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Twitter acquires social podcasting app Breaker, team to help build Twitter Spaces

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Twitter has acquired social broadcasting app Breaker, the companies announced today via a combination of blog posts and tweets. The deal will see Breaker’s team joining Twitter to help “improve the health of the public conversation” on the service, as well as work on Twitter’s new audio-based networking project, Twitter Spaces. The Breaker app, however, will shut down on January 15, 2020.

Breaker announced the acquisition on its company blog, explaining why it believes its team will be a good fit at Twitter.

“Here at Breaker, we’re truly passionate about audio communication and we’re inspired by the ways Twitter is facilitating public conversations for people around the world,” wrote Breaker CEO Erik Berlin. “We’re impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit at Twitter and enthusiastic about the new experiences that the team is creating.”

Breaker was founded in 2016 and is led by both CEO Berlin, previously the founder and CTO at social advertising company 140 Proof (which sold to Acuity), and CTO Leah Culver, who previously founded Pownce and Grove and co-authored web technologies OAuth and oEmbed.

The app had launched at a time when podcasts were still very much thought of as audio feeds and podcast apps as productivity tools — not experiences around which a community could be built. Breaker helped to change that perception by offering an app where users could like and comment on episodes, discover new podcasts by following friends, share favorite shows to social media, and much more.

According to Culver’s tweet, she’ll be joining Twitter with a focus on Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s audio-based social networking product and Clubhouse rival. Spaces allow Twitter users chat in real-time using voice instead of text, as they do today. The new product entered beta testing in December. Twitter is is currently trying to work out not only the technical issues and bugs with the feature, but also the more complex issues that arise from hosting live audio, including moderation.

In a separate tweet, Twitter Engineering lead Michael Montano confirmed that Berlin, Culver and Breaker designer Emma Lundin will all be moving to Twitter as a result of the deal.

He also praised both Berlin and Culver’s entrepreneurial spirit as well as Culver’s push for open standards over the years.

Reached for comment, Twitter pointed to Montano’s tweet but offered no further details on the acquisition, price, or broader plans.

Breaker says it will close down its apps and services it built over the past years in a matter of days.

On Jan. 15, 2020, Breaker will shut down for good. Up until that point, Breaker users will be able to export their OPML file to transfer their subscriptions to another podcasting app. Breaker recommends apps like Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Castro, as an alternative. For those hosting a podcast on Breaker, these can be transferred elsewhere via the RSS feed.

The Breaker acquisition adds to a string of recent podcast M&A activity. But unlike recent deals that involved podcast content, Breaker’s sale is made up of staff and technology, not podcasts themselves. This maps to Twitter’s general focus on collating content from others instead of making its own.

The Breaker deal, with its unannounced price, feels modest. Which means that while the company’s exit to Big Tweet is another point on the board for podcasting companies finding their way to some sort of payout, it fits the general narrative that podcasting services, and podcasting content only has so much value.

The acquisition follows other podcast content deals in recent weeks and months, including Amazon’s $300 million acquisition of Wondery, Sirius buying Stitcher for $300 million, not to mention all the content deals Spotify has picked up as of late.

That another podcast service sold for around $300 million has become a running joke. That number, while impressive-sounding to the individual, is not the sort of exit that venture capitalists target. The Breaker-Twitter tie-up, then, doesn’t push back on the idea that building a company focused on podcasting is to admit to a future that will have capped future upside.

Whether venture capitalists pull back from podcasting investments in 2021 is not yet clear, but Breaker’s sale does little to argue that private investors shouldn’t.

The real winner in the Breaker deal is Twitter, as it gains key talent as it enters what is shaping up to be a buzzy new market in 2021 for voice-based social networking — an idea whose time has come, perhaps, thanks to people being stuck at home amid a pandemic. Without conferences and parties to attend, many went in search of better ways to connect online.

But it remains to be seen if Twitter — a service that has publicly struggled with online toxicity and moderation failures — will be able to make audio networking a safe place for users to chat, or if it will amplify Twitter’s existing challenges in these areas. It also remains to be seen if voice-based networking will have a future in a reopened, post-COVID world where we can once again meet others in real-world, public places, instead of Twitter Spaces.

 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Apple’s new editorial franchise, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, to highlight interesting creators

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Apple today announced a new editorial franchise called Apple Podcasts Spotlight, which aims to highlight rising podcast creators in the U.S. The editorial team at Apple will select new podcast creators to feature every month and then give them prominent screen real estate in the Apple Podcasts app and promote them across social media and elsewhere. This will allow creators to reach a wider audience, similar to how the App Store showcases a selection of recommended apps and games with large banners at the top of its screen.

The first Spotlight creator is Chelsea Devantez, who hosts the podcast Celebrity Book Club. On Fridays, Chelsea and special guests including Emily V. Gordon, Gabourey Sidibe, Ashley Nicole Black and Lydia Popovich will meet to discuss the memoirs of “badass celebrity womxn,” as an announcement describes it.

The idea for the show began a year ago when Devantez was reading Jessica Simpson’s memoir and started recapping it on Instagram. The reaction from her followers prompted her to expand the concept into a podcast.

Upcoming episodes will feature Oscar-nominated writer and producer Emily V. Gordon talking Drew Barrymore’s “Little Girl Lost;” actress Stephanie Beatriz discussing Celine Dion’s memoir “My Story My Dream;” Leighton Meester on Carly Simon’s “Boys in the Trees;” and a special Valentine’s Day episode where Chelsea and TikTok star Rob Anderson read Burt Reynolds’ and Loni Anderson’s competing divorce memoirs.

