Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

Original Content podcast: ‘Queer Eye’ season two is even more of a tearjerker

It’s only been a couple months since we reviewed the first season of Netflix’s revival of Queer Eye, but the show’s Fab Five are already back with another eight episodes where they remake the homes, wardrobes and lives.

For season two, however, they mix things up a little — not only does the format feel more varied, but the folks being helped now include a woman and a transgendered man.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Henry Pickavet (editorial director at TechCrunch and co-host of the CTRL+T podcast) to discuss the show. We’re all fans: Queer Eye has its shortcomings, but it really works for us, with multiple episodes ending with tears, on- and off-screen.

We also recap some of the latest streaming and entertainment news, including AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, Comcast’s new bid for Fox and Netflix’s addition of Minecraft: Story Mode.

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.

‘Arrested Development’ struggles to shake off recent controversies

Netflix’s revival of Arrested Development may have had a mixed reception from critics and fans, but the dysfunctional Bluth family isn’t done yet.

Five years after the premiere of the much-anticipated fourth season, Arrested Development is back for season five — or rather, the first eight episodes of the season, with more to follow later this year. On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney to discuss our thoughts on the show.

For many fans, this new season may feel like a return to form. Not everything works — there’s still some awkward editing and greenscreen — but it’s back to the format of the show’s classic episodes, with lots more delightful bickering between characters like Michael (Jason Bateman), George Michael (Michael Cera), Gob (Will Arnett), Maeby (Alia Shawkat) and Lucille (Jessica Walter).

Unfortunately, it’s tough to talk about the show’s quality without also acknowledging a recent group interview with The New York Times, where actor Jeffrey Tambor was asked about yelling at Walter, who apparently started crying while a number of the male cast members to seemed to defend Tambor’s behavior. They’ve since apologized, but we still wrestle with how the controversy changes our perception of the show.

We also talk about another big piece of streaming news, namely Amazon’s decision to revive The Expanse after it was canceled by Syfy.

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.

‘Upgrade’ director Leigh Whannell talks low-budget worldbuilding

Upgrade tells the story of Grey Trace, a man in the near future who’s left quadriplegic after a car accident and mugging.

Following an interlude that sees Grey struggling with his new disability, an experimental computer chip called Stem is placed in his spinal cord, where it doesn’t just give him control of his limbs again — it turns him into something close to a superhuman, ready to track down the men who paralyzed him and murdered his wife.

The film, which comes out today in the United States, may sound like a straightforward revenge plot, but it was written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who’s best known for writing Saw and Insidious. (More recently, he made his directorial debut with Insidious 3.) He explained that he wasn’t interested in turning this into a superhero movie. Instead, he wanted to tell the “Taxi Driver version” of this story.

Without getting into details, it’s fair to say that Upgrade doesn’t feel that far removed from Whannell’s horror films. It also includes plenty of visceral action scenes and touches on bigger questions about our relationship with technology.

I met with Whannell in New York City last week to discuss the film, and an edited transcript of our conversation follows. There’s one passage that gets a little spoiler-y, but I’ll warn you when we get there so you can skip ahead.

Whannell shot Upgrade in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, so we started by talking about the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne.

Leigh Whannell

Leigh Whannell

Leigh Whannell: I’ve lived in L.A. for 12 years now, so I no longer care about Sydney-Melbourne. We shot this film in Melbourne but we actually edited in Sydney.

I was in Sydney for a few months and I absolutely loved it. I insisted on living in an apartment on Bondi Beach, which was not practical at all to the location of the editing room, but I didn’t care because I was like, “Look, if I was going to walk on ice, then I’m going to tap dance.” If I’m going to live in Sydney, I want to live on Bondi Beach.

TechCrunch: So the big science fictional idea of Stem, where did that come from?

Whannell: The idea really just came into my head, the way all my ideas do. It’s a very random process, and in its randomness it’s frustrating, because I feel like I’m always trying to think of movie ideas. And most of the ideas aren’t good, and they instantly get filed away in the drawer for terrible ideas.

