I recently used the expression “whirling dervish” with my daughter—the reference was to the frenzied manner in which my wife and I were unpacking from a trip while the young lady of the manor sat immobile, staring into my iPad—and she asked what that was. I found myself unable to explain the expression quickly.
Now I think I’ve hit on a way to sum it up, though perhaps still not for my child. It is the recent behavior of Amazon.com and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. He and his company constantly are in motion, spinning up something new, exciting, and interesting. Consider:
* TechCrunch noticed that Amazon is creating a by-invitation-only “influencer” program for celebrities and others with large social-media audiences. The e-commerce titan will pay socially notable people an unspecified bounty to include links on Amazon for products they shill in their posts. This is equal parts smart and icky. Classic Amazon.
* Bezos, whose interests are wide and varied, disclosed he’ll dump $1 billion worth of Amazon shares to fund his rocket-ship company, Blue Origin. If Bezos didn’t have a well-documented love of rocketry and space since his childhood, one might conclude he was in a my-rocket-is-bigger-than-your-rocket spat with Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX. But these two are both dead serious. I visited Blue Origin’s cavernous manufacturing site in Kent, Wash., last year. It’s no joke.
* Amazon signed a $50 million deal to stream NFL games. That’s $40 million more than what Twitter paid last year for a similar deal. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google’s YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook bid on the rights. What’s interesting about that is that sports rights are an advertising play for YouTube, Google, and Facebook, and while Netflix (which doesn’t do sports) is all about straight entertainment subscriptions, Amazon is packaging its exclusive content into its Amazon Prime service, a one-of-a-kind subscription offering.
BITS AND BYTES
BlackRock wants Cisco’s CEO on its board. Chuck Robbins was nominated as a director at the world’s biggest money manager, which is holding its annual meeting on May 25. Robbins would be the first tech industry executive to hold that position. He doesn’t currently sit on any outside corporate boards. (Wall Street Journal)
There’s much ado about batteries this week. Amazon will spend at least $70 million this year on technology from Plug Power, which makes hydrogen fuel cells that power warehouse equipment. It could also take a big stake in the company. Elsewhere, Boeing and JetBlue are among the new investors in Zunum Aero, a startup developing battery-powered jets. (Reuters, Fortune)
YouTube’s streaming TV service debuts in five cities. The new offering enters a crowded market, competing with the likes of Hulu and Sling. Unlike the other services, it doesn’t include some mainstream channels like CNN or Discover, but YouTube is throwing in “unlimited” cloud storage from Google so that subscribers can record programs more easily. (Fortune, NPR)
Chinese tech giant Tencent is now the world’s 10th biggest company. The success of its mobile payments business on Wednesday helped drive Tencent’s market capitalization higher than Wells Fargo’s $275 billion. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing to consider is that the Internet giant today does very little business outside of its domestic market. (Fortune)
Automated truck startup Peloton is finalizing a big funding round. The $60 million infusion—which expands total backing to $78 million—will include existing investors like Intel, Castrol, UPS, and Volvo. (Fortune)
Data visualization company Tableau is finally offering cloud subscriptions. The software company has been slow to move away from traditional, on-premise licenses for its analytics applications but now it’s introducing several new services that can be paid off over time, reports Bloomberg. Tableau’s relatively new CEO, former Amazon cloud exec Adam Selipsky, wants to build more predictability into the company’s revenue model. (Bloomberg)
The bright side of job-killing automation. Fears that automation will kill more jobs continue to grow. An estimated 5 million U.S. factory jobs have evaporated since 2000 and most of those (88%) were lost to increased productivity due to automation, according to a study by Ball State University.
But opinions about what, if anything, can be done to reverse the trend differ greatly. Real estate billionaire Jeff Greene, who hosted his second Managing the Disruption conference on the topic of job destruction and what to do about it in Palm Beach, Fla., this week, has some ideas.
Last year, Greene raised a ruckus by saying that robotics and artificial intelligence would kill not just blue-collar factory jobs but also many white-collar careers. Paralegals, journalists, airline pilots, even surgeons could be impacted, for example. His take is that automation isn’t entirely bad if it can be perfected and deployed to lower the cost of living for the middle class so that they wouldn’t need to earn as much money to get by. Fortune‘s Barb Darrow analyzes that thesis.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Spotify Is Likely Preparing for a “Crowdfunding” IPO, by Lucinda Shen
Amazon Is Worth More Than Walmart, Costco, and Target Combined, by Jeff Bukhari
BMW Just Backed This On-Demand Bus Rental Startup, by Kirsten Korosec
Billionaire Steve Cohen Is Investing in a Bloomberg Terminal Rival, by Lucinda Shen
AT&T Workers Are Planning Mass Protests, by Aaron Pressman
Tech Gadgets That Celebrities Can’t Live Without, by Chris Morris
ONE MORE THING
Amazon’s Alexa now has a better sense of where you are. After a software update this week, the home automation technology is now capable of making personalized suggestions—for local businesses or neighborhood restaurants—using location data. (Fortune)