1 month ago
From oil to attention.
Oil has been the most important commodity for a century. It's sparked wars. Pearl Harbor was a preemptive strike to guarantee Japanese access to Indonesian oil, and it made desert tribes rich. Oil's heyday is over. From oil to attention.
We talked about an information economy. In an age of abundant information, what's scarce? Attention. Scale of the world's largest enterprises, wealth of its richest people, and power of governments all stem from attention extraction, monetization, and custody.
Attention-grabbing isn't new. Humans have competed for attention and turned content into wealth since Aeschylus' Oresteia. The internal combustion engine, industrial revolutions in mechanization and plastics, and the emergence of a mobile Western lifestyle boosted oil. Digitization has put wells in pockets, on automobile dashboards, and on kitchen counters, drilling for attention.
The most valuable firms are attention-seeking enterprises, not oil companies. Big Tech dominates the top 4. Tech and media firms are the sheikhs and wildcatters who capture our attention. Blood will flow as the oil economy rises.
Attention to Detail
More than IT and media companies compete for attention. Podcasting is a high-growth, low-barrier-to-entry chance for newbies to gain attention and (for around 1%) make money. Conferences are good for capturing in-person attention. Salesforce paid $30 billion for Slack's dominance of workplace attention, while Spotify is transforming music listening attention into a media platform.
Conferences, newsletters, and even music streaming are artisan projects. Even 130,000-person Comic Con barely registers on the attention economy's Richter scale. Big players have hundreds of millions of monthly users.
Even titans can be disrupted in the attention economy. TikTok is fracking king Chesapeake Energy, a rule-breaking insurgent with revolutionary extraction technologies. Attention must be extracted, processed, and monetized. Innovators disrupt the attention economy value chain.
Attention pre-digital Entrepreneurs commercialized intriguing or amusing stuff like a newspaper or TV show through subscriptions and ads. Digital storage and distribution's limitless capacity drove the initial wave of innovation. Netflix became dominant by releasing old sitcoms and movies. More ad-free content gained attention. By 2016, Netflix was greater than cable TV. Linear scale, few network effects.
Social media introduced two breakthroughs. First, users produced and paid for content. Netflix's economics are dwarfed by TikTok and YouTube, where customers create the content drill rigs that the platforms monetize.
Next, social media businesses expanded content possibilities. Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit offer traditional content, but they transform user comments into more valuable (addictive) emotional content. By emotional resonance, I mean they satisfy a craving for acceptance or anger us. Attention and emotion are mined from comments/replies, piss-fights, and fast-brigaded craziness. Exxon has turned exhaust into heroin. Should we be so linked without a commensurate presence? You wouldn't say this in person. Anonymity allows fraudulent accounts and undesirable actors, which platforms accept to profit from more pollution.
A new entrepreneur emerged as ad-driven social media anger contaminated the water table. TikTok is remaking the attention economy. Short-form video platform relies on user-generated content, although delivery is narrower and less social.
Netflix grew on endless options. Choice requires cognitive effort. TikTok is the least demanding platform since TV. App video plays when opened. Every video can be skipped with a swipe. An algorithm watches how long you watch, what you finish, and whether you like or follow to create a unique streaming network. You can follow creators and respond, but the app is passive. TikTok's attention economy recombination makes it apex predator. The app has more users than Facebook and Instagram combined. Among teens, it's overtaking the passive king, TV.
Now we understand fossil fuel externalities. A carbon-based economy has harmed the world. Fracking brought large riches and rebalanced the oil economy, but at a cost: flammable water, earthquakes, and chemical leaks.
TikTok has various concerns associated with algorithmically generated content and platforms. A Wall Street Journal analysis discovered new accounts listed as belonging to 13- to 15-year-olds would swerve into rabbitholes of sex- and drug-related films in mere days. TikTok has a unique externality: Chinese Communist Party ties. Our last two presidents realized the relationship's perils. Concerned about platform's propaganda potential.
