Marketplace - American Public Media

Can advertisers pressure the NFL?

Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

Football season had a rough start this year.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on tape knocking out his fiance and Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse, putting a spotlight on how the NFL handles domestic violence. Many fans haven't liked what they've seen, and now they're joined by another group the league may have to listen to: its sponsors.

McDonald's, Visa, Campbell's Soup, CoverGirl: A growing list of NFL sponsors have come out with statements applying pressure to the league. Anheuser-Busch, which has a $1.2 billion, six-year contract with the NFL, used some of the harshest language, saying: "We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code."

"The NFL here is a multibillion-dollar business," says Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University. "If some of those billions start to get threatened, I think the NFL is going to stand up and take notice."

But so far, sponsors have stopped short of publicly threatening to tear up their contracts with the NFL. Radisson hotels ended its limited sponsorship with the Minnesota Vikings, but when it comes to individual teams and players, the stakes are lower. But the costs — like having the Radisson logo in the background at press conferences responding to child abuse allegations — are higher.

"There's a lot of sports properties but there's only one NFL," says Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.

The sheer size and engagement of the NFL's audience may insulate it from criticism more than the NBA, which banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life following racist remarks, but only after companies such as State Farm, CarMax and Virgin America withdrew their sponsorship from the Clippers.

"[The NFL is] a $10 billion-a-year industry. The next closest sports are $3 [billion], $4 billion behind. So it's astronomically larger, even though we don't think of it as such," says Shropshire.

He thinks major NFL advertisers are more likely to apply pressure behind the scenes than publicly break ties.

But there could still be looming financial implications for the sport. "I think if you were a sponsor right now contemplating an investment in NFL, you'd probably wait," says Kent Atherton of sports media firm Atherton Communications.

And if more damning details emerge, big money advertisers could do more than just talk.

Rail delays shut down Midwestern power plants

Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

The electric utility that serves the Duluth region is mothballing four coal-powered generators, and not because the Environmental Protection Agency told it to.

No, Minnesota Power is idling these generators for three months because the railroad isn’t delivering enough coal. Railroads are crazy busy— carrying oil from North Dakota for one thing— and the delays are driving their customers nuts. 

Al Rudeck is the vice president of strategy and planning for Minnesota Power. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad has delivered the utility’s coal for decades. I asked him: Has this kind of thing happened before?

"This is unprecedented," he said. "We’ve never had to shut our units off because we can’t get the coal we need. This year they’ve had a lot of challenges on the rail system, in terms of congestion, weather, and a lot of business."

Railroads have also had a lot of unhappy customers. Farmers can’t get a bumper crop to market. On some days, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, car-makers have had as many as 200,000 vehicles sitting outside factories, waiting to be picked up by trains. 

The group, which represents most of the auto industry, sent its top lobbyist, Shane Karr, to testify before the U.S. Senate in September. "This is the first time the industry has been out there publicly, saying, 'We need the railroads to pay attention to our problems,'" he says. 

Professor Allan Zarembski runs the railroad engineering program at the University of Delaware. "On some of the high-demand routes, railroads are reaching capacity," he says. "And so railroads have to now start increasing capacity. The downside of that is that increasing capacity is not something you do in a couple of hours."

If a railroad already has a right-of-way, he says, laying new track could take a year... or three. Meanwhile, it’s not like those customers have other options. No other railroad even serves Minnesota Power.

Which is why it’s such a great time to be in the railroad business: Profits are way up. "It's a renaissance in the railroad industry," says Eric Marshall, a portfolio manager for Hodges Mutual Funds, which has been investing in railroads for more than ten years.

"The barriers to entry are high," he says. "You and I couldn’t go out and start a railroad today, regardless of how much money we had, because we couldn’t get all the easements to build a railroad across the country."

So, for now, Minnesota Power is stockpiling the coal it can get, hoping to build up a supply for the winter.

How will low inflation complicate the Fed’s plans?

Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

When the Labor Department released the Consumer Price Index numbers for August, Janet Yellen got a shock.

Everybody expected the CPI  to come in just shy of the Fed’s goal of 2 percent inflation. But the actual number was 1.7 percent. 

Inflation is just not being  cooperative.

“CPI is a little bit like the puppy that refuses to get housebroken and is spoiling the Fed’s carpet,” says Jonathan Lewis, who, yes, is in the midst of training a stubborn puppy,  but is also Chief Investment Officer at Samson Capital Advisors.  

