Inside CollegeHumor’s SVOD Strategy and the Future of the Company’s YouTube Channel

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With two new cast members on its team, CollegeHumor is kicking up the investment in its $5.99-per-month streaming service, Dropout. Lily Du (“Broad City,” “The President Show”) and comedian Tao Yang, whose hires were announced T…

How Wattpad Is Courting Streamers and Producers Worldwide With User-Generated Stories (and Data)

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With studios like Disney and WarnerMedia hoarding content in preparation to launch streaming services, original content has become a priority among streamer’s attempting to build their subscriber base.

Hoping to capitalize on this trend is Wattpad, a text-based storytelling platform with more than 500 million user-generated stories and over 70 million users around the globe. The first fruits of Wattpad’s push into filmed content can already be seen: “Light as a Feather,” a supernatural thriller based on Zoe Aarsen’s episodic Wattpad stories that has gotten 3.3 million reads, debuted as a 10-part Hulu series last October — and last month got greenlit for a second season.

Sony Pictures Television last year announced plans to develop a series based on Katarina E. Tonks’ “Death is My BFF,” a story about a sarcastic Angel of Death who meets his match that garnered 92 million reads on Wattpad.

The Toronto-based company has also partnered with Universal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal), eOne, Syfy and the CW Seed to create additional projects. And after raising $117.1 million from investors including Tencent, BDC, Globe Telecom’s Kickstart Ventures, Peterson Group, Canso and Raine, the text-based app hopes to expand its initial success with filmed entertainment projects into territories like Korea, Germany, Indonesia and India, where it has a growing readership.

Also Read: Wattpad to Launch Video Content in Korea via New Partnership With Huayi Brothers

Wattpad offers more than just tens of thousands of user-generated stories to be adapted for film, TV and other entertainment projects — and a built-in fan base for its most popular content. By analyzing the trends emerging within its platform, the company believes it can offer entertainment partners data-backed content that will successfully connect with audiences worldwide.

“Right now the industry uses test audiences to understand how viewers will react to finished products,” head of Wattpad Studios Aron Levitz said. “We want to turn that process upside down, starting with audience insights first, and then making decisions based on what people are already excited about.”

The most popular stories on the platform, who are already compensated through in-story ads and donations from readers, receive additional compensation if a story is picked up by a studio or streamer (the amount varies).

Wattpad’s promise for international markets is data-backed content that can target specific demographics. Using machine-learning artificial intelligence, the company said it can identify plot line and subject trends taking place throughout content posted to its site. It can then narrow down the trends to specific regions and languages. These trends could include highlighting underlying themes, pointing out genres that drive the most interaction and identifying the most-read subjects on the platform.

Also Read: Hulu Orders Horror Series ‘Light as a Feather’ From Kelsey Grammer and Awesomeness TV

“In a country like Indonesia, we found that the most popular romance stories tend to fall into a sort of Muslim romance, arranged-marriage kind of trope,” said Dexter Ong, who oversees Wattpad Asia Studios, which last August partnered with the Asian streaming company iflix to produce 26 films based on stories and trends on the platform.

Ong’s data is derived from the more than 9 million Indonesian readers engaging with stories by “liking” or commenting, down to a specific paragraph.

“It’s a bit tough in this part of the world to fill the demand for original content,” Ong said, noting that many Asian countries have small entertainment business and less creative talent compared to Hollywood. “So when you’re able to bring a solution where we have a tremendous volume of locally relevant authentic stories that are written in a local language and we have the data to back,” he added, it’s a big plus for a company like iflix.

Iflix, which is to announce the first slate of titles to come out of its Wattpad deal in the coming weeks, sees the advantages. “We now have the opportunity to work with thousands of talented Indonesian writers to bring their stories to life for millions of iflix users in Indonesia,” iflix chief content officer Sean Carey said.

Also Read: Wattpad Launches Virtual Currency to Help Its Creators Get Paid

Wattpad also sees opportunities in India, announcing a partnership on Wednesday with Times Bridge, the global investment arm of the Times Group in India, to develop locally-produced Wattpad stories for adaptation into books, TV shows, films, and digital projects.

The platform currently has 2.6 million users and stories in multiple Indian languages including Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese, Marathi and Oriya. Given the diverse number of languages spoken in India, a promise of content that can target a specific group is something that is welcomed by those breaking into the country.

“Millions of Indian readers and writers have already found a home Wattpad,” Devashish Sharma, Wattpad’s head of India operations, said. “Times Bridge and The Times Group have an unmatched media and entertainment portfolio, and connections with some of India’s most respected authors and cultural figures. We’re excited to work together to create new opportunities for Indian storytellers.”

Also Read: How YouTube Has Outpaced Netflix and Amazon in India

Additionally, Wattpad recently laid roots in Korea, where it partnered with a talent agency and production company Huayi Brothers Korea to produce content based on Wattpad IP. The partnership is open to any Wattpad stories available on the platform internationally. The Huayi Brothers Korea partnership follows a similar deal Wattpad signed in June with the German-based company Bavaria Fiction, which will also adapt content based on Wattpad stories.

“All across the industry, projects fail. Shows are canceled and films bomb. Why? Because executives make decisions based on what they think will work. People rely on their experience to rationalize intuitive decision-making,” Levitz said. “We’re coming to the end of that era.”


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‘Switched on Pop’ Podcast Host on Whether You Should Still Listen to Michael Jackson and R Kelly Songs

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Charlie Harding can still remember the moment R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” began to play at a wedding four years ago. The co-host of the music podcast “Switched on Pop” couldn’t believe it. He thought to himself, “Do we really want to have this person celebrated at this wonderful event?”

“It would no longer be culturally acceptable,” Harding, who with musicologist Nate Sloan has created the No. 1 music podcast on the Apple charts right now, said. “As a music critic, I was already aware of his history and made a choice of not participating with his music.”

In the last month, two documentaries about music icons have divided the nation and wedding dance floors: “Surviving R.Kelly,” the six-part investigation into the singer’s sexual abuse allegations and “Leaving Neverland,” about Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. Harding believes music listeners must reckon with the fallout from these revelations about Jackson: “The reality is, even if we choose to not play his music, we can’t stop playing his influence.”

Also Read: ‘The Simpsons’ Producers Pull 1991 Michael Jackson Episode in Response to ‘Leaving Neverland’

So what can music fans do? Harding has analyzed the making and meaning of music on “Switched on Pop” since 2014. In the past, the podcast has used R. Kelly and Michael Jackson as examples of how current artists like Bruno Mars and Beyoncé have made hits.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Kelly and Jackson are good people, Harding told TheWrap during an interview from SXSW. While the art can be analyzed on its own, analyzing the artist with the art is a delicate, case-by-case process.

What responsibility do music fans have when deciding to listen to artists who have faced serious accusations of misconduct, like Michael Jackson and R. Kelly?

There’s a responsibility here for anyone who’s continuing the business of Michael Jackson by enriching his estate. It’s obviously complicated because Michael Jackson is one of the most influential musicians of the 21st century. We can’t hear Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars or Beyoncé without hearing the influence of Michael Jackson. His sound and identity permeates our culture. It makes his history uncomfortable to deal with. That’s part of the reckoning that we have to do culturally. We live in a world in which there is great wrongdoing. There’s abuse. Just as much as we get to celebrate American exceptionalism, we have to accept all of the most difficult sides of our history.

There is a responsibility right now for radio to not harm living people who have been abused by Michael Jackson by continuing to play his music. A moment of silence feels appropriate. It’s not that hard to find other great music.

Also Read: R. Kelly Taken Back Into Custody Over Unpaid Child Support

How do you separate the art from the artist since your job is to analyze the song in front of you. If a song is clearly inspired by Michael Jackson or someone like Ryan Adams, what would be your approach?

I have a gut reaction to music that doesn’t deserve attention. The thing is, there are a lot of good songs in the world that are lyrically abhorrent. Music is one of the few places where you can say something in a microphone to everyone that you may not be able to anywhere else. I’m often looking to choose music that is interesting, so I know that’s sometimes going to overlap lyrically with music that I think is backwards. But you have to call that out and say these are the parts I find interesting and here are the parts I don’t find interesting.

It has to be case-by-case too. Take citing an influence to Ryan Adams compared to Michael Jackson. They are radically different in both what they did and their legacy. Also, one is deceased and one is not. For someone who was accused of being a serial abuser, we have a responsibility to not further enrich the person that can go on and harm other people. This addresses R.Kelly, whose allegations of abuse are undeniable. We don’t want to abet his crimes by enriching him.

Also Read: Ryan Adams’ UK and Ireland Tour Canceled After Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Why do you think people tell themselves that “insanity” drives genius, that the best of the best will almost always have something flawed about them? Is that a sound argument?

No. That’s an absurd argument that touches on the ongoing obsession with genius. That anybody who happens to do something wildly creative is somehow absolved from not only crimes but also a narcissist. It’s an old adage to say there is a “required suffering of the artist,” you have to put someone in a dark state in order for them to produce good works. That’s absurd. Take CEOs. We tell ourselves, “They are the only people with the innovative minds to lead a Fortune 500 company.” But we see again and again that we give space for these people to be put on a noncritical pedestal.

