Greetings from Chittorgarh, one of my stops on a two-week excursion through Goa and Rajasthan, India. I’ve been a little too busy exploring, photographing cows and monkeys and eating a lot of delicious food to keep up with *all* the tech news, but I’ve still got the highlights.
So huge the Silicon Valley accelerator had to move locations and set up two stages at its upcoming demo days (March 18-19) to accommodate the more than 200 startups ready to pitch investors (who will have to hop between stages at the event). There will also be a virtual demo day live-streamed for some investors to watch “because there are so few seats.” Here’s what I’m wondering… At what point is a YC cohort too big? If investors aren’t even able to view all the companies at Demo Day, what exactly is the point? Send me your thoughts.
Another week, another SoftBank deal. The Vision Fund’s latest bet is autonomous delivery. The Japanese telecom giant has invested $940 million in Nuro, the developer of a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The startup, also backed by Greylock and Gaorong Capital, will use the cash to expand its delivery service, add new partners, hire employees and scale up its fleet of self-driving bots. And while we’re on the subject of autonomous, TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup, has raised a $95 million Series D at a unicorn valuation.
TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos spoke with Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman, who joined Kleiner Perkins from Social Capital and Index Ventures, respectively. The pair talked about Kleiner Perkins, touching on people who’ve left the firm, how its decision-making process now works, why there are no senior women in its ranks and what they make of SoftBank’s Vision Fund.
Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to firstname.lastname@example.org or @KateClarkTweets.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg considered a multi-billion-dollar purchase of Unity, a game development platform. This is according to a new book coming out next week, “The History of the Future,” by Blake Harris, which digs deep into the founding story of Oculus and the drama surrounding the Facebook acquisition, subsequent lawsuits and personal politics of founder Palmer Luckey. Here’s more on the acquisition-that-could-have-been from TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney.
Just when you thought the scooter boom and the subscription-boom wouldn’t intersect, Grover arrived to prove you wrong. The startup is launching an e-scooter monthly subscription service in Germany. Their big idea is that instead of purchasing an e-scooter outright, GroverGo customers can enjoy unlimited e-scooter rides without the upfront costs or commitment of owning an e-scooter.
If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos chat startups.
The former monk has grown from around 2 million followers at the beginning of the year to more than 20 million followers just 12 months later.
“My highest viewed video this year was 360 million views on one video,” said the Facebook video creator when we spoke on the phone in December. “I have about 10 to 15 videos, over 100 million views each.”
When it comes to revenue via Facebook, Shetty’s stats are equally as impressive.
“I’ve been monetizing now for the last 5 to 6 months. And it’s been incredible for me,” Shetty explained. “To give you a few overalls, for me, I’ve been doing more than 6 figures per month, more than 7 figures over about 6 months. It’s been been really, really powerful for me.”
Shetty monetizes his content under the social network’s video-on-demand service, Facebook Watch. Creators receive 55 percent of advertising revenue, with Facebook taking 45 percent. But, beyond the monetization program, Shetty partially credits his Facebook Watch page for the exponential growth he’s experienced in the first place.
“I believe that a lot more of my followers were getting notified and able to see my content because I was on Watch,” said Shetty on the changes he noticed when switching his public Facebook page over to a Facebook Watch show page in February. “My videos have done around 2 and a half billion views since February when I started using Watch.”
However, Shetty is a bit of an anomaly for creators on the platform.
One year ago, it felt like Facebook Watch, Facebook’s then brand new video service was poised to take over the internet. With a built-in user base of 2.27 billion people and $1 billion dollars set aside to fund original content, Facebook Watch was the only video platform that could realistically challenge YouTube for the top online video destination crown.
Now, nearly a year and a half after it first launched in August 2017, Facebook Watch is struggling.
Even high-profile Facebook-funded productions have stumbled. Sorry For Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen, received rave reviews yet still has failed to garner even six-figure digit view counts for some of its episodes.
