Daily Crunch: Spotify announces a high-end subscription

Spotify makes a bunch of announcements, Netflix introduces an intriguing new feature and Clubhouse faces security concerns. This is your Daily Crunch for February 22, 2021.

The big story: Spotify announces a high-end subscription

Spotify listeners will get the chance to pay for higher-quality audio when the streaming service launches a new tier that it says will offer “CD-quality, lossless audio.” The pricing and launch date have yet to be announced, but Spotify HiFi will, unsurprisingly, cost more than Spotify Premium and be marketed as a Premium add-on.

That was probably the biggest news that Spotify made at today’s “Stream On” event, where it also announced an audience development tool for artists, an audio ad marketplace, continued international expansiona podcast co-hosted by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen and a test of paid podcast subscriptions.

The tech giants

Netflix launches ‘Downloads for You,’ a new feature that automatically downloads content you’ll like — After turning on the feature for the first time, you’ll be able to select the amount of storage space you want to dedicate for these recommended downloads.

Twitter explored buying India’s ShareChat and turning Moj into a global TikTok rival — According to sources, Twitter offered to buy the five-year-old Indian startup for $1.1 billion.

Startups, funding and venture capital

EquityBee raises $20M to help startup employees actually afford their stock options — EquityBee CEO Oren Barzilai says his company’s mission is to help educate startup employees on the meaning of their stock options, as well as provide them with funds to be able to purchase those options.

Splice gets $55M for its software bringing beats from bedrooms to bandstands — Splice gained a following for its ability to help electronic dance music creators save, share, collaborate and remix music.

A race to reverse-engineer Clubhouse raises security concerns — The fact that it takes programmers little effort to reverse-engineer and fork Clubhouse is sounding an alarm about the app’s security.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

If Coinbase is worth $100B, what’s a fair valuation for Stripe? — We dig into Coinbase’s 2019 and 2020 financial performance.

Bain’s Matt Harris and Justworks’ Isaac Oates to talk through the Series B deal that brought them together — All the way back in 2016, Bain Capital Ventures caught a whiff of Justworks’ potential for success.

Winning enterprise sales teams know how to persuade the Chief Objection Officer — Many enterprise software startups have at some point faced the invisible wall.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Watch Perseverance’s harrowing descent to the surface of Mars — NASA has released video taken by the Perseverance landing module and rover showing the famous “seven minutes of terror.”

Calling Oslo VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC — TechCrunch is embarking on a major project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Original Content podcast: Apple’s ‘Ted Lasso’ is all about relentless optimism — This will be our last episode on TechCrunch, as Original Content goes independent!

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.

Spotify to expand international footprint across 85 new markets

Over the next few days, Spotify will be launching its service in 85 new markets, and will also roll out 36 new languages on the platform. The news was announced at its online event, “Stream On” today.

The expansion includes markets across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Combined, these markets include more than a billion people. With these launches, Spotify says “sounds and stories that once remained local will have access to a global audience of fans across nearly 180 markets.” And as part of its ongoing commitment to building a truly borderless audio ecosystem— connecting creators, listeners, and content — this move represents the company’s broadest market expansion to date.

According to the company, it will be working closely with local creators and partners in each market to deliver a tailored experience that meets their unique needs, with scaled language translations and specialized payment formats. In addition, Spotify’s expansion will likely accelerate the discovery of more genres like Afrobeats, Amapiano, K-Pop, Reggaeton, and Amapiano that have earned a place in the global music scene.

“The existing rich music cultures in each of these markets will now be able to reach Spotify’s global audience. All this untapped music energy and access to our innovative creator tools will help propel artists to new heights and empower them to turn their passion into a profession,” an excerpt in the company’s statement read. 

Working with local creators and partners, here’s a holistic approach to how Spotify plans to roll out its music offerings in each region.