He says today’s inflation numbers are a mess for the Fed – a warning flag. 

“The low inflation numbers are a symptom of weakness in the economy," says Mark Gertler, who teaches economics at New York University. "The economy is still not as strong as we would like."

That’s a problem for the Fed because it can’t raise interest rates when the economy is weak, and the Fed can’t keep rates near zero forever.  

But there is a bright side.

“The lower inflation is actually giving them quite a bit of breathing room," says Gennadiy Goldberg, U.S. Strategist for TD Securities. "There’s very little pressure on the Fed to hike interest rates now.”

And everybody expects inflation to get up to where the Fed wants it, eventually.   

As asset manager and dog lover Jonathan Lewis puts it, puppies will get trained sooner or later. It just takes some longer than others.

Yahoo will make a lot of money off the Alibaba IPO

Wed, 2014-09-17 13:42

Alibaba—the huge and profitable Chinese e-commerce site—debuts on the U.S. stock market under the ticker symbol "BABA" on September 19, with an initial public offering expected to price at $66-$68 per share. That would deliver proceeds of approximately $25 billion, making Alibaba the world's biggest IPO ever.

A principal beneficiary of the IPO is Yahoo, which owns 22.4 percent of Alibaba, and is now divesting of a portion of that holding. After taxes, Yahoo will likely net in excess of $6 billion. The company has indicated that roughly half of that will go back to shareholders in the form of dividends, said internet equity analyst Scott Kessler at S&P Capital IQ.

But, given that Yahoo has had virtually no growth in years, Kessler thinks the company should use some of its windfall to make a bigger splash in the market.

“To significantly move the needle in terms of how people think about Yahoo and how it’s positioned,” said Kessler, “we think a bigger, bolder strategy makes sense.”

Kessler suggested Yahoo could make additional billion-dollar-plus acquisitions, as it did last year with Tumblr, especially in the fast-growing mobile market. Yahoo’s recent acquisitions have mostly been smaller deals designed primarily to scoop up engineering talent from promising startups.

Technology analyst Carl Howe at 451 Research said Yahoo might buy up more Chinese internet companies as it divests of some of its Alibaba stake. He also expects a strong push into the mobile-payments market. Howe added that the company might also invest more to compete for eyeballs and online ads with rivals Google and Facebook.

“Buy into some sort of big content deal with another source of traffic—for example, Netflix or HBO—boosting business by driving more traffic,” Howe said.

Will the Scottish referendum come down to 'Braveheart' or cool head ?

Wed, 2014-09-17 13:25

Tomorrow, the people of Scotland vote on whether they want independence from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The economic case against going it alone seems compelling.

A string of major companies say they’ll pull their headquarters out of Scotland if it votes for separation, and big supermarket chains warn that they will have to push up their prices. Deutsche Bank claims the country could be plunged into another Great Depression.

And yet with each grim new warning of disaster, support for separation seems to grow. Is this a case of the heart ruling the head?

"I think it’s driven by a kind of collective madness," says Niall Ferguson, expat Scot and professor of history at Harvard.

"I live in the United States but still feel myself every inch a Scotsman. This will be a disaster. This is a bit like Colorado seeking its independence. This is just astonishing to behold," he says.

Other critics of Scottish independence say Scotland’s in the grip of "Braveheart"  fever, carried away on a wave of emotion by a fantasy of liberation.

But the calm, softly-spoken, supremely rational professor of economics - and supporter of independence – Mike Danson says, "that’s absolute nonsense."

“Nobody talks about 'Braveheart' in Scotland,” he says. “For very, very few people is that what independence is about. Some have said it will be the first case of a country trying to become independent on the back of economics, rather than on the back of heart, emotion and identity.”

More than 200 small and medium-sized Scottish businesses and a handful of large ones support independence. They say if the country separates, it will be much more prosperous and fair than it is today. Frances Barron, who owns a small cheesecake manufacturing firm in southwest Scotland, says she’ll definitely be voting yes… and using her head.

“I would say the majority of people voting yes will be voting with their head," says Frances as she stands in her factory, supervising the baking of another batch of toffee banana cookies. "People are getting their eyes opened, and their mouths hang open when they hear just how wealthy this country is, and how well positioned we are to move forward with independence."

Including its geographic share of North Sea oil, Scotland is per capita richer than the rest of the UK – and it raises more tax. With oil, whiskey and other products, it’s a champion exporter.

