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Public health officials: we're prepared for Ebola

1 hour 21 min ago

Federal health authorities are working hard to reassure the public they’re ready to contain the Ebola virus, after announcing the first confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S.—a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas. 

Health workers are now trying to find people the infected man may have come in contact with. Those contacts will be monitored for 21 days.

“You’ve having to monitor all of those folks this person has been in contact with. And then that may expand to, you know, if one of those people is sick then you expand to trace all of their contacts,” says Jeanne Ringel, director of the population health program at RAND Corporation.

All that monitoring takes a lot of people and resources. Federal health officials tried to get a head start.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent checklists to hospitals with advice on containing the disease, and protecting staff. The U.S. started beefing up bioterrorism preparedness years ago, after the anthrax attacks in 2001. 

Now, health officials say, all of that prep work is paying off.

“Our health system today is in much better shape than it was five or ten years ago to be able to identify and contain outbreaks like Ebola even though that’s not exactly what we’re planning for,” says Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief of the division of emergency preparedness at Mass General Hospital. 

Dr. Biddinger says he’s not surprised that an Ebola case showed up in the U.S. He’s been preparing for it for months. 

 

 

 

 

PODCAST: Taking attendance to get funding

5 hours 21 min ago

First up, federal health authorities are working to reassure the public they're ready to contain the Ebola virus, after the announcement the first patient in the U.S. was diagnosed with Ebola- a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas.  More on how prepared the U.S. is for this and other infectious diseases. Plus, students in suburban Denver were threatening to walk out of school today in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons--a proposal to de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum. The choice of day by the students may be strategic: today's the day some parts of Colorado count heads in classrooms that will determine future school funding. And Ford Motor Company warned about its future profits yesterday, a reminder that recall problems have not just been a General Motors issue. Ford stock fell more than 2 percent. For a long time, Ford owned Jaguar of Britain, but sold it at the height of the financial crisis. Under new management, Jaguar is showing new signs of life. But until now, Jag's been missing something. 

Counting students in order to count up funding

6 hours 21 min ago

Students in suburban Denver plan to walk out of school on Wednesday in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons is to protest a proposal that would, among other things, de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum.  

If the students wanted to make a point, they couldn’t have picked a more significant day to do it. That’s because every year on October 1, Colorado schools count up the students who show up in order to figure out how much state funding each school district will get.  

One school principal went on Facebook to ask students to show up to class on so-called “count day,” because anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 in per-pupil funding from Colorado state is on the line. 

“In the past, school districts have done everything they can to get kids to attend” on count day, says Michael Smith with the Denver-based national group Education Commission on the States. “So, they’ll have pizza for free, or they’ll have activities. They will send out notices to families.” 

Nationwide, about half of school district budgets come from state funding. But only a minority of states use a single count day. It’s attractive because it’s less paperwork. But Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards says her members want a different method. 

“Years ago, we had two count days," she says. "So, it’s been an issue whether this is the best way. We know we need to make better policy on that” Urschel says. 

Among other options is to count up the average number of students in school during the whole year, which is the most popular option among states. 

The discount that links big tobacco to the military

6 hours 21 min ago

Before he retired from the Navy Dental Corps, Dr. Larry Williams used to help sailors quit using tobacco. One reason he says they start smoking, chewing or dipping is peer pressure.

"The imagery, the socialization, the context of being able to be with people your own age and talk about things" is key, he says. But tobacco use trumps rank, and users can end up crowded together, forced to forget protocol for the tiniest of whiles.

"It’s the one opportunity you have," Williams says, "in the smoke deck, or the smoking area, that you can go as an E3 and stand next to an E6 and talk to them and learn things that other people might not be able to pick up."

Members of the military use tobacco more than civilians. Depending on the division and age groups you look within, Williams says, usage rates can be as high as 32 percent. In the military, tobacco can be hard to avoid. Take one of Williams' colleagues, a sailor working in a medical clinic, who alerted Williams that he was about to start smoking.

“I looked over at him and said, 'why?' And he said, 'Well, everybody else in the office smokes, and when the senior chief goes outside to smoke, they all go with him and they leave me behind to take care of all the work in the office.'”

Williams was raised on a tobacco farm. It was the experience of seeing relatives die from tobacco-related illnesses, like emphysema, lung disease and cancer, that steered him to his eventual career, he says. He's now a consultant to the National Development and Research Institute looking at the effectiveness of tobacco policy and cessation programs in the military.

