Marketplace - American Public Media

My First Job: Wienermobile Driver

Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

Some first jobs are exactly what you'd think they'd be: fry-cook at a fast food chain, sales associate somewhere, maybe a telemarketer.

But not all of them.

Natasha Best worked as a "Hot-Dogger," driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile across the Midwest and giving away whistles.

"We would park somewhere, and we would just get inundated; people wanting to see the inside of it," Best says. "But then I would even have people come up to me and ask me for my autograph or ask to take a photo with me.  They just loved it." 

Hear Best's full story, including how difficult the Wienermobile was to drive, in the audio player above.

Despite insurance, some Americans still struggle with medical debt

Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

At the Yakima County courthouse in Washington, presiding District Court Judge Kevin Roy walks past a rattling dot-matrix printer and long rows of color-coded folders to a shelf of files awaiting his signature.

“If I was to pull this file,” Roy says, taking one from the shelf. “Yep, Memorial Physicians, PLLC. That’s not just by luck.”

Not luck, because most of these files are for medical debt. The Affordable Care Act has expanded coverage to more than 10 million Americans who were previously without health insurance and provided subsidies to millions more. But it hasn’t changed much for those who have fallen behind in paying for healthcare.

Roy spends a big chunk of his workday signing judgments against people who owe money to hospitals and medical providers. “It’s like the tide coming in every week," he says.

Medical debt affects one of every four Americans and accounts for more than half of all bankruptcies.

At age 60, Scott Cliett says he’s in debt for the first time in his life. Chronic pancreatitis has forced him to stop working, and regularly sends him to the emergency room for a week at a time. He now has free health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, but he’s still struggling to pay off old debt. Missing a single $25 installment landed Cliett in court.

“The Judge did allow me to speak, but the fact that I admitted I do owe them money pretty much cut everything else off,” Cliett says, reflecting on his day in court. “‘You know, I’m sympathetic to your plight, but I have to follow the letter of the law. You owe them money, so therefore I’m granting the judgment.’”

Most of Cliett’s bills were forgiven through the hospital’s charity care program. But he’s barely made a dent in the remainder, like a $4,000 ambulance ride.

 “Let’s see, $4,000 divided by twenty five dollars,” he says. “My grandkids will probably still be working on it when I’m gone.”

Overall, gaps in coverage like Cliett’s are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of people with medical debt have insurance the whole time those costs are piling up. But the bills insurance doesn’t cover can be devastating on their own.

That’s one reason Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, who teaches health policy at City University of New York, says health insurance is often a "defective product."

“People buy it in good faith to try and get medical care and make sure their bills are paid, and then when they get an expensive or prolonged illness, the health insurance doesn’t work,” she says.

Woolhandler says Obamacare has definitely helped. She says even with Obamacare, many policies still have high out-of-pocket costs.

Karen Pollitz, who co-authored a recent study on medical debt for the Kaiser Family Foundation, says, “We see a lot of plans, still, that have 2, 3, 4, 5,000, $6,000 deductibles. That’s still way more than most Americans have on hand.”

PODCAST: Uber loans

Wed, 2015-05-13 03:00

On top of Macy's reporting disappointing profits Wednesday, there's news that retail sales last month were flat. More on that. Plus, we'll talk about Facebook luring publishing companies into putting their content directly onto the social media site. And Uber has a finance program for potential drivers with bad credit. Getting more drivers on the road means more money for Uber. But those loans can have high interest rates and some drivers are struggling to make the payments. 

Who are AOL's two million dial-up users?

Wed, 2015-05-13 02:59

Verizon's purchase of AOL will include not just AOL's digital content properties and online advertising business, but also about two million dial-up subscribers. 

They are among as many as nine million Americans who still use dial-up for a variety of reasons, including cost and geographic availability of broadband, says Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center, who looked into dial-up users.

"They're a little bit older," Smith says. "42 percent of dial-up users are over the age of 55. They're also a little bit different in their socio-economic makeup. About half of dial-up users have a high school diploma or less."

