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Celebrities are mastering the art of the group selfie

Thu, 2015-07-23 13:00

When I was talking to YouTube video creator Freddie Wong, who heads the channel RocketJump, he told me that today — far more often than signatures — fans want selfies.

So, these stars are coming up with efficient ways to take a bunch of them in a short amount of time. 

Apparently at some of these conventions, fans form big circles, with their phones out, and the stars runs around the back of the circle putting their head in shot after shot.

Whatever you think of selfies, you've got to admire the ingenuity. 

US companies adjust to a more mature Chinese economy

Thu, 2015-07-23 13:00

It’s not easy doing business in China these days.  Stocks have fallen — in some cases by 30 percent — and property values are down.  

“You know, all American companies are getting whip sawed in China to a certain extent,” says Barry Naughton, a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego.

Naughton says U.S. companies are having to adapt to a more mature Chinese economy that is slowing down. But American businesses are reacting differently; some Wall Street investors are leaving China altogether.

“I see a big differentiation in views between portfolio investors and then the multinational companies," says  Nicholas Consonery, director of the Asia practice at Eurasia Group. "There tends to be a much more negative sentiment in Wall Street than in the corporate world today.”

Consonery says Wall Street is used to double-digit growth in the Chinese economy. Now he figures it’s growing about 5 percent, slightly less than official growth statistics from the Chinese government. Still, that’s nothing to sneeze at. U.S. companies just have to get used to a more mature, slower- growing Chinese economy.

“In the past, the biggest restraint on growth was maybe not having the capacity," says John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. "For many companies, that era is behind them, and now it’s more like you would see in other markets around the globe.”

Frisbie says consumer demand in China is holding up, so companies like Starbucks are doing OK. But things are tougher if you’re U.S. business catering to, say, the fickle housing market.

Exit Grexit, enter Brexit. Could the UK quit the EU?

Thu, 2015-07-23 13:00

A Greek exit from the eurozone has been averted – for now at least-  but another , even bigger crisis for the European Union  is still waiting in the wings:  not Grexit  but Brexit,  a British exit from the EU.

Graham Stringer

Stephen Beard/Marketplace

Over  the next 18 months the United Kingdom will attempt to negotiate an even looser arrangement with the EU than Britain currently enjoys   and then to hold a referendum asking the British people, “Do you want in or out?" 

"Out" campaigners believe that the treatment of Greece has given their cause a major boost.   

“The events in Greece have shown what the EU is doing to its member states, how badly it’s treating them and why it is important for nations to control their own destiny,” says Rory Broomfield of the Better Off Out campaign.

Broomfield directs the campaign from his headquarters on a former British warship moored in the Thames. He believes it’s an entirely appropriate headquarters. “Churchill  once said that if Britain faced a choice between Europe and the open sea, Britain would always choose the open sea,” says Broomfield. “And he was right. We want to face outwards, towards the United States and the rest of the world and not get bogged down in a stagnant, failing Europe.”

Opposition in Britain to EU membership stems traditionally from a conservative concern about the loss of national sovereignty. But after the turmoil over Greece, the British left is also beginning to voice skepticism about Europe on the grounds of social policy.

Rory Broomfield

Stephen Beard/Marketplace

“The EU is supposed to be a caring, compassionate organization, but its treatment of the Greeks has been brutal,” says Graham Stringer, an opposition Labour member of Parliament. “The EU is dictatorial and deeply unpleasant, and many of my friends and colleagues in Parliament are now telling me they will vote against EU membership in the U.K. referendum.”

Stringer argues that the “harsh” treatment of the Greeks could help drive Britain towards an "out" vote. 

But that’s not the message from the opinion polls. The "in" campaign still retains a clear lead, with a majority of Brits still believing that the benefits of being part of a large single European market outweigh the disadvantages. In reality – since Britain is not part of the eurozone and has opted out of a number of EU measures – many Brits seem to believe they are Better Off Half In and Half Out.

Better off with the best of both worlds: Europe and the open sea.

 

Jobless claims reach 40-year low. Is wage growth next?

