Barack and Michelle Obama sign production deal with Netflix

Another (very) big deal for Netflix: Former U.S. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have reached an agreement to produce films and series for the streaming service.

The New York Times first reported in March that the Obamas were in “advanced negotiations” with Netflix. The goal, supposedly, was less about criticizing the Trump Administration or promoting any specific political message, and more about highlighting inspirational stories.

Netflix’s official announcement makes it sound like that continues to be what the Obamas have in mind, with Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos describing them as “uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better.”

The Obamas have formed a company called Higher Ground Productions to create this content.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Netflix has deep pockets and has shown a willingness to write very large checks.   It says the Obamas might produce “scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features” — so basically any kind of audiovisual content.

In a statement, Mr. Obama said:

One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience. That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix – we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.

Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming is scheduled for publication in November, while Barack Obama is expected to release a new memoir as well under the same deal. He’s kept a relatively low profile since leaving office, but he did make a recent appearance as the first guest David Letterman’s Netflix interview show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.

Original Content podcast: ‘Dear White People’ returns to ask more uncomfortable questions

Dear White People has a pretty provocative title — and the show, for the most part, lives up to that promise, with a sharply drawn portrait of racial tension at Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school.

It was originally a film written and directed by Justin Simien, who then reinvented the story as a Netflix series with each episode focusing on a different character; the spotlight shifts from Samantha White (played by Logan Browning), the host of the titular radio show, to many of the other students — white and black — around her.

The show just returned for season two, and on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by our colleague Megan Rose Dickey (who also co-hosts Ctrl-T) to talk about our impressions of the new episodes, the show’s politics and how it resonates with our own lives and experiences.

We also cover Netflix’s goal of hitting 1,000 originals by the end of the year and the Jordan Peel-produced series about Nazi hunters that was just picked up by Amazon. Most importantly, we try to understand why Megan has never seen The Godfather.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You also can send us feedback directly.

A leaked look at Facebook’s search engine for influencer marketing

Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so they can team up on sponsored content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, see stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals.

Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for the tool were first attained and published in german by TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works.

Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, the tool could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to spend more on Facebook ads to spread that content, while also making the ads users see more entertaining and tolerable so they spend longer on the social network. By getting creators paid, even if not directly by Facebook, they’ll invest more in the quality of their content and size of their following on the app instead of with competitors.

How Facebook’s influencer marketing search engine works

A Facebook spokesperson explained the motive behind the tool like this. Facebook wants to help businesses find creators who can reach their target audience in an authentic way, while allowing creators a path to monetizing their Facebook content and fan base. Creators opt in to participating in the test and set up a portfolio showcasing their audience size and metrics plus their best branded content. Facebook is starting the program primarily with a set of lifestyle brands and creators.

Advertisers in the test can search for creators with specific audience demographics using a wide range of targeting options. Those include both general and industry-specific parameters like:

  • Top countries where they’re popular
  • Interests
  • Gender
  • Education history
  • Relationship status
  • Life events
  • Home ownership status
  • Home type

The search engine’s results page shows a list of creators with each’s audience match percentage to the search terms, percentage of their followers they reach, engagement rate, follower count, and video views. Advertisers can save their best matches to private lists, and reach out to contact the creators, though Facebook is still figuring out if it’s best to connect them through their Facebook Page or traditional contact info. One question is how Facebook will ensure it’s only connecting businesses to brand-safe creators who won’t get them in trouble by posting racist, sexist, or objectionable content the way star YouTuber PewDiePie did.

The deals for product placement or sponsored content creation and sharing are then worked out between the brand and creator without Facebook’s involvement. The platform is not taking any revenue cut during the testing phase, but longer-term will evaluate whether it should. The only thing Facebook doesn’t allow is pure re-sharing deals where influencers are paid to just post the brand’s pre-made content they didn’t help create.

The crowsourced future of advertising

Foreshadowed the launch of its dedicated Facebook Creator app in November, this is the company’s first serious foray into influencer marketing. This emerging industry holds the potential to overhaul the way advertising content is produced. In days of old, brands couldn’t target very narrow segments of their customers since they were using broadcast mediums like TV commercials, magazine ads, and billboards, or endoresements from mainstream celebrity like movie actors. They might only make a few separate styles of marketing compaigns that would appeal to wide swaths of their target audience.

With the Internet and targeting data-rich social networks like Facebook, they can reach extremely specific subsets of their customers with marketing messages tuned to their identity. But reaching these niche audiences with corporate content that feels authentic rather than fake and smarmy is difficult. That’s where social media creators come in. Not only do they have a pre-existing and intimate relationship with their fans who’ll take their endorsements to heart. They’ve also already spent years figuring out exactly what type of content appeals to these specific people. When they team up with brands, the businesses get their products recontextualized and interpreted for that audience with content they could never come up with themselves.

