VidMob rethinks video production in the pandemic era

VidMob, which started out as a marketplace connecting marketers and video editors, now bills itself as a “creative technology platform.” There’s still a marketplace, but it’s part of a broader suite of tools for managing video production and turning those videos into online ads.

And the company has continued to evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic. Founder and CEO Alex Collmer me that how customers use the platform has changed substantially in recent months. For example, he said that one of the platform’s “best skills” involved taking existing footage — including footage shot for TV commercials — and other creative assets and turning them into social media ads. But of course, “Over the last few months, all physical shoots were canceled.”

So Collmer said that rather than simply treating VidMob as social media advertising tool, brands are increasingly turning to the startup for a way to manage remote video production. The result is that the company saw 100% year-over-year “logo growth” (a.k.a. new customers) in the first quarter, and then grew another 50% in Q2.

“What we have seen here is the acceleration of the digital transformation of the enterprise,” he said. “Pretty much every client we have, every marketer we talk to is looking very seriously at how to move all their creative operations onto some sort of unifying software platform, so that they feel safe in the event that they continue to have to work in a remote environment continue, and to be more efficient with existing media.”

One of those clients is Citi, whose vice president of corporate communications Megan Corbett told me her team has been working with VidMob since last year. She said that as as a result of the pandemic, like many marketers, “We were required to really be flexible and adjust and scale programs quickly.”

For example, in response to the #InItTogether hashtag, Citi used VidMob to create a series of inspirational videos showcasing the work of its employees — such as Mihir in the video above, who was 3D printing protective equipment for his communities.

“As we thought about how we told the stories, we realized that your colleagues are some of the most important heroes that you have,” Corbett said.

According to Citi, the videos have been viewed nearly 250,000 times since the campaign launched in early May, with 80% of that viewing on LinkedIn.

And although dealing with the initial pandemic and shutdown was difficult enough, the news keeps coming, with protests for racial justice, a COVID-19 resurgence, resulting closures and more.

“We’re going to be in a period of uncertainty for a while, but to be honest, I see that as an opportunity,” Corbett said. “Brands who understand what their consumers want, brands who are tuned into the cultural zeitgeist, brands [who] pivot quickly to create content that is relevant and engaging and drive business KPIs … that will be what wins in the future.”

Similarly, Collmer said that in a period of uncertainty, brands need to respond more quickly, rather than simply falling silent: “Shutting up and going away is not a great way to position yourself.”

SiriusXM buys Stitcher for $325 million, steps up its march into podcasts

Less than a month after picking up Simplecast for its podcast distribution and analytics tools, SiriusXM today is announcing an even bigger acquisition to raise its game in the realm of streamed spoken-word content. The satellite radio company said it has reached a deal to acquire Stitcher from E.W. Scripps for $325 million, a return of more than double Scripps’ investment in podcasting, the companies reported this morning. Stitcher is a podcast pioneer that provides a popular one-stop platform to create, monetize (via advertising) and distribute podcasts to listen to via its app and on multiple platforms, and that is precisely what SiriusXM would like to capitalise on.

“With our team’s collective expertise in digital audio, analytics and ad tech, plus Stitcher’s deep experience in podcasting, I see significant opportunities ahead,” said Jim Meyer, CEO of SiriusXM, in an internal memo shared with TechCrunch. “Together, we can create a transformative one-stop shop to better meet the needs of podcast creators, publishers and advertisers—while also providing listeners with new ways to find and connect with great shows.”

Rumors of the acquisition started to surface at the end of June, and earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported that it was worth $300 million.

Stitcher brings to SiriusXM its own mobile listening app, acquired for $4.5 million in 2016. It also operates the Midroll Media network for podcast advertising, acquired for $55 million in 2015. And it creates original podcasts and runs multiple content networks, via Earwolf.

