Holy hell, it’s been a year for Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ former-online-bookstore dumped $13.7 billion to buy a bunch of grocery stores, that speaker you talk to in your living room that Amazon makes is really popular and a bunch of server farms Amazon runs generate more than $10 billion in revenue annually.
The confluence of all these things has led to an incredible rise in its stock on the year — one that might be even more impressive than Apple’s slow march toward hitting a $1 trillion market cap (assuming the iPhone X story plays out the way they hope). Amazon is nowhere near as big as Google or Apple, but at the same time, its core business is an online retail operation that operates with razor-thin margins. For the most part, Bezos has gotten the benefit of the doubt from Wall Street, and its strategy of gleefully investing in new operations appears to be playing out as hoped.
Let’s get to the chart:
And with all this, its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is making a run at becoming the richest human in the Local Group. Amazon is investing in a lot of wild operations, like buying Whole Foods, and all of these big moves are starting to coalesce into something that actually makes a little bit of sense as the company looks to become the backbone of the way people run a lot of their daily lives through the internet. Whether that’s buying stuff online, buying groceries, watching movies, listening to music or even using services that are running on Amazon’s invisible infrastructure, the real Amazon is becoming an absolute force in the everyday life of nearly every internet consumer.
So, because Amazon did all the stuff this year, we’re just gonna run through each one bit by bit, starting off with probably its most important one.
Amazon’s server business is booming
Were it not for AWS, Amazon probably would not have posted a profit in the string of quarters that it did. We’ve noted this before, but here’s the money chart again:
While Amazon is increasingly facing a lot of competition from Microsoft’s Azure, as well as Google Cloud, it was one of the original infrastructure operations that gave birth to modern internet services, helping startups get off the ground with servers that they didn’t have to buy themselves. It was also one of Amazon’s most ambitious bets, and one early example of how Amazon was willing to bulldoze its way into new markets orthogonal to its core business model.
The bet paid off, with AWS now on track to generate more than $10 billion annually. More importantly, that $10 billion annually comes with a pretty healthy margin — though, over time, that margin may slip down. For the time being, though, it’s an impressive business compared to the razor-thin profits that Amazon might generate from its retail operations and a good data point as its media services like video or music start to play out.
And, as usual, recurring revenue is a story that Wall Street loves. Amazon is a company that people will often tell you not to bet against, and its stock is up more than 50 percent on the year thanks to an array of businesses that all appear to be showing growth and the company’s recent-ish ability to turn a profit. Amazon can thank AWS a lot for that.
Amazon’s play for the vocal internet
Amazon also said the Echo, its voice-enabled speaker, was the best-selling product on Amazon for the holiday season, with millions of devices sold. This is a pretty big deal for Amazon, as it may have stepped into one of the single-best new interfaces for the internet as a whole — as well as reducing the friction further for buying stuff on Amazon. And for a service that is essentially the hub of online commerce in the U.S., having an Amazon-sold item is also a pretty good look for the company.
Even if the devices are relatively cheap, locking consumers into the Amazon ecosystem, in the end, is likely much more valuable than selling a bunch of internet-connected speakers. Amazon Prime gives Amazon an opportunity to turn its shoppers from once-in-a-bit purchasers to a reliable stream of recurring incremental revenue. Amazon doesn’t do much in terms of disclosing how Prime performs, but at the same time, a reliable recurring revenue model is something that Wall Street loves — and something that’ll keep them happy and off Bezos’ back.
We’d love to show you a chart here, but the best we’re gonna get is some kind of vague large number from Amazon. So for now, be skeptical, but assume that it’s big and has a lot of potential ramifications for the future of the internet (as much of Amazon’s operations do) — especially as companies like Google and Apple nip at its heels.
Amazon buys a bunch of grocery stores
Amazon made one of the biggest and splashiest acquisitions of the year, second only to Broadcom’s move to acquire Qualcomm and consolidate the fabless semiconductor market into a single unit (which is an equally very large deal). It acquired Whole Foods, a trendy grocery store chain that has a strong brand, for $13.7 billion — and it went through! This was both wildly, in a very Amazon way, expected and unexpected (and was definitely not a good thing for Blue Apron, which was prepping to go public at the time).
Whole Foods gives Amazon a set of local waypoints for groceries, but also storefronts to get its products in front of consumers. It can apply its wealth of data to reorient the prices of products in such a way to get consumers in the door for their staples while getting them interested in other products. And, maybe, more importantly, it can stick its own products in those stores, like the Echo.
