National / International News

Jason Orange leaves Take That

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:45
Take That's Jason Orange announces he is leaving the group and will not be recording a new album with the band.

Brazil releases 'good' mosquitoes

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:38
Brazilian researchers release thousands of mosquitoes infected with a bacteria that suppresses Dengue fever into the environment in Rio de Janeiro.

Amazon Studios head on taking charge in a new TV age

Marketplace - American Public Media - 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

Marketplace - American Public Media - 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. 

Guards posted at 84th birthday party

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:19
Security guards are drafted in to stop "too many" people attending an 84-year-old man's birthday party at a care home.

Boko Haram fighters 'surrender'

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:18
Hundreds of fighters in Nigeria-based Islamic militant group Boko Haram have surrendered after heavy losses against the army, the country's military spokesman says.

More to Europe than McIlroy in ultimate team game

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:13
Rory McIlroy is eager to promote the strength of Europe's team, a strength that could show in the Ryder Cup singles on Sunday.

More unmarried Americans, thanks to economic woes

Marketplace - American Public Media - 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

Marketplace - American Public Media - 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.” 

Manchester City 7-0 Sheffield Wednesday

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:10
Manchester City score seven second-half goals to start their League Cup defence with an easy win over Sheffield Wednesday.

Shifting Stance, Some GOP Candidates Back State Minimum Wage Hikes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:01

As free-market conservatives, Republicans are philosophically opposed to raising the minimum wage. But a handful in tight races are having second thoughts.

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Air France offers to scrap expansion

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:35
Air France offers to scrap plans to expand its Transavia low-cost airline in Europe, in return for striking pilots returning to work immediately.

Last Mitford sister dies at 94

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:32
Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, and the last surviving Mitford sister, has died at the age of 94.

Dems Probably Won't Take The House, So Why Are They Raising So Much?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:26

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is millions of dollars ahead of the Republicans in fundraising, especially among the small-donor faithful.

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#Gamergate Controversy Fuels Debate On Women And Video Games

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:26

A debate has flared surrounding ethics in video game journalism and the role and treatment of women in the video game industry. Attacks online have turned heated, vicious and ugly.

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Remembering Christopher Hogwood, An Evangelist For Early Music

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:07

The English conductor, keyboard player and musicologist died today at age 73. He used modern scholarship and keen musicianship to bring new life to works by Handel and Bach, Mozart and Haydn.

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Man charged over Iraq roadside bombs

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:59
A 37-year-old man from north-west London is charged with conspiring to murder coalition forces in Iraq.

U.N. Security Council Unanimously Passes Anti-Terrorism Resolution

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:45

The measure targets travel of militants abroad as well as recruiting and funding for extremist groups. It was adopted at a meeting chaired by President Obama.

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Grieving But Grateful, Ebola Survivors In Liberia Give Back

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:44

After living through their own nightmares, Ebola survivors are still mourning the loss of their loved ones. But they're giving back by working at the treatment centers and caring for children.

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Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Marketplace - American Public Media - 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 and 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 said. "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 cancelled. 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 ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the anti-hero, 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 said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which will debut all at once 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.