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Sony Music buys UK podcast producer Somethin’ Else

Sony Music is latest after Spotify, Amazon and Apple to try to cash in on boom in audio listening.

Sony Music has acquired the UK’s largest independent podcast producer, Somethin’ Else, which makes David Tennant’s interview series and The Sun King, David Dimbleby’s deep dive into the life of Rupert Murdoch.

Home to artists from Beyoncé and AC/DC to Dolly Parton, Sony is using the acquisition to spearhead the launch of a new global podcast division.

“Our new global podcast division is key to our plans for a fast-paced expansion in the market, diversifying our creative abilities and providing a home for exciting content that will benefit millions of podcast lovers around the world,” said Dennis Kooker, the president of global digital business and US sales at Sony Music Entertainment, the Sony subsidiary that struck the deal.

Companies ranging from Spotify and Amazon to Apple have been snapping up now increasingly scarce prime podcast producers and platforms to cash in on a boom in audio listening and diversify away from a reliance on music streaming.

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Boeing 737 Max won’t fly again before August

Plane grounded after two crashes likely to remain grounded into peak season.

The Boeing 737 Max aircraft will not return to the skies before August, according to the head of aviation’s main trade body.

The 737 Max was grounded by regulators in the wake of two crashes, and although manufacturer Boeing has been working on a fix to allay safety concerns, it is likely to remain out of service for another 10 to 12 weeks, into peak season for many airlines.

Alexandre de Juniac, the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, said the timing would depend on regulators, but he hoped to see a unified global timetable for the model’s reintroduction.

The grounding of the 737 Max came first in China and then Europe before the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) eventually followed suit, after a crash in Ethiopia in March that killed all 157 people on board. It was the 737 Max’s second disaster in five months, after 189 people were killed in Indonesia in October.

Speaking in Seoul ahead of the association’s annual meeting, De Juniac said airlines were not expecting a return to service within the next 10 to 12 weeks: “But it is not our hands. That is in the hands of regulators.”

Iata is planning a summit meeting between airlines, regulators and Boeing in July to discuss a coordinated timeline to restore the 737 Max to commercial flying, De Juniac said. “We hope that [the regulators] will align their timeframe,” he said.

The 737 Max disasters have ignited tensions between regulators on either side of the Atlantic, amid concerns over the FAA’s relationship with Boeing, including the degree of self-certification.

Ethiopia chose to send the data recorders from the crash to safety investigators in Paris, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has indicated it would carry out its own assessment of the 737 fix, rather than rely on the FAA.

According to Reuters, sources at ICAO, the UN aviation agency, believe the FAA will approve the 737 Max again as soon as late June.

US operators United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, early customers of the model sold as a more fuel-efficient iteration of the 737 shorthaul workhorse, have removed the planes from their flight schedules until early to mid-August.

De Juniac said prolonged grounding was “taking its toll” on airlines. Although Iata expects its 290 airline members to be recording a 10th consecutive year of aggregate profit, he said the 737 was adding to headwinds including “rising costs, trade wars and other uncertainties [that] are likely to have an impact on the bottom line”.

Figures for air freight releasedon Wednesday by Iata showed a 4.7% year-on-year decline in April. De Juniac added: “It is clear that trade tensions are taking their toll on the cargo industry.”


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Should cyber-security be more chameleon, less rhino?

Billions are being lost to cyber-crime each year, and the problem seems to be getting worse. So could we ever create unhackable computers beyond the reach of criminals and spies? Israeli researchers are coming up with some interesting solutions.

The key to stopping the hackers, explains Neatsun Ziv, vice president of cyber-security products at Tel Aviv-based Check Point Security Technologies, is to make hacking unprofitable.

“We’re currently tracking 150 hacking groups a week, and they’re making $100,000 a week each,” he tells the BBC.

“If we raise the bar, they lose money. They don’t want to lose money.”

This means making it difficult enough for hackers to break in that they choose easier targets.

And this has been the main principle governing the cyber-security industry ever since it was invented – surrounding businesses with enough armour plating to make it too time-consuming for hackers to drill through. The rhinoceros approach, you might call it.

But some think the industry needs to be less rhinoceros and more chameleon, camouflaging itself against attack.

“We need to bring prevention back into the game,” says Yuval Danieli, vice president of customer services at Israeli cyber-security firm Morphisec.

