Spotify’s founding story is going to be a Netflix series

Facebook’s founding got the movie treatment with Aaron Sorkin’s “The Social Network.” The story of how Snapchat came to be will be a flagship series on the upcoming streaming service, Quibi. Today, Spotify is the latest startup to get its story told on screen — this time, as a new Netflix show.

Netflix says it’s developing a scripted series inspired by the book “Spotify Untold” by business reports at Swedish Dagens Industri, Sven Carlsson and Jonas Leijonhufvud. The story will focus on Spotify’s founding and how it changed the way people listen to music over the past decade.

“The founding tale of Spotify is a great example of how a local story can have a global impact,” said Tesha Crawford, Director of International Originals Northern Europe at Netflix. “We are really excited about bringing this success story to life and we look forward to continuing our great collaboration with director Per-Olav Sørensen and the team at Yellow Bird UK.”

Banijay Group company, Yellow Bird UK, is also the production company behind the upcoming Netflix crime series “Young Wallander.” Yellow Bird UK will produce this new and yet-to-be-titled Spotify show and Per-Olav Sørensen will direct. Berna Levin (“Young Wallander,” “Hidden,” and “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”) will serve as executive producer.

The series itself will center around Swedish tech entrepreneur, Daniel Ek, and his partner Martin Lorentzon, who created the free and legal music service at a time when music piracy was at its height. Netflix describes the show as one about “how hard convictions, unrelenting will, access, and big dreams can help small players challenge the status quo.”

Netflix says the series will be available in both English and Swedish languages.

“I’m thrilled to be making this timely and entertaining series for Netflix. The story of how a small band of Swedish tech industry insiders transformed music – how we listen to it and how it’s made – is truly a tale for our time. Not only is this a story about the way all our lives have changed in the last decade, it’s about the battle for cultural and financial influence in a globalized, digitized world,” says Berna Levin, Executive Producer, Yellow Bird.

As Netflix’s announcement also notes, telling the story of a tech startup can be difficult because things move and change quickly. Spotify, after all, is still around and growing. It’s likely that by the time the show goes to air, it will have undergone many more transformations.

“I am excited to bring the story of Sweden based Spotify to life on the screen. It is an ongoing fairytale in modern history about how Swedish wiz kids changed the music industry forever. The story is truly exciting and challenging,” added Per-Olav Sørensen. “Challenging because the Spotify story has not ended yet – it is still running with high speed and will probably change while we work on the project.”

Netflix did not share a release date for the series.

How the founder of Pocketwatch sees the future of children’s entertainment

When Chris Williams founded entertainment platform Pocketwatch in 2017, he was certain that no one had yet found the right way to work with the generation of children’s talent finding its audience on platforms like YouTube.

Convinced that packaging creators under one umbrella and leveraging the expanding reach of even more media platforms could reshape the way children’s content was produced, the former Maker Studios and Disney executive launched his company to offer emerging social media talent more avenues to create entertainment that resonates with young audiences.

On the back of the breakout success of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel which counted 33.6 billion views and more than 22 million subscribers as of early November, it appears that Williams was on the right track. As he looks out at the children’s media landscape today, Williams says he sees the same forces at work that compelled him to create the business in the first place. If anything, he says, the trends are only accelerating.

The first is the exodus of children from traditional linear viewing platforms to on-demand entertainment. The rise of subscription streaming services, including Disney+, HBO Max and Apple Plus — combined with the continued demand for new children’s programming on Netflix — is creating a bigger market for children’s programming.

“If you’re a subscription-based service, what kids’ content does for you is it prevents churn,” says Williams.

That’s drawing attention from new, ad-supported streaming providers like the Roku Channel, PlutoTV and SamsungTV Plus, which are also thirsty for children’s storytelling. Williams says he sees fertile ground for new programming among the ad-based, video-on-demand services. “Kids and family content tends to be the most highly engaging that creates consumption in homes. That creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers.”

The Roku Channel and Viacom’s PlutoTV service show that there’s still demand for ad-supported, on-demand alternatives that are more curated than just YouTube. It’s a potential opportunity for more startups, as well as an opportunity for studios looking to pitch their talent and programming.

“When we’ve launched a new 24-7 video channel and AVOD library and omni services… [we] know that content is surrounded by other premium content,” says Williams.

