TikTok hit $9M in in-app purchases last month, up 500% over last year

Popular short-form video app TikTok has been slowly ramping up its advertising strategy this year as it increases its focus on monetization. However, the company still generates a smaller of its revenue from in-app purchases — and that number hit a high of $9 million in May, according to a report from Sensor Tower. That represents 500% year-over-year growth from the $1.5 million spent in May 2018, and 22% growth from April’s $7.4 million.

Arguably, TikTok’s hasn’t put much emphasis on its in-app purchase strategy. For now, the Beijing-based app owned by ByteDance is more heavily focused on driving user growth. It knows that putting some of its best features behind a paywall could potentially limit user adoption and engagement — especially as TikTok looks for growth in emerging markets like India, where it recently said it has 200 million users, 120 million who are monthly actives.

In India, the app overtook Facebook as the most downloaded social networking app in the first quarter of the year, and is now looking to pull in more advertisers. The Economic Times recently reported brands like Pepsi, Snapdeal, Myntra, Shaadi.com, and Shopclues have signed on to advertise.

Meanwhile, Indian users only accounted for half a percent of in-app purchases — just around $45,000, said Sensor Tower.

The lack of spending points to how little TikTok has focused on virtual goods. Instead of offering its video effects or filters for purchase, TikTok’s coins are used for buying gifts which can be sent to live streamers to show support.

Despite TikTok’s inattention to its virtual goods strategy, iOS users in China spent $5.9 million, of the total $9 million spent on in-app purchases in May, accounting for nearly 65% of purchases. In the U.S., both iOS and Android users spent a combined nearly $2 million, or 22%, of the app’s gross revenue.

TikTok’s installs are continuing to climb, Sensor Tower also noted.

In May, around 56 million users worldwide installed the app for the first time — a 27% increase over April. However, new installs were down by 21% from January’s 70.8 million. To some extent, India’s brief ban on the app impacted these figures — the app likely lost a potential 15 million new users in April, Sensor Tower had earlier estimated.

To date, TikTok has seen 1.2 billion installs, up from a billion at the end of last year. This figure doesn’t equate to active user numbers, however. On that front, TikTok said last summer it has 500 million monthly actives, and hasn’t publicly shared an updated number since. Life-to-date user spending is currently at $97.4 million, with the app expected to pass the $100 million milestone this month, the new report said.

Walmart’s Eko teams up with Refinery29 on interactive videos

Last fall, Walmart announced a joint venture with Eko to create interactive storytelling — think Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch — for both entertainment and retail. Since then, Eko has been working with BuzzFeed on a range of interactive videos, as well as on projects for Walmart’s Vudu and others for its own HelloEko.com video site. Today, Eko’s latest partner has been unveiled: millennial-focused digital media company, Refinery29.

According to Variety, which first reported the news, Eko will produce several series based on Refinery29’s content, starting with an interactive scripted project for the site’s “Money Diaries” personal finance column, podcast, and book. The online series saw 7 million uniques in 2018 and is one of Refinery29’s top properties, the report noted.

In the Eko videos, viewers will be able to make choices about how to manage and spend the character’s money. Other Eko-produced Refinery29 shows will include the unscripted travel series 60 Second Cities and another focused on women’s living spaces, Sweet Digs. 

The shows will debut on Refinery29’s website by year-end, and will be promoted across social media. Eko and Refinery29 will share in the advertising and sponsorship revenues the series generate.

Because Eko’s videos allow viewers to make choices, media companies can learn from what viewers click on to better tailor their content to the viewer’s interests. Videos can also become more personalized to the viewer’s individual needs — in BuzzFeed’s case, for example, a recipe video could show how to customize the dish for dietary restrictions. This same set of advantages will be translated to Refinery29’s properties, as well.

Walmart invested $250 million into its joint venture with Eko last fall, with the aim of developing all sorts of interactive content, from toy catalogs to cooking shows, Reuters noted at the time.

In addition to the BuzzFeed and Refinery29 series, Eko is working with Hollywood producers on its other projects, including the Duplass BrothersFine BrothersNora Kirkpatrick, and others, and plans to delve into fashion, beauty, and other scripted content in the future.

