All posts in “Media”

Facebook is rolling out a Trending News section on mobile, now with its own link


Facebook is rolling out a “Trending News” section on mobile that includes its own link in the app’s main navigation. This follows the company’s earlier announcement this spring of a redesign for Trending Topics, an increasingly important part of Facebook’s social network, where it tracks the news stories that are buzzing across its service. That redesign is now rolling out to users on iPhone and Android devices in the U.S., while the added navigational link to Trending News became available on iPhone over the past few weeks, and is in testing on Android, Facebook tells us.

In case you missed Facebook’s announcement in May, the Trending Topics section was redesigned with a focus on making it easier to see how other publications are covering a topic, in addition to what friends and public figures are saying about the matter.

When you click into a Trending Topic following the update, Facebook explained you will see a carousel of stories from other publications that you swipe through horizontally.

The publications linked to in this section are determined by engagement around both the article and publisher in general on Facebook, as well as what other articles are linking to it.

This card-style carousel look-and-feel was inspired in part by Facebook Paper, the company’s long since shuttered standalone news reading app.

This carousel is still in the process of rolling out across the U.S.

However, one aspect to Trending’s makeover that wasn’t really touched on during Facebook’s earlier announcement was how Facebook was toying with a redesigned list of news stories that focused on headlines, not just “trending topics.”

The original look for Facebook’s Trending Topics – which you pull up with a tap into the app’s search box – is a simple list of topics and the beginning of a lede that’s usually cut off. These appear below your own recent Facebook searches in the app.

However, if you access the new Trending News link that’s just popped up in Facebook’s navigation menu, you’ll see an entirely different sort of Trending section.

Above: Old Trending on left vs New Trending on right

Instead of a “topic” (often just a word, person or place, like “China” or “Donald Trump”) and squiggly arrow icon, the news stories here include a headline, a photo, the name of a major media outlet that’s reporting it, and how many other sources are available on the topic.

For example, next to the headline, it might say: “Reuters and 100+ other sources.”

Plus, by adding the photo next to each item, there’s more room for expanded information – that is, a full headline and sourcing.

The new section also gives stories a rank (#1, #2, #3,…etc.)

Facebook’s prior announcement in May didn’t specifically detail how this Trending News section looked different from Trending Topics.

Frankly, it’s all a bit confusing, because Trending Topics and Trending News don’t seem to be tied directly together at this point. For example, you could have the link to Trending News in your app’s main navigation, but still not have the new look for Trending Topics, which includes the carousel redesign.

However, in that same post, we did get a little peek at Trending News – but it was referenced as being a part of a “small test.”

Trending integration in News Feed still a “small test”

Facebook said then it was testing adding the top three Trending News stories to users’ News Feeds. In a screenshot of this, you were able see this list of stories with photos that were ranked by numbers, as well as stories identified by headlines instead of just “topics.”

This integration of a “mini” Trending News section into News Feed is not broadly available. That remains a “small test,” we understand.

But the addition of the Trending News link to Facebook’s navigation is already live on iPhone, and being trialed on Android.

Of course, any changes Facebook makes to Trending are sure to met with a lot of scrutiny. The company last year faced criticism when it removed its human editors who curated this section, to run Trending by way of algorithms instead. (And those algorithms soon screwed up.) The social network has more recently made several changes to address the spread of fake news and filter bubbles, as well.

In this case, though, Facebook is not monkeying with how news is selected as “Trending,” only how it’s being displayed.

The new Trending News section joins a number of other new additions to Facebook’s main navigation as of late, including the food ordering option, Town Hall, weather, the Explore feed, and more. Not all these additions have stuck around – the new travel-focused City Guides section, for instance, has since disappeared.

LaterPay brings its media payment technology to the US


LaterPay is offering media companies a business model that goes beyond subscriptions and ads.

Cosmin Ene, the German startup’s founder and CEO, argued that while some publications are having success with paywalls and online subscriptions, it’s an approach that only convinces the most loyal readers to pay.

