HuffPost is reportedly on the auction block

Late last night the Financial Times reported that HuffPost, arguably one of the crown jewels of Verizon Media Group’s remaining network of media properties (which includes TechCrunch), is up for sale.

Verizon has been shedding media properties in a retreat from the strategy that it had begun to execute with the acquisition of AOL for $4.4 billion back in 2015. Through the AOL deal, then-chief executive Tim Armstrong became the architect of the telecommunications company’s media and advertising strategy.

Armstrong’s vision was to roll up as much online real estate as he could while creating a high technology advertising architecture on the back-end that could better target consumers based on their media consumption (which the telecom company would also own).

The idea was to provide a broad-based competitor to the reach of ad platforms on Google and Facebook which were also targeting users based on their browsing history and interests. The benefit that Google and Facebook had was that they had a more holistic view of what consumers did online and they positioned themselves as a distribution channel between media companies and users — essentially redistributing their articles and videos and hoovering up the ad dollars that had previously gone to those media companies.

The multi-billion dollar land grab continued when Verizon paid $4.5 billion for Yahoo in 2017.

Now it appears that Verizon has a multi-billion dollar case of buyer’s remorse. Part of the billions that Verizon spent on Yahoo was for the early social network Tumblr, which Yahoo had acquired for $1.1 billion back in 2013.

Earlier this year Verizon unloaded Tumblr for the cost of a luxury Manhattan apartment. That $3 million sale was presaged by the significant fall from grace of other former high-flying media and tech properties.

Vice was once worth $5.7 billion at the height of the media investment bubble, but earlier this year Disney wrote down its stake in the company to virtually nothing.

At least Vice is emerging as a survivor. the company has rolled up Refinery29. Vox Media is also doing well in the new world of media. It bought Recode back in 2015 and recently acquired the publisher behind New York Magazine to expand its purview into paper publications and get its hands on the popular New York websites Intelligencer, The Cut, Vulture, and Grub Street.

Other publications like Hello Giggles, which was founded by the actress Zooey Deschanel, were sold to Time Magazine. High-fliers like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Vice and Vox have all had to lay off staff in recent months.

It’s been a wild ride for HuffPost, which began in 2005 as a collection of celebrity bloggers brought together under the auspices of Arianna Huffington, from whom the site took its name.

AOL acquired The Huffington Post back in 2011 in a deal that was valued at $315 million less than a year after picking up TechCrunch for $25 million.

Verizon announced layoffs across its media properties at the beginning of the year. It cut roughly 7 percent of its staff — or around 800 jobs — including some at HuffPost.

In a statement to the Financial Times, Verizon said that it would not comment on rumors and speculation.

Neither Verizon Media nor HuffPost responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Disney+ tweets all the movies and shows coming to its streaming service

In an impressive bit of pre-launch marketing, Disney today announced by way of a massive Twitter thread basically every movie and TV show coming to its upcoming streaming service Disney+. The thread, which was posted in chronological order starting with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937, reveals not just Disney’s best-known titles but also its long tail of cult classics, flops, oddities and other lesser-known films.

To date, Disney has advertised the extensive catalog coming to Disney+, which launches on November 12, by highlighting the top titles from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, NatGeo and more.

It has also touted its dozens of upcoming original productions like “The Mandalorian,” a “Lady and the Tramp” remake, a “Rogue One” prequel, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” and many others.

But today’s Twitter thread is a reminder that Disney’s back catalog goes deep.

For every Disney animation classic, there’s a crappy direct-to-video sequel, like “Belle’s Magical World,” for example. There are the cheesy ’80s TV shows. And while Pixar may have spun “Toy Story” into one of its best-known franchises, it also produced the broadly panned “Cars 2.”

Then there are the titles you may have forgotten — or never knew existed in the first place — from “Meet the Deedles” to “Zenon Girl of the 21st Century” to “Fuzzbucket” to “The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoesto that movie about the country bears.

For anyone who grew up on Disney, the list is a nostalgic look back at not just the studio’s hits, but also the titles that quickly faded from your memory, or those that even make you cringe.

While most streaming services today round out their catalog lineup with less popular content in order to claim a larger number of total titles available, they don’t tend to promote their B movies and crappy TV shows in any of their marketing or advertising, for obvious reasons.

Disney’s approach, by comparison, is refreshingly transparent.

While you may never have watched “The Biscuit Eater” or “Justin Morgan Had a Horse” or “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” and may never care to, Disney+ is at least letting you know what sort of filler content comes with your $6.99 per month subscription.

