Amazon’s over-the-top business, including IMDb TV and Twitch, tops 120M monthly viewers

Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV is getting its own mobile app. The company announced the news today at its first-ever NewFronts presentation to advertisers, where it also shared that its over-the-top streaming businesses combined — meaning, IMDb TV, Twitch, live sports like Thursday Night Football, Amazon’s News app and others — have now grown to more than 120 million monthly viewers.

This over-the-top business, or Amazon OTT as it’s called, includes anywhere ads show up alongside content on the IMDb TV app, Twitch’s game streaming site, during live sports Amazon streams through Prime Video, its 3P network and broadcaster apps and its Amazon’s News app for Fire TV.

IMDb TV viewership, in particular, jumped 138% year-over-year, Amazon noted.

The ad-supported service, which likely benefited from the same pandemic bump that drove streaming service viewership higher across the board last year, is something of a rival to other free, ad-supported streamers, like Fox’s Tubi, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV or Roku’s The Roku Channel. However, more like Roku’s hub, Amazon leverages IMDb TV to help it sell its own media devices by promising users easy access to free, streaming content.

Today, that’s resulted in the IMDb TV app seeing the majority of its usage on Fire TV. But over the past several months, the app has become more broadly available, with launches on Roku, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation 4 consoles, Xbox One and Series X devices, LG Smart TVs, Nvidia, Sony Android TV and TiVo Android TV devices, Amazon says.

Now it will get its own dedicated mobile app, as well, instead of only a small section inside the IMDb app where the service’s content can be found today on smartphones. The new standalone app will arrive this summer on both iOS and Android, says Amazon.

Amazon also told advertisers about IMDb TV’s current user base, noting that 62% were in between ages 18 and 49. And they spend 5.5 hours per week on the app, on average.

The forthcoming mobile launch was one of several announcements Amazon made today at its Newfronts presentation today.

The company also detailed its upcoming IMDb TV slate, including unscripted series “Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary,” “Bug Out” and “Untitled Jeff Lewis Project” as well as scripted releases “Blessed and Highly Favored,” “Greek Candy,” “Primo,” “The Fed,” and “The Pradeeps of Pittsburgh, PA.” Music duo Tegan and Sara’s memoir “High School” will be adapted as an original series for IMDb TV. IMDb TV also announced a new crime drama, “Leverage: Redemption,” and police drama, “On Call.”

IMDb TV parent company Amazon, meanwhile, expanded its deal with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, which now runs 11 seasons, starting with the 2022 season instead of the following year.

Private equity firm Apollo to buy Verizon Media assets for $5B, will rename business ‘Yahoo’

Following several days of negotiation and rumors, Verizon today announced that it has entered an agreement to sell its media assets to private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $5 billion. Apollo will be paying Verizon  $4.25 billion in cash, along with preferred interests of $750 million, and Verizon will keep 10% of the company.

The new company, when the deal is complete, will be known simply as Yahoo, and it will continue to be led by current CEO, Guru Gowrappan.

“We are excited to be joining forces with Apollo,” said Gowrappan, CEO, Verizon Media, in a statement. “The past two quarters of double-digit growth have demonstrated our ability to transform our media ecosystem. With Apollo’s sector expertise and strategic insight, Yahoo will be well positioned to capitalize on market opportunities, media and transaction experience and continue to grow our full stack digital advertising platform. This transition will help to accelerate our growth for the long- term success of the company.”

“We are thrilled to help unlock the tremendous potential of Yahoo and its unparalleled collection of brands,” said Reed Rayman, private equity partner at Apollo, in the same statement. “We have enormous respect and admiration for the great work and progress that the entire organization has made over the last several years, and we look forward to working with Guru, his talented team, and our partners at Verizon to accelerate Yahoo’s growth in its next chapter.”

Although Verizon is retaining a stake, its divestment signifies a formal retreat for the telecoms giant, away from its expensive effort to take a stronger role in efforts to own, build and monetize content on top of its own and others’ networks.