But the oil is declining, and most of its exports go to England. If it has to adopt a new currency – and the rest of the UK has made it clear it will not allow an independent Scotland to continue using the pound with the protection of the central bank – Scotland could find it has higher transaction costs selling to its biggest market.

Feelings are running high. The referendum campaign has grown increasingly emotional on both sides, with angry exchanges in the street. But David Bell – professor of economics at Stirling University thinks that when most people enter the polling booths tomorrow, the head will rule the heart.

"There are a lot of very passionate people involved in this, no question about this," says Bell. "But I’m not convinced that that’s what the average voter will be thinking about when they go into the booth. It’ll be cool , calm, economic calculation."

By Friday, we will learn whether Scotland will go it alone. It could be some time before we know for sure whether that means the heart or the head has prevailed.

Can advertisers pressure the NFL?

Wed, 2014-09-17 13:02

Football season had a rough start this year.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on tape knocking out his fiance and Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse, putting a spotlight on how the NFL handles domestic violence. Many fans haven't liked what they've seen, and now they're joined by another group the league may have to listen to: its sponsors.

McDonald's, Visa, Campbell's Soup, CoverGirl: A growing list of NFL sponsors have come out with statements applying pressure to the league. Anheuser-Busch, which has a $1.2 billion, six-year contract with the NFL, used some of the harshest language, saying: "We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code."

"The NFL here is a multibillion-dollar business," says Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University. "If some of those billions start to get threatened, I think the NFL is going to stand up and take notice."

But so far, sponsors have stopped short of publicly threatening to tear up their contracts with the NFL. Radisson hotels ended its limited sponsorship with the Minnesota Vikings, but when it comes to individual teams and players, the stakes are lower. But the costs — like having the Radisson logo in the background at press conferences responding to child abuse allegations — are higher.

"There's a lot of sports properties but there's only one NFL," says Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.

The sheer size and engagement of the NFL's audience may insulate it from criticism more than the NBA, which banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life following racist remarks, but only after companies such as State Farm, CarMax and Virgin America withdrew their sponsorship from the Clippers.

"[The NFL is] a $10 billion-a-year industry. The next closest sports are $3 [billion], $4 billion behind. So it's astronomically larger, even though we don't think of it as such," says Shropshire.

He thinks major NFL advertisers are more likely to apply pressure behind the scenes than publicly break ties.

But there could still be looming financial implications for the sport. "I think if you were a sponsor right now contemplating an investment in NFL, you'd probably wait," says Kent Atherton of sports media firm Atherton Communications.

And if more damning details emerge, big money advertisers could do more than just talk.

Graphic by Gina Martinez/Marketplace

Dropping its NFL sponsorship pays off for Radisson

Wed, 2014-09-17 11:42

When was the last time you thought about Radisson Hotels? Probably about a day ago, when the company pulled its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings.

What about before that? Hmm.

Turns out the hotel is already benefiting hugely from its decision, getting them more attention than they've had in a while.

According to research firm Amobee Brand Intelligence, Radisson got "enough social, Web and mobile impressions to account for 58 percent of its total online consumption (impressions plus mentions) for the last three months," Adweek reported.

That's a long time.

CORRECTION: The broadcast version of this story incorrectly identified “Amobee Brand Insights.” The company is called Amobee Brand Intelligence.

Things have changed since Leonard Maltin started reviewing

Wed, 2014-09-17 08:58

If there’s one guy who knows movies and television, it’s Leonard Maltin. Maltin says he has been reviewing films since the age of 15, and was hired to write the first volume of "Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide" when he was 17 -years-old.

"The book was aimed at people who watched old movies on local television," says Maltin. "And old movies filled the airwaves of local television, in those days."

From the 1950s through the late 1980s, the networks ABC, CBS and NBC dominated.  But, Maltin says, the biggest difference in television between now and then is that there is a lot more content today.

"Walt Disney was on one of the three big networks," says Maltin. "He used to command a weekly audience that was roughly equivalent to the Super Bowl audience in television today. If anybody was on the Ed Sullivan show, chances are something like a third or more of the country was watching. And that was a regular event, it was not special, it was a regular weekly event."

Films have changed over the years as well. Maltin says that although the film making industry has always been a business, the nature of it has changed. Movie studios weren’t always owned by large corporations, like Sony and Comcast. Some owned themselves, and others were owned by movie theaters.

