33% of U.S. TikTok users say they regularly get their news on the app, up from 22% in 2020

Earlier this summer, a Google exec admitted that TikTok was eating into its core Search business, particularly among younger users. But that’s not all TikTok is now being used for, a new Pew Research Center study indicates. According to the findings from a report that examined Americans’ use of social media for news consumption, 33% of TikTok users now say they regularly get their news on the social video app, up from just 22% in 2020.

Meanwhile, nearly every other social media site saw declines across that same metric — including, in particular, Facebook, where now only 44% of its users report regularly getting their news there, down from 54% just two years ago.

Image Credits: Pew Research

This data suggests TikTok has grown from being just an entertainment platform for lip syncs, dances, and comedy to one that many of its users turn to in order to learn about what’s happening in their world.

That may raise concerns, given TikTok’s connections to China — a topic it was recently pressed to clarify in a Senate hearing focused on national security. The hearing had followed the release of a BuzzFeed News report that had discovered how China-based ByteDance employees had been regularly accessing TikTok’s U.S. users’ private data.

If TikTok were to become one of the primary ways younger people in the U.S. learned about news and current events, then the app could potentially provide a channel for a foreign power to influence those users’ beliefs with subtle tweaks to its algorithm.

For the time being, however, TikTok is not a primary source of news consumption across social media — that honor still resides with Facebook.

Pew found that 31% of U.S. adults report regularly getting their news from Facebook, which is higher than the 25% who get their news from YouTube, the 14% who get it from Twitter, or the13% who get it from Instagram.

TikTok was in fifth place by this ranking, as only 10% of U.S. adults said they regularly get their news on the video app. (Of course, when TikTok’s sizable user base of those under the age of 18 grows up, these metrics could quickly change.)

LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), Nextdoor (4%), WhatsApp (3%) and Twitch (1%) were much smaller sources of news among Americans, the study also found.

Image Credits: Pew Research

In addition, Pew somewhat backed up Google’s assertion that it was losing traction to TikTok and other social media apps, as it noted that the percentage of U.S. adults who got their news via web search had dropped from 23% in 2020 to 18% in 2022.

But it didn’t necessarily point to TikTok or any other social platform as gaining, as the percentage of adults using social media of any sort for news consumption dropped from 23% to 17% between 2020 and 2022, as did other forms of news consumption like news websites and apps.

Image Credits: Pew Research

It’s not clear that any single platform is benefiting from these declines, as Pew didn’t uncover a shift from digital news sources to others, such as TV, print or radio — all those saw declines in news consumption as well.

Image Credits: Pew Research

Still, digital devices continue to outpace TV, Pew said, as the latter has seen its usage drop as a source for news consumption from 40% in 2020 to 31% in 2022.

Plus, when asked about preferences, more Americans (53%) said they would rather get their news digitally than on TV (33%), radio (7%), or print (5%) — an answer that’s stayed consistent since 2020.

33% of U.S. TikTok users say they regularly get their news on the app, up from 22% in 2020 by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Kim Kardashian becomes a private equity dealmaker in collab with ex-Carlyle partner

America’s favorite reality star is leveling up her repertoire and levering up businesses. Kim Kardashian, who passed the “baby bar” exam in preparation to become a lawyer last year, just added another job title to her lineup — private equity investor.

Kardashian is launching private equity firm SKKY Partners in conjunction with ex-Carlyle consumer head Jay Sammons to invest in business across consumer products, hospitality, luxury, digital commerce and media, The Wall Street Journal first reported. SKKY will take both control and minority stakes in its target companies, according to the Journal.

Sammons, who left Carlyle this summer after spending 16+ years at the top private equity firm, is known for his bets on brands including Supreme and Beats by Dre. A longtime friend of the Kardashians, Sammons apparently approached Kardashian and her mom-ager, Kris Jenner, with the idea to start the business. Jenner will be joining SKKY as a partner, the Journal reported.

Sammons plans to oversee the firm’s daily operations from Boston, where he lives, while SKKY’s second office will be in Kardashian’s hometown of Los Angeles. Kardashian told the Journal that the firm is aiming to make its first investment before the end of 2022 and plans to go out to institutional investors to raise capital shortly. Neither Sammons nor Kardashian shared any details on the expected fund size they hope to raise.

Kardashian is the latest celebrity to make inroads in the world of private capital management, following tennis sensation Serena Williams’ pivot to working full-time in venture capital last month. For Kardashian, though, private equity is just another side hustle rather than her main area of focus, at least for now.

Kardashian’s foray into launching an undergarment and loungewear brand, Skims, made her a billionaire — the business was most recently valued at $3.2 billion with her stake at over $1 billion. She also launched a nine-product skincare line this year in collaboration with consumer conglomerate Coty, an investor in her beauty company, and announced earlier this week that she is debuting her own true crime podcast called “The System” in a cover story with Interview Magazine. 

