The cryptocurrency market is in a complete meltdown — which many are calling a “crypto winter.” But it’s more like an ice age, given that the market was roaring hot as recently as November, when the price of Bitcoin nearly hit $69,000. Today it’s hovering around $20,000.
So, obviously, there’s a mighty and vaguely distasteful effort underway at rebranding the sector after years of relentless hype. Several of its high-profile leaders seem to be trying a nothing-to-see-here stance, even as more precipitous declines are widely expected in the days and weeks ahead.
Changpeng Zhao, the founder and C.E.O. of Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, tried it out in a recent Bloomberg interview. Speaking about the collapsing TerraUSD, a “stablecoin” that is neither stable nor a real coin, he said, “What amazed me was the resilience.” He added, “There’s no bailouts. There’s no central bank. No government intervention” and “I don’t really care much about money.”
Hmm, perhaps. Still, Binance is seeing real losses of real money. And even as regulators in the United States and elsewhere have Binance in their investigatory cross hairs over a range of possible problems, Zhao dragged out that old trope that the company is the “adults in the room, basically.”
If so, I worry for the children.
Without a whiff of irony, Zhao has now ensconced himself and his company in Dubai, which is surrounded by countries currently benefiting from the sky-high prices of an actual commodity: oil. His moves are not unlike those of earlier entrepreneurs, though far more slippery in my estimation, as he plays games with everything from who controls what at Binance (The obvious, though purposefully convoluted, answer: He does) to what to even call the entity (It’s not a “company” but an “organization”).
Of course, we have all seen this kind of purposeful sleight-of-hand before. As Bloomberg notes: “Zhao is following a path popular among tech disrupters, including Airbnb, Uber and PayPal: Ignore the demands of governments for as long as possible. Then, when you’re big enough, work with said governments to lock in market share. But crypto exchanges are now intertwined with much of global finance, and regulators have already signaled their desire to make an example of what they regard as the worst actors, setting up a confrontation of potentially epic proportions. When it’s all over, Zhao could wind up under criminal indictment. Or he could be the richest man in the world.”
Meanwhile, Do Kwon, the voluble South Korean entrepreneur behind TerraUSD and Luna — both of which crashed last month, bringing down a string of other cryptocurrencies and ancillary services with them — apparently wants to move on to another new version of his failed products. “I have great confidence in our ability to build back even stronger than we once were,” he told The Wall Street Journal, even as he too is also under multiple government investigations. Kwon had previously made use of Twitter and other media appearances to hawk his crypto efforts, which some have characterized as less than truthful.
Kwon, no surprise, pushed back on the backlash around Terra, or UST, in the interview: “I made confident bets and made confident statements on behalf of UST because I believed in its resilience and its value proposition. I’ve since lost these bets, but my actions 100 percent match my words. There is a difference between failing and running a fraud.”
Claiming incompetence rather than mendacity does not make one confident in what comes yet for the cryptocurrency sector — which is likely to be even less stability and more word salads, like Kwon’s “A decentralized economy needs decentralized money.” Huh? Say what? If those kinds of utterances confused you, the new ones look to be even worse, since now we know how cheap they really are.
Katy Tur is a broadcast journalist, an anchor of “MSNBC Reports” and an author. Her latest book is “Rough Draft.” I’ve edited her answers.
Early in your memoir, which is as much about you as it is about your father — a famous helicopter journalist in Los Angeles who worked alongside your mother — you talk about the “marriage of technology and tragedy” that live video brought to television audiences. Explain that and what it has wrought.
The quote is from a front-page story in The Los Angeles Times, January of 1992, after my parents riveted the city with live coverage of a 40-minute police pursuit, ending in a hail of bullets. The suspect died as the city watched in real time, something only possible because of what at the time was brand-new live-feed technology. Well, the ratings were huge and the news business changed forever. You can draw a fairly straight line from that police chase to the way we cover politics, including Trump in 2016, taking rallies live and in full — no real-time context but maximum real-life drama. For viewers, it’s a lot like a police chase: You can’t look away.
You were raised in a fast news environment and then moved to local news in New York, and then even covered weather news on the road. The fear factor is a key element in that reporting — was it a precursor of what was to come with social media, which is aimed at enragement for the sake of engagement?
In America, news is an essential part of democracy, but also a for-profit business, and that means it needs viewers. I’ve never been in a newsroom where editorial decisions are made with an effort to scare people, but there’s a reason why you’ve probably heard the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads.” Fear is an emotion and emotion drives engagement, which is exactly what you get on social media, too, in an even more extreme form — not fear but rage. The more insensitive or outrageous a post, the more engagement it gets. More rage, more clicks. But also: a less accurate picture of reality and, I fear, a deeper political divide.