So LaterPay is trying to help monetize “the vast space” between subscriptions and ads, allowing publishers to charge for their content on an à la carte basis. That can mean charging per article or video, or asking users to buy a pass to their site for a limited period of time.

Ene knows that might sound depressingly similar to the micropayment models that have fallen flat, despite the hype that they might save journalism. In fact, he recalled being told by an investor, “Micropayments don’t work on the internet.”

Ene’s response was to point to the sushi dinner that they were eating. If they had to pay for each plate of sushi before they ate it, or if they had to pay “100 bucks before we see the menu,” well, that would be a crummy dining experience. Instead, they ordered the food they wanted and then paid the bill at the end.

Similarly, Ene said most micropayment platforms asked users to pay upfront, before they’ve read anything, or when they first hit a paywalled article.

LaterPay, meanwhile, is supposed to make the payment process as frictionless as possible. Users don’t even have to enter any payment information when they buy their first piece of content — they don’t have to make a purchase at all until their bill reaches $5. As a result, the company says that 78 percent of article purchases made through the LaterPay platform take 10 seconds or less.

Switching food metaphors, Ene added, “The vast amount of occasional users just want to buy a glass of milk, but not the whole cow.”

LaterPay has already signed up some big customers in Germany, including Der Spiegel.

Now it’s launching in the United States. To fund these efforts, it’s raised an additional 5 million euros (bringing the company’s total funding to 20 million euros). And its U.S. expansion will be led by Hal Bailey (formerly director of emerging business development at Google), who’s been brought on as the company’s new chief revenue officer.

Update: Asked about the investors in the new funding, LaterPay said the money comes from “private investors from Switzerland and Germany, with industry experience in finance and technology.”

Featured Image: yurakr/Getty Images

Facebook launches Watch tab of original video shows


Facebook has a new home for original video content produced exclusively for it by partners, who will earn 55 percent of ad break revenue while Facebook keeps 45 percent. The “Watch” tab and several dozen original shows will start rolling out to a small group of U.S. users tomorrow on mobile, desktop and Facebook’s TV apps.

By hosting original programming, Facebook could boost ad revenue and give people a reason to frequently return to the News Feed for content they can’t get anywhere else.

Watch features personalized recommendations of live and recorded shows to watch, plus categories like “Most Talked About,” “What’s Making People Laugh” and “Shows Your Friends Are Watching.” Publishers can also share their shows to the News Feed to help people discover them. A Watchlist feature lets you subscribe to updates on new episodes of your favorite shows. Fans can connect with each other and creators through a new feature that links shows to Groups.

Facebook says it plans to roll out access to Watch to more users and more content creators soon, starting with the rest of the U.S. before expanding internationally. Users with access will see a TV-shaped Watch button in the bottom navigation bar of Facebook’s main app that opens the new video hub.

Facebook admits that “we’ve also funded some shows” as examples, but notes that these are only a small percentage of all the available shows. “We want any publisher/creator who is interested to be able to create a show in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. “So there will be hundreds of shows at launch, and we’ll hopefully scale to thousands.”

Business Insider reported some leaked details about the redesign earlier today, but pegged the launch of original programming as starting August 28th, when the shows actually will begin to roll out tomorrow.

What Facebook’s First Shows Look Like

Facebook’s shows will run the gamut from live event coverage to reality TV to scripted programs.  “More and more people are coming to Facebook in order to watch video” Facebook’s director of video product Daniel Danker tells me. “When they come with that in mind, we want to make a place for them where they can find that video, connect with the creators and publishers they love, and know they won’t miss out if there’s a new episode from one of those creators.”