As you scroll your way down through one of the biggest tweetstorms ever, you’ll likely come across a few niche titles that appeal to you, despite not being the stuff of headlines. And because each title gets its own tweet, you can let everyone know exactly how excited you are for “The Cat from Outer Space,” or anything else that strikes you.

Today’s massive tweetstrom wasn’t the only way that Disney overloaded one of its social channels to demonstrate the size of its back catalog. It also put together an over 3-hour YouTube video that previews everything coming to Disney+.

Disney+ is available for pre-order ahead of its November 12 launch.

How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh’, won the local video streaming market with just $10M

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with just $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people in Bangladesh who are online today, 75 million of them are subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Mohammed said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Mohammed to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.

Where top VCs are investing in edtech

Education is a $4 trillion market globally in urgent need of overall — so where within education are top venture capitalists optimistic about startups building large businesses by providing new solutions?

According to EdSurge, $1.45 billion of venture capital (a mere 1.1% of the $130 billion in US venture funding) was invested in education startups in the US in 2018; there were only 112 education-focused deals. In line with the trend in venture capital overall, this represented an increase in overall capital but a concentration in fewer deals (mainly large late-stage rounds).

Education is regarded as a tough market for achieving VC scale returns. Selling into school districts and universities is difficult and slow, and freemium models that go direct-to-teachers have struggled to monetize.

New software, content, and financing solutions for learning outside the traditional school system are more compelling business opportunities. This is particularly the case in vocational training where the return on investment of an educational program or tool can be quantitatively measured in job offers and salary increases

I asked four leading edtech VCs and six of the top generalist VCs (who have a track record of education investments) to share where they see opportunity in this sector:

  • Jennifer Carolan, Reach Capital
  • Amit Mukherjee, NEA
  • Michael Staton, Learn Capital
  • Annie Kadavy, Redpoint Ventures
  • Aydin Senkut, Felicis Ventures
  • Matt Greenfield, Rethink Education
  • Hemant Taneja, General Catalyst Partners
  • Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, Emerge Education
  • Charles Birnbaum, Bessemer Venture Partner

Here are their answers…

GettyImages 925988314

Image via Getty Images / doyata

Jennifer Carolan, General Partner at Reach Capital (an education-focused VC firm in Palo Alto with investments including Abl, BetterLesson, Epic!, Handshake, Holberton School, Newsela, Outschool, and Tinkergarten):

“Human-centered learning has been traditionally limited to one’s physical geography but technology is unlocking learning opportunities that never before existed.  We’re particularly interested in the marketplaces that are better matching supply and demand across experiential learning, educator coaching, tutoring, and online small groups.

Tesla V10.0 car software update adds Smart Summon, Netflix/YouTube, Spotify, karaoke and more

Tesla is rolling out a new software update that adds a slew of new features to its cars. These include the new ‘Smart Summon’ feature which will allow cars equipped with the optional $5,000 full-self driving package to automatically drive themselves from a parking spot to collect you in a parking spot.

This is one of the most advanced semi self-driving features that Tesla has yet released to the general public, and the company still says you should use it only in lots and when you have a clear view of your car. The company also notes that you’re ultimately responsible for the vehicle, so definitely be aware of what’s going on with the car and its surroundings if you’re planning to use this one – and you can stop the car remotely should you feel the need to. Smart Summon has been out in a limited preview beta for some customers, but now it’s going to be rolling out to all vehicles that have purchased the FSD option

Other new features included in this update include the much-requested native Spotify support, which is available to all Spotify Premium account-holders across all markets where it’s available. That should go a long way towards satisfying Tesla owners who have been less than satisfied with playing audio via Bluetooth from this extremely popular streaming music option. In China, Tesla is also rolling out Ximalaya, a podcast and audiobook streaming service.

Tesla Theater Mode, also new in version 10.0, connects your infotainment system to your Netflix, YouTube and Hulu/Hulu+ (including Live TV if you’re subscribed to that feature) accounts, giving you access to streaming video from all these platforms while the car is safely in park. In China, the automaker is also adding IQiyi and Tencent Video, and it says it’ll be adding more options globally “over time” to supplement these offerings. The new Theater Mode will also provide access to Tesla vehicle tutorials for owners to watch in-car, again only while parked.

A lot of these updates focus on entertainment options, including the new “Car-aoke” mode, which, as you might have guessed, adds an in-car karaoke experience that includes a “massive” library of music and lyrics, Tesla says, with multiple languages supported. Singing along on road-trips has long gotten by with low-tech options only, but official support might encourage more amateur James Cordens.

Last but not least for new entertainment features, there’s the launch of the Cuphead port on Tesla Arcade, the in-car gaming software Tesla launched earlier this year. Cuphead is a cult smash hit indie game, with an iconic art style reminiscent of early Disney animation, and this is definitely a nod to Tesla’s core geek audience (and probably a treat for the Musk man himself). Again, this is only available while parked in case you were worried about distracted driving.

