Apple pulled from list of NAB Show 2021 attendees

Apple’s return to the NAB Show after a ten-year absence is in doubt, after the trade show’s website removed a mention of Apple as one of the companies taking part in 2021.

On Sunday, the NAB Show website for 2021 was seen to mention Apple as part of a group of companies listed under “Who’s attending this year.” In an update to the website, the National Association of Broadcasters has quietly removed the reference to Apple, while leaving all other previously-identified attendees intact.

It is unclear why Apple was removed from the list, but it doesn’t entirely rule out the prospect of it making an appearance anyway. There is still a chance Apple could turn up at the trade show in some capacity, though not necessarily as a major attendee.

If Apple does attend the broadcast-centric trade show, it will be Apple’s first official appearance in ten years. Its last visit was in April 2011, when it used the FCP User Group SuperMeet to launch the 64-bit Final Cut Pro X, ahead of its June release.

Given Apple’s move into becoming a streamer with Apple TV+ and dealing with production, it seems logical for Apple to return to the event at some point.

NAB Show 2021 is set to run from October 9 until October 13, in Las Vegas.

Monte Carlo’s Barr Moses will join us at TC Sessions: SaaS

Monte Carlo’s Barr Moses joins the data panel at TC Sessions: SaaS. See you there!

As the clock ticks down on TechCrunch’s upcoming SaaS-focused event, we’re excited to announce that Monte Carlo co-founder and CEO Barr Moses will join us. Specifically, the startup exec will be joining our data-focused panel.

What does Monte Carlo do? The startup works in the realm of data observability, making sure that companies’ data ingestion work is bringing in actual information, and not bunk.

When I covered Monte Carlo’s Series B earlier this year, Moses was kind enough to walk me through her company’s market. Which makes her a perfect fit for our data-focused panel.

We’re past the era in which saying “big data” could get you onto a stage. Today’s data gurus are now building lakehouses and going public for their work with hybrid structured-and-unstructured database tech. Meanwhile, Monte Carlo wants to make sure that companies around the world are alerted when some of their incoming data pipelines go off the rails. That way when the corporate world does run data analysis on their collected information, it isn’t skewed by zeroes and other effluent.

It’s a big enough problem, and a hot enough market, that Monte Carlo raised its Series A in September of 2020, and its Series B mere months later in February of 2021. That’s a rapid-fire pace of capital accumulation; investors are betting that Moses and her team are onto something pretty big. Notably, TechCrunch also published an article the other month that included an interview with her cofounder, Yotam Hadass.

Moses will join other tech folks at the event, including Javier Soltero, Google’s head of Workspace. Who else is coming? Databricks’ Ali Ghodsi, UiPath’s Daniel Dines, Puppet’s Abby Kearns, and investors Casey Aylward and Sarah Guo, among others. It’s going to be nerdy and kickass.

Register today with a $75 early-bird ticket and save $100 before tickets go up. TC Sessions: SaaS takes place on October 27 and will feature chats with the leading minds in SaaS, networking and startup demos.

African startups join global funding boom as fintech shines

The Exchange is on a trip around the world, poking our heads into various startup markets to better understand how different geographies are faring during a historic boom in venture capital activity. Globally, the venture capital world is afire, pushing record sums into upstart technology companies. But the capital is not flowing evenly.

For example, the explosion in capital raised by U.S. startups this year is contrasted by a modestly cooling Chinese venture capital scene. But apart from China, most key startup countries and regions are seeing strong investor interest. The continent of Africa is no exception.

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Early data indicates that Africa is set to trounce historical records in terms of venture capital raised in the year and that the first half of 2021 saw roughly twice the funds raised by African startups as was recorded in the first half of 2020. Startups across Africa have never had more access to capital than they do right now.

But big numbers can be distorting. A few outsized rounds can make an overall investment picture appear rosier than it may actually be for startups on the ground. And to fully understand a startup market’s capital access, we’ll want to better understand the stages where capital is flowing quickly and the points of startup life where it’s more of a trickle.

