July 18, 2018
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The Ken raises $1.5M to grow its subscription journalism business in India

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The Ken, a subscription news startup from India, is moving through the gears after it raised $1.5 million in fresh funding to build out its media business.

We first profiled the company in March 2017 and now, nearly 18 months later, the startup has raised its Series A round led by Omidyar Networks, which has invested in new media companies such as Rappler in the Philippines. Other investors included Yuj Kutumb, the Family Foundation headed by Xander Group founder Sid Yog, and existing and new angel investors.

Rohin Dharmakumar, co-founder and CEO of The Ken, told TechCrunch that the company still has more than half of its $400,000 seed round in the bank, but it has raised this additional cash to go after new opportunities.

The Ken has made its mark by publishing one thoughtfully-reported long-form story each day. An annual subscription is priced at Rs 2750 (around $43) in India or $108 overseas, there are also options for quarterly and single-story access. Thus far it has covered technology startups, healthcare and business verticals but now it is aiming to expand that focus.

“We were a single product experience,” Dharmakumar said. “But this funding allows us to slowly transition The Ken to a media brand with a portfolio of products that gives our readers different things to connect to on different days.”

“We don’t want to replace newspapers, we want to complement them [and] be the deep read that you take alongside the newspaper,” Dharmakumar added, explaining that The Ken will never churn out “dozens” of stories each day.

“We do one story [per day] right now and we might go to two or three, but we’ll organize it so people can read different slices. Increasingly it’s our belief that we don’t want to bombard readers with too much stuff to read each day [because] we can’t do justice to our stories and readers can’t process the information,” he said.

Beyond expanding the scope of reporting, The Ken is looking to cover international topics for its India-based audience and it is also dabbling with different types of storytelling.

That’s already manifested in a weekend edition — which Dharmakumar said has a very different tone — but the startup is looking into audio storytelling, podcasts and other mediums that allow it to “stay true to our brand of journalism.” Video is, at this point, off the table although it could be used in conjunction with stories but not standalone.

Dharmakumar noted that The Ken may also experiment with events over the next twelve months, but he was quick to point out that the focus should be on bringing value to subscribers and not simply pulling in cash. Events are, of course, can be hugely lucrative for media companies — its a key revenue driver for TechCrunch among others, for example — but his concern is that it takes the company down a road it doesn’t want to be on.

“It’s easy to get sidetracked by events,” Dharmakumar said. “We didn’t start this business to do events.”

On the subject of revenue, however, The Ken appears to be doing well even though it isn’t divulging specific numbers at this point.

The company proudly announced it was cash flow positive in April 2018 and Dharmakumar revealed that revenue for its most recent quarter was doubled the previous quarter, and up 3X on the period one year previous. A key part of that seems to be group subscriptions. The Ken has developed a self-serve option that allows corporates to sign-up staff on their dime, while the launch of a discounted student price has also led major educational institutions, including Havard Business School India, to signing up students en masse.

“We’ve proved [the naysers] wrong and with a team of 15 people — we pay market salaries to all our journalists— we became cash flow positive,” Dharmakumar said. “We’re on the cusp of a significant uptick in subscribers. More and more people are discovering us and realizing ‘Hey this price isn’t so bad and the journalism they commit to delivering is good.’”

That team is spread across three offices and the headcount looks set to jump to 30 over the next few months with The Ken in full on hiring mode right now, its CEO said.

You can read more about The Ken’s new funding round on its website here — that post is free to view, of course.

News Source = techcrunch.com

BuzzFeed launches a new website for its real journalism

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It’s not news at this point that BuzzFeed has a serious news organization — one whose reporting on Russia made it a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize this year.

But it’s also a news organization whose stories are published alongside the social media friendly quizzes and lists that BuzzFeed remains known for — which can be confusing, or even provide easy ammunition to those who want to criticize the reporting.

Yes, the company already taken steps to give the more serious reporting its own home and identity, with a BuzzFeed News app, a section on the main BuzzFeed site and a “BuzzFeed News” label on every story.

