In the news this week, Twitter is exploring a potential sale, but Google, Apple and Disney might not be suitors anymore. Google unveils new Pixel phones, a smart speaker and VR gear — but artificial intelligence is the key to the new hardware. And Yahoo helped the Feds spy on users without their knowledge. Yet another headache for Verizon. Our Metric of the Week is sentiment analysis, and we’ll talk to Politico’s Joe Pompeo about the potential marriage of Gannett and “Tronc.” Old media plus new-old media! And Inside.com’s Austin Smith joins us for a chat about who’s going all-in on email newsletters.
Don’t have a lot of time to spare, but still want to get a roundup of the week’s top news? Then check out our Digital Media Brief below!
Digital Media Brief
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Mark Glaser is executive editor and publisher of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is an award-winning writer and accidental entrepreneur, who has taken MediaShift from a one-person blog to a growing media company with events such as Collab/Space workshops and weekend hackathons; the weekly MediaShift podcast; and digital training, DigitalEd, in partnership with top journalism schools. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.
Austin Smith is GM and president of Inside.com – the network of email newsletters. Prior to his current role, he has been a reporter, a growth hacker, a marketer, and was also the founder of ReadThisThing.
Joe Pompeo is a senior media reporter and POLITICO’s Morning Media columnist. He was previously a reporter at Yahoo News, Business Insider and The New York Observer.
Top News of the Week
Twitter Sale Hits a Bump, with Google, Disney Losing Interest
There’s been a lot of talk about a potential Twitter buyout in the past few weeks. Potential suitors for the once soaring social media network include Google, Disney and Salesforce. The speculation has certainly been helpful for Twitter’s stock. Monica Langley of the Wall Street Journal reported that the social media company is taking bids this week for an eventual sale which could bring in upwards of $20 billion. But while the early talk was hopeful, a recent report by Recode’s Kara Swisher and Kurt Wagner found that Google, Apple and Disney are out of the running, leaving Salesforce as the only remaining major suitor. That knocked nearly 20% off Twitter’s stock price on Thursday.
All of this talk comes as we reach the one year anniversary of Jack Dorsey’s return to Twitter as CEO. And a report from Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier said that Dorsey was against a sale in a board meeting last month, while former CEO and board member Ev Williams was for a sale. Other board members realized they had a duty to explore a sale and hired Goldman Sachs to receive bids. Twitter was once a hot social media company on the rise, but in recent years it’s had stagnating user and revenue growth. Revenues doubled in 2014 but rose only 15% last year and might be even more anemic this year. And yet it still has 300 million-plus users and a huge footprint in media and mobile advertising. Plus, with a push by CFO Anthony Nolo, the company has bought streaming rights to 10 NFL games and many other live events. If there is a sale, it would be the end of an era for one of Silicon Valley’s most storied companies.
Google Unveils New Pixel Phones, a Smart Speaker, and VR Goggles
For a long time, Google focused most intently on software, search, and advertising, and its hardware efforts were halting. It relied on other hardware companies to make its Nexus phone, and it bought Nest smart thermostats, smoke detectors, and security cameras. But with its recent unveil, Google is now squarely into hardware, releasing new Pixel phones that it designed from start to finish, as well as the Google Home smart speaker (taking on Amazon’s Alexa) and a lightweight DayDream VR headset. The connecting factor is Google Assistant, an artificial intelligence agent like Apple’s Siri, where you can talk to the phone or the speaker, and potentially control all your connected home devices. And that was the reason that Google CEO Sundar Pichai cited for designing its hardware in-house. “The goal is to build a personal Google for each and every individual,” Pichai told the New York Times.
Having a Google Assistant help you pick your music, call a friend or make a restaurant reservation seems like our inevitable future, if not a creepy one. Slate’s Will Oremus says that the real goal for Google might not be just selling hardware, but insinuating itself into your life to deliver more targeted ads. Google could potentially now know more about your habits in real life along with online. Oremus thinks Google has a better shot at building better AI than Apple or Amazon with its treasure trove of online data on everyone, so a better experience could mean beating out rivals even though it’s late to the game. On the hardware side, Google took shots at Apple’s iPhone but the real losers could be Samsung, which depends heavily on Google’s Android operating system. If Google is building a better phone, with better AI, then Samsung could be in its cross-hairs, according to Reuters. And maybe what was overlooked in the announcement was Google’s new VR headset, DayDream, made with microfiber to make them more comfy than other restrictive headsets. We’ll see if Google can finally get hardware right.
Yahoo Secretly Scans Users’ Emails for the Feds
In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about tech companies working with Feds to spy on users, many of those companies have strengthened security, including Yahoo encrypting its web email. But that hasn’t stopped the spying. Reuters’ Joseph Menn broke the story that Feds had asked Yahoo to create its own program to search all incoming email for a specific string of characters last year. Rather than fight the order, Yahoo complied, leading to its security chief, Alex Stamos, leaving the company. Stamos is now working at Facebook. In response to the story, Yahoo has struggled to respond, first saying that it complied with U.S. laws, and then saying the story was misleading. Security and privacy experts were scathing in their criticism of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer for going along with the Feds and helping them spy on all its users.
Nearly every other tech company, from Google to Facebook to Twitter, said that they would have fought such a broad order from government agencies. “We’ve never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: ‘no way!’ a Google rep told Fortune. The Intercept’s Sam Biddle had a simple solution: “Delete Your Yahoo Account” was the headline for his story. And the timing for the story is interesting, coming right after Yahoo took heat for a state-sponsored hack that exposed more than a billion user credentials a couple years ago. Plus, the company is trying to finalize a sale to Verizon, which will have to cope with the fallout of the various security issues at Yahoo. Whether people will depart Yahoo in droves or just shrug their shoulders at yet another security break and spying case is not known yet. But the risk involved for Verizon has begun to skyrocket.
Music on this Episode
Jefferson Yen is the producer for the Mediatwits Podcast. His work has been on KPCC Southern California Public Radio and KRTS Marfa Public Radio. You can follow him @jeffersontyen.