Smith says most dial-up users would switch to broadband if it was cheaper or easier to get. But he says a fifth of dial-up users are happy with the service, and just aren't interested in broadband.

So should Verizon make an effort to convert dial-up die-hards?

"The best [Verizon] can do is nothing," says telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics. "There is a segment of the population that just wants to have occasional access to the Internet and only pay 10 dollars for it."

Entner says everyone who wants to convert to broadband probably already has. Except, he says, in the most remote and rural parts of the U.S., where a copper telephone line and a dial-up modem may still be the best way to get online. 

Who's the dial-up user?

Wed, 2015-05-13 02:59

Verizon's purchase of AOL will include not just AOL's digital content properties and online advertising business, but also about two million dial-up subscribers. 

They are among as many as nine million Americans who still use dial-up for a variety of reasons, including cost and geographic availability of broadband, says Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center, who looked into dial-up users.

"They're a little bit older," Smith says. "42 percent of dial-up users are over the age of 55. They're also a little bit different in their socio-economic makeup. About half of dial-up users have a high school diploma or less."

Smith says most dial-up users would switch to broadband if it was cheaper or easier to get. But he says a fifth of dial-up users are happy with the service, and just aren't interested in broadband.

So should Verizon make an effort to convert dial-up die-hards?

"The best [Verizon] can do is nothing," says telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics. "There is a segment of the population that just wants to have occasional access to the Internet and only pay 10 dollars for it."

Entner says everyone who wants to convert to broadband probably already has. Except, he says, in the most remote and rural parts of the U.S., where a copper telephone line and a dial-up modem may still be the best way to get online. 

A look at Macy's bottom line ahead of a new strategy

Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

Macy's, which reports its earnings Wednesday morning, is trying out a new growth strategy. This fall, it will open four discount stores in New York City called Macy’s Offstage.

Other big retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus have already established themselves in the discount game and are seeing good results from it.

“What is the hottest sector in apparel retailing in America? Off-price,” says retail consultant Howard Davidowitz. Davidowitz says with the middle class shrinking, it's no wonder Macy's now wants to open off-price stores. He thinks it's slow to make the move, but has the chance to stand out against less upscale competitors.

“You can sell off-price, and it doesn't have to be ugly,” he says.

But retail analyst Paul Swinand at Morningstar says discount apparel may already be saturated.

“In my opinion, it's sort of skating to where the puck was,” he says. “I'm not so sure that off-price is going to continue its growth forever.”

Swinand says Macy's should maybe lean harder on online sales, where it's had a lot of success already.

Why Facebook is now a news publisher

Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

On Wednesday morning, Facebook began its long-awaited foray into publishing, with so-called "Instant Articles" from publishers including the New York Times, Buzzfeed and National Geographic appearing natively in the latest version of Facebook's iPhone app, instead of linking out to their websites.

The social networking site touted the faster load times for these articles in a promotional video.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.3"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Introducing Instant Articles, a new tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook.

Posted by Facebook Media on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

But that's hardly the whole story.

"It is true that it will load and create a better experience for users, but it's also true that Facebook will get more data and also enable them to sell more ads," says Ben Schachter, Internet analyst at Macquarie Securities. Media partners can choose to sell their own ads and retain 100 percent of the revenue, but they can also rely on Facebook's ad network, and let Facebook take a cut of 30 percent.

Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, thinks this deal may work out in the short-term for the nine publishers involved today's launch, but he worries about what will happen further into the future.

"Down the road, I think the dystopian vision is that this is another step toward Facebook becoming the Internet," he says.

Uber drivers struggle to pay subprime auto loans

Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

Richard Brunelle feels trapped. The 58-year-old says he has to drive for Uber.

Brunelle got a car through Uber's low-credit finance program and needs to make money for the loan. His payments are about $1000 dollars a month, and the loan has a 22.75 percent interest rate. That means by the time Brunelle finishes the loan, he will have paid twice the price for his Kia Optima.

At first, Brunelle thought he could cover the payments and still make a profit. Uber has since cut income to drivers. Now, Brunelle says he's working just to break even.

