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Amazon launches $1.2 mobile Prime Video plan in India

Amazon is doubling down on one of the biggest strengths of its Prime Video streaming service: aggressive pricing.
The e-commerce giant on Wednesday launched Prime Video Mobile Edition, an even more affordable tier of the on-demand video streaming service — now also bundling some mobile data.
Prime Video Mobile Edition, for which Amazon has partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel, will feature 28-day mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) access to customers in India for Rs 89 ($1.22). This tier will include 6GB of mobile data that customers can consume during the subscription period. There’s also a slightly expensive plan for Prime Video Mobile Edition that will charge customers Rs 299 but will offer 1.5GB mobile data for each day of the subscription. To anyone who subscribes to Prime Video Mobile Edition, Amazon says it will pick the tab for the first month.

Amazon Prime subscription costs $1.7 a month in India and includes access to Prime Video and Prime Music.

The new Prime Video plan is currently only available in India. Its launch comes two years after Netflix unveiled a similar plan in India.
Affordable pricing is key for on-demand steaming services that are looking to make inroads in India, the world’s second-largest internet market. Even as more than 600 million users are online in the country today, only a fraction of them currently pay to access digital subscriptions. In a recent report to clients, analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated that gaming and video streaming market in India could clock as much as $5 billion in gross value transactions by March 2025.

Netflix launches Rs 199 ($2.8) mobile-only monthly plan in India

“India is one of our fastest growing territories in the world with very high engagement rates. Buoyed by this response, we want to double-down by offering our much-loved entertainment content to an even larger base of Indian customers. Given high mobile broadband penetration in the country, the mobile phone has become one of the most widely used streaming devices,” said Jay Marine, vice president, Amazon Prime Video Worldwide, in a statement.
Airtel, the second-largest telecom operator in India, is the first roll-out partner for Prime Video Mobile Edition, said Sameer Batra, director, Mobile Business Development at Amazon, suggesting that the company may ink similar deals with other telecom operators in the country as it looks to expand the “reach of our service to the entire pre-paid customer base in India.”
Nearly every on-demand video streaming service in India, including Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar, maintain various partnerships with local telecom operators and satellite TV providers to reach more users in the country. Amazon did not explicitly say when or if it plans to extend Prime Video Mobile Edition outside of India.

Amazon launches $1.2 mobile Prime Video plan in India

YouTube and WhatsApp inch closer to half a billion users in India

WhatsApp has enjoyed unrivaled reach in India for years. By mid-2019, the Facebook-owned app had amassed over 400 million users in the country. Its closest app rival at the time was YouTube, which, according to the company’s own statement and data from mobile insight firm App Annie, had about 260 million users in India then.
Things have changed dramatically since.
In the month of December, YouTube had 425 million monthly active users on Android phones and tablets in India, according to App Annie, the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. In comparison, WhatsApp had 422 million monthly active users on Android in India last month.

Factoring in the traction both these apps have garnered on iOS devices, WhatsApp still assumes a lead in India with 459 million active users1, but YouTube is not too far behind with 452 million users.
With China keeping its doors closed to U.S. tech giants, India emerged as the top market for Silicon Valley and Chinese companies looking to continue their growth in the last decade. India had about 50 million internet users in 2010, but it ended the decade with more than 600 million. Google and Facebook played their part to make this happen.
In the last four years, both Google and Facebook have invested in ways to bring the internet to people who are offline in India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. Google kickstarted a project to bring Wi-Fi to 400 railway stations in the country and planned to extend this program to other public places. Facebook launched Free Basics in India, and then — after the program was banned in the country — it launched Express Wi-Fi.
Both Google and Facebook, which identify India as their biggest market by users, have scaled down on their connectivity efforts in recent years after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, took it upon himself to bring the country online. After he succeeded, both the companies bought multibillion-dollar stakes in his firm, Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers.
Jio Platforms’ cut-rate mobile data tariff has allowed hundreds of millions of people in India, where much of the online user base was previously too conscious about how much data they spent on the internet, to consume, worry-free, hours of content on YouTube and other video platforms in recent years. This growth might explain why Google is doubling down on short-video apps.
The new figures shared with TechCrunch illustrate a number of other findings about the Indian market. Even as WhatsApp’s growth has slowed2 in India, it continues to enjoy an unprecedented loyalty among its users.
More than 95% of WhatsApp’s monthly active users in India use the app each day, and nearly its entire user base checks the app at least once a week. In comparison, three-fourths of YouTube’s monthly active users in India are also its daily active users.
The data also showed that Google’s eponymous app as well as Chrome — both of which, like YouTube, ship pre-installed3 on most Android smartphones — has also surpassed over 400 million monthly active users in India in recent months. Facebook’s app, in comparison, had about 325 million monthly active users in India last month.
When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson pointed TechCrunch to a report from Comscore last year, which estimated that YouTube had about 325 million monthly unique users in India in May 2020.
A separate report by research firm Media Partners Asia on Monday estimated that YouTube commanded 43% of the revenue generated in the online video market in India last year (about $1.4 billion). Disney+ Hotstar assumed 16% of the market, while Netflix had 14%.