What makes “Switched On Pop” different from other music podcasts?

“Switched on Pop” is about the making and meaning of pop music. We often break down a particular song or album, even an individual artist in order to look at what musical insights it has that maybe you won’t see culturally.You have to listen very deeply and we take them along that journey to think about things like how the music and the lyrics of a song contradict. Sometimes you won’t be listening directly to the chorus and when you listen back, you notice the melody and rhythm is where you missed an essential component.

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What did you feel when you learned you were the No. 1 podcast on the Apple Charts?

I’m grateful to have this community of really thoughtful and critical listeners. There’s this joke that every podcast is just two dudes and a mic, and our show started that way because that I had this long-distance musical relationship with Nate Sloan. He’s a musicologist and we did it for fun. But when you’re covering popular music, you are looking at distillation of not only our American but global identity. So we wanted to make sure we would bring on people who knew more about certain genres and certain issues that we aren’t aware of.

Again, we started the project out of a genuine passion for the subject. Up to last fall, I didn’t know I would be doing this podcast full-time.

For me, being the No.1 podcast feels less like a personal accomplishment than a collective “‘I’m so glad there’s this place where a larger discourse about music can take place.” We are treating everyone to the height of their intelligence. Podcasting wants empathetic honesty. People can hear gamesmanship. We would have never found an audience.

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Why Roku Is Doubling Down on Free Content and Linear Channels in an On-Demand World

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In a world dominated by SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon, Roku’s VP of programming Rob Holmes believes ad-supported content is still a big value play for companies fighting for their share of eyeballs. “Nine out of 10 people are looking for free content on our platform,” Holmes told TheWrap.

With over 5,000 OTT apps available on its service to analyze, Roku is a company with a strong understanding of the OTT ecosystem. The company has evolved from being a hardware company making a majority of its money from the sale of streaming boxes, to growing an advertising business whose revenues now outpace hardware sales.

Part of this achievement comes from the company’s investment in a Roku-branded ad-supported streaming service, The Roku Channel, which the company plans to dedicate more resources to throughout this year. That content expansion has led to hiccups, like Roku’s decision to add conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ InfoWars channel to the site in January — which the company reversed one day after launching, citing objections from “concerned parties.” (Holmes declined to comment further on the InfoWars case.)

Also Read: Latest Sign the Cord-Cutting Revolution Is Over: Roku Users Watch 3 Hours of Content Per Day

We caught up with Holmes to discuss The Roku Channel’s content strategy and emerging trends within the OTT landscape, such as the demand for ad-supported and free linear content.

1. With over 5,000 OTT apps available on the overall Roku platform, are you seeing any trends emerge?

I think ad-supported is one of the big trends for us. AVOD is really a value play where many users are looking to save money in their overall entertainment spend and so they’re cutting the cord. They’re moving to a virtual MVPD and as part of that they’re also looking for great free options, so we’re seeing a ton of growth in the ad-supported segment.

You know, that’s one of the reasons why we actually launched The Roku Channel with a focus on ad-supported content, because we recognized the importance of that content to our users. Nine out of 10 people are looking for free content on our platform and we saw a friction in discovering great free content on the platform — there’s a lot of it, but it’s in a lot of different places — so the primary motivation of The Roku Channel was to make it really easy for users to find great free content. And, if anything, that’s really been driven by that — user desire for and that strong growth in ad supported viewing.

2. How many people are looking for subscriptions?

You know, certainly users are using all sorts of different content on the platform so subscriptions are a part of it as well. One of the ways that we’ve sought to play into that is with the addition of premium subscriptions and recognizing that users want to make choices about the content and they can access.

And so we’re trying to bring that into The Roku Channel and make it easy for them to add on subscription content when they’re looking for it. That’s a part that we’re still in the midst of rolling out and it’s still pretty early days for us, but we’re excited to bring that additional content and that convenient experience to The Roku Channel for users.

Also Read: Roku’s Stock Rockets 25 Percent on Massive Increase in Streaming Hours

3. In addition to offering subscription services on The Roku Channel, the company has also experimented with streaming linear content from its ad-supported platform. Is this an area the company plans to continue to invest in?

Linear is still a valid use case in the OTT world. Some people think about linear as part of the old world — as part of the cable world — and therefore perhaps not something that belongs in OTT. But we think it’s all a mix and linear is definitely something that we’ve continued to expand. In the fall, we launched linear with a couple of digital verticals on The Roku Channel where we included an entertainment vertical and sports vertical as well with folks like Stadium Sports.

I do think there’s a broader statement about linear overall, which is: in a world of infinite choice, which we’re quickly approaching here in terms of all the content that’s available, it’s actually hard for a user to make all those choices. There’s some challenges from a consumer standpoint, it’s sort of “paradox of choice,” as some call it. And one of the things that linear does really well is simplify the decision for a user because they can say, “Look, I just want to watch something funny. No, I want to be informed. I want to be entertained.”

A linear channel is a brand that in success represents something for viewers — “This is a place I go to watch funny things, this is the place I go to watch news” — which are probably less sensitive to the specific thing that they’re watching at any given time on linear so long as that brand is satisfying their needs.

Also Read: 5 Questions: MSG Networks’ Kevin Marotta on How Short-Form Digital Content Has Reshaped Linear Programming

4. The first slate of linear channels launched on The Roku Channel were from news-focused companies like ABC News and Cheddar. Why was news such a heavy focus?

I think news brought a couple of really great things to us. It made it clear where you could find great ad-supported news on the Roku platform. We’ve always had actually a really nice ad-supported news offering, but it was embedded across a number of different channels, some of which are very prominent and well-known brands, but some of which aren’t. We wanted to make that a really easy search for the user, just come to The Roku Channel, we’ve got a couple of them for you.

Also, when users switch from cable to OTT, news is one of the things they want to make sure they have access to. So making it clear to them through our partnership with ABC News and others that there’s always going to be a great source of news for them is also very helpful for users as they think about which platform they want to adopt in the OTT world.

Also Read: Roku Pulls Alex Jones’ InfoWars Channel After Just 1 Day

News also gives us a constant new source of content. If you think about movies and TV in OTT, they largely refresh on a monthly basis. So if you’ve got news content coming in every day — obviously the news is different every day — it gives people a reason to come in and check and see what’s going on and then go on to look at something they might want to watch for the rest of the day or the afternoon.

5. What’s next for Roku in terms of aggregating live content to its platform?

We are always thinking about what great content is out there that we could make available for our users in an easy-to-find fashion. We really are driven by responding to our users and helping to make it easier for them to navigate the OTT world. So as we see appetite for more of that kind of content, you can bet we’re going to be out there trying to find it.

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Dailymotion to Stream Footage From More Than 1,300 NBA G League Games

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Video hosting platform Dailymotion has partnered with the NBA G League (the NBA’s minor league basketball organization) on a two-season deal to distribute content from G League games, the companies announced Tuesday.
Under the agreement, the G Le…

Adult Swim Signs New Programming Partnership With Crunchyroll, Expands Distribution Agreement

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Adult Swim has expanded its distribution partnership with Crunchyroll, allowing it to tap the streaming service’s content library to fill its “Toonami” programming block, which consists mostly of anime programming.

Crunchyroll is an anime-centric streaming service owned by AT&T via OtterMedia, a division that was recently placed under the WarnerMedia umbrella following the telco’s acquisition of the company.

Previously, Crunchyroll partnered with Adult Swim to premiere its original series “Mob Psycho 100” on the cable network.

Also Read: Inside Crunchyroll’s 4-Prong Approach to Driving Revenue

Under the new agreement, Crunchyroll will distribute a collection of anime TV series on Adult Swim’s Toonami. However, there are no current plans to make Adult Swim’s programming available on Crunchyroll’s streaming platform, which has over 45 million registered subscribers.

“We’re exploring all options to maximize distribution for our series,” a spokesperson for Crunchyroll told TheWrap.

In addition to the expanded distribution deal, the two companies say they will continue to collaborate on licensed content and co-productions. Previously, the two worked together on “Blade Runner – Black Lotus,” an anime series and co-production with Alcon Television Group based on the Oscar-winning movie “Blade Runner 2049.” The English-dubbed episodes are expected to premiere on “Toonami” while Crunchyroll will handle worldwide streaming.

Also Read: Crunchyroll’s ‘Mob Psycho 100’ to Play in More Than 500 Movie Theaters

“Our partnership with Crunchyroll will open up exciting new possibilities for both of us,” said Jason DeMarco, SVP and creative director for on-air at Adult Swim. “This will expand Toonami’s already great programming to include even more premiere and original anime. It’s a great time to be an anime fan!”

Adult Swim reaches an estimated 94 million households, while Crunchyroll says it has 45 million registered users and two million paying subscribers.  The expanded partnership between the two companies is another product of AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner, which has resulted in WarnerMedia’s assets working more in tandem, and a series of layoffs and resignations as the company looks to eliminate redundancies.

