60 Day Windows

Netflix v. Theaters, Readers v. Ads, Hastings v. Streamers, Facebook v. Time, Apple v. AR

Only 15 Days, But Miles Apart

Nicole Sperling with the details inside the battle between Netflix and the movie theater chains around the distribution of The Irishman:

After negotiations between major chains and Netflix ended in a stalemate last month, “The Irishman,” opening Friday, will have a 26-day run in a limited number of theaters before it starts streaming on Nov. 27. A sticking point in the talks was how long the film would play in theaters before being made available to Netflix’s 158 million subscribers.

The major exhibitors typically insist on a 72-day period of exclusivity for the films that play on their screens. During the monthslong talks with Netflix over “The Irishman,” representatives of two major chains agreed independently to lower that number to around 60, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to discuss them publicly; Netflix signaled that it would not go above 45. And that’s where it ended.

15 Days. Two weeks and one day. That was the chasm too big to cross. It seems silly, but it’s all about precedent:

If Netflix had agreed to an exclusive 60-day run for “The Irishman,” other studios would have most likely demanded the same for their films. A new industry standard would have been set in a business that has clung to the belief that you close the theatrical window at your peril.

And so if they had agreed to 45 days, that would have been the new precedent. At that point — just a month and a half — we’re probably pretty close to the point where a lot of people who are going to the theater in weeks 2 through 6 might decide instead to “wait it out” (there will always be super fans who need to see a movie week 1, of course). That’s just a guess, but I’m assuming that’s the main hold-up here.

Of course, there’s a bigger issue:

Mr. Fithian seemed flummoxed by Netflix’s stance. He wondered aloud why the company would not want to add a revenue stream — box office — given the competition in streaming that’s on the way from Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus and HBO Max, among others.

“Netflix is leaving significant money on the table,” Mr. Fithian said. “Think about ‘The Departed,’ in 2006. That Scorsese movie made $300 million globally. It garnered Scorsese the best director Oscar. It won best picture. It played for a long time in theaters and made a ton of money. Why wouldn’t Netflix want to monetize that before it went to Netflix? It can still be exclusive on Netflix. It can still draw subscribers. It would still be the only place you can see it at home.

“Mr. Fithian” is John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theater Owners. And he seemingly does not get it. We all understand why theaters want the latest Scorsese movie — box office and prestige aside, it’s the status quo — but Netflix’s model is not to take a cut of box office receipts (splitting it with said theaters, of course). The only reason to do that is 1) to keep talent happy and 2) marketing.

Netflix’s model is to sign up subscribers and to keep them happy and subscribed. That has worked so far. See also: 158 million subscribers.

Ultimately, this will work itself out. Unless Scorsese refuses to go with Netflix next time, they have all the power here. And even if Scorsese changes his mind, there are a dozen of the “next” Scorseses who will not care nearly as much about the theater prestige. This ball is rolling and it’s not stopping. The theaters need to realize thatand the good ones do! — and figure out what their true value proposition is now.

It’s there, but it’s different than what Mr. Fithian thinks it is. Which is sort of scary given his title. (This is also seemingly the perfect movie for Netflix to hold this line over as it really seems to be a must-see. And given the length of the film — 3.5 hours — many will want to must-see it at home, I suspect. Could you imagine going to the theater with the previews and ads beforehand? That’s a four hour commitment.)


Stick to Sports, and Shitty Autoplay Ads

Speaking of crappy ads injected in front of a captive audience, here’s Sahil Patel on the Deadspin shitshow:

After failing to hit ad impression targets within the first few weeks of the campaign, G/O Media decided to start playing videos with the sound on as soon as pages loaded, according to people familiar with the matter. That included stand-alone video ads for Farmers inside article pages as well as preroll ads before editorial videos.

Autoplaying video ads. With sound! If I went to a site that did this, I would never go back. It’s bad enough that the vast majority of content-based websites these days inject as much Javascript cruft as possible on page load. It’s just an awful user-experience. This is next level. And also inevitable!

“The ads are performing incredibly well against target reach and engagement with the audience,” said the G/O Media spokesman, referring to metrics such as clicks.

You don’t say?


