Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Comcast's Daydream

That's what I will be doing with the rest of my day:

"Once Netflix got us into the habit of streaming TV shows and movies for $10 a month, it was easy to imagine broadband video services as a low-cost alternative to the cable monopolies, but...."

You might want to keep the cable:

"Comcast buys DreamWorks Animation in $3.8b deal" by Brooks Barnes and Emily Steel New York Times  April 28, 2016

Hollywood’s smallest publicly traded entertainment company, DreamWorks Animation, threw in the towel Thursday after a turbulent 12 years, agreeing to sell itself to Comcast’s sprawling NBCUniversal in a deal valued at a hefty $3.8 billion.

The purchase means greater competition for the Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest entertainment company. NBCUniversal plans to use DreamWorks Animation properties to bolster its fast-growing theme parks and move deeper into toys and children’s television.

The deal will pay DreamWorks Animation shareholders $41 a share in cash, more than 50 percent over its closing price Tuesday, when news of a possible deal emerged. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the founding chief executive of the studio, who is expected to reap nearly $400 million from the deal, will become a consultant to NBCUniversal and serve as chairman of a new entity called DreamWorks New Media.

The end of the road for DreamWorks Animation as an independent company reflects an increasingly consolidated Hollywood. To survive, companies have come to rely on interconnected, franchise-oriented businesses — with television, consumer products, and theme parks typically more lucrative than film. Katzenberg’s company, which has tried mightily to diversify away from movies, was ultimately unable to grow fast enough to survive alone. 

It's fa$ci$t capitali$m in its death throes. Lenin predicted it.

In recent years, Katzenberg has pursued sales and mergers with multiple studios, to no avail. The price he secured was greater than many people in Hollywood thought DreamWorks Animation was worth. It puts the company in the league of Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm, both of which were acquired by Disney for about $4 billion each.

For Comcast, the deal comes about a year after its $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable collapsed under regulatory pressure. The new deal, while significant, is relatively small for the cable and entertainment giant.

Stephen B. Burke, NBCUniversal’s chief executive and senior vice president of Comcast, has focused on developing strong franchises at NBCUniversal over the last several years, and the DreamWorks acquisition furthers that effort. DreamWorks Animation also comes with the rights to a burgeoning library with the rights to more than 400 titles and characters, including “Where’s Waldo,” “Casper,” “Lassie,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The deal carries a number of potentials for conflict.

With the government?

DreamWorks Animation is a big supplier of television cartoons to rival Netflix, which provides a low-cost streaming alternative to the cable television service that Comcast sells. Also, AwesomenessTV is part owned by Verizon, a competitor to Comcast’s cable and internet business.

How is that strike going? 

Verizon, unions still far from agreement after latest talks fail


Comcast said that the takeover was subject to an antitrust review by the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission but that it does not require approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust official at the Justice Department who now is president of Public Knowledge, said the deal raises questions about whether conditions placed on Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal are strong enough to keep Comcast from using its power over popular content from harming the fast-growing market for streaming video....


Time for some virtual reality:

"Facebook beats estimates on advertising boom" by Sarah Frier Bloomberg News  April 27, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook Inc. reported sales and profit that beat analysts’ estimates, benefiting as companies spent more to advertise in videos on its main mobile app.

The owner of the world’s largest social network also proposed a new class of stock, subject to shareholder approval, to help chief executive Mark Zuckerberg maintain control and ensure he has the freedom to keep spending on future technology.

First-quarter revenue surged 52 percent to $5.38 billion, beating the $5.27 billion analysts projected. Profit excluding some items was 77 cents per share, the company said Wednesday in a statement, compared with the 63 cents average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg.

Facebook has been serving its 1.65 billion users more-immersive videos that play automatically, as well as opening up Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing app, to more advertising. The results show that Zuckerberg has the revenue and profits to invest heavily in innovations like virtual reality and artificial intelligence that aren’t lucrative yet.

With Instagram and video, “they’ve got these two huge tailwinds to their business,” Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said before the results. “But if you own Facebook stock you’re not buying it now because of what they can do with video ads or Instagram, you’re buying it because of the potential with their long-term bets like virtual reality.”

If approved by investors, the new class of shares mean Zuckerberg can still pursue ambitious projects even if Facebook’s existing businesses falter.

“I’ll be able to keep founder control of Facebook so we can continue to build for the long term,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “I see more bold moves ahead of us than behind us.”

Facebook’s main competitor, Alphabet Inc., issued a special share class in 2014 that gives founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin a similar mix of company control and freedom to back risky new technologies. While some of Alphabet’s new bets have stumbled, Facebook must keep up to attract talented engineers capable of inventing new products and businesses.

