Facebook to launch officially licensed music videos in the U.S. next month

Facebook is preparing to launch officially licensed music videos on its social network in the U.S. next month, in a direct challenge to YouTube. In materials reviewed by TechCrunch, Facebook informed Page owners linked to artists they’ll need to toggle on a new setting to add their music videos to their page ahead of an August 1st deadline, at which point Facebook will automatically create a page of their videos if no action had been taken.

Artists will not have to manually upload their videos or even provide links, Facebook told the artist Page admins. Instead, by enabling the new setting, artists are giving Facebook permission to add music videos to their Page, where they can be discovered by fans on the Page’s Videos tab. This library will include both the artist’s own official videos and those they’re featured in, Facebook explained in its marketing materials.

Once enabled, the artists can edit or remove their videos from this destination at any time.

Above: Screenshots detailing to artist Page admins how to enable the Music video experience

Though artists are being strongly encouraged to enable the feature by August 1st, if they choose not to or miss the deadline, Facebook will create a separate official music Page on their behalf titled “[Artist Name] Official Music.” This Page will be created and controlled by Facebook and will be accessible by fans via the Facebook Watch tab and a new music video destination on the platform.

In an email sent to Page owners (see below), Facebook explained that whenever it receives a new release from a music label, the artist’s Facebook Page would automatically share the video directly on the page’s Timeline. This allows the new video to reach all the followers’ News Feeds. The setting for automatic sharing can be turned off at any time.

A partial screenshot of the email to artists leaked to Twitter, where it was amplified by social media consultant Matt Navarra. The addition had previously been reported by other smaller sites, as well. TechCrunch has reviewed the marketing materials that explained in more detail how to enable the setting on artists’ Facebook Page.

By enabling the setting, artists are also giving Facebook permission to share aggregate performance insights with rightholders, including likes, shares, comments, views and other engagement data associated with these auto-generated posts, the materials noted.

In addition, artists can edit the auto-generated posts, including their title, description, tags and even the thumbnails.

Facebook’s expansion into music videos will present a significant challenge to YouTube, which accounted for 46% of the world’s music streaming outside of China as of 2017, according to a report from IFPI. Around the same time, YouTube had claimed over 1 billion music fans came to its site to connect with music from over 2 billion artists. More recently, the company reported it had paid out over $3 billion to the music industry in 2019.

Bloomberg late last year reported that Facebook was negotiating with the three largest record labels — Universal Media Group, Sony Music, and Warner Music Group — over rights to music videos. The report noted that record labels were interested in an alternative to YouTube, which they feel doesn’t pay enough.

Currently, artists under the major U.S. labels have not been able to share full music videos on Facebook due to licensing rights; they could only publish a short preview.

Though Facebook had prior deals with labels, the focus had been on the right to use licensed music in “social experiences” across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Oculus. That meant users could post personal videos with licensed music in the background without having their videos taken down. The prior agreements also enabled Facebook to test music-driven social experiences of its own. For example, Facebook tested a Musical.ly competitor called Lip Sync Live and later, a TikTok rival called Lasso, thanks to those deals. It rolled out Music Stickers on Facebook and Instagram, as well.

Facebook already offers a music video experience in Thailand and India. The company more broadly sees video as a major focus area, as videos help connect users and encourage social conversations. Facebook Watch, a dedicated video destination, emerged due to Facebook’s earlier video efforts and continues to expand.

Facebook, reached for comment, declined to offer a statement on its plans.

Snapchat tests TikTok-style navigation for exploring public content

Snapchat could be gearing up to more directly challenge TikTok. The company confirmed it’s testing a new experience that allows users to move through Snapchat’s public content with a vertical swiping motion — a gesture that’s been popularized by TikTok, where it allows users to advance between videos. Snapchat says the feature is one of its experiments in exploring different, immersive visual formats for community content.