Twitter realized this early, which is why it acquired creator-brand deal broker Niche for a reported $50 million back in 2015. [Disclosure: I got fascinated with this industry because my cousin Darren Lachtman is one of the co-founders of Niche] But now as Facebook seeks to attract influencers and their audiences to its social network, it’s trying to find ways to get them paid. Otherwise, they’re likely to stray to YouTube’s ad revenue shares and Patreon’s subscription payments. So far Facebook has tested tipping and subscriptions from fans, as well as letting creators host ad breaks — essentially commercials — during their videos. But brands want the creators’ help designing the content, not just distributing it.

But what about Instagram and YouTube influencers?

The Branded Content Matching search engine will help brands find those creators…but only on Facebook for now. The tool doesn’t pull in their audience sizes and metrics from other important platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, or Twitch. Brands don’t get a holistic view of the value and reach of a creator, who might be way more popular on another platform than Facebook.

And really, Instagram is where all these influencers spend their time and share their content. Though Facebook owns it, it says it’s not showing Instagram influencers in the tool at the moment. Adding them in, the same way advertisers can push ads to Facebook and Instagram from one interface, would make the search engine much more powerful.

There’s already a whole industry of independent creator search engines and databases for marketers like Hypr, Whalar, Fohr Card, Tap Influence, and Creator IQ. If Facebook built one with first-party data from across its properties, or even pulled stats from competing platforms, it might squash these startups. Alternatively, it might buy one to ramp up its efforts here like how Twitter bought Niche.

Facebook is running out of ad inventory in the News Feed. It needs to make each ad better and more watchable so it can grow revenue by charging more per ads rather than selling more ads. Meanwhile, yesterday it started testing ads in Facebook Stories, where brands will need help navigating the more personal, vertical video format. Awesome content made by creators could be the answer. And Facebook could finally start helping more of these artists, comedians, and storytellers to turn their passion into a profession.

YouTube TV adds Tastemade and The Young Turks, as it expands its digital media content

In April, YouTube TV confirmed rumors it was expanding its service by way of digital-only networks by launching two news channels from Cheddar. The streaming service was also expected to roll out channels from Tastemade and The Young Turks soon, reports said – something YouTube TV hoped would differentiate its service from the now numerous live TV streaming rivals, while leveraging the power of big-name online brands to attract new subscribers.

On Thursday, YouTube TV alerted customers by way of email it had added new channels Tastemade and TYT, along with Cheddar and Cheddar Big News, which had arrived earlier.

The company also confirmed the news in an interview with Variety, where the company explained how it saw this as the first step towards YouTube TV fulfilling its original promise of delivering a streaming service that combined traditional TV content with that from YouTube publishers.

Those efforts will continue, as YouTube TV says it’s in talks now with other partners to carry their digital media content on its network, too.

One challenge for YouTube TV in going about these new deals involves getting the publishers to craft unique content for its service – otherwise, the service could even blur the lines too much between YouTube proper, where some of the digital content may currently reside, and its paid, subscription-based TV service.

In Tastemade and TYT’s case, the publishers committed to producing original shows for YouTube TV, equating to several hundred hours of programming for subscribers, Variety noted. That’s 10 new series from Tastemade this year, and four from TYT Network at launch, with more to follow in 2018.

For the networks themselves, the deal allows them to reach new viewers who may have before only had minimal or no exposure to their content. And for Tastemade in particular, the channel will benefit from YouTube TV’s lack of food and travel channels – the service doesn’t carry Scripps/Discovery networks, which produce a lot of this type of content.

Despite the advantages with YouTube TV distribution, these digital publishers are by no means putting all their eggs in one basket – they expect to do similar deals with other over-the-top services. The Young Turks even just launched its own iOS app, following its $20 million raise last summer.

Amazon picks up Nazi-hunting series produced by Jordan Peele

Amazon has given a 10-episode, straight-to-series order to The Hunt, a show created by David Weil and executive produced by Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele.

The series follows a group of Nazi hunters living in New York City in 1977, who discover a broader Nazi conspiracy. As with other contemporary stories about fighting Nazis, I’m sure this will have absolutely no resonance with our current politics and culture.

Amazon is already the home of The Man in the High Castle, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel in which the Nazis won World War II.

Deadline reports that Sonar Entertainment (which is producing the series with Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions) was in talks with another network before Amazon jumped in.

This is Amazon’s first series pickup since hiring NBC executive Jennifer Salke to take over Amazon Studios in February, following the departure of Roy Price amidst sexual harassment allegations. It also comes after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has reportedly pushed the studio to focus on bigger, more mainstream shows.

Peele, meanwhile, who recently won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for writing Get Out, has a new movie in the works and is also producing Lovecraft Country for HBO.