Investors seemed initially supportive of the new share class idea. Facebook stock jumped 9.3 percent to $118 in extended trading, after gaining less than 1 percent to $108.89 at the close in New York. The shares have climbed 4 percent so far this year.

The strong performance of Facebook’s existing and emerging businesses is keeping most investors happy for now. Adding ads to Instagram is expected to drive $1.53 billion in revenue this year, or 15 percent of the company’s ad sales, according to eMarketer. Facebook is expected to take about 18 percent of the $102.5 billion mobile advertising market this year, eMarketer said. The company has also been investing in live video streaming and media content, aiming to make Facebook more of a place to find out what’s going on right now.

The company reported $1.51 billion in first-quarter net income, or 52 cents a share.

Much of Zuckerberg’s attention these days is focused on longer-term initiatives. At a developer conference earlier this month, he laid out a 10-year vision. In the next couple years, he said, Facebook’s messaging products are going to usher in an age of talking to businesses through artificially intelligent bots, replacing the need to call them or download their app.

Another job for the humans eliminated.

Meanwhile, Facebook will work towards a future where virtual reality is at the center of social interactions, allowing people to hang out with anyone in the world via an Oculus headset and feel a sense of presence.

The very concept itself is a retreat from interaction, and that is the agenda! 

They want us all in our own little world of unreal "reality."

Longer term, Facebook is working on connecting the rest of the world to the Internet using a mix of radio technology, lasers and drones, expanding the overall base of people who can use Facebook’s services.


So how much is all of that going to cost?

"Facebook spent $4.26 million last year to protect Zuckerberg" by Anders Melin Bloomberg News  April 29, 2016

NEW YORK — Facebook Inc. revealed it spent $4.26 million on security for Mark Zuckerberg last year and $12.5 million over the last three years, its first disclosure of such expenditures.

The cost was “to address safety concerns due to specific threats to his safety arising directly as a result of his position as our founder, chairman, and CEO,” the company said in a regulatory filing.

Zuckerberg is the world’s eighth-richest person with an estimated weath of about $47 billion.

Facebook made the disclosure after the Securities and Exchange Commission in August questioned why the costs had never been listed in filings as a taxable perquisite. In response, Facebook argued that a “business-oriented security concern” identified for Zuckerberg exempted it from having to report those expenses. After discussions with SEC staff, the company reversed its position, according to a filing.

Facebook spokesman Jonathan Thaw declined to comment. Chief executives of global businesses are often required by their boards to travel on company-provided planes or cars even for personal trips. More than half of firms in the S&P 100 Index had such policies last year.

Facebook provides Zuckerberg with a home security system and guards who also protect his house in San Francisco. The team is overseen by a former Secret Service agent who protected President Obama.

That makes him feel safe?

That doesn’t come cheap. Each around-the-clock assignment requires four full-time guards, which annually can cost more than $80,000 each, said Christopher Falkenberg, chief executive of New York-based Insite Security Inc., which provides protection to clients including hedge funds. A security director can earn about $200,000 a year.

Recent terrorist attacks in two European capitals and an office shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., have prompted some boards to reexamine security. While the risk for a little-known top executive may be low, a person’s public prominence can quickly change, much thanks to social media, Falkenberg said.

See: Taking a Second Look at San Bernardino Inc. said it spent $1.6 million on protection for Jeff Bezos, while Berkshire Hathaway Inc. paid $370,244 for personal and home security for billionaire Warren Buffett in 2015. Apple Inc. spent $209,151 on Tim Cook.

Bezos just following the herd, Buffett feasting on it, and Cook may need more now.

Oracle Corp. spent $1.53 million to protect executive chairman Larry Ellison at his residence. Home protection systems can include camera surveillance, pressure pads located near doors or walkways to detect movement, and dense vegetation or crushed gravel that’s noisy to walk on beneath windows to deter intruders, said Peter Martin, chief executive of security consultancy Afimac Global.

Makes things cloudy.

“It is important to keep the boss safe, but there comes a point — certainly south of the $1 million mark — where shareholders deserve a far clearer explanation of the risks and provisions and the justification,” said Michael Pryce-Jones, director of corporate governance at CtW Investment Group, which advocates for pension funds that collectively manage $250 billion.


Have a safe and secure night, readers. 

NEXT DAY UPDATE: Zuckerberg hires education leader to run philanthropic effort

They want to “personalize learning?” 

Smells like, you know, to me. 

Need another whiff?