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Instagram is launching a video-music remix feature to finally fight back against Chinese social rival TikTok. Instagram Reels lets you make 15-second video clips set to music and share them as Stories, with the potential to go viral on a new Top Reels section of Explore. Just like TikTok, users can soundtrack their Reels with a huge catalog of music, or borrow the audio from anyone’s else video to create a remix of their meme or joke. 

Reels is launching today on iOS and Android but limited to just Brazil where it’s called Cenas. Reels leverages all of Instagram’s most popular features to frankenstein together a remarkably coherent competitor to TikTok’s rich features and community of 1.5 billion monthly users including 122 million in the US according to Sensor Tower. Instead of trying to start from scratch like Facebook’s Lasso, Instagram could cross-promote Reels heavily to its own billion users.

But Instagram’s challenge will be retraining its populace to make premeditated, storyboarded social entertainment instead of just spontaneous, autobiographical social media like with Stories and feed posts.

“I think Musically before TikTok, and TikTok deserve a ton of credit for popularizing this format” admits Instagram director of product management Robby Stein. “No two products are exactly the same, and at the end of the day sharing video with music is a pretty univeral idea we think everyone might be interested in using. The focus has been on how to make this a unique format for us.”

Throwing Instagram’s Weight Around

Starting in Brazil before potentially rolling out elsewhere could help Instagram nail down its customization and onboarding strategy. Luckily, Brazil has a big Instagram population, a deeply musical culture, and a thriving creator community, says Stein.

It also isn’t completely obsessed with TikTok yet like fellow developing market India. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said about trying to grow Lasso, “We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big.” Instagram used this internationalization strategy to make Stories a hit where Snapchat hadn’t expanded yet, and it worked surprisingly well.

Instagram also has the US government on its side for a change. While its parent company Facebook is being investigated for anti-trust and privacy violations, TikTok is also under scrutiny.

Chinese tech giant ByteDance’s $ 1 billion 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, another Chinese app similar to TikTok but with traction in the US, is under review by the Committee For Foreign Investment In The United States. ByteDance turned Musical.ly into TikTok, but it could have to unwind the acquisitions or make other concessions to US regulators to protect the country’s national security. Several Senators have also railed against TikTok injecting Chinese social values via censorship into the American discourse.

Perhaps Instagram’s best shot at differentiation is through its social graph. While TikTok is primarily a feed broadcasting app, Instagram can work Reels into its Close Friends and Direct messaging features potentially opening a new class of creators — shy one who only want to share with people they trust not to make fun of them. A lot of this lipsyncing / dancing / humor skit content can be kinda cringey when people don’t get it just right.

How Instagram Reels Works

Users will find it in the Instagram Stories shutter modes tray next to Boomerang and Super-Zoom. They can either record with silence, borrow the audio of another video they find through hashtag search or Explore, or search a popular or trending song.

Facebook’s enormous music collection secured from all the major labels and many indie publishers powers Reels. Users pick the chunk to the song they want, and can then record or upload multiple video clips to fill out their Reel. Instagram has been building towards this moment since June 2018 when it first launched its Music stickers.

Instagram is adding some much-needed editing tools for Reels like timed captions so words appear in certain scenes, and a ghost overlay option for lining up transitions so they look fluid. Still, Reels lacks some of the video filters and special effects that TikTok has purposefully built to power certain gags and cuts between scenes. Stein says those are coming though.

Once users are satisfied with their editing job, they can post their Reel to Stories, Close Friends, or message it to people. If shared publicly, it will also be eligible to appear in the Top Reels section of the Explore tab. Most cleverly, Instagram works around its own ephemerality by letting users add their Reels to their profile’s non-disappearing Highlights for a shot to show up on Explore even after their 24-hour story expires.

Instead of having to monetize later somehow, Instagram can immediately start making money from Reels since it already shows ads in Stories and the Explore tab.

Cloning TikTok isn’t just about the features, though Reels does a good job of copying the core ones while leaving out AR effects and transitions for now. But creating scripted content is totally new for most Instagram users, and could feel too showy or goofy for an app known for its seriousness. Instagram may have to lose its artful, cool vibe to embrace the silliness of tomorrow’s social entertainment.


TechCrunch

Spotify this morning announced a new way for you to share music with friends (or fans, if you’re an artist) — by way of a new Facebook Stories integration that includes 15-second song previews. Viewers can also optionally tap on the “Play on Spotify” button in the Story to be redirected to the Spotify app to hear more.