Thu, 2015-07-23 13:00

New jobless claims fell to 255,000, their lowest weekly level since November of 1973, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.   

One would expect that this is an indication of labor market tightening. Fewer people getting laid off, fewer people in line to do your job, possibly for less than you. There should, theoretically, be less restraint on workers’ demands for a raise.

“It’s all about supply and demand,” explains Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown. 

“The tighter the labor market, the harder it is for employers to attract or retain the workers they want or need, so they have to raise wages.”

But hourly wage growth data don’t seem to be bearing that out yet. 

Wage growth has sat at around 2 percent for the past five years, says Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. 

“That’s pretty slow,” she says. “That’s far below any sort of reasonable wage target that would be consistent with the [Federal Reserve’s] inflation target of 2 percent and productivity growth we’ve seen. That should put wage growth more like 3.5 to 4 percent.”

The monthly wage data may not be telling the whole story, however. Gad Levanon, managing director of macroeconomic and labor market research at the Conference Board, says the average hourly earnings number can be skewed by changes in the composition of the labor market. 

“If there are more low paid occupations joining the labor market or if employment is growing faster in low paid positions, that would pull down the average paycheck increase,” he says.

Levanon looks at something known as the employment cost index, which looks at compensation while weighting the value of specific industries so it’s more of an “apples to apples comparison.” 

The most recent increase by that measure is 2.7 percent, and it has been growing faster than average hourly earnings since 2014. 

Levanon also points to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Wage Growth Tracker, which looks at wage growth among a consistent group of individuals over time. That measure of growth is 3.2 percent.   

Will health insurance mergers help or hurt consumers?

Thu, 2015-07-23 13:00

Health insurer Anthem appears ready to throw down nearly $50 billion to purchase rival Cigna. This would be the second proposed mega-merger in the industry in less than a month.

Welcome to healthcare’s version of an arms race, where hospitals and insurers vie for supremacy. As these titans battle it out, the threat is that consumers end up losing no matter who winds up on top.

Carnegie Mellon economist Martin Gaynor says there’s a simple question we shouldn’t lose sight of in this new wave of potential deals.

“Are these mergers going to make us better off?” he asks.

Will a merged Humana and Aetna be able to do things more cheaply? Will a merged Anthem and Cigna be able to do something new?

University of Minnesota economist Steve Parente says the answer is probably yes. If these deals go through, companies will expand their business into different types of insurance, giving them better intelligence about what hospitals are willing to take.

“You now get to see in a sense exactly what providers are willing to take for a Medicaid patient that’s low income, and a commercial insurance patient that is basically the best reimbursement you are going to see,” he says.

That leverage may be why Anthem’s CEO Joe Swedish says this deal would bring in $2 billion in “annual synergies,” business speak for cost savings. Companies say that could get passed on to consumers.

But professor Leemore Dafny with Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management says if past is prologue, when insurers merge, premiums go up.

“This is a highly consolidated industry that has not delivered a lot of innovation historically,” she says. “And to believe that more consolidation is going to serve us is to put a lot of faith that increased scale will bring us improvements.”

What really troubles Dafny is that it’s hard to enter the insurance business. So if insurers fail to deliver on these merger promises, it’s not clear if anyone can step up and provide consumers with another choice.  

For background on the proposed merger, check out Mitchell Hartman’s story here.

Everyone's getting the music streaming business wrong

Thu, 2015-07-23 11:19

Taylor Swift picked a pretty big fight this summer. No, not that one.

The pop megastar took on Apple over allegedly skimping on royalties during Apple Music's free trial period, and got the company to change its tune. This wasn't the first time Swift and others had spoken out about low royalty payments from music streaming services like Spotify, from which she pulled her catalog last year. Meanwhile, Spotify argues it has paid out over $2 billion in royalties.

But a new report from the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship says these squabbles miss the point. In fact, there are a bunch of other players, complex accounting and backroom deals that stand between the royalties services pay out and the artists' paychecks.

"We were trying to figure out what exactly happens in the value chain from the minute I [listen] to music, to the minute the creator on the other end gets paid," says Allen Bargfrede, Berklee associate professor and one of the authors of the report.