Kim Kardashian becomes a private equity dealmaker in collab with ex-Carlyle partner by Anita Ramaswamy originally published on TechCrunch

Google blocks Truth Social from the Play Store — Will Apple be next?

Google’s decision to block the Truth Social app’s launch on the Play Store over content moderation issues raises the question as to why Apple hasn’t taken similar action over the iOS version of the app that’s been live on the App Store since February. According to a report by Axios, Google found numerous posts that violated its Play Store content policies, blocking the app’s path to go live on its platform. But some of these same types of posts appear to be available on the iOS app, TechCrunch found.

This could trigger a re-review of Truth Social’s iOS app at some point, as both Apple’s and Google’s policies are largely aligned in terms of how apps with user-generated content must moderate their content.

Axios this week first reported Google’s decision to block the distribution of the Truth Social app on its platform, following an interview given by the app’s CEO, Devin Nunes. The former Congressman and member of Trump’s transition team, now social media CEO, suggested that the holdup with the app’s Android release was on Google’s side, saying, “We’re waiting on them to approve us, and I don’t know what’s taking so long.”

But this was a mischaracterization of the situation, Google said. After Google reviewed Truth Social’s latest submission to the Play Store, it found multiple policy violations, which it informed Truth Social about on August 19. Google also informed Truth Social as to how those problems could be addressed in order to gain entry into the Play Store, the company noted.

“Last week, Truth Social wrote back acknowledging our feedback and saying that they are working on addressing these issues,” a Google spokesperson shared in a statement. This communication between the parties was a week ahead of Nunes’s interview where he implied the ball was now in Google’s court. (The subtext to his comments, of course, was that conservative media was being censored by Big Tech once again.)

The issue at hand here stems from Google’s policy for apps that feature user-generated content, or UGC. According to this policy, apps of this nature must implement “robust, effective and ongoing UGC moderation, as it reasonable and consistent with the type of UGC hosted by the app.” Truth Social’s moderation, however, is not robust. The company has publicly said it relies on an automated A.I. moderation system, Hive, which is used to detect and censor content that violates its own policies. On its website, Truth Social notes that human moderators “oversee” the moderation process, suggesting that it uses an industry-standard blend of AI and human moderation. (Of note, the app store intelligence firm Apptopia told TechCrunch the Truth Social mobile app is not using the Hive AI. But it says the implementation could be server-side, which would be beyond the scope of what it can see.)

Truth Social’s use of A.I.-powered moderation doesn’t necessarily mean the system is sufficient to bring it into compliance with Google’s own policies. The quality of AI detection systems varies and those systems ultimately enforce a set of rules that a company itself decides to implement. According to Google, several Truth Social posts it encountered contained physical threats and incitements to violence — areas the Play Store policy prohibits.

Image Credits: Truth Social’s Play Store listing

We understand Google specifically pointed to the language in its User Generated Content policy and Inappropriate Content policy when making its determination about Truth Social. These policies include the following requirements:

Apps that contain or feature UGC must:

  • require that users accept the app’s terms of use and/or user policy before users can create or upload UGC;
  • define objectionable content and behaviors (in a way that complies with Play’s Developer Program Policies), and prohibit them in the app’s terms of use or user policies;
  • implement robust, effective and ongoing UGC moderation, as is reasonable and consistent with the type of UGC hosted by the app

and

  • Hate Speech – We don’t allow apps that promote violence, or incite hatred against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, caste, immigration status, or any other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization.
  • Violence – We don’t allow apps that depict or facilitate gratuitous violence or other dangerous activities.
  • Terrorist Content – We don’t allow apps with content related to terrorism, such as content that promotes terrorist acts, incites violence, or celebrates terrorist attacks.

And while users may be able to initially post such content — no system is perfect — an app with user-generated content like Truth Social (or Facebook or Twitter, for that matter) would need to be able to take down those posts in a timely fashion in order to be considered in compliance.

In the interim, the Truth Social app is not technically “banned” from Google Play — in fact, Truth Social is still listed for pre-order today, as Nunes also pointed out. It could still make changes to come into compliance, or it could choose another means of distribution.

Unlike on iOS devices, Android apps can be sideloaded or submitted to third-party app stores like those run by Amazon, Samsung, and others. Or, Truth Social could opt to do what the conservative social media app Parler did after its suspensions from the app stores last year. While Parler chose to make adjustments in order to return to Apple’s App Store, it now distributes the Android version of its app directly from its website — not the Play Store.

