Tag Archive: media


Twitterglobe-feature

According to sources close to the situation, Twitter is planning on waiting until after its IPO – which is set to take place next week – to name its first woman to its board.

The move makes some level of sense, mostly because it would be difficult to have any new board member join the San Francisco-based social microblogging company now, given that that person would have to sign off on the public offering with little knowledge of its details.

Sources also added that while many are expecting Twitter to seek out a female director with media or tech experience – and there are many laudable candidates in both those areas – the company’s execs, especially CEO Dick Costolo, believe that one with international expertise is more important.

The reason is clear – Twitter is a global player, and runs into thorny issues all over the world around the proliferation of its open service. You might imagine that, in the future, as it grows, the company will face even more international conundrums that it will need a lot of mental heavy lifting to work out.

While the board had put former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the top of its overall list, she has not been contacted about joining as a director. She’s also likely to not be available, either, especially given that she is expected to run for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in the 2016 election.

(Sorry, but she’s busy, boys! While Twitter chairman and co-founder Jack Dorsey will be bummed, most there actually considered her a very long shot.)

The number of women with international experience is also long. But if I were to bet on whom Twitter is considering for its top picks, I would name only two: Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright.

Albright, among her many diplomatic roles, was the first woman to become the Secretary of State, named in the Clinton administration. She is now a professor of international relations at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service (disclosure: I went there), and is also chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm.

Also – keep up, Peter Fenton! – she is fluent in French, Russian, Czech, Polish and Serbo-Croatian, serves on important boards such as the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, and has written five books.

In addition – and this is just from my several encounters with her over the years – Albright takes no guff.

Neither does Rice, who also has some big cred in her corner. Along with other big government posts, she also served as Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush.

Rice also has some Silicon Valley links, both as a top administrator and professor at Stanford University, and her recent relationship with Khosla Ventures.

The VC firm signed a deal late last year with RiceHadleyGates, the international consulting firm that Rice runs, to “bring global and domestic insight to Khosla’s portfolio companies, helping them achieve their strategic goals in industries such as technology, energy, security and healthcare.”

No matter their gender – although that would also be a plus – either Rice or Albright would certainly be an asset for Twitter. The company has attracted not-undeserved scrutiny over not having a woman – or any diversity at all, really – on its board.

That board now includes: Former Netscape CFO and investor Peter Currie; former News Corp COO and Hollywood mogul Peter Chernin; Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Fenton, of Benchmark Capital; former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt; Jack Dorsey (also CEO and founder of hot payments startup Square); co-founder and serial entrepreneur Evan Williams (now working on an innovative new publishing platform called Medium); and CEO Dick Costolo, who has already attracted controversy over the issue.

The lack of a woman on the board of a company is particularly glaring, given that numerous studies show that more women use Twitter than men, and that it is aiming to be a global company that represents, well, all of humanity.

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According to sources close to the situation, Snapchat could announce its latest massive funding later this week.

Sources said the round being raised – up to $200 million – will come in part from China’s Internet giant Tencent and value the self-destructing mobile messaging startup from $3.6 billion to $4 billion. But, said sources, there are likely to be other new investors in the round.

AllThingsD broke the news of the possible funding last week.

The new funding comes only a few months after closing a Series B round of $60 million that valued Snapchat at $800 million.

While such a deal could still be delayed or even fall apart, sources said it was on track to be announced as early as this Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Snapchat did not as yet return an email and text requesting comment.

The move by the Los Angeles-based Snapchat is the second giant funding of late of a small Internet startup with little to no revenue.

Social scrapbooking company Pinterest announced earlier this week that it just raised $225 million at a $3.8 billion valuation.

But investors are piling on, hoping to grab an early hold on the next Twitter or Facebook.

Launched in 2011, Snapchat has grown wildly popular in a relatively short span of time, effectively creating an entirely new genre of messaging category with its “ephemeral” pictures and videos that last for only a matter of seconds.

Snapchat’s last round was led by Institutional Venture Partners, with participation from General Catalyst Partners and SV Angel. Previous investors Benchmark Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated. With that round, the company had raised around $75 million in total.

At the time of the June funding, in an interview with AllThingsD, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel noted: “We’re excited about in-app transactions because of what we’ve seen in the Asian markets.”

He has called out Tencent specifically in a series of interviews as being an innovative player there.

The interest in investing is because the mobile Snapchat app has proved so popular and has become global. It has also become potentially worrisome to established social players – so much so that sources said when Spiegel continually rebuffed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s acquisition offers, Zuckerberg cloned the app outright with a service called Poke. Zuckerberg’s offering famously flopped, while Snapchat continues to grow.

Most recently, Snapchat has begun to experiment with features outside of its core ephemeral messaging service. The company launched its Stories product last month, essentially a long-form play on Facebook’s status update in the form of a picture or video. And recently, Spiegel has grown more keen on the idea of monetization, experimenting with bands and listening to music inside the app.