“The real measurement will be time”

Back to Netflix and theaters, here’s Dade Hayes covering Reed Hastings keynote at the New York Times’ DealBook conference:

Advertising is still not in the forecast, the founder said in response to an audience question wondering if Netflix could pursue a dual strategy of offering both ad-free and ad-supported versions. “It’s a funny thing,” he said. “Disney’s on the board of Hulu. Disney then bought [control of] Hulu. And yet when they go to launch with Disney+, no ads. When you’ve got a lot of insight into the model, you make certain choices. We feel very comfortable doing no ads, like Disney+.”

That comment aligned with others during the session, when Hastings seemed to gloss over Apple TV+ when he was asked about it, while emphasizing Disney as a competitor of note. “I’ll subscribe” to Disney+, Hastings said. “They have great shows.” When Sorkin asked if he was “long Quibi,” meaning bullish on the new Jeffrey Katzenberg mobile streaming service, Hastings shrugged and asked, “When is that launching, next year?” He said he hadn’t looked at it closely enough to render an opinion.

These answers sound a bit flippant, but Hastings has earned some level of trust with regard to this market, obviously. If he dismisses Apple TV+ and Quibi so casually…

Also, recall what I said above about Netflix’s model:

“We’re not in the business of theaters. We’re in the business of pleasing our members,” he said. Honoring the traditional three-month lag between the big screen and the small would deprive Netflix subscribers of what they want, he reasoned.

That’s a pretty simple, good answer. It does make you wonder how much of the long negotiations with theaters was just to placate Scorsese himself, who clearly cares about such things!


What Would Happen If Facebook Were Turned Off?

The Economist:

In the life of physical cities, the attraction of being close to others can lead to remarkable durability. Industrial towns sprouted along the Great Lakes in the 19th century because of the advantage of being close to water transport—especially once canals linked the lakes to the Atlantic. Great Lakes shipping is not the economic force it once was, yet millions of people remain in cities like Chicago and Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo. Interpreting that durability is tricky. Suppose a team of researchers were to approach a few thousand midwesterners and ask them, for the sake of experiment, to spend a month in southern California. The subjects of the experiment might find the experience surprisingly enjoyable, yet nonetheless return home because of the friends, family and professional contacts who remain in the Midwest. The choice to return could reflect the unique value created by midwestern cities. But it might instead mean that midwesterners are stuck in a bad equilibrium: that well-being would go up if only they could agree, collectively, to decamp to sunnier climes.

This excerpt caused a bit of a stir on Twitter — there are obviously other reasons to live in these old industrial cities rather than simple inertia! I’m from one of these cities! — but there’s something in here that’s worth thinking about: how Facebook will likely linger long after the era of Facebook is over because of the strong ties it built and those that have built it.


Apple Eyes 2022, 2023 for AR Stuff

Wayne Ma, Alex Heath, and Nick Wingfield:

Apple’s headset, code-named N301, will offer a hybrid of AR and VR capabilities, according to people familiar with the device. It resembles the Oculus Quest, a Facebook virtual reality headset released earlier this year, but with a sleeker design, these people said. Cameras will be mounted on the outside of the device, allowing people to see and interact with their physical surroundings, they said. Apple wants to make heavy use of fabrics and lightweight materials to ensure the device is comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, executives said in the presentation in October.

The headset will have a high-resolution display that will allow users to read small type and see other people standing in front of and behind virtual objects. The technology will be able to map the surfaces, edges and dimensions of rooms with greater accuracy than existing devices on the market, executives said at the meeting. To illustrate these capabilities, attendees at the October meeting were shown a recording of a demonstration in which a virtual coffee machine was placed on a real kitchen table surrounded by people in a room. The virtual coffee machine obscured people standing behind it in the room.

Then:

Apple is planning to reach out to third-party software developers as early as 2021 to encourage them to build apps for the new hardware, the company told employees at the October meeting.

In contrast, Apple’s AR glasses, code-named N421, present bigger technical challenges than the headset and are further from release. They are meant to be worn all day, and current prototypes look like high-priced sunglasses with thick frames that house the battery and chips, according to a person who has seen them.

