Snapchat users are ignoring media outlets and ads on the app, survey reveals

Why it matters to you

Despite Snapchat’s efforts to add more news publishers and ads to its platform, this is exactly the type of content its users are not interested in seeing.

Snapchat publishers are having a hard time finding an audience for their content, according to a new survey from customer acquisition firm Fluent.

Despite the fact that Snapchat is home to traditional media outlets such as CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, its users are not seeking out news on the app. Overall, 61 percent of the 3,327 American adults surveyed by Fluent said they did not follow a news organization on Snapchat.

More: Musical.ly launches another video-centric app in the form of Ping Pong

There wasn’t much love for sports publishers either, with 50 percent of respondents claiming they don’t follow the likes of ESPN, NBA, or NFL on the app. An even larger portion (57 percent) said they shun entertainment brands such as The Daily Mail and E! The stats do not reflect Snapchat’s Discover section devoted to its media partners.

Just as worrying for the company is the revelation that people are skipping adds on its app. The survey claims that 69 percent of its respondents said they “always” or “often” skip adds on Snapchat. That number spikes to 80 percent for the app’s biggest demographic: 18-24 year olds. Despite touting that age group as a “big advertising opportunity” for marketers in its IPO filing, it seems younger users are not interested in watching promotional content on the platform. Snapchat earns the majority of its revenue (which totaled $404.5 million in 2016) from ads, including full-screen Snap ads and sponsored lenses and filters.

Fluent CMO Jordan Cohen told Digiday the following about user behavior on the app: “I asked lots of millennials this question. It’s really about exclusive short, fun content. In addition to communicating with friends, they follow celebrities. They don’t really engage with ads or mainstream news outlets.”

The statistics do not bode well for the company, which is busy trying to diversify its user base and increase ads on its platform before it goes public in March.

Lytro pursues 360-degree video and cinematic tools with $60M Series D


Ever-shifting camera tech company Lytro has raised major cash to continue development and deployment of its cinema-level camera systems. Perhaps the company’s core technology, “light field photography” that captures rich depth data, will be put to better use there than it was in the ill-fated consumer offerings.

“We believe we have the opportunity to be the company that defines the production pipeline, technologies and quality standards for an entire next generation of content,” wrote CEO Jason Rosenthal in a blog post.

Just what constitutes that next generation is rather up in the air right now, but Lytro feels sure that 360-degree 3D video will be a major part of it. That’s the reason it created its Immerge capture system — and then totally re-engineered it from a spherical lens setup to a planar one. You can see the old system below and the new one up top.  (Note: it’s man-sized.)

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The $60M round was led by Blue Pool Capital, with participation from EDBI, Foxconn, Huayi Brothers and Barry Sternlicht. “We believe that Asia in general and China in particular represent hugely important markets for VR and cinematic content over the next five years,” Rosenthal said in a statement.

It’s a hell of a lot of money, more even than the $50M round the company raised to develop its original consumer camera — which flopped. Its Illum follow-up camera, aimed at more serious photographers, also flopped. Both were innovative technologically but expensive and their use cases questionable.

Undaunted, Lytro raised its sights once again and is now taking aim at the digital cinema production world. The Immerge got its first serious on-set test in a production by Chris Milk, VR and film pioneer, the company announced.

But I’m skeptical of 360 3D, even when the content is compelling. Far more interesting to me is Lytro Cinema, a camera the size of a fallen tree meant to be a replacement for green screen setups.

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The idea, as we described in detail last year, is to make the widely used color keying process obsolete. Instead of excluding the green parts of the image, creators could simply exclude any part of the image past an arbitrary distance as measured by the light field process. It could change studio shoots in a very serious way and I think makes much more sense to invest in.

A Lytro representative indicated that the funding would be used both to advance both these major R&D projects and to support studios and creators looking to put them to use.

This is the real reason Apple’s senior leadership lacks diversity

Apple should be working faster. Not on building the next iPhone, or even creating the next hit TV show, but rather, on increasing the diversity at the company. 

That’s what a small group of shareholders, led by vocal investor Tony Maldonado, have been pushing. Later this month, Apple shareholders will vote on a proposal to increase the diversity of executives and board members through an “accelerated recruitment policy.” 

Apple’s advised shareholders to vote against the new proposal, stating that it has programs to address the issue throughout the company. 