“It's like a ball and chain,” Brunelle says. “It's ridiculous.”

Brunelle says he has already fallen behind a few payments on the car, and that if he doesn't make a payment it could get repossessed. “I'm just trying to get by,” he says.

Here is how the financing program works: Uber connects low-credit drivers to dealers and lenders. Then it is up to the driver to negotiate the terms of the loan. Uber deducts loan payments directly from the drivers' earnings.

Uber says thousands have used the program. It had me talk with driver Jon Hutcherson, who says he's happy with the loan. Hutcherson says, “The thing about it being no hassle financing is really what attracted me.”

Hutcheron says working with Uber was easier than going to a dealer by himself because his credit isn't so great. Uber spokesperson Kristin Carvell says that's the point of the financing program. It helps people like Hutchinson get cars. And to boot, drivers get a little discount on the cost of the vehicle.

But if you don't drive, you still have to make the payments. Hutcherson says he had to dip into his savings when he stopped driving because of two accidents. He says, “When you aren't working for Uber, you make payments out of your own pocket like you do for a traditional loan.”

Another troubling aspect of the program is who Uber partners with. It's working with subprime lenders like Santander Consumer USA.

William Black is an economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. Black says Santander “is one of the most notorious sub-prime auto lenders in the United States.”

Black says Santander is known for predatory practices like sky high interest rates and hefty fees. Uber works with multiple lenders says spokesperson Carvell, and they provide loans for people with all kinds of credit.

Richard Brunelle isn't impressed. He feels like Uber would deal with anyone to get more drivers on the road. Brunelle says, “I feel like Uber not only tossed us to these wolves, but they intentionally did it and they are making bank it.”

Brunelle says he's stuck—it's either drive or meet the repo man. Now he is going online to tell others not to take the financing and get trapped like him.

Art auction at Christie's sets record for expensive art

Wed, 2015-05-13 02:00

This week, the art world saw two record breaking sales in the same auction. At Christie’s sale entitled “Looking Forward to the Past," Pablo Picasso's “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” sold for $179.4 million (with fees), shattering the previous record of $142.4 million for most expensive painting sold at auction. 

Alberto Giacometti's "Pointing Man" sculpture followed suit, eventually fetching a sale price of $141.3 million — the most paid for a sculpture at auction.

Given its origins in a well-regarded moment in Picasso's career, not to mention its size, “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” was considered by many art dealers to be an important sale, and a rare opportunity.

But don't count art critic Blake Gopnik among those who laud the painting as a work worth $179.4 million.

"One of the thing's about this picture is it's kind of a pastiche of earlier Picassos. It's like Picasso doing Picasso...And what do rich people want? They want Picasso-y looking pictures," Gopnik says.

Click the media player above to hear art critic Blake Gopnik's argument.

All the news that's fit to Facebook

Wed, 2015-05-13 01:56
5

That's how many publishers (the New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC News and The Atlantic) are involved in Wednesday's roll-out of content published directly to Facebook. Called Instant Articles, the partnership allows publications to put content directly onto the social media site's mobile app. Facebook has lured companies in by promising 100 percent of creative control and ad revenue. But as Re/code points out, that doesn't mean that Facebook can't change its mind down the road.

3.9 million

That's how many viewers watched "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" on average each night last quarter. Viewership is only a little lower for "The Late Show With David Letterman," a two-decade institution that airs at the same time on CBS. But online, it's no contest. Fallon's show churns out one viral video after another, and at a time when "late-night TV" is on TV and on late at night less and less, online success is crucial.

$179.4 million

That's how much Pablo Picasso's “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” fetched in a Christie's art sale this week. That number shattered the previous record for the most paid for a painting at auction. But art critic Blake Gopnik isn't so sure that the quality of the painting merits the hefty price tag.

2 million

That's about how many dial-up customers Verizon will inherit as part of its deal to buy AOL. Which, of course, begs the question: Who still uses dial-up?

$4.5 trillion

That's the size of the global "vanity capital" market, according to a new report from Bank of America Merril Lynch. Quartz points out that measuring the market on vanity is difficult and subjective — the report includes luxury goods and art as well as makeup and supplements — but its an interesting figure to pick apart, even if it's a rough estimate.