Certainly, 2022 and 2023 seem to be more reasonable timetables for Apple’s entrant in the space just given the current state of the art — which is to say, it sure feels like it’s going to be a while before anyone makes anything actually good here. Even Apple. Thinking that they could release something next year that they could be proud of was probably always a stretch (but I do believe that was an original goal).

I’m still trying to square a few circles here though. First, the original reports talking about next year for a headset eventually morphed into Apple working with third-parties on the hardware. Again, this didn’t make a lot of sense, but that plus the notion of this N301 headset (the 2022 hardware above) makes it seem as if Apple really does intend to do some sort of MVP before the actual product, the glasses (N421).

This makes sense in the context of trying to seed a content ecosystem ahead of time for such a device/space. But it sure feels like that is what Apple has been trying to do with the iPhone/iPad AR toolkits already. So maybe the N301 headset is just 2022-era iPhone/iPad components strapped to your face as a way to more explicitly signal intent and to get developers thinking truly three-dimensionally? Unclear!


A more personal 500ish words

A Quiet Place

Some thoughts upon turning 38…


Search Your Feelings...

Disney's Nintendo, Disney's Marketing, Apple's Imagine, NBC's Free Peacock, and Benioff & Weiss Free of Star Wars

Shuntaro Furukawa Is Ready to Take Nintendo to the Next Level

Alex Fitzpatrick:

These Nintendo diehards in part explain how the Kyoto-based company is thriving despite the naysayers who were forecasting doom just a few short years ago. Ostensibly a video game company, Nintendo is really an intellectual property company, converting people’s seemingly endless love of its characters into profit. Its rebound is also thanks to the Switch, a hybrid console and mobile device that has resurrected Nintendo’s hardware business, and, by extension, the rest of the company. The Switch is the exclusive home of some of today’s most well-reviewed games, and fans love that they can carry it around with them on their commutes or vacations. Nintendo, arguably stronger than ever and with a stock price flirting with its five-year high, is now looking for yet more ways to tap its deep bench of intellectual property (IP), from a theme park to a feature-length film.

“An intellectual property company” — “looking for yet more ways to tap its deep bench of intellectual property, from a theme park to a feature-length film.” Boy, who does that sound like? 🐭 I’ve long argued that Apple should buy Nintendo — and I think it increasingly makes sense. But there’s another company where it may make even more sense… At the same time:

Furukawa’s plan can be summed up in a single word: Entertainment. While other game companies have focused on pushing the underlying technology as far as it can possibly go, Nintendo is content to produce or promote games that are just plain fun. Furukawa says this thinking dates back through the company’s considerable ages. (Nintendo was founded as a playing card company in 1889, the same year Benjamin Harrison was sworn in as the 23rd President of the United States.) “Not just streaming, but any kind of new technology, whether that is going to be appealing to the consumer or not really depends on the quality of the experience that we can provide,” says Furukawa. “Nintendo continues to search for new ways to enhance the fun that people can have through their gaming experience.”

This strikes me as exactly the right thing for Nintendo to be focusing on. They’ve long ceded the power and spec race to Sony and Microsoft, as the Switch proves, all they really need is to make fun games based on their great IP.

I still just continue to think others could extend that IP as they want to a bit further, faster — one company in particular….


Disney Is New to Streaming, but Its Marketing Is Unmatched

This company, for instance. Here’s Brooks Barnes on their latest push:

Walt Disney World in Florida has more buses (many of which are being wrapped in Disney Plus ads) than the city of St. Louis. Disney Cruise Line carries more than 12,000 passengers at any given moment, and sneak-peek screenings of the Disney Plus show “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” are being offered onboard. Disney Store locations, which still number in the hundreds, will host “pep rallies” for the series. Starting on Nov. 12, more than 7,000 of Disney’s retail employees will be wearing lanyards emblazoned with a QR code; shoppers can scan the code with their smartphones and connect directly to a Disney Plus sign-up page.

There has been a lot of talk about how Disney will have a far easier time entering the streaming race thanks to their stellar catalog of IP, but this element, the marketing element, strikes me as nearly as important.

Weather forecasters at Disney-owned ABC stations in cities like Houston and Chicago will be chit-chatting about Disney Plus. It is expected to come up on “Live With Kelly and Ryan” and “The View.” Guests at Disney World will see it everywhere — on billboards, on parking lot trams, on the info-channel in more than 22,000 Disney-owned hotel rooms.