Every now and again, something will pop into my head when I’m driving or I’m in the shower, you’ll just get an image and it stays with you. It doesn’t have to be much, it doesn’t have to be a story, it could just be an image. But it won’t leave your head and that’s when you know you’ve got something.

That’s how this started. It wasn’t like I read a magazine article about where tech is going. I was in my backyard, I remember that, and it was a nice day like this, and I just suddenly had this image of a quadriplegic in a wheelchair who stood up out of the chair and was being controlled from the neck down by a computer. That image and that scenario wouldn’t leave my head and I started reverse engineering a story into it. I kept writing away and making notes and then, cut to many years later, I’m sitting here talking with you.

TechCrunch: It’s interesting that it came from your imagination, because in some ways it feels very prescient. We had our own robotics event a couple of weeks ago and one of the big moments onstage was someone in a wheelchair who was able to take a few steps thanks to an exoskeleton.

Whannell: So the exoskeleton that helps people with paralysis walk and move, this movie is the internalized version of that, where it goes one step further and there’s nothing exterior. It’s a chip.

It has been interesting to watch the world catch up to my script. Because when I wrote the first draft of this script, automated cars and smart kitchens were still science fiction. And in the ensuing years, they’ve become ubiquitous. I mean, my wife’s car parks itself and talks to her. And my daughter thinks it’s perfectly normal to have a voice talking to her in the kitchen, and she asks it to play songs and it does. So in a way I feel like I’m living in the world of the movie I wrote all those years ago.

TechCrunch: And when was that?

Whannell: God, the first draft was probably at least six years ago.

Upload

TechCrunch: You said a lot of ideas will come to you, and you’ll think: Some of these are bad, some of these are good. Obviously, you’re known for horror, so in this case, when you think of a science fiction idea, does that create any trepidation?

Whannell: There was a bit of trepidation on my part as I was gearing up to direct the movie. Not so much when I was writing it. But I started to worry about science fiction fans because I’m very well-versed with horror fans, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of them, I feel like I’m in that community, and I was a horror fan myself. But I realized that science fiction has its own community of these staunch fans who pick apart things like Star Trek and Star Wars. And I did remember having a moment where I thought, wow, are they going to see this and think that I’m a fraud, that I’m a tourist in this world?

I’ve just gone through a two-week trip around the country, screening the movie in different cities, and afterwards I’ll always chat to people. And in the acceptance of the movie, I realize that these genres, they’re not the province of any one type of person. What I feel like science fiction fans respond to is just people trying to hit them with something new, something they haven’t seen. And if you do that you’ll be okay.

TechCrunch: When you were directing [science fiction], did you feel like you were using a different skill set?

Whannell: The mechanics of making a horror film are so specific that I obviously wasn’t using any of that. Those quiet moments in a horror film where you really lean on the anticipation of things, this movie wasn’t using any of that. But I felt like some of the rhythms and filmmaking beats that I’d learned in horror, I think they’re just naturally ingrained in me.

So, for instance, I liked creating moments of silence that were suddenly punctuated by action. And I think I must be subconsciously looking for that vocal reaction that you get from a horror film. It’s almost like I was putting those horror beats into a sci-fi context: Build, build, catharsis. Build, build, catharsis. So maybe that’s in there, just ingrained.

Upgrade

[Skip the next few paragraphs if you don’t want to be spoiled for an early scene in Upgrade, as well as the general direction of the film.]

TechCrunch: That’s certainly true to my experience. For a lot of it I was incredibly tense, and the moment when his head gets cut open, I just screamed.

Whannell: [laughs] In the operation?

TechCrunch: No, in the first kill.

Whannell: Ah, yes, the Pez dispenser!

TechCrunch: God, yeah. That was very upsetting.