While Truth Social decides its course for Android, an examination of posts on Truth Social’s iOS version revealed a range of anti-semitic content, including Holocaust denial, as well as posts promoting the hanging of public officials and others (including those in the LGBTQ+ community), posts advocating for civil war, posts in support of white supremacy, and many other categories that would seem to be in violation of Apple’s own policies around objectionable content and UGC apps. Few were behind a moderation screen.

It’s not clear why Apple has not taken action against Truth Social, as the company hasn’t commented. One possibility is that, at the time of Truth Social’s original submission to Apple’s App Store, the brand-new app had very little content for an App Review team to parse, so didn’t have any violative content to flag. Truth Social does use content filtering screens on iOS to hide some posts behind a click-through warning, but TechCrunch found the use of those screens to be haphazard. While the content screens obscured some posts that appeared to break the app’s rules, the screens also obscured many posts that did not contain objectionable content.

Assuming Apple takes no action, Truth Social would not be the first app to grow out of the pro-Trump online ecosystem and find a home on the App Store. A number of other apps designed to lure the political right with lofty promises about an absence of censorship have also obtained a green light from Apple.

Social networks Gettr and Parler and video sharing app Rumble all court roughly the same audience with similar claims of “hands off” moderation and are available for download on the App Store. Gettr and Rumble are both available on the Google Play Store, but Google removed Parler in January 2021 for inciting violence related to the Capitol attack and has not reinstated it since.

All three apps have ties to Trump. Gettr was created by former Trump advisor Jason Miller, while Parler launched with the financial blessing of major Trump donor Rebekah Mercer, who took a more active role in steering the company after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Late last year, Rumble struck a content deal with former President Trump’s media company, Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), to provide video content for Truth Social.

Many social networks were implicated in the Jan. 6 attack — both mainstream social networks and apps explicitly catering to Trump supporters. On Facebook, election conspiracy theorists flocked to popular groups and organized openly around hashtags including #RiggedElection and #ElectionFraud. Parler users featured prominently among the rioters who rushed into the U.S. Capitol, and Gizmodo identified some of those users through GPS metadata attached to their video posts

Today, Truth Social is a haven for political groups and individuals that were ousted from mainstream platforms over concerns that they might incite violence. Former President Trump, who founded the app, is the most prominent among deplatformed figure to set up shop there, but Truth Social also offers a refuge to QAnon, a cult-like political conspiracy theory that has been explicitly barred from mainstream social networks like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook due to its association with acts of violence.

Over the last few years alone, that includes a California father who said he shot his two children with a speargun due to his belief in QAnon delusions, a New York man who killed a mob boss and appeared with a “Q” written on his palm in court and various incidents of domestic terrorism that preceded the Capitol attack. In late 2020, Facebook and YouTube both tightened their platform rules to clean up QAnon content after years of allowing it to flourish. In January 2021, Twitter alone cracked down on a network of more than 70,000 accounts sharing QAnon-related content, with other social networks following suit and taking the threat seriously in light of the Capitol attack.

A report released this week by media watchdog NewsGuard details how the QAnon movement is alive and well on Truth Social, where a number of verified accounts continue to promote the conspiracy theory. Former President Trump, Truth Social CEO and former House representative Devin Nunes and Patrick Orlando, CEO of Truth Social’s financial backer Digital World Acquisition Corporation (DWAC) have all promoted QAnon content in recent months.

Earlier this week, former President Trump launched a blitz of posts explicitly promoting QAnon, openly citing the conspiracy theory linked to violence and domestic terrorism rather than relying on coded language to speak to its supporters as he has in the past. That escalation paired with the ongoing federal investigation into Trump’s alleged mishandling of high stakes classified information — a situation that’s already inspired real-world violence — raises the stakes on a social app where the former president is able to openly communicate to his followers in real-time.

That Google would take a preemptive action to keep Truth Social from the Play Store while Apple is, so far, allowing it to operate is an interesting shift in the two tech giant’s policies over app store moderation and policing. Historically, Apple has taken a heavier hand in App Store moderation — culling apps that weren’t up to standards, poorly designed, too adult, too spammy, or even just operating in a gray area that Apple later decides now needs enforcement. Why Apple is hands-off in this particular instance isn’t clear, but the company has come under intense federal scrutiny in recent months over its interventionist approach to the lucrative app marketplace.

 

Jack Dorsey says his biggest regret is that Twitter was a company at all

Jack Dorsey might be out of the picture at Twitter these days, but he’s still waxing philosophical about the company. In a reply to a tweet asking about his biggest regrets (paired with, sigh, anecdotal claims about political bias on the platform) the company’s co-founder and former CEO offered the grand observation that he wishes the company had never existed at all.

“The biggest issue and my biggest regret is that it became a company,” Dorsey tweeted.

