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Uber Adds Tipping and Makes Other Driver-Friendly Changes (Jun 20, 2017)
Today’s Instagram announcement is ostensibly about the launch of live video replays, a new feature that allows users to save their live videos for 24 hours as an Instagram Story. However, the part most outlets I’ve seen have focused on is the announcement of 250 million daily active users for Instagram Stories as a whole, which is naturally being compared once again with Snapchat’s overall user numbers. That’s always a bit disingenuous because comparing a single feature in an app with 700 monthly active users with daily active user numbers for a standalone app isn’t a like for like comparison – some large number of people who regularly use Instagram as an app might occasionally dip into Stories without ever posting one, while the average Snapchat daily active user spend sover 30 minutes in the app every day, suggesting a very different level of engagement. But this is the inevitable comparison, not just because the Stories feature was copied from Snapchat but also because its launch seems to have come at just the time Snapchat user growth slowed. The reality is that Facebook’s reach is now such across its many apps that it can easily launch new features and services and have them reach this kind of scale, and in the process eat into the time spent in other apps, but I don’t think anyone at Facebook would suggest that Instagram Stories by themselves generate nearly the engagement of Snapchat as an app, and even Instagram as an app likely only generates the same engagement and time spent as Snapchat among a minority of users. But that doesn’t mean Instagram Stories isn’t a huge hit for Instagram and a great way to neutralize the ongoing threat presented by Snapchat as a competitor, especially among the demographics where it hasn’t yet gained wide adoption.
Ex-Apple Engineer Chris Lattner Leaves Tesla After 5 Months (Jun 20, 2017)
Apple Adds New Claims to Qualcomm Lawsuit (Jun 20, 2017)
Google announced its Jobs search vertical last month at its I/O developer conference, but it’s now actually launched the feature live for users (this is a good example of how launch announcements are often vague or completely silent on the point of timing, and it’s always worth checking that detail). The search feature works pretty much as you would imagine, for now at least merely aggregating search listings on existing big job search sites, though there’s no guarantee Google won’t eventually seek to disintermediate the legacy players and do more of the heavy lifting itself. After all, if users are already coming to Google for search results, why not encourage employers to list directly on Google over time? It’s also worth noting that Google has been reported to be working on a recruitment service for companies, for now decoupled from the Google search engine, but clearly a potential fit with it in time.
Netflix Announces Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Shows for Kids (Jun 20, 2017)
IDC Forecasts Strong Growth for AR and VR Headsets, with VR and Commercial AR Biggest (Jun 19, 2017)
Any service which becomes central enough to its users’ lives eventually has aspects which become essentially intimate to the user: what feel like private places where the user feels extremely comfortable, and where intrusions of content, ads, or other unwanted outside elements feel like a violation. I suspect users’ own playlists on Spotify feel like just such a place to its loyal users, and so the news that Spotify is testing a “Sponsored Song” ad unit in which songs are literally placed into users’ playlists should be concerning. Almost every ad-based business model eventually engages in such violations, either temporarily or permanently, because the drive is always to push the boundaries of ad load and the places where ads can show – the most valuable real estate is also often the most invasive, and each ad platform has to draw its own line between what is and isn’t acceptable in the pursuit of ad dollars. Spotify’s recently leaked full results for 2016 show that its ad-based business is loss-making even on a gross margin basis, while its subscription business is profitable on that same basis, so there’s always going to be a push to squeeze more ad revenue out of each user. I’ve recently finished a piece for Variety which will publish in the next couple of weeks in which I argue that Spotify should in fact ditch its free tier and go subscription-only, because of all the tradeoffs the ad-based business forces, especially in its relationships with labels. But these types of encroachments into what should be sacrosanct aspects of the user experience are another example of the risks of the free tier, especially relative to the small rewards – just 10% of Spotify’s revenue in 2016.
Time Warner Signs $100m Deal to Develop Shows for Snapchat (Jun 19, 2017)
This is a great counterpart to the FuboTV piece I posted earlier, because it illustrates the state of the current over-the-top streaming TV landscape. The survey quoted here from IBB Consulting suggests that nearly half of US broadband customers have at least one streaming TV service, with over half of those in turn subscribing to several. Moreover, nearly two thirds of those subscribing to these over-the-top services also still subscribe to traditional TV. That paints a picture in which subscription VOD (SVOD) services are both complements and substitutes to traditional pay TV, and even then largely fail to meet all of consumers’ needs for video. This is still a very fragmented marketplace, in which even the best providers are only partially meeting people’s needs. That creates both a near-term opportunity for someone to do better at meeting those needs, but also a long-term threat of consolidation as consumers balk at having to pay for and manage multiple subscriptions and long for someone to bring it all together. Given all the assets and relationships held by the major legacy pay TV companies, they’ve certainly in a strong position to aggregate some of this fragmentation on the part of consumers, while platform companies like Apple and Amazon are also positioning themselves in different ways as subscription aggregators, presenting another possible way forward. Regardless, as today’s FuboTV fundraising news suggests, there’s lots of activity still to come here.
FuboTV Raises $55m, Adds Scripps Channels and Financing (Jun 19, 2017)
Twitter Launches #SeeEverySide Marketing Campaign (Jun 19, 2017)
Apple Poaches Two Sony TV Execs to Lead Video Programming (Jun 16, 2017)
Apple has hired two executives who previously helped make Breaking Bad and The Crown on behalf of AMC and Netflix respectively as its new heads of video programming globally. Those two pieces of content are powerful examples of the role of original content in boosting video brands – Breaking Bad was a major plank of AMC’s push over recent years to turn itself into more than just a catalog player, and while The Crown isn’t Netflix’s most popular bit of original content, it’s very good and a sign of the kind of big-budget stuff it’s going to be making more of going forward. As such, these are fascinating hires, given that for now at least Apple is on the opposite of that process – commissioning rather than producing original video content. These hires could be a sign that change is coming, given that these two new execs have experience producing and not just commissioning video, but that’s a somewhat unusual model for original content compared with other major players like Netflix, which have still tended to farm out original content rather than lead production internally. It’s possible that they will merely become equivalents of Ted Sarandos at Netflix, using their expertise to commission and oversee outside projects, but they seem somewhat odd hires in that context. All of this, meanwhile, seems much less plausible in a continued narrow focus on video content in Apple Music, and much more as part of a broader push into video ahead of a subscription video service. Two other things worth noting: Apple put out a press release on the hires, something it does very rarely indeed, suggesting it wants to make a fuss out of this. Secondly, these two will report directly to Eddy Cue, which will set up an interesting dynamic with Jimmy Iovine, who has seemed to loom large over all of Apple’s content efforts, but especially in video, and who I’ve speculated before is a bit of a loose cannon in this area. I’m hoping these two coming on board provides some more clarity in who owns original video content at Apple.