Old media giants turn to VC for their next act

The Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 eras weren’t kind to the world’s largest media conglomerates, throwing their business models into question, creating whole new categories of content consumption, and bringing online competition to subscription and ad pricing. Many of the media giants from the 1990s and early 2000s remain market leaders with multi-billion dollar valuations, however, and have become active investors in startups as a tactic to help themselves evolve. Of the traditional media companies that have committed to corporate venturing, there are two distinct strategies: those whose investing seems to be about replacing the historic classifieds section of newspapers and diversifying into a range of consumer-facing marketplaces, and those whose investing is concentrated on capturing an early glimpse (and early equity stake) in startups reshaping media.

Replacing Classifieds, Investing in Marketplaces

Mathias Doepfner, CEO of Axel Springer. The company’s startup accelerator is one of the most active

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Hulu with Live TV tops a million subscribers

Hulu’s live TV streaming service has hit a milestone number of more than 1 million subscribers. That’s up from the estimated 450,000 CNBC reported at the beginning of the year, and the 800,000 official number Hulu announced in May. But although the live TV audience may be growing, it’s still a small fraction of Hulu’s total subscriber base of 20 million-plus, which includes those who pay for the service’s on-demand programming. The new figures were first reported by USA Today, in a report detailing Hulu’s Emmy campaign. (The streamer took home four Emmys this year – far behind market leaders, HBO and Netflix, which tied for the top spot with 23 wins apiece, across both last night’s ceremony and the earlier Creative Arts awards.) Hulu also confirmed the number’s accuracy with us. This one million subscriber milestone is notable given the fierce competition among live TV streaming services these
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Amazon’s ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ wins big at the Emmys

Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” dominated the comedy categories at tonight’s Primetime Emmy Awards, winning for outstanding comedy series, supporting actress in a comedy series (Alex Borstein), lead actress in a comedy series (Rachel Brosnahan), writing in a drama series (Amy Sherman-Palladino) and directing in a comedy series (Amy Sherman-Palladino). It’s an impressive showing for a freshman show, but long overdue recognition for Sherman-Palladino — who somehow was never nominated for “Gilmore Girls.” As of tonight, she’s the first woman to win the combination of best comedy writing and directing. It’s also amusing to see Amazon do so well at the awards after CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly decreed that the streaming service shift its focus from critically acclaimed shows with a niche audience to big budget blockbusters like its “Lord of the Rings” prequel. (And yes, it’s embarrassing that I co-host a podcast that’s all about streaming shows and
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Pandora takes on Spotify’s Release Radar with its newest playlist, The Drop

Pandora is taking on Spotify with the launch of a new personalized playlist, The Drop, announced this morning. Similar to Spotify’s Release Radar, The Drop will also focus on new releases from artists its listeners care about. New tracks are added to the playlist on the day they’re released, the company says  – that means Fridays, as with Release Radar. Pandora’s playlist will also be longer than Spotify’s 30-track Release Radar as it doesn’t immediately ditch older tracks when new ones arrive. The Drop will instead grow to feature 100 of the latest tracks listed in order, with the newest at the top. The selections on your version of The Drop will be based on your prior listening behavior on Pandora, the company says. And they’ll be algorithmically programmed, not hand-curated. As you listen, if you find something you like, you’ll be able to add it to “My Music”
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Marc and Lynne Benioff will buy Times magazine from Meredith for $190M

Another tech billionaire will scoop up a major news outlet. Meredith Corporation, which acquired Time Inc. in January, announced today that it has agreed to sell its eponymous magazine to Salesforce.com co-founder Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff for $190 million in cash. Meredith said in March that it planned to sell Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Money as part of its goal to save $400 million to $500 million over the next two years and increase the profitability of its remaining portfolio of publications. In its announcement today, the company said it will use proceeds from the sale of Times magazine to pay off debt and expects to reduce its debt by $1 billion during fiscal 2019. Meredith’s acquisition of Time Inc. was controversial because it received financial support from Koch Equity Development, the private equity fund run by Charles and David Koch, known for backing
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Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Insatiable’ is even worse than you’ve heard