Disney will also push out information about Disney Plus on almost all of the company’s social media accounts, which combined have more than a billion followers. (Tinker Bell has 9.3 million friends on Facebook alone.)

Yeah, if you’re Apple, you compete with this with a billion-plus devices. If you anyone else… Good luck?


The One Where Apple Tried to Buy Its Way Into Hollywood

Speaking of Apple’s billion-plus pockets, here’s Lucas Shaw and Mark Gurman with an interesting tidbit of a scoop from the days leading up to the Apple TV+ launch:

Despite the failings, Apple never gave up on Hollywood. Cue pursued Imagine Entertainment, the production company led by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. The two producers, whose work includes A Beautiful Mind, Friday Night Lights, and Empire, flew to Cupertino to present Cue with a term sheet. Cook, a Happy Days fan, made a surprise appearance to see Howard, who played Richie Cunningham on the 1970s sitcom. But Grazer and Howard eventually bailed after deciding they didn’t want to be employees of a large company, according to people familiar with the negotiation.

This report is a little odd for a few reasons — first and foremost, why would Grazer and Howard fly to Cupertino to present Cue with a term sheet? That reads as if they were trying to acquire Apple! It’s possible that Cue asked them for their terms, I guess — still, this would be a weird way to do a deal. Especially since it’s then stated that Grazer and Howard bailed on it. Maybe it’s just reported backwards?

Regardless, it is interesting in the sense that Apple would have owned not only a production house, but two big players in entertainment. If that sounds familiar, it should! Certainly a key part of the Beats deal back in the day was getting Dr. Dre, and more importantly, Jimmy Iovine, in house to help drive towards what would become Apple Music. Grazer and Howard could have given immediate credibility to an Apple TV+ project; a more forward-facing complement to former Sony execs Jamie Erlicht & Zack Van Amburg. Alas…

I do love the notion of Tim Cook being all jazzed about Happy Days though — that seems like a very Cookian anecdote. Also, killer GIF (above) for the piece!


NBC May Set Peacock Free

In other streaming news, here’s a scoop from Alex Sherman:

Previously, Comcast had planned on making Peacock free only to cable subscribers and Comcast broadband customers. The new plan, which is still under consideration, would be to give away the ad-supported Peacock streaming service to anyone who wants it. An ad-free product would also be available but will come with a charge, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

This makes all the sense in the world to me. We’re already entering a world with subscription fatigue, and it’s about to get a lot worse with Disney+ coming as a must-have this month. And next year will be worse still with HBO Max in the equation. NBC has some great IP, but that IP has always been free (ad-supported). Trying to charge for it now would seem like a harder hill to climb than the others.

This is this same general reason why I like YouTube’s newer strategy of making their “premium” content ad-supported but allowing super fans and power users who either want content early or don’t want to see ads, to pay. It’s a freemium offering, in a way.


Star Wars’ Setback

Geoff Boucher on the news that Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have decided not to create a new Star Wars trilogy for Lucasfilm/Disney:

“There are only so many hours in the day, and we felt we could not do justice to both Star Wars and our Netflix projects,” the GoT pair said in a statement to Deadline. “So we are regretfully stepping away.”

This is pretty surprising given that it’s Star Wars. I mean, Star Wars! But it’s hard to know whether to chalk this up to the duo’s massive new Netflix deal, the continued mild turbulence at Lucasfilm with Star Wars, their own recent backlash post-Thrones ending (and subsequent HBO poor judgement), or all of the above?

A subsequent report by Justin Kroll would seem to suggest that you can sort of take them at their word — it was going to be years until they were done with the Star Wars work, and that would be a long time for Netflix to wait for all that money — but it also hints at all of the above. My gut instinct continues to be that Kevin Feige will be taking over the Star Wars universe sooner rather than later. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

(As an aside, I’ve done far too many newsletters with headshots of Benioff and Weiss.)


