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Walmart begins selling television with the software guts of Comcast, the cable television provider and owner of the Universal Film Studio and television network including NBC.
These Comcast TVs may never be bestsellers. But they are interesting because of what they represent: the area of corporate grips becomes the starting point for everything that flows into American homes.
Comcast, Amazon, Roku and many other companies imagine that we might be watching “Monday Night Football”, watching the latest Netflix costume drama and sitting through a YouTube science video through one of their TVs or gadgets.
Selling the equipment is not the goal, but a means to an end. Their goal is to make money selling ads or by pointing people to watch “Halloween” on a streaming service that pays for the commercial. Comcast wants to use its TVs to set up its Peacock streaming service.
It is one of the struggles with the highest stakes in corporate America right now. There is power and money to be gained for the companies that can convince us to use their hardware as a starting point for our virtual leisure.
There is not necessarily anything strange or wrong with this. The battle to be America’s go-to spot for all entertainment has raged for decades in media and technology.
From the 1990s, Bill Gates wanted people to use Microsoft technology to watch TV shows as well as operate their personal computers. From the 20th century, video boxes from Comcast or other cable providers were the gateway to television and other home entertainment. Comcast in the 21st Century has a similar idea. It’s old TV in a new disguise.
I do not blame you if you just want to watch “Squid Game” on Netflix and not think too hard about dudes in suits trying to win behind the scenes on your TV screen. But it may be worth considering what we gain and lose by this streaming phrase.
Amazon Fire TV pushes for people to buy online movies from Amazon and has prominent offers from other streaming apps that pay Amazon to get right in front of your eyeballs. At times, Roku streaming devices have not included any entertainment apps including YouTube TV and HBO Max due to financial disputes between the companies.
Entertainment programmers like Netflix and Disney will even get bigger so they have more power than distributors like Amazon, Roku and Comcast.
This new streaming world is glorious (so much to see!), But more annoying than it should be because there is so much money at stake and companies want to gain control. And it highlights a strangeness of the Internet age: It has castrated old world gatekeepers as well as conventional cable TV providers, large box stores and newspapers, and created powerful new ones.
Amazon gave us choices of products that we never had in physical stores, but the company also has a huge influence on which products are noticed. Almost anyone can create a smartphone app, but Apple, Google and other app store owners pretty much control which ones we can download and on what terms. Anyone can post their dance videos or ideas online, but the Facebook or TikTok computer systems determine how many people watch them.
That’s what drives me crazy about the new digital worlds. We have so much choice at hand, but in reality, there are still power brokers who have enormous influence in controlling what we see, do or buy.
Tip of the week
My favorite time saver
Oh, you’re for a treat. Brian X. Chen, consumer technology columnist for The New York Times, brings us a few technological tricks to save us precious time and brain power:
1) “Siri, add a meeting to my calendar.” Virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa are the butt of many jokes because they often misunderstand what we are saying. But after a decade of using Siri on iPhones, I’ve found that it’s the best way to add new events to my digital calendar. Saying “Hey Siri, add doctor appointment to calendar Thursday at 3pm” only takes a few seconds.
2) Password Administrators: Using complex, unique passwords for our online accounts is an absolute must, and I do not know how I would live without a password manager who automatically generates them for me and stores them in a secure vault protected by a master password. My favorite is 1Password. I also use the app to store credit card numbers for faster online shopping.
3) Shopping warnings: I hate buying expensive items at full price, but who has the time to repeatedly check a retailer’s site for the best prices? I rely on price tracking tools like Camel Camel Camel to send me email alerts when prices fall on products I see on Amazon. For used items, I use the Craigslist app to create email alerts to let me know immediately when an item I’m looking for has been listed by a seller. (I’m currently looking for an outdoor dining table.)
4) Scheduled emails: Email is probably the hardest technology in my life. I get bombarded by messages. With scheduled emails, I get some control again by writing messages when it’s convenient for me and having them delivered at a time I choose. Gmail’s email scheduling tool has been a gift from God.
Before we go…
Another union at an Amazon store: Hourly workers on Staten Island – some of whom complained about abuse from Amazon – said they plan to try to form a union, my colleagues Karen Weise and Coral Murphy Marcos report. Trade unions have previously tried and failed to organize hourly workers on Amazon, and the company is eager to keep them out.
Businesses want you to buy a new smartphone as often as possible. The marketing pitch is that you can buy a new phone for just the price of a daily cup of coffee. Brian X. Chen looks at the true cost of a new phone.
TikTok tendencies have forced Americans to buy cookware, leggings and vacuum cleaners. But this pales in comparison to the phenomenon of online shopping in China. This week, an online star sold $ 1.9 billion in goods in a single day from his live broadcast on Chinese e-commerce site Taobao, according to Bloomberg News.
Hugs to this
In regular TikTok videos, Jonathan Graziano plays a game with his 13-year-old pug named Noodle: Is it a “bone” day for Noodle (get out of bed) or a “no bone” day (forget it)? “Think of Noodle as a four-legged mood ring,” writes my colleague Jesus Jiménez.
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