SiriusXM to acquire Pandora for $3.5 billion

SiriusXM and Pandora have announced acquisition plans before the stock market opens. SiriusXM is offering to acquire Pandora for $3.5 billion in stock, or $10.14 per share. Pandora would continue to exist as an independent service.

For Pandora shareholders, this offer represents a 13.8 percent premium over the volume-weighted average share price of the past 30 days. Both the Pandora board and the SiriusXM board have approved the plan.

But the transaction isn’t going to happen right away. As part of the deal, Pandora negotiated a "go-shop" provision, which means that Pandora’s board can still evaluate other offers. The acquisition is expected to close in the first quarter of 2019.

The announcement says that SiriusXM plans to leverage both services to cross-promote the other service. For instance, you could see references to SiriusXM shows while listening to Pandora. And SiriusXM hosts could suggest downloading the Pandora mobile app.

The company also plans to create subscription packages that could include SiriusXM radios as well as a Pandora premium subscription. SiriusXM also plans to make you listen to Pandora in your car as SiriusXM is already widely available in American cars.

Pandora shares are currently up 8.58 percent to $10.65 in pre-market trading. SiriusXM shares are currently trading at $6.89 (down 1.29 percent) in pre-market trading.

Pandora has been a public company since 2011 but has consistently lost money. The company bet very early on music streaming with an innovative interest-based smart radio format. That was before Spotify, before Apple Music, before SoundCloud, before smartphones.

While Pandora currently has over 70 million monthly active listeners, the vast majority of them aren’t premium subscribers. Pandora only has around 6 million paid subscribers — Spotify has 83 million paid subscribers. Paid subscribers tend to boost the average revenue per user. But the company never quite figured out how to convert those free users into subscribers.

Beau Willimon shows us the path to Mars in ‘The First’

Beau Willimon, the screenwriter and playwright who created Netflix’s “House of Cards”, has turned his attention from Washington, D.C. to outer space in his latest series “The First”.

The shows have more in common than I expected. Sure, “The First” is about a future expedition to Mars, not present day political machinations. And instead of the fourth wall-breaking monologues that “House of Cards” was known for, the new series relies on long, nearly silent sequences where characters ponder their decisions and brood over the past.

But “The First” (which launched all eight episodes of its first season on September 14) isn’t an outer space adventure filled with special effects. In fact, most of the story takes place in New Orleans, focusing on the political, financial and technical challenges that the team (Tom Hagerty, the astronaut played by Sean Penn) faces it can even take off.

When I interviewed Willimon and executive producer Jordan Tappis, I suggested that the show seemed to be more about Earth than Mars — but Willimon didn’t quite agree.

“I actually think it’s completely about Mars,” he said. For one thing, he has a multi-season plan, which will presumably take us to the Red Planet eventually. And while Willimon acknowledged that it would have been “a lot safer of a narrative choice to leap straight into the mission,” he wanted to explore other angles, like the fact that “the reality of getting to a place like Mars is that it would incredibly difficult to even get to the starting line.”

The First

Part of that difficulty involves confronting space skeptics who wonder whether the mission is worth the cost and risk. In a traditional science fiction story, those opponents would probably be depicted as wrongheaded or even downright villainous, but in “The First”, they seem to have a real point.

“My own personal attitude is, I absolutely think we should go to Mars,” Willimon said. “The value of exploration in any form, in space or here on Earth, speaks to a long and deep desire in humanity to understand and confront the unknown” — and that’s on top of the material and scientific benefits.

Still, he said he wanted “The First” to “reflect the world in which we live and the world in which we’re likely to live 13 years from now,” which meant telling “the story of people who don’t share that same belief, who challenge it from a philosophical or emotional point of view. … Any astronaut going to Mars has to confront the fact that he or she may die. The question for any of them, or for any loved one, is: Is it worth it?”

Ultimately, Willimon said, “We didn’t want to create a fantasy here. We’re not interested in science fiction. We’re interested in science fact.”

That meant creating a plausible roadmap for how we might actually get to Mars. In “The First,” the mission is organized by a private company called Vista, but the funding comes the U.S. government, and Willimon suggested that this kind of public-private partnership will probably be necessary.

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Beau Willimon speaks onstage at Hulu’s “The First” Los Angeles Premiere on September 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Hulu)

With the current excitement around companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, he said “the private sector has a lot to offer in accelerating a mission like this and making it cost efficient.” But he doesn’t think the private sector is going to get us to Mars on its own.