“Apple Podcasts Spotlight helps listeners find some of the world’s best shows by shining a light on creators with singular voices,” said Ben Cave, Global Head of Business for Apple Podcasts, in a statement about the launch. “Chelsea Devantez has created a fun, vibrant space with Celebrity Book Club for listeners to gain new perspectives on the celebrities we thought we knew. We are delighted to recognize Chelsea and Celebrity Book Club as our first Spotlight selection and look forward to introducing creators like Chelsea to listeners each month,” he added.

Apple says future Spotlight creators will be announced monthly from across a range of podcast genres, formats and locations, and will often focus on independent and underrepresented voices. The content is previewed ahead of selection to ensure quality, but there are no specific requirements about the podcast size and reach.

In general, the new Spotlight creators will debut toward the front of the week, but the specific days are fluid to adapt to holidays, major cultural events, and others. The next Spotlight selection, for example, will launch in mid-February.

The Spotlight creators will be featured at the top of the Browse tab of Apple Podcasts and will be promoted through the Apple Podcasts social media accounts. Some form of in-app featuring will continue throughout the entire month the creators are in the “spotlight.”

Apple says it will also collaborate with the featured creators on their own channels. And, over time, you’ll see promotion via additional Apple-operated channels including outdoor advertising in major U.S. metros.

The news of the new editorial program comes shortly after a report from The Information suggested Apple is working to expand its podcasts platform with the introduction of a podcast subscription service, threatening rivals like Spotify, SiriusXM and Amazon.

Though Apple Podcasts still leads the market, Spotify has been catching up by spending over $800 million on podcast companies, like Anchor, the Ringer, Gimlet Media, and more recently, podcast ad company Megaphone.

SiriusXM, meanwhile, bought podcast management and analytics platform Simplecast, ad tech platform AdsWizz, and podcast app Stitcher. Not to be left out, Amazon just a few weeks ago announced it was acquiring the podcast network Wondery.

Beyond helping the creators grow their audience, Apple says the larger goal with the program is to welcome new audiences to podcasts, in general.

Though podcasts are growing in popularity, the monthly podcast listener base is just 37% in the U.S., according to Edison Research. That means it’s nowhere near being an activity that’s popular among a majority of the U.S. population at this time. Before Apple can effectively monetize podcasts as a subscription service, it needs to help get more people listening to podcasts on a regular basis.

Apple declined to say if the program would expand outside the U.S. at a later date.

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We’ll discuss the future of the gig economy and contract works at TC Sessions: Justice on March 3

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Like so many other subjects, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought concerns about the gig economy and contract workers into sharp focus over the past year which is why we’ll be diving into this topic at TC Sessions: Justice on March 3.

From food delivery services like Seamless to warehouse and fulfillment jobs at places like Amazon, these often low-paid jobs have kept people supplied with essentials during one of the most difficult moments in modern American history.

But why is it that jobs our society has labeled “essential” often carry the least number of protections for those who fulfill them? Is there a way to ensure a safety net for the people who need it the most?

As the pandemic continued to rage, California passed Proposition 22. The law was regarded as a big win for companies like Uber and Lyft (who pumped a collective $200 million into promotions) and a tremendous step back for workers looking for basic employment rights. But the battle between the Prop 22 proponents and the gig workers who oppose it continues. A group of rideshare drivers in California and the Service Employees International Union have filed a lawsuit alleging Proposition 22 violates California’s constitution.

To discuss the gig worker economy and its future in a post-Prop 22 world, we will be joined by Jessica E. Martinez, the co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, an organization devoted to promoting health and safety conditions for workplaces; Vanessa Bain, a gig worker activist who co-founded the Gig Workers Collective; and Christian Smalls, a former Amazon worker turned activist.

TC Sessions: Justice will be held online on March 3. Get your tickets today!


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Wendy Xiao Schadeck becomes Northzone’s first New York partner

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Northzone‘s new partner Wendy Xiao Schadeck isn’t new to the firm — she actually joined back in 2015.

Before entering the venture world, Schadeck co-founded co-working and childcare startup CoHatchery. And as a Northzone principal, she’s already been involved in the firm’s investments in Spring Health (mental health), 3box (cloud infrastructure), Livepeer (blockchain-based video transcoding) and Magic.link (user authentication).

More broadly, Northzone says Schadeck helped to develop the firm’s investment theses around crypto, consumer technology, health, developer/web 3.0 infrastructure.

“Wendy has already proven herself through very insightful sector-driven thought leadership and has solidified our position in the New York ecosystem,” said General Partner Pär-Jörgen Pärson in a statement. “She has defined and redefined an honest, authentic and inspiring dialogue between herself as an investor and the entrepreneurs she supports.”

Schadeck told me that her interests have “crystallized” around three key areas — “open data, open finance and open community.” And she said that with her promotion to partner, she will be able to work even more closely with founders, a topic she’s become “obsessed” with.

“We’ve all seen this VC meme, ‘How can I be helpful?’ and I’ve sometimes accidentally literally said it,” Schadeck said. “But we mean it: Other than providing capital, first and foremost, on good terms, what other dimensions are there that are becoming more and more important? … How can I customize my approach to provide what the founder needs from me?”

While Schadeck is Northzone’s first New York-based partner (its other partners are in London and Stockholm), she said she will make investments outside the region, albeit with an NYC focus.

“We’ve tried to do this matrix approach, where we both have sectors that we’re pretty excited about and build expertise and experience in, as well as relationships” she said. “And those relationships are better with local entrepreneurs.”

 

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