Benner on Tech: Cable Wars and Microsoft's Birthday

Katie Benner is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about technology, innovation, and the cult and culture of Silicon Valley. She lives in San Francisco.
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Bill Gates wrote a letter to Microsoft employees to commemorate the company’s 40th birthday. He takes a small victory lap for the company’s role in the PC revolution that made computing part of everyday life for consumers and businesses. But he really focuses on the future, which he cares very deeply about even though he’s no longer the company’s chief executive officer.

Today though, I am thinking much more about Microsoft's future than its past. I believe computing will evolve faster in the next 10 years than it ever has before. We already live in a multi-platform world, and computing will become even more pervasive. We are nearing the point where computers and robots will be able to see, move, and interact naturally, unlocking many new applications and empowering people even more.

He praises current CEO Satya Nadella, who is doing an admirable job with what he was given to manage. But Microsoft isn't positioned to own the future computing world that Gates gestures toward -- multi-platform, ubiquitous, online, automated -- in the same way that it so decisively controlled the PC era.

The company’s 40th birthday comes not long after Nadella’s first year at the helm, when I wrote that his biggest challenge would be to make Microsoft less dependent on PC sales -- which the mobile market and smartphones, along with Google and Apple, are undermining -- without shrinking the company overall. That’s still the big challenge, and many more people than Bill Gates are watching Nadella closely to see if he can build a new type of software business that doesn’t need the PC to grow.

Ellen Pao gave interviews to the Wall Street Journal’s Jeff Elder and to Yahoo’s Katie Couric. She’s glad she went through with the trial and that it was, of course, hard; she says discrimination is an issue that’s going to be on the table for a long time in Silicon Valley. Acknowledging the popular meme that she wasn’t the right hero for the movement that wants to end gender discrimination in tech, she told the Journal: “I think everyone has their own perspective, and some people can’t relate to me, and that’s OK.”

Anita Hill wrote an essay for Fortune about the case. In addition to the usual talk about why the case is an important wake-up call for the tech industry, Hill also criticizes the business school-management consulting machine for not caring about race and gender issues. She writes:

Why isn’t “Managing for a Diverse Workforce” a required course in every business school in the country? MBA candidates are taught that collaboration is central to production, and the data show that collaborating with a diverse group improves results. Yet, this value is not always reflected in business school culture.

Cable Wars: My colleague Alex Sherman argues that pressure for cable companies to offer a low-cost alternative to compete with the likes of Sling TV could force them to create nationally available skinny packages. This, in turn, means that they’d compete with one another, a situation that they’ve long avoided in favor of co-existing in a series of regional monopolies. I sure hope Alex is right because decades of unchallenged monopolistic behavior has led to terrible customer service and unfettered control over pricing.

I wonder whether the specter of competition between the cable companies matters to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as it weighs the creation of a mega-cable giant. The combined Comcast-Time Warner Cable would be bigger than any other player by an order of magnitude.

Ventureland

Etsy’s IPO is defying Wall Street convention with a do-gooder slant. Remember the last company to do that? It was Google… (Bloomberg)

Meerkat v. Periscope has ended in a draw … for now. (Quartz)

Snapchat’s video ad model mirrors what is common in television, but it costs advertisers twice as much as Hulu or YouTube. (Bloomberg)

Silicon Valley Bank released its annual Innovation Economy Outlook report -- based on a survey of so-called innovation companies (mostly private tech companies). Eighty-one percent of companies think fundraising right now is hard, even though the number of businesses that are unable to raise money has dropped by half. And 95 percent of businesses that are hiring worry they won’t find skilled people.

Venture firms are using special purpose vehicles for fast startup funding. Remember the last time SPVs were huge? (the Wall Street Journal)

People and Personnel Moves

Joe Sullivan, the former top cybersecurity executive at Facebook, has joined Uber as the company’s first chief security officer.

Steve Case, the founder of AOL, started a “Rise of the Rest” business pitch tour to promote start-up communities outside of the Silicon Valley-Boston ecosystem. (the Washington Post)

Jay Edelson, a class-action lawyer who sues big tech companies such as Apple and Google for violating user privacy, might be tech’s most hated man. (the New York Times)

Carly Fiorina has distinguished herself from other Republican Party presidential hopefuls by criticizing Tim Cook’s stand on Indiana’s religious freedom law. (the Wall Street Journal)

Ifty Ahmed, a general partner with Oak Investment Partners, has been accused of insider trading. (Fortune)

Jocelyn Ding, former vice president for enterprise operations at Google, joined the digital health startup Omada Health as senior vice president of operations and client services.

Companies

Google is working with Hutchison Whampoa, the owner of the mobile operator Three, on a wholesale access agreement that would let Americans use their phones abroad at no extra cost. (Telegraph)

The company will no longer trust or verify websites vetted by the China Internet Network Information Center, which administers Chinese Internet addresses. (Wall Street Journal)

Motorola can’t find a buyer. (Bloomberg)

Security Watch

Beware of encryption app promises because most of them are bunk. (Al Jazeera)

Media Files

The Weather Channel has hit a rough patch, a stark example of the challenges that even super-popular independent channels face as the TV landscape shifts. (the Wall Street Journal)

News and Notes

The European Union may investigate Internet platforms such as Google and Amazon to figure out whether they have too much power over smaller online companies. (the Wall Street Journal)

Tech titans are trying to kill death. (the Washington Post)

ICYMI: The Secret History of the Apple Watch. Make it first. Figure out what it’s good for later. (Wired)

Columbia students learn the hard way that you shouldn’t pay for drugs using Venmo, the platform that makes your transactions public by default. (Capital New York)

Everyone’s just pretending to be happy online, and Selena Larson has some tips for how to keep up the pretense really, really well. (the Daily Dot)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Maria Lamagna at mlamagna@bloomberg.net