For all of the opportunities these new platforms bring, Williams says YouTube isn’t going anywhere as one of the dominant new forces in children’s entertainment,  despite its many, many woes. In fact, one of Williams’ new initiatives at Pocketwatch is predicated on changes that YouTube is seemingly making in terms of the programming that it promotes with its algorithms.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Crown’ embraces middle age

“The Crown” has returned to Netflix with a new cast — Olivia Colman as a middle-aged Queen Elizabeth, Tobias Menzies as her husband Prince Philip and Helena Bonham Carter as her sister Princess Margaret.

Loyal listeners of the Original Content podcast may recall that we reviewed the show’s first two seasons last year. We didn’t have particularly high hopes, but “The Crown” quickly won us over with its stunning sets and costumes, talented actors, and serious exploration of the role that the monarchy plays in an evolving England.

As we explain in our latest episode, “The Crown” is both changed and unchanged in its third season.

Anyone who’s watched past episodes will recognize the new season’s tone and preoccupations, but the characters have evolved — not just thanks to new actors, but also as the real-life monarchs they’re portraying become more settled in their roles. Plus, a new generation of royals (including Prince Charles) is entering adulthood.

Our reactions to these changes were mixed. While Jordan enjoyed seeing a more recognizable period of history — one that foreshadows the dramas of the ’80s and ’90s — Anthony felt the show became a tiny bit less compelling. He had no complaints about Colman (who recently won an Oscar for playing a different English monarch in “The Favourite”), but he found the older Elizabeth less memorable than the young queen who was still struggling to define her role.

As for Darrell, he only watched a couple episodes before giving up. But he still had plenty of thoughts about why he has no interest in continuing.

In addition to reviewing “The Crown,” we also discuss Plex’s new ad-supported streaming service.

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 can also 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
0:35 Plex discussion
8:40 “The Crown” season 3 spoiler-free review
38:33 “The Crown” spoiler discussion

Netflix leases New York’s Paris Theatre

Netflix is expanding its theatrical presence by signing a long-term lease for The Paris Theatre, a historic single-screen venue in New York City.

This follows reports that Netflix is also working to buy the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. And while these might seem like odd moves for a streaming company, they may also be necessary if Netflix wants to continue working with high-profile filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach.

After all, although Scorsese’s latest film “The Irishman” and Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” are both playing in theaters, they’re appearing on a limited number of screens.

In the case of “The Irishman,” Netflix reportedly hoped for a bigger rollout but failed to get the major theatrical chains on-board because the company would only wait four weeks (shorter than the traditional window of theatrical exclusivity) before launching the movie online.

Despite its deep pockets, Netflix’s theatrical challenges could dissuade other Scorsese-caliber filmmakers from signing with the service, particularly if the issue hurts the chances that “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” (and last year’s “Roma,” which won three Oscars but lost out for Best Picture) will be able to win major awards.

So by buying or leasing theaters of its own, Netflix can ensure that its films will get the cachet of a big-screen release. It can also host glitzy premieres and other events.

As for the Paris Theatre, it opened in 1948, and reopened earlier this month to screen “Marriage Story.” (By the way: I highly recommend seeing “Marriage Story” on the big screen — I’ve already done so twice.)

“After 71 years, the Paris Theatre has an enduring legacy, and remains the destination for a one-of-a kind movie-going experience,” said Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos in a statement. “We are incredibly proud to preserve this historic New York institution so it can continue to be a cinematic home for film lovers.”

Sim Shagaya’s uLesson African edtech startup raises $3.1M

Nigerian founder Sim Shagaya is back with a new startup —  uLesson — that has raised a $3.1 million seed round led by TLcom Capital.

The venture is integrating mobile platforms, SD cards, culture-specific curriculum and a network of tutors to bridge educational gaps for secondary school students in Nigeria and broader Africa.

Founded in 2019 by Shagaya — who also founded Nigerian e-commerce startup Konga and ad venture E-Motion — uLesson is headquartered in Lagos with a production studio in Jos.

The startup has been in development phase and plans to go to market in February 2020 in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Gambia — Shagaya told TechCrunch on a call.

“We’re targeting Anglophone West Africa…for a market of effectively 300 million people,” he said.

On product demand, Shagaya notes the priority placed on education across West African households vs. structural deficiencies — such as student teacher ratios as high as 1:70 in countries such as Nigeria.

“We have this massive gap…We’re adding more babies in this country nominally than all of Western Europe…Even if the [Nigerian] government was super efficient, it couldn’t catch up with the educational needs of the young people that are coming up,” Shagaya said.

