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Gillmor Gang: Off the Wall

Most of us count the golden age of Michael Jackson’s career with the Quincy Jones produced global smashes of Thriller and Bad. Fueled by the stream of videos and multi-single releases (5 on Bad), the records dominated the charts, radio, and MTV. But the real breakthrough came just before with Jackson’s first solo record Off the Wall.

Born in the thrall of the Disco Era, it wasn’t hip, a surrender to the feel of funk meets MGM. But in the mountains around Woodstock, we couldn’t pry this record off the turntable. Today, with a simple voice command to Siri, the mists evaporate and with them the pandemic, working, working, working day and night, the melting years. And the bass. My God but it drives us to Living Life off the wall.

Permission is what we’re given. We need it. No matter what lies in store for us, the grooves capture the essence of our future, unlock our hopes and dreams, our intuition. Can we dare to think this way, the blend of vocals, horns, percussion, and the coursing basses? A Stevie Wonder track recharges the battery. The record fades out quietly, priming the pump for Side One.

Today we lost a nightclub comedian, as Norm MacDonald called himself in a YouTube clip. Like the best of them, his comedy spooled out of him like a 50’s cop show, methodical and faux stupid. You could see his genius in the faces of the funny people who had him on their shows — Letterman, Leno, Conan, an agonizingly hilarious Dennis Miller on his foul-mouthed HBO cable show. Talk about off the wall.

Miller defined this most selfish of dark arts, the joy of being funnier in the presence of funny. In a time of excruciating not funny, these strange warriors tilt with the vagaries of the laugh. MacDonald’s careful construction of his sleight of word was all the richer for his seemingly aimless pursuit of the sweet spot, where the punchline is so McGuffin-like for its inevitability.

As the world slowly recovers its focus, Apple has released a new iPhone that can adjust reality after the fact, Knowing this feat is not possible to recover what and who we’ve lost, I’m so grateful for the time we’ve had with these greats and their great moments. When the traveler reached the top of the mountain and asked the wise man for the secret of life, he replied, “Could you give me a sec, I’m on the phone.”

the latest Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, August 27, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Gillmor Gang: Life Goes On

When we imagine what it will be like when we exit the pandemic, what we’re really wondering is what we want from the digital transformation we’ve seen overturn our understanding of work and living safely. As much as we long for the days of the office and collaboration with our peers, some of that is about the mental space we achieve from the constant disruption of home life. Parenting has shifted from an arms-length affair to a therapeutic maintenance of burnout, over-saturation of news, and anxiety — and that’s just us. Our kids in many ways have already made the digital transition we are all now forced to endure.

They don’t see work from home as a choice because they’ve already defined it as how things work. The shift from meetings to asynchronous threads (texting only, please) has put work into a kind of binge streaming model. You don’t go to the movies — you check in to the situation the characters find themselves grappling with. Conversations overlap in group chats, solving existing problems while foreshadowing the next set. Overriding themes like what am I going to do in life and who are my real friends joust for interaction time.

Voice calls are fundamentally transactional. Video (FaceTime) is used for pitches and demos. And the flow is in both directions. Our kids want reassurance, a sense that wiser heads will prevail as we learn the rules of the new society. Parents want reassurance too, that they will be able to balance the competing needs of kids, grandparents, and the constant pressure of a notification grid filled with breaking news. Interruptions in this new environment are the single biggest cost of loss of focus and diminished productivity.

Turning off notifications often creates more problems than it solves. You trade protection from the immediate crisis for reduced ability to respond to a broader one. Answers to the next question prove more effective. The permissions and posting privileges of a messaging layer guide the information flow, bubble to the top, and anticipate the aggregate value of the channel in follows and subscriptions. The patterns of social metadata — @mentions, retweets, private messages, likes— can be separated from the content to prioritize the distribution of threads.

The appeal of the creator economy and its emerging suite of tools for disrupting traditional media is moving from personal to professional. Mom and pop businesses can project sophisticated services to evangelize, market, and fund growth of their products. The same contours of notification personalization become the valuable data streaming juggernauts like Netflix hoard to run their production and publishing businesses.

On this edition of the Gang, Frank Radice sees parallels to the television industry grappling with digital for the first time.

That’s exactly about the same time that NBC decided that they needed to get into digital. And we had this gigantic meeting in California with all the executives in one huge room with the doors closed and nobody was allowed to have their phone on them so that we could talk about what digital was going to be and what it was going to do and how we were going to use it and what we were going to make of it. And in the end, everybody walked out of there saying, you know, we don’t understand anything about this, but I’ll tell you, we know we need to be there. And I think a lot of it started that way.

The problem with transforming industries is that the collapsing business models are a habit that’s hard to quit. As Michael Markman remembers:

My friend Hardie Tankersley [colleague in the early days at Apple] predicted this a decade ago when he was working for Fox. And they said, ‘Yeah, we all know that. Just don’t bother us now. We’re still making money.’

This is the lesson the record companies learned the hard way, by waiting too long to absorb the Napster threat. Are newsletters and live streaming the tip of the spear to do the same to the media companies?

Michael adds a note of caution:

Zuckerberg did his own version of this. He’s using AR to give you the feeling you’re sitting in a room at a conference table with a bunch of other people. And I’m remembering back to my old time working for corporations. That was the worst part of work, sitting in a room at a conference table with other people.

As the Beatles say, la-la-la-la life goes on.

the latest Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, August 20, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Gillmor Gang: Half a Loaf

When Salesforce announced its streaming platform Salesforce+, the CRM Playaz’ Paul Greenberg and Brent Leary interviewed Colin Fleming, SVP of Global Brand Experiences at the CRM company (disclosure: I work at Salesforce). Later, I asked Brent about his show on this episode of the Gang.

Brent: With all the things going on with data privacy and cookies going away, companies are going to have to figure out a way to get first—and that third party, but first party data in a clean way.
Me: Can you describe the difference?
Well, a third party, you go to a website and this website has partners that you have nothing to do with, and all of a sudden you land on a website and the next thing you know, you might be getting hit up with an ad or an email from a company you didn’t even expect, you don’t have a relationship with. But that company has a relationship with the website owner. So all of this stuff, all of these interactions or nuisance breakup of your day because of ads and notifications you’re getting, you’re getting it not because you had a direct relationship, but you landed on a site that has potentially thousands of relationships with other companies that want to get at you.
And that’s the third party cookies way of doing things. Well, that’s going away. And one of the things that [Fleming] pointed out is that what Salesforce wants to do is create great content in order to be able to build a direct relationship and not have to depend on the traditional third party backroom deals. And I thought that was really great. I was really excited to hear that part of it, because I think it’s another way of forcing people to actually get away from this third party stuff and and be more direct about what their intentions are and what they’re trying to do.

I asked Keith Teare how quickly third party data is going to go away.

Keith: Well, it’s already starting to go away because of Apple’s implementation on iOS blocking things. Microsoft’s browser [market share] is quite small these days, but it also blocks things. So you’re moving from these common pools, lakes of data, to what you could think more of as a walled garden data, meaning first person data. Companies can’t rely on targeting through the network anymore unless they themselves know the users and then they can.
So that leads to this big question, which is: what is the right balance between content marketing (which is what I really think Salesforce is doing) where you’ve got a direct audience, versus advertising, where you pay somebody to show an ad? The targeting on ads is going to deteriorate and content marketing, which is what you could think of as earned media—that is to say, you work to get the attention—is going to grow. So this is really a fairly major shot in the arm of what some people call the creator economy and spreading it out into the enterprise. Every enterprise is going to have to become a creator in this world.

Denis Pombriant added:

Denis: I read an interesting report this week. It was the seventh edition of the Salesforce Marketing Survey. The first half of it was very positive about using new technology to support work from anywhere and a variety of other things that free you from the office. But the second part of it had some very interesting data about where investments were going by corporations into new marketing. In about a dozen categories, no category had more than a 50 percent response. Basically saying, yeah, we’re investing enough or we’re actively pursuing this. So the conclusion I draw from is that everything we seem to be doing about being more tech savvy out on the Web and addressing customers and colleagues and cohorts or whatever it is, is somewhat lagging and will lag until organizations invest in the skills and the people to support some of the new things like content development, audio content development, video content development, AI, and quite a few other things as well.

I think that’s right. It’s not whether there’s a creator economy or not. The investments made by vendors, while significant and market-making, depend on the market expanding beyond its roots. Blogs and podcasts began as a kind of extension of the mainstream media, but foundered when readers and listeners moved to social authority as a measure of credibility. Newsletters and livecasting suffer when the value proposition of the ad hoc media looks too much like the mainstream media it hopes to replace. Instead, we turn the mute button on and eventually escape to fictionalized stories where good triumphs over evil or the reverse.

The creator economy has produced a kind of vaudeville, where talent bubbles up to feed a hungry niche. Where real success comes is when that consensus of what is right for the emotional center mitigates the extremes of the partisan groups and the controversy that drives the current mainstream model. The Rachel Maddow negotiations and the lumbering infrastructure deals suggest a progress of moderate success. Maddow is moving toward a weekly show with creator spinoffs yet to be defined, and Congress is developing a half a loaf plus a little legislative strategy to carve up an unachievable agenda into small successes loosely joined. Not too left, not too right, but enough to beat back the assault on voter rights while protecting the middle. Half a loaf is better than none.

the latest Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, August 13, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Popcorn’s new app brings short-form video to the workplace

A new startup called Popcorn wants to make work communication more fun and personal by offering a way for users to record short video messages, or “pops,” that can be used for any number of purposes in place of longer emails, texts, Slack messages, or Zoom calls. While there are plenty of other places to record short-form video these days, most of these exist in the social media space which isn’t appropriate for a work environment. Nor does it make sense to send a video you’ve recorded on your phone as an email attachment, when you really just want to check in with a colleague or say hello.

Popcorn, on the other hand, lets you create the short video and then send a URL to that video anywhere you would want add a personal touch to your message.

For example, you could use Popcorn in business networking scenario, where you’re trying to connect with someone in your industry for the first time — aka “cold outreach.” Instead of just blasting them a message on LinkedIn, you could also paste in the Popcorn URL to introduce yourself in a more natural, friendly fashion. You could also use Popcorn with your team at work for things like daily check-ins, sharing progress on an ongoing project, or to greet new hires, among other things.

Videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length — a time limit designed to keep Popcorn users from rambling. Users can also opt to record audio only if they don’t want to appear on video. And you can increase the playback speed if you’re in a hurry. Users who want to receive “pops” could also advertise their “popcode” (e.g. try mine at U8696).

The idea to bring short-form video to the workplace comes from Popcorn co-founder and CEO Justin Spraggins, whose background is in building consumer apps. One of his first apps to gain traction back in 2014 was a Tinder-meets-Instagram experience called Looksee that allowed users to connect around shared photos. A couple years later, he co-founded a social calling app called Unmute, a Clubhouse precursor of sorts. He then went on to co-found 9 Count, a consumer app development shop which launched more social apps like BFF (previously Wink) and Juju.

9 Count’s lead engineer, Ben Hochberg, is now also a co-founder on Popcorn (or rather, Snack Break, Inc. as the legal entity is called). They began their work on Popcorn in 2020, just after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the rapid shift to remote work that’s come in the days that followed could now help Popcorn gain traction among distributed teams. Today’s remote workers may never again return to in-person meetings at the office, but they’re also are growing tired of long days stuck in Zoom meetings.

With Popcorn, the goal is to make work communication fun, personal and bite-sized, Spraggins says. “[We want to] bring all the stuff we’re really passionate about in consumer social into work, which I think is really important for us now,” he explains.

“You work with these people, but how do you — without scheduling a Zoom — how do you bring the ‘human’ to it?,” Spraggins says. “I’m really excited about making work products feel more social, more like Snapchat than utility tools.”

There is a lot Popcorn would still need to figure out to truly make a business-oriented social app work, including adding enhanced security, limiting spam, offering some sort of reporting flow for bad actors, and more. It will also eventually need to land on a successful revenue model.

Currently, Popcorn is a free download on iPhone, iPad and Mac, and offers a Slack integration so you can send video messages to co-workers directly in the communication software you already use to catch up and stay in touch. The app today is fairly simple but the company plans to enhance its short videos over time using AR frames that let users showcase their personalities.

The startup raised a $400,000 pre-seed round from General Catalyst (Nico Bonatsos) and Dream Machine (Alexia Bonatsos, previously editor-in-chief at TechCrunch.) Spraggins says the company will be looking to raise a seed round in the fall to help with hires, including in the AR space.

