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Byers Market: Biden in the middle, Zuckerberg eyes TV

Byers Market is a daily newsletter from NBC News senior media reporter Dylan Byers that takes you behind the scenes in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, New York and Washington.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the opening keynote introducing new Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram privacy features at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on April 30, 2019.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the opening keynote introducing new Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram privacy features at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on April 30, 2019.Amy Osborne / AFP - Getty Images file

Good morning. 🛫 Jeff Blackburn, the head of Amazon’s entertainment and advertising businesses and one of Jeff Bezos' closest confidants, is taking a year-long sabbatical to spend time with his wife and extended family.

• "I’ve been pretty nonstop at Amazon for 21+ years now," he wrote in an email to colleagues. "It’s never easy to find a good time for a break when always scaling so fast, but now feels like the right time."

Respect. Join the Market.

Joe Biden as sitting duck

Moving the Market: Former Vice President Joe Biden's inability to thrive in the first two Democratic presidential debates highlights his vulnerabilities in an increasingly progressive Democratic party and raises questions about who might carry the centrist torch in his absence.

The big picture: Tech and media leaders who support the Democratic party but fear its progressive drift have told me they see Biden as the only viable moderate who can win the nomination and beat President Donald Trump.

• These leaders view Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and, in some cases, even Kamala Harris as too progressive and fear having to decide in 2020 between one of those candidates and Trump.

• Biden's disappointing debate performance in last month's debate and his barely-good-enough performance last night will only heighten concerns about his ability to go the distance.

The post-game report on Biden's debate performance did not inspire confidence. Politico editor-in-chief John Harris described him thus: "At his best, not half-bad; at his worst, pretty bad for a supposed front-runner."

• "Biden is still the front-runner, until someone can prove otherwise," NYT's Matt Flegenheimer and Katie Glueck wrote, but he's "far from perfect, and rarely exactly steady."

Biden is not the only moderate in the field, but he may be the only one with the experience, charisma and name recognition to mount a viable campaign against the likes of Warren, Sanders et al.

• As NYT's Alex Burns noted after night one of this week's debates, none of the lesser-known moderates "appeared to gain enough political propulsion to catch up with Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren."

• Harris says Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet "is well-positioned to carry the centrist banner... if Biden stumbles," but there's a difference between carrying it and waving it to any great effect.

What's next: "The stage of the next Democratic debate in September is going to be a lot less crowded," Vox's Catherine Kim reports. The DNC's new threshold will likely cut out "half or more of the candidates."

Mark Zuckerberg eyes TV

Big in the Bay, big in L.A.: "Facebook has approached Netflix, Disney and other media companies about putting their streaming services on a new Facebook device for making video calls from televisions," The Information's Alex Heath reports.

• "The device, which Facebook is aiming to release this fall, will use the same video-calling technology that is in Facebook’s camera-equipped smart speaker, called Portal."

• "The new device, code-named Catalina, will also come with a physical remote and streaming video services similar to other television boxes like Apple TV. "

• "The company primarily sees the device as a tool for allowing Messenger and WhatsApp users to conduct video chats with each other. ... It could [also] give Facebook a new way to sell video advertising."

Who's in? "In addition to Netflix and Disney, Facebook has approached Hulu, HBO and Amazon about making their streaming services available on the device."

• But: "The status of the talks... couldn’t be learned."

🌁 Talk of the Town 🌁

The next round: BVHospitality's Josh Harris and Morgan Schick have been tapped to oversee the cocktail program at Chase Center, the Golden State Warriors' new $1.4 billion arena in San Francisco.

The big picture: Harris and Schick are James Beard semifinalists and responsible for some of the best cocktail bars in fog city.

Daniel Ek milks podcast boom

Big in your earbuds: Daniel Ek reported better-than-expected user growth at Spotify last quarter after improving listener retention and broadening his podcast business, WSJ's Anne Steele reports.

• "The company ended the quarter with 232 million monthly active users... [and] 108 million premium subscribers."

• Subscription revenue "rose 31% to €1.5 billion," while ad revenue "jumped 34% to €165 million amid increased demand for podcast advertising."

• The overall podcast audience grew "more than 50% from the previous quarter" and has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year.

The big picture: "Spotify’s investment [in podcasts] is starting to pay off," The Verge's Jon Porter writes. In the last year, it has acquired podcasting networks Gimlet and Parcast and the podcast production service Anchor.

• What's next: Ek has predicted that 20 percent of all listening on Spotify will eventually come from podcasts.

Bonus...Sore winners dept.: "On a call with investors... Ek said the company believes its 31% year-over-year subscriber growth is roughly twice the rate of its closest competitor, Apple Music."

• But:"Apple Music surpassed Spotify in paying customers in the U.S., the largest music market... earlier this year."

Market Links

Jeffrey Epstein's truth was stranger than fiction (NYT)

Jeff Bezos gets hit twice in Democratic debates (GeekWire)

David Goodfriend draws fire from the networks (WSJ)

Dana Walden takes over Hulu scripted series (Deadline)

Steve Hasker leaves CAA after less than two years (LAT)

Justin Antony throws a party

Postcard from 2019: Instabeach, "an exclusive, invite-only annual party" that Instagram hosts in Malibu for 500 of its top young creators, lays bare a world in which "follower counts [have] come to matter as much as raw talent," The Atlantic's Taylor Lorenz reports.

• "The goal, according to Justin Antony, Instagram’s head of creators and emerging talent partnerships, is to help influencers meet one another, mingle, and form friendships."

• "But what started three years ago as a casual beach party... has become a who’s who of young Hollywood, a sun-soaked declaration of just how completely enmeshed Instagram has become with the teen-entertainment world."

The big picture: "Instagram isn’t just a place to connect with friends, share memes, and post life highlights — it’s where more and more young stars go to make a name for themselves."

Patrick Soon-Shiong fails L.A.

Digital media dog days: "Digital subscriptions at The Los Angeles Times are way below expectations, and leadership, in a memo to staff, said the future of the paper could depend on solving the issue rapidly," Poynter's Tom Jones reports.

• "The Times had hoped to double its digital subscriptions from just more than 150,000 to 300,000 this year — a number that would have to be doubled again, the memo said, to come close to covering editorial costs."

• "But midway through the year, the Times is nowhere near that number, having netted only 13,000 digital subscriptions in 2019."

The big picture: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the surgeon and entrepreneur who bought The L.A. Times last year, has not figured out how to turn print subscribers into digital subscribers, NiemanLab's Joshua Benton argues.

• In 2002, The L.A. Times was the second-largest paper in the nation by print circulation, with 87 percent of the audience of The New York Times.

• In 2019, The L.A. Times has just 6 percent of the digital audience of The New York Times and just 10 percent of the audience of The Washington Post.

• "This is, fundamentally, the problem facing local and regional dailies," Benton writes. But Los Angeles isn't a second-tier city. It's the second-biggest city in the country.

The big picture: Los Angeles isn't just a major market. It's one of the greatest cities in the world. It deserves a robust news organization like The New York Times or The Washington Post. If that’s what Soon-Shiong wants, he needs to implement a digital strategy to bring it to fruition.

🎞️ What's next: Netflix has dropped the first trailerfor "The Irishman," Martin Scorcese's highly anticipated passion project that premieres next month at the New York Film Festival.

See you tomorrow.