PACIFIC for March 12: Musk on Mars, Uber drama, Disney's 'Wrinkle'
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The Big Picture: The reason I asked Eddy Cue to do an interview here at SXSW is simple: Apple is the most valuable company in the world. It has a market value of roughly $910 billion and hundreds of billions in cash on-hand.
So if Apple decides today that it wants to buy Disney or Netflix and become the dominant force in entertainment, it could probably do so. If Apple decides it wants to turn Apple News into the leading platform for news and information, it could probably do so. If Apple decides it wants to buy Magic Leap and make a run on augmented reality, it could probably do so.
The question is: What does Apple actually want to do -- in entertainment, in news, in AR? And does it want to buy that future, or does it want to build it itself? That is one of several questions I'll be asking Cue today. Join us at 11 a.m. in the Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D.
What Austin is talking about: What Star Wars news Rian Johnson might break at SXSW today ... What Silicon Valley is talking about: Travis Kalanick's antagonists, Intel's Broadcom play, new investments in and out of Asia ... What Hollywood is talking about: Bob Iger's "Wrinkle" at the box office...
Good morning. I went to Elon Musk's surprise SXSW appearance yesterday. Whether his predictions for the future (below) are right or wrong, I can tell you this: The Church of Elon is alive and well. The SpaceX and Tesla founder drew more than a thousand people who waited in lines snaking around the block.
SXSW: Musk on Mars
Musk spoke with "Westworld" creator Jonah Nolan about Mars, cars and artificial intelligence at the Austin City Limits Moody Theater:
What Musk said about Mars:
• His planned interplanetary Mars rocket will "be able to do short flights... during the first half of next year."
• The first trip to Mars will be dangerous and people might die, but "there will be some for whom the excitement of the frontier exceeds the risk and danger."
• Mars colonization will begin with "the most elementary infrastructure... a base to create propellant, a power station, blast domes in which to grow crops, all the sort of fundamentals without which you could not survive."
• Once colonized, "there will be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints to nightclubs."
• The first government on Mars will be direct democracy, where people vote on issues without representative government... "Everyone votes on every issue."
What Musk said about cars:
• "By the end of next year, self-driving will encompass all modes of driving."
What Musk said about artificial intelligence:
• "I'm quite close to the cutting-edge of AI, and it scares the hell out of me..."
• "Mark my words. AI is far more dangerous than [nuclear weapons]. Far more. So why don't we have regulatory oversight?"
What Musk said about climate change:
• "People and governments need to put real-cost price on carbon [emissions]."
What Musk said about himself:
• "People have told me that my timelines historically have been optimistic. I'm trying to recalibrate to some degree."
• Who inspires him: "Kanye West... Fred Astaire."
Bezos Watch: Night of the Iguana
Space Race Bonus: "Bezos Says He'll Spend 'Amazon Lottery Winnings' on Space Travel" by Bloomberg's Amanda L. Gordon and Tom Metcalf:
• "'The price of admission to space is very high,' Bezos said Saturday night in New York, accepting the Buzz Aldrin Space Exploration Award at the Explorers Club Annual Dinner. "I'm in the process of converting my Amazon lottery winnings into a much lower price of admission so we can go explore the solar system."
See the photo of Bezos sampling the roasted iguana. Also on the menu: tarantula, cockroach.
Alexa in the office
Axios' Ina Fried scoops: "Amazon is announcing today it's bringing its voice assistant into a range of business settings... like hotels and co-working spaces."
Uber Drama: Who screwed Kalanick?
Talk of the Valley: "The Takedown of Travis Kalanick: The untold story of Uber's infighting, backstabbing, and multi-million-dollar exit packages" in which Business Insider's Julie Bort goes beyond Travis Kalanick's well-catalogued missteps to shed new light on those who had a role in his downfall.
Hardest hit: Rachel Whetstone, the former head of Uber PR who is now a communications VP at Facebook:
• "Whetstone... had a reputation inside the company as being difficult to work with, becoming easily upset, or even irrational. She routinely threatened to quit, but would then cool down and change her mind."
• Kalanick's circle believed "Uber's real problem was its PR team... Not only was Whetstone doing a poor job of defending the company, they believed, she was riling other employees and stirring up gossip."
• Whetstone "suggested [that Uber] hire former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder [to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the company]... Kalanick didn't realize it at the time, but he had... hired his executioner."
(Whetstone did not comment for the piece).
Got off easiest: Bill Gurley, the Benchmark VC who led the effort to fire Kalanick.
• Bort reports that Gurley panicked in the wake of Uber's controversies, but says he "was in a lose-lose situation" due to mounting pressure from Uber investors.
