National / International News

Will 'The Interview' make money for Sony?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:39
Sony Pictures released the Seth Rogen film "The Interview" on various digital media platforms today. It is available for purchase ($15 plus tax) or rent ($6) on Google Play, YouTube Movies (yes, there is such a thing), Microsoft's Xbox, and a special website Sony created for the film.

Marketplace opted for the purchase option:

Purchased for a grand total of $16.13, we are about to watch #TheInterview on YouTube

— Marketplace (@Marketplace) December 24, 2014

The movie clocks at two hours, but its plot has dragged on for weeks — it was at the center of an international hacking incident attributed to North Korea, in which troves of Sony Pictures' secret financial data and executive emails were released.

The film will also be screened in some 200 movie theaters across the country on Christmas Day. It was originally scheduled for a wider release, but the nation's top movie theater chains canceled screenings after attackers issued a threat. Sony then announced its intentions to release the film following a public scolding by President Obama

Now, the question is whether the film will actually recoup the reported $90 million it cost Sony to make and market the movie. 

"I would be shocked if they're going to recoup their ... investment," says Peter Kafka, a senior editor at the technology and media site Re/code. "You can sort of work out how many folks they need ... to rent this thing to make it worthwhile."

That number would be about 16.7 million rentals, if the studio was getting 100 percent of the proceeds from each sale. It won't be.

John Sloss, who advises on digital media distribution at Cinetic Media, says "The Interview" would have had a much better chance at making money if Sony had released the film earlier and on every digital platform at once. After all, he says, cinemas aren't where the profits are for studios.

"More often than not, the theatrical is a loss leader, because most of the releasing costs go onto the theatrical release, which builds awareness," which then helps sell the film on other platforms with better margins, says Sloss.

Sony might have gotten between 40 and 50 percent of the price of a movie ticket at the cinema. But, it'll get between 70 and 90 percent of the money spent on the various video on demand platforms that are showing "The Interview."

"In a couple of years, transactional VOD, when combined with DVD, will exceed the revenue of DVD when it was at its height 10 years ago," says Sloss, adding that that could total to about twice as much as a film makes in movie theaters.

The question now is whether the enormous attention the film has gotten because of the cyber attack will translate to enough viewers — and enough positive word of mouth from those who initially see the movie — to add up to significant revenues for Sony Pictures.

And how did Marketplace feel about the movie?

[View the story "Marketplace watches "The Interview" live" on Storify]  

Tech in 2015: We'll be connected 24/7

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:16

This year, we saw some sci-fi-worthy advances in technology that included drones, virtual reality and space exploration. But in 2015, what technology can we expect that will actually change our everyday lives?

Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says, get ready for more Internet.

"We're going to be connected, and more effectively connected, not just by our cell connection but by Wi-Fi, all the time," Johnson says.

That ubiquitous Wi-Fi connection might have some drawbacks depending on how you feel about advertisements. "We're going to get advertisements delivered to our phones that relate to the places around us," he says.

If you're not ready to have ads following you around the mall, you have options. "There is a creepy aspect to this ... and we do have some control where you can actually turn off notifications or location reporting on your phone," Johnson says.

Volatility could (maybe) signal end of the bull market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:13

Volatility in the markets has spiked recently. And while it may be subsiding, some tea-leaf readers expect to see it spike again. 

After all, there is a measure of uncertainty in the markets, and there is much to be uncertain about regarding a whole lot of things right now, like emerging markets, declining oil prices, declining growth in China, problems in Russia ... and so on. 

But there's a seasonal aspect to this volatility, too, which means market strategists are trying to divine whether we can expect more of it, and whether it's a sign of an imminent correction.

Does volatility signal the end of the bull market?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:13

Volatility in the markets has spiked recently. And while it may be subsiding now, some tea leaf-readers expect to see it spike again. 

After all, there is a measure of uncertainty in the markets, and there is much to be uncertain about a whole lot of things right now, like emerging markets, declining oil prices, declining growth in China, problems in Russia, and so on. 

But there's a seasonal aspect to this volatility, too, which means market strategists are trying to divine whether we can expect more of it, and whether it's a sign of an imminent correction.

VIDEO: CCTV released after St Louis shooting

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:04
There has been unrest in Missouri, after a black teenager was shot dead by police, close to where another black youth, Michael Brown, was killed in August.

Putin acts to halt rising vodka cost

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:01
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls for a cap on rising vodka prices, fearing they are pushing drinkers towards cheap, illegal substitutes.

Holiday music economics: New artists sing old songs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:00

Every year, we get a whole slew of new takes on old Christmas tunes.

For example, "Mary, Did You Know" was originally recorded in 1991 by Michael English, but the Pentatonix released a version of the song this holiday season. And it's one of the top holiday tracks of the year, garnering over 24 million views on YouTube.

Sure, there are current popular artists who record original holiday songs ... Ariana Grande's "Santa Tell Me" was released on her Christmas EP this year:

But for the most part, artists like Sam Smith are recording and releasing songs that were written decades ago:

Judy Garland first recorded "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in 1944 for the musical "Meet Me in St. Louis":

Why keep rehashing the same old material? Sure, there’s the holiday spirit, but consumers are willing to spend on new versions of old songs by their favorite artists, says David Bakula of Nielsen Entertainment, which tracks music sales and streams.

Plus there’s demand from stores and radio stations that often play Christmas music 24/7 during the Christmas season.

