Google Search can now help you find your next binge. The company this morning announced a new feature that will make personalized recommendations of what to watch, including both TV shows and movies, and point you to services where the content is available.
The feature is an expansion of Google’s existing efforts in pointing web searchers to informative content about TV shows and films.
Already, a Google search for a TV show or movie title will include a “Knowledge Panel” box at the the top of the search results where you can read the overview, see the ratings and reviews, check out the cast and, as of spring 2017, find services where the show or movie can be streamed or purchased.
The new recommendations feature will instead appear to searchers who don’t have a particular title in mind, but are rather typing in queries like “what to watch” or “good shows to watch,” for example. From here, you can tap a Start button in the “Top picks for you” carousel to rate your favorite TV shows and movies in order to help Google better understand your tastes.
You also can select which subscriptions you have access to, in order to customize your recommendations further. This includes subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and HBO NOW, Prime Video, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, CBS All Access and Starz.
You also can indicate if you have a cable TV or satellite subscription. And it will list shows and movies available for rent, purchase or free streaming from online marketplaces like iTunes, Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV and Vudu, plus network apps like ABC, Freeform, Lifetime, CBS, Comedy Central, A&E and History.
To get started, you’ll use a Tinder-like swiping mechanism to rate titles. Right swipes indicate a “like” and left swipes indicate a “dislike.” You can “skip” titles you don’t know or have an opinion on.
After giving Google some starter data about your interests, future searches for things to watch will offer recommendations tailored to you.
The company tells TechCrunch this information is only being used for the purpose of recommendations — it’s not being offered to advertisers. Instead, it’s about Google’s larger goal in helping people find the information they need.
The company notes that you can even get specific with your requests, by asking for things like “horror movies from the 80s” or “adventure documentaries about climbing.” (This will help, too, when you can’t remember a movie’s title but do know what it’s about.)
Google’s search results will return a list of suggestions, and when you pick one you want to watch, the service will — as before — let you know where it’s available.
The company already has a good understanding of consumer interest in movies and TV thanks to its data on popular searches. Now it aims to have a good understanding of what individual users may want to watch, as well.
The new recommendations feature is live today on mobile for users in the U.S.
Facebook launches rap app – TechCrunch
Facebook unveils another experimental app, Atlassian acquires a data visualization startup and Newsela becomes a unicorn. This is your Daily Crunch for February 26, 2021.
The big story: Facebook launches rap app
The new BARS app was created by NPE Team (Facebook’s internal R&D group), allowing rappers to select from professionally created beats, and then create and share their own raps and videos. It includes autotune and will even suggest rhymes as you’re writing the lyrics.
This marks NPE Team’s second musical effort — the first was the music video app Collab. (It could also be seen as another attempt by Facebook to launch a TikTok competitor.) BARS is available in the iOS App Store in the U.S., with Facebook gradually admitting users off a waitlist.
The tech giants
Atlassian is acquiring Chartio to bring data visualization to the platform — Atlassian sees Chartio as a way to really take advantage of the data locked inside its products.
Yelp puts trust and safety in the spotlight — Yelp released its very first trust and safety report this week, with the goal of explaining the work that it does to crack down on fraudulent and otherwise inaccurate or unhelpful content.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Newsela, the replacement for textbooks, raises $100M and becomes a unicorn — If Newsela is doing its job right, its third-party content can replace textbooks within a classroom altogether, while helping teachers provide fresh, personalized material.
Tim Hortons marks two years in China with Tencent investment — The Canadian coffee and doughnut giant has raised a new round of funding for its Chinese venture.
Sources: Lightspeed is close to hiring a new London-based partner to put down further roots in Europe — According to multiple sources, Paul Murphy is being hired away from Northzone.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
In freemium marketing, product analytics are the difference between conversion and confusion — Considering that most freemium providers see fewer than 5% of free users move to paid plans, even a slight improvement in conversion can translate to significant revenue gains.
As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings — With buy-now-pay-later options, consumers turn a one-time purchase into a limited string of regular payments.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
Jamaica’s JamCOVID pulled offline after third security lapse exposed travelers’ data — JamCOVID was set up last year to help the government process travelers arriving on the island.
AT&T is turning DirecTV into a standalone company — AT&T says it will own 70% of the new company, while private equity firm TPG will own 30%.
How to ace the 1-hour, and ever-elusive, pitch presentation at TC Early Stage — Norwest’s Lisa Wu has a message for founders: Think like a VC during your pitch presentation.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Yelp puts trust and safety in the spotlight – TechCrunch
Yelp released its very first trust and safety report this week, with the goal of explaining the work that it does to crack down on fraudulent and otherwise inaccurate or unhelpful content.
With focus on local business reviews and information, you might think Yelp would be relatively free of the types of misinformation that other social media platforms struggle with. But of course, Yelp reviews are high stakes in their own way, since they can have a big impact on a business’ bottom line.
Like other online platforms, Yelp relies on a mix of software and human curation. On the software side, one of the main tasks is sorting reviews into recommended and not recommended. Group Product Manager for Trust and Safety Sudheer Someshwara told me that a review might not be recommended because it appears to be written by someone with a conflict of interest, or it might be solicited by the business, or it might come from a user who hasn’t posted many reviews before and “we just don’t know enough information about the user to recommend those reviews to our community.”