While this gives Amazon a big business right away, it also offers Amazon yet another opportunity to lock consumers into the Jeff Bezos Sphere of Influence. We don’t know the full ramifications here just yet, but it’s another example of how Amazon was ready to just crash its way into a new market that sort of makes sense in the Amazon grand scheme of things.
Amazon, in the end, is setting itself up for a future where it serves as the backbone of how consumers interface with products they use in their everyday life that are, in some way, connected to the internet. These moves may seem drastic and have a very long runway to play out, but if you ask a lot of people in tech which stock they would keep from the FAANG group (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google), you’re probably going to get Amazon as an answer. And then they’ll reference that Tweet wherever that says Amazon grew x thousand percent since it went public (because, in hindsight, I guess we totally should have seen this coming, and the future played out exactly as it was supposed to). So as we head into 2018, we’ll see if Amazon actually fulfills that destiny.
Also, Amazon should buy a coffee shop
Seriously, Jeff, buy a coffee startup. Maybe don’t spend as much as Nestlé did on Blue Bottle. Or do. Whichever. There can only be good things that come of this.
MoviePass CEO proudly says the app tracks your location before and after movies
Everyone knew the MoviePass deal is too good to be true — and as is so often the case these days, it turns out you’re not the customer, you’re the product. And in this case they’re not even attempting to camouflage that. Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, told an audience at a Hollywood event that “we know all about you.”
Lowe was giving the keynote at the Entertainment Finance Forum; his talk was entitled “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” Media Play News first reported his remarks.
“We get an enormous amount of information,” Lowe continued. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”
It’s no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on.
I didn’t imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you?
Naturally I contacted MoviePass for comment and will update if I hear back. But it’s pretty hard to misinterpret Lowe’s words.
The startup’s plan is to “build a night at the movies,” perhaps complete with setting up parking or ordering you a car, giving you a deal on dinner before or after, connecting you with like-minded moviegoers, etc. Of course they need data to do that, but one would hope that the collection would be a bit more nuanced than this.
People clearly value the service, because it essentially lets them use someone else’s credit card instead of their own at the movies (and one belonging to a bunch of venture capitalists at that). Who would say no? Some people sure might, if they knew their activities were being tracked at this granularity (and, it has to be said, with such a cavalier attitude) to be packaged up and sold. (Good luck with the GDPR, by the way.)
Hopefully MoviePass can explain exactly what data it collects and what it does with it, so everyone can make an informed choice.
Update: In a statement, a MoviePass representative says:
We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.
I’ve also asked for information on what location data specifically is collected, for how long before and after a movie users are tracked, and where these policies are disclosed to users.
Aesthetic excellence: how cinematography transformed TV
Directors of photography from Atlanta, Transparent and other top shows discuss how they achieve the sensibility of cinema
Much of the conversation regarding the rise of prestige television has rightfully centered around the showrunners and writers rooms whove energized a medium that was once the province of three-camera sitcoms filmed on studio sets. But less often do we focus on the cinematographers behind the lens, many of whom never saw themselves working in television until, in the last decade or so, the schisms between the small and big screens dwindled. And not merely in the scope of the stories or the quality of scripts: never before has television looked so good, from inventive camerawork to glossy lighting.
Its hard to ascertain exactly when the paradigm shift began, but there have certainly been seminal moments that most boldly bridged the gap between the two: the six-minute tracking shot in True Detective following Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on a drug bust comes to mind, as do early seasons of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, ambitious, world-building series that took a sledgehammer to the conventions of episodic television. That the Television Academy split its cinematography honors between one-hour and half-hour series last year also signaled that the Emmys governing body had taken note of the profusion of aesthetic excellence on TV.
Nowadays, changes to TVs visual orthodoxy is reflected everywhere, and more diversely, too: in the sprawling, noir-ish science fiction of Netflixs new series Altered Carbon; in the shabby surrealism of FXs Atlanta; in the bright, California sheen of HBOs Insecure; and in the hyper-naturalism of Amazon shows like Transparent and I Love Dick. In these shows, and several others, environment comes alive as much as the characters do and, unsurprisingly, the directors of photography behind them were inspired by the world of film, approaching the work less like fragmented installments of a serialized story than like marathon movies, constructed piecemeal.