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1 For simplicity, I have not factored in the traction WhatsApp Business and YouTube Kids apps have received in India. WhatsApp and YouTube also maintain apps on KaiOS, which powers JioPhone feature handsets in India. At last count — which was a long time ago — more than 40 million JioPhone handsets had shipped in India. TechCrunch could not determine the inroads any app has made on this platform. Additionally, the figures of YouTube on Android (phones and tablets) and iOS (iPhone and iPad) will likely have an overlap. The same is not true of WhatsApp, which restricts one phone number to one account. So if I have WhatsApp installed on an iPhone with my primary phone number, I can’t use WhatsApp with the same number on an Android phone — at least not concurrently.
2 WhatsApp Business appears to be growing fine, having amassed over 50 million users in India. And some caveats from No. 1 also apply here.
3 Users still have to engage with the app for App Annie and other mobile insight firms to count them as active. So while pre-installing the app provides Google an unprecedented distribution, their apps still have to win over users.

YouTube and WhatsApp inch closer to half a billion users in India

Daily Crunch: Roku buys Quibi’s content library

Quibi’s content will live on, Hyundai may partner with Apple and Donald Trump returns to Twitter. This is your Daily Crunch for January 8, 2021.
The big story: Roku buys Quibi’s content library
If you’re wondering what will happen to Quibi shows like “Most Dangerous Game” and “Chrissy Court,” wonder no longer: They’re going to Roku.

The streaming TV platform announced today that it has acquired the global rights to Quibi’s content library, which it plans to bring to The Roku Channel, free and ad-supported, some this year. This includes “more than a dozen” shows that never got a chance to stream on Quibi before the app shut down.
“The most creative and imaginative minds in Hollywood created groundbreaking content for Quibi that exceeded our expectations,” said Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg in a statement. “We are thrilled that these stories, from the surreal to the sublime, have found a new home on The Roku Channel.”
The tech giants
Shares of Hyundai Motor Co. climb more than 20% on potential EV deal with Apple — Hyundai said discussions are still in the “early stage.”
Google’s plan to replace tracking cookies goes under UK antitrust probe — U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority said it’s investigating “suspected breaches of competition law by Google.”
Trump returns to Twitter with what sounds like a concession speech — President Trump only had to wait 12 hours before returning to his social network of choice.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Jobandtalent tops up with $108M for its ‘workforce as a service’ platform — The startup operates a dual-sided platform that connects temp workers with employers.
Detroit’s Ludlow Ventures goes for fund four — The Detroit-based seed-stage firm is in the process of closing its fourth fund of $65 million.
Jumbotail raises $14.2M for its wholesale marketplace in India — Jumbotail said it serves more than 30,000 neighborhood stores, popularly known in India as kiranas.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
VCs discuss gaming’s biggest infrastructure investment opportunities in 2021 — Investors highlighted numerous areas for new opportunity, including specialized engines, next-gen content creation platforms and tools to port desktop experiences to mobile.
What is up with Tesla’s value? — And a bunch of other stocks, for that matter.
The Roblox Gambit — So it turns out that Roblox is worth $29.5 billion.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
Everything else
Stolen computers are the least of the government’s security worries — The SolarWinds breach is likely to be a bigger cybersecurity threat than any computers stolen during the pro-Trump riot on Wednesday.
Five reforms necessary to create a truly cashless society — Convenience shouldn’t come at the cost of other aspects of commerce.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: Roku buys Quibi’s content library