To that end, The Exchange collated a number of data sources concerning Africa’s Q2 2021 and H1 2021 venture capital performance and collected notes on the results from Dario Giuliani of Briter Bridges, a business data provider focused on Africa, and Julio Dibwe Mupemba of Toumaï Capital to expand our understanding of the continent.

Let’s figure out which startup stages have the easiest and hardest capital access, whether Africa remains underfunded, understand changing diversity in founder funding, and just what’s up with impressive fintech venture totals in recent quarters.

A 2021 comeback

After a somewhat difficult 2020, venture capital flowing into African startups is back on the rise, with reports indicating that investments raised in the first half of 2021 totaled more than $1 billion, albeit with small variations – data discrepancies are a recurring issue when it comes to VC data. There are structural reasons for slightly divergent numbers that have not completely disappeared, but our different sources still concur on the general trend and ballpark results.

For instance, the Africa-focused Substack newsletter The Big Deal reported a $1.14 billion H1 2021 total for deals above $1 million, and $1.19 billion when including deals in the $100,000 to $1 million range. Those numbers coincide with Briter Bridges’ own count of $1.2 billion in disclosed funding between January and June 2021, and with a $1.03 billion estimate from the Global Private Capital Association (GPCA). These figures are also in line with 2021 predictions from tech accelerator AfricArena, which in a report earlier this year estimated that “investment into [African] tech startups will be between $2.25 and $2.8 billion, making it the best year in the history of tech investment on the continent.”

Instagram now supports 60-second videos on Reels, its TikTok clone

Haven’t you heard that Instagram is no longer a photo-sharing app? Today, Instagram announced that users can now upload 60-second videos on Reels, the platform’s TikTok competitor.

This update also adds functionality for a captions sticker on Reels, which transcribes audio to text. Instagram previously teased this sticker for Reels when they added it to Stories, making the platform more accessible for Deaf or hard of hearing users, as well as people who want to use the app without sound. Right now, the caption sticker is only available in a handful of English-speaking countries, but Instagram says they plan to expand to additional countries and languages soon. TikTok already has a similar feature.

Previously, Instagram only supported Reels of up to 30 seconds, while TikTok recently made it possible for users to create videos up to three minutes long. Still, the ability to post 60-second reels is especially useful for creators who want to re-post their existing content from TikTok or other competitor apps to grow their following across multiple platforms. More creators are making a living on social media than ever, but with so many platforms available to them (even Pinterest is investing in short-form video), it’s smart to cross-post content. So, this feature benefits Instagram creators who also have a following on TikTok, but it makes sense for the platform itself as well — the more eyes on Reels, the better. Instagram’s algorithm doesn’t promote content with a TikTok watermark, but savvy users have figured out how to recycle their videos without it.

Currently, YouTube Shorts and Snapchat’s Spotlight also support videos of up to 60 seconds. In May, YouTube Shorts launched a $100 million creator fund to distribute among top Shorts creators over the course of 2021 and 2022; Snapchat distributed $1 million per day to viral Spotlight creators between its launch at the end of November through the end of 2020. Facebook and Instagram have also committed to investing in digital creators.

To access this feature, navigate to create a new Reel, then press the down button on the left side of the screen to reveal the menu. Tap “length” to toggle among options to create a 15-second, 30-second, or 60-second Reel. Not all creators have access to 60-second Reels just yet, but it should roll out to all users soon.

Apple seeds fourth iOS 15, iPadOS 15, tvOS 15 betas

Apple has shifted to the fourth generation of betas for its milestone operating systems, with new versions of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and tvOS 15 available for testing by developers.

The latest betas and configuration profiles can be downloaded from the Apple Developer Center, with subsequent changes available as over-the-air updates on enrolled devices. Public betas are usually made available a short time later, accessible via the Apple Beta Software Program.