“In reality, the cost of getting to Mars, no matter what version you speculate, is enormous,” Willimon said. “I don’t think it’s likely that a purely private sector venture is going raise that amount of capital … In our conception, the money is coming form NASA, which means it’s really coming from taxpayer and the U.S. government, while the actual execution, building the hardware and seeing the mission through, is contracted out to Vista.”

“The First” also depicts everyday life in 2031. Tappis explained that the production team “worked really closely with a handful of consultants and experts in the field” to develop its version of future technology — which looks a lot like the technology of 2018, but with a few key advancements in areas like self-driving cars, augmented reality and voice communication.

“When you think about 13 years ago, the world looked pretty similar to the way it looks today, but with a few grace notes that you would find that showcase the evolution between then and now,” Tappis said.

One thing that has changed dramatically in the past decade is the television landscape, and I suggested that by creating and showrunning “House of Cards,” Willimon essentially kicked off the shift to streaming content.

“To be honest, I think that would have happened regardless of ‘House of Cards’,” Willimon replied. “We were the first show to go do that, because we were in the right place at the right time and were smart enough to say yes. But I think the trend was underway and was going to happen one way or another.”

As for the future of television, he said, “If this much change happened in less than a decade, who knows what might happen 15 years form now. Maybe … the audience isn’t going to be watching shows on handheld devices, but instead watching it floating before them on AR glasses.”

Near-future speculation is fun, and it’s a task that Willimon and Tappis seem to have taken very seriously. Still, if “The First” ends up running for several years, there seems to be a real risk that it could be overtaken or contradicted by how space travel plays out in the real world, or how consumer technologies evolve.

“While we think our speculation is an informed one and certainly plausible in terms of what it could look like, the time will come when we do make our first mission to Mars and it will either be very accurate or it won’t be,” Willimon said. And yet, just as we still watch the ostensibly outdated “2001: A Space Odyssey”, he argued, “There’s a deeper story there, which is the human story of people with messy lives trying to accomplish something great. There’s an essential truth to that, which we hope is timeless.”

Marc and Lynne Benioff will buy Times magazine from Meredith for $190M

Another tech billionaire will scoop up a major news outlet. Meredith Corporation, which acquired Time Inc. in January, announced today that it has agreed to sell its eponymous magazine to Salesforce.com co-founder Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff for $190 million in cash.

Meredith said in March that it planned to sell Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Money as part of its goal to save $400 million to $500 million over the next two years and increase the profitability of its remaining portfolio of publications. In its announcement today, the company said it will use proceeds from the sale of Times magazine to pay off debt and expects to reduce its debt by $1 billion during fiscal 2019.

Meredith’s acquisition of Time Inc. was controversial because it received financial support from Koch Equity Development, the private equity fund run by Charles and David Koch, known for backing conservative causes.

The Benioffs, who are on the other side of the spectrum as supporters of progressive politics, are purchasing Time magazine as individuals. In other words, Salesforce.com, where Benioff serves as chairman and co-CEO, and other companies are not involved with the deal. Marc Benioff told the Wall Street Journal that he and his wife will not be involved in Time magazine’s daily operations or editorial decisions and added that “we’re investing in a company with tremendous impact on the world, one that is also an incredibly strong business. That’s what we’re looking for when we invest as a family.”

Other tech billionaires who have purchased major publications include Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in a personal capacity five years ago and Laurene Powell Jobs, whose philanthropic organization, Emerson Collective, acquired a majority stake in The Atlantic last year. (While Jack Ma was a driving force behind Alibaba Group’s acquisition of the South China Morning Post in 2016, that acquisition was made by the company, not Ma.)

Despite being one of the most famous and iconic news brands in the U.S., Times magazine has (like other print publications) struggled to cope with falling circulation and revenue as it invests digital properties.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the magazine’s editor in chief, Edward Felsenthal, said “we’ve done a lot to transform this brand over the last few years so that it is far beyond a weekly magazine” and added that its business is “solidly profitable.”

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Insatiable’ is even worse than you’ve heard

“Insatiable,” the Netflix comedy about an overweight high school girl who suddenly becomes slim and beautiful thanks to having her jaw wired shut for a summer, has been drawing controversy ever since its first trailer went online.

The reviews for the show were almost uniformly negative, yet they didn’t quite prepare me for the terribleness of the initial episodes, which alternate between feeble attempts to mine humor from hot-button issues like sexual assault and suicide, and even feebler attempts to treat those issues seriously.

