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Facebook News launches in the UK, the first international market for its curated news portal

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As the United Kingdom prepares to sharpen its focus on how it regulates big tech companies, Facebook is taking a big step up in the role it plays in presenting media to the U.K. public, and into how it works with the country’s media industry.

Today it is launching Facebook News in the U.K., Facebook’s first market outside of the U.S. for its dedicated, curated news portal — accessed, like the U.S. version, through a tab in the Android or iOS app menu.

The portal will launch with content from hundreds of local and national media organizations including Channel 4 News, Daily Mail Group, DC Thomson, Financial Times, Sky News and Telegraph Media Group. The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent, STV and hundreds of local news sites from Archant, Iliffe, JPI Media, Midlands News Association, and Reach, as well as “lifestyle” titles GQ, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Vogue and others were announced in an earlier list of partners last year.

Again, as with the U.S. version, users will be provided a list of curated top stories of the day; a list of personalized stories based on news sources you might already follow or interests you have (these might be from publications you don’t already follow); and dedicated news sections for sports, entertainment, health and science and technology. Users can indicate when they like stories, or when they want to hide them to train the algorithms better.

Facebook has confirmed to us that it will be working with a service called Upday to curate the stories that appear on News. “The product is a mix of curated, top stories and personalized links chosen by algorithm,” a spokesperson said. Upday appears to be a joint collaboration between German publisher Axel Springer and Samsung, which also runs a news service on its phones powered by it.

It is not clear what the financial terms of the deal is between Facebook and Upday, but reportedly, the licensing deals Facebook is cutting with publishers to place their content in News collectively run into the tens of millions of pounds, with the biggest publishers making millions a year from the the agreements. While those figures might pale to what Facebook makes in ad revenues globally — that reaches into the tens of billions of dollars quarterly — they represent significant sums for the beleaguered U.K. media industry.

People have long used newsfeeds on Facebook and other social sites to catch up with news while also browsing posts from friends, Groups and Pages that they follow. Facebook News aims to take that a step further, as a curated page for links and headlines from hundreds of publications in the country to provide users of its mobile apps a one-stop place to read the stories of the moment.

Social media continues to be a major source of news for consumers, but as we’ve seen, a very skewed and flawed source at that.

Within that context, Facebook says that its intention with Facebook News is to provide a more balanced and dedicated mix of news to people beyond what they might encounter in their newsfeeds, while also tailoring it to users’ interests.

It also helps that Facebook News provides yet another way for Facebook — which has made efforts in video, entertainment content, mentoring and job-hunting, Nextdoor-style community listings, peer-to-peer selling, and more — to continue diversifying away from the Newsfeed for those who have grown bored with that: now, people can come to the Facebook app to browse news, too.

Still, this international expansion has been a long time coming: Facebook News first launched as a test in the US more than a year ago, in October 2019, before rolling out to all users last June.

No word from Facebook on how many users or engagement the U.S. version of Facebook News has picked up, except that “it has grown steadily,” according to a spokesperson.

It’s not clear why there’s been such a long gap between its first efforts in the U.S. and the U.K. launch today, but Facebook has had more going on in addition to securing those licensing deals to roll out in this market.

Launching a new news portal, with the message that it’s designed to “help” publishers, takes on a new dimension when you consider that Facebook has also been in the crosshairs of regulators in Europe, who have been on a long-term mission to scrutinize the reach of big tech companies. In the UK, that is soon taking the form of a new “pro-competition” Digital Market Unit that will re-examine the role companies like Facebook and Google play in advertising, media and more. 

Whether those regulatory moves will impact how a service like Facebook News works, or what revenue cuts and usage data are shared with news partners, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead for more scaling: Facebook confirmed plans last year that its long-term aim is for a bigger international expansion for Facebook News, with the longer list of countries including Brazil, France, Germany, and India. In a blog post today, Facebook’s director of news partnerships in Europe, Jesper Doub, confirmed France and Germany were next in line for Facebook News, although no launch dates were specified.