“When David Weil first shared The Hunt with me, I immediately knew that we had to be involved,” Peele said in a statement. “It’s cathartic. It’s noir. It’s frighteningly relevant. It’s exactly what I want to see on television. I am thrilled to be working with Amazon in bringing this incredible vision to the world.”

YouTube revamps its Red subscription service to offer standalone music streaming

Like Google’s messaging focus, YouTube’s efforts to spin out successful streaming and music products has felt confusing and haphazard. Now the company is simplifying and consolidating that play by decoupling the music and film components with the launch of a new service.

YouTube Music is, as the name suggests, a music streaming service that will launch on May 22. Aimed squarely at competing with Apple Music and Spotify, it’ll cost $9.99 per month following a free trial period as is standard in the industry.

An ad-supported version will be available for free also, but it won’t include premium features such as background listening, song downloads and music discovery features. (It’s worth noting that this new service will replace the existing Google Play Music service.)

YouTube Music was originally part of YouTube Red, the company’s subscription video streaming service, and though it is being decoupled, customers will be able to subscribe to both services if they buy a YouTube Red subscription, which is now priced at $11.99 per month. Except that YouTube Red will now be known as YouTube Premium since it covers both music and video.

Confused? Well, essentially YouTube has made it possible for customers to opt for music only. But it is also dangling the carrot of the full video service for just $2 more. Or, if you prefer a more negative slant, YouTube Red now costs $2 more than it did before. Take your pick.

The split makes a lot of sense when you consider how many people use YouTube for playing music for free despite a plethora of excellent streaming experiences like Spotify and Apple Music. It’s particularly popular in emerging markets where you can see YouTube listeners on public transport or other moments that Spotify and co would want to own.

That said, the new YouTube services are being focused on first-world markets initially. The company said the first stops will be U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and South Korea. Further down the line, it will expand to Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Former YouTube exec unveils Next 10 Ventures, a $50M fund to back online creators

Next 10 Ventures is a new firm that’s raised $50 million to invest in new digital content, and also in new tools and services for the creators of that content.

The firm was founded by Benjamin Grubbs, previously global director of top creator partnerships at YouTube, who also serves as Next 10’s CEO. He’s joined by COO Paul Condolora, who was formerly co-head of the Harry Potter franchise at Warner Bros., and who was also in charge of digital and consumer products at Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

Grubbs told me the firm’s name refers to supporting the next 10 years of a creator’s career, and that it emerges from conversations he’d been having with successful online creators.

“They ask, ‘How do I take this to the next level?'” Grubbs said. “‘I really enjoy what I’m doing, how do I build a career out of this?'”

He added that he’s looking to work with a “diversified mix of creators” — they don’t necessarily need to have a huge following already, but they should have demonstrated that they can produce compelling videos and they should be “really trying to make a long-term career in this space.”

It sounds like Next 10’s investments will be structured in a number of different ways. In some cases they’ll look like a traditional seed-stage startup investment. In others, the firm will fund its own products and services. And in still others, it will be funding content and partnering with creators.

The firm says it’s focused on three broad areas: video content and IP creation, e-commerce and community-based products and services. And there will be a fund focused specifically on creators of educational content.

In fact, Grubbs said one of the big opportunities is bringing more educational content to Asia. He said that as the young people in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines move online, “education content is lacking on the supply side.”

“What we want to do is not just wait for this market to grow up and graduate, but actually … be an active participant,” he said. “The mission of the company is really to enrich and inspire and entertain — and kind of in that order.”

Hulu’s mobile and web apps get the new live TV guide, better recommendations and more

Hulu’s mobile and web apps are getting an upgrade. The company is introducing a series of new features to make the apps more personalized, as well as better support Hulu’s newer Live TV experience, among other things. It’s also adding HDMI support for iOS and improving the Chromecast option, so it’s easier to watch on a big screen – even if you don’t have a streaming media player, like Roku or Apple TV.

The changes were announced this afternoon by Hulu SVP, Head of Experience, Ben Smith, during his keynote address at The Pay TV Show event in Denver.

Some of the updates had already made their way to other platforms, and are now heading to mobile and web.

For example, last week Hulu launched its new live TV destination and guide on its TV platforms, like Apple TV, Fire TV, and game consoles, with plans to roll out to more living room devices soon.

Today, Hulu says that live TV destination and guide will come to mobile, as well. The guide, which resembles the traditional TV guide you’d find on a cable box, is a much easier way of seeing what’s on now, as well as the upcoming programming in the next 24 hours. You can change channels from the guide, too.

It’s interesting that most of the live TV services are returning to the traditional grid-like guide format. Sling TV added this feature last year, and YouTube TV launched with its own live TV guide that lets you flip through what’s on by scrolling up and down in a vertical fashion. And DirecTV Now’s upgrades, announced yesterday, also included a redesign allowing you to watch your current stream while browsing channels.

