Marketplace - American Public Media

The numbers for September 25, 2014

Thu, 2014-09-25 06:39

After nearly six years as attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr. will step down, according to several published reports. President Obama is expected to make the announcement Thursday. This is not a complete surprise. Holder had said earlier that he planned to step down before the end of the year. Word is he will stay at the Justice Department until a successor is chosen, even if it's not until 2015.

In the meantime, here's what we're reading — and the numbers we're watching.

$2 million

That's how much the Pentagon estimates ISIS makes every day from selling oil, now that the extremist group controls 60 percent of production in Syria. Last night, the U.S. and its allies hit about a dozen ISIS mobile refineries in an effort to choke that funding stream.

Seven

The number of television and movie companies expected to get Federal Aviation Administration permission on Thursday to use drones, the Washington Post reports. Commercial drone use has been effectively banned by the FAA for some time, but filmmakers will soon be able to use them for aerial shots in place of helicopters, saving money. 

$548

 The average price on StubHub yesterday for a ticket to Derek Jeter's final game with the Yankees, which is now in danger of being rained out. According to Business Insider, that's bad news for sellers, who would have to return the money they made — as much as $12,000 for the best seats — if the game is called off and not rescheduled.

PODCAST: The number of uninsured Latinos drops

Thu, 2014-09-25 03:00

Here's why we have to be careful with headlines: There's news that orders for expensive, long-lasting merchandise fell more than 18 percent in August, the most precipitous drop on record. But all is not as it seems. And in health care news, there's data showing the percentage of Latinos who don't have health insurance in America has fallen by more than a third since the health care reform law kicked in. More on that. And we think we live in the future — Apple's new Dick Tracy watch might be evidence of that — but there is an argument that, in at least one regard, the United States currently is like Europe in the 19th century. 

The Airbnb of classical music

Thu, 2014-09-25 03:00

It’s not uncommon to sell the idea of a new startup based on the model of another (think: "It’s the Uber of pet adoption,” or “It’s like Tinder for baristas").

Sam Bodkin’s business is no different, even if he’s a bit reluctant to be categorized: “We refer to ourselves as the Airbnb of classical music,” he says.

The comparison isn’t unfair, though. Groupmuse — started in 2012 and run by Bodkin, Ezra Weller and Kyle Nichols-Schmolze — matches Groupmuse users looking to host a concert with willing musicians needing a venue to perform. Once a match is set up, other “Groupmusers” are invited to attend, creating an event that’s part house concert, part party, part social platform.

Where the sharing economy and the arts intersect

It’s a melding of some of Bodkin’s experiences: his travels through Europe using online platform couchsurfing.com to find people willing to host him, and his love of classical music discovered through musicians he befriended in Boston as an undergraduate student.

Combining his interest in classical music and the sharing economy of couch surfing, he came up with Groupmuse.

While the endeavor is inherently artistic, Bodkin isn't aiming to become a not-for-profit organization.

“We are absolutely a startup, and we fancy ourselves as such. It’s a social startup, built around a web platform,” he says.

There’s certainly a social network aspect to the experience: Members interested in attending a Groupmuse connect through Facebook, sending a message to prospective hosts to introduce themselves before the event. Additionally, musicians who regularly perform have access to guest lists of people who come to their performances and are regular Groupmuse attendees.

Have a problem? Found a startup.

If classical music and startup culture seem like odd bedfellows, to Bodkin, it only makes sense. Fading interest in classical music was a problem he wanted to address, and he sees this kind of entrepreneurial thinking as a solution.

“This is how, basically, people of our generation resolve to deal with these challenges that they see," he says. "We found companies.”

Groupmuse is currently up and running in three cities (New York, Boston and San Francisco), but there are still some aspects to be worked out as the company grows — for example, musicians are currently paid by donation, whereas ideally Bodkin envisions payment will eventually be built in to the Groupmuse platform.

While in the process of raising venture capital funding, Bodkin says he's also looking to partner with companies interested in hosting Groupmuse for their employees as part of a new funding structure.

Ultimately, aside from promoting the music itself, Bodkin would like to see it turn into a tool for musicians to manage their careers, building a fan base that is personally invested in their success.

He even has a startup buzzword for it: “Micropatronage.”

Grading the political campaign manager

Thu, 2014-09-25 02:00

In sports, a team's record is very important. Coaches and managers are judged on how many games they have won and lost. Is the same thing true of campaign managers and consultants?

This week, the Atlanta Braves held a press conference. "We have announced this morning that we have terminated our general manager, Frank Wren," said John Schuerholz, the team's president.

That got David Berri's attention. He's a sports economist at Southern Utah University.