To help me figure out just what makes this show so bad, I was joined by Original Content‘s original co-host, Darrell Etherington. Our ultimate question: Is this the worst thing we’ve watched for the podcast? (Yes.)

We also discuss the fact that Henry Cavill has been cast as the lead in Netflix’s adaptation of the “Witcher” video game franchise.

This episode was actually recorded more than a week ago, but I didn’t get time to edit it until after Disrupt SF. So much has happened since then — like “The Witcher”‘s showrunner leaving Twitter and Cavill apparently departing the role of Superman. (Plus, somehow, “Insatiable” has been renewed for a second season.) Still, the initial news gave us an opportunity to weigh the relative merits of the “Mission Impossible” movies, and to discuss my favorite subject, Superman’s invisible mustache in “Justice League”.

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

Netflix’s newest program certifies post-production tools for Netflix Originals

Netflix on Thursday announced a new program aimed at helping Netflix Originals artists and producers select the right tools for delivering their content to its streaming service. With the launch of the Netflix Post Technology Alliance, as the program is called, Netflix will now identify products from vendors that meet technical and delivery specifications today, and will continue to support any specifications that Netflix rolls out in the future.

The program’s focus is on certifying vendors’ products across categories, including cameras, creative editorial, color grading, and IMF packaging.

Some vendors whose products have already received certification include  Adobe, Arri, Avid, Blackmagic Design, Canon, Colorfront, Fraunhofer IIS, Filmlight, Marquise Technologies, MTI Film, Ownzones, Panasonic, Red Digital Cinema, Rohde & Schwarz, and Sony.

These products will be allowed to sport the Netflix Post Technology Alliance logo, to alert artists of their certification status.

“Manufacturers of products bearing this logo are closely partnered with Netflix,” the company explained via  a post on its tech blog. “They have early access to the Netflix technical roadmap and collaborate with Netflix on technical support, training, and updates. As Netflix technical requirements evolve, you can be assured products bearing this logo will evolve in step with us.”

The program doesn’t extend to every type of tool used in production, however. For example, it won’t include lenses.

But many other of the other tools that are used will join the program in time, as new products submit themselves for inclusion.

Netflix explains its goal here is not to dictate to artists what tools have to be used – they should use whatever best makes sense for their efforts, it says. Instead, it’s about being able to quickly identify those tools that have been vetted for delivery to Netflix, as well as being able to identify companies who plan to continue to work with the streamer’s evolving tech on an ongoing basis.

Flagging products like this could help smaller producers just getting started, and that, in turn, could help feed more content into the streaming service over time, as their works won’t get rejected for quality issues.

The program joins others Netflix already runs, including a Post Partner Program, which collaborates with post-production partners worldwide, and the Prefered Fulfillment Partner program, which represents a global network of media fulfillment companies.

 

Jack Ma says he isn’t about to retire from Alibaba but is planning a gradual succession

Reports of Jack Ma’s impending retirement are greatly exaggerated, it seems. Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, has pushed back on claims that he is on the cusp of leaving the $420 billion Chinese e-commerce firm.

The New York Times first reported that the entrepreneur plans to announce that he will leave the firm to pursue philanthropy in education, a topic he is passionate about — Ma is a former teacher. But that news was quickly rebutted after Ma gave an interview to the South China Morning Postthe media company that Alibaba bought in 2016 — in which he explained that he plans to gradually phase himself out of the company through a succession plan.

When reached for comment, Alibaba pointed TechCrunch to the SCMP report which claims Ma’s strategy will “provide [leadership] transition plans over a significant period of time.”

In order words, Ma isn’t abruptly leaving the company, but it seems that his role will be gradually reduced over time. Alibaba confirmed he’ll remain a part of the company while the succession plan is carried out. The exact details will be announced on Ma’s birthday, September 10.

That transition isn’t a new development. Ma stepped back from a daily role when he moved from CEO to chairman in 2013. Speaking at the time, he said that he would remain active and that it was “impossible” for him to retire but he did concede that younger people with fresher ideas should lead the business.

That’s exactly what has happened in the preceding years.

