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February, 2019

Selfie app maker Meitu eyes overseas gaming market with $340 million deal

China’s largest selfie app maker Meitu has been busy working to diversify itself beyond the beauty arena in China. On Wednesday, the Hong Kong-listed company announced in a filing that it has agreed to pay about HK$2.7 billion ($340 million) for a 31 percent stake in game publishing company Dreamscape Horizon.

Dreamscape Horizon, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed games group Leyou, specializes in making video games for personal computers and consoles and owns 97 percent of Canada-based studio Digital Extremes. This global connection will potentially hasten Meitu’s overseas expansion and the foray into games, on the other hand, will help the Xiamen-based firm capture more male users. (Operating out of Xiamen might have also been convenient for Meitu to meet the coastal city’s booming hub of game developers.) Out of Meitu’s 110 million monthly active users overseas, only 30 million are male.

“The collaboration with Leyou is not only focused on mainland China but also the global market,” says a Meitu spokesperson in a statement. “Mainland China currently accounts for the majority of Meitu’s earnings. The acquisition will broaden our business scope and diversify the geographic streams of our income.”

The overseas move appears to be a tactful one as the domestic market is crowded with established players like Tencent, NetEase and hundreds of smaller contenders. The local environment has also turned hostile to gaming companies as Beijing steps up scrutiny amid concerns of titles being violent and harmful to young players. The result was a months-long halt in game approvals that dragged down Tencent’s stock prices and prompted a major reshuffle in the giant. And before long Tencent announced it would deepen its ties with Garena to distribute games in Southeast Asia. The hiatus ended in December, but companies are still feeling the chill as China is reportedly mulling a further pause this week.

Meitu is most famous for its suite of photo-editing and beautifying apps, but hardware has been its major income source for years. For the first half of 2018, the company generated 72 percent of its revenues from selling smartphones optimized for taking selfies, a category proven popular in a country where touched-up photos have become the norm. But Meitu’s hardware business is shrinking as smartphone shipment slows in China and phones from mainstream brands like Xiaomi and Huawei now come equipped with filters. It’s, however, found a new home for its barely mainstream smartphone brand after Xiaomi gobbled it up in November to lure more female users.

Why Daimler moved its big data platform to the cloud

Like virtually every big enterprise company, a few years ago, the German auto giant Daimler decided to invest in its own on-premises data centers. And while those aren’t going away anytime soon, the company today announced that it has successfully moved its on-premises big data platform to Microsoft’s Azure cloud. This new platform, which the company calls eXtollo, is Daimler’s first major service to run outside of its own data centers, though it’ll probably not be the last.

As Daimler’s head of its corporate center of excellence for advanced analytics and big data Guido Vetter told me, that the company started getting interested in big data about five years ago. “We invested in technology — the classical way, on-premise — and got a couple of people on it. And we were investigating what we could do with data because data is transforming our whole business as well,” he said.

By 2016, the size of the organization had grown to the point where a more formal structure was needed to enable the company to handle its data at a global scale. At the time, the buzzword was ‘data lakes’ and the company started building its own in order to build out its analytics capacities.

Electric Line-Up, Daimler AG

“Sooner or later, we hit the limits as it’s not our core business to run these big environments,” Vetter said. “Flexibility and scalability are what you need for AI and advanced analytics and our whole operations are not set up for that. Our backend operations are set up for keeping a plant running and keeping everything safe and secure.” But in this new world of enterprise IT, companies need to be able to be flexible and experiment — and, if necessary, throw out failed experiments quickly.

So about a year and a half ago, Vetter’s team started the eXtollo project to bring all the company’s activities around advanced analytics, big data and artificial intelligence into the Azure Cloud and just over two weeks ago, the team shut down its last on-premises servers after slowly turning on its solutions in Microsoft’s data centers in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. All in all, the actual transition between the on-premises data centers and the Azure cloud took about nine months. That may not seem fast, but for an enterprise project like this, that’s about as fast as it gets (and for a while, it fed all new data into both its on-premises data lake and Azure).

If you work for a startup, then all of this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but for a more traditional enterprise like Daimler, even just giving up control over the physical hardware where your data resides was a major culture change and something that took quite a bit of convincing. In the end, the solution came down to encryption.

“We needed the means to secure the data in the Microsoft data center with our own means that ensure that only we have access to the raw data and work with the data,” explained Vetter. In the end, the company decided to use thethAzure Key Vault to manage and rotate its encryption keys. Indeed, Vetter noted that knowing that the company had full control over its own data was what allowed this project to move forward.

Vetter tells me that the company obviously looked at Microsoft’s competitors as well, but he noted that his team didn’t find a compelling offer from other vendors in terms of functionality and the security features that it needed.

Today, Daimler’s big data unit uses tools like HD Insights and Azure Databricks, which covers more than 90 percents of the company’s current use cases. In the future, Vetter also wants to make it easier for less experienced users to use self-service tools to launch AI and analytics services.

While cost is often a factor that counts against the cloud since renting server capacity isn’t cheap, Vetter argues that this move will actually save the company money and that storage cost, especially, are going to be cheaper in the cloud than in its on-premises data center (and chances are that Daimler, given its size and prestige as a customer, isn’t exactly paying the same rack rate that others are paying for the Azure services).

As with so many big data AI projects, predictions are the focus of much of what Daimler is doing. That may mean looking at a car’s data and error code and helping the technician diagnose an issue or doing predictive maintenance on a commercial vehicle. Interestingly, the company isn’t currently bringing any of its own IoT data from its plants to the cloud. That’s all managed in the company’s on-premises data centers because it wants to avoid the risk of having to shut down a plant because its tools lost the connection to a data center, for example.

eMarketer predicts digital ads will overtake traditional spending in 2019

This is the year when the money spent on digital advertising will finally overtake spending on traditional ads — at least according to the latest forecast from eMarketer.

The research firm is predicting that U.S. digital ad spend will increase 19.1 percent this year, to $129.3 billion, while traditional advertising will fall 19 percent, to $109.5 billion. That means digital will account for 54.2 percent of the total, while traditional will only represent 45.8 percent.

Not surprisingly, most of the digital ad money is going to Google and Facebook . However, eMarketer says Google’s share of the market will actually decline, from 38.2 percent last year to 37.2 percent this year, and Facebook’s share will only grow slightly, from 21.8 percent to 22.1 percent.

emarketer forecast

Apparently, Amazon is the main beneficiary here, with its U.S. ad business set to expand by more than 50 percent, accounting for 8.8 percent of total spend.

“The [Amazon] platform is rich with shoppers’ behavioral data for targeting and provides access to purchase data in real-time,” said eMarketer forecasting director Monica Peart in a statement. “This type of access was once only available through the retail partner, to share at their discretion. But with Amazon’s suite of sponsored ads, marketers have unprecedented access to the ‘shelves’ where consumers are shopping.”

The firm also forecasts that by 2023, digital will account for more than two-thirds of total ad spending.