"They didn't have that bad of a season," he says. The team's record is about .500, and that will keep them out of the postseason. "Why are they firing their general manager? Because the Braves have very high expectations. They expect to compete for a World Series every year."

Politicians also have high expectations. They also want to win. So, it is surprising to Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, "how little accountability there is, given the amount of money that's being spent on consultants." And even if they lose, they continue to get hired.

According to Nyhan, this is because politicians have a hard time evaluating managers and consultants.

"It's the same kind of problem you face as a patient when you go into the doctor's office," he explains. You have to gauge how good someone is at something you don't know much about.

Ethan Roeder, the New Organizing Institute's executive director, has looked at what campaign managers and consultants get paid. He says they don't tend to advertise their records "because there is a general understanding that races are much more individual than that." What they will advertise are individual races in which they beat the odds.

Roeder points to a primary election in which a then-unknown Tea Party candidate defeated Eric Cantor, now the former House Majority Leader. The campaign manager known for helping David Brat win that race will always be the campaign manager known for helping David Brat win that race.

"You know he was probably working for peanuts, and they gave him a gas stipend and a flip phone and that was basically his compensation for the job," Roeder says.

The way the system is set up, there is no incentive for the best consultants to work on the toughest, most competitive races. Greg Martin, a professor of political science at Emory University, discovered that, along with Zachary Peskowitz, who teaches at The Ohio State University.

"Congressional elections, in general, are extremely predictable," Martin says, noting an incumbent is likely to win 90 percent of the time.

 

Health care coverage reaches Latinos

Thu, 2014-09-25 02:00

The percentage of Latinos who lack health insurance has fallen by more than a third since the Affordable Care Act kicked in this year, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Fund, a health care policy group.

Historically, Latinos have been one of the least-covered groups in the U.S. when it comes to health insurance. Michelle Doty, the lead author of the report, says the low coverage has a lot to do with employment trends.

"For a long time, Latinos have tended to work in jobs that don't provide health insurance — low wage and small firms," Doty says.

But now that coverage gap is quickly being filled, Doty says, at least in states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured rate for Latinos has dropped from 35 percent to 17 percent in less than a year.

That shift translates to fewer emergency room visits and more preventive care for patients at the AltaMed community clinics that Alfonso Vega runs in Southern California. The clinics serve many low-income Latinos, many with diabetes. Without insurance, Vega says, many patients would avoid health care until crisis hit, but that has been changing as more people have enrolled in Medicaid in the last few months.

"There's countless patients that we're seeing that are seeing a primary care doctor every 90 days like they're supposed to — getting all the tests that they're supposed to have done on a periodic basis," Vega says.

In the states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare — where more than 20 million Latinos live — their uninsurance rates remain basically unchanged.

Americans appear ready to go shopping again

Thu, 2014-09-25 02:00

Over the past seven years, Americans have pulled back on major purchases, such as houses and big appliances — they’ve paid down debt, shopped "deep-discount," tried to put money away for a rainy day.

Now, according to a survey in the latest issue of Consumer Reports, Americans are ready to spend it up again. Of the people Consumer Reports surveyed, 64 percent said they were planning a big-ticket purchase this year — a new or used vehicle, a new home, a home remodel or a major appliance.

The trend can be seen among the ranks of wannabe homebuyers in many urban markets that have rebounded in the past several years. Lee Ritter, 31, is a successful web designer who had been outbid recently for houses in Portland, Oregon. He’s very eager to buy.

“I see the market going steeper and steeper into territory that I can’t follow,” said Ritter. “And there’s lots of competition.”

That competition makes realtors happy, and makes homebuilders more willing to take the risk of breaking ground. It’s also good news for big-box stores and local chains that sell washer-dryers and big-screen TVs.

Tod Marks, senior projects editor at Consumer Reports, says survey data from the publication show that as the acute effects of the recession fade, Americans are more ready to spend.

“Nearly half of Americans either bought a new or used vehicle in the past year, or plan to buy in the year ahead,” said Marks. “And a third recently completed or are ready to undertake a major home remodeling.” Marks said the 2015 housing market forecast is the best in years.

Marks chalks up these increasingly robust spending expectations to the fact that Americans see more jobs being created; many also see their family balance sheets improving. Also, people put off purchases for so long, cars are breaking down now and houses are no longer big enough for growing families.

Most economists anticipate steady improvement, rather than a sharp upward spike in major retail purchases in the coming year, though. They say Americans are still loathe to take on debt, or pay more than they have to for anything.

'Made in Italy' may not mean what you think it does

Wed, 2014-09-24 13:59

If a handbag is stamped “made in Italy,” it may seem safe to assume that it is, well, entirely made in Italy. But it’s not so simple.

