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.

With a lack of live sport, the lockdown weighed on incumbent pay-TV platforms’ subscriptions. SVOD providers leveraged their cheap positioning—Netflix and Amazon Prime Video now rank above other subscription services in Europe, and Disney+ had a successful launch.

Incumbents—Sky, Canal+, Movistar+—all pursue a twin-track strategy. They are positioning themselves as gatekeepers thanks to service bundles, while redirecting resources away from sports towards original series.

European productions are increasingly garnering audiences outside of their home markets, regardless of the production language. Netflix is a major conduit for European exports, due to personalisation of the interface and high-quality dubbing.

ByteDance is rushing to sell a 20% stake in TikTok Global to Oracle and Walmart at an enterprise value of $60 billion. TikTok otherwise faces a ban in the US on 12 November, subject to legal challenges.

The sale hinges on ByteDance obtaining approval from China to export TikTok’s core technologies. China updated its export control rules to include algorithms (and AI), entrenching a tech cold war with the West.

TikTok has confounded regulatory woes in India and the US, and renewed competition from US tech, to post dizzying user growth in every major internet region where it is available, casting off its image as a niche youth product and entering the mainstream.

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.

 

Microsoft hopes to buy TikTok from Chinese owner ByteDance before President Trump’s Executive Order halts transactions with the company in mid-September. Twitter is now in the game, but is unlikely to prevail

Worth tens of billions, TikTok would be the biggest acquisition in Microsoft’s history. This hot new digital platform has hundreds of millions of users and an ad business that could overtake Snapchat’s. Extracting the technology from ByteDance may take years

Selling TikTok to shake off anti-Chinese scrutiny would signal ByteDance’s abrupt exit from the digital world stage with a fabulous return on its investment, while letting TikTok users continue to enjoy the service. However, losing TikTok sinks the global growth story that ByteDance was lining up for its anticipated IPO

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.

Even with lockdown continuing and competition for time still almost non-existent, linear viewing is heading back towards 2019 levels after its big, early boost

The inevitable fatigue around COVID-19 news, along with the growing staleness of the TV schedule caused by content supply struggles, are behind the decline

Unmatched TV set use, made up predominantly of streaming and gaming, has held onto much of its growth, not affected by many of the challenges that linear schedules face. This trend will inform future viewing patterns

Retail sales in April, the first full month of lockdown in the UK, declined a massive 18% in volume, excluding fuels. As shops open, retail will rise month-on-month, but continue to decline year-on-year as the level of retail remains durably impacted by recession.

Online soared to 30% of retail sales in April, up from 22% in March. The share of online will retreat in the second half of the year as lockdown eases and expenditure returns to the high street, but it will still claim 25-27% of retail sales excluding fuels in 2020, up from 19% in 2019.

COVID-19 is accelerating a significant consumer shift to online, and is bringing to a head the crisis of physical retail sales, setting the stage for paradigm shift.

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.