The deal means thousands of podcasts will move to the SiriusXM stable, including popular titles like Freakonomics Radio, How Did This Get Made?, SuperSoul Sunday from The Oprah Winfrey Network, Office Ladies, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Literally! with Rob Lowe, LeVar Burton Reads, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and WTF with Marc Maron.

Combining Stitcher with SiriusXM’s satellite radio audience and Pandora (which SiriusXM acquired in 2018), the company says it will now have “the largest addressable audience” in the United States for digital audio, including music, sports, talk and podcasts, covering 150 million listeners.

“This sale is consistent with Scripps’ track record of growing businesses that capitalize on the evolution of consumers’ media habits and then unlocking shareholder value through spinoffs, exits and continued organic growth,” said Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson, in a statement. “Over and over, this strategy has proven effective as well as profitable for the company and its shareholders,” he added.

The sale price of $325 million includes $265 million of cash upfront with an earnout of up to $30 million based on 2020 financial results and paid in 2021, noted Scripps. It also includes an earnout of up to $30 million based on 2021 financial results and paid in 2022. All Stitcher employees will join SiriusXM as a part of the deal.

“The addition of Stitcher is an important next step as we continue to develop and strengthen our offering in the fast-growing podcasting market,” said Meyer in the news announcement. “With Stitcher, we will expand our digital audio advertising presence and look to generate new ways for creators to find and connect with their audiences. Stitcher has a talented team with deep experience in the podcast space, and we look forward to working with them to better meet the needs of creators, advertisers, and listeners,” he said.

The deal follows SiriusXM’s recent acquisition of podcast management and analytics platform Simplecast. Along with its ad tech and monetization platform AdsWizz, the addition of Stitcher will expand the company’s existing suite of podcast hosting, analytics, insights, and marketplace offerings.

The deal underscores some key trends in the area of podcasting.

The first is that companies that are operating streaming businesses based around music are doubling down on the growing popularity of podcasting content to complement those businesses, both to expand their audiences, and their audience engagement.

Sirius — which, in addition to its subscription-based satellite radio service and Pandora, is also a shareholder of SoundCloud — joins its peers in that strategy: both Spotify and iHeartMedia have made notable acquisitions to acquire original podcasting content, as well as tools for podcasters to help run their businesses.

That strategy, in turn, has led to another shift: a previously open podcast ecosystem, where you can listen to any podcast on the app of your choice, has evolved into a world where platforms aim to have exclusive content. (A consequence, you might argue, of having companies that generate revenues from walled gardens, which essentially contain the same troves of music, getting involved in the business of podcasts.)

Thirdly, it’s not easy to build podcasting, even with all its popularity and future potential, into a big and profitable business.

SiriusXM is no less than Stitcher’s third owner, not counting the period it was an independent company. It was founded in 2008, then Deezer acquired it in 2014 for an unknown sum, and then Scripps acquired it less than two years later for about $4.5 million.

Under Scripps, Stitcher may have been one of the company’s fastest-growing businesses, but it was also unprofitable. And so, as Scripps faces investor pressure of its own — its losses widened in the last quarter, and that was with COVID-19 coming in only at the tail end of the period, meaning the impact may well be significantly more severe in its Q2 reported later this summer — parting with its valuable podcasting asset at a time when it is in hot M&A demand may have seemed like the right choice.

Deloitte estimated (in December 2019, pre-COVID) that podcasting will break $1.1 billion in revenues this year, but frankly we’re still in the early rounds of the podcasting industry. And today, it was SiriusXM’s turn to throw its hat into the ring.

The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter, pending Hart-Scott-Rodino clearance. LionTree Advisors acted as exclusive advisor to Scripps in the sale process, and BakerHostetler is serving as legal counsel.

Additional reporting: Sarah Perez

Original Content podcast: Yep, ‘Hamilton’ is still very good

With the release of “Hamilton” on Disney+, Jordan and Darrell finally got to watch the musical biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton — albeit in recorded form, rather than live on-stage.

