The Information’s 411 — Benioff at Sea


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

Kevin discusses Marc Benioff, the Salesforce CEO and philanthropist. His profile earlier this week described how Benioff is managing during the pandemic, especially now that Salesforce's marquee event, Dreamforce, appears to be off this year.

Also, Tom chats with Alex about Apple's changes to ad tracking and the effect it will have on Facebook—as well as the gaming companies that rely heavily on Facebook ads. 

Facebook, Gaming Firms Brace for Apple’s Restrictions on Ad Targeting


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

Facebook representatives in recent weeks have been meeting with mobile gaming companies, a key group of advertisers, ahead of a major change by Apple that will make it harder for apps to track the behavior of iPhone owners.

In the talks, Facebook employees have sought to hear gaming companies’ concerns about Apple’s next mobile operating system, which is expected to reduce the effectiveness of Facebook’s powerful ad targeting tool in reaching customers, according to two people familiar with the matter. The discussions give a window into the seismic changes Apple, touting the privacy benefits of such limits, is forcing on advertising-driven tech companies including Google, Snap and Twitter.

The Information’s 411 — Tik Talk


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Yunan joins to explain why the TikTok saga and the U.S. government's decision to ban the app, unless it sells to an American company, has hurt the reputation of Zhang Yiming, the CEO of the app's parent company ByteDance. And Cory speaks to Kate about Headspin and the case of the startup that had to give back much of its capital to investors after its revenue projections proved to be wildly off base. 

The Information’s 411 — Tik Talk


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

Yunan joins to explain why the TikTok saga and the U.S. government's decision to ban the app, unless it sells to an American company, has hurt the reputation of Zhang Yiming, the CEO of the app's parent company ByteDance. And Cory speaks to Kate about Headspin and the case of the startup that had to give back much of its capital to investors after its revenue projections proved to be wildly off base. 

The Information’s 411 — Cyberpunk Barons


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It was a big week for tech and politics as the four leaders of the major U.S. tech companies testified in front of the House Antitrust subcommittee. We spoke to Alex Heath and Chris Stern about which CEOs weathered the questions from lawmakers best and where the antitrust investigations go from here. Then Cory speaks to Anissa Gardizy about delivery startup GoPuff and the problems its skyrocketing growth has caused for its neighbors.

Disney+’s ‘Stranger Things’ Debate: How to Grow Up


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

Netflix’s ’80s-inspired horror series “Stranger Things” has been one of the streaming service’s biggest hits in the past couple of years, so much so that a fourth season is in the works. That has caught the attention of Disney executives, who have lately told Hollywood producers they’d like their own version of “Stranger Things” for the Disney+ streaming service.

That stance is a reversal of the direction in which they had gone after the service launched, when Disney initially discussed finding a “Stranger Things”–style show and then decided it would be too edgy for Disney+. The change of heart reflects a slight broadening of the kinds of programs Disney executives are considering putting on the service amid questions about its ability to continue attracting new subscribers. 

The Information’s 411 — Billionaires Without Summer Camp


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Nick Bastone gives us an update on the digital advertising industry and compares the trajectories of Google and Facebook during the second quarter. Jessica Lessin gives her take on whether it matters that the annual Sun Valley conference was called off this year because of the pandemic. 

The Information’s 411 — A Little More Moderation


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We talk with John Redgrave, the CEO of content moderation startup Sentropy, about the challenges of curbing hate speech online. Then Cory checks in on the state of the travel industry with Jon Staff, the CEO of vacation startup Getaway.

The Information’s 411 — iRobot


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We talk to Wayne Ma about Apple's attempts to have robots handle the manufacturing process at their factories and why it hasn't worked. Then we speak with Kate Clark about the federal paycheck protection program loan and the startups that took advantage of it. 

Special guests this episode include David Bourne, a scientist at the Robotics Institute at the Carnegie Mellon University and Jonathan Wasserstrum, the CEO of SquareFoot.

Tensions Over Hulu Expose Fissures Within Disney Streaming


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

For more than a dozen years, Hulu was an oddity in video streaming: owned by a group of entertainment giants but controlled by none of them. That fostered a streak of independence at the service—one that employees, who called themselves Hulugans, were proud of. 

But that independence ended last year when Disney took control of Hulu and immediately set about integrating its operations into Disney’s own businesses, starting with programming and later encompassing ad sales. The focus more recently has been on integrating Hulu’s engineering team and how to move the service onto the same streaming platform Disney uses for its two other streaming services, Disney+ and ESPN+. But Hulu’s engineers have resisted being absorbed into Disney's tech team, and the discussions have reignited longstanding tensions between the two tech teams.