"So now they’re dealing with reporting to people who don’t necessarily care about movies that much, know about movies that much and they are also reporting to shareholders. So there are a lot of people to satisfy," says Maltin.

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

The numbers for September 17, 2014

Wed, 2014-09-17 07:26

Thirty-two out of 60 economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict that the Federal Reserve will announce plans to keep interest rates near zero for a "considerable time" in a statement expected Wednesday afternoon. In general, Fed-speak-watchers are split on whether the bank will drop that language, which could rattle the markets.

While we wait for the Fed's statement, here are the other numbers we're keeping an eye on:

59 percent

Mobile ads are a moneymaker for Facebook, accounting for 59 percent of its ad revenue in the first quarter of 2014. The Wall Street Journal reported that most of that money isn't coming from big consumer brands, but from mobile gaming companies who will pay out the nose for targeted ads and users who hit the "install" button without leaving Facebook –sometimes up to $20 per ad and another $10 per install. That investment becomes worth it once users shell out money for in-game add-ons, but many are concerned the market for "free-to-play" games will bust soon.

$500 million

That's how much the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is seeking in a suit against the troubled for-profit Corinthian Colleges. The suit alleges that Corinthian used predatory lending tactics and harassed students to claim payments, all the while messing with its own job placement numbers by paying employers to temporarily hire its graduates. Corinthian disputes the allegations.

53 percent

The parents of over half the students at the Children's Creative Workshop in Malibu have filed "Personal Belief Exceptions," allowing their children to attend school without certain vaccines. Many of the wealthiest schools across California are seeing a huge drop in vaccination rates, according to an investigation by the Hollywood Reporter, and cases of whooping cough are skyrocketing.

NFL sponsors chime in on recent scandals

Wed, 2014-09-17 07:00

The start of the National Football League’s season has been more about incidents off the field than on.

Minnesota Vikings have placed running back Adrian Peterson on the exempt/commissioner's permission list, telling him to stay away team activities while he faces child abuse charges. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is appealing his indefinite suspension after video surfaced of him hitting his then-fiancé.

Responding to these incidents and others, the NFL’s big-money sponsors are pushing the league to take a bigger stand against this behavior.

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” Anheuser Busch said in a statement. “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.”

Cover Girl and Pepsi also released statements expressing the desire to see more action from the NFL.

In turn, the league announced its taking steps to address its domestic violence policy. It also hired Cynthia Hogan to be the league’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs. Hogan was an aide to Joe Biden in the Senate when he wrote the Violence Against Women Act.

“This is one of the first times we’ve seen sponsors threaten to walk away from the entire league,” says Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of The Holy Cross.

He says sponsors typically rethink their contracts with the individual players in these types of circumstances. This time, it’s more about the league’s response, though teams can be targets too.

Raddison, the hotel chain, has suspended its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings, referring to charges against Peterson by saying, “Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children.”

The Vikings reversed a previous reinstatement and have now kept Peterson from playing.

“We want to be clear: we have a strong stance regarding the protection and welfare of children, and we want to be sure we get this right,” the Vikings said in a statement. “At the same time we want to express our support for Adrian and acknowledge his seven-plus years of outstanding commitment to this organization and this community.”

But for now, despite registering their discontent, most sponsors are staying put.

“For now, I think it’s just piling on,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. “[Sponsors are saying] ‘We’re good guys, don’t boycott us.’ And when the storm blows over, which I believe it will, then they’ll be back on board.”

Zimbalist says the NFL enjoys strong viewership, more so than other professional sports leagues, which is a big draw for sponsors.

Despite the backlash, fans are still watching. Over 22 million people tuned in Sunday when the Chicago Bears’ played the San Francisco 49ers, according to NBC.

PODCAST: Negotiating an independent Scotland

Wed, 2014-09-17 03:00

Some of the National Football League's big-money sponsors think the league is not doing enough to grapple with the problem of players who are charged with domestic violence. Last night, the Minnesota Vikings deactivated running back Adrian Peterson while he faces child abuse charges. Plus, California has a new law on its books. It's been dubbed the "Yelp law"--after the online location-aware directory of restaurants and other establishments. More on the "Yelp law," which stops businesses from stopping you from writing bad reviews. And tomorrow, the people of Scotland go to the polls for one of the most crucial political and economic decisions of their lives. They'll vote  on whether or  not they want to separate from the United Kingdom. More on the economic implications of a decision to split.

