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Partnering With 76’ers, StubHub Moves Into Direct Ticketing Sales


StubHub, long considered to be the leader in secondary ticket sales for events, is getting into direct sales of primary tickets through a new partnership with the Philadelphia 76’ers.

They may have one of the worst records in the league, but they’re still first in the hearts of Philly basketball fans (if there’re any left).

The deal gives would-be buyers the chance to see tickets that are up-for-grabs from existing ticket holders and from the team itself. All the data from the sales is fed back to the Sixers for analysis in real time.

As the rollout with StubHub progresses, the Sixers will also continue working with their existing ticketing provider, Spectra Ticketing and Fan Engagement for box office tools, season ticket holder sales, account management and access controls.

StubHub isn’t the first to offer this kind of window into secondary and primary ticketing. TicketMaster, the behemoth of event ticketing, also offers similar services.

Further, the deal with StubHub comes amid turbulent times for the struggling Sixers. According to a story late last year in Bleacher Report, the team’s owners are seriously thinking about flipping the Sixers to focus on opportunities with the NFL.


Featured Image: Michael Tipton/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE

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IfOnly Lands $10.25 Million Series B For Its Growing “Experiences” Marketplace


It used to be hard to take IfOnly very seriously. The 3.5-year-old, San Francisco-based company service has always serviced customers looking for unusual experiences, but they seemed out of reach for most, like the (expensive) chance to cook with famed chef Thomas Keller. That the company was inspired by the wealthy friends of founder and CEO Trevor Traina — people looking to have “incredible experiences,” as Traina told Vanity Fair in a 2013 story about San Francisco society — added to the impression that IfOnly was aimed squarely at the 1 percent.

But Traina, who has founded four companies previously and managed to sell all of them, has big ambitions to serve more than the very monied.

In fact, a long list of investors has provided IfOnly with $10.25 million in Series B funding to help it evolve beyond an “experiences marketplace” for clients like Madonna to a platform through which local experts can market and sell their services. Want to learn how to make a macchiato from the best coffee bar in your neighborhood? You might find the opportunity on IfOnly. Interested in a basketball lesson from a former NBA pro? He might be marketing his services on IfOnly, too.

Traina says in earnest that the addressable market his 60-employee company is chasing is $225 billion. He cites as proof surveys that suggest millennials in particular are more interested in experiences than past generations. (One such study in 2014, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the online ticket company Eventbrite, reported that 72 percent of respondents wanted to increase their spending on experiences in the coming year.)

“They’re never going to buy a car,” says Traina of millennials. “They don’t care about furniture. But they’re on social media channels, where it’s not fun to post about a belt but it is fun to [post a picture, saying], “Check me out backstage.” In fact, says Traina, he believes there’s an “eBay-sized business here. Everyone wants experiences and no one is really offering it to them.”

It’s not so ridiculous. Consumers’ options have long been limited to OpenTable for restaurant reservations, travel sites like SkyScanner to plan their vacations, and city guides like Gogobot, where they can receive personalized recommendations about the best places to eat, sleep and sightsee. Meanwhile, there aren’t a lot of places to find a box of 21 chocolates from 21 of America’s most famous chefs — a $75 offering at IfOnly right now, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Still, IfOnly has its work cut out for it. While it offers a wide variety of interesting verticals that consumers can search through based on their location (IfOnly serves the Bay Area, New York, and L.A. at the moment), the company’s reputation rests on the quality of its offerings, which will surely grow more difficult to manage as more service providers discover the platform.

For example, among the “more than 10,000” experiences that the platform currently offers is a two-hour introduction to drone flying with a drone engineer and drone designer, who are charging $300 per person. But it’s easy to imagine someone marketing herself as an expert with lesser credentials.

Traina says IfOnly currently approves every vendor, letting them know when someone’s pictures aren’t good enough or their descriptions are too brief. He also says that eventually, the company will use ratings and reviews to ensure its experiences remain highly regarded.

IfOnly is also still working on its affordability. Though a very respectable 30 percent of its customers shop recurrently, many its current offerings are still a bit rich for a broader audience, such as great white shark watching off the coast of San Francisco with “legendary diver” Jeremiah Sullivan. (Cost, $1,250 per person.)

Traina says more offerings have been coming online since last August that are priced between  $50 and $125 per person and that are “amazing but highly accessible,” including the chance to play with a panda at the zoo, to learn about oysters at Tamales Bay in Northern California, and to take a walking food tour of Brooklyn. In fact, Traina says these more affordable offerings are the highest growth area of IfOnly’s business, adding that he expects “within another five or six quarters, it will be the majority of our revenue.”