Tobacco use, notes Williams, harms the health and readiness of troops and costs taxpayers billions.

“If you’re a smoker, your hospital stays are 20 percent longer," he says. "You have a double risk of postoperative infection from any surgery that you have.”

The defense department spends $1.6 billion a year on tobacco-related expenses, like treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A discounted risk

Despite the numbers, members of the military get discounts on all kinds of products at military base stores, including tobacco—which the military sells a lot of. In the last year numbers were available, the Army and Air Force sold just under $400 million worth.

A new provision in next year’s spending bill for the Defense Department would eliminate that discount.

Williams says he also wants the discount ended. However, he says, doing so could be difficult.

“The profits from tobacco sales on the base—those are used by MWR—morale, welfare and recreation. It helps pay for the day care centers. It helps pay for the gymnasiums, for the clubs,” he says. So "any sale of tobacco is sort of a benefit. And that’s one of the things we need to remove—is any association between profits from items that cause health issues should be removed and that money come from another source."  

The military has been struggling for years with how to address tobacco, but it keeps getting caught up in politics, says Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association. Sward calls the problem the "iron triangle."

"When the military has tried to do something," she says, "Congress has stopped them because of tobacco industry’s lobby and pressure."

"There’s a law that prohibits the Veteran’s Administration from making its hospitals tobacco-free," she says. "There's a constant back-and-forth between the tobacco industry and Capitol Hill."

Sen. Richard Durbin, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, included a provision in next year’s Defense Department spending bill that would end the military’s discount on tobacco products. He notes that, according to DOD policy, tobacco may only be discounted 5 percent.

But via an emailed statement he said, "In practice, these discounts are much greater. A study comparing cigarette prices at 145 military retail stores and their nearest Walmart found that the average discount on Marlboro Red brand cigarettes was 25.4 percent."

Will removing discounts change habits?

When tobacco is cheap, people buy more.

"We know that one of the greatest ways to reduce tobacco use across the board," says Sward, "is to increase the price. But when the military is subsidizing the cost of tobacco use, or undercutting local prices, as a result it means that cheaper tobacco products are more available and more people are likely to use them among military personnel."

An amendment to the spending bill, introduced by California Rep. Duncan Hunter, would prevent restrictions on sales of any products currently in stock at base stores, including tobacco.

Hunter declined an interview request, as did all but a few of the 53 of the 62-member Armed Services Committee who voted in favor of the amendment, effectively opting to continue the discount on tobacco. 

Southern Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo, who served for eight years in the Marine Corps Reserves, and a member of the Armed Services Committee, cast his vote with the majority.

“What’s next? Are they going to not allow you to eat a cheeseburger?" he questioned. "Hey, caffeine is bad for you so no more coffee? No more Krispy Kreme doughnuts? You’re talking about a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corp that just got through two weeks of hellacious fighting—seeing his buddies basically blown to pieces in front of him in Fallujah and he wants to come back to the fort operating base and have a cigarette?"

Palazzo says he knows ending the discount isn't the same as removing tobacco products from base stores altogether, but he says doing away with the discount would represent "a slippery slope."

Besides, he says, why single out one product? Especially given the kind of work that soldiers do.

"The availability of tobacco products in a combat zone is not the threat. The threat is the bullets coming from the enemy," he says. "But you know, we’re not going to ban war, so why would we ban tobacco products for our military?"

A question Senate isn't currently facing. However, the issue of the military’s discount on tobacco products is expected to come before legislators this fall.

Which month is National Month Month?

6 hours 21 min ago

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's also National Physical Therapy Month, National Pharmacists Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and more than a dozen others. Other months of the year are similarly crowded. One online calendar lists more than 30 “months” for May alone. 

How do all these months get scheduled?

It may have escaped your notice that October was Lupus Awareness Month. That’s “was,” past tense.

Lupus Month is now in May, but in 1994, when Duane Peters started working for the Lupus Foundation of America, it was October.

"We noticed that over the years, the month became very crowded," says Peters, who is now the organization's senior communications director.

He won’t say breast cancer was the only big competitor, but, that disease did lock up a lot of corporate support, which created awkward conversations.

"Certainly it would behoove us," he says, "not to put a company in that position where they say, 'Gee whiz, we already do something for breast cancer. We like Lupus, we want to support it, but...'" 

