Jeffrey Cole: perspectives on the digital realm

The director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg explores trends and issues that expand on the findings from the Center’s studies.

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2019

An epidemic of loneliness?

December 4 — Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents: are digital technologies to blame?

Why do technologies designed to foster connectedness and relationships seem to be producing the opposite effect?  (more)
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OK, Boomer” — the opening shot in the generational war

November 20 — It’s not news that we live in a divided country. Historians say we are looking at the most significant and dangerous divides since the Civil War 150 years ago. What’s truly alarming is that some believe that another Civil War is not a far-fetched idea.

In my lifetime, the divides between the left and the right, or between Democrats and Republicans, have never been so acute or dangerous. We watch different media, collect separate (and opposing) facts, believe in different science, and, most worrisome of all, want to see the other side destroyed or weakened to the point of irrelevance.  (more)
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Why NBC Universal’s Peacock will be “must-stream TV”

November 6 — Although Netflix, Apple TV+, and Disney+ have been grabbing headlines, NBCU’s Peacock service from Comcast has identified a strategic opportunity in the streaming wars.

Next week on November 12, the streaming wars will officially begin as Disney unveils its new service, Disney +. Consumers will be thrilled, confused, and overwhelmed. Not the least of their problems will be figuring how much more they are willing to spend every month on “television,” and which services are worth paying for.  The competition among the subscription streamers will be intense.  (more)
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Television sets: a 1940s device reimagined for the 2020s

October 16 — It’s a tough time to be a television set manufacturer. So much is being asked of the manufacturers: we expect them to spend billions of dollars to distinguish passing trends from lasting innovations.

The humble television set is an old technology (it began to appear in the 1940s). Over 70 years later, we expect it to become state of the art, and add features and perform functions not even dreamed of when television broadcast its first signal.  (more)
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The ghost of television past

October 2 — The next 12 months will see the most important transformation in the entertainment industry — at least since the beginning of television in the late 1940s. We are six weeks from Disney firing the first and most important salvo in the coming television streaming war. November 12 will mark the launch of Disney+ at the Netflix-killing price of $6.99 per month. (I recently took advantage of a great promotion and bought a three-year subscription at $3.88 per month.)

A year from now, after disruption and transformation, there will be new combatants in the streaming battle, while old ones will be injured or eliminated. When the smoke clears, we will see a different playing field in a changed industry.  We are at the end of the first era of television. It should be celebrated.  (more)
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Microsoft: back from the brink

September 18 — Recently, I was speaking at a technology conference when someone asked, “Who is currently the best CEO of a media, technology, or entertainment company?” Despite all the work I do in the industry, I didn’t have a ready answer to the question. After carefully thinking, I came to a surprising conclusion: the best CEO in the industry succeeded the worst. The company is Microsoft.  (more)
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Would breaking up Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google be bad for consumers?

July 24 — By any objective measure, the “Big Four” (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google) are so big and powerful they control their industries, causing many critics and governments to question whether they are monopolies. In any normal environment, they would be broken up. The Big Four have become some of the biggest and most successful companies in history, and that size and success is making them targets.

These companies are so big they are a natural target for the antitrust division of the Justice Department. This is the same Justice Department that, in the 1980s and 1990s, went after the original AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft.  There is no doubt that the governments of the U.S., European Union, and elsewhere are preparing to move against the Big Four.  (more)
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The disruption of Netflix: a plan for its survival

July 10 — The Streaming Wars have begun. The service at the greatest risk and with the most to lose is Netflix.  Ever since it made the awkward transition from the “Red Envelope” business into streaming eight years ago, Netflix has been on an unprecedented glide path to success. It is the unchallenged leader of the subscription streaming category that it largely created.

But Netflix’s days of being unchallenged are over. Several of the key studios, alarmed at the monster competitor they helped create by selling Netflix their content, are now pulling that content back as they start their own competitive streaming services.  There is a real risk of a downward spiral for Netflix. Its survival as the market leader is by no means assured… (more)
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Hulu moves to “the happiest place on Earth”

June 18 — One of the powerful lessons we have learned in the Center’s work is that digital disruption usually comes without warning when it decimates an industry. The film and television business had an ally in the battle against disruption: time. They knew what was coming and that ultimately their content would be stolen as well.

