Here are the six startups in Betaworks’ new Audiocamp

Back in September, Betaworks put out a call for startups to participate in its latest “camp,” this one focused on audio.

Danika Laszuk, the head of Betaworks Camp, told me at the time that the startup studio was looking for companies that are trying to build “audio-first” experiences for smart speakers and wireless headphones, or pursuing other audio-related opportunities like synthetic audio or social audio.

Now Betaworks is unveiling the six startups that it has selected to participate in the program, covering everything from game assistants to AI music production. Each startup receives a pre-seed investment from Betaworks, and will be working out of the firm’s New York City offices for the next three months.

Here are the companies:

    • Storm is working on a live audio platform that it says will allow your friends to ask you anything.
    • Midgame is building voice-enabled gaming assistants, starting with a bot that answers questions to improve your gameplay in Stardew Valley.
    • Scout FM is developing hands-free listening experiences such as podcast radio stations and voice assistants for Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
    • Never Before Heard Sounds is an AI-powered music production company, working to create new sounds and new musical datasets.
    • SyncFloor is a marketplace of commercial music that can be used in movies, TV shows, ads, video games and elsewhere.
    • The Next Big Idea Club offers a subscription for curated nonfiction books — you can buy the books themselves, but also read, watch or listen to condensed summaries.

Here are the six startups in Betaworks’ new Audiocamp

Back in September, Betaworks put out a call for startups to participate in its latest “camp,” this one focused on audio.

Danika Laszuk, the head of Betaworks Camp, told me at the time that the startup studio was looking for companies that are trying to build “audio-first” experiences for smart speakers and wireless headphones, or pursuing other audio-related opportunities like synthetic audio or social audio.

Now Betaworks is unveiling the six startups that it has selected to participate in the program, covering everything from game assistants to AI music production. Each startup receives a pre-seed investment from Betaworks, and will be working out of the firm’s New York City offices for the next three months.

Here are the companies:

    • Storm is working on a live audio platform that it says will allow your friends to ask you anything.
    • Midgame is building voice-enabled gaming assistants, starting with a bot that answers questions to improve your gameplay in Stardew Valley.
    • Scout FM is developing hands-free listening experiences such as podcast radio stations and voice assistants for Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
    • Never Before Heard Sounds is an AI-powered music production company, working to create new sounds and new musical datasets.
    • SyncFloor is a marketplace of commercial music that can be used in movies, TV shows, ads, video games and elsewhere.
    • The Next Big Idea Club offers a subscription for curated nonfiction books — you can buy the books themselves, but also read, watch or listen to condensed summaries.

Daily Crunch: Saudis probably hacked Bezos’ phone

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. UN calls for investigation after Saudis linked to Bezos phone hack

United Nations experts are calling for an investigation after a forensic report said Saudi officials “most likely” used a mobile hacking tool built by the NSO Group to hack into the phone of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos .

The report, carried out by FTI Consulting, said it was “highly probable” that the phone hack was triggered by a malicious video sent over WhatsApp to Bezos’ phone. Within hours, large amounts of data on Bezos’ phone had been exfiltrated.

2. Netflix adds 8.8M subscribers despite growing competition

Netflix addressed the competitive landscape in its Q4 earnings report, arguing that there’s “ample room for many services to grow as linear TV wanes,” noting that during the quarter, “our viewing per membership grew both globally and in the U.S. on a year over year basis, consistent with recent quarters.”

3. Tencent to grow gaming empire with $148M acquisition of Conan publisher Funcom in Norway

Tencent is cementing its position as one of the world’s biggest video and online gaming companies by revenue. Funcom, meanwhile, is traded publicly on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and the board has already recommended accepting the offer — which is being made at around 27% higher than Tuesday’s closing share price.

4. Google’s new experimental apps focus on reducing screen time — including one that uses a paper envelope

The new apps include a Screen Stopwatch for tracking screen time, another that lets you visualize your phone usage as bubbles and a third that lets you put your phone in an envelope. And no, that last one’s not a joke — the envelope would still allow you to make and receive calls, and to use the camera to take photos.