Local news app News Break raises $115M

The popular news app News Break is announcing that it has raised $115 million in new funding.
The press release claims this round makes News Break “one of the first new unicorns of 2021,” but the startup declined to disclose its actual valuation.
Founder and CEO Jeff Zheng said that when he started the company in 2015, the goal was to differentiate itself from other news aggregation apps by focusing on local news, and to “help or empower these local content creators.”

To be clear, you can find similar stories in News Break that you’d see in other news apps (there’s a whole section for coronavirus news, for example, and this morning you’ll see plenty of headlines about yesterday’s violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol), but you’ll also see plenty of stories that are highlighted specifically based on your location.

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“Technology is interweaving with every aspect of the company — in how we empower local publishers and local journalists to generate content more effectively and to reach an online audience more effectively,” Zheng said. “We have AI tools to help provide all these relevant articles … We have location profiles and what you’re most interested in, which we basically match against the content.”

Jeff Zheng. Image Credits: News Break

The local focus may be increasingly valuable given the broader economic challenges facing the local news business — as Zheng put it, there’s “strong user demand” for local news but “weak supply.” And the strategy seems to have paid off for News Break so far, with the app reaching the top spot in the News category of Apple’s U.S. App Store multiple times (it’s currently ranked No. 4), and in Google Play as well. The startup says it’s currently reaching 12 million daily active users.
Zheng said that while News Break already shares ad revenue with publishers, he’s hopeful that the value it provides those publishers will only grow over time: “We want to give as much money back to the creators as possible.”
When I suggested that publishers and journalists may be leery about relying too much on a third-party platform to reach their audience, Zheng argued that News Break’s incentives are very different from the big internet and social media platforms.
“We are local-centric,” he said. “If local publishers are struggling, if the newspapers are diminishing every year, then sooner or later we are out of business.”
And while Zheng previously led Yahoo Labs in Beijing and was also founding CEO at Chinese news startup Yidian Zixun — plus, the startup has team members in Beijing and Shanghai — he emphasized that this is a “U.S. high-tech company incorporated in Delaware, headquartered in Mountain View,” with the majority of its workforce in the United States and a focus on the U.S. market. The distinction could become important if News Break continues to grow, given the U.S. government’s current attempts to ban some Chinese companies.

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News Break previously raised $36 million in funding. The new round was led by Francisco Partners, which is taking a seat on the News Break board. IDG Capital also participated.
In a statement, Francisco Partners Principal Alan Ni said:
News Break’s breakout multi-year successes in the local news space is what first brought them to our attention. We are inspired by their mission and extremely impressed by the work they have done to bring local-news distribution into the 21st Century through cutting-edge machine learning and media savvy. We are thrilled to be partnering with News Break’s talented leadership team as they continue to drive local news innovations while also rapidly expanding their business into adjacent local verticals beyond news.

Flipboard expands into local news

Local news app News Break raises $115M

Gawq wants to burst your ‘echo chamber’ with its smarter news app

A new startup called Gawq wants to tackle the problem of fake news and the “echo chamber” problem created by social media, where our view of the world is shaped by manipulative algorithms and personalized feeds. Through Gawq’s newly launched mobile news app, it aims to present news from a range of sources, while allowing users to filter between news, opinion, paid content and more, as well as compare sources, check facts and even review the publication’s content for accuracy.
The idea for Gawq comes from Joshua Dziabiak, co-founder and now board member at the now profitable insurance tech startup The Zebra. Dziabiak stepped down from his day-to-day role this March, and founded Gawq shortly after.
“It started as a passion project and then it transformed into a business,” Dziabiak explains. “I wanted to do something that had a larger social impact. And this idea — this problem — has surfaced and been magnified in really big ways over the past year, especially,” he says.