Tesla also added some new navigation features that suggest interesting restaurants and sightseeing opportunities along your way, w which could result in some more interesting spontaneous adventures. There’s also a new file system tweak that separates videos captured by the car’s camera when in Dashcam and Sentry Mode to make it easier for users to find them, and they’ll be auto-deleted when there’s a need to free up storage.

This is a big ol’ update packed with new features, and it’s going to be rolling out over-the-air to vehicles beginning this week. As mentioned a couple of places above, you might see some slight differences region to region but Tesla says you can also check out the updates in-store at its showrooms if you want a sneak preview.

Tesla V10.0 car software update adds Smart Summon, Netflix/YouTube, Spotify, karaoke and more

Tesla is rolling out a new software update that adds a slew of new features to its cars. These include the new ‘Smart Summon’ feature which will allow cars equipped with the optional $5,000 full-self driving package to automatically drive themselves from a parking spot to collect you in a parking spot.

This is one of the most advanced semi self-driving features that Tesla has yet released to the general public, and the company still says you should use it only in lots and when you have a clear view of your car. The company also notes that you’re ultimately responsible for the vehicle, so definitely be aware of what’s going on with the car and its surroundings if you’re planning to use this one – and you can stop the car remotely should you feel the need to. Smart Summon has been out in a limited preview beta for some customers, but now it’s going to be rolling out to all vehicles that have purchased the FSD option

Other new features included in this update include the much-requested native Spotify support, which is available to all Spotify Premium account-holders across all markets where it’s available. That should go a long way towards satisfying Tesla owners who have been less than satisfied with playing audio via Bluetooth from this extremely popular streaming music option. In China, Tesla is also rolling out Ximalaya, a podcast and audiobook streaming service.

Tesla Theater Mode, also new in version 10.0, connects your infotainment system to your Netflix, YouTube and Hulu/Hulu+ (including Live TV if you’re subscribed to that feature) accounts, giving you access to streaming video from all these platforms while the car is safely in park. In China, the automaker is also adding IQiyi and Tencent Video, and it says it’ll be adding more options globally “over time” to supplement these offerings. The new Theater Mode will also provide access to Tesla vehicle tutorials for owners to watch in-car, again only while parked.

A lot of these updates focus on entertainment options, including the new “Car-aoke” mode, which, as you might have guessed, adds an in-car karaoke experience that includes a “massive” library of music and lyrics, Tesla says, with multiple languages supported. Singing along on road-trips has long gotten by with low-tech options only, but official support might encourage more amateur James Cordens.

Last but not least for new entertainment features, there’s the launch of the Cuphead port on Tesla Arcade, the in-car gaming software Tesla launched earlier this year. Cuphead is a cult smash hit indie game, with an iconic art style reminiscent of early Disney animation, and this is definitely a nod to Tesla’s core geek audience (and probably a treat for the Musk man himself). Again, this is only available while parked in case you were worried about distracted driving.

Tesla also added some new navigation features that suggest interesting restaurants and sightseeing opportunities along your way, w which could result in some more interesting spontaneous adventures. There’s also a new file system tweak that separates videos captured by the car’s camera when in Dashcam and Sentry Mode to make it easier for users to find them, and they’ll be auto-deleted when there’s a need to free up storage.

This is a big ol’ update packed with new features, and it’s going to be rolling out over-the-air to vehicles beginning this week. As mentioned a couple of places above, you might see some slight differences region to region but Tesla says you can also check out the updates in-store at its showrooms if you want a sneak preview.

Disney CEO Bob Iger resigns from Apple’s Board of Directors

 

Disney CEO Bob Iger has resigned from Apple’s Board of Directors, according to a just-published SEC filing.

Neither company has given any reason for the departure (the explanatory text of the SEC filing is literally just “On September 10, 2019, Bob Iger resigned from the Board of Directors of Apple Inc.”) — but with Disney and Apple both prepping to launch their own video streaming services in November, it may be that there’s starting to be too much overlap. Given that the services are called “Disney+” and “Apple TV+” respectively, it’s easy to see where things might start to get too muddled.

Iger originally joined Apple’s board in November of 2011.

We’ve reached out to the companies for comment, and will update if we hear back.

 

Watch India’s Chandrayaan-2 make its historic moon landing attempt right here

It’s a big day for India’s highly audacious Chandrayaan-2 mission. The nation will attempt to land its lunar orbit on the moon’s surface shortly as it inches closer to become the fourth in the world to complete a successful lunar landing. ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, is live streaming the landing on its website, and YouTube channel (embedded below).