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YouTube TV Hires NBCU Executive Lori Conkling as Global Head of Partnerships

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Lori Conkling is leaving NBCUniversal to lead partnerships for YouTube TV. Conkling will also lead partnerships for Google Fiber, the company’s internet service division.
In her new role, Conkling will lead YouTube TV’s programming and pack…

How Doing Things Media Laughed It Up to 30 Million Instagram Followers and a TV Show in 2 Years

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The key to a booming network of Instagram accounts? Making people laugh, according to Doing Things Media co-founders Reid Hailey and Derek Lucas.

Two years after launching, Doing Things Media now has more than 30 million people following its array of social media accounts, combining for 500 million views each month. On Instagram, where the lion’s share of its fans are, you can find a small army of “Doing Things” accounts — “Animals Doing Things,” “Drunk People Doing Things” — dedicated to finding and posting funny videos. Staples include dogs wearing sunglasses and looking cute on boats and drunk people doing, well, stupid stuff.

Doing Things Media is also leveraging its library of 100,000 clips, partnering with Netflix, Tinder and MTV’s “Ridiculousness” to share content. It’s also brought a TV show, “Howie Mandel’s Animals Doing Things,” to Nat Geo Wild, where the comedian narrates the funniest and quirkiest videos from the “Animals Doing Things” Instagram account. The show’s second season will air this summer.

“Everything is lighthearted and fun on all of our brands,” 28-year-old Hailey told TheWrap. “We come from a place where we started in memes, where if it isn’t funny it doesn’t work. All of our pages have that theme to it.”

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But how do you know which videos will and will not rack up the likes, follows and views on Instagram? It’s an inexact science, but one they’ve “definitely learned over time,” Hailey said, after going through “hundreds of thousands of videos” in the last few years.

The most important thing to their millennial and Gen-Z audience is the internal urge to share a video to someone else after first seeing it. “If you want to show it to someone else, if you think it’s funny or interesting, then other people are going to want to show it to other people, too,” Hailey said.

That’s the mantra Hailey and Lucas have passed on to their Atlanta-based team of 20- to 30-year-old employees who are now charged with going through thousands of video submissions each month.

Also Read: How Instagram Has Given Classic Shows Like ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘The Simpsons’ a Second Life

Still, when pressed on what it takes to make videos really pop on Instagram, Lucas said it takes more than just a good clip. Instagram, after an early-2017 algorithm shift placed an increased emphasis on video, is now flooded with an endless stream of clips. Lucas said it’s critical to “create a narrative” around clips — even if it doesn’t necessarily fit the video’s original theme — that will resonate with Instagram’s young audience. Sometimes, finding that narrative can take months.

“We [received] a video where a mom and a dad, probably middle-aged, and some 20-year-olds were all drunk eating fast food. And one kid had food spilled all over himself. And the description that got sent to us what they were bar-hopping. I tested that video out on ‘Drunk People Doing Things’ and it did mediocre,” Lucas, 29, recounted.

“I came back to it about six months later and decided to put a caption on it that they ate edibles with their parents and we tried it out with that, a totally different narrative, and it went super-viral.”

Also Read: Instagram Stories Just Passed 500 Million Daily Users

Doing Things Media, like many other media companies, has grown in large part thanks to repurposing content generated by everyday users of the internet. This budding industry has recently been in the spotlight, with F—Jerry, the wildly popular Instagram account, skewered in the last month for taking jokes and memes and failing to acknowledge their original creators. Barstool Sports was also roundly criticized last week for the same transgression.

Lucas said Doing Things Media doesn’t want to make the same mistake as F—Jerry, where it’s essentially stealing other people’s work. Instead, Lucas and Hailey credit creators for their video and give a “submitted by” shout-out on all Doing Things” Instagram posts.

“We’re definitely well aware of what’s happening with F—Jerry,” Lucas said. “We want people to have an incentive to submit videos to us. That’s kind of what powers the business, and we also want to help them out.

“We grew our whole business with originals memes and content and crediting people, and I think that’s what kind of makes us different from some of the other people in this space,” he added. “We really respect creative voices.”

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How Kanopy Wants to Revolutionize Libraries With a Pay-Per-Play OTT Service

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Olivia Humphrey is on a mission to bring Kanopy, an indie film-centric streaming service that she originally launched in Australia, to every library-card holder in the United States. The Kanopy business model is different from other typical “free” OTT services. While VOD platforms such as Popcornflix and Tubi rely on ads to fund content for users, Kanopy members rely on their local libraries to foot the bill.

Instead of paying a monthly fee for the service, participating libraries pay for each movie played by one of its card holders. Libraries pay $2 per play regardless of the movie, according to people familiar with the arrangements. That fee is split 50/50 between Kanopy and the licenser of the film, according to an individual familiar with the business, which Humphrey said was a more generous cut than most OTTs offer content owners.

Like most streaming services, Kanopy wouldn’t disclose revenues or the number of active monthly users on the platform. However, Humphrey said the business is profitable and achieved a 100 percent increase in revenue from 2017 to 2018.

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The VOD service offers more than 20,000 independent films and documentaries, including the 2016 Oscar-winning drama “Moonlight,” the 2014 sci-fi film “Ex Machina,” the 2001 drama-fantasy “Donnie Darko” and 400 titles from the Criterion Collection. Kanopy is also home to the entire A24 catalogue, which includes Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated 2018 dramedy “Lady Bird.” (A24 declined a request for comment on the partnership.)

Kanopy is currently available to 50 million library users across the U.S. and still growing, signing up around 50 new libraries per month. In total, Kanopy now services 3,000 U.S. libraries and 1,500 U.S. college campuses.

Since partnering with Kanopy at the start of February, Mid-Columbia Library in Washington state has had thousands of visits to its Kanopy site and more than 300 people have signed up for the service, according to the library’s communications and advancement director David Diaz.

“Kanopy’s thought-provoking videos are the perfect complement to our existing DVD collection,” Diaz said. “We were excited to offer our customers another quality product from our vast digital branch.”

The library, like others that partner with Kanopy, set a monthly limit on the number of films its members can watch to protect the library from being blindsided by unexpected costs if users stream too many movies. The New York Public Library limits users to 10 videos a month, while the Brooklyn Public Library allows six.

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“We are solving a big problem for public libraries, which is engaging their community and maintaining their relevancy,” Humphrey said.

While library use among Americans has dropped 6 percent since 2012, Pew Research from 2017 found that 46 percent of Americans 18 and older had visited a library at least once in the 12 months prior.

Humphrey believes Kanopy can help stop the bleeding. “When we launched, say for example, in New York Public Library, they had a record amount of new members sign up,” she told TheWrap. “In fact, they had to hire a team of temps to cope with all the new members and all of the reactivated memberships.” The New York Public Library did not respond to requests for comment.

Humphrey, who previously worked in brand management at BBC Worldwide, originally launched Kanopy in 2008 as a DVD distribution business that would rent out and sell DVDs to Australian universities.

“We knew that university students go to the cinema quite often and bought the DVDs, but on campus there was just books and journals. The video was nowhere to be seen,” Humphrey told TheWrap. “It didn’t make any sense. These students are watching more film in the real world but not in their academic world.”

In 2010, around the same time that YouTube was gaining popularity, Humphrey decided to turn that DVD distribution business into an online streaming business. She eventually expanded her OTT beyond universities and brought the offering to libraries across Australia and the U.S.

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“There were 35 universities in Australia and around 4,500 in the U.S.,” Humphrey said, regarding why international expansion was a no-brainer for growth.

The company also recently launched a work space in the United Kingdom, which Humphrey says will be a big focus this year, along with beefing up its content library. The company has a 50-person team in San Francisco, which first opened six years ago.

Additionally, Kanopy is increasing its focus to encompass more children’s programming and has plans to relaunch its streaming platform, Kanopy Kids, sometime in the middle of the year.

Like most OTT services, Kanopy has challenges with discoverability. “The biggest challenge we face when we sign up a new library is communicating the fact that Kanopy is live to the members of that library,” she added.

Libraries like Florida’s LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library have relied on Facebook to spread the word to its 6,000-plus followers since offering the service, the library’s services coordinator Michelle Ray told TheWrap.

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How Wondery Creates True-Crime Podcast Hits Like ‘Dirty John’ and ‘Over My Dead Body’

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

In 2013, a Florida State law professor was killed at his home in broad daylight. As two suspects head to trial this June in what is now believed to be a murder-for-hire, a podcast about the case has already reached No. 1 on the Apple charts and sparked interest across Hollywood.

“Over My Dead Body,” released last month, has become the Wondery podcast network’s third true-crime hit, following the success of 2017’s “Dirty John” and 2018’s “Dr. Death” — which each received more than 20 million downloads in 2018. “Dirty John,” which was adapted into last fall’s Netflix TV series starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana, has been downloaded more than 50 million times in total since its premiere.

That success has led to eight-figure revenues last year for Wondery, the 20th Century Fox-backed company launched by CEO Hernan Lopez, a former executive at Fox International Channels. (A company rep declined to provide more details.) Plans include both the expansion of podcasts as well as the hiring of a development executive to spearhead the filmed adaptation of existing projects, including “Over My Dead Body.”

