Daily Crunch: YouTube redesigns its homepage

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1. YouTube’s homepage redesign focuses on usability, giving you control over recommendations

The company announced an updated, cleaner design that does away with information density, instead giving more room to the videos and their titles. Other new features include an “Add to Queue” option on the desktop, a desktop version of YouTube’s stop suggesting feature and more.

The design changes, which started rolling out yesterday, are focused on the desktop and tablet versions of YouTube, not the YouTube mobile website or app.

2. Disney+ will launch in the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain in March 2020

Disney has revealed more details about its international streaming plans. Keep in mind, though, that Disney+ won’t be exactly the same in every territory, thanks to rights/licensing deals that may already be in place.

3. How Microsoft is trying to become more innovative

Across the board, the company is trying to find ways to become more innovative, especially around its work in AI. Microsoft is unusually open about this process, too, and actually made it a focus at this week’s Ignite conference. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. Alibaba to invest $3.3B to bump its stake in logistics unit Cainiao

Alibaba is doubling down on its logistics affiliate Cainiao, two years after acquiring a majority stake in the firm. The Chinese giant said today it would invest an additional 23.3 billion yuan (about $3.33 billion) to raise its equity in Cainiao to 63%.

5. Kepler achieves a world-first for satellite broadband with 100Mbps connection to the Arctic

This is the first time there’s been a high-bandwidth satellite network for any central Arctic ground-based use, Kepler says, and this connection isn’t just a technical demo: it’s being used for the hundreds of researchers in the MOSAiC team.

6. Google hires former Disney and Star executive to head its India business

Sanjay Gupta previously served as a managing director at Disney India and Disney-owned Star. He’ll be replacing Rajan Anandan, who left the company to join VC fund Sequoia Capital.

7. Sir Martin Sorrell’s Silicon Valley charm offensive

Sir Martin Sorrell has enjoyed huge success, having built the world’s biggest advertising conglomerate, WPP, over 32 years. He’s also out for revenge, after he left WPP due to allegations of misconduct.

Shopping Ads come to YouTube’s home feed and search results

There’s a new kind of ad coming to YouTube . Google announced today the launch of Shopping ads on YouTube, which lets brands advertise their products and services right in the YouTube home feed and search results. For example, if a user searches for “Puma shoes review,” a Shopping ad may offer a row of suggested products at the top of the page before the video results.

The ads may also appear as a carousel between the videos on the homepage.

Puma is a debut advertiser for the new shopping ad product, but the video site will soon fill with these sorts of product suggestions.

“Consumers are continuing to watch more content on the YouTube platform and we want to be where they are, to reach and engage them,” said Rick Almeida, Vice President of eCommerce at Puma Group, in a statement about its new YouTube ads. “This new opportunity will enable Puam to extend our shopping strategy into a new property and inspire consumers,” he added.

As Google explains, the ads can be shown to YouTube users based on their interests.

To continue the Puma example, the user wouldn’t necessarily have to type in “Puma” to encounter an ad for the running shoes — simply expressing an interest in running could have them coming across ads from Puma or any other retailers offering running apparel.

Like the Shopping ads that appear elsewhere across Google’s platform — including Search, Shopping, partner websites, and the Google Display Network — the YouTube Shopping ads will match to user’s interest not by using keywords but rather on the product details and information the brand submits through the Merchant Center.

The idea to leverage YouTube as a new platform for visual advertising comes at a time when other social networks — like Instagram, Pinterest, and even TikTok — are making it easier for users to shop products from their apps. Pinterest has been working to capture shopper interest earlier on in the journey, then track the path from visual inspiration and pinning all the way through to purchase.

Instagram this year launched shopping checkout, allowing users to transact from sellers without leaving the Instagram app. More recently, TikTok launched a “Hashtag Challenge Plus” product that lets video viewers shop for products in its app, as well.

But YouTube hadn’t yet fully capitalized on its ability to direct its audience to specific products, rather focusing on Discover ads that would include a visual and a few lines of text, but not necessarily a unique product.

Google says advertisers already using standard Shopping campaigns today and who are opted in to YouTube on Display Network, will be immediately able to run YouTube Shopping ads.

The new ads are only one of several changes YouTube announced today. It also said its video ads will now be more interactive, giving users actionable information like store location, interest forms, and additional calls-to-actions to help drive more conversions. It’s also rolling out sitelink extensions for TrueView for action ads that will allow viewers to navigate to additional landing pages, like those for holiday catalogs, store hours and more. These will come in the months ahead.

