Missed opportunities: Quibi, Apple & SoftBank

How would you feel if your billion dollar investments proved to by guided by wrong decisions based on false ideas?

Welcome to the FWIW newsletter about tech, media & audio written by David Tvrdon. 🌐 Read it online and 👉 be sure to subscribe, if you were forwarded this newsletter.

In this edition

🤦🏻‍♂️ Missed opportunities: Quibi, Apple, SoftBank

😯 Instagram blogging?

💬 Other tech & media news

Missed opportunities

📷 by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Quibi: This is not how people behave

OK, this one is going to be quick: Quibi’s founders spent the last two years talking about all the reasons why the service will be revolutionary. Sure, that’s expected, especially when your stake in the game is so high.

The best interview to capture all the predictions is the one Jeffrey Katzenberg has done with Peter Kafka on his podcast.

Then it’s worthwhile reading this New York Times piece:

“There are a whole bunch of things we have now seen in the product that we thought we got mostly right,” he said, “but now that there are hundreds of people on there using it, you go, ‘Uh-oh, we didn’t see that.’”

Quibi placed a large bet on news programming for a lineup of shows from NBC, BBC, Telemundo and ESPN that it filed under the name Daily Essentials. Interest in those segments has been minimal.

“The Daily Essentials are not that essential,” Mr. Katzenberg quipped.

Let me put it very plainly, so far, this is what I have come to think about Quibi’s mistakes and it’s a great example of wrong presumptions:

  1. Short content for short breaks and commute: Why would anyone need Quibi to fill in the short breaks during the day when there is Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube…

  2. Great content: Well, it turns out not so much. The reviews came back saying the shows are as if it was 2015. And it is TV-quality content. Because of the TV network deals, you got shows the networks most probably haven’t greenlit because they weren’t sure if they would work.

  3. Original programming only: You simply cannot compete with Netflix or Disney that have spent the last years (decades in case of Disney) building vast libraries of TV shows and movies. You could go the HBO way and have fewer shows which stand out or have super cheap subscriptions as Apple TV+. Either way, it takes time to build a library of content. And it’s quite expensive (Netflix invests billions each year).

  4. No earned media (term explained here, if you are looking for that): Turns out you can’t share a link to a Quibi show you like and want to tell friends/followers. You can’t even take a screenshot or capture a scene for a meme. How did you think your service and content is going to spread?

  5. Mobile-only: Launching a streaming service into the pandemic and not having a clear option to watch on your TV is just a bad decision. Even though it wasn’t expected, you should have adapted.

To sum up, Quibi based a lot of its strategy on false assumptions. The founders envisioned users and user experiences that do not exist and build the whole service around those.

It makes you think whether there was a sane person in the room during the meetings shouting at them to stop and consider reality and they silenced those voices or was it all on board with this strategy.

Anyway, Quibi says things aren’t that bad and they are adjusting estimates and business goals. All in all, it really makes you think how come things like these come to happen.


Apple: Time to learn from Amazon

Making the Cut is an American reality television series created and presented by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. Klum and Gunn host 12 designers who face challenges and assignments that will test their design skills and their abilities to run all aspects of a business.

Why do you need to know that? My wife spent the last week watching the entire series and at one point it got super interesting for me. Not because of the show, but my wife’s behavior.

The winner of the show got a huge contract to sell his product line on Amazon.com.

Now, the interesting part. After an episode or two, my wife started commenting on different designers and their clothes how much they cost, whether they are in stock or out of stock.

What happened? As Nicole Lee writes for Engadget Amazon's 'Making the Cut' is the ultimate example of product placement. And it is absolutely true.

I mean, it’s also quite genius and a great example of vertical integration - an Amazon-produced show, airing on Amazon Prime Video platform, winning products sold on Amazon.com, and if you were watching it an Amazon Fire TV there was a “Buy It Now” button at the end of each episode. Genius!

And it’s not only this show. Amazon is doing the same thing with other shows as well.

Now, back to Apple.

I have been finally testing and watching Apple TV+ (on an Apple TV device). At one point I was watching a TV show and there was a song I wanted to know more about. Guess what, I had to use Shazam to find out the song title and artist.

