It's hard to imagine where the two circles of "Marketplace coverage" and "Sharknado" intersect on a venn diagram. But overlap they do, and in suprisingly relevant ways.
That's because the SyFy network's made-for-tv movie is something of a phenomenon from a financial perspective. With a relatively small budget — around $1-2 million — it grew from a disappointing first airing to internet sensation to big screen flick.
"Everybody asks, you know, why did this happen?" says director Anthony C. Ferrante. "You can't ask why; it's 'Sharknado.' It's a movie about sharks and a tornado, and it just hit everybody's sweet spot for whatever reason this summer."
It didn't hit a sweet spot for actor Ian Ziering initially. That is, until health insurance came into play.
Ziering was reluctant to star in the original film, but when his wife urged him to consider the union health insurance he would be eligible for by doing the movie, he reconsidered.
With a pregnant wife, Ziering put down his reservations about the cheesy script, and picked up a shark chainsaw.
So it turns out Sharknado isn't just a story about a tornado dropping sharks from the sky.
It's about financial success, crowdsourced marketing and health care. Go figure.
By the way, Sharknado 2 premieres Wednesday.
The news from the Commerce Department comes after the economy shrank at a 2.1 percent rate in the first quarter of the year. The numbers raise hope for continued growth in the second half of 2014.
One U.N. official said this was a "breaking point." The conflict, now going into its 23rd day, shows no sign of abating. The death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 1,200.
Vergara v. California dealt a serious blow to teacher tenure and seniority laws in that state. And anti-tenure groups say their movement is spreading.
First up, more on the latest GDP report, which showed a strong 4% growth in the 2nd quarter. Plus, a key ruling against McDonald's gives hope to those looking to force the company's franchisees to raise their wages to $15 an hour. Also, the latest lobbying force to hit Washington comes from an unexpected source: gamers.
It took officials about four hours to figure out which valve needed to be closed. By then, parts of the UCLA campus were deluged, with some staircases looking like waterfalls.
Meet the voice of video game makers on Capitol Hill: Erik Huey.
A "Donkey Kong" champion and "Madden" addict, he's now chief lobbyist for the Entertainment Software Association, the main trade group for the gaming business in Washington.
“I feel like Mario the fix-it man, the plumber, making sure things flow correctly. But I think more often than not, I feel like Sonic the Hedgehog, running around with frenetic energy," he says.
Huey and his staff have just finished discussing a plan to highlight gaming industry jobs in congressional districts.
Members of Congress listen to Huey. The Center for Responsive Politics says the Entertainment Software Association spent almost $5.5 million on lobbying in 2013.
“That’s pretty serious lobbying money,” says Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the Center.
Scrolling through spending reports, Novak says there was a spike in the video game lobby’s spending as Congress considered a bill mandating research into whether violent video games cause actual violence.
“Almost half of their reports in 2013 mentioned the Violent Content Research Act. It’s clearly something they were very concerned about,” says Novak.
The bill is now stalled in the Senate.
The video game industry has lobbied on online piracy and privacy, too. And it's not just relying on shoe leather. The lobbyists are trying to get gamers to help make their case online. But it’s not easy.
“It’s a little bit like herding cats with a dog in the room,” says Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal Democracy Media, and chairman of an annual conference on politics and technology.
Gamers don’t always support the tech lobby’s positions. Still, Erik Huey says his association has organized about 600,000 gamers into a group called the Video Game Voters Network.
When a congressman recently made disparaging remarks about gaming, Huey says thousands of group members responded.
“Four thousand constituents calling in — that’s quite powerful,” he says.
Huey says when it works, the Video Game Voters Network can be a potent weapon. Most other lobbyists don’t have such an active, online base that's used to combat. Or, at least virtual combat.
Some of the big, urban hospitals around the country – the "safety net" hospitals that serve the poor – are getting hit with a dose of good news.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured patients is dropping sharply. Hospitals like Our Lady of Lourdes in Camden, New Jersey, are now spending millions less on providing charity care.
William Castro is one of thousands of patients Lourdes had treated for free. A car accident in 2010 left him suffering with chronic back pain.
“You know what it is... you’re a grown man and it’s so bad you have to take hot showers, you are crying at night,” says Castro.
Without health insurance, Castro made monthly visits to the hospitals where doctors scribbled out prescriptions.
The 46-year-old says he struggled to scrape up the money to buy his meds.
“You are talking about $300-$350 a month. And a person that’s not able to work... can you imagine, having zero? Needing this medication, and have to count on your family, loved ones, friends... then next month you have to do it all over again?” he says.
Now on Medicaid, Castro has his prescriptions covered – no co-pays – and is hoping to enroll in a pain management course.
One by one, Lourdes CEO Alexander Hatala has watched his uninsured patient population fall from 8.5 percent of patients last year to 3 percent.
That’s a $3.5 million of savings at the Camden hospital.
“$3.5 million can make a difference between breaking even or operating in the red,” Hatala says.
What’s happening in Camden is happening around the country – at least for hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.
This summer the Colorado Hospital Association – looking at stats from 30 states – found a 30 percent jump in Medicaid charges, and a 30 percent drop in charity care costs.
That puts hospitals on track to save billions this year.
“Yeah, there’s more money. But it also comes with a caveat,” says Ellen Kugler, Executive Director of the National Association of Urban Hospitals. “There are a number of federal cuts coming and many more that are coming.”
Federal, state, and local government funding currently covers about 65 percent of charity care costs. Under the ACA, the plan has been to reduce that funding - at least at the federal level - as more Americans gain insurance coverage.
In this new landscape, the Urban Institute’s Teresa Coughlin says these hospitals will now have to fight to keep their newly-insured patients: “Do they have contracts with [insurers]? Are they able to retain patients who became newly insured and still continue to come to their facility? Or will they go elsewhere now that they have a choice?”
Coughlin says some of these hospitals are considered second-tier facilities, and to keep their doors open, they must build relationships with insurers and convince consumers they offer excellent service for a fair price.
A whole new world, says Coughlin - a world where not all safety net hospitals may survive.
Humana is among the companies reporting its quarterly numbers on Wednesday as earnings season continues. The health insurance giant always releases its earnings before the markets open. Whole Foods reports the same day, but the grocery chain always waits until after the closing bell.
If you've ever wondered why companies go one way or the other, it's worth noting the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t care what time of day companies report their quarterly earnings.
So it comes down to factors like: what’s the best time to put the CEO on the phone with investors and analysts?
"Some people are morning people and some people are afternoon people," says Jeff Morgan, president of the National Investor Relations Institute. He adds that once a company picks a time, it sticks. "We want to be sure that whatever we do every quarter, we do the same thing the next quarter, so that there’s not anybody wondering why we’re making changes."
A recent study found that 66 percent of companies hold earnings calls at the same time every quarter. Co-author Elizabeth Demers, an associate professor of accounting at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, says executives should avoid afternoon calls, when they might be hungry and cranky.
"What we find is that as the tone of the calls becomes more negative, the share price returns are also more negative," Demers says. "In other words, the stock price responds to the negativity that's being emitted on the calls."
Demers says size matters, too; a lot of small companies reporting earnings have to take whatever slot they can get.
The NCAA has settled a class-action lawsuit over its head injury policies, pending approval. Supporters laud a $70 million fund for medical monitoring; others say there's no money for injured players.
A U.N. spokesman said Israeli tank shells hit the school Wednesday, killing 15 Palestinians and wounding 90. The agency is housing scores of people displaced by the fighting in schools across Gaza.
Outernet is a new project aims to deliver online content, but not the internet itself—only its information. The method? Large satellites and simple radio waves.
If it works, it might be a useful way to deliver information to people who don't have regular access.
“Instead of providing direct internet access to everyone, we’re providing the content that exists on the internet,” says Syed Karim, founder of the project.
The satellites will broadcast the data to anyone with a receiver who can then turn them into files viewable in a browser.
Currently, the site will only be updating pages such as Wikipedia on a weekly or biweekly basis. As bandwidth increases, a page can be “rebroadcast” — re-transmitted — and it can be locally updated for those who are “listening” to it.
The project expects to launch in a few weeks.
Wildfire season has intensified early in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington are turning to the federal government for assistance in fighting the fires and cleaning up the mess left behind.
The U.S. and EU announced more sanctions against Russia because of its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions are more wide-ranging than previous efforts to target the ruling elite.
Sheik Humarr Khan, one of the doctors fighting to control West Africa's largest Ebola outbreak, died Tuesday in Sierra Leone. He was 39.
Health workers are trying to convince parents to let their children take a vaccine, but the program faces violent opposition. Researchers from Harvard polled the parents; the results surprised them.
Adding a translation to the English label would require bigger bottles, pharmacists say. They worry patients would wind up carrying a few pills around loose — without any instructions at all.
Health workers are trying to convince parents to give children the polio vaccine. But the program faces violent opposition. Harvard researchers polled the parents. They were surprised by the results.
Scientists are trying to raise prized bluefin tuna completely in captivity. An experiment at a Baltimore college is the first successful attempt in North America.
A short-term fix for the nearly empty Highway Trust Fund is a step closer to President Obama's desk. Congress has been talking about the long-term problems with the construction account, but the two chambers have not agreed on a long-term solution.