The news today caps off days, weeks, months and arguably years of speculation about the future of the media business under Verizon. The price Apollo is paying is in line with reports of the deal in recent days, which collectively pegged the deal at around $4-5 billion.

Those figures may sound big, but not when compared to what Verizon originally paid: a combined $9 billion+ respectively first for AOL in 2015 and then Yahoo in 2017.

The former deal brought AOL and its various media holdings — including The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget — under the VZW umbrella, while the latter added the iconic Yahoo search portal along with a slate of Yahoo services and Tumblr, resulting in a curious mix of newer services skewing to younger audiences mixed with a number of legacy internet properties, plus some experimental efforts thrown into the mix. (And some of those newer efforts are still a part of the process: Verizon notes that Yahoo News is currently the fastest-growing news organization on TikTok.)

After the acquisition, the two companies were merged under the umbrella of a new brand, Oath, part of a bigger strategy that Verizon had to grow a media empire to help it take on online ad giants like Google and Facebook, with the operation run by Tim Armstrong, who had been AOL’s longtime CEO going into the Verizon acquisition.

Ultimately, it never quite played out as Verizon thought that it would, or at least not as quickly as it had hoped.

Hans Vestberg — a longtime telecoms executive who first joined Verizon as CTO in 2017 — became the CEO in June 2018. In doing so, he essentially inherited a digital media business strategy that he had no hand in building.

“Verizon Media has done an incredible job turning the business around over the past two and a half years and the growth potential is enormous,” Vestberg said in a press release. “The next iteration requires full investment and the right resources. During the strategic review process, Apollo delivered the strongest vision and strategy for the next phase of Verizon Media. I have full confidence that Yahoo will take off in its new home.”

Within six months of him taking the top role, Armstrong had left the company (to be succeeded by Guru Gowrappan); and then Verizon wrote the value of its media assets down to $4.6 billion, noting at the time that Oath “experienced increased competitive and market pressures throughout 2018 that have resulted in lower-than-expected revenues and earnings.”

And the Oath name was short lived, with Verizon adopting a far more straightforward name, Verizon Media, in January 2019.

Further moves happened in increments. In August 2019, the company sold blogging platform Tumblr to WordPress-owner, Automattic, for what was described then as a “nominal” price.

Then late last year, as the media world suffered from lack of ad revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Verizon sold off HuffPost to Buzzfeed, coupled with an equity investment into the digital media company and an advertising and syndication deal. And there have been various layoffs to trim the wider media operation.

Since the HuffPost transaction, the rumors swirling around Verizon’s plans to shed its remaining media assets intensified. (Although, again, there were reports around a possible sale for years before this.)

Yet that isn’t the full story.

In spite of a rough year for online publishing, Verizon Media began to see a rebound earlier this year, marking a 12% year-over-year jump in revenue for Q1. In this morning’s release, the company cites Yahoo News’ growth on TikTok, staying that platform “continues to evolve as a key destination for finance and news among Gen Z.” It was, at very least, some short term good news that may have ultimately better positioned the telecom for a big selloff.

Founded in 1990, Apollo has a wide and diverse range of assets, including the recently purchased Venetian resort in Las Vegas and craft giant, Michael’s. It also has a pretty extensive range of holdings in the telecoms, media and tech sector, including ADT, Coinstar, radio and television conglomerate Cox Media, with some assets going private but then getting spun out as public businesses (Rackspace, another Apollo investment, is one example of that). In other words, precisely what shape a company like Verizon Media would ultimately take as part of the Apollo portfolio is still something of a question mark.

“We are big believers in the growth prospects of Yahoo and the macro tailwinds driving growth in digital media, advertising technology and consumer internet platforms,” Apollo senior partner David Sambur says in the release. “Apollo has a long track record of investing in technology and media companies and we look forward to drawing on that experience to help Yahoo continue to thrive.”