In addition to the live TV guide, Hulu now works in portrait mode, so you can browse programming while streaming. While in the on-demand library, you’ll get recommendations on what to watch while in portrait mode. You can turn the phone horizontal when you’re ready to watch.

The scrubbing function has been improved, too, as it now shows a preview of the frame so you can return to the exact spot. This was a huge frustration, in fact – Hulu tried to be clever with scrubbing where it darkened part of the screen as you dragged your finger, but it was very hard to figure out where to stop. It’s one of those things that seems like a minor detail, but when a company gets a lot of them wrong, in aggregate, it leads to a poor experience.


Meanwhile, Hulu’s apps are adding new features that help you improve its recommendations: “Stop Suggesting” and “Remove” from Watch history. The former was introduced briefly during Hulu’s Upfronts presentation earlier this month, after being originally teased as coming soon at CES. Essentially, the goal here is to give Hulu another means of learning your interests – in this case, an explicit signal that you don’t want to be recommended a particular show.

And you if you’ve ever accidentally shared your account with another person whose tastes differ, you can remove programming from your watch history so it will stop influencing your recommendations.

Finally, Hulu is adding features that make it easier for mobile users to stream content on their TV, when they don’t have a media player or connected TV, with the Hulu app. The iOS app will support HDMI output, and Chromecast supports the new portrait player and channel surfing mode.

The changes aren’t arriving today, but will begin to roll out next week, Hulu says.

Live TV subscribers will see them first at next week, followed by Hulu’s on-demand subscribers over the course of the summer.

On mobile, however, the changes will hit Android and iOS next week for all.

The new AI-powered Google News app is now available for iOS

Google teased a new version of its News app with AI smarts at its I/O event last week, and today that revamped app landed for iOS and Android devices in 127 countries. The redesigned app replaces the previous Google Play Newsstand app.

The idea is to make finding and consuming news easier than ever, whilst providing an experience that’s customized to each reader and supportive of media publications. The AI element is designed to learn from what you read to help serve you a better selection of content over time, while the app is presented with a clear and clean layout.

Opening the app brings up the tailored ‘For You’ tab which acts as a quick briefing, serving up the top five stories “of the moment” and a tailored selection of opinion articles and longer reads below it.

The next section — ‘Headlines’ — dives more deeply into the latest news, covering global, U.S., business, technology, entertainment, sports, science and health segments. Clicking a story pulls up ‘Full Coverage’ mode, which surfaces a range of content around a topic including editorial and opinion pieces, tweets, videos and a timeline of events.


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Favorites is a tab that allows customization set by the user — without AI. It works as you’d imagine, letting you mark out preferred topics, news sources and locations to filter your reads. There’s also an option for saved searches and stories which can be quickly summoned.

The final section is ‘Newsstand’ which, as the name suggests aggregates media. Google said last week that it plans to offer over 1,0000 magazine titles you can follow by tapping a star icon or subscribing to. It currently looks a little sparse without specific magazine titles, but we expect that’ll come soon.

As part of that, another feature coming soon is “Subscribe with Google, which lets publications offer subscription-based content. The process of subscribing will use a user’s Google account, and the payment information they already have on file. Then, the paid content becomes available across Google platforms, including Google News, Google Search and publishers’ own websites.

Blogger gets a spring cleaning

Blogger, the blogging platform Google acquired back in 2003, is somehow still alive and kicking, even though few people remember it still exists. But alive it is — and it’s even getting some updates to its Google+ integration that will see all those 20 people still on Google+ rejoice.

After a year of inactivity, Blogger’s own news blog sprung to live this morning with a brief update that lays out the changes. Google calls this a “spring cleaning,” and we all know what that means: shutting down features.

You probably don’t care, but gone from Blogger are support for third-party gadgets, the Next Blog feature and the polling widget. Soon, OpenID support will be gone, as well, and is also shutting down. What is, you ask? It’s a Korean blogging service Google acquired back in 2008.

But there are also new features, which I’m guessing the sole two engineers still working on this project slaved over for the last year.

Blogger’s Google+ widget integration (yes, try not to laugh) will be transformed into HTML widgets to “give you more flexibility in how you share and see your followers.” Fifteen years after acquiring the service, Blogger now also supports logging in with multiple accounts. Google also today noted that the Blogger infrastructure has moved to Cloud Spanner, Google’s newest database service. 

In the near future, you can expect a new video management feature, too. Exciting stuff.

It’s surprising that Blogger is still around. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Blogger site in my searches, and it sure doesn’t have a lot of mindshare. Google also has let the platform linger and hasn’t integrated it with any of its newer services. The same thing could be said for Google+, too, of course. Google cuts some services because they have no users and no traction. That could surely be said for Blogger and Google+, but here they are, still getting periodic updates. I think the writing is on the wall, though, and I wouldn’t expect them to survive the next major Google spring cleaning.