The Information


Why Roku Acquisition Could Make Sense for Disney or Walmart

A few years ago, when Roku was still a private company with uncertain prospects, it would occasionally get acquisition offers from bigger companies. CEO Anthony Wood was never interested. Even when the streaming device maker was worth around $1 billion, he argued that one day he expected it to be worth 10 times that much, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Today, with Roku’s market capitalization now above $7 billion, Mr. Wood is looking smart.

Since going public in September 2017, Roku stock has more than tripled to nearly $65 a share. It’s a much better performance than other, more heralded tech startups to go public that year, such as Snap and Blue Apron (both trading well below their IPO price). For Roku shareholders today, though, the question is how much higher can the stock go—or whether now is the time for Mr. Wood to take the money and run by selling. Possible buyers could be Disney, AT&T or Walmart. But it’s tough to see any of these companies being willing to pay more than what Roku is currently trading at.


‘Flying Over Traffic’: Short-Hop Services Multiply

Tired of bad traffic and have money to spare? A growing cadre of venture capital–backed startups are launching services to ferry people on short-distance trips by small planes and helicopters.

Companies including Blade, Skyryse and BlackBird believe there is a growing market for short hops by air in places like the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York, so long as prices can be ratcheted down from the sky-high costs of traditional charter flights. Blade, backed by Airbus and valued at about $150 million, already runs helicopter flights in New York and Los Angeles, and plans to start flying in the Bay Area, it told a small group of customers this month.


As Netflix Cancels Shows Faster, Fan Favorites Quickly Disappear

After Netflix cancelled the Naomi Watts drama “Gypsy” in 2017, a group of fans calling themselves “Easy Tigers” organized a social media campaign to get people to start watching the show in hopes of changing Netflix executives’ minds. The campaign was so organized that it directed people to watch specific episodes twice, consecutively, at set times. It even organized billboards in West Hollywood. Despite the campaign, Netflix did not bring the show back.

For a service once known for picking up shows dropped by other networks, such as “Longmire” and “Arrested Development,” Netflix is now getting a reputation for killing off popular series. That was demonstrated most obviously last week, when the service cancelled the family sitcom “One Day at a Time,” six weeks after its third season began airing—despite a social media campaign orchestrated by the show’s creators imploring people to watch. (One fan, talk show host Busy Philipps, even rented a plane to fly a trailer over Hollywood calling on Netflix to “Renew One Day at a Time.”) It was similarly unresponsive when fans of “Sense8” campaigned for that show to come back after the end of its second season in 2017.


Airbnb Mulls Big Investment in Indian Hotel Startup

Airbnb is contemplating another big step into the hotel business, this time in India and China.

The travel giant is in discussions to invest in Indian hotel management startup Oyo, two people familiar with the matter said. If completed, the investment would likely be in the $100 million to $200 million range, one of the people said. It comes just weeks after Airbnb bought U.S. hotel booking startup HotelTonight for more than $400 million.


The Cost and Risk of Regulations That Make Information ‘Own-able’

The internet is forcing us to engage with a far broader definition of the economy than in the past. Instead of thinking of the economy primarily in terms of physical goods and services, the internet is putting front and center a fuller picture of the economy—including other forms of value and trade, such as information and social, moral and even sexual capital.

I believe you can trace many of the political and social challenges we face today back to our expanding awareness of—and ability to measure—the size of the broader economy. In particular, debates about who “owns” data, the right to be forgotten and privacy regulations can easily be seen effectively as a debate about how to value information and formally assign its ownership. So too can a lot of the consternation about the scale and size of internet companies that have large amounts of this previously under-appreciated data-as-asset.


Bargain Shopping App Wish in Talks to Raise $300 Million

Ecommerce startup Wish is in talks with private equity firm General Atlantic and other investors to raise about $300 million in a new funding round, people familiar with matter said.

The fundraising, which hasn’t yet closed, values the San Francisco-based company at about $11 billion pre-money, higher than its previous valuation of $8.5 billion after the last funding round in late 2017, the people said.


Behind Washington’s Net Neutrality Debate: Deep Pockets

Sometime in the next two weeks, a billboard is set to pop up at a busy intersection in downtown Phoenix accusing Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema of “corruption.” Her supposed crime: she doesn’t support the “Save The Internet Act,” a bill that would codify into law the Net Neutrality rules revoked by the Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission in 2017. She’s in fact the only Democratic member of the Senate who doesn’t support the bill, according to Evan Greer, deputy director of the internet activist group responsible for the billboard.