The deal is subject to the standard regulator scrutiny. It’s expected to close in the second half of the year.

Spotify CEO says live audio content is the next ‘Stories’

Live audio experiences will be adopted by every major platform just like Stories have been, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told investors on Wednesday’s earnings call. The streaming service recently acquired a live audio app, Locker Room, whose technology it expects to use to power a range of new live audio conversations centered around sports, culture and, of course music.

Investors were curious how exactly Locker Room would fit in with Spotify’s current offerings, given the streamer today is focused on delivering recorded content — music and podcasts — amd not some sort of live social networking experience.

Ek, mirroring what many in the industry have already been thinking, said he sees live audio as a new set of capabilities that will be broadly adopted by all. He basically dubbed it the next “Stories” — a feature popularized by Snapchat, but that eventually made its way to every platform.

“It’s really no different than how you think about Stories,” Ek said, explaining his thoughts on live audio. “Stories today exist on a format on a number of platforms, including Spotify, including, of course, Instagram, Snap and many others. So, I do look at [live audio] as a compelling feature set, and I think creators will engage in the places where they have the best sort of creator-to-fan affinity for the type of interactions that they’re looking for. And I think this is very similar to say how Stories played out historically.”

In other words, each platform may attract a certain kind of live audio creator, and Spotify sees its own potential in the realm of music and culture — the latter thanks to its existing and expansive investments in podcasts.

The interest in live audio emerged in the middle of a pandemic that trapped people at home and shut down traditional networking and large events, like conferences. But that doesn’t mean there’s no future for the format when the world opens back up.

Of course, Clubhouse gets credit for dring the interest in the live audio space as its exclusive invite-only status attracted a crowd of determined networkers (and clout-chasers) looking to participate in the next big thing. But as the app grew more popular, snagging big-name celeb guests — like Tesla founder Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, actor-turned-investor Ashton Kutcher, Drake, Oprah, and more — other tech companies began to take notice. Soon, everyone was building a Clubhouse clone.

Today, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, Discord, Telegram, and even LinkedIn have plans for live audio in various stages of development or availability.

Instead of starting from scratch, however, Spotify made an acquisition. Thanks to Locker Room, originally a place to discuss sports, Spotify said it would soon open up live audio to more professional athletes, writers, musicians, songwriters, podcasters, and “other global voices” who want to host real-time conversations.

In its first earnings call since the deal was announced, investors asked whether Spotify believed linear consumption of spoken word audio was more interesting than music streaming.

Ek explained how spoken word content may only be the beginning of what’s to come as the format evolves.

“As more people start engaging with a feature in a medium, you start seeing more and more professional creators jump on board. So I think it’s probably going to start out with spoken word content,” he said. “But specifically as it relates to Spotify, I think that there will be a lot of musicians that want to engage in everything from speaking to their fans to having listening parties and all other things because it’s so clear to them that on the Spotify platform, that engagement drives meaningful conversion to monetization opportunities just on the basis of our revenue model.”

Spotify said that the biggest request it gets from its over 8 million creators are to have more ways for them to connect with fans. Live audio, by its nature, would give them a very direct way to do just that, given Spotify’s reach  of over 350 million users.

In other words, live audio does not present some either/or scenario with regard to music streaming, as the investor’s question suggested. It’s more of a loop where one thing feeds the other. And “live,” apparently, could also mean music, not just chat.

For example, Ek hinted, when an artist has an album to promote, “you as the fan, may be able to experience that earlier than other consumers can.” Oh really?

Artists could also use live audio to talk about their thinking around writing a song, similar to what the Genius integration “Behind the Lyrics” today provides.

“I think it really comes down to the quality of the content,” said Ek. “And I think when I look at our 8 million creators, we have some of the world’s best storytellers on the platform, and that’s ultimately what people will tune into, and that’s what matters.”