“Insatiable,” the Netflix comedy about an overweight high school girl who suddenly becomes slim and beautiful thanks to having her jaw wired shut for a summer, has been drawing controversy ever since its first trailer went online. The reviews for the show were almost uniformly negative, yet they didn’t quite prepare me for the terribleness of the initial episodes, which alternate between feeble attempts to mine humor from hot-button issues like sexual assault and suicide, and even feebler attempts to treat those issues seriously. To help me figure out just what makes this show so bad, I was joined by Original Content‘s original co-host, Darrell Etherington. Our ultimate question: Is this the worst thing we’ve watched for the podcast? (Yes.) We also discuss the fact that Henry Cavill has been cast as the lead in Netflix’s adaptation of the “Witcher” video game franchise. This episode was actually
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Streaming service CBS All Access rolls out support for offline viewing

CBS All Access, the network’s over-the-top streaming service for cord cutters, will now let subscribers save shows for offline viewing. The feature, “Download & Play,” is only available to those on CBS’s Commercial Free plan, not those on the cheaper, ad-supported tier. It also supports a range of programming, including CBS All Access Originals, reality shows, primetime dramas, news magazines, and other classics from the CBS library. At launch, the lineup of supported shows includes originals like Star Trek: Discovery, The Good Fight, One Dollar, Strange Angel, and No Activity, plus Big Brother, Survivor, Blue Bloods, Bull, Hawaii Five-0, MacGyver, NCIS: New Orleans, 60 Minutes, and 48 Hours. All classics will also be available for offline access, meaning you can download old Star Trek episodes, Cheers, Twin Peaks and many others. Content from local stations, local news and sports will not be available for offline
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Netflix’s newest program certifies post-production tools for Netflix Originals

Netflix on Thursday announced a new program aimed at helping Netflix Originals artists and producers select the right tools for delivering their content to its streaming service. With the launch of the Netflix Post Technology Alliance, as the program is called, Netflix will now identify products from vendors that meet technical and delivery specifications today, and will continue to support any specifications that Netflix rolls out in the future. The program’s focus is on certifying vendors’ products across categories, including cameras, creative editorial, color grading, and IMF packaging. Some vendors whose products have already received certification include  Adobe, Arri, Avid, Blackmagic Design, Canon, Colorfront, Fraunhofer IIS, Filmlight, Marquise Technologies, MTI Film, Ownzones, Panasonic, Red Digital Cinema, Rohde & Schwarz, and Sony. These products will be allowed to sport the Netflix Post Technology Alliance logo, to alert artists of their certification status. “Manufacturers of products bearing this logo are closely partnered
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Dish’s AirTV box now lets you watch and record live TV, access recordings through Sling TV

Following reports that Amazon is preparing to launch a new device that would allow Fire TV owners to record live TV, Dish’s AirTV has just done the same. The company announced the launch of a “Local Channels DVR” feature for AirTV customers that lets users watch and record live TV both in and outside the home. The recorded content is made available within Dish’s Sling TV application, alongside subscribers other Cloud DVR recordings. Dish first unveiled its AirTV Player, a 4K media streamer set-top box, at CES 2017, then later began doling out digital antennas to Sling TV subscribers with the AirTV Player as part of deal for pre-paying for the company’s streaming service. This year, it expanded its hardware lineup to include a new device, just called the AirTV, which is a networked TV tuner that doesn’t connect directly to a TV, but rather streams local programming
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iHeartMedia is acquiring HowStuffWorks

iHeartMedia has agreed to acquire Stuff Media, the company that owns the HowStuffWorks podcasting business. The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, but both the Wall Street Journal and Variety are reporting that the acquisition price was $55 million. According to the announcement, Stuff Media podcasts will retain their branding and the organization will remain headquartered in Atlanta, while President and CEO Conal Byrne joins iHeartMedia as the head of its podcasting division. HowStuffWorks was originally founded in 1998 and had a number of owners before spinning out as an independent company and raising a $15 million Series A last year. In recent years, its focus has shifted from explainer articles and videos to podcasts, and in fact, it says those podcasts receive more than 61 million downloads and streams each month, with Stuff You Should Know surpassing 500 million downloads this year. iHeartMedia,
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Facebook rolls out photo/video fact checking so partners can train its AI