(Traina declines to discuss how much revenue the company is seeing yearly, but says its old, pricier model, had it on a growth path of 100 percent per year; layering in more lower-priced experiences will presumably accelerate that growth further.)

The biggest question, seemingly, is whether a service like If Only is truly scalable. Here, too, Traina suggests one might be surprised. IfOnly, founded in late 2012, has already secured three patents and has seven more pending to cover its technology, which is all proprietary. “We looked at best-of-breed systems for physical product fulfillment and reengineered them for experiences,” says Traina of the platform, which can handle everything from taxes and ticketing, to elaborate experiences requiring background checks and blackout dates.

Perhaps most important given IfOnly’s trajectory, so-called luminaries (that’s what the company calls its service providers) can onboard themselves onto the platform. They can also build out their own profile and experience, then use a Slack-like messaging app to communicate with their customers. It’s a crucial development, says Traina. “If you’re the cheesemonger who supplies [famed restaurant] Chez Panisse, where else do you offer your services?”

It’s a compelling pitch — clearly for investors, too. IfOnly’s many new Series B backers include Advance Newhouse, Digital Garage, XB Ventures, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston, Nextdoor founder Nirav Tolia and Yucaipa Capital chief Ron Burkle. Earlier backers who also joined the round include American Express Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, billionaire investor Yuri Milner, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

The company — which donates 10 percent of its gross sales to more than 200 charities — has now raised nearly $25 million altogether.

Photo of 21-piece chocolate collection courtesy of IfOnly.

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Traditional Red Envelopes Are Going Digital Thanks To China’s Largest Internet Companies


Getting a fat hongbao, or red envelope, stuffed with crisp new notes is one of the hallmarks of Chinese New Year, which starts today and runs for two weeks. As China’s tech companies build their financial services, they want to convince people that hongbao exchanges can be just as fun when performed through a smartphone.

This year, the country’s three biggest Internet companies—Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent—are offering their own version of online red envelopes and dressing up the custom with games and giveaways. Even the Chinese government is latching on to the digitized version of the tradition, giving away a total of 300,000 RMB (about $50,000) through Alipay, Alibaba’s mobile payment service.

Red envelopes are traditionally gifted to children during the holiday, but they can also be given to unmarried adults, elderly relatives, friends, and employees. The companies—which are referred to by the acronym BAT—run competing mobile payment platforms and their red envelope programs may convince people to keep using their mobile wallets even after the holiday is over.

WeChat_redenvelopeIt’s still too early to tell how many people will gift money online this year, but if the past popularity of WeChat’s red envelope service is a fair indicator, smartphone users are eager to try out new twists on a beloved tradition. The messenger—which is owned by Tencent and China’s most popular with 650 million monthly active users—first enabled people to send red envelopes through the app’s WeChat Pay mobile payment service in 2014.

In 2015, the company says WeChat delivered over one billion red envelopes. Then on Jan. 1, 2016 (the start of the Gregorian calendar is also an excuse for red envelope giving in China), more than 2.3 billion red envelopes were sent.

To send gift money on WeChat, users click on a “red envelope” button in the main menu, then chose an amount and enter a gift message. Depositing money into each other’s WeChat Pay accounts is quick and more convenient than withdrawing cash and counting it out into packets, but it lacks the finesse of getting an actual red envelope stuffed with brand new notes.

To make giving money online a little bit more personable, WeChat has come up with a game that randomizes the amount dispersed among your gift recipients and then shows who got the most after everybody opens up their envelope.

Meanwhile, users of Baidu Wallet, which is made by China’s largest search engine developer, got into the action early. Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 8, the company says users sent 4.2 billion red envelopes online containing a total of 300 million RMB (about $45.6 million).

China’s largest e-commerce company Alibaba, put its own spin on the custom by handing out virtual red envelopes with cash or gift coupons during the Spring Festival Gala, a popular annual show that airs the evening before Chinese New Year starts.

The company hasn’t disclosed yet how much the publicity stunt cost or the total worth of the envelopes it handed out, but its mobile payments service Alipay is one of China’s largest, with about 400 million users.

Of course, the start of the lunar calendar isn’t just celebrated in China. Line, which has been banned in China for more than a year, is offering a red envelope service through Line Pay in Thailand and Taiwan, two of its top markets (the third is Japan).

TechCrunch has contacted all companies for their latest red envelope figures.

