All posts in “Media”

Snap and NBCUniversal team up on Snapchat scripted shows


Snapchat parent co. Snap is working with NBCUniversal on its first scripted series, with an initial effort led by the Duplass Brothers – Mark and Jay, to those in the know. The duo will create scripted programming for Snapchat through Donut, their own creative production venture. It’s maybe a weird choice for Snap and their youthful audience, but it’s a team with a proven track record when it comes to creating scripted originals.

Snap and NBCU have been partners in the past, too, with the broadcaster teaming up with the social network early on with its launch of the unscripted The Voice series tailored for Snapchat audiences. Snapchat had previously discussed building scripted content for its network, with a focus on short-form stuff that makes sense for the platform.

The content will be shot and presented in vertical video format, too, something that Mark Duplass called a “terrifying and thrilling creative challenge” in an emailed statement.

Meanwhile, NBCU and Snap will formalize their partnership with a joint venture, in the form of a new digital content studio based in Santa Monica. The studio will be led by Lauren Anderson, an NBC Entertainment exec who comes on as Chief Content Officer. The venture will be shared equally in terms of equity between Snap and NBCU.

This is the biggest move Snap has made yet in terms of producing and investing in original content. Building its own studio in partnership with NBC puts it more in the driver’s seat, instead of leaning as heavily on partners, though the team-up means it’ll be working with people with more experience in this new realm.

Featured Image: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Fandango is acquiring rival online ticketer MovieTickets.com


A consolidation in the advance movie ticketing space is happening today, with Fandango’s announcement that it’s acquiring rival MovieTickets.com for an undisclosed sum. The deal, which is expected to close before year-end, will help Fandango expand its international footprint, particularly in Latin America, as well as bring new cinemas to its ticketing platform.

Headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, MovieTickets.com today serves moviegoers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Latin America. That means in addition to helping Fandango gain more ground in Latin America – particularly in popular moviegoing countries Argentina and Mexico, Fandango says – the acquisition will allow Fandango to establish a presence in both Canada and the U.K. for the first time.

The deal follows other efforts Fandango had underway in Latin America, after announcing a new brand strategy for the region. This included new online and mobile ticketing destinations at Ingresso.com in Brazil, and Fandango Latin America (www.Fandango.lat, previously known as Cinepapaya) in several Latin American countries, including Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Fandango says that MovieTickets.com will continue to operate from its HQ in Florida after the acquisition completes.

Beyond the regional expansion benefits arising from the deal, MovieTickets.com will also bring new cinemas to Fandango’s network, including National Amusements, Cineplex, Landmark Theatres, Marquee Cinemas, and several independent theater chains. Prior to the acquisition, Fandango already had partnerships with over 80 percent of the U.S.’s theater chains with online ticketing capabilities.

MovieTickets.com isn’t Fandango’s only recent acquisition focused on international expansion and broadening its service. In 2016, Fandango bought Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes from Warner Bros. Entertainment, giving it the ability to help users learn more about movies and read reviews.

Fandango also last year bought movie streaming service M-GO from joint owners Dreamworks Animation and Technicolor, which it later rebranded FandangoNOW. That service now offers thousands of movies and TV shows for rent or purchase.

Other acquisitions include Brazil ticketer Ingresso.com and Peru’s Cinepapaya, referenced above.

With the addition of MovieTickets.com, Fandango’s suite of apps will reach “hundreds of millions” of moviegoers worldwide, the company claims.

“MovieTickets.com has done a terrific job, building a popular and trusted brand with millions of loyal customers and hundreds of exhibitors, and has been a champion of serving theater circuits large and small for nearly two decades,” said Fandango President Paul Yanover, in a statement. “We look forward to sharing an array of mobile and social media innovations with their customer base to enhance the movie discovery, planning and ticket buying experience.”

The deal is expected to close in Q4 2017.

Featured Image: Mikael Damkier/Shutterstock (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

Toonstar lets you bring cartoon characters to life thanks to facial recognition


John Attanasio, CEO of Toonstar, said his goal is to create “a new Cartoon Network.”

Attanasio and his co-founder Luisa Huang were both executives at Warner Brothers, so they both worked under the same corporate umbrella as the Cartoon Network. Attanasio said the key to Toonstar’s approach is to create animated content that’s “mobile, snackable, interactive.”

Specifically, the startup’s iOS app allows users to customize cartoon characters and then animate them using their own facial expressions. The resulting cartoons can be livestreamed (both on Toonstar itself and other services like Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Musical.ly) and viewers can interact by adding their own animations, such as dropping an anvil into the scene.

This may remind you of animojis, the emojis animated by facial recognition technology that Apple announced last month. However, Attanasio said the two services are trying to do different things — animojis are communication tools, while Toonstar is all about entertainment. (Plus, you don’t need to wait for an iPhone X to use Toonstar’s app.)

He also argued that the facial recognition technology needed to do this kind of thing has existed for a while now. What’s new, he said, is “this idea of a selfie culture,” which Toonstar extends by allowing users to transform themselves into other characters, and even entire casts of characters.

Toonstar Demo

The Toonstar app is coming out of beta testing today. The company says that during its three months in beta, the app attracted 20,000 users, and the cartoons created were viewed 50 million times.

The company has also partnered with Skybound Entertainment, the company behind The Walking Dead, on an initiative to turn several Skybound comics into Toonstar shows.