“We take fairness and integrity very seriously,” Someshwara said. “No employee at Yelp has the ability to override decisions the software has made. That even includes the engineers.”
He added, “We treat every business the same, whether they’re advertising with us or not.”
So the company says that last year, users posted more than 18.1 million reviews, of which 4.6 million (about 25%) were not recommended by the software. Someshwara noted that even when a review is not recommended, it’s not removed entirely — users just have to seek it out in a separate section.
Removals do happen, but that’s one of the places where the user operations team comes in. As Vice President of Legal, Trust & Safety Aaron Schur explained, “We do make it easy for businesses as well as consumers to flag reviews. Every piece of content that’s flagged in that way does get reviewed by a live human to decide whether it should should be removed violating our guidelines.”
Yelp says that last year, about 710,000 reviews (4%) were removed entirely for violating the company’s policies. Of those, more than 5,200 were removed for violating the platform’s COVID-19 guidelines (among other things, they prohibit reviewers from claiming they contracted COVID from a business, or from complaining about mask requirements or that a business had to close due to safety regulations). Another 13,300 were removed between May 25 and the end of the year for threats, lewdness, hate speech or other harmful content.
“Any current event that takes place will find its way onto Yelp,” acknowledged Vice President of User Operations Noorie Malik. “People turn to Yelp and other social media platforms to have a voice.”
But expressing political beliefs can conflict with what Malik said is Yelp’s “guiding principle,” namely “genuine, first-hand experience.” So Yelp has built software to detect unusual activity on a page and will also add a Consumer Alert when it believes there are “egregious attempts to manipulate ratings and reviews.” For example, it says there was a 206% increase in media-fueled incidents year-over-year.
It’s not that you can’t express political opinions in your reviews, but the review has to come from first-hand experience, rather than being prompted by reading a negative article or an angry tweet about the business. Sometimes, she added, that means the team is “removing content with a point of view that we agree with.”
One example that illustrates this distinction: Yelp will take down reviews that seem driven by media coverage suggesting that a business owner or employee behaved in a racist manner, but at the same time, it also labeled two businesses in December 2020 with a “Business Accused of Racism” alert reflecting “resounding evidence of egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee.”
Beyond looking at individual reviews and spikes in activities, Someshwara said Yelp will also perform “sting operations” to find groups that are posting fraudulent reviews.
In fact, his team apparently shut down 1,200 user accounts associated with review rings and reported nearly 200 groups to other platforms. And it just rolled out an updated algorithm designed to better detect and un-recommend reviews coming from those groups.
Chinese mobile games are gaining ground in the US – TechCrunch
Over the past year, the coronavirus crisis has spurred app usage in the United States as people stay indoors to limit contact with others. Mobile games particularly have enjoyed a boom, and among them, games from Chinese studios are gaining popularity.
Games released on the U.S. App Store and Google Play Store raked in a total of $5.8 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter, jumping 34.3% from a year before and accounting for over a quarter of the world’s mobile gaming revenues, according to a new report from market research firm Sensor Tower.
In the quarter, Chinese titles contributed as much as 20% of the mobile gaming revenues in the U.S. That effectively made China the largest importer of mobile games in the U.S., thanks to a few blockbuster titles. Chinese publishers claimed 21 spots among the 100 top-grossing games in the period and collectively generated $780 million in revenues in the U.S., the world’s largest mobile gaming market, more than triple the amount from two years before.
Occupying the top rank are familiar Chinese titles such as the first-person shooter game Call of Duty, a collaboration between Tencent and Activision, as well as Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But smaller Chinese studios are also quickly infiltrating the U.S. market.
Mihoyo, a little-known studio outside China, has been turning heads in the domestic gaming industry with its hit game Genshin Impact, a role-playing action game featuring anime-style characters. It was the sixth-most highest-grossing mobile game in the U.S. during Q4, racking up over $100 million in revenues in the period.
Most notable is that Mihoyo has been an independent studio since its inception in 2011. Unlike many gaming startups that covet fundings from industry titans like Tencent, Mihoyo has so far raised only a modest amount from its early days. It also stirred up controversy for skipping major distributors like Tencent and phone vendors Huawei and Xiaomi, releasing Genshin Impact on Bilibili, a popular video site amongst Chinese youngsters, and games downloading platform Taptap.
Magic Tavern, the developer behind the puzzle game Project Makeover, one of the most installed mobile games in the U.S. since late last year, is another lesser-known studio. Founded by a team of Tsinghua graduates with offices around the world, Magic Tavern is celebrated as one of the first studios with roots in China to have gained ground in the American casual gaming market. KKR-backed gaming company AppLovin is a strategic investor in Magic Tavern.
Other popular games in the U.S. also have links to China, if not directly owned by a Chinese company. Shortcut Run and Roof Nails are works from the French casual game maker Voodoo, which received a minority investment from Tencent last year. Tencent is also a strategic investor in Roblox, the gaming platform oriented to young gamers and slated for an IPO in the coming weeks.
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