March 3, 2021

Snippet: What Did It Cost? Everything ☍

Karl Bode for The Verge:

Last week, AT&T announced it would be spinning off its TV business — including DirecTV, AT&T TV, and U-verse — in a deal it claimed would greatly benefit the company’s customers, employees, and shareholders. The deal provides AT&T with a $7.8 billion cash infusion to pay down debt and recent wireless spectrum purchases, and a 70 percent stake in the “new” DirecTV. But it also values the entire operation at around $16.25 billion, a massive loss from the $67 billion AT&T paid just a few years earlier for just DirecTV alone. […]

The end result of AT&T’s ambition wasn’t entirely fruitless: HBO Max, the latest in a long line of attempted streaming TV brand refreshes, could still challenge other rising streaming services like Disney Plus or Comcast’s Peacock. But however successful HBO Max winds up being, it’s a product that shouldn’t have cost $200 billion and 55,000 jobs to create.

After last week’s news, I was thinking about some of the things AT&T has had happen in the past 20ish years, and it seems it’s a cycle of bad decisions mixed with debt and little innovation. While the current company is mostly the former SBC under the surface (SBC bought and took the AT&T name in 2005), the idea of loading up the debt and not properly reading trends is nothing new. They overpaid for DirecTV when it was already headed towards a decline, squandered DirecTV Now with price hikes and bugginess years later, and even made mistakes in wireless. Trying to buy T-Mobile in 2011 failed and they had to pay a breakup fee, which arguably gave T-Mobile a kickstart to overtake Sprint, then buy Sprint, and now overtake AT&T in customers.

While ancient history, the pre-SBC AT&T wasn’t much better. After buying a few regional cable systems, they were the largest cable provider in the United States. Panicking to pay down debt, the entire operation of “AT&T Broadband” was spun off and later sold to a much-smaller Comcast, which helped create the Comcast we know today. Another spun-off division, AT&T Wireless, was known to have poor service in many areas and the newly-mandated number portability was the final nail in its coffin. The division was sold to rival Cingular Wireless and mostly dismantled. The AT&T name was brought back to replace Cingular a few years later due to both of Cingular’s owners merging.

I often think about what would have happened if something went differently. T-Mobile and Comcast would not have become as large as they are, Cingular and Sprint would still exist, and NBCUniversal and Time Warner would have different owners.

HBO Max being successful is a good thing, but I can’t help but wonder if it was worth it.

February 24, 2021

Snippet: Fry’s Electronics is Closing Permanently ☍

The message this morning on the Fry’s Electronics site:

After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.

The Company ceased regular operations and began the wind-down process on February 24, 2021. It is hoped that undertaking the wind-down through this orderly process will reduce costs, avoid additional liabilities, minimize the impact on our customers, vendors, landlords and associates, and maximize the value of the Company’s assets for its creditors and other stakeholders.

I can’t say I’m surprised—Fry’s has felt like a shell of itself for at least the past five years. I was lucky enough to have one reasonably close to me (both during college and after) and it always felt like a geeky destination as opposed to a Best Buy/Circuit City competitor. Not pivoting well to online sales and some mismanagement sank the company long before the pandemic hit, but that does give them an out. Nonetheless, like many around the web today, I’ll be thinking of the good times of a store that seemed to sell everything tech-related.

February 19, 2021

Snippet: The Case for the Apple TV ☍

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of “what’s the point of the Apple TV?” conversations online, as many feel the box is outdated, expensive, and unnecessary with AirPlay and Apple TV+ on most smart TVs and Rokus. John Gruber linked a report about smart TVs by Geoffrey Fowler:

I set up each smart TV as most people do: by tapping “OK” with the remote to each on-screen prompt. Then using software from Princeton University called the IoT Inspector, I watched how each model transmitted data. Lots went flying from streaming apps and their advertising partners. But even when I switched to a live broadcast signal, I could see each TV sending out reports as often as once per second.

Related, he also linked to a report by Mozilla about the default privacy settings on Roku boxes:

Roku is the nosey, gossipy neighbor of connected devices. They track just about everything! And then they share that data with way too many people. According to Roku’s privacy policy, they share your personal data with advertisers to show you targeted ads and create profiles about you over time and across different services and devices. Roku also gives advertisers detailed data about your interactions with advertisements, your demographic data, and audience segment. Roku shares viewing data with measurement providers who may target you with ads. Roku may share your personal information with third parties for their own marketing purposes. One of the researchers working on this guide said, “It had such a scary privacy policy, I didn’t even connect it to my TV.” Another researcher referred to Roku as a “privacy nightmare.”

And this is why I’m Team Apple TV™ even if it is outdated and expensive.

Snippet: Then Go Make Your Own Phone ☍

Samuel Axon for Ars Technica:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees close to him, “we need to inflict pain” on Apple for comments by Apple CEO Tim Cook that Zuckerberg described as “extremely glib.”

This and other insights into an ongoing rift between the two companies appeared in a report in The Wall Street Journal this weekend. The article indicates that based on first-hand reports, Zuckerberg has taken Cook and Apple’s public criticisms of Facebook’s privacy policies, whether direct or indirect, as personal affronts.[…]

The disputes reached new prominence last year, when Apple announced plans to require that iOS apps ask users for permission to track them with IDFA (ID For Advertisers) tags across apps and websites. The change in policy is already reflected in Apple’s terms of service for app developers but will not be enforced until early spring, after the release of iOS 14.5.

Facebook, whose business model and competitive advantage rely on this kind of tracking, responded by telling investors to expect falling revenues—and by running full-page newspaper ads declaring that the change would hurt small businesses.

If the business model for Facebook relies on being creepy, maybe they should’ve found something else so that Apple doing the bare minimum for people not to be tracked doesn’t upend their entire business. At this point, Facebook has proven time and time again that it will take the creepiest way out, has caused the spread of misinformation, and is playing the victim role, despite the fact that they can still extensively track you while doing Facebook-related activities inside their apps.

February 12, 2021

Snippet: A Stupid Show ☍

Bob Lefsetz:

And I can’t give “Ted Lasso” a ringing endorsement, I can’t say it’s a must-see, but I will tell you once you watch about an episode and a half, you’ll finish it. Because you’ll like the mood, you’ll like the respite from the real world, and ultimately…things don’t always play out the way you expect them to, which is a relief.

So Apple TV+ has a hit. It’s a sleeper, it’s taken time to grow, but that’s how almost everything is these days, a work of art must percolate in the marketplace before it gets traction. As for marketing? If marketing were truly king, most movies released would be a success, when this is patently untrue.

There were so many thoughts to pull from this post and this feels like a bit of a spoiler, but it’s well worth a read. It covers not just Ted Lasso, but Apple TV+, streaming expectations, and the change in the way we consume media.