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Chinese app maker comes to Santa Monica in a bid to build a live-streaming empire

Chinese app maker comes to Santa Monica in a bid to build a live-streaming empire
Employees at Live.me's Santa Monica office are tasked with landing partnerships and investing in original programming. (Live.me)

A Chinese live-video app trying to gain a foothold in the U.S. plans to invest in original programming to inspire creativity and interest among users.

Live.me already has made a mark since launching in April. It's one of the 10 most popular social media apps in the U.S. and one of the 100 most downloaded mobile apps, according to research firm AppAnnie.

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Now, from a base in Santa Monica, Live.me wants to help reshape what it means to go live from a smartphone. The goal is to bring viewers into locations beyond bedrooms and studios.

"We don't want to be just talking heads, people sitting in their rooms and vlogging," said Khudor Annous, head of partnerships and marketing at Live.me. "I see an opportunity to really produce unique programming, so we're spending a lot of time with the content community to identify investment opportunities."

Shows and other productions could come about through direct partnerships with celebrities. For example, YouTube star Connor Franta debuted a weekly show on Live.me Saturday. And fellow online personality Roman Atwood has taken to Live.me too.

But new content also could grow out of co-financing deals with production companies, said Annous, previously vice president of integrated marketing at online video company Fullscreen.

"It's such a new landscape," he said. "We're willing to invest, take some bets and see what resonates with the community."

Twins Sergio, left, and Cristian Rodriguez, who together grew famous on the video app Vine, are growing popular on the months-old social broadcasting app Live.me.
Twins Sergio, left, and Cristian Rodriguez, who together grew famous on the video app Vine, are growing popular on the months-old social broadcasting app Live.me. (Live.me)

Live.me is a product of Cheetah Mobile, a 5-year-old Beijing company known for ad-supported apps aimed at reducing battery drain and clearing memory. It's begun branching into entertainment apps with games, news and most recently Live.me, which a small team within the company successfully championed to their bosses a year ago.

But China is flooded with social broadcasting apps, so Cheetah turned West. There are competitors here too, but Annous says the company has a big advantage in the U.S. Its 635 million monthly users across its portfolio, 2,000 employees — including more than 200 at its dual headquarters in California — and track record are mostly unmatched by start-ups.

Cheetah Mobile trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange, giving it additional credibility with partners and flexibility to make acquisitions. Though the share price has been cut in half over the last year to about $9.70, the company remains a $1-billion enterprise.

Pouring money into content and entertainment apps swung Cheetah Mobile to a loss in the second quarter. The hope is that Live.me pays off as it grows. The app and broadcasters generate revenue when viewers purchase virtual gifts. The top users are earning a sum that's in the five figures each week, Annous said. The majority of those top users weren't previously popular on other social media apps, he estimated.

The results show that some people — mostly teenagers — are willing to commit large chunks of time to binge on live and scheduled content. In Annous' words, people don't "cut the cord" because they want to get away from what's on TV. They just want a different way to access and pay for the programming. Live.me is emerging as one alternative, but Facebook, Snapchat and other services hold similar ambitions.

Marketing software company trying to help others re-create Uber’s success gets $2 million

Venice start-up Markett Inc. has raised about $2 million from 13 seed and angel investors, according to a regulatory filing.

Chief Executive Franky Bernstein declined to comment. But in an August blog post, business incubator Amplify.LA described Markett as an online service for companies to recruit people willing to promote products in exchange for cash.

It's not a traditional influencer marketing tool that relies on celebrities though. Amplify said Markett would help companies quickly roll out  user recruitment programs with sign-up discounts, similar to the initiatives that fueled the fast expansions of Bernstein's former employers Uber and Lyft.

"What makes Markett stand out is that it is run by an all-star founding team that played a key role in driving Uber's highly successful growth operation," Amplify wrote.

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Oracle reportedly expanding in Santa Monica with record purchase

Silicon Valley software giant Oracle purchased a 316,000-square-foot building in Santa Monica, according to the Real Deal, in the most expensive per-square-foot deal ever in the city's office market.

Jones Lang LaSalle broker Carl Muhlstein, who represented the seller, confirmed the deal was completed last week, but declined to comment on terms.

The real estate publication reported that Oracle plans to occupy about a third of the space, with much of the rest currently leased to production company Lionsgate. Oracle also will hold onto its large office in the nearby Water Garden complex.

The $368-million transaction with investment firm Invesco amounts to $1,165 per square foot.

Oracle declined to comment on its plans for the building. The company, which has several offices across Los Angeles, is in stiff competition with most of the country's other major tech players as they race to provide business software and computing infrastructure to corporations.

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Coming up

Techweek began hosting a week of events tied to the Los Angeles tech community Monday. Discussion topics include women in tech, membership-based business models and the music industry.

UCLA's business school hosts a conference Friday on how businesses are introducing more sophisticated data analysis into their decision-making process. Speakers include the former head of economic research at Uber and the current head of global virtual and augmented reality strategy at Google.

Twitter: @peard33

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