But one area that could be difficult is moderation of live content. Live audio presents a whole new range of challenges for any company, as conversations can go off the rails quickly. And Spotify’s position on drawing line between free speech and policing misinformation or other inappropriate content is still somewhat murky. Its top podcaster Joe Rogan recently advised listeners to not get the Covid vaccine, if they were young and healthy, for example. Spotify declined to weigh in on this particular controversy. But it has removed some 40-plus episodes from the same podcast in the past — some for seemingly lesser violations, like an episode about Bulletproof Coffee and its health claims, for instance.

Before Spotify wades into live audio, it may want to first solidify its own values around creator content. It will need a careful, worst-case-scenario plan for what happens when a live session goes out of bounds, too.

Despite Ek’s optimism around live audio, Spotify’s stock tumbled after earnings as there were signs of slowing growth on the horizon, thanks to increased pressure from rivals, like Apple and Amazon. The company added 3 million paid subscribers in the quarter, but missed on expectations of monthly active users and lowered its full-year guidance. Revenues were up €2.1 billion ($2.6 billion) in the quarter, a 16% increase from the same period last year but down 1% from Q4 2020, raising concerns. But live audio could give fans a reason to tune back in more often in the future, if the Spotify can make the integration work.

Digital comics startup Madefire is shutting down

R.I.P. Madefire, a startup that recruited high-profile artists to reinvent comics for new formats and platforms.

An announcement on the Madefire website states the company entered into “an assignment of benefit for creditors” (explained as “a state-level insolvency proceeding similar to bankruptcy”) earlier this month, which was then reported this morning in The Beat. As a result, no new books will be published, users will not be able to purchase any additional books and they’re also encouraged to download all their purchased content before the end of the month.

This news affects other apps built with Madefire’s technology. The Archie comics app has shut down as well, with the publisher writing, “We realize this comes as a surprise and we are making every effort to do right by our loyal customer base,” specifically by offering readers a free one-month subscription to Comixology Unlimited. (Amazon acquired digital comics platform Comixology in 2014, launching an Unlimited subscription service two years later.)

Madefire first launched in 2012, back when publishers were experimenting with formats like motion comics. The company described its titles as “motion books,” combining the animation and effects of motion comics with a more traditional reading experience.

“Motion comics are a passive experience, a watching experience that is tantamount to bad animation – it’s like watching a movie,” co-founder and CEO Ben Wolstenholme said at the time. “Motion Books is a reading experience, actively controlled by the reader – it’s like reading a book. Our goal is to be the best reading experience developed for the iPad.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the company was the artists it had enlisted before launch, including Dave Gibbons and Bill Sienkiewicz.

More recently, Madefire announced partnerships with other tech platforms, including Snapchat and troubled augmented reality company Magic Leap.

According to Crunchbase, Madefire had raised $16.4 million in funding from investors including True Ventures, Plus Capital, Kevin Spacey (yes, that Kevin Spacey) and Drake, but The Beat reports that the total was “even more than that.”

Monetisation is Key to drive The Second Renaissance in the CREATOR ECONOMY

Creators that are able to grow a community while keeping engagement levels high have a greater opportunity to make a living from their craft more than ever before in history.

Consider this:

Jack Conte, Patreon’s CEO summarised it beautifully in the video below (or on this blog post if you prefer reading) by breaking down the evolution of the creator economy. He calls this period in time “The Second Renaissance”. You’ll notice that monetisation is a key part of the flywheel.

  • There are over 4 billion people online
  • Over a billion of them have a smartphone capable of creating high quality media
  • Creativity and content creation online are booming
  • The cost of creating content has gone down to almost zero
  • More than 50 million people in the US alone describe themselves as ‘creators’
  • New monetisation tools mean that creators are able to make a living from their craft
  • Their success is starting to impact culture, as kids aspire to become creators themselves

Show creators the money

As you can see, unlocking payments is key to driving more content creation and the platforms are racing to introduce new monetisation tools for creators. We’re moving from an ads model (based on volume) to a subscription/commerce model, based on engagement/value.

