Marketplace - American Public Media

Syndicate content
Updated: 25 min 33 sec ago

How Sega broke Nintendo's monopoly on video games

Tue, 2014-05-13 10:34

Chances are, if you've ever played a video game in your life, you've heard of Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario, or both.

Before they started appearing in video games together, though, their parent companies were a whole lot less friendly, sparking what is now widely known as the "console wars."

In the early '90s, Nintendo was a video game giant, holding 90 percent of the market. Sega, meanwhile, was fighting other companies for the other 10 percent. 

"And they got absolutely whooped," says Blake Harris, author of the book "Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation". "Things weren't going well until [then-CEO of Sega] Tom Kalinske* took over, and a certain blue hedgehog began to change their fortunes."

That certain blue hedgehog was part of Sega's strategy to knock Nintendo down a peg or two.

"To take down Nintendo, they really wanted to create a Mario-killer," Harris said. "So they held an internal mascot contest, and the selection that won was this hedgehog that was called Mr. Needlemouse originally."

And, for a few years, it worked. Sega went from holding just five percent of the domestic video game market to 55 percent at one point. Mr. Needlemouse, later rechristened as Sonic the Hedgehog, is still as pervasive as ever. Sega, on the other hand, not so much.

"As much as we remember Sega as successful on this big battle against Nintendo in America, Sega in Japan never surpassed 25 percent," he said. "I think there was enmity, jealousy, and spite at times, which led to Sega cutting off the nose to spite the face. And that spite really led to Sega's downfall."

*CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, Tom Kalinske's last name was misspelled. The text has been corrected

A week to make you miss manners

Tue, 2014-05-13 09:46

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Wednesday, May 14:

In Washington, the Labor Department releases the Producer Price Index for April.

Macy's is scheduled to report quarterly earnings.

Hold that door, dude. National Etiquette Week continues.

On May 14, 1973, America's first space station was launched into orbit. Skylab was a home away from home for three crews.

And she recently won an Oscar for her work in "Blue Jasmine." Cate Blanchett turns 45.

Do Quora, Jelly and Ask.com answer things correctly?

Tue, 2014-05-13 07:47

There is a TV screen in Kartik Ramakrishnan's office that displays an endless loop of questions. He is the COO of Ask.com, which you may remember from the early '90s as the search engine Ask Jeeves. One question scrolling over his screen reads, “What causes hiccups?”

That, Ramakrishnan says, is a question everyone has either wondered about or been asked. Ask.com is hoping it can be the go-to place for the answer. We'll give you the answer about hiccups later. First though, some history.

In the early days of the web, Google crushed competitors in the search engine market and established itself as the entry point for the internet. Ramakrishnan talks ruefully about scars from Google's thorough lashing. After some soul-searching, Ask.com decided to refocus.

“We are the granddaddy of going to ask the world how to answer questions,” Ramakrishnan says. So the company decided it should re-brand itself as a question-and-answer site. Ask.com may be the granddaddy, but there are plenty of upstarts.

Social networks, search engines, and new apps are trying various strategies to answer your questions. At the same time, all of them have one big question to answer for themselves. If someone wants to know something, why shouldn't they just Google it? Ramakrishnan is quick to point out, “there is not one way in which you can actually come up with answers to peoples' questions.”

Google's search engine framework has limitations that are being exploited by a new wave of companies. For instance, with Google you can't use your phone to pose a question with a picture. You also can't ask for responses from experts or friends.

Venture capitalists think these approaches have the potential to make some money. The website Quora is a good example. It operates kind of like a social network. Users can post questions, write answers, and vote up responses they like. Venture capitalists recently poured an additional $80 million of investment into the site.

Quora has found an essentially free way to generate content. Like Wikipedia, it is all written by users, like Alon Amit. He says, “I can't stand seeing an answer or someone needing an answer that I have and not responding.” Quora encourages users to produce answers by acknowledging top writers and fostering social interactions.

