NVIDIA’s new Shield TV wins the Android TV market with amazing 4K upscaling

NVIDIA has a new family of Android TV-based streaming devices, as tipped early via a couple of leaks from online stores. The new NVIDIA Shield TV ($149) and Shield TV Pro ($199) replace the existing Shield TV generation of hardware, which debuted in 2017. Both new Shields offer new Tegra X1+ processors, which outperform the predecessor chip by about 25 percent, and make possible one of this Shield’s new highlight features: AI-powered 3K up-conversion for HD content.

Both Shield TV and Shield TV Pro also support Dolby Vision HDR content, as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. The differences between the two devices center mainly around physical design, with the Shield TV adopting a cylindrical tube design, and the Shield TV Pro looking more like its predecessor (basically a small set-top box form factor). The Shield TV Pro also gets more RAM (3GB vs. 2GB), more storage (16GB vs 8GB) the ability to transcode 1080p streams when acting as a Plex Media Server, support for the SmartThings Link to turn it into a SmartThings smart home hub and advanced Android gaming support, along with two USB 3.0 ports.

Shield TV Review

Nvidia Shield TV 4I’ve been using the Shield TV for around a week now, and this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade for anyone looking to get the best possible experience available in an Android TV home theater device. NVIDIA has clearly done a lot to survey the market, look at everything that’s come out in the two years since it last updated this hardware, and delivery generational improvements that help it stand out from the crowd in meaningful ways.

Android TV now ships on a lot of smart TVs, and there have been many generations of Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices introduced since we last saw a new Shield from NVIDIA – all of which adds up to needing to really do something special to ask for $149.99 from consumers to invest in a new dedicated streaming media box. NVIDIA has always delivered a lot of value for the upfront cost of their streaming hardware, with consistent updates over the life of the devices that add plenty of new features and improvements. But this new hardware packs in some excellent features not possible with software alone, and that are also unique when you look across the options available in this category.

AI Upscaling

Chief among the additions NVIDIA has made here is the AI upscaling made possible with the new Tegra X1+ chip. You might have heard of ‘upscaling’ before, and you might even think that your TV already handles that well. But what you probably don’t know is that often content from streaming media sources doesn’t actually get upscaled by your TV, which means if you have a 4K display but are often watching YouTube or other services with large quantities of non-4K content, you might not be getting the most out of your hardware.

NVIDIA has addressed this with on-device 4K upscaling, which is powered by on-device machine intelligence that has been trained on a deep neural network to turn both 720p and 1080p signals into much sharper, 4K-equivalent images. Having used this on a variety of content, including media streamed from YouTube, non-4K Netflix content and stuff from Plex, I can attest to its ability to produce visibly sharper images that look great, especially on my LG C8-series OLED 4K TV.

The Shield TV’s tech is trained on popular movies and TV shows, and so does a remarkably good job of guessing what the 4K version of the HD image it’s looking at should properly look like. Considering that there’s a ton of content out there that hasn’t been made available in 4K, despite now a lot of TVs supporting that resolution, this is a big advantage for NVIDIA, and again one that they uniquely offer among their peers.

Dolby Everything

These new Shields also support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, across more services than anything else out there on the market right now. These HDR and surround sound modes really do offer the best audio-visual experience you can get, provided you have TVs and audio output equipment that supports them, but what you might not know is that even on other streaming hardware that technically support these standards, they might not be supported across all services.

Shield TV supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Vudu and Movies Anywhere, so you should be getting the most out of these technologies, too. I asked about the forthcoming Apple TV+ service, which is rolling out to Roku devices, for instance, but NVIDIA didn’t have any news to share just yet – it does seem like it’s a good idea to stay tuned on that front, however.

Like AI Upscaling, Dolby support across everything might not seem like a big competitive advantage, but it’s absolutely a decision tipping factor for people who are looking for the best possible A/V experience in a home streaming device.

New and Improved Remote

Nvidia Shield TV 5NVIDIA is shipping the new Shield TVs with a brand new redesigned remote in the box. There’s a dedicated ‘Netflix’ button, which is a nice touch, but the remote overall is just an improvement over both Shield remotes past, and other competing remotes, in every way. It’s powered by AAA batteries (included) and it has a new pyramid-shaped body design that makes it easier and more pleasant to hold.