Here’s a list of some of the original programming that will be available on Watch:

  • Tastemade’s Kitchen Little – This cooking show sees kids watch a how-to recipe video, then instruct a pro chef how to make the dish with comedic results
  • Major League Baseball – The MLB will broadcast one game a week live on Facebook
  • Major League Baseball “12:25 Live” –  A comedic look at baseball with help from the fans
  • Mike Rowe – Rowe finds people who’ve done great things for their community and gives them a special experience in return
  • Nas Daily – Vlogger Nas (Correction: Not the rapper) makes videos with his biggest friends each day
  • Gabby Bernstein – Motivational speaker and author answers fans’ life questions in live and recorded segments
  • A&E’s “Bae or Bail:” – Reality TV game show where couples face their fears and see who runs
  • All Def Digital’s “Inside the Office” – A look inside the office life at Russel Simmons’ hip-hop media empire
  • Billboard’s “How it Went Down” – A documentary series of musicians sharing crazy stories
  • David Lopez’s “My Social Media Life”  – A reality show about the social media star’s life
  • Golden State Warriors’ “Championship Rewind”  – A behind-the-scenes look at the Bay Area’s NBA championship 2016-2017 season
  • Univision Deportes’ “Liga MX” – Live coverage of LigaMX soccer matches
  • National Geographic’s “We’re Wired that Way:” – Mini-documentaries about weird quirks of humanity like songs you can’t get out of your head
  • National Geographic’s “Safari Live” – Watch live safaris led by National Geographic’s guides
  • NASA’s “Science @ NASA” – Explore science topics in quick four to five-minute episodes
  • NBA’s “WNBA All-Access” – A behind the scenes show with women’s basketball stars
  • The Dodo’s “Comeback Kids: Animal Edition” features determined animals facing difficult conditions or challenges meet people who refuse to give up on them.
  • Tommy Mac – A master woodworker gives live tutorials on how to make furniture

What’s clearly absent is the type of longer-form scripted dramas and comedies people are used to watching on television. Instead, there are plenty of mini-documentaries, reality shows, and sports coverage.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg writes that “We believe it’s possible to rethink a lot of experiences through the lens of building community — including watching video. Watching a show doesn’t have to be passive . . . You’ll be able to chat and connect with people during an episode, and join groups with people who like the same shows afterwards to build community.”

When you open Watch, you’ll be able to scroll through a long list of categories of shows to view. Alternatively, you can either swipe over or arrive from a notification about a new episode to view the Watchlist of all the lastest shows released by creators you follow. Once you’ve opened an episode you’ll see all the details about it, with one tab for joining a live comment reel with other viewers, and an “Up Next” tab displaying what you’ll view after the current episode if you prefer a glazed-eyes lean-back experience.

There’s no specific content restrictions on swearing or violence beyond Facebook’s existing community standards, but Facebook will monitor for shows that get flagged.

Publishers can choose to insert ad breaks if they want to earn money off their shows, though the guidelines on where and how long they can be are still being finalized. If publishers want to give away their content, they don’t have to show ads. Another option is to do product placed or branded content, in which case the creator has to tag the sponsor paying them for transparency. Shows will have their own dedicated Facebook Pages, and creators can set up special show Groups where fans can ask questions and geek out together.

Beyond the Watch tab, you can also discover shows through the News Feed if a publisher you follow posts an episode or friends are talking about it. That gives Facebook the opportunity to artificially boost the presence of shows in News Feed to build a bigger audience for the new content initiative.

Evolving From Spontaneous To Deliberate Viewing

Facebook first launched its dedicated video tab in April 2016, but it only hosted the more generic News Feed videos people were already seeing from Pages and friends. Now Facebook is in the business of funding original content, initially through direct payments, though it seeks to switch entirely to a revenue-share model in the future to make its original programming effort sustainable.

Facebook’s competitors like YouTube and Snapchat have already experimented with creating original video content. YouTube Red funds several original series, giving bigger production budgets to some of its biggest stars. Snapchat has tried making its own shows in-house, but now focuses on signing deals with partners like TV studios to get fresh, vertical video content into its Discover section.

Facebook’s benefit is that Watch is cross-platform, allowing people to view videos from all their devices, while also being a daily destination for 1.32 billion users. It’s already become a powerhouse in serendipitous video discovery via the News Feed, and Watch will surely provide enough suggestions to get people hooked on shows they weren’t expecting.

But through premium original programming, Facebook is also trying to become a home for deliberate video consumption where people come to view a specific show. While there are already plenty of reasons to visit Facebook, original shows give people a reason to spend longer staring at their screens. If it can drive enough viewers to these shows thanks to its 2 billion total users, Facebook could offer significant revenue-share payouts, attracting better and better content creators.