The scorched earth tactic is the latest twist in the decade-long battle over Net Neutrality rules that come and go as the White House—and therefore control of the FCC—changes hands. Every time FCC rules change, aggrieved companies on one side or other challenge the policy in federal court. The end result: seemingly permanent uncertainty over rules meant to ensure that the companies providing access to the Internet—Comcast, Charter, Verizon and AT&T—don’t use their position to undermine internet competition and freedom of speech.


The Information’s 411 — Tales From the Encrypt

Sarah talks about Google's ad business and executive departures at Facebook as it pivots to focus on private encrypted messaging. Cory describes the growing pains faced by scooter companies.


Facebook’s Top Representative in China Leaves Firm

Facebook’s chief representative in China left the company earlier this year, according to people familiar with the matter, after a series of corporate missteps that led to a deterioration of relations between Facebook and the Chinese government.

The previously unreported departure of Ivy Zhang leaves Facebook with one government affairs employee in China, William Shuai, who remains in talks with Chinese officials about opening a representative office in Shanghai, one of the people said. The person also said there are no immediate plans to replace Ms. Zhang.


Why Is Facebook’s Encrypted Messaging Plan Roiling the Company?

One thing was clear in Chris Cox’s note to Facebook employees announcing his resignation on Thursday: The company’s chief product officer was not enthused about its new focus on building an encrypted, interoperable messaging network. “This will be a big project and we will need leaders who are excited to see the new direction through,” he wrote.

What’s his beef? There are several reasons Facebook’s plans, outlined in an essay by CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week, could have triggered unrest inside the company, most of which were overshadowed by the adulatory public response to Mr. Zuckerberg’s pivot toward a more privacy-minded Facebook.


After Time Warner and Fox Sales, Entertainment Veterans Flood Job Market

Two mega-entertainment deals, Disney’s $71 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment businesses and AT&T’S purchase of Time Warner, are putting a lot of veteran media executives on the job market. Just last week, AT&T announced the integration of the former Time Warner’s three main businesses, prompting an exodus of the top executives at HBO and Turner, while lots of lower-level folks are departing as their jobs are eliminated.

Meanwhile, Disney’s long-anticipated Fox deal is due to close next Wednesday, causing a similar spate of defections. Once the dust settles after the Disney-Fox deal, some analysts and industry watchers are expecting layoffs at the combined company to be in the thousands. These deals are a result of the disruption wrought by Netflix and Amazon in Hollywood. Plenty of new jobs are being created, of course: Netflix, in particular, is hiring steadily.


Bird Lays Off Dozens of Employees

Bird, the pioneer of the electric scooter sector, laid off 4% to 5% of its full-time staff on Thursday, in an effort to contain costs. About 40 employees of the roughly 900-person company were let go.

The layoffs represent a comedown for a startup that flew to a $2 billion valuation last year within nine months of launching. The company helped spark an investment frenzy in electric scooters, but found itself in recent months trailing rival Lime in ridership in the U.S. and internationally.


Media Job Cuts Rise as Sector Retrenchment Persists

Media job cuts rose in February, driven by reductions at news publishers and video game maker Activision Blizzard, as retrenchment in the sector persisted for a second month in 2019 and extended last year’s run of industry cutbacks.

In total, 1,530 media job cuts were announced last month, up from 1,279 in January, according to data from staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. They included 450 buyouts offered at newspaper company McClatchy, and 250 cuts at Vice Media, a digital news publisher. McClatchy said “nearly half” of the offers were accepted. Gatehouse Media, a publisher of local newspapers, laid off 60. Activision Blizzard cut 770 positions, the most by an individual media company but the only reductions in the gaming sector.


Think Being an Apple Supplier Is a Boon? Not so Fast.

As Apple goes, so go its suppliers—but worse.

Share prices for top companies that make parts for Apple products declined far more than Apple’s own stock did last year, dropping by an average of 23% from the year before when compared with only 5% for Apple shares, according to an analysis by The Information. The same analysis shows Apple has become increasingly reliant on Chinese companies for parts, at a time when it is delicately navigating a trade conflict between the U.S. and China.

Being a consumer-electronics supplier has always been a competitive industry in which the only financial salvation from low margins is high sales volume. Apple, though, has become an extraordinarily big and powerful buyer, especially of high-end components, able to demand much tougher terms than other smartphone companies, according to more than a dozen people close to Apple and its supplier relationships interviewed by The Information. 