No evidence suggests the CCP manipulated information to harm American interests. A headjack implanted on America's youth, who spend more time on TikTok than any other network, connects them to a neural network that may be modified by the CCP. If the product and ownership can't be separated, the app should be banned. Putting restrictions near media increases problems. We should have a reciprocal approach with China regarding media firms. Ban TikTok
It was a conference theme. I anticipated Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner to say, "We're watching them." (That's CEO protocol.) TikTok should be outlawed in every democracy as an espionage tool. Rumored regulations could lead to a ban, and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr pushes for app store prohibitions. Why not restrict Chinese propaganda? Some disagree: Several renowned tech writers argued my TikTok diatribe last week distracted us from privacy and data reform. The situation isn't zero-sum. I've warned about Facebook and other tech platforms for years. Chewing gum while walking is possible.
Is TikTok the attention-economy titans' final evolution? The attention economy acts like it. No original content. CNN+ was unplugged, Netflix is losing members and has lost 70% of its market cap, and households are canceling cable and streaming subscriptions in historic numbers. Snap Originals closed in August after YouTube Originals in January.
Everyone is outTik-ing the Tok. Netflix debuted Fast Laughs, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Snap Spotlight, Roku The Buzz, Pinterest Watch, and Twitter is developing a TikTok-like product. I think they should call it Vine. Just a thought.
Meta's internal documents show that users spend less time on Instagram Reels than TikTok. Reels engagement is dropping, possibly because a third of the videos were generated elsewhere (usually TikTok, complete with watermark). Meta has tried to downrank these videos, but they persist. Users reject product modifications. Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner posted a meme urging Meta to Make Instagram Instagram Again, resulting in 312,000 signatures. Mark won't hear the petition. Meta is the fastest follower in social (see Oculus and legless hellscape fever nightmares). Meta's stock is at a five-year low, giving those who opposed my demands to break it up a compelling argument.
TikTok's short-term dominance in attention extraction won't be stopped by anyone who doesn't hear Hail to the Chief every time they come in. Will TikTok still be a supermajor in five years? If not, YouTube will likely rule and protect Kings Landing.
56% of Americans regularly watch YouTube. Compared to Facebook and TikTok, 95% of teens use Instagram. YouTube users upload more than 500 hours of video per minute, a number that's likely higher today. Last year, the platform garnered $29 billion in advertising income, equivalent to Netflix's total.
Business and biology both value diversity. Oil can be found in the desert, under the sea, or in the Arctic. Each area requires a specific ability. Refiners turn crude into gas, lubricants, and aspirin. YouTube's variety is unmatched. One-second videos to 12-hour movies. Others are studio-produced. (My Bill Maher appearance was edited for YouTube.)
You can dispute in the comment section or just stream videos. YouTube is used for home improvement, makeup advice, music videos, product reviews, etc. You can load endless videos on a topic or creator, subscribe to your favorites, or let the suggestion algo take over. YouTube relies on user content, but it doesn't wait passively. Strategic partners advise 12,000 creators. According to a senior director, if a YouTube star doesn’t post once week, their manager is “likely to know why.”
YouTube's kevlar is its middle, especially for creators. Like TikTok, users can start with low-production vlogs and selfie videos. As your following expands, so does the scope of your production, bringing longer videos, broadcast-quality camera teams and performers, and increasing prices. MrBeast, a YouTuber, is an example. MrBeast made gaming videos and YouTube drama comments.
Donaldson's YouTube subscriber base rose. MrBeast invests earnings to develop impressive productions. His most popular video was a $3.5 million Squid Game reenactment (the cost of an episode of Mad Men). 300 million people watched. TikTok's attention-grabbing tech is too limiting for this type of material. Now, Donaldson is focusing on offline energy with a burger restaurant and cloud kitchen enterprise.
Steps to Take
Rapid wealth growth has externalities. There is no free lunch. OK, maybe caffeine. The externalities are opaque, and the parties best suited to handle them early are incentivized to construct weapons of mass distraction to postpone and obfuscate while achieving economic security for themselves and their families. The longer an externality runs unchecked, the more damage it causes and the more it costs to fix. Vanessa Pappas, TikTok's COO, didn't shine before congressional hearings. Her comms team over-consulted her and said ByteDance had no headquarters because it's scattered. Being full of garbage simply promotes further anger against the company and the awkward bond it's built between the CCP and a rising generation of American citizens.
