, TC, The Correspondent | 0 comments

Dutch news organization The Correspondent surprised some of its supporters earlier this week when co-founder and CEO Ernst Pfauth posted an update on Medium saying that the company would not be opening a newsroom in New York City.

Which was odd, because the organization raised $2.6 million in a crowdfunding campaign last fall with the express purpose of launching in the United States.

At least, that’s what I thought. After all, I wrote an article titled, “The Correspondent launches campaign to bring its ad-free journalism to the US.”

But here’s how Pfauth explained the decision in his post (emphasis in the original):

We’ve closed our campaign office in NYC, and we have decided that we won’t open a newsroom in the US for now. We don’t aim to be a national US news organization (we have founding members from more than 130 countries around the world!) but instead want to cover the greatest challenges of our time from a global perspective — in English. For that vision, Amsterdam is as a great place to start.

So was this the plan all along? In an interview with NiemanLab, Editor-in-Chief Rob Wijnberg argued that this is consistent with what The Correspondent team promised in the campaign: “We’re setting up in English language, and we’re going to hire U.S.-based journalists as well.”

He went on to say that the team “never really talked about setting up an office” in the United States. Still, he acknowledged that it was a U.S.-centric campaign, with Wijnberg and Pfauth spending most of their time in New York, reaching out to U.S. journalists to write about the campaign and recruiting other journalists and pundits to serve as “ambassadors.”

“So it got interpreted by a lot of media who wrote about us as, ‘They’re launching in the U.S.,’ ” Wijnberg said. “Which is pretty much 80 percent true, in the sense that we are going to have English-language correspondents in the U.S. — just not only in the U.S. And we never promised — or never said, because that’s not our model — to have, to cover the United States or anything.”

So I thought: Okay, that makes sense. I must have misunderstood what Pfauth was telling me.

Still, I wanted to figure out how I got this wrong, so I went back to the initial email I received from Pfauth. Here’s how it began: “Dear Anthony, I’m CEO and cofounder of The Correspondent, an online journalism platform from Amsterdam that will soon be launching in the U.S.”

Then he gave a quick description of The Correspondent’s ad-free, reader-funded model, adding, “We aim to bring the same journalistic integrity and unconventional editorial approach when we launch in the U.S.”

It’s so weird that I ended up thinking they were planning to launch in the U.S.!

Wijnberg acknowledged the confusion in his interview, telling NiemanLab, “Tons of people talk about what we’re trying to do. So the idea that you can keep all these people on message all the time would be kind of totalitarian, right?”

Maybe … except this isn’t an overly enthusiastic ambassador; it’s the company’s CEO. (And it seems he made a similar pitch to other publications.) One might argue that keeping him on message — a.k.a., making sure he accurately describes the company’s plans as he asks people for money — is not only not “totalitarian,” but actually the responsible thing to do.

The truth is, I don’t know what happened here. If The Correspondent never planned to open a U.S. office, thinks it can do a good job covering the U.S. without one and simply did a bad job communicating? Fine. If the original plan was to open a U.S. office, then it reconsidered? That would be disappointing, but if the model still produces worthwhile journalism about the U.S., then I suppose it’s a net positive.

But these confusing, convoluted, “I’m sorry that you didn’t understand us” explanations don’t just make the company look disingenuous — they also seem antithetical to running a newsroom that depends on readers’ knowledge, goodwill and money.

Update: Jay Rosen, who is advising The Correspondent, has written a post in which he acknowledged that the company “screwed up its communications with members.”

Apparently, the original plan was to have its English-language headquarters in New York, but the thinking evolved as the team considered issues like cost and the benefits of having a distributed newsroom, eventually settling on the idea of “a one newsroom strategy … with headquarters in Amsterdam and the new correspondents working remotely.”

“I was initially taken back,” Rosen wrote. “I would not have come up with that idea. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, especially when it came to the talent search, and to the aspiration to one day be a global brand.”