Berklee has launched a new initiative, Rethink Music, to untangle all the streams of money, dispel misconceptions about the business and propose more transparency. Let's do the numbers:

70 percent

That's the portion of revenue the iTunes store and streaming services pay out in royalties. It's tempting to think of per-stream royalties — often a fraction of a cent — as piddly contrasted with a 99 cent song or $9.99 album, but you can't really compare the two business models. The report notes someone could easily stream a song enough times to generate far more in royalties than they would have ever paid to own it. As streaming grows, what's more important is the way businesses split revenue, Bargfrede says.

"They're still paying 70 percent of their revenue, so what do you expect them to do? Do you expect them to pay 140 percent of their revenue, so you're getting twice as much? Twice as much would still be a fraction, maybe a penny or two," he says. "What exactly can a digital service do beyond what they're already doing, and waiting for the market to grow?"

700,000

That's about how many streams of royalty revenue a single song can have, according to music data company Kobalt. That's all the internet and terrestrial radio stations, streaming services, digital music stores, physical sales, licencing and so on. As more music becomes available online and services start paying royalties by-the-stream instead of by-the-sale, the amount of micro-transactions increases exponentially, Bargfrede says, and it's harder for the existing technology to keep up with all that information.

68 cents

That's the portion of a $9.99 monthly subscription to a streaming service actually makes it to artists, according to the Berklee report, and all told, labels keep about 73 percent of royalties from streaming. But that doesn't even tell the whole story.

Here's the rub: those royalties are passed down a line of rights groups, publishers or third-party distributors before they make it to the label and then the artist. These players are supposed to divvy up the royalties companies like Spotify are paying out, which is complicated; the composition and recording are usually two separate copyrights, or there might be several co-writers or publishers. All the agreements dictating those payments are secret, and researchers found that royalty statements were difficult to parse.

Bargfrede says Rethink Music got a hold of one statement from a "platinum-selling artist" signed to a major label and traced back the average royalty rate per stream, but it's difficult to know how accurate those numbers are if a sizable chunk of royalty payments don't make it to artists at all.

$42.5 million

That's the advance royalty payment stipulated by a 2011 contract between Sony and Spotify that leaked this spring. According to the Berklee report, if royalty payouts add up to less than an advance, it's typical for labels to pocket the remainder. And that's not the only way royalties get stuck in between services and artists.

When streaming services or rights organizations don't know where to distribute royalties, they're put in a "black box" account that's eventually paid out to labels according to market share. 

How could rights groups not know whom to give royalties to? Songs are often not registered in a consistent way, and sometimes titles are incorrectly translated, Bargfrede says. The disconnect could come down to a simple spelling issue — the difference between "Beyonce" and "Beyoncé."

Some have pushed for standardizing codes assigned to each composition and recording to more easily distribute royalties, but the report notes these standards — along with better technology for tracking royalties — haven't been widely adopted yet.

"There are a lot of things that could be fixed here, and there's a lot of foot-dragging," he says. "You're looking at a legacy business that's decades old, and it takes time to adopt new technology. But it's time to say, 'OK lets march forward, we need to do this,'" Bargfrede says.

$48 billion Anthem-Cigna deal could be close

Thu, 2015-07-23 03:00

Multiple news sources report that Indianapolis-based health insurer Anthem is in final negotiations to acquire competitor Cigna of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The deal would value Cigna at approximately $48 billion, or $188-per-share, according to unnamed sources.

Aetna announced earlier in July that it would buy rival Humana for $34.1 billion in cash. Both deals would face extensive scrutiny by federal antitrust regulators at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. Many analysts consider it unlikely that both deals would be approved, since they would reduce competition for health insurance customers and concentrate more pricing power in insurers' hands. 

The wave of proposed mega-mergers comes as insurance companies face financial pressures under the Affordable Care Act, which has been reaffirmed in recent Supreme Court decisions that turned back major legal challenges to the law.

If the mergers succeed, the number of major national health insurers would be reduced from five to three: Anthem, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group.