To address this, uLesson will offer an app-based home education kit for students with an up-front yearly subscription price of around $70 and the option to pay as you go. The startup’s product pack will contain a dongle, SD card, and a set of headphones to connect to Android devices.

Curriculum on the uLesson program will include practice tests and tailored content around math, physics, chemistry, and biology. The venture has already created 3000 animated videos for core subjects, according to Shagaya.

To leverage high android mobile penetration in Africa — and minimize data-streaming costs — uLesson content and performance assessment will come via a combination of streaming and SD cards.

Parents and students can connect online temporarily to update the app and sync curriculum and results, while operating off-line for the bulk of lessons.

Shagaya likened the use of SD cards to the old Netflix model of sending and returning DVD’s by mail, prior to faster and more affordable internet service in the U.S.

The uLesson program will also package a human component. The startup plans to deploy a network of counselors in major distribution areas to instruct on how to use app and follow lesson plans.

uLesson is to be a supplement to secondary school education and a more affordable and effective alternative to private tutors, explained Shagaya.

After taking uLesson to market in Africa’s most populous nation — Nigeria — and other countries in the region, Shagaya and team plan to adapt the product for a future East Africa launch.

In both Nigeria and Kenya uLesson will face competition from existing ventures. Edtech in Africa doesn’t have as many companies (or as much VC funding) as leading startup sectors fintech and e-commerce, but there are a number of players.

Source: Briter Bridges

Nigeria has online edu startups, such as Tuteria. Feature phone based student learning company Eneza Education has scaled in Kenya and expanded to Ghana.

uLesson could count having Shagaya as CEO as one of its advantages in the edtech space. The venture marks the founder’s return to the startup scene after a hiatus. Shagaya earned a Harvard MBA and worked for Google before repatriating to Nigeria to found several digital companies.

His best known venture, Konga, went head to head with online retailer Jumia in pioneering e-commerce for Nigeria and Africa. Konga was sold in a distressed acquisition in 2018.

Shagaya successfully exited his digital advertising venture E-Motion this year, after it was purchased by Loatsad Promedia.

The Nigerian tech entrepreneur confirmed he’s redirected some of that windfall into uLesson’s $3.1 million seed-round.  As part of TLcom’s lead on the investment, partners Omobola Johnson and Ido Sum will join uLesson’s board, Sum confirmed to TechCrunch.

For his part, Sim Shagaya underscores the for-profit status of his new startup, while noting it carries greater meaning for him than past commercial endeavors.

“If you drill down to it all, all our problems in Africa are tied this problem of education…If we do this right, our impact will be huge. For me this is probably the most important work I’ll do,” he said.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Rhythm + Flow’ tweaks the music competition formula

“Rhythm + Flow” is Netflix’s take on a reality TV staple — the music competition show. With Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and Tip “T.I.” Harris on-board as judges, the series searches for the next big hip-hop star.

In some ways, “Rhythm + Flow” sticks to the formula popularized by “American Idol,” “The Voice” and similar shows, with several episodes devoted to auditions in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Chicago, followed by a gauntlet of challenges in which contestants hone their skills and prove their worth, culminating in a final showdown with one big winner.

But as fellow TechCrunch writer Megan Rose Dickey helps us explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the series stands out in a few key ways. For one thing, it’s the first music competition to focus on hip hop. And rather than asking the audience to watch live/week-to-week, the show is now fully binge-able (it was initially released in batches of episodes over a two-week period).

We appreciated the fact that “Rhythm + Flow” didn’t linger on the spectacularly bad performers (and there were some) — it reserved most of its screen time for the genuine talents.

We also enjoyed the judges, who seemed to be enjoying themselves while also offering thoughtful commentary. Cardi B, in particular, was always entertaining, whether she was being enthusiastic, supportive or dismissive.

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 can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

A quick warning: While we felt that you can’t really “spoil” a reality show that’s been out for a month, we do reveal who won.

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:30 Disney+ follow-up
8:28 “Rhythm + Flow” review

Netflix is making ‘Beverly Hills Cop 4’

Netflix has acquired the rights to make “Beverly Hills Cop 4” from Paramount.

Deadline, which broke the news, said the studio has been trying to restart the franchise in several forms, including a TV show.