None of the creatives involved in this project saw this as a TV show, says Martin Ahlgren, who shot half of Altered Carbons first season and several episodes of House of Cards. We all imagined it as a 10-hour movie, and thats the approach we took to creating not only story arcs but visual arcs.
Snoke Screens: Designing the User Interfaces In The Last Jedi
You’ll find no touch screens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—not even when you can watch it at home next month (March 13 for digital, two weeks later for physical). Same goes for mice and keyboards. They’re all too familiar, too of-this-world, to appear in a galaxy so far, far away. What you’ll find instead are interface displays, and lots of them. Whether in an X-wing’s cockpit or the bridge of a Star Destroyer, every display in The Last Jedi exists to support the story—to provide a graphical complement to the film’s action and dialogue.
And it started with the film’s director. “Whenever possible, Rian [Johnson] wanted us to use practical graphics to enforce the narrative,” says creative director Andrew Booth, who oversaw the creation of TLJ’s assorted instrument clusters, targeting systems, medical readouts, and tactical displays. “It would actually appear in the script that you look at a screen and gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening. The challenge was always, what can we do in-camera to create something that feels real and believable?”
What’s impressive about the interfaces in The Last Jedi is that they feel believable not just to the audience, but to the film’s dramatis personae. In the real world, designers design for one person: the user. But creatives like Booth—whose design agency, BLIND LTD, has been behind the look and feel of some of this century’s biggest blockbusters, including every Star Wars film from TFA onward—designed the practical displays in The Last Jedi with at least three groups of people in mind: the characters, the actors depicting those characters, and the folks watching along in theaters.
Consider the film’s opening scene, in which (fair warning: plot points and spoilers from here on out) Commander Poe Dameron calls General Hux. The point of Poe’s call is to buy time; he’s charging the engines on his X-wing so he can stage a surprise attack on the First Order Dreadnought that’s poised to obliterate his Resistance buddies planetside. It’s a plan the audience comes to understand when the camera cuts to a display inside Poe’s starfighter that shows the status of his boosters.
“For us, that’s a perfect piece of storytelling,” Booth says. “Now you’ve got exposition, drama, and tension all wrapped up in this close-up of a progress bar.” And because it’s a practical effect, that tension is experienced by audience, actor, and character alike. In fact, every single display in Poe’s cockpit pulls triple duty: The top one depicts the tower Poe is attacking; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system, which BB-8 spends much of the sequence trying to repair.
These kinds of details don’t always make it into the final cut of a film, and even when they do, audiences don’t always notice them. Not explicitly, anyway. “For us, these graphics are more about shape and form than they are about spelling things out—but they do allow people to feel what’s going on in a scene, and they help support the actor’s performance,” Booth says.
The WIRED Guide to Star Wars
Similar details abound inside the spacecraft from Canto Bight, the opulent casino city. The graphics aboard the ship that DJ and BB-8 steal are shiny. Slinky. Sumptuous. A striking contrast to the First Order’s stark, militaristic vibes and the ragtag aesthetics of the Resistance. “This was us trying to evoke a different world,” Booth says.
But even the film’s familiar spaces brim with visual information. Toward the end of the film, on the chalk-dusted mining planet Crait, the audience gets multiple glimpses inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, from which he has orchestrated the First Order’s assault on what remains of the Resistance. “The aesthetic is sharp, clean, systematic—just like the First Order, itself, and the color palette is all red, grey, black and white,” Booth says.
These are classic, higher-order stylistic cues, many of which date back to the original trilogy. During pre-production on The Force Awakens BLIND LTD researched the original designs closely, and collaborated with production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford to get the look and feel just right. The graphics continued to evolve with Lucasfilm design supervisor Kevin Jenkins and production designer Rick Heinrichs on The Last Jedi. They immediately help viewers understand where they are and whose ship it is. (The Resistance’s aesthetic, by contrast, is analog and unstructured—its color palette dominated by orange, green, brown, and other earth colors.)
But look closely, and you’ll see that the screens inside the shuttle are loaded with details. Crait’s topography, the blast door separating the Resistance from the First Order, the line of AT-ATs—they’re all depicted on screens, often for the briefest of moments. “It gives you an idea of the level of detail that we put into these interfaces,” Booth says. “It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on: You don’t necessarily always see it, but you sure as hell feel it.”
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