Elsewhere on Google, Showcase Shopping ads are expanding to Google Images where users will be able to explore a larger selection of products from a brand.

Google had announced its plans to bring new ad products to YouTube back in May, when it revamped the Google Shopping product following the closure and rebranding of Google Express.

As a part of that larger update, the company mentioned a variety of ways it would be connecting the YouTube audience more directly with brands and products — including through its highly-visual Showcase Shopping ads and via Shopping Actions, which allow for purchases right from Google’s platforms.

The larger goal with the new ads is to appeal to users with more visual imagery, as today’s web users no longer just search Google.com and click on the links that return.

Facebook should ban campaign ads. End the lies.

Permitting falsehood in political advertising would work if we had a model democracy, but we don’t. Not only are candidates dishonest, but voters aren’t educated, and the media isn’t objective. And now, hyperlinks turn lies into donations and donations into louder lies. The checks don’t balance. What we face is a self-reinforcing disinformation dystopia.

That’s why if Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube don’t want to be the arbiters of truth in campaign ads, they should stop selling them. If they can’t be distributed safely, they shouldn’t be distributed at all.

No one wants historically untrustworthy social networks becoming the honesty police, deciding what’s factual enough to fly. But the alternative of allowing deception to run rampant is unacceptable. Until voter-elected officials can implement reasonable policies to preserve truth in campaign ads, the tech giants should go a step further and refuse to run them.

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This problem came to a head recently when Facebook formalized its policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads and refusing to send their claims to third-party fact-checkers. “We don’t believe, however, that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny” Facebook’s VP of policy Nick Clegg wrote.

The Trump campaign was already running ads with false claims about Democrats trying to repeal the Second Amendment and weeks-long scams about a “midnight deadline” for a contest to win the one-millionth MAGA hat.

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After the announcement, Trump’s campaign began running ads smearing potential opponent Joe Biden with widely debunked claims about his relationship with Ukraine. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter refused to remove the ad when asked by Biden.

In response to the policy, Elizabeth Warren is running ads claiming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endorses Trump because it’s allowing his campaign lies. She’s continued to press Facebook on the issue, asking “you can be in the disinformation-for-profit business, or you can hold yourself to some standards.”

It’s easy to imagine campaign ads escalating into an arms race of dishonesty.

Campaigns could advertise increasingly untrue and defamatory claims about each other tied to urgent calls for donations. Once all sides are complicit in the misinformation, lying loses its stigma, becomes the status quo, and ceases to have consequences. Otherwise, whichever campaign misleads more aggressively will have an edge.

“In open democracies, voters rightly believe that, as a general rule, they should be able to judge what politicians say themselves.” Facebook’s Clegg writes.

But as is emblematic of Facebook’s past mistakes, it’s putting too much idealistic faith in society. If all voters were well educated and we weren’t surrounded by hyperpartisan media from Fox News to far-left Facebook Pages, maybe this hands-off approach might work. But in reality, juicy lies spread further than boring truths, and plenty of “news” outlets are financially incentivized to share sensationalism and whatever keeps their team in power.

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Protecting the electorate should fall to legislators. But incumbents have few reasons to change the rules that got them their jobs. The FCC already has truth in advertising policies, but exempts campaign ads and a judge struck down a law mandating accuracy.

Granted, there have always been dishonest candidates, uninformed voters, and one-sided news outlets. But it’s all gotten worse. We’re in a post-truth era now where the spoils won through deceptive demagoguery are clear. Cable news and digitally native publications have turned distortion of facts into a huge business.

Most critically, targeted social network advertising combined with donation links create a perpetual misinformation machine. Politicians can target vulnerable demographics with frightening lies, then say only their financial contribution will let the candidate save them. A few clicks later and the candidate has the cash to buy more ads, amplifying more untruths and raising even more money. Without the friction of having to pick up the phone, mail a letter, or even type in a URL like TV ads request, the feedback loop is shorter and things spiral out of control.

This is why the social networks should halt sales of political campaign ads now. They’re the one set of stakeholders with flexibility and that could make a united decision. You’ll never get all the politicians and media to be honest, or the public to understand, but just a few companies could set a policy that would protect democracy from the world’s . And they could do it without having to pick sides or make questionable decisions on a case-by-case basis. Just block them all from all candidates.