Wondery’s “Business Wars,” about the world’s biggest business rivalries (think Netflix vs. Blockbuster), is currently being packaged as a series, with the pilot written by “Mad Men” writer Janet Leahy; FX bought the rights to “Gladiator,” about disgraced NFL player Aaron Hernandez; and “Dr. Death,” about the crimes of neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, is in development with Universal Cable Productions.

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Wondery’s programs range from true-crime to “tentpole” investigative series like “Business Wars” to celebrity podcasts like the recently announced “Getting Along With Justin Long,” with the star of “Dodgeball” and “Tusk.”

According to Wondery chief content officer Marshall Lewy, the five-part season one of “Over My Dead Body” averaged a million podcast downloads per episode. Like “Dirty John,” the breakout-hit-turned-TV-show about a con artist who tricked women into marrying him for money, the first season of “Over My Dead Body” lays out in extravagant detail the life its subjects: Markel and Adelson, whose rocky marriage offers clues into Markel’s untimely death. “Over My Dead Body” is hosted and written by reporter Matthew Shaer and co-writer Eric Benson. Future seasons will investigate other cases of people pushed to their limits

Lewy recently discussed what made “Over My Dead Body” a success, how Wondery works with investigative journalists and the balance between immersive storytelling and factual journalism.

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1. Take us through the creation of “Over My Dead Body” to the final product.

Matthew Schaer is a great reporter. He wrote six episodes early on of “Business Wars,” for the season on Nike vs. Adidas. While we were working with him, he came to us with a story about this man Dan Markel, who was murdered after a bitter divorce in what looked like a murder-for-hire plot. Simultaneously, Hernan Lopez and I were thinking of a larger series called “Over My Dead Body.” It would be stories about normal people who were pushed to the limits to the point where one in fact kills the other.

That was about a year ago. Then we brought on a producer and worked with them closely. We worked really hard to get a terabyte of information from the Tallahassee police department. We wanted to speak to people who had never been spoken with before.

We also wanted to do something different with true crime. No one dies in the first episode. That was a decision that we put forward that after “Dirty John” and “Dr. Death,” they’ll know there’s going to be a dead body. Let’s take our time and make sure we are building the world to understand where both of them are coming from.

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2. How much input does Wondery give when it collaborates with investigative journalists?

We’re working closely with them. For even most print journalist, the idea of telling a story in audio is a new experience. What might work on the page will not always work on audio. You have to consider the number of characters because of the number of people you can introduce in a story. Even how you interview people and what questions you’re going to hear when it’s for a podcast. That, and we also distribute and market and get the podcast out to the world.

3. What are the advantages of doing an investigative piece like this on audio versus on the page?

Podcasts allow the people who are speaking to be heard completely and more intimately. Both for the person who is speaking and the person listening, they get to understand a person better. In print, quotes are cut up. In TV, you have to get through the story fast. With podcasts, we are in an interesting medium where listeners are willing to dig deep and concentrate. You’re only seeing that in scripted TV. With news, you’re not afforded the time to get to know people.

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4. You have a filmmaking background, as executive producer of HBO’s “Project Greenlight.” What kind of insight does that give you when helping to make these immersive stories?

We’re always conscious that these are real people’s stories. We want it to have journalistic integrity and be accurate. But also, like some of the best docuseries that are out there, there’s a certain genre to podcasts. You have to let them know who is the hero, who is the villain. If this was a horror movie, what kind of movie would it be? That’s going to inform the decisions we make.

5. Podcast networks are getting more involved with major corporate brands, including content partnerships. What is Wondery’s partnering strategy?

We’ve done a sponsored podcast with Anheuser-Busch called “Heritage Road” in 2017. We’ve had two custom podcast episodes with brands. “American History Tellers,” we did a custom podcast episode with Lincoln on the history of the motor company. We’re not trying to make a branded agency inside of Wondery — we want to focus on creating our own show slate.

Listen to episode one of “Over My Dead Body” season one, here:

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Smosh Co-Founder Spills on the ‘Bad Situation’ With Owner Who Suddenly Shut Down Last Year

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After parent company Defy abruptly closed its doors last November, the YouTube sketch-comedy channel Smosh spent three long months abandoned and in search of a buyer — until the online comedy duo Rhett & Link’s Mythical Entertainment acquired the company last month for around $10 million.

“We were very much in the market for a diversification opportunity like Smosh,” said Brian Flanagan, Mythical Entertainment’s chief operating officer, adding that Mythical reached out the day they learned of Defy’s collapse. “We knew it would take years to build something of similar scale, even with millions in investment.”

According to co-founder Ian Hecox, things at Smosh were uneasy even before it was left orphaned by Defy. “We suffered from aimless and poor leadership,” Hecox told TheWrap about its six-plus years under Defy, whose restraints on creative freedom led Smosh co-founder Anthony Padilla to leave in 2017.

“I had to come to terms with the fact that Smosh being part of a company has put all of my creative decisions through a filter of what’s appropriate for the Smosh brand as deemed by [Defy],” Padilla said on a video posted to YouTube at the time of his departure.

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Flanagan said the Smosh team won’t have to worry about being forced to detour from their natural creative process. It helps that Mythical is the run by fellow creators, the comedy duo Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln “Link” Neal III, who have produced nearly 12,000 videos and 22 billion lifetime views on YouTube alone.

That’s good news for Smosh’s 46 million YouTube subscribers, including 24 million on the main channel. “Mythical has no interest in forcing crossovers or otherwise meddling in their content,” he told TheWrap. “Our focus is on helping Smosh run efficiently and expand into new businesses. If guest-starring opportunities arise organically in the future, we’ll explore them, but with due regard for our respective fans’ desires.”

We caught up with Hecox to discuss Smosh’s new future, its bumpy past, and the possibility of Padilla coming back now that the company is under new ownership.

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1. What does Mythical’s acquisition mean for the future of Smosh?

We suffered from aimless and poor leadership under Defy, and a workspace that was not conducive to running a sketch comedy channel. We shot on the second floor of a medical building in Beverly Hills and would have to pause filming whenever the MRI machine under us was going.

During the downtime, I worked with my consultant David Sievers, who is a veteran in the digital space, and together we put together what finally felt like a proper business plan. The collapse at Defy allowed us to really take every piece of the Smosh machine apart, throw away the parts that weren’t working, and make a plan to build the things that were missing.

2. What would have been the game plan if Smosh had not find a suitable buyer?

If Smosh was acquired by a company that I didn’t agree with, I would not continue with the brand. I took meetings with several companies that clearly didn’t understand what Smosh really was, and I didn’t want to put myself, my team or the audience through another bad situation.

3. Any possibility that Anthony will come back now? What impact did you see from his departure?

Anthony is putting 100 percent of his focus into his own content currently, but our door is open for him to be in videos. A collaboration with him would be really exciting. As far as how his absence has impacted Smosh, it’s hard to tell. A quick look at our views suggests we’ve experienced stellar growth over the past year.

Also Read: Smosh Acquired by Rhett & Link’s Mythical Entertainment

4. What led you to push into audio with SmoshCast?

I’ve wanted to make a podcast for a long time, but could never think of a format that made sense. One of the drawbacks to being a sketch comedy channel is we lack the direct connection with our audience that other channels have. One of my other frustrations is the fact that we have built such a strong and loving family of people on and off camera at Smosh, but there has never been a way to show that to the audience. When I realized the podcast was the best way to alleviate both of those problems, it just clicked.

5. What changes can we expect from the company now that it is part of the Mythical Entertainment family?

Mythical is allowing me to take on a leadership role in Smosh, which I did not have under Defy. I’m not looking to cash in on any flash-in-the-pan YouTube trends, or create content that doesn’t fit our values. I want to build a comedy enterprise that will last forever, on and off YouTube. This means executing a solid business plan and giving our audience what they’ve been asking for: Better content, a better merch offering, a touring live show and much more! Mythical wants to help us achieve this however they can, without interfering with our content. And that’s awesome.

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How Xumo Became an Acquisition Target: Active Users Jump 60 Percent With Push Into Free Movies

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Xumo, one of the biggest ad-supported streaming platforms, is ramping up at time when rivals like Pluto TV have become acquisition targets.
The eight-year-old company now reaches 5.5 million active users each month, a 60 percent increase from eight mon…

Vimeo CTO on How Brands Can Avoid Livestream Fails: ‘You Can’t Just Put a Camera Somewhere’

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Live video streaming is more than just sports and news, says Vimeo’s Mark Kornfilt who explained to TheWrap that the two categories account for less than 20 percent of Vimeo’s livestream usage.

As current chief technology officer/chief product officer at Vimeo and former GM of live at the company, Kornfilt has spent a great deal of time working in the live video industry. In fact, it was Vimeo’s 2017 acquisition of Livestream, a livestreaming company he co-founded, that brought him to Vimeo, the world’s largest ad-free open video platform.

We caught up with Kornfilt to discuss the current state of live video and how Vimeo’s customers are utilizing the format. Kornfilt touches on some of the fastest growing live categories on Vimeo and talks about the misconceptions brands have when first pushing into live.

1. A recent study found that live viewership among vMVPD platforms was up 65 percent year over year. In what other areas are you seeing live video take off?