500ish More Words on Streaming

HBO’s Corpus of Content and Apple’s Lack Thereof

Apple TV+ is cheap and barren. HBO Max is expensive and cheapening their brand. Everyone is confused…


Apple Pay Paying Apple

Apple Prime Hints, Apple Pay Mints, 'Joker' Prints, Emoji Tints, Romney Squints

Apple is Laying the Groundwork for an iPhone Subscription

Kif Leswing:

During Wednesday’s earnings call, when analyst Toni Sacconaghi asked about the idea of a prime subscription, Apple CEO Tim Cook did not shoot down the idea. In fact, he suggested that something like it was already in effect.

“In terms of hardware as a service or as a bundle, if you will, there are customers today that essentially view the hardware like that because they’re on upgrade plans and so forth,” Cook said during an earnings call. “So to some degree that exists today.”

Cook went on to say, using bullish language, that Apple sees it as a major growth area.

“My perspective is that will grow in the future to larger numbers. It will grow disproportionately,” he continued.

No surprise here, of course. Still, it’s good to hear Cook acknowledge they’re going for this. As they should, given the new tool in their tool belt: Apple Card. I’ve been on the iPhone Upgrade Program to which Cook is alluding (he also presumably means the upgrade paths the carriers offer as well) for a while. It’s fine. But it’s not great.

Because Apple outsources the current financing to a third-party, you have to interact with Citizens One. Again, not a ton. But enough that I know who they are — and I know what their logo looks like! Again, it’s fine, but it’s not exactly an Apple experience. Doing this through Apple Card would be a decidedly more Apple experience (even if Goldman remains the financing partner). Did I mention, 3% cash back? I mean, who wouldn’t do this?

More importantly, it could be step one for all sorts of AaaS — Apple as a Service, for shame — products. If Apple can capture even a sliver of the opportunity here, the Services narrative kicks into a whole other gear… I got this far without saying “Apple Prime”, aren’t you proud of me?


Apple Pay Starts to Flex

Speaking of Apple and payments, here’s Chance Miller with another tidbit from Tim Cook during last week’s earnings call:

We had all-time record revenues from payment services. Apple Pay revenue and transactions more than doubled year-over-year, with over 3 billions transactions in the September quarter; exceeding PayPal’s number of transactions and growing 4x as fast. Apple Pay is now live in 49 markets around the world, with over 6,000 issuers on the platform.

Anyway you slice it, that is impressive. It really seems as if Apple Pay is now less of a sleeping giant and more a giant in plain sight. If only Apple could make the experience as ubiquitous as it is in other parts of the world…


‘Joker’ Set To Bank Nearly a Half-Billion In Profit

Anthony D'Alessandro:

Our sources say the Joaquin Phoenix pic is poised to make at least $464 million after global theatrical, TV and home entertainment windows, and it could be more if the worldwide box office for the Todd Phillips-directed movie exceeds $900M. That amount of profit isn’t that far from what Avengers: Infinity War racked up last year in black ink: that pic made a half-billion dollars but was more expensive, with a production cost and global P&A of … a half-billion dollars.

Wow, put on a happy face indeed! And that’s without China, where the movie is unlikely to play given the tone of the content. It’s pretty wild how well this movie is performing — it’s good, but it’s not exactly easy to watch. And while technically a comic book movie, a Marvel movie, this is not.

The success has clearly surprised Warner Brothers as well, per R.T. Watson:

During its development, “Joker” was considered by Warner executives unlikely to generate the same kind of blockbuster returns as the studio’s more conventional DC comic-book movies such as “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman,” according to one of the people familiar with the matter. “Joker” is a brooding character-study considered a “hard” R for its strong language and violence. Further limiting its commercial prospects, “Joker” was conceived as a stand-alone film rather than a piece of a larger narrative structure of sequels, spinoffs and prequels—a model perfected by Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And:

But the film’s uniqueness was initially met with skepticism. Before moving forward, Warner Bros. executives enlisted BRON Studios and Village Roadshow Pictures as financial partners to help share the film’s risk, with each shouldering between 20% and 25% of its roughly $60 million production budget, according to another of the people familiar with the matter. Marketing the film around the world cost more than $100 million.

So they gave away roughly half of the upside. I mean, it makes sense why. But with the benefit of hindsight (and their history), boy was that dumb. A joker move, as it were.


iOS 13.2 Emoji Changelog

I just love these detailed changelogs so much. Also, the emoji landscape is so rich now that any service which doesn’t offer an emoji search capability is foolish.