There are also lots of new buttons! Yes, NVIDIA actually put buttons on their remote control – what a novel concept! Whereas the remote from the last generation seemed to be adopting a lot of the questionable choices Apple has long been making on their remotes, this one feels like it’s made with humans in mind, with dedicated play/pause, back, forward, volume and other buttons. A wealth of buttons.

This remote also has automatic backlighting, which will serve you well when using it in a darkened room. Because of the bulkier body design, it also stands on its end, and there’s a lost remote finding function, too. Chalk up a win for human-centric design with this remote, it’s a joy to use.

Simple physical design

The design of the device is not flashy, but it is smart. There’s an Ethernet port, a power connector, an HDMI port and a micro SD card slot, dividing across both ends of the tube. This makes it perfect for placing behind a console or media bench, on the ground or next to your other power cables.

[gallery ids="1904249,1904250,1904246"]

It still provides hardwired connectivity options in case you do things like in-home game streaming or GeForce NOW cloud gaming, and it offers expandable storage via the microSD slot.

Bottom Line

NVIDIA’s new Shield is a great option for anyone looking for a versatile streaming device, with access to all of Google’s Play Store apps for Android TV, and support for the latest AV standards. It’s real bonus advantage is that AI upscaling, however, which is something that NVIDIA is uniquely poised to do well, and which goes a long way in making that $149.99 price point seem like a tremendous value.

SHIELD TV Family

New Nvidia Shield Android TV streaming device leaks via Amazon listing

The fact that Nvidia is updating its Shield TV hardware has already been telegraphed via an FCC filing, but a leak earlier today paints much more of a detailed picture. An Amazon listing for a new Nvidia Shield Pro set-top streaming device went live briefly before being taken down, showing a familiar hardware design and a new remote control and listing some of the forthcoming feature updates new to this generation of hardware.

The listing, captured by the eagle-eyed Android TV Rumors and shared via Twitter, includes a $199.99 price point, specs that include 3GB of RAM, 2x USB ports, a new Nvidia Tegra X1+ chip and 16GB of on-board storage. In addition to the price, the Amazon listing had a release date for the new hardware of October 28.

If this Amazon page is accurate (and it looks indeed like an official product page that one would expect from Nvidia), the new Shield TV’s processor will be “up to 25% faster than the previous generation,” and will offer “next-generation AI upscaling” for improving the quality of HD video on 4K-capable displays.

It’ll offer support for Dolby Vision HDR, plus surround sound with Dolby Atmos support, and provide “the most 4K HDR content of any streaming media player.” There’s also built-in Google Assistant support, which was offered on the existing hardware, and it’ll work with Alexa for hands-free control.

The feature photos for the listing show a new remote control, which has a pyramid-like design, as well as a lot more dedicated buttons on the face. There’s backlighting, and an IR blaster for TV control, as well as a “built-in lost remote locator” according to the now-removed Amazon page.

This Amazon page certainly paints a comprehensive picture of what to expect, and it looks like a compelling update to be sure. The listing is gone now, however, so stay tuned to find out if this is indeed the real thing, and if this updated streamer will indeed be available soon.

UPDATE: Yet another Nvidia leak followed the first, this time through retailer Newegg (via The Verge). This is different, however, and features a Shield TV device (no “Pro” in the name) that has almost all the same specs, but a much smaller design that includes a microSD card, and seems to have half the amount of on-board storage (8GB versus 16GB) and a retail price of around $150.

nvidia.0

TiVo’s ad-supported streaming service, TiVo Plus, launches today

TiVo’s answer to The Roku Channel, TiVo Plus, is launching today. The company had already unveiled its plans for ad-supported streaming earlier this month with the debut of two new models of its DVR, the TiVo Edge. Like The Roku Channel, TUBI, Vudu’s Movies on Us, and others, TiVo Plus is available to stream for free. But unlike others in this space, TiVo Plus is available exclusively to TiVo devices owners.

The service is enabled by a TiVo partnership with XUMO, Jukin Media and other publishers.

It includes a variety of content from sources like TMZ, America’s Funniest Home Videos, FilmRise, Outside TV+, PowerNation, FailArmy, Hell’s Kitchen | Kitchen Nightmares, Food52, Ameba, BatteryPOP, Baeble Music, Kid Genius, Journy, NatureVision, People are Awesome, Puddle Jumper, The Asylum, The Pet Collective, The Preview Channel, Unsolved Mysteries, Adventure Sports Network, AllTime, Complex, and others.

TiVo also has deals with Gannett, Loop Media, Revry, Newsy, Tastemade, Latido Music and Mobcrush to expand TiVo Plus even further.