When news is served up through social media channels, people are presented with their own version of reality, as the algorithms begin to filter out the news that doesn’t engage them and show them more of what does. Over time, this system led some publishers to pursue clicks and outrage with over-the-top, sensational headlines, but it also spawned a network of publications that would slant and bias the news in ways that better connected them with an either right or left-leaning audience.

The Zebra reaches $100M run rate, turns profitable as insurtech booms

As a result, the media environment overall began to center itself around eyeballs and not necessarily news quality, Dziabiak says. While there is still quality journalism being created, it can sometimes be hard to find among all the noise.
“I believe journalists and content creators need a new measure for success. One that is based on the core ethics of journalism, and not the number of clicks or shares,” Dziabiak notes.

Image Credits: Gawq

The Gawq name is meant to be a reminder of how today’s headlines often scream for our attention. But it misses the mark for an app about news accuracy. At its core, Gawq is a news aggregator where you are not meant to “gawk” at headlines, but actually read and consider the news with a more critical eye.
At launch, the app organizes more than 150 different top media sources of all types and sizes, including those that lean one way or the other. The publishers cover topics like U.S. and world news, politics, sports, business, tech, entertainment, science, lifestyle news and more.
Gawq also organizes the day’s news without using any sort of algorithms or personalization engines, but instead by topic. As you read, you click to compare coverage of the story with other sources to get a better idea of how different outlets are writing about the same topic. With a clever red and blue slider bar at the top of the screen, you can drag your finger over to the red side to see the coverage from right-leaning sources, or you can drag it to the blue side to see the more left-leaning coverage.
The company says it uses data from three different nonprofits that audit media — AllSides, Media Bias Fact Check and Ad Fontes Media — to determine if sources are “right” or “left.”

Image Credits: Gawq

Just below the slider bar are the related fact checks to the topic at hand, for easy reference.
While Gawq will allow users to toggle some news sources on or off within the app’s settings, it uses language that deters you from doing so by reminding you that it works best when you maintain a “diverse set of media.”
In addition, Gawq introduces a “smart labels” feature to automatically identify and tag non-news — like op-ed’s, sponsored content or even celeb gossip, if you hate that sort of thing. You can toggle these on or off, too, if you want to hide anything that’s not hard news.
Another nice feature — for the news consumer at least, if not the publisher — is that Gawq loads articles by default into a “reader mode” that strips the ads and distractions that tend to fill the pages on news websites these days. You can still click to view the article on the website, if you prefer.
While much of the above is related to how the news is presented to the reader, Gawq’s bigger bet is that it can create a Wikipedia-like community of news reviewers who will rate stories for adherence to journalistic practices. This is a more ambitious and perhaps overly optimistic endeavor.
On every article, users can click a review button that walks them through a short quiz where they’re asked to rate the story’s balance, the details provided and whether the headline was clickbait. Users then add a comment and submit their report. This review process was built off the core ethics of journalism as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists, Dziabiak says.

Image Credits: Gawq

Likely, only a minority of Gawq users would rate the stories. But over time and with scale, the reviews could help give outlets an accurate rating on news accuracy and their tendencies toward sensationalism, in the eyes of news consumers. That data may have external value, but for now, Gawq’s business model is “TBD,” Dziabiak admits.
The problem Gawq aims to tackle is a difficult one. And arguably, those who need to widen their worldview will be least likely to download a new app to do so. They’re often passive news consumers who have sat back ingesting news (and often, outrage and lies) from ever-personalized social media feeds. They then click on one favorite news TV channel for everything else. But there is a growing number of people who want a more neutral media landscape, and Gawq can help them find it with how it positions news as right, left or centered when comparing sources.
The startup is currently self-funded and has a small team of engineers, mostly working on a contract basis. Gawq has not ruled out future investment, however.
The app is a free download on iOS and Android.
 

Gawq wants to burst your ‘echo chamber’ with its smarter news app