Fri, 12/15

The FCC repealed net neutrality yesterday — but the fight’s not over yet

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to undo the net neutrality regulations put in place by the Obama Administration in 2015.

The regulations defined the internet as a public utility and prevented internet service providers from charging more money, blocking access to sites at their discretion, and picking and choosing the content people can see online.

But with these rules set to be repealed in 2 weeks, all that could change.

We might be looking at a new era of internet

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says reversing net neutrality will help consumers and promote competition by giving service providers like Comcast “more incentive to build networks.”

But critics argue that the barrier of entry into telecommunications — which includes installing millions of cables and poles — is too high for new competition to enter the market and that it will only strengthen the oligopoly of Comcast and AT&T.

One thing is clear: these internet gatekeepers will no longer be barred from slowing down content — and they can now charge popular websites like Netflix and Facebook more money for faster delivery

We do have one thing on our side: opposition is tremendous

A recent University of Maryland survey showed that 83% of Americans opposed the FCC’s repeal. 

In the internet’s social hubs — Reddit, Facebook, Twitter — hundreds of thousands of people are standing up against the ruling: 1.2m calls to Congress have been placed through pro-net neutrality site, Battle for the Net, and 2m+ more have signed petitions on Change.org.

And on the legal front, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has already announced a multi-state lawsuit challenging the vote.

What else can be done to reverse this decision?

The FCC’s ruling is really just the beginning of a protracted legal and political battle: the future of the internet won’t be determined so easily.

Congress could respond to our calls for action by invoking the Congressional Review Act and petitioning for a reversal. The nation’s federal courts could also issue a stay on the ruling and pick apart the “substantive errors” in the FCC’s decision.

Long story short: if you feel the ruling is wrong…

Fri, 12/15

Monster merger: Disney to acquire Fox

Superheros. Jedis. Inanimate objects talking — these are everyone’s favorite things. And now Disney owns all of them.

Yesterday, the media juggernaut announced their plan to buy 21st Century Fox for over $66B, the second-largest merger this year.

The deal will include Fox’s movie studios, networks Nat Geo and FX, and a 60% stake in Hulu, among other things.

And they’re waging war on Netflix

In Disney’s all-out media domination, if (and when) this deal goes through, they can finally check “streaming market” off their bucket list.

This merger will allow Disney to sell a trifecta of streaming services: a sports streaming platform, Hulu, and in 2019, their own mega movie and TV subscription service.

But, history says this deal may not be such a slam-dunk

While shareholders are obviously happy, history has shown time and time again that mega-mergers usually destroy a company’s value over time.

According to a report from Accenture, market returns on acquisitions valued over $25B tend to perform worse (usually between 7% and 12%) than smaller ones.

That said… you try telling Disney they shouldn’t do something.

Fri, 12/15

Pet “influencers” confirm what we always knew: we trust dogs more than ourselves

The ad industry has a new vertical: “animal influencers,” reserved for celebrity pets with millions of Instagram followers.

The market first came to prominence with the promotion of pet startups like Barkbox, and now companies from Google to Ralph Lauren are using pets to sell human brands — because as it turns out, animal influencers get more engagement than human bloggers.

People are raking in $1k per pup post

With 100k followers, Mochi, a 3-year-old “Maltipoo” has deals with Ralph Lauren, The Ritz-Carlton, Amex, Google, and Disney, and her owner (who works about 3-5 hours a week on Mochi’s brand) says advertisers pay around $100 for every 10k followers.

By those numbers, that means heavy-hitters like Marnie the dog (2.1m followers) and Tuna (1.9m followers) are bringing in $200k a pop.

There’s even a talent agency to manage them

The Dog Agency has 100 clients — all “influential animals,” including dogs, cats, pigs, and hedgehogs, with hundreds of thousands of followers.

And TDA’s brand doesn’t stop there: it also has its own arm of pet content called “Pet Insider,” as well as a line of high-fashion clothing items called “Chewsy,” designed “for the discerning pet.”

Among this season’s looks: a $55 “Catty Velour Pullover,” and a $42 “Sunday Brunch Long Sleeve.”

