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Netflix is testing an audio-only mode to compete with podcasts and audiobooks

The new feature would allow subscribers to stream shows and movies without video.

Netflix is testing an audio-only mode to compete with podcasts and audiobooks

Netflix is already experimenting with what can best be described as audiobooks with video, partnering with Black celebrities to read children's books from Black authors.

Image: Netflix

Netflix is testing a new audio-only mode with a subset of its Android users, according to code snippets found in the latest version of its Android app. The feature allows users to stream just the audio track of a show or movie in the background. This would effectively allow for a listening experience that's similar to podcasts or audiobooks, while also cutting down on data consumption.

XDA Developers was first to report about the new test after spotting related code lines in Netflix's latest Android app. "Save your data by turning off the video and listening to your favorite shows," one of the snippets found in the app explains. "The video is off, but you can continue listening to your show while you are busy doing other things," another text string notes.

Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This isn't the first time that Netflix has experimented with an audio-only experience. Back in 2017, a team of Netflix engineers developed an "audiobook mode" as part of one of the company's hack days. The company regularly hosts these hack day events to encourage creative experiments, but most hack day projects never turn into actual product features.

Netflix also regularly tests new features with subsets of its audience, and only implements these features after tests show a clear positive impact on engagement and retention. Still, an audio-only feature would make a lot of sense for the service. Netflix has long produced stand-up comedy specials that would work well in an audio-only experience.

More recently, Netflix has also experimented with what can best be described as audiobooks with video. As part of its efforts to spotlight Black creators, Netflix recently teamed up with Black celebrities like Tiffany Haddish, Lupita Nyong'o and Jill Scott to read children's books from Black authors.

Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings in particular has also long made the argument that the company doesn't just compete with other streaming services, but with anything that its users spend their time on. "We compete for a share of members' time and spending for relaxation and stimulation," the company states in its long-term view for investors, which calls out video gaming, web browsing and magazine reading as just some examples.

"We strive to win more of our members' 'moments of truth,'" the long-term view document continues. "Those decision points are, say, at 7:15 p.m. when a member wants to relax, enjoy a shared experience with friends and family, or is bored. The member could choose Netflix or a multitude of other options."

An audio-only mode could arguably help Netflix win more of those moments by providing an alternative to podcasts and audiobooks.

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Viewers like you: How PBS is adapting to the streaming age

The public broadcaster has had considerable success on YouTube and other digital platforms. Now, it is looking to revamp pledging.

PBS has begun to talk to ad-supported video services, including some that distribute programming via free 24/7 channels, to help it compete in the streaming age.

Image: PBS

If there were a playbook for the streaming wars, it might read something like this: Take your most valuable assets, slap a plus behind your most recognizable brand name, and start counting the money.

For PBS, things aren't quite that easy. While the public broadcaster has made some inroads in streaming, it has been slower to embrace digital business models than some of its commercial competitors. But that could change in the coming months. PBS is in discussions to bring its app to additional platforms, including a new crop of ad-supported video services, and has plans to turn smart TVs into donation machines that could ultimately make the old-fashioned pledge drive obsolete.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

How Chess.com built a streaming empire

Twitch users watched 18.3 million hours of chess content in January, nearly as much as they consumed throughout 2019. Last week, chess even surpassed League of Legends, Fortnite and Valorant as the most-watched gaming category.

To date, Chess.com has over 57 million members.

Photo: William West/Getty Images

There's something inherently perverse in calling chess "open source." It's a bit like saying France "pivoted" from monarchy to republic, or that indoor plumbing was a "10x idea."

Nevertheless, it's true: Anyone has free rein to make a chess game.

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Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
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