Amazon Prime Video introduces ‘Watch Party,’ a social co-viewing experience included with Prime

Amazon Prime Video is beginning to roll out a co-viewing feature to Amazon Prime members in the U.S., the company announced today. The “Watch Party” feature, which is included at no extra cost with a Prime membership, allows participants to watch video content together at the same time with the playback synchronized to the host’s account.

The host of the co-watching session will be able to start, stop and pause the Watch Party as needed throughout the session, and those changes will also be synced to all participants’ devices instantly.

Each session can also support up to 100 participants — as long as those participants also have a Prime membership (or a Prime Video subscription) and are are watching from within the U.S.

While the video is playing, users can socialize with other participants through a built-in chat feature that supports both text and built-in emojis.

At launch, Watch Party is offered via Prime Video on the desktop and is supported across thousands of titles in the Prime Video SVOD (subscription video on demand) catalog. This includes the third-party content that comes with Prime as well as Amazon Originals like “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” “HANNA,” “Mindy Kaling’s Late Night,” “Donald Glover’s Guava Island,” “Troop Zero,” “The Big Sick,” “The Boys,” “Homecoming,” “My Spy” and others.

Titles available only for rent or purchase are not available within Watch Party at this time, Amazon says.

To get started with Watch Party, customers will click on the new Watch Party icon on the movie or show’s page on Prime Video desktop website. They’re then given a link they can share with friends and family however they want. Recipients who click the link will then join the session and be able to chat with others.

Amazon says the new feature was built as a native experience for Prime Video.

The company is the latest streaming service to roll out built-in support for co-viewing — something that’s become a popular activity during the coronavirus pandemic as people are spending more time at home.

While the U.S. was sheltering in place under coronavirus lockdowns, a browser extension called Netflix Party went viral. Soon, all the streamers wanted in on this action. HBO, for example, partnered with the browser extension maker Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience for co-watching that supports up to 20 people.

Hulu more recently launched its own native Watch Party feature for its “No Ads” subscribers on Hulu.com. Media software maker Plexa also rolled out co-watching support around the same time.

Amazon, however, had already offered a way to co-watch some of its Prime Video titles before today. Its game-streaming site Twitch had introduced Watch Parties this spring across more than 70 Amazon Prime Video titles. The new native experience rolling out now offers a broader selection and has the potential to expand to more markets in the future.

If you don’t see Watch Party yet, you will have it soon, as the feature is just now beginning to roll out more broadly.

Amazon wouldn’t comment on its future plans for Watch Party. When asked about the roadmap ahead, the company would only say that it introduces features when they’re ready for customers.

Artlist raises $48M led by KKR for its royalty-free music, video and sound effect library

Like it or loathe it, video has proven to be the most engaging of all mediums across the web, and today a company out of Israel called Artlist — which provides royalty-free libraries of music, sound effects and even video itself to enhance video content — is announcing a significant growth round of $48 million, both to continue its expansion, and to build better technology to help navigate users to the perfect clip.

The funding is being led by KKR, with participation also from Elephant Partners, a VC out of Boston that has also backed Allbirds, Scopely and Keelvar among others. This is the first funding that Artlist has ever announced, although Elephant had backed it with a previously undisclosed amount previously. Ira Belsky, Artlist’s co-CEO who co-founded the company with Itzik Elbaz, and Eyal Raz and started as a filmmaker himself, said the company has mostly been bootstrapped since being founded in 2016. It’s not disclosing the total amount raised to date, nor its valuation except to say that it’s on the rise.

“We have been 100% cash flow positive since the day we started,” he said. “We just want to accelerate growth because there is an opportunity to cater to a wider audience.”

The market gap that Artlist is tackling is a byproduct of how the internet is used and evolving. According to a recent report from Sandvine, video accounts for just under 58% of online traffic globally, with video, social and gaming (with the latter two also being very video-heavy) together accounting for some 80% of traffic. That speaks to a huge amount of content being made available not just from premium media provides like Netflix or Disney, but popular a vast array of user-generated content on channels like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter.