The audio space is heating up and a flurry of announcements around creator monetisation came out in the past few weeks:

And elsewhere creator monetisation tools and revenue streams continue to expand:

  • Ads and bran dealsYoutube reported $6 billion in revenue for Q1 2021, a 50% growth rate from the equivalent period last year. The sum is equivalent to the combined annual revenue of Snap and Twitter for 2020. While not all of it goes to creators, Covid-19 lockdowns drove a huge amount of volume to the platform.
  • Donations/pledges – Patreon, the early mover of creator monetisation tools, raised $155M on a $4 billion valuation in April 2021, tripling the valuation from a previous round in Sept 2020. They already distribute over $100M a month amongst their 200,000+ creators.
  • Premium contentTwitter announced “super follow” to enable users to charge their followers for access to additional content.
  • Digital collectibles and NFTs exploded (and then calmed down) as a way for creators to monetise digital collectibles and art
  • Social commerce – creators can monetise fandom by driving ecommerce purchases or selling their own merchandise via the social platforms. Examples include Benchmark-backed Popshop Live, or India’s SoftBank-backed unicorn Meesho.
  • Paid 1:1 Interactions and Livestreaming – from the celebrity greetings marketplace Cameo to dedicated providers like SuperPeer, Wisio or Heywith.
  • Subscription – OnlyFans, the adult content subscription platform reported that revenues surged to $2.4 Billion in 2020. Fans pay between $5 and $50 a month to get access to images, videos and other content.
  • Merchandising – t-shirts, hoodies, caps – anything you can put your name/brand on that will make fans interested is fair game. Merch is big on Twitch and with gaming streamers, esports teams, musicians etc. For example, Youtuber PewDiePie makes $6.8 million a month from Merch alone.

For creators to monetise better, the platforms need to continue innovating. A16Z, did a great job summarising how companies (vs. individual creators) are monetising beyond ads in their series ‘social is back’.

Source: A16Z, Six Ways New Social Companies Will Monetize Beyond Ads

Platform take rates = tax

Most creators build their audiences on Platforms etc. The platform provides the tools and in most cases the audience, but that of course, comes at a cost. The top creators are able to negotiate rates directly with the platforms and cut deals. For everyone else, take rates are ‘an invisible tax‘ on creators as Li Jin from Atalier Ventures puts it. Jin is advocating for the need to create a creator middle class to broaden the path for success.

The issue of payment fragmentation and take rates deserves as post of its own, but Lenny Rachitsky shared an interesting take on the topic earlier this week.

Creator Funds

If you agree that creators can effectively become small businesses by building a community and engagement, one of the opportunities in this space is providing the start capital for emerging creators. Patreon already provides cash advances, effectively ‘equity investments’ in the creator’s future revenue streams, and Tiktok announced a $1 billion creator fund last March to attract creators to the platform. Not everyone is happy, it seems.

New ‘creator funds’ are starting to emerge. A recent example is Creative Juice, a $2M fund to invest in emerging creators, backed partly by Index Ventures, Inspired Capital and creators like MrBeast. It’s described as “a groundbreaking way for creators to support each other and invest in their peers’ businesses.”

Creators are also increasingly becoming angel investors in B2C startups, similar to celebrity investments which are also on the rise, leveraging their profile to help their portfolio stand out.

Finally, a small plug to Remagine Ventures. If you’re a founder in the creator economy with a fresh take on these issues, we’d love to hear from you! We’ve made several investments in the space (some are still in stealth).

The post Monetisation is Key to drive The Second Renaissance in the CREATOR ECONOMY appeared first on VC Cafe.