5. Your Sonos system will stop receiving updates if you have an old device

If you own a Zone Player, Connect, first-generation Play:5, CR200, Bridge or pre-2015 Connect:Amp, FYI: Sonos is going to stop shipping updates to those devices. And if Spotify and Apple Music update their application programming interface in the future, your devices could stop working with those services altogether.

6. Cruise doubles down on hardware

GM subsidiary Cruise now employs more than 1,700 people, a considerable chunk of whom are software engineers. Less well-known is the company’s strategy of building out a hardware team, which will eventually take over Cruise’s 140,000-square-foot building on San Francisco’s Bryant Street.

7. Adblock Plus’s Till Faida on the shifting shape of ad blocking

Faida tells us that the company is trying to thread a fine line between conflicting interests and string together a critical mass of internet users who want to get rid of unwelcome distractions; along with digital publishers and ad purveyors who want to maximize eyeballs on their stuff — and are likely especially keen to reach a tech-savvy, ad-blocking demographic. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Netflix adds 8.8M subscribers despite growing competition

Netflix grew by 8.8 million net subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to its latest earning report, putting its growth well ahead of its forecast of 7.6 million.

The company says it has 167 million paid memberships worldwide, with more than 100 million outside the United States. It also reported stronger-than-expected financials, with revenue of $5.47 billion and earnings per share of $1.30, compared to analyst estimates of $5.45 billion and EPS of 53 cents.

That’s all despite the launch of two major streaming services, Disney+ and Apple TV+, with more competition coming this year from WarnerMedia’s HBOMax and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

Netflix addresses the competitive landscape in its letter to shareholders, arguing that there’s “ample room for many services to grow as linear TV wanes,” and noting that during Q4, “our viewing per membership grew both globally and in the US on a year over year basis, consistent with recent quarters.”

Netflix also points to Google Search Trends showing much higher interest in its original series “The Witcher” than in Disney+’s “Mandalorian,” Apple TV+’s “Morning Show” or Amazon’s “Jack Ryan.”

Google Trends

That might seem like an unfair comparison, especially since Disney+ is only available in a handful of countries so far, but Netflix argues, “If Disney+ were global we don’t think the picture would be much different, to judge from the ​NL results​ where Disney+ first launched.”

In fact, Netflix says “The Witcher” is on-track to become “our biggest season one TV series ever,” with 76 million member households choosing to watch the show. It also says 83 million households chose to watch the Michael Bay-directed action film “6 Underground.”

If you’re wondering about the slightly awkward “chose to watch” phrasing — yep, Netflix is switching up the (already controversial) way that it reports viewership. While it previously shared the number of accounts that watched at least 70% of an episode or film, it’s now looking at how many members chose to watch a show or movie, and then actually watched for at least two minutes (“long enough to indicate that the choice was intentional”).

The company says this increases viewer counts by an average of 35%.

“Our new methodology is similar to the BBC iPlayer in their rankings​ based on ‘requests’ for the title, ‘most popular’ articles on the New York Times which include those who opened the articles, and YouTube view counts,” Netflix says. “This way, short and long titles are treated equally, leveling the playing field for all types of our content including interactive content, which has no fixed length.”

One dark cloud in the earnings report is what appears to be slowing growth, with 7.0 million projected net additions in Q1 of this year, compared to 9.6 million net adds in the first quarter of 2019. Netflix attributes this to “the continued, slightly elevated churn levels we are seeing in the US,” as well as more balance between Q1 and Q2 growth this year, “due in part to the timing of last year’s price changes and a strong upcoming Q2 content slate.”

As of 4:51pm Eastern, Netflix shares were up 0.41% in after-hours trading.