Management professor J.B. Silvers at Case Western Reserve University says there are compelling benefits to the bottom line for insurance companies to consolidate under Obamacare. He says the financial risk of healthcare is being shifted away from insurers, onto healthcare providers and the government. That leaves insurers needing to make more of their profits from paying claims. “Paying claims is a volume business, so this gives them some economies of scale, and it will lower their costs,” says Silvers. “Plus, the fact there are a lot more people buying health insurance because of Obamacare makes it a more lucrative market than it's ever been.”

Healthcare economist Vivian Ho at Rice University says insurers are being driven to merge by another key constituency in the rapidly-changing healthcare industry: healthcare providers. She says Obamacare has driven hospitals to merge, doctor’s groups to get bigger, and hospitals to acquire doctor’s groups. That’s increased the providers’ power to negotiate favorable deals with insurers. She says insurers are trying to consolidate to even the playing field.

Ho points out that even if the biggest insurers succeed in merging and cutting costs, they can claim some of the financial benefit won’t go to their bottom line, because of complicated rules on profit-taking under Obamacare. “I think the insurance companies are going to say, ‘We have to pay 85 percent of our premiums on health care expenditures, so that means cost savings will be passed on to the consumer,’” says Ho.

Ho says insurers have figured out ways to get around these Obamacare limits, for instance, by categorizing more client services as ‘health care expenditures.’

Antitrust regulators, meanwhile, will closely scrutinizing these proposed deals, to determine whether the merged insurers are likely to end up with too little competition — nationwide, or in specific geographic and medical markets, such as Medicare — or whether the merged insurers will gain too much power to set terms and prices for consumers, hospitals, doctors, and employers.

PODCAST: Improving infrastructure with bikes

Thu, 2015-07-23 03:00

On today's show, we'll talk about news that the number of people signing up for unemployment benefits fell to a low not seen in four decades. Plus, we'll talk about the merger between two health care giants: Anthem and Cigna. And Portland Oregon’s two defining cultures – tech and bikes – have come together to improve transportation infrastructure using a new app that will anonymously track behaviors, and preferred routes of cyclists, with or without the app. The data from these combined technologies will act as a guide for decision-making when planning bike lanes, routes, and signals.

New app aims to improve cycling in Portland

Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

The city of Portland, Oregon, is known for its enthusiast support of cycling. With 345 miles of bikeways snaking around and through its urban core, Portland has more cyclists per capita than any other town.

 

Now a new project between the tech industry and city officials aims to make biking in Portland even easier.

 

Tech entrepreneur and cyclist William Henderson has created an app called Ride, which asks cyclists to collect data as they cruise around Portland. That data will then help the city to plan better cycling infrastructure, like signals, lanes, safer routes and where to avoid traffic.

 

Currently, 6 percent of Portland’s population cycles to work. But that number leaps to 25 percent in the inner city, which is well above the national average of less than 1 percent.

 

“Right now, we have some great infrastructure for biking and walking and transit in Portland,” Henderson says. “But we’re really not going to get any more space for our roads as the city grows, so we have to make more efficient use of it.”

 

Software developer Chris Jones is using the app during this pilot phase. Jones says he likes it because it automatically starts tracking his route as soon as he starts pedaling.

 

“It’s nice to not have to open the app and say, ‘OK, here we go, I’m starting my commute now.’ I want to just get on my bike and go where I’m going,” says Jones.

 

The goal is to have between 5,000 to 10,000 cyclists using Ride by the end of the summer.

 

In addition to the app, Henderson is installing wireless bike-counting sensors around the city to count cyclists. The idea is to replace Portland’s old methods, which includes volunteers on street corners making pen-and-paper tallies.

 

For Margi Bradway, active transportation manager at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, this new technology offers exciting possibilities.

 

“One of the reasons I’m really interested in this data is to understand cyclist types and cyclist behaviors. So when is someone willing to go on a busier street for a more direct route, versus a local street that’s further away?” Bradway says. “When we get this data, we’ll start to see patterns to help us shape the future for cycling.”

New app to improve cycling in Portland

Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

The city of Portland, Oregon is known for its enthusiast support of cycling. With 345 miles of bikeways snaking around and through its urban core, Portland has more cyclists per capita than any other town.