“We’re excited to partner with Toonstar because we believe cartoon livestreaming has many unique advantages from both a consumer and production perspective,” said Skybound North CEO Catherine Winder in the announcement. “Real­time interaction allows fans to connect directly with their favorite characters in a ground-breaking way.”

Eventually, Attanasio hopes that Toonstar not just another channel for animated content, but a source of new intellectual property: “Maybe the next Rick and Morty comes from Toonstar, maybe the next Bojack Horseman comes from Toonstar.”

The startup has raised a seed round of undisclosed size led by Science Inc., with participation from Jon Goldman’s GC VR Gaming Tracker Fund, Manta Ray and Social Starts.

Spotify launches an app for artists with real-time streaming data, audience demographics


In the music streaming era, access to data is king. Artists want to know how their music is being discovered, who’s listening, where, how many have streamed their release, and what else their fans are into, among other things. Today, Spotify is releasing an app for artists that aims to answer these questions, while also giving artists a way to update their profile and connect with listeners while on the go.

Essentially, this new “Spotify for Artists” app, as it’s called, is a mobile version of Spotify’s artist dashboard, which exited beta earlier this year. The key difference is the convenience of mobile access – something Spotify product manager, Miles Lennon, was a top demand.

“The first thing we’re trying to achieve is meeting the artists’ needs to have mobility,” he says. “They don’t have desk jobs. While we have a desktop product, it’s not accessible to them.”

Like the web dashboard, the app lets artists update their profile on the service, including things like their bio, their artist’s pick and their playlists. These picks and playlists are one of the ways artists on Spotify engage fans – by telling them what favorite new song they’re listening to, for example, or by featuring their favorite tracks.

The ability to upload new photos to the artist profile is not yet supported, but will be in a future release of the app, we’re told.

However, the key features in the Spotify for Artists app have to do with gaining native mobile access to streaming data, including real-time data on new releases.

As soon as a new release drops, the app will update instantly as the track gets streamed. This will continue for the first week after a new single, EP or album is released, says Spotify.

This feature is exclusive to mobile and leverages Google’s Cloud infrastructure, explains Lennon. The one-week time frame was chosen partly because of the challenges of scaling such a feature, but also because it’s the most critical period to track. However, that time frame may expand in the future.

Data like this is crucial for artists, who today compete for fan attention and acclaim on number of streams, not album sales. And on Spotify, half of users discover music by way of playlists or the radio, the company has said before. So if a new release drops but isn’t picking up steam, artists will know this information immediately, then can act accordingly – getting their tracks on the right Spotify playlists, or getting other artists to feature their music on their own profiles, for instance.

In addition, the app will provide access to listener demographics, including information like gender, age, location, and even what they stream, how they listen, and what else they like.

Again, this is data the Spotify for Artists dashboard on the web also contains, but the focus here is the convenience of mobile combined with the power of data. It’s a way to drill down into the fan base base, to separate the casual streamers from the more dedicated fans, and learn more about where and how the music is being received.

“Artists are always looking to understand did this next record I put out bring me to a new level of fandom, or did this new sound change the audience makeup?,” says Lennon. “Has the gender makeup of my audience changed? Has their age changed? Or even, maybe the countries or cities?…this is something artists have told us is really critical for them.”

These demographic details can also help artists when they’re promoting their music outside Spotify – such as on Facebook by way of social ads – or for planning tours.

Data on an artist’s most devout listeners is also used today with Spotify’s email targeting project, Fans First, which lets artists reach out to top fans with special offers – like presale concert tickets, for example. These campaigns are said outperform those from traditional email marketers, who expect only a quarter of recipients to open their emails. Spotify, meanwhile, has said that its email open rate is 40 percent, and clickthrough rate is 17 percent.

The Artists’ app today doesn’t yet connect the dots between gaining access to the data and taking action based on those findings. But that’s on the roadmap.

“That’s also something that we’re working on and looking into very closely,” Lennon says.

“One of the things that inspired the ‘latest release’ feature is that the app should know what’s important to you and surface that prominently above other things,” he says of the way the app today features the real-time streams front-and-center after new releases drop. “That’s a theme we’re going to continue to build upon: letting artists know what they should pay attention to, and why, and giving them ways to act on that.”

Asked if any of these future recommendations would be premium features, Lennon said no. There are no current plans to charge for these insights.

The Spotify for Artists app had been in testing for a couple of months with over 100 beta testers prior to today’s release on iOS.

An Android version is expected in a few weeks.

FastPay acquires media payments company AnchorOps


FastPay has acquired AnchorOps in a deal that brings together two businesses focused on media financing.

FastPay’s model revolves around lending money to digital media companies, helping them deal with cashflow issues as they wait to get paid by advertisers. AnchorOps, meanwhile, has built invoicing and payments software for those media companies.

In the acquisition announcement, CEO Jed Simon said the deal allows FastPay to create “a single platform to address the full spectrum of customer needs.”

Asked about how much he’d paid for AnchorOps, Simon told me it was “multiple eight figures” (so, tens of millions of dollars) in cash and stock. He also said the entire 30-person AnchorOps team will be joining FastPay, with founder and CEO David Frogel becoming chief revenue officer.

“The AnchorOps team will comprise the core of FastPay’s payment business and we intend to continue investing it and growing the team,” Simon said.