Jul 27, 2020

Axios Login

As you may have heard (and heard first if you were reading Axios this weekend), the Congressional hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google will now take place on Wednesday, after Monday's scheduled meeting was delayed to observe the memorial of Rep. John Lewis.

In the meantime, join Axios Media Trends author Sara Fischer at 12:30 pm ET Tuesday with Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), National Association of Women Business Owners CEO Jen Earle and owner of Inspired By Annette Design & Rentals Courtney Scipio for a conversation on the state of small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.

Today's Login is 1,636 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech giants' power, in four numbers
Data: FactSet; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The four Big Tech CEOs who will testify before Congress Wednesday command global empires with power and wealth that make them more like countries than companies, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

By the numbers: Here are four very large stats for Facebook, Apple, Google/Alphabet and Amazon that tell the story of their value, scale and influence.

$5 trillion: The four companies' (rough) combined market capitalization.

  • That number changes by the day, of course. Apple, with its premium consumer devices, and Google and Facebook, which depend on ad revenue, could be vulnerable to a long-lasting pandemic-driven downturn.
  • But for the time being, they constitute four of the top five most valuable American companies to trade on public markets. (The other one, which is also often considered a member of the Big Tech club, is Microsoft.)
  • Five years ago, the other six companies that today fill out the top 10 were worth about 90% of the combined market cap of the big four. Now, they're worth about 75% as much. Even as the market and its most valuable firms have risen dramatically in value, the big four have risen more.

$773 billion: the four companies' combined annual revenue at last count. Broken out by company, they made the following in fiscal 2019 (also calendar 2019 for all but Apple, whose fiscal year starts with the fourth calendar quarter):

  • Facebook: $70.7 billion, in the same ballpark as Venezuela's gross domestic product.
  • Alphabet: $161.9 billion, a bit north of Ukraine's GDP.
  • Apple: $260.2 billion, close to Vietnam's GDP.
  • Amazon: $280.5 billion, around Pakistan's GDP.

Together, revenue for all four adds up to roughly the GDP of Saudi Arabia.

$420 billion: the combined total cash pile of the four firms (per data from FactSet, from when they last reported earnings). That breaks down to about:

  • $49.6 billion for Amazon
  • $60.3 billion for Facebook
  • $117.2 billion for Alphabet
  • $192.8 billion for Apple

Those fat cash hoards give them the flexibility to make ambitious internal investments, the freedom to buy up potential competitors, the option to juice shareholder value through stock buybacks, and cushioning to weather crises.

4.6 billion: Humans on Earth who are connected to the internet (according to one recent estimate). These companies all aim to connect anyone who can get online to goods, services and other people. Their scale is limited only by how many people they can reach.

  • The world isn't all open to them, of course. Facebook and Google aren't in China, home to the largest population of internet users in the world. Amazon only operates its core e-commerce platform in certain countries (and has stumbled in efforts to crack into some key markets, including China). And Apple's high-end devices are out of reach for billions of people.

Despite those limits, these companies are operating at a scale that no previous industry has achieved.

  • Google crossed the 2 billion user mark for its G Suite of products (which includes Gmail along with productivity apps like Google Docs) earlier this year. The company's YouTube notched 2 billion monthly active users last year.
  • Facebook had 2.6 billion monthly active users as of Q1 this year.
  • By the end of last year, Apple had 1.5 billion devices in active use by people around the world.
  • Amazon doesn't publicly state how many people have accounts, but CEO Jeff Bezos did reveal in 2018 that the company had passed 100 million Prime customers in the U.S.

Our thought bubble: The big four companies shape people's lives — what goods they can obtain, what media they're exposed to, how they connect with friends and family, how they understand the world. That's a stunning amount of power to entrust to a handful of companies run by a handful of men.

2. Microsoft gives fans a way to be in NBA arenas when they can't

Image: NBA

The NBA announced Friday that it will use Microsoft Teams to let some fans virtually attend basketball games and interact with their fellow fans. The league is using Microsoft's new "together mode," which it debuted earlier this month.

Why it matters: Leagues are looking for ways to bring fans into the game experience even if they can't actually be there in person.

How it works:

  • Courts in Orlando will be outfitted with 17-foot-tall LED screens that wrap around the arena, allowing hundreds of fans to participate digitally.
  • Fans taking part will be chosen by each team and use Microsoft Teams to watch the game and interact with their fellow fans. They'll be both seen and heard in the TV broadcasts.
  • There will also be sections for players' families.
  • The NBA plans to incorporate this format into each game.

In addition, the NBA is offering up new camera angles for TV viewers to try to make the at-home experience better than it has been in the past.