13-year Alibaba veteran Jonathan Lu stepped into Ma’s shoes as CEO. He led Alibaba when it went public in a record $25 billion IPO in 2015, but he was replaced in 2015 by Daniel Zhang after reportedly losing Ma’s confidence. Former COO Zhang leads the company today, although Ma’s presence still looms large and he is particularly involved in the political side of the business. That’s included a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, and various activities with national leaders in markets like Southeast Asia, where Alibaba has sought to leverage the colossal size of its business to make inroads in emerging markets and position its business for growth as internet access continues to increase.

“I sat down with our senior executives 10 years ago, and asked what Alibaba would do without me,” Ma told SCMP in an interview. “I’m very proud that Alibaba now has the structure, corporate culture, governance and system for grooming talent that allows me to step away without causing disruption.”

What you need to know ahead of the EU copyright vote

European Union lawmakers are facing a major vote on digital copyright reform proposals on Wednesday — a process that has set the Internet’s hair fully on fire.

Here’s a run down of the issues and what’s at stake…

Article 13

The most controversial component of the proposals concerns user-generated content platforms such as YouTube, and the idea they should be made liable for copyright infringements committed by their users — instead of the current regime of takedowns after the fact (which locks rights holders into having to constantly monitor and report violations — y’know, at the same time as Alphabet’s ad business continues to roll around in dollars and eyeballs).

Critics of the proposal argue that shifting the burden of rights liability onto platforms will flip them from champions to chillers of free speech, making them reconfigure their systems to accommodate the new level of business risk.

More specifically they suggest it will encourage platforms into algorithmically pre-filtering all user uploads — aka #censorshipmachines — and then blinkered AIs will end up blocking fair use content, cool satire, funny memes etc etc, and the free Internet as we know it will cease to exist.

Backers of the proposal see it differently, of course. These people tend to be creatives whose professional existence depends upon being paid for the sharable content they create, such as musicians, authors, filmmakers and so on.

Their counter argument is that, as it stands, their hard work is being ripped off because they are not being fairly recompensed for it.

Consumers may be the ones technically freeloading by uploading and consuming others’ works without paying to do so but creative industries point out it’s the tech giants that are gaining the most money from this exploitation of the current rights rules — because they’re the only ones making really fat profits off of other people’s acts of expression. (Alphabet, Google’s ad giant parent, made $31.16BN in revenue in Q1 this year alone, for example.)

YouTube has been a prime target for musicians’ ire — who contend that the royalties the company pays them for streaming their content are simply not fair recompense.

Article 11

The second controversy attached to the copyright reform concerns the use of snippets of news content.

European lawmakers want to extend digital copyright to also cover the ledes of news stories which aggregators such as Google News typically ingest and display — because, again, the likes of Alphabet is profiting off of bits of others’ professional work without paying them to do so. And, on the flip side, media firms have seen their profits hammered by the Internet serving up free content.

The reforms would seek to compensate publishers for their investment in journalism by letting them charge for use of these text snippets — instead of only being ‘paid’ in traffic (i.e. by becoming yet more eyeball fodder in Alphabet’s aggregators).

Critics don’t see it that way of course. They see it as an imposition on digital sharing — branding the proposal a “link tax” and arguing it will have a wider chilling effect of interfering with the sharing of hyperlinks.

They argue that because links can also contain words of the content being linked to. And much debate has raged over on how the law would (or could) define what is and isn’t a protected text snippet.

They also claim the auxiliary copyright idea hasn’t worked where it’s already been tried (in Germany and Spain). Google just closed its News aggregator in the latter market, for example. Though at the pan-EU level it would have to at least pause before taking a unilateral decision to shutter an entire product.

Germany’s influential media industry is a major force behind Article 11. But in Germany a local version of a snippet law that was passed in 2013 ended up being watered down — so news aggregators were not forced to pay for using snippets, as had originally been floated.

Without mandatory payment (as is the case in Spain) the law has essentially pitted publishers against each other. This is because Google said it would not pay and also changed how it indexes content for Google News in Germany to make it opt-in only.

That means any local publishers that don’t agree to zero-license their snippets to Google risk losing visibility to rivals that do. So major German publishers have continued to hand their snippets over to Google.

But they appear to believe a pan-EU law might manage to tip the balance of power. Hence Article 11.

Awful amounts of screaming

For critics of the reforms, who often sit on the nerdier side of the spectrum, their reaction can be summed up by a screamed refrain that IT’S THE END OF THE FREE WEB AS WE KNOW IT.

WikiMedia has warned that the reform threatens the “vibrant free web”.

