October: Week in Review
By Carson Schatzman, Senior Copywriter
Each Monday, Athena employees receive a recap of important news stories from the past week. On Thursdays, our morning meeting is dedicated to a quiz testing our ability to retain the information. A free lunch is the reward for the winning team. We’re a competitive group, and the quizzes bring out that spirit. Over time a number of our clients have requested our weekly review as well, so we’ve begun to share it weekly now. See below for what we’re paying attention to and why.
The Deal is Done: Musk Buys Twitter
The longstanding battle over the social media app, Twitter, has come to a conclusion as Elon Musk officially purchased the company for $44 billion, The New York Times reports.
What Happened: The controversy surrounding Musk’s involvement with Twitter has finally come to an end. On Thursday, Musk closed his deal with Twitter, taking full ownership of the social media platform he plans to rename as “X.” After months trading lawsuits and public scorn, Musk is wasting no time. In addition to taking the company private, Musk immediately fired four top Twitter executives, including the CEO and CFO, and plans even more layoffs to cut costs.
Forcing His Hand: In July Musk announced plans to terminate the acquisition, saying Twitter falsely reported the number of spam accounts on the platform. Twitter then countersued, forcing Muck to reconsider when the deal landed in the Delaware Chancery Court where things could have become messy for him. He agreed to purchase the company at his original bid of $54.20 a share, taking out $12.5 billion in loans for financing.
The Future of Twitter: By 2028, Musk hopes the company will have 931 million users and $26 billion in revenue – compared to the current $5 billion and 200 million users. Musk styles himself a champion of free speech and envisions a relatively uncensored platform. Musk has stated, however, that the platform will not be a “free-for-all hellscape” without consequences but will instead become the “most respected advertising platform in the world.”
Pushing Up Against the Odds
Sevetri Wilson is making waves in the tech space, defying odds and raising over $35 million in venture capital funding to become one of the top-funded women in tech, Forbes reports.
Industry Odds: Sevetri Wilson raised over $35 million in venture funding for her software company, Resilia. As a black woman and only 35, raising successful venture capital money is a challenge, in tandem with her geographical location, little experience in coding, and lack of co-founders. Despite the odds, Wilson has become one most prominent VC funded companies in the tech space.
About Sevetri: Wilson, growing up near Baton Rouge and daughter to a single mother with three siblings, earned a full ride to Louisiana State University. From there, she did nothing but excel in the nonprofit and consulting world.
Her company Resilia helps nonprofits by assisting with project management, employee training, donor reporting, and overall organization. Her goal, she said, is to “modernize philanthropy for nonprofits and funders.” Raising nearly $50 million since the company’s founding in 2017, Wilson has secured funding from some of the nation’s top investment banks such as Goldman Sachs.
Bottom Line: Resilia’s growth and expansion have paved the way and brought attention to Wilson’s mission and accomplishments. Despite the difficulties as a Black woman in the tech space, Wilson has made an impact on non-profit organizations and opened doors for others.
The Business of Baseball
The World Series is underway, featuring our very own Philadelphia Phillies, and Forbes reports on the financial state of the MLB and the ownership behind the Astros and Phillies.
Restructured Playoffs: The Phillies have more than their exceptional hitting to thank for their post-season success. A collective bargaining agreement expanded the playoffs from 8 to 12 teams this year, and ESPN paid around $65 million for the additional games. New deals with Apple and Peacock adding to $115 million annually, have helped the MLB cross $2 billion in media rights.
By the Numbers:
- The average MLB team is worth a record $2.07 billion, up 9% on the year
- Phillies ($2.3 billion) and Astros ($1.98 billion) are in the top half of the league
- The MLB should collectively pass $10 billion in revenue for the 2022 season
Ownership: John Middleton, controlling partner of the Phillies, and his father purchased a 15% stake in 1994 for $18 million. Middleton, whose family tobacco business thrived on the Black & Mild packaged cigar brand, sold the business to Altria in 2007 for $2.9 billion. He has since increased his Phillies stake to 48% and became controlling partner in 2016.