The Information’s 411 — Representation Matters


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Cory talks with two black women in tech to see what tech companies have done and still need to do to address racial inequality. Sherrell Dorsey, a journalist and entrepreneur and the founder of The Plug, has been cataloguing the responses from tech companies showing support for the black community. Sarah Kunst, a venture capitalist at Cleo Capital, explains the importance of firms funding more diverse founders.

The Information’s 411 — Job Mirages


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Zoe and Cory join to discuss how the pandemic has hit the job market in tech. Zoe talks about the phenomenon of job postings that turn out not to be real. And Cory gives some historical context around how the current job losses in tech compare to previous recessions.

The Information’s 411 — TikTok on the Clock


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Cory joins to discuss Mark Zuckerberg's announcement that Facebook is fully embracing the work from home workforce. We explore the reasons tech is rushing to adopt the policy and whether it will have a big effect on cities. Then Tom gives the backstory on Kevin Mayer, TikTok's new US CEO. He explains what it means for Disney to lose its top streaming executive and the challenges Mayer will face coming to the politically embattled Chinese company.

Disney Shakes Up Streaming Group Following Leader’s Departure


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

Not long after Kevin Mayer arrived at Walt Disney Co. in the mid ’90s, employees gave the 6-foot, 3-inch former football player from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a nickname befitting his beefy frame: Captain America. Now, with Mayer exiting the company for the top role at TikTok, he leaves a giant hole at the head of the company’s streaming division.

The group is already shrinking in his absence. On Monday, the company quietly announced to employees that Disney’s advertising and cable distribution businesses would now be part of its television groups instead of its streaming division, according to multiple people with knowledge of the move. The organizational changes haven’t been previously reported.

The Information’s 411 — The Oracle and the JEDI


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Chris Stern gives us an update on the ongoing battle to win the Pentagon's cloud computing contract. He explains why Amazon is still fighting to win the account back from Microsoft in the courts. And how Oracle fits into the puzzle.

Disney Streaming Unit Slows Hiring Despite Subscriber Gains


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

The Walt Disney Co.’s new streaming service may be the best thing going right now at the struggling entertainment giant, which is facing a once-in-a-generation crisis that has ravaged its movie, theme park and cruise businesses. But the company hasn’t spared the division that includes the fast-growing service—Disney+—from the frugality it has imposed on other businesses.

Employees across the sprawling streaming division have been told that any hiring now needs to be done strictly on an “as needed” basis, according to people familiar with the matter. Kevin Mayer, the head of the streaming division, is signing off on all new employees brought onto the team, the people said—part of a companywide policy that requires division heads to limit hiring to only those positions deemed essential. That has left dozens of open positions in the streaming unit unfilled, and executives have warned that isn’t likely to change until the downturn ebbs, according to one of these people.

The Information’s 411 — Uber in a Pandemic


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Amir joins to talk all things ride hailing, including why Uber and Lyft had to undergo massive layoffs. We also explain how Uber's side businesses like food delivery and bikes are on diverging paths during the crisis.

AT&T Had Talks About Selling Crunchyroll


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

AT&T’s WarnerMedia has had discussions about selling Crunchyroll, a streaming service that specializes in Japanese anime, according to people familiar with the matter.

Possible buyers include Sony, which owns a rival anime service called Funimation and which has had discussions with WarnerMedia in recent months. There are no active negotiations at the moment, however, according to people familiar with the situation. It is possible the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed WarnerMedia’s sale efforts.

The Information’s 411 — Earnings and Learnings


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

Alex walks us through the first quarter earnings for Snap, Twitter and Facebook to see how they fared at the onset of the pandemic. We break down why Snap ended up posting a surprisingly strong quarter, powered by its growing direct response ad business. 

Secret to Snap’s Recent Success: Discover and Direct-Response Ads


This post is by Tom Dotan from The Information

In late March, a week or so after Snap stock had plunged to as low as $8—half where it was trading a month earlier—CEO Evan Spiegel reassured employees. His message was that the company was well positioned to weather the downturn. At the time some ad executives were skeptical, asking why Snap would be better off than other companies.

Today, the skeptics are quiet. After strong first-quarter earnings, Snap stock has regained all the ground it lost through the sell-off. One major reason is a surge of audiences for Discover, a feature of the Snapchat app that for the past few years had likely been an afterthought for investors and even users. Carrying short news programs produced by media companies, Discover is winning over audiences keen for information about the coronavirus.