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HBO Max’s big challenges

Donald Trump

Good morning! This Wednesday, HBO Max jumps into the streaming wars, a new level of presidential Twitter fights, and why today's rocket launch matters.

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People Are Talking

Palantir might be leaving California, CEO Alex Karp said (from a barn in New Hampshire):

  • "I'm pretty happy outside the monoculture … If I had to guess, I would guess something like Colorado. But we haven't decided."

Competing with Zoom would be crazy, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said, but maybe not for the reason you think:

  • "I don't think we'd get any additional revenue from that customer if they're using Slack and the calling service. I don't think it's especially, necessarily, more attractive. In fact, a version of Slack that integrates very deeply with Zoom or Meet or Teams or Cisco — that's attractive."

The Wall Street Journal dropped a blockbuster report saying Facebook has ignored solutions to the platform's divisiveness. Facebook's Guy Rosen took issue:

  • "What's undeniable is we've made significant changes to the way FB works to improve the integrity of our products. We fundamentally changed News Feed ranking to favor content from friends and family over public content even if this meant people would use our products less."

Joe Biden said Californians should vote down changes to AB 5:

  • "Now, gig economy giants are trying to gut the law and exempt their workers. It's unacceptable. I urge Californians to vote no on the initiative this November."

The Big Story

It's not TV. It's not HBO. It's HBO Max.

It still sounds weird to say, but AT&T is now a genuine content behemoth. There's really no company this side of Disney with a bigger library of great stuff to watch — or at least, that's what AT&T is betting billions of dollars on as it launches HBO Max today.

In a way, HBO Max is a combination of so many other services:

  • It's a little bit Disney+: AT&T is betting big on brands and series, whether it's Harry Potter or "South Park" or the long, long history of DC movies and shows. HBO shows are sort of its equivalent to Pixar: a library of beloved stuff that people watch over and over. Just with more sex and murder.
  • It's also a little bit Netflix: HBO Max wants to be all things to all people, with kids programming all the way up to the gory R-rated stuff. It has no point of view, really, other than "here's some good stuff to watch."
  • It's even a little bit Hulu: There will eventually be a cheaper, ad-supported version of HBO Max that puts it more in line with Hulu, and even Peacock.

The $15 a month service has a lot going for it — starting with 35 million HBO subscribers, most of whom will likely jump over to Max and get a much better service for the same price. (Remember when AT&T CEO John Stankey called it "an IQ test" whether people would switch?)

  • But The New York Times found that up to 20% of HBO customers are already considering quitting to save money, which means HBO Max may be competing with your wallet more than anything else.
  • Another big challenge: getting HBO Max onto all the streaming boxes, aggregators and dongles people use. The HBO situation is already messy, since you can subscribe on its own and use one app or through your cable provider and use another. Subscribe through Roku or Amazon? That's a whole other thing. Plus, if you have cable, you might get HBO Max for free — but you also might not.
  • In the long run, AT&T has indicated all these options will coalesce into HBO Max. But for now, it's a mess of logins and billing options and figuring out where to cancel and where to sign up. That could slow the pace of adoption, no matter a user's IQ.

It's all going to be a bit confusing, but I still wouldn't bet against HBO Max. It has the library, it has the marketing muscle, it has "Friends." What else do you need?


Picking a Twitter fight … with Twitter

Tuesday brought two tweetstorms from President Trump, prompting two very different reactions from Twitter.

The first: The president has been tweeting for a few weeks about an old incident in which a woman died in an accident in Joe Scarborough's office, back when he was in the House of Representatives.

  • Trump tweeted, among other things: "A blow to her head? Body found under his desk? Left Congress suddenly? Big topic of discussion in Florida...and, he's a Nut Job (with bad ratings). Keep digging, use forensic geniuses!"
  • Twitter's response? Nothing. Twitter insinuated it's making product changes to better deal with tweets like Trump's, but didn't say what.

The second was even messier: Trump said that mail-in ballots would ensure a "Rigged Election" that would include robbed mailboxes, forged ballots and more.

  • Twitter's response: A blue warning that now appears below the tweet saying "Get the facts about mail-in ballots." It leads to a page, curated by Twitter staff, with information about Trump's false claims and tweets to better information.
  • Shockingly, Trump didn't like it. "Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!" he tweeted yesterday, after accusing the company of interfering in the 2020 election.

Twitter has a special set of rules for world leaders, which gives them extra leeway but makes clear that even they aren't entirely above Twitter Law.

