Shopping, songs, TV, transport … new tech has many sectors in disarray
Netflix has helped change the way we watch television and film, further weakening our reliance on traditional TV schedules and providing a cheaper alternative to a cinema trip.
It invested massively in shows such as The Crown, Stranger Things and House of Cards to drive subscriber growth. It is now spending money on locking in talent, including Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, the producer behind American Horror Story, to try to ensure its supply of high-quality content.
This comes at a cost: content, marketing and other expenses are thought to have exceeded subscriber revenue by at least $3bn last year. Net debt was $8.34bn at the end of September. Netflix also faces increasing competition from tech giants Amazon and Apple, and from traditional media players including Disney and WarnerMedia, which are planning to launch streaming services.
For Jeff Bezos, the path to world domination began in his garage, where he personally prepared customer orders and drove them to the post office. That’s hard to imagine now, when Amazon employs more than 600,000 people and ships billions of packages a year with the help of robots in giant warehouses.
Amazon strikes fear into retailers around the world as they struggle to compete. In the UK, the dominance of Amazon has become almost synonymous with the shift to online spending and the decline in high streets.
Like other tech giants, it has been criticised for using complex corporate structures to avoid tax in numerous countries. Its employment practices have also come under scrutiny. But Amazon charges on, seeking other sectors to disrupt – cloud computing, healthcare and electronic payments to name but three. Its smart devices are making their way into our homes, and it is developing robots to drop packages on our doorsteps.
Ride hailing firm Uber has radically changed urban transport, and stirred up no end of controversy. Its smartphone app has generally been a runaway success with users, providing a flexible, cashless alternative to traditional taxis and public transport.
It ran into opposition from authorities in many cities, however, and London declined to renew its operating licence in 2017. Beset by scandals, including allegations of sexual harassment, Uber has tried to chart a calmer, more conciliatory course since Dara Khosrowshahi replaced Travis Kalanick as chief executive.
Founded by a man with ambitions to fly 100 people to Mars, Tesla was never going to be a traditional car manufacturer. Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk aims to make Tesla a leader in electric cars and put it at the forefront of driverless technology. He said last year that he was confident Tesla would win the race to produce a fully self-driving vehicle, before the end of 2019.
Last year, the company faced production problems with its mass-market Model 3 car, and had to pay out $40m over tweets by Musk about taking the firm into private ownership.
Ørsted may not be a household name, but it is undeniably a disruptor in an industry that is undergoing a period of drastic change. Formerly an oil and gas company, the Danish firm has transformed itself into a leader in offshore wind, and is behind the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, opened in the Irish Sea last September.
Spotify has become a global leader in music streaming and is one of the world’s best-known tech companies. It has transformed the way we listen to music, giving listeners instant access to pretty much any track. There have been bumps along the way, and it is a low-margin business, with a majority of revenues paid in royalties to music companies.
But it has just reported its first quarterly profit, and its paying subscribers hit 96 million in the fourth quarter, up 36% on the same period a year earlier. In the UK, HMV’s collapse in December for the second time in six years was a clear sign of just how tough it is for traditional music retailers to compete with the disruptors.