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Solve, the startup creating an interactive ‘Law & Order’ for social media, raises $20 million – TechCrunch

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When “Law & Order” ended its 20-year run in 2010, it had already cemented its place as one of the longest-running television dramas in history. Its success was a testament to the enduring popularity of a good mystery.

Mining that same well of a demand for whodunnits, a roughly one-year-old Los Angeles-based startup called Solve has raised $20 million in financing to update the genre for a new generation of media consumers.

Its eponymously titled social media programming, available on Instagram and Snap, has managed to nab roughly 30 million interactions over the year-and-a-half that it distributed its productions. Now the company is launching a true crime podcast on the iHeartMedia and Apple platforms to tap into another potentially high-growth market.

Solve began as a series developed within the mobile-focused entertainment studio, Vertical Networks. Helmed by Tom Wright and financed by Elisabeth Murdoch (through her Freelands Ventures fund, which Wright also managed) and Snap, the company was one of the early entrants to raise cash as a production studio for mobile content. But it was far from the only studio to see money in mobile-first entertainment. All of the major internet-age media companies had their own mobile strategies.

Murdoch eventually replaced Wright (so that he could work on spinning up Solve as an independent entity) and sold Vertical Networks two months ago to the online media startup, Whistle, for an undisclosed amount.

“I spent a year looking deep, deep, deep into audience behavioral data on Snap and Facebook,” Wright says. “The DNA of what I thought [audience] sensibilities was leading towards was this format.” 

As Vertical Networks was winding down, Solve was spinning up with help from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Upfront Ventures and Advancit Capital.

“We’ve seen incredibly popular crime mystery shows across media, including podcasts like Serial and Dirty John, TV shows like Making a Murderer and Law & Order, and movies like The Usual Suspects and Gone Girl,” said Jeremy Liew, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a statement. “Games have attained a first class status as media but we’ve yet to see a crime mystery format game achieve the same success, and Solve is going to right that wrong.”

The gamification element that’s made Solve’s episodes resonate with mobile audiences on social platforms will be a small part of the initial series, says Wright, with plans to expand the interactive elements going forward.

Produced in partnership with SALT audio, whose previous work includes “Blackout” and “Carrier” and iHeartMedia, the 10-episode series uses the same “ripped from the headlines” storytelling for its 30-minute broadcasts and offers listeners clues in leaked audio files, voicemails, courtroom testimony and other evidence to try to guess the killer.

For now, Solve is content to be a studio producing ad-supported media for platforms like Apple, Snap, Facebook, iHeartMedia and other distributors, according to Wright. It’s a different path than studios like Quibi, which is creating its own streaming service dedicated to mobile storytelling and backed by many of the major Hollywood studios.

The current pace of production means that Solve is making 18 original episodes per month. For the 40-year-old Wright, Solve represents a fourth foray into the world of startups. And while he’s not a fan of the crime or mystery genre himself, Wright said that the data around engagement was too compelling to not try to launch a business around it.

“The Internet has changed how we interact with the world from taxis to news to shopping. We believe that Solve can fundamentally change how we interact with narrative video storytelling,” said Mark Suster, managing partner, Upfront Ventures, in a statement. “When we heard Tom’s vision for short-form video that you not only watch but also must ‘solve‘, we knew that it had enormous potential.”

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TikTok debuts new voice after Canadian actor sues

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After noticing a new female voice narrating the videos on the popular video-sharing social networking service, users of TikTok were baffled as to why. It actually turns out that the Canadian actress behind the old voice filed a lawsuit against the platform for copyright violation as her voice was apparently being used without her permission.

Bev Standing, a voice actor based in Ontario, is taking China-based ByteDance to court. TikTok’s parent company has since replaced her voice with a new one, with Standing reportedly finding out over email after a tip-off from a journalist. On the matter, Standing said: “They replaced me with another voice. I am so overwhelmed by this whole thing. I’m stumbling for words because I just don’t know what to say.”

TikTok is said to be considering a settlement for Standing outside of the courts, but nobody knows whether or not this is true. According to legal experts, the fact TikTok now has a new voice on the popular social media app suggests they acknowledge Standing’s case and potentially understand that she may have suffered as a result of the company’s actions.

Thanks to the emergence of the powerful smartphone devices of today, alongside taking high-quality images for Instagram, getting lost down YouTube wormholes, and accessing popular slots like Purple Hot, people are turning to relatively new platforms like TikTok. The service has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s iOS App Store. This latest news could harm the platforms future, although many of its younger users potentially aren’t aware that this type of scenario is unfolding.