The feature is designed largely with artists and their teams in mind, as it gives them another way to promote their new music across Facebook’s social network. Musicians and their managers often today use the Spotify app’s sharing feature to post their content across social media, including to Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and elsewhere.

Last year, Spotify introduced a way to share music to Instagram Stories, including their albums, tracks, and playlists, as part of Facebook’s announcement that it was opening up sharing to Facebook and Instagram Stories from other, third-party apps.

At the time, the company said an integration with Facebook Stories was coming soon.

Since its launch on Instagram, the sharing feature has been mutually beneficial for both Spotify and Instagram alike, as it made users’ Stories more engaging while also sending traffic back to the Spotify app for further music discovery.

There’s likely not as much demand for sharing to Facebook Stories, however.

In order to share the 15-second clips to Facebook Stories, you’ll tap the “Share” button from the Spotify app and choose Facebook as the destination.

Side note: We’re not seeing the option to share to News Feed as the picture Spotify published shows (see above. Instead, tapping “Facebook” launches you right into the Story interface, as shown in the tweet above. 

You can then customize your Story as you would normally using the Story editing tools and post it to your profile. Viewers will get to hear the 15-second song clip, and can then tap to go to Spotify to hear more.

Spotify had offered Facebook Story sharing in the past, but the access was later pulled.

These song previews only work when you’re sharing a single track to Stories. If you choose to share other content, like albums, playlists, or an artist profile page, viewers can click into that content, but won’t hear any preview, Spotify says.


TechCrunch

Online storytelling community Wattpad, also now a content feeder for streaming services and other media companies, is taking its two consumer-facing paid products global. Wattpad Premium, the ad-free subscription tier, first launched in 2017 and has only been available in a handful of countries to date. It’s now available to Wattpad’s 70 million-plus worldwide users, as of today. In addition, Wattpad’s Paid Stories, which offers exclusive, paywalled content to readers, is also now available to the global user base.

This product launched last November into beta testing, when it was then called Wattpad Next. It was initially available in the U.S. with plans for a global launch planned for this year.

Technically speaking, Wattpad quietly launched Paid Stories globally last week, but it has now completed its rollout to all users, the company says. The stories give readers another way to support their favorite writers as they can purchase the serialized content either when the story is finished, or as it’s still being written. This past month, readers spend more than 5.5 million minutes on Paid Stories, the company says.

Users purchase access to the stories using Wattpad’s virtual currency, Coins. These Coins are sold in packs that start at $ 0.99 for 9 Coins, and go as high as $ 7.99 for 230 Coins.

With the global expansion, the two products are also being better integrated.

Screen Shot 2019 07 18 at 10.31.39 AMNow, Wattpad Premium subscribers will receive discounted Coins to buy the Paid Stories. They also receive bonus Coins — up to 66% more free Coins, the company says — every time they buy a Coin package to unlock a Paid Story.

“Our vision at Wattpad is to entertain and connect the world through stories, creating the best platform and community on the planet for every type of reader and writer,” said Wattpad General Manager, Jeanne Lam. “Every innovation and initiative at Wattpad supports that vision while improving the experience for users. Wattpad Premium and Wattpad Paid Stories give users everywhere more control over their Wattpad experience and options to enjoy the platform in new ways — whether it’s uninterrupted, ad-free reading or the chance to support the writers who make those stories possible.”

The products do generate some revenue for the company — Wattpad is No. 11 Top Grossing app in the Books category on the App Store and No. 8 on Google Play. However, the company’s bigger business these days is its content deals. Wattpad earlier this year inked a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television, and has a development deal with Universal Cable Productions, among others. Internationally, it’s working with iflix, Bavaria Fiction, Huayi Brothers Korea, Penguin Random House India, Mediaset, NL Film, Mediacorp, and eOne.

Wattpad’s stories have been turned into feature films, as well as movies and TV shows for streaming services like Netflix (The Kissing Booth) and Hulu (Light as a Feather).

It now has its own print publishing arm, too, with Wattpad Books.

These broader efforts capitalize on Wattpad’s generally younger and devoted fanbase.

For example, one of the more popular Wattpad Books titles, The QB Bad Boy & Me by Tay Marley, was read more than 26.3 million times on Wattpad, and will become available in book form on August 20, 2019.


TechCrunch

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