And as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, they were pretty delighted by what they found. Not that a Broadway hit that’s won virtually every award really needs defenders at this point — but the Disney+ version is beautifully filmed, and it’s nice to see that five years later, “Hamilton” still works for new viewers.

Anthony, meanwhile, saw the show back in 2015 and has listened to the soundtrack many, many times. But after years of reading about “Hamilton” rather than experiencing it directly, Disney+ gave him a chance to rediscover how virtuosic and entertaining the show is from beginning to end, with one memorable song after another.

We did have a few reservations, about composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decision to cast himself as Hamilton, and about the show’s politics — we certainly appreciated its attempt to reclaim the founding story of the United States as a story for immigrants and people of color, but as others have pointed out, downplaying slavery and uncritically celebrating the creation of America’s financial institutions feels a bit strange, at least in 2020.

You can listen to our review 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 follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Introduction
0:21 “Hamilton” review
30:52 “Hamilton” spoiler discussion

HBO Max is making a Gotham City police series with the director of ‘The Batman’

HBO Max, the WarnerMedia-owned streaming service that launched in May, announced today that it has made a series commitment to an untitled TV show tied to the movie “The Batman” (currently scheduled for release in 2021).

The show will be set in the Gotham City police department, with a creative team that includes Matt Reeves, the movie’s co-writer and director, along with “Boardwalk Empire” creator Terence Winter.

This sounds like familiar territory — the police department of a city overrun by colorful criminals was probably perhaps best explored in the “Gotham Central” comics series (written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka and drawn by Michael Lark), but it was also the focus of the recent (bad) Fox TV show “Gotham.”

However, the announcement from HBO Max emphasized that this will be an extension of the feature film, “ultimately launching a new Batman universe across multiple platforms.” It’s an approach that the streamer is also taking with “Dune: The Sisterhood,” a series that ties into the upcoming “Dune” movie.

“This is an amazing opportunity, not only to expand the vision of the world I am creating in the film, but to explore it in the kind of depth and detail that only a longform format can afford — and getting to work with the incredibly talented Terence Winter, who has written so insightfully and powerfully about worlds of crime and corruption, is an absolute dream,” Reeves said in a statement.

It also remains to be seen whether the show is influenced in any way by the ongoing protests for racial justice. It might seem absurd to connect real-world political issues with a comic book TV show, but the protests have led to a Hollywood reckoning with how movies and television have glorified the police — for example, Andy Samberg recently said the writers and cast of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” are trying to rethink the show to make something “that we all feel morally okay about.”

Amazon Fire TV now pulls in live TV content from Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV

Amazon is upgrading its Fire TV’s live TV experience through new integrations with several live TV streaming services, including Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu + Live TV. Live content from these services will now appear within key areas with the Fire TV user interface, including the Fire TV’s Live tab and Channel Guide, making Fire TV feel even more like a cable TV replacement than before.

Already, Amazon Fire TV had offered integrations with nearly 20 other apps in a similar fashion, including live TV apps like Philo and Pluto TV, as well as its own Prime Video Channels.

But the addition of Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV brings in the three largest and most popular apps among cord cutters who are paying for a live TV experience. Sling TV has 2.31 million subscribers; YouTube TV has over 2 million; and Hulu + Live TV has 3.3 million.

Live content from these apps will be found within three main sections: the Live tab, the “On Now” rows and the multi-app Channel Guide.

Streaming live TV over the internet has become a more popular option for cord cutters over the years, as it offers a less expensive way to have a cable TV-like experience. Unfortunately, that gap has been closing in more recent months, as live TV users have been subjected to continual price increases as the services expanded their channel lineups.

However, many live TV customers remain because even with the increases, it can still be slightly less than cable and offers more flexibility — like working across platforms and not tied to a cable box.

This trend toward live content has also been seen on Fire TV, Amazon says.

