Spotify’s increased focus on podcasts in 2019 includes selling its own ads

Having established itself as a top streaming service with now over 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily, and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts, as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming.

In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push.

Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper,” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow.

The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with it comes to working with music artists.

Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered – it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content.

“Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said Head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said.

“What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices…so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added.

Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (Its first season was wide, second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover,” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.”

At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more –  journalist Jemele Hill is coming Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture, and more.

In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms.

For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify.

This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system.

There are other perks for Spotify, too – when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found.

“People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify – including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted.

While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else.

With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience.

One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like.

For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts – including the ads in the podcasts themselves.

“Think about what we’ve done around music – the more understand you around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts.

The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being.

Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising – meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well.

But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. We’re hearing that Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright.

Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system.

Now Spotify aims to catch up.

The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as company, Holt said.

“We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform…And, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique – to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said.

Image credits: Spotify

Spotify will now let brands sponsor its Discover Weekly playlist

Spotify has begun testing a new type of ad in Discover Weekly, its personalized playlist of music that’s the streaming service’s flagship feature. The company says that, for the first time, it will allow a brand to “sponsor” this playlist as opposed to just running ads. It believes many advertisers will be interested in this opportunity due to the playlist’s ability to reach heavily engaged Spotify users, and because it allows advertisers to “own the personalized listening experience” on Spotify.

According to Spotify, Discover Weekly listeners stream more than double the amount of users who don’t listen to the playlist because of the personalized experience it offers. That will make the ad product more compelling, compared with brands’ existing ability to sponsor other editorial playlists on the service.

With Spotify’s Sponsored Playlist ad product, brands can surround Spotify’s free listeners with audio or video messages in ad breaks, and gain Spotify’s help in building a collaborative marketing plan.

Microsoft will kick off the launch of branded ads by running an A.I. ad campaign called “Empowering Us All.” This will explore A.I. across sectors like Education, Healthcare and Philanthropy. Spotify says it was a good fit for the launch, as Discover Weekly is customized for each user by taking advantage of A.I. technology.

“At Microsoft we are focused on empowering every individual and organization to do more. Our work in AI is a central part of that mission to unlock human ingenuity,” said Erin Bevington, General Manager of Global Media at Microsoft, in a statement. “Our partnership with a technology innovator like Spotify offered a way for us to effectively share that message within a personalized entertainment experience powered by AI.”

Spotify recently passed 200 million monthly active users, but is now looking to new ways to generate revenue from its user base beyond simply converting free users to premium subscribers.

The company has been growing its subscriber base at a steady pace, but Wall St. hasn’t been happy with its financials. One issue is that its newer promotions, like its low-cost student and family plans, have seen its average revenue per user dropping – as of Q3 2018, it had fallen 6 percent year-over-year to $5.50. A more valuable ad product could help bring these numbers back up. 

“Personalization has quickly gone from a nice-to-have to an expected consumer experience that delights audiences and marketers are craving opportunities to be part of it” said Danielle Lee, Global Head of Partner Solutions at Spotify, in a statement. “Our new Discover Weekly ad experience positions advertisers for success and ensures that our fans are hearing messages that embody the ethos of discovery.”

Brand sponsorships for Discover Weekly are currently in beta testing, says Spotify.

Google warns app developers of three malicious SDKs being used for ad fraud

A few days ago, Google removed popular Cheetah Mobile and Kika Tech apps from its Play Store following a BuzzFeed investigation, which discovered the apps were engaging in ad fraud. Today, as a result of Google’s ongoing investigation into the situation, it has discovered three malicious ad network SDKs that were being used to conduct of ad fraud in these apps. The company is now emailing developers who have these SDKs installed in their apps, and demanding their removal. Otherwise, the developers’ apps will be pulled from Google Play, as well.

To be clear, the developers with the SDKs (software development kits) installed aren’t necessarily aware of the SDKs’ malicious nature. In fact, most are likely not, Google says.

Google shared this news in a blog post today, but it didn’t name the SDKs that were involved in the ad fraud scheme.

TechCrunch has learned the ad network SDKs in question are AltaMob, BatMobi and YeahMobi.

Google didn’t share the scale to which these SDKs are being used in Android apps, but based on Google’s blog post, it appears to be taking this situation seriously – which points to the potential scale of this abuse.