Patricia Jurewicz directs the Responsible Sourcing Network, an organization that advocates for more transparency in supply chains. She says, “It's extremely difficult to understand what companies are doing and how they have their products manufactured.”

In the U.S., there are some laws covering this. The “last substantial transformation” of a product must happen in the country of origin. Guillermo Jimenez of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York says that phrase can be stretched pretty far.

"If you have the handle of the handbag come from South America, and the leather panels come from India, and another part comes from another country, well none of that is a handbag yet," Jimenez says. But put all those pieces together in Italy, and presto: Italian handbag.

“That's legally allowable,” Jimenez says, “but arguably can be deceptive to the consumer.”

The only way to know for sure how a bag is made is to visit the company factories. Jimenez says U.S. customs and the Federal Trade Commission don't have the resources to keep tabs on all of them.

“With the dizzying number of handbag companies in the world,” Jimenez says, “it's hard for the FTC to stay on top of it.”

In fact, the trade commission has not brought a case against a fashion company for violating country of origin laws in over a decade.

That country of origin label is a powerful brand for Italy. As a symbol of craftsmanship and prestige, it brings in boatloads of cash to producers of luxury products. Italians considers the label a national economic resource. Many would like to protect that brand with a stricter definition.

"Made in Italy" is an initiative funded by the Italian government to provide an additional label for products completely manufactured in the country: components, design, the works.

"If you want to buy a real Italian product, it's easier if you actually have a certification that proves that," says Made in Italy representative Marco Tomassini. “It's just to be very clear what you are offering to the end user.”

This certification helps smaller Italian manufacturers stand out from global brands with sophisticated supply chains. It reassures customers that the products are made entirely in Italy.

Keanan Duffty, a designer and professor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, wonders if customers today really care. “The younger consumer, I am not sure if they are concerned about where the goods are made,” he says. “I think they are more concerned about the label.”

Duffty says for many young people it's less about what the label actually means and more about what it signifies: status and luxury. And keep in mind, he says, “With luxury anything, you're buying a fantasy.”

Fantasy has always been a big part of fashion. If you need a refresher, just watch an “unboxing video.” They are part of a YouTube subgenre in which people post videos of themselves opening up new products so other people can watch. For handbags, big moment in these videos is when the person displays the country of origin label. Whether it is entirely true or just partly true, the “made in Italy” stamp makes owners proud.

'Made in Italy' may not mean what you think

Wed, 2014-09-24 13:59

If a handbag is stamped “made in Italy,” it may seem safe to assume that it is, well, entirely made in Italy. But it’s not so simple.

Patricia Jurewicz directs the Responsible Sourcing Network, an organization that advocates for more transparency in supply chains. She says, “It's extremely difficult to understand what companies are doing and how they have their products manufactured.”

In the U.S., there are some laws covering this. The “last substantial transformation” of a product must happen in the country of origin. Guillermo Jimenez of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says that phrase can be stretched pretty far.

"If you have the handle of the handbag come from South America, and the leather panels come from India, and another part comes from another country, well none of that is a handbag yet," Jimenez says. But, put all those pieces together in Italy and presto: Italian handbag.

“That's legally allowable,” Jimenez says, “but arguably can be deceptive to the consumer.”

The only way to know for sure how a bag is made is to visit the company factories. Jimenez says U.S. customs and the Federal Trade Commission don't have the resources to keep tabs on all of them.

“With the dizzying number of handbag companies in the world,” Jimenez says, “It's hard for the FTC to stay on top of it.”

In fact, the trade commission has not brought a case against a fashion company for violating country of origin laws in over a decade.

That country of origin label is a powerful brand for Italy. As a symbol of craftsmanship and prestige, it brings in boatloads of cash to producers of luxury products. Italians considers the label a national economic resource. Many would like to protect that brand with a stricter definition.

Made In Italy is an initiative funded by the Italian government to provide an additional label for products completely manufactured in the country: components, design, the works.

"If you want to buy a real Italian product, it's easier if you actually have a certification that proves that," says Made In Italy representative Marco Tomassini. “It's just to be very clear what you are offering to the end user.”

This certification helps smaller Italian manufacturers stand out from global brands with sophisticated supply chains. It reassures customers that the products are made entirely in Italy.

Keanan Duffty, a designer and professor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, wonders if customers today really care. “The younger consumer, I am not sure if they are concerned about where the goods are made,” he says, “I think they are more concerned about the label.”

Duffty says for many young people it's less about what the label actually means and more about what it signifies: status and luxury. And keep in mind, he says “with luxury anything, you're buying a fantasy.”