Featured Image: szefei/Shutterstock

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How Apple Can Improve Its Watch And Boost Sales


Apple isn’t releasing exact sales numbers, but some expert digging has led many to believe that sales of the Apple Watch haven’t reached expectations since its launch in spring 2015. The company’s annual filing suggested it sold $1.7 billion worth in fiscal 2015, but compare that with the iPhone, which sold $32.2 billion worth in the fourth quarter alone. That’s a big discrepancy for a company that’s used to seeing lines around the block for new product releases.

I spent 12 years at Apple — most of my corporate career, in fact. During my tenure, I launched and drove the music and entertainment verticals and, as a natural side effect, became intimately immersed in Apple products and processes.

With that knowledge, I have a personal principle for all new launches: Wait about six months before purchasing the latest gadget (particularly in a new product category), as it takes about that long for Apple to work out all the kinks. Usually, the increased functionality is well worth the wait.

Yet even beyond the six-month point, I haven’t yet purchased an Apple Watch myself. And with rumors swarming around about the Apple Watch 2.0, the principle bears repeating: Hold off six months before purchasing.

After spending so much of my career focused on Apple, I possess both an insider’s and an outsider’s view of what’s happening with the watch, and there are several things I’d love to see developed (or at least considered). Here are a few areas in which future iterations of the Apple Watch could be improved to help reach (and boost) projected sales.

Fashion: The current Apple Watch is sleek and smooth compared with other smartwatches, but even as a tech device, it could push the style envelope further. Fashion industry executives now at Apple, including those from brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Burberry, have tried to establish Apple as a lifestyle brand by upping its sex appeal. The company is even partnering with fashion designer Hermès.

Although Apple has been successful in these ventures for the most part, the exclusive styles born out of these collaborations are still too expensive for most buyers. Everyone wants to be able to customize her watchbands, not just those with deep pockets.

Apple’s next step, then, should be partnering with more inexpensive brands like Target to increase customizability while decreasing the watch’s price. By doing so, Apple would optimize its product by appealing to more of the masses.

Back when the iPod Nano came out, for example, Apple not only created a new space in the market, but also released the product in candy colors that appealed to young kids in its targeted demographic. Likewise, by offering a simpler, cheaper route to band customization, suddenly the pool of potential Apple Watch customers expands.

Independence: What people want most is to not have to carry all their devices with them. And for the Apple Watch, its reliance on an iPhone might be its biggest flaw. Right now, people still have to carry their phones because of the Bluetooth connectivity that enables the watch’s functionality. Without the phone, its uses are limited.

As it stands, the Apple Watch is no more than an iPhone accessory, rather than its own device. But in the future, the watch, independent of any other Apple product, will allow for seamless integration into a user’s personal life. Imagine going for a run and having GPS settled on your wrist without having to carry your phone, or sitting at an airport and hearing airline notifications ping as flight delays happen.

Although this type of feature is most likely too far off for the Apple Watch 2.0, it’s still something to consider moving forward as tech like the watch improves. Similar to the shift away from desktop computers, the Apple Watch could dominate the wearable space in the move away from mobile.

Health: On a more practical level, many people are interested in wearables because of the potential health benefits they provide.

As more Americans try to manage their own health, apps that monitor all facets of wellness grow in popularity. Most Apple products have relied on third-party app developers to create this kind of value, but if Apple could lead and drive more of the innovation and health metric analysis, it would give the brand yet another competitive advantage over other wearable technologies.

Apps that make blood sugar testing easier (without skin pricks) or identify heart attack symptoms would increase the stakes for several companies, such as Fitbit. Apple has an opportunity to be the leader in apps that address real healthcare problems for real people in real time.

When it comes to waiting for technology to mature, I’m in good company. Steve Jobs famously waited years to purchase appliances such as a washer and dryer for his home because he wanted the perfect models that would solve his needs and be highly functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. The same is true for me — and, as sales show, apparently for many others — when it comes to the Apple Watch.

I hope to see Apple implement some of the strategies noted above as the Watch evolves over time. In my experience, these three approaches would quickly attract customers who are waiting to see what the Apple Watch will become and how the wearables space will progress.

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The Evolving Technology Of The Super Bowl


As football fans gear up for the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl this Sunday, we can expect to see not only a great athletic game, but a host of dazzling new technology at play behind the scenes, working to seamlessly bring the game to millions of viewers. To really appreciate how sophisticated this sport has become, here’s a look at some of the ways Super Bowl technology has evolved in the last fifty years.

Camera Tech Has Come a Long Way

Back in 1967, Super Bowl 1 aired to viewers simultaneously on NBC and CBS—the only game to have been aired by two major networks at the same time. Unfortunately most of the footage from the game was wiped, as was standard practice at the time. Just this year the NFL was able to locate all 145 plays of the game on a few dozen different sources, stitch them together, enhance and color correct the footage, to bring the game back to life for the first time. The daytime game features tons of empty seats, despite $12 tickets, and of course no jumbo screen or pyrotechnics filled halftime show.