The company says there will be “thousands” of movies and TV shows available in an app-free environment.

tivo plus 18

Despite the obvious comparisons to The Roku Channel, the TiVo Plus interface isn’t as well-designed. Where Roku puts the focus on the content that’s available for free streaming, TiVo Plus highlights the publishers. The content is organized in generic and broad groupings, like “Movies and TV,” “Sports,” “Kids and Family,” “Entertainment, Comedy Pop Culture,” and others, instead of being more editorially curated or personalized to the viewer.

Though TiVo Plus is a free service, being a TiVo owner is not. For example, the new TiVo Edge DVR for cable customers is $400, followed by a $14.99 per month service fee, which can be paid either as an annual fee ($149.99) or all at once with a lifetime plan ($549.99).

The same DVR for cord-cutters is $350 and the service fee is $6.99 per month, or $69.99 per year and $249.99 for a lifetime fee.

The DVRs include support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision HDR, 2TB of storage, TiVo’s OnePass, SkipMode (automatic commercial skip),

tivo plus 1

This was the first time that TiVo lowered its subscriptions for the DVR for antenna users, in an effort to respond to market pressures. Most streaming media devices — like Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, etc. — don’t require subscriptions, as the companies don’t license TV guide data for their users nor do they operate with cable TV-like business model involving ongoing service fees. That’s allowed customers, and particularly cord-cutters, to get comfortable with one-time purchase fees and has weakened TiVo’s position.

With a dwindling customer base, TiVo has turned to advertising — not only with its new ad-supported streaming service on its devices, but also with skippable pre-roll ads on DVR recordings, as recently reported and confirmed by TiVo. 

TiVo Plus is rolling out starting today and continuing over the next few weeks to customers with Series 6 devices with Experience 4 (TE4). It will be available on the Home screen, when it goes live.

How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh’, won the local video streaming market with just $10M

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with just $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people in Bangladesh who are online today, 75 million of them are subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Mohammed said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Mohammed to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.

Meet Venn, the company hoping to build MTV for the gaming generation

Maybe a network will be the thing that replaces the single streaming media star.

VENN, a new company launching with $17 million in funding from some of the biggest names in gaming is hoping to harness the power of streaming media’s online celebrities and funnel them into a channel that can command the kind of advertising revenues of the networks of old.

The vision harkens back to the golden days of MTV, when shows like TRL ruled the media landscape and a New York-based network set the cultural agenda through the prism of pop music.

For the creators of VENN, who include Ariel Horn, a four-time Emmy winning producer who brought the commercial storytelling from his network days working on Olympics broadcasts for NBC (a division of Comcast) to the esports phenomenons of Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment; and Ben Kusin, a former global director of new media at Vivendi Games, MTV is the template for creating a cultural commodity from what’s becoming the lingua franca of a new generation of consumers.

Where music (and particularly music videos) was once the genre-spanning language for a generation, the two entrepreneurs see gaming culture as the touchstone for a new audience. And where fragmentation has created a confusing market for advertisers to reach that audience, the content funnel and single source that a network can provide offers an attractive alternative to reaching out to a single celebrity gamer, streamer, or platform.

Tthat’s the pitch behind VENN, which not only stands for Video Game Entertainment News Network, but also represents the venn diagram whose center resides at the intersection of gaming, music, fashion, and entertainment broadly, according to the two co-founders.

Ben Kusin Ariel Horn

VENN co-founders Ben Kusin and Ariel Horn

“You’re looking at a $150 billion per-year industry,” says Kusin. “We think streamers, casters, content creators, these are the new celebrities… what MTV TRL used to be back in the day if that were to launch today what would it look like? This culture would be seen through the lens of gaming.”

His co-founder, Horn, agrees. “We see gaming as the lens through which we want to create and contextualize Gen Z,” says Horn.

Horn knows the potential audience better than nearly anyone. In his last job, he presided over eSports events that commanded viewership in the hundreds of millions. Both Kusin and Horn think that the same sized audience could exist for their network — if not larger, because the two producers and their channel aren’t beholden to a single title, franchise or publisher.

Nor are they subject or beholden to a single distribution platform.

“We’re a universal network,” says Kusin. “We will be distributed on Twitch, on YouTube, and on Pluto, Hulu, and Roku… Anywhere and everywhere that our customers are consuming content.”