Binance Coin Bucks the Trend

Cryptocurrency prices haven’t gained much ground in recent months, but sentiment seems to be improving as people forget the crazy highs. Industry insiders say the focus now is on developing products—from games to digital collectibles to advanced blockchains—that they feel have long-term legs.

Still, one cryptocurrency has bucked the trend: Binance Coin. The token issued by the Malta-based exchange has appreciated nearly 200% this year. And in another sign of the optimism in the market, new crypto companies are still being formed; below, we discuss one founded recently by a former employee of Polychain Capital, a crypto investment fund.


Apple Acquires Machine Learning Startup in Boost for AI Group

Apple has acquired Laserlike, a small Silicon Valley-based machine learning startup, which could help strengthen the company’s artificial intelligence efforts, including its Siri virtual assistant, The Information has learned.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed the acquisition of the four-year-old startup, which was founded by three former Google engineers, Anand Shukla, Srinivasan Venkatachary and Steven Baker, and had raised more than $24 million from Redpoint Ventures and Sutter Hill Ventures, according to CrunchBase. Terms of the deal could not be learned. Laserlike had built a smartphone app, now no longer available in Google and Apple’s mobile app stores, that let users follow topics in which they were interested, such as news, music and sports.


The People With Power at Google Advertising

For years, Google has been the top dog in internet advertising, with Facebook not far behind. But now an interloper in the ad market, Amazon, is attracting growing attention from the leaders of Google’s ad group—more than 50 of whom are shown in the chart accompanying this story.

Google’s salespeople have even started whispering to advertisers about the risks of working with Amazon, say multiple people who used to work in advertising sales at Google. Amazon’s ad business, while still small compared to that of Google, is growing more quickly and is expected to steal market share from the search giant for the first time this year.


Vice Looks to Raise Money After Rough Year

Vice Media is looking to raise a new round of financing of up to $200 million, which the company hopes will give it enough cash to reach its goal of becoming profitable in the next 12 months, according to people familiar with the situation.

The news of the search for funding, which could be through a mix a debt and equity, comes weeks after the company laid off 10% of its workforce as part of broad cost-cutting measures taken by new CEO Nancy Dubuc, who joined last spring. With a smaller workforce, the company is trying to become profitable by early 2020, one of the people said.


In Producing for Apple and Disney, Warriors’ Durant Wants Ownership

The proliferation of new streaming services, from Netflix to Apple, is creating a demand for content from all arenas—including the basketball court. Los Angeles Laker LeBron James has set up a film and television deal at WarnerMedia, and Boston Celtics player Kyrie Irving was a producer on Lionsgate’s recent film, “Uncle Drew.” Then there is Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant, whose 3-year-old media production firm Thirty Five Ventures is making sports-themed shows for Apple’s forthcoming streaming app, Disney’s new sports streaming service ESPN+ and Fox's traditional TV business, Fox Sports.

Mr. Durant first dipped a toe into the television programming waters in 2017, when he produced a number of web series and documentaries for YouTube. The impetus was to give Mr. Durant different ways to connect directly with his fans—something he’d been doing on Twitter since his early years in the league. Thirty Five is wasting no time in trying to turn its shows into broader franchises. Its first series “The Boardroom,” about the business of sports, debuted on ESPN+ two weeks ago, and Thirty Five already has plans to spin off another series and to launch a newsletter from the show, Sarah Flynn, general manager of Thirty Five Ventures, revealed in an interview with The Information.


Amazon’s Ad Business Growth Outstrips Facebook and Google

Amazon’s ad business is growing fast—faster than Facebook and Google when they were at comparable sizes, according to third-party data and an analysis of company filings. If this continues, it could fuel criticism from political circles about Amazon’s expanding tentacles in different businesses.

Amazon’s ad business crossed the billion-dollar mark in 2016, when it raked in about $1.5 billion in revenue, according to the research firm eMarketer. Its revenue has since increased by an average of 120% annually. That’s faster than Google, where ad revenue in 2003 crossed the $1 billion mark, and has since grown an average of 50% each year. Facebook’s ad revenue has grown an average of 69% annually since it first surpassed $1 billion in in 2010. (See above chart.)


Page created: Tue, Mar 19, 2019 - 09:05 PM GMT