But of course he’s worried. The message of the past several years is clear: No matter how big and successful you are as a consumer-facing media, communications or advertising company, you’ll eventually end up in the same boat, butting up against the shore of the island where Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook have constructed their impregnable fortresses. (Side note: If you like reading about those five companies, you’ll probably be glad that my colleague Farhad Manjoo, who is writing an entire book on them, is returning from book leave next week.)
Evan Spiegel, Snap’s chief executive, sounded a similar note at the conference when asked about Facebook’s habit of blatantly copying Snapchat’s most distinctive product features. (Mr. Spiegel’s sassy comeback — “We would really appreciate it if they copied our data protection practices also” — was the best line there.)
But perhaps the clearest articulation of the tech B-list worldview came from Randall Stephenson, the chief executive of AT&T. Mr. Stephenson has been fighting to acquire Time Warner since November 2016 in an attempt to cobble together some combination of content libraries, mobile networks and advertising tech that is big enough to survive a battle with the Googles and Amazons of the world.
Asked by Recode’s Peter Kafka how he thought about this battle, Mr. Stephenson (using an acronym for Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google) answered:
“Well, I believe if you don’t create a pure, vertical, integrated capability, vertically integrated capability — from distribution all the way through content creation and advertising models — you’re going to have a hard time competing with these guys. And the statistic we throw out, and since we announced this deal in November of 2016, the FANG market caps have gone up over $1 trillion. You better figure out how to vertically integrate here if you want to compete with those players.”
It’s not unusual to see small firms complaining about the difficulty of breaking into established markets. It’s more unusual to see those complaints coming from the leader of a $200 billion telecom giant. And it shows just how dominant the tech A-list has become, and how difficult overcoming its concentration of market power is proving to be.
Here are a few other tech stories of note this past week:
■ My colleagues Scott Shane, Cade Metz and Daisuke Wakabayashi had a great story about how Google’s involvement in a Pentagon artificial intelligence project has sparked an “existential crisis” at the company, with leaders disagreeing about how and whether to allow Google’s machine-learning technology to serve military interests. Watch this space — the debate over Project Maven at Google is one of the first of what I suspect will be many employee-led revolts over ethics and corporate behavior at the largest tech firms.
■ My colleague Nathaniel Popper wrote about the chaos unfolding at Envion, a Swiss cryptocurrency company that raised $100 million in an initial coin offering this year and is now, in Nathaniel’s words, “melting down, with the people who created it accusing one another of fraud.” I, for one, am shocked.