One impressive thing that came out of that preparation was Hulu. The studios did not sit back and wait to be disrupted. They wanted to be ready when broadband made them as vulnerable to disruption as the music business…(more)
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Streaming Wars begin: how Disney beats Apple
— and perhaps a surprise ending?

June 5 — As the streaming wars heat up, both Apple and Disney have announced new streaming services to compete with Netflix, but there’s another possibility.

This is the year the video streaming wars begin. By the end of 2019, Netflix’s and Hulu’s iron grip on subscription streaming (filled with old TV shows, old theatrical films, and massive amounts of original programming) will face serious competition for a monthly piece of the consumer’s wallet.  (more)
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Foreign disinformation: the plot to kill 5G

May 22 — In a recent column, I wrote about why 5G is a really big deal. This new mobile technology is more than a faster 4G: it enables autonomous vehicles and tele-medicine, eliminates any limitations of wireless, may well be a cable TV killer, and will lead the next phase of the digital revolution.

But now 5G is in grave peril. The danger comes not from technology or its impact; it comes from deliberate misinformation and fake news.  This is terrifying on so many levels.  (more)
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America’s cashless future

May 8 — Whether it’s using smartphone payment apps or implantable chips, in the near future Americans won’t make cash transactions. It’s not a question of if: it’s a question of when.  Since I was very young, there have been visions of what life in the 21st century would be like. Flying cars (out of The Jetsons, Back to the Future, and other science-fiction) would easily transport us above roads and traffic. Robots would answer our front doors, do our household chores, and make our lives much easier. And, in this vision of the future, cash would go away.

In 2019, we are much closer to a cashless society than to flying cars and full-household robots.
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Why HBO doesn’t want you to watch the end of the Game of Thrones

April 24 — At last, the premium cable channel has started to show the final season of its most popular show. But now the problems for HBO may begin.  HBO did everything perfectly. It built Game of Thrones into the most popular television program in the world.

There is just one problem: HBO doesn’t really want you to watch the final seven episodes of Game of Thrones (GoT). They would prefer to build hype and excitement for the next few years and continue to make it the most talked about television event in at least a decade. To actually show you the final episodes means that just six weeks later all the hype, excitement, anticipation, and viewers would be gone. The buildup has been great for HBO. The actual last episode will mean the end of all of that. (more)
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Why 5G is a really big deal

April 10 — The coming Fifth Generation (5G) mobile bandwidth speeds will be far more than just a faster connection, transforming medicine, transportation, media and more.

For the entire digital era, there have always been compromises when using wireless technology. The range and, more importantly, the speed of wireless has always trailed that of wired communication. That ends with 5G.  (more)
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Parenting in the Digital Age: new rules for safety

March 27 — Some of the most important changes to our lives that come from the digital revolution can be hard to see. Digital makes parents work harder than ever to protect their children’s safety.

Our work in tracking digital change over the past 20 years has largely been based on identifying and explaining the big things that dramatically disrupt government, business, and our daily lives: driverless cars, the impact of social networks, changes in media and entertainment, and much more. Occasionally, it is useful to look back and notice the smaller changes that are altering the fabric of our lives — changes that can only be discerned by watching and tracking digital use over a long period of time.  (more)
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Buyer’s remorse? AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner

March 13 — It’s exciting to own a movie studio. You get to go to the best parties (especially after the Oscars), hang out with the biggest stars, and host major premieres. You can make movies that earn over a billion dollars. And you can make movies that change the world.  Owning a studio has appealed to the likes of soft drink companies, alcohol manufacturers, Australian newspaper tycoons, real estate developers, Japanese electronics manufacturers (two of them), and others.

Most recently, the appeal of being in the movie business has attracted one of the world’s largest telcos.  (more)
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A tale of two reports: Mueller and Starr

February 25 — It seems clear that special counsel Robert Mueller is close to finishing his long-awaited report on the Russian role in the 2016 Presidential Election. It is easily one of the most anticipated reports in American history.