If these animals only knew…

Fri, 12/15

Subway is bringing back the $5 footlong and franchisees are NOT into it

To get butts in the seats, Subway has decided to bring back their long-time promotional mainstay: the $5 footlong.

For nearly a decade, the deal featured one 12-inch sub each day at a discounted $5 price until, like all great fan-favorite promotions, it met its demise in 2016.

And now it’s back because Subway is strugglin’

According to an internal memo, Subway’s traffic has slowed 25% over the last five years.

In 2016, their sales fell 1.7%, and for the first time in the company’s history, the sandwich haven closed more stores than it opened, dropping 359 locations in the US. That’s a lot of out of work “sandwich artists.”

The $5 deal is an effort to entice customers like the days of old — but, alas, the snake always eats its own tail: more than 400 franchisees have signed a petition against the deal, claiming that $5 footlongs are what “decimated” their business in the first place.

Keeping up with the “price war”

In 2018, many fast food staples have decided to lower their prices to slow the fast food decline.

McDonald’s recently announced they’re bringing back their illustrious Dollar Menu, which was nixed back in 2013 at the behest of McDonald’s franchisees for the same reason: these deals kill sales.

But for these corporations, that’s a risk they’re willing to take. Because at the end of the day… fast food ain’t gonna eat itself.

Thu, 12/14

India has a condom problem

Earlier this week, India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting deemed condom commercials “indecent” and altogether banned them from prime-time television.

The move isn’t just a blow to the country’s sex protection industry: it’s a clear example of how India’s traditional conservatism and its ballooning population are often at odds.

The country has a weird relationship with condoms

With 1.32B people, the country’s on pace to usurp China as the most populous nation on Earth in the next decade.

Since 1960, condom makers have pushed to appropriately market their wares with Bollywood stars and condoms that come in more flavor options than a Baskin Robbins ice cream freezer.

But it’s all been for naught: today only 6% of Indian people use condoms (compared to 30% in European countries) — and over the past 8 years, condom use has actually declined by 52%…

So, advertisers have started getting more risqué

But recently, they took things a little too far: one ad featured an ex-porn star disrobing and beckoning a young man to bed on their wedding night.

India’s regulatory bodies (which skew culturally conservative) were aghast and quick to propose a ban. Now, all condom ads will only be on TV between the very unsexy marketing hours of 10PM and 6AM.

The country itself is split: While many rural residents still frown upon the open discussion of sex (safe or not), others argue that safe sex publicity — even if slightly crude — should be encouraged.

Thu, 12/14

We’re in a space race like it’s 1969

Turns out Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” was indeed too small, and everyone and their mother is trying to get back to the moon. 

Check out the week’s biggest moon-moves to place your bets on who’ll get there first:

Blue Origin successfully launched and returned a dummy to Earth

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company landed their rocket capsule, New Shepard, for the 7th time yesterday. Its pilot: a test dummy named ‘Mannequin Skywalker.’

While B.O. hopes to reach the moon one day, in the meantime, they’re settling for slingshotting paying customers dozens of miles above Earth at $200k a pop.

Flat-Earthers first, please. 

iSpace raises big $$ to get to the moon

In the “largest ever” Series A funding for a commercial space company, the Japanese startup iSpace raised $90.2m to start launching private moon missions by 2020.

The company is creating a cargo transport system for “moon-based operations” and believes the moon will have a population of around 1,000 permanent residents by 2040.

In other words, they’re getting ahead of the future Space Truckin’ market.

President Trump is sending NASA back to the Big Cheese

Thanks to a directive signed on Monday, NASA is headed back to the moon for the first time in 53 years (the mission is set to launch in 2022).

It might seem like an odd move, but returning to the moon could actually to establish an easier path to Mars by creating a moon-orbiting outpost called a Deep Space Gateway — just a little moon rest stop before big red.

Thu, 12/14

Target buys same-day delivery startup

With Amazon fiercely chomping up the ecommerce market one impulsive shopper at a time, Walmart is no longer the only competitor proving they have the resources to close the gap. 

Yesterday Target covered some major ground after they announced their acquisition of the same-day delivery startup, Shipt, for $550m.