Gillmor Gang: Cryptonomics

Twitter seems on an aggressive path to putting pedal to the metal. From its earliest days as a failwhale generator and a ransacker of third party successes, the company under Jack Dorsey’s stewardship has become an acquirer of tools to support the creators it hosts. Twitter Spaces, its Clubhouse clone, has steadily improved its UI with integration of relevant tweets at the top of a space and Twitter graph awareness of listeners. When I most recently joined a Kara Swisher spacecast, my icon appeared at the top of the window right after the host and invited speakers. But next to me on the listener list was Dan Farber, my Salesforce colleague and frequent Gillmor Gang member over the years.

What I think is going on is a personalization based on my Twitter social graph. A subtle touch, but much more interesting to me than some sort of global Twitter ranking that factors in celebrities and other signals not as relevant as what the feature reflects, an algorithm of, to borrow a phrase, influencer rank. Not influence at a social level, but guided by my own internal algorithm, that if I was looking for friends in a space of over a thousand people, Dan is now a simple direct message away when I click on his icon.

There are other tweaks in Spaces, but the most important one may turn out to be integration of Spaces metadata in the new Twitter API v2. In effect, this capability could be harnessed by third party developers to create their own algorithms around Space dynamics and listener uptake by host, speakers, topics, and scheduled events. Other contiguous projects include a pilot to wire up your Twitter profile to your Revue newsletter. Clicking on the link takes you to a page detailing recent newsletters and links to joining as a subscriber. Twitter, which bought Revue to compete with Substack, is extending clever integration points like Revue’s RSS-enabled drag and drop support for feeds you can mine for citations as you build your newsletter.

A few weeks or months ago, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to the growing conversation around crypto. That would include Jack Dorsey’s moves in his companies Square and Twitter to promote the possibilities of the blockchain and growing attention from Congress and regulatory agencies. Eye opening was the impact on the bipartisan Infrastructure bill, where an anti-crypto tax-related amendment threatened to slow down Senate adoption before failing. But Twitter’s success at consolidating various assets around the growth of the subscription and social audio sectors makes me think at least twice about other things being connected. On this Gillmor Gang episode, Keith Teare and the Gang rehash the same ground about the viability of crypto. But it’s hard to argue that, whether or not anyone can answer the question of what problem crypto solves, it may factor into a surprising variety of solutions.

the latest Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, July 23, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Adobe buying Frame.io in $1.28B deal

Adobe announced today it is acquiring Frame.io, a video review and collaboration platform used by over a million customers, for $1.275 billion in cash.

Founded in 2014 by the owner of a post-production company Emery Wells and technologist John Traver, New York-based Frame.io was created to solve the workflows challenges filmmakers faced in their daily lives. 

Today, the Frame.io platform helps creative professionals streamline the video creation process by centralizing media assets, including dailies, scripts, storyboards, work-in-progress, and more, while also allowing for frame-accurate feedback and comments, annotations, and real-time approvals. The company additionally touts faster upload speeds than other cloud hosting services, like Vimeo, Box, Dropbox, and others.

Frame.io has raised $90 million in venture funding over its lifetime, and in November 2019, announced a $50 million Series C led by Insight Partners that included participation from Accel, FirstMark, SignalFire, and Shasta Ventures. Accel led the company’s seed and Series A rounds in 2015.

Adobe said the combination of its creative software, including Premiere Pro and After Effects video editing products, and Frame.io’s review and approval functionality would “deliver a collaboration platform that powers the video editing process.” The Frame.io web platform was designed to be a part of its customer’s existing processes, by integrating with non-linear editing systems (NLEs) such as like Adobe Premiere Pro. Such integrations allow editors to upload directly to Frame.io, then organize and share their products both internally and with external clients.

“Whether it’s the latest binge-worthy streaming series, a social media video that sparks a movement, or a corporate video that connects thousands of remote workers, video creation and consumption is experiencing tremendous growth,” Adobe said in a statement. “…Today’s video workflows are disjointed with multiple tools and communication channels being used to solicit stakeholder feedback. Frame.io eliminates the inefficiencies of video workflows by enabling real-time footage upload, access, and in-line stakeholder collaboration in a secure and elegant experience across surfaces.”

The deal is expected to close during the fourth quarter of Adobe’s 2021 fiscal year, and is subject to regulatory approval and customary closing conditions. Once the deal closes, Well and Traver will join Adobe. Wells will continue to lead the Frame.io team, reporting to Scott Belsky, Adobe’s chief product officer and EVP of Creative Cloud.

Gillmor Gang: Who’s On First

On this edition of the Gillmor Gang, Brent Leary shows off his new wireless adaptor for his live streaming studio. The result is a captivating view of his console as he switches between closeups and incoming feed from the rest of the Gang, all captured in a widescreen cinematic view. The underlying message is that live realtime video production has become accessible to virtually anyone as streaming becomes ubiquitous at the so-called citizen level.

Trailblazers like Brent and his CRMPlayaz partner in crime Paul Greenberg have been way out on the bleeding edge of this stuff; now we’re seeing something similar to what’s going on in the creator boom. Newsletters are becoming a baked in feature of the major social platforms, as is live audio streaming a la Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces. This week, Salesforce announced its Salesforce+ streaming network, and celebrated its completion of the Slack acquisition with several new enterprise spins on live audio (Huddles) and cross-company collaboration via Slack Connect.

Roll this up with the first wave of work from anywhere efforts to get back to school and the office, streaming as a service may be a key feature of the ongoing hybrid approach to fighting off the pandemic. The political struggle with vaccinations and masking seems destined for the long haul. How the tech community responds should be a more hopeful sign of progress.At the professional level, Disney and Scarlet Johannsen are trading lawsuit threats as month-old contracts are ripped up. Newsletter deals are chasing a dwindling population of hit authors as the New York Times puts most of their star-driven publications behind the paywall. The more things transform, the more familiar they seem.

Even the Gang newsletter sports a link to Om Malik’s post on Nam June Paik, the experimental video pioneer. I was his TA at California Institute of the Arts, and “borrowed” his associate Abe’s 3 Sony black and white portapacks to film a Firesign Theatre writing session. Civilization ho.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, July 23, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Reddit is quietly rolling out a TikTok-like video feed button on iOS

From Instagram’s Reels to Snapchat’s Spotlight, most social media platforms are looking toward the TikTok boom for inspiration. Now, even Reddit, a discussion-based forum, is making short-form video more pronounced on its iOS app.

According to Reddit, most iOS users should have a button on their app directly to the right of the search bar — when tapped, it will show a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, (which shows the poster who uploaded it and the subreddit it’s from), users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Like TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. For instance, if you’re subscribed to r/printmaking, you might see content from r/pottery or r/bookbinding.

The user interface of the videos isn’t new — Reddit has been experimenting with this format over the last year. But before, this manner of watching Reddit videos was only accessible by tapping on a video while scrolling through your feed — rather than promoting discovery of other communities, the first several videos recommended would be from the same subreddit.

Images of new Reddit features

Image Credits: Reddit, screenshots by TechCrunch

“Reddit’s mission is to bring community and belonging to everyone in the world, and subsequently, Reddit’s video team’s mission is to bring community through video,” a Reddit spokesperson told TechCrunch, about the new addition. “Over the course of the last year, our goal was to build a unified video player, and re-envision the player interface to match what users (new and old) expect when it comes to an in-app video player — especially commenting, viewing, engaging and discovering new content and communities through video,” they noted.

Reddit doesn’t yet have a timeline for when the feature will roll out to everyone, but confirmed that this icon first appeared for some users in late July and has continued to roll out to almost all iOS users. But by placing a broader, yet still personalized video feed on the home screen, Reddit is signaling a growing curiosity in short form video. In December 2020, Reddit acquired Dubsmash, a Brooklyn-via-Berlin-based TikTok competitor. The terms of the deals were undisclosed, but Facebook and Snap also reportedly showed interest in the platform, which hit 1 billion monthly views in January 2020.

Reddit declined to comment on whether or not its new video player is using an algorithm to promote discovery of new subreddits based on user activity. However, a Reddit spokesperson confirmed that the company will use Dubsmash’s technology to develop other features down the road, though not for this particular product, they said.

Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to selected subreddits — the most popular livestreams are promoted across the platform. Reddit currently attracts 50 million daily active visitors and hosts 100,000 active subreddits.

Medal.tv, a video clipping service for gamers, enters the livestreaming market with Rawa.tv acquisition

Medal.tv, a short-form video clipping service and social network for gamers, is entering the live streaming market with the acquisition of Rawa.tv, a Twitch rival based in Dubai, which had raised around $1 million to date. The seven-figure, all cash deal will see two of Rawa’s founders, Raya Dadah and Phil Jammal, now joining Medal and further integrations between the two platforms going forward.

The Middle East and North African region (MENA) is one of the fastest-growing markets in gaming and still one that’s mostly un-catered to, explained Medal.tv CEO Pim de Witte, as to his company’s interest in Rawa.

“Most companies that target that market don’t really understand the nuances and try to replicate existing Western or Far-Eastern models that are doomed to fail,” he said. “Absorbing a local team will increase Medal’s chances of success here. Overall, we believe that MENA is an underserved market without a clear leader in the livestreaming space, and Rawa brings to Medal the local market expertise that we need to capitalize on this opportunity,” de Witte added.

Medal.tv’s community had been asking for the ability to do livestreaming for some time, the exec also noted, but the technology would have been too expensive for the startup to build using off-the-shelf services at its scale, de Witte said.

“People increasingly connect around live and real-time experiences, and this is something our platform has lacked to date,” he noted.

But Rawa, as the first livestreaming platform dedicated to Arab gaming, had built out its own proprietary live and network streaming technology that’s now used in all its products. That technology is now coming to Medal.tv.

Image Credits: Medal.tv

The two companies were already connected before today, as Rawa users have been able to upload their gaming clips to Medal.tv, and some Rawa partners had joined Medal’s skilled player program. Going forward, Rawa will continue to operate as a separate platform, but it will become more tightly integrated with Medal, the company says. Currently, Rawa sees around 100,000 active users on its service.

The remaining Rawa team will continue to operate the livestreaming platform under co-founder Jammal’s leadership following the deal’s close, and the Rawa HQ will remain based in Dubai. However, Rawa’s employees have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic, and it’s unclear if that will change in the future, given the uncertainty of Covid-19’s spread.

Medal.tv detailed its further plans for Rawa on its site, where the company explained it doesn’t aim to build a “general-purpose” livestreaming platform where the majority of viewers don’t pay — a call-out that clearly seems aimed at Twitch. Instead, it says it will focus on matching content with viewers who would be interested in subscribing to the creators. This addresses on of the challenges that has faced larger platforms like Twitch in the past, where it’s been difficult for smaller streamers to get off the ground.

The company also said it will remain narrowly focused on serving the gaming community as opposed to venturing into non-gaming content, as others have done. Again, this differentiates itself from Twitch which, over the years, expanded into vlogs and even streaming old TV shows. And it’s much different from YouTube or Facebook Watch, where gaming is only a subcategory of a broader video network.

The acquisition follows Medal.tv’s $9 million Series A led by Horizons Ventures in 2019, after the startup had grown to 5 million registered users and “hundreds of thousands” of daily active users. Today, the company says over 200,000 people create content every day on Medal, and 3 million users are actively viewing that content every month.

Gillmor Gang: Time Delay

Writing our way out of the place we’re in is tricky. The words come easily enough, each measured for its emotional weight in the stream of issues we face. It’s possible this paragraph will disappear as I find my ground. Mandates, Cuomo, Olympic mental gymnastics, where we were two weeks ago and how it relates to right now. Let’s triangulate: forget Trump. Forget the Republicans and progressive Democrats who together slow down passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Forget the evasions and half truths, the talking points to fill up the airtime until the actual rubber meets the road.

Don’t forget the brave athletes who dare to fail for the greater safety of their colleagues. Celebrate the public servants and the difficult personal choices that lead us to honesty, empathy, resolute choices that will draw distinctions between malignant fraud and real outcomes at the ballot box. If politicians refuse to answer questions, draft laws to weed them out of the process itself. Hold the media to the fire they pretend to examine in their choices of coverage, debate, and commercial breaks.

We’ve been having an argument about the time delay between recording a show and releasing it here on Techcrunch in a post-produced fashion with music added, Sneak Peeks produced to promote the show, and a post somehow related to the context of the show two or so weeks ago. In generating the text, I’ve noticed the time delay serves a useful purpose of diluting the realtime urgency of the conversation with what ends up being a healthy dose of context derived from what actually happened. The news is always rendered as the first draft of history, but the constant need for ratings creates this underlying pressure to convert stories from insight to controversial clickbait.