The test is focused on content that’s published publicly to Snapchat Discover, not your friends’ private Stories. But because Stories can have multiple parts, users will still tap to advance through the Story, as before. But in the new experiment, a horizontal swiping motion — either to the left or right — will exit the experience, instead of moving you between Stories, as before.

For anyone who spends much of their time on TikTok, the vertical swipe now feels like a more natural way to move through videos. And it’s almost disorienting to return to Snapchat or other apps where the horizontal swipe is used.

This test was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, citing a post from Twitter user @artb2668. One photo being shared shows the pop-up in the app which explains how to navigate the new experience, while a video gives you an idea for the feel.

Snapchat declined to offer specific details about the test, beyond clarifying it’s in the early stages and only viewable by a very small percentage of its user base.

“We’re always experimenting with new ways to bring immersive and engaging content to our mobile-first Snapchat community,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The timing of Snap’s test is interesting, of course.

The Trump administration is currently threatening to ban TikTok in the U.S. due to the app’s ties to China and fears that Americans’ private user data will end up in the hands of China’s Communist Party. The app has already been banned in India for similar reasons. On Friday, Amazon instructed its employees to remove the app from their company-issued smartphones, before retracting that demand around five hours later. U.S. military branches have also blocked access to the app, following a Pentagon warning earlier this year. Meanwhile, Musical.ly (the app that became TikTok) has had its acquisition by China’s ByteDance come under a U.S. national security review. 

Amid the threat of TikTok’s removal, rival social apps have climbed the app store charts, including Byte, Likee, Triller and Dubsmash. Instagram, meanwhile, has been expanding its TikTok-like feature, Reels, to new markets, including India. Even YouTube began testing a TikTok-like experience in recent days.

It’s no surprise, then, that Snapchat would want to do the same among its own user base, as well, given that the TikTok U.S. audience could be soon up for grabs.

The test also shows how influential TikTok has become in terms of dictating the social app user experience. Where Snapchat once had its concept for short-form Stories stolen by nearly every other social app, including most notably Instagram, it’s now the swipeable TikTok vertical feed that everyone is copying.

This Week in Apps: US ponders TikTok ban, apps see a record Q2, iOS 14 public beta arrives

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 is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three 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 digging into the news of a possible TikTok ban in the U.S. and how that’s already impacting rival apps. Also, both Android and iOS saw beta launches this week — a near-ready Android 11 beta 2 and the  public beta of iOS 14. We also look at the coronavirus’ impact on the app economy in Q2, which saw record downloads, usage and consumer spending. In other app news, Instagram launched Reels in India, Tinder debuted video chat and Quibi flounders while Pokémon GO continues to reel it in.

Headlines

Apple release iOS 14 public beta

Image Credits: Apple

The much-anticipated new version of the iOS mobile operating system, iOS 14, became available for public testing on Thursday. Users who join the public beta will be able to try out the latest features, like the App Library, Widgets and smart stacks, an updated Messages app, a brand-new Translate app, biking directions in Apple Maps, upgraded Siri and various improvements to core apps like Notes, Reminders, Weather, Home, Safari and others.

When iOS 14 launches to the general public, it may also include support for QR code payments in Apple Pay, according to a report of new assets discovered in the code base.

Alongside the public beta, developers received their second round of betas for iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and other Apple software.

Google’s efforts in speeding up Android updates has been good news for Android 10

How Thor Fridriksson’s ‘Trivia Royale’ earned 2.5M downloads in 3 weeks

In its first few weeks of release, the latest game from QuizUp founder Thor Fridriksson took the top spot in the Games Section of Apple’s App Store and was the top app (for a brief time) in the App Store at large.

Since its launch on June 17, Trivia Royale has been downloaded more than 2.5 million times, with day-one retention of 45% and week-one retention of 45% on iOS, according to the company. Average daily usage per user is around 30 minutes. It currently sits in the number six spot in the Free Games category on the App Store.

There is no shortage of mobile games, but in such a cluttered space, it’s difficult to break through the noise. So how did Trivia Royale do it?