Netflix launches its shuffle feature, now called ‘Play Something,’ to users worldwide

Netflix today is officially launching a feature that will make it easier to find something to watch when you’re stuck browsing and unable to make a decision. The service is introducing a tool called “Play Something” to users worldwide — the final iteration that “shuffle” feature you may have already seen during Netflix’s tests over the past year. When selected, Netflix will play another show or movie it thinks you’ll like, based on your interests and prior viewing behavior.

In other words, it won’t play random content, but will instead bring up either a movie or show you’re already watching, a series or movie on your list, an unfinished series or movie you may want to revisit, or a brand new series or film that Netflix’s personalization algorithms suggest.

The feature has been in testing under various names and styles for some time. A year ago, the feature was called Shuffle Play, for example. During its Q4 earnings, Netflix said the shuffle feature would roll out to its worldwide users sometime in the first half of 2021, describing it as a way for users to “instantly watch a title chosen just for them.”

For today’s launch, not much has changed beyond the feature’s name and style.

Image Credits: Netflix

The new option can be found on Netflix’s TV app underneath your profile name, on the navigation menu to the left of your screen and on the tenth row on your Netflix homepage — a location that hopes to find users after they’ve been scrolling for some time without landing on anything they want to watch.

Netflix users with screen-readers can use Text-to-Speech (TTS) to use Play Something, the company notes.

While Netflix is always testing features that make it easier for users to jump from browsing to watching, this feature in particular comes at a time when Netflix is seeing slower subscriber growth — something it’s blaming on the lighter content slate due to COVID. But the reality is that Netflix is no longer the only streamer in town. And some of the content it has shipped has been weak, as evident in the growing list of cancellations. It has also lost top titles like “The Office” to rivals as rights’ holders have pulled their content back to their own new services.

Image Credits: Netflix

For those reasons, too, Netflix needs a way to addict its current user base to what’s available in its existing catalog before they churn out.

The new Play Something feature is available today on Netflix on TVs, and will soon begin testing on mobile devices, starting with Android.

Daily Crunch: Spotify adds support for paid podcasts

Spotify launches paid podcast support, Amazon announces new tablets and we unveil the agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility. This is your Daily Crunch for April 27, 2021.

The big story: Spotify adds support for paid podcasts

As first announced in February, Spotify is now allowing podcasters to offer subscriber-only content, published through its Anchor podcasting software. Creators choose from three subscription tiers — $2.99, $4.99 or $7.99 per month.

This comes one week after Apple announced support for paid podcast subscriptions. But where Apple said it would take 30% of first-year subscriptions and 15% after that, Spotify says it will pass 100% of revenue on to podcasters for the first two years, only charging a 5% fee starting in 2023.

The tech giants

Amazon announces new Fire tablets and kids editions — The Fire HD 10 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, with pricing starting at $150.

Tesla wants to make every home a distributed power plant — CEO Elon Musk said he wants to turn every home into a distributed power plant that would generate, store and even deliver energy back into the electricity grid, all using the company’s products.

Red Hat CEO looks to maintain double-digit growth in second year at helm — Red Hat CEO Paul Cormier runs the centerpiece of IBM’s transformation hopes.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Kids-focused fintech Greenlight raises $260M in a16z-led Series D, nearly doubles valuation to $2.3B — Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has set up accounts for more than 3 million parents and children.

Kry closes $312M Series D after use of its telehealth tools grows 100% yoy — During the pandemic, Kry quickly stepped in to offer a free service for doctors to conduct web-based consultations.

Banana Capital’s debut fund is for internet-first founders — You might know him for his viral tweets, but Turner Novak wasn’t always a master meme-maker.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Internal rates of return in emerging US tech hubs are starting to overtake Silicon Valley — AngelList analyzed IRR for almost 2,500 deals dating back to 2013.

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss proptech’s biggest opportunities — The pair joined us to discuss questions like: How should proptech founders think about competition, strategic investment versus top-tier VC firms and how to build their board?

SaaS subscriptions may be short-serving your customers — Adam Riggs argues that software as a service may have become a bit too interchangeable with subscription models.