While Super Bowl 1 is a fun throwback for film buffs, camera technology has come a long way in the past fifty years, and so too has the viewing experience. For this year’s 50th anniversary, CBS Sports is debuting exciting new cameras to bring television viewers even closer to the live event experience. With last year’s game bringing in a record 140 million viewers, this year’s anniversary match between the Panthers and the Broncos is the perfect time to show off new technology.

CBS will have a suite of 70 cameras filming the Super Bowl, which is a big jump from the 40 cameras that covered last year’s game. The showstopper from the new cameras is sure to be the Eye Vision 360, a replay camera that can freeze any moment of play and circle 360 degrees around it, and then continue the play.

With a fleet of 36 cameras mounted near the red zone at the 25 yard line, the placement will allow the cameras to capture the entire field, and then render together into 360 degree views for replays.

Instant replay has become such a pivotal part of how football is both watched and played, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t until 1986 that the NFL first implemented a limited instant replay system.

Since then the process has gone through a number of changes, from nine inch monitors in a skybox to high definition multiple angle replays on the side of the field for referees to review. What began as a process with walkie talkies and stopwatches has since evolved to 360 degree HD cameras and an off site control center, where refs can consult directly with officiating experts every time a review is initiated.

Also new to this year’s Super Bowl are pylon cameras: eight high resolution cameras with high definition audio that will be affixed to the pylons on the edge of the endzone. These cameras are sure to capture some up close and personal touchdown footage, as well as provide another perspective on calls too close to make with the human eye.

Beyond The First And 10

Back in 1997, Sportvision first brought the magic of superimposed yard lines to those watching on live t.v. The “first and 10” line shows where the offense must reach to make a first down.

While this line appears magical on the screen, there’s actually a number of steps that go into creating it: first a laser in the center of the field is used to collect elevation points and map the contours of the field for a computerized rendering.

Broadcast cameras outfitted with Sportvision sensors are then able to keep the virtual field the same size and perspective, even as the cameras pan, zoom and tilt. Finally, production operators make sure the line moves in the correct direction from the play when a first down is reached, all before you see that magic yellow line on your t.v. screen.

In addition to the First and 10 line, this year’s new Matrix-like EyeVision 360 cameras will also be able to superimpose a virtual line on the play, enhancing the instant replay experience in much the same way that Sportvision enhanced live viewing with the invention of the First and Ten technology.


Graphene Shows Promise For Brain Implants


Graphene, the super thin carbon material that’s been exciting scientists in the decade+ since single-atom thick graphene crystallites were successfully extracted from the bulk material, continues to give hints of a promising future blending electronics and biology.

In a new study, conducted by researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Centre and the University of Trieste in Italy, and published in the journal ACS Nano, the suggestion is it could be used to make highly effective, flexible brain implants in future — biodevices that avoid the loss of signal problem associated with the scar tissue that can form around modern electrodes made from more rigid substances, such as silicon and tungsten.

Point is, human brains are made of soft tissue so it helps if your electrodes can flex too. Graphene is also considered to have excellent biocompatibility properties (although research into potential toxicity is not conclusive at this stage).

The implication of the Cambridge-Trieste research is that graphene-based electrodes could, in future, be safely be implanted in the brain — offering promise for the restoration of sensory functions for amputee or paralysed patients, for example, or to help individuals with motor disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease. So the future potential being glimpsed here is pretty exciting — albeit, theoretical and a long way out (plus, it should be stressed, the successful experiments were also conducted on rat brain cultures).

The researchers note that previously other groups have shown it is possible to use treated graphene to interact with neurons in the brain, however the problem with using treated graphene was the signal to noise ratio was very low. Working with untreated graphene retains the material’s much lauded electrical conductivity — resulting in a significantly better electrode. And one that was seen to interface well with rat neurons.

“For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly,” said Professor Laura Ballerini of the University of Trieste in Italy, in a statement. “We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials.”

The scientists couch the research as a “first step” towards using pristine graphene-based materials as an electrode for a neuro-interface. So again, graphene-based biodevices aren’t going to be coming to CES next year — perhaps in a couple of decades…

They say their next steps will be to investigate how different forms of graphene are able to affect neurons, and whether tuning the material properties might alter the biological response (in terms of synapses and neuronal excitability).

“Hopefully this will pave the way for better deep brain implants to both harness and control the brain, with higher sensitivity and fewer unwanted side effects,” added Ballerini.


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