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Apple’s troubled everything subscription
Good morning! This Friday, we're going slightly lighter on the coronavirus. It's been a long week. Instead: the game-streaming wars heat up, the tough road to Apple's everything bundle, and a Minecraft library no government can close.
Also: Protocol's starting a virtual meetup series! It's a way for us all to hang out and chat about tech in social distancing-appropriate ways. Our first one is next Thursday — you can sign up here to reserve your spot and be reminded ahead of time.
People Are Talking
Tech-company life is normalizing again now that everyone's working from home, Box CEO Aaron Levie told me:
- "I think it probably peaked in the past 24 hours, because that was when we made the final calls for some of the policy updates. I think we'll be in, now, this is sort of business as usual for the next couple of weeks. And we'll reevaluate from there."
Coronavirus hasn't shut down the venture-capital community, Fred Wilson said:
- "From where I'm sitting it seems that much of the VC industry is still open for business and USV certainly is."
We're at a totally new moment in history, Chamath Palihapitaya believes:
- "It's the severity and the depth of the great financial crisis and the long period of the dot-com bubble. The drawdown, I think tip to tail, will be as bad as the great financial crisis, except unlike it, we're not going to see some clever, cute V-shaped recovery."
- Also: I forgot to link to Palihapitaya's annual letter from earlier this week — it's a good read on regulation, big tech, space and more.
Tesla has a decade-long head start in electric cars, said VW exec Thomas Ulbrich:
- "Tesla is an impressive manufacturer. It is a motivator for us. Tesla has 10 years more experience. But we are very quick in catching up."
- Ulbrich also said software could end car accidents by 2050.
The Big Story
Everything Apple does, one monthly price
The rumor's been floating around for many months: that Apple's long-term plan is to bundle all its services into a single package, for a single monthly fee. Bloomberg reported last year that the bundle could include Apple TV+, Apple Music, and Apple News+. Others have gone even bigger: What if, for a single monthly fee, you could get a phone, a watch, an iPad, a Mac, all the services, iCloud, your own personal Genius to follow you around, and Jony Ive to come redecorate your home? (Fine, I made a couple of those up.)
But Apple's bundle dreams might be slipping away, according to a new story from the Financial Times:
- Apple has signed new multi-year licensing deals with the three major record labels, the FT reports. But those contracts don't give Apple the ability to bundle Apple Music with Apple TV+.
- From the story: "Apple has told the big music companies that it intends to aggregate its media services, but the two sides have not yet settled on the details of a media bundling plan, according to people familiar with the matter."
For years, Hollywood was the thorn in Apple's side — studios reportedly thwarted the company's many attempts to build an internet TV bundle. But the music business needed Apple, badly. Now that streaming music is working so well, and with songwriters and others wanting a bigger piece of the pie, the record labels may be less inclined to change up the business model again.
The labels may also not like what they've seen from Apple's current bundles. Apple's pitch for News+ basically boiled down to "don't worry, so many people will subscribe that you'll make tons of money even though we're taking half and you're splitting the rest with everybody else!" So far, that hasn't really panned out very well for publishers.
Livestreaming gets its Nielsen ratings
OK, so all the sports are canceled. Where are you going to put your ads? Here's an idea: Fortnite livestreams!
Comscore and Twitch are trying to understand the streaming platforms' mostly young, mostly male, massive and growing user base, the companies announced Thursday. The goal: to make streaming audiences more measurable, and build a better ad business.
- Comscore's metrics are pretty simple: how many minutes do viewers spend watching, and how many minutes of content do they see per minute of ads? Eventually, Comscore plans to dive into specific categories and genres, and track things more internationally.
- The streaming community is "far more engaged than others … but difficult to reach," Alexandra Levy, CEO of Silicon Alley Media told Protocol's Sofie Kodner. "Having the ability to measure, compare and assess this audience is exactly what buyers need."
Gaming and esports are an obvious venue for more ads, with a huge audience of engaged young viewers. But online gamers aren't accustomed to seeing much advertising on platforms:
- "They've had a lot of time to adapt to life without ads," Ryan McGuire, a Creative Strategist at the digital marketing agency BSTRO, told Sofie. Advertisers will have to "break down those barriers and give people the messaging they really want to see," he said. Twitch's hope is that better data will lead to better ads.
- "They'll need to get weird with it," Phillip Wood, Art Director at Campbell Ewald LA said of marketing content on the platform. Which, I mean ... have you seen Twitch? That seems obvious.
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It's your computer, just … in the cloud
A few years ago — heck, even six months ago — the idea of streaming video games seemed ludicrous to any serious gamer. The latency! But Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now and other services have proven that it's (just about) possible to do all the hard work in the cloud, and deliver a high-res, fast-twitch experience to virtually any screen you own.