A coalition of original Internet architects, computer scientists, academics and others — including the likes of world wide web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee, security veteran Bruce Schneier, Google chief evangelist Vint Cerf, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and entrepreneur Mitch Kapor — also penned an open letter to the European Parliament’s president to oppose Article 13.

In it they wrote that while “well-intended” the push towards automatic pre-filtering of users uploads “takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users”.

There is more than a little irony there, though, given that (for example) Google’s ad business conducts automated surveillance of the users of its various platforms for ad targeting purposes — and through that process it’s hoping to control the buying behavior of the individuals it tracks.

At the same time as so much sound and fury has been directed at attacking the copyright reform plans, another very irate, very motivated group of people have been lustily bellowing that content creators need paying for all the free lunches that tech giants (and others) have been helping themselves to.

But the death of memes! The end of fair digital use! The demise of online satire! The smothering of Internet expression! Hideously crushed and disfigured under the jackboot of the EU’s evil Filternet!

And so on and on it has gone.

(For just one e.g., see the below video — which was actually made by an Australian satirical film and media company that usually spends its time spoofing its own government’s initiatives but evidently saw richly viral pickings here… )

For a counter example, to set against the less than nuanced yet highly sharable satire-as-hyperbole on show in that video, is the Society of Authors — which has written a 12-point breakdown defending the actual substance of the reform (at least as it sees it).

A topline point to make right off the bat is it’s hardly a fair fight to set words against a virally sharable satirical video fronted by a young lady sporting very pink lipstick. But, nonetheless, debunk the denouncers these authors valiantly attempt to.

To wit: They reject claims the reforms will kill hyperlinking or knife sharing in the back; or do for online encyclopedias like Wikimedia; or make snuff out of memes; or strangle free expression — pointing out that explicit exceptions that have been written in to qualify what it would (and would not) target and how it’s intended to operate in practice.

Wikipedia, for example, has been explicitly stated as being excluded from the proposals.

But they are still pushing water uphill — against the tsunami of DEATH OF THE MEMES memes pouring the other way.

Russian state propaganda mouthpiece RT has even joined in the fun, because of course Putin is no fan of EU…

Terrible amounts of lobbying

The Society of Authors makes the very pertinent point that tech giants have spent millions lobbying against the reforms. They also argue this campaign has been characterised by “a loop of misinformation and scaremongering”.

So, basically, Google et al stand accused of spreading (even more) fake news with a self-interested flavor. Who’d have thunk it?!

Dollar bills standing on a table in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

The EU’s (voluntary) Transparency Register records Google directly spending between $6M and $6.4M on regional lobbying activities in 2016 alone. (Although that covers not just copyright related lobbying but a full laundry list of “fields of interest” its team of 14 smooth-talking staffers apply their Little Fingers to.)

But the company also seeks to exert influence on EU political opinion via membership of additional lobbying organizations.

And the register lists a full TWENTY-FOUR organizations that Google is therefore also speaking through (by contrast, Facebook is merely a member of eleven bodies) — from the American chamber of Commerce to the EU to dry-sounding thinktanks, such as the Center for European Policy Studies and the European Policy Center. It is also embedded in startup associations, like Allied for Startups. And various startup angles have been argued by critics of the copyright reforms — claiming Europe is going to saddle local entrepreneurs with extra bureaucracy.

Google’s dense web of presence across tech policy influencers and associations amplifies the company’s regional lobbying spend to as much as $36M, music industry bosses contend.

Though again that dollar value would be spread across multiple GOOG interests — so it’s hard to sum the specific copyright lobbying bill. (We asked Google — it didn’t answer). Multiple millions looks undeniable though.

Of course the music industry and publishers have been lobbying too.

But probably not at such a high dollar value. Though Europe’s creative industries have the local contacts and cultural connections to bend EU politicians’ ears. (As, well, they probably should.)

Seasoned European commissioners have professed themselves astonished at the level of lobbying — and that really is saying something.

Yes there are actually two sides to consider…

Returning to the Society of Authors, here’s the bottom third of their points — which focus on countering the copyright reform critics’ counterarguments:

The proposals aren’t censorship: that’s the very opposite of what most journalists, authors, photographers, film-makers and many other creators devote their lives to.

Not allowing creators to make a living from their work is the real threat to freedom of expression.

Not allowing creators to make a living from their work is the real threat to the free flow of information online.

Not allowing creators to make a living from their work is the real threat to everyone’s digital creativity.