Corporate relocation startup Shyft raises $15M

Shyft is announcing that it has raised $15 million in Series A funding to make the moving process less painful — specifically in the situations where your employer is paying for the move.

There other startups are looking to offer concierge-type services for regular moving — I used a service called Moved last year and liked it. But Shyft’s Shyft co-founder and CEO Alex Alpert (who’s spent years in the moving business) told me that there are no direct competitors focused on corporate relocation.

“Even at the highest levels, the process is totally jacked up,” Alpert said. “We saw an opportunity to partner with corporations and relocation management companies to build a customized, tech-driven experience with more choices, more flexibility and to be able to navigate the quoting seamlessly.”

So when a company that uses Shyft decides to relocate you — whether you’re a new hire or just transferring to a new office — you should get an email prompting you to download the Shyft app, where you can chat with a “move coach” who guides you through the process.

You’ll also be able to catalog the items you want to move over a video call and get estimates from movers. You’ll also receiving moving-related offers from companies like Airbnb, Wag, Common, Sonder and Home Chef.

And as Alpert noted, Shyft also partners with more traditional relocation companies like Graebel, rather than treating them as competitors.

Shyft screenshot

The company was originally called Crater and focused on building technology for creating accurate moving estimates via video. It changed its name and its business model back in 2018 (Alpert acknowledged, “It wasn’t a very popular pitch in the beginning: ‘Hey, we’re building estimation software for moving companies.'”) but the technology remains a crucial differentiator.

“Our technology is within 95% accurate at identifying volume and weight of the move,” he said. “When moving companies know the information is reliable, they can bid very aggressively.”

As result, Alpert said the employer benefits not just from having happier employees, but lower moving costs.

The new funding, meanwhile, was led by Inovia Capital, with participation from Blumberg Capital and FJ Labs.

“There’s a total misalignment between transactional relocation services and the many logistical, social, and lifestyle needs that come with moving to a new city,” Inovia Partner Todd Simpson said in a statement. “As businesses shift towards more distributed workforces and talent becomes accustomed to personalized experiences, the demand for a curated moving offering will continue to grow.”

AppsFlyer raises $210M for ad attribution and more

AppsFlyer has raised a massive Series C of $210 million led by General Atlantic.

Founded in 2011, the company is best known for mobile ad attribution — allowing advertisers to see which campaigns are driving results. At the same time, AppsFlyer has expanded into other areas like fraud prevention.

And in the funding announcement, General Atlantic Manager Director Alex Crisses suggested that there’s a broader opportunity here.

“Attribution is becoming the core of the marketing tech stack, and AppsFlyer has established itself as a leader in this fast-growing category,” Crisses said. “AppsFlyer’s commitment to being independent, unbiased, and representing the marketer’s interests has garnered the trust of many of the world’s leading brands, and we see significant potential to capture additional opportunity in the market.”

Crisses and General Atlantic’s co-president and global head of technology Anton Levy are both joining AppsFlyer’s board of directors. Previous investors Qumra Capital, Goldman Sachs Growth, DTCP (Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners), Pitango Venture Capital and Magma Venture Partners also participated in the round, which brings the company’s total funding to $294 million.

AppsFlyer said it works with more than 12,000 customers including eBay, HBO, Tencent, NBC Universal, Minecraft, US Bank, Macy’s and Nike. It also says it saw more than $150 million in annual recurring revenue in 2019, up 5x from its Series C in 2017.

Co-founder and CEO Oren Kaniel said that as attribution becomes more important, marketers need a partner they can trust. And with AppsFlyer driving $28 billion in ad spend last year, he argued, “There’s a lot of trust there.”

Kaniel added, “It doesn’t really matter how sophisticated your marketing stack is, or whether you have AI or machine learning — if the data feed is wrong … everything else will be wrong. I think companies realize how sensitive and critical this data platform is for them. I think that in the past couple of years, they’re investing more in selecting the right platform.”

