There's no doubt that the battle over streaming music is getting heated. As the companies involved get more focused, it is inevitable that the industry will see ups and downs. At the end of 2017, we saw Microsoft exit the market after nearly a decade,
shuttering their Groove Music service (previously Zune Music and Xbox Music) and transitioning the customers to the market leader, Spotify.
Bolstered by increased user growth and their newfound partnership with Microsoft, Spotify is riding the wave to an IPO (initial public offering). The company will offer their stock for public purchase on the NYSE, beginning on April 3, 2018. They expect to release around $1 billion worth of stock to the exchange, under the ticker symbol SPOT.
Unlike most IPOs, Spotify is listing directly, rather than having one or more banks involved to underwrite the process. This could mean more money for the company if the IPO is a success, but far less if it is not. The company is hoping that their position in the industry, commanding a full 42% of the market, will drive investors to want to get involved on day one.
On the other hand, we have terrestrial radio turned streaming service, iHeartMedia. This company is the result of a purchase of iHeartRadio by Clear Channel Communications, the owner of many of the country's AM and FM radio stations, as well as billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor. Almost exactly a year ago, the company released guidance that
they might not survive 2017. Their timetable was a little off, and a tad more doomsday than reality, but the time has come. This week, iHeartMedia has filed for bankruptcy.
The company currently has about $20 billion in debt, and says that through bankruptcy they have made agreements with existing debt holders to restructure about half of it. They also believe that they have enough cash to survive the Chapter 11 procedures. CEO Bob Pittman said via statement,
The agreement we announced today is a significant accomplishment, as it allows us to definitively address the more than $20 billion in debt that has burdened our capital structure.
The question becomes, what happens if they don't have enough cash to survive the proceedings? Will they start to shed divisions, such as Clear Channel Outdoor, which doesn't quite match their other businesses? Will they sell or shutter radio stations in over-saturated markets? Will they abandon their Spotify competitor, and focus on the terrestrial radio, which is the business they know best?
No matter the outcome, it is likely that the landscape of terrestrial radio will change in some way, either by diversified ownership or possibly a smaller footprint. As more listeners shift their music listening habits away from radio and into streaming services, the need for 2 country stations in Tampa becomes questionable. And, as talk radio continues to shift from broadcast to podcast, the need for as many talk radio stations might be equally questionable.
In the last year, some of the most distressing stories in technology have come from the cryptocurrency industry. From fraudulent ICOs (initial coin offerings) to exchange heists, getting into cryptocurrencies has never been more dangerous. Because of all of the bad blood in the market, a major player has decided to move away from it: Google Ads.
After accidentally running unrelated ads with web-based miners built-in, Google began looking at crypto ads, and deemed them to be part of their "Bad Ads" category. Because of this, the company has decided not to run any more cryptocurrency ads on its platforms. This includes ads for ICOs as well as related financial services. Scott Spencer, Director of Sustainable Ads, said,
We're constantly updating our policies as we see new threats emerge. Last year, we added 28 new advertiser policies and 20 new publisher policies to combat new threats and improve the ads experience online. This year, we updated several policies to address ads in unregulated or speculative financial products like binary options, cryptocurrency, foreign exchange markets and contracts for difference (or CFDs).
While these policies don't officially go into effect until June, their affect on cryptocurrency markets was nearly immediate. At the beginning of the day Google made this announcement, March 14, the price of Bitcoin was at $9,300, but as the day went on, the price fell just below $7,800. That is a steep decline for a 24-hour time period, losing a full 15% of its value. Since then it has recovered some, but not to full value. Etherium made a similar move, moving from about $700 at the beginning of the day to under $600 at the end of the day. This made for a 16% price drop in a 24-hour time period. Etherium has not yet recovered, having reached a low of $470 on Sunday.
Lately it would seem that no videogame company is farther away from understanding their customers than EA. When the company was preparing to release
Star Wars: Battlefront II, they made the decision to include microtransactions in the game. This was far from the first AAA title to do this, but it was certainly the most pervasive. Certain parts of the game required so much in-game currency that it would take over 4,500 hours of gameplay to unlock; that is unless you paid for it. That same currency would cost about $2,100 to achieve.
Needless to say, gamers
were not happy about this move. Online petitions were signed, product boycotts were organized and overall outrage was at a new high. Because of the negative sentiment, EA agreed to make changes at launch, including shutting off the transaction system and lowering the progression difficulty, making it far easier to acquire currency by playing.