Sometimes fake news lives inside of Facebook as photos and videos designed to propel misinformation campaigns, instead of off-site on news articles that can generate their own ad revenue. To combat these politically rather than financially-motivated meddlers, Facebook has to be able to detect fake news inside of images and the audio that accompanies video clips. Today its expanding its photo and video fact checking program from four countries to all 23 of its fact-checking partners in 17 countries. “Many of our third-party fact-checking partners have expertise evaluating photos and videos and are trained in visual verification techniques, such as reverse image searching and analyzing image metadata, like when and where the photo or video was taken” says Facebook product manager Antonia Woodford. “As we get more ratings from fact-checkers on photos and videos, we will be able to improve the accuracy of our machine learning model.” The goal
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Hulu and Discovery announce partnership for live and on-demand programming

Hulu and Discovery this morning announced a wide-ranging partnership that will see Discovery’s live and on-demand programming added to Hulu’s streaming service. The multi-year agreement will see nearly 4,000 episodes of Discovery’s shows added to Hulu’s on-demand library, as well as five additional Discovery TV networks – Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Motor Trend, the rebranded Velocity network, and Animal Planet – to Hulu’s live TV service. This will bring the total number of Discovery TV networks on Hulu with Live TV to now eight. They join existing channels, HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel which were available through a prior agreement with Scripps Networks, which Discovery acquired for $14.6 billion. The new channels will begin to stream live in December, Hulu says. Meanwhile, all Hulu subscribers will be able to watch on-demand programming like Deadliest Catch, MythBusters, Say Yes to the Dress, Naked and Afraid, Property Brothers, Gold Rush, Street
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European parliament gives thumbs up to controversial copyright reforms

The European Parliament has just voted to back controversial proposals to reform online copyright — including supporting an extension to cover snippets of publishers content (Article 11), and to make platforms that hold significant amounts of content liable for copyright violations by their users (Article 13).

Today’s plenary vote in the European parliament was on amended proposals that had been rejected by MEPs in a vote in July with parliamentarians arguing for a fuller debate and more balanced measures. The vote is a major victory for MEP Axel Voss who has been driving the copyright reform. MEPs largely backed Voss’ amended proposals today which had narrowed the scope of the rejected text, such as, in the case of Article 11,

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MasterClass is mastering scale as a media business

MasterClass’ $80M Series D announced last week marks a triumph in validating the potential venture-scale of content businesses in an era when many are founded with equal parts tech and media DNA. The platform for online video courses on topics from film directing to tennis taught by iconic figures in each field (like Martin Scorsese and Serena Williams) launched in 2015 and has raised $160M from top VC firms like IVP, NEA, and Atomico while gaining brand recognition among millions of Americans. Neither education nor content startups have been particularly hot spaces for Silicon Valley investors over the last few years, so Masterclass’ breakout status calls attention to its strategy.

High-quality original content cuts above the noise

Due to the user inputs of subscription streaming services, a platform focused on its own high-quality original content can gain an advantage against the crowded field of quantity-over-quality competitors in monetization and defensibility
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Plex Cloud will shut down November 30 due to technical challenges

Plex today announced it’s shutting down its troubled Plex Cloud service, via a forum post that hasn’t found its way over to the company’s official blog – likely a choice the company made in order to downplay the news, or avoid media scrutiny. Plex Cloud, launched in fall 2016, was meant to serve as a way for Plex customers to save their files to online storage services like OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive, instead of having to host their saved files locally on their own machines or network-attached storage devices. But now that will no longer be an option, as the service will stop functioning on November 30, 2018, Plex says. Plex Cloud had struggled from the beginning with technical issues. Almost immediately, its debut launch partner, Amazon, stopped working with Plex Cloud. Users were complaining that Amazon Drive files couldn’t be accessed and wondered if Amazon was imposing upload
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Gawker is relaunching in early 2019