The game, which lets users compete in a 1,000-person, single-elimination trivia tournament, is built on the Teatime Games platform. Teatime emphasizes the fun of playing against other humans in the mobile gaming landscape, giving users the ability to communicate via video chat while they play in a game on their smartphone.

The platform allows game developers to use this video chat functionality, which comes with Snapchat-like face filters or Apple Memoji-style avatars, on their own games. But for Teatime to truly succeed as a gaming platform, the company needed a hit game, Fridriksson said.

The serial entrepreneur told TechCrunch that he decided to take off his CEO hat and return to his product roots by focusing on a category that few people know as well as he does: trivia.

The Trivia Royale tournament combines the scale of Battle Royale with the durability of trivia — whether it’s Jeopardy, HQ Trivia, bar trivia or this, we can’t get enough of it — or lets users match against one other player in a single category of trivia.

I’ve played around on the game for a while now and can say that it’s very well done, from the design to the production value. But more important than the mechanics of the tournament or the typeface or even the content of the questions are the avatars, which let users express themselves through customization and their real-life facial expressions.

But none of that means anything if players don’t join the game. So how did Trivia Royale earn more than 2.5 million downloads (and climbing) in a matter of days?

A big bet on TikTok

Fridriksson told TechCrunch that he has to give a ton of credit to his kids (who are 15 and 11). His daughter told him about TikTok and gave him a list of her favorite stars, including Addison Rae and Dixie D’Amelio.

TikTok likes and views are broken as community worries over potential US ban

TikTok likes and views are broken for some unknown portion of the video app’s user base this afternoon. The impacted users are seeing a “zero” like count on TikTok posts, including their own and those of other app users, as well as “zero” views. The company has acknowledged the issue and says it’s working on a fix, but declined to explain what was causing the problem.

The TikTok Support account responded to the problem at 2:43 PM ET, noting it was working quickly to fix things, and then posted again at 3:35 PM ET to say a fix was in progress.

The company said that users should soon see their app experience return to normal as the problem was resolved on the company’s end.

While typically a bug like this isn’t much cause for concern — online apps do break, on occasion — the problem with TikTok comes at a time when the app is under fire in the U.S. for its ties to China.

This week, reports emerged that the U.S. was considering banning TikTok and other Chinese-owned social media apps, according to statements made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. TikTok has already been banned in India, along with 58 other Chinese apps, for similar reasons.

Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that executives at TikTok parent ByteDance are considering changing the corporate structure of TikTok’s business or even establishing a headquarters for the company outside of China, in order to further distance TikTok from China and the potential for the app being compromised by Chinese authorities. This is not the first time such discussions have taken place.  

In this context, the issues around Like counts were seen by some users today as a signal that a ban was imminent. But that’s not the case.

A few users theorized TikTok was making some sort of change to its algorithms, because their “For You” page seemed to no longer reflect their interests when Like counts returned. But this is impossible to confirm at this time.

The news of TikTok’s demise in the U.S., however, has concerned the TikTok community. As a result, they’ve already begun fleeing to rival apps like Byte, Dubsmash and Likee in the U.S. Byte, for example, jumped from No. 210 in Social Networking in the U.S. App Store on July 5 to No. 1 in Social and No. 1 Overall as of today, thanks to an exodus of primarily Gen Z TikTok users.

Daily Crunch: Facebook faces blistering civil rights audit

Auditors were not impressed by Facebook’s civil rights work, Tinder tests video chat and a new nasal spray could reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 8, 2020.

The big story: Facebook faces blistering civil rights audit

The results are out in a multi-year audit of Facebook’s approach to civil rights issues. In recent weeks, as the company has faced an advertiser boycott over some of these same issues, executives have pointed to the audit as a sign that it’s taking civil rights concerns seriously. But the findings aren’t exactly positive.

“While the audit process has been meaningful and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” wrote former ACLU director Laura W. Murphy and attorneys from law firm Relman Colfax.