The company's announcement, however, did leave something to be desired. In this case, what was desired was a commitment that transactions were gone for good. Unfortunately,
they left that door wide open for the future. By doing so, they still alienated a lot of players, who were not interested in buying the game only to have the progression system change back to its original, gamer-unfriendly ways.
Luckily, EA seems to have learned its lesson, announcing this week that a completely revamped progression system is coming in a few days that will eliminate the possibility of transactions in the future. In the announcement, the company said,
With this update, progression is now linear. Star Cards, or any other item impacting gameplay, will only be earned through gameplay and will not be available for purchase. Instead, you'll earn experience points for the classes, hero characters, and ships that you choose to play in multiplayer. If you earn enough experience points to gain a level for that unit, you'll receive one Skill Point that can be used to unlock or upgrade the eligible Star Card you'd like to equip.
More importantly, if you already have the game and have earned items that are beyond your level under the new system, you will still keep and be able to use those items. You will also no longer be able to impact your gameplay via crates, as those will only contain Credits and cosmetic items, but will not contain any Star Cards.
EA hopes that these changes will make those who avoided the game more likely to give it a try now. They are also promising future content, including new game modes, in the coming weeks, which should add value to the game as opposed to drive revenue through the game. Whether EA has actually learned its lesson as a whole or not is still to be determined, as future titles may try again.
This week, Google made an announcement that was not expected: Android Wear is no more. The product is not being shuttered, but instead it has been rebranded as
Wear OS by Google. Google claims that the reason for the change is related to a change in their customer base. As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone. So as the watch industry gears up for another Baselworld next week, we're announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all-the people who wear our watches. We're now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone.
It makes sense that Google would be moving away from the Android brand. The general iPhone owner is, for one reason or another, anti-Android. Calling the platform Android Wear has likely limited sales to iPhone customers, despite iPhone accounting for a third of sales last year.
Unfortunately, the name is the least of the brand's issues. In reality, the brand needs a lot of attention, which Google has not given it for some time. Devices running the OS require a lot of interaction to get any information, for a number of reasons. For one, there is no way to pair down which notifications you receive from an app. You can either get all notifications from your email, or none. There is no way to only be informed if you get an email from your boos, for example. Second, the interface is way more complicated than it needs to be. Tons of swiping to move through apps and notifications makes the 2 seconds you save not pulling out your phone seemingly not worth it.
Hopefully, with the change of name will come some actual work from Google on the platform itself. This would not be the first time a brand change or revamp has come before a product revamp. For example, before Google modernized the nearly abandoned Google Voice product, they modernized the logo. While the product category of wearables has mostly languished of late, perhaps having some innovation and competition in the space from someone other than Apple and Samsung will revitalize demand.
While large parts of the internet rely on advertising to make their services work, certain paid subscription services have made a name for themselves. Streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, have had a particular influence on how people consume media. The biggest change comes in the fact that Netflix features no advertising, and Hulu features few ads with the option to remove them entirely.
Broadcast television, on the other hand, has not caught on to this trend. Over time, networks have shortened their shows and extended the commercial breaks, the opposite of the trend that has made online services successful. There is a balancing act with broadcast, though: as you lose viewers, you need more ads to make the same revenue. One of the networks is banking on the idea that it works the other way, too.
NBC has announced that, starting later in the year, they will be lowering the number of ads shown during their primetime shows. They are hoping that, by dropping some of the ads, they can pick up some younger viewers who have never experienced television the way that networks air them. This change will apply to 50 of NBCUniversal's home-grown primetime programming, and will include shorter breaks and shorter ads within those breaks, culminating in about a 20% decrease in ads.
Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversals' chairman of advertising and client partnerships, told
, Variety There are more and more consumers, whether it's from Hulu or the Netflixes or Amazons of the world, who are liberated via technology... TV networks would be crazy to believe that anything other than commercial overhaul was anything other than inevitable.
This is a big gamble for the network. They are going to have to see an increase in viewership across these programs for the experiment to continue and expand beyond the 50ish programs. It is a positive sign to see that NBC is recognizing the change that services like Hulu, which they own a 30% stake in, have introduced to the industry, and are willing to try a similar approach in primetime.