Twitter Aiming to Broadcast Live Video Full Time in Future (Apr 25, 2017)
This is an interesting announcement to make the night before earnings. Twitter broadcast 800 hours of live video in the first quarter, but it’s aiming to broadcast 24/7 eventually, which would be a roughly threefold increase in video just to have a single stream full time, let alone to give people options. And though this piece talks up the idea of being the equivalent to CNBC in airports, the whole value proposition of the latter is that you have nothing better to do. For Twitter to do well with live video, it needs compelling content, not just ambient content. And that’s tough to do when the vast majority of sports rights are sewn up for years to come and Twitter just lost one of the few available packages to Amazon. Beyond sports, there’s not much live content that’s compelling enough for people to tune into deliberately and importantly to watch through a commercial break. Color me skeptical that this effort will make a big difference to Twitter’s user base or its ability to monetize it. Live video still feels like an interesting complement to Twitter’s core value proposition rather than being central to it, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Netflix Agrees to License Content to Baidu Subsidiary iQIYI (Apr 25, 2017)
Facebook is Now Paying Companies to Produce Non-Live Video (Apr 22, 2017)
Backchannel has a piece out this week which argues that the iPhone’s declining market share in China is due to the poor competitiveness of its services, notably Apple Music and Apple Pay. The piece is well worth reading, but it offers few real answers. It states that Apple fails to compete effectively with its music and payment services in China, but then also says that the music and payments markets in China have been sewn up by strong local competitors, with music rights in particular subject to exclusives from Chinese services. As such, it’s really not clear what Apple could have done differently in these categories. At the end of the day, Apple’s lack of competitiveness in services in China is a symptom of a much broader issue, which is that Apple doesn’t bend much to local custom when it comes to pricing or service structure (see also India). It does localize content stores, and indeed is one of the strongest players in that respect globally, but China is such a massive market, has so many homegrown competitors, and is run by a government which is not afraid to disadvantage foreign interlopers, that it’s hard to see how Apple could compete effectively there on services. As such, I think it’s smart to compete more on its devices, its growing retail presence, and its non-content software and services. But that does mean that the ecosystem Apple has built elsewhere is missing some of the appeal it has elsewhere.
But all that is to ignore the central premise of the argument being made here, that it’s this services weakness that’s at the root of the recent decline in iPhone market share in China. I think that’s debatable at best, and it’s worth remembering that that decline isn’t about ownership but sales, and Apple went through a massive cycle earlier off the back of the iPhone 6 in China, and then came down to earth over the ensuing year, so that change in market share is reflective of cyclical rather than permanent trends, with some signs of recovery recently with the iPhone 7. So overall this piece feels like it makes some interesting points, some of them legitimate with regard to Apple’s services competitiveness in China, but overdoes the narrative about its impact.
Apple Acquires First Movie at Tribeca Film Festival (Apr 20, 2017)
Google Crushes Site Traffic By Scraping Content (Apr 18, 2017)
Note: this is my first piece of commentary on Q1 2017 earnings. The Q1 2017 tag attached to this post will eventually house all my earnings comments for this quarter, just as the Q4 2016 tag does for last quarter and the earnings tag does for all past earnings comments. Netflix is also one of the dozen or so companies for which I do quarterly slide decks as part of the Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service. See here for more.
Netflix today reported its earnings for Q1 2017, and the results were mostly good, with a few possible red flags. This year, the new season of House of Cards will debut in Q2 rather than Q1, and that makes some of the year on year comparisons tough. One of the results was much weaker Q1 subscriber adds this year than a year ago in the US, worsening what’s already been a trend of slowing growth for several years. Netflix is projecting something of a recovery next quarter, however. In some ways, the biggest news was the first quarterly profit for the international business, which has neared profitability in the past but been plunged deeper into the red by market expansions every time it did so. Now that Netflix is in essentially every country it can be, that won’t be the case anymore, so although it’s projecting a return to small losses next quarter, it’s now saying it wants to be judged partly on growing revenue and margins globally over time, which is a big shift (previously it wanted to be judged on sub growth and domestic margins only).
There were a couple of mild admissions of failure: customer satisfaction in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is not what it could be, and the company’s Crouching Tiger sequel didn’t achieve its goals for original content. Marketing spend will be up at least a little in 2017, and content obligations continue to grow. The company also made clear that the big free cash flow losses caused by its investment in original content will continue for “many years”, though it also said that it will eventually throw off significant cash when it hits a “much larger revenue base”, giving I think the clearest indication yet of what a long-term project positive free cash flow will be. In the meantime, it will continue to borrow to fund that growth. Domestically, profits are growing very rapidly, and the theory continues to be that eventually the International business will reach that level of maturity too and deliver decent margins. But in the meantime, a bet on Netflix continues to be a bet on continued high growth, something which certainly isn’t guaranteed in the US and may end up being tough long term internationally too.