 

iMovie’s big iOS update adds 80 new soundtracks, green screen effects, image overlays

Ahead of the public launch of Apple’s revamped suite of first-party apps on iOS 13, the company has rolled out a new version of its popular video editor, iMovie for iOS. With the app’s most recent update, iMovie has received a host of new features — most notably, support for a green screen effect that lets you remove the background from clips, as well as the addition of 80 new soundtracks across a variety of genres.

The green screen support, in particular, could make iMovie a better competitor to the third-party video editors which tend to offer more advanced feature sets, while also keeping things simple for less savvy users.

Apple says users of the new version (2.2.7) will be able to remove backgrounds from any clips shot in front of a blue or green screen, as well as adjust the clip with a 4-point mask and strength slider.

 

Its 80 new soundtracks include genres like pop, chill and sentimental that will automatically adjust to the length of the movie.

In terms of new effects, iMovie will now allow users to add photos as overlays to create picture-in-picture and split screen effects as well as opt to hide the border on those. These were some of iMovie’s more requested features, in fact, and one of the reasons why people went elsewhere for video editing apps.

Other new features are designed to make iMovie easier to use. For example, when you switch back to the iOS app from other applications, it will take you right to the edit screen of your project. It has also tucked away access to iMovie Theater from the three-dot ( … ) more menu, as it’s shifting users to share videos to iCloud instead.

And, as part of other classroom-focused updates, iMovie now supports ClassKit, which means students can deliver their video assignments directly the teachers via Apple’s Schoolwork app.

Because iMovie is designed to work across Apple’s platforms, users can begin editing projects on their phone then transfer them to other devices like the iPad or Mac in order to complete edits, including those that may benefit from working via a larger screen — such as the green screen effect or color corrections, for example.

The updated iMovie is available for both iPhone and iPad from the App Store.

Rumpus, the collaborative toolkit from Oblong Industries, is now available on Webex

In a previous life, John Underkoffler spent his days in Los Angeles dreaming up all of the possible ways men and machines would interact as a science adviser on films like Minority Report.

Now, he designs those systems for the real world through his company Oblong Industries, which has labored to create a full stack of collaborative tools for business users that are every bit as high-tech as the one’s Underkoffler dreamt for the silver screen.

The first bolt in the quiver of tools that Underkoffler began building out over the course of 15 years spent at MIT’s Media Lab was Mezzanine. A multipurpose collaborative platform that allowed business users to share documents and interact in real time through a powerful combination of videoconferencing hardware and software.

In the age of Zoom though, Oblong’s tools have become more lightweight, and the company is steadily adding multi-share capabilities to platforms other than its own. That new gaggle of collaboration tools launched under the moniker of Rumpus, and Oblong has been partnering with different video services to add its services to their own.

The latest to get the Rumpus treatment is Cisco Webex.  Now Cisco’s videoconferencing customers will get access to Rumpus’ personal cursors that point and emphasize content on shared screens, presence indicators to show who is looking where and at what, and emoji reactions to provide feedback without disrupting the flow of a meeting.

The company’s tools enable all of the users in a meeting to share their screens without competing for screen time.

“We’ve worked closely with Cisco over the last year to bring the capabilities of our flagship product, Mezzanine, to the Cisco suite of enterprise solutions for meetings paces. So as we completed Oblong’s own set of content-first collaboration offerings by building out Rumpus for pure-virtual work, it was obvious that Webex should be among the first conferencing solutions to be directly integrated,” said Underkoffler in a statement. “We’re thrilled to bring . the next level of engagement and productivity to millions of Webex users when their meetings require more than basic video and messaging.”

Rumpus is currently available for free to Mac computer users with Windows support coming soon.

Under the hood on Zoom’s IPO, with founder and CEO Eric Yuan

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Kate Clark sat down with Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of video communications startup Zoom, to go behind the curtain on the company’s recent IPO process and its path to the public markets.

Since hitting the trading desks just a few weeks ago, Zoom stock is up over 30%. But the Zoom’s path to becoming a Silicon Valley and Wall Street darling was anything but easy. Eric tells Kate how the company’s early focus on profitability, which is now helping drive the stock’s strong performance out of the gate, actually made it difficult to get VC money early on, and the company’s consistent focus on user experience led to organic growth across different customer bases.