  • The NBA says games in Orlando will feature up to 31 cameras (mostly robotically controlled).
  • Among the new angles are a courtside camera that simulates being about 10 rows back in the stadium, a "below the rim" cam capturing action close to the basket and a "rail cam" capturing the action all along the baseline.

The big picture: Different teams, leagues and television networks are doing different things to deal with empty stadiums. Some baseball teams are including cardboard cutouts of fans, while others are leaving their seats empty. Fox has experimented with digitized virtual crowds.

3. People-counting startup finds a pandemic niche

A startup that provides anonymous people-counting software for companies has seen business boom during the pandemic, Bryan Walsh reports in his Axios Future newsletter.

Why it matters: As everything from offices to restaurants begins to reopen, employers will need to closely monitor capacity to prevent dangerous crowding. Smart apps can help manage the numbers and minimize outbreak risk.

What's happening: Density says it has recorded more revenue over the past 75 days than in all of 2019.

  • The company says it can provide with 99% accuracy a running count of the number of people entering or exiting a physical space — without using cameras, which helps shield employee and customer privacy.

Background: Density was "born out of laziness," says Aleks Strub, the company's chief marketing officer.

  • A group of entrepreneurs in Syracuse wanted a way to easily tell whether their favorite coffee shop was crowded or not. They eventually developed proprietary depth sensors, roughly the size and shape of a showerhead, that could keep count of people.
  • The initial use case was building optimization, says Strub. With as much as 40% of workplace real estate going unused in normal times, Density could help owners get the most out of their physical space by tracking who was using what and when.

When COVID-19 hit, however, Density "pivoted to become a safety company," says Strub.

  • A couple of months ago the company introduced a feature called Safe, which provides visual feedback that lets employees and customers know it is safe to enter a space when the number of people occupying it is below a set limit per square foot.
  • The service can also send out alerts for when a conference room or other indoor space needs to be cleaned by tracking how many people have occupied it for a certain amount of time.

The bottom line: With bars, restaurants and offices only being allowed to reopen at reduced capacity, businesses will need scalable technological solutions to ensure they're following the rules.

4. Congestion, carpools and COVID-19

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A cash rewards app that encourages people to use cleaner forms of transportation might also help coax virus-leery commuters back into shared rides, buses and trains, as Joann Muller reports in Axios Navigate.

The big picture: Since the coronavirus pandemic, most people surveyed say they'd feel safer driving their personal car to work, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises workers to avoid mass transit if possible. But cities can't return to normal without safe, affordable public transportation.

Hytch, the commuter mobile app, found a second use for its technology during the pandemic: tracking COVID-19 infections.

How it works: Hytch partners with employers, brands and governments to provide cash rewards to commuters who choose low-emission forms of transport such as public transit, carpooling, cycling or walking.

  • After a two-year pilot in Nashville, 10,000 Hytch users logged 11.8 million vehicle miles in the city and earned $250,000 in rewards.
  • More important were the vehicle miles not driven in personal cars (7.58 million) and the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips not taken (more than 420,000).
  • That data, released Thursday, is being shared with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is studying car-sharing incentives, Hytch CEO Mark Cleveland said.
  • Seattle and San Francisco are adopting similar programs, while South Bend, Indiana, is using Hytch's carpooling incentives to support workers with limited transportation options.

What's next: Now Hytch is partnering with companies to pay employees for using the app to self-screen before they commute to work, and for contract tracing in the event of an outbreak.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • As we told you above, the big four CEOs' testimony before Congress is happening Wednesday instead of Monday. But it's far from the only thing happening this week.
  • Facebook bumped its earnings report to Thursday from Wednesday due to the hearing, in a busy week for earnings. Other reports include eBay, NXP Semiconductors and AMD on Tuesday, with Qualcomm, Spotify, Samsung and PayPal on Wednesday. Apple, Google and Amazon all join Facebook in reporting Thursday, as does Electronic Arts, while Pinterest reports Friday.

Trading Places

  • Lyft has hired Nicole Cooper as head of healthcare policy. Cooper was previously VP of social responsibility for UnitedHealthcare.
  • Gus Coldebella, former chief legal officer of Circle and ex-acting general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security at the end of the Bush Administration, has joined crypto-focused VC firm Paradigm as its general counsel.


6. After you Login

The annual Comic-Con in San Diego may not be taking place in person, but that didn't stop the L.A. Times from getting some amazing photos of some of the loyal attendees' cosplay, along with a brilliant headline: "Comic-Con 2020: All dressed up and nowhere to go."