After a two-year hiatus, Gawker is coming back. Peter Thiel, be damned. Bustle-owner Bryan Goldberg, who paid $1.35 million for rights to the defunct gossip site in a bankruptcy auction in July, wrote in a memo to Bustle staff Tuesday that Gawker would relaunch next year with Amanda Hale, the former chief revenue officer of The Outline, as its publisher. A spokesperson for Bustle confirmed the hiring and upcoming launch to TechCrunch, adding that Hale “will be responsible for building out the sales and marketing teams, and developing the overall strategy for the brand. Her first project will be to solidify a plan to ensure the Gawker archives have a safe and permanent home. We will be investing significant resources in this relaunch, and we will continue to make further announcements as plans progress.” According to the memo, the new Gawker will take advantage of Bustle’s resources, technology and business platform. “We
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Apple wins first original video Emmy for ‘Carpool Karaoke’

Ahead the launch of its own video streaming service, Apple has been awarded its first-ever Primetime Emmy for its original video programming, for “Carpool Karaoke.” The series won the “Outstanding Short Form Variety Series” category on Sunday night. This is not Apple’s first-ever Emmy – it has won other technical and engineering awards in the past, including last year’s win for Siri integration in Apple TV – but it is its first for original video. The series beat out “Between The Scenes – The Daily Show,” “Creating Saturday Night Live,” “Gay of Thrones,” “Honest Trailers,” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – Cover Room.” Apple’s “Carpool Karaoke” was spun out from a recurring sketch on CBS’ “The Late Show With James Corden” in 2016, and was one of the first originals from Apple, along with its Shark Tank-like “Planet of the Apps, which largely bombed. Over “Carpool
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Jack Ma says he isn’t about to retire from Alibaba but is planning a gradual succession

Reports of Jack Ma’s impending retirement are greatly exaggerated, it seems. Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, has pushed back on claims that he is on the cusp of leaving the $420 billion Chinese e-commerce firm. The New York Times first reported that the entrepreneur plans to announce that he will leave the firm to pursue philanthropy in education, a topic he is passionate about — Ma is a former teacher. But that news was quickly rebutted after Ma gave an interview to the South China Morning Postthe media company that Alibaba bought in 2016 — in which he explained that he plans to gradually phase himself out of the company through a succession plan. When reached for comment, Alibaba pointed TechCrunch to the SCMP report which claims Ma’s strategy will “provide [leadership] transition plans over a significant period of time.” In order words, Ma isn’t abruptly leaving
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What you need to know ahead of the EU copyright vote

European Union lawmakers are facing a major vote on digital copyright reform proposals on Wednesday — a process that has set the Internet’s hair fully on fire. Here’s a run down of the issues and what’s at stake…

Article 13

The most controversial component of the proposals concerns user-generated content platforms such as YouTube, and the idea they should be made liable for copyright infringements committed by their users — instead of the current regime of takedowns after the fact (which locks rights holders into having to constantly monitor and report violations — y’know, at the same time as Alphabet’s ad business continues to roll around in dollars and eyeballs). Critics of the proposal argue that shifting the burden of rights liability onto platforms will flip them from champions to chillers of free speech, making them reconfigure their systems to accommodate the new level of business risk. More specifically they suggest
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Apple Music launches a ‘Top Charts’ playlist series

Apple Music is rolling out a new playlist series that will feature the Top 100 songs on Apple Music globally and for those countries where Apple Music is available. Because they’re playlists, users will be able to add these top charts for their country or the Top 100 Global songs to their library so they can stream them any time, or listen offline. The feature was first reported by Rolling Stone, which was given a preview of the changes by Apple. At launch, there are 116 charts launching in total, including the Top 100 Global and one for each Apple Music market. Many countries will have access to all of these new Top 100 playlist charts, but availability will vary, we understand. What’s also interesting about the top chart playlists is that they’ll be updated daily at 12:00 AM PT based on Apple Music streams, which keeps them fresh. Rolling
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