Twitter said to have held acquisition talks with Clubhouse on potential $4B deal

Twitter held talks with Clubhouse around a potential acquisition of the live drop-in audio networking platform, with a deal value somewhere around $4 billion, according to a report from Bloomberg. TechCrunch has also confirmed the discussions took place from a source familiar with the conversations.

While the talks occurred over the past several months, they’re no longer taking place, though the reason they ended isn’t known according to the report. It’s also worth noting that just a few days ago, Bloomberg reported that Clubhouse was seeking to raise a new round of funding at a valuation of around $4 billion, but the report detailing the potential acquisition talks indicate that the discussions with Twitter collapsed first, leading to a change in strategy to pursue securing additional capital in exchange for equity investment.

Twitter has its own product very similar to Clubhouse — Spaces, a drop-in audio chatroom feature that it has been rolling out gradually to its user base over the past few months. Clubhouse, meanwhile, just launched the first of its monetization efforts, Clubhouse Payments, which lets users send direct payments to other creators on the platform, provided that person has enabled receipt of said payments.

Interestingly, the monetization effort from Clubhouse actually doesn’t provide them with any money; instead, it’s monetization for recipient users who get 100% of the funds directed their way, minus a small cut for processing that goes directly to Stripe, the payment provider Clubhouse is using to enable the virtual tips.

While we aren’t privy to the specifics of these talks between Twitter and Clubhouse, it does seem like an awfully high price tag for the social network to pay for the audio app, especially given its own progress with Spaces. Clubhouse’s early traction has been undeniable, but there are a lot of questions still remaining about its longevity, and it’s also being cloned left and right by other platforms, begging the age-old startup question of whether it’s a feature or a product on its own.

Whatever went down, the timing of this revelation seems likely to prime the pump for Clubhouse’s conversation with potential investors at its target valuation for the round it’s looking to raise. Regardless, it’s exciting to have this kind of activity, buzz and attention paid to a consumer software play after many years of what one could argue has been a relatively lacklustre period for the category.

Former Asana employees want to take on Discord with a positive platform for creator communities

In a creator-economy world, if you’re only as good as your last YouTube video, then your next YouTube video had better be bigger and louder than the last.

Vibely, a new startup co-founded by Asana alumni Teri Yu and Theresa Lee, wants to turn the constant, and often exhausting, beast of content creation on its head. The startup has created a premium, creator-controlled community platform that allows fans to gather and be monetized in new ways, beyond what is possible on YouTube or TikTok.

The core of Vibely, and what the co-founders hope will keep users coming back, is the ability to let any creator make a challenge for their fans to enjoy. For example, a creator whose brand evokes thoughtfulness could ask fans to sketch out their personal growth goals or take action around a new year’s resolution everyday. Or a fitness influencer could motivate fans to work out for a sprint of days.

“Most people in the creator economy are thinking about how to immediately monetize and get that instant gratification of like money here,” Yu said, which is why creators sell merchandise or hop on Cameo. “We’re focusing on long-term strategic communities.” Yu describes her startup’s shift as a mindset change, from a linear relationship between creators and fans to a multi-directional relationship between fans, superfans, new fans and creators.

Image Credits: Vibely

Vibely’s pitch is two-fold. For fans, the platform gives them a chance to chat with other fans from around the world. It also lets fans participate in community challenges and have a place to plan virtual hangouts over shared love for makeup or dance. The startup helps creators simultaneously, by giving them a one-stop shop to announce plans, do call to actions and create an ambassador program. It lets the “creator scale their time and have a multi-directional relationship with the community under or beneath them.”

Notably, Vibely is trying to be different from Patreon or OnlyFans, which is basically paywalled content for fans. Vibely doesn’t need creators to post more content, it just needs them to pop into a premium community and interact with fans in a meaningful way.

The startup is formalizing a sporadic daily occurrence: When a creator posts content, their comment sections in YouTube, Instagram and TikTok light up with fans discussing every detail you can imagine, from a suggestive hair flip to if that background poster has a hidden message. Creators often pop in to respond to a spicy thread or a random compliment, which incentivizes fans to keep swarming the content section.

The startup has spent little on customer acquisition cost and relied heavily on word of mouth. In December, Vibely launched a part-in-person, part-virtual creator house to pair top TikTok creators with their followers, generating some buzz. In 2020, Vibely had more than 600 communities with 392,000 messages sent and 37,000 challenges completed. Creators include Lavendaire, with 1.3 million YouTube subscribers and Rowena Tsai, who has 520,000 subscribers.

Yu says that there is one day where Kim Kardashian might have a community on the platform, but the main “bread and butter” of Vibely is searching for creators who represent a true interest, value or belief system. This can be a book influencer or a religious creator, for example.

