23 August 2019

Javier Maquieira

23 August 2019

Good morning,
 
Whilst many battles are taking place in the world today, the one being fought for our attention has escalated in recent days. And there isn’t a clear winner yet.
 
I’m talking about the “streaming wars”, which have seen the arrival of two powerful new contenders set to shake up the streaming services industry. As competitors seek to lead the so-called golden age of prestige television, a new era of unprecedented choice in terms of quantity and quality is before us.
 
Armed with an initial price of $6.99 a month and an exclusive range of family-friendly productions, including Toy Story, the Star Wars saga and the Marvel superhero universe, the Walt Disney Company plans to launch Disney+ in November 2019 having reached agreements with key streaming companies such as Sony, Google and Microsoft.
 
On the other hand, it emerged earlier this week that Apple would spend more than $6 billion on original content for its own streaming service, Apple TV+, which is expected to be available in two months’ time – before Disney+. The Cupertino giant’s strategy so far has been to put celebrities of the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon at the forefront of its offer. And, whilst Apple’s budget is still well below Netflix’s projected $15bn spend this year, it pays content creators more generously (and quickly) than the current streaming leader; a factor that will certainly give Apple an edge in Hollywood.
 
To be fair, not all rivals were created equal in this war. Whereas Amazon and Apple share a similar mix of bundled products, Disney and Netflix are focused solely on content. Disney’s lower price is unlikely to displace Netflix at the top of the pack, but it could quickly position itself as a preferred option among the ever-growing list of entertainment providers. Even so, according to eMarketer, Netflix’s market share will slowly but steadily fall, dipping to a little more than 86% over-the-top (OTT) viewers by 2023, compared to its current share of 90%.
 
But what does this mean for viewers? To begin with, content casualties will happen. As big media conglomerates gear up to launch their own streaming services, they will retain their original content, thus putting an end to licensing agreements with other entertainment providers. The streaming wars are also likely to turn into a price war, with competition on this front leading to lower-tier package options that may no longer be free of ads. 
 
Although growth in streaming isn’t precisely a zero-sum game, our attention (and our budget) is by all means limited. Whatever the outcome, may the best content win!

News

Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was received with heckles at the Latin American and Caribbean Climate Week conference amid protests by climate activists and conservationists who blame Jair Bolsonaro’s government for the record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest. Bolsonaro has been responsible for encouraging the clearing of land in the area by farmers and loggers, and has latterly suggested that NGOs started the fires in retaliation for funding cuts. According to official data, there have been more than 75,000 fires thus far this year in Brazil, compared to just over 40,000 over the same period in 2018.
 
In related news, French president Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that the Amazon fires are an “international crisis” and has urged attendees at the G7 summit to put the issue at the top of their agenda. Bolsonaro reacted to Macron’s words by accusing him of using the situation for “political gain”.
 
During Boris Johnson’s visit to Paris on Thursday, Macron warned the prime minister that any possible Brexit agreement with the EU would look similar to the one already struck by Theresa May, adding that “we will not find a new withdrawal agreement in 30 days that will be very different from the existing one”.  The previous day, Johnson had accepted a 30-day deadline to find an alternative arrangement to the Irish backstop from Germany’s Angela Merkel.  However, the French president said that “something smart” could turn out if there is “goodwill on both sides”. Johnson told reporters after the meeting that the technical solutions to the Irish backstop “are readily available and they have been discussed at great length”.
 
The European Union is planning to introduce regulation that would see the use of facial recognition technology strictly limited, as it aims to give EU citizens explicit rights over the use of their data. Senior officials at the European Commission said that the initiative is part of an overhaul in the way the EU regulates artificial intelligence, seeking to restrain companies and public authorities from using facial recognition technology “indiscriminately” on EU citizens. (£)

Business & Economy

Data from the CBI has shown that high street sales in August plunged at the fastest rate since December 2008, worsening sentiment among retailers. As shops continue to struggle due to lower volumes and orders, internet growth also fell below its average in August, pointing to weakening of consumer confidence rather than just a shift from offline to online platforms. (£)
 
Research by the Young Women’s Trust found that more than 10% of British employers would hesitate before hiring a woman who might become pregnant. The study – which was conducted among 800 human resources employees – emphasised that male bosses are more likely than women managers to be reluctant when recruiting a female candidate that may have a child, even when the number of so-called “dinosaur bosses” has reportedly fallen in recent years.
 
