Daily Crunch: Amazon scraps HQ2 plans in NYC

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Did New York lose anything with Amazon’s rejection? It’s complicated.

Amazon announced yesterday that it’s taking its ball and going home, rather than dealing with mean, pushy New Yorkers (warning: not an exact quote). As a result, some outside observers are painting a picture of a city and its politicians losing out for their recalcitrance.

Jon Shieber acknowledges that there’s plenty to criticize on both sides. But for those who think New Yorkers are idiots for not giving Amazon billions in tax incentives, he has a simple message: You’re wrong.

2. Netflix office goes on lockdown over report of a potential shooter, suspect now in custody

According to the LAPD, there were no shots fired, no reports of injuries and the suspect in question has been taken into custody.

3. Samsung is preparing to launch a sports smartwatch and AirPods-like earbuds

Samsung’s newest product launch happens next week, but the Korean tech giant has already revealed the lineup of wearable devices that will be unveiled alongside the Galaxy S10.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 08: Gimlet Media President Matt Lieber, Gimlet Media CEO Alex Blumberg (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Spotify)

4. Spotify says it paid $340M to buy Gimlet and Anchor

Spotify doubled down on podcasts last week with a deal to buy podcast companies Gimlet and Anchor. The acquisition price was initially undisclosed, but Spotify has quietly confirmed that it spent €300 million — just shy of $340 million — to capture the companies.

5. Everything you need to know about GM’s new electric bikes

General Motors announced last year it was getting into the electric bike business. Now, GM has given this new brand a name — ARĪV — and revealed some of the details about its go-to-market plan.

6. China’s Didi is laying off 15 percent of its staff

The cut comes as China’s largest ride-hailing company copes with a stricter regulatory environment that puts a squeeze on driver supply, as well as backlash from two high-profile passenger murders last year.

7. Dubai airport briefly halts flights after drone spotted

It’s the latest in a recent string of scares involving personal drones flying too close to a commercial airport. At the height of the holiday season, London’s Gatwick airport was closed for a day and a half over similar concerns.

StayTuned Digital helps video creators publish and measure everywhere

If you’re a video creator in 2019, you’re probably thinking about a long list of publishing destinations: YouTube, of course, but also Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more.

StayTuned Digital is a new startup trying to help video creators and publishers push their content to multiple platforms. The company, which bills itself as “content’s best friend,” is officially unveiling its product today and announcing that it’s raised $2.5 million in funding.

StayTuned was founded by CEO Serge Kassardjian (previously the global head of media app business development for Google Play) and Randy Jimenez (previously CTO at SinglePlatform). Kassardjian told me he saw the need for a product like this during his time at Google, when he would talk to content creators becoming “overwhelmed” by the fragmentation across all the different devices and platforms available to them.

“What’s happened is every single one of the platforms is releasing new formats, new ways to optimize, it’s constantly changing every couple of months,” Kassardjian said.

So with StayTuned, publishers shouldn’t have to worry about all that. Kassardjian said the product does three big things: optimizes the video so that it looks good and can perform well on each platform, pushes the video to each platform and then measures the results, which feeds back into the optimization.

Kassardjian acknowledged that getting into the media business, even as a technology provider, might seem like a bad idea right now, but he said, “There’s a misconception that what’s happening in the world is that media and content is dead, but there’s more media and content ever before.”

Nor does Kassardjian believe that publishers can stop relying on Facebook and other platforms. Sure, they may want to drive more traffic to their own properties or launch their own subscription services, but unless they’re Netflix-sized, they can’t ignore the big platforms entirely.

“We provide ubiquity to where the audience is,” he said.

And when he talks about video publishers, he isn’t just thinking about traditional media companies (although he’s looking to work with them too). He also said StayTuned could work with newer digital companies, ecommerce retailers and other brands that are created content — and eventually, small businesses.

As for the funding, it was led by Bowery Capital, with participation CourtsideVC, Quaker Health, Social Leverage, Liquid 2 Ventures, The Fund, Hive Ventures, Grape Arbor and a number of angel investors. StayTuned is also part the current GCT Startup-in-Residence program.

Daily Crunch: Facebook (possibly) considered buying Unity

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Facebook mulled multi-billion-dollar acquisition of gaming giant Unity, book claims

Less than a year after making a $3 billion investment into the future of virtual reality with the purchase of Oculus VR, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was considering another multi-billion-dollar bet by buying Unity, the popular game engine that’s used to build half of all gaming titles.