Stopping the directive would be a victory for multinational internet giants at the expense of all those who make, enjoy and enjoy using creative works.

Certainly some food for thought there.

But as entrenched, opposing positions go, it’s hard to find two more perfect examples.

And with such violently opposed and motivated interest groups attached to the copyright reform issue there hasn’t really been much in the way of considered debate or nuanced consideration on show publicly.

But being exposed to endless DEATH OF THE INTERNET memes does tend to have that effect.

What’s that about Article 3 and AI?

There is also debate about Article 3 of the copyright reform plan — which concerns text and data-mining. (Or TDM as the Commission sexily conflates it.)

The original TDM proposal, which was rejected by MEPs, would have limited data mining to research organisations for the purposes of scientific research (though Member States would have been able to choose to allow other groups if they wished).

This portion of the reforms has attracted less attention (butm again, it’s difficult to be heard above screams about dead memes). Though there have been concerns raised from certain quarters that it could impact startup innovation — by throwing up barriers to training and developing AIs by putting rights blocks around (otherwise public) data-sets that could (otherwise) be ingested and used to foster algorithms.

Or that “without an effective data mining policy, startups and innovators in Europe will run dry”, as a recent piece of sponsored content inserted into Politico put it.

That paid for content was written by — you guessed it! — Allied for Startups.

Aka the organization that counts Google as a member…

The most fervent critics of the copyright reform proposals — i.e. those who would prefer to see a pro-Internet-freedoms overhaul of digital copyright rules — support a ‘right to read is the right to mine’ style approach on this front.

So basically a free for all — to turn almost any data into algorithmic insights. (Presumably these folks would agree with this kind of thing.)

Middle ground positions which are among the potential amendments now being considered by MEPs would support some free text and data mining — but, where legal restrictions exist, then there would be licenses allowing for extractions and reproductions.

 

And now the amendments, all 252 of them…

The whole charged copyright saga has delivered one bit of political drama already —  when the European Parliament voted in July to block proposals agreed only by the legal affairs committee, thereby reopening the text for amendments and fresh votes.

So MEPs now have the chance to refine the parliament’s position via supporting select amendments — with that vote taking place next week.

And boy have the amendments flooded in.

There are 252 in all! Which just goes to show how gloriously messy the democratic process is.

It also suggests the copyright reform could get entirely stuck — if parliamentarians can’t agree on a compromise position which can then be put to the European Council and go on to secure final pan-EU agreement.

MEP Julia Reda, a member of The Greens–European Free Alliance, who as (also) a Pirate Party member is very firmly opposed to the copyright reform text as was voted in July (she wants a pro-web-freedoms overhauling of digital copyright rules), has created this breakdown of alternative options tabled by MEPs — seen through her lens of promoting Internet freedoms over rights extensions.

So, for example, she argues that amendments to add limited exceptions for platform liability would still constitute “upload filters” (and therefore “censorship machines”).

Her preference would be deleting the article entirely and making no change to the current law. (Albeit that’s not likely to be a majority position, given how many MEPs backed the original Juri text of the copyright reform proposals 278 voted in favor, losing out to 318 against.)

But she concedes that limiting the scope of liability to only music and video hosting platforms would be “a step in the right direction, saving a lot of other platforms (forums, public chats, source code repositories, etc.) from negative consequences”.

She also flags an interesting suggestion — via another tabled amendment — of “outsourcing” the inspection of published content to rightholders via an API”.

“With a fair process in place [it] is an interesting idea, and certainly much better than general liability. However, it would still be challenging for startups to implement,” she adds.

Reda has also tabled a series of additional amendments to try to roll back what she characterizes as “some bad decisions narrowly made by the Legal Affairs Committee” — including adding a copyright exception for user generated content (which would essentially get platforms off the hook insofar as rights infringements by web users are concerned); adding an exception for freedom of panorama (aka the taking and sharing of photos in public places, which is currently not allowed in all EU Member States); and another removing a proposed extra copyright added by the Juri committee to cover sports events — which she contends would “filter fan culture away“.

So is the free Internet about to end??

MEP Catherine Stihler, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, who also voted in July to reopen debate over the reforms reckons nearly every parliamentary group is split — ergo the vote is hard to call.

“It is going to be an interesting vote,” she tells TechCrunch. “We will see if any possible compromise at the last minute can be reached but in the end parliament will decide which direction the future of not just copyright but how EU citizens will use the internet and their rights on-line.