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Facebook wrote in response to Biden’s request to block the Trump ads that “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”

But banning campaign ads would still leave room for open political expression that’s subject to public scrutiny. Social networks should continue to let politicians say what they want to their own followers, barring calls for violence. Tech giants can offer a degree of freedom of speech, just not freedom of reach. Whoever wants to listen can, but they shouldn’t be able to jam misinformation into the feeds of the unsuspecting.

If the tech giants want to stop short of completely banning campaign ads, they could introduce a format designed to minimize misinformation. Politicians could be allowed to simply promote themselves with a set of stock messages, but without the option to make claims about themselves or their opponents.

Campaign ads aren’t a huge revenue driver for social apps, nor are they a high-margin business nowadays. The Trump and Clinton campaigns spent only a combined $81 million on 2016 election ads, a fraction of Facebook’s $27 billion in revenue that year. $284 million was spent in total on 2018 midterm election ads versus Facebook’s $55 billion in revenue last year, says Tech For Campaigns. Zuckerberg even said that Facebook will lose money selling political ads because of all the moderators it hires to weed out election interference by foreign parties.

Surely, there would be some unfortunate repercussions from blocking campaign ads. New candidates in local to national elections would lose a tool for reducing the lead of incumbents, some of which have already benefited from years of advertising. Some campaign ads might be pushed “underground” where they’re not properly labeled, though the major spenders could be kept under watch.

If the social apps can still offer free expression through candidates’ own accounts, aren’t reliant on politicians’ cash to survive, won’t police specific lies in their promos, and would rather let the government regulate the situation, then they should respectfully decline to sell campaign advertising. Following the law isn’t enough until the laws adapt. This will be an ongoing issue through the 2020 election, and leaving the floodgates open is irresponsible.

If a game is dangerous, you don’t eliminate the referee. You stop playing until you can play safe.

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.

Instagram launches a ‘creators’ account to encourage more… creation

Instagram deployed a new tool today that should help it continue to build a more viable alternative to YouTube for individual creators looking to try a different platform. It’s a dedicated account called @creators, which will deliver tips and tricks for people hoping to become more active on the platform.

Based on the pinned FAQ story that Instagram has posted to the account, and a brief explainer with some testimonials from actual creators using the platform. Some of the questions that Instagram answers include how to get Verified, which must be asked so incredibly frequently by this particular set of folks.

The grid posts of @creators include some helpful tips like pointing out that 60% of people listen to stories on the platform with the sound on. Clearly, the account is geared towards pushing video creation tips and tools, which makes sense given that’s an area of growth for the company, and a way for it to win over disaffected YouTubers and younger creators who are looking for their new home on the web.

This could be a huge potential opportunity for Instagram, in fact, and this account, while a small part of an overall approach to wooing creators, is a good one.

YouTube CEO says it ‘missed the mark’ with verification overhaul

Less than 24 hours after YouTube announced that it would be changing its creator verification process, CEO Susan Wojcicki admitted that the news hasn’t gone over very well.

“To our creators & users – I’m sorry for the frustration & hurt that we caused with our new approach to verification,” Wojcicki tweeted. “While trying to make improvements, we missed the mark. As I write this, we’re working to address your concerns & we’ll have more updates soon.”

The stated goal of the changes was to make it clear that verification isn’t an endorsement from YouTube, but simply a statement that the creator really is who they claim to be. This distinction became increasingly important as YouTube faced criticism for allowing the spread of hate speech and misinformation, with executives then defending the service as an open platform.

So moving forward, YouTube said it would focus on verifying public figures, famous brands and well-known creators — rather than allowing any account with more than 100,000 subscribers to request verification.

As a result of the new policy, numerous YouTube creators (including some with millions of subscribers) were notified that would be losing their verified status. Naturally, they went public with their unhappiness. (The news also led to some false alarms, like complaints that popular YouTuber PewDiePie had lost his checkmark, when he had not.)

While it remains to be seen how extensively YouTube will be revising or reversing its plans — and whether creators will be satisfied — this still seems like a clear mea culpa from YouTube leadership.

YouTube overhauls its problematic verification program

YouTube’s verification program is getting a massive overhaul, the company announced today, which will likely result in a number of less prominent creators losing their verification status. Previously, YouTube allowed any channel that reached 100,000 subscribers to request verification. That limit is being removed, with a change to the verification program that rolls out in October. Going forward, YouTube will focus its efforts on verifying channels that have more of a need to prove their authenticity — like those belonging to a brand, public figure, artist or another creator who might be subject to impersonation, for example.

YouTube says the earlier verification system was established when the site was smaller, but its ecosystem has since grown and “become more complex.”