Eric: I experienced the year 2000 dot com crash and the 2008 financial crisis, and it almost wiped out the company. I only got seed money from my friends, and also one or two VCs like AME Cloud Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures.

nd all other institutional VCs had no interest to invest in us. I was very paranoid and always thought “wow, we are not going to survive next week because we cannot raise the capital. And on the way, I thought we have to look into our own destiny. We wanted to be cash flow positive. We wanted to be profitable.

nd so by doing that, people thought I wasn’t as wise, because we’d probably be sacrificing growth, right? And a lot of other companies, they did very well and were not profitable because they focused on growth. And in the future they could be very, very profitable.

Eric and Kate also dive deeper into Zoom’s founding and Eric’s initial decision to leave WebEx to work on a better video communication solution. Eric also offers his take on what the future of video conferencing may look like in the next five to 10 years and gives advice to founders looking to build the next great company.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Kate Clark: Well thanks for joining us Eric.

Eric Yuan: No problem, no problem.

Kate: Super excited to chat about Zoom’s historic IPO. Before we jump into questions, I’m just going to review some of the key events leading up to the IPO, just to give some context to any of the listeners on the call.

Facebook updates its video guidelines to promote original content, loyal and engaged viewership

Facebook today announced a series of changes to the way it ranks videos on its social network, which determines how widely they’re distributed. According to the updated guidelines, Facebook will now prioritize videos that focus on original content, those where users are engaged for longer periods of time and those where users return repeatedly to watch more.

The company wants to feature more high-quality videos, and less of those that feature “unoriginal or repurposed content” from other sources where there’s been little value added, it says. That seems to imply a bit of crackdown on the prolific video memes — those that lift someone else’s content (sometimes without proper credit) and then publish it to their own Page to cash in.

Facebook says it’s also now going to demote videos from Pages that are involved in Sharing Schemes. These are programs run by unethical content mills that compensate other Page owners for posting content and running ads to promote it.

In addition, Facebook will reward videos that have a more engaged and loyal fan base.

Before, Facebook encouraged video creators to keep their viewers watching for at least a minute. Going forward, it will actively add more weight in rankings to those videos where viewers watch for at least three minutes.

And it will reward videos where viewers repeatedly return to watch week after week.

The goal with the changes is to promote those videos that people value, the company says, while also helping great video creators reach more people across the social network by way of improved distribution.

The changes come at a time when Facebook’s video effort, Facebook Watch, is facing increased competition for viewers’ time and interest from a range of players, including Apple’s streaming service Apple TV+, as well as number of places to watch free, ad-supported content, like The Roku Channel or Amazon’s IMDb, for example, in addition to, of course, YouTube. And soon, the highly anticipated streaming service from Disney will eat into more of viewers’ time, too.

Facebook Watch has also been dinged for featuring low-quality content compared to newcomers like Apple TV+, which has signed big-name talent like Spielberg, Witherspoon and Oprah. Meanwhile, Facebook Watch has focused on things like MTV’s “The Real World” or “Buffy” re-runs in terms of its “premium” content.

With YouTube recently promising its own original content will become free and ad-supported in time, Facebook needed to keep up by making its own video site less meme-filled and more engaging than before. That can only happen if it promotes videos when they meet certain quality thresholds — which is what these guidelines aim to address.

Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media and entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms.

These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved.

To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computing power.

In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money.

Here are the media investment theses of: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Alex Taussig (Lightspeed), Matt Hartman (betaworks), Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia), Jordan Fudge (Sinai), Christian Dorffer (Sweet Capital), Charles Hudson (Precursor), MG Siegler (GV), and Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau).

Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund

In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.

Gillmor Gang: Live on Tape

The Gillmor Gang — Doc Searls, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Thursday April 25, 2019. Streamed live to Twitter, or just slightly after the fact. Luminary and the podcast wars, @jack, and the Democrats in the Age of Bidenomics.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@dsearls, @mickeleh, @kteare, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Liner Notes

Live chat stream

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

Digging into key takeaways from our 2019 Robotics+AI Sessions Event

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater and Lucas Matney shared their key takeaways from our Robotics+AI Sessions event at UC Berkeley last week.

The event was filled with panels, demos and intimate discussions with key robotics and deep learning founders, executives and technologists. Brian and Lucas discuss which companies excited them most, as well as which verticals have the most exciting growth prospects in the robotics world.