Facebook’s been trying to eat the whole internet for years now. With Watch and these shows, it’s breaking out of the web to challenge traditional television, which is seeing viewership slide. As ad spends follow eyeballs from TV to the web, Watch could give Facebook a way to net more attention and dollars.

Spotify said to be coming soon to Xbox One


Streaming music service Spotify should finally make its way to Microsoft’s Xbox One sometime soon, as a report from The Verge confirms user posts from Reddit that a beta version of the app is being tested internally at Xbox. The Spotify app has been available on PlayStation 4 since 2015, so its arrival on Microsoft’s current console seems overdue for Xbox gaming Spotify subscribers.

Both console makers previously offered their own streaming music services via their gaming platforms; Sony killed its Music Unlimited in 2015, while also announcing that it would be introducing Spotify on PlayStation. Microsoft still operates Groove Music, which began life as Xbox Music in 2012, but Spotify has the clear advantage in terms of subscriber reach.

It seems likely Microsoft realized that shutting Spotify out of the platform isn’t going to significantly contribute to Groove’s growth, and meanwhile not having Spotify is a possible competitive disadvantage when potential customers are deciding between an Xbox and PlayStation purchase.

It’s not clear yet when Spotify will arrive, but it’s likely Microsoft will announce a slew of software enhancements when the Xbox One X arrives in November.

Sick of SoundCloud? Anchor offers podcast transfer with free hosting


SoundCloud is on shaky financial footing, saying it only has enough money to last a few more months unless someone buys or invests in it. That’s sure to cause anxiety in content creators with their life’s work stored on SoundCloud. Now some new startups are nipping at SoundCloud’s heels by focusing on podcasting in ways the music streaming service never did.

Anchor is a fast-rising podcast app that layers community features on top of audio streaming. It lets creators record right from their phone and take talk show-style call-ins, while listeners can join in-app chat rooms to bond with fellow fans, and give digital ‘applause’ at their favorite moments.

But paying to podcast is so passé. Expensive hosting services like SoundCloud can charge $15 per month for unlimited uploads and downloads. So Anchor is looking to capitalize on SoundCloud’s moment of weakness.

Anchor today launches its podcast transition tool that lets anyone port their audio from another service like SoundCloud to Anchor’s free podcast hosting service. All you need to do is stick the RSS feed for your podcasts into Anchor, and it will download and store them all from SoundCloud, LibSyn or any other source. From there you can distribute your podcasts to iTunes, Google Play, and other outlets.

The transition tool is Anchor’s latest bid to grow into a podcasting powerhouse. Launched in 2015, Anchor has raised over $4.4 million from some big investors like Accel, BetaWorks, CrunchFund, HomeBrew, and SV Angel. The 10-person startup wants to take the mystery out of podcasting, as CEO Michael Mignano tells me “Our goal is to make it so you never even have to know anything about an RSS feed.”

For now, Anchor is completely free for everyone, but promises to cut podcasters in when it starts to earn money. “We strongly believe creators should be able to monetize their craft” says Mignano. Anchor may eventually generate revenue by appending ads to episodes, or offering subscriptions to premium podcasts.

Breaker is another top new podcast listening app, while PodBean and Buzzsprout are a few other affordable hosting options. Parking your podcasts on a fledgling startup may still be risky, but perhaps less worrisome than hosting on a damaged late-stage startup in danger of vaporizing if it can’t find money to make payroll.

This month TechCrunch spoke to several SoundCloud employees who pointed to broken business models and poor morale after the startup aggressively hired people up until the last minute when it layed off 40% of its staff. It needs someone to swoop in and invest around $100 million or acquire it to stay afloat.

“We’ve been hearing everything in the news and we obviously wish them the very best” Mignano said diplomatically as he kicks SoundCloud while it’s down. “What I can say is that there is a huge opportunity to make audio more interactive, more social, and more accessible, and we’re super excited to take that on.”

As SoundCloud crawls towards the cliff’s edge, out come the vultures.