Whannell: If you look at that scene and you analyze the structure, there is kind of a horror-esque metronome to it, where it’s quiet, it’s tense and then there’s an explosion of something.

And in watching it, it’s been interesting to see that that scene gets a vocal reaction. It’s not the same reaction that a horror movie gets, that sort of scream in the audience, but it’s almost like an adrenaline rush, and when he gets up off the floor, I see people clapping along. I’m like, “Oh cool, this is a spectator sport, they’re getting into it as participants.”

TechCrunch: When I read the description of the film — obviously, the marketing is emphasizing this dystopian, almost horrific element, but you still think, “Oh, he’s basically going to become this superhero, and there’s maybe going to be this dark side to it, but it’s still going to be this ultimately triumphant story.” Whereas throughout the whole film, there’s this darker undertone that feels very different.

Whannell: I feel like the superhero version of this movie where somebody is given something — a power or a computer chip, whatever it is — that’s been done, especially in this age we live in, it’s been done a lot. So I found what was more interesting was to do the Taxi Driver version of this, to do the version where you realize the bad guy is in your body and the fight is not between you and external forces. It’s actually two entities fighting over the same physical body. That was interesting to me.

[End spoilers]

Upgrade

TechCrunch: One of the things you also mentioned in the press materials was this idea of having the freedom of an independent film but also having the scope of a larger science fiction film. I don’t know what the budget was, but I assume it wasn’t Avengers-scale.

Whannell: [laughs] Very low.

TechCrunch: What was the overall approach you took to saying, “Well, we don’t have all that money but we’re still going to try to build a world that has scope”?

Whannell: It’s just been a real goal and a dream of mine to do that. To make a movie that enjoyed the worldbuilding of sci-fi but took advantage of the creative freedom of an independent. The problem is that one is supposed to cancel the other out. You’re supposed to need studio money if you’re going to go off and make the future-set action movie. So I really was trying to have my cake and eat it, but I was obsessed with doing it.

As a model, I used ’80s sci-fi films that I grew up with. I used the original Terminator as a great example, because if you really study that movie scene-by-scene, the science fiction and the tech is doled out very judiciously and sparingly. It’s kind of this lean-and-mean, slash-and-stalk movie that is dressed in this sci-fi skin. And I loved that.

I feel like, if they can achieve that sort of sleight of hand in the ’80s, then we could do it now. Especially with the new advantage that they didn’t even have back then, of CG. We could use CG to augment some of the scenes. We couldn’t go bananas with it, but we could utilize it at certain moments. And I guess I’m too close to the movie, I’ve spent too long with it to know if we really succeeded, but I’m hoping that audiences feel like they’re watching a bigger movie, you know? That they’re part of a bigger world.

TechCrunch: Right, and there’s a couple of things in the beginning that feel very big —

Whannell: Like, here’s the world!

TechCrunch: Which, if I go back clinically and watched it, I would see that those are doled out very strategically. But it does the job. And it also is an interesting constraint because it means that in a lot of the other scenes, you have one or two science fictional elements, but you’re using primarily a real-world location or set, rather than a created world.

Whannell: Absolutely, and that was something that was a very conscious decision. Not just budgetary, but a creative decision for me was: Let’s set this movie in the very near future. Let’s build a world that the audience can see themselves in.

Also, the world doesn’t change completely overnight, it happens incrementally. In 30 years time, you’ll still have buildings from the 1800s in New York City. They’re not going to knock them down and build a glass tower. So what you’re going to end up with in 30, 40 years is a landscape in Manhattan that is the future sort of jammed on top of the past, and it’ll be this hybrid.

And people will still be driving older cars! That’s another thing that you see in a lot of future movies, all of a sudden everyone on the road is driving the future car. And I’m like, well no, there will still be people 20 years from now driving around in early ’90s Hondas, crappy cars, you know? That scaling of the world was important, but a bonus prize was that it helped us budgetarily.