In 2003, the Lupus Foundation started looking seriously at May. It took years; first to decide, then to switch.

Other months are more straightforward. I asked Pam Paladin, who runs marketing for the American Association of Orthodontists, why October was National Orthodontic Health Month.

"As it turns out, the week following Halloween is generally the busiest week for orthodontists for emergency appointments," she says.

Caramel apples— not so kind to braces. Be aware.

But what about all those commemorative days?

Sure, you'll spend all of October being aware of all sorts of stuff, but if you're wishing there was more to commemorate in a more arbitrary way, the month is full many obscure holidays. In fact, you could spend every single day in October celebrating something. Some of these days are more official than others, but no matter. We assembled the list with some help from Marketplace's professional datebook-er Michelle Philippe, who also reminded us that October is American Cheese Month.

October 1 - World Vegetarian Day and National Fire Pup Day

October 9Leif Erikson Day

October 13 - National Kick Butt Day. Not to be confused with the anti-smoking Kick Butts day. Also happens to be Columbus Day.

October 16 - Take your Parents to Lunch Day and National Feral Cat Day

October 24 - National Food Day, kind of a catch-all. Not to be confused with...

October 25 - National Greasy Food Day

October 31 - National Breadstix Day. There's conflicting information on this one, but you should probably give your trick-or-treaters bread anyway.

 

 

Discovering hidden languages in centuries-old writing

6 hours 21 min ago

If you were around during the 80s, you probably remember the Indiana Jones movies—The swashbuckling archaeologist traveled the world digging up ancient treasures.

If you were to go looking for a real-life, present-day Indiana Jones, you might get someone like Michael Toth. He and his teams travel around the world using modern technology—lasers, high-tech cameras—to unearth treasure. It's centuries-old writing that appears in very faint form on manuscripts called palimpsests. Along the way they've discovered everything from lost languages to some very mysterious fingerprints. 

You’re not discovering ancient manuscripts; you’re working to read what’s buried in them. Tell me a little about the work you do?

We work on a range of manuscripts—the earliest copy of Archimedes work, David Livingston’s diaries, and we use spectral imaging to reveal that text which is not seen by the naked eye.

Why isn’t that text visible? We’re talking about two different layers of writing here, right?

That is correct. It’s usually on parchment. And they’re written initially with an ink made out of the galls of oak trees and that’s been scraped off and overwritten. And in doing so, it’s preserved that text underneath it.

And the process you use is something called spectral imaging. Tell me about that and what kind of technology is involved in that.

So we shine lights on the object to bring out that ink which responds best to, say, the Ultra Violet in the case of iron gall, or a modern carbon black ink in the infrared.

You and I met in the Sinai Desert, when you were working at Saint Catherine’s Monastery to look at some of the ancient manuscripts that have been held in the library there for over 1000 years. Tell me a little about the work you’ve done at Saint Catherine’s and some of the things you found.

Some are historical texts. Some are medical or mathematical texts. We’re still assessing what is underneath this rich trove and, ultimately, are going to make this available to the world.

Do you have a favorite moment of discovery?

Oh yes. The work on Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Gettysburg Address. And as we were imaging it, at the bottom, on a blank part of the paper, the Ultra Violet light came on and there’s gemlike glow at the bottom. And we said, “Hey, we’ve gotta look at this,” and we saw a thumbprint. And then on the back three fingerprints. As if someone was holding that paper, which is folded in third, as if it’s in a coat pocket, had held it up to read.

And is it Abraham Lincoln’s fingerprints?

We don’t know. We know there’s enough of the whorls and loops to be able to assess the fingerprint. But of course there was no FBI fingerprint lab, much less West Virginia back then. So they are working with various forensics experts to try to assess that compared to other documents.

There is going to be a 'Tetris' movie

Tue, 2014-09-30 15:36

This is about a movie that is, as they say, coming soon to a theater near you.

If that music doesn't provoke a Pavlovian response that sends you running for your old Game Boy, let us get to the point: There will be a Tetris movie.

The head of the company making the movie, Threshold Entertainment, also made the "Mortal Kombat" series.

But in case you're wondering how a game that's all about bricks will translate to the big screen, Henk Rogers, managing director of The Tetris Company, says: "There's much more to Tetris than simply clearing lines." The Tetris Company owns the rights to the game that debuted three decades ago.

