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The danger of ‘I already pay for Apple News+’ – TechCrunch

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Apple doesn’t care about news, it cares about recurring revenue. That’s why publishers are crazy to jump into bed with Apple News+. They’re rendering their own subscription options unnecessary in exchange for a sliver of what Apple pays out from the mere $10 per month it charges for unlimited reading.

The unfathomable platform risk here makes Facebook’s exploitative Instant Articles program seem toothless in comparison. On Facebook, publishers became generic providers of dumb content for the social network’s smart pipe that stole the customer relationship from content creators. But at least publishers were only giving away their free content.

Apple News+ threatens to open a massive hole in news site paywalls, allowing their best premium articles to escape. Publishers hope they’ll get exposure to new audiences. But any potential new or existing direct subscriber to a publisher will no longer be willing to pay a healthy monthly fee to occasionally access that top content while supporting the rest of the newsroom. They’ll just cherry pick what they want via News+, and Apple will shave off a few cents for the publisher while owning all the data, customer relationship and power.

“Why subscribe to that publisher? I already pay for Apple News+” should be the question haunting journalists’ nightmares. For readers, $10 per month all-you-can-eat from 300-plus publishers sounds like a great deal today. But it could accelerate the demise of some of those outlets, leaving society with fewer watchdogs and storytellers. If publishers agree to the shake hands with the devil, the dark lord will just garner more followers, making its ruinous offer more tempting.

There are so many horrifying aspects of Apple News+ for publishers, it’s best just to list each and break them down.

No relationship with the reader

To succeed, publishers need attention, data and revenue, and Apple News+ gets in the way of all three. Readers visit Apple’s app, not the outlet’s site that gives it free rein to promote conference tickets, merchandise, research reports and other money-makers. Publishers don’t get their Apple News+ readers’ email addresses for follow-up marketing, cookies for ad targeting and content personalization, or their credit card info to speed up future purchases.

At the bottom of articles, Apple News+ recommends posts by an outlet’s competitors. Readers end up without a publisher’s bookmark in their browser toolbar, app on their phone or even easy access to them from News+’s default tab. They won’t see the outlet’s curation that highlights its most important content, or develop a connection with its home screen layout. They’ll miss call-outs to follow individual reporters and chances to interact with innovative new interactive formats.

Perhaps worst of all, publishers will be thrown right back into the coliseum of attention. They’ll need to debase their voice and amp up the sensationalism of their headlines or risk their users straying an inch over to someone else. But they’ll have no control of how they’re surfaced…

At the mercy of the algorithm

Which outlets earn money on Apple News+ will be largely determined by what Apple decides to show in those first few curatorial slots on screen. At any time, Apple could decide it wants more visual photo-based content or less serious world news because it placates users even if they’re less informed. It could suddenly preference shorter takes because they keep people from bouncing out of the app, or more generic shallow-dives that won’t scare off casual readers who don’t even care about that outlet. What if Apple signs up a publisher’s biggest competitor and sends them all the attention, decimating the first outlet’s discovery while still exposing its top paywalled content for cheap access?

Remember when Facebook wanted to build the world’s personalized newspaper and delivered tons of referral traffic, then abruptly decided to favor “friends and family content” while leaving publishers to starve? Now outlets are giving Apple News+ the same iron grip on their businesses. They might hire a ton of talent to give Apple what it wants, only for the strategy to change. The Wall Street Journal says it’s hiring 50 staffers to make content specifically for Apple News+. Those sound like some of the most precarious jobs in the business right now.

Remember when Facebook got the WSJ, Guardian and more to build “social reader apps” and then one day just shut off the virality and then shut down the whole platform? News+ revenue will be a drop in the bucket of iPhone sales, and Apple could at any time decide it’s not thirsty any more and let News+ rot. That and the eventual realization of platform risk and loss of relationship with the reader led the majority of Facebook’s Instant Articles launch partners like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vox to drop the format. Publishers would be wise to come to that same conclusion now before they drive any more eyeballs to News+.

