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Spotify’s increased focus on podcasts in 2019 includes selling its own ads – TechCrunch

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Having established itself as a top streaming service with now more than 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming.

In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push.

Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow.

The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with working with music artists.

Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered — it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content.

“Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said.

“What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices… so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added.

Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (its first season was wide, the second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.”

At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more — journalist Jemele Hill is coming to Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture and more.

In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms.

For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify.

This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system.

There are other perks for Spotify, too — when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found.

“People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify — including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted.

While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else.

With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience.

One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like.

For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners to pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts — including the ads in the podcasts themselves.

“Think about what we’ve done around music — the more understanding you have around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts.

The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being.

Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising — meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well.

But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. We’re hearing that Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright.

Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system.

Now Spotify aims to catch up.

The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as a company, Holt said.

“We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform… and, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique — to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said.

Image credits: Spotify

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

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Google launches a website version of its Read Along education app for children – TechCrunch

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Google has launched a website for its Read Along app for encouraging young children to practice reading. The website, which is introduced as a public beta, works with Chrome, Firefox, and Edge browsers on Desktop and Android, with support for iOS and more browsers such as Safari coming soon.

The concept of the website is similar to the app: children can learn to speak languages like English, Portuguese, Spanish, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, and Urdu by reading stories using Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech text. A virtual assistant named Diya helps the children pronounce words if it detects they are struggling. Children can also ask Diya for help in speaking unknown words.

The company claimed that just like the app, all the speech recognition process takes place on the browser locally and no data is sent to its servers to protect children’s privacy. Plus, the whole experience is ad-free.

While the app had the advantage of offline usage, the website can help people who have low storage on the phone or schools that have desktop computers. One of the other major differentiators between the website and the app is that the latter works without any sign-in. The new website mandates Google account sign-ins on the same device to keep track of the progress of different children.

Google first launched the app as Bolo in India in 2019 with support for Hindi and English and renamed it Read Along with additional language support for a wider audience in 2020. The search giant noted that since its launch the app has helped more than 30 million kids read over 120 million stories.

The company said it’s partnering with new content providers to add more stories to the platform.

“In addition to the website launch, we are also adding some brand-new stories. We have partnered with two well-known YouTube content creators, ChuChu TV, and USP Studios, to adapt some of their popular videos into a storybook format,” it said in a statement.

The firm is also working India-based Kutuki learning app to adopt their English and Hindi alphabet books and phonics books for kids as stories in the Read Along app, which will be available later this year.

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WhatsApp extends time limit to delete a message to 60 hours – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp now allows you to delete a message for up to two days and 12 hours (60 hours in total), so you can remove an accidentally sent chat even after hours. Previously, this limit was 1 hour, 8 minutes, and 16 seconds — yep, there were seconds involved.

The company’s tweet about this feature just mentioned “little over two days,” but didn’t specify the 12-hour part.

WhatsApp first introduced the unsend feature back in 2017 with a time limit of just seven minutes but later increased it to one hour and eight minutes. Last year, WABetaInfo noted that the company might consider introducing a seven-day limit, but with this new update, it has chosen a rather odd time frame of two and a half days.

In comparison, rival chat app Telegram has no limit on deleting a message, so you can remove a chat years after sending it. Apple is moving in the other direction; after introducing the unsend feature for iOS 16 at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June, the company reduced the limit from 15 minutes to two minutes in the fourth version of the iOS 16 developer beta last month.

WhatsApp is also introducing new privacy features to its app including blocking screenshots for “view-once messages” and the ability to leave a group silently.

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HBO Max attempts to fix its notoriously buggy app with oft-requested features – TechCrunch

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For years, HBO Max has been under fire for its buggy app. Today, the streaming service’s re-platformed app completed its global rollout on desktop, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire tablets. New features include a shuffle button on mobile, SharePlay support for iPhone and iPad users in the U.S., a dedicated home for downloaded content, and more.

With the shuffle button now on mobile devices in addition to desktop and connected TV apps, users can randomize which episode to play for select series on the streaming service. U.S. subscribers with an ad-free subscription can use SharePlay on their iPhone or iPad to watch HBO Max content in sync with friends or family while on FaceTime.

Other updates include:

  • A dedicated home for downloaded content
  • Tablet support for both landscape and portrait orientations
  • Chromecast stability improvements
  • An updated screen reader experience with better navigation elements and functionality
  • The ability to split screens with other apps on devices that allow that

The company also said that it upgraded the navigation and is giving users a “refined design and visual styling to let content shine.”

“The changes give our users more of the features they care most about, along with improved navigation and a more immersive canvas for storytelling, helping them click play on their favorite content faster and with less friction,” Kamyar Keshmiri, SVP, Product Design, Warner Bros. Discovery Streaming, said in an official statement.

The revamped mobile and desktop apps mean that the company has finished updating apps across all platforms.

The changes began last fall when the company replaced connected TV apps with a new, “more performant tech stack.” In April, HBO Max launched an updated app for Apple TV users that aimed to bring stability and improved performance to the app. Roku, PlayStation, Android, Samsung, LG, Vizio, and more smart TV apps also use the new tech stack.

With a loss of 300,000 domestic subscribers in Q2, the company has a lot of work to do. Especially since its new streaming service is coming next year, merging Discovery+ and HBO Max content. So, while the new HBO Max app will be gone in 2023, this could help the company create a better successor app and improved experience for its combined subscribers.

Also, the new app comes just in time for the “Game of Thrones” prequel “The House of the Dragon,” premiering on August 21.

 

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