While some of these may be building their own sound and video content, a large part of those, to speed up production and focus on whatever aspect of their work that they can better individualise and control, many creators turn to stock audio and video footage in their work.

Indeed, there are a number of others in this same space, including the likes of Getty, Epidemic Sound, Shutterstock, Artgrid, the platforms themselves and many others, but Belsky said that in his time as a filmmaker, he found that many of these were not quite what he was looking for himself in terms of connecting him with just the right music that he was looking for, which was part of the impetus behind building Artlist.

What’s interesting is that Covid-19 has had a double impact on that market. Not only has there been a huge boost in online video usage as more people are spending time at home and staying away from public places, but in terms of creators, Belsky notes that many of them have found it harder either to shoot certain kinds of footage, or collaborate with people create music and other sound effects, all of which has led to a surge of usage for platforms like Artlist.

Artlist’s royalty-free model means that people pay subscription fees to Artlist to use its platform — prices range between $149 and $599 per year, depending on usage and whether you are taking the music, video, sound effects or combined plans — but then nothing more for individual clips. On the other side of the marketplace, the company does not disclose how much its artists are making from the service, but the basic model is that it varies depending on how much a track is used, and generally they are very competitive. “Our artists make more from us than they do from other platforms,” Belsky said. There are no plans to switch that business model include non-royalty-free, nor outright sales of exclusive rights, he added.
On royalty-free alone, the funding comes on the back of significant growth for the company in the last couple of years, with both users and amount of content both on exponential growth curves, respectively now standing at 1.1 million subscribers and 25.8 million pieces of content (mostly music at the moment, Belsky said).

While many users will incorporate one kind of media, either video or music, into a bigger video project — such as this Mercedes Benz commercial that uses Artlist audio — others looking to see how creative they can be when leaning on both, which speaks to how we might see video continue to evolve as the market matures and yet more video content gets produced:

That brings us to the company’s next steps. Belsky said that while today there are already various taxonomies for searching for just the right piece of content, the plan is to try to make that process more intuitive. Being based in Israel, the company has been tapping some interesting data science talent, and the country is well-known for producing some of the more interesting startups using AI and all of that is feeding into Artlist’s development, too.

“We want to invest in AI for personalisation,” he said. “We see ourselves in the creative tech space, a combination of content and technology. The aim is to find the best piece of music, but also the best user experience when finding it, to make it fast and intuitive.”

One experiment has involved people uploading examples of what they’d like, and Artlist searching for “matches” in its own catalogue, and there are others to come, he said. (Indeed, given what we’ve seen with the advances in semantic search, there is a potentially very interesting opportunity to start to explore how to, for example, ingest a video clip to try to match the mood of a piece of audio to it, which is not something that the company is exploring today, but could be an avenue down the line.)

Meanwhile, given Artlist’s traction and revenue growth, the opportunities and the needs of creators today are interesting enough to make this an interesting bet, despite the stiff competition.

“The growth of digital content creation – and the evolving way in which it is consumed – has generated a tremendous amount of opportunities for creators, but the process of licensing digital assets remains a significant challenge for small and large creators alike,” said Patrick Devine, a member of KKR’s Next Generation Technology Growth investment team, in a statement. “What impresses us most about Artlist is the management team’s dedication to helping creators focus on what they do best and removing friction from the process of discovering and accessing content.”

Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch on programming in a digital world

In the war between subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Starz has been growing on the sidelines and fighting to be the preferred add-on for consumers on top of their primary subscription. That journey has required the longtime premium cable TV network to rethink its target audience, content strategy and pricing.

It now has more than two million subscribers on its direct-to-consumer video platform and roughly seven million subscribers when including all the users of other SVOD services in the U.S. who pay for Starz as an add-on. I recently spoke to Jeffrey Hirsch, the company’s CEO since last September (and COO before that), about how he defines Starz’ overall strategy now and the process through which his team determined new pricing, new content strategy and international expansion.

Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

TechCrunch: Who do you think of as Starz’ core audience?

Jeffrey Hirsch: What we found from the data was women were driving our transition from the old world to the new world. We did a bunch of research and realized that women are twice as likely to buy apps under $10, their lifetime value is higher, they are more loyal and they become a guerilla marketing engine for the company.

We refined our programming strategy domestically to focus premium content on the female audience. There’s three kinds of demos underneath that: There is a general female point of view, there is an African American female point of view and there is a Latina point of view. If you look at our programming, we got there based on the strength of our show “Power,” which is our biggest show and is 65% African American female, and then “Outlander,” which is over 80% female.

YouTube’s latest experiment is a TikTok rival focused on 15-second videos

YouTube is taking direct aim at TikTok. The company announced on Wednesday it’s beginning to test a new feature on mobile that will allow users to record 15-second long multi-segment videos. That’s the same length as the default on TikTok as well as Instagram’s new TikTok clone, Reels.

Users in the new YouTube experiment will see an option to “create a video” in the mobile upload flow, the company says.

Similar to TikTok, the user can then tap and hold the record button to record their clip. They can then tap again or release the button to stop recording. This process is repeated until they’ve created 15 seconds worth of video footage. YouTube will combine the clips and upload it as one single video when the recording completes. In other words, just like TikTok.

The feature’s introduction also means users who want to record mobile video content longer than 15 seconds will no longer be able to do so within the YouTube app itself. Instead, they’ll have to record the longer video on their phone then upload it from their phone’s gallery in order to post it to YouTube.

YouTube didn’t provide other details on the test — like if it would later include more controls and features related to the short-form workflow, such as filters, effects, music, AR, or buttons to change the video speed, for example. These are the tools that make a TikTok video what it is today — not just the video’s length or its multi-segment recording style.

Still it’s worth noting that YouTube has in its sights the short-form video format popularized by TikTok.

This would not be the first time YouTube countered a rival by mimicking their feature set with one of its own.

The company in 2017 launched an alternative to Instagram Stories, designed for the creation and sharing of more casual videos. But YouTube Stories wouldn’t serve the TikTok audience, as TikTok isn’t as much about personal vlogs as it is about choreographed and rehearsed content. That demands a different workflow and toolset.

YouTube confirmed the videos in this experiment are not being uploaded as Stories, but didn’t offer details on how the 15-second videos would be discoverable on the YouTube app.

The news of YouTube’s latest experiment arrived just ahead of TikTok’s big pitch to advertisers at this week’s IAB NewFronts. TikTok today launched TikTok For Business, its new platform aimed at brands and marketers looking to do business on TikTok’s app. From the new site, advertisers can learn about TikTok’s ad offerings, create and track campaigns, and engage in e-learning.

YouTube says its new video test is running with a small group of creators across both iOS and Android. A company spokesperson noted it was one of several tests the company had in the works around short-form video.

“We’re always experimenting with ways to help people more easily find, watch, share and interact with the videos that matter most to them. We are testing a few different tools for users to discover and create short videos,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “This is one of many experiments we run all the time on YouTube, and we’ll consider rolling features out more broadly based on feedback on these experiments,” they added.

The Loupedeck CT is a fantastic, flexible editing console for Mac and PC

For photographers and videographers spending a lot less time on location and a lot more time at the desk right now, one great use of time is going back through archives and backlogs to find hidden gems, and hone those edit skills. One recently-released device called the Loupedeck CT can make that an even more enjoyable experience, with customizable controls and profiles that work with just about all your favorite editing apps – and that can even make just using your computer generally easier and more convenient.

The basics

Loupedeck’s entire focus is on creating dedicated hardware control surfaces for creatives, and the Loupedeck CT is its latest, top-of-the-line editing panel. It’s essentially a square block, which is surprisingly thin and light given how many hardware control options it provides. On the surface itself, you’ll find six knobs with tactile, clicky turning action, as well as 12 square buttons and eight round buttons, each of which features color-coded backlighting. There’s also a large central control dial, with a touch-sensitive display in-set, and a 4×3 grid of touch-sensitive display buttons up top – each of which also includes optional vibration feedback when pressed.

