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Samsung & More online Video Platforms Fight to Stream on Smart TVs

The rise of the streaming middleman

Samsung & More online Video Platforms Fight to Stream on Smart TVs
Online streaming platforms // Illustration by Kate Walker

The rise of the streaming middleman

The rise of digital operating systems and smart TVs is putting a toll road between streaming companies and their audiences. Not only are they fighting for dominance, but they’re also battling streaming platforms for subscription and advertising revenue. With many of these companies operating their own streaming services, inherent conflicts of interest could invite antitrust probes.

The other streaming war
Streaming gatekeepers are fighting a heated war.

  • Companies such as Roku, Amazon, Samsung, Apple, and Google battle for shares of advertising and subscription revenue that streaming platforms collect.
  • Many are also moving into the connected-TV market to give the operating system preference, as there are yet to be clear winners in the space.
    • Meanwhile, they’re also facing competition from traditional TV-makers like LG, Vizio, and Comcast.

These companies, which typically take 30% of ad revenue and 15% of subscriber revenue, make much more from their streaming business than their hardware business. For example, Roku made $1 billion in revenue in the first half of 2021 from its platform business (at a 66% profit margin) but only $220 million from hardware (at a 3.6% profit margin).

Software fights a hard battle
With how much money is at stake, streaming platforms are taking these operating-system companies to task to keep more revenue… and the middle-men are fighting back, leading to delayed debuts or platforms going temporarily dark.

  • Roku hasn’t been able to strike a new deal with YouTube TV over control of data and search results.
  • WarnerMedia battled Amazon and Roku over carrying HBO Max, which delayed its appearance on both systems.
  • ViacomCBS is barring one connected-TV manufacturer from taking any ad inventory on Paramount+, leading to a stall in discussions.

Making things even more complicated is that many of these systems — Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Google — have streaming platforms of their own, creating a complicated conflict of interest.

Facebook is planning to change its company name, possibly as early as next week.

Facebook’s name to get a metaverse makeover

Facebook is planning to change its company name, possibly as early as next week.
Facebook metaverse// Illustration by Kate Walker

Facebook’s name to get a metaverse makeover

According to an inside source, Facebook is planning to change its company name, possibly as early as next week. The move is expected to highlight the social giant’s transition from a social media company to a metaverse company. But with a metaverse platform still potentially years away, the name change may confuse users who still aren’t sure what the concept of a metaverse even is.

New chapter
Facebook is planning to try on a new mask.

  • The company is planning on changing its name next week.
  • While the name is still undisclosed, it will reportedly reflect Facebook’s push into designing the metaverse.
  • The name will be revealed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg on October 28 at the company’s Connect conference… or sooner.

Our money is on the new company being called “Horizon” — a name already used for Facebook’s new remote-working platform (Horizon Workrooms) and its upcoming Roblox-like platform (Horizon Worlds).

Fresh face
The name change isn’t surprising. Zuckerberg has been beating the drum for months that Facebook is trying to “transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.” In preparation, Facebook has doubled down on its AR/VR ambitions, which will be vital hardware to access this new digital world.

Similar to how Snapchat changed to Snap Inc. to signal it was becoming a “camera company,” the hope is that Facebook’s change will give the company a fresh coat of paint. Will changing its name make people forget about WSJ’s bombshell reports from whistleblower Frances Haugen, the plethora of antitrust lawsuits against it, or any of its other scandals? Only time will tell.

PayPal might buy pinterest

PayPal possibly purchases Pinterest

PayPal might buy pinterest
PayPal acquires Pinterest // Illustration by Kate Walker

PayPal possibly purchases Pinterest

PayPal is exploring a huge $45 billion acquisition of Pinterest. The move would launch PayPal into the creator-driven e-commerce and advertising businesses, possibly setting up a rivalry with newfound competitors like Amazon and Facebook.

Crafty
PayPal is putting Pinterest up on its vision board.

  • PayPal is reportedly looking to acquire Pinterest in a deal that could cost $45 billion ($70 per share).
    • PayPal has a valuation of $304 billion.
  • Talks are still preliminary, but the deal would be PayPal’s biggest acquisition to date by a large margin.