If you’ve not heard Dorsey on one before, the idea that Twitter should never have been a company might sound strange. But he doesn’t really mean that the project should have never existed, more that if he could rewrite history he would have (supposedly) steered Twitter toward being a protocol, not a company. “[I] don’t believe any individual or institutions should own social media, or more generally media companies,” Dorsey tweeted back in April. “It should be an open and verifiable protocol. Everything is a step toward that.”

Of course, Dorsey made absolute bank when Twitter went public in 2013, but tech billionaires always do seem to have these hypothetical regrets, don’t they? (To Dorsey’s credit, at least he’s doing something worthwhile with a big chunk of that cash.)

Replying to a more reasonable follow-up question from Jane Manchun Wong, Dorsey reiterated that he wishes Twitter had become an open protocol, not a company. The company has certainly struggled to please investors, chart a growth course and even offer a definition of what exactly its mission is over the years, in spite of becoming a real-time utility for disseminating information that many people, world leaders among them, deem essential.

Is it Monday morning quarterbacking if you’re criticizing your own decisions, years after making a fortune from those same decisions? Whatever it is probably isn’t very productive, but nonetheless Twitter’s beardy esoteric guru continues to tweet through it, even as everybody else left at Twitter navigates the company’s most tumultuous phase yet.

Dorsey’s dream isn’t dead though, it’s just more likely to be realized through a project parallel to Twitter proper. Even with the little blue bird stuck on Elon Musk’s self-driving rollercoaster, Twitter’s open-source spinoff Bluesky is still working toward the dream of decentralization, and its plans for a totally open social networking protocol appear to remain intact amidst the chaos.

In spite of his lofty ideals, Dorsey threw his weight behind Musk’s acquisition bid earlier this year. But if @jack values transparency and an open environment for the social platform he co-created above all, a tech executive infamous for making misleading claims, concealing company data and flinging NDAs around is a strange person to buddy up with, to say the least. Of course, Dorsey stands to make many hundreds of millions from the deal if it closes, though all of that is very much up in the air as Musk and Twitter head to court in October.

Mad Realities’ Devin Lewtan is onboarding crypto users through reality television

Web3 doesn’t have the most inclusive reputation, yet so many crypto founders talk about onboarding the next 100 million users into the space. Statistically speaking, the next 100 million can’t possibly be comprised entirely of a homogenous group of cis white men who spend most of their waking hours coding and/or day trading (no shade, just pointing out a fact)!

This week on Chain Reaction, I interviewed Devin Lewtan, a twentysomething founder who seems to have found the secret sauce when it comes to bringing web3 to new audiences.

Her NYC-based media company, Mad Realities, just debuted its first season of “Proof of Love,” a reality TV show focused on dating that allows viewers to engage with the plot and vote on key decisions through NFTs. This April, Mad Realities raised $6 million in a seed round from investors including crypto VC firm Paradigm and socialite Paris Hilton to build a platform they hope will become the ‘Netflix of web3.’ You can listen to the full interview with Devin below.

“We think the thing that’s going to bring the next 100 million people into crypto is going to be content, because it’s intuitive. It’s a real consumer use case,” Lewtan said on the podcast.

Lewtan, who catapulted into tech world fame when she co-released the viral Clubhouse show “NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys” during the height of the pandemic, first got interested in NFTs when started chatting with her friend and now-cofounder Alice Ma about how crypto could help change the way media is funded.

“We put out a blog post basically saying, what would it look like if we put on this dating show where people minted our NFTs and they could vote on who made it into the show, what happens and who wins and get fun, special, governance perks based on the tier that they bought,” Lewtan said.

Shortly after the Mad Realities team released its first blog post in November, they had raised the equivalent of ~$500k USD worth of ethereum to finance production. In a matter of just a few months, they had whipped up a five-week, interactive show filmed in person in New York City.

The audience for the first season, which wrapped up in April this year, was ~65% female and comprised mainly of people who were just there for the entertainment value of the show at first rather than for its connection to web3, Lewtan said.

Mad Realities CEO and cofounder Devin Lewtan

Mad Realities CEO and cofounder Devin Lewtan Image Credits: Provided by Devin Lewtan

Once audience members saw the perks and voting rights afforded to Mad Realities NFT holders, called “roseholders” in a nod to “The Bachelor” franchise, they were intrigued.

“They were able to say to their friends, I’m pretty sure that these roseholders that keep appearing are people who bought NFTs, and those NF T’s let them vote on things, and then the money from the NFTs funded the show. And then they’re like, that actually makes sense to me, more than most projects in the space … that’s not really like the scammy type of use case that I think about with NFTs,” Lewtan said.