Still, Senior Product Manager Kate Zasada said the company’s own research has found that some readers “don’t completely understand” that while BuzzFeed is famous for GIF-filled lists, it also produces “deeply researched and fact-checked” journalism. (The snarky comments I seem to get whenever I write about BuzzFeed seem to back this up.)

So the company is making that distinction a clearer with the launch of a new BuzzFeed News website.

News stories will still run on the main BuzzFeed homepage, and the BuzzFeed News site will include links to other BuzzFeed content. But it looks and feels more like a standalone site, giving the team what Zasada said is “a new domain and a new brand.”

The site won’t be divided into traditional topics like politics, sports and so on — Product Manager Sam Kirkland argued that these divisions “didn’t make much sense with how we work internally or how we consume news.” Instead, there’s a Trending News Bar at the top of the page, highlighting the most important topics of the day, as chosen by BuzzFeed News editors.

And while the new site will include advertising, such as links to sponsored BuzzFeed posts, Zasada said there won’t be any sponsored posts hosted on BuzzFeed News itself.

Of course, not every reader will actually find these stories by typing buzzfeednews.com into their web browser. But Zasada said that even if you click over from social media or elsewhere on the web, you’ll see each news article is accompanied by not just the BuzzFeed News logo, but also the Trending News Bar.

And it won’t just be photos and text dominating the page. Zasada said the site will also support YouTube videos and GIFs, and Editor in Chief Ben Smith added that the site will provide “a very seamless way” to promote BuzzFeed’s broadcast-style video programming like its Twitter series AM to DM and Follow This, a Netflix series about BuzzFeed reporters.

BuzzFeed News article

Smith also noted that while the company is creating a new home for its journalism, that doesn’t mean the site will be unrelentingly serious and highbrow. As we spoke yesterday afternoon, he said that some of the most popular BuzzFeed News stories included multiple articles about Trump, a long essay about Gwen Stefani and a story on the sadly neglected aerial tram emoji.

In other words, he said, it’s a “general interest news organization” that covers the “full range” of relevant topics.

And even as it’s competing with all that other BuzzFeed content, it’s still drawing an audience. The company says BuzzFeed News stories receive 200 million pageviews each month, and that one third of BuzzFeed’s total audience reads news stories each month.

In Smith’s view, the new website reflects “an organizational change that’s already happened.”

“I don’t think anybody finds it confusing that ABC does news programming and scripted shows on prime time,” he said. “On the web, the conventions are less clear. I think we’re trying to be very clear. We feel our audience wants that.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Kapwing is Adobe for the meme generation

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Need to resize a video for IGTV? Add subtitles for Twitter? Throw in sound effects for YouTube? Or collage it with other clips for the Instagram feed? Kapwing lets you do all that and more for free from a mobile browser or website. This scrappy new startup is building the vertical video era’s creative suite full of editing tools for every occasion.

Pronounced “Ka-pwing” like the sound of a ricocheted bullet, the company was founded by two former Google Image Search staffers. Now after six months of quiet bootstrapping, it’s announcing a $1.7 million seed round led by Kleiner Perkins.

Kapwing hopes to rapidly adapt to shifting memescape and its fragmented media formats, seizing on opportunities like creators needing to turn their long-form landscape videos vertical for Instagram’s recently launched IGTV. The free version slaps a Kapwing.com watermark on all its exports for virality, but users can pay $20 a month to remove it.

While sites like Imgur and Imgflip offer lightweight tools for static memes and GIFs, “the tools and community for doing that for video are kinda inaccessible” says co-founder and CEO Julia Enthoven. “You have something you install on your computer with fancy hardware. You should able to create and riff off of people” even if you just have your phone, she tells me. 100,000 users are already getting crafty with Kapwing.

“We want to make these really relevant trending formats so anyone can jump in” Enthoven declares. “Down the line, we want to make a destination for consuming that content.”

