Snap is laying the groundwork for an AR-everywhere future
Image: Snap

Snap is laying the groundwork for an AR-everywhere future

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday: Snap’s new drone isn’t even the biggest news coming out of its partner summit, and Comcast is doing another video joint venture. Plus, Kinderzimmer Kraftwerk.

Snap will let developers build persistent AR experiences

At its partner summit today, Snapchat’s parent company announced a number of new initiatives that show how the company is preparing for a future in which we’ll all wear AR glasses all the time, ready to tap into AR services and experiences all around us.

Oh, and Snap’s also making a drone, which will get all the headlines. And rightly so, as it’s a bold bet on hardware from a company with limited success in that field. However, Snap’s AR gamble could be even more consequential.

Snap wants to take AR everywhere. Fresh off its announcement of custom landmarkers, Snap announced today the launch of new location-based services. These services will allow Lens Creators to build AR experiences that make use of actual spatial knowledge of the world.

  • This could include wayfinding, or lenses that interact with buildings and city streets. Anyone up for a citywide AR game?
  • Snap will first make a so-called city landmarker available for London, where it previously launched a streetwide AR experience. The company wants to expand city landmarkers to other locales within the next year.
  • “We leverage 3D reconstruction and machine learning to build scalable 3D maps of entire cities,” a spokesperson told me. “This provides the ability for the Snap Camera to understand where a device is in a city through visual positioning, allowing interesting and useful content to be overlaid precisely in the city itself.”
  • The company is effectively positioning itself as a competition to Niantic here, vying to build a geospatial AR layer that others will be able to build games and experiences on top of.

Snap is moving beyond one-off lenses. Updates shared this week also expand what’s possible with lenses and address a number of limitations of social AR.

  • Most notable is the launch of storage services as part of Snap’s new Lens Cloud. These storage services will effectively allow Lens Creators to build more elaborate AR experiences and download specific data on demand.
  • Developers will also be able to retain data between sessions, which can turn AR lenses from one-off experiences to something people make use of over and over again.
  • Additionally, Snap is using its new Snap Cloud to allow Lens developers to build multi-user AR games and experiences.
  • Finally, Snap is giving Lens Creators access to ray tracing, which is supposed to give AR lenses console-gaming-like graphics.

All of this is great news for Lens Creators today, but the company is also building these tools with AR glasses in mind. Persistence and location services will be essential to letting people unlock the AR world around them with their AR glasses, be it Spectacles or third-party hardware running Snap’s software.

Oh, and about that drone, which Snap would prefer you don’t call a drone. The Pixy is a small, handheld drone that’s designed to provide Snapchatters with an easier way to take selfies and short video clips filmed from a unique third-person vantage point.

  • The device will only be available in the U.S. and France at first, with a starting price of $229.
  • The Pixy is Snap’s second big bet on hardware after Spectacles, which began as simple video-recording glasses and are now being turned into AR headgear.
  • Similarly, I believe the Pixy could one day play a major role in the company’s AR ambitions. The drone is already capable of flying around you to record a 360-degree pan.
  • Add some better optics and perhaps a Lidar sensor to a future version, and you’ve got yourself a foolproof photogrammetry drone, capable of turning anyone into a 3D avatar.

— Janko Roettgers

Comcast is building itself another Hulu

Comcast and Charter have come together to launch a streaming joint venture, the two companies announced yesterday. The new company, in which both of the cable operators will be holding an equal stake, will be tasked with developing and offering a nationwide streaming platform that will be made available via its own streaming devices and smart TVs.

Comcast has long been wanting to take on Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV and Google TV, and is now taking another stab at this with Charter’s help.

  • Under the deal, Comcast will contribute its XClass smart TV platform as well as its ad-supported streaming service Xumo.
  • Comcast will also license Flex, which has basically been its attempt to turn its Xfinity X1 set-top operating system into a streaming hardware and software platform that provides value to people without a cable subscription.
  • Charter doesn’t have the same kind of tech chops, so it is instead opening its checkbook, with plans to contribute $900 million over several years.