"We have a story behind Tetris," Threshold's Larry Kasanoff promises, adding it'll be "a very big, epic sci-fi movie."

About bricks.

Your phone knows where you are. So do marketers

Tue, 2014-09-30 13:26

People who buy used trucks rarely go to toy stores. Customers of KFC also frequent Home Depot, Nissan dealerships and museums. Latinos are 43 percent less likely to shop at Whole Foods than the average person.

These are conclusions made by the consumer behavior analytics company PlaceIQ, derived from tracking people on their smartphones.

Over the years, companies have developed surveys to gather data on people inside their homes — things like demographics, income and automobile ownership. But the outside world has remained largely a black box. Now, smartphones allow companies like PlaceIQ to not only uncover what people do in the real world, but also connect it back to traditional data gathered from homes.

PlaceIQ CEO Duncan McCall says: “We use location as foundation to essentially hang data from.”

In other words, location becomes the glue holding together a rich digital profile.

To better track mobile users, PlaceIQ has built a new map of America. The company has broken down the country into 100-meter-by-100-meter tiles. Inside each one, PlaceIQ notes where mobile users go and what they do. “We can see their journey across our map of the world,” McCall says, “and now we can build very rich behavioral profiles.”

The company can tell who shops at Wal-Mart frequently, who travels for business, who likes fine dining or who works a particular job. Since PlaceIQ can see where mobile users live, it can tie this real-world behavior to traditionally gathered info like demographics, income and even TV-viewing habits. McCall says linking all this data lets companies see relationships. They can connect information — PlaceIQ gets TV data from the company Rentrack — with their physical behaviors in the world. That means companies can start to predict what people will do based on something like what they watch. And that is a powerful tool for advertisers. 

So, in case you're wondering, does PlaceIQ know exactly who you are? No, McCall says. The data is currently anonymous, and furthermore, McCall says he doesn't even want to know your identity. That would raise privacy concerns, and, well, it's not the point. With a rich digital profile, PlaceIQ doesn't need to know who you are in order to predict what you'll do and help companies sell you things.

Sanjog Misra is a professor of marketing at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He says digital data “is going to change the way we market our products.” It will alter things like how companies develop products and display them in stores. Companies can now send personalized ads to individual users at an exact time and place. For instance, Misra says companies may advertise to customers when they are entering a supermarket but not while they are sitting at home.

Advertisers have been dreaming of individually tailored, one-to-one marketing for years. The ability to know exactly where you are is even better than they hoped.  

But according to Jeffery Chester, “It has a very, very dark side.” Chester is with the Center for Digital Democracy. He says collecting all this data is an invasion of privacy.  And there's another problem, he says — one that is less obvious and even more alarming: discrimination.

Chester says this kind of hyperlocal behavioral analysis allows for a new form of redlining. Chester says customers won't be treated differently because of where they live, but instead because of their digital data. Chester says digital data is already being used to determine how we are treated — whether we get perks like coupon codes and free shipping, or if we have to pay full price. In the future, who knows what it will impact, he says — maybe credit card rates and loan accessibility.

Chester wonders if this is the future we would like to have. “Do we want to live in a society where every movement we make, every decision we embrace is collected and analyzed and decisions are made about it?”

Well, we do give apps the right to track us. We can stop them by turning off the location services feature on our phones. But without it, some apps won't work.  

Duncan McCall from PlaceIQ says it's foolish to try to hide from tech. He says we cannot avoid the potential threats of innovation by “trying to play whack-a-mole with technology, because you'll always lose that, because it will always evolve.”  

McCall and Chester do agree on one thing: The only way to prevent discrimination and control our privacy is through regulation.

Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Tue, 2014-09-30 12:30

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 in to 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 to 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 says. "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, re-hirings, behind-the-scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being canceled. 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.

Even the mighty Netflix is still buying credibility, especially as it changes strategy. The service brought back three canceled shows this year, and Netflix is set to release its first original feature film — a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" — the same day it's released in IMAX theaters.

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 of ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the antihero, 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 critics said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which debuted over the weekend to rapturous reviews.

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.

Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Tue, 2014-09-30 12:30

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 to 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 says. "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, re-hirings, behind-the-scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being canceled. 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.