Instead of looking at a number of subscribers — a metric than can be gamed by bots — the new system will have more murky requirements. YouTube says it’s about “prominence,” which it defines in a number of ways.

For starters, YouTube will determine if the channel represents a “well-known or highly searched for creator, artist, public figure or company.” It will also consider if the channel is widely recognized outside of YouTube and has a strong online presence, or if it’s a channel that has a very similar name to many other channels.

We understand YouTube will use a combination of human curation and algorithmic signals to make these determinations. When asked, the company declined to discuss the specifics, however.

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There were several reasons YouTube wanted to change its system, beyond raising the threshold for verification.

The company had run into a similar problem that Twitter once faced — people mistook the verification badge as an endorsement. On Twitter, that issue reached a tipping point when it was discovered that Twitter had verified the Charlottesville rally organizer. Twitter stopped verifying accounts shortly afterward. Its system today is still being fixed, but the project has been put on the back burner.

Similarly, YouTube’s research found that over 30% of users misunderstood the verification badge’s meaning, believing the checkmark indicted “endorsement of content,” not “identity.”

This is problematic for YouTube for a number of reasons, but mainly because the company wants to distance itself from the content on its platform — content that is often racist, vile, false, dangerous, conspiracy-filled and extremist. YouTube wants to be an open site, with all the troubles that entails, but doesn’t want to be held accountable for the terrible things posted there — like the 14-year-old girl who grew to online fame by posting racist, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ videos, or the high-profile star who made repeated racist comments, then gets honored by YouTube with special creator rewards. 

There were other issues with the prior system, as well.

Some creators would fake their verification status, for instance. Before the changes, a verified channel would display a checkmark next to its channel name. This could be easily forged by simply adding a checkmark to the end of a channel name.

Plus, the checkmark itself only really worked when people viewed the channel’s main watch page on desktop or mobile. It didn’t translate as well to interactions in live chats, on community posts or in stories.

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By revamping the verification system, YouTube is clarifying that the verification isn’t an endorsement — it’s a neutral statement of fact. It’s also less difficult to forge, and works everywhere the creator interacts with fans.

The updated verification system drops the checkmark in favor of a gray swipe across the channel name (see above).

This applies to both channels and artists. With regards to the latter, it will replace the music note.

The system will roll out in late October, YouTube said, and the new criteria will apply for all channels.

Those who meet the new requirements won’t need to apply — they’ll automatically receive the new verified treatment. Others who didn’t qualify for re-verification will be notified today and will have the option to appeal the decision before the changes take place.

Information on the appeals process will be available in YouTube’s Help Center.

Update, 9/19/19, 1:26 PM ET: Here’s the letter YouTube creators are receiving. Note it refers to a timeframe of “early” instead of “late” October for the changes.

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Here’s the email if you stay verified (thanks @thiojoe) –

Google starts highlighting key moments from videos in Search

Google today announced an update to how it handles videos in search results. Instead of just listing relevant videos on the search results page, Google will now also highlight the most relevant parts of longer videos, based on timestamps provided by the video creators. That’s especially useful for how-to videos or documentaries.

“Videos aren’t skimmable like text, meaning it can be easy to overlook video content altogether,” Google Search product manager Prashant Baheti writes in today’s announcement. “Now, just like we’ve worked to make other types of information more easily accessible, we’re developing new ways to understand and organize video content in Search to make it more useful for you.”

In the search results, you will then be able to see direct links to the different parts of a video and a click on those will take you right into that part of the video.

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To make this work, content creators first have to mark up their videos with bookmarks for the specific segments they want to highlight, no matter what platform they are on. Indeed, it’s worth stressing that this isn’t just a feature for YouTube creators. Google says it’s already working with video publishers like CBS Sports and NDTV, who will soon start marking up their videos.

I’m somewhat surprised that Google isn’t using its machine learning wizardry to mark up videos automatically. For now, the burden is on the video creator and given how much work simply creating a good video is, it remains to be seen how many of them will do so. On the other hand, though, it’ll give them a chance to highlight their work more prominently on Google Search, though Google doesn’t say whether the markup will have any influence on a video’s ranking on its search results pages.

YouTube tests profile cards that show users’ comment history

YouTube commenters will now have their channel loyalty — or their tendency to troll — exposed, thanks to a new feature called profile cards, now in testing. Recently announced by way of YouTube’s Creator Insider channel, where the company shares updates and changes with its creator community, these new profile cards would appear whenever you clicked on a commenter’s name, and would list all their other recent comments on the channel.