Now, a new project between the tech industry and city officials is hoping to make biking in Portland even easier.

Tech entrepreneur and cyclist William Henderson has created an app called Ride, which asks cyclists to collect data as they ride around Portland. That data will then help the city to plan better cycling infrastructure, like signals, lanes, safer routes and where to avoid traffic.

Currently, 6 percent of Portland’s population cycles to work. But that number leaps to 25 percent in the inner city, which is well above the national average of less than 1 percent.

“Right now, we have some great infrastructure for biking and walking and transit in Portland,” says Henderson. “But we’re really not going to get any more space for our roads as the city grows, so we have to make more efficient use of it.”

Software developer Chris Jones is using the app during this pilot phase. Jones says he likes it because it automatically starts tracking his route as soon as he starts pedaling.

“It’s nice to not have to open the app and say, ‘Okay, here we go, I’m starting my commute now.’ I want to just get on my bike and go where I’m going,” says Jones.

The goal is to have between five to ten thousand cyclists using Ride by the end of the summer.

In addition to the app, Henderson is installing wireless bike-counting sensors around the city to count cyclists. The idea is to replace Portland’s old methods, which includes volunteers on street corners making pen-and-paper tallies.

For Margi Bradway, active transportation manager at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, this new technology offers exciting possibilities.

“One of the reasons I’m really interested in this data is to understand cyclist types and cyclist behaviors — so when is someone willing to go on a busier street for a more direct route, versus a local street that’s further away,” says Bradway. “When we get this data we’ll start to see patterns to help us shape the future for cycling.”

Pearson nears deal to sell the Financial Times

Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

The London-based Financial Times newspaper is reportedly close to being sold to a rival media company — Among potential buyers are German media company Axel Springer, as well as Bloomberg. The seller is Pearson, which in addition to publishing is big in the education field.

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. He joins us to talk about why Pearson might be interested in selling the FT, and what the rise of standardized testing may have to do with the decision.

Click the media player to hear more.

UPDATE: The Financial Times newspaper reports that Axel Springer is in advanced talks to purchase the paper from Pearson.

Brash new competitor challenges Amazon

Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

Amazon is set to release earnings on Thursday. And now they’ve got more competition in the retail game. This week, Jet.com launched, boasting plans to lure you away from Amazon with the lowest prices on the internet. Founder Marc Lore seems to relish competing with Amazon. In 2010 Amazon bought his startup Quidsi for half a billion dollars.

Charla Mathwick, a marketing professor at Portland State, says it may seem crazy for Jet.com to boast that they'll take over the online retail market from Amazon. "But it all depends on what their goal is," she says. "Acquiring customers is going to be a big challenge for a company like this if the goal is to try to really take on Amazon. But I don't know if that's what they're doing. If the goal is to demonstrate a superior pricing algorithm, you may not need huge numbers of customers, you just need enough to demonstrate that the algorithm works."

Mathwick says Jet.com is looking for the impulse buying that has fallen off as customers stop going to malls and grocery stores.

Jet's business model is something akin to a combination of Amazon Prime and Costco. A $50 membership fee will get you free shipping and those low prices. Mike Maughan is with Qualtrics, an online data company. He says in the end it will boil down to customer experience. Jet has to make you feel like you’re getting more than just a good deal.

“I think it's incumbent upon Jet.com to demonstrate and provide an incredible customer experience," Maughan says. "Price isn’t everything. If it’s all that someone’s got, it won’t last and I don’t think it’s sustainable."

Maughan says the question is, "Is there an appetite for a competitor to Amazon? Amazon is very popular and a lot of people use it but it is not used ubiquitously. Still only about 10 percent of retail shopping happens online."

Jet.com is only two days old, so it might take a few more hours to determine if this business model is going to eventually work. But analysts say the first measure of its success might be how many customers it’s actually taking from Amazon. 

The nuts and bolts of robot soccer

Thu, 2015-07-23 01:53
255,000

That's how many jobless claims came in last week, the lowest number in four decades. As Bloomberg reports, economists are saying part of the reason is that employers are holding on workers to keep up with an uptick in demand. 