Acquiring Pinterest would just be the next step in PayPal’s ambition to become a “super app” for all things shopping, finance, and community building — sort of like America’s version of China’s WeChat or Alipay.

Social aspirations
Like every other social platform, Pinterest has been steadily moving into e-commerce. It recently introduced new tools that make creator “pins” shoppable. With the acquisition, PayPal could be central to all of those transactions while also enjoying a new revenue stream with Pinterest’s growing ad business.

Additionally, Pinterest is already planning on making a bigger splash into the crowded creator economy. It plans to launch a $20 million “Creator Rewards” program, debut a vertical video feature, support Amazon Affiliates, and even invest in original content. Are PayPal influencers on the horizon?

HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, and Netflix debuted virtual group watch party features

Watching with friends who aren’t there is the new watch party

HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, and Netflix debuted virtual group watch party features
Virtual group watch party // Illustration by Kate Walker

Watching with friends who aren’t there is the new watch party

Thanks to COVID, entertainment streaming services and social-gaming platforms rolled out new features making virtual group watch parties a thing. As the streaming wars heat up, companies could use co-viewing to leverage FOMO and lock in new subscribers or users.

Link to the living room

Watching stuff with friends as a group has never been easier… or more separated. 

  • HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, and Netflix all debuted proprietary “watch together” features that allow multiple people to stream titles simultaneously.
  • Twitch, Roblox, and Fortnite all introduced features to experience live music in a communal setting.

According to viewership measurement firm Nielsen, most streaming activities are done in people’s living rooms on smart TVs, showing a “growth in co-viewing.”

Program the party
The increase in co-viewing has led some companies to experiment with the possibilities of digital platform congregation, making the experience more interactive.

Now all one of these platforms has to do is recreate Trivia Night.

YouTube debuts short-form content "Shorts" to compete with TikTok

YouTube wants to repeat TikTok’s success

YouTube debuts short-form content "Shorts" to compete with TikTok
YouTube Shorts// Illustration by Kate Walker

YouTube wants to repeat TikTok’s success

YouTube is pumping money and attention into its short-form feature, Shorts, in a bid to compete with TikTok. Creators are adjusting their strategies to capitalize on the Shorts growth… sometimes to the detriment of longer-lasting success. But the shift to Shorts may prove something even more sobering to creators: at the end of the day, the platforms will do what’s best for their place in the market; creators may have no choice but to adapt.

For us
YouTube is jealous of TikTok’s attention span.

  • Cloning TikTok, YouTube debuted its 60-second-long “Shorts” feature earlier this year and launched a $100 million fund to entice creators to make content for it.
  • As an added benefit, YouTube is reportedly prioritizing Shorts on its mobile app to drive engagement.

The clear push from YouTube is making an impression on creators. Many say that they’ve already jumped on the Shorts bandwagon or are currently rethinking their YouTube strategy. And creators who have made the switch report increased subscribers and monthly revenue spikes.

But some are worried that the move to Shorts will hurt them in the long run. Many YouTubers make the bulk of their earnings from ad placements, which longer videos provide more opportunity for.

The short of it
Nonetheless, YouTube’s Shorts gambit is working: this year, Shorts made by influencers clocked a 64% increase in engagement within 30 days while long-form video growth plateaued, according to measurement firm Tubular Labs. Videos that are five to ten minutes long rose by 11%, while those around fifteen to twenty minutes rose only 5%.

What YouTube may really want to capture is the sense of interconnectivity that TikTok provides (i.e., someone does a dance, and people quickly copy that dance and create the videos directly on the platform). The Information calls that the “piggybacking.” No wonder TikTok has skyrocketed to a billion monthly active users.

Now, the true test will be if YouTube can tamp down on Shorts just being TikTok recycles.

squid game Walmart Netflix merch

‘Squid Game’ wins merch influence

squid game Walmart Netflix merch
'Squid Game' Merch on Walmart Shopping Hub// Illustration by Kate Walker

'Squid Game' wins merch influence

Netflix and Walmart are teaming up on a merchandise hub dedicated to popular titles from the streamer. The announcement comes on the heels of Netflix’s Squid Game boom, with products featured in the show flying off shelves. In a world where merch has become the new fashion, Netflix could turn its consumer products division into a meaningful revenue stream by offering merch for purchase right on the platform.