First off, its free and premium plans will be available across all the markets. It will also offer individual, family, duo, and student plan options but in select markets which Spotify doesn’t specify. Also in each of these new markets, Spotify will offer its full global catalog. The company adds that it will continuously work with local rights holders and partners to expand its catalog to include more local offerings globally.

Full podcast catalogs of the global streaming giant will be launched in the majority of these markets. For the other markets,  Spotify will work closely with local partners to introduce more podcasts from its catalog, as well as Spotify’s proprietary creator platform, Anchor.

Other offerings include providing a personalized experience to users through its home screen, and browse and search features. Upon launch in these markets, Spotify will be available on mobile and desktop web players while the company works with local partners to introduce Spotify on more platforms, including TV, speakers, wearables, and cars in the coming months.

“Having more listeners on our platform creates more opportunities for artists and podcasters to make a living from their work. And more creators means more audio content for our users to discover,” said Alex Norström, Spotify chief freemium business officer. “This creates an essential flywheel between creators and listeners that is the foundation of our business — and in the end, it is what will propel the audio industry forward.”

The new markets include Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Curaçao, Djibouti, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Macau, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The expansion news follows a thread of announcements Spotify made today where it also rolled out Spotify HiFi in select global markets and launched a new tool “Discovery Mode” in beta.

Spotify to launch Spotify Audience Network, an audio ad marketplace

Spotify provided more details today about how it plans to monetize its investments in podcasts. The company said it’s launching a new audio advertising marketplace, the Spotify Audience Network, which will allow advertisers to reach listeners across Spotify’s own Originals and Exclusives, as well as podcasts via Megaphone and creation tool Anchor, and its ad-supported music, all in one place. The company also said it plans to offer podcasts on its self-serve ad platform, Spotify Ad Studio, starting with Spotify Originals and Exclusives in the U.S., in a beta test phase.

This will expand to include third-party podcasts in the future, the company noted today during its live online event, “Stream On.”

Currently, Spotify Ad Studio is being used by advertisers across 22 markets following its 2017 launch, to reach Spotify music listeners with both audio and video advertisements. Spotify said the service is its fastest-growing buying channel, but didn’t provide specific figures to detail that growth.

Image Credits: Spotify

However, the larger news on the advertising side was the launch of the new audio ad marketplace, Spotify Audience Network. Similar to some of its other forward-looking announcements today, Spotify was light on details about how exactly Spotify Audience Network would work — saying only that it’s in the “early stages of developing the offering,” and it expects to be able to share more at a later date.

However, the company positioned the marketplace as a “game changer,” particularly for podcasters looking to make money from ads, as well as for advertisers who want to reach Spotify’s audience of hundreds and millions, both on and off Spotify.

This news follows an investigative report by The Verge earlier this year which found Spotify was the main sponsor for Anchor advertising to date — despite its promises to find sponsors for smaller podcasters. It now appears Spotify has been in the process of building out its ad marketplace and tooling to make good on those promises, and may not have prioritized advertiser outreach in the meantime.

Image Credits: Spotify

Spotify today also spoke about how its recent acquisition of Megaphone would allow it to scale its Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI) technology, launched in early 2020, to publishers beyond its own Originals and Exclusives audio programs. Today, SAI is available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the U.K., and will expand to other new markets in 2021.

Since its debut, SAI has been rolling out new features like audience-based buying, native ad placements, and reporting on creative performance. Later this year, Spotify says it will make SAI available to Megaphone podcast publishers and “leading” Anchor creators.

But Anchor creators won’t be limited to advertising to grow revenues.

Spotify also briefly noted it will, in a few months, begin beta testing a new feature that will allow Anchor creators to publish paid podcast content to Spotify aimed at their most dedicated fans, as TechCrunch previously reported.

 

How I Podcast: Welcome to Your Fantasy’s Eleanor Kagan

The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs (the latter of which has become a kind of default during the current pandemic).

