Adobe reveals a GenAI tool for music

There’s plenty of GenAI-powered music editing and creation tools out there, but Adobe wants to put its own spin on the concept. Today at the Hot Pod Summit in Brooklyn, Adobe unveiled Project Music GenAI Control, a platform that can generate audio from text descriptions (e.g. “happy dance,” “sad jazz”) or a reference melody and […]

© 2024 TechCrunch. All rights reserved. For personal use only.

Former Twitter engineers are building Particle, an AI-powered news reader, backed by $4.4M

A team led by former Twitter engineers is rethinking how AI can be used to help people process news and information., which entered into private beta over the weekend, is a new startup offering a personalized, “multi-perspective” news reading experience that not only leverages AI to summarize the news, but also aims to do […]

© 2024 TechCrunch. All rights reserved. For personal use only.

YouTube relaxes advertiser-friendly guidelines around controversial topics, like abortion, abuse and eating disorders

YouTube today announced an update to its advertiser-friendly guidelines that relaxes some of its rules around controversial issues, including sexual and domestic abuse, abortions, and eating disorders. The changes will allow YouTube creators to monetize their videos on these topics under some circumstances, though not if they go into graphic detail. YouTube monetization policy lead […]

News aggregator app SmartNews’ latest feature aims to tackle doomscrolling

News aggregator SmartNews is today launching a new feature that it hopes will help to combat the anxiety associated with regularly consuming negative news — something often referred to as “doomscrolling.” Instead of encouraging impulsive scrolling through its headlines, the app’s new feature called SmartTake claims to offer a selection of uplifting stories, editor’s picks, […]

Netflix says its DVD-by-mail customers get to keep their final shipment of discs

Netflix has one final surprise for customers of its 25-year-old DVD-by-mail business (yes, it still exists!) ahead of its September 29th shutdown. They get to keep their last shipment of DVDs without any additional charges for unreturned discs. Earlier this month, the company had offered its remaining customers the chance to receive up to 10 extra discs in their final shipment to have one last binge-fest before the service finally closed down for good.

Customers who opted in before August 29, would receive a selection of random extra discs from their queues. The offer was only available to those in the U.S., however.

The offer was communicated to customers over an email that read:

After 25 years of movies in the mail, we’re approaching the end of our final season. We really appreciate that you’re sharing movie nights with us until the last day. Let’s have some fun for our finale! The “fun” is in seeing just how many discs arrive. Rather than receiving a set amount of extra DVDs, there’s no indication of how many will arrive until they show up in their respective red envelopes. Supplies are limited and the final shipping date for all discs, including these random extras, is September 29.

Several media outlets ran with the news of the surprise extra discs, following Netflix’s announcement, but didn’t make mention of the fact that the discs could be kept.

Now, Netflix has clarified it doesn’t want those DVDs back.

In a post to X (formerly Twitter) last night, Netflix announced it’s not charging for any unreturned discs after September 29. “Please enjoy your final shipments for as long as you like!,” the company instructed.

In other words, customers who opted into receiving the extra discs get to keep them all — along with the red Netflix envelopes that are sure to become a collector’s item at some point, we’d imagine.

Netflix’s DVD service has had an incredible run to have lasted this far into the streaming era.

But in its earlier days, customers weren’t so thrilled when the company tried to break apart its DVD and streaming businesses into two. After creating the brand “Qwikster” for DVDs in 2011, customer backlash ensued and the plan was soon abandoned. Later, Netflix’s then-CEO Reed Hastings admitted that Qwikster became the symbol of Netflix not listening to its customers. Of course, Hastings’ move to break apart the businesses was the correct one, though it came a tad too early for customers’ liking. In 2012, Netflix acquired the domain and then later separated its DVD-by-mail and streaming businesses once again.

That mail-order business held on for years, despite the shift to streaming that became Netflix’s primary focus. This April, Netflix finally announced, 16 years after pivoting to streaming, that the mail-order business would shut down. The business had dropped from $200 million in revenue in 2021 to just half that the following year.