But one point that Apple doesn’t emphasize—and one reason for its current lack of diversity at the top—is how hiring works within Apple. To become a senior-level VP or a C-suite exec at Apple, you most likely have worked at the company for decades. And decades ago, diversity hiring practices weren’t nearly as important or scrutinized as they are right now. Therefore, if you have seniority at Apple, odds are, you’re a white male.

Image: apple

And Maldonado’s specific accusation is, uh, spot-on: Apple’s senior leadership? All-white. 

It isn’t the first time the call’s been made. A similar proposal was considered at Apple’s 2016 shareholders’ meeting, and received 5.1 percent of the vote—not enough to be accepted but enough to be reconsidered. 

“Tim Cook was very defensive, and he presented the two back people on their leadership—but not senior leadership—as a sign of their diversity,” Maldonado told The Verge. “Personally, I took it as an insult. They were put on the spotlight as ‘here’s tokenism,’ and he didn’t seem to accept that.”

Out of the 11 people who in a C-level position or a senior vice president, all are white, and there’s only one woman. 

Apple’s board of directors has eight members. Two are female. One of those women is Asian, and the other’s white. One member, James A. Bell, is a black man. The other five members, or 62.5 percent, are white men. 

“Apple has rarely ever had many people of ethnic or racial diversity within their board or senior leadership,” he told The Verge. For a 40-year-old company “that’s laughable. That’s racism plain and simple. That’s all it is. There has to be plenty of people with sufficient qualifications.”

Maldonado does have point. There are definitely people in this world with sufficient qualifications who could serve on Apple’s leadership. But a reason for why diversity is low among those top ranks relates how Apple’s senior hiring process works. 

The vast majority of Apple’s senior leadership positions are made via promotions at the company, rather than external hires. Let’s look deeper: 

Tim Cook, CEO* — 1998, joined as SVP of operations

Angela Ahrendts* — 2014, joined as SVP of retail

Eddy Cue — 1989, content stores 

Craig Federigh — 1996, from NeXt 

Jonathan Ive — 1992, designer 

Luca Maestri — 2013, control controller and vice president of finance  

Dan Riccio — 1998, VP of product design 

Philip W. Schiller — 1987, marketing 

Bruce Sewell* — 2009, joined as general counsel 

Johny Srouji — 2008, senior director of handheld chips

Jeff Williams — 1998, head of worldwide procurement 

So, three of Apple’s 11 members of senior leadership joined at that level. 

Things look slightly better when you take a step down the ladder:

Image: apple

Apple’s seven VPs include two women, both of which also bring underrepresented minority representation to the team. 

If Apple sticks to its habit of promoting from within, the diversity picture at the top of the company might soon start shaping up. And it’s true: Apple’s diversity numbers  are actually some of the best in the tech industry, especially when you look at the percent of new hires who are women and underrepresented minorities. 

Apple reported 32 percent of its current employees are women, 9 percent are black and 12 percent are Hispanic and over the last year 54 percent of new hires are minorities:

Image: apple

Meanwhile, there are other tech companies that refuse to release any data on diversity, whether it be hires or current employee count. 

Snapchat soon to become a publicly-traded company has not shared any diversity statistics about its 1,859 employees. Uber has more than 9,000 office employees and has not met diversity advocate Jesse Jackson’s request for a report by mid-February.

Mulberrys is an on-demand laundry startup hoping to clean up where others have washed out


On-demand laundry has proven a tough business for some. Washio folded up its business last year, selling its assets into competitor Rinse. At the time Rinse’s founder Ajay Prakash told TechCrunch the on-demand model wasn’t the most efficient or economical way to handle the dirty business of cleaning clothes.

But now Mulberrys, a new cleaning competitor in the Bay Area, hopes to prove him wrong by mixing old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores with an on-demand platform.

Mulberrys just launched out of beta this week with 10 physical locations and a fleet of drivers to serve the city of San Francisco, but it’s been up and operating in Minneapolis for the last few years.

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Founder Dan Miller started the business as a McKinsey consultant but soon left to go to the School of Drycleaning Technology to learn how to press all those fancy suits he’d been wearing up to that point.

“I was consistently amazed by how far behind the dry cleaning and laundry industry was from what you’d think of as just modern best practices. A lot of dry cleaners don’t even have a website,” Miller said.