What has the impact of cable been in your estimation and what are its prospects in the new information age?
A word in defense of cable news, because there are definitely moments when cable shines — Jan. 6 was one. Americans saw the dangerous and deadly consequences of lying about the 2020 election, and they saw it all live. That’s not voyeurism, it’s history. And viewers saw the same thing on nearly every cable network: People wearing Trump gear storming the Capitol, beating up cops, hunting down politicians, chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” trying to overturn the election. There was no spin, no obfuscation; not at first, anyway. It was only the camera and the live feed and plain, ugly truth. Now, if you ask me how cable does on the average day, that’s a longer conversation, and it’s not all upside. The old rules of viewer engagement haven’t changed. But I’m hopeful that there’s a way to get attention without resorting to emotional bribery.
Your book is also about your deeply flawed father, who underwent a gender transition (and with whom you are now largely estranged). Reflect on the renewed attacks on trans people taking place across the country and how they affect your own coverage.
My empathy is deeper because of my father, and I’m a better journalist for it. I’m proud of my coverage of the push for equality in the trans community. It’s about basic civil rights. The targeting of a group, or the taking away of rights, to stoke fear or gain political advantage is wrong — and always has been wrong. But I also remember my father’s humanity in another way. She is not a community. She’s an individual. She is a person. She is my dad. Our relationship and my coverage of the wider trans community are two different things.
A Little Can-Do at Cannes
Even with the rain pouring down on the Côte d’Azur, the mood of the crowds gathered this week at the 2022 Cannes Lions festival along its famed La Croisette beach promenade was, if I had to think of one word, feral.
Perhaps a strong word — defined by Lexico as a “wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication” — to use for something dubbed a “festival of creativity” and aimed at the marketing community. But after a two-year hiatus, those in advertising were more than ready to break out the giant bottles of rosé at the beachfront party houses sponsored by a range of companies.
More tech names than ever were out in full force, including Meta, Alphabet, Amazon, Twitter and Spotify, to name a few, which scooped up the best spots to host marketers and make deals. That makes sense, since advertising and critical infrastructure are dominated by tech, even as the whole industry tries to sort through the rubble wrought by Covid-19, raging inflation and a possible global recession. (Full disclosure: Execs of The New York Times were there, touting content like the company’s newly acquired Wordle game.)
There were a lot of events centered around Web3 — which is fast becoming a dirty word everywhere but at Cannes — with hope springing eternal that a reckoning is coming in the wake of tech’s current shakeout and potential upcoming regulation. Many too seemed hopeful that efforts to create a more open and transparent system, such as Web3, will give more life to start-ups and new ideas, even if it still means some real pain in the short term.
Also on many agendas was how and when Netflix, whose stock has taken a dive of late on weaker subscriber growth, would roll out its new advertising tier to appeal to those willing to endure such interruptions in order to watch “Bridgerton” or “Stranger Things” at a discount. This was the first time the company officially attended the Cannes Lions festival, and I interviewed the co-C.E.O. Ted Sarandos on the main stage on Thursday, where he confirmed the effort. He was cagey on when (“sooner than later”) and whom Netflix will sign on as partner to get up and running quickly. The talk of Cannes was that Google was likely to get the nod, given its global capabilities. But Sarandos also noted that he expects his company will initially roll out an ad-supported version that is different from what it will eventually become.
“We’ve left a big customer segment off the table, which is people who say, ‘Hey, Netflix is too expensive for me and I don’t mind advertising,’” Sarandos told me. “We’re adding an ad tier; we’re not adding ads to Netflix as you know it today. We’re adding an ad tier for folks who say, ‘Hey, I want a lower price and I’ll watch ads.’”
We’ll see if that works, but I am assuming Netflix ads will be more innovative than those of competitors, given the company’s content track record, even if it is getting slammed by a long-jealous Hollywood these days. To which Sarandos correctly pointed out: “They viewed us as a spoiler; they’re happy to see the spoiler trip.”
Not tripping, despite its own recent stock swoon, was Snap, which once again mounted the best example of innovative marketing tech. The company partnered with Vogue on a display curated by the top editor of the magazine’s British edition, Edward Enninful, showing off seven designers’ works via physical and augmented reality: Balenciaga, Dior, Gucci, Stella McCartney, Versace, Kenneth Ize and Richard Quinn. Using the Snapchat app, the tech lets you try on clothes in augmented reality. I ran into the Snap C.E.O. and co-founder Evan Spiegel there, and I will say: He definitely looks good in a virtual ball gown.