Amazon Launches TikTok-Style Feed in Push to Accelerate Social Shopping

The tech company joins its U.S. peers in capitalizing on the popularity of the short-video format.

Will SBF saddle up for a testimony after his media tour?

Welcome back to Chain Reaction.

It’s still a pretty busy time in the wild, wild world of crypto. But it felt somewhat more tame than the whirlwind the industry has experienced in the past few weeks, and for that, I thank the crypto gods (for now.)

If you’re keeping up with the news cycle, then you know FTX’s former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried has gone on quite a bit of a media campaign.

He’s done a number of interviews with organizations, ranging from Good Morning America to The Block, in the past week, and even jumped on a handful of less formal Twitter spaces (with thousands of listeners) for impromptu conversations. While he has rambled his thoughts and circumnavigated questions, he’s caught the attention of regulators — who want to hear from him now, too.

In a back-and-forth tweet exchange, the Chairwoman of the House of Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters invited SBF to join their hearing on December 13, to which, SBF basically replied “not right now.”

That didn’t bode well with the chairwoman and she came back swinging and said, “Based on your role as CEO and your media interviews over the past few weeks, it’s clear to us that the information you have thus far is sufficient for testimony.” In a separate tweet, Waters also said a subpoena is “definitely on the table.”

With a couple days until the hearing, we’ll see if SBF saddles up and testifies, by choice or by order. But the former seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, an excel spreadsheet showed Alameda’s private equity portfolio with some FTX positions included. It was a doozy of a document, which had our team wondering how they had time to do anything other than invest given the massive number of deals recorded across a handful of sectors. More deets below.

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this week in web3

Here are some of the biggest crypto stories TechCrunch has covered this week.

FTX and Alameda’s massive investments will take a long time to unwind from crypto industry (TC+)

FTX and its sister company (or parent company, depending on how you look at it) Alameda had their hands in a bunch of different startups. The depth of its roster wasn’t very transparent until now. A spreadsheet with Alameda’s private equity portfolio and some FTX positions includes just shy of 500 investments across 10 holding companies for a total of $5.276 billion. This spreadsheet, dated from early November, raises a number of concerns surrounding the extent to which FTX and Alameda — and their affiliated companies — invested in the crypto industry.

Thoughts on the demise of Circle’s SPAC deal (TC+)

Circle Internet Financial (Circle), the company behind the popular USDC stablecoin, called off its merger with a blank check company, ending its SPAC-led run toward going public. Circle’s SPAC deal made news when announced last year and earlier this year when it was repriced. Last we heard, Circle had renegotiated its SPAC transaction, boosting its enterprise value from $4.5 billion to $9 billion. So what happened between then and now to get us from a new, higher deal price to a termination?

Seoul court rejects warrants for former Terraform Labs employees and investors over Luna collapse

A Seoul court rejected a request from prosecutors for warrants to detain eight people related to Terraform Labs, including the co-founder of Terraform Labs, Daniel Shin, early investors and former engineers. The court dismissed the warrants, saying the eight people need to have rights to defend their cases against accusations. Shin is being charged with taking illegal profits worth about $105 million by selling Luna tokens when it was near its all-time high without disclosing this move to investors, prior to the collapse of the TerraUSD and Luna earlier this year.

Mastercard director sees FTX collapse as chance for the crypto market to reset

Even though one of the largest crypto exchanges, FTX, collapsed and filed for bankruptcy, some market participants aren’t worried about whether the meltdown will alter institutional interest in crypto. “I feel like once you get the momentum for an institution up and running, it’s hard to get them to turn their head and pivot,” Grace Berkery, director of startup engagement at Mastercard, said at an event on Wednesday. “So if they’re going to enter, they’re going to stay in the space.”

Ledger’s latest crypto wallet taps iPod designer in bid to boost accessibility

Ledger, a security-focused firm that sells crypto hardware wallets, has partnered with the designer behind the iPod, Tony Fadell, in hopes of creating an easier, more accessible way for users to secure their crypto assets. The new credit card-sized crypto wallet can manage NFT collections as well as over 500 coins and digital assets.

the latest pod

As a friendly reminder, Chain Reaction’s first season ended last week and we’ll be bringing new content back in the New Year.

ICYMI: Last week, in Chain Reaction’s Tuesday episode, Alchemy’s CEO Nikil Viswanathan had a lot to say about how the industry and developer’s focus on infrastructure has shifted, what will drive the next wave of consumer interest and which blockchains he’s seeing the most developer activity on.

