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Last Week In Digital - 14th August 2017

Facebook steps up commitment to video, Travis Kalanick gets sued, Cruise begins running automated ride-hailing

14Aug

Facebook launches Watch

In its quest to become a video platform in its own right, Facebook has launched its most ambitious video product to date: Watch. The tab, which is being gently rolled out to users across the US for testing, will feature both original content and shows from the likes of Buzzfeed, Condè Nast, and ATTN. Facebook has even struck a deal with Major League Baseball to stream one live game per week on the service. Clearly, Facebook sees video as a potential ad revenue space so huge that it cannot risk to fall behind.

Of course, there is absolutely no shortage of competition for Facebook to fend off. The likes of Netflix, Youtube, Snapchat, HBO, Hulu, etc. all have large audiences that Facebook will be coveting as they expand their service. Over time, Facebook will allow users to create video on Watch, while it is encouraging comments and conversation around the shows in an attempt to create the first truly ‘social TV.’ It is certainly well placed to do so, with its 1.32 billion daily users already consuming a great deal of video content on the News Feed alone. Whether it can trouble the established players, though, is another question altogether.

SoundCloud potentially saved

Just as it looked like SoundCloud had been doomed to the pages of history, it managed to close a funding round to keep its head above the water. A management reshuffle will see CEO Alex Ljung step aside (though remaining chairman) after the funding round - led by New York investment bank Raine Group and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek - raised $169.5 million. The fund has the potential to save the ailing company, which had realized that it was quickly losing money and saw no viable new revenue stream to exploit. Last month, the Berlin-based company laid off 40% of its workforce in a last-ditch attempt to cut costs, and this new funding round should mitigate SoundCloud’s financial woes for the time being.

According to TechCrunch, the money was raised as a pre-money valuation of $150 million, a figure that reflects the company’s decline, having been valued at closer to $700 million in previous rounds. Ljung said of the deal: ‘This financing means SoundCloud remains strong, independent and here to stay.’ The company will need more paid subscribers and new advertising streams to stay afloat long-term, but the founding round will at least buy them the time to find them.

Benchmark sues Travis Kalanick

Years after becoming the poster-company for disruptive innovation, Uber absolutely cannot stay out of the news, for all the wrong reasons. Allegations of sexual harassment and the widely reported cultural problems at the company have seen its reputation fall dramatically in just a couple of years. And the situation worsened last week when one of Uber’s early investors - Benchmark - sued former CEO Travis Kalanick, alleging fraud, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty.

According to TechCrunch, Benchmark is particularly unhappy with Kalanick’s approach to the expansion of Uber’s board in June 2016 from eight to 11 members. Given the choice of appointment, Kalanick gave one seat to himself and has yet to fill the other two. The company also claimed that, had it known about the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination within the company it would never have given Kalanick that choice. Uber is valued at $70 billion, which is part of the reason it draws so much interest about its internal affairs. Kalanick and Benchmark are among the company’s largest shareholders, though, so any legal battle between the two will likely have serious consequences for the business.

Cruise begins running automated ride-hailing service

Automated driving startup Cruise has begun operating a fully automated ride-hailing service in San Francisco. Currently only available to its staff, the service is in beta and has already seen positive results with some employees using it as their primary means of transport. The testing is a significant step in the timeline of automated vehicles, paving the way for an actual commercial product that has been demonstrably successful in testing.

‘We’ve always said we’d launch first with a rideshare application, and this is in line with that and just further evidence of that,’ said Cruise CEO and co-founder Kyle Vogt in an interview. ‘We’re really excited about how the technology is evolving, and the rate at which it’s evolving. This is a manifestation of that — putting the app in people’s hands and having them use it for the first time and make AVs their primary form of transportation.’ The likes of Waymo are developing similar technology, and there’s something of a race brewing to get driverless tech on the road as quickly (and safely) as possible. Cruise is ahead of the curve in terms of actual availability, though, so it could be poised to lead the way. 

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