New law cracks down on businesses that ban bad reviews

Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed what some have dubbed the "Yelp Law." It bars the business practice of "non-disparagement clauses": fine print that prohibits customers from writing bad reviews. 

The law was inspired by a case in Utah, in which online retailer KlearGear went after a couple who aired their grievances on the website Ripoff Report. KlearGear responded by calling the husband, John Palmer. His attorney, Scott Michelman characterizes that call: "'Your wife criticized us on Ripoff Report. You now [owe] us a penalty of $3,500."

Michelman and the Palmers ultimately won the case, though it took a lengthy legal battle. Their story inspired the California law, which bans such policies outright and imposes escalating financial penalties if businesses seek to enforce them.

Michelmann added that the law does nothing to restrict the traditional way of dealing with malicious and untrue statements: a defamation lawsuit.

"As opposed to an effort to harass, intimidate and silence its critics," Michelson says. 

Either way, though, the business has to find those critics. Sparks Steakhouse is suing Yelp to find the identity of a reviewer who claims to be a former employee. "I have personally spit my own sal[i]via [sic] into dishes for the passed [sic] 3 weeks now," the review says. 

Across the street from the restaurant, Victoria Miller says that one review would keep her away. "I would definitely avoid that place at all costs," she says. 

True or false, that online critic's best defense is anonymity. 

Scottish independence: the cost of uncertainty

Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

On Thursday, the people of Scotland go to the polls for the most important economic decision of their lives. They’ll vote on whether or not they want to separate from the United Kingdom. They’ll also be voting with an unprecedented chorus of warnings ringing in their ears.

More than a hundred companies with Scottish operations have spoken of the perils of independence; five major banks, a big insurance company and one of the UK’s largest investment funds have threatened to pull their headquarters out of Scotland if there’s a "yes" vote; and supermarket chains say it could mean higher prices.

The pro-independence leader Alex Salmond blames the 'No' Campaign for this outpouring of corporate angst.

“I think the problem lies entirely with the 'No' campaign," Salmond told a news conference in Edinburgh. "The 'No' campaigners have been caught red-handed as being part of a campaign of scaremongering."

Salmond claims that those opposed to independence—including the UK’s national government at Westminster—have pressured the companies into speaking out.
But the warnings of turmoil have been widespread and cannot be so easily dismissed. The main concern is acute uncertainty.

Following a "yes" vote, there would be at least 18 months of intense negotiation over some highly contentious issues: What currency would Scotland use? How much of the UK’s national debt would it shoulder? How much of the North Sea oil would it inherit?

Mike Amey of the Pimco bond investment firm says this would create uncertainty which could be economically damaging.

“We wouldn’t know who’d end up with what. As a result you’d find some business investment put on hold during that period, the economy would be weaker," says Amey.

Some economists say that, at a stroke, the UK’s reputation as a global safe haven would be smashed. A survey of foreign exchange traders has indicated that the British pound could fall by 10%, and it would be more difficult for the UK to attract the inward investment flows that it needs to balance its books.

Dire predictions are coming thick and fast. A well-known property website forecasts that if there’s a "yes" vote, Scottish house price could crash, wiping $130 billion of the value of Scottish real estate and rattling Britain’s mortgage banks.

Scottish businesswoman and "Yes" campaigner Michelle Rodger says these forecasts are ludicrously negative.

“A 'yes' vote would send the most positive message to the rest of the world,” she says. “It would be Scotland saying: We’ve taken this opportunity, we’ve grasped it with both hands and we’re going to change Scotland for the better."

No one doubts the Scots would be able to run their own successful economy—they’ve played a leading role in the UK’s political, corporate, scientific and creative life for centuries. But divorce can be messy. Disentangling the 307 year old union with the rest of Britain would be monumentally difficult and costly.

Middle class, but "asset poor"

Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

We learned from the Census Bureau this week that the federal poverty rate has fallen, albeit slightly, for the first time since 2006. Last year, 14.5 percent of people in this country earned less than the federal poverty line, down from 15 percent in 2012. But a new report out Wednesday says far more families are financially insecure.

Nearly half of households in major U.S. cities are “liquid asset poor,” according to the report from the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) and Citigroup. That means if they lose their incomes, those households don’t have enough accessible savings to get by for three months at the federal poverty level.