Meanwhile, Facebook executives met with the leaders of the boycott yesterday, but it sounds like little progress was made, with Color of Change President Rashad Robinson criticizing the company for “expecting an A for attendance.”

The tech giants

Tinder now testing video chat in select markets, including US — The feature will allow Tinder users to go on virtual dates when both of them opt-in (something that’s probably a lot more appealing during the current pandemic).

Slack snags corporate directory startup Rimeto to up its people search game — With this acquisition, Slack could potentially improve the experience of searching for employees across a company.

Microsoft makes Teams video meetings less tiring with its new Together mode — Instead of presenting all the attendees as little squares, Together mode shows them sitting together in an auditorium. Although it sounds silly, Microsoft says this is actually easier for the brain to process.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Permutive raises $18.5 million to help publishers target ads in a new privacy landscape — Rather than relying on third-party cookies, Permutive uses a publisher’s first-party data to deliver more targeted ads.

Swiftmile raises $5 million round led by Thayer Ventures for micromobility charging stations — Swiftmile makes charging stations for electric bikes and scooters, with 150 stations deployed throughout the United States to date.

Harvard biomedical engineering professor to launch nasal spray that could reduce COVID-19 transmission risk — The product is called FEND, and the startup Sensory Cloud plans to release it in September.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

What India’s TikTok ban means for China — Manish Singh discusses how a recent order from the Indian government is shifting the market in favor of local companies.

As media revenue struggles, subscription startups see growth — It’s not exactly a rosy picture for media startups, but there have been some promising subscription success stories.

Ford’s Bronco relaunch demonstrates the power of nostalgia — Even if you don’t care about the Bronco, this week’s rollout has been a master class in how companies can use nostalgia for marketing.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, designed to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Trump’s sudden reversal on student visas will be felt in Silicon Valley — With international students no longer allowed to stay in the U.S. if their universities move their courses entirely online, there could be a big impact on technical talent and innovation.

The tech industry comes to grips with Hong Kong’s national security law — We interviewed a range of players to get a sense of what the new law will mean for internet freedom and entrepreneurship.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Facebook and Instagram boot close Trump ally Roger Stone for network of fake accounts

Facebook released today its latest report detailing disinformation campaigns operating on its massive social network, and this one came with a few surprises. In the new report, Facebook disclosed that it had removed a network of accounts linked to close Trump ally and former campaign advisor Roger Stone for “inauthentic” activity and coordinated fake accounts around the time of the 2016 presidential election. Facebook has since removed Stone’s own accounts from both Facebook and Instagram.

The accounts linked to Stone, who is set to go to prison next week, posted on a number of topics, mostly from 2015 to 2017, including Florida politics, WikiLeaks’ release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails, the 2016 races and Stone himself, “praising his political acumen, defending him against criminal charges.” Facebook removed 54 Facebook accounts, 50 Facebook pages and four Instagram accounts linked to Stone and his close associates. The network ran related accounts on Twitter and YouTube, as well.

Researchers at the social analytics firm Graphika dive into considerable detail in their own report on the newly unearthed campaign, which was discovered in connection with newly public search warrants from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Facebook also noted that some of the pages it removed had links to the Proud Boys, the extremist group Facebook eventually banned in 2018 after the group leveraged the platform to recruit and grow its ranks for months if not years. It began looking into the network of accounts through suspected activity by Proud Boys members seeking to return to the platform, uncovering the broader network after the search warrants came to light in April.

Last November, Stone was found guilty of seven felony charges, including making false statements to Congress, obstructing Congress and witness tampering. President Trump has hinted that he plans to pardon his longtime associate. Trump’s Attorney General William Barr created a firestorm of scrutiny earlier this year when he took the highly unusual step of intervening in order to reduce Stone’s sentence, presumably due to the president’s closeness with Stone.

Stone wasn’t the only high-profile political figure to be caught manipulating the social network. A parallel Facebook investigation into fake account networks in Brazil uncovered a cluster of accounts linked to the office of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and his sons, who had previously been investigated for running “a criminal fake news racket.”