Fantasy has always been a big part of fashion. If you need a refresher, just watch an “unboxing video.” They are part of a Youtube sub-genre were people post videos of themselves opening up new products so other people can watch. A big moment in these videos for handbags is when the person displays the country of origin label. Whether it is entirely true or just partly true, the “made in Italy” stamp makes owners proud.

When the digital classroom meets the parents

Wed, 2014-09-24 13:52

The modern classroom is packed with digital technology that can record students’ academic performance in real time, as well as keep track of their attendance, assignments and more. All that data isn't just changing the classroom and the job of teachers. It's changing the role of parents, who are being asked to do more to keep up and keep tabs on their kids.

On a recent night at High Tech Los Angeles, a charter high school in Van Nuys, California, a group of parents got a lesson in just what that means. One of them was Nooneh Kradjain, who has two sons at the high school, and was busy scribbling notes. She said she was struck by how much things have changed since she was in school. “My parents just looked at the report card when it came home and said ‘good job, let’s go out to dinner.”

These days, being a school parent is more like a part-time job.

With so much access to information about their kids’ academic performance, parents are expected to be up on what’s happening. It’s on them now to know if their kids may be headed off track after flubbing a test or missing a homework assignment.

Mat McClenahan is a teacher at High Tech Los Angeles. He says the school needs parents as allies. “What we’re trying to do is develop learners who have the right habits to be successful in college and be successful in the workplace,” he says. “And that means to be on top of the workflow.”

McClenahan says he’s not trying to turn parents into surveillance machines, and they should resist the urge themselves. “The parents often feel like they have to be on top of everything that’s going on,” he says. “We have parents that check their child’s grades several times a day.”

Even if parents don’t go overboard, all the focus on grades and scores worries Alfie Kohn, who has written several books on parenting and education, including "The Myth of the Spoiled Child" says parents"are often asked to become the enforcer of the schools agenda.” “The more schools are encouraging parents to think about grades and tests and homework assignments, the more danger there is that meaningful learning will be eclipsed," he says.

And all that keeping up and keeping track can do a number on parents, too.

Kathy Gadany, who also attended the meeting for parents, has a freshman at High Tech Los Angeles.  “Oh, Lord,” she said. "Now, I have to keep an eye on my kids much more so over the internet instead of just nagging them for their homework.”

And, then, there are the objects of all this attention: the kids. Nooneh Kradjain, the mother whose parents used to take her out to dinner after a good report card, says her kids have asked her to trust them enough not to check their grades all the time.

She says she gets their point of view, but she also understands the lure of micro-managing a child’s education today.

“It’s a lot more competitive and there’s a lot more at stake,” she says and, trust or not, she’s not going to give up all of her digital oversight.

Kradjain is still going to log in to the school’s college-application program, to make sure her older son gets all his paperwork in on time.

Amazon Studios head on taking charge in a new TV age

Wed, 2014-09-24 13:34


Amazon will debut its new series “Transparent” on Friday, releasing all ten episodes to Amazon Prime subscribers at the same time.

It's a dramedy created Jill Soloway of "Six Feet Under" that follows an American family after they find out their father, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is a transgender woman. Critics are calling it Amazon's breakout hit and even the best new show of the fall. 

Roy Price runs Amazon Studios, the online retailer's original content arm, and he’s quick to say that “Transparent” and their other series make Amazon Prime more desirable to users.  

Price says it’s a good time to be in the television industry. That's where the quality is right now, he says, and great shows can engage viewers more than movies can.

“This is a really exciting space. A lot of people are investing and innovating,” he says. Here are three ways Price thinks TV will change in the next 25 years:

Everything inconvenient is going to be innovated away

Navigating all your options will get way easier, for example. Scrolling through hundreds of channels just doesn't make sense anymore.

“I’m literally scrolling through — 'Oh, there's channel 572,'" he says. "I think we can do better.”

It will work on your time

With the exception of sports and other live events, Price says tuning in at an appointed time or on a show in progress is antiquated.

“It should start when you start," he says. "You should be the boss ... not the schedule.”

You'll get logical suggestions for the next show to watch

Amazon is awash with data. Amazon Studios' "pilot season" is crowd-sourced, allowing viewers to pick which shows they want to see made. From television to books to toasters, Amazon is able to suggest new stuff users might like.

But there's one caveat: “One of the riskiest paths in entertainment is to be derivative and try to do the same thing," Price says. "That is the path to failure.”

