The launch of new games consoles this week showcases broadly divergent strategies for Sony and Microsoft, with market leader PlayStation focused solely on defending its model against the rising tide of cheaper subscription games services.

Xbox's consumer offer is the best value proposition for these difficult economic times, attracting new customers and positioning for growth, and stopping slavish devotion to 'core gamers' in the process.

Amazon's Luna lands, providing big competition in game streaming services for Google's Stadia. But nobody is taking any notice, as neither provide a real breakthrough for the industry or great value for gamers. Stadia’s lifespan could be limited.

GDP growth slowed in August (+2.1%) from July (+6.4%), despite the boost to the hospitality sector from Eat Out to Help Out, while work from home (WFH) guidance remained in place for professional services.

WFH is providing resilience to B2B service verticals, thanks to the UK’s digital capabilities, while decimating B2C businesses, whose resilience is threatened as loan and furlough support programmes wind down. Rising unemployment casts a pall over consumer demand in the first winter of the pandemic.

Online continues to power retail sales, as consumers replace out-of-home with in-home activities. Online grocery sales have leapt to 10% of all grocery sales—double the pre-pandemic levels.

Over Q2, the value of online sales (excl. fuel) grew by 55%, whilst offline sales (excl. fuel) declined by 22%. Three months of lockdown has accelerated ecommerce by four years and households will spend more than ever before online, post-lockdown.

The rapid shift to ecommerce poses lofty challenges to UK retailers who have historically been timid in their approach to ecommerce. Integration between sales channels will become more important than ever before, but very few have managed to perfect this approach.

As more retail activity takes place online, ad products from the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook stand to benefit greatly, pulling spend from other ad and marketing budgets that were aimed at driving in-store behaviours.

 

Online reviews are a vital input for consumer decision-making. However, reviews are easy to manipulate, and widespread fraud is undermining credibility and raising the issue of consumer protection.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon utilise reviews to improve the consumer experience, but also to sell advertising to businesses and to address fraud. These companies leverage their data superiority to better utilise reviews on their platforms, and possess a competitive advantage, versus sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and eBay.

Demand for expert opinion remains strong, yet is supplied only by publishers and Which?, a small segment in terms of share of traffic relative to platforms.

Amazon reported $75bn in net sales, which was largely in line with expectations, and 28% growth in Prime subscription revenue—as Amazon now has more than 150 million Prime subscribers worldwide—cementing its place as the irreplaceable utility for many in lockdown.

However, Q1 results only covered a few weeks of lockdown. Amazon expects low profitability in Q2 as lockdown persists in its main markets, with customer expenditure focused on a narrow basket of essentials as people face pressures from unemployment and business closures.

Amazon’s warehouses are a key vulnerability in the time of COVID-19. Jeff Bezos pledged $4bn to keep workers safe and warehouses in function, though whether this is enough to placate government’s and workers’ concerns is yet to be seen.

In response to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and economic crash, advertisers have slashed budgets. Online budgets are not immune.

This has clarified features of the online ad market: it is demand-driven, relies heavily on SMEs and startups, and is built on direct response campaigns.

We expect online advertising to outperform other media, and for platforms to further gain share. But with a very few exceptions, this health and economic disaster is good for nobody.

2020 promises a year of transition for the games industry: eSports and games broadcasting are competing with traditional programming; game streaming services are becoming meaningful platform competition; and new consoles are on the way.

While most in the studio and TV industries continue to struggle with the games market—neither understanding (or seeing) a strategic fit, nor showing a willingness to invest—expect explosive growth to power the industry for the next decade and transform all entertainment services, not just games.

The ‘free-to-play’ games sector requires oversight and regulation to protect children and the vulnerable; expect regulatory turbulence in the UK, Europe and China.

Audiobooks are growing fast, driven by smartphone adoption and better supply, as well as interest from people who don’t usually buy books, such as young men

The sector is dominated by the presence of Audible, Amazon’s audiobook publisher/retailer, which has driven growth of audiobooks but put publishers under pressure. Its strategy is a lesson in Amazon’s approach to media

Audio is an opportunity to sell to new customers, but publishers must acquire and use rights responsibly, and experiment while not letting the audio tail wag the print dog

Many European telecoms operators are pursuing a fixed/mobile convergence strategy on the pretext that the addition of mobile reduces churn. We see no evidence of churn reduction from this strategy

Discounts required to encourage take-up of fixed/mobile services are often value-destructive, even before competitor reaction: a 10% bundle discount necessitates a 2ppt improvement in churn to wash its face economically. M&A premia on the basis of convergence synergies raise the hurdle even higher

Most UK operators offer very limited discounts on fixed/mobile bundles for now, sensibly focusing on enhanced services. Vodafone is the most aggressive, albeit less so than it is elsewhere. All UK players should hope that it stays this way

Spotify is now the world’s first publicly listed on-demand music streaming service. Its global footprint generated €4 billion in 2017 from over 70 million paying subscribers and 90 million ad-funded users across 65 countries

As it expands, the service is steadily but surely moving ever closer to profitability, with a 2019 operating profit a very real prospect

So far and for the near future, Spotify’s global pre-eminence versus competition from Apple, Amazon and Google proves remarkably resilient. Plans to build upon its differentiating features will become ever more decisive as the tech titans will continue to wield their resources and ecosystems against the comparatively undiversified company