“[Creators] are controlling their own destiny,” Yu said. “On Instagram or Facebook, you might create content but the algorithm decides at the end of the day whether or not your audience sees it. With Vibely, they have 100% control since this is their community.” The startup is planning to make money through membership dues and in-app mechanics like social currencies and rewards.

Vibely’s moonshot goal is to be a more positive, and supportive, Discord, a platform used by gamer communities across the world. So far, Yu says that less than .1% of Vibely users have been flagged by other users, although notably would not share total user numbers. There is also an ambassador program that appoints a user to oversee a community, as well as a global community manager on the team.

“The ceiling of where [Discord] can support is really only going to be gamers,” she said. “But creators want to protect their brand right now and make sure people have a positive experience,” so they are looking for another place to set up.

Image Credits: Vibely

While moderation is apparently going well so far, Vibely will most certainly encounter problems as more and more users join its platform. In the world of challenges, craze and hype led by fanatics could potentially become harmful if someone takes it too far. While Vibely aims to be a judgement-free zone for people to connect around the world, scale has a uniquely pessimistic way of forking that from time to time. Some consumer apps have responded to this truth by aggressively hiring on-staff moderators, but that too can become grueling work.

To hit the ground running, Vibely announced today that it has raised $2 million in seed financing from backers including Steve Chen, the co-founder of YouTube; Justin Rosenstein, the co-founder of Asana and co-creator of Netflix’s “Social Dilemma” documentary; Scott Heiferman, the co-founder of Meetup; Turner Novak, formerly an investor at Gelt, and more.

 

Despite pandemic, gaming is well-positioned to withstand recession

Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have led to a global economic downturn, but the gaming industry is booming.

With hundreds of millions of people sequestered in their homes, game usage has spiked. And while the economic repercussions will persist after people cease physical distancing, gaming is positioned to fare well during a recession.

Video game usage increased 75% during peak hours

Video game usage during peak hours increased 75% in the first week many Americans began staying home, according to Verizon data. Game distribution platform Steam set a record for peak concurrent users (more than 20 million) on March 16 without any notable new releases driving demand. Gaming chat platform Discord saw its servers go down briefly last week even after the company increased capacity by more than 20% to handle surging usage.

According to Siamc Kamalie, manager of hedge fund Skycatcher, “average time spent per user on mobile games grew 41% during Chinese New Year in 2020 versus 2019, and was up 18% versus the week prior to Chinese New Year in 2020.” (Chinese New Year is when widespread stay-at-home orders began in China.)

All of the gaming industry professionals I’ve spoken to over the last week noted increased popularity of their games, though most were wary of sharing their strong performance publicly, given the unfortunate circumstances.

People don’t just turn to games for entertainment; especially when in-person interactions are restricted and most of the most popular games are multiplayer in one form or another — games also serve as social hangout spots.

This Week in Apps: Apple launches a COVID-19 app, the outbreak’s impact on social and video apps and more

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry saw a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re continuing our special coverage of how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting apps and the wider mobile app industry as more COVID-19 apps appear — including one from Apple built in partnership with the CDC, among others. We also take a look at the gains made by social and video apps in recent weeks as people struggle to stay connected while stuck at home in quarantine. In other headlines, we dig into Instagram’s co-watching feature, the Google for Games conference news, Apple’s latest releases and updates, Epic Games expansion into publishing and more.

Coronavirus Special Coverage

Social video apps are exploding due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Google gives Android developers new tools to make money from users who won’t pay

Google today is introducing a new way for Android developers to generate revenue from their mobile applications. And no, it’s not subscription-related. Instead, the company is launching a new monetization option for apps called “Rewarded Products.” This will allow non-paying app users to contribute to an app’s revenue stream by sacrificing their time, but not their money. The first product will be rewarded video, where users can opt to watch a video ad in exchange for in-game currency, virtual goods, or other benefits.

The feature may make developers happy, but it remains to be seen how users react. Reception will depend on how the videos are introduced in the app.

Even in Google’s example of the rewarded product in action – meant to showcase a best design practice, one would think – the video interrupts gameplay in between levels with a full screen takeover. This is not a scenario users would respond well to unless this was presented as the only way to play a popular, previously paid-only game for free, perhaps.

Rewarded video has worked for some apps where users have come to expect a free product. That could include free-to-play games or others services where subscribing is an option, not a requirement.

For example, Pandora’s music streaming service was free and ad-supported for years, as it was radio-only. After it introduced tiers offering on-demand streaming to compete with Spotify, it rolled out a rewarded video product – so to speak – of its own. Today, Pandora listeners can choose to watch a video ad to access on-demand music for a session, as an alternative to paying a monthly subscription.

Android app developers, of course, are already using advertisements to supplement or as a means of monetization, but this launch creates an official Google Play “product.” This makes implementation easier on developers and gives Google a way compete with third parties offering something similar.