You have to give credit to Apple for its hardware integration - you start out with an iPhone, later get AirPods (because everyone has them), then add Apple Watch, maybe even buy a MacBook. With taking a lot of photos, your storage is not enough and you want to have a cloud backup, you subscribe to iCloud storage. You want to listen to music, you subscribe to Apple Music.

iCloud and Music are separate services, neither of them makes you or incentivizes you to subscribe to the other one.

Why is there not a playlist attached to each TV show or movie on Apple TV+? Is Apple that sure everyone has a Music subscription?

You could go a step further and include more Apple products in the set and then just like Amazon Prime Video provides a list of products or services shown in the show with the option to order them.

I have been thinking about this a lot and cannot understand why it is missing.

Speaking of Apple’s missed opportunities, this week there were two big ones. First, Bloomberg reported Apple is buying older shows for TV+, in order to step up the Netflix challenge.

This was a long time coming, Bloomberg says the service has only 10 million subscribers so far and the activity is not great. You know why? There is almost nothing to watch. You could binge the originals in one weekend if you didn’t sleep.

Oh, and analysts, journalists, and others kept asking Apple (before TV+ launch) whether it is not considering adding a bigger library to start with.

Second, Apple Podcasts will lose its biggest show, the Joe Rogan Experience will be exclusively on Spotify at the end of this year. More on that later.


SoftBank: Beware of visionaries

This story is a cautionary one. Again, let’s start with this New York Times introduction to what happened:

SoftBank just reported its worst annual loss, dragged down by its misfiring Vision Fund. But the Japanese conglomerate’s founder, Masa Son, has kept his trademark optimism — and defiance.

Mr. Son conceded that he made mistakes, including his “foolish” decision to invest tens of billions in WeWork. SoftBank slashed its valuation of the co-working business to $2.9 billion, down from a height of about $47 billion.

He also reportedly compared himself to Jesus Christ on an investor call, according to The Financial Times. He said that Christ was also misunderstood and criticized, and added for good measure that the Beatles weren’t initially popular, either. The point appears to be that his reputation will brighten when his investments recover.

Masayoshi Son is a Korean-Japanese billionaire technology entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He is the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Japanese holding company SoftBank. Son was an early investor in internet firms (Yahoo!, Alibaba). In 2000, SoftBank made its most successful investment ever – $20 million to a then-fledgling Chinese Internet venture called Alibaba. This investment turned into $60 billion when Alibaba went public in September 2014.

SoftBank runs Vision Fund, the world's largest technology-focused venture capital fund, with over $100 billion in capital. Basically every few years Masa Son plans to raise a few billion to invest and multiply them. That was the plan.

So far, 47 of the Vision Fund’s 88 investments lost money and the fund’s portfolio is currently worth less than the cost of its investments. Notable are two investments: SoftBank and the Vision Fund invested about $10.6 billion in WeWork; also $7.6 billion in Uber. Now Vision Fund posted that the loss from Uber was $5.2 billion, WeWork added $4.6 billion.

What’s the lesson? Beware visionaries with billions to invest.

Instagram blogging?

📷 by Instagram

First some context directly from Instagram:

We want Instagram to be a place where you can easily find reliable information and inspiration from your favorite accounts. That’s why we are introducing Guides, a way to more easily discover recommendations, tips and other content from your favorite creators, public figures, organizations and publishers on Instagram.

To view a Guide, visit the profile of participating creators or organizations like @afspnational@heads_together@vitaalere@klicksafe@headspace_aus@deepikapadukone@sudahdong and @eenfance. Then, tap the middle icon to view their Guides. In the coming days, you’ll also be able to access Guides within the Explore tab.

This piece of news went underreported in my opinion. Sure, the gist of the announcement is about well-being. Not super sexy to cover, I know.

But! Guess what? Those guides show Instagram has built-in a new content option.

I tried to deconstruct how the guides are built and the structure is pretty simple and looks just like a photoblog - you have the title image and title followed by a foreword and then come the headlines with small paragraphs of text and an Instagram post (linked to that post).

Basically, you could create a quick blog out of your Instagram posts with some headlines in between and text. For now, this is only available for participating creators and organizations.