Oh, Shipt!

Specializing in the same-day grocery delivery market, the two-year-old company has raised more than $60m from investors including Greycroft Partners, e.ventures, and seed investor Harbert Venture Partners.

Shipt will reportedly work as a subsidiary of Target but will operate its business independently — meaning they can still keep some of their old big-fish clientele, like Costco. 

Target is equally excited

The company has a network of more than 20k shoppers delivering in more than 72 markets around the US, and Target believes the acquisition will “significantly accelerate [their] digital fulfillment efforts.”

Target plans to get same-day services up and running with Shipt in at least half of its stores by early 2018 and have full delivery of all products by the end of 2019.

Thu, 12/14

Girlboss raises $3m to create a VICE-meets-Oprah lovechild

Sophia “Girlboss” Amoruso is back: the former CEO, and founder of online retailer Nasty Gal, just raised $3.1m in funding led by Lightspeed Ventures for her new media company, Girlboss — a brand “focused on redefining success for women.”

The new round puts Girlboss’ valuation at around $13.1m, and gives Amoruso the ammo she needs to build a company she envisions as “one part Vice, one part Oprah.”

Her last company met a nasty end

Starting with an eBay store back in ‘06, Amoruso raised $65m over 10 years to create Nasty Gal, a women’s e-commerce darling with over $100m in revenue at its peak.

Alas, Nasty Gal fell from grace: Amoruso stepped down as CEO in 2015 amidst stagnant sales numbers. In 2016, the company filed for bankruptcy, citing “liquidity issues” (re: no cash on deck).

Ultimately, they sold to UK online retailer Boohoo for $20m — a shadow of their former selves.

But from the ashes, rose a phoenix: Girlboss

Amoruso launched the Girlboss brand from her best-selling business book about her journey, which was adapted into a Netflix series this year. 

Since then, she’s launched a podcast called Girlboss Radio and plans to cut distribution deals with partners for content, branded advertising, swag, and events.

Case in point: Girlboss has held 2 “rallies” so far, with tickets going for as much as $700. Companies like Bumble have dropped “six-figures” on ad integrations like a headshot booth at the events.

But investors think the potential lies in the “Peloton model”

Girlboss also sold $65 “digital tickets” for each of the rallies, which allowed “attendees” to view rally recordings and join a social media group.

Much like cycling startup Peloton does with Lightspeed (their at-home guided workouts), Girlboss sees this as an opportunity to scale ticket sales beyond their in-person reach.

As for Amoruso, she’s not the 20-year-old first-time founder she was in 2006: Nasty Gal, though a failure on paper, gave her a “Ph.D. in entrepreneurship.”

“I’m not naive anymore,” she told The Wall Street Journal.

Wed, 12/13

Saudi Arabia lifts a 35-year ban on movie theaters

Saudi Arabia has decided to fling open the once-locked doors to the movie biz — lifting a ban on movie theatres they’ve had since the ‘80s.

This Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s latest effort to liberalize the uber-conservative nation (in September, he lifted the ban on women drivers as well).

The shift is not without debate: while SA’s social liberals are dead-set on finding ways to have a good time, religious conservatives argue that movies go against Islamic rules.

But Salman’s already seeing dollar signs:

Last year Saudi Arabia announced their plans to diversify their economy and break free from their over-dependence on oil revenues, and the silver screen could be a goldmine.

By bringing back movie theatres, they hope to entice more foreign investments — a plan that’s already in the works: AMC’s chief executive Adam Aron says he expects to have an AMC theatre in SA by the end of next year.

On top of that, it’s gonna create more jerrrbs

The government plans to lift the curtain as early as March, and by 2030 they hope to have 300 cinemas with over 2k screens.

And if all goes according to plan, they claim the new theatres will create 30k jobs and bring over $24B (USD) in box office revenue.

Wed, 12/13

Old coal mines are being turned into solar farms around the world

As much as certain politicians and industry czars would beg to differ, coal is dying — and in a classic changing of the guard, a new, much more eco-friendly energy source is taking over: solar.