Whether that will really move ratings, I think we don’t know.

- Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, talking about plans for the “See It” program it is launching next month with Twitter, which is supposed to promote live TV viewing. On an earnings call this morning, Roberts described the program as an experiment, but said he feels optimistic about it.

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Even after back-to-back quarterly wins, the heat is still on for Facebook to knock its next ad product out of the park.

Take a look at the market performance Wednesday afternoon. After delivering another quarter of stellar earnings numbers, Facebook CFO David Ebersman said something that made investors twitch: Facebook won’t “significantly increase” the number of ads it is sticking into users’ News Feeds – the current biggest driver of Facebook’s money machine.

The big bet for Facebook instead: Improving the quality of its existing ads.

That’s sort of a no-brainer. Make the ad look as “native” as possible, and it’ll probably perform better. It’s all the rage these days with competitors like Twitter.

Investors were spooked at Ebersman’s words nonetheless. After shares first surged 15 percent after hours on the original numbers, the stock plummeted back down to its closing price when Ebersman mentioned ad load, and ended up ultimately trading down – $18 billion in market value lost in a matter of seconds.

So the onus, then, is on Facebook for its next big thing. Will it be the long-awaited video ads, which look likely to auto-play inside the News Feed as users scroll through? That’s certainly one way to get higher-value ads without upping load. And let’s not forget Instagram, which also recently stated it would start dipping its toes into in-stream ads.

The company is treading very carefully. In-stream videos could be much more intrusive than the ads we’re seeing these days. Facebook doesn’t want to upset its users by sticking a bunch of auto-playing ads in our faces in the wrong way. That’s why the product has been delayed multiple times, and why the tests have come slowly but surely.

A quick aside: Seems almost silly for the Street to punish Facebook for stating it won’t increase ad load. If you jam the stream with even more ads, it’ll only serve to make the customer experience worse, right?

But maybe investors realized that, too; shares of Facebook were trading up nearly five percent Thursday morning, at around $51.

Jimmy Pitaro

Jimmy Pitaro

Earlier today, Disney said what is likely not much of a shock to anyone – that it was handing over the reins of its interactive division to one of its two co-presidents, Jimmy Pitaro.

That means John Pleasants, who was the other co-president and was located in Silicon Valley, is leaving the kingdom, merging the games and media units under one leader in Los Angeles. Pleasants, as happens in these kinds of things, will be a strategic consultant to Disney Interactive.

The reorganization of the unit comes three years after Pitaro, a former Yahoo media exec, and Pleasants, who came to Disney via its acquisition of Playdom, were paired. Disney Interactive recently reported its second quarterly profit of $16 million on sales of $396 million, in what has been an uphill effort over the past decade for the entertainment giant.

Under the regime of former CEO Michael Eisner – many digital moons ago and which I covered since I am so dang old – Disney bought search engine Infoseek and tried to create a portal called Go.com. That failed, and was one of many efforts to define the media company’s Web goals. More recently, in 2008, Disney gathered most of its Internet properties under Steve Wadsworth.

Then came the pairing of Pitaro and Pleasants. And now, just Pitaro.

Disney said it “will move forward with a singular strategy for driving revenue and advertising across key platforms and franchises,” such as Disney Infinity – a big Pleasants project – and Club Penguin.

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Spotify’s advertising engine and paid customer conversion funnel are finally working well enough that today it eliminated all limits on free, ad-supported web listening in all countries. It’s an important milestone for the scalability and sustainability of Spotify’s business that contrasts with other streaming music services like Ex.fm and Rdio that are stumbling or shutting down.

Previously, Spotify gave free web users unlimited listening for a six-month grace period, but then limited some international free web listeners to 2.5 hours per week. Considering some people like to listen to albums or playlists for hours on end at work, the cap could come up pretty quickly.

Now, there are no limits on ad-supported free web listening at all, anywhere.

The move matches Spotify’s push to become more accessible across platforms. Last month it opened free ad-supported on-demand listening on tablets. It also launched a free, ad-supported version of its smartphone app that previously cost $10 a month, which we got the drop on a week before the announcement.

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This free mobile version is limited to shuffling songs rather than allowing on-demand song choice. It’s positioned to beat Pandora Mobile, where if you choose an artist you only hear them 20% of the time but there’s no ad-supported time-limit as of August. On Spotify’s free smartphone app, you can choose to hear one specific artist, just not the order of the songs.

Today’s announcement also attacks Pandora, but on the web. There, Pandora dropped its listening cap way back in 2011 when it hit web advertising scalability.

Now Spotify has acheived the same feat of sales efficiency as it reaches 26 million users and 6 million paying subscribers, so it’s dropped its web limit. Raising $250 million in November also gives it the runway to think about the long-term when its ads organization will keep getting more efficient and conversions to paid customers will generate recurring revenue. [Update 6:45pm: Spotify has always plenty of cash and lots of competition, but the recent $250 million funding and increasingly heated battle for our ears could also have contributed to it dropping the listening limit.]