At least, that’s the claim made in a new book, “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.

2. Alibaba’s Ant Financial buys UK currency exchange giant WorldFirst reportedly for around $700M

Although the companies were relatively quiet about the deal, it could end up being pretty significant, showing both the market connections between China and Europe and the margin pressures that many smaller remittance companies are under in the wake of larger companies like Amazon building their own money-moving services.

3. Nintendo makes the old new again with Mario, Zelda, Tetris titles for Switch

We round up everything Nintendo announced yesterday, from Super Mario Maker 2 to the unexpected remake of Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening.

Tesla dog mode

4. Tesla ‘Dog mode’ and ‘Sentry mode’ are now live to guard your car and pets

Dog mode is meant to accomplish two things: to keep dogs (or perhaps a hamster or cat) in a climate-controlled environment if left unattended in a vehicle, and to let passersby know their status.

5. Happy Valentine’s Day: your dating app account was hacked, says Coffee Meets Bagel

Users of the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel woke up this morning to find an email in their inboxes warning that their account information had been stolen by a third-party who gained unauthorized access to the company’s systems.

6. Apple is selling the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 in Germany again

Apple was forced to pull the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models from shelves in the country last month, after chipmaker Qualcomm posted security bonds to enforce a December court injunction.

7. Malt raises $28.6M for its freelancer platform

Malt has created a marketplace for companies and engineers working as freelancers. There are currently 100,000 freelancers on the platform and 15,000 companies using Malt regularly.

Daily Crunch: Apple’s subscription fix

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Apple’s iOS update makes it easier to get to your subscriptions

Moving the Manage Subscriptions menu so that it’s just one click away from your App Store profile might seem like a minor change, but it was needed: As more mobile apps have adopted subscriptions as a means of generating revenue, it’s become critical to ensure consumers know how to turn off their subscriptions.

Plus, Apple is expected to launch some subscriptions of its own, namely for its streaming video and news services.

2. Instagram confirms that a bug is causing follower counts to change

Don’t panic! Instagram says it’s “aware of an issue that is causing a change in account follower numbers for some people right now” and is “working to resolve this as quickly as possible.”

3. Autonomous truck startup TuSimple hits unicorn status in latest round

Today, TuSimple is taking three to five fully autonomous trips per day for customers on three different routes in Arizona.

4. Sixteen percent of US adults own a smartwatch

The latest figures out of NPD show a continued uptick in smartwatch sales here in the States. The category has been a rare bright spot in an overall flagging wearable space, and the new numbers show gains pretty much across the board.

5. JibJab, one of the first silly selfie video makers, acquired by private equity firm Catapult Capital

Founded in 1999 by brothers Evan and Gregg Spiridellis after they saw “an animated dancing doodie streaming over a 56K modem,” JibJab’s big break came during the 2004 presidential campaign, when its satirical “This Land” racked up more than 80 million views.

6. Eight Sleep unveils The Pod, a bed that’s smarter about temperature

Eight has been focused on bed temperature for a while, first by offering a smart mattress cover and then a smart mattress that allows owners to adjust the surface temperature and even set different temperatures for different sides of the bed. But The Pod goes even further, with a smart temperature mode that will change bed temperature throughout the night to improve your sleep.

7. Ubisoft and Mozilla team up to develop Clever-Commit, an AI coding assistant

Clever-Commit is an assistant that learns from your code base’s bug and regression data to analyze and flag potential new bugs as new code is committed.

Fiverr acquires ClearVoice to double down on content marketing

Fiverr is acquiring ClearVoice, a company that helps customers like Intuit and Carfax find professionals to write promotional content.

The two companies seem like a natural fit, since they both operate marketplaces for freelancers. Fiverr covers a much broader swath of freelance work, but CEO Micha Kaufman (pictured above) said the marketplace’s professional writing category grew 220 percent between the fourth quarters of 2017 and 2018, and he predicted that the need for content marketing will only increase.

“The types of channels that brands and companies need to be involved in and engaging in conversation with their audience are just growing,” Kaufman said. “I think any brand today that wants to be relevant needs to create a lot of engaging, interesting, creative content in their space, and I think that that creates a high demand for good content writers.”

