Author: Anthony Ha

Amino raises $45M for to bring fan communities to smartphones

Amino has raised a big Series C round of funding — $45 million from GV, Venrock, Union Square Ventures, Goodwater Capital and Time Warner Investments, with Hearst Ventures joining as a new investor.

Co-founder and CEO Ben Anderson has described Amino as an way to help people who have “passionate niche interests” find others who feel the same way, via smartphone apps.

The company started out with apps focused a handful of topics like K-pop, anime and Doctor Who, but it later added the ability for anyone to launch a new community in the main Amino app, and there are now more than 2.5 million communities.

Of course, some of these communities are more active than others, and there’s some overlap between them — but Max Sebela, who’s general manager for Amino’s English-language apps, said there’s less than you might think, because “each interest is actually a universe of micro interest.” For example, there might be one community focused on sharing strategy and tactics around the video game Overwatch, while another might revolve around sharing Overwatch fan art.

Ultimately, Sebela said it’s up to the founders and leaders of each community to decide what the community wants to focus on, and which product features they want to use to enable that. Meanwhile, Anderson said Amino is constantly tweaking its algorithms to make sure it’s surfacing the best communities for each user.

“Instead of one big, blue ocean, we provide a million lakes and help you find the exact right one,” he added.

Perhaps even more impressive than the number of communities is the amount of time the average user spends in Amino — more than 70 minutes per day.

One of the initial inspirations for the startup was a real-world anime convention, and Amino getting closer to that experience with the addition of features like live voice and video chat, as well as the screening room, where you can watch videos with other users.

During our conversation, Sebela opened up one of the K-Pop communities on his phone and was quickly able to listen in on a chat room where multiple users were singing along together. (Sadly, we didn’t join the singing.)

“The technology not super unique,” Anderson acknowledged. “What makes it really special is, I can voice chat with my friends on a lot of idfferent networks, but here I can hop in and join a voice chat with 10 Harry Potter fans who I may not know in my real life.”

While these features are already live, Anderson said they’ve been “downplayed” while Amino tests them out and works out the kinks. Now it’s ready to put them “front-and-center” in the app.

Amino has now raised more than $70 million in total funding.

It’s also been testing out ways to make money, which Anderson said will occur primarily through a subscription service — though apparently it’s too early for him to offer more details.

SeatGeek brings ticket buying into Snapchat

You can now buy game and concert tickets from teams and musicians within Snapchat, thanks to an integration with SeatGeek .

While Snapchat has started testing e-commerce features in the past few months, SeatGeek says this is the first ticket-buying experience built into the Snapchat app.

The Los Angeles Football Club was the first team to sell tickets through this integration, by posting a Snapchat Story (and a Snapcode on the team website) that allowed users to swipe up to buy tickets to the May 26 game. The full purchase experience takes place without leaving the app.

“We’re always looking to reach our fans in innovative ways, and selling tickets directly to our followers on Snapchat gives us an incredible opportunity to connect with our most dedicated supporters,” said Los Angeles Football Club President and co-owner Tom Penn in the announcement.

SeatGeek co-founder Russ D’Souza said that as “the pipe gets solidified,” you’ll start seeing more Snapchat/SeatGeek ticket sales. He added that this the kind of integration he was hoping for when the company launched the SeatGeek Open platform a couple years ago, allowing teams, musicians and other rightsholders to sell tickets directly through SeatGeek. (The platform also supports ticket sales through Facebook.)

“For too long, the legacy ticketing approach has been to make it difficult for teams to sell tickets in lots of places,” D’Souza said. “Teams should want to sell their tickets in as many places as possible.”

And it sounds there are additional deals in the works: “What we’re excited about over the next few months is beating the drumbeat of openness with new partnerships … We want to drive the whole industry forward and create more tangible results that cause the industry to open up.”

Facebook is funding news programs from CNN, Fox News, Univision and others

Facebook has unveiled its initial lineup of news programming that will be airing in a dedicated section of Watch, the original video content initiative that the social network launched last year.

While these shows are being produced by outside media organizations, it’s actually Facebook that’s funding them. In a blog post, Head of News Partnerships Campbell Brown described this as an extension of the company’s announcement in January that it would prioritize meaningful social interaction over publisher content.