Mask up at Walmart
Just in time for Halloween, Squid Game merch is hitting shelves.

  • Netflix and Walmart are partnering up to create a digital storefront on the retail giant’s site — Netflix’s first with a national retailer.
  • Netflix Hub will sell merch tied to Netflix hits such as Squid GameStranger Things, and The Witcher.
  • Additionally, Netflix recently launched its own e-commerce site, Netflix.shop.

Even though Netflix is ramping up its consumer product ambitions, co-CEO Reed Hastings doesn’t believe that merch will actually be a big revenue driver. Instead, Hastings sees the division as a way “to help the subscription service grow and be more important in people’s lives.” Essentially, if people see a Squid Game shirt on the street, they may just go home and watch it.

Brand piggy bank
Although Hastings may not see consumer products as a huge revenue driver for the company, there is no denying that a hit show does open up viewers’ wallets. Just look at Squid Game, which is on track to be Netflix’s biggest show ever.

This isn’t the first time that Netflix has been behind a title whose popularity spurred product sales in line with the story. Last year’s The Queen’s Gambit was behind a monumental spike in popularity for chess sets, chess lessons, and even chess-themed hotel rooms.

Brands transition to premium content to survive streaming ad-desert

Brands transition to premium content to survive streaming ad-desert

The Future. As the entertainment industry prioritizes streaming above all else, advertisers have found themselves with fewer eyeballs… and fewer options. So, in order to get audiences to search for them, brands are investing in long-form narratives and docs that put storytelling before advertising. The results are already interesting and successful, which may inject Hollywood with funds for projects that would have otherwise been earmarked for commercials.

Ads aren’t welcome here
Paywalls for streaming services are keeping advertisers locked out and leaving them with fewer people to advertise to on traditional channels.

Research firm WARC found that advertisers spent 10% less on broadcast television last year. Meanwhile, overall online video spending went up by 12%.

Dipanjan Chatterjee, an analyst at Forrester Research, said traditional commercials have “zero credibility” with consumers.

Chatterjee says that the new goal for brands is to now invest in long-form content that “doesn’t come across as an intrusive bit of advertising, [but] feels much more like a natural part of our lives.” These movies and shows could then exist as entertainment on any streaming platform.

Put a story on it
Making long-form content for advertising purposes seems a bit cynical at first, but it has actually been a tried-and-true strategy since General Electric produced the TV show General Electric Theater back in 1954 (fun fact: it hosted by future president Ronald Reagan).

In 2018, Pepsi co-financed the comedy feature Uncle Drew, which was an expansion of the character from the Pepsi Max commercials. It made $42 million.

Airbnb produced the doc Gay Chorus Deep South, which played the film festival circuit in 2019.

The Apple+ hit Ted Lasso started as promotional material for NBC Sports’ acquisition of the broadcast rights to the English Premier League.

Imagine Entertainment launched Imagine Brands in 2018 to connect companies with filmmakers. The company was behind the mockumentary John Bronco (starring Walton Goggins as the title character) for Ford, which aired on Hulu. It’s currently working with Procter & Gamble on a narrative film entitled Mars 2080 that will play in IMAX sometime next year.

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2019 in review

⚡️ The year in review
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Five takeaways from 2019

2019 was a transitional year. Old became new as we hit peak nostalgia. Friends became enemies as we began to see Big Tech in a darker light. The youngest person ever was Time’s Person of the Year, and the embodiment of the Old Master is a baby.

This year we saw our internet-connected globe a little more clearly, and analyzed it with a more skeptical eye. We took things like phone addiction and climate change more seriously. After a decade of disruption and confusion, we began to find our purpose again.

To round out 2019, here are five main takeaways from the year, followed by five major predictions for 2020 and beyond.

1. A new player has entered the game
One cause for hope has been the arrival of Gen Z. In 2019, Gen Z graduated from the nihilism of Soundcloud rap to more meaningful social commentary like “Ok Boomer” and #1 albums about depression and anxiety.