I wonder whether Instagram will make this option available for anyone. That would mean you could create kind of lists and give more context to your posts. I imagine brands and shops would utilize the feature to create collections, others as well.

We will see, so far there is no indication of rolling this out widely, but I am kind of excited there is a new content form on the platform.

In other news

TECHNOLOGY

🛒 Mark Zuckerberg announces Facebook Shops. Using Facebook Shops allows businesses to list their products on their Facebook Page, Instagram profile, Stories, or in ads. In the future, it will also allow businesses to sell products to customers through the chat features of WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram Direct and tag products during live streams. Facebook is working on it with Shopify. My understanding of it is that the end goal here is to create a walled garden where you do everything without ever leaving the platform. And it’s smart if Facebook can pull it off. [CNBC]

🦾 How Zuckerberg changed as CEO. The New York Times has a nice walk down memory lane with some explanation and dot-connecting concerning the Facebook CEO. If in 2016 Mark Zuckerberg was only the product guy not wanting to participate in other parts of the business (giving speeches, meetings with politicians - both Sheryl Sanberg’s domains), now he is seen doing all of this and is even more hands down in new product creations. Not much news, but it is a really nice profile. [NY Times]

🤖 Sundar Pichai on managing Google. So, there is another interview with another “big” CEO both as written article and podcast (Vergecast). I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet, only skimmed through the written interview, but it seems interesting enough. I mean, you don’t see CEOs being questioned by two reporters for an hour a lot. [The Verge]

🖥️ The biggest announcements from Microsoft Build 2020. [The Verge]

Microsoft is creating a new kind of Office document. Instead of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, the company has created Lego blocks of Office content that live on the web. The tables, graphs, and lists that you typically find in Office documents are transforming into living, collaborative modules that exist outside of traditional documents.  Microsoft calls its Lego blocks Fluid components, and they can be edited in real time by anyone in any app. The idea is that you could create things like a table without having to switch to multiple apps to get it done, and the table will persist on the web like a Lego block, free for anyone to use and edit.


MEDIA

🎙️ The Joe Rogan Experience podcast will be exclusively on Spotify. Before the end of 2020, the podcast will be removed from Apple Podcasts and only Spotify will have the rights to stream a full episode. Also, the full video recording will be available only on Spotify as videocast, so no more YouTube. Though, clips from the show will still appear on the platform. [Hot Pod News]

Some background:

  • Starting on September 1, the full show won’t be on YouTube. Later it will pull its episodes from other podcast platforms, most notably Apple podcasts, where the show has been among the top podcasts for years.

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, Spotify will pay Rogan $100m over an unknown period of time.

  • The Joe Rogan Experience gets around 190 million downloads a month.

  • This is likely the beginning of the end of the open ecosystem for podcasts. When popular shows become exclusive to certain platforms that means they are not available for all, even if you can download Spotify for free and listen to podcasts for free.

🕺 TikTok has a new CEO. Kevin Mayer, the former Disney executive who launched Disney+ will also be COO of ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. Mayer was seen from outside as the logical internal candidate because the future of Disney rests on its ability to transform itself into a streaming titan. The company instead opted for Bob Chapek, the lower-profile chairman of Disney’s theme parks and consumer products businesses. So it’s not unsurprising Mayer took another CEO job. TikTok’s app has been downloaded about 1.9 billion times worldwide, including 172 million downloads in the United States, according to Sensor Tower, an app data firm. [Morning Brew, NY Times]

🍪 The New York Times will no longer use 3rd-party data to target ads come 2021. The effort is part of a greater push to a privacy-friendly experience from The New York Times. NYT will collect first-party data and sell that to advertisers. It will begin to offer clients 45 new proprietary first-party audience segments to target ads. Other publishers like Vox Media and The Washington Post have also begun building out first-party data solutions. [Axios]


OTHER NEWS

📚 2020 summer book recommendations by Bill Gates. Usually, Gates picks books that have come out recently, this time he recommended some that are considered classics. Anyway, good choices (currently I am reading Goog Economics for Hard Times as well and also can recommend it). [GatesNotes]


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