The company is currently looking to recruit top-tier talent and bring their sponsor-based streams and formats into a traditional network environment, with higher production values and something approximating the types of talent contracts and deals that would be afforded to a network figure. These streamers, gamers, and others would be able to supplement their existing sponsor-based income with their work on VENN, the two-co-founders said.

The executives would not comment on what, specifically, the programming would include, but indicated that VENN was in discussions with a number of the top streamers in the gaming corners of services like YouTube and Twitch from which they’d pull programming. One genre that will likely make its way onto the network is an American Ninja Warrior-style competitive show for speedruns through different levels of games.

“There are already shows on Twitch,” says Horn. “It’s reported out there for you in real-time. You’re getting all kinds of feedback.” What’s necessary, he says, is to elevate the production value and add other kinds of more traditional programming around it.

“There are two hundred million people consuming YouTube gaming content… There are esports teams [like] Liquid [and] G2 whose talent consider themselves entertainers,” says Kusin. “We’re giving the entire industry a home and a heartbeat.”

The appeal for brands is obvious. If there’s a single place to go to capture the audience that follows streaming celebrities like Ninja, Tfue, or VanossGaming, that real estate is far more desirable than pursuing independent sponsorship deals with each individual streamer.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 12: Gamers ‘Ninja’ (L) and ‘Marshmello’ compete in the Epic Games Fortnite E3 Tournament at the Banc of California Stadium on June 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Brands trying to put their money into gaming is not that straightforward,” says Horn.”There isn’t really a network  like this that exists right now… that exists for the industry at large.”

Other companies that have emerged to capture advertising dollars or create networks of entertainers in something akin to an agency model may beg to differ. These are companies like 3blackdot or Popdog, which represent a significant chunk of online gaming talent. Or more traditional sites that have significant followings like IGN, which bills itself as the #1 games media company.

Beyond the competition, VENN is still rolling the dice on whether the new generation of consumers wants to have a more produced, mediated entertainment network rather than continue to gravitate to the unmediated experience of watching live streams of their peers do the things that they’re doing themselves. YouTube is more than just a vehicle to mainstream stardom, these streamers are their own mainstream stars for millions of viewers who seem fine with the no-fi production values that YouTube almost demands.

Investors are betting that they are, because VENN has raised a $17 million treasure chest to spend on bringing its vision to the market. The money comes from some of the biggest names in gaming, led by the European investment firm BITKRAFT. Additional investors include: Marc Merrill, the co-founder of Riot Games; Mike and Amy Morhaime, the co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment and its former head of global esports; Kevin Lin, the co-founder of Twitch; and aXiomatic Gaming, an esports investment group with stakes in Epic Games, Team Liquid and Niantic. 

“It’s about time we significantly raise the bar for video content in gaming and esports. We need to elevate the stars and stories in our community and provide a better and larger opportunity for brands to reach gamers,” said Jens Hilgers, Founding Partner of BITKRAFT in a statement.   

Roku expands its TV licensing program to Europe

Roku TV today represents more than 1 in 3 smart TVs sold in the U.S. Now, the company is bringing its TV licensing program to European markets. At the consumer tech show IFA in Berlin, Roku announced it will now allow manufacturers to license its TV reference designs and use its Roku OS to build smart TVs for sale in Europe. It also said Hisense would be its first European Roku TV partner.

Today, the connected TV market is no longer limited to just the dongles, sticks, and streaming media players that plug into the HDMI ports of consumers’ TV sets.

Top companies like Roku, Google and Amazon are also making their operating systems and reference designs available to TV makers themselves, in a battle to gain consumer market share. Apple has been rumored to be working on its own television set powered by tvOS, as well.

Roku, to date, done well on this front in its home market, after first introducing the Roku TV platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2014. Hisense was then one of its first partners on the effort. Fast-forward to 2019, and there are now over 100 models available from over 10 brands in North America, and the company estimates that Roku TV is now the No. 1 selling smart TV OS in the U.S.

Roku isn’t alone in targeting Europe with its TV platform. Amazon this week announced more than 20 new Fire TV devices, 15 of which were TVs licensing its Fire OS. Many of these were also aimed at European consumers through partnerships with local brands and retailers.

The new Hisense Roku TV models will support 4K Ultra HD resolutions and HDR, and will come in sizes ranging up to 65 inches, Roku says. The models will launch in the U.K. in the fourth quarter.

