Friday Notes – no chill with Netflix & Walmart

Two stories have dominated my week, both linked by the common idea of fighting back.

Netflix

Disney CEO Bob Iger on Thursday delivered a blow to Netflix, saying the company had decided to move Marvel and “Star Wars” films to its forthcoming streaming service, set to launch in 2019. >>

There’s ongoing drama with Netflix and various content creators, who were ostensibly its partners.

Backed by Hollywood’s deepest pockets, Hulu has a chance to reshape the burgeoning business of online TV. After years of licensing films and shows to Netflix to replace their own sagging DVD sales, owners Walt Disney Co., Comcast Corp., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Time Warner Inc. are giving Hulu the support it needs to be a vigorous competitor. They also stand to gain more control over their own futures as viewing moves to the internet, where streaming movies and TV shows are projected to generate $46 billion this year globally. >>

What’s going on?

Studios concerned with Netflix’s dominant and lucrative position in the video streaming market are trying to redress the balance. They are doing so by backing Netflix’s rival Hulu, and by creating their own streaming services, either individually or through consolidation.

Movies Anywhere is an especially interesting example, both because of the number of studios participating and for licensing reasons.

a host of other industry heavyweights have now jumped on board to launch an expanded version of the service called Movies Anywhere. It’s both a cloud-based digital locker and a one-stop-shop app: customers connect Movies Anywhere to their iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, or Vudu accounts, and all of the eligible movies they’ve purchased through those retailers appear as part of their Movies Anywhere library. Given that the Movies Anywhere app works across a number of platforms, it basically allows them to take their digital film library with them no matter what device or operating system they’re using. >>

But remember…

Netflix is very aware of this and has ramped up spending on original programming.

Source: Bloomberg

Netflix also has an advantage overseas, with its international share of streaming rising to 41% in the past year and the company’s base of subscribers being greater abroad than in the U.S.


Amazon vs. Walmart

With a projected annual growth rate for e-commerce of 40%, Walmart is growing faster than Amazon, which is around 22% – though admittedly Walmart is moving from a much lower base. >>

As I tweeted:

Here’s what’s happening

Walmart is making a surprisingly good show of taking on Amazon in the online shopping space. They are doing so through acquisitions and innovation.

CNBC

And they aren’t fighting alone.

On Thursday, Target and Google announced that they are expanding what was a years-old delivery partnership from a small experiment in a handful of cities to the entire continental U.S.

The expansion will allow Target to become a retail partner in Google’s voice-shopping initiative, which lets owners of the Google Home “smart” speaker order items through voice commands like owners of the Echo can do from Amazon.

The announcement comes seven weeks after Walmart inked a similar deal with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of products through the service. Other big-box retailers like Home Depot are also on board. >>

What to look out for

As the Whole Foods acquisition showed, this arms race is only going to escalate. Expect more acquisitions and innovations!

Monday Notes – politics, policy & media

Over the weekend

  • He is both polarising and popular, and the adaption of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army as a Jeremy Corbyn political anthem is one of the more unusual and amusing stories from 2017.
  • How to Recognize Propaganda | Cold War Era Educational Film | ca. 1957

I was amused by this video that showed up on my YouTube feed. The more things changed…etc.


Sri Lanka

With a new budget due from the Government, this is a reminder that Sri Lanka’s economic development plans remain complex and perilous.

While I share many of their concerns about the employability of Sri Lanka’s workforce, I would urge caution in terms of the employment law. The situation is far more complex than a simple hire-fire paradigm.


Online Marketing & E-commerce

It’s becoming very obvious that a key issue in e-commerce is to own your own delivery and logistics network. Two articles caught my attention last week:

  • Walmart is still playing catch-up to Amazon.com on same-day delivery, though it is worth noting that their Jet.com purchase appears more successful than the market predicted.
  • Meanwhile, Amazon’s focus appears to be on final-mile delivery that is still outsourced to UPS and FedEx

Monopolies, Uber and Information

The dominance of Facebook and Google as information gatekeepers strips us of power and leaves us helpless. This is what they, and those that aspire to join them, are designed to do.

