Netflix’s ‘Icarus’ wins the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature


It was a quiet Oscar ceremony for the big streaming services, but Netflix’s doping film Icarus (directed by Bryan Fogel) did win the award for best documentary feature.

The Big Sick, distributed by Amazon Studios, was nominated for best original screenplay, while Netflix’s Mudbound was nominated for best adapted screenplay, cinematography (amazingly, Rachel Morrison is the first woman nominated in this category), original song and supporting actress — but both films are going home empty-handed.

On the one hand, this still seems like a respectful performance for companies that only started producing and distributing their own movies a few years ago. (Netflix, in particular, faces an uphill battle, given its unwillingness to allow its movies to screen in theaters first.)

On the other hand, Amazon did better last year, when Manchester by the Sea won awards for best actor and original screenplay, while The Salesman won for best foreign language film.

Also worth noting: Indiegogo got a shoutout tonight when The Silent Child (which was crowdfunded on the site) won for best live action short.

Among the other films we’ve written about on TechCrunch, Blade Runner 2049 won for best cinematography and best visual effects, while The Shape of Water won for best director, best production design, best original score — and the big one, best picture.

Featured Image: Netflix

Tencent Music, Spotify’s strategic partner in China, is valued at over $12B


Spotify has finally filed to go public, and in doing so the Swedish company has shed light on another huge music company that has been tipped for IPO — Tencent Music — which is now valued at over $12 billion.

Tencent and Spotify announced a share swap in December that saw each side take an undisclosed slice of the other for strategic purposes going forward. According to Spotify’s filing, it took nine percent of Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) which it valued at €910 million at the time. That translates to a total valuation of €10.11 billion, or $12.3 billion, although Spotify includes 10 percent leeway above and below that figure.

In exchange, Tencent — which became Asia’s first $500 billion business last year — got 7.5 percent of Spotify to become one of its largest shareholders. It bought its stake using a mix of newly issued shares and secondary, but the value of that holding is around $1.5 billion based on a rough $20 billion valuation for Spotify.

TME was reportedly raising money at a valuation of around $10 billion in October, according to a Bloomberg report, and it has been tipped to raise as much as $1 billion in a listing that could happen this year. More color on this Spotify — both in terms of TME’s valuation and Tencent’s position as a major Spotify investor — give a little more insight into how the two companies might work together.

“Spotify believes the Tencent Transactions allow Spotify to invest in the long term potential of the music market in China and, in turn, TME to invest in the long term potential of the music market outside of China,” Spotify wrote in its filing.

Spotify also disclosed that it holds a registered trademark on its name in China. One source close to the company who spoke to TechCrunch in recent weeks said that Spotify had actively looked into the potential of the Chinese market a number of years, going as far as sending engineers and business development staff to meet with prospective partners.

In Tencent, it has found perhaps the most ideal partner should Spotify decide to pursue opportunities in China.

And there are plenty of opportunities. TME is the leading player in a market where there are over 20 million paying streaming customers with more growth to come.

China’s music industry itself grossed 320.5 billion yuan ($48.33 billion) in 2016 with eight percent annual growth, according to a report. Licensed streaming revenue grew by one-third to push revenue from music and video copyright to 183 million yuan.

Best known for its WeChat messaging app, which is China’s go-to chat service, Tencent offers three services — ‘QQ Music’, ‘Kugou’ and ‘Kuwo’ — while it also operates Joox in Southeast Asia and has invested in U.S. karaoke app Smule.

Earlier this week, Tencent also brokered another music alliance after it led a $115 million investment in India-based music streaming service Gaana.

Outside of music, Tencent has invested widely in overseas technology companies. Its investments have included Tesla, Snap, HERE, Amazon rival Flipkart, Uber competitor Ola, and more.

Featured Image: Bloomberg/Getty Images

India-based music streaming service Gaana raises $115M led by Tencent


Chinese internet giant Tencent is continuing to put its money in India and in music streaming services after it agreed to lead a $115 million investment in India’s Gaana.

Gaana is a music streaming service that was started by Times Media, the company behind the Times of India newspaper and tech incubator Times Internet among other things, seven years ago. Gaana didn’t reveal its user metrics, but CEO Prashan Agarwal said the company is “only 10 percent of the way towards building a business useful for 500 million Indians.”