“Liquid poverty tells us that many communities and families that may be middle class really don’t have the cash available, the liquidity available, to respond to unexpected emergencies or needs,” says Bob Annibale, Citigroup’s global director of community development.

Worse off is Newark, NJ, with nearly 75 percent of households considered liquid asset poor. When so many families lack a financial cushion, it takes a toll on the whole economy, says Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, an assistant professor at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark.

“What it means is that a huge portion of your community is struggling just to pay their bills,” she says.

The report is being presented at a conference in Washington, D.C. aimed at helping more low-income families save. Solutions include automatic savings plans “so that people don’t have to think about it every time they need to save a dollar,” says Ida Rademacher, chief program officer at CFED, or helping people pay off debts so that they can begin saving.

Lower-income households can and will save, she says, if given the right opportunities.

How student data improves the lunch line

Wed, 2014-09-17 02:00

Schools around the country are using student data in all sorts of ways: to personalize education, to figure out which teaching techniques are working, and to make school services more efficient.

One place to actually see student data in action is the modern school cafeteria. 

At Carr Intermediate School in Santa Ana California, sixth graders start school a day early for orientation. Among the lessons they’ll learn: how to use their ID cards to get through the lunch line quickly.

“Part of what we are trying to teach them is technology,” says school principal Ed Bustamante.

Students punch their ID numbers into a keypad. That brings up their names, photos, even food allergies. The cashier greets students by name and sends them on their way.

It all happens very fast. Hundreds of kids grab burritos, mini-burgers, fruit and milk in no time.

Mark Chavez is Director of Nutrition Services at Santa Ana Unified School District. He says the cafeteria software, called Meals Plus, records each child who gets a meal. 

That kind of information can come in very handy if, for instance, a child’s academic performance starts to slip—School administrators can check to see if that child is eating.

The central office can also see exactly how many meals were served in the district, so schools can be sure they are being reimbursed properly by the state.

And, says Chavez, data can help when an upset parent calls because her child came home with a stomach ache: “We’ll say, ‘Mom, sorry to tell you, but they didn’t have lunch today because we didn’t see them at any points of sale.”       

All students at Santa Ana get free meals, so the district only keeps track of whether a child got lunch or not.

But in some schools, cafeteria systems will log exactly what a kid puts on her tray—pizza or a chicken sandwich, juice or milk. 

“The transaction can be rather detailed,” says Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham University and a student data privacy expert. “Over time, that builds a profile of a child’s eating habits.”

Reidenberg says in some schools, cafeteria payment services are run by private contractors.

“Schools have lost control about the information about their children when they start using these outsourced services,” he says. 

Then, says Reidenberg it’s not at all clear how that data will be used.

You're invited: Come chat about #studentdata

Tue, 2014-09-16 13:52

Since “The Quantified Student” went up yesterday, we have been overwhelmed by the response.

Now, we want to take the conversation deeper, and hear from educators in the community. That means you!

What: Marketplace is  running a series on student data – how it’s gatheredhow it’s used, and, most important, how it is protected.   

Where: We’re hosting a Twitter chat.

When: Thursday (9/18) from 5-6 p.m. PST

Why: Marketplace is  running a series on student data – how it’s gatheredhow it’s used, and, most important, how it is protected

Who: Our handles are @LearningCurveEd@adrienehill (the reporter behind all of this), and @Ariana_Tobin.

How: The hashtag is #studentdata

Even if you can’t make it, we’d still love to hear your feedback before and after – what points you think it’s important for the education community to discuss?

How the tough economy changes young people's lives

Tue, 2014-09-16 13:50

Young adults face economic challenges their elders never had to contend with.

Unemployment hovers near 20 percent  for 16-19-year-olds. That's higher  than it was before the recession, and student debt loads continue to mount.  Salaries, meanwhile, are lower in real terms for many entry-level jobs than they used to be.

This is causing the so-called "Millennials" (born between 1980 and 2000) to postpone a host of life-cycle and financial decisions, says Paul Taylor, senior fellow at the Pew Research Center, and author of the new book “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown.”

“Looking at some of the traditional milestones of adulthood—getting a job, finding a partner, getting married, having children, buying a house, buying a car,” said Taylor, “every one of those milestones is happening later in life for this generation of young adults.”

