Uber Files Appeal in London Hours Before Deadline (Oct 13, 2017)
Uber has formally lodged an appeal against its ban in London, on the day the deadline to do so would have passed, allowing its service and drivers to continue operating until the matter is resolved. As I suspected, though this kicks off a formal legal process, it seems the situation is most likely to reach a resolution through negotiation between Uber and Transport for London, the body that regulates cabs and ride sharing services in the city. My guess is that Dara Khosrowshahi’s recent visit will have shed light on specific changes Uber needs to make to pass regulatory muster going forward, and that it’s actively working on a plan to ensure it can continue to operate there.
Bloomberg has dug out official financial statements for Uber’s London and European operations for last year, and found that the London operation recorded revenue of around $50 million, while the broader European operation had $1.6 billion in revenues. That London figure is a little funny because it appears to be a sort of net revenue after commissions paid to drivers – something made clear in a fuller version of the financials I saw posted to Twitter, which showed gross profits as identical to revenues. That revenue figure, though, would be a tiny fraction of Uber’s global revenue, but the strategic value of a presence in a major city like London goes well beyond the direct financial benefits. Interestingly, the London revenue figure was up just 59% year on year, while the European figure more than tripled, reflecting the relative maturity of the London operation relative to operations in much of the rest of the continent.
★ Uber Loses License to Operate in London Over Bad Behavior (Sep 22, 2017)
Transport for London, the entity that oversees public transportation and taxi services in the UK capital, has refused to renew Uber’s license to operate a private ride for hire service in the city, citing several examples of bad behavior. It’s perhaps the most tangible sign yet that Uber’s toxic culture, disregard for regulation, and general willingness to do what it takes to win in the market have come home to roost. The timing is unfortunate given the ouster of Travis Kalanick and the recent appointment of Dara Khosrowshahi as CEO, but clearly stems from behavior that took place long before those recent changes. Uber has said it plans to appeal and Khosrowshahi has said both in communications to employees and in public on Twitter that the decision is in part Uber’s own fault, which is heartening. It’s important to note that this decision isn’t about ride sharing services in general but specifically about Uber’s bad acts, so Uber needs to address those specific concerns even as it makes its usual arguments about the benefits to society a service like Uber provides. This is an unusual situation for Uber to be in – being banned in a city where it’s well established and generally well regarded, without a broader ban on ride sharing services. If I were Dara Khosrowshahi, I’d be on the next plane to London to talk to TfL, understand exactly what the issues are, fix what still needs fixing, and promise to do much better in future. Losing its presence in a city like London could be enormously damaging to its business in the UK and Europe more broadly because so many people travel through London.
Microsoft Confirms Plans for First UK Store (Sep 21, 2017)
Microsoft’s retail presence is about to add another country: the UK. Microsoft confirmed plans for its first UK store after some reporting over the last couple of days about an imminent lease for property in London’s Oxford Circus area, after years of rumors and apparent attempts and failures to secure appropriate space. Microsoft has just under 90 full stores worldwide and ten or so additional kiosk-type stores in the US, with all but one of its stores in North America (most in the US, with a few in Canada and one in Puerto Rico), with just one in Australia. Apple, by contrast, has just under 500 stores globally, including over 270 in the US and 38 in the UK, which was for a very long time its second largest retail presence, eclipsed by China only in the past year or so. But Microsoft’s retail presence has in general never been nearly as successful as Apple’s, in part because it’s never had enough of its own hardware to show off there, and has to rely instead on a mishmash of first and third party gear, with store employees often poorly informed about the details of individual products. The key driver behind the stores, though, has been wanting to pull all of the products based on Microsoft’s platforms together in one place in a more compelling way than big box retailers, which tend to do a terrible job ranging and displaying premium Windows laptops in particular. Just launching a new store in a new country is therefore not really what Microsoft’s retail strategy needs – instead, it needs a rethink of its entire purpose and role in Microsoft’s broader strategy.
This situation in the UK doesn’t seem to be getting much attention here in the US, but it should be, because although the boycott is UK-only for now, the issues at stake aren’t UK-specific at all and could easily spread to other markets. What’s happened is that some UK companies as well as the UK government have become increasingly concerned that their ads on YouTube have been appearing next to some pretty undesirable videos featuring extremism or promoting terrorism, and Google’s tools for avoiding this don’t seem to be doing their jobs. As a result, several companies and the government have now stopped advertising on Google at all as a protest until Google fixes things. A blog post from Google makes clear just how hard it is to police the video on YouTube – 400 hours of video are uploaded every hour, and it stopped ads from showing on 300 million videos last year, which provides some sense of the scale and the impossibility of monitoring all this with human beings alone. Google is never going to be able to police the content itself at sufficient scale and with sufficient accuracy to solve the problem directly. The solution is therefore probably paring back the kinds of videos on which at least certain ads would appear – such as limiting big brand advertising to channels with long histories, large numbers of subscribers, and a good track record. However, it’s likely that many brands would choose to limit themselves to this higher quality material, which in turn would mean the long tail of videos on YouTube might go un-monetized or monetized at a much lower rate, which would have a severe impact on not just creators but YouTube’s financials. Not only could this problem spread to other markets, but Facebook will have to deal with many of the same issues as it ramps up video advertising on its platform.