News+ isn’t built for news

Apple acquired the magazine industry’s self-distribution app Texture a year ago. Now it’s trying to cram in traditional text-based news with minimal work to adapt the product. That means National Geographic and Sports Illustrated get featured billing with animated magazine covers and ways to browse the latest “issue.” News outlets get demoted far below, with no intuitive or productive way to skim between articles beyond swiping through a chronological stack.

I only see WSJ’s content below My Magazines, a massive At Home feature from Architectural Digest, a random Gadgets & Gear section of magazine articles, another huge call-out for the new issue of The Cut plus four pieces inside of it, and one more giant look at Bloomberg’s profile of Dow Chemical. That means those magazines are likely to absorb a ton of taps and engagement time before users even make it to the WSJ, which will then only score few cents per reader.

Magazines often publish big standalone features that don’t need a ton of context. News articles are part of a continuum of information that can be laid out on a publisher’s own site where they have control, but not on Apple News+. And to make articles more visually appealing, Apple strips out some of the cross-promotional recirculation, sign-up forms and commerce opportunities on which publishers depend.

Shattered subscriptions

The whole situation feels like the music industry stumbling into the disastrous iTunes download era. Musicians earned solid revenue when someone bought their whole physical album for $16 to listen to the single, then fell in love with the other songs and ended up buying merchandise or concert tickets. Then suddenly, fans could just buy the digital single for $0.99 from iTunes, form a bond with Apple instead of the artist and the whole music business fell into a depression.

Apple News+’s onerous revenue-sharing deal puts publishers in the same pickle. That occasional flagship article that’s a breakout success no longer serves as a tentpole for the rest of the subscription.

Formerly, people would need to pay $30 per month for a WSJ subscription to read that article, with the price covering the research, reporting and production of the whole newspaper. Readers felt justified paying the price because they got access to the other content, and the WSJ got to keep all the money even if people didn’t read much else or declined to even visit during the month. Now someone can pop in, read the WSJ’s best or most resource-intensive article, and the publisher effectively gets paid à la carte like with an iTunes single. Publishers will be scrounging for a cut of readers’ $10 per month, which will reportedly be divided in half by Apple’s oppressive 50 percent cut, then split between all the publishers someone reads — which will be heavily skewed towards the magazines that get the spotlight.

I’ve already had friends ask why they should keep paying if most of the WSJ is in Apple News along with tons of other publishers for a third of the price. Hardcore business news addicts that want unlimited access to the finance content that’s only available for three days in Apple News+ might keep their WSJ subscription. But anyone just in it for the highlights is likely to stop paying WSJ directly — or never start.

I’m personally concerned because TechCrunch has agreed to put its new Extra Crunch $15 per month subscription content inside Apple News+ despite all the warning signs. We’re saving some perks, like access to conference calls just for direct Extra Crunch subscribers, and perhaps a taste of EC’s written content might convince people they want the bonus features. But even more likely seems the possibility that readers would balk at paying again for just some extra perks when they already get the rest from Apple News, and many newsrooms aren’t set up to do anything but write articles.

It’s the “good enough” strategy we see across tech products playing out in news. When Instagram first launched Stories, it lacked a ton of Snapchat’s features, but it was good enough and conveniently located where people already spent their time and had their social graph. Snapchat didn’t suddenly lose all its users, but there was little reason for new users to sign up and growth plummeted.

Apple News is pre-loaded on your device, where you already have a credit card set up, and it’s bundled with lots of content, at a cheaper price than most individual news outlets. Even if it doesn’t offer unlimited, permanent access to every WSJ Pro story, Apple News+ will be good enough. And it gets better with each outlet that allies with this Borg.

But this time, good enough won’t just determine which tech giant wins. Apple News+ could decimate the revenue of a fundamental pillar of society we rely on to hold the powerful accountable. Yet to the journalists that surrender their content, Apple will have no accountability.

