Benner on Tech: Charter's Super-Expensive Cable Deal

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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Charter inked a deal to buy Time Warner Cable for about $55 billion. The Federal Communications Commission won’t be the problem. (Charter is much smaller than Comcast.) Overpaying will be the problem. The French cable company Altice recently said it would buy a majority stake in Suddenlink Communications, and Bloomberg reports that it talked to Time Warner Cable, too. If Charter wants to make an offer that’s too expensive for Altice to outbid, then the deal is probably super expensive, period.

On a related note, when it looked like Comcast’s bid for Time Warner Cable would fall through, I wrote that the next logical step would be for Charter to swoop in.

Spiegel Speaks

Snapchat Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel took a long break from the press following semi-disastrous turns in the spotlight. There were fratty e-mails, a fratty falling out, some botched dealmaking (as revealed in leaked Sony emails) and a very emotional rant sent to employees about how violated he felt when the company's secrets were revealed in the Sony hack. After that, it felt like a good idea to lay low. 

But Bloomberg's Brad Stone and Sarah Frier got a lot of access to Spiegel and his company, the result of which is a super-entertaining portrait of a guy who is, in their words, "a lot like Snapchat: earnest, raw, and unpredictable." 

When he gets worked up, things aren’t “off the record,” they are “off the f------ record.” He’s occasionally modest (“everyone here is stupidly way smarter than me”), while also prone to bouts of inadvertent smugness (“I literally just invented this in my head,” he says, drawing a chart on a paper demonstrating the basic elements of the service). And he can be irritable. Heaven help the interviewer who poses a tedious query, such as: What’s your long-term vision for the company? Spiegel: “These are the kinds of questions I hate, dude.” 

Spiegel is the interviewer's gift that keeps on giving. No wonder he limits his time with the press. Between proclamations you also do actually learn things about Snapchat. Read the whole thing immediately.

Twitter Wanted Flipboard

Re/code says Twitter was going to buy the startup for more than $1 billion until deal talks stalled out. The most intriguing part of the acquisition is that Twitter would also get Flipboard’s CEO Mike McCue, a former Twitter board member, serial entrepreneur and, according to Re/code, a “product genius.” How convenient. Twitter needs a big product revamp and, by some accounts, a new CEO.

Jony Ive Got Promoted

The Telegraph broke the promotion news as part of an Apple story penned by Stephen Fry. Ive is now Apple’s chief design officer, a newly-created title that lets him manage the company’s hardware and software design teams from a slightly greater distance and work on other projects.

Tech Food

The Soylent story is sort of played out, but did you know that the nutrition sludge actually has competitors? There’s Schmilk, Schmoylent, People Food and more. The New York Times’s Brian Chen explored the world of tech-centric meal replacement shakes.

“I think engineers are ready to throw in the towel on the illusion that we’re having this family dinner,” he said. “Let’s do away with all the marketing facade and get the calories as quickly as we can.”

A Bubble by Any Other Name

Something frothy is afoot in tech, but no one will call it a bubble. Because, according to Silicon Valley denizens, it’s not a bubble. It’s just “a runaway train of late-stage fund-raising”; “a really weird time”; “a really hard environment to maintain financial discipline”; “valuations divorced from fundamentals”; and “some craziness and people overpaying.” (New York Times)

IPOs

Alarm.com, a security and home automation company, filed to raise up to $75 million in an initial public offering. Fortune notes that the company is hoping to go public while interest in smart home devices is on the rise.

Ventureland

Lyft got an investment from Fontinalis Partners, the venture firm controlled by Ford Motors heir Bill Ford. (Re/code)

Mapbox will soon provide rendering for AOL’s MapQuest. (TechCrunch)

Silent Circle, a mobile encryption startup, will move from the U.S. to Switzerland due to worries about privacy and surveillance. (the Guardian) The announcement comes about a week after the bitcoin wallet startup Xapo said it would relocate to Switzerland from California because of privacy considerations.

Snapchat, which is best known for disappearing messages, invested in the shopping app Spring’s parent company Jello Labs. (Re/code)

Uber faced protests in Mexico City as taxi drivers called for the local government to crack down on the service. (Wall Street Journal) The company faces a huge challenge in China as competitor Didi Kuaidi, which owns about 99 percent of the market, vowed to give away 1 billion yuan, or about $161 million, worth of free rides. (Bloomberg)

People and Personnel Moves

Ashkan Soltani, chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission, is one the latest in a series of “gadflies” who have been appointed to find out whether companies are truly keeping consumer data private. (New York Times)

Companies

Amazon will start paying taxes in some European countries. (New York Times)

BlackBerry’s consolidation push means it will cut jobs around the world. (Bloomberg)

Facebook’s European expansion will bring on new challenges as data protection watchdogs in the region question the company’s conduct around privacy. (New York Times)

Google won’t send out invitations for its new wireless phone service, named Project Fi, until summer. (Bloomberg) The company’s mobile Chrome browser is now “almost entirely open source.” (9to5Google)

Salesforce.com shares gained last week on reports that Microsoft wanted to buy the company for $55 billion before talks broke down over price. (Bloomberg)

Tesla’s hush-hush new Gigafactory has been captured in a high-def drone video. (Bloomberg)

Twitter suspended a well-known troll named Chuck Johnson after he solicited funds for “taking out” the civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. The incident is seen as a test of the company’s privacy policies. Johnson says he’ll have his account up and running again in a couple of days. (Re/code)

Media Files

Fusion, which has reportedly received another $30 million from Disney and Univision, is struggling to find an audience and an identity as it fights with BuzzFeed and Vice for the millennial audience. (New York Times)

Security Watch

The National Security Agency’s bulk phone records collection program will be illegal when Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess, thanks to a Senate stalemate. (the Guardian)

News and Notes

Daimler is going to use software from China’s Baidu in its Chinese Mercedes-Benz vehicles that will let consumers access music and other content from their phones. (Reuters)

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