Additionally, if you are tuning in from India, dozens of channels including Doordarshan (DD1), Disney India, Colors Infinity, National Geographic, Star Plus, Star Bharat, and DD News are live telecasting the India’s mission to the moon. The landing is scheduled for between 1pm and 2pm Pacific Time (4pm to 5pm Eastern Time; 8pm to 9pm GMT).

ISRO launched its 142 feet tall spacecraft from the the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander named Vikram (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program), and a six-wheeled rover named Pragyaan (Sanskrit for “wisdom”). Earlier this week, the lander that carried the rover detached from the orbiter.

The mission’s budget is just $141 million, significantly lower than those of other countries, and less than half of the recently released blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.”

Commenting on the landing, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be watching the nation’s attempt at the moon landing from ISRO’s office, said earlier today that, “India, and the rest of the world will yet again see the exemplary prowess of our space scientists.”

Chandrayaan-2 aims to land on a plain surface that covers the ground between two of the moon’s craters, Simpelius N and Manzinus C — that is about 375 miles from the South Pole. It’s an understudied region that no one has seen closely yet.

NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, said in a televised program today, “I just want everyone to know that the whole world is following this and it is not just Indians. This is the first time any country is going to the South Pole of the moon! India is leading this and as a representative of the US, we are nervous and we are hoping for success. This increases the knowledge base of the moon.”

How Zhihu’s become one of China’s biggest hubs for experts

Zhihu may not be as well known outside of China as WeChat or ByteDance’s Douyin, but over the past eight years, it has cultivated a reputation for being one of the country’s most trustworthy social media platforms. Originally launched as a question-and-answer site similar to Quora, Zhihu has grown to be a central hub for professional knowledge, allowing users to interact with experts and companies in a wide range of industries.

Headquartered in Beijing, Zhihu recently raised a $434 million Series F, its biggest round since 2011. The funding also brought Zhihu two important new partners: video and live-streaming app Beijing Kuaishou, which led the round, and Baidu, owner of China’s largest search engine (other participants in the round included Tencent and CapitalToday).

Launched in 2011, Zhihu (the name means “do you know”) is most frequently compared to Quora and Yahoo Answers. While it resembled those Q&A platforms at first, it has grown in scope. Now it would be more accurate to say that the platform is like a combination of Quora, LinkedIn and Medium’s subscription program.

For example, Zhihu has an invitation-only blogging platform for verified experts and since launching official accounts, it has become a channel for companies and organizations to communicate with users. A representative for Zhihu told TechCrunch that the platform had 220 million users and 30,000 official accounts as of January 2019 (for context, there are currently about 800 million Internet users in China), who have posted a total of 130 million answers so far.

The company’s growth will be closely watched since Zhihu is reportedly preparing for an initial public offering. Last November, the company hired its first chief financial officer, Sun Wei, heightening speculation. A representative for the company told TechCrunch the position was created because of Zhihu’s business development needs and that there is currently no timeline for a public listing.

At the same time, the company has also dealt with reports that its growth has slowed.

The Void’s Curtis Hickman on scaling, creative IP and the future of VR experiences

What can you do with virtual reality when you have complete control of the physical space around the player? How “real” can virtual reality become?

That’s the core concept behind The Void. They take over retail spaces in places like Downtown Disney and shopping malls around the country and turn them into virtual reality playgrounds, They’ve got VR experiences based on properties like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Wreck-It Ralph; while these big names tend to be the main attractions, they’re dabbling with creating their own original properties, too.

By building both the game environment and the real-world rooms in which players wander, The Void can make the physical and virtual align. If you see a bench in your VR headset, there’s a bench there in the real world for you to sit on; if you see a lever on the wall in front of you, you can reach out and physically pull it. Land on a lava planet and heat lamps warm your skin; screw up a puzzle, and you’ll feel a puff of mist letting you know to try something else.

At $30-$35 per person for what works out to be a roughly thirty-minute experience (about ten of which is watching a scene-setting video and getting your group into VR suits), it’s pretty pricey. But it’s also some of the most mind-bending VR I’ve ever seen.

The Void reportedly raised about $20 million earlier this year and is in the middle of a massive expansion. It’s more than doubling its number of locations, opening 25 new spots in a partnership with the Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield chain of malls.

I sat down to chat with The Void’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Curtis Hickman, to hear how they got started, how his background (in stage magic!) comes into play here, how they came to work with massive properties like Ghostbusters and Star Wars, and where he thinks VR is going from here.

Greg Kumparak: Tell me a bit about yourself. How’d you get your start? How’d you get into making VR experiences?