Jim Crane founded Houston-based Eagle Global logistics in 1984 off a $10,000 loan from his sister. In 2007, he sold the company for a $300 million profit, and launched another logistics operation, Crane Worldwide, which now revenues some $1.6 billion annually. After three failed attempts at MLB ownership, Crane finally acquired a 40% stake in the Astros in 2011. Over the course of the decade, the team has gone from abysmal, to perennially competitive, to scandal plagued, with the team skyrocketing in value throughout.
Bottom Line: Even in uncertain economic conditions, baseball is big business.
Best of the Rest
New research suggests the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act could generate around 9 million new jobs in ClimateTech industries over the next decade, providing entrance opportunities for a variety of STEM sectors. [Forbes]
Microsoft and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) faced huge losses recently, reporting declines in earnings in tandem with stock falling 8% for Microsoft and 9% for Alphabet. This may signal to investors a rocky future for companies in the tech sector at large. [Forbes]
Apple’s IOS 16.1 update now requires developers that allow users to pay to promote content (such as Facebook users and businesses promoting posts) to process those payments through Apple’s in-app payment system – which gives Apple a 30% cut of all those transactions. [INC.]
“You can never really see the future, only imagine it, then try to make sense of the new world when it arrives” reads the intro sentence to this New York Times long-read on how “A New Climate Reality is Coming into View.” [The New York Times]
Streaming Platforms are Embracing Ads
In the coming months, Netflix and Walt Disney are set to launch ad-supported versions of their streaming services, facing hesitancy from customers and skepticism from experts, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Why the Change: Posing as new competition for Comcast’s Peacock, HBO Max, and device makers such as Roku and Amazon’s Freevee, Netflix and Disney are preparing to make a big leap into the already crowded market. But there may be plenty to go around. The U.S. streaming ad market could reach $19 billion this year, and it is expected to reach $33.5 billion by 2025.
Some Concerns: Kelly Metz from Omnicom Media Group explains: “Accountability and transparency are probably the biggest challenges in streaming ads.” Without analytic reporting details about where and when the ads will appear, ad schedules, and performance metrics, Metz is skeptical about the value of ads in streaming services.
There is additional concern about consumer experience. Issues like repeated ads in the same ad break have critics wary about consumer’s actual reaction to increased advertising. Further, some ads will run on a device even though the TV screen is off, leading to wasted advertising spend and flawed data.
One Solution: Advertisers are leaning towards more innovative, interactive ads that provide greater engagement with the consumer than typical TV commercial breaks. Concerns and issues surrounding streaming advertising may be an opportunity for innovation after-all.
From the Chessboard to the Courtroom
In September, Hans Niemann beat World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, snapping his 53-game winning streak and setting off drama throughout the chess world, Forbes reports.
How it Happened: Niemann, just 19 years old, was accused of cheating during the match, in addition to prior allegations of cheating on Chess.com. Following the results of the game and the backlash Niemann received from chess fans worldwide, he has filed a lawsuit against Carlsen and others asking for more than $100 million in damages. Forbes provides a helpful analogy: “Niemann beat Carlsen in 57 moves. Imagine a .500 NBA team beating Michael Jordan’s ’95-96’ Bulls in Chicago by 20 points.”
Extra-Game-Gameplay: After his defeat, Carlsen released a cryptic statement on Twitter (since deleted) suggesting that Niemann cheated. Hikaru Nakamura, a popular commentator and Grandmaster in his own right, also took to Twitter to emphasize Carlsen’s allegations. Not long after, Chess.com made a huge move by banning Niemann from the website, claiming that he has cheated in past matches.
In their next match, Carlsen resigned after the first move. Carlsen then released an extended, direct statement, and Chess.com released a report saying that Niemann has likely cheated in over 100 online games, many involving monetary prizes. Niemann then admitted to having cheated in the past, but never for money and never against Carlsen.