The Live tab has become the second-most-visited destination on the Fire TV interface after the Home screen, due to its integrations of live content, the company noted. In addition, live TV streaming apps on Fire TV have seen the total time spent in app and active customers more than double, on average, since Fire TV added its live TV discovery integrations.

Image Credits: Amazon

“Fire TV is hugely popular among Philo fans. Since integrating with Amazon’s live streaming discovery features, the number of active Philo users is up nearly 2.5x on Fire TV,” said Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, whose TV streaming app was one of the earlier additions to Fire TV.

To use new integrations, you’ll first need to log into the streaming app you subscribe to with your current account information. You can then access the app’s live content across the Live Tab, which organizes live content in the familiar Netflix-like style of scrollable rows. Here, there are rows for things like “Live Sports” and “Live News,” plus content from your subscriptions’ channels.

From here, you can hop into the Channel Guide, which offers the more traditional grid guide, similar to cable TV.

This format is proving popular among live TV service subscribers.

On Monday, for example, Roku introduced its own Live TV Channel Guide, accessible via a new tile, which allows Roku users to browse the free live and linear content Roku offers in a similar way.

Amazon’s Fire TV platform, however, has the perk of Alexa integration.

That means users can ask Alexa to open the Channel Guide or even change the channel, by saying “Alexa, tune to [name of channel],” for example. This works via built-in Alexa on the Fire TV Cube, via a paired Echo device, or by using the Fire TV’s Alexa Voice Remote, depending on your setup.

“We’re excited to welcome Sling TV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV into our integrated suite of Live TV discovery features,” said Sandeep Gupta, VP of Fire TV, in a statement. “We believe the future of Connected TV is one that brings live content forward, simplifies the streaming and OTT landscape, and enables customers to discover the programs they want to watch with ease,” he added.

Sling TV’s integration began rolling out earlier this year, Amazon clarifies, but is being officially announced today.

YouTube TV will be available starting today, and Hulu + Live TV will become available in the coming weeks.

Extra Crunch support expands into Argentina, Brazil and Mexico

We’re excited to announce that Extra Crunch is now available to readers in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. That adds to our existing support in the U.S., Canada, UK, and select European countries.

You can sign for Extra Crunch here.

Latin America has always caught the eye of big tech. For companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Uber, Latin America has represented a massive growth opportunity. But it’s not just big tech that’s investing in Latin America. The startup scene is booming. According to Crunchbase, VCs invested billions into Latin America in 2018 and 2019.

In 2018, the TechCrunch team took a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil to host Startup Battlefield Latin America. We knew about the hot startup scene and massive investments, and wanted to meet the founders fueling the fire in person.

The excitement, wit, creativity, and energy of the entrepreneurs in Latin America was impressive. We were dazzled by the pitches from budding startup teams, and we were enlightened by the investors sharing their wealth of knowledge about the ecosystem. What we saw in person helped us tie the funding to the faces of the teams building the future. The entrepreneurial mentality of Silicon Valley doesn’t have borders; it’s alive and well across Latin America.

We wanted to bring Extra Crunch to Latin America to help support the startups and investors in this market because community has always been our top priority. We hope that Extra Crunch’s deep analysis and company building resources will help the Latin America tech community grow even stronger than it is today.

We’ve been polling our audience about expanded country support for over a year now, and Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have always been near the top of the list. Now, we’re delivering on the promise to bring Extra Crunch to everyone that asked for it.

We’re optimistic that Extra Crunch will be a big hit in Latin America, and we hope entrepreneurs and investors in the region who have not yet heard of TechCrunch will give it a try.

You can sign for Extra Crunch here.

What is Extra Crunch?

Extra Crunch is a membership program from TechCrunch that features research and reporting, reader utilities, and savings on software services and events. We deliver over 100 exclusive articles per month, with a focus on startup teams and investors.

Our weekly Extra Crunch investor surveys will help members find out where startup investors plan to write their next checks. Extra Crunch subscribers will be able to build a company better with how-tos and interviews from experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other key work topics. Readers can also learn about the best startups through our IPO analysis, late-stage deep dives and other exclusive reporting delivered daily.

