May 27, 2021
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: Google has been quietly testing a new monetization tool for YouTubers, and Amazon's MGM deal is a big boost to IMDb TV.
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Google's R&D unit, Area 120, has been quietly testing digital merchandise sales for YouTube content creators. The test is not integrated into YouTube's website or apps, but instead is being facilitated on a separate platform called Qaya.
Some of the creators participating in the test include musician Renae, Chef T from Simpleeats.com, NYC vlogger Alexis Barber and aerialist Aaron Koz. That selection seems to suggest that Qaya is an early test: None of these creators has particularly large YouTube followings, and Barber actually works for YouTube.
The Qaya team didn't even bother to properly integrate with Google's own payment services, and instead opted to use Stripe as its payment processor.
Area 120 has been positioned as an in-house incubator for the passion projects of Google employees. "At Area 120, we work on 20% projects 100% of the time," as the unit's website puts it. Some of Area 120's projects include Byteboard, a service meant to make coding job interviews more inclusive, and Kormo, a jobs search app for the Indian market.
YouTube itself has also launched a number of monetization features for creators in the past, including merchandise sales through approved ecommerce partners, paid channel memberships and so-called super chats. And Patreon has long offered creators not happy with YouTube's ad-heavy monetization paid memberships as an alternative. Qaya could in theory become one more arrow in YouTube's quiver to keep creators on its platform.
"Amazon buying MGM is another milestone for tech and the rest of the world converging. The distinction between tech and non-tech is evaporating, and we're only going to see more of this in all industries." — Box CEO Aaron Levie.
A recent report studying voluntary increases to wages by businesses found that when Amazon raised its pay to $15 in 2018, it led to a 4.7% increase in wages for employees at other companies in the same market. The study also found no significant job losses in the community after the wage increase.
Amazon's $8.45 billion purchase of MGM doesn't just benefit Prime Video, and by proxy everything else that Prime members are spending money on. It's also a big boost to Amazon's advertising business, including its free, ad-supported IMDb TV video service.
IMDb TV has long flown under the radar. Launched in 2019 under the name Freedive, the service has seen some significant growth in recent months. Amazon has yet to release absolute viewer numbers for the service, but the company did reveal this month that IMDb TV's viewership increased 138% year-over-year.
Figuring out Amazon's motivation behind IMDb TV has been a bit of a challenge, just like many of the company's media plays. Is it a defensive play against free video services like Pluto, Tubi and the Roku Channel? Or is it a way for Amazon to build another funnel for its Prime subscription business by luring people in with free stuff, only to then up-sell them on Prime Video?
It's increasingly becoming clear that IMDb TV is more than that. It's part of a massive advertising business that Amazon has been building in plain sight:
In this context, MGM isn't just about Amazon competing with Netflix and Disney+. We should expect a good chunk of its catalog of 4,000 movies and 17,000 TV show episodes to find their way to IMDb TV eventually, and the studio will also help Amazon create new originals for the ad-supported service. This, in turn, will make the service more attractive to advertisers who have increasingly been following audiences away from linear television, and could shift billions of additional ad dollars to streaming in the coming years.
A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com.
Ever looked at the long list of connected devices in your router's mobile app, and wondered: What do my Roku, Echo and Sonos actually do all day? Technology artist Nicole He and animator Eran Hilleli had the same question, which is why they built Invisible Roommates, an AR experience for Ikea's "Everyday Experiments" series. Invisible Roomates turns connected objects into animated characters that shoot paper airplanes at each other every time the real devices exchange data. "We wanted to reflect the ambiguity around data by presenting the devices in a way that mirrors the joy we can get from them, but also reveals some of the invisible things that go on with and between them in real time," Hirelli said. Ikea has been doing these kinds of experiments in partnership with Space10 for a few years now, and the latest batch is all about privacy and trust. Now we just need a router maker to take some inspiration from this …
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