As for what’s next, Lewtan said the next season of “Proof of Love” launching this fall will inform the startup as it crafts a broader vision for what a web3 media platform could look like. They are experimenting with ideas such as bringing other content creators onto the Mad Realities platform and helping them launch their own NFT projects for their audiences, she added.

Above all, Lewtan emphasized the importance of keeping user-friendliness top of mind while building the product.

“One of the things that we’re focusing on now as we build out our app is that it’s important that [creating a crypto wallet] is not one of the steps in the process. You should just be able to create an account and not think about the fact that it’s connected to a wallet,” Lewtan said.

“A wallet is compatible, but if you sign up, you should be able to have an NFT in your wallet and your app and not even think about it … So a lot of the stuff that we’re focusing on is, what is the experience like to be so user friendly and mobile-first where it doesn’t even feel like it’s a crypto product?”

Yandex’s sale of media assets to VK includes yandex.ru homepage

Russian search giant Yandex has finalized the sale of its two flagship media properties to local rival VK, owner of the eponymous social network.

The deal to sell the products, Yandex’s algorithmically sorted news aggregator (News) and blogging recommender platform (Zen), was inked back in April. But today’s binding agreement goes further than that — also including the sale of the main page, Yandex.ru, which integrates content from News and Zen into the search page, turning it into a information-rich (critics say disinformation-rich) portal by featuring a number of infinite-scroll content feeds.

This means that, once the sale completes, visitors browsing to Yandex.ru will be redirected to a renamed version of the page, dzen.ru — which will be controlled and developed by VK, the incoming owner of Yandex’s two media products.

We also understand the VK version of the Yandex.ru portal will still feature Yandex’s search service — but just as a standard iframe integration (meaning it will not get access to search data). So for regular users of Yandex.ru the only immediately obvious sign of the change of ownership will be the redirected URL.

As we reported in June, Yandex has been signalling a looming shift of focus to an alternative local homepage, ya.ru — a bare-bones search portal it has owned for decades alongside the denser Yandex.ru page, where news content dominates the experience. The latter portal has, increasingly, become a major reputational headache for a business that prefers to claim it’s just a neutral tech firm so it’s easy to see the attraction for Yandex of switching to a plain, search-focused homepage.

“The Board and management of Yandex have concluded that the interests of the company’s shareholders, including its Class A shareholders, are best served by pursing the strategic exit from its media business (other than entertainment streaming) and shifting focus on other technologies and services, including search, advertising, online-to-offline transactional businesses and a number of b2b technology businesses, among others,” the company wrote in a press release today.

“The Board of Directors has approved the transaction. In line with this strategic focus, ya.ru will become Yandex’s main page and the key entry point into Search, Mail and other non-media services,” it added — saying the core service for the new main page, and for a new Android application it’s launching focused on its AI assistant tech, called Yandex with Alice, will be its search engine.

“Upon the completion of the transaction, Yandex’s current main application for Android will change its name to Yandex Start. It will then function as a browser and users will be able to choose the start page in their settings. The Yandex app for iOS will continue to work as before but without Zen and News.

“Following the completion of the transaction, the current main page with News and Zen will be renamed dzen.ru and will be further developed and controlled by VK (including control over the look and feel, content etc). The related News and Zen brands and technologies will also be transferred to VK.”

A source close to the matter told TechCrunch the sale of the content services has become “a strategic priority” for Yandex since the outbreak of war in Ukraine which has led to a sharp rise in censorship by the Russia state. “It has become very difficult to remain independent in the presence of services such as News and Zen,” they suggested.

Yandex has faced trenchant criticism over the role of its platforms in spreading and amplifying state propaganda from the likes of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny — who, in one public attack earlier this year, accused the company of “a solid shameless lie” in claiming to display ‘news’ on its homepage, given how its News feed amplifies state propaganda.

A number of senior Yandex execs have also been sanctioned by the EU — although the company itself has, so far, evaded formal sanction.

Whether selling off the two main online content conduits that the Kremlin has, through a regime of tightening media licensing and regulation, been able to appropriate to amplify its talking points will deliver the sought for reboot of Yandex’s reputation remains to be seen.

The price to Yandex for the media exit looks high as it’s essentially losing the ability to use its own trademarked brand name locally by handing control of the Russian portal (and all the traffic it generates) to VK, a Kremlin-linked rival — which only looks set to deepen the state’s take-over of the digital info-sphere in the country.

In return, Yandex is acquiring 100% of VK-owned food delivery service, Delivery Club “as sole consideration for these assets”, as its press release puts it — confirming there is no monetary payment attached to the transaction. (And on-demand delivery is hardly a poster-child for post-pandemic success, with meal delivery platforms hit by shrinking consumer demand as the global economic downturn and inflationary pressures bite.)