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Freemium isn’t a trend — it’s the future of SaaS

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As the COVID-19 lockdowns cascaded around the world last spring, companies large and small saw demand slow to a halt seemingly overnight. Enterprises weren’t comfortable making big, long-term commitments when they had no clue what the future would hold.

Innovative SaaS companies responded quickly by making their products available for free or at a steep discount to boost demand.

While Zoom gets all the attention, there were hundreds of free SaaS tools to help folks through the pandemic. Pluralsight ran a #FreeApril campaign, offering free access to its platform for all of April. Cloudflare made its Teams product free from March until September 1, 2020. GitHub went free for teams in April and slashed the price of its paid Team plan.

A selection of new free, free trial and low-priced offerings from leading SaaS companies. Image Credits: Kyle Poyar/OpenView.

The free products were aimed squarely at end users — whether it be a developer, individual marketer, sales rep or someone else at the edge of an organization. These end users were stuck at home during the pandemic, yet they desperately needed software to power their working lives.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them. Many end users want to jump straight into a product, no hassle or credit card or budget approval required.

After they’ve set up an account and customized it for their workflow, end users have essentially already made a purchase decision with their time — all without ever feeling like they were in an active buying cycle.

An end user-focused free offering became an essential SaaS survival strategy in 2020.

But these free offerings didn’t go away as lockdowns loosened up. SaaS companies instead doubled down on freemium because they realized that doing so had a real and positive impact on their business. In doing so, they busted the outdated myths that have held 82% of SaaS companies back from offering their own free plan.

Myth: A free offering will cannibalize paying customers

GoDaddy is a digital behemoth, known for being a ’90s-era pioneer in web domains as well as for their controversial Super Bowl ads. The company has steadily diversified into business software, now generating roughly $700 million in ARR from its business applications segment and reaching millions of paying customers. There are very few businesses that would see greater potential revenue cannibalization from launching a free product than GoDaddy.

But GoDaddy didn’t let fear stop them from testing freemium when lockdowns set in. Freemium started out as a small-scale experiment in spring 2020 for the websites and marketing product. GoDaddy has since increased the experiment to 50% of U.S. website traffic, with plans to scale to 100% of U.S. traffic and open availability to other markets in 2021.

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Metafy adds $5.5M to its seed round as the market for games coaching grows

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This morning Metafy, a distributed startup building a marketplace to match gamers with instructors, announced that it has closed an additional $5.5 million to its $3.15 million seed round. Call it a seed-2, seed-extension or merely a baby Series A; Forerunner Ventures, DCM and Seven Seven Six led the round as a trio.

Metafy’s model is catching on with its market. According to its CEO Josh Fabian, the company has grown from incorporation to gross merchandise volume (GMV) of $76,000 in around nine months. That’s quick.

The startup is building in public, so we have its raw data to share. Via Fabian, here’s how Metafy has grown since its birth:

From the company. As a small tip, if you want the media to care about your startup’s growth rate, share like this!

When TechCrunch first caught wind of Metafy via prior seed investor M25, we presumed that it was a marketplace that was built to allow esports pros and other highly capable gamers teach esports-hopefuls get better at their chosen title. That’s not the case.

Don’t think of Metafy as a marketplace where you can hire a former professional League of Legends player to help improve your laning-phase AD carry mechanics. Though that might come in time. Today a full 0% of the company’s current GMV comes from esports titles. Instead, the company is pursuing games with strong niche followings, what Fabian described as “vibrant, loyal communities.” Like Super Smash Brothers, its leading game today in terms of GMV generated.

Why pursue those titles instead of the most competitive games? Metafy’s CEO explained that his startup has a particular take on its market — that it focuses on coaches as its core customer, over trainees. This allows the startup to focus on its mission of making coaching a full-time gig, or at least one that pays well enough to matter. By doing so, Metafy has cut its need for marketing spend, because the coaches that it onboards bring their own audience. This is where the company is targeting games with super-dedicated user bases, like Smash. They fit well into its build for coaches, onboard coaches, coaches bring their fans, GMV is generated model.