Upgrade

TechCrunch: You mentioned that this is something you started writing six years ago. In that time, the technology has evolved, but also the ways in which we talk or think about disability, and the ways we talk about being quadriplegic or paraplegic has changed. To what extent was that part of your research, things like talking to disability activists?

Whannell: I didn’t talk so much to activists. When I was writing the film, I wanted the idea that a chip could cure paralysis, I wanted that to be a tangible thing and I talked to a surgeon and he said, “Look, what you’re talking about is hypothetical, but in theory, it could be done. That gap between our brain and our nerve endings could be bridged by a computer.” And that was great to walk away with, the knowledge that the tech was credible.

Certainly when we were preparing to shoot the film, we took the quadriplegic side of it very seriously. Logan [Marshall-Green], who plays Grey, he worked with a guy who was a quadriplegic who was nice enough to spend a lot of time with Logan, share his life with him, talk to Logan, let Logan see what his daily rituals were like, let him actually use a chair.

And Logan had a lot of integrity about that. He felt he owed this gentleman that he had worked with the responsibility of portraying that realistically, and he was really watching it, the way he held his hands. It’s not a long moment in the film that he spends as a quadriplegic, but it was important for us, for that moment to have as much integrity as anything else in the film. Especially with something that in real life, people are experiencing. You don’t want to push back at them some wonky cinematic version of the real thing.

TechCrunch: Part of what I’m getting at is, is there’s this opening image that you mentioned of him rising out of the chair. It’s this incredibly moving scene because you’ve been through all of these terrible things with him. But at the same time, you can imagine somebody who is quadriplegic watching the film and you don’t necessarily want them to look at themselves and think —

Whannell: Them thinking, “Oh, you’re presenting this as triumphant, as if that’s much better.” Yeah, that’s interesting, that is part-and-parcel of putting films out into the world, isn’t it? The world reflects back at you and I think you just have to take those slings and arrows. Nothing was done with any malice.

And I don’t think we were trying to present the idea that quadriplegia is this hellish situation that only being able-bodied can cure. What I think we were doing is speaking to the story of a guy who hates technology becomes technology. The way that we were enabled to do that in the story was through his condition, his quadriplegia. So it’s the result of an accident, he’s given this chip, and now he’s completely reliant on it, you know? It’s totally a story point for us.

TechCrunch: And again, without getting into too many spoilers, you said that this is the Taxi Driver version of the story. How much of that was trying to express your own concerns about people becoming more automated?

Whannell: I think a lot of it. First and foremost, I’m trying to tell this genre story, I’m trying to build a unique movie. And then the themes and the questions of the film sit underneath it.

But I have a foot in both camps with technology. Especially in researching the script and reading books by Ray Kurzweil and authors that talk about the singularity and the point at which humans and tech will merge. Because I didn’t want to make a robot film. A robot film has been done before and I wasn’t really interested in that. I was interested in human beings putting tech into their bodies voluntarily. That was something I felt I hadn’t seen a lot of.

Through my research and reading these books, I saw both sides. I saw the wonderful side of our reliance on tech in regards to medicine. If we can install something in our bloodstream or our bodies that cures cancer, that’s obviously going to be an amazing, wonderful thing. But there’s the other foot in the other camp, which is our overreliance on automation. I’m wondering if our cars do the driving for us and our kitchens do the cooking, are we actually designing ourselves into irrelevance? That’s an interesting road to look down. It seems to me the human instinct is to always make things easier. We’re always leaping towards convenience: “Oh, wouldn’t it be better if a machine could do that?”

I’m wondering where that road ends. The movie was definitely a reflection of that, too.

TechCrunch: The last thing I’m going to ask, which I think I’m sort of required to ask, is to what extent is this meant to be a completely standalone experience? Have you thought about a potential sequel?

Whannell: I haven’t. The thought enters my mind and I push it away. Because this is an independent film, and it’s really hard in today’s media landscape to get people to pay attention to things. We’re releasing the movie in summer, surrounded by giant movies. I can’t imagine what the marketing budget for the new Han Solo movie is. To compete against that is almost foolhardy, so I feel like planning a sequel is an assumption of success that I’m not ready for.