$1,000

That's how much 58-year-old Uber driver Richard Brunelle pays each month towards a loan he took out to purchase his car. With a roughly 22.75 percent interest rate, loans like these can be incredibly difficult to pay off. Even more surprising? They're organized by Uber itself. As part of a program to help potential drivers with bad credit get into the company, Uber connects drivers with lenders. After the deal is negotiated between the lender and the driver, Uber deducts payments out of the driver's earnings. But economist William Black points out that Uber is using notorious subprime lenders like Santander Consumer USA to loan money to drivers.

4

That's how many discount stores Macy's will open in New York City in an attempt to improve sales. Called Macy's Offstage, the venture puts the retailer in the company of other stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus that are already in the discount market. Also worth noting: Macy's reported disappointing earnings Wednesday morning, with sales down 0.7 percent from last year to $6.2 billion.

Oil downturn takes men out of 'man camps'

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

There was a time when the Capital Lodge 'man camp' outside Tioga, North Dakota was teeming with oilfield workers, as many as 1,000 at the peak.

The guests there occasionally made local headlines for brawls — a couple of them violent. But more recently, Capital Lodge’s name popped up in local papers for a very different reason. The owners are looking to downsize.

“This facility here has slowed down dramatically,” says Tony Miller, an oilfield worker who has stayed at Capital Lodge. “When I first started coming here right around December, you'd wait in line to get food. And now it's kind of come and go as you please.”

In March, David Brown, the vice president for operations, acknowledged that Capital Lodge was looking to move some of its units to other parts of the Bakken oil patch. Its investors also looked into the possibility of converting some of the mancamp into a commercial motel. Occupancy had dropped below 300 during the winter months, though Brown said some of that could be seasonal.

Trends in the oil industry do not favor a rebound for the man camp. Drilling rig counts and payrolls have both dropped off. Man camps in North Dakota and Texas are both taking a hit as a result, according to Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston.

“We know that the rates they charge per day have dropped in some cases by more than half,” says Hirs. “It really doesn't matter what the rate is. They don't have anyone there to pay $10 a day, let alone $100 a day.”

Hirs points out the man camps were always meant to be temporary. The goal was to replace them with new apartments and homes — but he says some of those more permanent projects are in trouble, too.

“I've talked to a one real estate developer who started a $30 million project in the heart of the Bakken with the idea that, 'Heck, this might be worth $60 million,'” Hirs says. “But now they're looking at trying to make due with less than half the projected occupancy and perhaps less than half the projected rental rates.”

The president of the Williston Area Builders Association, Dave Nordenstrom, says the spring inventory of homes for sale was elevated, another sign of softer demand. But he’s not worried about a glut of homes on the market.

“I think as time goes on here that will shake out and builders will slow down some of their production,” he says.

Like a lot of locals, Nordenstrom says a break from the frenzied pace of the oil boom is welcome. He argues that the oil industry may be down but not out. Experts say there’s likely a 20-year supply of oil in the Bakken shale area, and the workers who support the industry going forward will still need housing.

“The oil isn’t going anywhere,” Nordenstrom says. "It's still going to be there.”

In the NBA, 'Hack-a-Shaq' is fouling ratings, too

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

As the NBA moves through its playoffs, the league is looking at the widely debated strategy known as 'Hack-a-Shaq,' named after the notoriously bad free-shooter Shaquille O'Neal.

Most recently, it's Hack-a-Jordan or Hack-a-DeAndre, for LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Amazing player, and terrible at free throws. Hack-a-Shaq, or hack-a-whomever, is when a team targets the opposition's worst free-throw shooter, pounding him with fouls. He has to take the free throw, he misses, the other team gets the ball.

"This kind of drags it down, and probably my guess would be the NBA would be looking at, 'how could we keep that excitement without having some of these games really have that type of slow finish that might not be as interesting to fans?'" asks Rodney Paul, professor of sport management at Syracuse University.