Even the mighty Netflix is still buying credibility, especially as it changes strategy. The service brought back three canceled shows this year, and Netflix is set to release its first original feature film — a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" — the same day it's released in IMAX theaters.

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 of ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the antihero, 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 critics said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which debuted over the weekend to rapturous reviews.

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.

Excerpt: 'Law of the Jungle'

Tue, 2014-09-30 12:03

Deep in the jungle of Ecuador, after a steep climb over the Andes and into the rainforest, oil executives struck gold. Well, more oil anyway. This was back in the 1960s. Texaco was drilling wells in Colombia and had reason to believe there was plenty more petroleum to the South. The boom that followed brought airports, roads, jobs and a middle class that hadn't really existed before in Ecuador.

But the oil company — Texaco then, now a part of Chevron — did everything fast and cheap.

Waste was dumped straight into unlined oil pits. Water used in oil production was left untreated on the surface of rivers. Although the Ecuadorian government noticed, no officials came from Quito to supervise.

The long-term damage to the community prompted an environmental lawsuit that lasted more than two decades. In the process, the pursuit of justice turned an initially well-intentioned lawyer named Steven Donziger into a green celebrity, and later, a Machiavellian figure.

Paul Barrett has documented the bad behavior all the way around, and wrote about it in his new book, "The Law of the Jungle." 

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Chapter One

SURVEILLANCE

The lawyer Steven Donziger stepped out onto 104th Street. He looked west toward Riverside Park and east toward Broadway. The dark sedans had been tailing him for at least a month now. They followed him for blocks at a time, slowing when he slowed, stop­ping when he stopped, their passengers watching his every move.

Donziger lived on a quiet block on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He worked from home, a two-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife, their five-year-old son, and a cocker spaniel. Photographs and artwork from Latin America adorned the apart­ment. Documents in cardboard boxes surrounded the dining table. In the narrow foyer, stacks of stapled legal filings competed for space with a mud-spattered mountain bike.

On this morning in the spring of 2012, Donziger had wheeled the bicycle down the hall to the elevator and across the marble-floored lobby. Fifty years old, he dressed like a graduate student, in jeans, unironed button-down shirt, and tattered jacket.

“Cómo estás?” he asked the doorman as they bumped fists.

“Bien, muy bien, señor.”

Then Donziger had emerged from the building and, as was his habit, searched for the dark sedans. Six-foot-four and powerfully built, he would not have been difficult to track. Sometimes, in ad­dition to the cars, he thought he saw men on foot, pretending to peer into store windows if he looked their way.

Donziger began pedaling toward Ocean Grill, a seafood res­taurant where he did business over lunch. As he approached the corner, he glanced over his shoulder in time to see the large car pull out of its parking space and fall in behind him. He didn’t fear actual physical harm. The company was too smart, he thought, to turn him into a martyr. It wanted to distract him, intimidate him.

He despised his corporate foes: their money, their influence, their cynical disrespect for his clients in the Amazonian rain for­est of northeastern Ecuador. The company would never willingly pay what it owed. Its lawyers and lobbyists had said as much. Now they were coming after him, making it personal. He’d written down license plate numbers, but the police weren’t interested. Every day people killed each other in New York. What did he expect the police to do about cars that might or might not have been following him?

The surveillance wasn’t his main worry. A year earlier, in Feb­ruary 2011, the company had sued him. The 193-page suit, filed under the federal antiracketeering statute, alleged that he had ginned up fraudulent evidence as part of a conspiracy to extort the company. A federal judge had taken the accusations seriously. The judge forced him to turn over his hard drives, e‑mail, and boxes of documents. Donziger had said some truly dumb things—he admit­ted that much—and now they were public. His bravado sounded in­criminating, he also acknowledged, especially if it was taken out of context. He’d cut a few corners, used tactics they didn’t teach back at Harvard Law School. He could lose his law license. Conceivably, the U.S. Attorney’s Office could bring criminal charges.

The company, as Donziger saw it, fought dirty; he fought back in kind. Slugging it out, he’d pulled off something amazing. His ragtag team had gone to a provincial Ecuadorian courtroom and won a judgment that mighty Texaco had ruined the lives of thousands of farmers and Amazon tribesmen. Because of him, a tiny third-world nation had spoken truth to power. Donziger had pressed the case for nearly twenty years now, beginning as the most junior member of the plaintiffs’ legal team and ultimately rising to field commander. Before going after Texaco (which was acquired in 2001 by Chevron), he’d never brought even a slip-and-fall suit. That he’d survived this long must have shocked the oil company and its lawyers. No wonder they were branding him a racketeer and prying into his personal life.