“Most of the world is busy with detection and remediation – threat hunting – instead of preventing the cyber-attack before it occurs.”

Morphisec – born out of research done at Ben-Gurion University – has developed what it calls “moving target security”. It’s a way of scrambling the names, locations and references of each file and software application in a computer’s memory to make it harder for malware to get its teeth stuck in to your system.

The mutation occurs each time the computer is turned on so the system is never configured the same way twice. The firm’s tech is used to protect the London Stock Exchange and Japanese industrial robotics firm Yaskawa, as well as bank and hotel chains.

But the most effective way to secure a computer is to isolate it from local networks and the internet completely – so-called air gapping. You would need to gain physical access to the computer to steal data.


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Could aviation ever be less polluting?

The aviation industry is under pressure to reduce carbon emissions, yet air travel continues to grow in popularity around the world. Can technological innovation help square this circle, or should we simply fly less often?

Once a byword for innovation and progress, many people now view aviation as dirty and dangerous to the environment.

It contributes about 2% of the world’s global emissions, and this is set to rise.

IATA, the airline trade body, predicts that passenger numbers will double to 8.2 billion a year by 2037. Planemaker Boeing forecasts there will be demand for 42,700-plus new aircraft over the next 20 years. Airbus predicts much the same.

Yet by 2050, the European Union wants the industry to reduce emissions of CO2 of 75%, of nitrogen oxides by 90%, and noise by 65%. And a new Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, agreed by 70 countries, comes into force in 2020.

So what is the industry doing to meet these formidable challenges?

Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s major aero-engine makers, says its new-generation UltraFan, more than 10 years in development and scheduled to be ready for service in the middle of the next decade, will be 25% more fuel efficient than its first generation Trent engine.

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Conjuring designs from thin air in a virtual world

Virtual Reality (VR) technology promised to make it possible for designers to ‘see’ new cars, factories and houses before they had been even built. With new high-quality headsets and software, that vision is closer to coming true.

Most designs used to start with an idea, a pen and some paper.

Now, imagine conjuring 3D shapes out of thin air and sharing your life-like designs in real time with people half way around the world.

The whole process of designing a new product becomes faster, cheaper and more effective. VR is finally beginning to fulfil its potential for business.

“You can walk around your sketches so you can see how your lines work in a 3D environment, and move freely in a room,” explains Jan Pflueger, augmented and virtual reality co-ordinator for German car firm Audi.

In the past, the technology – hardware, software, connectivity – simply wasn’t up to the job.

“Designers didn’t like using headsets because the image resolution was too low,” says Mr Pflueger.

Not only were the images poor quality, the headsets were heavy and uncomfortable to wear.

But now that processing speeds have increased and optics tech has improved, we’re reaching the stage where VR is coming close to the limits of what the human eye can perceive.

For example, Audi is working with Finnish start-up Varjo, which has recently starting selling a high-end (€5,995; £5,170) headset boasting “human eye resolution” using a technique called “foveated rendering”.

It uses eye-tracking technology to tell which part of the image you’re focusing on, then concentrates its processing power on that section to render it in high definition.

So you perceive the highest quality without having to process the entire image in high definition for every frame, which would require huge computing resources.

“In the beginning, designers hadn’t been able to view their designs properly, but now they can walk around cars or other objects in life size,” explains Niko Eiden, Varjo chief executive.

And because the image quality is so good, car designers can experiment with different materials for seats, dashboards and so on without having to make expensive physical models, says Mr Pflueger.

“This speeds up the design process because they can make decisions about how designs should be modified at a very early stage,” he adds.


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Eli Lilly buys cancer drug specialist Loxo Oncology for $8bn

Pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly has bought Loxo Oncology for $8bn (£6.27bn), marking the second multibillion dollar US drug merger since the start of the new year.


In a sign of the fast-growing market for cancer drugs, Eli Lilly said this afternoon that it has acquired Loxo as it looks to bolster its treatment portfolio.

Today’s purchase, which marks Lilly’s biggest takeover ever, means Loxo shareholders will get $235 per share in cash, according to a joint statement from the companies.

The deal comes just several days after New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb struck one of the largest pharma deals in history after buying Celgene for roughly $74bn, with the merged company set to have nine products with more than $1bn in annual sales.

