1. Instagram launches IGTV, a new space and standalone application for watching long-form vertical videos
Instagram introduced IGTV, a new space within the platform, and standalone application, for watching long-form vertical videos. IGTV was built for how people use their phones, so videos are full-screen, vertical and fast-loading, and can range from 15 seconds to 60 minutes. Although ads will not be part of the launch, Instagram has shared that they will explore and test ways to help creators monetize in the future. Since the announcement, Instagram has also released a best practice handbook outlining how to create optimal videos. Publishers like BuzzFeed and The Economist are already exploring how to use the new ecosystem.
Implications: The social platform aims to showcase the lives and personalities of digital creators in a new way. With Instagram now reporting over 1 billion monthly active users, and mobile video set to account for 78% of mobile data traffic by 2021 IGTV could be a legitimate place for creators to gain exposure, and monetize their content. If successful, Instagram may even expand and build apps for other platforms (i.e. smart TV’s).
2. Facebook introduces FB.gg, a new game streaming site, and tests paid Subscription Groups
Facebook launched a new gaming streaming website called Fb.gg. The platform will host a collection of games streaming on Facebook along with personalized recommendations, in addition to featured creators, e-sports competitions and gaming conference events. Facebook also announced that it has started to test paid subscriptions on Facebook Groups. Currently, the pilot is testing with a small number of group administrators across a range of interests. This includes content-driven groups (e.g. Meal Planning Central Premium, a weekly meal plan group) and service oriented groups (e.g. Grown and Flown Parents: College Admissions and Affordability). Prices currently range from $4.99 to $29.99.
Implications: By aggregating gaming content on a separate site, Facebook is able to ensure the content does not get lost in the fast-moving News Feed. Though personalized recommendations will give the social platform a competitive advantage against YouTube and Twitch, it is late to the gaming space. As for testing paid subscription for Facebook Groups, if implemented, this feature could help administrators better support their communities, and deepen engagement amongst members.
3. Amazon Alexa announces a new iteration of the voice assistant targeted at the Hospitality Industry
Amazon announced Alexa for Hospitality, a new iteration of the Amazon Alexa voice assistant that will be distributed on an invitation basis to hotels, vacation rental spaces, and other locations. The hospitality experience will be tailored to each individual location, meaning that in addition to being able to ask Alexa for room service, housekeeping, or adjusting room controls, guests will be able to ask location-specific questions, like “what time does the pool close?” At a later stage, users will also be able to temporarily link their own accounts. Marriot International will be piloting the program.
Implications: Partnering with Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, could help to further differentiate Alexa in a competitive market. However, as data will likely be shared between Amazon and the hotels operating Alexa, questions around privacy remain. While hotels might have an appetite to invest in smart technology, they should be mindful of consumer concerns.
4. MIT scientists create an AI-powered psychopath to showcase how the data behind AI matters
Researchers at MIT unveiled Norman, an artificial intelligence powered psychopath, trained to perform image captioning (a deep learning method of generating a textual description of an image). To train the AI, the team used image captions from a subreddit (a forum on Reddit) dedicated to documenting the disturbing reality of death. As a result, when Norman was tasked to caption several of the Rorschach inkblots (a test used to detect underlying thought disorders) it produced horrifying responses, as compared to those from a standard image captioning AI. As you may have guessed, Norman is named after Norman Bates from the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho.”
Implications: Artificial intelligence is only as good as the data that it learns from. The point of the experiment was to show how easy it is to influence an AI if you train it on biased data. Norman raises urgent and necessary questions around the training and potential bias of machine learning algorithms, especially those that make judgments and decisions for humans.
5. Amazon to acquire online U.S. pharmacy PillPack
Amazon is set to acquire PillPack, an online pharmacy that lets users buy medication in pre-made doses across 50 states in the U.S. Though PillPack is not a major player in the prescription drugstore industry (with a revenue of $100 million in 2017) it has been considered a target for larger businesses looking at online drug sales. Last fall, whispers around Amazon’s interest in the pharmacy market unsettled the industry and has been considered a strong factor in a number of recent mergers, including CVS’s acquisition of Aetna, and Cigna and Express Scripts.
Implications: Amazon’s new acquisition (rumored at just under $1 billion) underscores the company’s larger intent to have a more direct and commercial role in the prescription drug industry (valued at $560 billion). Despite the fact that purchasing habits are shifting online, prescription drugs have remained a brick-and-mortar purchase. If Amazon is able to alter this habit, it could permanently disrupt the pharmacy market.
6. Google to retire DoubleClick and AdWords in a rebrand of Ad Business
Google announced that it will rebrand its DoubleClick Digital Marketing and Analytics 360 Suite names to a new platform called Google Marketing Platform (you can watch the Google Marketing Live keynote here). The ecosystem aims to unify the company’s ad products, so brands can manage the data they get from their websites and digital properties in addition to obtaining their ad buying and measurement in one place. While the names have changed, the underlying products remain largely the same. The platform will keep the same technology partners and users will be able to use the same methods of payment.
Implications: The Google Marketing Platform combines ads, data and measurement, to give marketers a more holistic picture of their brand’s customers. By streamlining the ad business, Google’s new positioning makes it look more like a marketing technology platform, potentially signaling more changes in the future.