Facebook boycott leaders ‘disappointed’ after meeting with Zuckerberg, Sandberg

What began as a relatively small effort by activist organizations to hold Facebook accountable for perceived policy failings has snowballed into a mass corporate backlash—and a rare moment of discomfort for a company that enjoys its status as one of tech’s untouchable giants.

As the #StopHateforProfit campaign continues to attract surprisingly mainstream corporations to its boycott of Facebook advertising, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and the newly back-at-Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox sat down with the group on Tuesday. Other members of the policy team and and one more member of Facebook’s product team were also present for the meeting, which lasted a little over an hour.

Following the conversation with Facebook’s uppermost leadership echelon, leaders from four of the organizations spearheading the boycott called the chat an unequivocal disappointment. “Today we saw little and heard just about nothing,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. Greenblatt also expressed disappointment that Facebook fails to apply “energy and urgency” to issues like hate and misinformation that it brings to scaling its massively successful online ad platform.

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson criticized Facebook for “expecting an A for attendance” for participating in the meeting. Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González also expressed that she was “deeply disappointed” in the company. NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson dismissed the company’s efforts as well, accusing Facebook of being “more interested in dialogue than action.”

The #StopHateforProfit campaign calls for companies to suspend their advertising on Facebook and Instagram for the month of July, citing recent policy choices by the company, including the decision not to touch a post by President Trump threatening racial justice protesters with violence.

The initiative is led by a handful of civil rights groups and other organizations, including the ADL, Color of Change, Sleeping Giants, the NAACP and the tech company Mozilla. The effort attracted surprisingly widespread support, with companies from Coca-Cola and Starbucks to Ford and Verizon agreeing to temporarily suspend their Facebook and Instagram ad budgets, joining a handful of outdoor brands that signed onto the campaign in late June.

The campaign’s goals include a demand that Facebook hire a “C-suite level executive” with civil rights expertise, an audit and refunds for advertisers who unknowingly had their ads run on content later removed for violating the platform’s terms of service and a call for Facebook to identify and shut down both private and public groups centered around “white supremacy, militia, antisemitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation, and climate denialism.”

The group also critiques Facebook’s incentive structure for content on its platform and how the company’s political relationships, like that with the Trump administration. “Facebook is a company of incredible resources,” the boycott’s organizers wrote. “We hope that they finally understand that society wants them to put more of those resources into doing the hard work of transforming the potential of the largest communication platform in human history into a force for good.”

While the group doesn’t believe that other tech platforms are blameless, it focused efforts on Facebook due to the company’s sheer scale and outsized impact on discourse both on and off the platform. “The size and the scope of it simply has no point of comparison,” Greenblatt said, citing the social network’s 2.6 billion users.

“We’re tired of the dialogue, because the stakes are so incredibly high for our communities,” González said, referring to the pandemic’s disproportionate negative health outcomes for people and color and the ongoing civil rights uprising following the killing of George Floyd. González also mentioned that Facebook profits from political ads “dehumanizing” brown and Black people in the U.S.

In the midst of renewed public scrutiny, Facebook announced last week that it would crack down on so-called “boogaloo” groups inciting anti-government violence, though boogaloo content not linked to violent threats may remain up on the platform. The announcement came the same day that a group of Democratic senators pressed the company on those groups—which it suggests to users via algorithms.

“We come together in the backdrop of George Floyd” Johnson said of the group’s campaign against Facebook, noting that communities are rightfully moving to hold companies to higher standards on issues of race and race-based hate.

“We are simply saying, keep society safe. Keep your employees safe. And help us protect this democracy,” Johnson said.

Facebook makes education push in India

Facebook, which reaches more users than any other international firm in India, has identified a new area of opportunity to further spread its tentacles in the world’s second largest internet market.

On Sunday, the social juggernaut announced it had partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators.