With the NHL playoffs and baseball season going on, the NBA faces stiff competition for viewers. Tom Rhoads, who teaches economics at Towson University, says banning Hack-a-Shaqs would make the game less frustrating for fans, but take away a key tactic.

"You have certain rules that are designed for the fan and not for the players," he says.

The constant stops in action aren't good for advertisers, either, according to Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan. Fort says breaks ought to be predictable. Otherwise, he says, "you have a difficult time identifying the number of slots to sell to advertisers."

He says the NBA, like other major sports leagues, has been pretty good at changing the rules to make more money.

 

In the NBA, 'Hack-a-Shaq' is fouling advertisers, too

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

As the NBA moves through its playoffs, the league is looking at the widely debated strategy known as 'Hack-a-Shaq,' named after the notoriously bad free-shooter Shaquille O'Neal.

Most recently, it's Hack-a-Jordan or Hack-a-DeAndre, for LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Amazing player, and terrible at free throws. Hack-a-Shaq, or hack-a-whomever, is when a team targets the opposition's worst free-throw shooter, pounding him with fouls. He has to take the free throw, he misses, the other team gets the ball.

"This kind of drags it down, and probably my guess would be the NBA would be looking at, 'how could we keep that excitement without having some of these games really have that type of slow finish that might not be as interesting to fans?'," says Rodney Paul, professor of sport management at Syracuse University.

With the NHL playoffs and baseball season going on, the NBA faces stiff competition for viewers. Tom Rhoads, who teaches economics at Towson University, says banning Hack-a-Shaqs would make the game less frustrating for fans, but take away a key tactic.

"You have certain rules that are designed for the fan and not for the players," he says.

The constant stops in action aren't good for advertisers, either, according to Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan. Fort says breaks ought to be predictable. Otherwise, he says, "you have a difficult time identifying the number of slots to sell to advertisers."

He says the NBA, like other major sports leagues, has been pretty good at changing the rules to make more money.

 

Re-thinking the boring bond

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

The usually boring bond market has been distinctly un-boring of late. What began in German bonds a couple of weeks ago has arrived at the U.S. Treasury market.

German rates have climbed about half a percent, “which is a big move in bond world,” says Brian Rehling, co-head of global fixed income strategy at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “That’s really what’s moved U.S. rates higher.”

The yield on the 10-year Treasury on Tuesday climbed to its highest level since late November before settling back down slightly, to 2.26 percent.

Rate increases aren’t limited to the bond market, says Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. Consider a bank which might buy a bond or make a mortgage loan.

“If the returns [banks] get on bonds are higher, because interest rates have risen, they’re going to require a higher interest rate on that same mortgage loan,” LeBas says.

“We could list a whole conga line of ramifications,” says Marilyn Cohen, president of Envision Capital Management.

In addition to mortgage rates, she says “car loans are less sensitive than mortgage rates, but certainly will drift up, and any type of consumer loans or line of credit that you may have that you’re thinking about using a portion of, those rates would go up.”

Cohen says she doesn’t think we’ll see a big rate increases, but many  parts of the economy are counting on low interest rates. On the flip side, higher interest rates mean it’s a decent time to buy bonds – they’ll offer more income now.  

Medical scribe industry thrives

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

Think about the word, “scribe.” What pops into your head? Probably something from a humanities class in college or a History Channel documentary, right?

If you've visited a doctor lately, you might envision something more modern. The medical scribe industry has been booming in recent years, fueled largely by hospitals around the county switching to electronic medical record systems.

Tyrell Kirchhefer is the lead scribe in the emergency department at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming. While the doctor on duty quizzes a patient, he stands silent in the back, taking exhaustive notes on his laptop.

“One of the biggest things they taught us [in medical scribe training] was not to show any facial expressions when you are in the room,” he says. “It takes a lot of work.”

Kirchhefer makes $13 an hour, and the work counts as “hands-on experience” on medical school applications, which he hopes to start submitting soon. He says that after more than a year behind his laptop in the ER, he’s been able to see the gamut of common medical experiences, and some that are not so common.