In November, Facebook acquired the rights to show every episode of fan favorite Joss Whedon TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. Despite Watch being the only place to legally view these series’ free online, many episodes have yet to break more than a few hundred views two weeks into premiering on the platform. One episode of Buffy oddly had as little as six views, eight days after the series was uploaded.
Mashable spoke to half a dozen Facebook Watch creators who shared their experiences with the service last month. Some have experienced an impressive degree of success on Watch. Shetty, for example, was doing so well that Facebook funded 12 episodes of a series for Shetty’s Watch page.
However, even these accounts shine a light on the issues facing the platform.
Certain types of content are struggling to find an audience as Facebook tries to expand its video service offerings. Successful creators have discovered that a very specific audience tends to tune into Watch.
“Watch is definitely more of a family content friendly platform. Maybe it just speaks to the audience overall on Facebook,” said Facebook Watch creator Ami McClure. “It’s more moms and grandmothers.”
Early on to help launch Watch, Facebook brought in partners of all types, from popular online creators to established media company. One of those early creators was The McClure Twins Family, who’ve amassed more than 1.3 million followers on their page.
Before Watch launched in 2017, Facebook reached out to parents Ami and Justin McClure and signed a deal to bring their positive family-friendly content featuring the couple’s twin daughters to the platform.
Unlike Jay Shetty, who completely converted his original Facebook page into a Watch show page, The McClure Twins Family run a separate Facebook Watch show page: Discover Twins, which has 725,000 followers. They’ve discovered that despite having hundreds of thousands of fewer followers than their main page, videos uploaded to their Watch show page tends to perform better.
“Maybe it’s the way that their algorithm works or the way they’re pushing out videos, but Watch seems to get to a broader audience,” Ami McClure told us in a phone interview. “We get more engagement, more views. The comments show those [who view the Watch content] are the people who really sat through and watched the videos.”
Many creators believe that the company’s algorithm favors Watch show pages, even if Facebook says otherwise. The problem here lies in the fact that Watch show pages can only be created by Facebook partners. Because of this, Watch show pages are in demand. A blackmarket for these show pages have emerged online since Watch show pages are only available to specific Facebook content partners. Watch show page can fetch thousands of dollars on social media account sales forums, regardless of how many followers the show page has.
“On the Watch page, CPMs are better,” McClure said, when compared to the family’s Facebook page.
Facebook seems to have been prioritizing longer videos on Watch too. Many short form video creators have noticed a boost in reach when creating longer content. Partners have reported a push to lengthen video content too.
“Going from one minute to say three minutes seems to really make a difference” says Trey Kennedy, a G-rated comedian and musician who boasts nearly 2 million followers.
“Watch has been performing better for us in the past 6 months than YouTube,” explained McClure, who also runs family’s YouTube channel, which also has more than 1 million subscribers. But echoing other creators, McClure has also noticed a slowdown on Watch when comparing the platform to its own performance earlier in the year.
“Views are not shooting through the roof as they used to. Some of our earlier videos have 9 million, 15 million views. We’re still getting great views, no doubt. But we’re just not in that echelon anymore,” explained the mother of three.
McClure has a good guess as to why that could be the case for some creators.
“Being one of the initial adopters, they put out marketing dollars once we put out a video, boosting our posts and things like that,” McClure, whose creator deal which provided funding for the family’s video content ended over the summer, told us. “It think it’s probably because they’re not necessarily putting in a bunch of advertising dollars and pushing out videos in that way.”
While The McClure Twins Family have found a pathway to success even amid these Facebook Watch changes, Ami McClure has noticed some of her creator friends had a different experience.
“Some of these people were also early adopters and Facebook provided support for them. And then once that ended, I think a lot of them just felt like it wouldn’t be worth their time. They wouldn’t get their return on investment,” said McClure. “I don’t see them putting out content regularly anymore.”