Sitting there being vexed about where to go with a sequel would be a great problem to have.

TechCrunch: Well, it certainly doesn’t feel like a movie that was written with a sequel in mind.

Whannell: No, it definitely wasn’t. I remember when James Wan and I did the first Saw movie, a lot of people would say to us, “Well, you left the door open for a sequel.” And we would say, “No, we literally closed the door!” We thought it was a nice ending. Little did we know that the producers had other ideas once the film was a hit.

To us, the ending to that movie, in our opinion, was the very definition of a cut to black, no more story. But then we got a lesson in commerce.

Is Apple ready to take on Netflix?

This super creepy Tom Waits number pops into my head every time I read about another Apple content acquisition. For a billion-dollar project from one of the world’s biggest companies, the company’s upcoming streaming service is shaping up to be a strange collection of original content. 

Of course, I’m not really sure what I expected after Apple unleashed Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps on the world. Neither were the kind of thing that imbues you with confidence in a company’s programming choices.

I wrote a review of sorts of the former here, but was willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt that it just wasn’t for me, like cilantro, cats or late-era Radiohead. But clearly I wasn’t alone on this one. And Planet of the Apps — the less said about that one the better, probably. Neither particularly jibe with Eddy Cue’s whole, “We’re not after quantity, we’re after quality” spiel.

Announcements have picked up considerably, even in the few months following that appearance at SXSW, but Apple’s got a lot of catching up to do against content juggernauts like Netflix, Hulu and even Amazon. Of course, the company’s got a long, proud history of showing up a bit late to the party and still blowing the competition out of the water in the hardware space.

And while Apple Music is still far from overtaking Spotify, the music streaming service has been adding subscribers at a steady clip, courtesy of, among other things, being built directly into the company’s software offerings — a fringe benefit that Apple’s eventual video streaming service will no doubt share. It’s true, of course, that users are more likely to subscribe to multiple video streaming services than music ones, but the company’s going to have to offer more than ecosystem accessibility. At this point, however, it’s hard not to side with Fox CEO James Murdoch’s comments on the matter from earlier today.

“Going piece by piece, one by one, show by show, etc., is gonna take a long time to really move the dial and having something mega,” the exec told a crowd at the Code Conference. “I do think that’s gonna be very challenging.”

And this first round of programming is a bit of a mixed bag. Among the current crop of offerings, Amazing Stories feels like close to a slam dunk, because if the combination of Spielberg and nostalgia can make Ready Player One a box office success story, then, well, surely it can work on anything, right?

Perhaps it’s the dribs and drabs with which the company has been revealing its content play over a matter of months. When Apple wanted to launch a streaming music service, the company went ahead and bought Beats in 2014. Sure, the headphone business was a nice bonus, but it was pretty clear from the outset that Beats Music was the real meat of that deal. A year later, Apple Music was unleashed on the world. 

The latest rumors have the company’s video streaming service “launching as early as March 2019.” That gives the company a little less than a year to really wow us with original content announcements, if it really wants to hit the ground running — assuming, of course, that many or most of the titles are already in production.

More likely, the company will ultimately ease into it. Apple Music, after all, didn’t exactly light the world on fire at launch, and Apple’s got no shortage or revenue streams at the moment, so it certainly won’t go bust if its billion-dollar investment fails to pay off overnight. But the competition is fierce for this one, extending beyond obvious competitors like Netflix and Hulu to longstanding networks like HBO, which are all vying to lock you in to monthly fees.

This battle won’t be easily won. The company has been mostly tight-lipped in all of this (as is its custom), but success is going to take a long-term commitment, with the understanding that it will most likely require a long runway to reap its own investment.

That projected $4 billion annual investment looks like a good place to start, but with Netflix planning to spend double that amount this year and Amazon potentially on target to pass it, Apple’s in for a bloody and expensive fight. 