The Liberation of Mitt Romney

Regardless of your politics, I think this profile by McKay Coppins is worth the read:

In the nine years I’ve been covering Romney, I’ve never seen him quite so liberated. Unconstrained by consultants, unconcerned about reelection, he is thinking about things such as legacy, and inheritance, and the grand sweep of history. Here, in the twilight of his career, he seems to sense—in a way that eludes many of his colleagues—that he’ll be remembered for what he does in this combustible moment. “I do think people will view this as an inflection point in American history,” Romney tells me.

It’s a seemingly obvious point, yet one that many in our current world seem to be overlooking. Our future selves and more importantly our children and their children will look back at these days, one day. Act accordingly.


A couple recent 500ish posts

Time Is Not On Your Side, So Timing Better Be

The challenge for social apps and services in our current era

Apple Pay is Magic, We Hate Magic?

An extension of many of the thoughts above…


Many thoughts on the AirPods Pro coming soon!

Max, Indeed

HBO Max Content, Netflix Max Speed, HomePod Min, GIF Time, Don Valentine

HBO Max: Coming May 2020 for $14.99 a Month

Julia Alexander:

While HBO Max enters an increasingly crowded market, Stephenson said the HBO name brand already distinguishes the service from its competitors. Stephenson added that at the tier of the market where the company “intends to play, it is not that crowded.”

Followed immediately by:

HBO Max is poised to launch with an impressive number of titles for customers. Unlike HBO Now, there will also be a substantial focus on children’s programming and less prestigious but still incredibly popular series. Friends and The Big Bang Theory will both stream exclusively on HBO Max, as will new episodes of Sesame Street (moving from HBO’s traditional broadcast channel), although those episodes will eventually make their way to PBS. The entire Studio Ghibli library will live exclusively on HBO Max, too. Not to mention, the streaming service will play home to show reboots like Gossip Girl, which originally aired on the CW — a network co-owned by WarnerMedia. That doesn’t account for older WarnerMedia series that the company has streaming rights to and will add for customers.

Stephenson’s comment suggest that AT&T views HBO Max as entering some theoretical non-crowded premium tier. This is immediately followed by the notion that HBO Max intends to differentiate itself via shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. And Sesame Street. And Gossip Girl. Etc.

Look, say what you will about each of these shows — taste is subjective and it was certainly a huge get for AT&T to land each of them — but I just don’t think you can argue that they are “premium”. I don’t care how much they cost now. They aired on network television. They will forever be associated with mass appeal. That’s what made the shows what they are. That’s not a bad thing. It just is what it is. What it is not, is premium. What it is not, is what has traditionally been viewed as HBO.

This is fundamentally what confuses me about AT&T’s play here with HBO. They’re taking a premium brand — the most premium brand in television, in fact — and trying to shove mass-market content into it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to be extremely skeptical that this will work.


Netflix Experiment Lets You Watch Movies at 1.5x Speed

Lucas Shaw:

Other forms of media have already embraced faster playback speed. YouTube lets viewers watch clips at up to 2 times the normal rate, as does Apple’s podcast app. The feature lets podcast listeners gobble up lengthy series in half the time -- with the side effect of chipmunk-sounding voices. Likewise, a YouTube user can watch a 10-minute cooking video in five or six minutes.

But the approach is more controversial when it comes to videos that people consider art. Netflix has developed a reputation for challenging the norms of entertainment, often in ways that offend more tradition-bound viewers. The company has offended cinephiles by pushing for movies to be released at home at the same time they appear in theaters and allowing viewers to skip opening credits.

Oh boy is this divisive. And while I’m obviously a pretty big fan of the concept in general, I agree with the Hollywood contingent for film. I think it would be ridiculous to watch a movie at Chipmunk-speed. The performances would be ruined. And if part of art is presentation, well…

But I also think there’s some nuance here. A documentary? Probably art. But maybe not always. I think it depends. Or other content with a more more educational tilt? Sure. It’s all about ingesting information quicker in our age of content saturation.