And we mean “taking over” in the literal sense: this past weekend, a massive, floating solar project built on top of an old coal mine started operation in Huainan, China.

It’s one of a number of similar projects worldwide

Built atop a collapsed mine that once produced ~20% of the country’s coal, China’s new 150-megawatt, $150m solar plant will generate enough energy to power 94k homes. 

It is the second such solar plant in that city, and one of a smattering of projects in the works globally: engineers are currently building or planning solar plants — all built on non-active coal mines — in Germany, the UK, and America’s Appalachian Mountains.

Why coal mines?

Coal has seen its day: 2016 was the first year on record that the black nuggets weren’t the #1 energy source in the US, and a number of the world’s biggest operators have closed up shop in recent years.

At the same time, Solar saw a 50% worldwide increase last year and is experiencing a growth spurt rivaled only by a teenage Robert Wadlow

Beyond this, when coal mines collapse, they often leave behind huge lakes of high-sulfate water that are pretty much good for nothing — except for floating solar panels.

Wed, 12/13

Accused of stealing technology, Sprinklr is facing a $50m lawsuit

Marketing software company Opal has filed a $50m lawsuit against its one-time partner, social media marketing startup Sprinklr, for stealing their technology.

Ok, so what are the deets?

According to the suit, the two companies had a “mutually beneficial” partnership that soured in 2016 after Opal client Paul Herman supposedly gave “administrative credentials” to a Sprinklr employee. Sprinklr then used the creds to view private info regarding Opal’s marketing software.

Opal claims that this systems breach enabled Sprinklr to begin developing a marketing product very close to their own — one that Sprinklr simply couldn’t have created had they not had access to Opal’s system.

Here’s where it gets really wonky: Paul Herman was at Nike when he allegedly gave away Opal’s info, but, in 2017, he joined Sprinklr full time — hmmm, interesting.

Sprinklr’s side of the story

The social media marketing company denies these allegations, as they reportedly signed a software integration deal with Opal in 2016, governing the use of the software so the companies could work together.

Call us crazy but, “use our tech so we can work together” is different than “use our tech to build your own”… no?

Though Sprinklr raised $105m last year at a valuation of $1.8B, start-ups operate on pretty tight margins, and a $50m dinger could potentially be a death sentence.

It all depends on how much of their funds are actually liquid, AKA that hard cashola.

Wed, 12/13

Would you pay $1k to go “off the digital grid?”

How about $9.99 a month?

The Harvard Business Review recently asked readers what they would pay to “buy back” their entire digital footprint from internet companies. 

But even if you could erase your online identity, there are actually some pretty great upsides to being “public” online — even if it comes at the expense of creepily accurate ad targeting.

The perks of being an ad target

  • Free stuff: Facebook is “free, and it always will be” — but that’s because they made nearly $28B last year on selling personal data from its users. Take away their golden goose, and you better believe that money’s coming out of its 2B users’ pockets.
  • Stuff that feels like yours: “Freeing yourself” of tracking cookies also means no more “Welcome back, Bethany” greeting on your favorite site, saved search history on Google, or autofilled billing addresses when you buy something online.
  • Not reading the T&Cs: Do we complain about signing our data rights over to Big iPod (Apple) when we go to download an app? Sure. Would we actually read through a 30-page user agreement and redline everything we take issue with everytime we update our software? Probably not: it took this guy 9 hours to read Amazon’s T&Cs out loud.

Your data isn’t as priceless as you think it is

It’s pretty tough to estimate how much your personal data would cost, because companies typically sell data on an aggregate level. As VICE Money puts it, the value of personal data is that companies collect a lot of it.

On the “dark web,” a person’s info can run from just $0.0005 for basic demographic data to about $15 for actual credit card numbers. Not exactly a king’s ransom…

So, allow us to play devil’s advocate:

We all talk a big game about protecting our personal identities from hackers, and we throw fits about companies selling our data. But when push comes to shove, most of us wouldn’t put our money where our autofill is.

Blame Amazon Prime, AIM, or whatever first got you hooked on instant gratification, but at the end of the day, we’re creatures of convenience — and internet is poised to take full advantage.

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