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Too many influencers on Instagram
Also in this edition: Signal under the lens, South African Bitcoin heist, McAfee dead.
Good morning! TikTok could be back. A report in The Economic Times suggests that the company has written to the government stating that it is compliant with all the new IT rules despite being off-air in India. That’s some dedication to the market. Its parent Bytedance, despite losing its biggest market, made $34.3 billion in topline in 2020. It’s almost the weekend, let’s not spend too much time here.
Anyway, on to the day’s stories.
People aren’t coming back to cities despite lockdowns lifting.
Elon Musk wants to be your ISP.
A list of stories to read while you unwind over the weekend.
Reliance Pivots From Oil To Green Energy
India’s largest company by market cap, Reliance Industries (RIL), made some expected announcements and revealed a strategic move in the energy business.
The expected: Its chairman Mukesh Ambani announced that its Google-powered smartphone, JioPhone Next, will launch in September. Also, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of Saudi Aramco and the Governor of the Public Investment Fund, joined the RIL board.
The unexpected: The biggest announcement, however, was RIL’s plan to invest up to INR 750 billion in green and clean energy over the next three years. It will build the Dhirubhai Ambani Green Energy Giga Complex on 5,000 acres in Jamnagar.
Think big: As is RIL’s style from founder Dhirubhai Ambani’s days, the company is aiming for scale. The complex will be one of the world’s largest integrated renewable energy manufacturing facilities when completed. Just as it built its oil refining and petrochemicals business, this one would also be an integrated play with RIL owning the full value chain. It would build a photovoltaic cell factory for solar energy and an electrolyser unit for hydrogen. It will also set up facilities to make advanced batteries for both solar and hydrogen fuel. With this shift, the conglomerate will complete its transformation from a B2B business anchored in fossil fuels to a retail-to-communications-to-green-energy ecosystem player.
Elon Musk To Bring You High-Speed Internet Soon
Starlink, the satellite internet unit of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, expects to provide continuous global coverage by September. Its 1,800 already-deployed satellites will have reached their operational orbits by then. But before any of this, there’s regulatory paperwork to get into and approvals to be sought from countries in which it aims to provide telecom services.
IPO plans: Starlink has plans to deploy 12,000 satellites at a cost of ~$10 billion and is currently offering beta services in 11 countries. It will go public once its cash flow becomes reasonably predictable.
Spreading the net: In the past, Musk has said that Starlink could bring funding for his broader plans. The service already has 100,000 users and last month it received over 500,000 pre-orders for its internet services. While Musk anticipates no technical issues, this Arizona beta user will tell you, the satellite dish may have a heating problem.
It’s Raining… Money In The Creator Economy
It’s been a melee of sorts in the creator economy with major tech companies launching creator-friendly features one after the other. Bang bang, they went.
A quick recap: Last week, Spotify launched Greenroom. Facebook followed with Live Audio Rooms. TikTok launched Jumps, allowing third-party developers to offer quizzes and other mini-apps. Twitter began testing its creator monetisation offerings — Super Follows and Ticketed Spaces. And just in case we missed anyone else, Clubhouse will soon allow you to slide into DMs after you “shoot your shots”.
And there’s moolah: Money is flowing in through creator funds and grants, incentivising creators to do more. Keen to follow up its android boom in India, Clubhouse announced an India-specific creator fund, while Indian ed-tech company Unacademy launched an INR 1 billion creators’ grant for its content platform Graphy. Riding on its popular TikTok-competitor Shorts’ success (it grew to 6.5 billion views in March), YouTube arrived with a $100 million fund. And, well, if you are a Twitter user (or creator) eligible for the Tip Jar, it’s coming your way in India.
Doubling down:The Information reported that this year, nearly $2 billion has been invested into companies that cater to the creator economy. A recent report by VC firm SignalFire pegged the number of global creators at approximately 50 million (46.7 million amateurs, and 2+ million professionals). With every passing day, that number only increases.
This never-ending battle for attention works on a familiar thesis: creators bring users, users spend time on a platform, and, therefore, can be monetised. The promise to creators is equally simple: we help lock you into our ecosystem, you help bring a loyal, sticky audience. That thesis worked during the pandemic with users huddled in and spending more time before screens. How that adapts to a post-Covid world is the key to how this economy evolves, besides audiences splintering to newer platforms to discover newer content or just getting bored. As Instagram is finding out.