“I had a woman that was herding cattle one day and, somehow, she was run over by one of the bulls. She didn’t come in for 12 hours or something like that, because she didn’t think it was that bad. It was pretty bad: she had a wound the size of a large orange or a grapefruit.”    

The hospital had to adopt electronic medical records by this year in order to not get penalized on medicare and medicaid reimbursement.  

These records are much more comprehensive than the paper files or computer spreadsheets the hospital used to useThey also take much longer. Cheyenne Regional ER Doctor Amy Tortorich says it take her about 10 minutes per patient. She usually sees about 30 patients a day.

“That’s an extra five hours charting. So half my shift, almost half my shift.”

But with Kirchhefer she says she can see more patients, and they generally leave happier. Which, Tortorich says, makes medical scribes well worth their cost.

“All of my doctor friends want this.”

That kind of demand has created a booming industry. Sarah Lamb is the Chief Operations Officer for Scribe America, one of the biggest medical scribe companies in the country.

“In the past year alone we have tripled our growth to probably just under 7,500 employees in 47 states.”

The leading scribe trade group predicts the number of scribes working in America will go from about 20,000 today to 100,000 by 2020.

“Unless we have some futuristic component where a physician can do live documentation while walking down the hall, there will always be a need for scribes,” Lamb says.

Wait, why can’t that vision come true? Well there is one big obstacle: the medical scribe industry.

“By creating a new profession we are bypassing  the physician,” says Dr. George Gellert, Medical Informatics Officer at Christus Health Systems. “ As well as hospitals and clinics across the country [for their] input into this product.”

Dr. Gellert recently wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that, in fact, it’s in our best interest that doctors to have to deal with electronic medical record systems, even if they are frustrating. Gellert says right now electronic medical records are sort of like cell phones in the 90s—clunky and time consuming. Input from cellphone users on what worked and what didn’t was the push that eventually led to the smartphone.

“But if someone was there to manage all [your] cellphone functioning, would there have been the pressure to evolve cell phones? I suspect not.”

One day medical scribes might be innovated out of a job, but for now, many hospitals find them indispensable. In Cheyenne, Kirchhefer says his shop is always hiring. 

What's AOL, really?

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

Here's a coda to our report about Verizon's deal to purchase AOL

We had AOL CEO Tim Armstrong on the program about two and a half years ago, when I asked him — as I sometimes do with CEOs — to describe what his company does in five words or less.

This is what he said:

AOL will be the best connected, most shared and most impactful brand and media company with a technology platform in the world.

So based on today's news, here's another way to say that: $4.4 billion. 

Verizon set to acquire AOL in billion-dollar deal

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

Here's a coda to our report about Verizon's deal to purchase AOL

We had AOL CEO Tim Armstrong on the program about two and a half years ago, when I asked him—as I sometimes do with CEOs—to describe what his company does in five words or less.

This is what he said:

Tim Armstrong: AOL will be the best connected, most shared, and most impactful brand and media company with a technology platform in the world.

So based on today's news, here's another way to say that: $4.4 billion. 

My Paris Dream: A fashion journalist on style and slang

Tue, 2015-05-12 13:00

As a young Princeton graduate, Kate Betts dreamed of moving to a different country to be a foreign correspondent.

She set her sights on Paris and with the encouraging words of her mother, “You can always come back,” she left and didn’t look back.

Betts caught the attention of John Fairchild, editor and chief of Women’s Wear Daily.Since then, Betts has worked in the fashion industry at Vogue and at Harper’s Bazaar.

She now has a book about her experience in fashion journalism called "My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine."

Betts realized that she wanted to pursue fashion journalism while talking to Yves Saint Laurent.

“That was a real moment for me because I realized that this is such an interesting subculture and such an interesting group of people and characters and that you didn’t necessarily have to be reporting from Hanoi to be considered a serious journalist,” she says.

“You could really write about anything, and if you did it in an interesting way and if the characters were compelling enough, then that was enough for journalism.” 