While that decision took a toll on digital publishers, Brown echoes CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s rationale for the move, saying that while there will be less news in users’ feeds, what remains should be “trustworthy, informative, and local.”

Here’s how Brown describes the news initiative:

This first lineup of funded shows includes news publishers from broadcast to digital native, national and local. The shows will be hosted by award-winning journalists, as well as new faces, and the formats will vary from a mix of daily briefings, weekly deep dives, and live breaking news coverage. They’ll debut later this summer, and we’ll announce additional shows in the coming weeks. We will work closely with our publisher partners to experiment with these different formats to understand what works, and they will have full editorial control of their shows.

The shows include:

  • A daily news show from ABC News
  • “Chasing Corruption,” a series from Alabama’s Advance Local that interviews watchdog journalists
  • A weekly explainer program from ATTN:
  • CNN’s “Anderson Cooper Full Circle,” a weekday news brief featuring Cooper and guests
  • Daily updates from Fox News’ Shepard Smith and others.
  • A twice weekly show from Mic.
  • Univision’s “Real America with Jorge Ramos,” where Ramos interviews immigrants from diverse backgrounds. Univision will also air a daily news roundup in Spanish.

Facebook introduces new bidding support for in-app ads

Facebook is expanding its support for header bidding, a technology that allows publishers to auction off ad impressions through real-time bidding between ad networks.

The company announced its support for header bidding on the mobile web last year. Today, it’s adding something similar for in-app advertising.

That means app publishers who use header bidding can include ads from Facebook’s Audience Network in their auctions. To enable this, Facebook is partnering with Fyber, MAX and Twitter’s MoPub.

Here’s how Facebook’s Vijay Balan laid out the benefits of the new approach:

Currently, ad networks are called one-by-one until an app ad is filled, determined by historical average CPMs rather than which buyer is willing to pay the most. This method often overlooks a network willing to pay more for an impression because it is lower in the chain.

App bidding enables app publishers and developers to establish an impartial and open auction over their ad inventory. All advertising networks are called simultaneously and the highest bidder for the placement wins, thereby providing publishers with opportunities to earn more. Publishers can maximize their access to high value advertisers, fueling the creation of sustainable ad businesses that help ensure people continue to enjoy access to high quality free content.

Balan said Facebook has already been testing this with publishers who have their own ad-serving technology, including Rovio, Talefun and GameInsight. Those early tests have seen revenue gains of up to 20 percent.

House Democrats release more than 3,500 Russian Facebook ads

Democrats from the House Intelligence Committee have released thousands of ads that were run on Facebook by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency.

The Democrats said they’ve released a total of 3,519 ads today from 2015, 2016 and 2017. This doesn’t include 80,000 pieces of organic content shared on Facebook by the IRA, which the Democrats plan to release later.

What remains unclear is the impact that these ads actually had on public opinion, but the Democrats note that they were seen by more than 11.4 million Americans.

You can find all the ads here, though it’ll take some time just to download them. As has been noted about earlier (smaller) releases of IRA ads, they aren’t all nakedly pro-Trump, but instead express a dizzying array of opinions and arguments, targeted at a wide range of users.

“Russia sought to weaponize social media to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election,” tweeted Adam Schiff, who is the Democrats’ ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. “They created fake accounts, pages and communities to push divisive online content and videos, and to mobilize real Americans,”

He added, “By exposing these Russian-created Facebook advertisements, we hope to better protect legitimate political expression and safeguard Americans from having the information they seek polluted by foreign adversaries. Sunlight is always the best disinfectant.

In conjunction with this release, Facebook published a post acknowledging that it was “too slow to spot this type of information operations interference” in the 2016 election, and outlining the steps (like creating a public database of political ads) that it’s taking to prevent this in the future.

“This will never be a solved problem because we’re up against determined, creative and well-funded adversaries,” Facebook said. “But we are making steady progress.”

Now you can make reservations and buy movie tickets on Instagram

Instagram is unveiling new features for businesses that want to use their profiles to message with customers and even facilitate transactions.

Even if you’re not a business on Instagram, you might still notice the addition of action buttons, which will allow you to make a reservation, buy a ticket, start an order or make a booking using third party services, all from an Instagram business profile.