He was not alone, though. Impressed by the potential for gar­gantuan legal fees, Patton Boggs, a tough corporate law firm, had joined Donziger. Together, they were seeking liens against refin­eries, terminals, and tankers worldwide. He’d retained a famous white-collar defense attorney to represent him in the racketeering suit. The Amazon pollution case had been featured on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Bloom­berg Businessweek. In 2009, it was the subject of an acclaimed docu­mentary that played at the Sundance Film Festival. A rock star in green-activism circles, Donziger had received support from Bianca Jagger, Sting, and Sting’s wife, the actress Trudie Styler. He had given Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie a private tour of the oil zone in Ecuador.

“I cannot believe what we have accomplished,” Donziger had written in private notes several years earlier, during a flight to Ecuador. “I cannot wait to get off the plane and see my fellow soldiers—often the only people I feel who get me. I want to look in their eyes and see if they understand the enormity of what this team has accomplished.” He had gone toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful multinationals in the world and won the largest pollution verdict in history: $19 billion. That was billion with a “b,” real money by anyone’s standard. If he could survive the venge­ful countersuit and collect the judgment, the Ecuador case would, in Donziger’s expansive estimation, create a precedent benefitting “millions of persons victimized by human rights abuses commit­ted by multinational corporations pursuing economic gain.” And it would make him a very wealthy man.

Arriving at the Ocean Grill, he slowed his bicycle. The surveil­lance sedan—Wait, were there two of them?—kept cruising south. Donziger chained his bike to a no parking sign and shrugged off his backpack. The spy cars disappeared in traffic. He knew they would circle back. They always did.

Netflix grabs rights to 'Crouching Tiger' sequel

Tue, 2014-09-30 11:10

A new battle in the war for our eyeballs has just been scheduled for August 28, 2015. The Weinstein Company announced a deal to release the sequel to the hit art-house martial arts film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" simultaneously in Imax movie theaters and on Netflix. 

It's a shot across the bow of the major movie theater chains — Regal, AMC and Cinemark — who control most of the theaters in the United States and demand an exclusive, 90-day "window" before their films move to smaller screens on television or online.

"Anything that starts to erode or challenge the 90-day window could be disaster for them," says Sam Craig, director of the Entertainment, Media and Technology program at NYU. According to Craig, if just 10 percent of theatergoers stayed home, it would mean a loss of more than a billion dollars in ticket sales. 

"No one has approached us to license this made-for-video sequel in the U.S. or China, so one must assume the screens Imax committed are in science centers and aquariums," says an AMC Theatres statement.

Other movies have attempted to debut online and in theaters, but this deal is the first to include Netflix, and the first to include a film that could have just as easily debuted in theaters, according to BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield. "I think if movie studios see the success of what Netflix and Imax do, I think others will follow," says Greenfield.

If they do, theaters will only be able to differentiate on the basis of the theatergoing experience — something they've been attempting to do for years. Regal Cinemas ran trailers in which action films gradually shrank to a small rectangle in the middle of the big screen, while a narrator intoned: "If you want action this big you can’t have a screen this small."  But consumers with smartphones increasingly watch videos even on the smallest of screens, and hardware options have arguably made home viewing more theatrical. 

"The exhibitors are right: It is a different experience," Craig says. "But you get a lot of people that have 60-inch HD screens and surround sound, and maybe they would be just as happy watching it at home."

The 'blackout rule' is out because football is more popular than it used to be

Tue, 2014-09-30 10:53

In a unanimous five-to-zero vote, the Federal Communications Commission decided to eliminate the blackout rule. Since 1975, the regulation barred cable and satellite television from airing local sporting events when the team failed to sell enough tickets to fill their stadium. The National Football League has defended the rule for many years, calling it a tool to ensure a large attendance at the games.

Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, talked with David Gura about the move. Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Marriage of convenience becomes divorce of necessity

Tue, 2014-09-30 10:52

EBay and PayPal are going their separate ways. It’s an amicable parting though. 

They don’t need each other like they used to. PayPal is getting fewer and fewer new users from eBay — 25–30 percent today, dropping to 15 percent three years from now, CEO John Donahoe told CNBC. Ebay needs some flexibility as it tries to grow its share of e-commerce. 

