Jim Carrey in a scene from the film ‘The Cable Guy’, 1996.
Columbia Pictures/Getty Images
The tech industry has been on a quest for profitability lately.To get there, some tech companies have been raising prices. The result: Supposedly revolutionary services are looking a lot like what came before.
Sooner or later, everything old is new again.
We may be at this point in tech, where supposedly revolutionary products are becoming eerily similar to the previous offerings they were supposed to beat.
Take video streaming. In search of better profitability, Netflix, Disney, and other providers have been raising prices. The various bundles are now as annoyingly confusing as cable, and cost basically the same. Somehow, we’re also paying to watch ads. How did that happen?
Amazon Prime Video costs $9 a month and there are no ads. Oh, except when Thursday Night Football is on. Then there are loads of ads. And Amazon is discussing an ad-supported version of the Prime Video service, according to The Wall Street Journal. That won’t be free, I can assure you.
Paramount+ with Showtime costs $12 a month and the live TV part has commercials and a few other shows include “brief promotional interruptions,” according to the company. Translation: ads.
Streaming was supposed to be better and cheaper. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. This NFL season, like previous years, I will record games on OTA linear TV using a TiVo box from about 2014. I’ll watch hours of action every weekend for free and I’ll watch no ads. Streaming can’t match that.
You can still stream without ads, but the cost of this is getting so high, and the bundling is so complex, that it’s getting as bad as cable — the technology that streaming was supposed to radically improve upon.
— Rich Greenfield, LightShed 🔦 (@RichLightShed) August 14, 2023
The Financial Times recently reported that a basket of the top US streaming services will cost $87 this fall, compared with $73 a year ago. The average cable TV package costs $83 a month, it noted.
A 3-mile Uber ride that cost $51.69
A similar shift is happening in ride-hailing. Uber has been on a quest to become profitable, and it achieved that, based on one measure, in the most-recent quarter. Lyft is desperately trying to keep up. How are they doing this? Raising prices is one way.
Wired’s editor at large, Steven Levy, recently took a 2.95-mile Uber ride from downtown New York City to the West Side to meet Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. When asked to estimate the cost of the ride, Khosrowshahi put it at $20. That turned out to be less than half the actual price of $51.69, including a tip for the driver.
“Oh my God. Wow,” the CEO said upon learning the cost.
I recently took a Lyft from Seattle-Tacoma International airport to a home in the city. It cost $66.69 with driver tip. As a test, I ordered a taxi for the return journey. Exact same distance, and the cab was stuck in traffic longer. The cost was $70 with a tip. So basically the same.
And the cab can be ordered with an app now that shows its location, just like Uber and Lyft. So what’s the revolutionary benefit here? The original vision was car sharing where anyone could pick anyone else up. Those disruptive benefits have steadily ebbed away through regulation, disputes with drivers over pay, and the recent push for profitability.
Cloud promises are being broken
Finally, there’s the cloud, which promised cheaper and more secure computing for companies. There are massive benefits from flexibility here: You can switch your rented computing power on and off quickly depending on your needs. That’s a real advance.
The other main benefits — price and security — are looking shakier lately.
Salesforce, the leading provider of cloud marketing software, is increasing prices this month. The cost of the Microsoft 365 cloud productivity suite is rising, too, along with some Slack and Adobe cloud offerings, according to CIO magazine.
As a fast-growing startup, Snap bought into the cloud and decided not to build it’s own infrastructure. In the roughly five years since going public, the company has spent about $3 billion on cloud services from Google and AWS. These costs have been the second-biggest expense at Snap, behind employees.
“While cloud clearly delivers on its promise early on in a company’s journey, the pressure it puts on margins can start to outweigh the benefits, as a company scales and growth slows,” VC firm Andreessen Horowitz wrote in a blog. “There is a growing awareness of the long-term cost implications of cloud.”
Some companies, such as Dropbox, have even repatriated most of their IT workloads from the public cloud, saving millions of dollars, the VC firm noted.
What about security? Last month, Google, the third-largest cloud provider, started a pilot program where thousands of its employees are limited to using work computers that are not connected to the internet, according to CNBC.
The reason: Google is trying to reduce the risk of cyberattacks. If staff have computers disconnected from the internet, hackers can’t compromise these devices and gain access to sensitive user data and software code, CNBC reported.
So, cloud services connected to the internet are great for everyone, except Google? Not a great cloud sales pitch.