National / International News

House of Cards showrunner talks secrets, money and art

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 03:00

A lot of secrecy goes into the making of House of Cards. The Netflix Original Series tells the story of Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Specy), a South Carolina Democrat and House majority whip turned President, caught up in power and politics in Washington.

The show premiered in February 2013 to wide critical acclaim. The online show became the first of its kind to receive Emmy awards, and attracted new subscribers to Netflix. House of Cards became part of the model of success for subscription-based streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Other series followed, and original streaming content changed the market for television, upending traditional weekly broadcasts and inspiring binge watching trends.

House of Cards' third season is set to premiere on February 27, 2015 — only one small hiccup got in the way...a 30 minute leak of the entire season. Netflix quickly pulled the leaked version of the show, but not before some users were able to load the entire first episode, and see short descriptions of the rest of the season.

I don’t mean to alarm you… BUT SERIES THREE OF HOUSE OF CARDS IS NOW ON NETFLIX FOR SOME REASON. pic.twitter.com/DoQKBK4d9X

— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) February 11, 2015  

But if he was concerned about the leak, Beau Willimon, creator and showrunner of House of Cards, isn't saying so. The writer, executive producer, and creator himself says that the leak was almost like a teaser.

Click the media player above to hear Beau Willimon in conversation with Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O'Leary.

"I take great pains to make sure that I don't reveal anything about an upcoming season, and that sort of undid some of the work," he said, "but I don't think there was a lot of harm done, and in fact, more than anything, it showed us how excited people were about season three...I wish we could take credit for it."

This is Washington. There's always a leak. All 13 episodes will launch February 27.

— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) February 11, 2015

Protecting the secrets surrounding a television show is an increasingly difficult task at a time when a small technical glitch can launch material to the front page of the most popular streaming site in the world. Still, shows guard scripts, conceal episode information to people auditioning, and keep filming locations quiet, preserving plot information until the moment of release.

But secrecy is complicated for streaming shows. House of Cards releases all of its episodes at once, so eager viewers could, if they wanted to, sit for hours in front of all 13 of them. And some do. According to a report from the networking company Procera, 2 percent of Netflix subscribers binge-watched season two in one weekend. Once the season launches, the internet becomes a breeding ground for spoilers, and viewers are on their own when it comes to protecting show secrets.

"We don't want to spoil anything for anyone," Willimon says, "but when you release a show in its entirety in one day, within hours you have the potential for a smorgasbord of spoilers, and there's nothing we can do to control that, but what we can control is prior to that launch, not giving too much away."

Still, Willimon says he's not writing for a binge-watching audience, and that when it comes to writing and producing the show, the mode of delivery doesn't matter much to him. "I don't really pay much attention or think much about that stuff too much," he said, "my goal is only to tell the best story possible and if it brings in subscribers, great. I think that's a tension that really anyone working in television faces, no matter what type of network they're writing for."

Selling ads on network and cable TV is fairly clear cut — it's easier to tell when a show is doing well and when it's floundering than it is when viewers enter through a streaming portal like Netflix. Netflix is secretive about its users and how and what they consume on the site. In the two months after House of Cards first premiered on the site in 2013, Netflix reported 3 million new users. But because Netflix doesn't share what its subscribers are watching. 

"I think that the metric for success have been changing in television," Willimon said, "it's not necessarily just the objective number, how many people watched. For a lot of places, it's about creating a brand, it's about offering something to certain niches within your subscribership that they're not getting anywhere else. When it used to be just about how much you could sell your ad time for, then that number really mattered." 

Willimon says that not even he knows how many people tune in to House of Cards, and can't comment on rumored information about production costs for the show, which some reports say start at $4.5 million per episode.

"You'd have to ask Netflix that," he said, "but if I were to speculate, I would say, what incentive do they have? What is the advantage of telling people how many folks are watching your show, or the shows that you're producing. It gives information to your competitors that you don't necessarily need them to have and since you're not selling advertising, it doesn't play into any meaningful equation in terms of how much revenue you're going to get."  

Transparency clearly isn't necessary for success, in the Netflix business model or in Underwood's Washington D.C., where secrets and manipulations are a crucial part of power. 

"In terms of secrecy as a theme, or a subject, I think it's a fascinating one," Willimon said, "and that really comes down to information as a form of power. Those that have information have a certain power over those that don't. In the fog of war, that person or entity that can look farthest into the fog has an advantage."

Withholding information, for Netflix and for Willimon's fictional politicians, has helped pave the way to success. "When you're writing a show about power, that's one of the tactics for maintaining or acquiring it," Willimon said, "to have more information than the next person, and to be secretive about the information that you have."

That being said, Willimon isn't giving much away about what's ahead in season three. "What happens when you've achieved the highest office in the land?" he asked, "Many presidents have had to contend with that very question: Is the only way to go down? Do you have to fight to maintain your place on the summit? These are precisely the questions that we want the audience to be asking as they click into season three."

