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A gamer plays soccer title Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 on an Xbox console.
Sezgin Pancar | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Microsoft is developing dedicated streaming hardware that people will be able to hook up to their TVs to use its Netflix-like cloud gaming service.

The company is betting the future of video games will be a subscription-based model where people pay a certain amount of money each month to get access to a plethora of titles.

Its Xbox Game Pass service does exactly that, offering access to a library of games developed both in-house and by third-party studios.

That’s mostly digital downloads, but last year streaming was added with Microsoft publicly releasing Xbox Cloud Gaming. The feature is sort of like a “Netflix for games,” allowing gamers to play games that are hosted on remote servers and then streamed to users over the internet.

A number of other companies have launched similar game-streaming services, including Google with Stadia and Amazon with Luna.

Now, Microsoft is aiming to push its cloud gaming product to other platforms. It started rolling out Xbox Cloud Gaming to some users via a web browser on iPhones, iPads and PCs in April (Microsoft couldn’t launch a proper mobile app for cloud gaming on Apple devices due to a dispute over App Store policies). And on Thursday, the company announced it wants to expand the service to TVs as well.

One way it plans to do that is by partnering with manufacturers to add cloud gaming to smart TVs. But Microsoft is also developing streaming devices which users can plug into their TV or computer monitor to stream games from the cloud. The company didn’t elaborate on what those devices could look like, though it’s reminiscent of Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast dongles, both of which now support cloud gaming.

In addition, Microsoft says it is working with mobile carriers like Telstra in Australia to offer new Xbox subscription models. It’s also expanding cloud gaming to four new countries — Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Japan —  later this year, and aims to publicly launch the browser-based version of the software to all members of its $15-a-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription in the coming weeks.

Microsoft said it plans to add cloud gaming to its new Xbox Series X console, which launched last November to compete with Sony’s PlayStation 5. In the next few weeks, the company will also upgrade the servers that power its cloud gaming service from its old Xbox One hardware to the Xbox Series X.

Microsoft competes aggressively with Sony when it comes to gaming. But it’s taking a different strategy to its Japanese counterpart. While Sony is known for blockbuster exclusives that can only be played on a PlayStation console, Microsoft is focusing on embedding its Xbox services onto multiple platforms, including mobile and PC.

Microsoft has been stepping up its investments in gaming, buying the iconic studio Bethesda for $7.5 billion in its biggest video game-related acquisition yet.

The company is holding a joint event with Bethesda on Sunday as part of the E3 gaming conference to show off new games, with fans speculating they will reveal some details about a hotly-anticipated sci-fi game called Starfield.

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Bitcoin just completed its fourth-ever ‘halving,’ here’s what investors need to watch now

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Bitcoin just completed its fourth-ever 'halving,' here’s what investors need to watch now

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

The Bitcoin network on Friday night slashed the incentives rewarded to miners in half for the fourth time in its history.

The celebrated event, which takes place about once every four years as mandated in the Bitcoin code, is designed to slow the issuance of bitcoins, thereby creating a scarcity effect and allowing the cryptocurrency to maintain its digital gold-like quality.

There may be some speculative trading on the event itself. JPMorgan said it expects to see some downside in bitcoin post-halving and Deutsche Bank said it “does not expect prices to increase significantly.” However, the impact may be bigger months from now, even if bitcoin continues its trend of diminishing returns from its halving day to its cycle top. Two key things to watch will be the block reward and the hash rate.

“While the upcoming Bitcoin halving will create a supply shock as the previous ones had, we believe its impact on the cryptocurrency’s price could be magnified by the concurrent demand shock created by the emergence of spot bitcoin ETFs,” said Benchmark’s Mark Palmer.

The bigger immediate impact will be to the miners themselves, he added. They’re the ones that run the machines that do the work of recording new blocks of bitcoin transactions and adding them to the global ledger, also known as the blockchain.

“Miners with access to inexpensive, reliable power sources are well positioned to navigate the post-halving market dynamics,” said Maxim’s Matthew Galinko in a note Friday. “Some miners, many that are not public, could exit the market with a combination of poor access to power, efficient machines, and capital. Miners with capital and relatively expensive power will likely find opportunities in the wake of potential consolidation and disruption driven by the halving.”

The block reward

Miners have two incentives to mine: transaction fees that are paid voluntarily by senders (for faster settlement) and mining rewards — 3.125 newly created bitcoins, or about $200,000 as of Friday evening, when the mining reward shrunk from 6.25 bitcoins. The incentive was initially 50 bitcoins.

The reduction in the block rewards leads to a reduction in the supply of bitcoin by slowing the pace at which new coins are created, helping maintain the idea of bitcoin as digital gold — whose finite supply helps determine its value. Eventually, the number of bitcoins in circulation will cap at 21 million, per the Bitcoin code. There are about 19.6 million in circulation today.

“Miners utilize powerful, specialized computer hardware to validate transactions on the Bitcoin network and record them permanently on the blockchain,” Deutsche Bank analyst Marion Laboure said. “This process, known as mining, rewards miners with newly minted bitcoins. But with each halving, the reward to mining is decreased to maintain scarcity and control the cryptocurrency’s inflation rate over time.”

The hash rate

Historically after a halving, the Bitcoin hash rate – or the total computational power used by miners to process transactions on the Bitcoin network – has fallen, pricing some miners out of the market. It generally recovers in the medium term, however, Laboure pointed out.

The network hash rate has been hitting all-time highs for months as miners tried to take market share ahead of the halving. Growth in the Bitcoin hash rate dilutes individual miners’ contribution to the network hash rate.