In volume, if you look across the internet is consumer streaming. It’s serendipitous, it is sort of this spontaneous, “I’m going to stream myself live to an audience.” Right after that, I would say in use cases where [Vimeo] sees strengths are in education. It’s a big area where people are organizing training session or ongoing courses and obviously what live brings to that specific use case is interactivity.

The other functions where live is used, unsurprisingly, is everything around media — everything from music, like a concert, all the way to red carpet and entertainment events.

Then, I would say it stretches all the way to sports. And in the world of sports, live has a very, very special place for somewhat obvious reasons. People want spontaneity of consuming sports live and seeing the results as they happen.

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2. Looking at the content streamed live using Vimeo, what category is growing the fastest?

I would say a driving category for us is evangelism. We work with a lot of churches, synagogues and people that are working every day to spread the word, whatever that is for them. They are on a mission of reaching the widest audience possible with a message. Think about the use case of a church that happens every Sunday and it happens in quite a structured way around an event that is scheduled and already has a physical audience and is trying to gather a digital audience.

Then I would say that the next big category is corporate communications, both internal and external corporate communication. This can be anywhere from, I don’t know, Tesla launching a new car to us internally using livestreaming to broadcast our “All Hands” meetings to our offices all around the world.

3. What is the biggest misconception entertainment companies and digital brands have about incorporating live into their video strategy?

The biggest misconception is probably that the audience will just show up. I think the reality about live is much like anything that a brand does. It needs to be prepared. It needs to be marketed, it needs to have a message that people are interested in and then it’s a very powerful format — very few things can beat live.

But you can’t just put a camera somewhere, turn on the livestream and expect to have an audience. I’ll give you an example. We had a cosmetics brand that organized an event for the launch of a new product. They commissioned a very popular artist to come and sing a song and livestreamed it. They did the livestream and they had a very small audience. The reason why is because they didn’t talk about it anywhere. The artists didn’t talk about it on their feed, the brand didn’t talk about it on their feed. It wasn’t prepared and it didn’t do anything for the brand.

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4. How is livestreaming shaping the video industry in terms of content and monetization?  

Live is one of the most engaging ways to connect with an audience, and its immediacy enables monetization models that had not been possible before. For example, we are seeing creators offer live content as part of a subscription package, and providing recordings, replays and highlights as free-to-view content.

Even for creators making on-demand editorial content like podcasts or web series, having a live component to their platform or app can help them better connect and engage with their audience. In terms of monetization, there are thousands of niche global sports finding — and monetizing — their digital audiences.

5. Can live be a sustainable business for online creators and influencers?

I mean, for sure it is. I’ll give you an example of where it is — education. We have entire brands and companies that have been built around regular livestreams in particular areas. We have a very large Brazilian customer of ours that has become one of the largest education outlets in the country and it all started —  and still very much is — based on live.

Another example where it has worked is with sports. We are seeing yoga brands and yoga instructors use the format on a regular basis to sell subscriptions that are based around live content.

Some of the best brands are using live video to communicate with their audiences on every platform in real time, and the viewership and engagement they’re getting is driving real ROI. Also, as technology and bandwidth speeds improve, browsers mature and communications protocols improve, the quality and latency of live video is increasing at a rapid pace. With 5G gradually coming online in the near future, we’re going to see these trends continue to accelerate.

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Is Facebook Stuck in a No-Win Position When It Comes to Moderating Content?

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When it comes to moderating content, Mark Zuckerberg probably gets the sense that Facebook is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.

The social network has been ridiculed in the past for not doing enough to police its platform — which, despite a scandal-filled 2018, still closed the year with 2.3 billion monthly users.

Now, Facebook is once again being skewered by its critics — despite hiring thousands of content moderators in recent years — after The Verge published a harrowing look at what it’s like to spend all day scanning the worst Facebook has to offer: racism; violence; beastiality; self-harm; murder.

For the 1,000 moderators at Cognizant, a Phoenix-based vendor used by Facebook, it’s all part of the job. And unsurprisingly, it inflicts a significant mental toll on its workers. Some current and former employees told The Verge they drink on the job or smoke weed to “numb their emotions.” Others said they’d developed “PTSD-like symptoms.” One former moderator, scared that angry ex-colleagues may return to the office, said he brought a gun to work each day.

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While this was met with understandable horror by many tech reporters, former Facebook director and current Wired writer Antonio Garcia Martinez argued this is the painful but obvious byproduct of Facebook reluctantly stepping up its moderation.

“The same [Facebook] critics who call on the company to take on responsibility for moderating content (an operational job they don’t want, and had to be pressed to perform), will of course be shocked, shocked at the human cost in reviewing billions of pieces of random content,” Martinez tweeted.

The same FB critics who call on the company to take on responsibility for moderating content (an operational job they don’t want, and had to be pressed to perform), will of course be shocked, shocked at the human cost in reviewing billions of pieces of random content.

— Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) February 25, 2019

Martinez’s reaction raised a valid point: What do we even expect Facebook to do?

“Social media companies like Facebook are between a rock and a hard place,” tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar told TheWrap. “If they’re more proactive and remove content, the other side says, ‘How dare you? You’re not the government.’ But then if they’re more libertarian and say it’s a marketplace of ideas, then they’re not handling their social responsibility.”

Facebook has beefed up its moderation efforts since it was roundly blamed for letting Russian trolls run bogus political ads during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The company also added several thousand moderators in 2017 in reaction to several videos depicting both murder and teens taking their own lives. Other social platforms like Twitter have followed suit in the last two years. Currently, Facebook employs about 15,000 reviewers around the world.

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In a wide-ranging discussion with Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain earlier this month, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg touched on the difficulty of moderating billions of posts each day. Zuckerberg said the company wants to make sure “borderline content,” or content that approaches violating its rules, doesn’t become the most shared content on Facebook. At the same time, he acknowledged that the company doesn’t want to be in the business of determining what is and isn’t true.

“I believe very strongly that people do not want Facebook and that we should not be the arbiters of truth in deciding what is correct for everyone in the society,” Zuckerberg told Zittrain. “I think people already generally think that we have too much power in deciding what content is good.”

The challenge Facebook is “grappling with,” Zuckerberg said, is striking a balance between “free expression” on the one hand, and “safety” on the other, where users “rightfully have an expectation of us that we’re going to do everything we can to stop terrorists from recruiting people or people from exploiting children.”

Like Martinez, Polgar said this was a challenge Zuckerberg only took on to silence the company’s critics.

“Zuckerberg and [Twitter chief] Jack Dorsey, if they could shift away this power, they absolutely would,” Polgar said. “Think about how much time and PR nightmares they’re stuck in because they’re trying to clean up behavior online.”

It’s a responsibility Facebook is likely stuck with, though, now that it’s begun moderating in the first place. And if that’s the case, there are a few options that can be explored to make this undesirable job a bit more palatable.

The first fix, Polgar said, would be to pay its moderators better. As The Verge pointed out, Cognizant reviewers earned less than $29,000 per year — or about eight times less than the average Facebook employee makes. If they’re going to sift through disgusting and depressing content all day, he thinks they should at least be paid decently.

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Another option would be to provide more mental health resources for its moderators. A Facebook rep told TheWrap the company was looking to “include even more regular and comprehensive focus groups” with its vendor employees than it currently does, but didn’t elaborate on specific programs it’ll implement.

Still, these changes wouldn’t act as a surefire panacea. Humans would still be taking the mental brunt of it. Artificial intelligence could potentially ease this burden, somewhat.

A person familiar with Facebook’s moderation efforts said the company already depends on AI to target much of the content it’s trying to eradicate, including posts related to terrorism and pornography. AI also helps to prioritize the most important posts for moderators to review, like content related to self-harm. But a future where human moderators are replaced entirely by AI is unlikely.

“There will most likely always be a need for humans as part of this process,” the Facebook employee said, because of the “nuance” needed to review posts.

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This week has shined a light on the bind Facebook finds itself in. To moderate billions of posts each day is a near-impossible task that comes with a substantial human cost. To improve this effort by paying better or hiring more moderators would be pricey. On the other hand, to abandon it would be a PR catastrophe and allow the ugliest content to float around Facebook. Strictly from a business standpoint, this isn’t feasible, as some users and advertisers would run away.

Zuckerberg made his choice to fight the worst content on Facebook, but the halfhearted attempt has once again provided ammunition for the company’s critics — the same critics Facebook was looking to satiate by focusing on content moderation in the first place.

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Disney to Launch Streaming Service in Japan

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The Walt Disney Company revealed plans Thursday morning to launch a new streaming service in Japan.

The unnamed OTT platform will launch in March using the upcoming 5G infrastructure of Japan’s leading telecommunication company Docomo, according to The Hollywood Reporter. News of the partnership was revealed at the Mobile World Congress 2019 being held this week in Barcelona, Spain.

While details on the new service are still scarce, the company did confirm that content from four of its studios (Walt Disney Studios, Marvel Studios, Pixar and Lucasfilm) will be available on the service, The Hollywood Reporter said. However, the price consumers will pay for that content is still unknown.