The Plot Thickens: Neimann’s complaint draws attention to the business dealings between Carlsen, Chess.com, and Nakamura. Chess.com, the global standard in online chess, just purchased Carlsen’s Play Magnus platform for $83 million, and Nakamura’s influence largely stems from his one million followers on the website. Neimann’s suit suggests all three have vested interest in preserving Carlsen’s reputation and popularity.
What’s Next: Garry Kasparov, the game’s “elder statesman” has warned that stoking controversy might hit all players where it hurts: sponsorships. But extensive litigation and discovery are around the corner, and there are likely several moves left in this match.
The Trouble with Plastic Recycling
A newly published Greenpeace USA report finds that industry claims about plastic circularity are largely “fiction” as plastic recycling rates are extremely low, according to CBS News.
New Findings: Of 51 million tons of plastic waste, only 2.4 million were recycled in 2021. That rate of about 5% is down from a 10% peak in 2014, partially impacted by China’s decision to stop accepting waste in 2018. New plastic production is however rising, even while industry groups champion recycling as a solution.
Narrow Options: The U.S. has 375 recycling facilities, but only two of the seven plastic types are widely accepted. Type “1” is commonly used in water and soda bottles, and type “2” is used for denser containers like milk jugs and shampoo bottles. Reprocessing rates for both types 1 and 2 are down, at about 21% and 10% respectively. Types 3-7 have recycling rates below 5%.
- Plastic waste is mass produced but difficult to collect
- Even if collected, sorting the different types of consumer plastic is logistically impossible
- Recycling itself has a harmful impact in the form of toxic chemical and microplastics
- The risk of cross-contamination in bins prevents recycled material from being food-grade again
- Recycling is extremely expensive
The Bottom Line: As the report reads: “New plastic competes with recycled plastic, and it’s far cheaper to produce and of higher quality.” Refill and reuse strategies – like the milk and cola bottles that were returned and sanitized – may be the correct way forward.
Best of the Rest
On Tuesday, Meta (formerly known as Facebook), was forced to sell Giphy, an online collection of video clips and GIFs, by British antitrust regulators. This is the first time in history that Meta has had to sell part of its business. [New York Times]
On October 20th, the U.K.’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned after a tax-cut plan went array, facing an abundance of criticism. Only serving 6 weeks in office, Truss quickly lost the support of her own party and revolving door of U.K. leadership continues to turn with Rishi Sunak poised to become the next Prime Minister. [Washington Post/New York Times]
Jess Wade, a British physicist, has worked to correct a recognition gender-gap in STEM, writing over 1,750 Wikipedia bios for female scientists who have been left out of the true history of science. Check out her passion for accessibility in STEM, which extends to workshops, community organization, and even a children’s book. [Washington Post]
We’re in the heart of Autumn now! Here are 10 fun Halloween things to do around Philadelphia this weekend. [Axios]
Grocery Store Giants Propose Merger
On Friday, Kroger announced plans to buy Albertsons in a $25 billion deal that can change the grocery market across the United States, The Wall Street Journal reports.
By The Numbers:
- Together, the companies have 5,000 stores across the U.S. with a combined revenue of $209 billion last year
- Kroger will buy shares at $34.10, although prices fell on Friday due to concern about regulators
- Albertsons will pay a dividend of $4 billion to shareholders
- Together, the stores could own approximately 13% of the food-retail sales in the US
- Kroger expects to save half a billion in costs, which they claim will reduce food prices
Early Hurdles: With rising grocery costs, Kroger and Albertsons are facing opposition from regulators over the consumer impact of the acquisition. As one of the largest deals in the history of the grocery industry, antitrust activists are criticizing it as unnecessary consolidation.
On the Other Hand: A merger could help Kroger compete with giants like Walmart and Amazon. Combining the stores would build a larger web of distributors and suppliers, giving the companies greater reach and a simplified supply chain process. Unlike their competition, both Kroger and Albertsons are unionized, alleviating some concern about layoffs. To ease concerns raised by antitrust enforcers, the supermarkets are planning to sell overlapping stores, especially on the West Coast.