The issues surrounding the release of the Mueller report, not to mention the actual content and findings, may produce one of the most heated public clashes in political history. Freedom of information, the public’s right to know, executive privilege, and the survival of a presidency are all at stake.  (more)
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The coming war against technology

February 13 — Two incidents occurred shortly before the end of last year. The media paid them only a little attention and treated them as separate events. In truth, both events are linked, and they are part of what will be one of the most powerful trends of the next 50 years: anger and protest–sometimes violent protest–at the relentless advance of technology.

The first event occurred the weekend of December 22 in Hickory, North Carolina, when three large pick-up trucks blocked Tesla Superchargers, preventing the owners of the electric cars from charging their vehicles.  (more)
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Will the Oscar go to Black Panther?

January 30 — Black Panther will do very well at the Oscars.

Action films and superhero films rarely are even mentioned at the Oscars. For the past generation, there has been an inverse relationship between a film’s box office success and honors at the Academy Awards. The three most recent examples of small box office films winning are: The Shape of Water, Moonlight, and Birdman.

This has caused a serious problem for the Motion Picture Academy. Most of the Academy’s funding (some $70-90 million) comes from licensing the telecast to ABC. The problem is that the ratings have been declining for a number of years. In 2018, 26.5 million people watched some or all of the Oscars telecast. Four years earlier the total was 43.7 million.  That’s a loss of 40 percent of the audience in just four years.  (more)
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Facebook — the way back: four steps to salvation

January 16 — Facebook is at a crisis point, and its survival can no longer be taken as assured.

Facebook can turn itself around, survive, and even flourish, but since the end of the year, it has dug itself into an even deeper hole. Another misstep, and it will be the first of the big five (Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook) to disappear and the biggest company ever to crash and burn.  Facebook needs to regain the trust of the government, advertisers and, most importantly, its users. To survive, Facebook must take four essential steps. (more)
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2018

Facebook’s arrogance and amorality

December 11 — Long before we realized how little Facebook did to protect its users’ privacy, and how its top executives cared only about protecting their own reputations and self-created myths, there were already weaknesses in the Facebook story.

But the threat to Facebook’s existence comes not from past problems; but from the future impact of a unique blend of arrogance, hubris, greed, mismanagement, and incompetence.  (more)
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Can Facebook survive?

November 28 — In Mark Zuckerberg’s worst nightmare, he never could have imagined anything as horrible as the November 24, 2018 issue of the Sunday New York Times that contained an op-ed piece with the large font headline, “Do You Have a Moral Duty to Leave Facebook?”

In these columns, I have examined how quickly these four companies appeared on the tech scene and asked, if they could emerge so fast, could they disappear equally fast?  Now we have a good indicator as to which of the four may go down first.  Facebook is in the midst of an existential threat that is entirely of its own making. (more)
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Die, Netflix, die: how the studios are planning to starve the streaming giant

November 7 — In the seven years since Netflix spun off its red envelope business (DVDs by mail) into a separate company with the silly name Qwikster and focused on a streaming business that kept the Netflix name, the company has turned into a global behemoth.

Netflix is firing on all cylinders, financially and creatively. That is why it is now the target of all the studios in Hollywood. Disney, Warner, Paramount, Fox, Universal, and Sony want the free ride to end. Netflix has built its business off their backs. Now, the studios’ plan is nothing less than the full disaggregation of Netflix.  (more)
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Will anyone have a job in the digital future?

October 24 — In all the work we have done on the impact of digital technology over the past 20 years, I strongly believe the beneficial effects have outweighed the problems that have arisen.

But over the next few months, I also want to look at the serious problems we see in the digital future and possible ways of solving those problems.  I want to start with the problem that keeps me awake at night more than any other, and for which I see no real solution: the future of work.  (more)
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Electric cars have passed the tipping point

October 10 — Sometimes it is astonishing how quickly a new technology can morph from a novelty — or even a joke — into a new way of doing things that will forever change the world. Few technologies have gone through this cycle faster than electric cars.  Despite Who Killed the Electric Car?, a 2006 documentary about its death, the electric car is back and is transforming transportation.
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How MoviePass won the war but lost the company

August 15 — When I wrote about MoviePass at the beginning of the year (first in January and then again in February), the company was largely flying under the media radar. In the past month, there has been an explosion of stories about the movie subscription service.

