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Tech Ticker: AT&T will acquire Time Warner, Microsoft cloud revenue soars

This week's headlines: The Wall Street Journal reports AT&T will buy Time Warner for more than $80 billion. Also, Microsoft goes on offense for its Surface-NFL deal while its cloud revenue soars, Apple's car-making plans hit a roadblock, and a giant of tech journalism passes away.

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Short takes and quick hits for the week of October 16-22, 2016.


WSJ: AT&T will buy Time Warner for more than $80 billion

Updated Oct. 21, 2016 14:45 PDT

The mother of all monopolies was broken up by U.S. antitrust regulators in 1982. But Ma Bell has been slowly assembling a new communications giant out of some of the Baby Bells, in addition to purchasing the DirecTV satellite service in 2014.

The Wall Street Journal has now confirmed that AT&T has reached a deal to make another big more, acquiring Time Warner Inc. and its portfolio of cable networks, the Warner Bros. film and TV studio, and the crown jewel, HBO.

This wouldn't be the first time Time Warner is part of a major deal. The company's merger with AOL marked the end of the dot-com bubble and is widely considered one of the worst ever.

Time Warner Cable, a separate company, merged with Charter Communications last year.

The Journal says a deal could happen as early as this weekend, although they caution that the deal could fall through or be delayed.

Update:

In a follow-up story, the Journal reports that Apple (yes, Apple) approached Time Warner about a possible merger "a few months ago," although the discussions didn't go beyond the preliminary stages.

Update 2:

Bloomberg on Friday reported that the deal was nearly done:

AT&T Inc. is near an agreement to acquire Time Warner Inc. for about $86 billion, people with knowledge of the matter said, a deal that would create a media behemoth that offers TV, wireless and the programming that goes with it.

The deal will be valued at about $110 a share and structured as a 50-50 cash and stock split, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

An agreement could be approved Sunday and announced as early as Monday, Bloomberg said.

Update 3:

The Wall Street Journal says it's a deal, with a price tag of more than $80 billion..

- EB

Microsoft goes on offense after Surface-NFL partnership takes a hit

Posted Oct. 21, 2016 9:30 PDT

Earlier this week, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick let fly with an extended rant on how much he dislikes the NFL's sideline technology. "I'm done with the tablets," he said.

And although he never mentioned the brand name of those tablets, the press lost no time pinning the problem on the Microsoft Surface, the NFL's flagship partner.

Today, in an extended blog post by-lined by Corporate Vice President Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft defended its technology:

[E]very week nearly 2,000 Surface devices are deployed at 34 stadiums, and used extensively at over 330 NFL games each year. And like the players, Surface has had to perform reliably in tough conditions from the frozen tundra of Green Bay, to the 120 degree turf of Miami, through torrential rainstorms and blustery snowstorms.

Every game is different - with some teams living by their Surface for critical plays at key moments - and others using them to blow off steam by banging their head on them. Like the players in the NFL, Surface keeps going - helping teams use technology to their competitive advantage.

The post contains testimonials from quarterbacks Drew Brees and Russell Wilson as well as a defensive coach for the Los Angeles Ram. And one pointed paragraph notes that "NFL IT staff" rolls out the equipment each week, into an "intricate, visible and stressful" environment.

- EB

Microsoft's cloud business soars

Posted Oct. 20, 2016 16:50 PDT

Mary Jo Foley has some of the numbers from today's MSFT earnings call.

These two bullets jumped out at me:

  • Office 365 Commercial (business plans) now have 85 million monthly active users, up from 70 million in Microsoft's Q4 FY'16 quarter.
  • Office 365 Consumer is up to 24 million monthly active users, up from 15.2 million last quarter.

It looks like Office in the cloud is doing what Office in shrink-wrapped boxes did a few years ago: taking the lead in terms of revenue.

Also worth noting that Microsoft's $22.3 billion in non-GAAP revenue works out to more than $242 million of revenue per day, including weekends and holidays, which is more than $10 million per hour.

- EB

R.I.P. David Bunnell

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Self-portrait by David Bunnell
Posted Oct. 19, 2016 9:50 PDT

Via Twitter comes news that David Bunnell, a pioneer of technology journalism, has passed away.