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Spotify is testing new card-style user profiles focused on discovery

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At Spotify’s Stream On event this month, the company introduced a redesigned app with TikTok-like discovery feeds, an AI DJ and other tools for artists and podcasters. But the app’s changes may not be stopping there. The company confirmed it’s now testing a revamp of its user profiles, which includes a card-style layout that lets users establish more of a social identity on the platform in addition to providing easy access to Spotify’s unique features — like its personalized recommendations, Blend playlists, co-listening experiences and more.

The changes were first spotted by Chris Messina, who shared screenshots of the tests on Twitter. He noted the additional cards on profiles and how the new layout was directing users to tap a button to “discover more features.”

Some Spotify users, however, said they’ve had the updated profiles for some time. But that’s only because the feature has been in live testing in multiple markets. These profiles are not fully rolled out to all users.

Spotify did not commit it would make the feature available for everyone at any particular time. Often, the company’s new ideas are tested in public, then modified based on user engagement and feedback before a global rollout. Or, in some cases, they’re scrapped entirely. That said, it’s not as likely that this one would be dropped, given how well it fits with the new Spotify redesign which puts greater emphasis on discovery.

“We routinely conduct a number of tests,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch when asked about the new profiles. “Some of those tests end up informing our user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We don’t have anything further to share at this time,” they added.

Among the notable changes in this version of the user profiles is the new heading at the top of the screen that looks more like something you’d see on a social network. Currently, Spotify user profiles are fairly bare-bones. The person’s name as well as their follower and following counts are displayed above lists of their playlists and recently played artists. The new profiles, by comparison, include other details about the person like which Spotify plan they’re subscribed to, how long they’ve been a Spotify member, their general location (like the U.S.), in addition to their follower and following counts, a button that lets you follow them and another for profile edits.

There’s also a fun feature that apparently lets you set a “vibe” above your name, to give your profile a little pizazz.

The new profiles still feature sections for your playlists and artists, but these now appear as cards and there are more interactive features available next to these options. For instance, you can now click a button to create a new playlist right from your profile, or use buttons beside each playlist to share them with others. Next to each artist’s name, there also are buttons that let you follow the artist on Spotify — before, you’d have to click into the artist profile to do so. This could be particularly useful if you had visited someone else’s profile and were discovering new artists through their activity.

Under the “Discover more features” section on the new profiles, users are pointed to other things they can do on Spotify — like find live events, “like” more songs to improve their recommendations, create Blends with friends, check out Spotify’s new audiobooks and more.

The profiles also include a message at the bottom that reads “View more cards,” which indicates there will be future additions coming to this space beyond the playlists and recently played artists. But this feature isn’t fully built out yet — Messina told us that, when clicked, the in-app message reads “there’s nothing to see here yet” and informs users that Spotify is “busy building more content for you — coming soon.”

(May we suggest incorporating podcast recommendations into this experience, please?)

These changes would make sense as part of Spotify’s broader focus on discovery that’s driving its most recent app updates. That is, instead of just showcasing a user’s basic information and activity, these redesigned profiles would allow people to explore more of what Spotify has to offer while also making it easier to find and enjoy new artists and music directly from someone else’s profile with fewer clicks.

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Apple spotted developing a ‘multiview’ feature for watching sports on Apple TV

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Earlier this month, YouTube TV launched a new “multiview” feature that allows viewers to watch up to four streams of sports content at once. Now it looks like Apple TV is working on a similar option. Though Apple’s streaming device already supports a picture-in-picture mode, new code discovered in the latest iOS beta points to a possible four-up multiview feature in the works.

The discovery was found in the iOS 16.5 beta 1 build by developer Steve Moser, which was first reported by the Apple news site 9to5Mac.

Like the YouTube TV feature, the focus for Apple’s multiview experience now in development seems to be targeting supporting sports content more specifically. That decision makes sense not only because of the broader competitive landscape — including multiview options on services like YouTube TV and Fubo — but also because of Apple’s more recent investments in streaming sports content.

Last year, the Cupertino-based tech giant announced its first-ever live sports deal with Major League Baseball to bring a number of games exclusively to Apple TV+ in multiple countries, including the U.S. It then began streaming Friday Night Baseball during the 2022 season, which was offered to viewers without the need for an Apple TV+ subscription. This year, the free offering was dropped and the games now require an Apple TV+ subscription, but the service is now available to subscribers in 60 countries worldwide instead of the original 13.