Kaufman also noted that this is Fiverr’s third acquisition in two years, and he said he’s a “big believer … in the consolidation of vertical businesses into horizontal businesses such as ours — the fact that we cover over 200 categories gives us a tremendous amount of power to serve customers across many different types of needs.”

So what does the acquisition bring to the table that Fiverr wasn’t offering already? Kaufman said the ClearVoice team has “a lot of know how, both in technology side and the actual content side,” which will allow Fiverr to “cater to customers of all sizes and all needs.”

ClearVoice editorial calendar

ClearVoice editorial calendar

More specifically, he said most of Fiverr’s content marketing customers are small businesses, while ClearVoice is able to work with large enterprises, especially with its collaboration and workflow tools that allow those enterprises to create content at “high velocity.”

Founded in 2014 by Jay Swansson and Joe Griffin (who still serve as co-CEOs), ClearVoice has raised a total of $3.1 million in funding from investors including PC Ventures, Desert Angels, Peak Ventures and Service Provider Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Fiverr is not disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition. The company says ClearVoice will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary.

“We are thrilled to be joining a company that is changing how people and companies work together in the modern era,” Swansson said in a statement. “This new chapter is a chance for us to use Fiverr’s depth and knowledge to globally scale our business and advance our mission of creating a platform that allows for worldwide creative collaboration.”

Hulu greenlights ‘Howard the Duck’ and three other animated Marvel shows

Four new animated Marvel series, plus a crossover special, are coming to Hulu.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Hulu has greenlit “MODOK,” “Hit-Monkey,” “Tigra & Dazzler Show” and “Howard the Duck.” The characters will then come together in a special titled “The Offenders.”

These aren’t exactly A-list, or even B-list, Marvel characters. Howard the Duck (created by Steve Gerber) is probably the best-known — mostly for starring in a notorious ’80s flop — but I’ve also got a soft spot for MODOK, a gloriously ridiculous villain whose full name is Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.

MODOK

Presumably, the strategy here is to make funny shows about some of the weirder Marvel characters. And there are some established names working behind the scenes, with Kevin Smith signed up as a writer and executive producer on “Howard the Duck,” Patton Oswalt serving in a similar role on “MODOK” and Chelsea Handler on “Tigra and Dazzler Show.”

Meanwhile, the Netflix-Marvel partnership — which also started out with four superhero series and a big crossover — appears to be coming to an end, with only “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher” left uncanceled (for now).

Hulu is already the home to another Marvel series, “Runaways,” and it makes sense that the relationship for to deepen after the Fox acquisition, which made Marvel’s corporate parent Disney into the majority owner of Hulu. And if that’s not enough streaming superhero content for you, there are also shows about Loki and other characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the works for the yet-to-launch Disney+.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ is lethally dull

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and writer-director Dan Gilroy — who worked together on the creepy crime thriller “Nightcrawler” — have reunited for a new Netflix Original film, “Velvet Buzzsaw.”

While “Nightcrawler” wasn’t perfect, it was tense and unsettling, filled with eerily beautiful shots of nighttime L.A., plus a career-best performance from Gyllenhaal. It’s hard to believe that the same team was responsible for the muddled “Buzzsaw,” a film that tries to combine art-world satire and horror movies scares, ultimately failing on both counts.

The setup involves the death of a mysterious artist, leaving behind a trove of strangely compelling paintings. Soon, though, everyone involved in promoting or selling these paintings starts dying too.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jon Shieber to try to understand what went wrong here. The movie isn’t particularly funny or scary — instead, we’re stuck with obvious jabs at the hypocrisy of the art world, interrupted by boring, unimaginative death scenes. And while Gyllenhaal is trying something in his portrayal of pompous art critic Morf Vandewalt, the results are more head-scratching than compelling.

This episode isn’t just one long pan, though. We also offer our (considerably more positive) impressions of the Netflix series “Russian Doll,” which stars co-creator Natasha Lyonne as a New Yorker who keeps dying and repeating the night of her 36th birthday. And we discuss Super Bowl streaming numbers and new details about Disney’s streaming service.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You also can send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Daily Crunch: Bezos accuses National Enquirer of blackmail

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer of blackmailing him — and publishes the details himself

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he is being blackmailed with nude selfies by AMI, owner of the National Enquirer, over claims the publisher has acted as a political operative. In a Medium post, Bezos described the process by which he has been targeted by AMI.

AMI, meanwhile, says it was engaging in “good faith negotiations.”