Kapwing co-founders Eric Lu and Julia Enthoven

Enthoven and Eric Lu both worked at Google Image Search in the lauded Associate Product Manager (APM) program that’s minted many future founder for companies like Quip, Asana, and Polyvore. But after two years, they noticed a big gap in the creative ecosystem. Enthoven explains that “The idea came from using outdated tools for making the types of videos people want to make for social media — short-form, snackable video you record with your phone. It’s so difficult to make those kinds of videos in today’s editors.”

So the pair of 25-year-olds left in September to start Kapwing. They named it after their favorite sound effect from the Calvin & Hobbes comics when the make-believe tiger would deflect toy gunshots from his best pal. “It’s an onomonpeia, and that’s sort of cool because video is all about movement and sound.”

After starting with a meme editor for slapping text above and below images, Kapwing saw a sudden growth spurt as creators raced to convert landscape videos for vertical IGTV. Now it has wide range of tools with more planned.

The current selection includes:

  • Meme Maker
  • Subtitles
  • Multi-Video Montage Maker
  • Video Collage
  • Video Filters
  • Image To Video Converter
  • Add Overlaid Text To Video
  • Add Music To Video With MP3 Uploads
  • Resize Video
  • Reverse Video
  • Loop Video
  • Trim Video
  • Mute Video
  • Stop Motion Maker
  • Sound Effects Maker

Kapwing definitely has some annoying shortcomings. There’s an 80mb limit on uploads, so don’t expect to be messing with much 4K videos or especially long clips. You can’t subtitle a GIF, and the meme maker flipped vertical photos sideways without warning. It also lacks some of the slick tools that Snapchat has developed, like a magic eraser for photoshopping stuff out and a background changer.

The #1 thing it needs is a selective cropping tool. Instead of letting you manually move the vertical frame around inside a landscape video so you always catch the action, it just grabs the center. That left me staring at blank space between myself and an interview subject when I uploaded this burger robot startup video. It’s somethig apps like RotateNFlip and Flixup already offer.

Beyond meme-loving teens and semi-pro creators, Kapwing has found an audience amongst school teachers. The simplicity and onscreen instructions make it well-suited for young students, and it works on Chromebooks since there’s no need to download software.

The paid version has found some traction with content marketers and sponsored creators who don’t want a distracting watermark included. That business model is always endanger of encroachment from free tools, though, so Kapwing hopes to also become a place to view the meme content it exports. That network model is more defensible if it gains a big enough audience, and could be monetized with ads. Though it will put it in competition with Imgur, Reddit, and the big dogs like Instagram.

“We aspire to become a hub for consumption” Enthoven concluded. “Consume, get an idea, and share with each other.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Netflix experiments with promoting its shows on the login screen

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Netflix is testing a new way to promote its original shows – right on the login screen. A company spokesperson confirmed the streaming service is currently experimenting with a different login screen experience which replaces the black background behind users’ names and profile thumbnails with full-screen photos promoting a Netflix Original series or special, like “BoJack Horseman,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Dark,” “My Next Guest…”, “13 Reasons Why,” and several others.

We first noticed the change on a TV connected to a Roku media player and on a Fire TV, but Netflix says the test is running “for TV,” which means those on other TV platforms may see the promoted shows as well. (Our Roku TV, however, had the same black background on the login screen, we should note.)

The promoted shows aren’t necessarily those Netflix thinks you’d like – it’s just a rotating selection of popular originals.

Every time you return to the Netflix login screen, it will have refreshed the photo that’s displayed. After cycling in and out of the Netflix app several times on our TV, we found the image selection to be fairly random – sometimes the promoted show would repeat a couple of times before a new show hopped in to take its place.

Netflix will likely decide whether or not to move forward with the change to the login screen based on how well this new promotional effort works to actually increases viewership of its originals.