Original Content podcast: ‘Dear White People’ returns to ask more uncomfortable questions

Dear White People has a pretty provocative title — and the show, for the most part, lives up to that promise, with a sharply drawn portrait of racial tension at Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school.

It was originally a film written and directed by Justin Simien, who then reinvented the story as a Netflix series with each episode focusing on a different character; the spotlight shifts from Samantha White (played by Logan Browning), the host of the titular radio show, to many of the other students — white and black — around her.

The show just returned for season two, and on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by our colleague Megan Rose Dickey (who also co-hosts Ctrl-T) to talk about our impressions of the new episodes, the show’s politics and how it resonates with our own lives and experiences.

We also cover Netflix’s goal of hitting 1,000 originals by the end of the year and the Jordan Peel-produced series about Nazi hunters that was just picked up by Amazon. Most importantly, we try to understand why Megan has never seen The Godfather.

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.

MoviePass competitor Sinemia can’t keep up with demand

A number of people are complaining about Sinemia not delivering them their movie membership cards within the seven-day timeframe the company said it would. Although Sinemia has charged people for their memberships, the company has not been able to deliver the membership cards in a timely manner.

“We have seen strong demand for our new Sinemia membership plans and, while our processing operations have increased production, delivery times can be expected to be longer than usual,” Sinemia CEO Rifat Oguz told TechCrunch in a statement. “We greatly appreciate our subscribers’ patience while we work on preparing their cards. Please note that subscribers first month of service will not begin until their card arrives.”

Sinemia, which launched its low-cost plans earlier this month, says to expect your card to be delivered within seven days. Here’s the full text of the email Sinemia sends customers after their purchase:

We have received your payment.

We are now preparing your private card for your Sinemia Premium membership. Your card will be delivered to the shipping units within generally in 7 days, although it can vary depending on the campaign periods. Please note that the estimated time of delivery may also vary depending on the destination and workload of the shipping company at the time. You may start enjoying movie experience with SinemiaPremium right after completing your Premium card activation. You can activate your new Premium card via Sinemia mobile application or from your membership page. If you don’t have a password yet, you can create one from here. Your membership will begin right after your card is delivered.

But this is unacceptable for some customers, with some requesting refunds and others disputing the charge to their credit card company. Sinemia, however, says it has not provided any refunds.

Netflix exec says 85 percent of new spending will go towards original content

In case you had any doubts that original content is a big priority at Netflix, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos estimated that 85 percent of the company’s total spending is going to new shows and movies.

That’s according to Variety, which reported on Sarandos’ remarks today at MoffettNathanson’s Media & Communications Summit 2018 in New York. He also said Netflix has a 470 originals scheduled to premiere between now and the end of the year, bringing the total up to around 1,000.

It’s probably not surprising that the service is prioritizing originals. After all, Netflix seems to be highlighting a new original every time I open it up, and competitors like Apple, Amazon and Hulu are ramping up their own spending.

But the depth of Netflix’s library, which is achieved by licensing content from others, has always seemed like a strength — in fact, a recent study found that licensed content generates 80 percent of Netflix viewing in the United States.

Part of the context here is that many of the studios that have sold their content to Netflix in the past are now either saving it for their own streaming services or looking to raise the prices.

And while movies account for one-third of viewing on Netflix, Sarandos pointed to new, big budget titles as one area where it no longer makes sense for the streaming service to spend a ton of money — because if you really want to catch the latest blockbuster, you probably already saw it in theaters.

“We said, maybe we can put the billion dollars we’d put in an output deal into original films,” he said.

Sarandos also sees an opportunity to develop more unscripted content like Queer Eye, and to sign big deals with high-profile showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy.

Netflix had previously projected that it would spend $7 billion to $8 billion on content this year. And just today, Netflix announced that it’s renewing Lost in Space for a second season (we were fans of season one) and picked up 10 After Midnight, a horror anthology series from Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro.