He soon built himself a more modernized operation but with a twist. Mulberrys offers dry cleaning on top of laundry service and Miller’s business controls the pipeline from pickup service to cleaning and delivery. All cleaning is done in-house and workers are employees, not contractors.

This may have been where Washio fumbled as there is a high cost in turnover and retention of third-party workers in the on-demand space. We should point out Rinse also hires within rather than trying to recruit contractors.

Miller is to a point now where, along with the Silicon Valley rollout, he’s looking to raise some smart money for his startup — to the tune of around $20 million. He might have a good shot at convincing investors. Unlike a lot of other startups in Silicon Valley, Miller says his business didn’t take VC dollars. It’s been profitable for years. According to Miller, maintaining control over every aspect of the business has helped to increase Mulberrys margins while providing a seamless customer experience.

Mulberrys works like a lot of other laundry startups. You pick a day and time for laundry pick-up and a Mulberrys worker comes to take it, cleans it and hands it back to you usually within the same day. But, unlike Rinse, you can get a Mulberrys driver to pick up your laundry morning or night, not just within a two-hour evening window.

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So how does that experience actually fare? I tested it out while it was in beta. There were a few kinks, as to be expected. The driver tried to pick up my laundry twice in one day and the app didn’t have the day I wanted for my area. But all of that seems to have been solved with the launch this week. You can choose any day or time for pick up in your zip code now.

They also dry cleaned a purple blouse for me, getting most, but not all, of the oil stain out. The Mulberrys delivery person explained to me she’d be able to get all of it out if they had another day but that next day was impossible. Though she did readily offer to clean it again for free to get the job done.

Miller also points out his cleaning business uses environmentally friendly cleaning products. And each bag of laundry you submit goes through a 10-point inspection process so you shouldn’t find any…odd…items in your bag when it’s delivered back to you.

Will this one make it? Mulberrys will have to compete with at least one other service in the Bay Area for now, but there seems to be plenty of tech workers willing to pay for someone else to do the cooking, cleaning and washing of clothes for them at the click of a button in SF.

MakerBot lays off 30% of its staff as company’s scope narrows


MakerBot is laying off 30 percent of its staff as part of an ongoing effort to adapt to a changing market, the company announced in a blog post today.

The failure of the 3D printing market to explode as expected has put pressure on the numerous companies spawned when the technology was emerging into the mainstream. MakerBot has been working to make itself more competitive and focused since its acquisition by Stratasys in 2013 for more than $400 million.

“We have to make additional changes to lower costs and to support our long-term goals,” wrote CEO Nadav Goshen. “As part of these changes, we will further integrate our hardware and software product development under one team.”

The company declined to comment on who makes up the 30 percent being laid off — sales, engineering, support? — and the exact numbers are unclear, as well. A different layoff of 20 percent of the company in 2015 amounted to around 80 people (from a total of about 400 at the time), so somewhere around 80-100 people is probably about right. They’ll receive severance pay and re-employment services.

MakerBot was careful to couch the news with proclamations that its latest product line has been well received — and so it has, certainly at least by us. The company’s new narrower focus on education and enterprise, as opposed to the consumer world at large, may yet pay dividends, but for now the costs are still mounting.

Comcast rolls out a new Stream TV app for its cable and internet TV customers


Comcast is launching a new app called Xfinity Stream, which will replace its older Xfinity TV app on mobile devices, as well as deliver a host of features for cable subscribers, including access to live TV, on-demand programming, DVR recordings and more. But the app serves another purpose, as well: Like the TV app it replaces, it will also be home to Comcast’s internet TV service aimed at cord cutters, Stream TV. This IPTV service is expected to roll out nationally later this year under new branding.

Stream TV hasn’t had much attention since its launch in mid-2015, mainly because it’s still only available in select markets. Currently, those in Boston and Chicago metros can subscribe to the live television streaming service, which is being aimed at those who no longer want to pay for cable TV, or have chosen not to sign up for cable in the first place.

In all regions, Stream TV includes access to the local broadcast stations (ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, Univision and Telemundo), as well as HBO. The service has been criticized for not being on par with Sling TV or PlayStation Vue, but it’s not really aimed at the true cord cutter. Instead, Stream TV is meant to appeal to those who generally watch TV at home, where a laptop or mobile device is used as their first screen.