This new JV is all about XClass, the smart TV platform that Comcast launched last year in partnership with TV maker Hisense.

  • XClass TVs will continue to be available at retailers like Walmart, but Comcast and Charter may also sell them directly to their consumers.
  • I wouldn’t be too surprised to also see both companies sell streaming devices under the XClass brand sooner or later.
  • With XClass, Comcast already attempted to build a new brand that wasn’t tied closely to its existing cable business. Under this deal, the JV will also be organized separately, making it easier for Charter and Comcast to target streaming audiences nationwide.

Comcast is reviving the Hulu playbook with this new partnership. When Hulu was founded nearly 15 years ago, it was meant to give legacy media companies a way to venture into paid streaming without having to directly compete with each other.

  • That marriage of frenemies worked surprisingly well, with Hulu amassing tens of millions subscribers over the years.
  • However, Comcast was long banned from playing an active role in Hulu’s leadership, and is likely looking to offload its remaining stake to Disney in the coming years.
  • Now, Comcast has its own paid streaming service with Peacock, and paid streaming is starting to plateau in the U.S. Just ask Netflix …
  • Ad-supported streaming, on the other hand, is booming, and some of the biggest beneficiaries are the smart TV platform owners, including Roku, Amazon and Google, but also Samsung, LG and Vizio.
  • With this new JV, Comcast is betting that there’s still a big growth opportunity in both the ad-supported streaming and the platform business.

In other words: Comcast believes that the next Hulu will be a Roku — and it managed to convince Charter that it’s not too late to build its own competitor.

— Janko Roettgers


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In other news

CNN+ was aiming for $2 billion in revenue by 2030. File under “would have, could have”: CNN wanted its streaming service to turn profitable by 2025 and generate $800 million five years later, according to a leaked pitch deck.

Spotify added 2 million subscribers in Q1. Turns out the whole Joe Rogan controversy didn’t stop people from subscribing. The company now has 182 million subscribers.

Roku teams up with Lionsgate. The streamer’s latest content deal will bring Lionsgate movies exclusively to the Roku Channel after their Starz window. Expect to hear more about Roku’s content ambitions during today’s earnings report.

PBS Kids app sees 400 million streams a month. However, the public broadcaster is still struggling to bring its ad-free programming to ad-supported streaming services, according to Chief Digital and Marketing Officer Ira Rubenstein.

Why the streaming industry worries so much about churn. Subscribers are fickle these days, and the industry’s churn problem is bound to get worse.

Sony’s subscription play might pressure devs. Sony is reportedly planning to force game developers to offer two-hour trials of games that cost more than $34, according to Game Developer, as a play to boost subscriptions to its upcoming PlayStation Plus revamp.

Game makers urge fellow developers to rethink NFTs. A climate group composed mostly of developers from Minecraft maker Mojang has posted a pledge encouraging others in the industry to reduce the environmental impact of blockchain gaming tech.

Twitch may shake up its streaming rev share. A new report from Bloomberg yesterday said that Twitch is pushing for more profitability and may increase its take rate of creator earnings in exchange for potential changes to a longstanding policy on exclusivity.

That’s not Kraftwerk!

Sometimes, the internet is good, actually. Recently, Twitter rediscovered an old post of a Reddit user, who two years ago had complained that his 5-year-old son was obsessed with listening to Kraftwerk nonstop. “When we try to listen to other music, he’s like ‘This isn’t Kraftwerk,’” the user wrote, adding: “What suggestions do you have to gently wean my 5 year old son's musical taste off a binge diet of all Kraftwerk all the time?” The Reddit community responded not only with countless song suggestions, but also by making the post go viral. The user in question later followed up with another post, reporting that his son had since been invited to make a Kraftwerk playlist for a national radio station, among other things. “I'm just waiting for Ralf und Florian to offer to play his birthday now,” he added. I guess I indoctrinated my kids about the wrong things. On the plus side, they have excellent taste in chocolate now!

— Janko Roettgers


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