Such mergers have sparked expectations for another seismic year of healthcare mergers and acquisitions, coming weeks after FTSE 100 constituent GlaxosmithKleine also revealed its intentions to buy oncology-focused US firm Tesaro for the sum of $5.1bn.


Eli Lilly has been ramping up its focus around oncology for several years, with its cancer treatment Alimta becoming one of its top-selling products.

In May the drugmaker also revealed plans to buy Armo Biosciences for $1.6bn as part of its cancer drug portfolio ambitions.

Today’s deal is expected to close by the end of the first quarter.

Deutsche Bank is Lilly’s financial adviser and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP is its legal adviser. Goldman Sachs & Co LLC is the financial adviser, while Fenwick & West LLP is legal adviser to Loxo.


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Next big thing: Oiltech

Proptech, insurtech, femtech, lawtech and even MADtech (the confluence of marketing, advertising and technology)—whether you call them buzzwords or not, they are all an indication of how technology and data are disrupting traditional verticals. This is evident in the current crop of startup founders. Several stem from traditional sectors and, with the proliferation of technology, have a vision to do things differently—and more efficiently—than before.

In the first edition of our “Next big thing” series, we take a look at oiltech and, to a wider extent, commoditech.

The rise of Big Data, changing regulations and evolving real-time trading trends are leading global commodity giants, trading houses and other market participants to think about recalibrating their traditional models and how business will be conducted moving forward. This is understandable given the sums that are at stake, with research from consulting firm BCG estimating that the commodity trading industry’s potential value pool is worth around $70 billion per year.

Change is coming

Margins within commodity trading are eroding, and indeed, it appears as if the industry as a whole needs to come to terms with a less profitable reality. According to research from Oliver Wyman, gross margins dropped some 4.5% in 2016.

However, new players are emerging, either starting up businesses or backing those aiming to re-engineer some traditional methods.

“It is fascinating to see just how fast things are evolving,” Florian Thaler told PitchBook. Thaler is a former oil strategist at hedge fund Och-Ziff, Shell and Citigroup, and a co-founder and the current CEO of OilX, a tech startup that has set out to revolutionize oil trading analytics. “Commodity trading and oil trading as the largest commodity will be significantly shaped by two mega-trends, namely new data sets from remote sensing via satellites, as well as superior data science models that can process, curate and combine data in near real time on a massive scale.”

Shifting powers

These themes are also altering the power balance between the new entrants and established industry players such as oil majors, banks, brokers and service providers.

“The general complacency toward smaller players who are doing things differently is diminishing, but we still have some way to go,” Thaler said. “It is encouraging to see that money is being invested and that traditional VCs and some large family offices have realized that the market is going to look fundamentally different than it does now in only three to five years.”

Blue Bear Capital is one of the few thus far that have begun backing companies in the space. The firm invests in companies that apply data-driven technologies to the energy supply chain and counts some of the industry’s most prominent names as advisors, including former BP board member and CEO John Browne. All of its portfolio hails from the space and includes companies such as Expedi, a supply chain procurement platform for the energy industry.

Another backer is CommodiTech Ventures, a specialized early-stage venture fund investing solely in commodities technology and founded by former traders Etienne Amic and Jose Tumkaya. The industry veterans both believe that trading by gut instinct is simply outdated and the equivalent of being stuck in the analog era.

Enter technology

On the face of it, commodity trading actually sounds pretty straightforward: Make a profit by monetizing market imperfections such as those related to quality, time and location.

The reality is, of course, more nuanced.

During his time at Shell, Thaler discovered that access to data was only one of the ingredients required to gain an advantage over competitors.

“The fact is that the oil majors have access to an incredible amount of data, but the way that information gets utilized is very siloed and limited,” he explained. “In contrast to this, my experience at a hedge fund showed quite the opposite: limited access to information, but amazing tools and systems. It demonstrated to me that superior data systems can be very powerful.”

OilX’s vision is to combine the data science tools of a modern hedge fund with the knowledge base of an oil major. Its setup mirrors the technological innovation of Signal Ocean, a venture looking at a similar disparity in the shipping industry, with the aim of improving commercial performance of its clients.

Signal Ocean is a co-founder of OilX and its technology partner. Thaler and his partner have effectively created a digital twin of the oil supply chain without owning any assets in the chain, by applying AI and satellite technology to enable oil traders to make better decisions much faster than traditionally. The newcomers alter the already ultracompetitive space and could potentially reshape the industry’s dynamic from asset-driven to data-driven.

Said Thaler: “While some of the market participants have begun to invest and embrace the changing environment, there is still a number that are only slowly coming to terms with the fact that having loads of people on the ground and owning assets around the globe is no longer good enough. What is currently happening is a seismic shift away from ‘boots on the ground’ to ‘eyes in the sky.'”

The commodity trading industry has a long history of agility and constant adaptation. However, the speed of change and the diversity in background and skill set of new entrants in the space will require the big players to embark on new ways to create proprietary information flows and utilize algorithm-based analytics.

The incorporation of data science technologies into the decision-making process may also see a number of traditional players entering partnerships with some of the startups that are setting out to disrupt the industry.


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FoodShot launches investment vehicle to improve agtech and food systems

The future of farming has a tough row to hoe, as the global population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050. New strains on the food supply created by this growth will come to test the very business models that large producers and distributors have deployed in the past to address similar challenges. But FoodShot Global hopes to smooth the path ahead by backing moonshot technologies and supporting business models that can help overcome the major barriers to feeding a growing population.

The newly launched investment platform represents a partnership between a number of important players in the food and agtech space, including Rabobank, Mars, The Rockefeller Foundation, Generation Investment Management, Armonia and Acre Venture Partners, among others.

For co-founder and chairman Victor Friedberg (pictured), FoodShot represents a means to bring solutions to market. Friedberg, who also co-founded  S2G Ventures, spent years investing in the food and ag sector, and he believes that new tools are required for change. FoodShot’s strategies include using integrated funding across debt, equity and cash to cultivate and commercialize new tech focused on the program’s theme of “Soil 3.0,” a framework for conceptualizing a food system capable of sustainably producing nutrient-dense food while increasing yields for producers.

“The consumer is still going to drive this change, whether that’s in Africa, China, Europe or the US,” Friedberg told PitchBook. “My belief is that if you’re going to actually produce a healthy, sustainable and democratized food supply, then everything down the system is going to have to change, starting with the soil.”

The program plans to make equity investments of up to $10 million and back debt funding of up to $20 million annually. And FoodShot is looking to support projects located at the intersection of food and agtech—or, as Friedberg is fond of saying, from “soil to shelf”—by employing a systems investment thesis that addresses consumer preferences for personalization and sustainability from the food supply.

“For millions of years, nature has basically evolved to balance the books, but for the last 10,000 years or so we’ve perfected a system where we make mostly withdrawals,” he said. “At some point in the future, nature is going to make a margin call.”

For FoodShot, heading that off means backing regenerative farming practices and the agtech that can verify the efficacy of those practices with investments into soil sensing and measuring systems.

This area of agtech has garnered significant attention from the wider VC world in recent years, with sensors and farm equipment enjoying a bumper crop of investment last year. In 2017, VCs struck 46 deals in the space comprising some $94 million. And this year has sustained that heady pace of activity, already hitting a decade high for capital invested with $106 million across 31 financings.

“Venture capital is an amazing tool for change, but as food, agriculture and climate systems are global in nature and deeply interdependent,” Friedberg cautioned, “they will require new tools, and multistakeholder and multidisciplinary solutions.”

Although producers know a lot about what’s going on above the soil, they know far less about what happens underground. And that’s why FoodShot is particularly interested in methods of below-ground phenotyping, which can examine a plant’s physiological and biochemical properties at the interface of root and soil.

“We don’t have a global soil map. So, we need to get to this baseline where we get below the surface and invest in tech that can do that, and that will create efficacy around regenerative farming,” Friedberg said.

To that end in particular, FoodShot will award a “groundbreaker prize” of $500,000 to support research in and development of new economic models. One example is transitional acreage where the farmer, regardless of location, would be able to look at the soil and understand quickly what’s wrong in order to identify resources—from, say, microfunders—that can help to transition vulnerable tracts from destructive to regenerative practices. And Friedberg believes capital access here could come from extant companies to support new entrants.

FoodShot-backed projects will gain access to its entire network of partners, including the University of California at Davis’ Innovation Institute for Food and Health to receive lab and faculty support to develop new products and conduct field tests. Finalists will also have access to Rabobank resources, such as Terra, its food + ag tech accelerator.


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