ISIS and the future of the Tomahawk missile

Wed, 2014-09-24 13:22

At the United Nations, President Obama referred to the extremist group ISIS as a "network of death” on Wednesday. As part of the effort to dismantle it, the U.S. deployed a trusted weapon this week, launching more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Syria.

That could be good news for a weapon on the budgetary chopping block. By best estimates, the U.S. has about 4,000 Tomahawk missiles in its inventory. Or they did, until this week.

Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says Tomahawks are launched from ships or submarines, and can fly 1,000 miles to their targets.

“It has wings that fold out and a jet engine that turns on and it powers it like an airplane,” he says.

Raytheon makes the Tomahawks, which cost the military more than $1 million each.

“We had been buying them at a rate of almost 200 per year,” says Harrison, adding that the Department of Defense proposed phasing out Tomahawk purchases in its most recent budget request. The idea is to find the next-generation replacement.

“In 2016 and beyond, they had zeroed out that budget line,” says Harrison, “indicating they don’t plan to buy any more Tomahawk cruise missiles.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense and military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, says some members of Congress had already wanted to extend the Tomahawk program, including lawmakers on key committees. She says this new campaign against ISIS could convince more lawmakers that’s necessary.

“The caveat for ending the program next year, by the Navy, was always that there would be no unanticipated events that would drain current stockpiles of Tomahawks before a new missile is ready,” she says.

Forty-plus missiles hardly drains the stockpile. But Gordon Adams, an International Relations professor at American University, agrees the product line could well be extended.

That’s good news for Raytheon.

“For any contractor that is making ammunition or building a piece of equipment that’s being used in the campaign against ISIS,” he says, “the campaign against ISIS is good news about the near term future of that program.”

Not to mention for the company behind it. 

More unmarried Americans, thanks to economic woes

Wed, 2014-09-24 13:12

The number of American's who've always been single and plan never to marry is at an all time high, according to the Pew Research Center.

On the theory that having a job is an important feature in a future spouse, here's the slice of the data that makes it a Marketplace thing: Fifty years ago there were 139 single young men with jobs for every 100 single young women.

Now, there are 91 single men with jobs for every 100 single women.

Wal-Mart: From 'low prices' to fast banking

Wed, 2014-09-24 13:11

Is there anything Wal-Mart doesn’t want to sell you? The country’s biggest retailer has announced it will offer low-cost checking accounts to anybody 18 and older.

Wal-Mart is partnering with Green Dot, best known for prepaid debit cards.  Wal-Mart says many of its customers are looking for an alternative to high fees at traditional banks.  

“GoBank” is a mobile checking account with no overdraft fees, no bounced check fees and no minimum balance requirement. Wal-Mart has tried to obtain a banking license but bank regulators have rejected the idea. 

Mike Moebs, CEO of the economic research firm Moebs Services, says by partnering with a bank like Green Dot, Wal-Mart can still get a slice of that business.  “Wal-Mart has already done this with check cashing and with money orders and with money transfers and they’ve done it very, very successfully,” says Moebs.

 Moebs expects Wal-Mart to get a cut of the so-called “swipe fee” every time a customer uses GoBank’s debit card. Wal-Mart declined to comment on its financial arrangement with Green Dot.

It does say it’ll be quick to sign up for an account. Daniel Eckert, Wal-Mart vice president of financial services, says customers can literally sign up with a smartphone app “in the parking lot.”  Apparently that “always low prices” thing is now also “always fast banking.” 

Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Wed, 2014-09-24 11:30

Netflix dominates streaming media in a lot of ways. It has 50 million subscribers, some well-regarded original series, enough clout to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Comcast and Verizon and it accounts for a jaw-dropping 34 percent of web traffic. 

Netflix may have a virtual monopoly, but there are plenty of competitors lining up. Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Network, Xbox, Yahoo and others are all throwing around a lot of money to break into original programming.

"The problem is, at a certain point, there's going to be too many of these services and they're not going to be able to sustain themselves," television critic Alan Sepinwall says.

An expensive cable bundle helps all channels subsidize each other, he says, but "There's no equivalent of that for streaming, and I don't think there will be."

Here's the recipe Netflix's competitors are following to try to break in to this hot new market.

Step 1: Don't wait for the audience to find to you

How can people watch your shiny, new original content if they don't know about your service? That's not really a problem for streaming-centric companies like Netflix and Hulu, but for other established brands it's a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

"Most of the time when I go to Amazon it's just listing 'Here are items you've viewed, maybe you should order those!'" Sepinwall says. "So you don't inherently think of Amazon as a streaming business. Whereas with Netflix, that's the only reason you go."

In fact, a study from earlier this year showed about a third of Amazon Prime customers have never used the video streaming service included in their membership.

