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Are you paying attention to Tencent? You should.
The Chinese gaming, messaging, and other digital services company isn’t exactly new. Public in Hong Kong for 14 years, it is worth half a trillion dollars—no typo. Yet because Westerners typically don’t use its WeChat service to play games, chat by voice or text, or make payments, Tencent is relatively unknown by consumers outside China.
Businesses, particularly in gaming, know all about Tencent. It has been a voracious investor around the world, as The Wall Street Journal summarized Wednesday. One investment looks particularly shrewd. Tencent owns 40% of Epic Games, the North Carolina maker of the runaway hit Fortnite. Breakingviews cites analysis from researcher SuperData that Fortnite alone rang up sales of $223 million in March—also not a typo. Tencent plans to bring the game to China.
Despite owning stakes in Western mainstays like Tesla, Snap, and Activision Blizzard, Tencent hasn’t made any aggressive moves to become an operator in the West. It has the cash if it chooses to do so. First-quarter revenue jumped nearly 50% to $12 billion. Profits were $3.65 billion.
These are numbers worth paying attention to.
Many of you wrote Wednesday to tell me the link to Tom Wolfe’s famous Esquire profile of Intel’s Bob Noyce was broken. Indeed, Esquire, which sells access to all its old articles, had a technical glitch. It fixed the problem and then graciously made Wolfe’s epic Silicon Valley yarn available for free here. Enjoy.
I’ve become a fan of The Daily, the 20-minute podcast from The New York Times and a good example of how the formerly stodgy paper is lapping the competition in terms of product development. If you’d like to sample it, listen to “When Facebook Rumors Incite Real Violence,” which you can find at The Daily’s home page. It’s a gripping and tragic story and illustrates well the ramifications of allowing a media company to deny that label—with horrifying consequences.
Now you see me. There were some clues this week about the two tech giants searching for second headquarters sites. Apple was said to be talking to officials in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill areas of North Carolina as well as exploring the Northern Virginia region. Amazon has visited all 20 cities on its list of finalists, including both of Apple’s possible targets, suggesting a final decision could be coming soon. While Jeff Bezos’ company continues the HQ2 hunt, another Amazon search is not going so well. The company’s joint venture on health care with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase is having trouble finding a CEO, CNBC reported.
Running in place. Amazon’s biggest e-commerce competitor, Walmart, is doing better but still falling behind. The retail giant said its online sales jumped 33% in its most recent quarter, accelerating from a 23% rate of growth in the fourth quarter of last year. Amazon’s first quarter revenue, however, jumped 43%. Overall revenue at Walmart, including sales from its 12,000 stores, grew 4% to $122.7 billion. Another Amazon target, grocery chain Kroger, said it was partnering with British online grocer Ocado to expand its home delivery business.
Running in place, part two. As expected, all 49 Democratic members of the Senate plus three Republicans voted to stop the Federal Communications Commission from repealing its 2015 net neutrality rules. But the move is unlikely to pass the House or be signed by President Trump, so the next battle over net neutrality will likely occur in federal court after the June 11 repeal takes effect.
Leaping ahead. Bain Capital Ventures hired its first female partner, Sarah Smith, a former executive at Facebook and Quora. Based in San Francisco, Smith will focus on early-stage investments in business and consumer technologies and marketplaces. Most recently, Smith was as an investor at Graph Ventures, where she funded more than 20 seed and Series A investments, including BetterUp, Winnie, Motion, OhmniLabs, Heartbeat, Strive, and Twine.
Ha ha. The jokesters at the Securities and Exchange Commission hammed it up with a parody web site meant to focus attention on the dangers of investing in digital currencies and initial coin offerings. The agency’s fake HoweyCoins promotional web site is said to be an homage to a famous 1946 Supreme Court decision, SEC v W.J. Howey, which helped define some financial transactions as securities subject to SEC oversight.
Going up. Online training software developer PluralSight went public at $15 a share and starts trading on Thursday under the symbol “PS.” The offering, which raised $357 million, was massively oversubscribed, so the shares are likely to experience a significant pop later today.
First learn stand, then learn fly. YouTube Red’s video series Cobra Kai, a spinoff of the Karate Kid films, was the most watched streaming show last week, beating Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and Arrested Development, according to data from Parrot Analytics obtained by Variety. Meanwhile, Google is shaking up its pay video service, renaming it YouTube Premium, and switching around its music service, as well. CNet has the details.
Less expensive. Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus unveiled its newest flagship. The OnePlus 6 has a 6.3-inch high-definition screen and other top-end specs, but will only cost $529 when it goes on sale worldwide next week.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The art of profile writing is challenging, even more so when the subject of a profile does not cooperate. But Wired’s Andrew Rice has written a worthy and illuminating in-depth profile of Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai without the controversial bureaucrat’s participation. A former Verizon lobbyist and Capitol Hill staffer who took a seat on the FCC in 2012, Pai was named to head the agency by President Trump last year. He has since rolled back numerous FCC rules, including one that would have stopped Sinclair from buying dozens more TV stations and, most famously, the agency’s 2015 net neutrality protections.
People who know Pai swear that his nerdy persona is authentic. And even his adversaries will admit that he’s an anomaly in the Trump administration: a skillful practitioner of the Washington game. Pai has spent his entire professional life in the capital, acquiring influential patrons (Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions) and insider expertise. As Harold Feld, an ardent critic who works for the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, laments, “Why was my area of policy the one that got the guy who actually knows what he’s doing?”
Behind Pai’s brainy, technocratic mask, though, is an alter ego: ruthless conservative ideologue. In this sense, he is emblematic of Trump’s Washington, where all debates—even the bone-dry bureaucratic ones—have become so heated that they are fought like matters of life and death. Pai’s competence has allowed him to make quick work of undoing the Obama administration’s legacy at the FCC. But his polarizing politics assure that the battle over internet regulation will keep raging.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Netflix Is Adding Way More Original Movies in 2018 By Lisa Marie Segarra
Apple CEO Tim Cook Says Apple Music Has Over 50 Million Users By Jonathan Vanian
Google Offers Free Protection to U.S. Political Websites By Jeff John Roberts
Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition Review: Fun for the Whole Family By Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
Already bought tickets to see the next Star Wars chapter, Solo? The reviews are out and they are kind of mixed. The movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score, which combines all reviews into one number, is 73%, decent for a normal movie, but low for a Star Wars movie. Or as Slate reviewer Sam Adams puts it: “Solo isn’t the worst Star Wars movie—your record is safe, The Phantom Menace—just the one with the least compelling reason to exist.”