Feb 26, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Are you sitting down? No really, it's bad for your posture to be standing hunched like that.

Today's login is 1,415 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech can't remember what to do in a down market

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Wall Street's two-day-old coronavirus crash ought to be a wake-up call for Silicon Valley.

The big picture: Tech has been booming for so long the industry barely remembers what a down market feels like — and most companies are ill-prepared for one, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Background: The tech industry's last real experience of financial adversity was a generation ago, when the dot-com bust leveled the tech sector.

  • The recession of 2001 hit Silicon Valley extra hard, while the Great Recession of 2007–2009 left it relatively unscathed.
  • "RIP Good Times," an infamous presentation by Sequoia Capital in 2008, tried to warn tech of a coming downturn that barely materialized — and the following decade turned into a unicorn-breeding, billionaire-minting, IPO-launching Gilded Age for the industry.
  • Today, most startups and many well-established firms are led and staffed by people who have no firsthand experience of the brutal logic of industry shrinkage.

Veterans of the dot-com collapse 20 years ago recall how it played out then.

Winners:

  • ROI (return on investment) and cash revenue: Companies that don't rely on borrowed money or equity financing are in a much better position to keep the lights on.
  • B2B (business-to-business): Services and products with other businesses as their customers tend to fare better than companies that serve consumer markets.
  • M&A (mergers and acquisitions): The lawyers and financiers who help growing companies buy out their competitors also make out like bandits in a downturn, when failing companies need to consolidate.

Losers:

  • Advertising and media: Marketing budgets are easy to cut fast, and media outfits dependent on those budgets feel the pain the fastest.
  • Employee activism: Layoffs spread fear among workers, job mobility and openings evaporate, companies feel less need to keep their employees happy — leaving workers without the security they need to speak out.
  • Diversity and inclusion efforts: While experts say a diverse workforce is good for the bottom line, recruiting and retention efforts require investments that often get pinched in lean times.
  • Idealistic mission statements: "Changing the world" gets swapped out very quickly for "Staying alive."

A coronavirus-triggered recession could affect tech in unexpected ways.

  • The industry is highly dependent on international collaboration, cross-border supply chains and global consumer demand, all of which are threatened by the prospect of a pandemic.
  • But a shelter-in-place mentality could prove a boon to videoconferencing, e-commerce, and other tech-driven trends that let lives go on with less direct human contact.

Yes, but: Two days of 3%+ losses in the market don't constitute a downturn, or even, in technical terms, a market "correction" (which is defined as a 10% drop).

  • Markets took a dive in late 2018 on recession fears, only to come roaring back.
  • Today's financial world is still awash in cash, which could provide a calming buffer. The venture capital world is still looking to invest huge amounts: Per Pitchbook, funds raised a record $88.3 billion and $75.5 billion in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

The bottom line: This week's precipitous drops remind everyone in tech that graph-lines don't always move up as they move to the right. The alarm might wake the Valley — but the industry could also just hit "snooze."

2. Bob Iger's stunning departure from Disney

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

In a move that shocked the media industry, Bob Iger said Tuesday he would step down from his role as CEO of the Walt Disney Company after leading the entertainment giant to unprecedented success during his 15-year run in the job, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Iger is credited with having led Disney through a series of risky but highly successful acquisitions that not only solidified the company's entertainment dominance, but also ultimately reshaped the entire media landscape.

Expand chart
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The big picture: Iger successfully turned around Disney’s animation and studio businesses — and led it through the strategic acquisition of Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.

  • Most recently, he was the person behind its foray into the streaming era through the creation of the company's Netflix rival, Disney+.

Iger, originally a weatherman turned ABC sports producer, also leaves a lasting sports legacy, having led ESPN through the cord-cutting era.

  • He is responsible for bringing ESPN to streaming, launching ESPN+ in April 2018. 
  • Today, it boasts more than 7 million subscribers, a feat for any subscription service, let alone one that focuses solely on sports. 

Be smart: Iger touched nearly every part of Disney over his tenure, and now says he's handing over the reins to an unexpected successor, naming longtime parks and resorts executive Bob Chapek as the next chief executive, effective immediately.