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

Everything else

Announcing the Agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 — Our guests will include Scale AI founder Alexandr Wang, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, Amy Jones Satrom of Nuro and famed investor Reid Hoffman.

Taking stock of the VC industry’s progress on diversity, equity and inclusion — A look at the VC Human Capital Survey from the National Venture Capital Association, Venture Forward and Deloitte.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Netflix won seven Oscars last night

After everything was wrapped up at a very weird Oscars ceremony, original films released by Netflix had won seven statuettes.

The streaming service’s awards include two for “Mank” (production design and cinematography), two for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (hair/makeup and costume), documentary feature (“My Octopus Teacher”), animated short (“If Anything Happens I Love You”) and live action short (“Two Distant Strangers”).

Meanwhile, Amazon’s “Sound of Metal” won the awards for sound and editing, while Facebook’s Oculus, EA and Respawn won their first Oscar for “Colette,” which won in the documentary short category.

This comes after a pandemic year which saw theaters closing or operating at reduced capacity, forcing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to delay the ceremony and change its awards eligibility rules. It also essentially erased the distinction between theatrical and streaming films — for example, Searchlight Pictures released Best Picture-winner “Nomadland” in theaters and on Hulu at the same time.

Netflix received 36 nominations total, making it the most-nominated studio, with “Mank” the most-nominated film. And seven wins is a big improvement on the two it won last year.

Going into the evening, “Nomadland” was seen as the frontrunner for Best Picture, but Netflix executives still had reason to be  disappointed: In a nearly unprecedented move, Best Picture wasn’t the final award of the night — instead, it was Best Actor, which was widely expected to go to the late Chadwick Boseman for his performance in “Ma Rainey.” So when Anthony Hopkins (who wasn’t in attendance) won for “The Father,” it made for a pretty deflating end to the evening.

Facebook introduces a new miniplayer that streams Spotify within the Facebook app

Facebook announced last week an expanded partnership with streaming music service Spotify that would bring a new way to listen to music or podcasts directly within Facebook’s app, which it called Project Boombox. Today, the companies are rolling out this integration via a new “miniplayer” experience that will allow Facebook users to stream from Spotify through the Facebook app on iOS or Android. The feature will be available to both free Spotify users and Premium subscribers.

The miniplayer itself is an extension of the social sharing option already supported within Spotify’s app. Now, when Spotify users are listening to content they want to share to Facebook, they’ll be able to tap the existing “Share” menu (the three dot-menu at the upper right of the screen) and then tap either “Facebook” or “Facebook News Feed.”

When a user posts an individual track or podcast episode to Facebook through this sharing feature, the post will now display in a new miniplayer that allows other people who come across their post to also play the content as they continue to scroll, or reshare it. (Cue MySpace vibes!)

Spotify’s paid subscribers will be able to access full playback, the company says. Free users, meanwhile, will be able to hear the full shared track, not a clip . But afterwards, they’ll continue to listen to ad-supported content on Shuffle mode, just as they would in Spotify’s own app.

One important thing to note here about all this works is that the integration allows the music or podcast content to actually play from within the Spotify app. When a user presses play on the miniplayer, an app switch takes place so the user can log into Spotify. The miniplayer activates and controls the launch and playback in the Spotify app — which is how the playback is able continue even as the user scrolls on Facebook or if they minimize the Facebook app altogether.

This setup means users will need to have the Spotify mobile app installed on their phone and a Spotify account for the miniplayer to work. For first-time Spotify users, they’ll have to sign up for a free account in order to listen to the music shared via the miniplayer.

Spotify notes that it’s not possible to sign up for a paid account through the mini-player experience itself, so there’s no revenue share with Facebook on new subscriptions. (Users have to download the Spotify app and sign up for Paid accounts from there if they want to upgrade.)