Loupedeck CT connects via an included USB-C cable (though you’ll need an adapter or your own USB-C to USB-C cable if you’re using a modern MacBook) and it draws all the power it needs to operate from that connection. Small, rubberized pads on the back ensure that it won’t slip around on your desktop or table surface.

When you first set up the Loupedeck, you’ll need to download software from the company’s website. Once that’s installed, the setup wizard should see your Loupedeck CT hardware when it’s connected, and present you with configuration options that mirror what will show up on your device. By default, Loupedeck has a number of profiles for popular editing software pre-installed and ready to use, and it’ll switch to use that profile automatically upon opening those applications.

The list is fantastic, with one notable (and somewhat painful) exception – Lightroom CC. This isn’t Loupdeck’s fault: Adobe has changed the way that Lighroom is architected with the CC version such that it no longer offers as much interoperability with plugins like the ones that make Loupedeck work with such high integration. Loupedeck offers a Lightroom Classic profile, and one of the reasons Classic is still available is its rich support for these plugins, so you can still access and edit your library with Loupedeck CT. Plus, you can still use it to control Lightroom CC – but you’ll have to download a profile that essentially replicates keystrokes and keyboard shortcuts, or create your own, and it won’t be nearly as flexible as the profiles that exist for Photoshop, Photoshop Camera Raw, and Lightroom Classic.

That one exception aside, there are profiles for just about any creative software a creative pro would want to use. And the default system software settings are also very handy for when you’re not using your computer for doing anything with image, video or audio editing. For instance, I set up basic workflows for capturing screenshots, which I do often for work, and one for managing audio playback during transcription.

Design

I mentioned it briefly above, but the Loupedeck CT’s design is at first glance very interesting because it’s actually far smaller than I was expecting based on the company’s own marketing and imagery. It’s just a little taller than your average keyboard, and about the same width across, and it takes up not much more space on your desk than a small mousepad, or a large piece of toast. Despite its small footprint, it has a lot of physical controls, each of which is actually potentially many more controls though software.

The matte black, slightly rubberized finish is pleasing both to look at and to the touch, and the controls all feel like there was a lot of care put into the tactile experience of using them. The graduated clicks on the knobs let you know when you’ve increased something by a single increment, and the smooth action on the big dial feels delightfully analog. The buttons all have a satisfying, fairly deep click, and the slight buzz you get from the vibration feedback on the touchscreen buttons are a perfect bit of haptic response, which, combined with the raised rows that separate them, mean you can use the Loupedeck CT eyes-free once you get used to it. Each knob is also a clickable button, and the touchscreen circular display on the large central dial can be custom configured with a number of different software buttons or a scroll list.

Despite its small size, the Loupedeck CT doesn’t feel fragile, and it has a nice weight to it that feels reassuring of its manufacturing quality. It does feel like a bit of a compromise when it comes to layout to accommodate the square design vs. the longer rectangle of the Loupedeck+, which more closely resembles a keyboard – but that has positives and negatives, since the CT is easier to use alongside a keyboard.

Ultimately, the design feels thoughtful and well-considered, giving you a very powerful set of physical controls for creative software that takes up much less space on the desk than even something like an equivalent modular system from Palette would require.

Features

The Loupedeck CT’s primary benefits are found in its profiles, which set you up out of the box to get editing quickly and effectively across your favorite software. Each feels like a sensible set of defaults for the software they’re designed to work with, and you can always customize and tweak to your heart’s content if you’ve already got a set of standard processes that doesn’t quite match up.

Loupedeck’s software makes customization and addition of your own sets of tools a drag-and-drop process, which helps a lot with the learning curve. It still took me a little while to figure out the logic of where to find things, and how they’re nested, but it does make sense once you experiment and pay around a bit.