 

PODCAST: Let's focus, pilots

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 03:00

First up, we'll talk about the news that last month consumer prices fell the most since the beginning of the Great Recession. More on that. Plus, we'll talk about an unusual fiscal tradition in India -- Today, the government has released a budget specifically for the railroads. And we'll talk about a memo to pilots of United Airlines that says, in a nutshell, "Let's focus, people."

Pickles names new Rotherham leaders

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:59
Five government commissioners are selected to intervene at Rotherham Council after a report found the local authority "not fit for purpose" over its handling of child sexual exploitation in the town.

Horne starts at fly-half for Scots

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:56
Peter Horne will replace the banned Finn Russell at fly-half as Scotland make four changes to face Italy.

China 'drops US technology firms'

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:54
Cisco, Apple, McAfee and Citrix have all been dropped from China's official list of approved products, according to the Reuters news agency.

'No conclusions' on Savile in schools

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:46
A lack of evidence means there are no conclusions from investigations into possible abuse during school visits by Jimmy Savile.

ISIS Man Who Beheaded Prisoners Identified As London Man By BBC

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:43

British security services have been aware of the man's identity, the BBC says, adding that "They chose not to disclose his name earlier for operational reasons."

» E-Mail This

Paris drone journalist to face court

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:35
An Al-Jazeera journalist is to appear in a French court accused of flying a drone illegally over Paris as mystery continues over night-time drone flights.

RBS – the amazing shrinking bank

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:33
Ross McEwan is running a bank that in many respects is on the road to recovery.

Review into Lynette corruption trial

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:31
A QC-led review will be held into the collapse of a police corruption trial which followed the wrongful conviction of three men for the murder of a Cardiff prostitute.

'No End In Sight' For Sept. 11 Proceedings At Guantanamo Bay

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:24

Endless preliminary motions, official shenanigans and a lack of legal precedent have mired the recently created war court in fitful proceedings. It could be years before the case ever goes to trial.

» E-Mail This

'No End In Sight' For Sept. 11 Proceedings At Guantanamo Bay

NPR News - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:24

Endless preliminary motions, official shenanigans and a lack of legal precedent have mired the recently created war court in fitful proceedings. It could be years before the case ever goes to trial.

» E-Mail This

Sri Lanka thrash wasteful Bangladesh

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:16
Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara score hundreds as Sri Lanka beat Bangladesh by 92 runs in their World Cup game in Melbourne.

A big win for net neutrality

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:00

Update: The FCC voted to re-classify broadband under Title 2 of the 1934 Communications Act.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on new so-called Open Internet Rules. If the vote passes, the new rules will classify internet service providers—both broadband and wireless—as common carriers under what's called Title II.

What this means in english is that the FCC will be able to regulate internet companies, making sure they deliver all data from the web to the user at equal speeds. This would be a big win for net neutrality advocates. The most famous of them being Columbia University Law professor Tim Wu, the guy who coined the phrase in the first place. So what does he think about all of this?

Click the media player above to hear more.

As easy as scanning a fingerprint

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:00

We're taking one of our regular opportunities to go back to Back to the Future Part II. The 1989 movie predicted a number of technological advances that would be around in 2015. And now that the real 2015 is here, we are exploring whether or not some of that predicted tech has arrived.

Today, we take a look at biometrics, as in using retinas and fingerprints for identification or passwords. In Back to the Future’s vision of 2015, fingerprint scanners are all over the place. The technology is used to identify people, collect payments, and open locked doors.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Chief Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, says we shouldn’t assume that life will fully imitate art.

“Frankly I don’t think we’ll ever be there and we shouldn’t be there. The problem with these kinds of things, in terms of allowing you access to your home, is that your fingerprint is not secret. If someone were able to produce a fake finger or cut your finger off, they may be able to gain access to your house. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t change your fingerprints easily," he says.

So you’re saying as a security technology it’s not all that useful?

It’s very usable. The trick is that it’s really best as an addition onto some other thing, be it a passcode on a mobile platform, or a token you may have, like a security key fob or something like that. There are systems that use harder to spoof biometrics like vein patterns in your hand. That’s extremely hard to reproduce, very detailed and highly identifying.

Are there privacy issues that come up as we use our biology to identify us and to give us access?

Holding your biometric data can be a privacy problem. If it leaks out, then someone who needs to reconstruct your fingerprint or your facial pattern can do that, but luckily most companies do a very similar thing to how we work with passwords. You don’t store password as you type them. The iPhone, forr example doesn't store your fingerprint. It stores some abstraction of your fingerprint that’s very hard to back out into your actual fingerprint. So if someone were to get into your phone they couldn't actually steal your fingerprint.

We have talked about other technologies in the movie, like fax machines, that seemed futuristic at the time, but now sort of belong in the past. Would you put fingerprint scanners in that category?