The company plans to use this new capital develop artificial intelligence to create more personalized services and features for listeners. It said also it will develop its paid-user service, too. Aside from a Spotify-like subscription offering, it also provides an ad-based service which is available for free.

Times Internet is already an existing backer and it is the other investor in the deal. Tencent’s involvement represents the first ‘outside’ investment money raised for Gaana, which counts Saavn — a firm that raised money from Tiger Global and others — and Xiaomi-backed Hungama among its competition.

Spotify has spent the past year assessing the Indian market over a potential move, sources close to the company told TechCrunch. But, with a U.S. public listing happening at the end of March, it isn’t likely to make the move soon.

Tencent’s investment in Gaana follows a deal with Spotify which saw both companies swap shares in December. Tencent Music Entertainment (TME), the Chinese firm’s subsidiary that manages its music streaming and karaoke services, made an undisclosed minority investment in Spotify through new shares, while Spotify bought a similar undisclosed stake in TME. Added to that, Tencent bought into Spotify by purchasing secondary shares.

While not as prolific as arch-nemesis Alibaba, Tencent — which recently became Asia’s first $500 billion company — has steadily upped its investment in India in recent times. Companies in the country that it has backed include chat app Hike, Amazon rival Flipkart, Uber competitor Ola, medical platform Practo, and education startup BYJU’s.

Given its other music businesses and investments — which include Joox in Southeast Asia and karaoke app Smule — and the fact that TME is widely-tipped to head for an IPO this year, it isn’t a huge surprise to see Tencent expand its India focus with this move into music streaming.

“We are happy to welcome Tencent as a partner in Gaana and benefit from their global learnings. Tencent operates the largest music streaming business in China, and we look forward to working closely with them to continue to innovate and drive the digital music market in India,” Gautam Sinha, CEO of Times Internet, said in a statement.

“As more affordable mobile data plans are driving smartphone penetration in India, we believe growth in the music streaming market will accelerate. By investing in and collaborating with Gaana, we look forward to bringing more innovation and better experiences to all Indian music lovers,” added Tencent President Martin Lau.

Featured Image: Shutterstock

YouTube will remove ads and downgrade discoverability of channels posting offensive videos


After barring Logan Paul earlier today from serving ads on his video channel, YouTube has now announced a more formal and wider set of sanctions it’s prepared to level on any creator that starts to post videos that are harmful to viewers, others in the YouTube community, or advertisers.

As it has done with Paul (on two occasions now), the site said it will remove monetization options on the videos, specifically access to advertising programs. But on top of that, it’s added in a twist that will be particularly impactful given that a lot of a video’s popularity rests on it being discoverable:

“We may remove a channel’s eligibility to be recommended on YouTube, such as appearing on our home page, trending tab or watch next,” Ariel Bardin, Vice President of Product Management at YouTube, writes in a blog post.

The full list of steps, as outlined by YouTube:

1. Premium Monetization Programs, Promotion and Content Development Partnerships. We may remove a channel from Google Preferred and also suspend, cancel or remove a creator’s YouTube Original.

2. Monetization and Creator Support Privileges. We may suspend a channel’s ability to serve ads, ability to earn revenue and potentially remove a channel from the YouTube Partner Program, including creator support and access to our YouTube Spaces.

3. Video Recommendations. We may remove a channel’s eligibility to be recommended on YouTube, such as appearing on our home page, trending tab or watch next.

The changes are significant not just because they could really hit creators where it hurts, but because they also point to a real shift for the platform. YouTube has long been known as a home for edgy videos filled with pranks and potentially offensive content, made in the name of comedy or freedom of expression.

Now, the site is turning over a new leaf, using a large team of human curators and AI to track the content of what’s being posted, and in cases where videos fall afoul of YouTube’s advertising guidelines, or pose a threat to its wider community, they have a much bigger chance of falling afoul of YouTube’s rules and getting dinged.