It has been a soap opera: fans and skeptics alike want to see if MoviePass still works (it changes day to day). If it does, then what new restrictions are being placed on its use? How long will fans continue to support the service with all the new limitations? Will cash flow be sufficient to keep MoviePass alive until it finds the correct formula — giving subscribers access to the movies they wanted to see while still making business sense?

As I detailed in the earlier columns, MoviePass has never made business sense. (more)
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Leave HBO alone

August 1 — When a Federal court overruled the Trump Justice Department and allowed ATT’s takeover of Time Warner (as discussed in a previous column), it opened the floodgates to many more media acquisitions and mergers.

Now that it is clear there will be very few, if any, anti-trust impediments to big deals, many more are being contemplated.  In other words, quite a few media producers and distributors are going to find themselves working for new owners.  (more)
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The secret meeting that never happened

July 18 — This meeting never happened. But it is as if it did.  The resulting impact on our lives is exactly the same as if it had happened. And it makes one of the world’s great conspiracy theories.

The big four — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — are each about 20 years old. Within 15 years, they became four of the five biggest companies in the world.  All four companies (unless you are an Android phone user and don’t use a Mac) are an essential part of our everyday lives.

If we believe in conspiracy theories, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine a secret meeting, probably somewhere around 2008, in Silicon Valley… (more)
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“I think it would be fun to run a newspaper”

July 2 — The past 20 years have not been good for the newspaper business. Print journalism was disrupted by the internet with little warning. Much of the advertising revenue that sustained quality print journalism has been transferred to Google and Facebook, leaving most newspapers a shell of their former selves.

In the midst of the bad news, there are some encouraging developments: the digital divisions of America’s leading newspapers are booming. In this column I look at four of America’s best known, most successful, and award-winning newspapers: the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. (more)
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Now that AT&T has acquired Time Warner, what should its biggest rival do?

June 18 — As expected, this week the courts overruled the Justice Department and allowed AT&T to acquire Time Warner. Two days after the ruling, the sale was complete, and we have heard the last of the Time Warner name.

Now the floodgates are open.

I want to focus on a giant company that has been flying below the radar and has only made relatively small acquisitions. It’s a company that is as big and significant as all the studios and the telcos, and has yet to develop, or at least announce, a media strategy. That company is Verizon.  (more)
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Why did Amazon build a studio rather than buy one?

June 6 — “How do you become a millionaire in Hollywood?” asks one of the great fables of the entertainment industry. The answer is simple: “You start out as a billionaire.” For generations, real estate magnates, oil tycoons and other exceedingly rich people have been attracted to the excitement of Hollywood and have invested to become studio owners.

Amazon could have bought just about any of the Hollywood studios. The most valuable of the six is less than 25 percent the size of Amazon. So why did Amazon decide to build its own studio rather than sweep in and buy an established brand? (more)
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The great deal of digital media

May 22 — In my last column, I looked at how the Internet has unexpectedly become the best “de-clutterer” we have ever seen. Today, the content that we used to collect and store has all moved to digital where it takes up no space in our lives. We also have access to far more content than we ever thought possible, and it is easily transportable.

In this column, I want to look beyond the space we save by looking at the money we free up by not maintaining physical media. The total saved is quite impressive.  (more)
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De-cluttering: the real digital revolution

May 9 — Our job at the Center for the Digital Future is to track the expected and, more importantly, unexpected change that comes from digital technology. After 18 years of tracking digital impact, the unexpected change continues to arrive from the most interesting and surprising places.

In this column, I want to track how digital has freed up an enormous amount of physical room in our lives.  (more)
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Why you need a friend when you turn 50

April 28 — On the day of your 50th birthday (not the day before or after), you will receive an invitation to join the American Association of Retired People (AARP).