In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet.

But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public

There were parallels for me when reading about the misidentification of the Las Vegas shooter (and the role big tech had in this) with this article about Uber. Specifically:

This is the way these companies are supposed to work – they run at a loss until they become a virtual monopoly, and hopefully by the time they dominate the market entirely they will have found a way to repay their investors. It’s what Facebook and Amazon did. And Uber has a plan too, a particularly unpleasant one. It was never meant to be a taxi firm; this is only its chrysalis.

Uber isn’t just a company; it’s a fully-fleshed model for the economic structures emerging throughout the developed world. It breaks the laws of old-fashioned national and local governments with impunity (just watch; London will roll over eventually). Just about every new tech firm has to announce itself in relation to Uber: an Uber for dogs, an Uber for education, an Uber for sadness. It’s a machine for processing human relations. We wander blind in the darkness, until an algorithm puts one person in another’s car.

The connection here is the effect of these increasingly monopolistic companies on us:

From then on, all our relations are transactional, and all of them are processed – from tipping to conversation – through Uber’s platforms. It’s not just a piece of computer technology; it’s a social technology, designed to individuate us, to turn us into consumers and entrepreneurs and nothing more, to leave us utterly alone and utterly powerless.

This is why steps to improve the quality of content (for example, human moderators) do not address the real reason we should be concerned— the by-design monopolistic nature of a handful of companies that dominate our digital lives.

Fake News & Imagined Realities

Having been away for a week, a fortuitous selection of holiday reading lead me to some insights on the fake news phenomenon and its impact on the recent US election.  Let me list these out, before exploring them in more detail:

  • A unique quality of humans is our ability to create imagined realities.
  • Many things that are fundamental to society are fictional constructs1.
  • Therefore humans were always ripe to be exploited by fake news.
  • It is only the increased ability to propagate fake news and the end of gate-keeping caused by technology that has changed, resulting in the current “crisis”.

 The three books that got me thinking about this are:

The first third (or so) of Sapiens focused on the idea of imagined realities that were composed of stories.

The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.

This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven. Only Sapiens can believe such stories. This is why we rule the world, and chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.

 If this sounds bizarre, just think for a moment about business corporations, like Peugeot or Toyota or Google. What exactly are they? They are not the people working in them, or the managers, or the stockholders, or the buildings. The buildings could be destroyed, the workers fired, the managers replaced, and the stockholders could sell their stocks to somebody else – yet the corporation will continue to exist. Corporations are legal fictions. They are stories invented by lawyers, which have absolutely no existence outside our imagination. Yet these stories are today some of the most powerful forces on earth.

Source 

 Democracy for Realists makes a very persuasive case for the idea that:

 most voters base their political decisions on who they are rather than what they think. Political behaviour reflects our membership of a particular group, an expression of our social identity. Voters choose parties which represent their culture and community, and stay with their political tribe long after they have ceased to serve their interests.

Source

Fake News are stories that construct a political identity

This is the insight I had as a result of my reading. We now have an unprecedented ability to tell stories (about politics) and distribute them widely (for example, through social media). Given the historical openness of humans to imagined realities, it is not surprising that a socio-political identity can be created and propagated as a result of this.

So what? Fake is Fake.

At this point, the concept of Intersubjectivity becomes important. While definitions vary, in this context, I am referring to the ability of humans to share their subjective reality. That is a reality as they perceive it.

If there is a sufficient number of people who believe and share the imagined reality of, for example, Mexican rapists swarming across the US-Mexico border, then this becomes part of their social identity. This social identity is the determining factor in how they vote.

Simply flagging individual articles that appear on social media feeds, will not be sufficient to address this.  The challenging of fake news is not just about questioning the veracity of stories, it is challenging the myths that build and sustain a community.