On the company’s blog, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos wrote: “To everyone who ever added a DVD to their queue or waited by the mailbox for a red envelope to arrive: thank you.”

Netflix’s will ship its final discs on September 29, 2023.

If for some reason customers don’t want to keep their final discs, Netflix will accept returns through October 27, 2023.

Callsheet for iOS offers a less cluttered, ad-free alternative to IMDb

If you’ve ever wanted to look up information about a TV show or movie, you likely turn to IMDb to do so. But the Amazon-owned app can be frustrating to use, with prompts to log in, ads, and other clutter that can make it difficult to find what you’re looking for. A new app called Callsheet, launching today, aims to improve on the IMDb experience with a clean design, several quality-of-life improvements, personalized elements and the option to subscribe instead of seeing ads.

As described by its creator, indie app developer Casey Liss, Callsheet is “similar to the IMDB app but… with respect for its users,  he jokes in a blog post.

“I love watching shows and movies, and seeing who acted in them, trivia about them, and more,” Liss told TechCrunch. However, he continued, “The normal app that I used for this has gotten so bad, and user-hostile, over the years. This January it occurred to me, ‘I can do this better.’ So I tried. And, I like to think, I’ve mostly succeeded,” Liss added.

Essentially, Callsheet is a “bespoke” version of IMDb that will appeal to those who prefer a clean, modern, and well-designed experience, we believe — and are willing to pay a small fee for the upgrade.

Like IMDb, you can look up information about a movie or show, including the cast of characters and actors who play them, crew information, release date, rating, summary, score, and more. This data is pulled from The Movie Database. But there are a number of clever touches in Callsheet that improve upon the default IMDb experience.

Image Credits: Callsheet/Casey Liss

As one example, users can choose to customize a “quick access” button that appears next to the title and other information, like runtime and rating. Developer Liss prefers for his button to offer one-tap access for show or movie trivia. But others may choose to customize the button to point toward other resources, like Wikipedia, Where to Watch information, a website, or parental guidance information.

Image Credits: Callsheet/Casey Liss

Under the Where to Watch section, powered by JustWatch, you can toggle between the various options to see where you can stream for free, purchase the title, or what subscription services offer the show or film and in which country.

Image Credits: Callsheet/Casey Liss

Another unique feature lets users toggle on and off various information that could lead to potential spoilers.

Image Credits: Callsheet/Casey Liss

For instance, you can choose to hide the cast episode counts, episode titles, episode thumbnails, and cast character names — the latter something that Liss notes would have been helpful after he spoiled himself on IMDb by looking up Watchmen, where characters had hidden identities.

Hiding cast episode counts would help you from spoiling yourself about possible character deaths, as well.

Image Credits: Callsheet/Casey Liss

You can also pin favorite shows and movies, like those you’re currently watching, to the top of the app’s home screen for easy access. These pins will sync via iCloud across devices, including iPhone and iPad.

The app additionally offers a variety of customization options beyond your spoiler preferences and the Quick Access button, including how you want to sort a TV show’s seasons, whether you want to override your region for the Where to Watch section (helpful if you stream via a VPN to access services outside your country), and your language settings for new and popular media.

In trying out the app, Callsheet is easier to use than IMDb, we found. In part, that’s because The Movie Database’s API for developers is fairly speedy, as Liss notes, but also because the app isn’t filled with so much clutter. That makes it quicker to get to the information you wanted to see, without so much searching around and tapping.

Because the app is ad-free, it’s supported through subscription payments. These are reasonably priced at either $1 per month or $9 per year by default, but Liss offers optional tiers for those who want to support his work further, including a $20 and $50 per year purchase option.

Liss, also a co-host at The Accidental Tech podcast, has previously launched other useful apps like the (since deprecated) Vignette app to update contact photos and other single-purpose utilities such as Maskeraid for adding emoji to cover someone’s face in a photo and Peek-a-View that lets you safely hand your phone to someone to look at your photos without them encountering those they shouldn’t.