But Pinky Gonzales, an entertainment and digital media strategist, says Christmas albums don’t sell as well as their full studio, non-holiday counterparts, and new songs rarely get the same airplay year after year like the classics do. Not every holiday song can perform like Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas."

And maybe that's for the best.

Google knows what's under the Christmas tree

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:00

If you are still searching for the perfect Christmas gift, you may as well give up and just get the most popular one. The New York Times published the top-trending gift searches on Google from cities around the country.

There are a few things on there that lots of people seem to be hunting for:

  • Toys from the movie Frozen
  • Legos
  • Cards against Humanity

And then there are some outliers. For example, in Dallas people want Ouija boards; in Austin, kinetic sand. And in San Francisco, people are looking for wireless chargers and smart watches. Of course they are.

View the complete list of gifts here.

Thirty years later, Cabbage Patch Kids are still a favorite

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 10:53

Each year, there’s that one big toy that causes parents to schlep from store to store, stand in long lines, and sometimes, break into fistfights.

Usually, the toy comes and goes.

But there’s something different about the Cabbage Patch Kid, which is still drawing fans decades after its release.  

“Everybody had them,” says Shannon Burress-Buynak, who first got her doll in 1984 (disclosure: she’s also my sister). “And that was the talk. Whether you were a boy or you were a girl, you had to have a Cabbage Patch Kid, and it had to look like you.”

The family story goes our dad finally found a last few Cabbage Patch Kids just before Christmas. In what sounds like a sketchy, back-room deal, he paid “some guy” a 300 percent premium for the dolls, named Carolina Jacobina (my sister’s), and Wiley Ervin (mine).

Fast forward 30 years, and Mother Cabbage Patch is still pushing out little boy and girl dolls at Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia.  Picture a green cabbage patch the size of an amusement park carousel with a nurse stationed in its middle, pulling out naked, newborn dolls.

Babyland General is a 70,000 sq ft. replica of an antebellum mansion nestled in the North Georgia Mountains, about 90 miles from Atlanta. It’s part-museum, part-endless retail store. And it’s a far cry from the humble beginnings where Xavier Roberts first created “Little People” in the late ‘70s.

By 1982, the name changed to Cabbage Patch Kids, says Margaret McClain, director of corporate communications at Babyland General. And for the next few years, they were the standard by which toys were judged.

“The demand was not expected,” McClain says of the early-80's hype. “Sometimes you just don’t anticipate what was going to happen.”

Unlike most popular toys, sales remained strong for decades. In 2010, Time Magazine named the Cabbage Patch to its Top-10 Toy Crazes of all time. Now, a new generation of parents is introducing their children to the phenomenon.

“I was [4 years old], and I was very excited,” says Emily Horas. “It had blond hair and blue eyes, like me.”

She’s brought her son Cody to Babyland to adopt his first doll, Alissa Marie.

So what is it about the Cabbage Patch that still resonates with kids?

“It’s kind of a classic baby doll. Except it’s not. It’s different,” says Chris Bensch, Chief Curator for the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. The museum is also home to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Bensch says the Cabbage Patch Doll’s adoption papers, custom hair and eye colors, and unusual names distinguish it. So much so, the Cabbage Patch was a finalist for inclusion to the hall of fame in 2010.

It didn’t win.  

“I have every confidence that Cabbage Patch Kids will eventually get in,” Bensch says. “It just wasn’t their year in 2010.”

What won that year? The Game of Life and playing cards.

But at least the dolls didn’t compete in 2005, the year the inimitable cardboard box won.

Zola appointed Cagliari head coach

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 10:50
Gianfranco Zola, the former West Ham and Watford manager, is appointed head coach of Serie A side Cagliari.

VIDEO: Cash grab as millions spill on to road

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 10:01
Shoppers and motorists in Hong Kong tried to grab notes which spilled from a cash van on to the busy Gloucester Road near the city's financial district.

Suspension in SA 'renditions' case

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 09:39
A top South African policeman is suspended over allegations that he was involved in the illegal rendition of Zimbabweans.

Would You Like Health Insurance With Those Stocking Stuffers?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 09:35

While shoppers rush to the mall to pick up the last neckties and Transformers for Christmas, health officials are trying to pitch them on an unconventional gift this holiday season: health insurance.

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U.S. Strikes Have Killed 1,100 ISIS Fighters and Cost $1 Billion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 09:27

Spending exceeds $8 million per day. Operation Inherent Resolve, as the U.S.-led operation against the Islamic State is known, is getting its own inspector general to oversee government costs.

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Newry man claims £1.7m lottery prize

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 09:20
A farm shop owner from Newry, County Down, is celebrating after claiming more than £1.7m with a winning ticket on the National Lottery.

Prince plays Christmas Eve football

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 09:01
Prince Harry shows off his football skills in a festive match for workers at the Queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

China's Fierce Anti-Corruption Crackdown: An Insider's View

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 08:51

China's president has pushed hard to combat corruption. But he's meeting resistance from some bureaucrats who say their incomes have fallen because bribes are less common.

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E-cigarettes sold in prison shops

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 08:44
Prisoners are being allowed to smoke e-cigarettes as part of a pilot scheme that could lead to a smoking ban in jails.

Police attacked during town trouble

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 08:38
Four people are arrested in Newcastle, County Down, after police are attacked during sporadic fighting, with kit including CS spray being lost and stolen.

Italy steps in to save steel plant

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 08:28
The Italian government intervenes in the management of the Ilva steel plant, in an attempt to reform the beleaguered business.