Yes, but: Iger isn't leaving the entertainment giant just yet, staying on as executive chairman through 2021. He said he would use that time to lead Disney's "creative endeavors" while helping Chapek transition into his former role.

The bottom line: The long transition means that Disney isn't planning a major business shakeup anytime soon, as Iger had been clear that he was working on a succession plan for some time and was supposed to retire at the end of 2021.

  • But Wall Street was still shaken by the news, bringing Disney's stock down nearly 5% after the announcement.
3. Consolidation arrives for streaming services

Big media companies, which already have their own paid video streaming services, are now rushing to add free, ad-supported options, sparking a flurry of M&A activity, Sara reported in this week's Media Trends newsletter.

The big picture: With the streaming wars in full gear, the key players are trying to bulk up, while those in a weaker position are looking to get out while the getting is good.

Expand chart
Data: Magid; Chart: Axios Visuals

Driving the news:

  • Comcast said Tuesday that it was buying Xumo.
  • Fox is reportedly in talks to pay on the order of $500 million for Tubi.
  • Walmart's pay-per-download service Vudu is also said to be in play, with ComcastNBC among the potential buyers.

Be smart: While Netflix remains the incumbent to beat in the subscription streaming wars, there's not yet a dominant player in the free, ad-supported streaming space, according to previously reported data from Magid Associates.

My thought bubble: I joked on Twitter that I was going to start a streaming service called Fomo, because some big media company would buy it.

4. Players' Tribune parent raises $40 million

Minute Media, a holding group that owns digital sports and entertainment websites like the Players' Tribune and the Big Lead, has raised $40 million in fresh funding, Sara reports. Sources tell Axios that the company is now valued at more than $500 million . It has raised $160 million to date.

Why it matters: Minute Media is hoping to expand its business by selling publishing software as a service, not just by monetizing content.

Details: The round is being led by Dawn Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm, with participation from existing investors.

  • The money will be used to make continued investments in Players' Tribune, the media upstart launched by Derek Jeter in 2014 and acquired by Minute Media last year, according to Minute Media CEO Asaf Peled.
  • It will also help fund further acquisitions and globally expand and improve its technology.
  • Minute Media has acquired four digital media companies in the last five quarters, mostly in the sports and entertainment space. It currently operates in 40 countries, and Peled says the company will continue to look at acquisitions outside of the U.S.

Between the lines: While many media companies are leaning into technology sales as a new revenue stream, Peled says that software services are a focal point of the company's business.

  • In the future, Peled hopes to have hundreds of publishers paying to use Minute Media's publishing software. For now, he says the company has dozens of clients, ranging from small digital companies to large newspapers, like USA Today.

What's next: Minute Media now owns seven digital media publications, including Mental Floss, the Big Lead and the most recently-acquired the Players' Tribune and FanSided. It hopes to grow this portfolio of brands internationally in sports and entertainment.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • RSA Conference continues in San Francisco.
  • The House Energy & Commerce's oversight panel hears from witnesses including StubHub's general counsel for a 10am hearing on transparency in the live event ticketing sector.

Trading Places

  • Salesforce said that co-CEO Keith Block is stepping down, with Marc Benioff assuming the lone CEO position. Gavin Patterson was named president of Salesforce's international operations.
  • Jason Droege is stepping down at UberEats.

ICYMI

  • The coronavirus could slow the launch of the next generation of iPhones, say former Apple employees and people with supply chain expertise. (Reuters)
  • Meanwhile, Facebook says it will ban ads that tout a cure for the coronavirus or aim to "create a sense of urgency" about the disease. (Business Insider)
  • The Pentagon released guidelines on how the military intends to use artificial intelligence in advanced weaponry. (Gizmodo)
  • Gmail's sorting filters are creating winners and losers among 2020 Democrats in terms of whose campaign messages end up in people's inboxes. (The Markup)
6. After you Login

Photo: Gif (I mean, Jif)

The Gif/Jif debate is one of the most tired and pointless arguments in tech, but the makers of Jif (the peanut butter pronounced the same way as the graphics format, in case you are wondering) have at least found a way to cash in. The company is selling specially marked Gif peanut butter on Amazon.

Ina Fried