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Articles of Interest’s Avery Trufelman
First Draft and Track Changes’ Sarah Enni
RiYL remote podcasting edition
Family Ghosts’ Sam Dingman
I’m Listening’s Anita Flores
Broken Record’s Justin Richmond
Criminal/This Is Love’s Lauren Spohrer
Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale
Jesse Thorn of Bullseye
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

Eleanor Kagan, Senior Producer, “Welcome to Your Fantasy,” Pineapple Street Studios. Image Credits: Eleanor Kagan

Launching today from Spotify and Pineapple Street Studios (in association with Gimlet), “Welcome to Your Fantasy” explores the true crime tale behind the Chippendales phenomenon of the 1980s. Historians and “Past/Present” hosts Natalia Petrzela, Nicole Hemmer and Neil J. Young will unravel the tale over the course of an eight-episode series. The show took 18 months to create, bolstered by considerable resources from Spotify. Pineapple Street Senior Producer Eleanor Kagan (Another Round, See Something Say Something and Thirst Aid Kit) runs us through the gear the team used to create the series both in-person and remotely, once the pandemic hit. 

Dancer Scott Layne walks host Natalia through one of his routines during an interview. Image Credits: Eleanor Kagan

For in-person interviews not recorded in Pineapple’s Brooklyn studio, my basic reporting kit includes a Zoom H5, which has two XLR channels and allows me to give one Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic to the host Natalia and the other to the interviewee. (On mic stands, of course — the mic itself is prone to handling noise.) I’ve got a Rode pistol grip for when we, say, knock on doors in the neighborhood of the former Chippendales club in LA, looking for people who had been around when the party scene at the club was supposedly causing wars between the owners, neighbors and the police. (Luckily, we found Naomi, 94, who had been there since 1972 and had stories for days. She’s in the podcast.) Christine showed me how she brilliantly uses a cross-body camera strap attached to her recorder so she can hang it comfortably around her. For gear bags I used to swear by the Lowepro Passport Sling, but now that I’m older (lol), one-strapping isn’t comfortable for a long day in the field, so I use a regular backpack. My kit also includes Sony MDR-7506 headphones, an assortment of three- and six-foot XLR cables (always have backups), a deadcat, extra SD cards, an Electro Voice RE50/B mic, pens, snacks, release forms and batteries. So many batteries.

Producer Christine records historian Neil describing the LA neighborhood where the original Chippendales club opened. Image Credits: Eleanor Kagan

Then the pandemic hit. We all went on lockdown. We had done most of our interviews but there were a few we still needed, plus all the host tracking for the series. So we shipped Natalia a kit: a Zoom H6, a Shure SM7B cardioid dynamic announcer microphone, a CloudLifter CL-1 Microphone Activator, a broadcast arm, XLR cables and a windscreen. Natalia set up shop in her closet, surrounded by clothes, a fleece blanket on the floor, and as many cushions as she was willing to pull off her couches and chairs. (Sound bounces off of hard surfaces. The soft materials absorb it so the recordings won’t sound echoey or “roomy.”) We sent our amazing engineer Hannis Brown mic tests so he could diagnose the set-up from afar and suggest tweaks. And Natalia, bless her, was incredibly game to essentially become her own recording engineer ON TOP OF hosting an entire show. We quickly got accustomed to doing everything remotely and over Zoom, as all of us everywhere did.

Natalia’s closet studio. Image Credits: Eleanor Kagan

When it came to remote interviewing, we would connect over Zoom, and both Natalia and our interviewee would record themselves. (We always recorded the Zoom as a backup too.) It was up to us producers to talk our interviewees through self-syncing. Experience and teamwork was of the utmost importance here. Interviewees only had so much time, and explaining how to set up a recording on a smartphone (or iPod!, yes, really) and transfer a test recording quickly, and then troubleshooting any audio problems in their location was important to getting a high-quality interview without taxing anyone’s patience. There are several useful guides and graphics out there that walk through the set-up. There’s something a little bit lost, of course, when we don’t get to walk into people’s homes for interviews, or even when former Chippendales dancers can’t produce their original costume in the middle of the interview — as one guy did. But everyone was incredibly kind and patient and willing to do this for us, for which we are very, very grateful.