Yahoo's Screen service has faced similar problems. At TechCrunch Disrupt, CEO Marissa Mayer noted that Yahoo had produced 86 different series over the past year, "none of whom you've ever heard about because it was sort of a failed branding exercise."

Only "Burning Love" — a "Bachelor" parody with literally dozens of big names attached — got any traction, and Yahoo Screen kept lagging behind until it suddenly made headlines in July.

Step 2: Buy yourself some credibility

Cult hit "Community" had barely hung on at NBC over five seasons of firings, rehirings, behind-the-scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being canceled. But "Community" was exactly what Yahoo needed.

"The more players there are, the more you need to do something big to sort of stand out and seem like you belong on that same playing field," says Vox culture editor Todd Vanderwerff. "I think a lot of this is just purchasing credibility."

It's the same reason Netflix resurrected Fox's "Arrested Development" last year. A niche flop on traditional TV could be a huge hit for a new company if the audience is willing to follow.

There are a few other ways to close the credibility gap, too. Amazon paid through the nose this spring for the right to stream old HBO shows, and Hulu has built up a respectable catalog of foreign shows along with a just-announced Stephen King adaptation.

Step 3: Make a word-of-mouth hit (and stack the deck with a good gimmick)

It's tough to make a hit from scratch, but there are a couple of ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the antihero, the high-profile cast — and people like binge-watching it.

"I remember when 'House of Cards' season one was released ... I would watch my Twitter feed and it turned into a race," he says. "Even if [the show] is not that great, but it has some sense of forward momentum, it becomes easy to go forward and you feel like [you're] on the ground floor of something special."

When the show's second season debuted on Netflix all at once, the explosion of social media conversation seemed to prove the show's success. Netflix doesn't make its streaming numbers public, Sepinwall notes, so it's impossible to know how many people actually watched.

Amazon has turned to crowd-sourcing, letting subscribers see user-submitted pilots and vote on their favorites. The process has its flaws, both critics said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which will debut all at once on Friday.

Step 4: Wait for the industry to shake out

Vanderwerff compared streaming to the early days of home video, predicting we'll see a lot of media companies come and go or change hands as the industry adjusts.

"I really think we're on the precipice of everyone in Hollywood trying to get in this game, and it's going to come down to the same companies you've always heard of."

The player to watch is HBO. Their streaming service is still bundled with cable, but when they break from that model and embrace streaming, Vanderwerff says, many more companies will follow.

Streaming services are still tied to traditional TV in other ways. They have no restrictions on time or content, but they don't stray far from what the networks are offering.

"There's no reason an episode has to be 30 or 60 minutes," Vanderwerff says. "That is an artificial constraint placed on us by the early gods of television that we have now evolved past, we just haven't realized it yet." 

The full possibilities of streaming TV — the niche ideas, the crowd-sourcing, the binging and more — might not come to fruition until the format has become more standardized, and that could take some mergers and acquisitions.

Here's how we'll cut down on greenhouse gases

Wed, 2014-09-24 09:11

This is Climate Week in New York City. About 300,000 people marched to call attention to global warming on Sunday. On Tuesday, at the United Nations, President Obama and more than 100 heads of state gathered to push for a low-carbon future, to combat global warming. The balance of the week is conferences and public events up and down Manhattan.

But let's be honest: Raise your hand if you have climate fatigue. Again with the parts per billion, the Arctic shelf, the guilt.

Business types in New York are trying to change the way we talk about climate change. So we will, too. Make it less about selflessness and altruism. More about investments, markets and, dare we say, greed.
 
So you may have asked yourself: What can I do on climate change? Bike to work? Eat locally grown food?
 
"When people ask me that question, and they do, my response is always the same," says Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard. Be prepared: his answer stings.
 
"What you will be able to accomplish or contribute through your solo actions," he says, "is so small it is lost in the noise."
 
The problem is too big. Stavins says you need scale, preferably for the lowest possible cost, to reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere. Environmental bang for the buck.
 
One big bang is coal power: That's 44 percent of world emissions right there. Cleaner alternatives are solar, wind and natural gas.
 
"One of the most important opportunities for reducing CO2 emissions is to make sure that gas is replacing coal in electricity generation," says Helge Lund, president and CEO of Statoil, the Norwegian energy giant.
 
But in order to speed it up, Lund says, "You have a significantly higher CO2 price."

That's the "buck" part. Here's the idea: Fossil fuels pollute. So policymakers can take that environmental cost and add it to the price of fossil energy. That is, raise the price. That makes low-carbon technology more competitive.
 
Which ones would deploy? Natural gas? LED lights? Solar? Coal plants that bury emissions underground? Stavins says governments don't have to pick. Investors and customers will.
 