Here’s a taste of the articles you can expect to see in Extra Crunch:

Beyond articles, Extra Crunch also features a series of reader utilities and discounts to help save time and money. This includes an exclusive newsletter, no banner ads on TechCrunch.com, Rapid Read mode, List Builder tool and more. Committing to an annual or two-year Extra Crunch membership will unlock discounts on TechCrunch events and access to Partner Perks. Our Partner Perks can help you save on services like AWS, Brex, Canva, DocSend, Zendesk and more.

Thanks to all of our readers who voted on where to expand support for Extra Crunch, and thanks to all that participated in the Extra Crunch Beta in Latin America. If you haven’t voted and you want to see Extra Crunch in your local country, let us know here. We’re actively working on expanding support to more countries, and input from readers is greatly appreciated.

You can sign up or learn more about Extra Crunch here.

Adobe tests an AI recommendation tool for headlines and images

Team members at Adobe have built a new way to use artificial intelligence to automatically personalize a blog for different visitors.

This tool was built as part of the Adobe Sneaks program, where employees can create demos to show off new ideas, which are they showcased (virtually, this year) at the Adobe Summit. And while the Sneaks start out as demos, Adobe Experience Cloud Senior Director Steve Hammond told me that 60% of Sneaks make it into a live product.

Hyman Chung, a senior product manager for Adobe Experience Cloud, said that this Sneak was designed for content creators and content marketers who are probably seeing more traffic during the coronavirus pandemic (Adobe says that in April, its own blog saw a 30% month-over-month increase), and who may be looking for ways to increase reader engagement while doing less work.

So in the demo, the Experience Cloud can go beyond simple A/B testing and personalization, leveraging the company’s AI technology Adobe Sensei to suggest different headlines, images (which can come from a publisher’s media library or Adobe Stock) and preview blurbs for different audiences.

Adobe AI

Image Credits: Adobe

For example, Chung showed me a mocked up a blog for a tourism company, where a single post about traveling to Australia could be presented differently to thrillseekers, frugal travelers, partygoers and others. Human writers and editors can still edit the previews for each audience segment, and they can also consult a Snippet Quality Score to see the details behind Sensei’s recommendation.

Hammond said the demo illustrates Adobe’s general approach to AI, which is more about applying automation to specific use cases rather than trying to build a broad platform. He also noted that the AI isn’t changing the content itself — just the way the content is promoted on the main site.

“This is leveraging the creativity you’ve got and matching it with content,” he said. “You can streamline and adapt the content to different audiences without changing the content itself.”

And from a privacy perspective, Hammond noted that these audience personas are usually based on information that visitors have opted to share with a brand or website.

Amazon Prime Video finally launches user profiles to all customers worldwide

Amazon’s Prime Video is finally adding a feature that’s long since become a standard for streaming video services: user profiles. With profiles, Prime Video users will have access to their own Watchlist, personalized recommendations, and they’ll be able to track their own viewing progress, similar to rival services, like Netflix.

Customers can create up to 6 profiles for their household members, including 1 primary profile associated with the Amazon account, plus 5 additional profiles, which can be a mix of adult and kids’ profiles.

The new profiles will be first available in the Prime Video app on iOS, Android, Fire tablet (Gen 10 and higher), and the Fire TV Prime Video app, in addition to the Prime Video apps built for other living room devices.

Prime Video profiles were spotted earlier this year by NDTV, which led to some erroneous reporting that the feature had officially launched to all. In actuality, Amazon first rolled out profiles to its customers in India and Africa. It’s now making it accessible to all worldwide, including the U.S.

Image Credits: Amazon

For any profile set as a “Kids” profile, the service will only include age-appropriate content aimed at those 12 years old or younger. The search results and search suggestions will also be filtered to only show Kids titles. Children with a Kids profile won’t be able to make purchases, either.