In the end, we interviewed about 70 people for this series. We wrote 26 drafts of our first episode. We reviewed 100+ hours of archival footage. And I believe there are still more stories to be told when it comes to Chippendales.

Thankfully, no matter where in the world anyone is, we have the tools to do it.

Spotify confirms it’s (finally) testing a live lyrics feature in the US

Spotify this morning confirmed it’s testing a new, synced lyrics feature in the U.S. market, following a report from Engadget. Though the streaming music service today offers live lyrics in a number of markets — 27, in fact, including its recent launch in South Korea — it has not offered lyrics in the U.S. for many years. Instead, Spotify here runs the “Behind the Lyrics” feature provided in partnership with Genius, which offers a combination of lyrics and trivia about the song being played.

Reached for comment, Spotify said the new lyrics feature rolled out as a test for some users in the U.S. starting today.

“We can confirm we’re currently testing our lyrics feature to a select number of users in the U.S.,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience. Some of those tests end up paving the way for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning.”

The company declined to share additional details about its plans, but did note that its U.S. partner on the new lyrics feature is Musixmatch — a service that already powers Spotify’s lyrics feature in various non-U.S. markets.

This is not the first time Spotify has run a lyrics feature in the U.S., to be clear. The streaming service had originally worked with Musixmatch from 2011 through 2016, before ending that relationship to instead partner with Genius. But despite ongoing user demand for lyrics’ return, Spotify never brought the feature back to the U.S.

In more recent years, however, Spotify rekindled its relationship with Musixmatch. Last year, it announced the launch of real-time lyrics in, then, 26 worldwide markets across Southeast Asia, India and Latin America. This had been the first time lyrics were offered in 22 of these 26 markets, as only Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico had some form of prior lyrics support via other providers.

Spotify’s ongoing lack of support for lyrics in the U.S. has given its streaming music competitors an advantage. Amazon Music, for example, allowed users to view lyrics as songs played and tied the feature to its Alexa voice platform, so consumers could ask Alexa to search for songs by lyrics. Meanwhile, the updated version of Apple Music that rolled out with iOS 12 in 2018 included a way to search by lyrics, instead of just artist, album or song title. It later added live, synced lyrics with the launch of iOS 13. Siri can also respond to commands that involve lyrics.

Musixmatch additionally confirmed it has partnered with Spotify on the new U.S. test.

“Musixmatch is growing at a fast pace thanks to [the] continued investment we’ve made [over] a decade. We’re focused now on bringing more data to continue enriching the audio experience globally,” Musixmatch CEO and founder Max Ciociola told TechCrunch.

Because the lyrics feature is only a test, you may not see it yourself in the Spotify app, due to its limited availability. Spotify has not said if or when the test may be expanded.

Spotify hints toward plans for podcast subscriptions, à la carte payments

Spotify again signaled its interest in developing new ways to monetize its investments in podcasts. In the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, chief executive Daniel Ek suggested the streaming media company foresees a future where there will be multiple business models for podcasts, including, potentially, both ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte options.

The company, which also revealed its podcast catalog has grown to now 2.2 million programs, said it’s seen increasing demand for the audio format in recent months.

For example, 25% of Spotify’s monthly active users now engage with podcasts, up from 22% just last quarter. Podcast consumption is also increasing, with listening hours having nearly doubled year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Today, podcasts on Spotify’s platform are available to both free and paid users and are monetized with ads. This is still a key focus for the company — Spotify even recently acquired a podcast hosting and monetization platform, Megaphone, to help make streaming ad insertion technology available to its third-party publishers while also growing its targetable podcast inventory.

But Spotify recently put its feelers out about different means of monetizing podcasts, too.

Late last year, for instance, the company was spotted running a survey that asked its customers if they would be willing to pay for a standalone podcast subscription, and if so what would it look like and how much would it cost?