"That's the virtue of a carbon pricing mechanism," he says. "It will automatically draw to the fore those technologies, those practices which are lowest cost."
 
For instance, if solar is the cheapest, best option for household power, consumers will pick that. Solar-panel seller IKEA thinks they will. Here's President and CEO Peter Agnefjall.
 
"I think we'll halve the installed cost over the next 10 years of solar," he says. "So it's great sense to do it today. It will be unthinkable not to do it in 10 years' time."
 
Could he be wrong? Perhaps more money will pick wind energy. In certain places, it's cheaper, says Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
 
"So if you look at the Great Plains in the U.S., you look at Brazil," Liebreich says. "You look at Australia, you look at India, you look at China. If you want really cheap electrical power, you build a wind farm now."

Now, on the other hand, he says, "You've got some very expensive technologies people would like to believe are part of the solution. Offshore wind is being done, but it's expensive. But then you can go up to wave power and then, always, on transportation, fuel cells."
 
Of course, down the road fuel cells may get cheaper. But the point is, customers and investors have no interest in overpaying. With a carbon price, the low-cost, low-CO2 products win. An efficient, shall we say cheapskate, road to a low-carbon future.

Tech pumps cash into DC, for what?

Wed, 2014-09-24 08:08

For years, tech companies ignored Washington. But Washington wasn’t about to ignore them. 

A few years ago Congress debated some big bills on internet policy, and Silicon Valley wasn’t at the table.

So tech companies opened D.C. headquarters, and started lobbying. 

Two years ago web giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook joined forces to create a new trade group, The Internet Association.

Michael Beckerman is the association’s president and CEO. 

He showed me around their sleek, new Washington office and explained why he’s here.

“That’s my job," he says. "To help build relationships and bridge the gap between our industry and Congress.”

That gap makes it hard for tech to gain traction in Washington. 

Part of the problem? It takes time to build relationships on Capitol Hill, and tech is new to the K Street lobby game. 

Also, the tech industry wants quick movement on huge issues, like immigration and patent reform.

Back in Silicon Valley, they can’t understand what’s taking so long.

“In the Internet world and Silicon Valley, people see a problem and they find a way to solve it but that’s not always how Washington works,” Beckerman says.

No, it’s not. So Beckerman and his chief lobbyist, Gina Woodworth make regular trips to Capitol Hill. 

The day I meet up with them, they’re off to Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office.

Of course, we take an Uber SUV to Capitol Hill.

They're going to Ryan's office to talk about trade legislation.    

“The last time they drafted a trade bill was in 2002," says Gina Woodworth. "In 2002 a lot of our companies weren’t even created and we weren’t really an active stakeholder at that time. But now we are.”

And they have the cash to prove it.

“Spending by the tech sector has more than tripled since 1998,” says Sheila Krumholz,  executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbyists' spending in Washington.

Krumholz says the tech lobby budget went from $40 million in the late 90s, to more than $140 million last year. 

And she says Silicon Valley is on track to spend at least that much this year.  

Today, tech is the fourth biggest spender on lobbying in Washington.

“What they get for all this lobbying is not clear,” says Anthony Corrado, a professor of  government at Colby College. “Even on a very narrow issue like immigration reform and a modification of visa policy to allow more engineers in, for example, they can’t get any action.”

What’s worse, Corrado says, sometimes tech companies lobby on different sides of an issue, like net neutrality. 

Which pits the companies that built the pipes of the internet against the users of those pipes.

Corrado says there’s a clear winner here. And it’s not the tech lobby.

“Members of Congress are more than happy to have tech industry lobbying on both sides of an issue because it makes it much easier for them to solicit campaign contributions,” he says.

Corrado calls it a fundraising bonanza. Welcome to Washington, Silicon Valley.

PODCAST: Paula Deen goes digital

Wed, 2014-09-24 03:00

First up, it may only be September, but we're getting our first holiday retail forecasts. These offer a glimpse into what analysts think we'll be spending this holiday season, and perhaps more importantly, reflect how we're feeling about the state of the economy. Plus, we've reporting this week on the Obama Administration's new crackdown on inversions. But what about what you might consider an "inversion" at the state level: moving headquarters across state lines to get a tax break. In those cases, it's often the government that's doing the bidding. And Southern cook Paula Deen is trying to make a comeback, launching a new online network of cooking shows today. Deen was one of the biggest names in food television until offensive remarks she made off screen became public last year. Her show was then canceled and she was dropped by sponsors. We take a look at her attempts to rebuild her brand.

