Jul 9, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

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1 big thing: AT&T wants HBO to be more like Netflix

Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

HBO was the prize horse in the stable of media properties AT&T acquired in its recent purchase of Time Warner. Now, according to audio leaked to the New York Times, AT&T wants its thoroughbred to run faster and harder, all in the name of making even more money.

Why it matters: For all the wrangling over the government's antitrust suit that tried to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger, it's still a big open question whether a buttoned-up telecom company can take the reins of a legendary content producer like HBO without squandering its cultural cachet.

What's happening now: According to NYT, AT&T's plan includes several steps...

Step one is dramatically increasing the amount of content the unit produces.

  • “We need hours a day,” John Stankey, the AT&T exec who now oversees HBO, told employees at a recent HBO town hall meeting. “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.”
  • While Netflix apparently wasn't mentioned by name, that's clearly the idea here. By the sound of the NYT quotes, far from taking a hands-off approach, AT&T thinks it can run HBO better than it has been.

Step two is generating significantly more revenue, in part through targeted advertising that benefits from all the information AT&T knows about its customers.

No sugar coating: Stankey made it clear that AT&T is planning lots of changes to HBO's way of doing things. “It’s going to be a tough year,” Stankey said to NYT. “It’s going to be a lot of work to alter and change direction a little bit.”

  • Considering HBO has spent decades becoming The New Yorker of TV content, it's got to be pretty galling to have the phone company come in and tell you how to run your business better on Day 1.

What they're saying:

  • Redef's Jason Hirschhorn: "HBO needs to scale quality. Plepler could put $2–3 billion more to work and succeed. But the HBO brand must still stand for quality. Remember, 'It's not TV, It's HBO.' Netflix went to High, Middle, Low. You know I love Netflix, but a Netflix Original does not mean the same thing."
  • Felix Salmon, responding to Hirschhorn: "In other words, HBO doesn’t scale. You could maybe double the amount of HBO that people watch, without sacrificing quality. But you can’t bring it up to anywhere near Netflix levels."

Our thought bubble: If AT&T is serious about cranking up both programming and revenue, it could decide to raise HBO's prices. That would prompt a chorus of "I told you so"s from the merger's antitrust critics.

Go deeper: Read the full story here.

2. Xiaomi's IPO lacks a pop

CEO Lei Jun hits a gong at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange as Xiaomi begins trading on Monday. Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

Not only did it price below what the company had hoped, but Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi's initial public offering also failed to produce a bounce in the first day of trading on the Hong Kong exchange Monday.

Buzz: Shares fell as much as 6% today, before recovering a bit to end down 1.2%. Founder Lei Jun's comments at the exchange suggest the company knows it's in for a rough ride. Per CNN, Lei said:

"Although the macroeconomic conditions are far from ideal, we believe a great company can still rise to the challenge and distinguish itself."

Our thought bubble: It's hardly a shocker that investors aren't totally sold. While Xiaomi has done well gaining market share in a brutally tough smartphone business, it has had uneven results outside of China. And, even gaining phone market share is really only the first part of the company's broader aim of being a profitable internet company.

Go deeper: Read Axios' Dan Primack's story here.

3. Why Silicon Valley is like the Soviet Union

There was an interesting Twitter thread last week on how Silicon Valley is a bit like the former Soviet Union. Robotics and computer vision engineer Anton Troynikov laid out a number of parallels, including the following:

  • Waiting years to receive a car you ordered, to find that it's of poor workmanship and quality.
  • Promises of colonizing the solar system while you toil in drudgery day in, day out.
  • Having five adults live in a two-room apartment.
  • Being told you are constructing utopia while the system crumbles around you.

Obviously, there are some noteworthy differences too, but the full thread is definitely worth a read.

4. Cautionary notes in Sonos IPO documents

First off, let me be clear. Every prospectus and annual report is filled with "risk factors" that sound ominous. That said, there are a couple of items in the Sonos IPO documents that bear some thought for would-be investors.

Of note:

  • Its reliance on Amazon:
Our current agreement with Amazon allows Amazon to disable the Alexa integration in our Sonos One and Sonos Beam products with limited notice. As such, it is possible that Amazon, which sells products that compete with ours, may on limited notice disable the integration, which would cause our Sonos One or Sonos Beam products to lose their voice-enabled functionality. Amazon could also begin charging us for this integration which would harm our operating results.
  • Reducing its signature feature on backward compatibility:
We have historically maintained, and we believe our customers have grown to expect, extensive backward compatibility for our older products and the software that supports them, allowing older products to continue to benefit from new software updates. We expect that in the near to intermediate term, this backward compatibility will no longer be practical or cost-effective, and we may decrease or discontinue service for our older products.

Go deeper: Wired's Lauren Goode has more on Sonos and its risk factors.

5. Quick Takes
6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Reuters is doing an on-stage interview with newly minted HPE CEO Antonio Neri at an event in San Francisco.

Trading Places

ICYMI

  • First Strava, now Polar Flow. The fitness app reportedly revealed highly sensitive data including the names and locations of military personnel, in some cases even when it was set to private, per ZDNet.
  • Timehop said Sunday that it was the victim of a network intrusion on July 4 and that some customer data was taken, including names, email addresses, and some phone numbers of 21 million customers.
  • Recode reports Groupon has been seeking a buyer.
7. After you Login

Nike is launching an athletic hijab for female Muslim athletes, becoming the first big brand to do so.

Ina Fried