Callsheet is available today for download on the App Store and offers your first 20 searches for free. While an iPad version is available, Liss notes that improved iPad support is going to come ASAP.

Is Black news VC backable?

Lately I’ve been thinking about media publishing startups (think Semafor and Puck) and their fundraising rounds.

Semafor recently raised a $44 million seed round, and Puck raised a $7 million Series A in 2021. The Messenger, among the newest in the industry, recently raised $50 million. Publishing media jobs are uncertain, pushing those with an entrepreneurial spirit to start their own companies, giving them more ownership over their work. But compare their experience to that of Dana Amihere, who is still trying to find support and funding for her news media startup.

She launched AfroLA News in 2022 to cover the Black community in Los Angeles. So far, she won’t even touch venture capital. The outlook is bleak for people who look like her, she said. People in the startup world keep telling her things are getting better, but “Who are things improving for?” she asked.

“Knowing what the landscape looks like, it almost feels more worthwhile to dedicate the limited time I do have to other things,” she told TechCrunch+. “I don’t think backing Black news outlets is seen as inherently risky. Rather, I think it’s not seen [at all]. Investors don’t see it as a viable or worthwhile investment unless it’s splashy or fits their idea of what Black news should be.”

Part of the problem is that the pool of investors who like investing in media, specifically publishing, is already small. The industry is risky, and not in the startup sense where one might strike big returns one day. Last year the media sector raised a healthy $15 billion, according to PitchBook; within that, publishing raised just $298 million.

Charles Hudson, a managing partner at Precursor Ventures who invests in new media, said that the funding landscape for most media companies, B2B or B2C, is limited when it comes to venture. “What dollars do get invested tend to go to categories that feel big, like national news, industry-specific vertical pubs like Skift or The Information or B2B media companies,” he told TechCrunch+.

Audio journalism app Curio can now create personalized episodes using AI

Curio, a startup building a platform that turns expert journalism into professionally narrated content, is embracing AI technology to create customized audio episodes, based on your prompts. The company today already has a large catalog of high-quality journalism licensed from partners like The Wall St. Journal, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, New York Magainze, and others, which it leveraged to train its AI model, powered by OpenAI technologies. This allows Curio users to now ask its new AI helper, “Rio,” a question they want to learn more about, then have it return a bespoke audio episode that includes only fact-checked content — not AI “hallucinations.”

The company is also today announcing an additional strategic investment from the head of TED, Chris Anderson, a prior investor in Curio’s Series A round. Ahead of this, Curio had raised over $15 million from investors including Earlybird, Draper Esprit, Cherry Ventures, Horizons Ventures, 500 Startups, and others.

Anderson’s new contribution amount is not being disclosed, but Curio says he’s a “significant investor.”

Founded in 2016 by ex-BBC strategist Govind Balakrishnan and London lawyer Srikant Chakravarti, Curio’s original concept was to offer a subscription-based service that provides access to a curated library of journalism translated into audio. To do so, the company partnered with dozens of media organizations to license their content, which is then narrated by voice actors and added to the Curio app. The experience is an improvement over the news audio offerings provided by services like Pocket, where users save articles to listen to later, as Curio’s content is read by real people, not robotic-sounding AI voices.

With the addition of its AI feature, Curio is now able to curate custom audio as well, on top of its hand-picked selection of audio journalism. The company believes this could become a powerful use case for AI at a time when there are legitimate concerns about AI chatbots providing false information or making up facts when they don’t know how to generate the right answer — something that’s called a “hallucination.” Already, we’ve seen falsehoods provided by AI chatbots when both Google and Microsoft demonstrated their new AI search tools, for instance.

Curio’s AI, on the other hand, won’t return anything it “makes” up, as it’s combining audio clips from across its catalog in response to users’ queries, effectively creating mini podcast episodes that allow you to explore a topic through quality, fact-checked journalism.