2. Apple tells app developers to disclose or remove screen recording code

This follows an investigation by TechCrunch that revealed major companies, like Expedia, Hollister and Hotels.com, were using a third-party analytics tool to record every tap and swipe inside the app.

3. Spotify will now suspend or terminate accounts it finds are using ad blockers

In an email to users, the streaming music and podcast platform said its new user guidelines “mak[e] it clear that all types of ad blockers, bots and fraudulent streaming activities are not permitted.” Accounts that use ad blockers in Spotify face immediate suspension or termination under the new rules, which go into effect on March 1.

4. T-Mobile plans to offer à la carte media subscriptions, but no TV ‘skinny bundle’

The mobile operator’s strategy will focus on helping customers pick and choose which paid TV subscriptions they want to access — a move that very much sounds like T-Mobile is going the “Amazon Channels” route with its mobile streaming plans.

5. Woody Allen just sued Amazon for $68 million

Woody Allen filed a $68 million suit with the Southern District of New York over a four-picture deal with Amazon. The suit arrives as Allen’s latest film, “A Rainy Day in New York,” has been set in limbo, months after completion.

6. Sprint calls AT&T’s 5G E label ‘false advertising’ in new lawsuit

AT&T’s adoption of the “5G Evolution” label has already been controversial among industry followers and fellow carriers alike for watering down the meaning of next-gen connectivity — and now Sprint is looking to do something about it.

7. Subscription startup Scroll acquires news aggregator Nuzzel

Tony Haile, who previously led analytics company Chartbeat, is trying to rethink the business model for news at his new startup, Scroll. Now he’s adding aggregation and curation to the mix with the acquisition of Nuzzel.

Apple turns Ariana Grande and other musicians into Memoji for its latest ads

Just in time for the Grammy Awards, Apple has unveiled three new ads for Apple Music, featuring new singles from Ariana Grande, Khalid and Florida Georgia Line.

In each video, the musicians have been transformed in Memoji (the human-style Animoji variant that was announced last year), which lip synch to their latest songs. The ads probably won’t change any minds when it comes to Memoji and Animoji — but if you like the format, they’re are fun.

Apple actually created similar ads with Animoji lip synching to Childish Gambino and Migos before last year’s Grammys.

As The Verge points out, if you watch to the end of the videos and pay attention to the small print, you’ll notice that these Memoji were “professional animated.” So don’t feel too bad if your lip synching Animoji videos don’t look quite as good.

Gametime lets you buy tickets for games and concerts that have already started

Ticketing app Gametime is taking its last-minute approach about as far as it can go, with the launch of a new feature called LastCall. This allows users to purchase tickets through Gametime until 90 minutes after an event has started.

Why would you want to do that? Well, prices usually drop precipitously after the event starts — for example, Gametime said that 48 hours before a game, the median price for a Major League Baseball is (coincidentally?) $48, but it’s dropped to $13 by 90 minutes after the first pitch.

Founder and CEO Brad Griffith acknowledged that most fans probably aren’t interested in just showing up for the fourth quarter or ninth inning of a game, or for the last song in a concert. On the other hand, if you could get a big discount and still catch most of the event, then it might be worth it.

Meanwhile, if you’re a team or a venue with empty seats, or if you’re a ticket-holder who realizes at the last minute that you can’t attend, then it’s good to have one last shot at selling those tickets.

In fact, it sounds like this is one of those “announcements” that’s partly acknowledging what’s already happening, both in the Gametime app and elsewhere. Griffith said the company is “doubling down” on this last-last-minute category of tickets, adding that it’s “constantly working through” what it’s actually including under the LastCall umbrella.

LastCall graphic

“The key element is the research that we’ve done, how it relates to the growth of this phenomenon” he said.

That research includes a survey of 287 event attendees, some who use Gametime and some who don’t. Apparently 27 percent said they’ve already purchased tickets after an event’s start time, and 62 percent of those late buyers were either Generation Z or millennials.

And while Gametime started out with a focus on sports, LastCall will include tickets from a variety of live events. In fact, Griffith said concerts are now the app’s fastest-growing category, and he suggested that this approach could help with the declining number of total concert tickets sold.

“We’re starting to see a bifurcation of windows, where the on-sale is still healthy, is strong, and the middle is maybe cratering in terms of transaction volume,” he said. “And then last-minute is vibrant and growing fast. That is where we aim to do our best work.”