The company also last year signed a 10-year streaming deal with Major League Soccer to stream every MLS match starting in 2023. However, Apple reportedly exited talks to secure the rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket over issues that had to do with the limitations on the package, including the ability to stream games worldwide, among other things.

Still, it’s clear that Apple sees sports content as an area of investment for its streaming service, which would make a feature like multiview more useful to Apple TV customers.

The new report noted that references to multiview had appeared in the iOS codebase previously, but the new beta saw more references than before which indicates the feature is now being more actively worked on. Moser told TechCrunch there was a reference to “Watch in Multiview” from four weeks ago, for instance.

The code also reveals more about what to expect from the offering, including how it appears to be tied to Apple’s TV app, as opposed to being a feature that would work across Apple TV devices. Plus, it seems that the end user may be prompted when browsing sports content in the app to try the option — for example by asking the viewer if they want to watch in fullscreen mode or in the “Multiview” mode.

Apple hasn’t announced the feature officially and would never confirm in-development plans, as a general rule. However, a recent Bloomberg report indicates that the company’s next big software release, iOS 17, will ship with several “nice to have” features. What those features may be is not yet clear, but multiview could possibly be among them.

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Google’s new ad transparency center will keep track of a brand’s previous ads

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Google is launching a new ad transparency center that will let users search for verified advertisers and their campaigns across all of the company’s platforms including Search, Display, and YouTube.

This new transparency center — which is accessible directly via this link and through the My Ad Center page — will let you search for ads from a brand, in what region those ads were shown, and the time they last ran a campaign along with the format. Users can like or block the ad or even report it for violation of Google ad policies if those ads show dangerous products or inappropriate content for instance. The Center is starting to roll out today and will be available to all users over the coming weeks.

Notably, Google launched the My Ad Center hub last year which lets users see information about ad topics, brands, and the recent ads they saw across Search, YouTube, and Discover. Users can tweak these settings by removing topics or brands or turning off personalized ads entirely. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean you won’t see any ads. It just won’t be based on your preferences and search data.

Google said that, after the launch, 20% of the 70 million visits to the My Ad Center page were to adjust ad preferences. Given that billions of people use Google’s platforms, this number doesn’t seem that impressive.

The Mountain View-based company said it is introducing this new transparency center so customers can know more about unknown brands and check if they have been verified by Google.

Image Credits: Google

“We’re committed to protecting our users by creating a safer, more trustworthy, and accountable ad experience. With the Ads Transparency Center, you’re never in the dark about the ads you see on Google,” Alejandro Borgia, Director of product management for Ads Safety said in a statement.

Google has been trying to provide more data on brand advertising through the company’s platform.

Last September, Google started to give users access to an advertiser’s history. A month later, the tech giant updated its “Ad” tag to “Sponsored” on mobile search for better visibility. Plus, it moved the tag above the URL instead of showing it next to the link address.

The search giant also launched an Ad Safety Report highlighting its effort towards thwarting malicious ads. The company said it blocked or removed 5.2 billion ads, restricted over 4.3 billion ads, and suspended 6.7 million advertiser accounts.

Google noted that last year it expanded its financial service certification program to 11 countries including the U.K., Australia, and Singapore. This project, aimed at stopping financial fraud, requires advertisers to show that they have permission from local authorities to promote their products and services. Google mentioned that in the last year it updated or introduced 29 ad-related policies to protect consumers.

The company’s ad business, which is its biggest revenue driver is facing scrutiny in the U.S. In January, the Department of Justice accused Google of abusing its monopolist position in the ad market. Eight states including New York and California joined the DoJ in a complaint aiming to “halt Google’s anticompetitive scheme, unwind Google’s monopolistic grip on the market, and restore competition to digital advertising.” Earlier this week, Google’s parent Alphabet asked a Federal judge to dismiss the case.

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