#Scandal heads to #Twitter

Wed, 2014-09-24 02:00

Even if you don't watch the wildly popular television drama Scandal, you'd probably know of its popularity if you spent some time poking around Twitter. Aside from a huge television audience, the show is a favorite of the blue bird. With the season premiere coming Thursday of this week, we talked with Darby Stanchfield, better known as Abby Whelan on Scandal. And for the record, she has her very own hashtag: #SassyAbby.

Tell me about the community of Scandal fans on Twitter.

They’ve named themselves Gladiators. They’re super passionate. They’re smart. They’re funny. There’s not a thing that doesn’t get by them.

What’s an example of something that fans have caught that surprised you?

I used to have this signature coffee mug that I would use in my scenes, and one time I grabbed one of the company mugs that was in the kitchen area, and I think someone was like, “Wait a minute, where’s Abby’s mug that matches her hair?” Granted, every single series regular, and usually the creator, we’re all live-tweeting, whether we’re on set or we’re not working or at home.

Part of the contract.

You know it’s not, actually. We’re not paid to do it. Actually, Kerry Washington–it was her idea–and she talked to [series creator Shonda Rhimes] about it, and Shonda sent out this email that said we all needed to sign up on Twitter. We all did it, because our boss was asking us to, but it ended up being the most effective, grass-roots way to help the audience discover this crazy political drama called Scandal.

You have your own hashtag, #SASSYABBY.

One of the ways that I differentiate myself from the other cast-mates is I basically go into character during the live tweeting. And the way you know is I put my caps lock on and I just make snarky comments from Abby’s point of view.

How has the way that you think about being an actor changed because of Twitter? And how is your understanding of your own character shaped by the technology around you, even when you’re not on the set?

Twitter almost has the effect of a live theater event. You have an immediate interaction with the audience. You know when something lands and when it’s funny. When I’m on Twitter, there’s a visceral reaction immediately with the flood of tweets that come in about any given moment in my performance. And it’s as close as you can get to live theater with a television show. But in terms of my creative process or how I think about my character, I would say that’s still very traditional. I have my point of view, and I always find a way to love my character and tell that story.

Paula Deen buys back rights to her Food Network show

Wed, 2014-09-24 02:00

Southern cook Paula Deen is attempting a comeback by launching a new online cooking network on Wednesday.

Deen was one of the biggest names in food television until racist remarks she made off screen became public last year. As a result, the Food Network cut ties with her and she was dropped by sponsors. 

But before her racist remarks, Paula Deen was best known for her artery-clogging recipes, like the Lady’s Brunch Burger: a burger paddy stacked with a fried egg and bacon, sandwiched between two glazed donuts for buns. She gleefully described it as “over the top – even for me!”

Viewers eager for access to Deen’s old shows with said gems, plus some new content, can sign up to pay $8 to $10 a month for access to her new online network, launched by her Paula Deen Ventures with the backing of private investment firm Najafi Companies.

“About 15 percent of Americans do look up recipes online,” says Jerry Power, with the USC Marshall School of Business, adding the cook book market is also sizable. “So it’s a fairly stable and good sized market that she’s going after.”

But getting people to subscribe—controversy aside—could be a tough sell, since there’s already so many free sources of cooking shows and recipes, says Max Dawson, director of national television and video for Frank N. Magid Associates.

“Paula Deen’s audience, the sort of people who really love her, they’re not early adopters,” explains Dawson. “They’re not experimenting with new content distribution paradigms.”

Those who do could pay a similar amount for service like Netflix and getting lots more variety.

Paula Deen is far from the first celeb to start her own website. Here's a few other examples:

Preserve

Created—or "edited"—by Blake Lively, Preserve is like Etsy run through an Instagram filter and marketed to a much higher income tax bracket. It's structured like a lifestyle magazine and proceeds go to Lively's charity.

Funny or Die

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's video site has expanded into a media empire. Its big hits like "Billy on the Street" and "Drunk History" have been adapted for TV, and "Between Two Ferns" won an Emmy after an appearance from President Barack Obama.

Goop

Gwenyth Paltrow's lifestyle site also boasts recipes, a store and a blog, which made the news in March when Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin used the site to announce their "Conscious Uncoupling" (some call that a divorce).

Sarah Palin Channel

Another subscription service, the Sarah Palin Channel charges $9.95 a month or $99.95 for the year, but you view a national debt ticker and a countdown of Obama's days left in office for free.

Hello Giggles

Zooey Deschanel's site offers entertainment and lifestyle writing aimed at women, but everyone can enjoy their various live feeds of kittens, puppies, cicadas, owls and more.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Paula Deen's name in the headline. The text has been corrected.

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