“This is the second [robotics event] in a row that was done at Berkeley where people really know the events; they respect it, they trust it and we’re able to get really, I would say far and away the top names in robotics. It was honestly a room full of all-stars.

I think our Disrupt events are definitely skewed towards investors and entrepreneurs that may be fresh off getting some seed or Series A cash so they can drop some money on a big ticket item. But here it’s cool because there are so many students. robotics founders and a lot of wide-eyed people wandering from the student union grabbing a pass and coming in. So it’s a cool different level of energy that I think we’re used to.

And I’ll say that this is the key way in which we’ve been able to recruit some of the really big people like why we keep getting Boston Dynamics back to the event, who generally are very secretive.”

Brian and Lucas dive deeper into how several of the major robotics companies and technologies have evolved over time, and also dig into the key patterns and best practices seen in successful robotics startups.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

 

Verizon and Google ink deal to offer YouTube TV to Verizon wireless and Fios subscribers

Just days after Google and Amazon buried the hatchet over their longstanding streaming feud, Google has made another interesting inroad in its bid to bring yet more ubiquity to its YouTube-based premium video efforts. Today, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) and the search giant announced a new partnership where Verizon customers will be able to subscribe to YouTube TV through their accounts to watch “on whatever platform they choose,” in the words of Erin McPheron, Verizon’s head of content strategy and acquisition.

That will mean, in Verizon terms, getting a YouTube TV stream if you are a 5G wireless home customer as part of an internet bundle, or as part of your Fios subscription if you are a customer of Verizon’s fiber-optic TV, telephone and internet service. It sounds like there will be other options to come. “Verizon will also offer unique, high-value YouTube TV promotions to customers across platforms,” the company added.

YouTube TV is an all-in-one bundle that essentially replaces the kinds of packages offered by cable TV providers that includes some 70 networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, cable channels like HGTV, Food Network, TNT, TBS, CNN, ESPN, FX and on-demand video, which also includes DVR options for each of the six accounts that comes with a subscription, along with recommendation algorithms (similar to Netflix’s) for each viewer. It looks like the YouTube TV offer will sit alongside other bundles that Verizon already offers to users, for example see these action/entertainment, kids and sports/news bundles of channels on Fios. Fios also offers new customers one free year of Netflix.

The deal underscores Verizon’s ongoing efforts to play nice with third-party content providers to continue enhancing the array of services that consumers have to choose from at Verizon. More options helps sweeten the deal and keep people from moving to other services, or away from any bundles at all and opting to create their own a la carte selections, cord-cutter style.

This is especially important as it continues to build out its next-generation 5G wireless network and looks for more subscribers and usage of it. In its earnings report earlier today, Verizon reported that it was investing some $4.3 billion in capex in the first quarter of the year to build out that 5G network, which is in part meant to help optimise video traffic over wireless networks.

“Our network and technology leadership uniquely positions us to lead the content revolution, which centers around choice for our customers,” said McPherson in a statement. “As we pave the path forward on 5G, we’ll continue to bring our customers options and access to premium content by teaming up with the best providers in the industry and leveraging our network as-a service strategy. We were first in the world to bring commercial 5G to our customers and now another first on the content front as we offer our customers access to YouTube TV on whatever platform they choose.”

For Google, it gives the company — in hot competition with a number of other over-the-top streaming providers like Amazon and Netflix and Apple — one more route to reaching consumers wherever they happen to be already, and whether they are watching on a mobile phone or a TV in their living rooms. It’s not clear in the release, but it would be interesting to know if Verizon provides preferred bandwidth to a service as part of the partnership that would improve the quality of the stream.

As a point of comparison, last week Google said that YouTube users on Fire TV will be able to sign in, have full access to their library and play videos in 4K HDR at 60 fps on supported devices.

It’s not clear what kind of pricing Verizon will offer for YouTube TV, which costs $49.99 per month in the US for new customers.

“YouTube TV has become known for its best-in-class user experience that enhances the way users watch live TV today,” said Heather Rivera, global head of product partnerships at YouTube, in a statement. “With this partnership, we’re making it simple and seamless for Verizon’s customers to sign up to enjoy YouTube TV on-the-go on their mobile phones or tablets or at home on their big screen devices.”

We’ll update this post as we learn more.