“When one creator does something particularly blatant—like conducts a heinous prank where people are traumatized, promotes violence or hate toward a group, demonstrates cruelty, or sensationalizes the pain of others in an attempt to gain views or subscribers—it can cause lasting damage to the community, including viewers, creators and the outside world,” writes Bardin. “That damage can have real-world consequences not only to users, but also to other creators, leading to missed creative opportunities, lost revenue and serious harm to your livelihoods. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that the actions of a few don’t impact the 99.9 percent of you who use your channels to connect with your fans or build thriving businesses.”

The moves come at a time when the site is making a much more concerted effort to raise the overall quality of what is posted and shared and viewed by millions of people every day, after repeated accusations that it has facilitated a range of bad actors, from people peddling propaganda to influence elections, to those who are posting harmful content aimed at children, to simply allowing cruel, tasteless and unusual videos to get posted in the name of comedy.

The issue seemed to reach a head with Paul, who posted a video in Japan in January that featured a suicide victim, and has since followed up with more questionable content presented as innocuous fun.

As I pointed out earlier today, even though he makes hundreds of thousands of dollars from ads (the exact amount is unknown and has only been estimated by different analytics companies) removing ads was only a partial sanction, since Paul monetizes in other ways, including merchandising. So it’s interesting to see YouTube adding more details and ways of sanctioning creators, that will hit at their very virality.

As in the case of Paul, YouTube makes a point of the fact that the majority of people who post content on its platform will not be impacted by today’s announcement because their content is not on the wrong side of acceptable. These sorts of sanctions, it said, will be applied as a last resort and will often not permanent but will last until the creator removes or alters content. It will be worth watching how and if this impacts video content overall on the platform.

YouTube partners with Kevin Durant to expand original sports programming


YouTube announced today that it’s enlisted the help of basketball star Kevin Durant in a bid to expand original sports content. The Golden State Warriors small forward and business partner Rich Kleiman have signed on to develop programming centered around Durant and fellow professional athletes under the umbrella of their Thirty Five Media video business.

Durant’s interest in investing turned to tech when he moved to the Bay Area to play for The Warriors in 2016. As Durant and Kleiman put it during an appearance onstage at Disrupt last September, “We’d never have been introduced to a drone startup in Oklahoma City.”

According to Kleiman, Durant began to take YouTube more seriously after meeting Neal Mohan at a Ben Horowitz-hosted party in honor of the basketball all-star’s 28th birthday. YouTube’s head of product introduced him to the platform’s potential for content delivery beyond the standard highlight reels he was accustomed to watching on the site. 

“Kevin always wanted to produce original content and wanted to produce shows, but we didn’t realize what direction it would take until then,” says Kleiman.

Durant’s channel blossomed during a self-imposed sabbatical from social media after calling out his former team on Twitter. 

In the intervening months, Durant’s YouTube channel has grown into a destination for basketball fans, giving the player a direct venue to interact with fans through Q&As and offer up documentary-style productions aimed at offering insight into the life of an all-star professional basketball player. In less than a year, it’s racked up north of 21 million views.

Outside of the incredible relationship that we’ve developed with the team at YouTube,” Durant told TechCrunch, “it’s a huge destination for video content where sports fans — including myself — spend a lot of time, and we really wanted to create content where fans are most likely to find and engage with it.”

Durant and Thirty Five Media began reaching out to fellow players prior to the deal. Warriors teammate JaVale McGee was given his own show on Durant’s channel. Parking Lot Chronicles is a play on the traditional post-game interview that finds the center moderating conversations with fellow Warriors outside of Oracle Arena.

That series will continue to be hosted on Durant’s channel, along with an upcoming show featuring actor/basketball super fan, Michael Rapaport. “We’re looking to build Kevin’s channel as a real network for himself and trying to encourage more athletes to look at it as a hub for their content, and look at it as their own Bleacher Report or ESPN,” says Kleiman. “And we’ll look to produce content to live on all of these different channels.”

Kleiman says the content for the channels will be a mix of high-production values from Thirty Five Media and more direct, raw video, depending on the needs and desires of a given partner athlete.

Durant, for his part, plans to remain involved in the undertaking. “I will have an active role both in my channel and in working with other athletes,” he explains. “I’ve seen what resonates with fans and I know how to achieve that while focusing on my job as an athlete first and foremost, and I’m excited to help others be able to do the same thing.”