On YouTube, it's always late night

Tue, 2015-05-12 11:30

Late night TV is increasingly not on TV, or even on at night. In the past year nearly every major player — CBS, NBC, Comedy Central — have seen host shake-ups, with more on the way. HBO and Netflix are joining the fray and, as the New York Times points out, competition is stiffer as more viewers aren't bothering to stay up and watch anymore.

Instead, shows are fighting for viewers online, and some are performing better than others. To find out just how much better, we looked at each major late-night show's ratings last quarter and their most successful videos on YouTube. It's not a perfect measure — nearly all shows also host clips on their network's website, and on Facebook — but a pattern starts to emerge: younger shows are increasingly finding what works online. Often that's celebrities being silly, and they're reaching far bigger audiences because of it.

Here's how all the shows stack up:

"The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"

  • Debuted: February 17, 2014
  • Average nightly TV viewers: 3.9 million
  • Most popular YouTube video: "Lip Sync Battle with Emma Stone," 52.6 million views

After a year on-air, Fallon's "Tonight Show," dominates late-night TV in Nielsen ratings and YouTube views. Much of this online success comes from several recurring segments, online-only musical performances and nostalgia-fueled stunts, like reuniting the cast of "Saved by the Bell." The show's celebrity "lip-sync battles" have racked up some 165 million views for "Tonight," and Spike has its own, seperate show based on the concept.

"The Tonight Show" also posts web-exclusive backstage interviews, but those rarely crack seven figures.

"The Late Show with David Letterman"

  • Debuted: August 30, 1993
  • Average nightly TV viewers: 2.8 million
  • Most popular YouTube video: "Tina Fey's #LastDressEver," 13.8 million views and counting

Interestingly, Letterman had his biggest viral success just last week, when Tina Fey shed her fancy dress during an interview to say goodbye to the retiring host. The video has quickly lapped the show's most successful videos several times over. The only "Late Show" segments that have come close are other bits of planned spontaneity, like a particularly frenetic musical performance, a Robin Williams tribute or when Letterman announced his retirement.

CBS also produces a spin-off called "Live on Letterman" featuring hour-long concerts filmed in the Ed Sullivan Theater, streamed through the network's website.

"Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

  • Debuted: January 26, 2003
  • Average nightly TV viewers: 2.7 million
  • Most popular YouTube video: "YouTube Challenge - I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy," 53.3 million views

This one comes with a little asterisk: Kimmel's most popular YouTube video is actually a relatively-ancient 2010 clip in which he has Justin Bieber come on the show to surprise a young fan. It was huge views spike for "Jimmy Kimmel Live," which the show has only started to match recently. Let's chalk that one up as a fluke of the rabid Beiber fandom and look at the rest of Kimmel's big viral hits, which all involve crying children and celebrities saying terrible things about themselves.

The show's "Celebrities Read Mean Tweets" videos have together racked up more than 355 million views. Kimmel's now-annual compilations of children hearing their parents ate all their Halloween candy have been a huge success as well. Only these recurring segments have started to match Kimmel's early success with Beibs.

"Conan"

  • Debuted: November 8, 2010
  • Average nightly TV viewers: 815,000
  • Most popular video: "Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, and Conan Share A Lyft Car," 17.7 million views

Like Letterman, Conan O'Brien's show is a little more old-fashioned, with fewer recurring segments featuring celebrities. His show's most popular videos involve going on goofing around outside the studio with his guests, like visiting a Korean Spa with actor Steven Yuen, playing video games with Marshawn Lynch and looking for dates with Dave Franco.

The show also posts "Interweb exclusive" outtakes and backstage interviews on the Team Coco website.

"Late Night with Seth Meyers"

  • Debuted: February 24, 2014
  • Average nightly TV viewers: 1.5 million
  • Most popular YouTube video: "Seth Brings Jon Snow to a Dinner Party," 6.8 million views

Seth Meyers' "Late Night" mostly posts clips from celebrity interviews, which rarely reach a million views. The few that have are with Internet darlings like Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift and Kanye West. The show does several pre-taped segments reminiscent of "Saturday Night Live," as well as live performances of actual cut "SNL" sketches, but only one has been a bonafide hit.