The fourth round follows the third, which landed on July 14. The second appeared on June 24, while the first surfaced on June 7.

iOS 15 adds enhancements to Messages and FaceTime, new Focus modes, on-device Live Text OCR, a digital ID in Wallet, updated Weather and Maps apps, and other changes.

In the third beta, Apple polished Safari’s appearance, refined Focus mode’s workings, redesigned the Music widget to better match album colors, new Maps spoken direction options, and added more Background Sounds options in Shortcuts, among other tweaks.

Apple updated the multitasking functionality in iPadOS 15, as well as adding home screen widget support, system-wide Quick Note, the Translate app, and major changes to Swift Playgrounds to enable app development on iPad as well as App Store submissions.

The new beta for HomePod’s operating system version 15 has also been released. Only those with access to the AppleSeed developer program can download it.

AppleInsider, and Apple itself, strongly advise users don’t install the betas on primary devices, as there is the small possibility of issues like data loss. Testers should install betas onto secondary or non-essential devices, and to ensure there are sufficient backups of important data before updating.

Apple issues fourth developer beta for macOS Monterey

Apple has provided developers with the fourth beta build of macOS Monterey for testing, ahead of its expected release in the fall.

The newest builds can be downloaded via the Apple Developer Center for those enrolled in the test program, or via an over-the-air update on devices running the beta software. Public betas typically arrive within a few days of the developer versions, via the Apple Beta Software Program website.

Apple issued the third beta on July 14, while the second surfaced on June 28. Apple’s first beta for the operating system was on June 7.

The updates in macOS Monterey include Universal Control, Shortcuts, the addition of Quick Note, AirPlay to Mac, Focus, and numerous other app updates. Other changes include iMessage gaining new sharing options including SharePlay, Safari’s organization alterations for tabs, Photos gaining Live Text support, and FaceTime adding a grid view and Spatial Audio support.

AppleInsider, and Apple itself, strongly recommend users don’t install the betas on to “mission-critical” or primary devices, as there is the remote possibility of data loss or other issues. Instead, testers should install betas onto secondary or non-essential devices, and to make sure there are sufficient backups of important data before updating.

Keep up with everything Apple in the weekly AppleInsider Podcast — and get a fast news update from AppleInsider Daily. Just say, “Hey, Siri,” to your HomePod mini and ask for these podcasts, and our latest HomeKit Insider episode too.

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'The Morning Show' COVID-19 delay spawns $44M lawsuit against insurer

The production company behind the Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show” has sued an insurance company for $44 million, over the insurer’s failure to pay out for COVID-19 delays in production.

The second season of “The Morning Show” was stalled by a COVID-19 scare in December, just 13 days into filming. While Always Smiling Productions had taken out approximately $125 million in cast coverage and more to cover the shooting location, it seems that the firm didn’t receive as much of a payout from the insurer as it wanted.

In a lawsuit, reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Always Smiling is suing Chubb National Insurance Company for at least $44 million in costs it has calculated that it believes needs to be paid out.

While Chubb has agreed to pay $1 million to the production company for the producer’s civil authority coverage, which affects government orders interfering with facilities usage, it is declining to cover other elements. In one example, the policy for the cast covers elements “death, injury, sickness, kidnap, or compulsion by physical force or threat of physical force,” which Chubb says doesn’t fit into what caused the delays in the first place.

Always Smiling also believes Chubb is taking the stance to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in other claims. Chubb is alleged to have had prior knowledge of risks caused by the pandemic, and that instances of COVID-19 near to shooting locations made those areas unsafe to use.

While the lawsuit could be beneficial to a production company that would’ve lost money due to the stalled production, it seems unlikely that the lawsuit will go Always Smiling’s way.

Penn Law’s COVID Coverage Litigation Tracker shows there have been almost 2,000 lawsuits against insurers concerning the pandemic since March 2020. However, out of the 371 cases that have reached federal court with fully-briefed dismissal motions, 93% of them were ultimately dismissed.