Fair enough! It’s just a little mystifying that Wijnberg and Pfaust didn’t say that in the first place.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

The danger of ‘I already pay for Apple News+’

Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in Apple, apple news, Apps, eCommerce, Facebook, Media, Mobile, Opinion, TC | 0 comments

Apple doesn’t care about news, it cares about recurring revenue. That’s why publishers are crazy to jump into bed with Apple News+. They’re rendering their own subscription options unnecessary in exchange for a sliver of what Apple pays out from the mere $10 per month it charges for unlimited reading.

The unfathomable platform risk here makes Facebook’s exploitative Instant Articles program seem toothless in comparison. On Facebook, publishers became generic providers of dumb content for the social network’s smart pipe that stole the customer relationship from content creators. But at least publishers were only giving away their free content.

Apple News+ threatens to open a massive hole in news site paywalls, allowing their best premium articles to escape. Publishers hope they’ll get exposure to new audiences. But any potential new or existing direct subscriber to a publisher will no longer be willing to pay a healthy monthly fee to occasionally access that top content while supporting the rest of the newsroom. They’ll just cherry pick what they want via News+, and Apple will shave off a few cents for the publisher while owning all the data, customer relationship, and power.

“Why subscribe to that publisher? I already pay for Apple News+” should be the question haunting journalists’ nightmares. For readers, $10 per month all-you-can-eat from 300-plus publishers sounds like a great deal today. But it could accelerate the demise of some of those outlets, leaving society with fewer watchdogs and storytellers. If publishers agree to the shake hands with the devil, the dark lord will just garner more followers, making its ruinous offer more tempting.

There are so many horrifying aspects of Apple News+ for publishers, it’s best just to list each and break them down.

No relationship with the reader

To succeed, publishers need attention, data, and revenue, and Apple News+ gets in the way of all three. Readers visit Apple’s app, not the outlet’s site that gives it free rein to promote conference tickets, merchandise, research reports, and other money-makers. Publishers don’t get their Apple News+ readers’ email addresses for follow-up marketing, cookies for ad targeting and content personalization, or their credit card info to speed up future purchases.

At the bottom of articles, Apple News+ recommends posts by an outlet’s competitors. Readers end up without a publisher’s bookmark in their browser toolbar, app on their phone, or even easy access to them from News+’s default tab. They won’t see the outlet’s curation that highlights its most important content, or develop a connection with its home screen layout. They’ll miss call outs to follow individual reporters and chances to interact with innovative new interactive formats.

Perhaps worst of all, publishers will be thrown right back into the coliseum of attention. They’ll need to debase their voice and amp up the sensationalism of their headlines or risk their users straying an inch over to someone else. But they’ll have no control of how they’re surfaced…

At the mercy of the algorithm

Which outlets earn money on Apple News+ will be largely determined by what Apple decides to show in those first few curatorial slots on screen. At any time, Apple could decide it wants more visual photo-based content or less serious world news because it placates users even if they’re less informed. It could suddenly preference shorter takes because they keep people from bouncing out of the app, or more generic shallow-dives that won’t scare off casual readers who don’t even care about that outlet. What if Apple signs up a publisher’s biggest competitor and sends them all the attention, decimating the first outlet’s discovery while still exposing its top paywalled content for cheap access?

Remember when Facebook wanted to build the world’s personalized newspaper and delivered tons of referral traffic, then abruptly decided to favor “friends and family content” while leaving publishers to starve? Now outlets are giving Apple News+ the same iron grip on their businesses. They might hire a ton of talent to give Apple what it wants, only for the strategy to change. The Wall Street Journal says it’s hiring 50 staffers to make content specifically for Apple News+. Those sound like some of the most precarious jobs in the business right now.

Remember when Facebook got the WSJ, Guardian, and more to build “social reader apps” and then one day just shut off the virality and then shut down the whole platform? News+ revenue will be a drop in bucket of iPhone sales, and Apple could at any time decide it’s not thirsty any more and let News+ rot. That and the eventual realization of platform risk and loss of relationship with the reader led the majority of Facebook’s Instant Articles launch partners like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Vox to drop the format. Publishers would be wise to come to that same conclusion now before they drive any more eyeballs to News+.