Pew recently published a paper showing that compared to their parents and grandparents, today’s young adults are less mobile—they’re hesitant to move out of state for jobs or relationships. And they live with roommates, or with mom and dad and other extended family members more too.

“A lot of this... change,” said Taylor, “is driven by the 20-somethings, and now even the 30-somethings, who are still living with mom and dad because he or she hasn’t found a marital partner, is having trouble getting jobs, maybe is getting an internship or maybe is a barista.”

It’s often described pejoratively as a generation that has “failed to launch,” said Taylor. But Pew’s research shows that parents, and Millennials themselves, don’t necessarily see it that way.

“Look, if there aren’t any jobs out there,” said Taylor, “hanging out with mom and dad isn’t a bad deal, the refrigerator’s usually stocked and you don’t have to put coins in the washing machine. And the generations actually get along pretty well.”

Of course, that’s not always true. Lucas Cook is in his early twenties, and recently moved out of his parents’ home in suburban Portland, Oregon, into with friends. He lived at home while he went to a local college and stayed there after he graduated.

He calls his new roommate-living arrangement: “A music and meditation pad. It’s super-nice, it feels like a new level of freedom.” And what was living at home like? “Super-intense. My parents have very different ideals than I do. And so it was a process of coming away from them ideologically while still being in their house, and that was really stressful.”

Cook plays conga drums and he’s started playing gigs, helping him to move out on his own.

Justine Pope is 28, and she is just now moving into her own place after living with her parents and roommates since college. Pope has held down three of four jobs simultaneously through the recession—law firm assistant, yoga teacher, gardener—and never made much more than $25,000 per year.

“How I live right now is pretty month to month, and I’m fine, I’m not ever struggling, I always make my rent,” said Pope. “But I’m not increasing from there. I don’t have savings, I don’t have a retirement.”

She said buying a home would be “unimaginable to me. When my mom was my age, she had had her first kid, they were on their way to buying a home. And I feel the life that I’m living now, while very happy, is not setting me up for a comfortable middle-aged lifestyle. I really hope to be a stable middle-aged person.”

Bill Emmons, senior economic advisor at the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, thinks many in Pope's and Cook’s generation will eventually catch up with the major financial life-decisions they’ve delayed--primarily, he thinks, because of the bad economy.

“Life expectancies keep rising and by the time Millennials reach their fifties and sixties, they may be looking at another 10 or 15 years of work,” said Emmons. “Maybe everything could be extended. There are some limits on that—childbearing can’t be delayed forever. But buying a house can.”

But other scholars, including Paul Taylor at Pew, think the pattern of young people not making these traditional life-cycle moves could be long-lasting—a reflection of the changing culture, not just the bad economy Millennials have come of age in.

Showtime's recipe to win the screen wars

Tue, 2014-09-16 13:40

Showtime President David Nevins spent years producing television shows for traditional networks before making the switch to a premium pay-model.

He says he likes the hand Showtime has been dealt. It network is able to keep viewers coming back (and paying up) for long-running hits like "Californication", "Dexter" or "Weeds" and new successes like "Homeland" or "Masters of Sex" (and, very nearly, "True Detective"). That has to do with three specific practices:

Make addictive content

Nevins produced "Friday Night Lights" and "Arrested Development", two shows that struggled on network television. At their heart, both were cable shows; a little too niche for broadcast, but addictive for their small audiences. Now, it’s much easier to monetize that passion through streaming than it was in years past.

“In premium TV, you get rewarded for shows like that, you get rewarded for the addictive shows," Nevins says. "In the old days, they were the shows that sold really well on DVD but didn't repeat well on the network and were always fighting for their life ratings-wise.”

Appeal to men and women

You don't need to satisfy everybody all the time, a network like Showtime has to make shows that subscribers like enough to wait a year in between seasons.

“That’s why you want to really remain balanced, gender-wise, if you’re in pay cable because you don’t want either half of the household — either the male half or the female half —saying ‘Honey, why are we writing that check each month?'”

Stay on top of technology (but don’t worry too much about new models)

As paid TV gets more competitive thanks to new technology and new business models, it's important that Showtime pivots at the right time.

“I want to make sure that we make the transitions to all the ways that people want to be able to consume us," Nevins says. Still, while the delivery might change, more competition doesn't mean anyone has to go out of business.

“That progression of new businesses from network TV to cable TV to premium cable TV to now all the online companies that are making content – they haven’t really made their predecessors go extinct," Nevins says.

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