A company called Shadow aims a bit bigger. It'll let you stream an entire high-end Windows PC — games and apps and blue-screens-of-death and everything. "Your computer" sits on a server rack, and you can log in from anywhere. And now, as game-streaming becomes a thing, Shadow's making a big push:
- Shadow cut its prices, took investment from LG (it's raised a total of $110 million), and wants to be on many more devices really soon.
While it's still marketed as a way to stream your gaming library — Florian Giraud, the company's head of strategy and growth, told me people like Shadow because they can stream all their PC games, not just an officially supported few — the company's plans are much bigger.
- Already, he said, 10% of Shadow users don't use it to game at all. They tap into the extra power for architecture software, video and graphics rendering, and the like.
- "We actually want to replace all computers," Giraud said.
This race is about to heat up, of course, with Google and Microsoft being fierce competitors who likely also have plans beyond gaming. And Shadow has a big roadblock: Apple recently yanked its app from the App Store. Giraud declined to explain what's going on there, but said the company is having "good and open discussions" about getting the app back.
Juul co-founder James Monsees is leaving the company. He's been at the center of much of the company's turmoil over the last few years, and hasn't yet said where he's headed next.
Amazon's head of worldwide video, Greg Hart, is leaving to run product at Compass. Hart was at Amazon for more than two decades, and led everything from Prime Video to the team that built the Echo. Amazon famously doesn't lose its most senior execs — this is a big departure.
Amazon's VP of delivery experience, Maria Renz, is also reportedly leaving. She's been at the company since 1999, previously serving as Jeff Bezos's technical adviser. According to the Wall Street Journal, she is set to join SoFi.
Salesforce's U.K. CEO has quit after less than a year. Jayne-Anne Ghadia will remain as a strategic adviser, but will focus on her new fintech business, Snoop. Paul Smith, currently executive vice-president and general manager for Salesforce in the UK and Ireland, will take on her old role.
In Other News
- Today in coronavirus: So many things closed, so many things canceled. The CDC said testing will be free for all Americans. The Senate is staying in DC to work. Coronavirus maps are being used to spread malware. AT&T turned off its data caps since everyone's working from home; Comcast didn't. Quarantine playlists are a thing. Foxconn is back to work, but not all the way back. Coursera made thousands of courses free to colleges for online learning. Airbnb bookings are way down, but the company says it's still going public. A list of "coronavirus tips" from Stanford went viral — but it was a hoax. Speaking of hoaxes: The NY subway isn't shutting down. BT's CEO tested positive for the virus. Tesla employees in Germany are heading home to the U.S. ahead of the travel ban. Tech employees everywhere are being told to work from home. From Protocol: Telehealth companies are growing fast – but this isn't the way they wanted to. Stay safe out there, everybody.
- The ACLU sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, saying it's keeping too many secrets about the facial recognition program it uses in airports. The ACLU wants information on who DHS partners with, how the system is used, and more.
- Washington state lawmakers failed to pass a state-wide privacy law, after legislators couldn't decide whose job it would be to actually enforce the new law.
- The cool thing for search engines to do: self-driving cars. Alphabet has Waymo, and now Yandex has a plan to put a fleet of robo-taxis onto the roads in the next few years. It's been testing self-driving tech since 2017, and can start testing in the U.S. as soon as this year.
- Don't miss this story from The Verge about Dr Disrespect. He's got an amazing mustache, looks like the third lead from an '80s action movie, and has become one of the biggest stars on Twitch.
- Time to update your computer again! Microsoft released a patch on Thursday for a brand-new bug that can easily spread across networked computers. Microsoft said there was no evidence the flaw was being exploited, but still: better safe than sorry.
- Tesla sold some Model 3s in China that included older-generation computer chips, because of supply-chain issues, and people are mad. Now the Chinese government is demanding Tesla make it right, and quickly.
- Amazon is buying the old Lord & Taylor building in New York. The 11-story building will reportedly be Amazon's New York headquarters, and the company's paying $1.15 billion to secure it. Though most of that money is to pay off construction loans WeWork took out, back when it thought this would be the new WeWork HQ.
One More Thing
The Library of Alexandria, Minecraft edition
Social media and news sites are blocked in a number of countries. Minecraft? Blocked in fewer countries. And so an organization called Reporters Without Borders has built a giant, 12.5-million-block building called the Uncensored Library, and filled it with articles users couldn't otherwise read. Over a couple of months, the group created virtual books that contain stories from censored people and publications, organized by the country in which they've been blocked. As long as enough people keep playing Minecraft, Reporters Without Borders thinks the library can stay alive. Also, and this isn't the most important thing here, but: the library's gorgeous. Kudos to all those virtual construction workers.
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A quick end-of-week thanks to Jamie Condliffe, Source Code's editor, to Sofie Kodner and Shakeel Hashim, its producers, and to the whole Protocol team who makes it happen.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Monday.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated which organization promised free coronavirus testing for all Americans. It was the CDC, not the WHO. The article was updated March 13.