You will need a new friend on that day, because the day before, your lifelong friends — the advertising and media industries — will have just abandoned you. (more)
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Amazon Go: the end of traditional retail

April 11 — For the past few years, I have been briefing just about anyone who listen about the Amazon Go Market. Even though when I started talking about Go it was still at least two years away, it was clear that it would be a game changer on many different levels.

The Amazon Go market model is unstoppable. It will unalterably transform retail shopping. (more)
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Uber’s accident won’t stop driverless cars for long

March 28 — In a previous column, I talked about how driverless cars will be the most important development over the next thirty years. Despite my vision for how driverless cars will change the world, it was obvious the road to complete autonomy would be a long one with many bumps.  On March 18, driverless cars hit a major crisis when a pedestrian was killed in Arizona by an Uber driverless car. Beyond the lessons that we will learn from the Tempe accident, there are some immediate things we should consider about driverless cars: (more)
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Two guys in a garage: where will the next disruptive company come from?

March 21 — The big four — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — have changed the world in too many ways to count. They simplified processes that before their existence were more complex and less successful.  If these four companies could emerge in 20 years, then how could we possibly believe there will not be another four bigger or more radical companies that emerge over the next 20 years? (more)
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Five years later: the prediction on the end of printed newspapers

March 7 — In 2013, the Center predicted that most printed newspapers had five years of life left. Their survival turns out to be more delayed than we thought. Thirty years ago, teenagers did not read print newspapers, but started to when they got into their 20s. Today, teenagers don’t read newspapers, and the evidence is clear that they never will. Many critics argue teenagers have no interest beyond anything they read on Instagram or Snapchat. Nothing could be further from the truth; polling shows that teenagers today are more interested in news than any previous teenage generation.  But they aren’t going to newspapers for that information. (more)
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A 2005 prediction 13 years later: teenagers
and social networks

February 21 — The Center has been tracking digital use in 35 countries for the past 18 years. In that time, we have discerned some powerful trends and made some wide-reaching predictions. Happily, our predictive success rate has been very high — that has come from the quality of our data. In this column and the next, I will look at two of my most controversial predictions and see what time has said about them. This week: teenagers and social networks. (more)
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Cinematic staring contest: MoviePass vs. movie theaters

February 7 — In a recent column, I wrote about my experiences with MoviePass. For $9.95 a month, I got to see one movie a day (except for IMAX or 3D films). Several movie theater chains, especially AMC, strongly oppose MoviePass because they feel it devalues the movie-going experience. And, if MoviePass proves unsustainable and disappears, movie fans will be less likely to go back to paying $12 to 16 to see a movie.

A lot has changed in the past four weeks. . . (more)
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As the movie studios consolidate, which one goes next?

January 25 — As Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox moves slowly towards government approval, what does it mean for the rest of the major movie studios?

Of the six major studios — Warner Bros., Sony (Columbia), Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Fox — only three will be beefed up and ready to compete into the next generation.  The remaining studios will have to seek partners, mergers, or acquisitions. . .(more)
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Subscription models move to the movie theater

January 11 — Over the holidays, I bought a MoviePass, partly to see if it really worked as advertised and partly because there were many new movies that I wanted to see.  With MoviePass, for $9.99 a month (or $89.99 a year at Costco) I can go to one movie a day at almost any theater.

The Center’s work shows that 2017 was the first time we can see the direct impact of Netflix (and Amazon and Hulu) on the theatrical business. A film in the theaters for as much as $16 becomes a risky venture compared to $10 for a month of Netflix. Theaters used to have the strong advantages of better content with bigger stars and a much higher-quality screen. No longer. Dinner and a movie has become Netflix and Uber Eats. . .(more)
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2017

How regulation is used to stifle competition

December 7 — Almost no one would argue that some government regulation is not only necessary, but in many instances desirable.  Even the most rigid limited-government conservative would not fly on an airplane that is not regulated.