Activist investor Carl Icahn launched a high-profile campaign to split the companies nine months ago, heckling eBay’s leadership and preparing to insert board members of his choosing. He was rebuffed in the short term, but eBay has clearly come around. 

“We are happy that eBay’s board and management have acted responsibly concerning the separation — perhaps a little later than they should have, but earlier than we expected,” Icahn wrote in a statement

“They have to grudgingly admit he is right,” says Paul Sweeney, senior media analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

PayPal wants to be the way everyone pays for everything: online and at the store. But so does Square, Softcard, Google and now Apple Pay

“The eBay folks and PayPal folks looked around the marketplace [and] they saw a market that’s continuing to change rapidly and continuing to get more competitive,” says Sweeney.

If PayPal has to consider eBay every time it makes a decision, it’s going to get tied down.  

“They also recognize they were potentially missing out on other business opportunities by being part of the bigger company,” Sweeney says. “By being a stand-alone company they can be a little more nimble, innovative, and perhaps pursue new opportunities.”

There is enormous money at stake. Proximity payments — paying for things using your phone — are blowing up, says eMarketer analyst Bryan Yeager. 

“This year we expect proximity payments to reach $3.5 billion — doubling over last year,” Yeager says. “We expect it to next year reach $8.59 billion, and by the end of 2018 hitting a little more than $118 billion.”

Even so, Yeager says that’s a drop in the bucket when you consider how much money gets put on credit cards.  

EBay also needs to free up cash to work on its own issues; there’s competition from Amazon and maybe even Alibaba. Mergers and acquisitions may even be in eBay’s future, the CEO hinted to CNBC. 

The companies will split late next year. But they’ll still be friends.

eBay and PayPal split

Tue, 2014-09-30 08:00

What a difference eight months makes.  

Just last January, eBay President and CEO John Donahoe told analysts in a big conference call, “We and the board believe the best way to drive long-term shareholder value is to keep eBay and PayPal together.” 

But here's what Donahoe said in a different statement Tuesday morning, announcing that eBay will spin off PayPal into a separate, publicly traded company: “However, a thorough strategic review with our board shows that keeping eBay and PayPal together beyond 2015 clearly becomes less advantageous to each business strategically and competitively. The industry landscape is changing, and each business faces different competitive opportunities and challenges."

So, what’s changed? Well, there's been continuing pressure from activist shareholders like Carl Icahn. He’s said all along that PayPal could make more money if it were separated from eBay. Icahn thinks Ebay had a conflict of interest that held back PayPal’s growth. 

We can start seeing if Icahn’s right when PayPal becomes a stand-alone stock of its own. That’ll be after an initial public offering sometime later next year.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCC dumps blackout rule

Tue, 2014-09-30 07:30

The Federal Communications Commission voted this morning to eliminate the controversial blackout rule. The rule, which mainly applies to NFL games, says if 85 percent of tickets aren’t sold, teams can prevent local broadcasts of games. 

If NFL teams decided to impose the rule for a game, free local TV couldn’t broadcast it. The rule further said cable and satellite TV couldn’t air it locally, either.

The NFL didn't want the blackout rule eliminated. It has said that without the rule, it could just move all its games to cable, putting them out of reach of low income fans who can’t afford cable. 

“The NFL is doing a lot of posturing here,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. He says NFL teams can still tell broadcasters and cable outlets to black out games. It doesn’t need the FCC to do that. “The NFL can still negotiate to black out the game whenever there’s a deficiency in attendance. So we’re unlikely to see any appreciable effect here.”

And, Zimbalist says, if the NFL did try to move all its games onto cable, it would violate a law called the Sports Broadcasting Act, which was designed to keep games on TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The numbers for September 30, 2014

Tue, 2014-09-30 07:25

Six people have hopped the White House fence so far this year. The latest incident — in which the intruder reportedly blew through at least five layers of security before he was caught — put Secret Service Director Julia Pierson under fire at a congressional hearing Monday. Lawmakers were also livid after the Washington Post reported the Secret Service was slow to respond when shots were fired at the White House in 2011. Pierson took full responsibility for the problems and pledged to review Secret Service procedure.

Here's what we're reading — and the numbers we're watching — Tuesday.