345

That's how many miles of bike ways snake their way through the streets of Portland, Oregon. Now a new app called Ride is hoping to make biking in the city even easier. It asks users to share cycling data collected through the app, which can then be used to improve biking infrastructure in and around Portland.

$50

That's the cost of a membership to Jet.com, a company that aims to compete with Amazon for the lowest prices on the internet. Think of it as a cross between Amazon Prime and Costco, with a flat fee for free shipping and  low prices. Analysts say that if the site has any hope of competing with some of the giants already in the market, they'll have to offer more than just low prices. Customer experience, in this case, may be the key.

1-0

That was the final score of the RoboCup World Championships, in which Japan bested China in the "child-sized humanoid football final." As the BBC reports, this year's games added new challenges, including replacing the easier-to-spot red ball with a white one, and installing a kind of artificial turf that gave some of the robots stability issues.

Soundtracks have a life beyond the movies

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

A movie’s soundtrack can have big impact on the movie itself. However, sometimes a soundtrack can take on a life of its own, says Los Angeles Times writer Gerrick Kennedy. Case in point, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its use of the track “Earned It” by The Weeknd.

Gerrick Kennedy

Tony Wagner/Marketplace

“['Fifty Shades of Grey' is] not the greatest movie. Decent enough book. Soundtrack — super hot. And I think...we saw what just happened with really successful music, and how you build that into the film,” Kennedy says.

While Kennedy says that Weeknd fans may not identify with the film, "everybody that saw 'Fifty Shades of Grey' [knows 'Earned It'], so the song is killing pop radio."  

Kennedy says that the trend of creating a soundtrack that has consistency — which also extends to music from films like "Furious 7" and "The Hunger Games" — isn’t new.

“That brings you back to what was happening in the '90s, where it was always about the whole body; the entire soundtrack was what you bought,” he says.

Although this trend may have lulled for a few years, Kennedy says “now I think executives are working a little bit hard to make the music play into the film a little bit better.”

New York City gives up in Uber cap dispute

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

Uber has won a big one. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been going after the pioneering sharing-economy company in a very public way the past couple of weeks,  saying he wanted to limit the number of Uber vehicles on city streets.

As of Wednesday, the mayor's administration has blinked, announcing it'll stop pushing for the cap

The city is now going to study the effect of for-hire cars on — one would imagine — the taxicab industry in New York. 

Moral of the story? You can indeed fight City Hall. 

Oil is cheap, but gas is still expensive in California

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

Willie Hudgins drives a 2006 Ford Expedition stretch limo. Earlier today, he pulled into a Mobil station in Birmingham, Alabama to get gas. He paid $2.39 a gallon. Happily.

"Oh, it's like, man, pennies on the dollar," he says, compared with before global oil prices collapsed.

The national average for gas is $2.74 a gallon. Then there's California, where prices are almost always higher.

"Typically, California prices should be about 40 cents above the national average," says Severin Borenstein with the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

But in Los Angeles right now, people are paying a dollar and a half more than the national average, he says.

Part of that is because California requires a cleaner burning fuel, Borenstein says, "and as a result, we can't trade gasoline with other parts of the country. We need this special blend."

Because there's no quick way to relieve a shortage, he says, prices spike when there's a hiccup in the production of that special blend — like an explosion at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Los Angeles in February. Borenstein says those usually fizzle out within a month or so, but not this time.

"It has definitely raised concerns that this isn't just natural shortages," he says.

One explanation: the California Energy Commission says refineries are making more than twice the profit per gallon than a year ago.

And finally, analysts say, when other states have shortages, they bring gasoline in through pipelines...but California doesn't have pipelines, so when the gas finally comes, it comes by barge or tanker, which costs more. Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston, has a message for California residents: "You guys are screwed!"

"Those are highly technical industrial terms," he adds. "You're screwed in California."

Hirs says California's refineries can't meet consumer demand. And he says when you combine that with a lack of infrastructure, you're going to pay. Just like consumers did in New England this past winter. There, Hirs says, there were no pipelines to bring in enough natural gas to meet electricity demands.