Even with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Eddie Murphy attached to the sequel, Paramount might have been a little nervous about the film’s commercial prospects, especially since it’s been 25 years since the release of “Beverly Hills Cop 3.” And the studio (which will soon be part of the reunited ViacomCBS) has had a tough few months at the box office, most recently with the disappointing performance of “Terminator: Dark Fate.”

Plus, Paramount and Netflix were already been working together, first with Netflix buying “The Cloverfield Paradox” and the international rights to “Annihilation,” and then with a multi-picture deal between the two companies announced at the end of a last year.

Murphy, meanwhile, has been getting some of his best reviews in decades for his performance in the Netflix film “Dolemite Is My Name.”

Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plan told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers as it looks to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

A look at the top trends exciting NYC’s consumer VCs

To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, I’m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now. 

Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New York’s top consumer VCs:

  • Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures
  • David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup
  • Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund
  • Craig Shapiro, Partner at Collaborative Fund
  • Jeremy Levine, Partner at Bessemer
  • Beth Ferreira, Partner at Firstmark Capital
  • Graham Brown, Partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures
  • Eric Reiner, Partner at Sinai Ventures
  • Chris Paik, Partner at Pace Capital

Consumer health and banking startups were recurring areas of interest, and there’s a sense that apps and product brands which provide a deeper sense of community are an untapped opportunity.

Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures

At USV, we are focused on opportunities that broaden access by leveraging technology to increase value and decrease cost in big buckets of consumer spend. In doing so, we are looking for ways to make products and services previously available to a select segment available to many more. In particular, we have been investing in areas of consumer health where the delivery mechanism not only makes the care more convenient but also more affordable and higher quality; products and platforms in financial services that change the traditional underlying model to drive financial health for a mass customer; and opportunities that create new access to education both for kids and lifelong learners. 

Within each of these segments, I’ve been very interested in how new communities are forming inside products–users that come for a specific offering are forming allegiance and increasing engagement by interacting with other users. I think that is a trend we will only see accelerate.

David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup

People are bored on their phones, not of their phones. I am most excited to meet founders working on consumer apps that bring happiness and fun to a mass consumer audience, as I continue to believe we are in the early days of mobile and the app store is not dead.

These apps may look like a game, they may be a game, or they may be a new feed, but TikTok, Twitch, HQ, Yolo and other Snap app kit apps, Tinder and others have shown consumers want new apps, the barrier for adoption and retention is  just very high. All apps and games have a half-life, creating something with a very long one is really hard, but the demand is sitting on the phone scrolling thorough feeds, waiting for some new fun. We are excited about apps that allow people to interact with others in different ways, in new worlds, using new hardware, or new interfaces.

Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund

With the rise of the sober curious movement, we invested in Kin Euphorics, offering consumers a sexy option to an alcoholic drink, creating a social experience around a non-alcoholic beverage that doesn’t exist in the market today. With beer sales decreasing five years in a row, brands like Heineken are offering alcohol-free alternatives catering to this growing audience.

With the decline of religion, we have seen the rise of what we call the “rise of the alternate community.” Consumers are looking for ways to connect online and offline based on specific interests. Examples of this in our portfolio include The Wonder, a membership model for familyhood, Peanut, a social network for modern motherhood, and Co-Star, an astrology app.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Living with Yourself’ delivers a surprisingly emotional punchline

The following post contains no major spoilers for “Living With Yourself,” but it does describe the show’s big concept — which can be a fun surprise if you manage to watch without learning anything in advance. If that’s what you want to do, maybe come back and read/listen later.

When we heard that Netflix’s “Living with Yourself” features Paul Rudd playing two different versions of himself — copywriter Miles Elliot and his clone — it was easy to imagine this as a showcase for Rudd’s comedic acting, and for “Multiplicity”-style hijinks.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show certainly has its share of laughs. What’s more surprising, however, is the extent to which Miles’ dilemma felt pretty real, and pretty resonant for at least a couple of your podcast hosts.

As he enters middle age, Miles has allowed himself to become grumpier, lazier version of himself, and a bad husband to his wife Kate (played by Aisling Bee). And while show never turns into a heavy drama,  it still creates a believable portrait of a failing marriage and tells a compelling story around Miles’ (often misguided) efforts to bounce back.

In addition to our review, we also discuss our first impressions of “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+ and our thoughts on the launch plans for HBO Max.

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 can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
11:01 HBO Max discussion
00:44 “Morning Show” first impressions
22:53 “Living with Yourself” review (no spoilers except the basic concept)
37:18 “Living with Yourself” spoiler discussion