“If an app violates our Google Play Developer policies, we take action,” wrote Dave Kleidermacher, VP, Head of Security & Privacy, Android & Play, in the post. “That’s why we began our own independent investigation after we received reports of apps on Google Play accused of conducting app install attribution abuse by falsely claiming credit for newly installed apps to collect the download bounty from that app’s developer,” he said.

The developers will have a short grace period to remove the SDKs from their apps.

The original BuzzFeed report had found that eight apps with a total of 2 billion downloads from Cheetah Mobile and Kika Tech had been exploiting user permissions as part of an ad fraud scheme, according to research from app analytics and research firm Kochava, which was shared with BuzzFeed.

Following the report, Cheetah Mobile apps Battery Doctor and CM Launcher were removed by Cheetah itself. The company additionally issued a press release aimed at reassuring investors that the removal of CM File Manager wouldn’t impact its revenue. It also said it was in discussions with Google to resolve the issues.

As of today, Google’s investigation into these apps is not fully resolved.

But it pulled two apps from Google Play on Monday: Cheetah Mobile’s File Manager and the Kika Keyboard. The apps, the report had said, contained code that was used for ad fraud  – specifically, ad fraud techniques known as click injection and click flooding.

The apps were engaging in app install attribution abuse, which refers to a means of falsely claiming credit for a newly installed app in order to collect the download bounty from the app developer. The three SDKs that Google is now banishing were found to be falsely crediting app installs by creating false clicks.

Combined, the two companies had hundreds of millions of active users, and the two apps that were removed had a combined 250 million installs.

In addition to removing the two apps from Google Play, Google also kicked them out of its AdMob mobile advertising network.

With Cheetah’s voluntary removal of two apps and Google’s booting of two more, a total of four of the eight apps that were conducting ad fraud are now gone from the Google Play store. When Google’s investigation wraps, the other four may be removed as well.

Even more apps could be removed in the future, too, given that Google is demanding that developers now remove the malicious SDKs. Those who fail to comply will get the boot, too.

One resource Google Play publishers, ad attribution providers, and advertisers, may want to take advantage of, going forward, is the Google Play Install Referrer API. This will tell them how their apps were actually installed.

Explains Google in its blog post:

Google Play has been working to minimize app install attribution fraud for several years. In 2017 Google Play made available the Google Play Install Referrer API, which allows ad attribution providers, publishers and advertisers to determine which referrer was responsible for sending the user to Google Play for a given app install. This API was specifically designed to be resistant to install attribution fraud and we strongly encourage attribution providers, advertisers and publishers to insist on this standard of proof when measuring app install ads. Users, developers, advertisers and ad networks all benefit from a transparent, fair system.

“We will continue to investigate and improve our capabilities to better detect and protect against abusive behavior and the malicious actors behind them,” said Kleidermacher.

Chrome 71 will block any and all ads on sites with “abusive experiences”

Chrome 71 will block any and all ads on sites with “abusive experiences”

Google is promising to punish sites that offer what the company calls “abusive experiences.” Chrome 71, due for release in December, will blacklist sites that are repeat offenders and suppress all advertising on those sites.

The behaviors deemed abusive cover a range of user-hostile things, such as ads that masquerade as system error messages, ads with fake close boxes that actually activate an ad when clicked, phishing, and malware. In general, if an ad is particularly misleading, destructive, or intrusive, it runs the risk of being deemed abusive.

Chrome already takes some actions against certain undesirable website behaviors; it tries to block popups, it limits autoplay of video, and it blocks certain kinds of redirection. These measures have been insufficient to prevent misleading or dangerous ads, hence Google taking further steps to banish them from the Web.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google’s blanket ban of cryptocurrency ads ends next month

Google is rolling back its ban on cryptocurrency advertisements – following a similar move made by Facebook earlier this summer, CNBC reports. Google in March was among the first of the major platforms to announce it would no longer run ban cryptocurrency ads, due to an abundance of caution around an industry where there’s so much potential for consumer harm.

Facebook, Twitter, and even Snapchat had also banned cryptocurrency ads, for similar reasons.

But Facebook moved away from its blanket ban this June, when it said it would no longer ban all cryptocurrency ads, but would rather allow those from “pre-approved advertisers” instead. It excluded ads that promoted binary options and initial coin offerings (ICOs), however.