“Make no mistake, this vote affects each one of us. I do hope that balance will be struck and EU citizens fundamental rights protected.”

So that sort of sounds like a ‘maybe the Internet as you know it will change’ then.

Other views are available, though, depending on the MEP you ask.

We reached out to Axel Voss, who led the copyright reform process for the Juri committee, and is a big proponent of Article 13, Article 11 (and the rest), to ask if he sees value in the debate having been reopened rather than fast-tracked into EU law — to have a chance for parliamentarians to achieve a more balanced compromise. At the time of writing Voss hadn’t responded.

Voting to reopen the debate in July, Stihler argued there are “real concerns” about the impact of Article 13 on freedom of expression, as well as flagging the degree of consumer concern parliamentarians had been seeing over the issue (doubtless helped by all those memes + petitions), adding: “We owe it to the experts, stakeholders and citizens to give this directive the full debate necessary to achieve broad support.”

MEP Marietje Schaake, a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, was willing to hazard a politician’s prediction that the proposals will be improved via the democratic process — albeit, what would constitute an improvement here of course depends on which side of the argument you stand.

But she’s routing for exceptions for user generated content and additional refinements to the three debated articles to narrow their scope.

Her spokesman told us: “I think we’ll end up with new exceptions on user generated content and freedom of panorama, as well as better wording for article 3 on text and data mining. We’ll end up probably with better versions of articles 11 and 13, the extent of the improvement will depend on the final vote.”

The vote will be held during an afternoon plenary session on September 12.

So yes there’s still time to call your MEP.

Apple Music launches a ‘Top Charts’ playlist series

Apple Music is rolling out a new playlist series that will feature the Top 100 songs on Apple Music globally and for those countries where Apple Music is available. Because they’re playlists, users will be able to add these top charts for their country or the Top 100 Global songs to their library so they can stream them any time, or listen offline.

The feature was first reported by Rolling Stone, which was given a preview of the changes by Apple.

At launch, there are 116 charts launching in total, including the Top 100 Global and one for each Apple Music market. Many countries will have access to all of these new Top 100 playlist charts, but availability will vary, we understand.

What’s also interesting about the top chart playlists is that they’ll be updated daily at 12:00 AM PT based on Apple Music streams, which keeps them fresh.

Rolling Stone’s report indicates the release of these charts is due to growing importance of streaming numbers. Artists and their managers as well as labels and scouts tend to reference top streaming charts in the hunt for new talent, it says. And the industry has adapted, too, by more heavily weighting paid streaming over free.

On that front, Apple Music’s dominance in North America means its numbers, in particular, are important to track.

Apple Music, now with 50 million paid subscribers worldwide, is currently ahead of Spotify in the North American market, according to comments made by CEO Tim Cook on the latest earnings call.

“We took the leadership position in North America during the quarter and we have the leadership position in Japan, and in some of the markets that we’ve been in for a long period of time,” he said in July.

Spotify is still ahead on the worldwide stage, with 83 million paid users. 

However, it’s worth also pointing out that these new top charts aren’t just launching as a static section of the Apple Music app – they’re dynamic playlists.

That is, Apple’s new Top Charts playlists will not be replacing the existing Top 200 Songs chart, available today.

Playlists are an important battleground between the major streaming services, with Spotify focusing heavily on personalization with playlists like its flagship Discover Weekly, plus Release Radar, Daily Mixes (and a newer variation, Your Daily Car Mix), Your Summer Rewind, and Time Capsule.

Apple Music, meanwhile, offers users a Favorites playlist, along with a New Music Mix, Chill Mix, and is rolling out a Friends Mix in iOS 12.

The feature is available today on Apple Music. You can check out these playlists as an example:

 

Popbase helps YouTube stars build closer relationships with their fans

Entertainment has changed. New platforms led by YouTube have emerged to change the dynamic of broadcast media — once dominated by the rigid programming of TV — while the internet has enabled new media stars to engage with their audiences in new, high-touch ways. Developments like live streaming, social media and more have made the stars of today more relatable and more easily reachable than those of yesteryear.

The easiest example to grasp is arguably the Kardashian family.

They dominate the media, have accrued millions of fans on social networks and have branched into retail, fashion, production and more. Their relationship with fans is 24/7 and, regardless of how you feel about the family, their popularity is a clear indicator of this new always-on connection between public figures and their fans.