In order to ensure that trust, he said that AppsFlyer has avoided any conflicts of interest in its business model — a position that extends to fundraising, where Kaniel made sure not to raise money from any of the big players in digital advertising.

And moving forward, he said, “We will never go into media business, never go into media services. We want to maintain our independence, we want to maintain our previous unbiased positions.”

Kaniel also argued that while he doesn’t see regulations like Europe GDPR and California’s CCPA hindering ad attribution directly, the regulatory environment has justified AppsFlyer’s investment in privacy and security.

“Even more than just being in compliance, [with AppsFlyer], marketers all of a sudden have full control of their data,” he said. “Let’s say on the web, probably your website is sending data and information to partners who don’t need to have access to this ifnormation. The reason is, there’s no logic, there’s a lot of pixels going everywhere, the publishers don’t have control. If you use our platform, you have full control, you can configure the exact data points that you’d like to share.”

Original Content podcast: Netflix goes to the Oscars

When this year’s Academy Award nominations were announced on Monday, Netflix received 24 nominations — the most of any Hollywood studio.

That’s thanks in large part to “The Irishman,” which received 10 nominations, and “Marriage Story,” which received six (both films were nominated for Best Picture). As a result, Darrell finally watched Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half hour gangster epic — and he wasn’t impressed by the results.

He explains why on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, in we discuss our reactions to the nominations, including the eyebrow-raising 11 nods for “Joker.” This leads to a broader discussion of why the nominations were so disappointing from a diversity perspective, and what exactly we want from awards like the Oscars anyway.

In addition, we recap the latest details about NBCUniversal’s upcoming streaming service Peacock, and Jordan offers a spoiler-y review of the second season of Netflix’s “You.”

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 can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:01 Peacock discussion
14:21 Oscars discussion
53:17 “You” season 2 spoiler review

Daily Crunch: NBCUniversal reveals its streaming plans

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. NBCU’s streaming service Peacock launches April 15 for Comcast subscribers, everyone else on July 15

NBCUniversal shared the details about its upcoming streaming service at an investor event yesterday. There will be a free tier of Peacock that includes more than 7,500 hours of programming, including classic shows and the current seasons of freshman broadcast series.

But if you want to see the original programming that NBCUniversal is creating for Peacock — as well as get early access to “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and twice as many hours of content overall — you’ll need Peacock Premium, which will be bundled for Comcast and Cox subscribers, and will cost $4.99 per month otherwise.

2. Elon Musk shares details about SpaceX’s Starship, including estimated 20 to 30-year service life

Answering questions on Twitter, Musk said that Starship — meant to support a human colony on Mars — will need to operate on a brisk schedule. The spacecraft is being designed with the plan of flying it for an average of three flights per day, each carrying over 100 tons per flight, for a total of more than 1,000 flights per year per vehicle.

3. Xiaomi spins off POCO as an independent company

POCO, a sub-smartphone brand that Xiaomi created in 2018, is spinning off a standalone company that will now run independently of the Chinese electronics giant.

4. Zendesk launches Sell Marketplace to bring app store to CRM product

Zendesk acquired Base CRM in 2018 to give customers a CRM component to go with its core customer service software. After purchasing the company, it changed the name to Sell, and now the company has launched a new Sell Marketplace.

5. Funnel closes $47M Series B to prepare marketing data for better reporting and analysis

Funnel is a Stockholm-based startup that offers technology to help businesses prepare — or make “business-ready” — their marketing data for better reporting and analysis. The company says it will use the injection of capital to accelerate its plans in the U.S.

6. Chinese podcasting and audio content app Lizhi debuts on Nasdaq

Lizhi, one of China’s biggest audio content apps, is debuting on Nasdaq today under the ticker symbol LIZI. It’s going public before its major Chinese competitors, but Ximalaya is expected to also list in the United States later this year.