• Some in Kalanick's circle would argue that Gurley showed no backbone and was more worried about protecting his own reputation than fighting for Kalanick.
The Big Picture: Even the most innovative companies are at the mercy of human egos and human imperfection. Smart leaders and effective deputies are a rare commodity.
The Other Big Picture: In Silicon Valley, the big players turns out OK. Kalanick has a new investment fund; Gurley is still a high-flying VC and Whetstone works at Facebook.
Chip-Upmanship: Why Intel wants Broadcom
WSJ's Ted Greenwald: "The revelation that Intel is considering buying Broadcom, a company valued at more than $100 billion, shows the depth to which the chip giant feels threatened by a potential tie-up between Broadcom and its rival Qualcomm":
• "Intel [worries] that a combined Broadcom-Qualcomm, which would create the third-largest chip company by revenue after Intel and Samsung Electronics Co., would endanger its competitive position."
• "There are several reasons why such a combination may not happen. Intel is weighing a range of alternative acquisitions... and a hostile Broadcom offer would present enormous challenges of financing, complexity and regulatory scrutiny."
Over at Monday Note, Jean-Louis Gassée calls an Intel-Broadcom acquisition suicidal: "In the end, Intel's best hope might lie in a stalemate, no Broadcom-Qualcomm transaction, no suicidal Broadcom acquisition."
Open Season: Dropbox sets IPO terms
• 36 million shares offered at between $16 and $18 a piece.
• $9.9 billion valuation.
Why we're scratching our heads: What's the long-term value of a company that offers the same services as Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft?
At times, it feels like tech companies go public exactly when they are most vulnerable to the competition -- see Snap, Spotify and now Dropbox.
• "SoftBank Looks to Invade Wall Street's Turf" (NYT)
• "Singapore's Golden Gate Raising $100 Million VC Fund" (Bloomberg)
Open Platforms: The Reddit conundrum
New at The New Yorker: Andrew Marantz goes long on Reddit. The piece is also about Facebook, Twitter and the tension social networks face when they feel the need to limit speech.
The Big Picture, via Marantz: "Is it possible to facilitate a space for open dialogue without also facilitating hoaxes, harassment, and threats of violence? Where is the line between authenticity and toxicity? What if, after technology allows us to reveal our inner voices, what we learn is that many of us are authentically toxic?"
• "To its devotees, Reddit feels proudly untamed, one of the last Internet giants to resist homogeneity."
• Reddit CEO Steve Huffman: "These days, I tend to say that we're a place for open and honest conversations-'open and honest' meaning authentic, meaning messy, meaning the best and worst and realest and weirdest parts of humanity."
• Reddit general counsel Melissa Tidwell: "Does free speech mean literally anyone can say anything at any time? Or is it actually more conducive to the free exchange of ideas if we create a platform where women and people of color can say what they want without thousands of people screaming, 'Fuck you, light yourself on fire, I know where you live'? If your entire answer to that very difficult question is 'Free speech,' then, I'm sorry, that tells me that you're not really paying attention."
What We're Reading
"This Is What Happens When Bitcoin Miners Take Over Your Town: Eastern Washington had cheap power and tons of space. Then the suitcases of cash started arriving." By Seattle journalist Paul Roberts for POLITICO Magazine. Photos by Patrick Cavan Brown.
The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal tweets: "This is a piece that makes me deeply jealous. Great idea, surreal reality, perfect execution."
Cold Open: Disney's 'Wrinkle'
Disney's "Wrinkle in Time" brought in a disappointing $33 million for its opening weekend, placing it second behind Disney's "Black Panther." The Ava Duvernay-directed "Wrinkle" had a production and marketing budget of at least $150 million.
Why it flopped:
• It's not a good movie, according to critics. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 46% freshness.
• It opened too close to "Black Panther," which caught the zeitgeist (and just passed $1 billion worldwide after debuting in China).
• It's not a franchise, and Disney's weakness is trying to create things that aren't remakes or spinoffs. They can sell Marvel, "Star Wars" and "Beauty & The Beast," but they can't sell "Wrinkle," "BFG" or "The Finest Hours."
Sports Break: Bracketology
NCAA March Madness futures, via VegasInsider.com:
• Villanova - 5/1
• Virginia - 5/1
• Tim Cook and Eddy Cue's Duke - 6/1
• Larry Page's Michigan - 8/1
• Magic Johnson's Michigan State - 8/1
• Steve Kerr's Arizona - 12/1
• Kansas - 14/1
• Purdue - 15/1
• North Carolina- 18/1
and so on....
Have a fantastic day everyone.
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