Your regular host Adam Lashinsky is out this week. Michal Lev-Ram is a senior writer at Fortune.
Is it just me, or is Netflix as hard to figure out as the real truth behind convicted felon Steven Avery’s case? (If you haven’t yet watched Making a Murderer, the streaming giant’s captivating miniseries about the Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, man now serving a life sentence, you should.)
Shares of the Silicon Valley company, back on Fortune’s World Most Admired Companies list after a four-year absence, are confoundingly volatile. The stock was the S&P 500’s top performer in 2015, but became the index’s biggest loser in early March. (It has since recovered but is still trading well below last year’s highs.)
Even as Netflix has grown its original content lineup—it will invest $5 billion to create 31 new series this year—its overall catalogue has shrunk by nearly 32% since early 2014, according to a recent report. Another recent finding shows that, despite its public support of net neutrality laws (which bar Internet service providers from selectively allocating web traffic), the company has quietly been throttling its videos on at least some mobile networks, purportedly to protect customers from data overage charges.
Lastly, a new Wired feature on Netflix’s use of big data (did you know that 90% of total anime streaming volume comes from outside of Japan?) illustrates, in impressive detail, how the online distributor is harnessing “a world’s worth of data” to create content with global appeal. And yet, the real appeal of Netflix’s individual shows is as hard to crack as an Apple iPhone—that is, before the FBI found a workaround. That’s because, unlike traditional networks, Netflix does not reveal ratings.
But, as we like to say in journalism, at least one thing is clear. Netflix is a force to be reckoned with. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay. And, quite likely, disrupt the entire model of the entertainment industry. Our queues will never be the same.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to binge-watching the fifth season of Louie.
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BITS AND BYTES
Spotify raises another $1 billion, as rivals encroach. The streaming music service has signed a massive convertible debt round that doubles its previous backing. Under the terms, the investors can convert their debt to equity in the future but the funding won’t technically dilute Spotify’s valuation. As of June 2015, the Swedish company was valued at $8.5 billion. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Foxconn and Sharp finally tie the knot. The Taiwanese contract manufacturer, best-known for making Apple iPhones, will pay $3.5 billion for a controlling interest in the struggling Japanese display company. That’s about $900 million more than its original offer, which it withdrew in late February after finding out more about Sharp’s fiscal obligations. One of its first anticipated moves: replacing the CEO and most of the board. (Reuters, Fortune)
Apple’s fight with the FBI over encryption is far from over. Even though investigators managed to unlock the iPhone in the San Bernardino case on their own, there are dozens of similar cases pending and the Justice Department warns it will go to court again (if necessary) to force Apple to open them. Meanwhile, Apple is scrambling to figure out how the FBI succeeded. The agency isn’t talking, but fingers are pointing at Israeli-based Cellebrite. (Ars Technica, New York Times)
Hewlett Packard Enterprise wants to be memorable. The company is experimenting with “persistent memory” technology in a bid to speed up the processing power of its servers. Oracle and Super Micro Computer are among rivals working on similar initiatives. (Wall Street Journal)
China mulls tougher Internet censorship policy. A proposed new rule would limit surfing in the country only to Web domains specifically registered with the Chinese government, blocking the rest. (New York Times)
Snapchat is starting to resemble other messaging apps. Its latest update includes richer video calling features, which sets the service up to compete with other social messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger. The other implication? It provides a richer environment for new advertising services. (Fortune)
Instagram change draws criticism. The social media company’s plan to organize incoming images by using algorithms instead of chronologically could signal big changes ahead for businesses that currently use the service to communicate brand messages for free. On the bright side, the service now accommodates much longer minute-long videos, which gives them another channel. (Fortune)
Listen up, Spotify and Apple. Berlin-based music hosting service SoundCloud is finally joining the on-demand music streaming craze. Its offering, SoundCloud Go, will give U.S. subscribers access to a catalog of more than 125 million songs including free tracks and standard recordings from music labels and publishers. (Fortune)
The age of autonomous robots is upon us. Hulking robotic devices have long been a fixture on factory floors and in other heavy industrial environments. And the dirt-sucking Roomba and its peers, rudimentary versions of the humanoid butler Rosie from The Jetsons, are certainly popular in homes across the country.
But a new class of robots has arrived, promising to be simple enough for a small team to build and cheap enough to justify the effort. There are robots that monitor and stock shelves in grocery stores. There are robots that will mow the lawn for you. There are cars that will drive themselves, office assistants that require regular recharging, and food delivery guys that won’t ask for a tip.
Why now? The reason is simple: timing, reports Fortune contributor Signe Brewster. Advances in robotics that have been building for decades are converging. And trends in the broader technology industry—such as the growing library of open source software, advances in gaming systems, increasingly powerful and energy-efficient processors, and cheap sensors—are helping accelerate the trajectory of “smart” autonomous machines.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Messaging bots may soon invade your inbox by Heather Clancy
Consumers’ biggest complaint about wearables by Jason Cipriani
8 cool technologies to look forward to after virtual reality by Chris Morris
Meet the tech king of McDonald’s by Michal LevRam
Samsung Pay follows Apple Pay to China by Hilary Brueck
Can this smart luggage startup roll to the top? by Emily Price
Robo-advisor Betterment raises $100 million by Erin Griffith
Database startup snags $10 million to speed analytics by Barb Darrow
ONE MORE THING
Andy Grove’s ghost speaks out. Catherine Fredman was the ghostwriter behind the legendary CEO’s influential management book, Only the Paranoid Survive, and his 2001 memoir, Swimming Across. She remembers her late collaborator. (Fortune)