85,000 vs 450

Mark Gurman on Apple re-thinking their HomePod (and home, in general) strategy:

Apple’s two smart-home devices compare with dozens of offerings like the Echo and Nest Hub Max from Amazon and Google, respectively. More importantly, Amazon and Google’s smart-home ecosystems are far larger than Apple’s. Apple lists about 450 compatible HomeKit devices on its website from third-party device makers. Amazon says that Alexa works with 85,000 smart-home products from 9,500 manufacturers and that consumers have linked tens of millions of home devices to Alexa. Google says its home platform works with more than 10,000 devices from 1,000 brands. Apple’s approval process for third-party accessories is known to be stricter than others.

Absolutely no surprise here. The strategy failed because it was the wrong strategy. Sure, Apple may have wanted to play by their old playbook. The game changed. Now they must adapt. But can they? The DNA required here would seem to be much different. And Apple already blew a massive opportunity in the space once…


How to Turn GIFs into a Apple Watch Faces

This is fun from Vjeran Pavic. I did it myself with a solid Keanu GIF.

(via @GrahamHancock)


Remembering Don Valentine

Sequoia Capital, the firm Valentine founded:

This first fund made seminal investments in Atari, the pioneering videogame company started by Nolan Bushnell, and in Apple Computer, a company started by a onetime Atari employee, Steve Jobs, and his high school friend, Steve Wozniak. Don served on the Boards of both Atari and Apple.

These early investments put what later became known as Sequoia Capital on the map. Don’s choice of name for our partnership was in keeping with the man. It conveyed the longevity and strength of the tallest of redwoods with the humility of someone who refrained from putting his own name on our business.

What a legacy. And such a great, deceivingly simple mantra to boot: “Who cares?”

Hell of a Week

Facebook's Fool, Apple's Fall, Fortnite's Chapters, Startup Profits, and Beer Secrets

Apologies for the late evening Friday email, but well, busy week. It also remains Indian Summer here in San Francisco. And a blanket of smoke is about to descend upon the city, it seems. But that’s obviously nothing compared to the people actually affected by the latest fires up north. And, of course, power outages — which failed to stop said fire. Yes, it’s very nearly literal Hell in the Bay Area at the moment…


Why the Facebook News Tab Shouldn’t be Trusted

Josh Constine:

So hopefully at this point we’ve established that Facebook is not an ally of news publishers.

At best it’s a fickle fair-weather friend. And even paying out millions of dollars, which can sound like a lot in journalism land, is a tiny fraction of the $22 billion in profit it earned in 2018.

Whatever Facebook offers publishers is conditional. It’s unlikely to pay subsidies forever if the News tab doesn’t become sustainable. For newsrooms, changing game plans or reallocating resources means putting faith in Facebook it hasn’t earned.

I don’t really understand the media executives (let alone the journalists) who are excited about this. Sure, it’s money; great. This is short term gain for long term pain. We’ve been here before. A number of times. So much so that it’s a cliche to make the “fool me once…” joke and even to share the Charlie Brown pulling-the-football GIF.

Speaking of, Constine has a good kicker:

Surely, experimenting to become the breakout star of the News tab could pay dividends. Publishers can take what it offers if that doesn’t require uprooting their process. But with everything subject to Facebook’s shifting attitudes, it will be like publishers trying to play bocce during an earthquake.


Idle Speculation on Apple Holding Another Keynote This Year

At first, I was sure Apple would hold another event this year. Not only because they usually do (as a sort of “one more thing” fall event after the big iPhone event), but because we’re on the cusp of the launch of Apple TV+. I mean, we all saw what a show they felt the need to put on earlier in the year, even though they didn’t say — or show — all that much. So I would have imagined pulling out all the stops for the real launch.

Instead, it’s perhaps going to launch with a whimper? Yes, there are TV ads for various shows all over the place. But Apple itself has been pretty mum. A big fall event would have been the time to be less mum? And to also show off new 16” MacBook Pros, new AirPods, updated iPad Pros, and yes, the new Mac Pro?

Instead, maybe it does make sense, as John Gruber speculates, to do these as more subtle press-release-pushes. After all, none of the products are really all that new, but rather updates — aside from the Mac Pro, which is more a mea culpa product, and they already did that! The 16” MacBook Pros sound nice — especially if they have the new/old keyboard — but a whole event just to showcase that might not be so well received. It would be a bit underwhelming, I imagine. And yes, would draw attention to just how badly Apple bungled the keyboard situation in the past.