Similarly, Loupedeck uses a color-coding hierarchy system in its interface that takes some getting used, but that eventually provides a handy visual shortcut for working with the Loupedeck CT. There are green buttons and lights that control overall workspaces, as well as purple actions that exist within those workspaces. You can set up multiple workspaces for each app, letting you store entire virtual toolboxes for carrying out specific tasks.

This allows the CT to be at once simple enough to not overwhelm, and also rich and complex enough to offer a satisfying range of control options for advanced pros. As mentioned, everything is customizable (minus a few buttons like the o-button that you can’t remap, for navigation reasons) and you can also export profiles for sharing or for use across machines, and import profiles, including those created by others, for quickly getting set up with a new workflow or pice of software.

The Loupedeck CT even has 8GB of built-in storage on board, and shows up as a removable disk on your computer, allowing you to easily take your profiles with you – as well a tidy little collection of working files.

Bottom Line

At $549, the Loupedeck CT isn’t for everyone – even though the features it offers provide efficiency benefits for many more than just creatives. It’s like having an editing console that you can fit in the tablet pocket of most backpacks or briefcases – and it’s actually like having a whole bunch of those at once because of the flexibility and configurability of its software. Also, comparable tools like the Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Editor keyboard can cost over twice as much.

If your job or your passion involves spending considerable time adjusting gradients, curves, degrees and sliders, than the Loupedeck CT is for you. Likewise, if you spend a lot of time transcribing or cleaning up audio, or you’re a keyboard warrior who regularly employs a whole host of keystroke combos even for working in something like a spreadsheet app, it could be great for you too.

I’ve tested out a lot of hardware aimed at improving the workflow of photographers and video editors, but none has proven sticky, especially across both home and travel use. The Loupedeck CT seems like the one that will stick, based on my experience with it so far.

What went wrong with Quibi?

Two months after Quibi’s high-profile launch as a short-form mobile-native TV app led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, it is evident the startup is greatly underperforming relative to the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on content and marketing. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report, “daily downloads peaked at 379,000 on its April 6 launch day but didn’t exceed 20,000 on any day in the first week of June, according to Sensor Tower.” The article says Quibi is on pace for just 2 million subscribers by year-end, from its predicted 7.2 million. Most of the current subscriber base is on free trials, so even just maintaining the current pace of subscriber growth for several more months will be challenging. Quibi hasn’t released any of its own stats on subscribers, which it almost certainly would do to combat the negative perception among investors and press, if the stats showed a lot of traction.

I argued in 2018 that Facebook should turn its IGTV into a Quibi competitor, and I continue to believe there’s untapped opportunity for premium, mobile-native storytelling apps. So what went wrong with Quibi? There appear to have been four key mistakes:

  1. Miscalculating the risk of launching during the COVID-19 lockdown.
  2. Failing to see the central role of interactivity in mobile-native entertainment.
  3. Creating misaligned financial incentives with the wrong content partners.
  4. Launching Quibi like a movie instead of like a startup.

Social networking app for women, Peanut, is rolling out video chat

Mobile social networking app for women, Peanut, is expanding into video chat to help better support its users amid the coronavirus outbreak. The company, which began its life with a focus on motherhood, has evolved over the years to reach women looking to discuss a range of topics — including pregnancy, marriage, parenthood, and even menopause.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Peanut reported a 30% rise in user engagement and 40% growth in content consumption. It also grew its user base from 1 million in December 2019 to 1.6 million as of April 2020. On top of this growth, Peanut closed its $12 million Series A mid-pandemic, a testament to its increasing traction.

The app had originally offered a Tinder-like matching experience to connect its users with new friends — an idea that came about thanks to founder and CEO Michelle Kennedy’s background as the former deputy CEO at dating app Badoo and an inaugural board member at Bumble. Like many dating apps, this feature involved swiping on user profiles to get a “match.” Before the pandemic, many women would connect with nearby users on a one-on-one basis in order to make friends or find playdates for their kids, for example.