The Bottom Line: The proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons is already causing ripples in the $812 billion supermarket industry, and there is a long road ahead to finalize the deal.
Playing the Long Game with Marketing
Marketing and advertising are among the first industries that must pivot in times of economic uncertainty, but resilience is both possible and crucial, according to Forbes.
The Bigger Picture: Outside factors such as inflation rates, Covid, mortgage rates, and the war in Ukraine all raise questions about how to prioritize advertising spend. Social media companies like Snapchat have warned about a potential slowdown in revenue growth which often signals an ad sales scale back. While many experts predict it will be a mild one, many place the odds of recession at around 25% in the next year or two.
Staying the Course: But companies should not halt advertising efforts. Studies done by McKinsey & Co. as well as Penn State claim that cutting back on advertising and marketing budgets can negatively impact long-term economic growth. It is tempting to cut spending to alleviate financial pressure, but the phenomena of advertising lag and the opportunity to increase brand voice at a reduced cost both suggest economic downturns are a good time for marketing efforts.
Quick tips for marketers:
- Aim for long-term brand building over short-term activations
- Adjust the tone of advertising
- Diversify customers and verticals and much as you can
Key Takeaway: Although cutting back on marketing efforts may provide temporary financial relief, the significant long-term effects may prove more costly.
The Push to Complete Polio Eradication
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged an additional $1.2 billion for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), according to Fortune.
More than a Passion Project: Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, has a serious history of philanthropy. Bill and Melinda’s Seattle-based non-profit foundation has an endowment of $70 billion and has contributed nearly $5 billion to the elimination of polio.
Defeating Diseases: While smallpox is the only human diseases eliminated so far, polio cases are down by 99.9% since massive efforts and funding began in 1988. Three doses of the polio vaccine provide 99-100% immunity, with a fourth given to children between years 4 and 6, the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports.
Final Push: Pakistan and Afghanistan remain relative hotbeds for polio. In May, Mozambique had its first outbreak in decades, highlighting the importance of comprehensive, global eradication. Gates will focus on Pakistan; only one polio strain remains in a mountainous region, but recent flooding and population displacement put the country at greater risk.
The Plan: The GPEI, a partnership between the Gates Foundation, World Health Organization, and Center for Disease Control and Prevention, needs $4.8 billion for its 2022-2026 program. The GPEI hopes to vaccinate 370 million children a year during that time, and they look to secure additional funding at an October 18th summit.
Best of the Rest
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was successful in redirecting a 525-foot-wide asteroid, marking the first alteration of a planetary body and a huge win for planetary defense. [NPR]
As marketing tactics by investment firms come under scrutiny, FTX, a cryptocurrency firm, is denying their Super Bowl ads were directed at retail investors, claiming that they sought brand awareness for partnerships instead. [WSJ]
With the World Cup kicking off next month, this Wall Street Journal long read takes a look at how Nike once had both of the biggest names in the soccer world but then lost one, Lionel Messi, to competitor Adidas. [WSJ]
Google’s Project Starline has begun testing their high-quality, 3D video calling booths with an early access program that provides a glimpse into the possible future of connectivity. [TechCrunch]
Policy and Precedent: Debating Content Liability
The Supreme Court is set to hear a landmark tech policy case, Gonzalez v. Google, that may determine content liability going forward, Vox reports.
The Issue: Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American in Paris, was killed by ISIS affiliate members in the November 2015 attacks. Her family is now suing Google, arguing that YouTube (owned by Google) promoted radicalizing content because its algorithms funneled videos to users who would be interested in ISIS propaganda.
The History: Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act outlines protections for platforms that host third-party content. It determined that websites fall somewhere between a technology provider, like a telephone company, and a publisher, like a magazine that would be fully liable for what it prints.
(N.B. Arguably, without these protections most of the internet we frequent would be too financially risky to be viable.)