For Bev Standing, the ordeal is a testing one. She wasn’t informed of the voice change, there is no mention of it in TikTok’s newsroom online, and the development is news to her lawyer also.

 

This all comes after her case was filed in a New York State court in early May after the voice actor noticed a computer-generated version of her voice had been seen and listened to around the world since 2020. Speculation is rife as to how TikTok managed to obtain the recordings but Standing believes the company acquired them from a project she took part in for the Chinese government in 2018.

(Image via https://twitter.com/VoiceOverXtra)

The Institute of Acoustics in China reportedly promised her that all of the material she would be recording would be used solely for translation, but they eventually fell into the hands of TikTok and have since been altered and then exposed to a global audience.

According to Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and an expert in copyright law, the fact that the hugely popular social media platform has now changed Standing’s voice could result in a positive outcome for the distraught voice actor. She said: “It’s a positive step in the way that they are mitigating their damages. And when you’re mitigating, you’re acknowledging that we did something wrong, and you’re trying to make things better.”

When assessing social media etiquette and how both companies and users should act, this type of news can only do more harm than good. Not only does it make the company look bad, but it could have an effect on revenues and, ultimately, TikTok’s reputation.

With a clear desire to move on and put this whole process behind her, Bev Standing is eager for the case to be resolved and get back to the daily work she loves and has been doing for a large part of her life. TikTok has until July 7 to respond to her claim.

 

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Nigeria orders broadcasters not to use Twitter to gather information

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Nigerian television and radio stations should not use Twitter to gather information and have to de-activate their accounts, the broadcast authority said following the move to suspend the U.S. social media giant in Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria’s government on Friday said it had suspended Twitter’s activities, two days after the platform removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish secessionists. Nigerian telecoms firms have since blocked access to Twitter.

International diplomats responded with a joint statement in support of “free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria”.

Buhari, who was Nigeria’s military ruler in the 1980s, has previously been accused of cracking down on freedom of expression, though his government has denied such accusations.

Twitter has called its suspension “deeply concerning” and said it would work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on the platform to communicate and connect with the world.

The National Broadcasting Commission, in a statement dated June 6, told broadcasters to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”.

“Broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering,” it said in the statement, adding that “strict compliance is enjoined”.

The statement comes two days after the attorney general ordered the prosecution of those who break the rules on the ban.

The foreign minister on Monday held a closed door meeting in the capital, Abuja, with diplomats from the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and Ireland to discuss the ban.

It followed the statement by their diplomatic missions on Saturday in which they criticised the move.

“These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue…. as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said in their statement.

Nigeria’s information minister on Friday said the ban would be “indefinite” but, in a statement late on Sunday, referred to it as a “temporary suspension”.

The minister did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages on Monday seeking comment on the altered language.

 

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh and Abraham Achirga in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Lisa Kudrow discusses impact of ‘Friends The Reunion’

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Comedic actor Lisa Kudrow is set to return to television comedy in the second season of “Feel Good”, hot on the heels of appearing in “Friends: The Reunion”.

The reunion of the classic sitcom “Friends” cast became a hot topic on social media and saw a surge in subscriptions for the show’s platform HBO Max.

Kudrow told Reuters via Zoom she found it “a little bit mind-blowing because you don’t really fully get the impact that the show had on people internationally and the personal stories that you would hear about over the years. It’s really nice. I go to sleep now thinking ‘Ah, I did a good thing’.”

 

In the series “Feel Good”, which is entering its second and final season, Kudrow plays the mother of Mae, a non-binary comedian who is struggling with the demons of her past while trying to keep up a relationship with girlfriend George.

The first series was critically acclaimed and Mae Martin, who based the series on her own experiences, won two Royal Television Society awards for Best Writer – Comedy and also the Breakthrough Award.

“Once I was sent the script … I loved it. I loved every episode, I loved what it was about,” said Kudrow.

However, her attachment to the project meant that the “Friends” star would have to travel to the United Kingdom where most of the series was shot during the pandemic.

“I was anxious about it but then forgot it once I was there on their set with the COVID protocols. I felt perfectly safe,” Kudrow said.

As the show is based on Martin’s own experiences, she suffered from a lot of anxiety leading up to the launch of the first series.

Martin said she’s still a little apprehensive about the second season. “It was all such an unknown with series one. I had no idea how people would feel about it … last time I was just terrified about my parents watching it but now I know they love it, that’s a huge weight off so yeah I do feel a lot less freaked out.”

“Feel Good” will begin streaming on Netflix on Friday.

 

(Reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by Diane Craft)

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