“Delivery Club, the leading food and grocery delivery service in Russia, will become a part of Yandex’s Ecommerce, Mobility and Delivery segment,” said Yandex. “Following the completion of the transaction, users will be able to continue to use both Yandex Eats and Delivery Club apps, while couriers, working with Delivery Club, will join the Yandex Pro technological platform. Yandex intends to maintain the Delivery Club brand.”

The sale of Yandex’s media properties still needs regulatory approval to complete — with the company noting it is subject to anti-monopoly approval in Russia but adding that it expects the transaction to close in “the coming months”.

“We couldn’t get rid of News and Zen any other way,” our source close to the matter told us, suggesting that a requirement for the Kremlin to approve major business changes has limited Yandex’s options.

Back in 2019, the Russian firm agreed to a corporate restructuring that increased Kremlin control over the business by granting a veto over key company decisions (including around IP) to a body with close government ties.

“This was actually the only way we can focus on tech. We have lots of people working at Yandex. We didn’t want the company to close,” the source added. “This decision was very hard for us to make but there wasn’t any other way to manage that.”

Early this year, in an interview with TechCrunch, Yandex’s former deputy CTO, Grigory Bakunov, told us the company’s leadership was naive to the risk of a Kremlin takeover of the algorithmically driven content-sorting technologies they were developing — and its execs passed up earlier chances to pro-actively shutter products that the state was able, through a combination of legislation, regulation/licensing and by installing state supporters on Yandex’s board, to ‘virtually takeover’ by 2017 (with the passing of a law requiring news aggregators to only use state-approved sites as news sources).

The strange prospect of a local Internet giant passing off its own brand-named search portal — and all the traffic it attracts — to a rival is just the latest ‘through-the-looking-glass’ moment for the Russian Internet since the Kremlin took the decision to invade its neighbor. In another example earlier this summer, Yandex opted to erase national borders from its Maps app in a bid to circumvent political pressure over where the software was drawing frontiers in Ukraine.

Tighter Kremlin regulation of search services inside Russia could yet bring more such painful passes to Yandex.

New media venture in India helping readers discern signal from noise

An Indian upstart, co-founded by a group of journalists, that seeks to disrupt how people follow news and what they consume has raised capital as it prepares to accelerate its growth and broaden its offering.

The Signal is aiming to serve a need for the modern pace of life where everybody is busy, said Dinesh Narayanan, its co-founder and editor in an interview. “People still want to keep up with what’s happening in the world. They can read newspapers or multiple news outlets, but obviously they don’t have time to do it,” he said.

The Noida-headquartered startup has been attempting to solve this with an eponymous newsletter and podcast where it curates, produces and discusses what they argue are the most important developments from the world of business, technology, economy and policy.

The newsletter, which goes out six times a week, features nearly a dozen stories in each edition and deep dives into two to three major stories, offering additional context and commentary from a team of journalists who have previously worked at newsrooms including The Economic Times, The Quint, YourStory, The Morning Context and Reuters.

Signal says it is aiming to serve savvy audiences in India and beyond. It has amassed over 38,000 subscribers, a base that includes several unicorn founders, lawmakers and policy executives. Its newsletter goes out at 8 AM and requires just five to seven minutes of reader time, said Narayanan.

The startup, which plans to expand its coverage into more areas including sports and launch newer products, isn’t currently charging its readers and listeners. Instead, most newsletters are currently backed by big name sponsors. Narayanan argued that a sponsor-backed model is the more sustainable way to monetize a news product in the country.

“Everybody talks about this total addressable market, right? Nobody really knows what exactly it is today because you have a population of probably about 150-200 million people who can afford to pay. There are so many avenues available to people which is giving them free news. It is a very small sliver of the audience which would actually pay,” he said.

“So some of them would be paying because it’s good journalism, some of them would be paying because they give exactly the amount of news which they want, some of them would be paying for the depth of content. I think the existing players are already competing for this rather small pie.”

Each Saturday, Signal publishes original stories in a newsletter called The Intersection.

The Signal, whose most other founding members including Venkat Ananth and Patanjali Pahwa are also journalists, is the latest independent media venture in the South Asian nation, which is the one of the world’s largest news markets. The founding team also includes ex-Google India public policy official Rajneil Kamath and Chinmay Bhogle, formerly of Times Internet, Star Sports and Tata Motors.

Several journalists in the country have left their influential jobs at top media houses in recent years to build something of their own as they grow frustrated at attempting to bring systemic changes to the way legacy outlets work – or take inspiration from a similar flow in the U.S., where journalists have traditionally shown more entrepreneurial instincts.

But unlike the U.S. and the UK, where several media venture founders have made successful exits, India is yet to demonstrate any.