Rewarded products can be added to any app using the Google Play Billing Library or AIDL interface with only a few additional API calls, the company says. It won’t require an SDK.

The launch comes at a time when Apple has been seeing success with subscriptions, which it has fully embraced, pushed and sometimes even let run amok. Subscriptions are now one of the biggest factors, outside of games, in app store revenue growth.

But Android users, historically, have been more averse to paying for apps than those on iOS. Apple’s store has even seen nearly double that of Google Play, in terms of revenue – despite having far fewer downloads. That means Android developers will not be able to tap into the subscription craze at the same scale as their iOS counterparts. And it means cross-platform developers may further prioritize building for iOS, as a result.

Rewarded products offer those developers an alternative path to monetization on a platform where that’s often been more difficult, outside of running ads.

Google says the rewarded video product is launching into open beta, and is available in the Play Console for developers.

 

 

YouTube promises expansion of sponsorships, other monetization tools for creators

YouTube says it’s rolling out more tools to help its creators make money from their videos. The changes are meant to address creators’ complaints over YouTube’s new monetization policies announced earlier this year. Those policies were designed to make the site more advertiser-friendly following a series of controversies over video content from top creators, including videos from Logan Paul, who had filmed a suicide victim, and PewDiePie, who repeatedly used racial slurs, for example.

The company then decided to set a higher bar to join its YouTube Partner Program, which is what allows video publishers to make money through advertising. Previously, creators only needed 10,000 total views to join; they now need at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of view time over the past year to join. This resulted in wide-scale demonetization of videos that previously relied on ads.

The company has also increased policing of video content in recent months, but its systems haven’t always been accurate.

YouTube said in February it was working on better systems for reviewing video content when a video is demonetized over its content. One such change, enacted at the time, involved the use of machine learning technology to address misclassifications of videos related to this policy. This, in turn, has reduced the number of appeals from creators who want a human review of their video content instead.

According to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the volume of appeals is down by 50 percent as a result.

Wojcicki also announced another new program related to video monetization which is launching into pilot testing with a small number of creators starting this month.

This system will allow creators to disclose, specifically, what sort of content is in their video during the upload process, as it relates to YouTube’s advertiser-friendly guidelines.

“In an ideal world, we’ll eventually get to a state where creators across the platform are able to accurately represent what’s in their videos so that their insights, combined with those of our algorithmic classifiers and human reviewers, will make the monetization process much smoother with fewer false positive demonetizations,” said Wojcicki.

Essentially, this system would rely on self-disclosure regarding content, which would then be factored in as another signal for YouTube’s monetization algorithms to consider. This was something YouTube had also said in February was in the works.

Because not all videos will be brand-safe or meet the requirements to become a YouTube Partner, YouTube now says it will also roll out alternative means of making money from videos. 

This includes an expansion of “sponsorships,” which have been in testing since last fall with a select group of creators.

Similar to Twitch subscriptions, sponsorships were introduced to the YouTube Gaming community as a way to support favorites creators through monthly subscriptions (at $4.99/mo), while also receiving various perks like custom emoji and a custom badge for live chat.

Now YouTube says “many more creators” will gain access to sponsorships in the months ahead, but it’s not yet saying how those creators will be selected, or if they’ll have to meet certain requirements, as well. It’s also unclear if YouTube will roll these out more broadly to its community, outside of gaming.

Wojcicki gave updates on various other changes YouTube has enacted in recent months. For example, she said that YouTube’s new moderation tools have led to a 75-plus percent decline in comment flags on channels, where enabled, and these will now be expanded to 10 languages. YouTube’s newer social network-inspired Community feature has also been expanded to more channels, she noted.

The company also patted itself on the back for its improved communication with the wider creator community, saying that this year it has increased replies by 600 percent and improved its reply rate by 75 percent to tweets addressed to its official handles: @TeamYouTube, @YTCreators, and @YouTube.

While that may be true, it’s notable that YouTube isn’t publicly addressing the growing number of complaints from creators who – rightly or wrongly – believe their channel has been somehow “downgraded” by YouTube’s recommendation algorithms, resulting in declining views and loss of subscribers.

This is the issue that led the disturbed individual, Nasim Najafi Aghdam, to attack YouTube’s headquarters earlier this month. Police said that Aghdam, who shot at YouTube employees before killing herself, was “upset with the policies and practices of YouTube.”

It’s obvious, then, why YouTube is likely proceeding with extreme caution when it comes to communicating its policy changes, and isn’t directly addressing complaints similar to Aghdam’s from others in the community.

But the creator backlash is still making itself known. Just read the Twitter replies or comment thread on Wojcicki’s announcement. YouTube’s smaller creators feel they’ve been unfairly punished because of the misdeeds of a few high-profile stars. They’re angry that they don’t have visibility into why their videos are seeing reduced viewership – they only know that something changed.