Metafy has big plans, which brings us back to its recent raise. Fabian told TechCrunch any game with a skill curve could wind up on Metafy. Think chess, poker or other games that can be played digitally. To build toward that future, Metafy decided to take on more capital so that it could grow its team.

So what does its $5.5 million unlock for the startup? Per its CEO, Metafy is currently a team of 18 with a monthly burn rate of around $80,000. He wants it to grow to 30 folks, with nearly all of its new hires going into its product org, broadly.

TechCrunch’s perspective is that gaming is not becoming mainstream, but that it has already done so. Building for the gaming world, then, makes good sense, as tools like Metafy won’t suffer from the same boom/bust cycles that can plague game developers. Especially as the startup becomes more diversified in its title base.

Normally we’d close by noting that we’ll get back in touch with the company in a few quarters to see how it’s getting on in growth terms. But because it’s sharing that data publicly, we’ll simply keep reading. More when we have a few months’ more data to chew on.

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Snap to launch a new Creator Marketplace this month, initially focused on Lens Creators

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Snap on Wednesday announced its plan to soon launch a Creator Marketplace, which will make it easier for businesses to find and partner with Snapchat creators, including Lens creators, AR creators and later, prominent Snapchat creators known as Snap Stars. At launch, the marketplace will focus on connecting brands and AR creators for AR ads. It will then expand to support all Snap Creators by 2022.

The company had previously helped connect its creator community with advertisers through its Snapchat Storytellers program, which first launched into pilot testing in 2018 — already a late arrival to the space. However, that program’s focus was similar to Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager, as it focused on helping businesses find Snap creators who could produce video content.

Snap’s new marketplace, meanwhile, has a broader focus in terms of connecting all sorts of creators with the Snap advertising ecosystem. This includes Lens Creators, Developers and Partners, and then later, Snap’s popular creators with public profiles.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will open to businesses later this month to help them partner with a select group of AR Creators in Snap’s Lens Network. These creators can help businesses build AR experiences without the need for extensive creative resources, which makes access to Snap’s AR ads more accessible to businesses, including smaller businesses without in-house developer talent.

Lens creators have already found opportunity working for businesses that want to grow their Snapchat presence — even allowing some creators to quit their day jobs and just build Lenses for a living. Snap has been further investing in this area of its business, having announced in December a $3.5 million fund directed toward AR Lens creation. The company said at the time there were tens of thousands of Lens creators who had collectively made over 1.5 million Lenses to date.

Using Lenses has grown more popular, too, the company had noted, saying that more than 180 million people interact with a Snapchat Lens every day — up from 70 million daily active users of Lenses when the Lens Explorer section first launched in the app in 2018.

Now, Snap says that over 200 million Snapchat users interact with augmented reality on a daily basis, on average, out of its 280 million daily users. The majority (over 90%) of these users are 13 to 25-year-olds. In total, users are posting over 5 billion Snaps per day.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will remain focused on connecting businesses with AR Lens Creators throughout 2021.

The following year, it will expand to include the community of professional creators and storytellers who understand the current trends and interests of the Snap user base and can help businesses with their ad campaigns. The company will not take a cut of the deals facilitated through the Marketplace, it says.

This would include the creators making content for Snap’s new TikTok rival, Spotlight, which launched in November 2020. Snap encouraged adoption of the feature by shelling out $1 million per day to creators of top videos. In March 2021, over 125 million Snapchat users watched Spotlight, it says.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Spotlight isn’t the only way Snap is challenging TikTok.

The company also on Wednesday announced it’s snagging two of TikTok’s biggest stars for its upcoming Snap Originals lineup: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The siblings, who have gained over 20 million follows on Snapchat this past year, will star in the series “Charli vs. Dixie.” Other new Originals will feature names like artist Megan Thee Stallion, actor Ryan Reynolds, twins and influencers Niki and Gabi DeMartino, and YouTube beauty vlogger Manny Mua, among others.

Snap’s shows were watched by over 400 million people in 2020, including 93% of the Gen Z population in the U.S., it noted.

 

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