Subscribe to Chain Reaction on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite pod platform to keep up with the latest episodes, and please leave us a review if you like what you hear!

follow the money

  1. Tea, an open source package manager for developers, raises $8.9 million in seed funding
  2. NFT-focused startup Metagood raises $5 million toward “social good” impact
  3. Uniswap-based protocol Panoptic raises $4.5 million for decentralized perpetual options
  4. Crypto accounting-focused Bitwave raises $15 million in a Series A round led by Hack VC and Blockchain Capital
  5. Perennial, a DeFi protocol for derivative trading, raises $12 million in a seed round co-led by Polychain Capital and Variant

This list was compiled with information from Messari as well as TechCrunch’s own reporting.

Will SBF saddle up for a testimony after his media tour? by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

Disney+ launches its ad-supported tier to compete with Netflix

The day has arrived. Today, Disney+ launched its ad-supported tier, “Disney+ Basic,” at $7.99/month. The plan is currently only available in the U.S. and will become available in other countries sometime next year.

Image Credits: Disney+

“Today’s launch marks a milestone moment for Disney+ and puts consumer choice at the forefront. With these new ad-supported offerings, we’re able to deliver greater flexibility for consumers to enjoy the full breadth and depth of incredible storytelling from The Walt Disney Company,” Michael Paull, president of Direct to Consumer, said in a statement.

Netflix has its work cut out for it if it wants to compete successfully with Disney+’s new ad-supported tier. For instance, Disney+ Basic not only lets viewers stream high-quality video, including Full HD, HDR10, 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision and Expanded Aspect Ratio with IMAX Enhanced, but it also lets subscribers stream on up to four supported devices simultaneously. Plus, the ad plan includes Disney+’s full content catalog.

Netflix’s ad-supported plan, on the other hand, only supports 720p HD video quality, subscribers can only stream on one device at the same time and around 5% to 10% of Netflix’s content library is missing due to licensing restrictions.

Neither Disney+ Basic nor Netflix’s “Basic with ads” plan allows offline viewing or downloads.

Other features not included in the Disney+ Basic plan at launch are GroupWatch, SharePlay and Dolby Atmos. A Disney spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company hopes to support this in the future, but the exact timing is unknown.

Ads will range from 15 to 30 or 45 seconds long, the spokesperson added. As we previously reported, Disney+ is limiting the total ad load to an average of four minutes of commercials an hour. Preschool content has zero ads.

Image Credits: Disney+

Also, the company revised the Disney Bundle. The Disney Bundle Duo (Disney+ Basic and Hulu’s ad plan) will cost $9.99/month. There’s also the Disney Bundle Trio Basic (Disney+ Basic, Hulu’s ad plan and ESPN+) will be $12.99/month and the Disney Bundle Trio Premium is priced at $19.99/month.

Alongside the launch, Disney+ increased the price of its Premium ad-free subscription to $10.99/month, up from $7.99. So while it may seem that Disney+ is launching a cheaper tier, the reality is that subscribers will have to pay the same price for a plan that will now get ads.

Research firm Kantar found that 23% of existing Disney+ subscribers plan to switch to the new tier, Deadline reported. That means more than 37 million subscribers could choose to pay the same price they always have but for an arguably “downgraded” subscription plan.

Hulu, the Disney-owned streaming service, also got a price hike, along with the Disney Bundle and Hulu Live TV.

The main reason Disney+ launched its ad-supported tier was to open up its streaming service to new subscribers. Disney previously said that the new tier will keep the company on track to reach its target of 230-260 million Disney+ subscribers by 2024. The streamer reported an impressive total of 164.2 million global subscribers in Q4 2022, which includes 46.4 million domestic subscribers.

Also, Disney’s direct-to-consumer division lost $1.5 billion, so the ad-supported tier is a potential new revenue stream for the company. The streaming giant boasted in today’s announcement that Disney+ Basic is launching with over 100 advertisers.

“Today, we welcome Disney+ with ads to the largest, most diverse and impactful portfolio in the industry. We are committed to connecting our clients to the best storytelling in the world while delivering innovation and viewer-first experience in streaming now and in the future,” said Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising.

Disney+ launches its ad-supported tier to compete with Netflix by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

The FTC is suing to block Microsoft from buying Activision

The FTC announced Thursday that it would sue to block Microsoft’s acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard. Microsoft announced plans to buy the company, which has been plagued by sexual harassment and discrimination allegations and labor disputes, back in January for $68.7 billion.

The deal would be mark a seismic shift in the gaming industry — Activision Blizzard owns hugely popular games like the Call of Duty franchise and World of Warcraft — but the massive size of the deal and the prevailing anti-consolidation sentiment meant that it was due for some intense regulatory scrutiny from day one.