While it makes sense to better utilize this space, I’m not sold on having ads for adult-oriented shows appearing on the same login screen that’s used by a child. The ads themselves (so far) have not been inappropriate, but it doesn’t seem like a good fit for multi-person households and families. For example, I now have to explain to a school-ager why they can’t watch that funny-looking cartoon, “BoJack Horseman.” Meanwhile, when I was logging in to watch more grown-up fare, I saw an ad for the new “Trolls” kids’ show. Uh, okay. 

That said, this is still a much less intrusive way to advertise Netflix shows, compared with putting promos at the beginning of a show, like HBO does.

Netflix continually experiments with different ways to showcase its original programming, some of which eventually roll out to the wider user base – like the screensavers that launched last year, or the newer Stories-inspired mobile previews which arrived this spring.

The company is expected to spend up to $13 billion on original programing this year, so it makes sense that it wants to highlight top shows to users in the hopes of getting them hooked on content that they can’t get elsewhere. Retaining users is especially important given all the changes to the increasingly competitive streaming media space as of late, including the rise of live TV services, the AT&T-Time Warner merger, and Disney’s forthcoming Netflix competitor. Netflix is smart to double-down on its best asset: Originals.

The new test of promos on the login screen is only showing to a small percentage of users, Netflix says. That means you may not see them yourself, even if logging in to Netflix on a TV.

Image credits: Me. Photos are from my own Netflix account. My daughter likes to rename her account silly things, in case you’re wondering. Side note: I miss having real profile images instead of these stupid drawings. Why can’t we pick from characters on Netflix shows? That would be a fun way to promote the original series. After all, BuzzFeed has long since proven that people do like relating themselves to fictional characters, thanks to those “which character are you?” quizzes.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Roku unveils $200 wireless speakers made for Roku TV

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Roku is getting into the speaker business with today’s announcement of Roku TV Wireless Speakers.

Mark Ely, the company’s vice president of product management, said Roku is trying to address a growing consumer problem — the fact that as TVs get thinner, you end up buying “this beautiful TV, but it sounds bad.” To address this, you may end up purchasing a soundbar or creating a more elaborate home theater setup, but Ely argued that many consumers find this process confusing and intimidating.

So as the name suggests, Roku has created wireless speakers specifically for Roku TVs, the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Ely described them as speakers that deliver “really premium sound in a really compact package,” and at an affordable price. (They’re about seven inches tall and weigh four pounds each, he said.)

Roku says it should be easy to pair these speakers wirelessly with a Roku TV using Roku Connect, and since the company controls both the video and audio experience, it can ensure that they’re sync’d up perfectly, without lag. To minimize those moments when you’re frantically reaching for the remote to adjust the volume, the speakers also come with Automatic Volume Leveling to lower the sound in particularly loud scenes and boost the sounds when it gets too quiet.

Ely said the product takes advantage of Roku’s acquisition last year of Danish audio startup Dynastrom: “The goal has been to have audio be a real center of excellence for the company.”

“Our fundamental belief here is that by delivering a better sound experience, you get a better entertainment streaming experience,” he added.

The speakers will also come with a new remote called the Roku Touch, which is designed to emphasize voice controls without fully giving up the benefits of a regular remote — you can press-and-hold to deliver voice commands, but it still has buttons for playback control and others that you can preset.

Smart speakers from big tech companies like Apple and Amazon are seen as one main ways to get into the voice-powered home assistant market. Roku has its own voice assistant (which it’s making available to manufacturing partners), but Ely and VP of Consumer PR Seana Norvell said it’s really focused on understanding your entertainment needs — rather than, say, telling you the weather or helping you order products online.

End of Entertainment Center

While Roku says the speakers will ship in late October at a price of $199.99, they’re available for pre-order now, with pricing at $149.99 until July 23, and then $179.99 until October 15.

Ely said the company is only selling the speakers from the Roku website, at least initially, because that allows it to “market directly to Roku TV customers” while ensuring that other Roku customers (namely, those who have a Roku streaming device but not a Roku TV) don’t end up buying these speakers, which won’t work for them.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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