Other Facebook creators we spoke with who wish to remain anonymous told us of a sharp decrease in revenue in recent months, compounded by a decline in reach for their adbreak-enabled videos.
A major issue that has dogged Watch is a startling lack of consumer awareness. According to one study, half of adult Facebook users had never even heard of Facebook Watch. Another 24 percent of users had heard of Watch, but never used it.
“I think people are still not fully aware that it [Watch] existed,” Shetty told us. “Slowly people are getting used to it. But I definitely think that a majority of people are watching in the newsfeed.”
Like Shetty, Ami and her husband have both too noticed that most viewers are watching via the newsfeed. This means that most of Watch’s video content isn’t being specifically sought out. It’s mostly consumed by people scrolling through their feeds and catching whatever video their friends and family have shared. Users and advertisers alike are just not viewing Facebook as a video destination yet.
It also doesn’t help matters that Watch is only available on Facebook’s website or app. Watch does not have a stand alone app. While Facebook is apparently working on its own set-top box, there is currently no way to view Watch content on your Roku, Apple TV, or other streaming media device.
In December 2018, Facebook released some interesting Watch stats. More than 75 million people spend at least one minute on Facebook Watch every day. The average amount of time spent on Watch is more than 20 minutes. More than 400 million people are spending at least one minute consuming Facebook Watch videos every month. When compared to YouTube, with its billions of views a day, Facebook Watch is simply not growing fast enough — even according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
One addendum to those recent Facebook Watch stats are that the minutes watched are nonconsecutive. This partially answers why some publishers have reported a lack of revenue from ad breaks: viewers may simply not be watching long enough to make it to the mid-roll ads.
Still, Facebook believes that Watch has progressed greatly from earlier in the year. Watch is now available in every country around the world. Creators in 40 countries can currently monetize their content with adbreaks. And, the company seems laser focused on its current ambitions for Watch.
“The goal is not to create just a library of content or the passive video consumption experience. Its to create an experience that makes you want to engage and connect,” Facebook head of video Fidji Simo told Mashable in a phone conversation last month. “Video has become more solitary and passive and we think that doesn’t have to be the case.”
Watch Party — Facebook’s unique tool which allows users to create sort of a private screening room where friends and family can watch a Facebook video simultaneously and chat about it — helps promote the socialization around video. According to Simo, there’s been 12 million Watch Parties created in Facebook Groups alone since it launched.
The push for audience engagement and conversation around Watch is also a good reason that Sorry For Your Loss, with its dedicated fanbase, was renewed for a second season.
While Facebook continues to march forward with Watch, it will still need to figure out how to address the video platform’s issues. Can Facebook draw in advertisers and make its partners happy? Will Facebook find an audience that’s looking for more than just feel good Hallmark Channel-like content? Maybe 2019 will have the answers.
Facebook may soon set a new record, just not the kind it likes to brag about.
The social network is facing a multibillion-dollar fine from the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations, according to a new report in The Washington Post.
The FTC previously confirmed it had opened an investigation into the social network last March, following the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Last month, The Washington Post reported Facebook’s potential fine could be “record-setting,” and significantly higher than the $22.5 million Google was fined in 2012 — the current record-holder for biggest FTC fine against a tech company.
But now we have an idea just how massive Facebook’s fine could be. The Post reports the two sides are in the midst of negotiations over a “multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency’s investigation into the social media giant’s privacy practices.” Facebook, perhaps unsurprisingly, “has expressed initial concern with the FTC’s demands,” according to the report.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has had a run-in with the FTC. The company reached a settlement with the regulator in 2011 over its deceptive privacy policies.
For Facebook, which takes in billions of dollars every year, a massive fine might not be the most detrimental aspect of a settlement with the FTC. A settlement could also come with increased regulatory scrutiny and, possibly, a requirement to change certain “business practices,” according to The Post. The company could also opt to fight the FTC in court, in which case we wouldn’t see a resolution to the drama for some time.