Qantas is set to test the first 19-hour direct flights from London and New York to Sydney – which would be the world’s longest commercial flight – to check whether passengers and crew can bear such long hours in a plane. The test passengers will include Qantas employees and scientists, who will be equipped with wearable technology to monitor their sleep patterns and food and drink consumption. The airline plans to operate regular, non-stop flights between the UK, the US and Australia as soon as 2022. It currently connects London and Perth, on the west coast of Australia, via a direct 17-hour journey.

Markets

London stocks were down on Thursday after US Federal Reserve officials said there was no need for further rate cuts at the moment, crashing investors’ expectations for further policy easing. The FTSE 100 closed 1.05% down at 7,128.18, while the pound was stronger both against the US dollar by 1.04% at $1.22 and versus the euro at €1.10.
 
In equity markets, copper miner Antofagasta (down 0.29%) was in the red despite increased first-half profit, as it warned that the outlook of the copper market remains uncertain amid the China-US trade conflict. Online supermarket Ocado (down 3.06%) also fell after reporting a “small fire” at its customer fulfilment centre in Erith. Financial services group John Laing (down 5.67%) was also among the fallers following a slump in its half-year pre-tax profit.
 
On the upside, healthcare provider NMC Health (up 18.60%) was the biggest gainer on the FTSE 100 as it was reported that two groups had made offers to buy a 40 per cent stake in the company. Premier Oil (up 9.30%) also rose after announcing the sale of its stake in an undeveloped project in Mexico and posting a 24% increase in first-half profit.
 
Across the Atlantic, US shares closed flat amid weak volumes. The S&P 500 was down 0.05% at 2,922.95, while the Nasdaq Composite fell by 0.36% at 7,991.39.

What's happening today?

Finals
Sports Direct
 
Interims
AGOL
Computacenter
Glenveagh
Henry Boot

AGMs
Ashmr. Gbl.gbp
Mortice
Naspers

UK Economic Announcements
(09:30) BBA Mortgage Lending Figures
 
Int. Economic Announcements
(15:00) New Homes Sales (US)

Columns of Note

Writing in the Financial Times, Bard Harstad argues that the recent acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest could be tackled, but also worsened, by trade deals. In Harstad’s view, the EU-Mercosur trade agreement reached earlier this year has proven insufficient to stop deforestation from spreading, despite including a chapter on sustainability. He calls on the EU not to go ahead with ratification of the agreement unless conservation policies in Brazil are reintroduced and reliable monitoring is implemented. Harstad concludes that a credible link between market access and conservation is likely to be effective considering Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-business regime, as well as the resulting interest of lobby groups in pushing the Brazilian government into re-establishing conservation policies. (£)
 
In the New Statesman, Anoosh Chakelian raises the issue of child homelessness in Britain, pointing to official estimates showing more than 210,000 children are homeless in England. Chakelian denounces the fact that the majority of these children live in temporary accommodation such as shelters, hostels and shipping containers, representing the often forgotten “hidden homeless”. She concludes that the combination of austerity and the lack of housing and welfare reform will continue to aggravate the problem, with more families forced to live in frightening and entirely unsuitable spaces.

Did you know?

In Ancient Rome, commoners would evacuate entire cities in acts of revolt called “Secessions of the Plebeians”. After leaving the elite to fend for themselves, commercial transactions would stop and workshops would have to close.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons
In recess until 3rd September.
 
House of Lords
In recess until 3rd September.
 
Scottish Parliament
In recess until 2nd September.