A new startup is seizing on an opportunity to help up-and-coming online entertainers take a leaf out of that book and grow their relationships with fans.

Popbase is an app that operates almost like an interactive forum for new media.

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The app is designed to take the relationship beyond videos and encourage a more interactive experience. Initially, that means trivia quizzes, exclusive content and news snippets — i.e. exclusive content clips for members — but the plan to go beyond that and enable games, augmented reality, collectibles and more.

While the primary goal is to help grow the fan-creator relationship, Popbase is also aimed at enabling YouTubers to monetize their brand through in-app purchases and advertising around content. Creators take a 60 percent cut of all revenue with the remainder going to Binary Bubbles, the Los Angeles-based startup behind the service. However, that revenue split can rise as high as 70 percent for creators when they “start doing really well,” according to Binary Bubbles CEO Lisa Wong.

In addition, there are incentives for referring others to the platform.

“YouTubers who aren’t as huge as PewDiePie [the star with 65 million subscribers] work very hard,” Wong told TechCrunch in an interview. “With Popbase, we are giving them a chance to gamify and monetize their YouTube content and personality.”

If you recall the once-wildly popular ‘The Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ app — which was reportedly grossing $200 million per year — Popbase’s strategy is to allow influencers with a more modest budget to tap its platform and offer some of those customized experiences for their audiences.

So far, Binary Bubbles has signed up five YouTubers — with a collective fan base of one million followers — and it is looking for more influencers with a following that sits between 10,000 and one million fans.

Popbase users can watch content with a virtual avatar of the YouTube creator

Wong, who spent over 25 years working in the video game industry for companies like Sony PlayStation and Activision, started Binary Bubbles in January 2017 alongside CTO Richard Weeks and CBDO Amit Tishler. Wong reconnected with Weeks — a programmer whose past employers include Lucas Art — when they both worked on an AR project, and the addition of Tishler, who is an artist/animator, rounded out the founding team.

The startup has raised around $145,000 to date, and it is targeting a total pre-seed round of $500,000.

EU to move ahead with cultural quotas for streaming services

The European Union is set to move ahead with a plan to enforce pan-European quotas on streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix to support production of locally produced film and video content.

Roberto Viola, the European Commission’s directorate general of communication, networks, content and technology told Variety that the new rules are on track to be approved in December.

“We just need the final vote, but it’s a mere formality,” he said in an interview at the Venice Film Festival.

The proposals will require that streaming services give over at least 30% of their on-demand catalogues to original productions made in each EU country where a service is provided (individual EU Member States could choose to set the content bar even higher, at 40%).

Streaming services will also have to ensure visibility and prominence for local content — so no burying the ‘European third’ in a dingy corner of the site where no one will find it, let alone stream it.

The EU lawmakers’ intention is to stand up for cultural diversity against the might of Hollywood and the flattening power of platforms — in the latter case by making platforms invest in local content production rather than just doing the easy thing of fencing yet more Marvel superhero movies.

And, frankly, if you’ve seen one superhero movie you’ve seen them all. So the move — which will probably draw loud and hair-raising screams from U.S. commentators — is, nonetheless, A Good Thing.

It is also not at all unusual in Europe, where cultural diversity is championed and measures to protect linguistic and cultural difference are not just acceptable but the welcome norm.

On the film front, some EU countries already require cinemas screen a portion of locally content, for example.

The Commission’s revision to EU audiovisual law will go further, by bolstering local content production across the region, including by placing requirements on local broadcasters to reserve a majority of airtime for European content. And also by requiring that streaming services actively promote EU works.

Hollywood + platform power is now a force so very mighty that cultural difference risks being steamrollered before it until nothing but tedious superhero tropes remain.

At least without proactive policy counteractions to unlock investments in creativity at a local level and not just protect but develop community voices. Ergo, the real superhero is a policy that battles the evil of cultural homogeneity and champions local light and color.

In Germany, which has already pushed ahead with content quotas on streaming services, a surcharge is added to subscription fees for the services to support a national production fund.

Netflix attempted to challenge the Commission’s support of Germany’s move to support its local film industry in the courts, arguing it countered EU law on state aid.

But in May the European General Court dismissed its appeal against the EC decision — saying its action was inadmissible as Netflix has no legal standing to challenge the decision.

We’ve reached out to Amazon and Netflix for comment on Viola’s comments.

Image credit: Trailer still from Blue is the Warmest Colour