Update 8pm: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has efficiently confirmed my thinking that Spotify’s business is getting more efficient

@JoshConstine yes!-
Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) January 16, 2014

All these moves will give Spotify a boost as it faces its biggest challenge yet: gaining traction as mobile platform owners Google and Apple get serious about streaming music. Their control of iOS and Android give them big advantages on mobile, such as built-in install bases that dwarf Spotify’s independent service and threaten to choke it out.

There’s also new entrants like Beats’ music streaming service that launches later this month, as well European streaming fixture Deezer to compete with.

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To win, Spotify’s strategy must become the omni-jukebox, with on-demand, radio, contextual, and playlist streaming available across all platforms. And that means dropping as many listening limits as it can.

For more on Spotify, read:

Spotify Launches Free Mobile Version

Spotify Wants To Be Everything To Everyone

[Image Credit: Melissa Downing Via The Racquette]

Plain Vanilla Games, the studio behind mobile trivia game QuizUp, has raised a $2 million extension to its earlier $2.5 million Series A. The new funding, led by Sequoia Capital and eVentures, closed before QuizUp launched earlier this month. A spokesperson said that as of Monday, the game has 1.5 million registered users and has been played 70 million times.

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iStockphoto | dny59

You can add this to the growing list of specialized software that now runs in the cloud: Tracking the usage rights for film and television companies.

The company that does it is FilmTrack, and today it announced that it has secured a $20 million investment from the private equity firm Insight Venture Partners.

FilmTrack’s cloud application is used by film and TV studios to track the use of their video troves in order to make sure they’re getting paid when someone shows a movie or licenses some part of it. FilmTrack’s customers include the Weinstein Company, Lionsgate and the cable network Starz.

As part of the deal, Peter Sobiloff and Nikitas Koutoupes, both managing directors at Insight, will join FilmTrack’s board of directors. Also joining is Michael Lang, the former CEO of Miramax Films.

It’s the 15th investment in a software-as-a-service company by Insight Venture Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm based in New York. Last month, it invested $100 million in Anaqua, a cloud software firm specializing in the management of intellectual property including patents, trademarks and trade secrets.

A day after announcing a promotion that gave Chromecast buyers three free months of Netflix, Google has pulled the plug on the offer. Google told the Los Angeles Times that it quashed the giveaway “due to overwhelming demand for Chromecast devices,” which move video from the Internet to the TV, and which retail for $35.

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Although blogging is nearly as old as the Internet, it still feels like something is amiss.

From Dustin Curtis’ Svbtle to Ev Williams’ Medium, there is a feeling afoot that existing platforms for blogs and long-form content still need a lot of improvement. Five years ago, early platforms like Blogger gave way to micro-blogging and networks like Tumblr.

Now we’re seeing the pendulum swing back with platforms for longer-form stories and media.

SETT is a blogging platform that’s looking to emphasize community, so that new users can find a right audience immediately and long-time bloggers can interact with higher-quality commenters and contributors.

Aside from features that are now standard these days like a news feed of content and WYSIWYG editing, SETT has a top bar where it’s easy for bloggers to track comments or even private messages from others in the SETT community.

From the start, when new users sign up for an account, SETT refers readers to your site. It has a word-matching system internally that compares posts to one another. If a reader happens to like a post about one topic, the platform will recommend other similar ones to them.

The site is the brainchild of a long-time blogger named Tynan (who declines to use his last name online ever) and Todd Iceton, a developer who worked for Nutshell Mail, the company that was acquired by e-mail marketing giant Constant Contact.

Tynan has been actively blogging for six years but found that it was a bit of a slog for any new user.

“For people who are just starting out, their biggest hurdle is just getting that community first,” he said.

There are other features meant to enhance a reader’s relationship with a blogger like a simple, one-click e-mail subscription system. Subscribers get notified of new posts and new comments on posts they’ve decided to individually follow.

Readers can also start their own independent discussions about posts in a community section, where they can see who is online and which posts are being actively read by a lot of users.

The site has had about 100 or so active blogs in beta form, but they’ve opened it up since. Some of the more popular voices on the platform are entrepreneurs like Dick Talens, who co-founded 500 Startups-backed Fitocracy and blogs about how to stay in shape.

The bootstrapped startup earns revenue through premium or subscription accounts that range from $12 to $99 per month in cost. At the higher-end of the range, users get more image-hosting space, subscribers and customer support.

As for the competition, Tynan and his co-founder Todd say that, while they have respect for the other platforms, Svbtle doesn’t encourage commenting. In any case, they agree that something needs to be done to update outdated blogging formats – even if starting a web-first blogging platform in 2013 seems a bit anachronistic.

“Both are expressing frustration with the standard format. The WordPress model hasn’t changed in 10 to 12 years,” Tynan said. “Their model is kind of broken.”


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