Google is now following suit with its own policy change, it appears.

Google’s policy still bans ICOs, wallets and trading advice, CNBC reports, citing Google’s updated policy page which points to a list of banned products.

But the October 2018 policy update says that “regulated cryptocurrency exchanges” will be allowed to advertise in the U.S. and Japan.

To do so, advertisers will have to be certified with Google for the specific country where their ads will run, a process that begins in October. The policy will apply to all accounts that advertise these types of financial products, Google says.

Banning cryptocurrency ads on the part of the major platforms was a good step in terms of consumer protection, due to the amount of fraud and spam in the industry. According to the FTC, consumers lost $532 million to cryptocurrency-related scams in the first two months of 2018. An agency official also warned that consumers could lose more than $3 billion by the end of the year, because of these problems.

But for ad-dependent platforms like Facebook and Google, there’s so much money to be made here. It’s clear they wanted to find a way to let some of these advertisers back in. Google parent Alphabet makes around 86% of its total revenue from ads, CNBC noted, and booked over $54 billion in ad revenue in the first half of the year.

Google has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Watch the Colin Kaepernick Nike Ad That Will Run During the NFL Season Opener

Former NFL star Colin Kaepernick has posted the first television commercial made as part of his new deal with Nike.

“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, good,” says Kaepernick in a voiceover while footage of other Nike athletes, including Serena Williams and skateboarder Nyjah Huston, plays. “Stay that way. Because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy isn’t an insult. It’s a compliment.”

“So don’t ask if your dreams are crazy,” says Kaepernick at the end of the commercial – which went public Wednesday. “Ask if they’re crazy enough.”

The spot was posted just a couple days after Nike revealed that Kaepernick, who is at the center of a years-long fierce debate over free speech and athlete protests, is the face of the company’s newest ad campaign. That announcement brought cheers from some corners, while others who disagree with Kaepernick’s actions defaced their Nike gear in protest.

Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, ignited a firestorm in 2016 when he sat through the national anthem, and, in later games, knelt through it. A handful of other NFL players, many of whom are black, followed suit. The players involved have said they are protesting everything from police brutality to racial inequality more broadly.

Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2016, has not played a professional football game ever since. He now contends that NFL team owners conspired to keep him off any roster in retaliation for his actions, and has filed a grievance that is moving from arbitration to trial.

Nike’s new ad featuring Colin Kaepernick will air during the 2018-19 NFL opening game featuring the Atlanta Falcons and defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports.

‘Believe in Something.’ Colin Kaepernick Is the Face of Nike’s New ‘Just Do It’ Campaign

Colin Kaepernick is the face of Nike‘s latest ad campaign, two years after kneeling during the national anthem made him the face of protest in the NFL.

Kaepernick tweeted an image from Nike’s new “Just Do It” campaign on Monday. The advertisement features a close-up shot of the quarterback’s face and reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and is not currently signed by an NFL team. He has filed a grievance alleging that the league’s owners conspired to keep him off a team because of his stance on social issues.

Following Kaepernick’s actions, several NFL players, most of whom are black, have knelt during the pre-game performance of the national anthem or otherwise protested against police brutality, racism, inequality and other issues.

Kaepernick has been endorsed by Nike since 2011, though the company has, until now, stayed quiet about his history of protest. Nike did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment about the new campaign.

The NFL’s 2018-19 season begins Thursday, Sept. 6.

Huawei was caught using a pro camera to fake smartphone photos (again)

Huawei might make decent smartphones, but its marketing and advertising campaigns have, multiple times, been struck by controversy. That continues today, as an actor’s social media post revealed that the company faked smartphone photos with a professional DSLR camera for an advertisement in Egypt.

In the ad (embedded below), a couple takes selfies at a party and at home with the Huawei Nova 3. The Huawei video shows a rapid succession of moments in which the couple prepares to take the selfie, then shows the final photos as snapshots between moments. As it turns out, though, the photos were taken on a DSLR camera—the type of dedicated (and not-at-all-tied-to-a-smartphone) camera used by professional photographers.

Huawei Mobile Egypt’s ad for the Huawei Nova 3.

Reddit user AbdullahSab3 discovered that Sarah Elshamy, one of the actors in the video, posted some behind-the-scenes photos to her Instagram page. One image revealed a photographer shooting the at-home selfie with a DSLR.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments