Tag: Google

How Google’s Antitrust Case Explain Quibi’s Demise – Most Important Story of the Week – 23 Oct 20

Honestly, it’s either feast or famine with news in entertainment. Some weeks, I look at all the stories and can’t figure out what is the most important. Then other weeks, I have a plethora to choose from. This week fell on the “plethora” end of the spectrum.

Two stories led the pack. Quibi raised and lost $2 billion dollars. So that’s a big story. Yet, splitting up Google could have tens of billions of market moving ramifications. How do I pick when Quibi is so juicy, but Google is so important? Why, by combining the two! 

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Most Important Story of the Week  – Google’s Antitrust Lawsuit and Quibi’s Demise

The background, in case you didn’t hear: 

– The Department of Justice under Bill Barr filed a lawsuit with 12 state attorney’s general arguing that Google is an uncompetitive monopoly in search. This lawsuit makes lots of similar arguments to the Microsoft case of the 1990s about using their power to exclude competitors. 

– Quibi is exploring options to shut down, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

So how does the former relate to the latter?

To explain that, consider a thought experiment. Imagine that along the way, Jeffrey Katzenberg pitched Susan Wojcicki (the head of Youtube) the plan for Quibi. And she loved it. (Hypothetically.) She replies, “Jeff, don’t launch Quibi as a standalone service, we’ll buy it! And you run it as a standalone venture.” Then assume they keep everything else the same. The same budgets. The same product. The same everything.

Would Quibi still be around? 

Yes!!!

And the explanation is fairly simple: Google can afford $2 billion in losses over three years. In fact, Google can afford to lose $2 billion dollars every year on one business. And maybe more. 

My favorite example to show this is the money pit that is Youtube TV. When it launched, Youtube TV cost $35 per month. After adding some more channels, it bumped up its price to nearly $60. And that’s every month. For nearly 2 million subscribers. The thing is Youtube was likely losing money every month on Youtube TV, and potentially still is losing money every month on that service.If Google is losing $20 per subscriber per month, then they could easily be losing half a billion dollars per year. If not more. 

In other words, Google will easily lose billions on a speculative streaming venture.

This gets to the realization I’ve had debating the streaming wars over the last year or so. And it started with Apple TV+. Essentially, I’d find myself talking past folks when we discussed our opinions on Apple TV+. I’d say that I thought the lack of a library, lack of ownership in original content and unclear pricing were strategically bad decisions. Then folks would counter that it didn’t matter because Apple could afford the losses. The same arguments are made for Amazon and Google in a number of businesses as well.

But these are two different arguments. One is about the quality of the strategy. One is about the access to resources. These two questions help frame the streaming wars. And they are two questions we should ask about every major player (from both entertainment and technology) in the streaming wars:

  1. Does a streamer have a good business strategy?
  2. Does the parent company have immense resources to allow deficit financing?

For example, I’d say that Apple TV+ has a bad strategy overall, but they have a parent company that can shield those losses. And while Prime Video has eventually clawed its way into second or third place in the US streaming rankings, it likely has lost lots of money in the process. But who cares because Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man.

We could go on, or I could make a quad chart to give you my take on this equation:

Screen Shot 2020-10-23 at 9.00.56 AM

For Quibi, a questionable strategy meant they ran out of business. For Apple TV+, who has arguably the same bad strategy (if not even more cash burn), it doesn’t matter because they can burn cash unlimitedly. Disney likely can’t afford perpetual losses. Netflix is the only firm in the middle because it’s strategy clearly worked, but it also lost tons of money. It also needs to make some money, because it doesn’t have a wealthy parent, yet some would argue the equity markets do that for them.

The lesson here is really for practitioners. The business leaders out there. Draw lessons from those with good strategy, not those who have cash resources you may or may not have the ability to match. Good strategy is still good strategy. (What is good strategy? Books are written on it, but for me it’s a product that matches the needs of a targeted customer segment that creates value over the long term, by leveraging a competitive advantage.)

Society could also take some lessons from this. The market should pick winners or losers because they have good strategies. Because that means companies are creating value. When external factors support money losing enterprises, it’s usually because they are trying to acquire monopoly power, which is bad for innovation and customers.

These are trends that Quibi tried to fight against, but ultimately failed. Too many folks are spending too much in ways that don’t require earning money for it to have a fighting chance. Whether or not Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman should have seen that coming is an open question. And likely their business model was flawed, as I’ve written about before. But the reason they went bankrupt, ultimately, is because they didn’t have a parent company support massive losses. 

This is the power of Big Tech and while the current antitrust lawsuit isn’t about this price gouging specifically, it’s still about the power of Big Tech. 

Additional Google Antitrust Thoughts

– Does this impact M&A by Big Tech? Especially when it comes to big tech snatching up smaller entertainment companies? I constantly read that Amazon should buy Viacom-CBS. Heck, just last week I wondered why Netflix doesn’t buy Sony, since they license all their shows. A source said he’s heard a lot of rumors that Netflix wants to buy Viacom-CBS. All of a sudden, mergers for vertical integration purposes look a lot dicier.

– What about entertainment mergers? That’s a good question. The ire of antitrust litigators will likely stay focused on Big Tech for the foreseeable future. If the DoJ casts their eye of Sauron around, though, Comcast and AT&T are the next in the crosshairs, given their mutual penchant for mergers, the local and national monopolies and vertical consolidation.

– Is this bad for Youtube? Potentially. One of the easy remedies for the government to insist on is that Google divest Youtube to diversify the advertising market. Given that Youtube makes almost as much money as Netflix each year in revenues, this is a reasonable request. However, the current case makes no mention of breaking up big tech, and neither did the Cicilline report. 

– What about price gouging/predatory pricing in entertainment? This is much more of a stretch, but a potential spinoff branch of antitrust. In other words, under scrutiny, the DoJ could say, “Hey, if you run a video service as part of a vertically integrated firm, you can’t lose money simply to gain market share.” This is the least likely outcome of these questions, but if it were enacted it would have the largest ramifications on streaming video of any other decision.

(I had more thoughts on Quibi too that will be up at a different outlet later.)

Data of the Week – What Happened to HBO’s 88 million International Subscribers?

When I spent weeks trying to figure out how much money Game of Thrones made for HBO, it required understanding HBO’s subscriber totals. Unfortunately, Warner Bros (now Warner Media) never made it easy. Before 2011 they didn’t report anything, so I had to rely on news sources. When AT&T acquired Warner Media, it stopped reporting HBO subscribers at all. Meanwhile, they combined Cinemax and HBO subscribers in the same total, even though most Cinemax subscribers were subscribed to both. To top it off, Warner never actually broke out subscribers in a table, you had to search the narrative to find the totals.

Last earnings report, AT&T decided to bring back HBO subscriber totals. So I updated my long term tracker. But AT&T decided to only report domestic/United States subscribers. Huh. Then in the latest earnings report, they added international subscribers, but claimed it was only 21 million. Double huh. So here’s my updated chart for HBO subscribers:

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 9.11.17 PM

What happened to the 94 million at peak and 88 million as of 2017? And how high did it get in 2019 as Game of Thrones debuted?

I’ve reached out to HBO for comment, and will let you know if they reply.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story

Netflix’s Earnings Report

If you want my initial thoughts, here’s the Twitter thread:

Reflecting on it, I’m surprisingly sanguine about Netflix’s earnings. I thought the content was more of a drag than it ended up being. For example, the films did pretty well with three besting the 70 million households watched by 2 minutes viewed total (55 million at 70% completion by my translation). Here’s a chart:

IMAGE 3 NFLX Viewership

Caveats abound, as I like to say. First, the challenge is that the shift from 2019’s 70% completion to 2020’s 2 minutes viewed just crushes the narrative. As Netflix has said, this conversion usually means a show gains about 35% more viewers. That’s a lot. And if you took all the Netflix shows down to the 70% threshold, the numbers look less impressive.

Second, the weakness may have been in television more than anything else. Really, Netflix’s top three series are Stranger Things, The Witcher and Money Heist (La Casa de Papel), in that order. And the last of those does very poorly in the United States. Given that binge-worthy TV series drive time on Netflix, not having one of those really does hurt Netflix, and that’s why they likely missed subscriber targets in Q3. 

The End of the Fast and the Furious

All things must come to an end, but even Universal’s biggest money maker of the last decade? As others said, we’ll see if Universal can hold to this promise.

A New Contender for “Next Game of Thrones”

The big question for 2022? Which series will be the “next Game of Thrones”, as I wrote about here. More than anything, every streamer is trying to mimic the success of HBO, even though it’s not clear to me audiences are clamoring for more fantasy series. (Contrary point? The Witcher did great numbers for Netflix.)

The news is that Disney+ is adapting 1988’s Willow into a TV series. This series immediately has more importance than many Netflix’ series. Mainly because Disney+ needs quarterly hits to drive subscribers and this is in “white space” that isn’t Marvel or Star Wars. (Netflix has tons of TV shows to bank on.) Plus, it could appeal to adults. Also, full disclosure: I loved Willow as a kid but haven’t rewatched on Disney+, so guess I’m doing that this weekend.

Charlie Brown Heads to Apple TV+

Well, how about that for a licensed content acquisition? All my hatred on not having a library, and then Apple grabs the Charlie Brown holiday specials, which are a tradition in many homes, exclusively for their service. 

I love this move for Apple. (Caveat: price is everything, and I don’t know the terms.) For a service that needs growth, this is a great move. Honestly, I think it will drive more subscriber acquisition than Borat or Coming to America 2 for Amazon Prime Video.

Most Important Story of the Week – 2 Oct 20: Google’s New Chromecast (And Netflix Offer)

This week my head has been deep in the data of the streaming wars for my latest article for Decider. I reviewed multiple different data sources to sort through the content of the last two months. Go read that article if you haven’t yet to know who won September!

Overall, the political news of the week overshadowed major entertainment stories. But one story has intriguing long term implications.

(As always, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter, which goes out every two weeks. It’s the best way to make sure you don’t miss my writing.)

Most Important Story of the Week – Google’s New Chromecast (and Netflix Offer)

Google’s first Chromecast is probably underrated for its role in the streaming TV revolution. Instead of needing a fancy new box or “smart” TV, you could plug in a small device into the back of your television and stream Netflix to your living room TV. Even if a majority of cordcutters opted for a better solution long term (usually a Roku), I think Chromecast was the hook folks used to sample streaming on TV. (It was also cheap.) 

It’s been rumored that Google was working on a next generation Chromecast or TV device/operating system, and this week we got the announcement. Here are the key details, with the caveat that I haven’t actually used the new device, and am going off reporting on the announcement:

– Google TV is the interface built into the new Chromecast.
– At launch, HBO Max, Disney+, Netflix and Youtube TV are available, with Peacock coming soon.
– The ability to search for content is the pitched differentiator of this service.
– They are bundling the service with a Netflix subscription for one year.
– You will still need to watch content in the streaming applications themselves, like with Apple or Amazon. But the new Google TV app puts all the content in one place.

So what do we make of this? A few things. Here are my hot takes and some others.

Devices Are Key…

Thanks, Captain Obvious. 

In TV, someone is always going to be the rent seeker, placing themselves between customers and content. Previously, it was cable providers. But now Roku, Google, Amazon and Apple are playing that role. Hence why Peacock and HBO Max are still fighting to get on Amazon at terms they can agree to.

To truly grab the attractive profits, these device makers are desperately trying to control the user experience. They’ve all started with similar/identical abilities to search for content and have it all aggregated on the home page. While they tout it as revolutionary–Google pitching search–it’s still mostly the ability to search content from a variety of channels/apps in one place.

..but the True “Aggreggedon Scenario” Hasn’t Happened Yet

That’s the scenario where you watch The Mandalorian in Google TV and then Stranger Things autoplays right after without the user needing to leave Google TV. Why is this such a hurdle? Because it is the whole value proposition. And the streamers know it.

If Disney+’s content is branded with everything else in streaming, then given shows no longer build Disney’s crucial brand equity. If Netflix can’t have its algorithm sell on you another show, then it loses all the value of its honed algorithm. If Peacock can’t offer you their linear channels while you’re watching Parks and Recreation, then their value proposition takes a hit.

The big tech giants know this, and want to take all that value for themselves. The golden goose is to be the sole provider, which makes all the content providers simply commodity brokers. So far, Netflix, Disney, HBO and others have held off on this, and it will be curious to see how long it lasts.

Will Folks Criticize Netflix for Getting Cheap Subscribers?

They won’t. Though the narrative would be more accurate if they did.

Netflix has been as aggressive as Prime Video, Disney and HBO Max in courting subscribers with free subscriptions bundled into other services. (Notably T-Mobile for years, a subscription many customers didn’t know they had.) This is a bad thing for Netflix; without knowing the deal terms, my gut is Google is paying nearly full-freight on this deal because they have money to lose and market share to gain. If this helps keep Netflix subscribers stable through 2021, it’s a good idea for the streamer of record.

From Parqor: This is the Search Engine Interface

I like this take, because no one uses Google search data more than me. And while it isn’t perfect, it is a great signal for “interest” in a given topic. Moreover, Google’s extremely big advantage in search–over say an Apple or Amazon–they really could make a smarter search at driving to shows folks want to watch. As such, I’d give them a leg up over Apple in the smart TV race. (Though behind Amazon and Roku, who have been doing better for longer.)

Entertainment Strategy Guy Update/Data of the Week – Mulan’s Data Update from Nielsen

The other contender for most important story of the week was Nielsen’s SVOD Top Ten list this week. (Did I write it up? Yes. Will it be an article on Tuesday next week? Yes too.) 

Because one detail in particular shocked me:

Mulan made the top ten list!

(As a note, Nielsen delays their SVOD rankings for four weeks while they calculate. And no, I’m not a Nielsen skeptic. Their data is very useful.)

For a single movie to go up against shows with dozens of episodes really does show the demand of Mulan. On one hand, this matches the Google Trends data, which showed that Mulan was really popular. Look at this take from my recent Decider article, where Mulan is multiple times more popular than Enola Holmes, which is the current Netflix popularity champion:

Still, when I did some quick math (like LOTS of folks on Twitter), I got really worried. If 525 millions minutes were consumed of Mulan, divided by 120 minutes as the rough length of the film, then that means it was watched over 4.5 million times. If each household purchased it per viewing, that’s 4.5 million purchases, nearly 4 times what I calculated.

Yikes!

Calm down, calm down. See, like all things, we just need to get everything back to apples-to-apples. Nielsen is measuring minutes viewed, but we were estimating purchases. That’s essentially two different ends of the customer journey.

To think through it, it’s worth first considering the user behavior that influences how many folks actually watch a show. (Some of which I thought of, some of which users on Twitter pointed out.)

– First, customers have to buy it. That’s what we’re trying to estimate.
– Second, they have to watch it all the way through.
– Third, they can choose to rewatch it or not. If they loved it, they will.
– Fourth, they can share their account with others, who can also watch the film.

When I analyze data, I alway think back to the customer use case first and foremost. It helps ground the data thinking in the real world, as opposed to number cherry picking. In this case, all these factors could influence how much the 4.1 million viewers actually relate purchases.

The next step is understanding how Nielsen got to their number. They measure the average minute audience, the way they always have. Then they multiply that by the length of the film, and boom they get the total minutes viewed. 

But there is one more key: Nielsen estimates how many folks are watching a given minute of television at home. So if two folks are watching, that counts twice. (2 people watching 1 minute is 2 minutes viewed and so on.) (I reached out to Nielsen and they confirmed this analysis on background for this article.)

Combine these two and we have a way to estimate purchases. After we calculate the rating, we then estimate the completion percentage (which accounts for folks watching it multiple times or not finishing it) and then we estimate how many folks watched simultaneously. Here are my back of the envelope maths on it:

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