Marshalled through this take-the-foot-off-the-gas filter, the black and white becomes more shades of gray, less subject to the attitudes of the individual Gang members and more attuned to the sense of the group as a whole. Take the perennial struggle between social media giants and antitrust pressure to regulate the worst aspects of the social storm. One side decries attempts to rein in the success of these companies in building audiences and unparalleled power in the marketplace — a version of “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” The other side says it is indeed broke, and needs to be fixed by breaking up these new monopolies born of user satisfaction with the stream of commentary, sarcasm, and family news. Or perhaps the battle lines are drawn around individual rights versus the collective good, as with the struggle to get COVID under control via vaccination mandates. In the middle between these hard-coded partisan stances is potentially something gentler than being right and more powerful in its sense of compromise.

In the case of mandates, the subject comes up every show. The immediate news may be New York City’s new rules governing vaccinated access to indoor restaurants, gyms, and entertainment events, but the larger abstraction is the divide between the federal government’s lack of power to effect a countrywide mandate and the politics of governors in the Red states pushing back on any mandates, most egregiously outlawing local governments from protecting their citizens from the impact of the unvaccinated. Two weeks ago, nothing seemed possible to alleviate any aspect of the crisis. Today, the New York move may encourage more people to act now to protect themselves; the data shows a doubling of new vaccinations in the most impacted states. In turn, the media includes this promising data in their stories, pushing the more partisan memes to the edges of the coverage. The net result is a more flexible narrative that speaks to the old fashioned idea that government can actually get some things done, which in turn helps promote less of the distrust that fuels many of the vaccine hesitant.

Getting back to the new normal drives most of the mandate discussion. The pandemic’s acceleration of digital transformation seems to reflect a growing understanding that we’re not going back to post pandemic anytime soon. Instead, there’s the realization that what we’re thinking of as survival is a foreshadowing of how we’ll live both at work and at home. We talk about our creative heroes on the show, many of whom became household names streaming through the stages of public performance and media networks. Streaming has roiled both Hollywood and the news networks, whose business models and value propositions are under attack from the tech social networks. Facebook talks of video now consuming more than 50 percent of time on its network. Amazon’s advertising revenue is growing rapidly as a counter to Google and Facebook’s control of the advertising markets. Digital advertising is consuming the linear broadcast Upfronts marketplace.

We talk often about the creator economy, a self-important waving of the media red flag in the face of the mainstream media’s bull. The Information, a subscription-fueled tech journal, looks like what the newsletter startups Substack and Twitter Revue will look like when or if they grow up. The social audio Clubhouse clones offer a similar promise of escaping the long tail into viable competition for the Fox, CNN, and MSNBCs of the realigning media companies. On each end of the spectrum, the promise of success runs into the overblown reality of too many hours in search of useful differentiation or unrealistic odds of escaping the noisy underbelly of unprofessional media.

If the numbers don’t seem to add up for the creators, neither do they for the social networks. Once the feature wars settle down, you’ll see a fragmented array of star writers on Substack and Facebook and very little outlet for influencers and talent to bubble up. Corporate adoption of these tools might prove a growth opportunity for enterprise versions. Is that enough to keep tech in the game? Maybe two weeks from now we’ll know.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, July 23, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Match Group to add audio and video chat, including group live video, to its dating app portfolio

Dating app maker and Tinder parent, Match Group, said during its Q2 earnings it will bring audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date, when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. 

Since then, Match Group has been relatively quiet about its specific plans for Hyperconnect’s tech or its longer-term strategy with the operation, although Tinder was briefly spotted testing a group video chat feature called Tinder Mixer earlier this summer. The move had seemed to signal some exploration of social discovery features in the wake of the Hyperconnect deal. However, Tinder told us at the time the company had no plans to bring that specific product to market in the year ahead.

On Tuesday’s earnings, Match Group offered a little more insight into the future of Hyperconnect, following the acquisition’s official close in mid-June.

According to Match Group CEO Shar Dubey, who stepped into the top job last January, the company is excited about the potential to integrate technologies Hyperconnect has developed into existing Match-owned dating apps.

This includes, she said, “AR features, self-expression tools, conversational A.I., and a number of what we would consider metaverse elements, which have the element to transform the online meeting and getting-to-know-each-other process,” Dubey explained, without offering further specific details about how the products would work or which apps would receive these enhancements.

Many of these technologies emerged from Hyperconnect’s lab, Hyper X — the same in-house incubator whose first product is now one of the company’s flagship apps, Azar, which joined Match Group with the acquisition.

Dubey also noted that the work to begin these tech integrations was already underway at the company.

By year-end, Match Group said it expects to have at least two of its brands integrated with technologies from Hyperconnect. A number of other brands will implement Hyperconnect capabilities by year-end 2022.

In doing so, Match aims to transform what people think of when it comes to online dating.

To date, online dating been a fairly static experience across the industry, where apps focus largely on profiles and photos, and then offer some sort of matching technique — whether swipes or quizzes or something else. Tinder, in more recent years, began to break out of that mold as it innovated with an array of different experiences, like its choose-your-own-adventure in-app video series, “Swipe Night,” video profiles, instant chat features (via Tinder’s product, Hot Takes), and others. But it still lacked some the real-time elements that people have when meeting one another in the real world.

This is an area where Match believes Hyperconnect can help to improve the online dating experience.

“One of the holy grails for us in online dating has always been to bridge the disconnect that happens between people chatting online and then meeting someone in person,” Dubey said. “These technologies will eventually allow us to build experiences that will help people determine if they have that much elusive chemistry or not… Our ultimate vision here is for people to never have to go on a bad first date again,” she added.

Of course, Match Group’s positioning of the Hyperconnect deal as being more interesting because the innovation it brings — and not just the standalone apps it operates — also comes at a time when those apps have not met the company’s expectations on revenue.

In the second half the of 2021, Match Group said it expects Hyperconnect to contribute to $125 to $135 million in revenue — a financial outlook that the company admits reflects some pullback. It attributed this largely to Covid impacts, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region where Hyperconnect’s apps operate. Other impacts to Hyperconnect’s growth included a more crowded marketplace and Apple’s changes to IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers), which has impacted a number of apps — including other social networking apps, like Facebook.

While Match still believes Hyperconnect will post “solid revenue growth” in 2021, it said that these new technology integrations into the Match Group portfolio are now “a higher priority” for the company.

Match Group posted mixed earnings in Q1 with revenue of $707.8 million, above analyst estimates, but earnings per share of 46 cents, below projections of 49 cents a share. Paying customers grew 15% to 15 million, up from 13 million in the year-ago quarter. Shares declined by 7% on Wednesday morning, following the earnings announcement.

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube now supports Zoom calls on your TV

Late last year, Amazon launched support for two-way calling that worked with its Fire TV Cube devices. The feature allowed consumers to make and receive calls from their connected TV to any other Alexa device with a screen. Today, the company is expanding this system to enable support for two-way calling with Zoom.

Starting today, Fire TV Cube owners (2nd gen.) will be able to join Zoom work meetings or virtual hangouts via their Fire TV Cube.

To take advantage of the new feature, you’ll need Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, its hands-free streaming device and smart speaker that has Alexa built in, as well as a webcam that supports USB Video Class (UVC) with at least 720p resolution and 30fps. But for a better experience, Amazon recommends a webcam with 1080p resolution and a 60-90 degree field of view from 6 to 10 feet away from the TV. It doesn’t recommend 4K webcams, however.

Amazon suggests webcams like the Logitech C920, C922x, C310, or the Wansview 101JD, for example.

You’ll then connect your webcam to your Fire TV Cube using a Micro USB to USB adapter.

For best results, you’ll want to attach the webcam above the TV screen, Amazon notes.

Once everything is set up and connected, you’ll need to download and install the Zoom app from the Fire TV Appstore. When joining meetings, you can either sign in as a guest or use an existing Zoom account, per the on-screen instructions.

Thanks to the Alexa integration, you can join your meetings hands-free, if you prefer, by way of a voice command like “Alexa, join my Zoom meeting.” Alexa will respond by prompting you for the meeting ID and passcode. Alternately, you can choose to use the remote control to enter in this information.

An optional feature also lets you sync your calendar to Alexa to allow the smart assistant to remind you about the upcoming meetings it finds on your calendar. If you go this route, Alexa will suggest the meeting to join and you’ll just have to say “yes” to be automatically dialed in.

Amazon first announced it was bringing video calling support to its Fire TV platform last fall — a significant update in the new era of remote work and schooling, driven by the pandemic. However, it’s not the only option on the market. Google also last year brought group video calls to its Hub Max devices, and later added support for Zoom calls. Meanwhile Facebook Portal devices have offered video calling of a more personal nature, and last year updated to support Zoom, too.

In other words, Amazon is playing a bit of catch-up here. And its solution is a little more unwieldy as it requires consumers to buy their own webcam, while something like Portal TV offers a TV with a smart camera included.

To use the new feature, you’ll need the latest Fire TV Cube software update to get started, Amazon notes.

VOCHI raises additional $2.4 million for its computer vision-powered video editing app

VOCHI, a Belarus-based startup behind a clever computer vision-based video editing app used by online creators, has raised an additional $2.4 million in a “late-seed” round that follows the company’s initial $1.5 million round led by Ukraine-based Genesis Investments last year. The new funds follow a period of significant growth for the mobile tool, which is now used by over 500,000 people per month and has achieved a $4 million-plus annual run rate in a year’s time.

Investors in the most recent round include TA Ventures, Angelsdeck, A.Partners, Startup Wise Guys, Kolos VC, and angels from other Belarus-based companies like Verv and Bolt. Along with the fundraise, VOCHI is elevating the company’s first employee, Anna Bulgakova, who began as head of marketing, to the position of co-founder and Chief Product Officer.

According to VOCHI co-founder and CEO lya Lesun, the company’s idea was to provide an easy way for people to create professional edits that could help them produce unique and trendy content for social media that could help them stand out and become more popular. To do so, VOCHI leverages a proprietary computer-vision-based video segmentation algorithm that applies various effects to specific moving objects in a video or to images in static photos.

“To get this result, there are two trained [convolutional neural networks] to perform semi-supervised Video Object Segmentation and Instance Segmentation,” explains Lesun, of VOCHI’s technology. “Our team also developed a custom rendering engine for video effects that enables instant application in 4K on mobile devices. And it works perfectly without quality loss,” he adds. It works pretty fast, too — effects are applied in just seconds.

The company used the initial seed funding to invest in marketing and product development, growing its catalog to over 80 unique effects and more than 30 filters.

Image Credits: VOCHI

Today, the app offers a number of tools that let you give a video a particular aesthetic (like a dreamy vibe, artistic feel, or 8-bit look, for example). It can also highlight the moving content with glowing lines, add blurs or motion, apply different filters, insert 3D objects into the video, add glitter or sparkles, and much more.

In addition to editing their content directly, users can swipe through a vertical home feed in the app where they can view the video edits others have applied to their own content for inspiration. When they see something they like, they can then tap a button to use the same effect on their own video. The finished results can then be shared out to other platforms, like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

Though based in Belarus, most of VOCHI’s users are young adults from the U.S. Others hail from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and parts of Europe, Lesun says.

Unlike some of its video editor rivals, VOCHI offers a robust free experience where around 60% of the effects and filters are available without having to pay, along with other basic editing tools and content. More advanced features, like effect settings, unique presents and various special effects require a subscription. This subscription, however, isn’t cheap — it’s either $7.99 per week or $39.99 for 12 weeks. This seemingly aims the subscription more at professional content creators rather than a casual user just looking to have fun with their videos from time to time. (A one-time purchase of $150 is also available, if you prefer.)

To date, around 20,000 of VOCHI’s 500,000 monthly active users have committed to a paid subscription, and that number is growing at a rate of 20% month-over-month, the company says.

Image Credits: VOCHI

The numbers VOCHI has delivered, however, aren’t as important as what the startup has been through to get there.

The company has been growing its business at a time when a dictatorial regime has been cracking down on opposition, leading to arrests and violence in the country. Last year, employees from U.S.-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in an act of state-led retaliation for their protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. In April, Imaguru, the country’s main startup hub, event and co-working space in Minsk — and birthplace of a number of startups, including MSQRD, which was acquired by Facebook — was also shut down by the Lukashenko regime.

Meanwhile, VOCHI was being featured as App of the Day in the App Store across 126 countries worldwide, and growing revenues to around $300,000 per month.

