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Daily Crunch: Snapchat adds Spotlight

Snapchat introduces a TikTok-style feed, Amazon Echo Buds add fitness tracking and Vettery acquires Hired. This is your Daily Crunch for November 23, 2020.
The big story: Snapchat adds Spotlight
Snapchat has introduced a dedicated feed where users can watch short, entertaining videos — pretty similar to TikTok. This comes after the app also added TikTok-like music features last month.

Starting today, users will be able to send their Snaps to the new Spotlight feed. Viewers will be able to send direct messages to creators with public profiles (Spotlight will also include anonymous content from private accounts), but there will be no public commentary on these videos.
To encourage creators to post to Spotlight, Snapchat says it will be distributing more than $1 million every day who create the top videos on Spotlight.
The tech giants
Amazon’s Echo Buds get new fitness tracking features — Say “Alexa, start my workout” with the buds in, and they’ll begin logging steps, calories, distance, pace and duration of runs.
Uber refused permission to dismiss 11 staff at its EMEA HQ —The Dutch Employee Insurance Agency has refused to give Uber permission to dismiss 11 people at the company’s EMEA headquarters.
Facebook launches ‘Drives,’ a US-only feature for collecting food, clothing and other necessities for people in need — The feature is being made available through Facebook’s existing Community Help hub.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Relativity Space raises $500M as it sets sights on the industrialization of Mars — LA-based rocket startup Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach.
Resilience raises over $800M to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19 — The company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.
Video mentoring platform Superpeer raises $8M and launches paid channels — The Superpeer platform allows experts to promote, schedule and charge for one-on-one video calls with anyone who might want to ask for their advice.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Seven things we just learned about Sequoia’s European expansion plans — Steve O’Hear interviews Luciana Lixandru and Matt Miller about the firm’s plans.
Founders seeking their first check need a fundraising sales funnel — Start digging the well before you’re thirsty.
Will Brazil’s Roaring 20s see the rise of early-stage startups? — In September, homegrown startups raised a record $843 million.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. And until November 30, you can get 25% off an annual membership.)
Everything else
Vettery acquires Hired to create a ‘unified’ job search platform — Vettery CEO Josh Brenner said the two platforms are largely complementary.
Gift Guide: Which next-gen console is the one your kid wants? — This holiday season, the next generation of gamers will be hoping to receive the next generation of gaming consoles.
Original Content podcast: ‘The Crown’ introduces its Princess Diana — The new season focuses on Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and on Prince Charles’ troubled marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.
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: Snapchat adds Spotlight

Snap lets you play as your Bitmoji in third-party games

Snap is announcing at its Snap Partner Summit that the first games that will take advantage of Bitmoji will roll out soon. The feature was announced last year, and it looks like developers can finally take advantage of that SDK. You’ll be able to play a game with you as the hero — or at least the Bitmoji representation of you.
While this feature is reminiscent of Xbox Avatars or Nintendo’s Mii on the Wii, 3DS and Wii U, Bitmoji for Games is a cross-platform solution, from mobile games to console games and PC games. The issue with console-specific avatars is that you can’t support Xbox Avatars on PlayStation consoles for instance — that could be the reason why console manufacturers have been slowly phasing out those avatars. Bitmoji for Games could potentially solve that issue.
Having said that, the initial list of partners only includes mobile games on iOS and Android. Games include Super Brawl Universe from Nickelodeon and Playsoft, Uno from Mattel, Scrabble GO from Scopely and a soon-to-be-announced game from French startup Voodoo.
Let’s hope that Snap will be able to expand its list of partners beyond board games and casual mobile games. For instance, I would totally see Bitmoji for Games in Just Dance.
Here’s a concept video presenting the feature. As you can see, you just have to connect with your Snapchat account to import your Bitmoji to third-party games:

In other news, Snap is adding more games to Snapchat. There are already more than a dozen games that you can play with your friends when you’re chatting with them. Some of them are built in-house while others are developed by third-party game makers.
According to the company, 100 million Snapchat users have played a game since the feature launched last year. On average, users who choose to play Bitmoji Party, a Mario Party-inspired game that lets you compete with your friends in mini-games, spend 20 minutes in the game in a given day.
There’s a direct correlation between engagement and monetization as Snap doesn’t rely on micro-transactions and in-app purchases with Snap Games. The company monetizes this feature with video ads.
“We took a look at the state of mobile gaming a few years back and observed that so many successful games on mobile didn’t have your friends that deeply integrated into the experience,” Director of Product Will Wu told TechCrunch. “There’s a lot of games you just play solo on the bus or on the airplane or something like that. For us, we were really looking to recreate that experience that we may have had growing up, sitting side by side with our friends playing a game on a couch together. You’re actually looking at the same screen.”
The most interesting new game that the company will release in the coming months is Bitmoji Paint. This game is a sort of casual Minecraft-inspired creativity game. Users play together on the same planet and can paint tiles on the ground. It lets you create pixel art and look at other creations.

Other new games include Bumped Out (Zynga), Friend Quizzes (Game Closure), Ready Set Golf! (PikPok) and Sling Racers (Madbox). They will be released over the coming months.

Snap lets you play as your Bitmoji in third-party games

Instagram prototypes Snapchat-style disappearing text messages

Instagram is finally preparing to copy Snapchat’s most popular feature, and one of the few it hasn’t already cloned. Instagram has prototyped an unreleased ephemeral text messaging feature that clears the chat thread whenever you leave it, a Facebook spokesperson confirms to TechCrunch. That could make users more comfortable with having rapid-fire, silly, vulnerable, or risque chats, thereby driving up the reply notifications that keep people opening Instagram all day long.

Instagram already has disappearing photo and video messaging which it launched in February 2018 to let users choose if chat partners can “view once”, “allow replay” multiple times for a limited period, or “keep in chat” permanently. Technically you could use the Create mode for overlaying words on a colored background to send an ephemeral text, but otherwise you have to use the “Unsend” feature which notifies other people in the thread.
But today, reverse engineering specialist and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong unearthed something new. Buried in the code of the Android app is the a new “” mode, labeled in the code with the ‘speak-no-evil’ monkey emoji.
How Instagram Disappearing Messages Work
When users enter this mode by swiping up from Instagram Direct message thread, they’re brought to a dark mode messaging window that starts as an empty message thread. When users close this window, any messages from them or their chat partners disappear. The feature works similarly to Snapchat, which clears a chat after all members of a thread have viewed it and closed the chat window.
Here’s how Instagram disappearing messages work
The ephemeral messaging feature is not currently not publicly available but a Facebook spokesperson confirms to me that they are working on it internally. “We’re always exploring new features to improve your messaging experience. This feature is still in early development and not testing externally.” The company later tweeted the confirmation. They gave no indication of a timeline for if or when this might officially launch. Some features never make it out of the prototype phase, but others including many spotted by Wong end up being rolled out several months later.
Instagram has seen great success using Snapchat as a product R&D lab. Instagram’s version of Stories rocketed to 500 million daily users compared to just 218 million users on Snapchat as a whole.

But ephemeral messaging has kept Snapchat relevant. Back in late 2017, just 51 million of Snapchat’s 178 million users were posting Stories per day, and that was when Instagram Stories was still in its first year on the market. According to Statista, Snapchat’s top use case is staying in touch with friends and family, not entertainment.
Instagram Stories caused Snapchat to start shrinking at one point, but now it’s growing healthily again. That may signaled that Instagram still had more work to do to steal Snap’s thunder. But Instagram’s existing version of ephemeral messaging that is clunkier, Facebook scrapped a trial of a similar feature, and WhatsApp’s take that started testing in October hasn’t rolled out yet.
That’s left teens to stick with Snapchat for fast-paced communication they don’t have to worry about coming back to haunt them. If Instagram successfully copies this feature too, it could reduce the need for people to stay on Snapchat while making Instagram Direct more appealing to a critical audience. Every reply and subsequent alert draws users deeper into Facebook’s web.

Instagram prototypes Snapchat-style disappearing text messages

Snapchat hits 218M users but big Q4 losses sink share price

Snapchat still isn’t profitable nearly two years after its IPO. In Q4 2019, Snap lost $241 million on 560.8 million in revenue that’s up 44% year-over-year and an EPS of $0.03. That comes from adding 8 million daily users to reach a total of 218, up 3.8% this quarter from 210 million and 17% year-over-year.
The big problem was a one-time $100 million legal settlement that pushed it to lose $49 million more in Q4 2019 than Q4 2018. That comes from a shareholders lawsuit claiming Snap didn’t adequately disclose the impact of competition from Facebook on its business. The IPO was soured by weak user growth as people shifted from Snapchat Stories to Instagram Stories.