Apple's drop illustrates the power of expectations

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

Apple announced Tuesday that it made a boatload of money in the third quarter (without saying boatload). Revenue was up more than 30 percent and CEO Tim Cook called it “an amazing quarter.”

But many investors just didn’t see it the same way, as they expected Apple to sell more iPhones than it actually did. That disappointment sent the company’s stock down more than 4.5 percent Wednesday– and experts say that demonstrates the danger of high expectations.

“Companies would like to exceed the expectations,” says Len Rosenthal, a finance professor at Bentley University. “It looks much better to do that, rather than disappoint.”

Companies will regularly issue guidance in order to try manage investors’ expectations, Rosenthal says. He says some companies might even try to game expectations, intentionally setting them low so the company can exceed them.

“That’s not a new thing,” he says. “It’s been going on for a long, long time. I think it’s kind of silly in some ways, but that’s the way the game is played.”

Rosenthal thinks the markets often overreact, putting too much emphasis on quarterly numbers.

Expectations can come from published reports from analysts or from investors, in so-called whisper numbers, “the collective expectation from investors who own a stock about a specific metric. In Apple’s case, how many iPhones they’re going to sell in a quarter,” says Gene Munster, a research analyst with Piper Jaffray.

Whisper numbers can be a bit murky, he says, but if companies miss those expectations, their stock may go down. Alternatively, he says if they exceed them, the stock may rise. However, investors may come to expect too much from companies with consistently strong track records, Munster says. He thinks Apple may have been the victim of its own success over the last decade.

“The success has created this underlying belief from investors that they can always do a little bit better,” he says. “That expectation has kind of fueled these whisper numbers to get to points where they’re not even achievable.” 

E! Network pins hopes on new Caitlyn Jenner series

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

This Sunday at 8 p.m., E! Entertainment TV will premiere Caitlyn Jenner's show "I Am Cait."

The network is calling the show a "documentary series," in an attempt to differentiate it from the reality shows featuring the Kardashians that have helped sustain the network's ratings for years.

While those reality shows still perform relatively well, the network's overall ratings in recent years have been slipping. E! averaged 648,000 primetime viewers in the 2011-2012 TV season, but in the TV season that just ended, its prime time average was down to 540,000 viewers, according to figures provided by the ratings firm Nielsen.

The Kardashian franchise has begun to show its age, says Joe Adalian, West Coast editor for New York Magazine's Vulture.com.

"E's problem is what a lot of cable networks face," Adalian says, "which is splintered audiences and not a lot new coming on board" to capture audiences' attention. "And that's why 'I Am Cait' could potentially be a game changer for E!," he says.

A game changer, because the intense media and public interest in Caitlyn Jenner is likely to fuel huge audiences for the show, at least initially. Jenner's interview on ABC's news magazine "20/20" reached almost 17 million viewers. Those are numbers "20/20" hadn't seen in 15 years, Adalian says.

"I have no doubt that E!, especially after the Diane Sawyer interview came out and did so well, was able to go back to advertisers and say, 'I think you want to be here,'" he says.

Initial reviews of the series have been somewhat positive, which may give E! executives hope that "I Am Cait" might help improve the network's fortunes.

"The E! Network has had problems in the last couple of years, because they haven't been able to launch new original programming, and some of their go-tos lagged in recent years," says Michael O'Connell, TV writer for The Hollywood Reporter.

"It's sort of had to rely on these sort of celebrity-focused docu-series," says O'Connell, "But it really is the Kardashian brand that carries them in prime time, especially in between award season, when they do so well with their red carpet coverage."

Developers look to create disability apps

Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

It’s the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal law opened up services and opportunities for millions of Americans.  Today, developers in the tech world are testing new ideas with the disabled community in mind.

Take Chad Hebel. Sometimes he'll go to a restaurant with friends only to find himself physically cut off from his company.

“You’re looking under the table at everybody else,” Hebel says of his experience being in a wheelchair in those settings. 