This shouldn't distract us from the (still existent) harm American platforms pose to our privacy, teenagers' mental health, and civic dialogue. Leaders of American media outlets don't suffer from immorality but amorality, indifference, and dissonance. Money rain blurs eyesight.
Autocratic governments that undermine America's standing and way of life are immoral. The CCP has and will continue to use all its assets to harm U.S. interests domestically and abroad. TikTok should be spun to Western investors or treated the way China treats American platforms: kicked out.
1 month ago
Don't underestimate the foolish
ZERO GRACE/ZERO MALICE
Big companies and wealthy people make stupid mistakes too.
Your ancestors kept snakes and drank bad water. You (probably) don't because you've learnt from their failures via instinct+, the ultimate life-lessons streaming network in your head. Instincts foretell the future. If you approach a lion, it'll eat you. Our society's nuanced/complex decisions have surpassed instinct. Human growth depends on how we handle these issues. 80% of people believe they are above-average drivers, yet few believe they make many incorrect mistakes that make them risky. Stupidity hurts others like death. Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by Carlo Cipollas:
Everyone underestimates the prevalence of idiots in our society.
Any other trait a person may have has no bearing on how likely they are to be stupid.
A dumb individual is one who harms someone without benefiting themselves and may even lose money in the process.
Non-dumb people frequently underestimate how destructively powerful stupid people can be.
The most dangerous kind of person is a moron.
Professor Cippola defines stupid as bad for you and others. We underestimate the corporate world's and seemingly successful people's ability to make bad judgments that harm themselves and others. Success is an intoxication that makes you risk-aggressive and blurs your peripheral vision.
Stupid companies and decisions:
Big-company bad ideas have more bulk and inertia. The world's most valuable company recently showed its board a VR headset. Jony Ive couldn't destroy Apple's terrible idea in 2015. Mr. Ive said that VR cut users off from the outer world, made them seem outdated, and lacked practical uses. Ives' design team doubted users would wear headsets for lengthy periods.
VR has cost tens of billions of dollars over a decade to prove nobody wants it. The next great SaaS startup will likely come from Florence, not Redmond or San Jose.
Apple Watch and Airpods have made the Cupertino company the world's largest jewelry maker. 10.5% of Apple's income, or $38 billion, comes from wearables in 2021. (seven times the revenue of Tiffany & Co.). Jewelry makes you more appealing and useful. Airpods and Apple Watch do both.
Headsets make you less beautiful and useful and promote isolation, loneliness, and unhappiness among American teenagers. My sons pretend they can't hear or see me when on their phones. VR headsets lack charisma.
Coinbase disclosed a plan to generate division and tension within its workplace weeks after Apple was pitched $2,000 smokes. The crypto-trading platform is piloting a program that rates staff after every interaction. If a coworker says anything you don't like, you should tell them how to improve. Everyone gets a 110-point scorecard. Coworkers should evaluate a person's rating while deciding whether to listen to them. It's ridiculous.
Organizations leverage our superpower of cooperation. This encourages non-cooperation, period. Bridgewater's founder Ray Dalio designed the approach to promote extreme transparency. Dalio has 223 billion reasons his managerial style works. There's reason to suppose only a small group of people, largely traders, will endure a granular scorecard. Bridgewater has 20% first-year turnover. Employees cry in bathrooms, and sex scandals are settled by ignoring individuals with poor believability levels. Coinbase might take solace that the stock is 80% below its initial offering price.
Fools' ledgers are valuable. More valuable are lists of foolish rich individuals.
Robinhood built a $8 billion corporation on financial ignorance. The firm's median account value is $240, and its stock has dropped 75% since last summer. Investors, customers, and society lose. Stupid. Luna published a comparable list on the blockchain, grew to $41 billion in market cap, then plummeted.
A podcast presenter is recruiting dentists and small-business owners to invest in Elon Musk's Twitter takeover. Investors pay a 7% fee and 10% of the upside for the chance to buy Twitter at a 35% premium to the current price. The proposal legitimizes CNBC's Trade Like Chuck advertising (Chuck made $4,600 into $460,000 in two years). This is stupid because it adds to the Twitter deal's desperation. Mr. Musk made an impression when he urged his lawyers to develop a legal rip-cord (There are bots on the platform!) to abandon the share purchase arrangement (for less than they are being marketed by the podcaster). Rolls-Royce may pay for this list of the dumb affluent because it includes potential Cullinan buyers.