“Personal videos take an increasingly important place in our lives and for many has become a method of self-expression. VOCHI helps to follow the path of inspiration, education and provides tools for creativity through video,” said Andrei Avsievich, General Partner at Bulba Ventures, where VOCHI was incubated. “I am happy that users and investors love VOCHI, which is reflected both in the revenue and the oversubscribed round.”

The additional funds will put VOCHI on the path to a Series A as it continues to work to attract more creators, improve user engagement, and add more tools to the app, says Lesun.

Gillmor Gang: Catching Up

As the pandemic dwindled enough to get in our car with dogs, SiriusXM, and our children in the rear view mirror, we drove to South Carolina. Tina had endured the last year and almost another half while her mother languished with aging pets, her husband in a facility, and eventually his death. As the miles melted away, we alternated between MSNBC, the Beatles channel, and a mixtape of soul, Steely Dan, and Bill Withers.

For years, we’d dreamed of a way to live from anywhere, and now the pandemic had made our reality a shared one. We’ll see how much this sticks as companies try to find a way to mix this digital acceleration with some semblance of business life as we knew it. But as we reached the driveway in Charleston, we were tired enough to not care much how the captains of industry would work things out.

We’d calculated the journey to leave on a Monday and arrive on a Thursday, three 16 hour days and then a day to rest before recording the next Gang session. Instead we left on Tuesday and arrived the night before the session. Surprisingly, the combination. of a three hour time zone shift and the ease of recording on Zoom, two M1 Macs, and enough WiFi to get away with it added up to a relaxed session. I’ve been using blur mode on Zoom for some months now, so everything felt just about normal. I even got to joke with a few of the guys who could not quite tell which coast we were on.

The dogs locked in to their summer digs with alacrity, roaming the fenced in back yard for a quick check and then settling into strategic spots surrounding us on our bed. Our daughters heated up the Facetime video link with tales of boyfriends and babies (our oldest is in her six month) and extended life seemed possible. When reality intruded, it somehow arrived with a gentleness we hope to get used to. Dinner with our youngest’s godparents was careful — no masks but no hugs either— as we ease our way into the new next.

Our first show here was followed by a train wreck of dueling agendas and uncomfortable management parries. The show started in a jocular fashion as Brent Leary tried to apologize (sort of) for his comments on one of his shows about the Gillmor Gang. It seems, he joked, that our show was rudderless and frequently a good opportunity to nap on air.

But then Brent said he hoped neither Tina nor I was watching this unspooling in realtime, which of course I was. Now I was both pissed off and actually more amused. Brent’s instincts fall somewhere between Harpo Marx’s brilliant silence and an unerring ability to bat back a question designed to prove he wasn’t engaged with a comment that proved not only that he was but that he chose not to say anything. Brilliant, devastating, and kind all at once. So I seized the moment to call him and say of course I was watching.

The next Gang recording session featured Brent’s repeated attempts at an apology or at least an explanation, but I kept interrupting him. The result was a funny but diffuse beginning to the show that devolved into a debate about social media and the First Amendment that we often can’t seem to avoid. As usual, no light was shed, and the show remains unreleased.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 25, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Gillmor Gang: TV Clubhouse

The Gang spends a lot of time these days on the streaming wars, so it seems appropriate that Congress wants to get into it. With Netflix’s success at overturning the structure of Hollywood’s broadcast television production and advertising processes, consumers are taking advantage of a Golden Age of choices. Senator Elizabeth Warren is resuscitating her plan to tax the billionaire class as a way to fund the progressive part of the infrastructure bill through the Democrat-only reconciliation process. As bait, she is using Amazon’s MGM acquisition as the carrot, suggesting the deal would be anti-competitive and dilutive of consumer choice. Coming as streaming passes broadcast as a percentage of the entire television market, it’s not clear just what consumers are going to lose with a smorgasbord of captivating programming choices.

The streaming heavyweights are in the throes of a transition from building audience to locking in paying customers. Netflix has jumped way out in front with an enormous audience fueling an equally gigantic investment in original programming. Apple TV+ has blinked earliest, moving their free trial of a year with a new Apple device purchase to 3 months, barely long enough to get halfway through the second season of their hit The Morning Show. Similar Disney+ deals with Verizon Wireless unlimited broadband upgrades are starting to time out as Disney tries to survive the pandemic’s impact on theme park revenue and steep costs of moving newly acquired properties from theaters to streaming, And then there are the rest of the old studio and network players, trying to build enough scale to compete with the leaders. Comcast consumed NBC and Universal Studios, CBS and Viacom merged to knit together broadcast, cable networks, and Paramount studios, now renamed Paramount +. And reality TV giant Discovery absorbed the remnants of WarnerMedia’s scripted studio and cable operation as AT&T backed away from content to pay for investment in 5G.

Ironically, ad-supported networks may turn out to be where the real action is. Although streaming subscribers are running up against a budget cap as they opt out of cable bundles, their antipathy for advertising is finessed by some midtier networks like Hulu and Paramount + mixing some ads with subscriptions at a reduced monthly charge. Comcast is already managing that transition with HBO Max, bundling the new streaming network with basic cable packages that include the HBO premium service. Combining HBO’s pre-pandemic windowed, or delayed from theatrical release feature films with original series programming is one thing: adding a monthly new feature simultaneously with theatrical release for all of 2021 has proven a powerful way of attracting new HBO Max subscribers in the battle for streaming. While the strategy will moderate in 2022 as theaters reopen, movie-goers are learning to appreciate the marriage of smaller titles with the convenience of subscription television.

Although big budget films like F9 are enjoying considerable success theatrically, smaller films like Parasite and other streaming releases are winning Oscars and other awards. Films have been eligible for Oscars and Golden Globes without the requirement of theatrical runs during the pandemic, and will continue for at least one more year. The HBO Max theater/digital gambit angered producers and talent with its bold move made easier during 2020’s lockdown, but WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar was apparently the loser in AT&T’s Discovery/WarnerMedia deal as Discovery’s CEO David Zaslav was picked to run the combined company. But audiences may find more affinity with popcorn at home than the distributors expect as vaccinations take root. Kilar may have bootstrapped a look at what success will mean in the New Normal similar to what companies are saving in travel and facilities costs as we incorporate the strengths of work/play-from-anywhere and the mobile transformation.

The ad streamers bring more to the party than just subscriber discounts. While Netflix has made hay with binge viewing (dumping an entire season of shows at one time) ad streamers are using a hybrid of binge production and broadcast-style staged release as a way of updating the feel of appointment television with Peak TV dynamics. Using the weekly series model a la This Is Us and Gray’s Anatomy, shows like Paramount +‘s The Good Fight are released on a weekly basis with the release night staggered across the key nights of the week. Instead of browsing the TV Guide, you get a notification that the new episode has “dropped.” In effect, the linear tv schedule so beloved by advertisers and marketers is creating a new prime time schedule across the variety of streaming networks. With constant mergers and realignment of studios, cable assets, and streaming models, we already don’t have a clue what network is screening our new shows let alone what the network is called this week, so mobile messaging becomes the point of sale for sharing digital experiences. With cable giants like Comcast deriving more and more broadband customers as cable cutting persists, and set top boxes like AppleTV and Roku smart tvs capturing more scale and competing for a combination of ad-supported and original programming, the built in microphone on their remotes leapfrogs the vanished TV guides with audio commands that require only the name of the show or even the name of the favorite star.

The creator economy is experiencing a surge of services across the social networks. Newsletters, conversational audio sites, and new notification services from Apple are promoting media to support these AI-driven user rankings of the new Hollywood streaming winners. Apple’s notification summary screens in iOS 15 effectively present a way to organize a personalized digest of show notifications, freeing you from interrupting work to track the weekly dropping of favorite shows. It won’t be long before Twitter and other newsletter tools let you broadcast those alerts to special groups you define for watercooler-like conversations about the latest spoilers. Clubhouse and other social audio rooms will invite media analysts, showrunners, and stars to interact with these newly empowered fans, and some of the more proficient will graduate to subscription newsletter recaps and transcribed interviews. Advertisers will sponsor these streams, expanding the impact of the intersection of subscription and ad-supported hybrid services.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 18, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Egypt’s Minly raises $3.6M to connect celebrities and fans through personalized experiences

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a growing trend of creators adopting digital and social media, not just as a supplement to their media presence but also as a cornerstone of their personal brand.

The pandemic has surely accelerated creator economy trends. Many popular artists and figures have had to postpone concerts and live events, subsequently using social media to carry out these activities and engage their fans. Proliferating through Western and far East markets, the creator economy bug, which has made platforms like Cameo and Patreon unicorns, is beginning to take centre stage in MENA.

Today, Minly, an Egypt-based creator economy platform, is announcing that it has closed a $3.6 million seed round to allow stars across the MENA region to create authentic, personalized connections with their fans.

The round, which Minly says was oversubscribed, was co-led by 4DX Ventures, B&Y Venture Partners, and Global Ventures. It also included participation from unnamed regional funds and angel investors like Scooter Braun, founder of SB Projects and Jason Finger, co-founder of Seamless and Grubhub. 

Experts say time spent viewing social media surpassed time spent viewing TV within the MENA region. But one shortcoming with social media is that its content often feels mass-produced. When creators make posts, it’s most times void of personalization to the different categories of fans they possess. In a way, this dilutes the fan experience and limits the extent and number of ways the creator can monetize.

This is where Minly comes in. The company was founded last year by Mohamed El-Shinnawy, Tarek Hosny, and Bassel El-Toukhy. It provides tools for creators to craft what it calls ‘authentic connections’ with their superfans and audience at scale. “In short, our goal is to eventually deliver tens of millions of unique, unforgettable experiences to fans each year,” El-Shinnawy said to TechCrunch.

Shinnawy, who brings more than 15 years of media and technology experience to the table, is the chief technology officer at Minly. He sold his first company Emerge Technology to a U.S.-based media company. He has also delivered work for Hollywood’s top studios, such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal, Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers, while playing a role in the global expansion of Apple TV+, Disney+, and Netflix to the MENA region.

Minly

Mohamed El-Shinnawy (co-founder and CTO, Minly)

Minly has experienced rapid growth since launching late last year. It has more than 50,000 users along with an impressive list of popular regional celebrities.

On the platform, users can buy personalized video messages and shoutouts from their favourite celebrities, get unprecedented access to the talent they admire most, and celebrities, in turn, connect with their fans on a deeper level. Minly has also assembled a diverse roster of celebrities. They range from traditional movie and television stars and athletes to musicians and internet influencers. Some of these popular figures include Tamer Hosny, Fifi Abdou, Assala Nasri, and Mahmoud Trezeguet.

We think that we have already differentiated ourselves from other creator economy platforms in the region. We do this by offering the best catalogue of stars and user experience. And our entire team is working hard to grow this gap even further,” said El-Shinnawy on the crop of stars Minly has onboarded to the platform

The CTO further gave instances of the connection created by celebrities with their fans. Last year, Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny made a surprise appearance at two fans’ engagement party. Actress and dancer Fifi Abdou also sent a personal message to one of her biggest fans, who has Down syndrome.

Minly takes a small commission on transactions made through its platform. However, the majority of the transaction price, a figure Minly didn’t disclose, goes directly to creators. And at the same time, Minly urges celebrities to automatically donate a portion of their earnings to partner charities on the platform.

Minly’s knack for creating a personalized experience is why Pan-African VC firm 4DX Ventures invested. The firm’s co-founder and general partner Peter Orth, who will be joining Minly’s board, said the company is fundamentally changing the relationship between celebrities and fans in the MENA region. “The team has both the ambition and the expertise to build a full-stack digital interaction platform that could change the way digital content is created and consumed in the region,” he added. 

The creator economy market surpassed $100 billion in value this year and is still growing at an impressive rate. The pace of content creation will only speed up since surveys suggest that being a YouTuber or TikTokker or the most common term, a Vlogger is one the most desirable careers among Gen Zs. VC firms like a16z, Kleiner, and Tiger Global have also heralded this growth. They have considerably contributed to the more than $2 billion invested in creator economy platforms this year.

In MENA, there’s a huge opportunity for Minly. The region has over 450 million people, of which 30% are between the ages of 18 to 30. This demography is known to have a deep connection with social media, and El-Shinnawy believes MENA will soon contribute to a large part of the total creator economy. For Minly, the goal is to capture a huge portion of that spend and become a multi-billion dollar category-leading company. The creator platform has a case to do so. As it stands, the opportunity to build a creator economy one-stop-shop in MENA is huge compared to other regions that already have multiple entrenched incumbents. Also, Minly is one of the few platforms in the region with meaningful venture funding.