Facebook Takes 3 Hours to Remove Video of Murder (Apr 17, 2017)
A Facebook user apparently committed a murder on Sunday and claimed to be in the process of committing several more while streaming on Facebook Live video, but Facebook failed to take the video down for three hours afterwards. This certainly isn’t the first time something gruesome has been live streamed on Facebook, and the company has dealt with past situations both poorly and inconsistently. On the one hand, it’s clearly against its policies to broadcast something as disturbing as this, so taking the videos down should be simple from a policy perspective. But in some cases, it’s been accused of taking down videos which – despite their content – were enormously newsworthy, and therefore engaging in censorship. In this case, it seems baffling that Facebook didn’t take the video down much sooner, but it raises much bigger issues about how to police live video, which by definition has often done its damage before anyone at Facebook is even aware of it. Given YouTube’s recent struggles with monitoring non-live video for inappropriate content, one can only imagine the challenges involved in monitoring video in real time. Certainly, Facebook needs better tools for flagging such content and faster response times when videos are flagged, at the very least.
Update: Facebook has now responded, and says it’s going to do exactly what I said in that last line: that is, improve its flagging tools and shorten response times. It also posted a complete timeline. Worth a read.
There’s some good reporting here about publishers starting to pull their content back from Facebook’s Instant Articles. When it first launched, I think publishers were at the very least keen to experiment with it, and in many cases felt they had little choice but to participate out of fear that non-IA content would be deprioritized by Facebook’s News Feed algorithms. That publishers (including the New York Times) are starting to pull back is a sign both that the format is underperforming badly and that content owners have confidence that they can buck Facebook’s first party platform without negative consequences. That’s a good counterpoint to all the stories about Facebook’s power and how little choice content owners have about publishing to Facebook natively. It remains to be seen whether these publishers will see the same monetization and traffic now as they did before IA debuted, because if that’s the comparison organizations are making they may be disappointed. But all this also explains why Facebook has been working so much harder lately to cater to news publishers in particular, with its Journalism Project, new calls to action and subscription (though not paid subscription) options, and listening tours. It’s clearly worried that it’s losing the battle here and needs to do more.
I wrote a piece last week for Techpinions about the fragmentation in the TV market as everyone launches their own streaming services, and here comes yet another example of that. It sounds like Comcast is working on a service that would combine content from NBC and the NBCU cable networks into a single subscription package, although the conditions on the Comcast-NBCU merger make it unlikely that it will debut in the next 18 months or so. But we’ve already seen the premium cable networks (HBO, Starz, and Showtime) go over-the-top, along with broadcaster CBS and NBC itself with a comedy subscription service called Seeso. As cord cutting and cord shaving eat into cable network subscriber numbers, we’re going to see lots more of this direct-to-consumer stuff. In principle, that sounds great for consumers, who will now be able to pick and choose just the content they want, but in practice they’re likely to end up spending more and dealing with multiple bills, user interfaces, and content models to get it, which is in turn going to lead to an opportunity for re-aggregation down the road.
It’s unfortunate that we have to rely on stats from a porn site to measure VR market share, but beggars can’t be choosers. Obviously, there may be reasons why the usage this site sees isn’t representative of the market as a whole, but the numbers here are far from surprising: Gear VR is by far the largest chunk of usage, which absolutely aligns with the numbers we’re seen in terms of devices sold / in use. Google’s Daydream, meanwhile, has a tiny fraction of the market, which is also unsurprising given its relative newness and the limited distribution of headsets and compatible phones. Gear VR has become the de facto standard for Android VR and mobile VR more broadly, and Daydream VR will only do well if essentially every other Android vendor supports it in their handsets and pushes it aggressively to consumers. So far, that hasn’t happened, with predictable results.
This is probably about as much as Facebook can be expected to do on an issue such as this – there’s no easy definition for revenge porn as such, and therefore no way to train a computer to look for it, so the only way Facebook can police it is to match images being shared with ones it’s been told about in the past. That’s obviously far from solving the issue, but it’s a start and should help with cases where the same images are being shared over and over.
via The Verge
Almost exactly two months ago, I wrote in my Techpinions column that Facebook’s next big opportunity was finally stepping beyond the idea of showing users only content shared by their friends, and using AI and machine learning to show them other content like content they’d previously engaged with. Doing this, I said, would dramatically expand the amount of interesting content that could be shown to users, thereby keeping them on the service for longer, and giving Facebook more time and places to show ads. And as I wrote almost exactly a year ago, this is just another consequence of Facebook becoming less of a social network and more of a content hub. Today, we’re seeing Facebook not only roll out a video tab (and a video app for TVs) with suggested videos, but also now testing a dedicated tab for recommended content of all kinds in its apps. This is yet another extension of Facebook’s increasing absorption of activity from across users’ lives into its various apps in an attempt to capture more of users’ time and advertisers’ dollars, and I suspect it’ll work pretty well if it’s managed right. Of course, it’s demonstrated several times lately that it’s somewhat lost its touch in that department, so it will need to proceed carefully in pushing forward in this area to avoid alienating users.