Happy Friday, readers! Let’s review the week’s tech news.
Netflix signed Ryan Murphy, the hitmaking producer behind “Glee” and the “American Crime Story” and “American Horror Story” anthology series, to a huge deal. An absolutely gigantic one, to be exact — roughly $300 million over five years, besting even the $100 million deal that Netflix made with Shonda Rhimes last year.
Also, YouTube announced an expansion of its streaming TV service, adding several networks from Turner networks but also increasing its price. Now you can get its full lineup of channels streamed online for $40 per month, up from $35; that brings it to price parity with other streaming TV services, including Hulu’s.
All this got me wondering: What’s the point of cable TV anymore?
For a time, cutting the cord was one of those hipster affectations that came with sacrifices. A kind of asceticism was implied in the name. The cord, the familiar cable bundle of yore, required paying a whole lot for a bunch of bad TV you’d never watch, just so you could have very convenient access to the handful of shows you sometimes did watch.
Then along came DVDs and the internet, and now you could unbundle — you’d pay a lot less for just the things you really wanted to see, provided you were O.K. hazarding some minor inconveniences.
But as Netflix keeps driving trucks of money to TV’s top producers — it plans to spend $8 billion on new content this year — the script has flipped. More and more, it’s the people who haven’t cut the cord who are missing out. Today, if you subscribe just to regular TV and don’t bother with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other online services, you’re missing some of TV’s biggest and most acclaimed shows. Plus, you’re paying more.
Cable subscriptions have been declining for years, and last year the decline accelerated. But the YouTube expansion shows that cutting the cord keeps getting easier, and the Netflix deal shows how non-cable services keep getting more attractive. This suggests an even faster pace of decline for cable. The bottom is going to fall out of the market, probably very soon.
Chrome, Google’s popular web browser, can now block ads. This seems weird because Google is the internet’s largest advertising company. So how does an advertising company design ad-blocking software? Very, very carefully, it turns out, in a process rife with conflicts.
Google argues that over all, the internet ad business has been great for the economy and society, but that a few bad apples are ruining it all. Google, then, wants to “maintain a balance,” because “if left unchecked, disruptive ads have the potential to derail the entire system,” the company said in a blog post this week. (In a recent column, I took a different view, arguing that the digital ad business is at the root of most of the internet’s problems.)
So Google’s new ad blocker is designed to block some ads, not all of them. The software will eliminate a dozen types of ads that the company deems intrusive or disruptive. But most ads, including most from Google, would skate through just fine.
But how does Google decide which ads are too disruptive? The company says it relied on input from an ad-industry group, the Coalition for Better Ads. But as the The Wall Street Journal reported, the group’s membership and its research were heavily influenced by Google. This has led to recriminations in the industry, with rivals charging that Google is using the veil of self-regulation to diminish its competitors.
It’s an interesting fight, but it may also be an irrelevant one. What’s unclear is whether Google’s limited ad blocker will stem the rising popularity of more restrictive ad blockers. For many people who hate online ads, it could already be too late for half measures.
The New York Times’s tech reporting team is gathering in San Francisco this week for a team-building offsite. I’m looking forward to forgetting to catch Mike Isaac in a trust fall. We’ll also be talking about some of the major themes we’re aiming to cover in the tech world this year — artificial intelligence, crypto and the responsibility of tech companies, for example.
But enough about us. What would you like to read more about? Which technologies, people and ideas in the tech world do you think deserve more scrutiny, investigation or wider notice?
Send your thoughts — but, please, not pitches for your company — to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farhad Manjoo writes a weekly technology column called State of the Art. You can follow him on Twitter here: @fmanjoo.