All posts in “Media”

How the founder of Pocketwatch sees the future of children’s entertainment

When Chris Williams founded entertainment platform Pocketwatch in 2017, he was certain that no one had yet found the right way to work with the generation of children’s talent finding its audience on platforms like YouTube.

Convinced that packaging creators under one umbrella and leveraging the expanding reach of even more media platforms could reshape the way children’s content was produced, the former Maker Studios and Disney executive launched his company to offer emerging social media talent more avenues to create entertainment that resonates with young audiences.

On the back of the breakout success of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel which counted 33.6 billion views and more than 22 million subscribers as of early November, it appears that Williams was on the right track. As he looks out at the children’s media landscape today, Williams says he sees the same forces at work that compelled him to create the business in the first place. If anything, he says, the trends are only accelerating.

The first is the exodus of children from traditional linear viewing platforms to on-demand entertainment. The rise of subscription streaming services, including Disney+, HBO Max and Apple Plus — combined with the continued demand for new children’s programming on Netflix — is creating a bigger market for children’s programming.

“If you’re a subscription-based service, what kids’ content does for you is it prevents churn,” says Williams.

That’s drawing attention from new, ad-supported streaming providers like the Roku Channel, PlutoTV and SamsungTV Plus, which are also thirsty for children’s storytelling. Williams says he sees fertile ground for new programming among the ad-based, video-on-demand services. “Kids and family content tends to be the most highly engaging that creates consumption in homes. That creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers.”

The Roku Channel and Viacom’s PlutoTV service show that there’s still demand for ad-supported, on-demand alternatives that are more curated than just YouTube. It’s a potential opportunity for more startups, as well as an opportunity for studios looking to pitch their talent and programming.

“When we’ve launched a new 24-7 video channel and AVOD library and omni services… [we] know that content is surrounded by other premium content,” says Williams.

For all of the opportunities these new platforms bring, Williams says YouTube isn’t going anywhere as one of the dominant new forces in children’s entertainment,  despite its many, many woes. In fact, one of Williams’ new initiatives at Pocketwatch is predicated on changes that YouTube is seemingly making in terms of the programming that it promotes with its algorithms.

Snapchat Cameo edits your face into videos

Snapchat is preparing to launch a big new feature that uses your selfies to replace the faces of people in videos you can then share. It’s essentially a simplified way to Deepfake you into GIFs. Cameos are an alternative to Bitmoji for quickly conveying an emotion, reaction, or silly situation in Snapchat messages.

Some French users received a test version of the feature today, as spotted by Snap enthusiast @Mtatsis.

Snapchat Cameo makes you the star of videos

TechCrunch reached out to Snap, which confirmed Cameo’s existence, and that it’s currently testing in limited availability in some international markets. The company provided this statement: “Cameos aren’t ready to take the stage yet, but stay tuned for their global debut soon!”

With Cameo, you’ll take a selfie to teach Snapchat what you look like. Then you choose if you want a vaguely male or female body type (no purposefully androgenous option).

Cameo then lives inside the Bitmoji button in the Snapchat messaging keyboard. Snapchat has made a bunch of short looping video clips with sound that you can choose from. Snapchat will then stretch and move your selfie to create different facial reactions that Cameo can apply to actors’ heads in the videos. You just pick one of these videos that now star you and send it to the chat.

Cameo could help Snapchat keep messaging interesting, which is critical since that remains its most popular and differentiated feature. With Instagram and WhatsApp having copied its Stories to great success, it must stay ahead in chat. Though in this case, Snap could be accused of copying Chinese social app Zao which let users more realistically Deepfake their faces into videos. Then again, JibJab popularized this kind of effect many years ago to stick your face on dancing Christmas elves.

Snap is only starting to monetize the messaging wing of its app with ads inside social games. Snap might potentially sell sponsored, branded Cameo clips to advertisers similar to how the company offers sponsored augmented reality lenses.

Cameo could put a more fun spin on technology for grafting faces into videos. Deepfakes can be used as powerful weapons of misinformation or abuse. But by offering only innocuous clips rather than statements from politicians or pornography, Snapchat could turn the tech into a comedic medium.

[Image Credit: Jeff Higgins]

Reelgood raises $6.75 million for its universal streaming guide

Streaming aggregator Reelgood capitalized on the overabundance of streaming services available today by offering consumers a universal dashboard where you can track what you’re watching and discover your next binge. It then translated the activity from its over 10 million users into data it licenses to major companies, including Roku, Microsoft, smart TV makers, NYPost, and even hedge funds. Now the company has closed on $6.75 million in Series A funding to continue to grow its data business.

The round was led by Runa Capital and includes participation from Reelgood’s seed round investor, August Capital. To date, Reelgood has raised $11 million.

The company’s app to some extent competes with those designed to help you keep track of the episodes you’ve watched across streaming services and TV, like TV Time, iTV, JustWatch, and others. But Reelgood’s service stands out for its breadth of catalog — it tracks both movies and TV across some 336 streaming services, the website says. This includes free services like Tubi, Crackle and those from TV networks, plus authenticated “TV Everywhere” services for pay-TV subscribers, and subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, and others. It can also help you compare prices on rental options.

And its robust search and filtering features can help you find titles that are new, coming or leaving services, or by any other filter — like genre, year, Rotten Tomatoes rating, IMDB score and more. The more you use and personalize the service, the better its suggestions for what to watch next then become.

Once you find something to watch, you just press play to launch the streaming service’s app or website.

The work involved in making a simple concept — a universal dashboard for streaming — is fairly complex, Reelgood says.