I’ve left The Mirror’s Truth for the end since it is a work of fantasy fiction. However, I found it amusing in the light of the other two books, as it is set in a world where delusion and insanity manifest as reality and I suspect it was responsible for igniting the line of thought expressed in this blog post.

FT.LK: Media ethics & advertorials in Sri Lanka

Cross-posted on socialmedia.lk

This article on the ft.lk is an example of dubious media ethics in Sri Lanka. I point it out not to nitpick, but because it is indicative of an industry that is crucial to the health of a nation. A robust and trustworthy news industry is a vital component of a healthy society.

The ft.lk newspaper seems to be using technology provided by a company called Emojet to run a poll online. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is disturbing to see what seems to be an advertorial masquerading as a news article on the home page of the ft.lk website.

This article is shoddy journalism not just because it isn’t clearly marked as an advertorial. Many of the claims contained in it bear more relationship to a press release and do not seems to be substantiated in any way.

Most egregious is the claim:

Digital platforms such as the online paper (www.ft.lk), its FB page (https://www.facebook.com/dailyft/), twitter (@FT_SriLanka) and Whatsapp were all utilized to share the link. In 48 hours a wide array of responses from Sri Lanka and across the globe were received.

This appears to be hugely dubious. The tweet from the FT has only seven retweets and seven likes.

The Facebook post has no likes, shares or comments.

Articles like this undermine the credibility of the ft.lk as both a news source and an advertising platform and ultimately benefit no-one.

Facebook vs. YouTube: battling over music

Two recent analyses highlighted an increasingly heated battle over the dominant player in music video streaming.

Music video is streaming music’s killer app. According to MIDiA’s latest consumer survey, 45% of consumers watch music videos on YouTube or Vevo every month, while 25% of consumers use YouTube for music every week (more than any of the streaming audio services). So what YouTube and Vevo do has real impact.

– Source

The world’s largest social network has redoubled its efforts to reach a broad accord with the industry, according to interviews with negotiators at labels, music publishers and trade associations. A deal would govern user-generated videos that include songs and potentially pave the way for Facebook to obtain more professional videos from the labels themselves.

– Source

Digital Giants Tighten Their Grip on Top Media Owner Ranking

With both companies being increasingly cast a media companies, this is a key confrontation. Music is a key driver for online video and in the case of YouTube, the stats are very telling.

Share of U.S. population who have used YouTube to watch music videos or listen to music

 

 

Gary Hart and why Trump was inevitable.

We’re all going to have to seriously question the system for selecting our national leaders, for it reduces the press of this nation to hunters and Presidential candidates to being hunted.

In an episode of the excellent Axe-Files podcast featuring the equally excellent Matt Bai, the Gary Hary scandal and Bai’s book on it were discussed. Having only a passing familiarity with the incident, I was intrigued by the suggestion that it was a precursor to the age of Trump and by an apparently prescient statement by Hart withdrawing his candidacy.  Looking at a transcript of the statement, there are certainly aspects of it that have resonance today.

Politics in this country – take it from me – is on the verge of becoming another form of athletic competition or sporting match. We all better do something to make this system work or we’re all going to be soon rephrasing Jefferson to say: I tremble for my country when I think we may, in fact, get the kind of leaders we deserve.

I’ve quoted above extracts that immediately seemed significant to me in the Trump era. This next quote seems all too relevant as well and perhaps it was inevitable that once the system was sufficiently distorted, the only person who could emerge triumphantly was someone immune to the worst aspects of it.

I was going to be the issue. Now, I don’t want to be the issue. And I cannot be the issue, because that breaks the link between me and the voters. And that’s what I tried to explain to my children.

If someone’s able to throw up a smokescreen and keep it up there long enough, you can’t get your message across. You can’t raise the money to finance a campaign; there’s too much static, and you can’t communicate.

In the final analysis, the American people decide what qualities are important to govern this country in the national interest. And they haven’t been heard from yet.