The initial integrations include (deep breath) Acuity, Atom Tickets, Booksy, ChowNow, Eatstreet, Eventbrite, Fandango, GrubHub, MyTime, OpenTable, Reserve, Restorando, Resy, SevenRooms, StyleSeat, Tock and Yelp Reservations, with plans to add Appointy, Genbook, LaFourchette, Mindbody, Schedulicity, SetMore, Shedul and Vagaro soon.

It looks like the buttons essentially open up a browser window or widget for users to perform their chosen actions, so it’s not quite native functionality in the Instagram app. Still, it means that these interactions are now just a tap away. And an Instagram spokesperson told us that in the case of Atom Tickets, the actions do take advantage of Instagram’s native payments.

The company says that more than 200 million daily users visit an Instagram business profile every day, while more than 150 million have an Instagram Direct conversation with a business in a month.

“As more people continue to interact with businesses on Instagram and take action when inspiration strikes, we’re making it easier to turn that discovery into action,” Instagram said in a blog post announcing the new feature.

In addition, the company is rethinking how businesses handle their Instagram Direct messages. Customer messages now show up in the main inbox, rather the pending folder, with the ability to star conversations that the business wants to come back to. Instagram also says it will start testing quick replies, so that a business can just select prewritten responses to standard questions, rather than typing the same answer over and over again.

Twitter announces new video partnerships with NBCUniversal and ESPN

Twitter is hosting its Digital Content NewFronts tonight, where it’s unveiling 30 renewals and new content deals — the company says that’s nearly twice as many as it announced last year.

Those include partnerships with the big players in media — starting with NBCUniversal, which will be sharing live video and clips from properties including NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo.

Twitter also announced some of the shows it will be airing as part of the ESPN deal announced earlier today: SportsCenter Live (a Twitter version of the network’s flagship) and Fantasy Focus Live (a live stream of the fantasy sports podcast).

Plus, the company said it’s expanding its existing partnership with Viacom with shows like Comedy Central’s Creator’s Room, BET Breaks and MTV News.

During the NewFronts event, Twitter’s head of video Kayvon Beykpour said daily video views on the platform have nearly doubled in the past year. And Kay Madati (pictured above), the company’s head of content partnerships, described the company as “the ultimate mobile platform where video and conversation share the same screen.”

As Twitter continues to invest in video content, it’s been emphasizing its advantage in live video, a theme that continued in this year’s announcement.

“Twitter is the only place where conversation is tied to video and the biggest live moments, giving brands the unique ability to connect with leaned in consumers who are shaping culture,” said Twitter Global VP of Revenue and Content Partnerships Matthew Derella in a statement. “That’s our superpower.”

During the event, Derella also (implicitly) contrasted Twitter with other digital platforms that have struggled with questions about transparency and whether ads are running in an appropriate environment. Tonight, he said marketers could say goodbye to unsafe brand environments and a lack of transparency: “And we say hello to you being in control of where your video aligns … we say hello to a higher measure of transparency, we say hello to new premium inventory and a break from the same old choices.”

On top of all the new content, Twitter is also announcing new ad programs. There are Creator Originals, a set of scripted series from influencers who will be paired up with sponsored brands. (The program is powered by Niche, the influencer marketing startup that Twitter acquired a few years ago.) And there’s a new Live Brand Studio — as the name suggests, it’s a team that works with marketers to create live video.

Here are some other highlights from the content announcements:

  • CELEBrate, a series where people get heartwarming messages from their idols from Ellen Digital Studios.
  • Delish Food Day and IRL from Hearst Magazines Digital Media.
  • Power Star Live, which is “inspired by the cultural phenomenon of Black Twitter” and live streamed from the Atlanta University Center, from Will Packer Media.
  • BuzzFeed News is renewing AM to DM until the end of 2018.
  • Vice News is launching a new series called The New Space Race.
  • Pattern, a new brand focused on weather- and science-related news.
  • #HereWeAre programming from the Huffington Post (which, like TechCrunch, is owned by Verizon/Oath), History, Vox and BuzzFeed News that highlights women around the world.
  • The Call of Duty World League will air highlights and Championship Sunday for the rest of the season.

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