In its statement, the FTC cites concerns that the deal would “enable Microsoft to suppress competitors” to Xbox, including its paid Game Pass subscription service and cloud gaming services.

“Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals,” FTC’s Bureau of Competition Director Holly Vedova said. “Today we seek to stop Microsoft from gaining control over a leading independent game studio and using it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets.”

PlayStation maker Sony, Microsoft’s console rival, has loudly objected to the proposed merger, which would consolidate some of the world’s most popular games under the Xbox’s banner. In recent weeks, Microsoft has been attempting to stave off the regulatory threat by promising to give Call of Duty equal treatment on the PlayStation and even agreeing to bring the franchise to Nintendo if the deal goes through.

Microsoft President Brad Smith weighed in on the FTC’s decision Thursday, saying that the deal would create new opportunities rather than stifle competition.

This story is developing.

The FTC is suing to block Microsoft from buying Activision by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch

Just how bad is the Q1 ad market going to be?

What do media layoffs and tech worries have in common? Fear about what’s ahead in coming quarters, especially as it relates to advertising revenues.

The advertising business is huge and lucrative. So lucrative, in fact, that for major tech shops, some level of advertising-derived income is unavoidable once they reach a certain scale. Amazon is famed for its mega-scale advertising business (the other side of that coin is here); Apple’s App Store is an ad goliath; Microsoft’s Bing search engine generates material advertising incomes, and the company has even greater ad-focused aspirations; and Meta and Alphabet are advertising-centric businesses by nature.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Due to major tech companies’ reliance on generating advertising-based revenues, we track the ad market more than we once did. We kinda cannot not, if that makes sense.

Back to media: It’s a bloodbath out there today, with layoffs arriving in droves and some publications straight-up dying. Underlying the cuts, at least per official corporate talking points, is anxiety stemming from an uncertain economic future.

Just how bad is the Q1 ad market going to be? by Alex Wilhelm originally published on TechCrunch

FTC Sues to Block Microsoft’s Acquisition of Activision

The FTC sued Microsoft to prevent its planned $75 billion deal for Activision Blizzard, taking one of its biggest shots under the Biden administration at halting a merger of technology giants.

Cameo now offers kid-friendly personalized videos from CoComelon, Blippi, Thomas the Tank Engine

Cameo today launched Cameo Kids, its new video messaging service that features personalized videos from popular animated characters like Thomas the Tank Engine, JJ, Cody, Cece and Nina from “CoComelon,” Blippi from “Blippi Wonders,” True from Netflix’s “True and the Rainbow Kingdom,” as well as an animated Santa Claus.

Today’s launch is notable as it marks the company’s first large investment into family entertainment. After a slowdown in business earlier this year that resulted in laying off 25% of its workforce, Cameo is on the hunt to grow its user base.

Cameo Kids will likely unlock a broader audience as shows like “CoComelon” draw in millions of viewers. In February 2022, “CoComelon” accounted for 33.3 billion minutes of viewing across Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube, per Nielsen.

The celebrity video-sharing service will introduce more and more characters to Cameo Kids on a “rolling basis,” Cameo wrote in its announcement. Parents and their children can get personalized birthday and holiday video greetings for $25 to $30. Video orders are usually delivered within seven days, claims the company.

Image Credits: Cameo

“We’ve seen jaw-dropping fan reactions to Cameo videos over the last few years including truly wowed children, so we’re excited to spread even more of that joy with this new offering,” said Steven Galanis, Cameo co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “We’re building a platform where families can get their kid’s favorite star to not just know their name but share support for every important moment in their child’s life – big and small.”

Cameo partnered with Candle Media to help develop Cameo Kids. The media company was co-founded by former Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs. Last year, Candle Media acquired Moonbug Entertainment, the distributor of shows “CoComelon,” “Blippi” and “Little Baby Bum.”

“The creator economy is driven by opportunities for fans to engage directly with their favorite personalities, and we are thrilled to partner with Cameo to allow parents and loved ones to create personalized Cameo videos featuring many of our most popular animated characters from Moonbug, and over time, additional Candle brands and franchises,” added Mayer and Staggs.

Cameo now offers kid-friendly personalized videos from CoComelon, Blippi, Thomas the Tank Engine by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

Critical mass

Greetings from…somewhere. As I mentioned the other week, I’m taking a few weeks off. It’s the first time off I’ve had this year and the most consecutive days I’ve taken off in 15+ years of being a tech journalist. It’s been a hard/weird last few years, and burnout has a way of sneaking up on you while you’re not looking.