No. I think that was pretty prescient. They identified something we would be using right around the time when they went “back to the future” the second time. I do think they were overzealous in how ubiquitous fingerprint scanning would be. We are a little more careful with how we use these things.

Is there a piece of technology from Back to the Future Part II that you want us to highlight? Send your ideas to delorianhistorians@gmail.com

 

Looking for signs of life at Sears

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:00

On Thursday, Sears reported a revenue loss of 23.5 percent in the last quarter, with U.S. sales down 4.4 percent.

One bright spot for the parent company of Sears and Kmart is its real estate. Sears has proposed creating a real estate investment trust that would buy hundreds of its stores, and then lease them back to the company. That would give Sears a cushion of cash.

“It doesn’t seem like there is going to be a ninety-degree turn on a dime for the fortunes of this company,” says David Tawil with the hedge fund Maglan Capital. “It’s going to need to buy more time by having additional liquidity.”

Click the media player above to hear more.

Pebble's grand return to Kickstarter

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:00

Pebble has put its new, color smartwatch called "Time" up for a funding round on Kickstarter. Three years ago, the launch of its original smartwatch broke records. This time, Pebble's return to the crowd-funding site could have more to do with the marketing than the money.

Click the media player above to hear more.

A potential big win for net neutrality

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:00

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on new so-called Open Internet Rules. If the vote passes, the new rules will classify internet service providers—both broadband and wireless—as common carriers under what's called Title II.

What this means in english is that the FCC will be able to regulate internet companies, making sure they deliver all data from the web to the user at equal speeds. This would be a big win for net neutrality advocates. The most famous of them being Columbia University Law professor Tim Wu, the guy who coined the phrase in the first place. So what does he think about all of this?

Click the media player above to hear more.

The Global Economy at work

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-02-26 02:00

In today’s global economy, almost everything is connected in one circuitous way or another. So here’s a riddle: What connects the following things?

  • a $500 dollar pair of sunglasses for sale at a boutique in China
  • an economic slump in Croatia
  • a pair of white inspection gloves in Berlin

 The short answer to the riddle: A woman named Nadja Tobias. Let me explain.

Tobias works at factory in Berlin, in the Quality Control Department. She controls the quality of high-end eye glasses frames, produced by a company called Mykita. Motto: "Hand Made in Berlin."

When Tobias runs her own hands along the frames and stems of the hundreds of glasses produced in this factory every day, feeling for imperfections, she wears a pair of white inspection gloves.

“So I don't leave finger prints,” she explained when I visited the factory recently. She raised a gloved finger and slid it along the stem of a pair of glasses the color of chocolate chips. “For example—here,” she said, pointing to a spot.

I tried to find it with my own finger. I couldn’t.

Tobias reassured me. Over time, she said, “You develop kind of like a micro way of looking at these small objects.”

And that micro way of looking at things—that attention to detail and quality—is part of why Tobias’s employer, Mykita, can charger $500 for a pair of sunglasses.

“That's what makes a Mykita frame a Mykita frame. Why it's worth the extra cost,” explained Chris Leicht, Mykita’s Head of Global Sales.

Of course, until recently, you couldn't sell a pair of $500 sunglasses just anywhere. These days though, Leicht has customers in countries all over the world who can pay that much. Even, say, a boutique in China. Leicht attributed that fact to the country's rising middle class.

“There is growing opportunities for us that made it possible in China for us now to be present,” Leicht said.

So that’s how the white inspection gloves in Berlin connect to the $500 pair of sunglasses in China. What about the final piece of the riddle: the economic slump in Croatia?

That brings us back to Nadja Tobias, the white gloved glasses factory worker. Tobias is originally from Croatia. She lived there until a few years ago, when she was finishing a Masters in Literature and Croatian Language. “And then,” she said. “I couldn't find a job.”

In Croatia, Tobias spent a lot of time beating herself up about being unemployed. It influenced her “everyday existential life,” she said. “I and a lot of my friend had this problem, thinking, ‘I could do more! I could work more!' And you start to blame yourself that maybe you're not doing enough.”

Like many well-educated young people in the economically depressed parts of Europe, eventually she decided to move to Germany, where she heard the economy was doing much better. “I just totally changed my life. I came with one suitcase and I said, ‘OK. Let’s do this now.’”

And it worked. Tobias found a job; first as a bar tender, then at the Mykita glasses factory. 

Once she was in Germany and employed, she saw her existential problems differently. “When I came here, I realized it's not a problem in me,” Tobias said. “I realized I can do a lot. It’s not just about you; it’s about society and how society is built.” In other words, it’s about where you happen to find yourself in the global economy.

'Jihadi John' named as London man

BBC - Thu, 2015-02-26 01:59
The Islamic State militant known as "Jihadi John", who has been pictured in videos of the beheadings of Western hostages, is named as Mohammed Emwazi from London.

Pages