A rough Q4
Snapchat had a mixed quarter compared to estimates, exceeding the EPS predicitions but falling short on revenue. FactSet’s consensus predicted $563 million in revenue and a loss of $0.12 EPS. Estimize’s consensus came in at $568 million in revenue and an EPS gain of $0.02.
Snapchat shares plunged over 10% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Shares had closed up 4.17% at $18.99 today. That’s up from a low of $4.99 in December 2018 when its user count was shrinking under competition from Instagram Stories. It’s now hovering around its $17 IPO price but it’s still under its post-IPO pop to $27.09.
Snap gave stronger than expected revenue guidance for Q1 2020 of $450 million to $470 million, and 224 million to 225 million users. The company’s CFO Derek Anderson says that “Q4 marked our first quarter of Adjusted EBITDA profitability at $42 million for the quarter, an improvement of $93 million over the prior year.” Still, he predicts an Adjusted EBITDA in Q1 of negative $90 million to negative $70 million. That’s manageable for Snap without raising more money, since it now has $2.1 billion in cash and marketable securities, down $148 million quarter-after-quarter.

Snapchat 2020
“Throughout the course of 2019, we added 31 million daily active users, largely driven by investments in our core product and improvements to our Android application “said Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel . “We’ve recently completed our 2020 strategic planning process and have aligned our teams and resources around our goals of supporting real friendships on Snapchat, expanding our service to a broader global community, investing in our AR and content platforms, and scaling revenue while achieving profitability in order to self-fund our investments in the future.”
Some other highlights:
1.3 trillion Snaps were created in 2019
The average Snapchat user engages for 30 minutes per day,
Snapchat reaches 90% of US 13 to 24 year-olds and over 75% of 13 to 34 year-olds
Total daily time spent by Snapchatters watching Discover increased by 35% year-over-year, and its up 60% for users over the age of 25
Over 50 Snapchat shows reached a monthly audience of 10 million viewers or more
75% of users engage with augmented reality per day
20% of Snaps sent with an AR lens were made with commununity-developed lenses
5X more users open the Lens Explorer now versus a year ago, and 10% of users open it every day
Snapchat’s user growth has been on tear thanks to international penetration, especially in India, after it re-engineered its Android app for developing markets. It gained users in all markets. Crucially, it raised its average revenue per user 23% from $2.09 in Q4 2018 to $2.58, though only from $1.24 to $1.35 in the Rest Of World region where it’s growing user count the fastest. Snap will need to figure out how to squeeze more cash out of the international market to offset the costs of streaming tons of video to these users.

Q4 saw Snapchat readying several new products that could help boost engagement and therefore ad views. Cameos, first reported by TechCrunch, lets users graft their face onto an actor in an animated GIF like a lightweight Deepfake. Bitmoji TV, which won’t run ads initially but could drive attention to Snapchat Discover, offers zany four-minute cartoons that star your Bitmoji avatar. We could see a bump to engagement from these starting in Q1 2020.
To retain its augmented reality filter creators, Snapchat has pledged $750,000 in payouts in 2020. It’s also expanded the use of product catalog ads, and now lets advertisers buy longer skippable ads.
Outside of the legal settlement, Snapchat is inching closer to profitability but still has a ways to go. It’s managed to develop a strong synergy between its popular chat feature that’s tougher to monetize, and the Stories and Discover content where it can inject ads. The big question is whether Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp will get more serious about ephemeral messaging that’s at the core of Snapchat. If it can hold onto the market and maintain its place as where teens talk, it could ride out its costs and build revenue until it’s sustainable for the long-term.

Snapchat launches Bitmoji TV: zany 4-min cartoons of your avatar

Snapchat hits 218M users but big Q4 losses sink share price

Facebook pivots into Stories

 In its biggest change in a decade, Facebook is evolving from text and link-focused sharing to the visual communication format it admits “Snapchat has really pioneered.” Starting today, all users will soon have access to the new Facebook Camera feature that lets them overlay special effects on photos and videos. They can then share this content to a Snapchat clone called Facebook… Read More

Facebook pivots into Stories