“While consumers love Roku TV’s simplicity and advance features, TV manufacturers benefit from the low manufacturing cost, a variety of technology options, and support from Roku,” said Roku CEO and Founder Anthony Wood, in a statement. “The ability to quickly bring to market a leading smart TV experience that is regularly updated by Roku and is packed with entertainment gives TV manufacturers an edge in the competitive TV business. We are pleased to bring the Roku TV licensing program to Europe and look forward to the first Hisense Roku TVs in market this year,” he said.

 

Paid streaming music subscriptions in U.S. top 60M, says RIAA

Streaming music subscriptions continue to drive the U.S. music industry’s growth and revenues, according to a new report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released this week. The organization said total music revenue grew 18% to $5.4 billion in the first half of 2019, with streaming music accounting for 80% of industry revenues. The report also noted the number of paid subscriptions topped 60 million in the U.S. for the first time.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.45.29 PM

Streaming revenues grew 26% to $4.3 billion in the first half of the year.

This broad figure includes paid versions of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and others, as well as digital radio service revenues like those from Pandora, Sirius XM, and other internet radio, plus ad-supported streaming like YouTube, Vevo, and the ad-supported version of Spotify. Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.46.43 PM

Meanwhile, paid subscription streaming is continuing to grow, too, said the RIAA. Year-over-year, paid subscriptions grew 31% to reach $3.3 billion and remain the biggest growth driver for industry revenues.

In the first half of 2019, paid subscriptions made up 62% of all U.S. industry revenues and 77% of U.S. streaming music revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.18 PM

The number of paid subscriptions to full on-demand streaming services grew 30% to 61.1 million in the first half of the year, at an average pace of over 1 million new subscriptions per month.

This doesn’t include the “Limited Tier” subscriptions like Pandora Plus or that Echo-only subscription to Amazon Music, for example, where various factors limit access to a full catalog across devices or restrict some on-demand features. This category saw $482 million in revenues, up 39% from the year prior.

“Thanks to that breakneck growth, plus continued modest drops in digital downloads and new physical sales, streaming now generates 80% of music business revenues and has fundamentally reshaped how fans find, share, and listen to the songs and artists they love,” wrote RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier, about the new figures.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.50 PM

Ad-supported on-demand services grew 25% year-over-year to $427 million, while digital radio service grew 5% to $552 million in the first half of 2019.

However, the gains made by streaming were somewhat offset by declines in digital downloads, as Glazier noted.

Revenues in this category fell 18% to $462 million in the first half of the year, with digital track sales down 16% year-over-year and digital album revenues down 23%. Overall, digital download only accounted for 8.6% of total industry revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.48.11 PM

Physical product revenues grew 5% to $485 million in the first half of 2019, but the RIAA attributed this to a reduction in returns.

 

MIT built a better way to deliver high-quality video streams to multiple devices at once

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Depending on your connection and the size of your household, video streaming can get downright post-apocalyptic – bandwidth is the key resource, and everyone is fighting to get the most and avoid a nasty, pixelated picture. But a new way to control how bandwidth is distributed across multiple, simultaneous streams could mean peace across the land – even when a ton of devices are sharing the same connection and all streaming video at the same time.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab created a system they call ‘Minerva’ that minimizes stutters due to buffering, and pixelation due to downgraded stream, which it believes could have huge potential benefits for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that increasingly serve multiple members of a household at once. The underlying technology could be applied to larger areas, too, extending beyond the houseful and into neighbourhoods or even whole regions to mitigate the effects of less than idea streaming conditions.

Minerva works by taking into account the varying needs of different delivery devices streaming on a network – so it doesn’t treat a 4K Apple TV the same as an older smartphone with a display that can’t even show full HD output, for instance. It also considers the nature of the content, , which is important because live action sports require a heck of a lot more bandwidth to display in high quality when compared to say, an animated children’s TV show.

Video is then served to viewers based on its actual needs, instead of just being allocated more or less evenly across devices, and the Minerva system continually optimizes delivery speeds in accordance with their changing needs as the stream continues.

In real-world testing, Minerva as able to provide a quality cup equivalent to going from 720p to 1080p as much as a third of the time, and eliminated the need for rebuffing by almost 50 percent, which is a massive improvement when it comes to actually being able to seamlessly stream video content continuously. Plus, it can do all this without requiring any fundamental changes to network infrastructure, meaning a streaming provider could roll it out without having to require any changes on the part of users.