I’m trying to ignore the creeping sense of guilt about not doing a couple of proper year-end newsletters this time out. I’ll be back right after the Christmas break, though, and we can debrief on 2022 then, just as we ease into full freak-out mode pre-CES (the level of real robotics news at what is ostensibly a consumer show always feels like a bit of a crapshoot).

I also have some passing thoughts about the need for more focused robotics journalism out there that I’ve been wanting to get down on paper. That’s not to say there aren’t good people out there doing good work. But there’s a lot more that needs to be done to mainstream coverage. Apologies for pasting some thoughts over from LinkedIn. If you read those posts, feel free to skip the next couple of grafs. Consider this a minor manifesto of sorts.

Quoting myself here (I know, I know):

If you run a robotics startup and want coverage, come ready to answer difficult questions. Categories like crypto have been done a disservice by some breathless coverage. It’s our job to ask some hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions.

A good investor will have already prepared you for some of them, like market fit and ROI. Even seemingly simple questions like “Why does this need to exist?” and “Why are you the right person/team to execute it?” can be difficult for many founders to answer.

They shouldn’t be. You should be asking yourself these questions every day. If you can’t find meaningful answers, you might not be the right person for the job. Accepting that and pivoting isn’t failure. Ignoring it and carrying on ultimately might be, however.

I’ve been genuinely surprised that more major publications aren’t investing in robotics coverage. Now is the time to starting building coverage of robotics/automation. The category has largely been done a disservice, as it’s been more of an afterthought. I got my start writing about gadgets (it’s still a big part of my role at TechCrunch), so I completely understand the impulse to fall back on Skynet and Black Mirror jokes, rather than having a nuanced conversation.

But questions about ethics, automation/labor and the like are important to bake into these conversations. Asking difficult questions isn’t combative. It’s not doing the industry a disservice (unless said industry can’t stand up to scrutiny). It’s an important part of growing. Otherwise one day you wake up and have a Theranos or FTX on your hands.

Sometimes these things are scams from the outset, but oftentimes it’s the product of someone who believed in their mission, but ultimately didn’t get enough pushback along the way and began believing their own lies.

Asking the right questions comes with being immersed in a topic. Knowing the lay of the land, talking to the right people and finely honing your BS detector. I’m not here to be anyone’s cheerleader, but I’m also not in the business of criticizing for criticism’s sake. Coverage should reflect the product and the people who make it — for better and worse.

All right, that’s enough bloviating from me for a while. For the next couple of weeks, I’m leaving you in some very capable hands. We’ve got some insight from some very smart folks in the space. Coming up over the next couple of weeks are PlayGround Global’s Peter Barrett and UC Berkeley’s Ken Goldberg.

Q&A with Joyce Sidopoulos

Image Credits: MassRobotics

Today we’re kicking things off with MassRobotics’ chief of operations, Joyce Sidopoulos, who was also a great help for my recent trip to Boston. See you on the other side.

TC: What was the biggest robotics story of 2022? 

JS: There are a number of stories that are changing the landscape of the robotics industry, such as Hyundai’s announcement of a $400 million AI and robotics institute powered by Boston Dynamics, but one of the most impactful stories is Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot.

What are your biggest robotics predictions for 2023?

The adoption of robotics will continue to grow at a rapid pace, in spite of, or possibly due to, the predicted economic downturn. The last few years have proven the worth of many robot systems, such as those used in warehouses.

How profound of an impact has the pandemic had on robotics?

Very. The pandemic highlighted the value that robotics can provide, and spurred on more development and commercialization. The pandemic led to the realization that domestic manufacturing needs help and our supply chain is broken, areas which robotics can help solve. Industries began to adopt collaborative robots to help with workforce shortfalls and that will continue.

How much of an impact has the macroeconomic environment had on robotics investing?

We are definitely seeing that it is taking startups longer to raise rounds, but so far there are funds still available. MassRobotics recently held an investor demo day for about 30 of our startups and we had a great turnout of interested investors.

What underaddressed category deserves more focus from robotics startups and investors?

Climate change and sustainability. We will need to make significant strides in using technology to impact some of our global challenges, and we believe robotics can play a growing role, from wind turbine inspection to automated recycling.

How will automation impact the workforce of the future?

The best applications for robots today are where robots work in conjunction with human workers. Companies that have been successful in deploying robots have increased their workforce. Robots will replace dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. Those are the undesirable jobs that are not easily filled.

Are home robotics finally having their moment?

We are watching Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot closely. We believe there are plenty of opportunities for robots in the home in the future.

