Tata tags in Airtel

Also in this edition: FMCG bounceback, Graphic cards firesale, Petrol prices on fire.

Good morning! Covaxin’s efficacy data is out. News reports claim the vaccine is 77.8% effective against the original strain of Covid-19. Curiously, this is the third such number released over the past three months where it was said to have an efficacy of 78% and even 81%. The phase-three clinical trial data has been submitted almost five months after it was granted approval. Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna, the two vaccines being administered across the US and Europe have still to be cleared for administration.

Anyway, on to the day’s stories.

  1. Famous Netflix skeptic Steven Spielberg is now on Netflix.

  2. Sundar Pichai is under pressure at Google.

  3. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is the face of Victoria's Secret. But it’s not what you think.

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Tinker, Tailor, Sundar Pichai

On Monday, The New York Times reported that some Google executives believe the company is suffering from both its size and the leadership of CEO Sundar Pichai. The issues they outlined were a paralyzing bureaucracy, a bias toward inaction, and a fixation on public perception — typical of a large, mature company.

Murmurs within: Pichai has navigated the company through tough Congressional grilling and dealt well with questions over potential bias built into the company’s platforms, but less so within the organisation, the report said. Last December’s high-profile exit of Timnit Gebru, a co-leader of Google’s Ethical A.I. team and one of its best-known Black female employees, highlights the issue.

New battlefronts: Meanwhile, Pichai faces new tests in his country of birth and elsewhere. Indian competition watchdog is probing Google for abuse of dominance in the smart TV operating system market and the European Union has opened a formal investigation into alleged abuses around its ad-tech business. It was only earlier this month that Google decided to settle with French antitrust regulators, by paying a $270 million fine.

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Victoria’s Secret Finally Gets What Women Want

Actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas and six other women, famous for their achievements, not bodies, are replacing the Victoria’s Secret Angels. As the literal wings get shed, the company also redefines the idea of what’s sexy. While the VS Collective, as it’s being called, is an attempt to course-correct, the company obviously has sales in mind. In a post #MeToo world, the company is realigning itself with GenZ, its youngest consumer base.

The lingerie retailer is also borrowing $500 million to help smooth its split from Bath & Body Works. After the spinoff, it will be an independent, publicly-traded company called Victoria’s Secret & Co.

The company had drawn considerable flak for its association with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and for fostering a misogynistic culture. The VS Collective and the separation align with its agenda of rebranding its image in a rapidly changing retail landscape.

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Tata And Reliance’s Battle Royale

“Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.” Tata and Reliance believe it resides on the phones of 1.3 billion Indians. They’ve started to divvy up the technology landscape in India in two neat camps. Tata added another ally in this battle for power, Airtel. The Tata Group has managed to lean into their previous relationship with Sunil Mittal to be the tech provider for Airtel’s 5G overtures. For those who have forgotten, Tata had sold Docomo to Airtel for virtually nothing in 2017. Now, Tata’s extremely profitable TCS will play a role in this unique partnership.

Meanwhile: Reliance announced its partnership with Intel to create 5G networking technology. Last year, Intel was one of the flood of companies that invested in RIL.

It doesn’t stop here: Tata Group of companies are now in the market to raise close to $2.5 billion in capital to fulfil its e-commerce ambitions, a report from The Economic Times states. This is after it acquired a controlling stake in Curefit, BigBasket and 1mg. For context, Reliance in 2020 raised capital worth $15.2 billion from everyone including Google, Facebook, SilverLake, KKR and General Atlantic. It also acquired online grocery e-commerce company MilkBasket and is a $200 million anchor limited partner in Kalaari Capital’s fourth fund.