Shopify allows merchants to sell NFTs directly through their storefronts

Shopify has made it possible for eligible sellers to sell NFTs (non-fungible tokens) via its platform, which opens up a whole new world for e-commerce merchants.

On Monday, the NBA’s Chicago Bulls launched its first-ever NFTs –– including digital artwork of NBA championship rings –– by launching an online store on Shopify. Instead of having to go to an NFT marketplace, Bulls fans can now purchase the digital art directly with the team’s online store using a credit or debit card. In its first day of making them available, the NBA team sold out of the NFTs within just 90 seconds, according to Kaz Nejatian, Shopify’s VP of merchant services.

“You could buy NFTs on credit cards before, but honestly the NFT buying experience outside Shopify isn’t awesome for anyone right now,” he told TechCrunch “That’s why we decided to do this work. Merchants and buyers shouldn’t have to take a course in crypto to buy things they care about.”

It’s also about giving consumers more options to buy NFTs – especially those who are not well-versed in cryptocurrency.

By making it possible for merchants to sell NFTs directly through their Shopify storefronts, the company says it’s creating access for merchants who want to sell NFTs. They will eventually be able to choose which blockchain they’d like to sell on based on their products and customer base since Shopify supports multiple blockchains, Nejatian said.

“By contrast, if merchants want to sell on an NFT marketplace, they need to choose based on the blockchain supported by that marketplace,” he added.

The Chicago Bulls selected the Flow blockchain for their NFTs, for example. But overall, Shopify merchants can today choose from Flow and Ethereum, but soon “will have more choice with other blockchains on Shopify,” according to Nejatian.

The move was also driven by demand from merchants asking for the ability to sell NFTs and the desire to give creators and artists another forum to grow professionally.

“Many creators are already seeing the value of selling NFTs to their fans, but we’re removing some of the friction for themselves and their buyers, allowing them to better monetize their work and their connection to their audience,” he added. “We’re opening up a world where their fans feel meaningful connection to their brands, and where NFTs just increasingly become part of how we buy and sell online.”

Google TV mobile app redesign adds new services and recommendations

Following last fall’s debut of Google TV, the new user interface for Chromecast devices, Google is today giving its Google TV companion app for Android a makeover. The updated version of the mobile app for Google TV includes an updated user interface, expanded set recommendations, and more TV and movies to watch.

The app in earlier days was known as “Google Play Movies & TV” (whew!) but rebranded to just “Google TV” alongside the changes that rolled out to Chromecast in September. Here, users can browse over 700,000 movie and TV episodes from across top streaming apps, find new things to watch, and rent or purchase movies and shows, including new releases.

Now, Google is updating the app’s look-and-feel with new 16:9 widescreen movie and show posters which it says will give the app a more “cinematic” look.

Image Credits: Google

In addition, it’s adding the Rotten Tomatoes scores directly under each poster to help users make decisions about what they want to watch next. You can also visit a movie or TV show’s details page and mark it as “watched” in order to improve the app’s recommendations. This will allow Google TV to make further recommendations based on your watch history, and could be helpful if you’re not a regular app user to start tailoring its suggestions to your interests. However, the feature won’t help you keep up with your progress in a show, as the Reelgood or TV Time apps allow for, as you can’t mark individual episodes as watched, only entire series.

The recommendations are another feature that’s been improved with the latest release to be more aligned with what you’d see with the TV experience. In addition to featuring more rows of personalized suggestions to browse through, the app’s recommendation system will now be based on what you’ve watched in the past, your interests from your Google account, and trending and popular content in your region. Trending recommendations are sourced from what’s popular or trending across Google products, what’s being mentioned across the web, as well as hand-picked selections from human editors. For instance, you could see recommendations that suggest “summer blockbusters,” or other timely suggestions.

Users will also now see new movie and how recommendations as new content is released from services they subscribe to.