“In the past three halvings, the network recovered its pre-halving hash rate levels within an average of 57 days,” she said. “It is also likely that the current elevated prices of bitcoin may limit this short-term dip in the hash rate, as bitcoin miners enjoy record high profits in the lead-up to the halving.”

Palmer said the impact of the halving on bitcoin miners’ economics could be “more than offset over time” if bitcoin’s price rallies keep pushing the cryptocurrency to new highs in the months ahead.

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The Bitcoin network completes the fourth-ever ‘halving’ of rewards to miners

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The Bitcoin network completes the fourth-ever ‘halving’ of rewards to miners

Breaking down Bitcoin's upcoming 'halving' event

The Bitcoin network on Friday evening completed its fourth “halving,” reducing the rewards earned by miners to 3.125 bitcoins from 6.25.

The price of bitcoin has been volatile ahead of the event, and fell about 4% this week to trade around $64,100, according to Coin Metrics.

Mechanically, the halving itself shouldn’t affect the price of bitcoin in the short term, but many investors are expecting big gains in the months ahead, based on the cryptocurrency’s performance after previous halvings. After the 2012, 2016 and 2020 halvings, the bitcoin price ran up about 93x, 30x and 8x, respectively, from its halving day price to its cycle top.

The event is a big test for mining companies, however.

“All else equal, the halving will cut industry revenues in half, triggering a wave of consolidation and business closures, while (hopefully) rationalizing the network hashrate and industry capex, which is ultimately good for the remaining operators,” JPMorgan analyst Reginald Smith said in a recent note to investors.

Hash rates are a measure of the computational power used to process transactions on the bitcoin network. The larger a miner’s hash rate, the greater of a revenue opportunity it has.

Mining stocks have been volatile in the days leading up to the event. Many are down by double digits for the year, after rallying between about 300% and 600% in 2023. Riot Platforms, for instance, is down about 41% in 2024 through Friday’s close, but it surged 356% in 2023.

“The market so far has seen bitcoin mining stocks as mere BTC proxies, in absence of bitcoin ETFs,” said Bernstein analyst Gautam Chhugani. “[The] halving would further differentiate the low cost, high-scale consolidating winners vs. rest of smaller miners which may be disadvantaged post-halving.”

Mining stocks in 2023 and 2024

2024 YTD 2023 return
MARATHON DIGITAL (MARA) -30.2% 586.84%
RIOT PLATFORMS (RIOT) -41.08% 356.34%
CLEANSPARK (CLSK) 54.4% 440.69%
IRIS ENERGY (IREN) -31.68% 472%
CIPHER MINING (CIFR) -7.63% 637.50%

Still, speculators may still trade on the event. Another JPMorgan analyst, Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, said Thursday that he expects the near-term bitcoin price to fall after the halving, citing overbought conditions and prices that are still above the cryptocurrency’s comparison to gold when adjusted for volatility. He also pointed to subdued venture capital funding of crypto projects.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank have a similar view.

“[The] Bitcoin halving is already partially priced in by the market and we do not expect prices to increase significantly following the halving event,” the firm’s Marion Laboure said in a note Thursday, adding that it “has been widely anticipated in advance due to the nature of the Bitcoin algorithm.”

“Looking ahead, we continue to expect prices to stay high,” she added, citing expectations of future spot Ethereum ETF approvals, future central bank rate cuts and regulatory developments.

Bitcoin is currently trading at just under $64,000, roughly 13% off its March 14 all-time high of $73,797.68.

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Drone startup Zipline hits 1 million deliveries, looks to restaurants as it continues to grow

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Drone startup Zipline hits 1 million deliveries, looks to restaurants as it continues to grow

Autonomous delivery drone startup Zipline said Friday that it hit its 1 millionth delivery to customers and that it’s eyeing restaurant partnerships in its next phase of growth.

The San Francisco-based startup designs, builds and operates autonomous delivery drones, working with clients that range from more than 4,700 hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic, to major brands such as Walmart and GNC. It’s raised more than $500 million so far from investors including Sequoia Capital, a16z and Google Ventures. Zipline is also a CNBC Disruptor 50 company.

The company said its zero-emission drones have now flown more than 70 million autonomous commercial miles across four continents and delivered more than 10 million products.

The milestone 1 millionth delivery carried two bags of IV fluid from a Zipline distribution center in Ghana to a local health facility.

As the company continues to expand, it will bring on Panera Bread in Seattle, Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, and Jet’s Pizza in Detroit.

Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo Cliffton told CNBC that 70% of the company’s deliveries have happened in the past two years and, in the future, the goal is to do 1 million deliveries a day.

“The three areas where the incentive really makes the most sense today are health care, quick commerce and food, and those are the three main markets that we focus on,” Rinaudo Cliffton said. “Our goal is to work with really the best brands or the best institutions in each of those markets.”

The push into restaurant partnerships marks an “obvious transition” he said, due to the continuing growth in interest in instant food delivery. Zipline already delivers food from Walmart to customers.

“We need to start using vehicles that are light, fast, autonomous and zero-emission,” Rinaudo Cliffton said. “Delivering in this way is 10 times as fast, it’s less expensive … and relative to the traditional delivery apps that most restaurants will be working with, we triple the service radius, which means you actually [get] 10 times the number of customers who are reachable via instant delivery.”

Zipline deliveries for some Panera locations in Seattle are expected to begin next year, the Panera franchisee’s Chief Operating Officer Ron Bellamy told CNBC. Delivery continues to grow for its business, even in an inflationary environment, he said. Costs with Zipline are anticipated to be on par with what third-party delivery is now, he added, with the hope of that cost lowering over time. 

“I’m encouraged about it, not just even in terms of what I can do for the business, but as a consumer, I think at the end of the day, if it is economical, and it delivers a better overall experience, then the consumer will speak,” Bellamy said.

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