At the time, the survey offered a few different concepts.

At the low end, a subscription could offer ad-supported exclusive episodes and bonus content for $3 per month. This would be similar to Stitcher Premium, which today provides exclusives from top shows and other bonus episodes. But Spotify’s suggested version included ads, while Stitcher Premium is ad-free.

A middle option suggested a plan that would be even closer to Stitcher Premium, with exclusive shows and bonus material but no ads. This even matched Stitcher Premium’s price of $5 per month. And at the high-end, subscribers could get early access to ad-free interviews and episodes for $8 per month.

A survey, of course, is only meant to gauge consumer demand for such a subscription, and doesn’t indicate that Spotify has a new product in the works. (Spotify said the same when asked to comment on the news at the time.)

However, it’s clear that investors also want to know what Spotify is thinking when it comes to recouping its sizable investments in podcasts.

Asked if Spotify thought customers would be willing to pay for podcasts, Ek on the earnings call responded that he believed there were several new models that could be explored.

“I think we’re in the early days of seeing the long-term evolvement of how we can monetize audio on the internet. I’ve said this before, but I don’t believe that it’s a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “I believe, in fact, that we will have all business models, and that’s the future for all media companies — that you will have ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte sort of in the same space, of all media companies in the future.”

“And you should definitely expect Spotify to follow that strategy and that pattern,” Ek added, more definitively.

The answer seemed to indicate that Spotify is considering some of the ideas in that recent survey — of getting consumers to pay for some podcasts, instead of accessing them all for free or having them bundled into their music subscription.

Of course, that would change the meaning of the word “podcasts,” which today refers to freely distributed, serialized audio programs that get distributed via RSS feeds.

If Spotify chooses to paywall podcasts behind subscriptions or à la carte payments, then they’re no longer really podcasts — they’re a new sort of premium audio program.

This is an area where Spotify has plenty of room to grow, considering the significant investment it has made in podcasts over the years. To date, that’s included buying up content producers like Gimlet Media, The Ringer and Parcast, as well as signing top creators like Joe Rogan, Addison Rae, Kim Kardashian West, DC Comics, Michelle Obama and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, among others. Spotify also bought podcast tools like Anchor and other ad technology and hosting services.

The advantage with podcasts is that Spotify has the ability to monetize them in multiple ways at once — with ads and subscriptions or direct payments, if it chose. And, of course, there are no licensing fees or royalties to contend with, as with streaming music.

Spotify could also adjust the podcast payments model as needed to fit its different geographies and the way customers around the world prefer to consume and pay for podcast content.

None of this thinking was about near-term launches, Ek also clarified.

“I think it’s early days, though, to specifically kind of look at how that could play out,” he said, talking about how the different models could take shape. “But, obviously, if that were to be the case, that revenue profile would be different than how we do music.”

Spotify Group Session UX teardown: The fails and their fixes

In July last year, Spotify extended its shared-queue feature, Group Session, to support remote usage. Essentially a “party mode,” the feature offers a way for participants to contribute to a collaborative playlist in real-time and control what’s playing across everyone’s devices.

As TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez explained, Premium users are able to tune into the same playlist or podcast together at the same time, even if they’re not in the same place. Prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, Spotify, like a spew of other tech companies, is trying to create more shared online experiences that are lockdown-proof, and as people are being forced to spend more time indoors and online.

In our latest UX teardown, with the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of Spotify Group Sessions user experience failings and offer ways to fix them, as well as a number of UX features that are done right. Many of these lessons can be applied to other existing digital products or ones you are currently building, including the need to remember the difference between usernames and display names, when it makes sense to combine common actions into one, and how to use “react and explain” on-boarding.

Usernames and display names

Always remember the difference between user names and displays.

Image Credits: Built For Mars

The fail: If you created a Spotify account using Facebook, then you’re arbitrarily assigned an 11-digit display name. This is then shown to everyone you invite and is totally meaningless.