Elon Musk: Spotify is “coming” to Tesla vehicles in North America

Tesla owners in the U.S. and Canada may finally get that free Spotify Premium integration they’ve been asking for.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted late Wednesday night that Spotify premium integration is “coming.” Musk, who has talked about bringing Spotify to owners in North America before, did not provide a timeline. In other words, the music streaming service could be integrated next week or a six months from now.

But still, it’s a moment of celebration for many Tesla owners who have complained about Slacker Radio, the streaming music service integrated into all vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. Owners in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong have had Spotify Premium in their vehicles since late 2015.

Slacker Radio, which launched in 2007, has customizable radio stations based on the listener’s personal music tastes. The free and subscription-based service also tried to differentiate itself from the likes of Spotify and Pandora by using DJs to curate programs and at one time, even sold a portable music player. Despite its efforts, Slacker has been overshadowed by Spotify, which had 232 million monthly active users and 108 million paying subscribers at the end of June 2019.

Slacker was acquired in 2017 for $50 million in cash and stock by the LiveXLive, an entertainment and streaming service that focused on live music performances.

Last year, LiveXLive announced a partnership with Dash Radio, a digital radio broadcasting platform with more than 80 original live stations. Under the deal, Dash channels will be available across Slacker Radio a move meant to bring more live radio on the streaming service.

Earbuds lets audiences stream the playlists of athletes, entertainers and each other

Earbuds, a new startup from Austin founded by former Detroit Lions lineman Jason Fox, wants to bring the power of social media to your eardrums.

The company is one of a growing number of startups trying to rejuvenate the music streaming market by combining it with social networking so that audiences can listen to the playlists of their favorite athletes and entertainers… and their friends.

For Fox, the idea for Earbuds sprung from his experiences in the NFL, watching how other players interacted with crowds and hearing about the things fans wanted to know about their favorite players’ routines.

“We were playing Caroline in the first game of the season and Cam Newton was warming up right next to me,” Fox recalled. “He was jamming. Getting the crowd into it. And I was thinking there’re 85,000 people here and millions of more people watching at home…  And I thought… how many people would love to be in his headphones right now?”

Jason Fox TC

Earbuds founder Jason Fox

It wasn’t just Cam Newton who received attention. Fox said at every press conference one or two questions would be about what songs teammates played before games. On social media, players would take screenshots of their playlists and post them to platforms like Twitter or Instagram, Fox said.

The company has been out in the market in a beta version since February and has focused on lining up potential Earbuds devotees from among Fox’s friends in the NFL and entertainers from music and media.

“We made a decision to tweak something and make it very very heavily around influencers because that’s what’s really driving traffic for us,” Fox says. 

Screen Shot 2019 08 07 at 5.44.50 PM

Image courtesy of Earbuds

At its core, the app is just about making music more social, according to Fox. “There’s a social platform for everything, but in the days of terrestrial media distribution music has remain isolated,” he says. 

Logging on is easy. Users can create a login for the app or use their Google or Facebook accounts. One more step to link the Earbuds app with Spotify or Apple Music (the company offers one month free of the premium versions of either service to new users) and then a user can look for friends or browse popular playlists.

A leaderboard indicates which users on the app have streamed the most music and users can create their own streams by adding songs from their libraries to build in-app playlists.

Earbuds isn’t the first company to take a shot at socializing the music listening experience. The olds may remember services like Turntable.fm, which took a stab at making music social but shut down back in 2013. Newer services, like Playlist, are also combining social networking features with music streaming. That site focuses on connecting people with similar musical tastes.

Fox thinks that the ability to attract entertainers like Nelly (who’s on the app) and athletes could be transformative for listeners. Basically these artists and athletes can become their own online radio station, he says.

Fox spent nearly a year meeting with streaming services, music labels, athletes, artists and college students (the app’s initial target market) before even working with developers on a single line of code. The initial work was done out of Los Angeles, but after a year Fox moved the company down to Austin and rebuilt the app from the ground up to focus more on the user experience.

Early partnerships with Burton on an activation had snowboarders streaming their music as they rode a halfpipe proved that there was an audience, Fox said. Now the company is working on integrations across different sports and even esports.

Fox raised a small friends and family round of $630,000 before putting together a $1.5 million seed to get the app out into the market. Now the company is looking for $3 million to scale even more as it looks to integrations with sports teams and other streaming services like Twitch (to capture the gaming audience).

The company currently has seven employees.

Earbuds is available on iOS.

Screen Shot 2019 08 07 at 5.51.32 PM