The partnership allows Spotify to leverage Facebook’s reach to gain distribution and to drive both sign-ups and repeat usage of its app just as the Covid bump to subscriber growth may be wearing off. However, it’s still responsible for the royalties paid on streams, just as it was before, the company told TechCrunch, because its app is the one actually doing the streaming. It’s also fully in charge of the music catalog and audio ads that play alongside the content.

For Facebook, this deal means it now has a valuable tool to keep users spending time on its site — a metric that has been declining over the years, reports have indicated.

Spotify and Facebook have a long history of working together on music efforts. Facebook back in 2011 had been planning an update that would allow music subscription users to engage with music directly on Facebook, much like this. But those plans were later dialed back, possibly over music rights’ or technical issues. Spotify had also been one of the first media partners on Facebook’s ticker, which would show you in real-time what friends were up to on Facebook and other services. And Spotify had once offered Facebook Login as the default for its mobile app. Today, as it has for years, Spotify users on the desktop can see what their Facebook friends are streaming on its app, thanks to social networking integrations.

The timing for this renewed and extended partnership is interesting. Now, both Facebook and Spotify have a mutual enemy with Apple, whose privacy-focused changes are impacting Facebook’s ad business and whose investments in Apple Music and Podcasts are a threat to Spotify. As Facebook’s own music efforts in more recent years have shifted towards partnership efforts — like music video integrations enabled by music label agreements — it makes sense that it would turn to a partner like Spotify to power a new streaming feature that supports Facebook’s broader efforts around monetizable tools and services aimed at the creator economy.

The miniplayer feature had been tested in non-U.S. markets, Mexico and Thailand, ahead of its broader global launch today.

In addition to the U.S., the integration is fully rolling out to users in Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay.

Creator+ raises $12M to build a film studio and streaming service focused on digital storytellers

In the words of co-founder and CEO Jonathan Shambroom, Creator+ is a new startup that will “finance, produce and distribute feature-length films from today’s top creators and emerging storytellers.”

The company is coming out of stealth today and also announcing that it has raised $12 million in funding led by Petra Group and Freestyle Capital, with participation from Jake Roper, Peter Hollens, Wendy Ayche (aka Wengie), Selina Tobaccowala, Jazwares CEO Judd Zebersky and others.

Shambroom (who’s been an executive at numerous startups and also served as general manager at Crackle) told me that one of the key aspects of the Creator+ strategy is that it controls “both sides of the equation” — it’s both producing films and building its own streaming platform, where the movies will be available for individual purchase, with no subscriptions and no ads.

He said that allows the startup to control costs and distribution, but it also “enables us to do something brand new with creators,” giving them a 50-50 split on revenue, as well as sharing audience data and ownership of the intellectual property.

“Creator” is a term that gets used pretty broadly, and Creator+ isn’t announcing any specific deals today. But co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Benjamin Grubbs (who previously led creator partnerships at YouTube) told me the company is initially focused on “storytellers and artists.”

“We recognize that there are a lot of gifted storytellers on some of these large, open, ad-supported platforms where they already reach large audiences and fan bases,” Grubbs said. “But there are constraints, whether that’s time-based or economic, on the types of stories that you can actually tell.”

So Creator+ will allow those creators to break free of some of those constraints, making feature films with budgets in the low seven figures. Shambroom said the startup wants to deliver “what people expect in a film, 90 minutes give-or-take … in many of the genres that exist today” while also allowing creators to experiment with new formats and new production technologies. In some cases, these movies could be a creator’s “passion project,” while in other cases Creator+ could match them up with the right script.

“We see a multitude of roles and opportunities for creators, both in front of or behind the camera,” Grubbs added.

Creator+ plans to put between five and 10 films into production this year, with the first titles released in 2022. Shambroom said it’s committed to supporting underrepresented storytellers and has already hired Ben O’Keefe as its head of diversity and impact. The team also has global ambitions, which is why they brought on international investors, including Malaysia-based Petra Group.