Disney+ beat Netflix in recent US downloads (report)

Netflix may still dominate global streaming, but Disney+ has made a huge splash in the United States, where it launched in November.

That much was pretty clear already, and other reports have already suggested that Disney+ was the most downloaded app and biggest search trend in the United States last year. Now a new report from mobile intelligence company Apptopia and competitive engagement platform Braze suggests that Disney’s streaming service has continued its spectacular success into 2020.

The report examines the months leading up to and after the service’s U.S. launch, and it includes charts of the most popular streaming apps for the first three months of 2020.

According to those charts, Netflix was the most downloaded streaming app globally, with 59.1 million downloads, followed by YouTube at 39.4 million. Disney+ (which is currently launching across Europe and India) was number seven on the list, with 17.5 million downloads.

In the United States however, Disney+ leads with 14.1 million downloads, versus 11.9 million for Netflix (which may have already saturated the U.S. market) and 8.1 million for Hulu (which is also owned primarily by Disney).

Lest you think this is purely a one-on-one contest between Netflix and Disney, it’s also worth noting that neither of them wins on time spent in app — instead, it’s YouTube Kids that wins in both the United States and globally.

Apptopia/Braze report

Image Credits: Apptopia and Braze

And yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to even more streaming, with the report showing 30.7 percent increase in streaming sessions in March

The report suggests that the success of Disney+ means that there’s still room for new streaming services. (It might, however, simply reflect Disney’s dominance of the entertainment world. It remains to be seen whether Quibi, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max can achieve similar success as they launch in the coming months.)

The report also looks at strategies that successfully drive engagement, as measured by daily active users. It points out that the most popular brands are 21 percent more likely to send push notifications and 300 percent more likely to send in-app messages. It also concludes that “content that creates fandom is king”:

Adult Swim’s cartoon series Rick and Morty proved to be the most effective content for generating both short-term and long-term monthly active users (MAU). Over the course of the most recent season of Rick and Morty, the Adult Swim app’s daily active users (DAU) increased by 504%. Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and sporting events also drove DAU growth in a meaningful way.

 

Original Content podcast: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ launches with a bumpy, memorable season

Star Trek TV shows generally take a while to get good — but if any of them was going to have a strong start, you’d think it’d be “Star Trek: Picard.”

After all, it returns Patrick Stewart to the role that made him famous, that of onetime Starfleet captain Jean-Luc Picard. Plus, the writing team was led by Michael Chabon, author of beloved novels like “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” (He also wrote a lovely New Yorker piece about writing for Star Trek while his father was dying.)

As we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the resulting show doesn’t quite avoid the standard first season growing pains, with a fast-paced pilot followed by several slow, setup- and exposition-heavy episodes. Throughout the season, the writers still seem to be figuring out what kind of show they want to be making, and it all ends with some preposterous, clunky twists in the two-part finale.

But even if “Picard” didn’t quite live up to our expectations, it’s still a pretty first season. It was genuinely moving to see Stewart on the bridge of a spaceship again, and to greet returning friends like Brent Spiner as Data (who died in the movie “Nemesis” but appears here in an opening dream sequence), as well as Jonathan Frakes as William Riker.

And despite its occasional clunkiness, the story finds new emotional notes for Picard, as he struggles to overcome decades of disillusionment and become the Picard we know. There’s also fresh science fictional territory, as “Picard” treats artificial intelligence and synthetic life more seriously than any previous Star Trek show.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:19 “Star Trek: Picard” season 1 review
24:28 “Star Trek: Picard” spoiler discussion

“Content network effect” makes TikTok tough to copy

Many TikTok videos don’t start from scratch, so neither can its competitors. TikTok is all about remixes where users shoot a new video to recontextualize audio pulled from someone else’s clip, or riff on an existing meme or concept. That only works because TikTok’s had time to build up an immense armory of content to draw inspiration from.

Creators will find themselves unequipped trying to get started on TikTok copycats including Facebook Lasso, and Instagram Reels which is testing in Brazil. Direct competitors like Triller and Dubsmash are racing to build up their archives. YouTube Shorts, which The Information today reported is in development, only has a shot if Google lets users harness the 5 billion videos people already watch on YouTube each day.

This is the power of what I call “content network effect”: Each piece of content adds value to the rest. That’s TikTok.

You’re likely familiar with traditional network effect — ‘a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional value as more people use it.’ It’s not just the network itself that gains value, as the value delivered to each user increases too. Today’s top social networks are shining examples. The more people there are on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, the more people you can connect to, and the more material their relevance algorithms can draw on to fill your feeds.

If you had to choose between using two identical social networks, you’re probably going to pick the one with more friends or creators already onboard. Network effects raise the switching cost of moving to a different network. Even if it has better features, fewer ads, or less misinformation and bullying, you’re unlikely to leave a robust network behind and decamp to a sparser one. That makes scaled social networks difficult to Disrupt. All the top ones have been around for almost a decade or more.

Except for TikTok. The Chinese music/video app has managed to demonstrate a new concept of “content network effect”. In its case, each video uploaded to the app makes every future potential video more valuable. That’s because all the content on TikTok serves as remix fodder for the rest. Every song, dance, joke, prank, and monologue generates resources for other creators to exploit. It’s a bottomless well of inspiration.

TikTok productizes remix culture by making it easy to “use this sound”. Tap the audio button on any video and it becomes yours. Click through and you’ll see all the other videos that use it. TikTok even offers a whole search engine for sorting through sounds by categories like Trending, Greatest Hits, Love, Gaming, and travel. Sometimes remixes are based on an idea rather than an audio. #FlipTheSwitch sees couples instantly swapping clothes when the light flicks off, and has collected over 3.6 billion videos across over 500,000 remixed versions of the video.

You can even duet with the original creator, sharing your video and theirs side-by-side simultaneously. A solo performance becomes a chorus as more duets are hitched together. Meanwhile, remixes of remixes of remixes provide an esoteric reward for hardcore users who recognize how a gag has evolved or spiraled into absurdity.

Other apps in the past have spawned video responses, hashtags, quote-tweets, surveys, and chain letters and other ways for pieces of content to interact or iterate. And there’s always been parodies. But TikTok proves the power of forging a social app with content network effect at its core.

Facilitating remixes offers a way to lower the bar for producing user generated content. You’d don’t have to be astoundingly creative or original to make something entertaining. Each individual’s life experiences inform their perspective that could let them interpret an idea in a new way.

What began with someone ripping audio of two people chanting “don’t be Suspicious, don’t be suspicious” while sneaking through a graveyard in TV show Parks & Recs led to people lipsyncing it while trying to escape their infant’s room without waking them up, leaving the house wearing clothes they stole from their sister’s closet, trying to keep a llama as a pet, and photoshopping themselves to look taller. Unless someone’s already done the work to record an audio clip, there’s nothing to inspire and enable others to put their spin on it.

That’s why I wrote that Mark Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok after the CEO told Facebook’s staff that “I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for Stories”. Facebook and Instagram found massive success cloning Snapchat Stories because all they had to do was copy its features. Stories are autobiographical life vlogging. All you need are the creative tools, which Instagram and Facebook rebuilt, and people to share to, which the apps had billions of.

But TikTok isn’t about sharing what you’re up to like Stories that typically start from scratch since each user’s life is different. It’s micro-entertainment powered by content network effect. If TikTok competitors give people the same video recording features and distribution potential, they’ll still be missing the archive of source material.

Facebook’s Lasso looks just like TikTok but it’s failed to gain steam since launching in November 2018. Instagram Reels smartly copies TikTok’s remixing tools, but if the Brazilian tests go well and it eventually launches in English, it will start out flat footed.

When YouTube launches Shorts, as The Information’s Alex Heath and Jessica Toonkel report it’s planning to do before the end of the year, it will be buried inside its main app. That could make it impossible to compete with a dedicated app like TikTok that opens straight to its For You page. Its one saving grace would be if YouTube unlocks its entire database of videos for remixing.

Thanks to its position as the default place to host videos and its experience with searchability that Facebook and Instagram lack, YouTube Shorts could at least have all the ingredients necessary. But given YouTube’s non-stop failures in social with everything from Google+ to YouTube Stories to its dozen deadpooled messaging apps, it may not have the chef skills necessary to combine them.

Other social networks should consider how the concept applies to them. Could Facebook turn your friends’ photos into collage materials? Could Instagram let you share themed collections of your favorite posts? Remix culture isn’t going away, so neither will the value of fostering content network effects. With video consumption outpacing professional production, remixes are how the world will stay entertained and how amateurs can contribute creations worthy of going viral.

Audible has the first Harry Potter audiobook (as read by Stephen Fry!) up for free right now

If you’ve ever tried to buy the Harry Potter audiobooks, you probably noticed something kind of tricky: there are two very different versions. The version most widely available in the U.S. is narrated by Jim Dale. The U.K. version is read by Stephen Fry.

Which is better? I won’t get into that — that’s something the internet has been arguing about for a decade+ now. I will say, however, that getting the Stephen Fry versions in the U.S. (legally) is usually a pretty big pain in the butt. Different countries, different distribution rights, different licensing — yada yada yada.

It got a bit easier today, albeit for just the first book: Audible has put the Stephen Fry version of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” up online, for free, until further notice.

Audible says it’s doing this as part of J.K. Rowling’s #HarryPotterAtHome program, in which the author is “relaxing the usual copyright permissions” to make the story available to more children who are likely stuck at home during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The same program is allowing teachers to post videos of themselves reading the series aloud to their students (as long as it’s on a “closed educational platform”… so not like, YouTube) without worrying about getting into a copyright battle.

A few small catches:

  • If you’re in North America and get hooked on Fry’s take on the narration, finding/importing the Fry version of the other books is going to be up to you. Even if you sign up for an Audible account, the rest of the series on Audible is read by Jim Dale. To be clear, Dale’s version is very good! Just know that it’s different.
  • It’ll work across laptops, phones, tablets, etc. with the caveat that it’s streaming only, so plan on listening somewhere with an internet connection.

You can find the Harry Potter stream — plus a bunch of other family-friendly audiobooks as part of Audible’s free Stories program — right here.

Disney+ to launch in India on April 3

Disney said on Tuesday that it will launch its streaming service, Disney+, in India on April 3. The service, available globally in about a dozen markets, will launch in India on Hotstar, one of the most popular on-demand streaming services in the country that is also owned by Disney.

The company said it is raising the yearly subscription price of the combined entity, Disney+Hotstar, to Rs 1,499 ($20), up from  Rs 999 ($13.2). TechCrunch reported last year that Disney+ will launch in India in 2020 and will increase its subscription cost.

Hotstar, which claimed to have amassed 300 million monthly active users during the cricket season in India last year, would continue to offer an ad-supported service that it will offer to users without a charge. But it is increasing the cost of all its premium tiers.

The $20 yearly subscription tier will offer over 100 series and 250 superhero and animated titles, including Disney+ Originals and shows from HBO, Fox, and Showtime, the company said.

More to follow…

Original Content podcast: ‘Tiger King’ might be the wildest show on Netflix

Netflix’s “Tiger King” is a docuseries focusing on the man who calls himself Joe Exotic — owner of a private park full of tigers and other big cats. We learn in the opening minutes of the first episode that he’s been accused of hiring a contract killer to murder an animal rights activist.

A documentary that was solely about Joe would be pretty memorable on its own, but he’s surrounded by characters who are nearly as colorful, including the operators of several other big cat parks, as well as his nemesis, Carole Baskin.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jason from the TechCrunch events team to review “Tiger King.” It’s an incredibly addictive and bingeable show, with shocks and twists in virtually every episode.

At the same time, we debate whether the show treats its colorful subjects ethically, and whether anything was lost as the focus shifted from a “Blackfish”-style exposé of large cat owners into something more lurid.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:29 “Tiger King” review
24:56 “Tiger King” spoilers

Original Content podcast: Hulu’s ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ is agonizing in all the right ways

“Little Fires Everywhere,” a new miniseries on Hulu, can be hard to watch.

Based on Celeste Ng’s novel of the same name, it takes place in the planned community of Shaker Heights during the 1990s, where the arrival of artist Mia (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) sets something into motion that (we’re told in the opening scene) will eventually result in a fire that burns the lavish home of the wealthy Robinsons to the ground.

While the show has plenty of distinctive characters, it centers to a large extent on the prickly relationship between Mia and Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon). Every scene between them feels fraught, as Elena’s awkward and condescending attempts to prove that she’s a good person (and a not racist) are repeatedly rebuffed.

For reasons that it would be too spoiler-y to disclose here, the two of them eventually find themselves in conflict, and their children, along with Elena’s husband (it’s genuinely mind-blowing to see Joshua Jackson — Pacey from “Dawson Creek” — as a 40-something dad), get pulled in as well.

On today’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we review “Little Fires Everywhere,” laying out all the ways that the show’s initial episodes impressed us. We also offer some general recommendations for what to stream while you’re stuck at home.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
1:09 Streaming recommendations
11:15 “Little Fires Everywhere” review
39:34 “Little Fires Everywhere” spoiler discussion (spoilers for first three episodes)

Daily Crunch: Disney+ launches in seven European countries

Disney+ launches in seven European countries, Microsoft admits to a “critical” Windows security flaw and we review the new iPad Pro. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 24, 2020.

1. Using 25% lower bandwidth, Disney+ launches in UK, Ireland and 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

As expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching its streaming service across seven markets in Europe — but doing so using reduced bandwidth given the strain on broadband networks as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

So starting today, Disney+ will be live in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland; Disney also confirmed a delayed debut in France on April 7. This is the largest multi-country launch for the service so far.

2. Microsoft says hackers are attacking Windows users with a new unpatched bug

The security flaw, which Microsoft deems “critical” — its highest severity rating — is found in how Windows handles and renders fonts, according to the advisory posted Monday. The bug can be exploited by tricking a victim into opening a malicious document. Once the document is opened — or viewed in Windows Preview — an attacker can remotely run malware, such as ransomware, on a vulnerable device.

3. Review: 100,000 miles and one week with an iPad Pro

Matthew Panzarino has been using an iPad Pro as his main portable work machine for the past 18 months. This week, he tried out the latest version of the device, concluding that it offers an attractive refresh for new buyers — but not for owners of the 2018 model.

4. Ford, 3M, GE and the UAW to build respirators, ventilators and faceshields for coronavirus fight

Ford has announced the details of its current manufacturing efforts around building much-needed medical supplies for frontline healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients. Its efforts include building Powered Air-Purifying Respirators with partner 3M.

5. Where top VCs are investing in D2C

The TechCrunch team was curious —especially in the wake of the troubled Casper IPO — about how investor sentiment might have shifted and what venture capitalists are looking for in the category, so we asked some smart investors. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Revolut launches its neobank in the US

Starting today, anybody in the U.S. can sign up and get a Revolut debit card. For this launch, Revolut has partnered with Metropolitan Commercial Bank for the banking infrastructure — deposits are FDIC-insured up to $250,000.

7. Mozilla expands its partnership with ad-free subscription service Scroll

Firefox Better Web with Scroll combines the tracking protection built into Mozilla’s Firefox browser with the ad-free browsing experience offered by Scroll. Anyone in the United States who’s interested in trying this out can sign up for a Firefox account and install the Better Web with Scroll extension.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Survey shows growth in podcasts and voice assistants, little change in streaming

A new annual survey taken before the current COVID-19 crisis led to restrictions of movement in much of the U.S. suggests good news for Amazon, Facebook’s dominance unthreatened and continued growth in podcasting.

Edison Research and Triton Digital released their annual Infinite Dial survey last week, compiling data on consumers’ use of smart speakers, podcasts, music streaming and social media from 1,500 people (aged 12 and older) to compare year-over-year changes. Here are a few interesting findings:

Voice assistants and smart speakers

Sixty-two percent said they use a voice-based virtual assistant, most commonly via a phone or a computer. There has been a lot written about interactive voice as the next major medium for human-computer interaction after mobile phones, so it’s noteworthy to see that use of the technology is still associated with personal computing devices rather than hands-free smart speakers placed in the surrounding environment.

Smart speaker ownership did increase to 27% of respondents, up from 24% in 2019, even though respondents owned an average 2.2 speakers. In fact, the cohort that owned three or more speakers increased from one-quarter to one-third of owners in just a year, with Amazon Alexa continuing to dominate market share.

Anchor expands Record With Friends to make remote podcasting easier across devices

Admit it, even if you’ve never thought about starting a podcast in your life, these last few weeks of isolation have made you consider the possibility. One of the least harmful knock on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly going to be the launch of A LOT of podcasts. People are bored, stuck at home and hungry to talk and listen to fellow humans.

I wrote a big, long piece about my own experiences yesterday, shifting from in person to online and adopting a live video element.

While I moved beyond the Anchor stage a number of years ago, the app offers a lot for those taking their first step into the brave new world of podcasting. Today, the Spotify-owned platform announced that it will be expanding its Record With Friends remote podcasting feature by way of a 2.0 update.

The latest version of the app, which is presently in beta, provides a simple link for up to four users to join in a conversation. It’s available across a range of different devices accessible via browser. Users start a conversation on their desktop or mobile device via the Anchor app and click the “Invite” button.

Your mileage — and sound quality — will vary, of course, but anything that lowers the barrier entry in the current situation is probably a net positive.