The service is unrelated to Disney’s upcoming U.S. SVOD service Disney+, according to a spokesperson from Disney’s U.S. team.

Also Read: Everything You Need to Know About Disney’s Streaming Service

Disney’s APAC division, which will help oversee the service, and Docomo did not respond to request for comment.

Docomo holds around 45 percent market share in Japan, making it the largest Japanese telecommunication company with more than 70 million subscribers. Its closest competitor with a 31 percent share is KDDi’s Au, which has also been looking for ways to tap into the streaming market. Last year, the company partnered with Netflix, offering its mobile subscribers a data plan with unlimited access to the streaming platform (similar to T-Mobile’s partnership with the streaming giant in the U.S.). Both of the services are expected to launch their 5G networks later this year, which will offer the fastest internet connection yet seen on mobile.

Japan isn’t the only country Disney has scouted for its growing OTT business. In October 2017, the company debuted a streaming service in Ireland. Titled DisneyLife, the platform offers customers more than 400 movies along with a selection of Disney Channel shows, Disney e-books, and music for a monthly price $8.27. For that price users can create up to six individual profiles across 10 different devices. It also includes built-in controls so that parents can set time limits on their children’s profiles for weekday and weekend use.

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Dax Shepard’s ‘Armchair Expert’ Is a Hit and 5 More Takeaways From Winter Podcast Upfront

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Fans of Bill Nye, Topher Grace and the seminal podcast “Serial” can rejoice — there’s new audio content coming to your earbuds soon.

Seven major podcasts networks such as NPR, Stitcher, Wondery, ESPN and IHeartPodcast Network — as well as independent outfits like “Serial” and “Armchair Expert” — unveiled their upcoming lineups and partnerships at this month’s Winter Podcast Upfront in Beverly Hills. In total, the podcast networks gave advertisers and media a glimpse of how big podcasts have become, growing into an industry that has daily podcast downloads in the tens of millions, according to researchers.

Here are some of the highlights from the event:

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1. Podcast listenership is still niche, but on the rise

The share of the U.S. population listening to podcasts has doubled in the last four years, increasing from 1.7 percent in 2014 to 3.9 percent in 2018, according to Tom Webster, SVP of the podcast research company Edison Research, which has partnered with networks like PodcastOne and NPR for private research and consulting.

While this is still a smaller percentage compared to how much we listen to AM/FM radio (45 percent in 2018), Webster estimates that tens of millions of hours of podcasts are being downloaded daily across all platforms.

The full study, called Share of Ear, will be released on March 6.

2. Dax Shephard hits 1 million listeners per podcast

After debuting last February, the interview podcast “Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard” grew to become the most downloaded new shows of the year, according to Apple iTunes. At the upfront, Public Media Marketing unveiled that the podcast has reached an average of 1 million podcast downloads per episode.

“We’ve never seen a show grow so quickly,” CEO of podcast marketing company Public Media Marketing David Raphael, who also works with the highly successful “The Joe Rogan Experience,” told TheWrap. “Serial had ‘This American Life’ to launch from. Dax didn’t. There was no reason other than the fact that the show is connecting.”

“Armchair Expert” joins fellow independent podcasts like “Your Mom’s House With Tom Segura and Christina Pazsitzky” and “The Joe Rogen Experience” as podcasts that have crossed the threshold of a million downloads per episode on average, Raphael said.

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3. “Serial” is back to hit the books

As previously reported by TheWrap, the investigative podcast series “Serial” — which helped popularize the genre with a true-crime first season that inspired an upcoming HBO docu-series, “The Case Against Adnan Syed” — announced that its next project will take a deep dive into the U.S. public school system.

The still-untitled series will track the history of a single public school through a century of sweeping social changes and major educational reforms. Through personal stories and plot twists, it will examine how the school reflects an ultimately failed effort to create equality in America. It’s set for release during the fourth quarter of 2019.

The new project, to be hosted by Peabody Award winner Chana Joffe-Walt and produced by “Serial” co-creators Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, will be a limited series rather than the official fourth season of “Serial.”

4. Expect more ads in your favorite podcast

Like many popular podcasts, “Serial” is taking a different approach to advertising with content partnerships with brands that feel integrated into the program.

For “Serial” season 3 last year, PMM partnered with job search website ZipRecruiter for a series of ad spots called “Road to Hired,” focused on an individual who used the site to advance their careers. The goal was to have ads feel fully integrated into the storytelling style of “Serial.” Raphael noted that Vital Farms saw a 96 percent brand lift after the campaign it did with PMM podcasts.

Hotel booking website HotelTonight is also praising its partnerships with podcasts. During ESPN’s presentation of its podcast arm ESPNAudio, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith presented a statement from the senior manager of acquisition marketing at HotelTonight David Gee, citing “a whopping 288 percent increase in awareness” after its first campaign with ESPN podcasts.

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5. Bill Nye and more stars come to podcasts

Stitcher’s upcoming lineup will include the Science Guy himself: Bill Nye. The famed science commentator will host “Science Rules!” where he will take listener calls with co-host Corey Powell, using field experts and special celebrity guests to “answer the curliest science questions,” Stitcher said in a statement.

“Science Rules!” will launch on the Stitcher Originals network in May.

Other stars coming to podcasts include “BlacKkKlansman” actor Topher Grace and “Tusk” and “Dodgeball” actor Justin Long.

In “Minor Adventures With Topher Grace,” debuting later this year from Unqualified Media, Grace will welcome guests such as Whitney Cummings, Chelsea Peretti and Nina Dobrev to do a certain challenge with him, like getting strapped to a lie detector test, all while discussing “everything from dating preferences to niche careers to alternative medicine.”

Long, who currently voices Kevin Murphy on “F Is for Family,” will host a weekly long-form interview show for Wondery, starting on May 14.

Midroll also announced “The Ron Burgundy Podcast,” a comedy podcast hosted by Will Ferrell, will return in the summer for a season 2.

And ESPN plans a podcast series on Donald Sterling, the owner of the L.A. Clippers from 1981 to 2014 who was forced to sell the NBA team after the league fined him for racist comments that were recorded and made public.

Also Read: Spotify Bets Big on Podcasts With Gimlet and Anchor Deals, Pegs Another $500 Million for Acquisitions

6. Unqualified Media and “Disgraceland” expand their reach

As some podcast networks sign more name talent, others are growing from within.

Anna Faris’ Unqualified Media will be pushing hard into the podcast space in 2019, debuting five new shows by the end of the year, from Grace’s “Minor Adventures” to ones on parenting and advice from spiritual and sex experts.

Unqualified Media is also looking to grow its relationship with advertisers in the new year. In a recent episode of “Unqualified” with Faris, there was a 10-minute segment in partnership with Paramount in the style of her conversational podcast. This strategy will be something PMM and their podcasts will continue to do in the future, Raphael said.

The true-crime rock ‘n’ roll podcast “Disgraceland,” named one of Apple podcasts’ “shows we love” in 2018, is partnering with media giant iHeartMedia to launch two new shows that delve into the insidious world of music. (A third season of “Disgraceland” will also roll out starting March 14.)

“I wanted to connect to an audience that’s much bigger that you can reach from driving around in a van, and I didn’t have to do this with sweaty guys,” creator Jake Brennan, also a musician, said at the upfront.

“Rocka Rolla” will be a 10-episode deep dive into “the madness and genius of Phil Spector,” iHeartMedia said in statement. Much in the vein of “Disgraceland,” the podcast will retrace the life of the music producer with a half century of experience working with bands like the Beatles. In 2009, he was convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, Calif., mansion and is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence for the crime.

“Disgraceland” is also launching the anthology series “The 27 Club,” a look at the self-destruction of rock ‘n’ roll legends hosted by “Disgraceland” creator Jake Brennan.

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Inside NowThis’ Push Into Longer-Form Original Video Content

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Using quick hit, snackable-sized content, the digital video company NowThis has catapulted it to be the No. 1 most-viewed news brand cross-platform on digital and mobile, according to Tubular Labs. Avid Facebook users and Snapchat Discover visitors have likely encountered the company’s short-form videos, which consist of a series of text layered on top of video.

After scoring 2.5 billion views a month by focusing on “news-of-the-day quick hits,” Sarah Frank, who oversees the new NowThis Originals division, said the company is ready to invest more heavily into the production of more episodic, serialized original content that deviates from its tried-and-true formula.

“NowThis Originals is the natural extension after building our brand on social with quick, shareable, youth-focused trending stories told through video,” Frank told TheWrap in a recent interview. “While we still offer that to our audiences on every major social platform to stay up to date every day, we’ve dedicated this new division to lean more heavily into building IP, shows and series that young audiences can connect with that live on social and beyond — streaming and OTT, too.”

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Since 2017, NowThis has rolled out original projects such as “Never Seen,” which showcases first impressions of classic shows and movies from viewers who haven’t yet seen them; “Mane,” a show that “explores the intersection of hair and culture” and focuses on a different hair trend each week; and “Apocalypse NowThis,” which examines the different ways in which life as humans know it on Earth could be wiped out.