“The creator economy is in its infancy and growing at lightning speed. We have the opportunity to build this category’s first unicorn in MENA,” the CTO remarked.

With this investment, Minly is doubling down on building local celebrity acquisition teams in Egypt and other parts across MENA and the GCC, where it has seen significant traction. The company will also scale its engineering team to churn out more products to build a horizontal creator platform.

JW Player raises $100M to build subscriptions and other monetization tools around its video software

JW Player, a very early mover in the market for online video technology — it powered YouTube’s first video player, before Google acquired it and it built its own — has long been profitable through a business model of providing one-to-many video streaming tools to publishers and others that want to bring video into their own online experiences, without building the technology from the ground up, nor being beholden to companies that might themselves profit from the videos and the customer data that is generated through video views.

Now, after a year of strong growth on the back of the bigger boom in online video from Covid-19, the New York-based company is announcing a big funding round — $100 million — to expand its tech, and to be where it believes video is going next.

The capital is coming from a single investor, LLR Partners, and while the JW Player’s valuation is not being disclosed, we understand it’s not quite yet at $1 billion, but fast approaching it. It comes on the heels of the company charting some massive growth, despite being a relatively quiet player in the industry.

Dave Otten, the CEO and co-founder of the company (which is named after another co-founder, Jeroen Wijering, who developed the initial technology), told TechCrunch in an interview that the company’s video streaming traffic by nearly 200% over the last year, with live streaming growing 400% in that period.

There are now over 600,000 applications and sites running video powered by JW Player, with about 10,000 of those premium users; the rest use its software for free, Otten said.

This is enough of a balance that the company has been profitable for a number of years, he said. And in cases where the software is being used for free, JW Player is getting “paid” in a  Some of the many customers using its tools include Sesame Street, TIME, Hearst, Insider, IMDB and the Chelsea Football Club.

It’s a long way away from JW’s early days powering YouTube — screen shot of how it looked above — but contrary to so many examples of early movers being some of the slowest to innovate later on, JW is hoping that the fact that it was a first mover in video does not mean it will be the last to anticipate what is coming in the future.

The current product challenge for JW Player mirrors that of its customers: monetization.

Just as companies have increasingly started to create paywalls around their written content, they are looking to do the same for their video catalogues, too, and JW Player wants to be their partner for this. That will include more investments into subscription services, as well as a a new set of tools for personalizing videos and providing advertising opportunities by way of the extensive data that it has amassed and continues to gather about video usage.

The company has a strong card to play in its hand for the latter business: those who use the free version of JW Player “pay” the company by way of helping it gather lots of insights into how videos are watched.

Another area that the company will be doing more is in the area of live and on-demand video. In May, it acquired Vualto, a UK-based specialist in these areas that also builds DRM solutions, which it has already integrated into its platform.

Video now accounts for a whopping 80% of all online traffic, with people typically spending more than two hours days watching it. While some of that is inevitably going big platforms like YouTube, Facebook, social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, there remains a big opportunity for others, aided by the likes of JW, to carve out spaces for themselves in the mix.

“JW Player has been at the forefront of digital video innovation ever since founder Jeroen Wijering created YouTube’s original video player in 2008. Today, the company offers the most comprehensive technology, advertising and data analytics platform in the digital video ecosystem,” said David Reuter, Partner at LLR Partners, in a statement. “We look forward to partnering with the JW Player team as they expand their platform and continue to elevate the way brands can host, stream and monetize video.”

Gillmor Gang: Who Knew

The Gillmor Gang recording session is nestled on Friday midday on the East Coast and midmorning out West. Streamed live on Twitter, Facebook Live, and Youtube embed, the show is then edited, sweetened with titles and music, and released on Techcrunch. It’s a kind of hybrid between podcast, Zoom collaboration meeting, and work-from-anywhere encounter group. The Gang grew out of the early days of podcasting, now undergoing rescaffolding from social, drop-in, or just plain fast following from a variety of social networks. The latest entry, Live Audio Rooms from Facebook, is “soft-launching” with verified famous people and creators in good standing up first.

Facebook typically waits just long enough to decide what features to copy, and appears ready to aggregate the strategies of the rest of the market behind a Facebook infrastructure if not firewall. This may incorporate not just social audio features like tipping and raising hands to speak but also live video streaming and perhaps screen-sharing tools like ones announced at Apple’s WWDC for Facetime. Inevitably, the context returns to Clubhouse and its parallel tech media strategy.

Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) debuted their publishing site, and the media tried its best to push back without burning any bridges to the high-flying venture firm. Even more interesting than the future.com website was a Clubhouse Launch Party where we met authors and their editors for about two hours of chat. Marc Andreessen sat in at the beginning, and A16Z partner Margit Wennmachers provided context for the launch. The strategy: project trust and insight from a venture firm and go direct from technologists to the tech and investment audience. It’s an interesting time in the wake of the Trumpian alternative facts blight, where the cable media seems tied in knots by trying to salvage ratings gold with yet another crisis-to-crisis breaking news schtick.

After that gambit begins to tire, the pitch shifts to the undermining of Democracy by the Autocrats, which although real, is not exactly compelling ratings magic. With vaccinations reaching movie popcorn immunity levels, streaming television is shifting from all out binge releases to the much more familiar weekly cliffhanger model. Working from anywhere is being negotiated based on a hybrid of the best of watching your kids grow up while getting back to a collaborative office when you’ve seen enough of them or them of you.

On the Gang this time, Keith Teare suggests Netflix may be in a bit of a tough spot, as the easing pandemic puts pressure on new shows slowed down by production lockouts. It’s true: the quality seems to be slipping almost imperceptibly, but nothing is accelerating to put pressure on the Big 4 or 5 Flixes including Disney, Amazon Prime, and maybe Hulu. DiscoBros (Frank Radice’s catchy rebrand for Discovery/WarnerMedia) can be fun, Apple TV+ should buy in to boost production, and then we need to look to the Creator Economy to hurry up and save us.

Every few days there’s another social audio pivot/acquisition/update, the most interesting besides Facebook’s if you can call it that being Spotify Greenroom with its auto record and captioning features and inevitable integration with its Anchor podcasting tools. Tip jar resistance is almost a thing, in case you’re wondering. The only thing more enervating is speculation on whether Clubhouse is jumping the shark — I don’t think so. If the Future.com suggests more copying of The Information’s events model, there’s plenty of runway ahead. And social audio gold is anything about Clubhouse on Clubhouse.

For those of us who still remember tech news, the Apple announcements almost reach orbit with the mixture of M1 magic and iOS/MacOS/WatchOS/TVOS blurring. My favorite list is of features that don’t show up on Intel machines, all the cool ones. For the first time in years, we traded up to M1’s on both our Macbooks including a Pro and Air, and in the process enabled Blur mode on Zoom on both essentially for free. The hardware is starting to feel like a subscription service (HaaS) which as Salesforce’s trajectory suggests is likely a very big deal. (Disclosure: I work for Salesforce.) For creators, moving from hardware like Newtek’s Tricaster and BlackMagic’s ATEM Mini to software-based OBS and then NDI5 over the public network is not prime time, but getting there real soon now. Keith thinks so, Brent Leary says maybe. I say, if Apple bundles Apple TV and Apple TV+ with newsletter plugins from Twitter Revue and Substack subscriptions….

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 11, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, rolls out ads worldwide

Instagram Reels are getting ads. The company announced today it’s launching ads in its short-form video platform and TikTok rival, Reels, to businesses and advertisers worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

The company had previously tested Reels ads in select markets earlier this year, including India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, then expanded those tests to Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. more recently. Early adopters of the new format have included brands like BMW, Nestlé (Nespresso), Louis Vuitton, Netflix, Uber, and others.

Instagram tells us the ads will appear in most places users view Reels content, including on the Reels tab, Reels in Stories, Reels in Explore, and Reels in your Instagram Feed, and will appear in between individual Reels posted by users. However, in order to be served a Reels ad, the user first needs to be in the immersive, full-screen Reels viewer.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company couldn’t say how often a user might see a Reels ad, noting that the number of ads a viewer may encounter will vary based on how they use Instagram. But the company is monitoring user sentiment around ads themselves, and the overall commercially of Reels, it says.

Like Instagram’s other advertising products, Reels ads will launch with an auction-based model. But so far, Instagram is declining to share any sort of performance metrics around how those ads are doing, based on tests. Nor is it yet offering advertisers any creator tools or templates that could help them get started with Reels ads. Instead, Instagram likey assumes advertisers already have creative assets on hand or know how to make them, because of Reels ads’ similarities to other vertical video ads found elsewhere, including on Instagram’s competitors.

While vertical video has already shown the potential for driving consumers to e-commerce shopping sites, Instagram hasn’t yet taken advantage of Reels ads to drive users to its built-in Instagram Shops, though that seems like a natural next step as it attempts to tie the different parts of its app together.

But perhaps ahead of that step, Instagram needs to make Reels a more compelling destination — something other TikTok rivals, which now include both Snap and YouTube — have done by funding creator content directly. Instagram, meanwhile, had made offers to select TikTok stars directly.

The launch of Instagram Reels ads follows news of TikTok’s climbing ad prices. Bloomberg reported this month that TikTok is now asking for more than $1.4 million for a home page takeover ad in the U.S., as of the third quarter, which will jump to $1.8 million by Q4 and more than $2 million on a holiday. Though the company is still building its ads team and advertisers haven’t yet allocated large portions of their video budget to the app, that tends to follow user growth — and TikTok now has over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.

Both apps, Instagram and TikTok, now have over a billion monthly active users on a global basis, though Reels is only a part of the larger Instagram platform. For comparison, Instagram Stories is used by some 500 million users, which demonstrates Instagram’s ability to drive traffic to different areas of its app. Instagram declined to share how many users Reels has as of today.

Gillmor Gang: Déjà Vu

The Gang or a subset did a Clubhouse, longer than a regular show by a good third. The audio only structure lacked the visual cues that distinguish between irony and bad manners, but otherwise it felt familiar if not comfortable. I can’t remember what we talked about, only that I seemed a little more emphatic about my opinions than usual. We recorded the meeting, which is close to what it was. Not really a show, more a rally of a political platform with no policies. A few friends joined in, several listeners drifted in and out. All in all, about what I expected.

The following day, I called around to get others’ reactions. Also about what I expected. That evening, someone hosted a Twitter Spaces event that apparently peaked at 22,000 listeners. The subject matter was crypto. I remember walking around below the stage at Woodstock early on the first afternoon of the festival. The fences were down; the concert was declared free, and the crowds began to build. The sense of something big filled the air, but I was more concerned with the foreboding storm clouds gathering at the top of the hill. At some point as the thunder began to roll in, I left and headed back to the safety of the town of Woodstock 40 miles away.

I grew up part time in Woodstock, the other part in the city at my father’s apartment in Greenwich Village. From as early as I remember, the conversation around the coffee table in the kitchen was all about the issues of the day, the music and media of the time, the patterns of a family marked by divorce, liberalism, and the key notion that age had little to do with one’s standing around the table. It always felt profound to me that I could be heard and listen to any subject or feeling, across the multigenerational patchwork of step and half siblings, and in both the Village and Woodstock, a steady stream of artists, musicians, and filmmakers engaged intimately in the moment of the 60’s and on and on to this day. My point is that Clubhouse and Twitter and a flattened hierarchy of intention and opinion is a constant in my life, not a new freedom or problem to be overcome. It’s the old normal, for me.

On this edition of the Gang, the subject of Amazon’s Sidewalk mesh network arises. Suffice it to say, there are security implications. What happens when a company whose scale has captured a significant percentage of the world economy in the pandemic offers an opt out service sharing its customers’ broadband internet access with other Amazon customers? The potential arrogance of providing an opt out date after which you have agreed to this plan by not saying no is, well, breathtaking. Forget that the algorithm uses a very small part of your bandwidth cap and would be unlikely to affect your access to or price of the subscription to the network. In some way, that makes the grab seem even more Machiavellian than it really is. But even more egregious is the suggestion that such a mesh network gives potential access not only to the bandwidth but what you and everybody else in the neighborhood does with it. Wherever you go, there you are indeed. Or, there goes the neighborhood.

For now, the fences are down in the new Woodstock. Washington is coming for its cut of the pie, and the new rules of post-cookie and privacy v. economy are being debated. Apple is challenging the newsletter and its rationale creator economy by breaking access to the open and click rates that drive analytics. Tracking pixels will now open en masse before the beginning of the viewing process rather than firing off as clicks are generated. Substack and Revue tools to track these indications of user preference will have to be replaced by direct appeals for information about preferences, which to me suggests a kind of horse trade in terms of subscriber cost versus user-provided data. By the way, I very much appreciate new subscribers to the Gang newsletter feed, even though we’ve moved off Substack to Revue and don’t know why people are subscribing to an empty stream. Come to think of it, the sound of silence may be worth it.