What more can/should the U.S. do to foster innovation in the category?

Increase the support for the startup community by investing in innovation centers (like MassRobotics) and create incentives for small and midsized firms to adopt robotics to allow them to be competitive on the world stage.

Critical mass by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Report indicates friction prior to Bret Taylor’s resignation from Salesforce

It seems that maybe Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff was protesting a bit too much when he gave what seemed like a genuinely heartfelt goodbye to his protégé, Bret Taylor, last week, insisting to anyone who would listen that he was heartbroken to lose his friend and mentee.

That might not be the whole story. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that there was tension between the two executives over Taylor’s role as co-CEO and his other job as Twitter board chair, a role he held until the end of October, when Elon Musk took over as owner and dissolved the board.

Certainly, the oddest part of the report was that people told the WSJ that Benioff was upset that Taylor wasn’t spending enough time on engineering and too much time with other CEOs and customers, a role that you would think Benioff would want his co-CEO to take on.

This was precisely the kind of thing that former co-CEO Keith Block brought to the job before he left the company in 2020. One would think that if the reason for Taylor’s departure was frustration at being unable to build something, engineering would be where he’d be spending the majority of his time.

The report went on to suggest that people were confused about which co-CEO to report to, which throws into focus the whole idea of the co-CEO role. As former Salesforce executive and current founder and CEO of Skyflow, Anshu Sharma, told TechCrunch earlier this week, it’s not really a role at all.

“What the fuck is a co-CEO and why do you need one? Well, I mean, you have a CEO and four other CXOs. What does a co-CEO wake up in the morning and do that’s not already being done by a CEO?” he asked.

It’s a fair question, and if the WSJ report is accurate, it seems that people inside Salesforce, including Benioff himself, had trouble figuring it out.

It also begs the question of whether those were just crocodile tears from Benioff at the announcement last week. It sure sounds like Taylor’s decision to leave wasn’t just because he had a hankering to return to building, as we had been led to believe.

We sought comment from Salesforce, but the company did not respond to our request by the time of publication. Should that change, we will update the post.

Report indicates friction prior to Bret Taylor’s resignation from Salesforce by Ron Miller originally published on TechCrunch

Airtable chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are out

As part of Airtable’s decision to cut 20% of staff, or 254 employees, three executives are “parting ways” with the company as well, a spokesperson confirmed over email. The chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are no longer with the company.

Airtable’s chief revenue officer, Seth Shaw, joined in November 2020 just one month before Airtable’s chief product officer Peter Deng came on board. Airtable’s chief people officer, Johanna Jackman, joined Airtable in May 2021 with an ambitious goal to double the company’s headcount to 1,000 in 12 months. The three executives are departing today as a mutual decision with Airtable, but will advise the company through the next phase of transition, the company says. All three executives were reached out to for further comment and this story will be updated with their responses if given.

An Airtable spokesperson declined to comment on if the executives were offered severance pay. The positions will be succeeded by internal employees, introduced at an all-hands meeting to be held this Friday.

Executive departures at this scale are rare, even if the overall company is going through a heavy round of cuts. But CEO and founder Howie Liu emphasized, in an email sent to staff but seen by TechCrunch, that the decision – Airtable’s first-ever lay off in its decade-long history – was made following Airtable’s choice to pivot to a more “narrowly focused mode of execution.”

In the email, Liu described Airtable’s goal – first unveiled in October – to capture enterprise clients with connected apps. Now, instead of the bottom-up adoption that first fueled Airtable’s rise, the company wants to be more focused in this new direction. Liu’s e-mail indicates that the startup will devote a majority of its resources toward “landing and expanding large enterprise companies with at least 1k FTEs – where our connected apps vision will deliver the most differentiated value.”

The lean mindset comes after Airtable reduced spend in marketing media, real estate, business technology and infrastructure, the e-mail indicates. “In trying to do too many things at once, we have grown our organization at a breakneck pace over the past few years. We will continue to emphasize growth, but do so by investing heavily in the levers that yield the highest growth relative to their cost,” Liu wrote.

Airtable seems to be emphasizing that its reduced spend doesn’t come with less ambition, or ability to execute. A spokesperson added over e-mail that all of Airtable’s funds from its $735 million Series F are “still intact.” They also said that the startup’s enterprise side, which makes up the majority of Airtable’s revenue, is growing more than 100% year over year; the product move today just doubles down on that exact cohort.

Current and former Airtable employees can reach out to Natasha Mascarenhas on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 271 0912. You can also DM her on Twitter, @nmasc_. 

Airtable chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are out by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch