National / International News
The new year promises several new Internet-based streaming TV offerings that will look a lot like traditional cable. The planned services from Dish Network, Sony PlayStation and Verizon will be the first to offer bundles of live television channels over the Internet.
Sony Entertainment Network, separate from the film studio which is dealing with the aftermath of an unprecedented cyber attack, is the first out of the gate with its announcement of the cloud-based TV service PlayStation Vue. It began beta testing the service in New York in November, with plans to roll out the invitation-only beta to Chicago, Philadelphia as well as New York.
Sony says it will launch the service in the first quarter of 2015, but has not decided in which markets. It also eventually plans to make the service available on iPads and other devices.
The Playstation Vue is starting out with about 75 channels, such as MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. Sony has not struck a deal with Disney but is in active talks. Disney owns ESPN, the sports channel which is a popular draw among a large portion of cable TV subscribers and commands the highest carriage fees on cable.
"They are under a lot of constraints. They have to pay a lot for content," says Colin Dixon, a media analyst at nScreen Media.
Dixon says Sony not only must offer enough channels at an attractive price, but also manage to attract a young demographic that is avoiding cable.
"The young are much less interested in pay TV service than the rest of the population. So, it's going to be a challenge to get people to change," Dixon says.
Sony, though, says its challenge is different. Many PlayStation users do, in fact, have cable TV subscriptions, according to Sony, but rarely use them because they want a better user experience.
The company says it has not yet decided the price of the service, but promises transparent pricing without added charges and long-term contracts.
The service's primary focus is not going after price-conscious consumers. Sony PlayStation is focusing more on improving the cable TV user interface by marrying traditional cable with a cloud-based, Netflix-like user interface, which allows for both live and time-shifted viewing, and recommendation lists.
Sony's Playstation Vue, once it debuts, is likely to face competition in 2015. Verizon has announced similar plans, and so has the satellite TV provider Dish Network.
Laura Martin, a cable and media analyst at Needham & Company, says Dish Network's plans in particular are significant, because it will be a pared-down, cheaper alternative to traditional cable.
"So, it's a way to go after the low-end of the market, which is the opposite of the Sony product, which is trying to cream skim the top end of the market," Martin says.
In either case, the new offerings aren't likely to threaten traditional cable TV, Martin says, but they will lead to big wins for one particular group.
"The big winners here are the content owners," Martin says. "For example, Turner broadcasting used to have three or four new series a year. This year it has 12, because you can ... sell it to more outlets."
Freddie Mac reports there’s a shortage of rental housing, giving a boost to big investors who bought thousands of foreclosed houses on a bet they’d be able to jack up rents.
Well, now they can.
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It’s easy to understand why the price for health insurance premiums has outpaced inflation by so much in the last few decades.
“There are more treatments, more medications, more therapies,” says Kathy Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “There's just more healthcare services that can be applied to any particular clinical situation.”
The numbers are striking. In 1996, the average family premium ran just shy of $5,000. Adjust that $5,000 for inflation, and today it’s about $7,500. But healthcare premiums are a different story. The cost was a little more than $16,000 for a family, as of last year.
Harvard economist David Cutler says there's nothing wrong with spending a lot of money on healthcare, as long as you are getting what you pay for.
“People want longer life. They want healthier life,” he says. “The unfortunate truth is we are spending a lot that is not contributing to that.”
When Cutler says a lot, he's not playing around. Many economists, Cutler included, say as much as $1 trillion of all healthcare spending a year is wasteful—That's about a third. But when it comes to premiums, which third are we talking about?
“Healthcare is probably unique in that it is so difficult to tell whether something is worth it or not,” Cutler says.
One thing we do know is that as premiums have climbed, people have paid more out-of-pocket. Ironically, Hempstead says, high prices should help make sure we're getting a better deal.
“One of the things that does is it makes consumers look for value and to get providers to be as efficient as they can be and provide a lower cost service,” she says.
Federal health officials say in the last five years, premium prices continue to rise, but at about half the rate they were previously. No one knows for sure what's behind that. But pretty much everyone agrees when the first few thousand dollars of healthcare comes out of our wallets, we're going to do a better job making sure it's not for nothing.
Michigan has just put a new issue on the ballot for next year: hiking gas taxes. Many states in the last two years have raised or reformed gas taxes, including red states Wyoming and New Hampshire. And now low gas prices may provide additional political space to raise money for crumbling roads and bridges.
"There's a little more room to maybe propose increases in the gas tax, because the price has gone down so far," Norton Francis of the Urban Institute says. "But it really takes political will and leadership to tie the gas tax to infrastructure spending."
Federal money is drying up, as the national gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon. And more fuel-sipping cars on the road mean Americans are buying less gas to tax. Thus the urgency.
"When we see pretty fiscally conservative governors in states like New Jersey and Wisconsin either openly talking about gas tax reforms or at least not ruling it out right away, that says a lot about how serious this issue is," says Carl Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
The average family premium for healthcare was $16,000 last year. Compare that to 1996, when the average ran just shy of $5,000. Adjust that $5,000 for inflation, and today it’s about $7,500. We take a look at why the cost of healthcare has blown inflation out of the water in the latest installment of the Marketplace Inflation Calculator.3 days
It took 8 years for fathers in Hong Kong to win the right to 3 days of paternity leave (at 80% pay). But on December 18th, the government passed a law granting them the leave. As Quartz reports, Hong Kong has been attempting to fight a declining birth rate, which up until now has been blamed on single women, otherwise called "spinsterhood."7,370 people
That's how many lives have been claimed by the Ebola virus outbreak. Research published Monday morning shows that International Monetary Fund policies left Guinea, Libera, and Sierra Leone — the three countries worst effected by the virus — with a lack of funds and a shortage of doctors. As reported by The Telegraph, specific reforms pushed by the IMF caused an inability to cope with disease outbreaks.18.4 cents
The national gas tax remains at 18.4 cents/gallon, in spite of the fact that gas prices have lately been plummeting. It's why states like Michigan are adding hikes in the gas tax to the ballot for next year. With Americans paying less tax per gallon, federal government may need the extra income to fund infrastructure spending.30 miles
There's been a lot of attention on Mars lately, but what about our other neighbor, Venus? With a surface temperature of 850 degrees F, it's not ideal for manned exploration. But head 30 miles above land, and it's a slightly more manageable 165 degrees F. Even more intriguing is that at this distance above Venus' surface, the pressure is the same as Earth's at sea level. It's why NASA is saying it might one day send astronauts to explore Venus in blimps.