What concerns me is not too little or too much regulation, but, rather, when regulation is used to stifle competition and innovation.  These regulations are usually encouraged by established businesses trying to protect their industries and keep more innovative newcomers out. . .(more)
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E-nuff Already!

November 17 — No one wants to give up the internet. But we are tired of the internet defining our lives. We want to take advantage of all the extraordinary things the web brings to our lives without having to deal with all the negatives surrounding its use. In short, we want to take control of our use of the internet rather than having it control us.

We have given a name to this phenomenon. . .(more)
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Will banks do anything about the disruption coming their way?

November 2 — Companies facing intense disruption almost never turn themselves around when they are profitable. Disrupting short-term profits to make the changes necessary to transform the direction of the company is too painful and strongly inhibited by shareholders’ immediate interests.

Banks know this is coming, but they will not do anything about it until it is too late.  (more)
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The battle for the consumer’s wallet

October 19 — This is the year that cord-cutting and cord-shaving have shifted into high gear as reliable alternatives to a full cable or satellite bill for many television viewers.

Years ago, before Over-the-Top (OTT) services were available, the cable companies argued that, if they allowed a la carte selection for channels, the customer would suffer, because at the end of the process they would spend the same amount of money monthly, but receive far fewer channels. These questions of how much money we spend, how much may be freed up if we unbundle, and where that money may go are of intense interest to us at the Center.  (more)
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What really happened to this summer’s box office

October 4 — This summer, Hollywood reported the worst box office in 25 years. At the film studios, panic began to set in. Studio executives wondered if this was the beginning of the end for large audiences going out to the movies.

What was the cause of the 2017 movie meltdown? Was it Netflix, HBO, Hulu and Amazon, or was it bad movies in the theaters, or both? With so much great content on television, would audiences still make the effort to go to the movies and pay as much as $16 a film?  (more)
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“Incremental” is not what Apple fans were waiting for

(Update to “Apple’s future hangs in the balance” from August 17)

September 13 — In one of the most anticipated products launches ever, Apple has introduced its new lineup of iPhones.

In my earlier column, I made the case that what Apple fans really wanted to see was Tim Cook in a pair of jeans coming to the end of his presentation and, almost as if he forgot, saying, “Oh, and one more thing.” Then Cook would introduce the phone that would change their lives.

Cook got everything right — except the game changer. . . (more)
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“Implantables” and the war between convenience and privacy

August 31 — It sounds like a particularly chilling episode of Netflix’s future-phobic series, Black Mirror: as of August 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in River Falls, Wisconsin, can choose to have a tiny chip the size of a grain of rice implanted in their fingers.  On the first day, 50 of the company’s 80 employees had the implant.

Technologically, chipping is a utopia. Privacy-wise, it is either the beginning of a secure, frictionless world or the beginning of a nightmare. . .(more)
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Apple’s future hangs in the balance

August 17 — You would have to dive deep into business books to find a CEO at any company at any time in history who has faced a bigger challenge than Tim Cook at Apple faces right now.

Last fall, Cook announced the introduction of the iPhone 7. Fans learned that it would have a slightly better camera and a slightly improved processor, and they were profoundly disappointed. In fact, the iPhone 7 was an impressive incremental improvement, but that’s all it was. . . (more)
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How driverless cars change everything

August 3 — I have been talking about driverless cars for about ten years and ridiculed for most of that time. I was just getting used to seeing audiences’ eyes roll and glaze over as they thought I was pitching a Twilight Zone episode.

Then something interesting happened: people began to believe it wasn’t just a view of the future as experienced by The Jetsons. Driverless cars are here, and even the biggest skeptics can now see that something of compelling importance is about to happen. . . (more)
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Amazon, sports, and the future of the broadcast networks

July 13 — For years, analysts have been predicting the demise of the broadcast networks.

Even before Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller created the Fox Network in the 1980s, observers argued the economy was not strong enough for three networks — let alone a new fourth.

The networks have turned out to be more durable than most people thought. . . (more)
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See all columns from the Center.

To learn more about the Center — and how it provides actionable guidance about trends for companies, governments, and other organizations — please reach out via email at [email protected] or by phone at (310) 235-4444.