Through these subjects, Facebook and CBSE aim to prepare secondary school students for current and emerging jobs, and help them develop skills to safely browse the internet, make “well informed choices,” and think about their mental health, they said.

Facebook said that it will provide these training in various phases. In the first phase, more than 10,000 teachers will be trained; in the second, they will coach 30,000 students. The three-week training on AR will cover fundamentals of the nascent technology, and ways to make use of Facebook’s Spark AR Studio to create augmented reality experiences.

“I encourage the teachers and students to apply for the programs commencing on July 6, 2020,” said Ramesh Pokhriyal, Union Minister of Human Resources Development, in a statement.

Instagram’s Guide for Building Healthy Digital Habits, which has been developed in collaboration with the Jed Foundation (JED) and YLAC (Young Leaders for Active Citizenship), aims to help youngsters better understand the “socio-emotional space” they operate in and engage in health conversations.

“I am proud to share that CBSE is the only Board that has introduced the modules of Digital Safety and Online Well-being, Instagram Toolkit for Teens and Augmented Reality. Incorporating technology and digital safety into school curriculum will ensure students are not only gaining knowledge to succeed in the digital economy but also learning and collaborating in a safe online environment,” said Manoj Ahuja, Chairperson of CBSE, in a statement.

The announcement today caps a remarkable week in India that started with New Delhi blocking nearly 60 services developed by Chinese firms over cybersecurity concerns. TikTok, one of the services that has been hit by India’s order, identified Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest market outside of China.

The service, run by Chinese giant ByteDance, reaches more than 200 million users in India, most of whom live in small towns and cities. TikTok began working with scores of content creators and firms in India last year to populate its short-form video service with educational videos.

Facebook last year partnered with telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms — in which it would eventually invest $5.7 billion — to launch “Digital Udaan,” the “largest ever digital literacy program” for first-time internet users in the country. The social juggernaut has in recent years ramped up its efforts to create awareness about the ill side of technology as its platform confronted misuse of its own services in the country. India is the biggest market for Facebook by users count.

Dating app S’More adds blurred video calling and launches in LA

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down dating app S’More — at least according to CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who said that the app’s daily active user count doubled in March and hasn’t gone down since.

“When people are working form home, they have much more time to dedicate to their relationships,” Cohen-Aslatei told me.

The app (whose name is short for “something more”) launched last fall and has supposedly attracted nearly 50,000 users. The goal is to move beyond the superficiality of most dating apps, where you first learn about another user and then unlock visual elements (like a profile photo) as you interact.

Cohen-Aslatei said the team has also spent more on marketing to attract a diverse audience, both in terms of racial diversity (something S’more reinforces by not allowing users to filter by race) and sexual orientation, with 15% of users identifying as LGBTQ.

Of course, dating someone new can be challenging when meeting up in-person poses real health risks, but Cohen-Aslatei said S’More users have gotten creative, like remote dinners where they order each other takeout from their favorite restaurants. And now that things are reopening (though some of those reopenings are getting pulled back), users are asking, “How do we transition these virtual relationships into IRL?”

S'More video calling

Image Credits: S’More

To give users more ways to interact, the S’More team recently launched a video calling feature. But Cohen-Aslatei noted, “We had to to create it in a way that was really fitting for our app … Women actually don’t want to see a guy right away, when you don’t know if they’re a creep.”

So in S’more’s video calling, the video is blurred for the first two minutes, which means you’ve got to actually start an interesting conversation before you can see who you’re talking to, and before they see you (a concept that may be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind”).

S’More has also expanded geographically, launching last week in Los Angeles (it was already available in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago). And it recently started its a video series of its own on Instagram’s IGTV — the S’More Live Happy Hour, where celebrities offer dating advice.

“There’s this negative history of dating apps perpetuating negative online behaviors, fake images, catfishers,” Cohen-Aslatei said. “But now we’re going into a new era of authenticity, where we’re going from super vain to super authentic. S’more is one of those apps that’s going to lead you in that direction.”