YouTube glosses over this by touting the successes of its bigger channels.

“Over the last year, channels earning five figures annually grew more than 35 percent, while channels earning six figures annually grew more than 40 percent,” Wojcicki said, highlighting YouTube’s growth.

In fairness, however, YouTube is in a tough place. Its site became so successful over the years, that it became impossible for it to police all the uploads manually. At first, this was the cause for celebration and the chance to put Google’s advanced engineering and technology to work. But these days, as with other sites of similar scale, the challenging of policing bad actors among billions of users, is becoming a Herculean task – and one companies are failing at, too.

YouTube’s over-reliance on algorithms and technology has allowed for a lot of awful content to see daylight – including inappropriate videos aimed a children, disturbing videos, terrorist propaganda, hate speech, fake news and conspiracy theories, unlabeled ads disguised as product reviews or as “fun” content, videos of kids that attract pedophiles, and commenting systems that allowed for harassment and trolling at scale.

To name a few.

YouTube may have woken up late to its numerous issues, but it’s not ignorant of them, at least.

“We know the last year has not been easy for many of you. But we’re committed to listening and using your feedback to help YouTube thrive,” Wojcicki said. “While we’re proud of this progress, I know we have more work to do.”

That’s putting it mildly.

 

Quora just launched a self-serve ad platform

 While Quora has been around for almost seven years, it’s been a little slow when it comes to monetization through advertising. The question-and-answer site first launched ads last year in April 2016, but since then it’s only existed in closed beta to pre-approved advertising partners like Mulesoft and Shopify. Until now. The startup just announced that it’s opening its… Read More

Quora just launched a self-serve ad platform

 While Quora has been around for almost seven years, it’s been a little slow when it comes to monetization through advertising. The question-and-answer site first launched ads last year in April 2016, but since then it’s only existed in closed beta to pre-approved advertising partners like Mulesoft and Shopify. Until now. The startup just announced that it’s opening its… Read More

App.net, the ambitious project to build a better Twitter, is finally dead

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-8-05-35-pm Aiming for the stars and not quite making it, the ambitious App.net has finally officially shut down. Its timely rise and fall comes as highly symbolic as its once rival, Twitter, continues to struggle, years later, with monetization, content management and harassment. Today’s announcement of its closure isn’t hugely surprisingly since App.net had been in… Read More

Mobile marketers are as obsessed with emojis as we are

Appboy Graph with Logo_High Res

Appboy, the mobile marketing automation vendor, analyzed over 9,000 marketing campaigns that use emojis and found emoji usage ascending rapidly — increasing at a nearly 8x (775 percent) year-over-year clip. And this torrid usage of smileys, animal faces, and cute icons has continued to increase in 2016 by 20 percent month over month. In fact, the company powered a whopping 5 billion emoji-laden messages from its clients last year.

Some additional data from the report:

  • While every channel is growing, Android has been growing faster than iOS for emoji usage in push notifications
  • The rise of triggered email messages drove over a 7000 percent increase in emoji usage in recent months
  • Retail and ecommerce are the leading categories
  • The most popular emoji used is the party popper

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 6.07.22 PM

To this, I say…

bigemojiquiz003Moreover, it seems all categories of apps have caught wind of the trend and started jamming emojis into messaging, especially early this year.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 5.32.55 PM

Repeat engagement on mobile is still a real issue for most publishers

There has never been a market quite like mobile in terms of velocity and volatility. Eight hundred million users joined the smartphone revolution just last year. Another six hundred million will join up this year. Since 90 percent of a mobile user’s time is spent on email, social, and messaging, every other category vertical of apps are competing for a sliver of attention. With rising user-acquisition costs, and a mere 1/500 users paying for 50 percent of all in-app revenues, mobile publishers have to understand how to connect with users on their terms.

Marissa Aydlett, VP of Marketing at Appboy offered some advice in an email, “Brands shouldn’t be looking at emojis as the singular driver of a consumer’s action — open rates, engagement rates, etc. There are many other factors that contribute to the success of a message: tone, goal of campaign, message content, images, what the landing page or deep-linked mobile experience is like when the user arrives there. Everything needs to connect.”

“As a best practice, emojis should be relatable. Messages should be contextual. It’s not only about the demographic,” she said.

VentureBeat has published extensive research on the mobile marketing automation industry. Mobile marketers have no shortage of tools available to help them build and sustain user growth. There are app analytics, tools, and platforms centered on user acquisition — as well as Appboy’s category — mobile marketing automation (MMA). MMA is still a relatively new concept, and many of the players are one- or two-year-old startups. The grandfather of them all, Urban Airship, is only about six or seven years old.

We’ll be discussing mobile marketing automation and best practices in app engagement at our Mobile Summit on April 4-5 in Sausalito.

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