7. Space Angels’ Chad Anderson on entering a new decade in the ‘entrepreneurial space age’

Space as an investment target is trending upwards in the VC community, but specialist firm Space Angels has been focused on the sector longer than most. The network of angel investors just published its most recent quarterly overview, revealing that investors put nearly $6 billion in capital into space companies across 2019. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Cannabis marketing company Fyllo acquires CannaRegs for $10M

Fyllo, a digital marketing company focused on the cannabis industry, has acquired CannaRegs, a website offering subscription access to state and municipal cannabis regulations. Fyllo founder and CEO Chad Bronstein (pictured above) said his company paid $10 million in cash and stock.

Bronstein previously served as chief revenue officer at digital marketing company Amobee, and he told me that the two companies are “very complementary,” particularly since regulations and compliance present “a unique technical challenge” when it comes to advertising cannabis products.

Ultimately, his goal is for Fyllo to offer “compliance as a service,” with artificial intelligence helping brands and publishers ensure that all their cannabis advertising follows local laws. At the same time, Bronstein said Fyllo will continue to support CannaRegs’ 150-plus customers (mostly law firms, real estate professionals and cannabis operators) and work to bring more automation to the platform.

In addition, CannaRegs founder and CEO Amanda Ostrowitz will become Fyllo’s chief strategy officer, with CannaRegs’ 30 employees continuing to work out of their Denver office. This brings Fyllo’s total headcount to around 70.

“In a short period of time, Fyllo has emerged as an essential platform for publishers and cannabis companies to build creative campaigns in a safe and compliant way,” Ostrowitz said in a statement. “By teaming up with Fyllo, we have the chance to build a truly remarkable brand that can disrupt the entire industry. We look forward to delivering our same quality of data to existing customers and incorporating that data into Fyllo’s platform to become a one-stop-shop for cannabis brands looking to grow their businesses.”

Chicago-based Fyllo raised $18 million in funding last year.

Daily Crunch: Mozilla lays off 70

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. Mozilla lays off 70 as it waits for new products to generate revenue

In an internal memo, Mozilla chairwoman and interim CEO Mitchell Baker specifically mentions the slow rollout of the organization’s new revenue-generating products as the reason for the cuts. The overall number may end up being higher than 70, as Mozilla is still looking into how this decision will affect workers in the U.K. and France.

“Mozilla has a strong line of sight to future revenue generation, but we are taking a more conservative approach to our finances,” Baker wrote. “This will enable us to pivot as needed to respond to market threats to internet health, and champion user privacy and agency.”

2. Apple buys edge-based AI startup Xnor.ai for a reported $200M

Xnor.ai began as a process for making machine learning algorithms highly efficient — so efficient that they could run on even the lowest tier of hardware out there, things like embedded electronics in security cameras. This acquisition makes sense, as Apple clearly intends for its devices to operate independent of the cloud when it comes to tasks like facial recognition, natural language processing and augmented reality.

3. The US government should stop demanding tech companies compromise on encryption

In a tweet late Tuesday, President Trump criticized Apple for refusing “to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements” — referring to a locked iPhone that belonged to a Saudi airman who killed three U.S sailors in December. Zack Whittaker explains why the government’s argument is a red herring. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. Mojo Vision’s AR contact lenses are very cool, but many questions remain

The company’s latest demos involve holding a lens or device close to the eye in order to get a feel for what an eventual AR contact lens would look like.

5. Google Cloud gets a premium support plan with 15-minute response times

The premium plan, which Google will charge for based on your monthly Google Cloud Platform spend (with a minimum cost of around $12,500 per month), promises a 15-minute response time in situations when an application or infrastructure is unusable in production.

6. Amazon’s fresh $1B investment in India is not a big favor, says India trade minister

A day after Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos announced that his company is pumping in an additional $1 billion into its India operations, the nation’s trade minister Piyush Goyal said he wasn’t impressed.

7. Companies take baby steps toward home robots at CES

CES is slowly, but steadily, starting to take robotics more seriously. (Extra Crunch membership required.)