As Professor Corey used to say, “No, no, I really mean that.” What is said may not be the most important part of the transaction. Instead, how trust is established and maintained is a core value. The newsletter proposition is to cut to the chase, whether by overt messages or the avoidance of wasted time spent on concerns or attitudes that have already been understood by the nature of the subscribed relationship. As the cost of creator production approaches zero, tools are needed to evaluate the credibility and utility of all these new voices. Where magazines and publishers used to provide a screening process, now the methodology for measuring trust becomes business critical. How many are watching or reading what is still important, but who those people are and how they relate to each other in a retweet/like social culture is more so.

Something akin to this is going on with live audio, where the conversation is a representative democratic process where listeners can evaluate not just what is said but how it is absorbed by the others “on stage.” These little signals of discovery between speakers are amplified by the audience reaction and, painfully, their withdrawal from the room via Leave Quietly. You can hear the moderator(s) quickly responding to such attrition with pivots to more viable subject matter or new speakers, but in aggregate these adjustments form a roadmap for future participation by “subscribers.” In this structure, the subscription is less about the price and more about the trust the group ascribes to the producers and speakers.

At Woodstock, the downed fences, traffic jams, and general chaos of creating a half-a-million population city in a heartbeat produced a difficult management situation where the very acts promoted by the organizers were unable to reach the stage. Instead, artists like John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful (attending but not performing) were thrust into the spotlight for iconic performances that changed not only their careers but the rhythm and drama of the film that resulted. Joni Mitchell was convinced by her manager to skip the event in favor of an appearance on the Dick Cavett show, but her boyfriend of the time, Graham Nash, was there as part of CSN&Y and relayed his impressions of the event as Mitchell sat in her hotel room. The result was the song she wrote, as recorded by CSNY, became the lead single from the band’s next record Déjà Vu, and played over the end credits of the film.

“We are stardust… golden… got to get back to the garden.” Joni Mitchell’s invisible pixels sprinkled over the massive economic disaster known as the Woodstock festival captured the top of the hit parade, and with it the moment we remember in history. Altamont, assassinations, pandemics, Nixon bombing in Ohio were soon to replace the aura of the hippie trek, but we still celebrate the idea of what we call Woodstock. The cryptos may be right, and translucent pixels may be suppressed, but I’ll still take CSNY’s glowing harmonies any day on my morning Wheaties. I’ll take shows about nothing for 40, Bob.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 4, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Gillmor Gang: Fractured Fairy Tales

1971 is the name of the year and an Apple TV+ documentary series billed as The Year That Music Changed Everything. It’s also the number of hours the former President kept up his blog From the Desk Of. No, that’s not true. But it is satisfactual. The thesis of the movie 1971 is that music suddenly came into its own a year and a half past the Beatles’ sell date. In fact, the filmmakers make a very good case for this, with lots of studio footage of Elton John, Isaac Hayes, Andy Warhol and the Loud family, and the Osmond Family. I know this sounds like I’m being sarcastic. I would have been more onboard if there had been a little less of Keith Richards zombied out in the south of France and a tad more of the incredible Tapestry sessions that made the earth move under our feet and the sky come tumbling down, but by the end of the year the music apparently survived, I bought the bit,

2021 could use a little of this treatment. On Gray’s Anatomy, which has been time delayed 8 or so months back to the height of the Pandemic, the season finale sped up the clock to sync up mostly with the present. This Is Us started in the present, then flashed forward 4 years to a point midway between now and a previous flash forward so far in the future that apparently household appliances and haircut styles seemed to have stalled out in innovations and new features. The hidden message: forget binge viewing and working from home; it’s all watercooler conversations and cliffhangers just to be clear. Welcome back, Kotter.

We’re just weeks into the Vaccination Age and already we’re defaulting back to old norms far faster than the experts predict. Twitter is rolling out a $3 per month professional version for French and Canadian journalists that lets you save bookmarks and edit mistakes. Twitter Spaces has found a new tab in the mobile client to aid discovery of new live shows, and Facebook has invented Bulletin as a jump starter for neutered apolitical, private public radio oriented newsletters with embedded Clubhouse rules — evading the Apple 30% app store in-app tax by creating a %-to-be-named-later out-of-app subscription experience. No wonder the future is barely distinguishable from this Thursday. But don’t mistake my lack of outrage for anything but total support for the three major plans on the table so far. I actually think we’ll see the beginnings of some real shape-shifting out there in the creator economy, as we saw in an earlier time with Tom Wolf and Ken Kesey’s Electric Acid Kool Aid Test, and everything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote.

Fifty years ago we saw what happens when the talent takes over the institution. ’72 the institution strikes back, ’73 the tapes are played back, ’74 even the president of the united states must stand naked. The underlying truth of the matter is that every year is the time when music takes over. The revolution continues to not be televised, this time shared with added interactivity. Joni Mitchell forever sits gunning the engine in her car waiting at the top of the hill:

He makes friends easy
He’s not like me
I watch for judgement anxiously
Now where in the city can that boy be

Car on a Hill © November 28, 1973; Crazy Crow Music

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, May 28, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Video e-learning platform for MENA, Almentor, closes $6.5M Series B led by Partech

There are more than 400 million Arabic speakers globally and that number isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Arabic, to most people, is a tough language even to those who speak it. According to Duolingo, someone fluent in Egyptian Arabic might not fully understand Yemeni Arabic speakers because of the vast difference in dialect.

While individuals can easily navigate dialects, it can be relatively hard for them to find tailored Arabic content essential for everyday life.

Dr Ihab Fikry and Ibrahim Kamel founded Almentor.net in 2016 as an online video learning platform to compensate for this lack of online learning content for Arabic speakers. In collaboration with hundreds of leaders, educators, and experts, the platform offers courses and talks in various fields like health, humanities, technology, entrepreneurship, business management, lifestyle, drama, sports, corporate communication, and digital media.

In 2016, Almentor closed a $3.5 million seed round and two years ago raised $4.5 million Series A led by Egypt’s Sawari Ventures. With this Series B investment, the Dubai-based edtech company has raised $14.5 million in total. San Francisco and Paris-based VC firm Partech led the financing round with participation from Sawari Ventures, fellow Series A investor Egypt Ventures, and Sango Capital.

Almentor provides Arab learners with the necessary skills crucially needed to advance their professional careers and personal lives. The platform claims to have the biggest continuous learning library in the region and one of the biggest worldwide. With offices in Dubai, Cairo, and Saudi Arabia, its video content is developed in-house and made in Arabic and English.

“The vision and reason behind starting Almentor is we understand that in our region of more than 100 million people, of which 90% cannot properly learn with any other language other than Arabic,” Fikry said to TechCrunch. “So we wanted to have a cutting-edge state of the art platform that will change people’s ideology and help them be objective, and focus based on topics that can be taught as prodigious learning.”

For first-time products like Almentor, it can be hard to get both investors and customers on board. According to CEO Fikry, the first challenge was to convince the investment community in the MENA region that Almentor was creating a new industry in video e-learning that “had lots of potential to power tools in the region.”

Almentor’s business is an intersection of education, media, and technology. Its offerings are dissected into three: the flagship B2C product, a white-label B2B model for blue-chip companies, and the last, which Fikry calls the ‘special project’ for governmental bodies.

For its B2C product, Almentor sells courses to users for $20-$30 of which they get to keep for a lifetime. Fikry says that in June, the company is planning to introduce a subscription-based model where users can have unlimited access to all of its 12,000 video content for a fee to its more than 1 million registered users.

Almentor

The B2B model is where Almentor opens its library to companies to customize their content for employees. These videos are mainly tutorials or training needed to thrive at work, and since 2016, Almentor has executed 78 deals with partner companies

The special project’s model highlights Almentor’s work with the government. One time, the company had a partnership with the Egyptian government to upskill the country’s movie industry. It has completed 11 more similar special projects since launching five years ago. 

Across all three models, Fikry says Almentor has successfully delivered more than 2 million learning experiences. With this investment, the company wants to improve content production and quality and educate people in the MENA region on why they need the product.

“We are now leading the continuous video learning industry in the Arab region, and we have a responsibility that goes beyond our ambitions for Almentor. Our responsibility now is to work unceasingly to improve the industry as a whole in the Arab region, and this can only be achieved through gaining the confidence of the Arab learners in the value, professionalism and impartiality of the content provided by the platform and working in line with the global learning trends.”

Speaking on the investment for Partech, general partner Cyril Collon said: “Since our first interaction, we have been very impressed by Ihab and Ibrahim, two fantastic mission-driven entrepreneurs who have been executing on a bold vision since 2016, and who built the leading Arabic self-learning go-to content provider in the Middle East and Africa.  We are looking forward to supporting the company in its next phase of growth to serve the 430 million Arabic-speaking population and expand access to on-demand cutting-edge personal learning & developments options.”

Gillmor Gang: Nothing Was Delivered

Somehow it’s Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday this week. Some of you may not think that’s a big deal, but I do. The fact of his talent pretty much drowns out most other ideas of what to write about, but here’s to the birthday boy. Keep up the good work.

Back then, we wondered why Dylan kept changing, refusing to be pinned down, going electric, photographed at the Wailing Wall, you name it. We sure were hungry for direction, it seemed. Growing up in the Sixties, everything was possible. After Trump, we’re rethinking that. Crypto is a grift, better than gold, down 50%, up a third. If I wanted to throw money away, just stand on the corner and hand out NFT’s.

As much as this stuff makes my head hurt, it does make it easier to second guess the Discovery/WarnerMedia and Amazon MGM deals. In a nutshell, streaming has shaken the media world into a massive upheaval. The linear TV big three — NBC, CBS, and ABC — have lost control of our TV sets. Netflix has replaced the idea of advertising supported product (Gray’s Anatomy, This Is Us) with binge drop shows about chess. No advertising, a monthly subscription fee, and oh, by the way, free shipping. That last one is Amazon Prime, which throws in a version of Netflix with everything we get delivered during the pandemic, which is everything. When we get to the vaccinated New Normal, it will still mean everything.

Many acronyms later, the cable networks look like this: you can go through NBCUniversal now known as Comcast for all your TV plus broadband for all your Internet, or dump all that TV and just use broadband to get to the new TV, now known as streaming. Amazon bundled delivery with streaming (Prime) and studio (MGM). Google bundled streaming (YouTube TV) with advertising (search). Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile bundled broadband with cash, and the first two tried to buy up the studios and talent. 5G is the carrier Waterloo, drowning broadband in debt as it overtakes the previous cable/content cartel.

This is an oversimplified and inaccurate picture of where we are about to be. But central to the shakeout is what we do with this puzzle. The speed with which vaccinations are being distributed suggests a timetable for success in restoring the economy and bridging the gap to 5G and a hybrid bundle of delivery and digital restructuring. Here’s a trick question: if California has already vaccinated 81% of its population, will Gavin Newsom be recalled as Governor? Here’s another: who will be the winners of the streaming media reboot? Spoiler alert: the answers to both are related.

As we ease our way into the new vaccinated protocols, we start with our families and build out to our colleagues and friends. In effect, we are building a new cohort that speaks to the dynamics of the digital acceleration. A year ago, delivery was a wartime necessity, not an economic choice. Today, the choice of a restaurant or an event will be made based on the intuitive messages sent by the services. If one venue deals with masking and distancing as a transitional choice for its customers, the underlying message is of an evolving strategy based on changing information. Each day we experience more confidence in science and less fear of the unknown is validation of the new cohort we’re forming.

Do we miss the movie theater experience? Sure, but not enough to forego the play-from-home cohort we’ve gotten used to the past year. As our confidence grows, even Zoom calls become more productive and a way of planning for the days when we can reconnect in person. In this cohort process, we build muscle for a new normal that draws strength from both virtual and physical worlds.

Now the dynamic of vaccine success kicks in. Every day, week, month that the virus recedes is marked by the accumulation of a new normal: the more things don’t change, the better things are. Public officials take credit for backing the right horse. Kids go back to school; companies find the right combination of home office, collaboration room Thursdays, and business travel right-sizing. The new normal cohort develops discounts and incentives for its trailblazers and influencers. Special bundles emerge in subscription streaming, blending advertising-supported discounts in return for bigger production budgets. News subscription services provide cohort access to notification streams, replacing repetitive fear-based programming with science-based alerts and business strategy updates.