Currently, if you click on a commenter’s name, you’re redirected to their channel page on YouTube.

But that doesn’t allow the video creator or other commenters to learn much about the person behind a given comment, in many cases, as not everyone publishes to YouTube. The commenter’s channel could be sparse, out of date or completely unrelated to the topic at hand.

With the new profile cards, however, you’ll instead be able to see all the recent comments left on the channel over the past 12 months. However, it won’t show their comments left on other channels at this time. In other words, it’s not a full user profile, similar to what you would find on other message board sites like Reddit, where a complete comment history is available for each user.

“It will help you get a sense of what this person is writing,” explains YouTube Director of Product Management Tom Leung, in the annoucement published in the past week. “We hope that it will strengthen connections with others in the YouTube community and will help creators recognize some of their best commenters,” he added.

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Though not mentioned, the new feature also could help creators recognize some of their worst commenters, as well — meaning, those who only show up to troll, derail discussions or otherwise cause problems.

Being able to see a history of someone’s comments would allow a video creator or moderator to make a more informed decision about whether future comments from the same user should be hidden or, conversely, if the user is trustworthy enough to earn a spot on the “approved users” list so their comments get published automatically.

The new profile card also will include a link to the commenter’s YouTube channel, but it doesn’t redirect you there as before. YouTube didn’t say how broadly the experiment is being rolled out for testing’s sake, but it was well-received by the community members reacting to the announcement at the time.

The test is one of several experiments running on YouTube at present. Another will allow video creators to display a personalized message to help attract new subscribers, the video also noted.

YouTube Music cracks down on rampant chart manipulation with new pay-for-play ban

YouTube will no longer allow paid views and advertising to influence its YouTube Music Charts, the company announced this morning. Instead, it will calculate its rankings based only on view counts coming from organic plays. In addition, it’s changing its methodology for reporting on 24-hour record debuts to also only count views from organic sources, including direct links to the video, search results, Watch Next and Trending — but not video advertising.

The changes come about after multiple reports examined how music labels were spending aggressively on video advertising in order to juice the views of their artists’ newly debuted songs.

One report by Rolling Stone detailed how the practice worked, with regard to YouTube’s TrueView ads. This form of advertising lets the advertiser, like the artist or the label, play a shortened version of a music video as an advertisement in front of other videos. Under some conditions — like if a YouTube user interacts with the video or watches it for a certain amount of time — it would count toward the video’s overall view count.

Bloomberg had also reported on the curious case of Indian rapper Badshah, whose video “Paagal” broke records with 75 million views in a single day — topping a prior record set by Korean boy band BTS. Initially, there were rumors that the label, Sony Music, had used server farms and bots to accomplish this. It later turned out to be paid advertising, which Badshah confessed to on Instagram.

But this was not an uncommon practice — Taylor Swift and Blackpink and many others had done the same, the report said. Badshah had just taken it much further.

The report also said YouTube was considering revising its system, as a result.

Today, YouTube is officially announcing those changes.

“YouTube Music Charts have become an indispensable source for the industry and the most accurate place for measuring the popularity of music listening behavior happening on the world’s largest music platform,” the company explained in a blog post. “In an effort to provide more transparency to the industry and align with the policies of official charting companies such as Billboard and Nielsen, we are no longer counting paid advertising views on YouTube in the YouTube Music Charts calculation. Artists will now be ranked based on view counts from organic plays,” the post read.

The changes impact the 24-hour debuts, plus all of YouTube Music’s other charts, including those focused on what’s rising, trending and popular, both locally and globally.

Though advertising and non-organic views will no longer contribute to the view count for the purpose of YouTube’s Music Chart rankings, the company says these changes will not impact YouTube’s existing 24-hour record debut holders. That means Badshah and others can continue to tout their “records,” tainted as those claims may now be.

The changes won’t likely mean the end of this sort of music video advertising, however. Ads still remain a great way for users to be exposed to new music which can, in turn, boost organic views as links get clicked, shared, and embedded elsewhere around the web, for example. But it could have a dampening impact on the pay-for-play business and the size of the ad spend.

“Staying true to YouTube’s overall mission of giving everyone a voice and showing them the world, we want to celebrate all artist achievements on YouTube as determined by their global fans. It’s the artists and fans that have made YouTube the best and most accurate measure of the world’s listening tastes, and we intend on keeping it that way,” said YouTube.