Snapchat hosts first Creators Summit after years of neglect

Social media stars have always been treated like nobodies instead of VIPs on Snapchat. Despite pioneering the Stories and creative tools they love, the lack of support saw many drift to YouTube’s ad dollars and Instagram’s bigger audience. Now Snap CEO Evan Spiegel is finally stepping up to win back their favor and their content.

Last night, Spiegel joined 13 top Snapchat stars ranging from the US to as far as Lebanon for dinner at the company’s first Creators Summit in LA. Flanked by a dozen Snap execs and product managers, Spiegel tried to impress upon the assembled artists, comedians, and storytellers that the company is turning over a new leaf in how it will treat them. Today the creators sat with Snap VP of content Nick Bell to give the company an unfiltered understanding of the tools they need and give input on Snapchat’s product roadmap.

“The goal of our first creator summit was to listen and learn from them about how we can continue to strengthen opportunities for them on Snapchat — and continue to empower our community to express themselves and have fun together” Bell told TechCrunch. “We are grateful to each of them for coming to the table with candid feedback and are excited about the possibilities ahead.” Snapchat confirms to TechCrunch it plans to hold more of these Creator Summits.

Mike Metzler, one of the popular Snappers in attendance, told us “it’s been refreshing. Snap seems very genuinely interested in listening to what we have to say, and committed to making this an important initiative.” But another questioned whether Snapchat was actually going to make changes or was just playing nice.

Creators Cast Aside

A week after Snapchat launched Stories in 2013, I asked “Who will be the first Snapchat Stories celebrity?“. Apparently the young company hadn’t thought that through. It had concentrated entirely on the average American teen to the detriment of power users and the international market.

Snapchat’s jankily engineered app crashed constantly for stars with too many followers. There were no advanced analytics about who was watching them or easy ways to prove their audience to brand sponsors. There was no support from Snapchat if they got hacked or locked out of their account. There was no ad revenue share. There was no promotion to help people discover their accounts.

Without a direct alternative, creators gritted their teeth and dealt with it. But when Instagram Stories came along, with its massive audience, Explore page, and experienced outreach team for dealing with high-profile accounts, some jumped ship. Others focused their attention on Instagram, or YouTube where they could at least get a cut of the ad money they generated. Users drifted too, leading many stars to see their view counts drop.

The situation came to a head on Snap’s November 2017 Q3 earnings call. With user growth slumping to a new low, Spiegel announced a change of course. “We have historically neglected the creator community on Snapchat that creates and distributes public Stories for the broader Snapchat audience. In 2018, we are going to build more distribution and monetization opportunities for these creators” Spiegel admitted.

Snap began rolling out its verification badge, an emoji next to the user name, to social media stars instead of just traditional celebrities. With its recent redesign, it begun promoting creators for the first time if they made something engaging enough to become a”Popular Story”. And in February it finally launched analytics for creators, which would help them secure sponsorship deals.

Still, Snap hadn’t done much soft diplomacy. While top creators frequent the offices of YouTube and Instagram, few had been to Snapchat HQ. They needed a face to connect the efforts to.

Spiegel And The Stars

“[Spiegel] stopped by last night and was so happy to meet us, get to know us, take a selfie” says CyreneQ, a prolific Snapper and master of its illustration tools. While he didn’t make any grand remarks, apologies, or proclamations, his presence signaled that the push to help creators was more than just talk. When asked how the Summit went, musician/comedian Shonduras told me “we collaborated on a lot of ideas and it feels solid.”

Snapchat’s redesign moved creators into the Discover section

The biggest concern amongst the creators was growing their view counts. The recent redesign moved stars, brands, and other popular people who don’t follow you back out of the friends Stories list and into the Discover section alongside professionally produced editorial content. One creator said that helped them find more fans, but another who asked not to be named said “It hasn’t been kind to my views.”

