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There was a time, maybe five years ago now, when the question of what to watch on Internet streaming television was a simple one. "Netflix and chill" was the expression of the day. Maybe you were looking for a hot original show, like House of Cards (which debuted in 2013) or Orange is the New Black (also debuting in 2013). Or maybe you just wanted to catch up with an old TV hit like Friends or The Office. Even the movie selection was pretty decent. If everything wasn't on Netflix yet, it seemed like only a matter of time.
Lately, of course, the decision of what to watch and where to watch it has gotten quite complicated. And competition is making things worse, not better (both Friends and The Office are leaving Netflix shortly).
Do you have any TV search horror stories? I’ve long been a fan of the spy novels of John Le Carre and some of the film and TV adaptations are almost as good as the books. I’m not sure I can even choose between, say, the PBS miniseries version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Alec Guinness or the Hollywood film version starring Gary Oldman. Lately there’ve been some trashy if highly entertaining TV efforts, like the BBC's The Night Manager. So when I found myself trapped on a three-hour flight to Chicago recently, I was delighted to discover a new addition to the oevre, an AMC network six-part miniseries of the Le Carre classic, The Little Drummer Girl.
The first few episodes were delightfully diverting, with great performances from Florence Pugh in the title role and Alexander Skarsgård as her Israeli spy/lover. But I only got through two of the six episodes on the flight. Then commenced the nonsense of our current fragmented if still golden age of TV. How to find the rest of the episodes in time for my connecting flight…
I started where I always start. As a premium home cable subscriber, I tried the mobile AMC app, signing in with my cable login and password. Turns out the show is not on the AMC network app. Maybe buy the last four episodes on iTunes? No dice, not there. A little Internet research indicated that the show could be streamed on the Sundance channel’s online service Sundance Now (I cannot tell you why). Subscribing in the iPhone app (with a free seven-day trial) seemed perfect. The shows were all there. But…no downloading. Only streaming. Ugh.
Okay, messing around other apps, the Amazon Prime video mobile app allows downloading and can connect with lots of premium cable channel services–including Sundance. You can’t subscribe from within the Prime iPhone app, though (thank you, Apple). So with boarding coming up soon, as fast as I could type, I went to Amazon.com and searched for the Sundance channel. Subscribing this way, with the same seven-day free trial, shows were now available for downloading in the Prime app back on my phone. I hit the download icon and–nothing. Oops. The default settings prohibit downloading over cellular networks. Switch that and go. I managed to get a couple more episodes, enough to cover my next flight, before boarding. Phew. (Also, The Little Drummer Girl, highly recommended.)
I'm sure you know where this is going. With Disney, Apple, and Comcast, among others, working on their own streaming services, the world is only getting more fragmented. And more expensive. And more confusing. It all seems ripe for a new technology-based disruption.
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Scapegoating. After the latest horrific shooting massacres, including the white supremacist attack at a Walmart store in Texas that killed 22 people, the retail giant itself ordered employees to remove from all its stores…video game signs and displays that depict violence. Gun sales were not affected. The shooting, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with video games. And get ready for more fights over smartphone encryption and security. The FBI has told lawmakers that it cannot access information on the phone of the shooter at the Dayton massacre.
Where the buck stops. After complaints from a labor rights group, China’s Foxconn Technology fired the head of one of its factories that makes devices for Amazon. The facility had been accused of underpaying and mistreating workers.
Not playing games. The U.S. Navy will remove touchscreen controls from its destroyer fleet over the next two years and replace them with physical throttles and other more traditional controls. The move comes after an analysis of the deadly 2017 collision between the warship the USS John S. McCain and the merchant ship Alnic MC.
Tackled for a loss. A federal appeals court rejected part of the Federal Communications Commission’s effort to speed the deployment of 5G wireless networks. The agency does not have the right exempt small cell deployments from historic-preservation review under the National Historic Preservation Act and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, a three-judge panel ruled unanimously on Friday.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Speaking of Netflix, the company’s stock and perceived leadership status in the streaming market have been suffering since its second quarter financial results showed a few cracks in the armor. Now comes Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz to argue that Netflix isn’t even really a technology company, at all. The network, the software, even the user experience are all becoming commodities in Internet streaming, he argues. What matters is old-fashioned Hollywood stuff.
I think this framing is important – ‘what kind of questions matter for this business?’ The questions that mattered for Hulu were all TV questions – ‘what rights will it get?’ The same for Sky – ‘what happens to football and movie rights?’ – and the same for Netflix. As I look at discussions of Netflix today, all of the questions that matter are TV industry questions. How many shows, in what genres, at what quality level? What budgets? What do the stars earn? Do you go for awards or breadth? What happens when this incumbent pulls its shows? When and why would they give them back? How do you interact with Disney? These are not Silicon Valley questions – they’re LA and New York questions. I don’t know the answers – indeed, I don’t even know the questions.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Apple Is Hobbling iPhones With Batteries Replaced Outside of Authorized Repair Shops. Is That Even Legal? By Don Reisinger
Joe Lieberman Famously Blamed Video Games for Violence. Now Guns and the Internet Worry Him Even More By Lisa Marie Segarra and Alyssa Newcomb
‘You’re Pretty Stupid.’ What Can Happen to Your Business When A.I. Goes Awry By Anne Fisher
Thailand-based Velo Says Blockchain Will Revolutionize Remittance in South East Asia By Eamon Barrett
Tap These Bottles of Wine with Your Phone to Learn About Their Makeup By Emily Price
What I Learned in Inclusion Training at the World’s Top Cocktail Festival By Billy Lyons
BEFORE YOU GO
While we’re all watching too much trashy TV, superstar gymnast Simone Biles is inventing masterful, new feats that have never been seen before. At the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City, Biles became the first person ever to completer a a triple double jump (consisting of two flips and three twists). Check it out.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.