The central symbol of Gen Z’s new-formed identity is an emoji eye roll towards the fake goodness of Boomers and the Insta-narcissism of millennials. Gen Zers are simultaneously more focused on money and the environment than any generation before. They aren’t sold on the idea that an expensive education guarantees a good life. Gen Z trusts less, verifies more.

Up until 2019, no one was quite sure how to characterize Gen Z. Now that we know more about them, we can’t wait to see how they’ll express themselves in ’20.

2. Phones are the bad guy, duh
Our most engaged with email of the year covered a comprehensive study proving that phone addiction is very real. Meanwhile, backlash against the toxicity of social media has risen to an all-time high. In 2019, more people sought out digital detoxes and phone-free travel, embracing mindfulness as they left their “leashes” behind.

3. The rise of virtual people 
While some put down our phones, humanity also delved deeper into the virtual world. 2019 saw the ascent of the virtual influencer and virtual clothes for real influencers. Holograms went on tour and fictional characters set up Instagram accounts. Actors became young again and deepfakes made us question our most trusted figureheads…although Gen Z thinks “trusted figureheads” is an oxymoron.

4. Sustainability is not a trend
2019 was the year that sustainability transformed from stylish perk to permanent fixture of everyday life. The fight against Fast Fashion caused many retailers to go out of business, while others have plans to overhaul their production lines. Brands like Everlane and H&M launched transparency initiatives identifying the producing factory and material source for every item they sell. Major musicians stopped touring to reduce their carbon footprints. Fast food chains served fake meat burgers. The world’s craziest truck was unveiled in a disastrous presentation…before 250k were sold solely because it’s electric.

A lot of people are skeptical about the fuss over climate change, but with phenomena like these, it’s not just a “cause” anymore—it’s an economy all its own.

5. The streaming wars began
Two new competitors in the streaming wars launched (Disney+ & Apple+). Two more are coming early next year (HBO Max & Peacock) along with a lot of smaller projects like Quibi and Discovery/BBC. The demand for content has never been higher, and most small-and-mid-sized movies are relegated to the small screen. The content consumer saw more options in 2019 than ever, and at more affordable prices. But for Hollywood, it was a shaky year. The entertainment landscape was irrevocably altered, and many of the old entertainment elite struggled to adapt.

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Five predictions for 2020

The teens were a decade of sequels and nostalgia. To escape widespread anger and polarization, we were driven to the past, to simpler times when a trip to the mall was all we needed to be happy.

But the age of remembering is coming to a close, and all signs point to the 2020s as the decade we start living in the present. Not a sequel to the past, but something new where everything we’ve learned online is used to make not just a better world, but a more exciting one.

1. Independent curators will dictate culture 
Due to content overload, consumers will seek out relatable curators. The marketplace is responding by naturally selecting ones like email newsletters (e.g. yours truly), YouTube pundits, and Instagram meme accounts. These players are all part of Gen Z’s “push notification news cycle,” which will replace the 24-hour news cycle in the next decade. Where musicians like Kanye “curate” sounds to create modern music, so will journalists, podcasters, and comedians curate the stream of information to become the voices of the ’20s.

2. Labor rights will become the new sustainability 
With student debt and rent at an all-time high, human capital is struggling to make the economy function. As a result, unions are making major inroads in urban fields like art, media, and hospitality. Fashion labels are responding to sweatshop criticism with more transparency. Movements like #PayUpHollywood are publicly embarrassing high-profile employers with social media campaigns. Look for Gen Z’s practical view of money and education to lead to a resurgence of the blue-collar-mindset that’s been absent in American pop culture for decades, even if it’s for white-collar jobs.

3. Real-Time Marketing will dominate the creative industries
Our second-most engaged with topic of 2019 was the Peloton ad and Ryan Reynold’s clever response for Aviation Gin. Also in the top 10 was Popeye’s massive success with the chicken sandwich, largely born from a clever tweet. In response, the old, stodgy, slow-moving corporate approval process (the one that cost Disney billions in Baby Yoda merch opportunities to indie meme-to-merch-makers) will relent to quicker, more creative solutions, opening the door to more resonant ad campaigns that might actually convince Gen Z to buy things.