Answers: No. California is a blue state. And, we will be the winners of the streaming consolidation — as creators remind Hollywood of their power to validate the direction of how we live in the near present. On this episode of the Gang, I mention a new streaming network, Buki, that has emerged to challenge the old alphabet TV networks with a heady brew of ad-supported binge goodness. Brent Leary interrupts to complain that he doesn’t have Buki. That’s because I made it up. Buki, keep up the good work.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, May 14, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Zoom fatigue no more: Rewatch raises $20M to index, transcribe and store enterprise video content

We don’t hear as much these days about “Zoom fatigue” as we did in the first months after the Covid-19 pandemic kicked off last year, but what’s less clear is whether people became more tolerant to the medium, or if they’d found ways of coping with it better, or if they were hopeful that tools for coping would soon be around the corner.

Today, a startup that has come up with a solution to handling all that video is announcing some funding to grow, on the understanding that whatever people are doing with video today, there will be a lot more video to handle in the future, and they will need more than just a good internet connection, microphone and video camera to deal with it.

Rewatch, which has built a set of tools for organizations to create a “system of record” for their internal video archives — not just a place to “rewatch” all of their older live video calls, but to search and organise information arising from those calls — has closed a $20 million round of funding.

Along with this, Rewatch from today is opening up its platform from invite-only to general availability.

This latest round is a Series A and is being led by Andreessen Horowitz, with Semil Shah at Haystack and Kent Goldman at Upside Partners, as well as a number of individuals, also participating.

It comes on the heels of Rewatch announcing a $2 million seed round only in January of this year. But it’s had some buzz in the intervening months: customers that have started using Rewatch include GitHub (where co-founders Connor Sears and Scott Goldman previously worked together), Brex, Envoy, and The Athletic.

The issue that Rewatch is tackling is the fact that a lot more of our work communications are happening over video. But while video calling has been hailed as a great boost to productivity — you can work wherever you are now, as long as you have a video connection — in fact, it’s not.

Yes, we are talking to each other a lot, but we are also losing information from those calls because they’re not being tracked as well as they could be. And, by spending all of our time talking, many of us are working on other things less, or are confined into more rigid times when we can.

Rewatch has built a system that plugs into Zoom and Google Meet, two of the most-used video tools in the workplace, and automatically imports all of your office’s or team’s video chats into a system. This lets you browse libraries of video-based conversations or meetings to watch them on-demand, on your time. It also provides transcripts and search tools for finding information in those calls.

You can turn off the automatic imports, or further customize how meetings are filed or accessibility. Sears said that Rewatch can be used for any video created on any platform, for now those require manually importing the videos into the Rewatch system.

Sears also said that over time it will also be adding in ways to automatically turn items from meetings into, say, work tickets to follow them up.

While there are a number of transcription services available on tap these days, as well as any number of cloud-based storage providers where you can keep video archives, what is notable about Rewatch’s is that it’s identified the pain point of managing and indexing those archives and keeping them in a single place for many to use.

In this way, Rewatch is highlighting and addressing what I think of as the crux of the productivity paradox.

Essentially, it is this: the tech industry has given us a lot of tools to help us work better, but actually, the work required to use those tools can outweigh the utility of the tools themselves.

(And I have to admit, this is one of the reasons why I’ve grown to dislike Slack. Yes, we all get to communicate on it, and it’s great to have something to connect all of us, but it just takes up so much damn time to read through everything and figure out what’s useful and what is just watercooler chat.)

“We go to where companies already are, and we automate, pull in video so that you don’t have to think about it,” Sears said. “The effort around a lot of this takes a lot of diligence to make sure people are recording and transcribing and distributing and removing. We are making this seamless and effortless.”

It sometimes feels like we are on the cusp, technologically, of leaning on tools by way of AI and other innovations that might finally cross that chasm and give us actual productivity out of our productivity apps. Dooly, which raised funding last week, is looking to do the same in the world of sales software (automatically populating various sales software with data from your phone, video and text chats, and other sources), is another example of how this is playing out.

Similarly, we’re starting to see an interesting wave of companies emerge that are looking for better ways to manage and tap into all that video content that we now have swimming around us. AnyClip, which announced funding yesterday, is also applying better analytics and search to internal company video libraries, but also has its sights on a wider opportunity: organizing any video trove. That points, too, to the bigger opportunity for Rewatch.

For now, though, enterprises and businesses are an opportunity enough.

“As investors we get excited about founders first and foremost, and Connor and Scott immediately impressed us with their experience, clear articulation of the problem, and their vision for how Rewatch could be the end-all solution for video and knowledge management in an organization,” noted David Ulevitch, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a blog post. “They both worked at GitHub in senior roles from the early days, as a Senior Director of Product Design and a Principal Engineer, respectively, and have first-hand experience scaling a product. Since founding Rewatch in early 2020, they have very quickly built a great product, sold it to large-scale customers, and hired top-tier talent, demonstrating rapid founder and company velocity that is key to building an enduring company.”

Gillmor Gang: FreeCoin

The current rave about newsletters and so-called or social audio is just the latest version of the story of podcasting. Take the idea that podcasting is experiencing a new wave of popularity and scaffolding. Are you sure? Apple is bent on turning the space into a subscription model, and we’re all going to twist again like we did last summer. Somehow I doubt it. The basic attraction for me is not paying for podcasts. Subscription startups may be an important step forward, but the heart of the matter is talent formation.

Back when they first started, the real charge was the ability to own the whole stack: writer, producer, editor, star, and marketer. Making money for this may have been a future goal, but right now the real power was in figuring out what might work without the intrusion of what people other than yourself thought about the product. Only if something made itself apparent was it necessary to address the needs and wants of the audience.

Luckily, that ruled out about ninety percent of the resulting wave of stuff. There were Ted talks, or what became Ted talks, well thought out verbal slide decks in an 8 minute payload that grabbed, shook, and exacted payment in credibility and validation of the expertise of the artist. Always lurking was the question of what day job the author was moonlighting from. Many self help business books emerged from this.

Then there were the professionals, the public radio folks who knew how to do this in their sleep but were looking for a role not dependent on grant writing or public liberal funding. Reporters who knew how to squeeze out a story, producers who mined their rolodex to fashion a conversation, screenwriters looking for momentum to bank a shot off studio executives to get a pilot or series starter commitment. Eventually this added up to enough successful podcasts to attract sponsorship support from audiobooks and publishing services. Scripted shows became farm clubs for independent talent aiming for the Big Show. This endured for 20 years.

Meanwhile, the Beatles transformed the music business from a vaudeville-like zero-sum game to a Renaissance of control over writing, performing, promoting, and touring. Aspiration was the fuel of the business model, obviating the need for incremental success in favor of explosive momentum and dominance of the media. Hair, boots, sex, striking fear in the hearts of parents and then politicians everywhere. Sgt. Pepper and Kubrick created a version of the future that made everything else pale by comparison. That it all crashed and burned was just one of the risks of what became the startup culture in Silicon Valley and Route 128.

In today’s world of NFTs and Decacorns, free still has a reason for believing. The old guard of the blogging world have reinvented themselves as Lone Rangers in the creator economy. Slap a badge on that podcast and hitch a ride on the promise of endless subscription growth, minus 10% per newsletter sub or 30% for the first year in the AppStore. It’s not the long tail, so what is it? To be sure, the world will endorse the talented solitary surfers, armed with MG Sieglerian talent for the suite spot of the tech zeitgeist, the revolutionary zeal of the breakthrough synthesists of the political, lyrical, and comic survivalists.

How will the media compensate for the loss of their gatekeeper status? For starters, the more the stampede accelerates, the bundlers will storm the economics with constructs that look very much like the magazines and social destinations they replace. As crypto enters the bloodstream, streaming will generate a new measure of success and equity for the artists. Free will still be the driver of the form, but transitional models like tip jars will migrate to social capital to be banked by investors betting on the future success of the talent.

Even this early, some things have to change. The no recording conceit is an artifact of the launch stage, soon to be jettisoned when the effort reaches escape velocity. Clubhouse gains much of its critical mass from who rather than how many are swarming; interesting combinations of speakers and listeners weigh more tellingly than the raw numbers of name guests and moderators. Live is important, but committing to the voice of the artist is a calculation of time, window of opportunity, relevance to the emotion and tenor of the times. And the competitive landscape for that attention spans so many of the medias being replaced or transformed by the application of free.

None of this means the newsletter and conversation startups won’t succeed. Subscribing gives us something to consume to justify the tithe, and most people who drop streaming subs replace them with another service. As these services proliferate, competition drives innovation and expansion into events and paradigm shifts like Netflix and SPACs. Witness TechCrunch, built on just the dynamics Substack and Revue-Twitter now make accessible to a new wave of Arringtons.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, April 16, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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Gillmor Gang: Leave Quietly

It turns out the most important decision made was not the vote to choose (and remove) in the election but Twitter’s permanent banning of the former President from the social network. Suddenly the temperature cooled, the new administration engaged with the details of vaccine rollout, and the second impeachment trial ended with an expected outcome. Twitter’s move was bipartisan if the trial was not.

Twitter’s other big move was the acquisition of Revue, a Substack competitor we’re moving to in production of the Gillmor Gang newsletter. It features tools to drag and drop articles from Twitter, Feedly, and other newsletters, but crucially the ability to reorganize these chunks as the writing develops. It’s my bet that the newsletter container will absorb blogs, podcasts, and streaming into a reorganized media platform available to creators small and large.

This kind of organic process development meshes well with the newsletter model. It encourages more timely releases, and an editorial feel that prizes quality over quantity. As newsletters proliferate, an evaluation of time over volume becomes most significant. It’s less an eyeballs pattern than a prioritization of what is not chosen and then what is, consumed or annotated with social recommendations. As with the Gang’s Frank Radice Nuzzel newsletter, the focus becomes less flow and more authority or resonance.

Daily Commentary

I have made the decision to cover the media exclusively in “The Radice Files” There are plenty of general news aggregators out there, and I for one, am just tired of those stories. I hope you’ll stay with me.

Instead of non-stop Trump, the only political story in the revamped Radice File is about how Fox News cut away from House manager video testimony to a commentary on the futility of covering the violence given the lack of votes for conviction. This shadow dance happens not just on Fox but the other centrist or left networks like CNN and MSNBC. The slant is not what’s interesting; the networks’ business model and the subtle effect on media programming is.

No wonder that streaming’s impact is being felt in the latest unicorn from Silicon Valley, Clubhouse. The audio streaming podcast disruptor is marketed as a FOMO inside hallway conversation, with a Twitter social cloud viral onboard mechanism that digs deep into your contact list and never lets go. Big ticket items such as a keynote-like conversation with Elon Musk are overbooked from the first minute. I tried unsuccessfully to join this week’s follow up with Marc Andreessen and his VC partner Ben Horowitz but it was sold out at 5000 after 30 minutes.

But there is definitely something tugging at me as I get notifications of people joining and creating rooms on various glitzy Valley topics. The live feeling of serendipity and catch it as you can promises the possibility of lightning in a bottle, the sensation of history being made, not just observed. Probably just an illusion, but it’s reminiscent of the feeling we used to get when putting a record on the turntable and daring the artist(s) to succeed. I still get that every time Miles’ Kind of Blue resumes, the awe with which time is reorganized at the atomic level.

People say a Clubhouse can go easily from 1 to 5 hours. I think RSS was killed by the red unread marks indicator. Size matters? Probably, if my college research suggests. But more important than length is ROI, and that’s where the Clubhouse effect dovetails with the newsletter moment. The ingredients of both are intuition, choice, the organic breadcrumb trail, and the payload.

Intuition

Does this notification fit in with what pattern I’m trying to discern this moment. I love movies like Citizen Kane and North By Northwest for the mirage that they project of a universe fated by a biologically innate DNA. Sometimes we call it fate, other times dumb luck, but always that dumbest of phrases: It is what it is. Only this time the conceit is: It is what it’s about to be is. And if something happens, yes, I knew it. Not specifically, but given the mood the planet is in, it figures this could happen.

In a newsletter: the game is not to read everything, but only what and when and in what order. The prize is the analytics, which reward the reader with more stuff, and the publisher with validation of the impact of the combination of choice (citations) and context (writing.) In Clubhouse, it’s being in the room and what — knowing when to bail? For me it’s escaping the inevitability of the point being made in a podcast, or the filter of the business model of what I’m going to do next. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. Maybe…

Choice

There’s a bunch of choice: Choice of room, people, time invested, moment of throwing good money after bad. Choice of what I’m playing hookey on — work, cable news, family fun, sleep. Clubhouse lets you publicly eavesdrop, a broadcast @mention that doesn’t give you the option of lurking. But you can do the closest thing to multitasking: doing the dishes, playing with the dog, monitoring. cable news with the sound off, DJ-ing for a private room, driving, etc. It is the new radio, pandemic be damned. Wherever you go, there you still are.