The fix: Prompt the user to set a real display name when they create their first session. It avoids confusion and creates a more real experience.

Steve O’Hear: This looks really sloppy and unprofessional, as well as being useless from a usability point of view. However, I’m guessing this is technical debt of some kind; any idea what’s going on here?

Peter Ramsey: Yes, it happens when usernames go from being irrelevant (i.e., Spotify) to suddenly relevant (i.e. when they add social features). But by that point, the database/infrastructure is already in motion.

Can you think of an example where this has been done right?

Twitter is the perfect example of this done right. There can only be one @jack, but loads of people with the display name Jack. Otherwise basically every tweet would be by some obscure name and the world would feel like Reddit (i.e., anonymous).

Combining common actions into one

This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

Spotify announces an exclusive podcast deal with filmmaker Ava DuVernay

Spotify continues to enlist big names for its podcasting efforts. The latest: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay and her arts collective Array.

DuVernay has directed theatrically released films including “Selma” and “A Wrinkle in Time,” but she also made “13th” and “When They See Us” for Netflix, and she’s been an eloquent proponent for streaming as a more accessible way of telling her stories.

Spotify says that through this multiyear partnership, Array will be creating exclusive scripted and unscripted programming for the streaming audio platform. For these productions, it will be working with Gimlet, the podcast network that Spotify acquired in 2019.

“Recognizing the undeniable power of voice and sound, I’m thrilled to extend ARRAY’s storytelling into the realm of podcasts,” DuVernay said in a statement. “The opportunity to work with [Gimlet’s head of content] Lydia Polgreen and her passionate team drew us to Spotify as a home for our audio narratives and we couldn’t be more excited to begin this new creative journey.”

In addition to acquiring Gimlet, Spotify has also signed exclusive podcast deals with Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Rogan and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Minna Technologies, a subscription management tool for banking customers, raises $18.8M

With the proliferation of subscription services, combined with our lives becoming almost 100% digital, there’s a rising need to be able to manage these services. But most banks don’t have much of an answer. Step in Minna Technologies, which sells in its subscription management services into banking apps.

It’s now raised $18.8 million (€15.5m / £14m) in Series B fundraising from Element Ventures, MiddleGame Ventures, Nineyards Equity and Visa, to expand its open banking technology to banks globally.

Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, Minna enables customers to manage subscription services via their existing bank’s app. Using Minna, customers can terminate subscriptions just from their banking app, automatically, cutting the data and financial ties between the merchant and customer. The platform can also notify customers when a free trial is about to end and facilitates utilities switching allowing them to find better deals. So far, Minna has partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, Swedbank and ING.

Minna’s technology reduces the burden on a bank’s call centers, plus banks can also benefit financially from Minna’s role in facilitating utility switching, raising the prospect of banks becoming marketplaces.

The appearance of Minna suggests that the first wave of neo-banks is about to be accompanied by a second wave of overlayed services such as this. The average European is spending £301 (€333) a month on 11 subscriptions, which is predicted to increase to £459 (€508) a month on 17 subscriptions by 2025. IDC predicts that by 2050, 50% of the world’s largest enterprises will focus the majority of their businesses on digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences. Subscriptions are even coming from car makers such as Volvo.

Joakim Sjöblom, CEO and co-founder of Minna Technologies, said: “Over the past four years the subscription economy has exploded from Spotify and Netflix to even iPhones and cars. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to keep track of the payments and harder for banks to handle inquiries to shut them down. Minna’s tech improves the procedure for banks by simplifying the process, as well as providing an in-demand digital product that consumers are starting to expect from their financial institutions.”

Sjöblom told me that by largely working with incumbent banks, Minna is providing them with a way to fight back against challenger banks.

Pascal Bouvier, Managing Partner, MiddleGame Ventures said: “We strongly believe in a vision where banks develop their checking account offerings into “connected and intelligent” platforms and where retail clients are able to interact in many more ways than in the recent past.”