A new survey indicates that social media is an even stinkier cesspool than we previously thought.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a survey Wednesday that found that over half of all Americans had experienced harassment online, and one in three Americans had experienced “severe” online harassment. The ADL defines severe harassment as behavior that includes “physical threats, sexual harassment, stalking and sustained harassment.”
These results could indicate an increase in the amount of harassment occurring online over time. Pew conducted a similar survey in 2017, and found that 41 percent of Americans had experienced harassment, and 18 percent have been victims of severe harassment. So in a year in which tech companies collectively increased their responses to combatting hate online, the experience of harassment appears to have also increased.
The survey was conducted during December 2018, sampling 1,134 individuals in total. To get a representative experience from people in protected groups, such as race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, it sampled at least 100 people from these groups, and weighted their response to be proportional to the population they represent.
The inclusion of those voices was important because the survey found that being part of a protected class was the reason 32 percent of people were harassed.
Harassment took place across most social media platforms, but Facebook came away as the place where most people experienced this behavior. Of people who had experienced harassment, 56 percent say it happened on Facebook. The next largest platform was Twitter, at 19 percent.
The survey also looked at where people who are regular users of online platforms experience hate. Interestingly, daily users of Twitch experienced the most harassment on that platform, at 47 percent. Reddit came in second: 38 percent of people who sign on to Reddit every day have experienced harassment there.
Respondents concluded that social media companies need to do more to comprehensively stem the tide of hate on their platforms; an overwhelming majority — 84 percent — want to see better tools for stopping harassment online. A popular suggestion was to publicly ban problematic users, filter hateful speech, and flag bots (a solution that is unlikely).
But Americans also want to see action taken at the legislative level. Whether or not respondents had experienced harassment, over 80 percent want the government to take legislative and punitive action against the perpetrators of hate online, and the platforms that host them.
Overall, the survey suggests that the problem of harassment online is widespread, and the actions of social media companies represent a soggy, leaky bandaid over a problem affecting the people who willingly give these companies or time, attention, and data.
Another day, another instance of something creepy happening on Facebook.
The latest: a strange “bug” in Facebook’s search tool that lets you search for photos of women, but not men. It suggests some pretty alarming search terms.
The issue was first reported by Belgian security researcher Inti De Ceukelaire, who posted about the search results on Twitter. He noted that searching for “photos of my female friends” in the main Facebook search box indeed turns up photos of women you’re friends with on Facebook. Yet when you search “photos of my male friends” you get a bunch of random images (mostly of memes) that aren’t from your friends.
Mashable tried out the searches and got the same results: searches with the word “female” worked, but searches with “male” did not.
That discrepancy is troubling enough, but it gets worse. While testing out these searches, the first automatically suggested query was “photos of my female friends in bikinis,” which returned photos of women in bikinis, as well as one image of a topless woman, which would appear to violate Facebook’s rules against nudity. Separately, “photos of my female friends at the beach” was also suggested.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to Mashable’s questions but the company told Fast Company the bikini photo search suggestion was a “bug” that would be fixed.
Those weren’t the only weird inconsistencies in search. While we found you could search your friends list by just typing “male friends” or “female friends” (both searches resulted in a list of friends), the suggested searches underneath were once again very different.
The suggestions for “female friends” included “female friends photos” and “female friends who are single,” while searching for “male friends” had much more innocuous suggestions for “make friends group” and “make friends around the world.” The last suggestions was “male friends interested in men.”
According to Facebook’s support page, its search field recommends searches that are popular on Facebook. “The list that appears when you enter something in the search bar isn’t your search history. It’s a list of relevant predicted results for your search query based on popular searches on Facebook, commonly known as search predictions,” the company writes.
In other words: creepy search suggestions are the result of a lot of people being, well, creepy. That said, it’s notable that Facebook hasn’t done anything to discourage this type of behavior and is, in fact, encouraging these searches.