The Signal

Bloomberg describes this rivalry as India’s version of Alibaba vs Tencent. There are shades of Pony Ma and Jack Ma that the entire technology ecosystem has been stretched to partner with either of the two behemoths. But this fight is just beginning. This is not the first time an Indian company has tried to build a super app (“ecosystem”). Paytm has been trying to build one with Paytm Mall (which included all e-commerce), payments (and investment) and games. It couldn’t quite do it. Flipkart partnered with MakeMyTrip, Ola and Gaana while using PhonePe as a payments layer to create one to take on Amazon. The outcome was suboptimal. Tata, too, has all the ingredients for a super app. Airlines, grocery, e-commerce and even cars. Reliance, meanwhile, is the biggest retailer in the country and has the largest mobile phone subscriber base in the country. The stage is set and the world will be watching how the protagonist, the Indian consumer, plays her part.

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The Voice Of God

What do you do if you know someone is watching you all the time? You play nice, right? That’s the kind of vigilance Live Eye Surveillance is trying to achieve with its cameras that come with a live human operator who can intervene from miles away if something seems fishy. A camera-and-voice version of Predator drones and Hellfire missiles, if you will.  

What’s in the box: For $399 per month, the Washington-based company will have a BPO worker keeping watch from India for shoplifting, store safety and overall management, and quip remarks if something seems amiss. Companies like 7-Eleven, Shell, Dairy Queen, and Holiday Inn have already signed on.

Big brother: While this may seem like a great solution on the surface, there are deeper problems that 24x7 surveillance creates. It gives corporations a way to track employees at all times, putting unending pressure on them. Workplace surveillance can be toxic and what’s worse, it could be dangerous in case of armed robberies.

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Spielberg Phone Home

Steven Spielberg has struck a multi-year deal to make movies for Netflix. The news may not have the same commercial significance as some of the other Hollywood news we've covered, but it holds tremendous symbolic value.

About turn: After all, it was Spielberg who famously proclaimed that movies that premiered on streaming services became TV movies and they “deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar”.

Spielberg's Amblin Partners will make multiple new films for Netflix, and the first few films are expected to premiere by the end of the year.

Unlike some of its rivals, Netflix prefers to woo creative talent rather than make big acquisitions. We've previously covered Amazon's acquisition of MGM, and HBO Max owner WarnerMedia's merger with Discovery Inc.

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What Else Made The Signal?

Growth spurt: The FMCG market in India has bounced back quickly after Covid-19 restrictions were smoothed out in many parts of the country. The market grew 15% in the first half of June, with both urban and rural areas seeing an uptick in sales.

Collateral damage: China’s crackdown on Bitcoin mining has not only depressed the cryptocurrency’s market value but also crashed graphics cards prices. The extra processing power of graphics cards, an integral part of video gaming, comes in handy in crypto mining too.

Setback for Adani: Norwegian pension fund KLP has sold its stake in Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone because the company is building a container terminal in Yangon on Myanmar military-owned land. KLP fears the army could use the land to import weapons and equipment.

New records: The price of diesel has crossed INR 100 per litre for the first time in history. It is now retailing at INR 100.05 a litre in Rajasthan’s Ganganagar.

Apple’s woes: Germany’s antitrust watchdog is investigating Apple. The initial investigation will look at whether Apple is of “paramount significance across markets”. Apple said it’s looking forward to having an open dialogue.

Creeping Bitcoin: Cryptocurrency is emerging as an instrument to protect wages against hyperinflation and an easy way to remit money in sanctions-hit Venezuela. It is gradually becoming an alternative to services offered by the banking system.


Fun Signals

Future of car racing: Airspeeder, a proposed motorsport series for electric flying cars, recently made history as its remotely piloted vehicle hit the skies for the first time. Three such races have already been scheduled for this year. Who wants ground races when you have cars that can fly?

Tragicomic: That hilarious moment when you hit a six but also break the rear window of your own car. It happened to cricketer Asif Ali in the Halifax Cricket League cup, England. He is not laughing.

Ah! To be freezing again: A record-breaking heatwave is gripping the US and making Americans miss office. Many are giving up their precious WFH lifestyles and rushing to offices where the air conditioners are humming away.

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