Bunnell founded PC Magazine in San Francisco in 1982 and then, after the publication was sold by investors to Ziff-Davis, proceeded to found PC World and Macworld magazines with the backing of Ziff-Davis rival IDG Communications. He also started Macworld Expo in 1985, which became wildly successful after Steve Jobs returned to Apple and its fortunes rose.

Bunnell, an unabashed liberal even by San Francisco standards, was dearly loved by employees for his progressive labor policies. Full disclosure: I worked for PC World as Managing Editor for three years, starting in late 1987, when Bunnell was still at IDG. It's no exaggeration to say that tech journalism as we know it would not exist today without David's enormous contributions.

Harry McCracken, a longtime PC World editor and the unofficial historian of tech journalism, has a beautiful remembrance at Fast Company: Remembering David Bunnell (1947-2016), The Maverick Who Helped Invent Tech Media.

- EB

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick: "I'm done with the tablets."

Posted Oct. 18, 2016 9:50 PDT

Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots football team, is normally a taciturn sort, but he unloaded today when asked what he thought of the Microsoft Surface tablets that the NFL uses on the sidelines.

On his morning conference call with the media, he said, "I'm done with the tablets. They're just too undependable for me."

And then he went on for more than five minutes, as transcribed by NESN's Zack Cox:

Ouch. At least he didn't call them iPads.

A Microsoft spokesperson responds:

We respect Coach Belichick's decision, but stand behind the reliability of Surface. We continue to receive positive feedback on having Surface devices on the sidelines from coaches, players and team personnel across the league. In the instances where sideline issues are reported in NFL games, we work closely with the NFL to quickly address and resolve.

And as Ben Schorr, who has 12 years of experience as a football coach, points out via Twitter, coach Belichick's beef is really with "ALL of their sideline tech. Headphones, batteries, the lot. ... And that's largely about infrastructure. Reliable, secure, networking is surprisingly rare on sidelines."

The NFL weighs in:

Microsoft is an integral, strategic partner of the NFL and implementing their technology on our sidelines has increased the efficiency and speed of collaboration between coaches and players to an all-time high. Within our complex environment, many factors can affect the performance of a particular technology either related to or outside of our partner's solutions. We continue to work with all of our partners to ensure the best systems are in place to most effectively assist the clubs in the execution of their game plan.

- EB

Apple's entry into the automotive market hits a roadblock

Posted Oct. 17, 2016 06:20 PDT

If you were dreaming of the day you could drive a car with an Apple logo, Mark Gurman and Alex Webb of Bloomberg have some bad news for you:

Apple Inc. has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car, according to people familiar with the project.

Hundreds of members of the car team, which comprises about 1,000 people, have been reassigned, let go, or have left of their own volition in recent months, the people said, asking not to be identified because the moves aren't public.

The demise of Project Titan (perhaps not the best codename, given how close it is to Titanic) is a familiar story: "It was an incredible failure of leadership," one source told Bloomberg.

According to the Bloomberg report, the new focus of the project is "developing an autonomous driving system" that the company can use in partnership with existing carmakers, with the option to return to designing its own vehicle in the future.

- EB

Samsung's brand takes a hit after the Note 7 debacle

Posted Oct. 16, 2016 14:45 PDT

Branding Brand, a mobile commerce platform developer, conducted a survey of 1,000 Samsung device owners and found that the Samsung brand is suffering in the wake of the Note 7 recall. According to the survey results, 40 percent of current owners say they won't buy another Samsung device.

So who wins? The survey says:

Thirty percent of current Samsung smartphone consumers say they've only ever owned that brand of phone. Of those switching from Samsung smartphones:
  • 8 percent will buy a Google Pixel
  • 30 percent will switch to iPhone
  • 62 percent will go with another Android phone

That's a nice bump for Google's brand-new Pixel phones, but the biggest winner is clearly Apple. We won't know for sure, though, until early in 2017, when Apple releases its iPhone sales figures for the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2016.

- EB

Obama: "Government will never run the way Silicon Valley does."

Posted Oct. 16, 2016, 14:30 PDT

Andrew Nacin, lead WordPress developer for the United States Digital Service, shares this excerpt from President Obama's remarks to the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh last week, via Twitter:

Watch the President's remarks, followed by a Presidential Panel on Brain Science and Medical Information, on YouTube.

- EB