Data Sheet—How Disney and Marriott Are Finally Punching Back Against the Upstarts

April 30, 2019, 12:37 PM UTC
Pedestrians are seen taking a selfie with Marvel and Marvel
HONG KONG - 2019/04/26: Pedestrians are seen taking a selfie with Marvel and Marvel Studios figures owned by Disney to commemorate and advertise the "Avengers: Endgame" movie in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images LightRocket via Getty Images

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When Disney announced its new Disney+ streaming strategy that will riskily yank content from lucrative distribution deals with others like Netflix, I asked a business-savvy friend if he thought the move made sense. His answer was unequivocal: “I can’t figure out what took them so long.”

Incumbents are by definition slow. Those who have much to protect do so. It also makes sense to wait a bit to see if this newfangled stuff truly works.

But when it does work, the empires need to strike back. And with increasing success they appear to be doing just that. A short while ago Silicon Valley savants were urging The New York Times, for example, to shut down its print edition. Today The Times, still a tree killer, is thriving even as its supposed digital betters, like Buzzfeed and Vice, are thrashing about. The Times’s secret: a full-on embrace of digital technologies without the naïve capitulation to Facebook that worked for others for a hot minute.

Incumbents elsewhere are getting their collective acts together. Marriott has announced a luxury home-sharing product to go after Airbnb. It’s a guarded step—three-night minimums, high-end only—but it’s not a small step. Marriott can tie its reward program to the rest of its empire in a way Airbnb can only dream about. The hotelier should have done this years ago, of course. But better late than never.

Playing catch-up is a thing even for new-age companies. Google, with all its computing power and know-how sat idly by watching Amazon build a giant web services business. Now Google wants one too.


Two fine off-beat business stories appeared over the weekend in The Times. This juicy yarn about the raisin industry, of all things, and this lamentable saga about alleged sexual discrimination at jeweler Signet are powerful reminders that not every business story is about a Fortune 500 company—though we plan to publish a whole bunch of those in the next issue of the magazine, the annual Fortune 500 issue.


Overcast with chance of rain. Speaking of Google's efforts to compete with Amazon, the company's cloud services helped bolster its sales last quarter but not enough to impress Wall Street. Revenue rose only 17% to $36.3 billion, down from growth rates of over 20% at the end of last year. Google's shares, which had gained 24% so far this year, lost 8% in premarket trading on Tuesday. Meanwhile, a group of Google employees is calling for a May 1 walkout to call attention to how the company dealt with complaints of sexual misconduct.

Rainbow spotted. Being a public company sounds so fun, you're saying to yourself. Well, here comes WeWork to join the party. The office space rental company announced on Monday it had filed confidentially to go public. Stay tuned for more detailed financial info in a future, non-confidential update. The deal is expected to be priced in the second half of the year.

Tornado warnings. The Trump administration continued its shift to reverse Obama era rulings about how to treat so-called gig workers, like drivers for Uber and Lyft. The Labor Department on Monday told an unnamed company that it could consider such workers independent contractors, not employees, and thus not have to meet minimum wage, overtime, and other rules.

Low visibility. It's a no go for Anki, the company that makes the cute robot toys sometimes featured by Apple. Anki is shutting down and laying off its entire staff, Recode reports.

Buffeted by high winds. In other sad stories about creators, Marcus Persson, the original developer of tween gaming sensation Minecraft, isn't invited to a 10th anniversary bash being held by current owner Microsoft, Variety reports. That's due to some regrettable (and worse) tweets by Persson about race, transgender people, conspiracy theories, and other nonsense.

Partly sunny. A "convolutional neural network" machine learning algorithm trained to find signs of skin cancer outperformed 87% of human dermatologists in spotting melanoma lesions, according to a new study by a project funded by the Federal Ministry of Health in Germany. "Our findings suggest that artificial intelligence algorithms may successfully assist dermatologists with melanoma detection," the study concluded.


Some changes in Apple's mobile modem efforts as its legal battle with Qualcomm ends. The iPhone maker hired Umashankar Thyagarajan, one of Intel's top modem designers, while one of Apple's own top engineers on the project, Rubén Caballero, is leaving...Web hosting company Rackspace hired Kevin Jones as CEO to replace Joe Eazor, who was on the job for less than two years. Jones comes from bus contractor MV Transportation...Snap hired its first chief marketing officer, nabbing Kenny Mitchell away from McDonald's where he was a marketing vice president...Former Wall Street Journal and ProPublica reporter Julia Angwin was fired as editor in chief of startup tech news site The Markup.


Speaking of A.I. doctoring, the promise of automation is also, of course, the threat of automation. Robot butlers and self-driving car programs may be cheaper or more efficient than humans doing the same tasks, but they also leave those humans out of a job. Fortune's Jonathan Vanian has a long look at how some workers are pressing for protections against technological changes, both via unions and other kinds of collective actions. Take the case of the housekeepers at Marriott:

Marriott’s housekeepers were able to win some protections in their recent contract, which was similar to one their union negotiated last year on behalf of Las Vegas casino workers. In addition to requiring that Marriott give the union a heads-up about any new technology, it guarantees job training for anyone who is displaced. A housekeeper could become a cook, for example, and be put to work at the same hotel or one nearby. The contract language covers disruption from both futuristic scenarios like robots that can clean rooms, to more present-day ones like the app that infuriated the hotel’s housekeepers, says Anand Singh, a Unite Here president in San Francisco.

“We don’t have all the answers,” he concedes. However, “you can’t just count on some magical apparatus to reposition and retrain Americans.”


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In one of the more bizarre job listings of the year (I checked-it's not April Fool's Day), Amazon's Ring doorbell unit is looking to hire a "managing editor, news." The candidate is to "manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors." I guess it would be useful if your doorbell warned about the latest burglary spree on your block? (Update: A representative of Ring writes to explain that the news unit is part of the company's Neighbors team and its doorbells wouldn't offer news.)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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