At the end of the day, the future of the Signal depends on the purchasing power per capita of the nation, Narayanan said. As the “purchasing power increases and the consumption patterns change, purely on that basis … exits and the size of exits are a function of that. It’s a business. Yeah, so it is definitely tied to the fortunes of the country as a whole,” he added.

For now, that’s not something The Signal needs to worry about.

The startup said Monday it has raised a new funding round, but did not disclose the size. The Signal’s angel investors include CRED’s Miten Sampat, Zomato co-founder Deepinder Goyal, Unacademy co-founder Gaurav Munjal, Haptik co-founder Aakrit Vaish, media entrepreneur Parry Ravindranathan, Vue.ai founder Ashwini Asokan and DealStreetAsia founder and CEO Joji Philip Thomas. Investment fund LetsVenture led the round, while venture capital fund Capital A also participated in it, Narayanan said. Fintech-focused fund Rainmatter also invested in the round, according to a regulatory filing. (Narayanan and Rainmatter didn’t comment on the fund’s participation.)

“Venkat, Patanjali, Dinesh & Roshni P Nair have authored some of the most important stories in India tech over the past 5 years, and I am very excited to see them build The Signal as a way to enable readers make sense of it all,” said Sampat. “India, and eventually the world, needs an outlet that goes beyond newsflashes and gets deep into nuanced reportage through a mix of curation, original writing and new formats of sense-making.”

The Roku Channel adds 14 linear channels, expanding its local news offering

Roku announced today that it added 14 new linear channels through its Live TV Guide on its free streaming hub, The Roku Channel, including several new local news streams. Viewers can now access three NBC local news channels, San Diego, Boston, and San Francisco Bay Area, as well as LX News, a news network by NBCUniversal Local that is targeted toward adults aged 18 to 45.

According to TVREV, news is a top category that attracts viewers in the free ad-supporting streaming landscape. After experiencing slow growth in active accounts in the first and second quarters of 2022, Roku has been eager to prove its worth to investors and consumers.

“We’re thrilled to further expand our NBCUniversal Local news channels lineup to provide streamers across the country with access to valuable local news coverage through The Roku Channel,” Ashley Hovey, Head of The Roku Channel Advertising-based Video on Demand (AVOD), said in a statement. “Since launching our local news category earlier this summer, we have seen users come to The Roku Channel to engage with this programming category in a meaningful way. We’re proud to offer a convenient way for millions of streamers to stay informed on important local topics and current events.”

In June, Roku launched eight NBC Local news channels, the first time that local news appeared on The Roku Channel. In addition to the news channels that Roku added today, other NBC local news channels available on the streaming service include NBC New York News, NBC Los Angeles News, NBC Chicago News, NBC Philadelphia News, NBC Dallas/Fort Worth News, NBC Washington, D.C. News, NBC South Florida News, and NBC Connecticut News.

Other than news, The Roku Channel also added new channels in various genres like Western, Spanish-language entertainment, true crime, and more. The remaining lineup of new linear channels includes the Ion Channel, which will feature episodes from “NCIS,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Law & Order: SVU,” and other well-known series; Roku Channel Westerns, which will give viewers classic Western titles like “Apache Junction,” “The Westerner,” and “The Rebel;” Cine EstrellaTV, a new Spanish-language channel available through The Roku Channel’s dedicated Espacio Latino hub; among other channels like BBC Kids, BOUNCE XL, Cheaters, Court TV, Grit Xtra, Ion Mystery, and Ion Plus.

Amazon and Nielsen close “Thursday Night Football” ratings deal

Amazon and data measurement firm Nielsen have sealed a three-year deal for measuring the ratings of Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” (TNF). Nielsen said that this would be the first time that the firm will include a streaming service and its live streaming program in its National TV measurement service. The firm will begin measuring next Thursday, August 25, during the “Thursday Night Football” preseason game, when the San Francisco 49ers face off against the Houston Texans.

Nielsen will measure viewership of the game, along with the pregame and post-game shows on Prime Video and Twitch. It will also measure out-of-home viewing and the viewers watching in teams’ local markets via over-the-air stations. Out-of-home viewing refers to bars, restaurants, hotels, etc.

“TNF” will be measured and processed like all other NFL games using Nielsen’s panel, the company said. The same metrics will be reported across all other national networks, Nielsen added.

Numerous major media companies have disapproved of Nielsen’s ability to accurately measure streaming services. For instance, Netflix is notorious for not cooperating with outside rating services like Nielsen and prefers to report viewing numbers on its own, making it hard for Nielsen to be accurate. The company has also struggled to adjust to the streaming era, where people watch from portable devices, like laptops, phones and tablets.