  • But what happens now that the platform's in a full-on war with its highest-profile user? This is uncharted territory.



Walmart Debuts Express Delivery

With many American families sheltering in place and relying heavily on online deliveries, Express Delivery will offer Walmart customers another no-contact shopping option – one that arrives in less than two hours.

Read more here.


Today's SpaceX launch is bigger than SpaceX

Today's Demo-2 launch at the Kennedy Space Center is huge for NASA and huge for SpaceX. (And huge for anyone who loves rocket launches. 4:33 p.m. EDT, folks, be there or be square.)

It's also huge for the countless other companies rooting for a huge, vibrant, lucrative space industry. That's what Dylan Taylor, the CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, told me:

  • "The stakes are super high," he said, "because if it weren't to go well, I think it would call into question everything about private enterprise, commercial crew, all of that stuff. I think it would be a real problem."
  • Taylor's company is acquiring a number of companies in the space industry, with plans to integrate them all into a player that can compete with Lockheed, Boeing, SpaceX and the other space giants. "There's plenty of business for everybody," he said. "This is about just opening up the frontier."

Space was pegged to be a trillion-dollar industry by 2040, according to a prediction made by Morgan Stanley last year. Some think it'll be higher.

  • "What's interesting," Taylor said, "is the returns in space are every bit as high as anything else, they're just more backloaded."
  • He said now is the perfect time to get into the space industry, as so much is being decided and worked out — but this business requires more patience than your average VC-backed startup.

In the long run, SpaceX is Voyager's competitor. For now, it's the canary in the coal mine hoping to prove that space isn't just a government enterprise. The rest of the industry is rooting for it.

Making Moves

Tom Pickett is the new CRO at DoorDash. Before joining the company in March he was the CEO of Ellation (the video company that oversaw Crunchyroll and Rooster Teeth), and before that he was a longtime content executive at YouTube.

Regina Dugan is joining Cruise as the board's first independent director. She's a veteran of futuristic tech, from Google ATAP to Facebook Building 8 and all the way back to DARPA.

Allison Johnson is leaving PayPal after an 18-month stint as the company's CMO. According to Business Insider, she's leaving as the company seeks to "reduce complexity, simplify our processes, and better align with our customers."

In Other News

  • Thanks to everyone who sent in future-of-work name ideas! I like a lot of them — "Blended Work," "Working in Place," "Location Agnostic Work Culture." My favorite came from Beverly, who suggested we call it MySpace. That brand's definitely due for a reboot. Anyway, keep the ideas coming, and thanks for sending them!
  • On Protocol: Big tech companies are suddenly lobbying on behalf of small businesses across America. Why? Because they need those businesses (and their money) more than you might think.
  • Amazon is considering buying Zoox, The Wall Street Journal reported, which would give Amazon a leg up in the self-driving world. What do you think hits the market first: drone delivery or self-driving delivery?
  • The House has a deal on an amendment to the Patriot Act that would force the FBI to get a warrant before studying browsing data if there was any possibility that the data it sought were tied to a U.S. person.
  • Google is planning to re-open its offices starting on July 6, but with only 10% of building capacity, rising to 30% by September.
  • Facebook renamed its Calibra digital-wallet product as Novi. The name is inspired by the Latin words "novus," meaning new, and "via," meaning way, and was intended to remove confusion between Libra and Calibra. It seems to also be a smart move to distance Facebook's (uncontroversial) digital wallet from its (very controversial) digital currency.
  • YouTube has been automatically deleting comments critical of China's communist party. Google told Bloomberg it was an error in its automated moderation systems.

One More Thing

Move over, Animal Crossing

Minecraft Dungeons couldn't have come at a better time. The new game, which dropped yesterday, feels like the perfect cure for continuing quarantine. (Trust me, don't go outside — I went out, I got sunburned, so it's back to video games I go.) The game's set in the world and aesthetic of Minecraft, but adds more fighting and strategy while still somehow feeling kid-friendly. Like Minecraft, it feels somehow very old and very new at the same time, and proves the idea that Minecraft is less a game and more of an endless virtual world. You're going to see it pop up on screens, Twitch streams and YouTube channels starting … now.



Walmart Launches a Service that Delivers in Less Than Two Hours

The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we knew it, and also changed how customers shop – that's why Walmart rolled out Express Delivery, a new service that leverages machine learning to deliver orders in under two hours.

Read more here.

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