So, I’ve talked myself into the no-event, low-key release of products. As a bonus, it helps keep the concept of the keynote more sacred and precious, in a time when that notion is under assault. Still, can’t believe Apple is going to let all that Hollywood talent get away without some major promotion.

I guess there will just be a lot of red carpets…


Fortnite's Season 10 Event Seems To Have Ended Its World

Riley MacLeod on the latest “season” of Fortnite that ended earlier this month:

Currently, the Fortnite website is just a blank Twitch stream. Streams of the game show the black wormhole screen.

The event has been teased for weeks, as the Visitor’s rocket steadily being built in the returned location of Dusty Depot. The Visitor showed up in Season 3’s meteor and, this season, has been considered responsible for the time distortions that have brought old areas of Fortnite’s world back to the map. The game’s overtime challenges had players finding voice recordings of the Visitor, talking about time loops, “the formation of the island,” and “the end.” Developer Epic has gotten in on this apocalyptic vibe, tweeting that “the end is near” and making the unusual decision to have the next season start immediately following the event, instead of the standard few days later. Along with leaks suggesting the next season will be Fortnite’s “chapter 2” and dataminers finding a host of new place names, players were expecting something cataclysmic, and that’s certainly what they got.

I watch the Fortnite phenomenon from afar. (I’m interested, but I just don’t have the time to get into yet another thing in an already full life.) Still, I find the whole thing fascinating, not so much because of the game itself, but because of how well they execute the strategy behind the game. Everyone knows that games are the hits-driven-business. But Fortnite has seemingly — at least so far — gotten around that by making it more like a game mixed with a television show, complete with seasons/storylines.

This time, it included a cliff-hanger and a bit of a break — imagine that! It all feels a bit Lost-y, in the best way possible. And now we’re getting a book metaphor in there too, with the next chapter!


Please Make Money

Can Duruk makes the case for a novel idea in startup land — focus on turning a profit:

Yet, if you just focus on turning profits, again at least at some point, you’ll invariably focus. Without the lens of wanting to make money, everything looks the same. You can’t tell whether you should do this, or that, if you don’t have a scale to judge things by. For example, if your side hustle seems like a better way to make money than what you are doing 9 to 5, you should probably do that instead. Because otherwise, you are either leaving money on the table or there will be someone else who will do that night-time gig better than you, because they will be focused on doing that, and that only.

Also:

You cannot serve your customers in the long run if you never make money. Building businesses that your users come to rely on, fostering a community, and then pulling the rug under them when the money dries out is not putting customers first. You sometimes hear, for example, that “user experience” is not just the designer’s job. That is true. But is there a more fundamental user experience gaffe than, say, one day shutting down the app while you make out with your millions of dollars? Allowing people to download their data from your service, which 99.9% of your users won’t bother, and of that 0.01 % that do can’t do anything with, is not putting your customers first. That is you making your conscience feel better.

This all sounds obvious — because it should be. But in practice, it’s not that obvious, apparently! All of this said another, more succinct way: it ultimately behooves neither you nor your customer to build an unsustainable business/product. It’s like MoviePass. People loved it, because why wouldn’t you love cheap movies? Well, you wouldn’t when they don’t last and yet you’re trained on that new, unsustainable model. It was the opposite of “customers first” cloaked in a “customers first” package.


Bud Brewer Accuses MillerCoors of Stealing Recipes

Big beer intrigue! But the story is actually pretty wild, as Jennifer Maloney notes:

MillerCoors obtained photographs of recipes for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra that described how recent batches of each beer were brewed, including the barley and hop blends and the volume and relative weight of ingredients, according to the filing.

“The manner of transmission appears to be a print-out of a screen shot that was folded up, secreted out of the AB brewery, and then sent by text,” the court filing says. The text messages are redacted in the court filing.

The MillerCoors brewer previously had twice offered the Anheuser-Busch employee a job, according to the filing.

A secret recipe stolen via screen shot that was printed out and “secreted out” (does that mean what I think it may mean?) and then sent via text. It’s enough to make Slugworth or Dennis Nedry smile. Also, it puts those ads in a whole new light!


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