Bell and the Snapchat listened, and informed the group that it’s going to develop a range of “tools and programs to help the creator community”, CyreneQ told me. Pressed for more details, she demurred “I wish I could tell you but they’ll send ninjas after me.”

Monetization options should be high on Snapchat’s list. As long as creators are essentially producing content for free, they’ll be susceptible to the pull of other products. And if Snap can’t speed up its total user growth, it must find ways to get teens addicted to stars that boost the time they spend in its app.

Snap can’t afford to screw this up. With its user count actually shrinking in March, it needs their dynamic, personal, niche content to keep teens loyal to Snapchat. The whole point of Snapchat was to create a more personal form of social media. It’s tough for movie actors and rockstars to come off feeling vulnerable and approachable. But creators, who were just normal people a few years ago, could help Snapchat bridge the divide between raw intimacy and polished entertainment.

Spotify tests consumer interest in a bundle with both Hulu and Scribd’s audiobooks

In April, Spotify and Hulu teamed up on a discounted bundle of both of their services for $12.99 per month, following a similar deal for students launched last fall. Now, it seems, the streaming service is considering expanding its entertainment bundle offerings to include one with Scribd’s audiobooks service, too.

In a consumer survey that recently popped up in Spotify’s mobile app, the company asks a lot of questions about audiobooks — and more specifically, about a bundle with Spotify, Hulu and Scribd combined.

The survey begins with questions about media consumption habits involving reading or listening to non-music content — like if the customer had listened to an audiobook or podcast in the past three months, or if they’ve read a physical book, magazine or e-book.

It then asks the customer how they listen to audiobooks, how often and using which format — downloads, borrowing, CDs or subscriptions.

[gallery ids="1633497,1633496,1633495,1633494,1633493,1633492,1633491,1633490,1633489,1633488,1633487,1633486,1633485,1633484"]

In a question about subscriptions, Spotify asks, “Which is your main audiobook subscription service taht you use?”

The survey taker can then choose from: Playster, Scribd, Amazon Prime, Downpour, Otto, Audiobooks.com, Kindle unlimited, Audible, Kobo and Other. 

But the most interesting question is the one where Spotify tries to get a feel for consumer interest in a Spotify/Hulu/Scribd bundle.

The bundle, the survey explains, would add an additional $2.99 per month on top of the existing Spotify Premium for Family subscription, which currently costs $14.99. Like the Hulu/Spotify deal, it would offer access to Hulu’s Limited Commercials plan along with a Premium subscription to Spotify — in this case, however, its family plan. But for an extra $2.99 per month — bringing the total to $17.98 per month — the customer would receive 1 free book credit per month from Scribd’s library of audiobooks. (Scribd usually is $8.99 per month for unlimited books).

These audiobooks would be ad-free and could be listened to offline, the survey notes.

Of course, a survey question doesn’t mean that a deal currently exists or is being offered to customers. It doesn’t even mean Spotify will follow through by offering a deal with Scribd. But it is an interesting signal about Spotify’s plans — especially given its recent partnership with Hulu, and its earlier comments about exploring different bundles in the future, which were made after its first bundle launched.

The issue facing Hulu and Spotify’s services — and Scribd as well, for that matter — is a war with platform giants like Amazon, Apple and Google, which are already bundling streaming services for music, video and, in Amazon’s case, books, magazines and audiobooks, and a host of other perks via Amazon Prime.

Apple, too, is exploring a magazine subscription service, according to reports; and its upcoming over-the-top TV service is expected to be bundled with Apple Music. Google, meanwhile, is planning a revamp of its music subscription service, which will incorporate YouTube video.

That means rivals like Spotify, Hulu and Scribd will have to fight back with deals of their own — and maybe even consolidation efforts through M&A at some point.

Reached for comment, a Spotify spokesperson responded, “We continuously test new products and features to better the on platform experience for our users. This is not an indication of an upcoming partnership at this time.” 

At this time. Yep. Noted.