Newsletters? People, time reading, research replacement, subscription development, form of payment (money, authority, trust), influence or eyeballs. The game is trading current media for future rebundling, where the new publishers, studios, and artists are grown.

Breadcrumb trail

These choices create the breadcrumb trail, plowing under the old and furrowing the new. Newsletters are the leading edge of this refactoring, tilling the memes, models, and markets for the trends that become viral. The analytics of opens, email vs. web clicks, and notification triage are implicit for the most part in their signal. Harvesting these breadcrumbs requires the impact of new content created in response to the earlier data. Once you’ve identified a valuable consumer, your real work has just begun.

First, you look for the signature of exultation, the embedded essence of the experience that a certain combination of intuition and action rewards the detective. For that is what this new media is: an information thriller that taps into deep reading, listening, and sharing. Every catch phrase — round up the usual suspects, or we are not the droids you are looking for — represent uber themes we crave to navigate a terrifying treacherous world. We are the droids we’re looking for, and these new medias represent possible parallel worlds where we can not just survive but honor values of our choosing.

In the movies, it’s called the plotline. Clubhouse presumes there’s a story worth waiting for, the moments where we gain power by sharing and decorating reactions with clues as to what part of the same elephant we are investigating. We know intuitively that we’re not going to learn business secrets, but there is gold to be retrieved from the participants as they share their sense of humor or lack of it, their rhythm of when they join, raise their hand, are successful at being invited on stage, when they leave, whether they boomerang, and only a little what they actually say. The price for this is your breadcrumbs.

The Payload

As much as I’m intrigued by Clubhouse, I’ve only actually joined or started a room twice. Once was by accident, as I realized by clicking on a link to see who was there. Me, I found out. Another was a conversation about a Techmeme podcast by the podcaster and Chris Messina of hashtag fame. I never could get into the big A16Z attractions. Like Frank Radice’s newsletter pivot, I was primarily interested in the atmospherics surrounding Andreessen Horowitz’s media strategy. But that doesn’t obviate the steady feeling that something substantial is going on here.

Media generally is swallowing its pride in the wake of the political nightmare we’ve been living through. Notice I say media, not mainstream media or social media. Smarter people than me can debate the distinction, but I think the difference between the two is overstated, and more importantly, not that indicative of what the value of these new media surges will turn out to embody. More and more, the substantial writing that filters in on Twitter, RSS (through Feedly), and aggregators like Nuzzel and Medium is significant in its approach to the central issues we’re struggling with. That includes traditional players like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Information, and the tech journals, as they combine newsletter techniques with their substantial resources.

We’re seeing a merger of the medias, with the consensus around value and weight being measured by new metrics. In television, it’s the NewFronts combining digital and linear TV; in music it’s at the song level, not the album. Streaming has shaken the old networks to their core, with a horse race between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, and ABC, NBC, and the old CBS. M&A has swallowed Fox, Time Warner, FX, and even an old studio, Paramount. And radio? You could say the usual suspects Apple, Google, Amazon, and Spotify, but Clubhouse? Like Zoom, I think so. Twitter and Facebook have bigger fish to fry, but Apple Car and Glasses are the key platforms Clubhouse will play in as we move into the autonomous work from anywhere reality. The payload is value, time management, and notifications at the core of the move to digital.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, February 19, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Gillmor Gang: Blockhouse

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, February 12, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Gillmor Gang: Back Then Now

Still figuring out what this newsletter is, I’m torn between aggregation and writing. The inputs vary from blog posts, Twitter threads, and the occasional video. Podcasting seems oddly muzzled by the acceleration of streaming. Blog posts are a misnomer; professional blogs represent the bulk of news and media citations, not usually the single voices of RSS yore.

Linear media is bifurcated between quick takes like The Recount and user tweets of streaming cable news. Podcasting meets longer form streaming with live casting on Facebook Live, Twitter (formerly Periscope), YouTube, and nascent LinkedIn live. As I discovered during a Restreamed recording session of the Gang, the Facebook Live version includes realtime captioning.

On this version of the show, recorded four days before the Inauguration of the Biden presidency, a familiar mood radiates from the Zoomcast. Anxiety, tinged with doubt that we will escape the grip of the pandemic any time soon, or the blight of Trump-o-nomics at all. Now, as I post this, there’s a reasonable chance of a renewal of rationality and respect. Then, it was a jump ball at best.

When we record the show, I leave either CNN or MSNBC on the monitor behind me. Given that we configure Zoom in Gallery Mode for the most part, that ups the chance that one of us will notice if some breaking news (haha) appears. It’s mostly for the sense of being plugged in without being overwhelmed by the repetitive analysis that oh, yes we are in deep trouble. Controlled anxiety beats plain old anxiety most of the time. Nonetheless, I still get complaints from viewers to turn it off.

I like the delay of the realtime version to accommodate post production sweetening with music and lower third titles. The interval gives me a chance to come up with a theme for this post to accompany the mixed show, and it allows for some of the buzzy issues to recede in favor of more sticky foreshadowing of the next show. Around this time, we usually come up with a title for the show. You may not find this all that interesting, but it helps me endure my pathetic contributions to the show.

On this session, Frank Radice is heard quoting lines from Firesign Theatre records. In the early days, we used to sit around college dorms and what we thought passed for hippie crash pads, reciting these Firesign catch phrases. In slightly earlier times, we did this with Bill Cosby records, in later years Monty Python routines. Michael Markman had posted to the Gang Telegram feed a Wisconsin Public Radio conversation with the two surviving TFTers Phil Proctor and David Ossman.

Back then, the comedy group had released I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus, featuring a futuristic ride on a Firesign update of the Disneyland animatronic Presidents attraction. Now, Michael wondered whether Disney would add Trump to the ride when it reopens. It’s a good question. What, whether Disneyland will reopen?

So, newsletters. It seems possible the form is subsuming many of the pieces of blogging, podcasting, streaming, and social networking into a new construct. Where blogs once represented a ticket to parity with the mainstream of journalism, now journalists are acquiring parity with individual voices. Cable news not only feels like podcasting with its oversupply of talking head roundtables, but each anchor has a separate podcast to boot. Just as the record business ate the movies business with Saturday Night Fever, so too are the cable networks eating the broadcast networks as they are in turn eaten by the streamers.

And just as the former president was deplatformed by the social networks, live streamers are replatformed in this newslettered channel-in-your-pocket. Commentary, notification-based two-way feedback, realtime analytics, first party data relationships with creators and subscribers. More creation, less curation.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, January 16, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

Subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

Reddit acquires Dubsmash

Reddit announced that it has acquired short video platform Dubsmash. The deal’s terms were undisclosed. Dubsmash will retain its own platform and brand, and Reddit will integrate its video creation tools. Its co-founders, Suchit Dash, Jonas Drüppel and Tim Specht, will join Reddit.

According to Crunchbase data, the app has raised $20.2 million from investors including Lowercase Capital, Index Ventures, Eniac Ventures, Heartcore Capital and Sunstone Life.

Dubsmash is now one of TikTok’s biggest rivals, but struggled for several years after a brief stint of popularity in 2015 during its first incarnation as a lip-sync video app. In 2017 it began transforming itself into a social platform and moved its headquarters from Berlin to Brooklyn. By the beginning of this year, Dubsmash’s share of the United States’ short-form video market was second only to TikTok when counted by app installs, and it reportedly held acquisition talks with Facebook and Snap.

Credit for much of Dubsmash’s success goes to Black and Latinx users. While many of TikTok’s highest-profile stars are white, Dubsmash is known for its large communities of Black and Latinx content creators. The polarization between the two apps began to gain more attention earlier this year, when the New York Times published a piece about how dance moves by Black Dubsmash stars are frequently appropriated without credit by TikTok influencers, which means their creators miss out on opportunities like larger followings, brand deals and industry connections.

Reddit has its own issues with racism, and has been criticized for not doing enough to stop hate speech or giving moderators of subreddits targeted by racist trolls enough support.

Last year, founder and former chief executive officer Alexis Ohanian called for his position on Reddit’s board to be filled with a Black candidate when he stepped down, which current CEO Steve Huffman said the company would honor as part of a larger effort to address hate speech on the platform announced during anti-racism demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer. Ohanian’s position was filled by Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel.

In its announcement today, Reddit linked its acquisition of Dubsmash to its inclusion efforts, acknowledging that the app’s “communities are driven by young, diverse creators—about 25 percent of all Black teens in the U.S. are on Dubsmash, and females represent 70 percent of users.”

It also said the integration of Dubsmash’s video creation tools will enable Reddit’s users to “express themselves in original and authentic ways that are endemic to our communities.”

Since launching native videos in 2017, Reddit said usage has increased sharply, growing 2X in 2020 alone. Much of Reddit’s content is still text-based, however, with video, gifs and images often shared from other sources, so Dubsmash’s integration can help Reddit build out its own video platform.

Gillmor Gang: HBO Plus

With one fell swoop, WarnerMedia eradicated the status quo in Hollywood, turning its 2021 feature film schedule on its head. Well, not quite. By moving 2021’s theatrical releases to both physical and digital theaters, the AT&T affiliate gave us a reason to sign up for its HBOMax streaming service. With a simultaneous window of one month per title, the idea is that the vaccines will govern the timetable for viable return to movies plus popcorn.

Streaming has picked the lock on our path to the future. Even Donald Trump thinks so. Faced with open refusal by the networks to carry his rants about the election, he’s taken to Facebook Live to produce “press conferences” with his own cameras and no press. These shows are designed to fuel contributions of (so far) 200 million dollars to fund what in essence will be a nonstop infomercial campaign for the 2024 election. One problem: I don’t think it will work.

Instead, millions of Americans will begin to turn working from home into living through work. Digital networks like Zoom are becoming a superhighway for transforming ideas into post-pandemic realities. As the vaccines take root, we’ll inexorably restore the dream of mobility, the feeling of hitting the open road in search of our dreams. Only this time, we’re taking our families, friends, and coworkers with us. The rise of digital devices and notifications is disrupting the old business models and replacing them with next best step workflow.

We know what the office gives us: a place for hallway conversations that harness the elastic essence of the team. It’s based on inspiration, camaraderie, shared values, and just plain good timing. Don’t believe me? Ask anybody how their parents met. In the rush to virtualize the hallway conversation, we’re missing the fact that it’s really the only thing that’s working by default. The notification channel dominates our attention, and in aggregate who we give that to creates successful business outcomes.

Zoom is a perfect example of hallway serendipity. A brain dead simple on boarding process starts by clicking on a notification. If you have the Zoom client installed you’re in; if you don’t the download starts, and then you’re in. Zoom takes care of what device you’re using, what software tools are necessary to gather multiple people together across time zones and latencies, and provides in our case the recording and switching tools to stream the meeting across the network. If you can’t make the scene in real-time you can time shift until later.

How does Hollywood compete with that? The short answer is they don’t. HBO is saying the old way of business is over. It may seem like it will return to the good old days of the Saturday afternoon matinee (and it will) but the way it will happen is infused with digital. If you’re embedded in the Zoom economy you first hear about things over that channel. News, pitches, reminders, delivery arrivals, early voting, everything that can most efficiently alert you will succeed. If the networks you use produce effective service and empathetic trustworthy processes, they will be rewarded with your attention.

HBO has decided to run a vaccine trial where they give out a dose of the what will be alongside a placebo, what has been working up til now. Same product, two different experiences. What they’re really saying is: at some point, we’ll feel safe enough to return to the theaters. But will we? Sure, for the big experiences, the blockbusters, the roar of laughter and shared relief of having made it through. But that blockbuster is not the experience we crave, and the new streaming shared water cooler experience has its own joys and power.

How else do you explain the success of streaming shows like The Queen’s Gambit, where millions of us watch a small story about a young girl’s path to chess stardom. A chess movie? You betcha. Or The Crown, which blatantly makes up stories about the Royal Family with an underlying central truth that the show’s writer proclaims. To paraphrase, if I tell the essential truth about these people, I can get away with making up the dialogue. These shows are the thing the blockbusters can’t deliver, the emotional truth that soothes us as we shelter in place. HBO is betting on that model, plus the blockbusters when they’re safe again. Make America Safe Again.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, November 29, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

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

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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