Meanwhile, any adult profile will be able to play all the entitled Prime Video content form the primary account, including content that has been purchased or rented, Prime Video titles, Prime Video Channels, and Live content.

However, if the adult wants to set up parental controls on their account so this content is not accessible on a shared device, like the living room TV, they can do so. In this case, viewing restrictions will be enabled but parents can enter a PIN code to access the content, as they can now.

Parents can also continue to block children from making purchases from an adult profile by enabling Purchase Restrictions under Prime Video Settings, which will also require a PIN to complete the transaction.

The one exception to how child profiles work is on mobile devices. The Prime Video app will allow a child profile to access the adult profile’s downloads on mobile — a decision Amazon made because it didn’t want to restrict access to downloads if the device was taken offline, making it impossible to profile switch.

In addition, for customers that have set up wallet-sharing in their Amazon Household settings, Prime Video will automatically create profiles for those users. This can be disabled from the Manage your profiles page, but once profile sharing is off, it can’t be re-enabled.

The lack of user profiles have been, to date, one of the bigger oversights with Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, first launched in 2011, and a much-requested feature for years. Today, streaming services don’t just compete on their content library but on how well they can surface the titles from that library by way of personalized recommendations and other tools that keep a user’s favorites and interests easily accessible. But Prime Video ignored this need, forcing all members of a household to share a single account. That choice told customers that even Amazon itself didn’t consider Prime Video a true competitor to other top services, like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+.

It’s finally correcting this matter, but only as the streaming market crowds with new offerings, like recently launched HBO Max and NBCU’s forthcoming Peacock, for example.

Amazon cautions that user profiles are being launched today, but not everyone will see them immediately. The feature is rolling out in phases, so you may see them arrive in a few days’ time, if not today.

Original Content podcast: ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ is a goofy delight

The new Netflix comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”  should win anyone over, even if you’re not a huge Will Ferrell fan and have no idea what Eurovision is.

The film stars Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as the titular Icelandic musical duo, who are pursuing a lifelong dream of winning at the enormous international musical competition. The film features cameo appearances from past Eurovision performers, and it feels less like a parody and more like a celebration — albeit one that fully embraces the insane costumes and over-the-top production numbers.

The Icelandic accents fade in and out, while the script — written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele — can feel a bit by-the-numbers. But it’s all easy to forgive, thanks to the movie’s obvious goofiness.

“The Story of Fire Saga” also benefits from some memorable performances. McAdams, for one, brings a surprising conviction to her dramatic scenes and her (obviously lip synched) songs. The movie’s also a treat for Dan Stevens fans, as the “Legion” actor goes deliciously over-the-top as the Russian singer Alexander Lemtov.

You can listen to our review 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 follow us on Twitter or 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
0:24 “Eurovision Song Contest” review
22:21 “Eurovision Song Contest” spoiler discussion

‘Westworld’ creators are developing a ‘Fallout’ TV series for Amazon

“Fallout,” the post-apocalyptic video game franchise published by Bethesda Softworks, is being turned into a TV series by Kilter Films, the production company of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.

The series, which began in 1997, takes place in an alternate future with a retro tone, after a nuclear war has turned most of the world into a wasteland. The games have continued in the two decades since, most recently with the release of “Fallout 76.”

The show — currently in development, with a series commitment from Amazon Studios — is part of Nolan and Joy’s overall deal with streaming service, which they signed last year for a reported $150 million.

The husband-and-wife team is best known for creating HBO’s new version of “Westworld” (based on a Michael Crichton film from the 1970s). They’re also working on an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel “The Peripheral.”

“Fallout is one of the greatest game series of all time,” Nolan and Joy said in a statement. “Each chapter of this insanely imaginative story has cost us countless hours we could have spent with family and friends. So we’re incredibly excited to partner with Todd Howard and the rest of the brilliant lunatics at Bethesda to bring this massive, subversive, and darkly funny universe to life with Amazon Studios.”