J.J. Abrams joins the “stream team”


September 16, 2019

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Today, connected clothing companies are building backpacks with brains and land-hungry billionaires are buying up America’s plains, but first…

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Streaming wars heat up as media companies battle for the biggest, baddest producers

Last week, J.J. Abrams inked a $250m “exclusivity agreement” with WarnerMedia, which will see the superstar showrunner creating TV and movies for the media group through 2024. 

This mega-contract was one of the largest yet in the ongoing fight for streaming supremacy, but given the amount of money at stake, it’s likely that more big deals like this will go down.

It’s a competitive market for streaming services

In the early years, digital streaming was a money saver for cord cutters looking to 86 expensive cable bundles. 

But now there are more than a dozen streaming services ranging from $5/month to $55/month, which means consumers must piece together service combos that offer the content they want at a price they’re willing to pay.

And subscribers aren’t a loyal bunch

Because streaming subscribers aren’t locked into contracts as with traditional cable, they’re able to leapfrog to other services at any time… like when they finish bingeing their favorite show or land a better deal.

So the heat is on to nab top talent in order to keep viewers

WarnerMedia, which is betting big on Abrams partly in preparation for its launch of HBO Max, wasn’t the only streaming giant that was bidding: Abrams chose WarnerMedia over its rival Apple, which reportedly offered him a $500m contract.

Meanwhile, Netflix has struck deals with Shonda Rhimes ($150m), Ryan Murphy ($300m), and “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ($200m). Oprah, meanwhile, will cast her documentary-and-book-club magic for Apple.

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Google releases luxury backpack that syncs with your phone… for $1k?!

Google’s “connected clothing” venture, Jacquard, just released the sleek Cit-e backpack in collaboration with Saint Laurent. 

It’s the company’s latest attempt to bring connected fashion to the people — or at least to the wealthier people — and comes on the coattails of the smart commuter jacket they made with Levi’s a couple of years back.

Connected clothing is on the rise, with brands making everything from apparel that tracks fitness levels to smart socks that monitor babies’ breathing.

The Cit-e backpack aims to make your life easier

The pack’s brains come from the Jacquard Tag, a mini computer that lives in the left strap. The tag pairs with the Jacquard app on your phone and renders a series of hand motions, programmed by you, into directives the app can carry out.

You can, for example, get a rundown on the news, your commute, and the weather as well as snap a selfie with the wave of a hand. At $995, this backpack isn’t exactly affordable for the masses. But Google plans to release more affordable threads in the future, CNET reports.

Google’s not the only outfit with skin in the connected-clothing game

Lots of connected clothing brands want to sell you stuff, and many of the products out there focus on health and fitness. 

Wearable X makes smart yoga pants that guide you through your yoga practice via haptic pulses; ambiotex and Athos sell shirts that track fitness levels and muscle use; and Spinali Design makes bikinis that monitor UV levels. 

The smart-clothing industry is on the rise, with shipments projected to see a 76% compound annual growth rate between 2017 and 2021. So expect to see more futuristic threads come to market soon.

Smarty pants

America’s big business billionaires are buying up LOTS of land

A massive, 100-square-mile Texas ranch that belonged to recently deceased mega-millionaire T. Boone Pickens went on sale for $250m in 2017.

But compared to other land empires, Pickens’ plot was a small potato: 100 wealthy families own 42m acres of land across the US, and the amount of land owned by these lords of land has spiked 50% since 2007.

Why do billionaires want so much land?

Land tends to its retain value over time, making it a more consistent and predictable asset than other luxury investments.

For rich families with oodles of cash, land offers the added benefit of providing recreational opportunities — fishing, hunting, vacationing — to friends and family for generations.

But, as The New York Times reports, huge private land grabs also limit local access to public lands, which has made billionaire land barons unpopular in parts of the American West where they’ve bought up big lots.

So, who are some of the biggest landowners?

Many of the country’s largest landowners are famous business magnates. Here are a few of the big names — and how much acreage they’ve got:

  • John Malone, former CEO of Tele-Communications Inc: 2.2m acres
  • Ted Turner, founder of CNN: 2m acres
  • Stan Kroenke, owner of LA Rams: 1.38m acres
  • Peter Buck, co-founder of Subway:  925k acres
  • Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon: 420k acres
Jeez, lots of trees

Small business of the week: The Silicon Valley duo helping data centers waste less energy 

Every Monday, we feature a company started by one of our readers. Want your story told next? Fill out our Small Business Survey.

After graduating from Santa Clara University, Matt Renner attempted to get a plum job with a startup. But industrial engineers weren’t in high demand at the entry level. He ended up working for a company that buys, owns and operates data centers. 

He noticed a pattern: The biggest companies all went for new construction. They wanted a cut of projects that cost anywhere from $50m to $1B. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are about 3m data centers in the country. Many of them need to be refurbished. 

Along with Aryn Bergman, Renner started Northshore. The company evaluates and retrofits older data centers to make them more energy efficient. “That’s the market niche we’re carving,” Renner says. 

They tapped into their existing networks to find clients. The first year, Northshore made $300k, mostly off consulting work for existing data centers. This year, with $1m in revenue expected, the company is consulting and retrofitting. 

“We’re ultimately trying to influence the improvement of energy efficiency across the world and save our shores,” Renner says.  

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Matt Renner and Aryn Bergman
  • Employees: 3
  • Years in business: 2
  • Cost to launch: $15k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $300k
  • Current annual revenue: $1m
  • Annual overhead: $200k
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