Hebel is a businessman with an eye for innovation. Both of those factors make him a valuable resource for developers looking to design assistive technologies to bring to market. Hebel, who mentors startup companies for the Dallas accelerator Health Wildcatters, says where there’s a need, there’s a business opportunity.

An Opportunity For Developers

Just like buildings constructed decades ago weren’t designed for people with disabilities, many of the gadgets and apps created today leave out a segment of the population. For example, Google Maps doesn’t tell you whether the sidewalks are wheelchair accessible. Another example: you still need to use your hands to make a drawing on your tablet.

Which is exactly why student Mohammed Azmat Qureshi is spending his days in a lab at UT Arlington surrounded by loose cables and pieces of robotics.

Oluwatosin Oluwadare (L) and Mohammed Azmat Qureshi 

Lauren Silverman

“There’s a huge potential of using the technology that is out there in a different way for the differently-abled people,” Qureshi says.

Qureshi and his partner Oluwatosin Oluwadare comprise one of several dozen teams that have submitted a proposal to a tech challenge called Connect Ability. The competition, which is sponsored by AT&T and New York University and has a $100,000 prize, is meant to empower people with disabilities.  

Collaboration Is Key 

Oluwadare says the device he's created with Qureshi, called “EyeCYou,” will help the visually impaired “see” people in front of them.

To show how it works, Oluwadare puts on a pair of glasses with a camera attached and snaps my photo. The software analyzes the image and the tablet reads aloud a description: "Person one is wearing an orange dominate shirt, has a light-skinned complexion.  She is a female adult."

So far, the device analyzes age, gender skin and shirt color. Oluwadare admits that some of the features it’s programmed to report may be sensitive – like skin color or age. But guidance from people living with disabilities is helping shape the technology. Xian Horn likes that.

"Unless you talk to the people that you’re trying to help, you’re not going to know — even with your best intentions — how to help," says Horn. Horn is a writer from Manhattan who has cerebral palsy, which impacts her mobility. She’s also working with developers in the Connect Ability Challenge.

For Horn, the priority is hands free technology. She has poor balance and muscle control.

“So the fact that I walk around the world with shiny blue ski poles means that my hands are occupied," Horn says.

Xian Horn

Rick Guidotti of Positive Exposure

One device she likes is called Pallette. It transforms your tongue into a mouse that can control anything from a wheelchair to a light setting. That might help people who have conditions like multiple sclerosis. Another technology called DrumPants gives a voice to people with difficulty speaking. They just have to tap sensors on their pants or shirt. Horn says the control box might be too large to fit well on a cane, and she got to give that group feedback.

“We can collaborate and create things that not only work in theory but actually have an impact on the future of someone’s life," Horn says. "This kind of technology can be life changing.”

The winner will be announced on July 27, the day after the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Practice makes perfect for summer learning

Wed, 2015-07-22 12:34

Summer is time for kids to relax and enjoy a vacation from school and learning. But that vacation can lead to a lot of kids losing a lot of knowledge, especially if they are from low-income households, according to researchers.

Traditionally, summer learning loss has been addressed through summer school, but that's never been popular with students, according to a New York company called Practice Makes Perfect. It's trying to change that, using new methods to reach students and create a summer school model that kids will actually want to attend.

Karim Abouelnaga is the CEO and founder of Practice Makes Perfect. He says his upbringing made him acutely aware of the struggles of learning as a low-income student.

“I was raised by a single mother on government aid and went through some of New York City’s most struggling public schools,” he says.

Abouelnaga developed Practice Makes Perfect with a group of friends while he was in college. Today the company works to eliminate summer learning loss for students every year by training students to teach peers that are four years younger than them.

“When I first pitched the idea of having a sixth grader mentor a second grader, people thought we were crazy,” Abouelnaga says. “I can tell you in practice it works wonders. Education still is very much a relationship-based business. The number one reason kids show up to our programs every single summer is because of the relationships they build with their mentors.”

Given the negative perceptions that surround summer school, Abouelnaga says he hopes that Practice Makes Perfect can be an example of how to make summer teaching effective.

“We give our kids a pre-test and post-test, and every single year to date so far we’ve eliminated the summer learning loss for 100 percent of our participants,” he says.

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