But following the coronavirus government lockdowns and social distancing recommendations, Peanut users have been clamoring for a way to virtually connect, the company says.

Since the lockdown, requests from users for video chatting capabilities increased by 700%, notes Peanut. Users also posted links to other video broadcasts 400% more than usual. To meet this growing demand, the app is now rolling out video chat so women can connect face-to-face and grow their relationships, even if they’re not yet able to spend time in person.

The company believes the new feature will provide a way for women to expand their virtual support network at a time where many are facing isolation and uncertainty about the future, which could otherwise negatively impact their mental health. Through video chat, moms can arrange to have their kids participate in a virtual playdate or they can just chat about life, their daily struggles, and more. Thye can also join a virtual happy hour via their phone — a popular lockdown activity these days.

To use the new feature, women will first connect with each other on a one-on-one basis, which allows them to message each other directly. From this screen, users could already share text chats, photos, and GIFs. But now, they can tap a new button to initiate a video call instead.

The video chat feature itself is powered by an undisclosed third-party.

Peanut says it’s now working on group video chat, another feature users want.

Peanut’s video chat features officially roll out on June 18, 2020 for all users.

 

Gillmor Gang: Love & Fear

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Sunday, May 31, 2020. For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Liner Notes

Live chat stream

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

Kids now spend nearly as much time watching TikTok as YouTube in U.S., U.K. and Spain

A new study on kids’ app usage and habits indicates a major threat to YouTube’s dominance, as kids now split their time between Google’s online video platform and other apps, like TikTok, Netflix, and mobile games like Roblox. Kids ages 4 to 15 now spend an average of 85 minutes per day watching YouTube videos, compared with 80 minutes per day spent on TikTok. The latter app also drove growth in kids’ social app use by 100% in 2019 and 200% in 2020, the report found.

The data in the annual report by digital safety app maker Qustodio was provided by 60,000 families with children ages 4 to 14 in the U.S., U.K., and Spain, so it’s data isn’t representative of global trends. The research encompasses children’s online habits from February 2019 to April 2020, takes into account the COVID-19 crisis, and specifically focused on four main categories of mobile applications: online video, social media, video games, and education.

YouTube, not surprisingly, remains one of the most-used apps among children, the study found.

Kids are now watching twice as many videos per day as they did just four years ago. This is despite the fact that YouTube’s flagship app is meant for ages 13 and up — an age-gate that was never truly enforced, leading to the FTC’s historic $170 million fine for the online video platform in 2019 for its noncompliance with U.S. children’s privacy regulations.

The app today is used by 69% of U.S. kids, 74% of kids in the U.K., and 88% of kids in Spain. Its app for younger children, YouTube Kids, meanwhile, is only used by 7% of kids in the U.S., 10% of kids in the U.K., and wasn’t even on the radar in Spain.

The next largest app for online video is Netflix, watched by 33% of U.S. kids, 29% of U.K. kids, and 28% of kids in Spain.

In early 2020, kids in the U.S. were spending 86 minutes on YouTube per day, down from 88 minutes in 2019. In the U.K., kids are watching 75 minutes per day, down from 77 minutes in 2019. And in Spain, kids watch 63 minutes per day, down from 66 minutes in 2019.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the time spent increased quite a bit, as you could imagine. In the U.S., for example, kids in mid-April spent 99 minutes per day on YouTube.

In part, the decline in total YouTube minutes could be due to the growing number of daily minutes kids spend on TikTok. The Beijing-owned short-form video app could gain further traction if more YouTube creators leave Google’s video platform as a result of the increasing regulations and the related losses in monetization. More creators would broaden TikTok’s appeal, as it expands its content lineup.

Last year, TikTok became one of the top five most-downloaded apps globally that wasn’t owned by Facebook, and it has continued to grow among all age demographics.

From May 2019 through February 2020, the average minutes per day kids spent on TikTok increased by 116% in the U.S. to reach 82 minutes, went up by 97% in the U.K. to reach 69 minutes, and increased 150% in Spain to reach 60 minutes.