Image Credits: Google

The app has also expanded its content lineup by adding new providers like Discovery+, Viki, Cartoon Network, PBS Kids, and Boomerang, as well as on-demand content from live TV services, including of course, YouTube TV, as well as Philo and fuboTV. These providers were previously unavailable for search and discovery inside the mobile app, following the platform update in the fall.

Google said during its I/O Developer conference in May that the Android TV OS had reached an install base of 80 million monthly active devices, but it didn’t break down how many consumers streamed on through the Roku and Fire TV rival, Google TV for Chromecast, which is powered by Android TV OS under-the-hood. Instead, Google combined that figure with the numerous Android TV OS-powered devices on the market that include those offered by other streaming device brand partners and TV service providers — meaning the number included operator-tier and set-top boxes, too, which is a different type of market.

The company said the new features are available now on the Google TV Android app in the U.S. but couldn’t offer a timeline for other platforms or an international expansion.

Leveling the playing field in sports — and at Google

How would you describe your job at a dinner party?

My team works with the people who design and build some of Google’s most used and loved products like Search, Maps, Photos and News to make them more equitable, more inclusive and simply work better for everyone. We also work to ensure people see positive portrayals of themselves in the stories Google tells. So for example, we partnered with community-based organizations to drive equity in our COVID-19 vaccine response and worked with the trans community to make reminiscing with Google Photos more inclusive.

Tell me more about Google’s efforts to bring gender equity to sports.

During the 2015 Women’s World Cup, I was frustrated about the explicit lack of media coverage, pay disparity and product features for the biggest stage of women’s soccer. Fast-forward to late 2019, we asked ourselves, “What if we applied the notion of Title IX to our own investment in sport?” So we started what we colloquially called “Project IX,” an effort that spread throughout media, marketing and engineering teams across Google and YouTube. The goal being to better support and highlight women’s sports, all year, not just in big moments.

What are some of the specific ways you tried to do that?

While many of us are former athletes, the real experts are outside Google. We had countless conversations with the WNBA and NWSL, player’s associations, nonprofits and media partners like Just Women’s Sports, Women’s Sports Foundation and AthleteAlly. This helped us zero in on what role Google can and should play in championing gender equity. 

As a tech company, we can focus on our products by taking accountability and making sure we’re not just focusing on monetary investment but examining how every decision we make can be more equitable. For instance, over the past few years, we’ve made it easier to follow more than 250 women’s leagues on Search. 

The WNBA sponsorship was a big deal for Google. How does that fit into Project IX and what’s next?

Working with the league and ESPN to deliver 25 nationally televised games this season and a dedicated segment for women’s sports in ESPN’s SportsCenter were important first-steps and what Project IX is all about. The WNBA is on the forefront of social and racial justice, so as we deepened our commitment to racial justice, this partnership made sense. 

As part of Project IX, we wanted to increase our media spend in sports, not just during huge moments like the WNBA Playoffs, but throughout the season. We quickly saw the lack of content on broadcast. So over the next three years, we’re adding 300 hours of women’s sports content to broadcast and digital to help increase representation, create more opportunities for advertisers and importantly, allow more people to see just how stellar these athletes are.

How have your personal experiences molded this work?

Even though I drifted away from considering myself an “athlete” when I graduated from high school, I’ve remained tied to the relentless pursuit of justice through sport: Colin Kapernick kneeling for racial justice, Megan Rapinoe and her teammates fighting for equitable pay, Cece Telfer and Schuyler Bailar advocating for trans rights. I believe it’s on all of us with privilege to build a more just world. 

How do you personally challenge the status quo? 

As a queer, able-bodied, cis, white woman, there are spaces in which I’m “othered” and more often, spaces where I undeniably contribute to “othering.” To quote the great Shirley Chisholm, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” I’d like to take that one step further and pledge to bring a stack of chairs — for queer, Black, Latino, Indigenous, disabled and trans voices.