Jul 1, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

The good news is we made it to July. The bad news, it's still 2020, so who knows what plagues await us. I just want to take this moment to say how much I appreciate your readership, you know, before the radioactive killer sharktopuses grow legs and attack us.

Today's Login is 1,268 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Streaming price hikes limit key advantage over cable

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

YouTube TV and ESPN+ both raised their prices Tuesday, a somewhat surprising move given both packages rely on live sports rights to entertain consumers, and the pandemic has shut down live sports, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Streaming services and so-called skinny bundles promised to provide a cheaper alternative to the old cable television package. These price hikes suggest that price advantage won't hold over time.

Driving the news: YouTube TV is raising its prices by $15 monthly, bringing its total monthly price to $65. That's nearly double what the service cost when it initially rolled out in 2017 for $35 monthly, and nearly on-par with what a cheap cable bill could cost, depending on the provider.

  • YouTube blamed the price increases on adding new channels to its lineup, like PBS and Discovery Network properties, including HGTV and Food Network.
  • Recognizing that the steep increase may be a problem for consumers, especially as many of them are suffering financially from the coronavirus pandemic, YouTube parent Google said in a statement that "we understand that some of you may choose to pause or cancel your membership."

By the numbers: Google said in February that YouTube TV had 2 million subscribers. By comparison, Comcast — the biggest cable provider in the U.S. — has around 20 million cable subscribers.

ESPN+, the live streaming service that includes some live sports as well as documentaries and sports commentary, is also reportedly increasing its prices by $1 from $4.99 monthly to $5.99 monthly.

  • The price hikes won't apply to existing monthly subscribers or users who bought the ESPN+ full-year plan upfront, but they will apply to new month-by-month subscribers beginning in August.
  • While ESPN+ doesn't offer subscribers all of the same access to the marquee sports games they get on ESPN cable channels, it does market live programming, including some exclusive live rights, as a big part of its value proposition. But many live sports are going to remain cancelled come August.

The big picture: Every few months, one of the major streaming services lifts its prices, forcing all of its competitors to follow suit.

  • Before consumers even realize what has happened, they're paying double for the same service they signed up for a few years ago, with a few more programs added to it.
  • The services blame the price hikes on program additions or increased programming costs, and most consumers are left to decide whether it's worth it to keep the service or move on.

Be smart: Data shows that streaming television, because of programming and pricing inconsistency, is not likely to make up the revenue the TV industry loses as cable television declines unless it consolidates. The pay-TV world has always done so, with four big cable players, Comcast, Charter, Dish and AT&T, dominating.

The bottom line: As the streaming television industry evolves, it's matching the trajectory of the bloated cable industry that it's trying to replace. That means consumers shouldn't expect much of a break on their television costs.

2. Google buys smart glasses firm North

Courtesy: North

Google formally announced on Tuesday that it is buying North, the Canadian smart glasses firm — a deal that had been reported last week to be in the works.

Why it matters: The move shows that Google, one of the earliest to explore high-tech eyewear, remains interested in the category.

  • Along with the acquisition, North said it was cancelling plans for its next generation of glasses. "We are winding down Focals 1.0 and we will not be shipping Focals 2.0, but we hope you will continue the journey with us as we start this next chapter," North's founders said in a blog post.

Between the lines: Augmented reality glasses are seen as the next big thing in mobile devices — but they're also still a couple of years from being ready for prime time due to high costs, poor battery life and bulk. Those factors have made it tough for North and other startups in the field.

  • Magic Leap has had its highly publicized troubles, while another pioneer — Osterhout Design Group — folded last year.

For the big companies, though, AR remains an area of keen interest.

Separately: Google has begun public testing of "Nearby Share," an AirDrop competitor that is coming to Android devices.

3. Discord CEO on new funding, Charlottesville

Discord raised $100 million on Tuesday from venture capitalists at a $3.5 billion valuation, reflecting how far the popular gaming chat app has come since being used as an organizing tool for white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In an interview for the "Axios Re:Cap" podcast, co-founder and CEO Jason Citron talked about the company's pivot, user safety and what comes next.

Why it matters: Discord has emerged as a popular mainstream chat forum for groups ranging from gamers to teachers, though it still flies under the radar for much of the public.

Context: Discord started as a way for gamers to talk to one another. "We play a ton of video games ourselves and realized that there was an opportunity to build a better way to talk before, during, and after playing games with our friends," Citron said.

Following the 2017 Charlottesville rally, Discord implemented new restrictions on what types of speech it would allow.

  • "We spent a lot of time thinking through, in a short window, how to approach privacy versus safety and where to draw those lines," Citron said. "And ultimately we made a call that resulted in us booting off a number of alt-right groups and servers a couple of years ago."

What's next: As for whether Discord plans to go public, Citron demurred.

  • "It's my goal to make sure that Discord is an enduring business and that we are here for years to come," Citron said. "Whether that means we go public I can't comment on at this time."

Go deeper: Click here to listen to the full interview.

4. Samsung won't attend IFA consumer electronics event

Samsung said Tuesday that it won't participate in the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin this September, but will instead host a digital event early in the month. The move could put further pressure on the show's organizers, who were already planning a scaled-back event amid the pandemic.

Why it matters: The organizers behind some major tech conferences, including IFA and CES, are hoping to move forward with in-person events, but could face resistance from key constituencies given the persistence of COVID-19.

The Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES, has said it also wants to move forward with an in-person event in January, though its announcement was met with skepticism from journalists and analysts who regularly attend the event.

Our thought bubble: Announcing that a conference will move forward doesn't mean it will. Mobile World Congress had hoped to proceed this past February despite COVID-19, but was forced to cancel as key exhibitors pulled out.

4. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Netflix has hired former Apple and Uber marketer Bozoma Saint John as chief marketing officer.

ICYMI

5. After you Login

Some heroes do wear capes.

Ina Fried