In February 2020, 16.5% of U.S. kids used TikTok, just behind the 20.4% on Instagram, and ahead of the 16% on Snapchat. In the U.K. and Spain, 17.7% and 37.7% of kids used TikTok, respectively.

Time spent on TikTok increased during COVID-19 lockdowns, as well, leaving the app now only minutes away from being equal to time spent on YouTube. In the U.S., for example, kids’ average usage of TikTok hit 95 minutes per day during COVID-19 lockdowns compared with just 2 minutes more — 97 minutes — spent on YouTube

In terms of online gaming, Roblox dominates in the U.S. and U.K., where 54% and 51% of kids play, respectively. In Spain, only 17% do. Instead, kids in Spain currently prefer Brawl Stars.

Similarly, Minecraft is used by 31% of kids in the U.S., 23% in the U.K., and only 15% in Spain.

Roblox isn’t just a minor diversion. It’s also eating into kids’ screen time.

In February 2020, this one game accounted for 81 minutes per day, on average, in the U.S., 76 minutes per day in the U.K., and 64 minutes per day in Spain. On average, kids play Roblox about 20 minutes longer than any other video game app. (Take that, Fortnite!)

During COVID-19 lockdowns, the kids who played Roblox increased their time spent in the game, up 31%, 17%, and 45% respectively in the U.S., the U.K., and Spain. But lockdowns didn’t increase the percentage of kids who used gaming apps, as it turned out.

Education apps, as a whole, did not see much growth from 2019 to early 2020 until the COVID-19 lockdowns. But then, Google Classroom won in two of the three markets studied, with 65% of kids now using this app in Spain, 50% in the U.S., but only 31% in the U.K. (Show My Homework is more popular in the U.K., growing to 42% usage during COVID-19.)

All these increases in kids’ app usage may never return to pre-COVID-19 levels, the report suggested, even if usage declines a bit as government lockdowns lift. That mirrors the findings that Nielsen released today on connected TV usage, which has also not yet fallen to earlier, pre-COVID levels even as government restrictions lift.

“We now live in a world with an estimated 25 billion connected devices worldwide. Many of those in the hands of children,” Qustodio’s report noted. “Today, on average, a child in the U.S. watches nearly 100 minutes of YouTube per day, a child in the U.K. spends nearly 70 minutes on TikTok per day, a child in Spain plays Roblox over 90 minutes a day,” it said. “The world is not going to return to the way things were, because screen-time rates were already increasing. COVID-19 just accelerated the process,” the firm concluded.

Is Zoom the next Android or the next BlackBerry?

In business, there’s nothing so valuable as having the right product at the right time. Just ask Zoom, the hot cloud-based video conferencing platform experiencing explosive growth thanks to its sudden relevance in the age of sheltering in place.

Having worked at BlackBerry in its heyday in the early 2000s, I see a lot of parallels to what Zoom is going through right now. As Zooming into a video meeting or a classroom is today, so too was pulling out your BlackBerry to fire off an email or check your stocks circa 2002. Like Zoom, the company then known as Research in Motion had the right product for enterprise users that increasingly wanted to do business on the go.

Of course, BlackBerry’s story didn’t have a happy ending.

From 1999 to 2007, BlackBerry seemed totally unstoppable. But then Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, Google launched Android and all of the chinks in the BlackBerry armor started coming undone, one by one. How can Zoom avoid the same fate?

As someone who was at both BlackBerry and Android during their heydays, my biggest takeaway is that product experience trumps everything else. It’s more important than security (an issue Zoom is getting blasted about right now), what CIOs want, your user install base and the larger brand identity.

When the iPhone was released, many people within BlackBerry rightly pointed out that we had a technical leg up on Apple in many areas important to business and enterprise users (not to mention the physical keyboard for quickly cranking out emails)… but how much did that advantage matter in the end? If there is serious market pull, the rest eventually gets figured out… a lesson I learned from my time at BlackBerry that I was lucky enough to be able to immediately apply when I joined Google to work on Android.