Worst company? Flowcarbon, founded by WeWork founder Adam Neumann, operates at the convergence of carbon and crypto to democratize access to offsets and safeguard the earth's natural carbon sinks. Can I get an ayahuasca Big Gulp?
Neumann raised $70 million with their yogababble drink. More than half of the consideration came from selling GNT. Goddess Nature Token. I hope the company gets an S-1. Or I'll start a decentralized AI Meta Renewable NFTs company. My Community Based Ebitda coin will fund the company. Possible.
Stupidity inside oneself
This weekend, I was in NYC with my boys. My 14-year-old disappeared. He's realized I'm not cool and is mad I let the charade continue. When out with his dad, he likes to stroll home alone and depart before me. Friends told me hell would return, but I was surprised by how fast the eye roll came.
Not so with my 11-year-old. We went to The Edge, a Hudson Yards observation platform where you can see the city from 100 storeys up for $38. This is hell's seventh ring. Leaning into your boys' interests is key to engaging them (dad tip). Neither loves Crossfit, WW2 history, or antitrust law.
We take selfies on the Thrilling Glass Floor he spots. Dad, there's a bar! Coke? I nod, he rushes to the bar, stops, runs back for money, and sprints back. Sitting on stone seats, drinking Atlanta Champagne, he turns at me and asks, Isn't this amazing? I'll never reach paradise.
Later that night, the lads are asleep and I've had two Zacapas and Cokes. I SMS some friends about my day and how I feel about sons/fatherhood/etc. How I did. They responded and approached. The next morning, I'm sober, have distance from my son, and feel ashamed by my texts. Less likely to impulsively share my emotions with others. Stupid again.
3 months ago
ZERO GRACE/ZERO MALICE
Amazon's purchase of One Medical could speed up American healthcare
The U.S. healthcare industry is a 7-ton seal bleeding at sea. Predators are circling. Unearned margin: price increases relative to inflation without quality improvements. Amazon is the 11-foot megalodon with 7-inch teeth. Amazon is no longer circling... but attacking.
In 2020 dollars, per capita U.S. healthcare spending increased from $2,968 in 1980 to $12,531. The result is a massive industry with 13% of the nation's workers and a fifth of GDP.
In 40 years, healthcare has made progress. From 73.7 in 1980 to 78.8 in 2019, life expectancy rose (before Covid knocked it back down a bit). Pharmacological therapies have revolutionized, and genetic research is paying off. The financial return, improvement split by cost increases, is terrible. No country has expense rises like the U.S., and no one spends as much per capita as we do. Developed countries have longer life expectancies, healthier populations, and less economic hardship.
Two-thirds of U.S. personal bankruptcies are due to medical expenses and/or missed work. Mom or Dad getting cancer could bankrupt many middle-class American families. 40% of American adults delayed or skipped needed care due to cost. Every healthcare improvement seems to have a downside. Same pharmacological revolution that helped millions caused opioid epidemic. Our results are poor in many areas: The U.S. has a high infant mortality rate.
Healthcare is the second-worst retail industry in the country. Gas stations are #1. Imagine walking into a Best Buy to buy a TV and a Blue Shirt associate requests you fill out the same 14 pages of paperwork you filled out yesterday. Then you wait in a crowded room until they call you, 20 minutes after the scheduled appointment you were asked to arrive early for, to see the one person in the store who can talk to you about TVs, who has 10 minutes for you. The average emergency room wait time in New York is 6 hours and 10 minutes.
If it's bad for the customer, it's worse for the business. Physicians spend 27% of their time helping patients; 49% on EHRs. Documentation, order entry, billing, and inbox management. Spend a decade getting an M.D., then become a bureaucrat.
No industry better illustrates scale diseconomies. If we got the same return on healthcare spending as other countries, we'd all live to 100. We could spend less, live longer and healthier, and pay off the national debt in 15 years. U.S. healthcare is the worst ever.
What now? Competition is at the heart of capitalism, the worst system of its kind.
