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Data Sheet—Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Erin Griffith is a writer at Fortune.

In the heyday of television, it made sense to sell a whole year’s worth of ads in advance, or “up front,” at a glitzy series of events called, appropriately, the Upfronts. That model doesn’t make as much sense in the era of cord cutting, Snapchat, and programmatic advertising that gets bought and sold in split-second algorithmic auctions.

But TV execs keep up appearances nonetheless, and digital video companies even started their own version of the Upfronts, the unfortunately named “NewFronts.” That two-week series of breakfasts, presentations, panels, and parties kicked off Monday with The New York Times and BuzzFeed, two media companies trying very hard to be something they’re not.

In previous years, BuzzFeed rejected the cheesy hard pitch formula of NewFronts, instead using its event to indoctrinate advertisers about How BuzzFeed Thinks About the World. Consciously or not, it sent a message that BuzzFeed was a tiny bit too cool and authentic and millennial to really care about tawdry salesmanship.

But this year, perhaps spurred by reports casting doubt on the company’s business model, BuzzFeed was in hardcore selling mode. The company’s executives pitched specific videos, showcased specific talent, and even asked for specific categories of advertisers. The event, which put its fast-growing (and highly brand-friendly) food channel, Tasty, front and center, was held in a warehouse four times the size of its prior events. Suddenly, BuzzFeed is dead serious about advertising.

Meanwhile the Times, founded 165 years ago as a newspaper, wants to be a virtual reality company. The company demoed its VR chops with an incredible seven-minute simulation of what it’s like to stand on Pluto, while predicting a “much more visual future” for itself.

I expect a lot more media company identity shifting this week. At a breakfast panel, attendees considered whether it made sense to keep the TV Upfronts separate from the Digital NewFronts anymore. With so much convergence of media, someone asked, “shouldn’t it just be a ‘video front’?” Probably. Then again, if everything is digital, there’s little reason to sell anything “up front” at all.

Erin Griffith
@eringriffith
Erin.Griffith@fortune.com

This essay is part of “A Boom With a View.” Find past editions of Data Sheet.

 

BITS AND BYTES

Can Microsoft follow Amazon’s cloud trajectory? A rosy research note from Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit helped boost the software company’s shares Monday. In particular, it has high hopes for its “Intelligent Cloud”—even though profit for that business slipped 14% to $2.19 billion in the third quarter reported last week. That blip, apparently, didn’t faze the Merrill Lynch number crunchers. (Fortune)

No, Intel isn’t abandoning the mobile market. Yes, the giant chipmaker is killing some versions of its Atom line of processors, one of the biggest duds in semiconductor history. But Intel is doubling down on high-end connectivity technology, including the next generation of wireless communications, 5G. (Fortune)

Apple CEO Tim Cook offers familiar excuses. The tech giant’s shares have slipped in value for the past eight trading sessions, its longest losing streak since 1998. Still, Cook remained optimistic in a Monday evening interview with CNBC’s Jim Cramer. He offered the same explanations cited on Apple’s earnings call last week—the strong dollar, the weak Chinese economy, and a slow iPhone upgrade cycle. (Fortune, Bloomberg)

Uber lures Chinese consumers with Alipay pact. The new partnership will allow more than 450 million people in China to pay for rides using the Alipay digital payments app. Uber is a distant second in the Chinese ride-hailing market after local rival Didi Chuxing, but this alliance should improve its credibility. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)

Meanwhile, the ride-sharing company faces two more driver lawsuits. The new cases in Florida and Illinois seek compensation for overtime and certain expenses, reports the Los Angeles Times. Uber has proposed a $100 million settlement to erase similar legal troubles in California and Massachusetts. (Fortune)

Oracle acquires energy analytics company. The software giant will pay $532 million for Opower, which sells software that creates those nudgy notes from your electric or gas company that compare your energy consumption to that of your neighbors. Opower counts 100 utilities as customers, including ComEd, National Grid, and PG&E. (Fortune)

Brazil temporarily bans WhatsApp messaging service (again). The government is seeking data related to a drug trafficking case, a request that WhatsApp has said it cannot fulfill. The 72-hour block on the service began Monday. Brazilian prosecutors previously detained Facebook’s local vice president over the matter. (Wall Street Journal, Reuters)

Nvidia settles patent feud with Samsung. The two companies’ feud centered on what Samsung claimed was unlicensed use of its graphics processing technology. The deal came after Nvidia filed its own patent complaint against Samsung. It was mere hours before the U.S. trade agency was set to rule on a potential import ban of Nvidia products. (Reuters)

Want to try Oculus Rift? Visit Best Buy. Would-be buyers can make an appointment to test the technology in approximately 50 stores after May 7. More locations will add the product over the summer. (Fortune)

Yahoo’s new activist director says management is “welcoming.” Starboard Value CEO Jeffrey Smith joined the board after a contentious battle over the future of the company, one that is a long way from resolution. (Reuters)

THE DOWNLOAD

EMC takes on storage upstarts and Amazon’s cloud. Unless something completely crazy happens, this week will mark the final EMC World conference to be hosted by an independent EMC. Dell’s planned $59 billion acquisition of EMC (as well as VMware and other satellite companies) should be complete within months—October at the latest. EMC shareholders will vote on the deal, which will create a company to be called Dell Technologies, later this month or next.

There will be the usual spate of product announcements this week as EMC seeks to retain its leadership in data storage, fending off upstarts like Pure Storage and Nimble on the one hand, while it also seeks to prove its relevance in the emerging cloud computing era as Amazon Web Services rents out computing capability, storage, and networking from a massive bank of shared infrastructure to companies of all sizes. Fortune‘s Barb Darrow reports about what’s in store.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Claimed bitcoin creator fails to prove his boast by Aaron Pressman

The 6 most important tech trends, according to Eric Schmidt
by Katie Fehrenbacher

Google buys training software specialist by Jonathan Vanian

Twitter’s live video service makes a big hire by Verne Kopytoff

Android app pirates plead guilty in groundbreaking case by David Meyer

Exclusive: Panzura hires former HP exec as CEO by Barb Darrow

Apple and Google employees love Bernie Sanders but not Donald Trump by Don Reisinger

New York tech companies get a new lobby by Kia Kokalitcheva

 

ONE MORE THING

Here’s the latest flyover view of Apple’s new campus. Although progress seems slow, the company still plans to move into the site next year. (Fortune)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.
@greentechlady
heather@heatherclancy.com