In other words, Stream TV is not an “over-the-top” service, like Sling TV. The Stream TV package requires customers to be on their in-home Xfinity Wi-Fi network in order to use the service. Outside of the home, users have to rely on “TV Everywhere”-powered apps, like HBO GO, FOXNow, NBC and WatchABC.

Comcast plans to roll out Stream TV nationwide later this year to all the markets where Comcast is available. Today, that footprint includes 39 U.S. states, plus D.C.

At the time of the nationwide launch, Stream TV will also be rebranded to eliminate confusion between it and this new “Stream TV” app.

The app will then continue to serve both Comcast customer bases: those streaming TV cord cutters as well as the traditional cable TV subscribers.

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As for the new Stream TV app itself, it now allows Xfinity cable TV subscribers to tune in to more than 200 live TV channels, including sports networks like ESPN, Fox Sports and NBC Sports; news networks such as Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and BBC World News; kids networks like Nick Jr., Disney Channel and Sprout; plus 50 Music Choice channels and other cable and premium networks.

In addition, TV customers can choose from 40,000 on-demand titles, including both movies and TV shows, thousands of which can be downloaded for offline viewing, the company says. DVR recordings can be downloaded for offline access, and the DVR can be programmed remotely. A Spanish-language guide is available, too.

Stream TV (the IPTV package) subscribers will have access to the same general feature set, but will only be able to view those channels and on-demand titles included in that subscription. Downloads are not available for the broadcast networks or HBO in this package, so on-demand viewing may be limited.

However, the streaming TV service may offer users the ability to add other premium channels in the future, we understand, like Starz or Showtime. Both of these channels offer offline access (meaning, downloads).

The new Stream TV app will launch on iOS and Android devices on February 28th.

Customers who already have the Xfinity TV app installed will be transitioned to the new Stream app through an app update, says Comcast.

These wired earbuds fix one of the most annoying things about the iPhone 7

Fact: There’s no way to listen to music and charge your iPhone 7/7 Plus at the same time. That is, unless you buy a dongle or switch to wireless headphones.

If neither of those workarounds is to your liking, you can pick up a pair of Pioneer’s new Rayz Plus earbuds, which have a Lightning charging port built right into the cable.

It’s not the not the most elegant solution — you plug a Lightning cable sideways into the in-line charging port — but it does solve a very real problem. 

Image: pioneer

The $150 wired earbuds also come with a few other high-tech features, like an in-line remote control; “AutoPause,” which automatically pauses your music when you take them out of your ears and resumes when you put them back; “smart noise canceling” that adjusts the noise cancelation based on the ambient noise around you; and a “smart button” that can be programmed to launch any app with just a press.

Pioneer also says the Rayz Plus earbuds uses less power than other Lightning headphones/earbuds.

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The company also sells a cheaper $100 version called the Rayz that has all of the Rayz Plus’ features minus the pass-through charging port.

New charges, arrest warrant sought for Samsung VP amid ongoing corruption probe

Why it matters to you

A South Korean political scandal has seen Samsung executives face accusations of corruption, and even arrest warrants

Samsung Group is embroiled in a political scandal that has dominated headlines in South Korea recently. It’s one of several major conglomerates accused of making donations to nonprofit foundations in exchange for political favors, which in Samsung’s case may have smoothed the path for a controversial merger that was approved in July 2015.

After prosecutors raided Samsung’s corporate offices in Seoul, South Korea, at the end of November 2016, company executives have repeatedly appeared before a parliamentary committee, while links to bribery and corruption are being investigated by a special prosecutorial team.

Eventually, Samsung head Lee Jae-yong was questioned, leading to the issuance of an arrest warrant that named him. While the arrest warrant was rejected by a court on January 19, Lee Jae-yong was brought in yet again for another round of questioning on February 13, and another arrest warrant was sought afterwards which includes new charges.

Here’s everything you need to know about the ongoing case.

More: Samsung acquires Harmon for $8 billion

What’s the background?

The accusations against Samsung and other South Korean companies, including Hyundai, SK Group, and Lotte Group, are related to the ongoing investigation into South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye, and her involvement in extorting money from major corporations.

Park has been accused of assisting in an extortion scheme with unofficial presidential aide Choi Soon-sil. More than 50 businesses were allegedly pressured to make donations potentially worth $69 million to sporting foundations backed by Choi, which were set up following the Samsung merger, then used for personal financial gain and in exchange guaranteeing deals.