Amazon is buying One Medical for $3.9 billion. I think this deal will liberate society. Two years in, I think One Medical is great. When I got Covid, I pressed the One Medical symbol on my phone; a nurse practitioner prescribed Paxlovid and told me which pharmacies had it in stock.
Amazon enables the company's vision. One Medical's stock is down to $10 from $40 at the start of 2021. Last year, it lost $250 million and needs cash (Amazon has $60 billion). ONEM must grow. The service has 736,000 members. Half of U.S. households have Amazon Prime. Finally, delivery. One Medical is a digital health/physical office hybrid, but you must pick up medication at the pharmacy. Upgrade your Paxlovid delivery time after a remote consultation. Amazon's core competency means it'll happen. Healthcare speed and convenience will feel alien.
It's been a long, winding road to disruption. Amazon, JPMorgan, and Berkshire Hathaway formed Haven four years ago to provide better healthcare for their 1.5 million employees. It rocked healthcare stocks the morning of the press release, but folded in 2021.
Amazon Care is an employee-focused service. Home-delivered virtual health services and nurses. It's doing well, expanding nationwide, and providing healthcare for other companies. Hilton is Amazon Care's biggest customer. The acquisition of One Medical will bring 66 million Prime households capital, domain expertise, and billing infrastructure. Imagine:
"Alexa, I'm hot and my back hurts."
"Connecting you to a Prime doctor now."
Want to vs. Have to
I predicted Amazon entering healthcare years ago. Why? For the same reason Apple is getting into auto. Amazon's P/E is 56, double Walmart's. The corporation must add $250 billion in revenue over the next five years to retain its share price. White-label clothes or smart home products won't generate as much revenue. It must enter a huge market without scale, operational competence, and data skills.
Healthcare reform benefits both consumers and investors. In 2015, healthcare services had S&P 500-average multiples. The market is losing faith in public healthcare businesses' growth. Healthcare services have lower EV/EBITDA multiples than the S&P 500.
Amazon isn't the only prey-hunter. Walmart and Alibaba are starting pharmacies. Uber is developing medical transportation. Private markets invested $29 billion in telehealth last year, up 95% from 2020.
The pandemic accelerated telehealth, the immediate unlock. After the first positive Covid case in the U.S., services that had to be delivered in person shifted to Zoom... We lived. We grew. Video house calls continued after in-person visits were allowed. McKinsey estimates telehealth visits are 38 times pre-pandemic levels. Doctors adopted the technology, regulators loosened restrictions, and patients saved time. We're far from remote surgery, but many patient visits are unnecessary. A study of 40 million patients during lockdown found that for chronic disease patients, online visits didn't affect outcomes. This method of care will only improve.
Amazon's disruption will be significant and will inspire a flood of capital, startups, and consumer brands. Mark Cuban launched a pharmacy that eliminates middlemen in January. Outcome? A 90-day supply of acid-reflux medication costs $17. Medicare could have saved $3.6 billion by buying generic drugs from Cuban's pharmacy. Other apex predators will look at different limbs of the carcass for food. Nike could enter healthcare via orthopedics, acupuncture, and chiropractic. LVMH, L'Oréal, and Estée Lauder may launch global plastic surgery brands. Hilton and Four Seasons may open hospitals. Lennar and Pulte could build "Active Living" communities that Nana would leave feet first, avoiding the expense and tragedy of dying among strangers.
Privacy matters: HIV status is different from credit card and billing address. Most customers (60%) feel fine sharing personal health data via virtual technologies, though. Unavoidable. 85% of doctors believe data-sharing and interoperability will become the norm. Amazon is the most trusted tech company for handling personal data. Not Meta: Amazon.
What about antitrust, then?
Amazon should be required to spin off AWS and/or Amazon Fulfillment and banned from promoting its own products. It should be allowed to acquire hospitals. One Medical's $3.9 billion acquisition is a drop in the bucket compared to UnitedHealth's $498 billion market valuation.
Antitrust enforcement shouldn't assume some people/firms are good/bad. It should recognize that competition is good and focus on making markets more competitive in each deal. The FTC should force asset divestitures in e-commerce, digital marketing, and social media. These companies can also promote competition in a social ill.
U.S. healthcare makes us fat, depressed, and broke. Competition has produced massive value and prosperity across most of our economy.
Dear Amazon … bring it.