Facebook Portal, pop music pressures, the plight of the creative class, & more

Facebook Portal wants read/write video access to your living room. It’s obvious why Facebook would like that, but it’s far less obvious why anyone else would. This story and more in today’s subscriber newsletter…

What You Need To Know 👀

  1. Facebook unveils new Portal video chat, TV streaming devices 📹

Reuters reports on Facebook’s new “Portal video chatting devices,” which it says are “the company’s first foray into TV streaming hardware.” However, you won’t be able to stream Netflix and some other popular streaming content. To make up for the limited content, Facebook is betting on making TV streaming into a social experience:

Facebook is hoping the social nature of its products will be their selling point, allowing users to watch shows together while interacting via video call on the same screen.

“I think that in a couple years’ time, if you have a smart streaming device that doesn’t have a camera allowing you to video call people, you’re not going to have a competitive product,” said vice president of AR/VR Andrew Bosworth. “I think this is the killer feature for a device like this.”

My take: Most media reports have emphasised that with this technology, Facebook will be able to track you on video in your own living room or lounge. Facebook’s privacy record understandably makes that a deal breaker for many. But I’m also dubious about how many people will want to watch shows like Mindhunter or Succession live with their friends. Most prestige streaming TV is a lean-back experience, meaning you just want to watch the show in peace and on your own time.

On the Portal TV product page, it’s clear Facebook is marketing this as a family-focused communication device. So it’s like Skype on your TV, in that sense. Which sounds like a fine use case, but the ‘watch shows together’ angle makes less sense.

  1. Wattpad gets into print 📚

PublishersWeekly has published an article written by Ashleigh Gardner, the deputy general manager of publishing at Wattpad Studios in Toronto. In it, Gardner explains why her digital-first, user-generated stories company is tapping into the print book world:

“Wattpad Books is a chance for us to put out the books we want to publish, guided by our goals for a more diverse industry and the data to make better bets.

Wattpad Books is a validation and celebration of the creativity, interests, and worldbuilding that happens on Wattpad every day. With Wattpad Books, we’re not just launching a publishing division. We’re launching a new generation of diverse writers.”

My take: I don’t buy the ‘diversity’ angle here. This is all about the data and using it to find mainstream market opportunities. Wattpad can tell which stories posted to its digital platform are most likely to sell in bulk, in all forms (including print). They can tell this via online engagement (likes, follows, and so on) and by the type of audience that certain stories attract. One of the books Gardner mentions, Anna Todd’s After, was originally published on Wattpad as fan fiction inspired by the boy band One Direction. So once that story became popular on Wattpad, it had a built-in audience of One Direction fans that could easily be persuaded to purchase a book version.

  1. Pop’s need for speed: ‘You have to drop new stuff constantly’ 🎹

The Guardian writes that the pace of releases for pop musicians has increased markedly in the streaming era:

“…the album release itself is less important than creating a continuous flow of videos, remixes and sparkling new content.

This creates a different kind of pressure for artists: to produce enough material to get constantly playlisted and talked about, saving yourself from being kicked to the bottom of Spotify’s New Music Friday heap each week. This is especially gruelling for pure pop acts.”

My take: A related trend I’ve noticed is artists who have been around for years regularly releasing new parts of their back catalogue, often live shows or archived songs in EP form. The Foo Fighters for example have released a slew of live EPs and demo versions of their songs this year. Sure enough, much of this type of music shows up in my automated Spotify ‘Release Radar’ playlist each week. This is all part of the ‘feed’ era of cultural content, where new content must be injected into the feed on a regular basis in order to keep your profile up. As the above article implies, this is especially important for pop musicians – who (by definition) rely on staying popular.

  1. Jack Conte, Patreon, and the plight of the creative class 💰

In a long Wired profile, Jonah Weiner muses on the “content treadmill” that Patreon creators are stuck on, due to the pressures of staying relevant on YouTube and other bigco platforms:

“Which leads to a strange irony about Patreon. The service may very well allow artists to become less beholden to the unpredictable algorithms, turbulent monetization policies, and stingy revenue-sharing of behemoth distribution platforms like YouTube. But in the absence of a viable alternative to those platforms, Patreon winds up effectively subsidizing that very unpredictability, turbulence, and stinginess. Put another way, Patreon promises to make a YouTube creator’s life easier—a patently good thing—but in the process it puts no pressure on companies like YouTube to change the ways it hurts creators in the first place.”

My take: To be fair to Patreon, the only way it could truly challenge the likes of YouTube is to create a content distribution system on the same scale as YouTube, Facebook and the other bigco platforms. That’s almost impossible at this point. Patreon at least provides an opportunity for creators to provide added value based on their content – such as access to the creator, exclusive content, early access to content, etc. It’s still a Power Law dynamic, in that only the very top creators can earn a living this way. But it’s better than the alternative of creators 100% relying on YouTube for income.

Good Reads 👓

Tweet of the day 🐦

Sums up Facebook Portal sentiment:

That’s the Monday update, hope you found it useful! Coming up tomorrow is this week’s in-depth analysis post, which will be made public to help get the word out to non-subscribers. Your early support of Cybercultural is much appreciated. 🙏