The company suggests you could use the AI feature via prompts like, “tell me about the possibility of peace in Ukraine,” “what is the future of food?,” “tell me about the U.S. debt ceiling,” “tell me why Vermeer is so great,” or “I have 40 minutes, update me on AI,” for example.

Image Credits: Curio screenshot on web

However, the AI can’t return information on breaking news, as it takes time for it to translate news articles into narrated audio. But could be used to explore various topics in more detail.

“We are trying to create from, a technical perspective, an AI that doesn’t hallucinate,” explains Curio’s Chief Marketing Officer, Gastón Tourn. “And the second thing that is interesting is this idea of unlocking knowledge from journalism — from news — because when you ask questions, it actually also proposes articles from, maybe from a few years ago, but they’re still super relevant to what’s going on right now.”

In addition to the media brands mentioned above, Curio also has relationships with The Economist, FT, WIRED, Vox, Vulture, Scientific American, Fast Company, Salon, Aeon, Bloomberg Businessweek, Foreign Policy, The Cut, and others — in total, over 30 publications are supported. (The New York Times, we should note, is not one of them. And the company launched its own audio journalism app today, as it turns out.)

To get started with the new Curio AI, you’ll type your question or prompt into the box provided, as if you were interacting with an AI chatbot, like ChatGPT. (Curio relies on OpenAI’s GPT 3.5 model, we understand.) This feature is available both on the web and in Curio’s mobile apps.

To create the personalized audio episode for you, Curio crunches through over 5,000 hours of audio, but this all takes just a few moments of processing from the user’s perspective. This results in a custom audio episode that includes an introduction along with two articles from Curio’s publications.

Curio itself is a premium subscription service priced at $24.99 per month (or $14.99/mo if paying for a year upfront). However, the AI feature is free to use, for the time being. The company says that’s because it wants to get “Rio” into the hands of as many people as possible, so it can learn. For instance, it’s looking to understand what length users prefer for these personalized episodes, though right now it’s leaning toward shorter articles.

Later, Curio may add more features — like the ability to share your episodes with others or get suggestions based on what other users are asking about.

“We don’t see AI as a curation tool,” notes Tourn. “We see it more as a discovery tool. We think what AI does is unearth content that is super interesting and finds ways to relate to it, but the curation is still human and the voices are still human.”

The company today has a smaller customer base of over a thousand subscribers, and a million-plus app downloads, but the AI addition may prompt the app to gain more traction as users explore this unique use case for AI.

Audio journalism app Curio can now create personalized episodes using AI by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

After a 29-year run, Vice files for bankruptcy

Vice was valued at $5.7 billion just six years ago, eyeing a potential IPO. Now, the trendsetting media company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The company’s lenders — Fortress Investment Group, Soros Fund Management and Monroe Capital — have agreed to purchase the company for $225 million. That’s only about 4% of the company’s 2017 valuation. Vice also has the right to sell to a higher bidder.

“This accelerated court-supervised sale process will strengthen the company and position VICE for long-term growth,” said Bruce Dixon and Hozefa Lokhandwala, VICE’s co-CEOs, in a press release. “We will have new ownership, a simplified capital structure and the ability to operate without the legacy liabilities that have been burdening our business.”

This unfortunate turn of events for Vice has only darkened the storm cloud over the digital media industry. In the last month alone, the Pulitzer Prize-winning BuzzFeed News was shuttered as part of layoffs that impacted 15% of the company. MTV News was also just shut down as part of cuts that impacted 25% of workers at its parent company, Paramount. As for Vice itself, the company recently cancelled its TV program, “Vice News Tonight,” as well as verticals like Vice World News, Vice Audio and Waypoint.

Vice’s financial issues are not a pure reflection of the media business at large, though. A combination of bad management choices in the “pivot-to-video” era, as well as the company’s overall “boy’s club” work environment, created a perfect storm for the Vice’s decline. The company made severe managerial missteps and allegedly fostered a culture of sexual harassment. When these allegations were made public, founder and CEO Shane Smith stepped down, though he claimed to not know that president Andrew Creighton reportedly paid off an employee to settle a sexual harassment claim; Smith’s successor, Nancy Dubuc, stepped down abruptly this February amid the company’s financial turmoil. Meanwhile, Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, who left the company in 2008, went on to start the Proud Boys, a far-right group.

According to Vice’s financial reporting, the company has about $834 million in debt. During the sale process — which the company believes will take a few months — Vice will have access to more than $20 million in financing from its lenders to continue operations.

After a 29-year run, Vice files for bankruptcy by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

Austin Russell became the youngest self-made billionaire in 2021; now he owns Forbes

Austin Russell is on quite a run.

The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, which develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technologies primarily for self-driving cars, told the Wall Street Journal earlier today that he is buying an 82% stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings in a deal that values the company at nearly $800 million.

According to the WSJ, Russell’s stake includes the remaining portion of the company owned by its namesake family, which sold 95% of the company to the Hong Kong-based investor group Integrated Whale Media back in 2014. Forbes was essentially on sale from the moment it called off its merger with a special-purpose acquisition company in June of last year, after the market soured and investors lost their appetite for SPACs.

Luminar itself had better timing; it went public via a SPAC merger in 2021 when retail investors were still clamoring for shares in mobility tech companies. By the time Forbes was calling off its own SPAC plans, nearly every mobility SPAC was trading below its offering price.

Luminar has not been immune to the broader downturn. Valued at $3.4 billion when it hit Wall Street, its market cap is now roughly $2 billion.

It just three days ago reported slightly wider than expected losses.

Some retail investors might not be so happy about its performance. However, Russell told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he had no regrets about the SPAC maneuver, given the capital that Luminar secured through the process, money that would not have been available otherwise as private market investors began to snap shut their checkbooks.

Longer-term shareholders in Luminar may meanwhile find it concerning that Russell, described by Forbes itself in 2021 as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, will soon be directing some of his attention elsewhere, even while it has become both fashionable to run more than one company simultaneously (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey), as well as to be a billionaire with a media company to call one’s own (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Patrick Soon-Shiong, Marc Benioff).

They may also find it confusing. Certainly, they wouldn’t be alone in questioning the wisdom of buying a media company when so many outfits are fighting to stay relevant amid an atomizing landscape and when advertising budgets have been hit hard by an accelerating pullback by advertisers.

Then again, Russell has been focused on Luminar since 2012, when he dropped out of Stanford to start the company, aided by a $100,000 grant from renowned investor Peter Thiel. (The Thiel Fellowship program, founded in 2011, continues to give $100,000 to select students who are eager to spend two years on their idea instead of “sitting in a classroom.”)

Russell has enjoyed the fruits of his work in the ensuing years. He purchased an $83 million Los Angeles spread in 2021 that has since been featured in the hit show “Succession.” He also reportedly paid another $10.6 million for a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Winter Park, Florida, near Luminar’s Orlando headquarters.

But after spending his entire career focused on Luminar, he could well be looking to expand on how he invests his time.

As Y Combinator Paul Graham once said, as he expressed his distaste in funding founders who are especially young, sometimes the worse thing that can happen to a person is that his or her startup succeeds straightaway.

“[I]f you start a successful startup, like, the footloose and fancy-free days of your life are over. You’re working for that company.”

In a statement to the WSJ, Russell said simply: “Forbes is something I had always looked up to as a brand and as a media empire.” He also told the outlet that he doesn’t plan to get involved in Forbes’s day-to-day operations but that he wants to both grow the outfit and emphasize “philanthropy” within the business.

TechCrunch reached out to Russell a bit ago; we hope to have more insight into this move soon.

Austin Russell became the youngest self-made billionaire in 2021; now he owns Forbes by Connie Loizos originally published on TechCrunch