Arguments: Google argues that Section 230 shields them in this case, just as Twitter cannot be sued for defamation when a user lies about a person or company. But, while Section 230 enables websites to remove content and maintain immunity, promoting content is a different question. The Gonzalez family argues that YouTube’s algorithms amount to promoting content, much like a magazine publisher. Moreover, they claim the algorithms tend to promote content with escalating intensity (i.e., encouraging a user viewing tent reviews to watch videos about backcountry wilderness survival).
The Bottom Line: Algorithms are necessary for a functioning internet, organizing everything from search engines to social feeds. Gonzalez v. Google will reconsider content liability and moderation for an internet that, back in 1996 when Section 230 was passed, was not even imagined.
A Major Investment from Micron
In line with efforts to reshore U.S. manufacturing and secure domestic production of necessary semiconductor chips, Micron is investing $100 billion in a New York chip manufacturing facility, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Overview: Micron Technology is seeking to balance short-term reductions in capital expenditure, down 30% this year as a result of lower consumption and consequent oversupply, with the anticipated long-term demand for essential semiconductor chips which, in a digital world, will only increase.
- $20 billion will go into the upstate New York facility this decade, with further buildouts to follow.
- Construction should begin in 2024.
- Micron’s plan is the largest private-sector investment in New York history.
- Micron also plans for a $15 billion factory in Idaho with construction to begin in 2023.
The Timing: The recent, bipartisan Chips and Science Act was passed to incentivize semiconductor manufacturing. The U.S. currently provides around 12% of global chip manufacturing. Other fabrication hubs like Europe and East Asia have also laid out plans for increasing investment and manufacturing capacity.
More to Come: The U.S. will likely impose new export controls on semi-conductors and chip manufacturing equipment. With more of the $52 billion Chips Act rolling out next year, the industry and its counterparts in advanced technology are expected to grow significantly this decade.
Meta’s Vision Still Vague, Pixelated
One year after the rebrand as a metaverse company, Zuckerberg’s Meta is struggling to settle on a coherent strategy and generate excitement, both internally and externally, according to The New York Times.
12-Month Check Up: After resourcing billions of dollars and thousands of employees to bring the vision of the metaverse alive, morale is low and the payoff is far from clear. Horizon Worlds, Meta’s central VR-game platform, has accrued only 300,000 users (compared with Meta’s 2.9 billion active users) and is in “quality lockdown” for retooling through the remainder of this year.
Strategic Whims: According to the NYT report, employees feel the company is guided by arbitrary whims rather than a coherent strategic plan. A May survey revealed that only 58% of Meta employees understood their metaverse strategy; some workers now refer to metaverse projects as “M.M.H.” work – standing for “make Mark happy” projects.
When it Rains: Meta’s stock is down nearly 60% on the year, and the company has initiated a hiring freeze and warned of potential layoffs even amid a tight labor market. Moreover, U.S. regulators are set to prevent pivoting through acquisition as the company once did by purchasing WhatsApp and Instagram.
Low Traction, Long Road: Meta’s future shape is unclear, and executives are baffled over the amount of money the company is burning through with no clear direction. Last year, Meta reported $10 billion in loss from its A.R. and V.R. units. A decade ago, then-Facebook successfully overhauled the company to live on smartphones rather than desktops. Advanced planning for the next technological era could pay off, but the cart may be years ahead of the horse, and stuck in the mud, in this case. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.
Best of the Rest
The second annual Forbes “50 over 50” highlights 50 inspiring women over 50 in four categories – Lifestyle, Impact, Entrepreneurs, and Money – proving that “success has no age limit.” [Forbes]
With the rise of climate-conscious business marketing and the risk of greenwashing, is it time for marketing and PR professionals to consider an oath of ethics, pledging to ensure storytelling about sustainability and practiced business strategy truly align? [Forbes]
Post-2020, empathetic marketing is more important than ever; visuals, cultural attunement, and consumer choice are key to success, according to this Harvard Business Review article. [HBR]
For the first time in six decades, Philadelphia’s SEPTA is overhauling their bus plan, reducing the total number of routes but significantly increasing high-frequency routes to reduce wait times. Learn more about the plan here. [Axios]