Pandemic Ghost Towns
People don’t want to come back to work. They want to work, they just don’t want to get into the office anymore. As lockdowns lift, major financial hubs are quieter. In Frankfurt, workplace activity is down 17% from pre-pandemic levels and London is 40% quieter than it was before lockdowns started in 2020.
World over: This isn’t just in Europe. Workplace activity is down 54% in New York and 61% in San Francisco. In Asia, Singapore is down 33% on workplace activity and Hong Kong 13%. The reluctance to come back to work could also be that people have started leaving major financial hubs to live in places with cheaper rents and more time to enjoy the finer things in life.
WFH is hard: But work from home is difficult. Reports state that people have less time for themselves. They work longer hours and Zoom fatigue is real. It’s not just the hours, the pay is being evaluated as well. Early in the pandemic, Facebook had said it would pay its employees differently if they left the valley. Google, too, is changing the pay structure if its employees choose to work remotely.
A forgotten iron peg: In mid-nineteenth century Calcutta, when the mighty East India Company denied the fisherfolk of Calcutta access to the Hooghly’s waters, they turned to Rashmoni Das, a wealthy widow from their community. What followed could perhaps be taught in business and law schools. Rashmoni Das used her business acumen and knowledge of British law to outwit the most powerful corporation in the world. The fascinating story is retold by Amitangshu Acharya in The Hindu.
Engine Number Won: Last month, big oil aka Exxon Mobil saw a shakeup, with a tiny hedge fund nominating two climate-friendly activist investors to its board. This has been hailed as one of the “biggest boardroom fights over climate change to date”. This story, from The New York Times Magazine, is the backstory of how Engine No. 1 successfully won its proxy battle, led by Chris James and Charlie Penner.
Memes = $$$: Today, the attention economy is meeting the creator economy — where “content” is monetized. Not just through offerings by big tech, but also through NFTs, where a meme is effectively "commodified". This thought-provoking piece in The Atlantic argues that the commodification of a tweet or a meme is "the newest, most direct way of converting attention to money and of plucking a unit of content out of its cultural context... and presenting it for purchase."
Unpopular populists: The strongmen across Eastern Europe, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia, are facing a popularity crisis. The lockdowns due to the pandemic and the job losses have left their followers unamused. To win back their bases, they’ve taken to either taxing the rich or bashing the LGBTQ community.
A ’90s icon: Planet Hollywood was quite the “hottest ticket in town” when it opened thirty years ago. And then, it went bankrupt. Twice in two years (1999 and 2001). This is an origin-to-bankruptcy story of a ’90s icon, which had a wild ride.
“Rather have colonoscopy”: Remember Ever Given? The ship that became a meme while it was stuck at the Suez Canal sometime in March? Well, read this detailed tick-tock about how it ended up there in the first place, how it brought global trade to a stop, and then the Herculean effort to set it sail again, featuring the Suez Canal Authority, the salvors, and nature.
What Else Made The Signal?
No safe harbour? End-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal is in non-compliance with the new social media and intermediary guidelines and is also, in all probability, liable under the IT Act.
Buzzed: BuzzFeed has announced its plans to go public via merger with a SPAC, at a $1.5 billion valuation.
Vanishing act: Two South African brothers — Ameer and Raees Cajee — have vanished with Bitcoin worth $3.6 billion from the cryptocurrency investment platform they were running. This is one of the biggest cryptocurrency heists in history.
RIP: John McAfee, the antivirus software pioneer and cryptocurrency advocate, reportedly died by suicide in a Barcelona prison on June 23. The 75-year-old was found dead hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the US to face tax evasion charges.
Kabul may fall: The US intelligence has warned that Kabul could fall in the next 6-12 months. The US and allied troops began leaving Afghanistan on May 1. Since then, there’ve been growing international concerns about the Taliban making territorial gains.
Getting sporty: A US-based private investment firm, RedBird Capital Partners, started by a former Goldman Sachs partner Gerry Cardinale, is picking up a 15% stake in the Rajasthan Royals IPL team.