Get ready for every creative brief in 2020 to come with the line “can we do something like Aviation?”

4. The battle for IP will move to the physical world
In 2019, streaming wars competitors learned that building dedicated fandoms around popular IP is key to victory. Nurturing those fandoms means satisfying fans’ cravings for branded IRL experiences, the model that made Comic-Con the cultural tentpole it is today. For consumers, experiential campaigns bring us together and cut through the stream of digital content. For brands, they excite fandoms, convert sales, and create viral waves of social media sharing. In 2020, as movie theaters become mainly amusement parks for superhero blockbusters, the experiential trend will continue to dominate festival and con culture and expand to new heights.

5. We’ll finally get off social media
In 2019, we took large strides in understanding our relationship with phones and social media, which are increasingly compared to cigarettes in their addictive potential. Elite institutions are taking heed by offering phone-free digital detox options that force us off of our phones. Instagram is hiding likes and Facebook’s user numbers are plummeting, particularly among Gen Z. Brands and celebrities are using programs that allow them to text fans instead of tweeting at them. While many haven’t caught up yet, they will in 2020 because their health depends on it.

vice

Vice cancels itself

After a series of major blows, Vice is currently on life support provided by George Soros. The supposed savior of Millennial media was once valued at $5.7 billion. How, and why, did Vice fall so far?

The long way down
The hits just keep coming.

Monday, HBO axed Vice News Tonight. It was the second Vice project HBO has cancelled. The first, the weekly show Vice, lasted 7 years.

A more recent Vice project, “Vice Live,” made it less than 2 months.

Last year, Vice laid off 15% and froze hiring. In February, it let another 10% go.

In May, Disney “wrote off” its $353 million investment in Vice. The previous fall, it “wrote down” $157 million of the same.

What write off means
“Writing down” an investment means devaluing it. “Writing off” an investment means cutting ties. Disney thinks Vice will never be worth anything.

In other words, the coup de grâce.

Bailed out by Soros
But the company is not dead yet. In a desperate move, it took on $250 million of debt from a group of investors led by George Soros.

Vice says the investment will help execute a new vision to accelerate growth. The way things are going, that would be a miracle.

So what happened?
notoriously toxic work environment and a business pitch “built on a bluff” certainly didn’t help.

But the smart money is that a flawed assumption sunk Vice. The same flawed assumption that may have led to the decline of Buzzfeed.

Vice and Buzzfeed grew because of social media. Their models were built on knowing how to use Facebook effectively. Investors assumed they would figure out how to convert their popular social media presences into ad dollars.

But that never happened. Instead, Facebook drank their milkshakes. Vice thought it was using a distribution platform. As it turned out, it was giving free content to a competitor. Vice failed because the vast majority of Vice’s engagement never happened on Vice. It happened on Facebook.

The Future. Betting on hot media companies without real revenue, or at least innovative plans for generating it, is officially a thing of past. Social media popularity means little without a path to conversion. Investors will be more cautious. And media companies will chase revenue, not engagement.

bees

Beeeeeeees

Bees are embracing plastic, and they aren’t alone.

For the first time ever, wild bees in Argentina have constructed a nest entirely out of plastic, Science Alert reports. Previously, North American bee nests were found with individual cells created from plastic, but never an entire nest.

The plastic in question is blue-ish in color and was found stuck on a nearby fence. Plastic may provide adaptive advantages, similar to birds using cigarette butts to repel parasites.

It’s also a rare positive development for beleaguered bee-human relations; pesticides are inducing bee die-offs in unprecedented numbers.

Everyone’s doing it.
Other animals are also finding creative ways to use destructive plastic waste.

Even humans are getting on board.

  • Adidas Parleys made of ocean plastic
  • G Star RAW’s similar line with Pharrell
  • Banners in Virgil Abloh’s new Chicago Nike store

None of this is to say that plastic isn’t still a massive threat to the environment, but it’s something.

The Future. Life finds a way.