"The Late Late Show with James Cordon"

  • Debuted: March 23, 2015
  • Average nightly TV viewers: 1.5 million
  • Most popular YouTube video: "James Corden and Tom Hanks Act Out Tom's Filmography," 12.7 million views

A month and a half in, the new "Late Late Show" has started off strong, beating out time slot rival "Late Night" with a couple of videos that seem likely to become recurring bits over James Cordon's run as host. One has actors rapidly revisit all of their major roles in front of a green screen, and the other puts Cordon in the car, singing along to the radio with Mariah Carey.

Verizon is buying AOL. What now? Let us explain.

Tue, 2015-05-12 11:28

On Tuesday, Verizon announced that it had purchased AOL for $4 billion. That led to a fair bit of head scratching. 

Verizon to buy AOL. AOL still exists?

— Isobel Carr (@IsobelCarr) May 12, 2015

There were also a lot of dial-up jokes and "you've got merger"s. But seriously: why on earth would Verizon buy AOL, and what does it plan to do now that it has? Let's break it down.

What is this deal all about?

It’s about mobile video, and it’s about ads.

Like Comcast and AT&T, Verizon has realized there’s no real money in being the plumber – that is, in selling access to the pipes, whether they’re wireless phone access or Internet access to the home. The real money is in content, and unless we're talking about public radio, content means ads. AOL has really great technology for delivering ads in mobile video, and they have a lot of original content too.

Verizon has said it wants to launch a mobile TV service as soon as this summer; this is the video and the ad platform that could power it. That would put it — much like Comcast with NBCUniversal and AT&T with DirecTV — in the content business, but it would be content aimed at mobile phones and wireless subscribers instead of traditional television.

OK, but why do they need AOL for that?

It turns out, in addition to making $143 million a year off people who still pay for dial-up, AOL has also spent the past few years building itself a pretty decent little ad technology business. It bought companies like 5min media, which distributes short video clips around the web so advertisers get more views. Then it spent $400 million on an ad technology company called Adap.tv that helped it put ads on all those little video clips.

Companies like Adap.tv do something called "programmatic advertising," which basically means they use computers to buy and place ads more efficiently and hopefully more effectively. That's another story, but for now what you need to know is that AOL got itself some good programmatic ad technology, and invested in creating a bunch of content to advertise against. That made them, apparently, a tempting target for a telco looking for a new revenue stream.

Why do it now?

Well, on the wireless side, Verizon is in a price war with T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint, not to mention prepaid providers. Wireless used to be a great business because you could basically charge whatever you wanted for data —and Verizon did. That’s changing, so it's making less money on wireless. On the broadband access side, there are the looming net neutrality regulations — if broadband and wireless internet access are reclassified as utilities, that will limit Verizon’s flexibility around what it can charge for access. The telcos are worried they’ll make less money, so they’re all looking for other ways to keep the dream alive.

Sounds like a big bet. Will it work?

Selling ads against mobile video is a tough game, considering your main competitors are Facebook and Google.

It turns out that A: They're pretty good at ad technology themselves (read: the best in the world) and B: Most of the video people are watching on their phones is coming from either Facebook or YouTube. So even if Verizon does launch its own video streaming service, why would anyone use it when they still have YouTube and Facebook? Oh, and what if it's only on Verizon? That leaves out a huge chunk of the market that might never see those ads.

Meanwhile, if Verizon launches its own streaming video service, then it’s suddenly in the content business. That could raise some regulatory red flags. This deal still has to be approved by regulators, who might be worried that Verizon could prioritize its own video service over, say, YouTube.

Enough about business. What about me? 

Well, if Verizon does launch a new streaming video service, it could be a reason to stay a customer, if you like what they’re offering. They might use it to lure new customers onto the service, because they figure mobile video is huge and only getting huger.

On the back end, it’ll probably mean a lot more tracking of your behavior. Verizon’s already gotten in some hot water for using “super-cookies” that track your browsing and location information even if you thought you opted out on individual websites. Wanting to serve you targeted ads gives it even more reason to track everything you look at. So, choose wisely.

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