41 percent

The predicted drop in revenue for utilities if solar power gets just 10 percent of the market. Rooftop solar panels are getting cheaper all the time, although they only account for 0.4 percent of the energy produced in the U.S. now. Because 43 states have "net metering" laws allowing solar users to sell their excess energy back to electric companies, Vox reported, the proliferation of rooftop panels could put utilities in a "death spiral."

$7.2 billion

That's how much PayPal made in the past year, and their revenue is rising faster than parent company eBay's has. The company announced Monday it would spin off PayPal into its own company, Business Insider reports. EBay acquired the online payment system for $1.5 billion in 2002, and these days PayPal claims to facilitate one out of every six dollars spent online.

0

As of last week, there are precisely zero Saturday morning cartoon programming blocks on TV. The last one, the CW's "Vortexx," aired for the last time on Saturday. The marathons, once a staple of American childhood and the ideal pairing with sugary cereals, were killed by a combination of FCC regulation and the spread of cable. /Film has a nice look back at the various cartoon blocks from the '80s and the commercials that aired with them.

PODCAST: Think of it as a conscious uncoupling

Tue, 2014-09-30 07:00

EBay decides it's time for PayPal to be pushed back out of the nest: There's news this morning that the auction company eBay will spin off its payment system, PayPal. Plus, tomorrow is the first of October, one year since the rollout of Healthcare.gov, and the texture of health care in America is changing. For instance, there's been disruption in the old pattern of health care providers sending bills and the insurance companies paying their portion. Now, some insurers are tying what they pay to how well the doctors, hospitals and labs are doing their jobs. And call it social and environmental investing, call it impact investing, applying our personal values to our portfolios is not a new idea. One big example in the 1980s was college students forcing their universities to sell their stakes in companies that did business with apartheid South Africa. But now some influential countries have come together to recommend that governments help impact investing become an even more powerful force for making the world a better place. 

Push for IUDs comes from many sides

Tue, 2014-09-30 02:30

Last year, drugmaker Bayer introduced the first new IUD in 13 years. And this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines to say long-acting reversible contraceptives, including IUDs, should be the first line of defense to prevent teen pregnancies.

It's been a long road for the IUD. It’s been some 40 years since the Dalkon Shield hit the market. The intrauterine contraceptive device was one of many IUDs at the time, but it is still remembered decades later as a spectacular disaster. 

Many women developed pelvic inflammatory disease from the device, which had not been vetted by the FDA. The Shield also had a high failure rate, leading to infections, miscarriages and death.  

The Dalkon Shield was pulled off the market, and a federally funded study in 1981 said IUDs were dangerous. 

Some two decades later, when Jenna Sauers, then in her late teens, went to her doctor asking for an IUD as an alternative form of contraception to taking pills with hormones, her doctor would not prescribe it. She tried a second doctor, and then a third who, she recalled, told her: “That’s only an option for women who have completed their families.” 

“The damage done was the perception that all IUDs are dangerous,” says Dr. Jill Schwartz, medical director at CONRAD, an organization that focuses on reproductive health research.

Sauers, who is now 28, finally succeeded after visiting yet another doctor. 

“I do think that everybody should have the choice. I think they can be a great option, especially for people who, for whatever reason, don’t like taking hormonal birth control,” Sauers says. 

Sauers is confident that her IUD poses little risk, because in the last few decades more research has shown that it was the faulty design of the Shield, not IUDs themselves, that was dangerous. Still, it has taken some time to undo the damage done by the Dalkon Shield. In the 1990s, new research came out that called into question the 1981 study condemning all IUDs. In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study saying IUDs are 20 times more effective than birth-control pills, the patch or the vaginal ring. 

“In the intervening 40 years, there’s been increasing scrutiny and increasing requirements by the FDA and other organizations,” says Dr. Mary Ott, one of the co-authors of the new AAP guidelines for teenage girls. “All the modern devices have at least a decade of safety and effectiveness data in the United States, and 20 years or more internationally.” 

Ott says IUDs are now so safe that teenage girls face more health dangers from complications from pregnancy than they do from the IUDs themselves. 

“It’s been not only drug companies, it’s academics, it’s the whole community” that’s been behind the effort to make IUDs more available, says Schwartz. 

World health groups and nonprofits have also been a part of that effort, with Planned Parenthood launching a nationwide educational campaign last year. 

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