“Putting together these streaming service libraries involves ingesting massive and unstructured amounts of data from hundreds of different sources for real-time matching and combination using machine learning and human curators,” noted Reelgood’s Head of Data, Pablo Lucio Paredes.

Reelgood also touts the quality of its data (averaging 98% across all 300+ services), which it then licenses to publishers, search engines, media players, TVs, voice assistants, and other smart devices. Currently, the company has around 50 business customers who pay either for the raw data, the insights or both.

Roku, for example, uses Reelgood’s data for its own universal search feature. NYPost displays streaming availability data on their articles via a widget. Hedge funds look at the data to better understand consumer behavior in streaming services and the movement of content between catalogs.

This year, Reelgood hired Nielsen’s former SVP of global measurement, Mark Green, to lead its B2B data licensing business, called Reelgood Insights.

“I sought out and joined Reelgood because they are poised to capture the billions in revenue spent on viewership data as viewing continues to shift towards OTT,” said Green.

The additional funding will be used to expand the number of platforms where Reelgood is offered, including on a range of smart TVs through partnerships. The company has signed five smart TV deals with major brands that will begin to roll out in 2020, but LG is the only name Reelgood can currently disclose.

Reelgood is headquartered in San Francisco. It has 18 employees, both local and remote, and is hiring across a number of roles.

Netflix earmarks $420M to fight Disney in India

Netflix may still not have a million subscribers in India, but it continues to invest big bucks in the nation, where Disney’s Hotstar currently dominates the video streaming market.

Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said on Friday that the company is on track to spend 30,000 million Indian rupees, or $420.5 million, on producing and licensing content in India this year and next.

“This year and next year, we plan to spend about Rs 3,000 crores developing and licensing content and you will start to see a lot of stuff hit the screens,” he said at a conference in New Delhi.

“This is significantly higher than what we have invested in content over the past years,” an executive at one of the top five rival services told TechCrunch. Another industry source said that no streaming service in India is spending anything close to that figure on just content.

Netflix, which entered India as part of its global expansion to more than 200 nations and territories in early 2016, has so far produced more than two dozen original shows and movies in India.

Hastings said several of the shows that the company has produced in India, including A-listed cast-starrer “Sacred Games” and “Mightly Little Bheem” have “travelled around the world.” More than 27 million households outside of India have started watching “Mighty Little Bheem,” an animated series aimed at children.

India has emerged as one of the last great potential growth markets for technology and entertainment firms. About half of the nation’s 1.3 billion population is now online and a growing number of people are beginning to transact online.

To broaden its reach in the nation, Netflix earlier this year introduced a new monthly price tier — $2.8 — that allows users in India to watch the streaming service in standard quality on a mobile device. (The company has since expanded this offering to Malaysia.)

More to follow…

How food media brand Chefclub reached 1 billion organic views per month

Chefclub hasn’t attracted a lot of headlines over the years as it has only raised $3.5 million. But it is slowly building a major media brand on social media platforms as it now competes directly with Tastemade and Tasty.

Compared to more traditional recipe websites and brands, Chefclub focuses exclusively on the intersection of food and entertainment. If you’ve watched a few Chefclub videos, your reaction is probably something along the lines of “oh no they didn’t.”

You’ll see a lot of melted cheese, and somehow cooking often involves deep frying all the things. Some people around me are obsessed with those videos even though they’d never consider watching a cooking show on TV.

“We are normal people, we don’t have the same cooking skillset that you can see on TV and in books. We opened up the kitchen cabinet and used everyday ingredients. That positioning has always been there and hasn’t changed,” Chefclub co-founder Thomas Lang told me.

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And it’s been working incredibly well. The company now has 75 million followers across multiple social media platforms. It generates a billion video views per month and reaches 200 million people. The startup has never spent a cent in paid media to grow this user base.

Due to its lean culture, there are “only” 50 people working for Chefclub. The entire team is based in Paris, with one third of them who are not French. Despite this very French DNA, Chefclub has noticed that you don’t necessarily have to adapt all your content to different geographies. 70% of videos work well across the globe.

Chefclub optimizes its content for Facebook first and foremost. As many publishers told me, it has become increasingly harder to work around Facebook’s algorithm to reach a large audience on Facebook. But the startup has been through all the ups and downs of Facebook’s algorithm. Those relentless efforts have been key to the company’s growth as many media brands simply gave up on Facebook.

Other social networks seem way easier when you compare them to Facebook. Chefclub is now also active on YouTube, Snapchat (Discover partnership in France and Germany), Instagram and TikTok. The startup says that it is the leader in Europe and Latin America. In the U.S., the company is still in the growth phase — it is close to reaching 1 billion views in the U.S. in 2019.

So how do you turn a successful media strategy into a business? Chefclub is betting heavily on the Direct-to-Consumer wave. The company first started with a recipe book. You can scan QR codes in the book to play the video on your phone. It has sold half a million cookbooks directly on its website.

More recently, Chefclub has introduced Kiddoz, a cooking kit for kids. There’s a book with 20 recipes, easily identifiable measuring cups and an app.

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Up next, Chefclub wants to partner with retailers to license its brand and sell branded products. You could imagine buying Chefclub-branded appliances and toys in the near future.

“We have another revenue source that we call ‘the cherry on the cake,’” Thomas Lang said. Chefclub generates revenue from preroll ads on YouTube and other social platforms with revenue-sharing deals. While this is not a focus, Chefclub gets $200,000 in ad revenue per month with no additional effort.

Finally, Chefclub wants to open up content creation to community members. In order to scale its content, Chefclub wants to become a platform that broadcasts user-generated content to other community members.