After being accused of underreporting viewers during the pandemic, the Media Rating Council took away Nielsen’s National TV rating accreditation last year. However, the company is confident that the deal with Amazon will reinforce “Nielsen’s ability to measure customers’ changing viewing behaviors and how content owners are distributing programming.”

“Nielsen is the long-time leader in the measurement space, providing gold-standard currency to the media industry, and we’re thrilled that Amazon recognizes that and is working with us to bring a streaming service into our National TV measurement for the first time ever,” said Deirdre Thomas, Managing Director, US Audience Measurement Product Sales, Nielsen, in a statement. “We are committed to delivering comparable, comprehensive measurement of all audiences across all platforms, and this agreement to measure TNF viewership is a testament to that commitment.”

Amazon claims the deal will benefit its company as well since the measurements can provide advertisers with direct comparisons across their media investments.

Srishti Gupta, Director of Media Measurement, Amazon Ads, said, “Advertisers will have access to metrics from Amazon that will provide actionable insights to understand brand awareness, engagement, and sales. This powerful combination of first and third-party measurement is something only Amazon can provide.”

Also, it’s possible Nielsen’s “Thursday Night Football” measurement can offer an idea of how many Amazon Prime Video domestic subscribers the retail giant has since it doesn’t report that specific number. Prime itself has over 200 million members, but consumers can pay for Prime Video separately if they choose. Protocol recently reported data from JustWatch, stating that Amazon Prime Video makes up 20% of the U.S. streaming market.

According to The Wall Street Journal, media buyers said that Amazon had told advertisers it projects an average audience of 12.6 million viewers a game. This is less than last season when an average 16.4 million viewers watched “Thursday Night Football” across Prime Video, Fox, and the NFL Network. In total, over 80 million households own Amazon devices, per market research company Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Last year, Amazon settled a deal with the National Football League, winning rights to “Thursday Night Football” for 11 seasons. The agreement makes the games exclusive to Amazon when previously, the games were also available on Fox and the NFL Network. The 15-game “TNF” regular season begins on September 15 when the Los Angeles Chargers play against the Kansas City Chiefs. There will be 29 of the NFL’s 32 clubs appearing on “TNF” this year.

Broadcasters Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit will provide commentary on the live-action games, while former NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez are the analysts for pregame, halftime, and postgame coverage. The shows will be hosted by sports anchor Charissa Thompson.

The streaming service also plans to offer an alternative feed hosted by Dude Perfect, a sports and comedy group popular for trick shots and stunts.

Amazon recently added a dedicated sports tab that helps subscribers easily find live sports, replays, highlights, and more.

Spotify prompts some users to record reaction podcasts to playlists

After testing new in-app podcast recording tools for users in New Zealand, Spotify is now trialing a new audio feature in Vietnam, one that’s designed to encourage users to record voice reactions to playlists.

A Reddit user posted screenshots of the feature, showing how they received a prompt to react to a playlist with a voice clip that will be posted as a podcast episode. As per its previous test in New Zealand, it’s fair to assume that these reaction ‘podcasts’ will be published directly to creators’ personal profilers where followers will be able to listen.

The screenshots show that users included in the test are seeing a microphone icon on playlist screens, and upon tapping that, they see a new screen that prompts them to record a voice reaction to the playlist.

Users are seeing a mic icon to record a voice reaction to a playlist Image Credits: Reddit (opens in a new window)

Once they hit the button, they can either record in one go or multiple clips by pausing. Later, they can edit the clip, add background music, and tag the playlist before publishing.

This workflow is similar to the test in New Zealand, except in that test, the starting point was a “Record Podcast” button on the home screen. So this test is more about giving a prompt to users who might not have a podcast idea in their mind.

Spotify podcast

Spotify shows some rules creators must follow for podcast recording for safety Image Credits: Reddit (opens in a new window)

Spotify has confirmed the test, but the company didn’t share any details about what locations the feature is available, and how it plans to moderate these voice reactions.

“At Spotify, we are always looking for ways to enhance our users’ experience on our platform, and we regularly test features that we believe will bring value to listeners and creators. We are currently running a limited test of in-app audio creation, but have no further details to share at this time,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

As we noted in our story in June, a lot of these features are powered by Spotify-owned podcast creation app Anchor. These tests indicate that the streaming giant is trying to convert listeners to creators by providing them with easy in-app tools to make and publish podcasts.

In its Q2 2022 earnings last month, Spotify said it now has 4.4 million podcasts on the platform, and users engaging with them have grown at a “substantial double digits year-on-year.” Spotify has invested more than $1 billion in podcasting in the last few years with €83 million ($84.3 million) invested this year alone to acquire podcast analytics companies Podsights and Chartable.