Even before the official January launch of NowThis Originals, the company has found both viewership and engagement for longer-form original content. The brand saw an increase in watch time of 36 percent last year over 2017, and Frank said the publisher’s original shows have amassed over 300 million minutes watched.

In addition to connecting with audiences, one equally important goal for the company is to connect with advertisers, who, over the past several years have grown skeptical about the brand safety of social platforms. Just this month, Disney, Hasbro, AT&T and Nestle pulled ads from YouTube after a blogger detailed how comments on Google’s video site were being used to facilitate a “soft-core pedophilia ring.” This incident follows a bumpy two years for YouTube, in which advertisers exited the platform left and right over ads running on content they deemed inappropriate.

In order to attract a greater number of advertisers, NowThis plans to produce content that is more brand safe than their typical news content. “This content isn’t news-of-the-day quick hits,” Frank said. “They are fun and thoughtful shows and series that are more brand-safe than news, opening us up to more advertiser partnerships.”

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So far, the digital publisher has already partnered with BoostMobile, SheaMoisture, and the NHL on a variety of upcoming multi-platform projects. No matter the partner, Frank said the content that comes out of the new division will continue to be focused on stories that matter to younger viewers, such as “gender equality and empowerment, climate change, social justice and pop culture.”

There is no set number on how many projects the NowThis Originals team will release in 2019. The team is currently developing its first official slate, which Frank anticipates will have approximately 10 shows at one time.

“I’m really excited for a new hosted series we’ve been developing called ‘What The FAQs’ — where we explore the weird, wacky and confusing questions about our bodies and the world around us,” Frank said. “We’ll explore what makes some people love spicy food while others can’t take the heat, or why mosquitoes always bite me and never my partner, or the real reasons songs get stuck in our heads. ‘What the FAQs’ pairs humor, deep tech and scientific research, and entertaining interviews with experts to get you the answers — in an entertaining way, of course.”

In addition to shows like “What the FAQs,” NowThis Originals also plans to develop new shows that explore the world of eSports and gaming culture, as well as more concepts involving celebrity guests.

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“Our original series will take the best learnings from NowThis’ five-plus years building engaging videos young people actually watch and share,” she said. “We’ve developed best practices to hook and hold audiences on all platforms, so of course our originals will be distributed across multiple platforms with the appropriate optimization to make sure these stories land with audiences.”

“We’re also not afraid to experiment, learn and iterate,” she added. “We’re seeing real success with host-led series and plan on doubling down in the future. We are also working with animation, feature-length docs and higher production value overall.”

Launched in 2012 and part of Group Nine since 2016, NowThis has 13 content verticals, including News, Politics, Entertainment, Future, Her, Money, Sports and Food. According to Nielsen Digital Content Ratings, the company reaches over 70 percent of all Americans in their 20s.

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Should LinkedIn Allow Creators to Monetize Video – and How?

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

LinkedIn has been pushing extra hard into video lately. After giving users the ability to post videos in August 2017, the company recently upped its offering with the addition of LinkedIn Live allowing people and organizations to broadcast real-time video to select groups or to their entire LinkedIn community.

Many are now wondering if and when the company will allow users to monetize the video content they post — similar to the offerings of social-network rivals Facebook and YouTube — and how it will do so in a way that preserves the site’s unique ecosystem.

“If LinkedIn wants to see the number of videos on platform continue to grow, it needs to give creators the ability to monetize their content,” Tongal James DeJulio, who formerly served as SVP of Paramount Pictures, told TheWrap. “If creators can monetize their content on the platform, they’ll keep doing it. If not, the appeal fades really quickly.”

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A rep for LinkedIn said the company has no current plans regarding monetization of video: “We are first focused on understanding how members interact with live video during the beta and will evaluate what makes sense in the future.”

While Linkedin allows standalone video ads, the introduction of ads into UGC would allow users to make money from the content they post, depending on the number of views they obtain. Eligible creators on Facebook and YouTube walk away with a portion of the ad revenue generated from their videos — giving them more incentive to create and post content and increase time spent on the platform.

Jim Louderback, the former CEO of the multi-channel internet TV network Revision3 who now serves as general manager of VidCon, said LinkedIn should “absolutely” allow users and creators to monetize their video content.

“We are seeing the rise of an influencer class on LinkedIn that is specifically focused on the work-graph as opposed to the social-graph,” he told TheWrap. “But to keep putting time, energy and emotion into these videos — and to incent[ivize] people to make them more and more useful — creators need to get paid for their efforts.

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“Otherwise, they will go elsewhere. If video is important to LinkedIn — and it clearly is to its users — then it needs to figure out a way for creators to monetize their efforts,” he said. “LinkedIn celebrates commercial enterprises. Top creators are essentially Direct to Consumer (DTC) brands. They are media entrepreneurs. For a vital ecosystem, they need to be able to build businesses on the platform.”

Jonathan Swerdlin, founder and CEO of Portal, an ad-free social media app whose creators rely on donations to make money, encourages LinkedIn to seek out a different approach to video monetization to preserve what is unique about its ecosystem.

“Don’t sell our attention to advertisers. Allow users to monetize their videos in ways that people celebrate instead of ‘skip.’ LinkedIn has an unparalleled value that people and companies already pay for,” he explained. “Extend this direct payment relationship to creators and audiences. Learn from platforms like Portal and Twitch pioneering micropayment tipping and subscriptions. Incentivize quality over quantity.”

Swerdlin, who has said in the past that “advertising is the biggest scam on the internet,” said that allowing users to donate to their favorite creators would be the most authentic approach for the platform — though he is not opposed to monetization per se.

Other industry figures have mixed feelings about how LinkedIn’s ecosystem would be transformed if people were incentivized to create content. Some worry that the site may end up mimicking Facebook — where clickbait, emotion-triggering videos run wild and users passively scroll through content.

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“In-video ads incentivize views over quality, resulting in more clickbait and a less valuable experience,” Swerdlin said. “If LinkedIn becomes a place where users make money off in-video ads, the best case is that it is not a popular feature and nobody notices. Worst case is that it becomes another compromised feed full of clickbait where human attention becomes the product.”

Swerdlin is not alone in expressing fears about how LinkedIn introduces video advertising.

“When you start attaching in-video ads to your content, people instinctively start questioning the intentions behind that content,” Dejulio said. “That’s why authenticity is everything today. For better or worse, ads will change the nature of the platform.

“Today, the mindset of someone on LinkedIn — someone looking to network and self-promote — is different from the mindset of someone on Facebook,” he added. “In-video ads are going to introduce a level of skepticism to a platform that has historically felt more reliable than the others.”

Meanwhile, Louderback believes that preserving LinkedIn’s unique experience will depend largely on how the in-video ads are constructed. “I would rather see an ecosystem that embraces branded sponsorships, in-stream advertising messages and endorsements, support for merchandise, affiliate links and other forms of monetization,” he said. 

Although LinkedIn members are also consumers, Louderback suggested that the site think about a different approach to monetization.

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“Thought leadership and lead geneartion are the key elements that should be key parts of any advertising efforts — and that leads more to sponsorships and special offers than the broad brand-awareness goals of many pre-roll and mid-roll ad units.”

For Dejulio and Louderback, the good that in-video ads can bring to creators and Linkedin as a whole outweighs the harm it might cause.

“Worst-case scenario you get a wave of people and brands pushing out content that feels inauthentic to the platform and audience and gets ignored,” Deljulio said. “Best-case scenario you’ve incentivized creators and brands to develop awesome, relevant content at scale for an audience of business-minded people.”

Louderback envisions LinkedIn deploying “native ad formats that mirror how B2B marketing works today, without becoming hugely disruptive — and are embraced by users.”

If the company stumbles in its rollout, he cautioned, “LinkedIn becomes yet another site where branding and marketing messages drown out the content with intrusive pop-ups, pop-overs, roadblocks and other spammy ways to get users to click on things by mistake — and users turn away in droves.”

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How Digital Video Publishers Are Racing to Take Advantage of Connected TV’s Growth in Popularity

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Digital brands are learning that while mobile is still a great place to reach a lot of eyeballs, consumers are spending more time and longer periods of that time streaming video content on their connected TVs (CTV).

Conviva estimates that CTVs had a 148 percent growth in plays last year, outpacing mobile, which saw a more modest 94 percent growth. While mobile is still a strong choice for watching content on the go, connected TVs accounted for a 56 percent share in viewing hours for 2018 — an increase of 9 percent from 2017.

The stats aren’t surprising when looking at the number of U.S. households that own a connected TV. At the end of 2017, 210 million devices were installed in consumer homes actively delivering internet connectivity to the TV screen, and by the end of 2021 there are forecast to be 275 million, according to The NPD Group.

For digital brands like Conde Nast-owned Bon Appetit, which launched its own streaming app on Thursday, this growth in CTV use offers an opportunity to create its own viewing destination where it has greater control of content and advertising.

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“In some respects, launching OTT apps is a defensive strategy. Print readership is falling and digital readership isn’t keeping up. At the same time, how-to and niche interest video is booming on sites like YouTube,” co-founder of nScreenMedia Colin Dixon told TheWrap. “Offering video service is an attempt to stop ad revenue leaking away to social and to maintain a subscription relationship with customers.”