The November 2016 raid of Samsung’s headquarters took place alongside another at the national pension fund, which according to a local report from the Yonhap News Agency, may have been pressured into supporting the controversial Samsung merger in 2015. The fund’s approval is regarded as vital to the merger’s success, and a surprising move at the time, due to allegations it benefited the Samsung Group’s controlling family more than the shareholders.

The head of South Korea’s National Pension Scheme, Moon Hyung-pyo, who was arrested in December 2016, has been indicted on charges of abuse of power and perjury. It wasn’t the first time Samsung had been raided in relation to the investigation into Park and Choi either. Another took place earlier in November.

Samsung says in its official statement, “It’s difficult to agree with the special prosecutor’s decision, because Samsung did not make contributions in order to receive favors,” and the company denies the allegations against itself and Lee Jae-yong. The recall and arrest warrant came just a month after South Korea voted to impeach president Park Geun-hye, who has called the accusations against her “groundless.” Choi Soon-sil also denies any wrongdoing.

‘His Dark Materials’ author tweets back at fans who can’t wait for his new books

Philip Pullman meets The Gruffalo Relaunch of the Waterstones Oxford store, Oxford, Britain.
Philip Pullman meets The Gruffalo Relaunch of the Waterstones Oxford store, Oxford, Britain.

Image: Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock

The celebrated author of His Dark Materials has announced the publication of a new trilogy which will constitute an “equel” to the series of fantasy novels that sold more than 17.5 million copies worldwide. 

Philip Pullman said the follow-up will be called The Book of Dust, and the first instalment will come out on 17 October. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Pullman said: “People say, ‘Is it prequel? Is it a sequel?’ Well, it is neither.”

“It’s an ‘equel’. It’s a different story which begins roughly 10 years before His Dark Materials and ends roughly 10 years after.”

In another interview, Pullman said that at the centre of The Book of Dust is “the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organisation [the Magisterium], which wants to stifle speculation and inquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free”

The first book of the original trilogy, Northern Lights, was adapted for a 2007 film, The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Dakota Blue Richards. 

In the new trilogy, Pullman will return to the story of brave Oxford girl Lyra Belacqua and will begin when the heroine is a baby and continue to when she is 20 years old. 

As news of The Book of Dust emerged, Pullman took to Twitter to respond to excited fans. It was pretty hilarious:

Someone even named their daughter Lyra after the main character in Pullman’s books: 

People thought 2017 was not going to be that bad after all, to which Pullman responded: 

Mobile ad startup Vungle says it’s hit a $300M revenue run rate


Adtech startups like to announce when they’ve hit $100 million in annualized revenue, but Vungle — which focuses on delivering in-app video ads — is doing a bit better than that. It says it’s now reached a $300 million revenue run rate.

And while the last three months of the year tend to be the biggest quarter for advertising, CEO Zain Jaffer noted that Vungle’s announcement is based on January’s (gross) revenue — in fact, he predicted that the startup will bring in more revenue during the first quarter of 2017 than in Q4 2016.

“I think we’re in that one sector of advertising technology that is continuing to explode,” Jaffer said.

Specifically, he said mobile advertisers are increasingly focused on performance. That doesn’t just mean clicks or even app installs — Jaffer said “the most profound shift” for Vungle has been getting access to post-install data, so it can measure whether its ads bring in users who actually open an app and spend money.

Competitor AppLovin recently sold a majority stake to a Chinese private equity firm for $1.4 billion, something Jaffer said “validates the space overall.”

“It’s time for analysts to wake up and realize what really drives mobile revenues,” he added. “People are so obsessed with this idea that TV dollars are moving to mobile, but it’s not just a format problem. There’s a business model problem here” — something that’s being solved as companies like Vungle can “literally prove what the user does.”

I also brought up Facebook and Google’s current dominance in online ad spending — are they just going to take bigger and bigger pieces of the pie? Jaffer responded that Vungle takes “all competition seriously,” but he argued that it’s differentiated by a focus on delivering “high-value users” to advertisers.

“If you’re that focused, I think you have the chance to be the industry leader,” he said.

Apparently Vungle has seen major growth in the Asia-Pacific region, with revenue up 400 percent since 2015. The company also says it’s now used in 40,000 mobile apps. And it just released a report on mobile ad trends.

Featured Image: Mix3r/Shutterstock