News+ isn’t built for news

Apple acquired the magazine industry’s self-distribution app Texture a year ago. Now it’s trying to cram in traditional text-based news with minimal work to adapt the product. That means National Geographic and Sports Illustrated get featured billing with animated magazine covers and ways to browse the latest ‘issue’. News outlets get demoted far below, with no intuitive or productive way to skim between articles beyond swiping through a chronological stack.

I only see WSJ’s content below My Magazines, a massive At Home feature from Architectural Digest, a random Gadgets & Gear section of magazine articles, another huge call out for the new issue of The Cut plus four pieces inside of it, and one more giant look at Bloomberg’s profile of Dow Chemical. That means those magazines are likely to absorb a ton of taps and engagement time before users even make it to the WSJ, which will then only score few cents per reader.

Magazines often publish big standalone features that don’t need a ton of context. News articles are part of a continuum of information that can be laid out on a publisher’s own site where they have control but not on Apple News+. And to make articles more visually appealing, Apple strips out some of the cross-promotional recirculation, sign-up forms, and commerce opportunities depend on.

Shattered subscriptions

The whole situation feels like the music industry stumbling into the disastrous iTunes download era. Musicians earned solid revenue when someone bought their whole physical album for $16 to listen to the single, then fell in love with the other songs and ended up buying merchandise or concert tickets. Then suddenly, fans could just buy the digital single for $0.99 from iTunes, form a bond with Apple instead of the artist, and the whole music business fell into a depression.

Apple News+’s onerous revenue sharing deal puts publishers in the same pickle. That occasional flagship article that’s a breakout success no longer serves as a tentpole for the rest of the subscription.

Formerly, people would need to pay $30 per month for a WSJ subscription to read that article, with the price covering the research, reporting, and production of the whole newspaper. Readers felt justified paying the price since the got access to the other content, and the WSJ got to keep all the money even if people didn’t read much else or declined to even visit during the month. Now someone can pop in, read the WSJ’s best or most resource-intensive article, and the publisher effectively gets paid a la carte like with an iTunes single. Publishers will be scrounging for a cut of readers’ $10 per month, which will reportedly be divided in half by Apple’s oppressive 50 percent cut, then split between all the publishers someone reads — which will be heavily skewed towards the magazines that get the spotlight.

I’ve already had friends ask why they should keep paying if most of the WSJ is in Apple News along with tons of other publishers for a third of the price. Hardcore business news addicts that want unlimited access to the finance content that’s only available for three days in Apple News+ might keep their WSJ subscription. But anyone just in it for the highlights is likely to stop paying WSJ directly or never start.

I’m personally concerned because TechCrunch has agreed to put its new Extra Crunch $15 per month subscription content inside Apple News+ despite all the warning signs. We’re saving some perks like access to conference calls just for direct Extra Crunch subscribers, and perhaps a taste of EC’s written content might convince people they want the bonus features. But even more likely seems the possibility that readers would balk at paying again for just some extra perks when they already get the rest from Apple News, and many newsrooms aren’t set up to do anything but write articles.

It’s the “good enough” strategy we see across tech products playing out in news. When Instagram first launched Stories, it lacked a ton of Snapchat’s features, but it was good enough and conveniently located where people already spent their time and had their social graph. Snapchat didn’t suddenly lose all its users, but there was little reason for new users to sign up and growth plummetted.

Apple News is pre-loaded on your device, where you already have a credit card set up, and it’s bundled with lots of content, at a cheaper price that most individual news outlets. Even if it doesn’t offer unlimited, permanent access to every WSJ Pro story, Apple News+ will be good enough. And it gets better with each outlet that allies with this Borg.

But this time, good enough won’t just determine which tech giant wins. Apple News+ could decimate the revenue of a fundamental pillar of society we rely on to hold the powerful accountable. Yet to the journalists that surrender their content, Apple will have no accountability.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More