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Today's Login is 1,080 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: First casualty in the streaming wars

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Sony is shutting down Playstation Vue — its digital live-television service — next January, the company said in a blog post. It's the first digital live TV package to shutter after a slew of such services launched over the past five years, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report.

Why it matters: Media companies and distribution networks are all trying to find new ways to package up content for streaming, but none of them has a magic formula. Increasingly, their over-the-top services resemble the cable bundles they sought to overtake.

Driving the news: Many companies have been struggling to grow live streaming TV services that were originally pitched as a cheap alternative to cable.

  • But as programming costs increased and as on-demand programming became more attractive, the economics behind these packages started to make less sense, and nearly all companies began raising the price for their live "skinny bundles."
  • Case-in-point: Nearly every skinny bundle has had to hike their prices this year. For some like AT&T, they've had to do so twice.

What's next: Most companies are now focusing on on-demand streaming, now that it's been made clear that the economics behind live TV streaming aren't very lucrative. A slew of such streaming services will launch in the next few months.

  • AT&T hosted a media day Tuesday for its latest digital streaming service, HBO Max, in which it revealed that the product would cost users $14.99 per month and will launch in May.
  • Apple unveiled several trailers for its AppleTV+ product Monday, many of which received lukewarm reviews. The tech giant is hoping that its big investments in content will help lure users to its hardware products, where it makes most of its cash.
  • Disney will debut its highly-anticipated streaming service Disney+ next week, after a series of announcements last week about its new plans.

Be smart: NBCUniversal's "Peacock" service is set to launch alongside these major streaming players, but unlike its competitors, Peacock will be offered at a lower price and will be ad-supported.

The big picture: Netflix used to own the on-demand streaming market. But increased competition has put lots of pressure on the company, and its investors have taken notice.

  • Netflix now needs to spend heavily on new, original content to replace classics like "Friends and "The Office" that it can no longer show. Its streaming competitors, like Disney, AT&T and NBCUniversal, are withdrawing the licenses.
  • That spending has forced it and its streaming competitors to take on lots of long-term debt.

The bottom line: The streaming wars were supposed to be a boon to consumer choice, but already the streaming landscape has gotten confusing and expensive enough to discourage the average consumer from building loyal relationships with many services. For some of these consumers, the outdated cable system might still prove a simpler and more attractive alternative.

Go deeper:

2. Facebook-owned WhatsApp sues NSO

Photo: Carsten Rehder/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Facebook filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against a controversial Israeli private surveillance contractor NSO Group for allegedly providing the tools that governments used to try to hack 1,400 mobile devices via WhatsApp, Axios' Joe Uchill reports.

The big picture: Intelligence groups and law enforcement agencies contract NSO to provide spyware that governments can use to surveil the cellphones of perceived threats. While the spyware is intended to track terrorists and criminals, in practice authoritarian regimes often use it to target activists, dissidents, journalists and opposition political figures.

Why it matters: NSO recently announced new processes to investigate human rights abuses, but critics believe misuse of the surveillance tool — as well as competitors' products in the space — will be difficult to curtail.

  • The move by Facebook and WhatsApp marks the first time that an entity with the power to take on disreputable foreign nations or the NSO itself has done so to prevent spyware misuse.

Facebook alleges that phishing messages harboring NSO's Pegasus surveillance tools were sent over WhatsApp 1,400 times. That, said Facebook, would be a violation of state and federal civil statutes, not to mention WhatsApp's terms of service.

  • Facebook filed the suit in a U.S. district court in San Francisco.

WhatsApp released a blog post explaining the reason for the lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon.

  • The chat app noted it had worked with the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab — a research group devoted to protecting civil society from nation-backed hackers — to investigate a major abuse of the platform discovered in May 2019.
  • The blog post and court documents allege NSO set up phony WhatsApp servers to breach phones in a way in ways that did not require users to answer NSO's calls.
  • At least 100 victims appear to have come from civil society, what WhatsApp calls "an unmistakable pattern of abuse."

According to John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at Citizen Lab, victims included (among others):

  • Prominent religious figures from multiple religions
  • Well-known journalists and TV personalities
  • Lawyers working on human rights

The other side: "In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today's allegations and will vigorously fight them," NSO said.

3. Samsung teases new foldable phone

Samsung's first foldable-screen smartphone may be something of a novelty, but the company demonstrated Tuesday that it plans to keep going until such devices are mainstream.

Why it matters: There's a lot of interest in foldable devices from hardware makers eager to shake up a sluggish smartphone market, but the early products have been pricey and delicate.

Among the concepts Samsung showed at its annual developer conference was a model that folds into a square, per CNET.

Yes, but: Samsung isn't alone in pursuing an open-and-shut approach to phones. Motorola has sent out invitations for an event next month where it is expected to offer a modern take on the RAZR flip phone, while Microsoft has previewed a mobile Android device coming next year that features a mini-laptop design with two screens.

4. Mario Kart Tour off to a blazing start

Courtesy: Nintendo

Nintendo took its time getting into mobile games, but it seems to know how to what it takes to make a hit. Its latest smartphone game, Mario Kart Tour, was downloaded more than 123 million times in its first month, per Sensor Tower.

Why it matters: That makes it the second most popular game after one month, trailing only Pokémon Go.

  • It's also generated $37.4 million in player spending since its worldwide release on Sept. 25, Sensor Tower reports.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Earnings reports include Apple, Facebook and Lyft.
  • Game 7 of the World Series.

Trading Places

  • OneLogin named marketing executive and writer Dayna Rothman as its new CMO. Rothman was previously vice president of marketing for D2iQ and is author of "Lead Generation for Dummies."

ICYMI

  • Chipmaker AMD reported earnings roughly in line with analyst expectations, with its highest quarterly sales in a decade. (Marketwatch)
  • GrubHub shares nose-dived after disappointing quarterly earnings and a bleak forecast. (CNN Business)
  • Facebook has agreed to pay British data authorities a fine of roughly $600,000 for privacy violations during the Cambridge Analytica scandal. (Reuters)
  • A new project crowdsources tracking satellites and other "space junk." (Axios)
6. After you Login
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