Part of the goal for Bon Appetit is to move its social media viewers — and the 1.3 billion views they’ve accumulated across Bon Appetit’s social platforms — to the owned-and-operated TV app where it has a direct relationship with the consumer. CNE has the same plans for its GQ and Wired brands, it announced at last year’s NewFronts.

“Video opens up the opportunity for the company to be able to offer advertisers a better way of engaging with prospective customers,” Dixon added.

Late last year, Refinery29 also launched its own dedicated OTT app, known as Channel 29, with an expanded lineup of original news, entertainment and lifestyle programming perfectly geared for CTVs.

However, not all companies are going the standalone OTT route to have a presence on connected TVs. Building and running a standalone OTT app is a difficult and expensive path to reach an audience, as George Rausch, head of product marketing at Frequency, pointed out in a recent interview.

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“The common thing that people come back saying [after launching a OTT app] is, ‘You know, I launched these apps on very popular app stores — why is my traffic so low and why did I only make 300 bucks?’” he said.  

OTT apps that launch on streaming devices like Apple TV or Amazon’s Fire Stick are competing with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other apps. Roku alone offers more than 5,000 apps. While the company is constantly trying to make content on its platform easier to find, discoverability is a major challenge given the current glut of competitors.

While CNE can leverage its Bon Appetit magazine to promote the service to help retain existing customers, Dixon noted that “finding new, younger customers will be a challenge. CNE will need to heavily promote through social media and look for distribution partners that can help the potential audience find the service.”

Finding an audience can be just as difficult as keeping one. CleverTap, a mobile app marketing platform with app analytics, estimated last year that OTT apps on average experience a 35 percent uninstall rate three months after being downloaded.

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To increase discoverability, many digital publishers are partnering with emerging and established vMVPD services like Pluto TV and Dish’s OTT service Sling TV. By grouping up with a more popular service, the companies’ content has greater chances of being watched and found.

Jukin, which launched linear channels for its FailArmy and Pet Collective brands across multiple streaming TV platforms, found that being bundled in a lean-back offering boosted its average watch time from 24 minutes to more than 64 minutes per session and overall viewership to 90 million minutes watched per month across both channels.

Launching the channel still required resources and extra personnel, but the venture has so far proved successful, according to Jukin Media founder and CEO Jonathan Skogmo.

“Our overnight success in linear has actually been a couple years in the making. It takes specific skills and experience to do it well, which is why we’ve brought in people like Jill Goldfarb to really take our channels to the next level,” Skogmo said. “We saw strong signals early on — things like 50-plus minute average watch times — and we took that as a proof point to continue investing in the programming and the talent.”

With more eyeballs landing on the biggest screen in the house, the emergence of OTT apps and channels from publishers will be a regular occurence throughout the coming years. Whether the results will mimic Jukin Media’s success will largely depend on if and when the new platforms or channels are discovered. Meanwhile, publishers will continue to expand their offering so that their content is available everywhere a viewer can consume it.

“Simply put, their core audience is changing. Video is becoming a more important part of people’s lives and it carries over into their niche interests,” said Dixon.

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Latest Sign the Cord-Cutting Revolution Is Over: Roku Users Watch 3 Hours of Content Per Day

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Roku revealed two key statistics showing streaming’s increasing ubiquity — and how the device-maker is benefiting from it — when the company reported its fourth quarter earnings on Thursday.

First, the company estimated “nearly 1 out of 5 U.S. TV households” now uses one of its devices to stream television. And secondly, Roku said its customers streamed 7.3 billion hours of content during Q4 — an increase of 70 percent year-over-year.

To put that into perspective: Across its 27.1 million accounts by the end of 2018, the average Roku viewer was streaming almost 3 hours worth of content each day.

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It’s a jarring yet fitting number, considering that Roku is continuing to benefit from the growth of major streaming players like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Last month, Netflix estimated its 60 million American customers stream 100 minutes of shows each day on average. It goes without saying that many of those customers are streaming Netflix content via Roku devices.

At the same time, Roku appears poised to see its billions of streaming hours continue to increase, as more streaming services flood the market. Disney and WarnerMedia are set to launch their own services later this year, as well as Apple.

And the sheer volume of content is expanding, with the number of scripted shows on streaming services increasing 37 percent from 2017 to 2018. The Big Three streaming services — Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — took home 12 of 26 Primetime Emmys last September. Quality content, coupled with more providers and more shows, will only drive more time spent using Roku devices.

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Traditional TV stalwarts, meanwhile, are failing to keep up. DirecTV lost more than 400,000 customers during the fourth quarter, AT&T reported last month.

Investors look like they expect this trend — streaming’s rise replacing old school television — to continue. Heading into Thursday afternoon, Roku shares have increased 70 percent to $51.48 per share since the beginning of 2019; after reporting its Q4 financials on Thursday, Roku shares crept up another 4 percent in after-hours trading.

Roku has made its name off its array of devices, which range from $30 to $100, as well as a $200 package that includes wireless speakers. But dig a bit deeper into its Q4 results and it becomes evident Roku is focused on moving beyond its dependency on devices sales.

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Platform revenue, which includes ad sales and licensing, increased nearly 80 percent year-over-year, accounting for $151.4 million in Q4 revenue. Advertisers are progressively turning to Roku as the company looks to not only sell devices but grab eyeballs with its own content.

CEO Anthony Wood, in the company’s letter to shareholders, said Roku is focused on adding more “features and content” to The Roku Channel, aiming to drive more ad dollars.

That’s well and good, but even without its own compelling content, Roku is set to enjoy a banner year, as streaming’s rising tide is clearly lifting its boat.

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Will Journalists Be Replaced by Artificial Intelligence?

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Is artificial intelligence poised to put thousands of journalists out on the streets?

It can certainly look that way, with AI creeping into journalism more each day.

An AI-powered — and eerily-human —  newscaster debuted late last year in China, and earlier this week Axios published a fake article using an AI program that’s capable of generating news posts that seem indistinguishable from its other stories. In recent years, legacy outlets like the Los Angeles Times and the BBC have turned to AI to write earthquake stories and curate programming schedules, respectively.

World’s first #AI news anchor debuts, jointly developed by Xinhua and Chinese search engine company

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) November 8, 2018

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Advances in artificial intelligence — which enables machines to perform functions typically reserved for humans, and usually at a much faster clip — have led to disruptions in many industries in recent years. One report from the McKinsey Global Institute has warned that by 2030, machines could wipe out more than 800 million jobs worldwide.

That sounds like bad news for journalists. If AI systems can host the nightly news or produce clear, concise articles, it doesn’t seem to leave much room for humans.

But instead of spelling the end for human reporters, some experts are optimistic AI could usher in a golden age of journalism.

“Overall, what you’re going to see is more content and more interesting content, and AI is going to be the engine that drives us to that place,” Randy Picht, executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, told TheWrap.

Right now, Picht said AI mostly handles grunt work, like helping Bloomberg and the Associated Press churn out weather and financial earnings stories. The key is having “clean data,” Picht said; as long as the AI systems have access to the numbers needed to create a story, it can fill in the post with just enough color.

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Before using AI tools, the Associated Press — where Picht used to work — “could only cover a fraction of companies every quarter, so they wrote about the biggest ones,” Picht said. “Maybe they did 200 companies a quarter, which is impressive considering the number of reporters they had. When they [started using AI tools], it jumped to 2,000.”

Rather than replacing reporters, Picht looks at AI as complementing reporters. By handling mundane posts, the technology frees reporters to investigate more complex stories. And perhaps most importantly, AI-powered computer programs are capable of quickly poring through troves of data and documents for particular keywords — something that would take days for a human to accomplish. “You couldn’t look through 80,000 pages of documents, but a computer can,” Picht said.

“It’s a very promising area for journalism, because it’s going to result in stories that were previously hidden from scrutiny, and now they’re going to be available for a journalist to explore,” Picht added.

AI researcher Yves Bergquist agreed, saying the robot takeover of journalism is currently restricted by AI’s own shortcomings. “Narrow” AI, which is able to accomplish a single task more efficiently than humans, hasn’t given way to “General” AI, where a system is able to do several things better than humans.

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Currently, AI is missing “two key aspects” when it comes to journalism, according to Bergquist: “context and abstraction.” An AI system can write a brief story about something President Trump said, for example, but it can’t give historical context or compare the new development to an event that happened in 1971. AI is also unable to think conceptually or seek out its own stories — a flaw that puts it behind human reporters.

Another “extremely important” factor, Bergquist said, especially when it comes to television reporting, is how an audience connects with a reporter. “There’s a reason evening newscasts vary so much in ratings while delivering the same news — it’s because of different personalities,” Bergquist said.

AI-powered anchors like the one in China come across as synthetic and clunky — something Bergquist said will take up to 20 years to completely overcome. And even then, humans will still likely prefer to get their news from a living, breathing sentient being, he said.

So for now, J-school students don’t need to worry about dropping out because AI can handle basic news stories. AI, according to the experts, is something that is helping — and will continue to help — journalists, rather than put them out of a job.

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