Quora currently has no revenue stream, and it relies on the social network for its content. If that network falls apart, so does the site. Venture capitalist Josh Elman says an investor might take the risk with a company like this because they believe there is a, "fundamental behavior that is happening in the product that someone will pay for.”

Plus, there is a fallback plan. Even if Quora's content, data, or interactions cannot be leveraged somehow in the future, the company could always just put up advertising on the site.

Elman is putting his money where his mouth is—not in Quora, but in the company called Jelly. His firm, Greylock Partners, has invested in the new mobile question-and-answer app.

Jelly allows people to take a picture on their phone and use it to ask a question. Imagine, Elman says, someone has an emergency with a leaky pipe. The person snaps a picture of it, and asks what's wrong. A nearby plumber replies with a solution. Elman believes this kind of connection could one day generate revenue.“I think that there are just so many questions that aren't just easily answered by a three or four word search, because the answer isn't always on a website,” he says, “the answer might be in somebody's head.”

Quora and Jelly are taking two different approaches to answering questions, and in the end, they yield different results. Quora provides opinion and community, while on the other hand, Jelly provides solutions to local problems. While they both deal with questions, their users are seeking fundamentally different results. Ramakrishnan thinks that's the key to this whole business: understanding what users are really asking for. And that's no easy task.

Ramakrishna says over the years we have all become so “Googlized,” that we expect to prod the Internet with a few keywords and get results. He thinks of these keywords as under-formed questions that need to be fleshed out. Does the user want concise information? Opinion and community? Maybe all the person needs is a good local plumber. He says “our angle on this is, 'Lets do a better job at helping the user craft and formulate what those questions themselves might be.'”

Ask.com throws a wide net for answers. They give search results, peer-written responses, even content they pay to produce. But not everyone is pleased.Computer scientist Jerry Feldman is a particularly harsh critic. "The notion that either an automated system or some social networking system will be a reliable source of information about everything you want to know is very unlikely," he says. People aren't even that good at figuring out what other people want, Feldman argues, so it's an extremely difficult task for a computer.

But there is money to be made even without all the answers. Companies just need to figure out what it is their users want, and find some way to reliably deliver it.

By the way, Ask.com can tell you what causes hiccups. It's a lot of things: carbonated beverages, an irritated diaphragm, alcohol.

As for why we get them? Well, some things we still don't have a good answer for.

Is there a better way to find answers than 'Googling'?

Tue, 2014-05-13 07:47

There is a TV screen in Kartik Ramakrishnan's office that displays an endless loop of questions. He is the COO of Ask.com, which you may remember from the early '90s as the search engine Ask Jeeves. One question scrolling over his screen reads, “What causes hiccups?”

That, Ramakrishnan says, is a question everyone has either wondered about or been asked. Ask.com is hoping it can be the go-to place for the answer. We'll give you the answer about hiccups later. First though, some history.

In the early days of the web, Google crushed competitors in the search engine market and established itself as the entry point for the internet. Ramakrishnan talks ruefully about scars from Google's thorough lashing. After some soul-searching, Ask.com decided to refocus.

“We are the granddaddy of going to ask the world how to answer questions,” Ramakrishnan says. So the company decided it should re-brand itself as a question-and-answer site. Ask.com may be the granddaddy, but there are plenty of upstarts.

Social networks, search engines, and new apps are trying various strategies to answer your questions. At the same time, all of them have one big question to answer for themselves. If someone wants to know something, why shouldn't they just Google it? Ramakrishnan is quick to point out, “there is not one way in which you can actually come up with answers to peoples' questions.”

Google's search engine framework has limitations that are being exploited by a new wave of companies. For instance, with Google you can't use your phone to pose a question with a picture. You also can't ask for responses from experts or friends.

Venture capitalists think these approaches have the potential to make some money. The website Quora is a good example. It operates kind of like a social network. Users can post questions, write answers, and vote up responses they like. Venture capitalists recently poured an additional $80 million of investment into the site.

Quora has found an essentially free way to generate content. Like Wikipedia, it is all written by users, like Alon Amit. He says, “I can't stand seeing an answer or someone needing an answer that I have and not responding.” Quora encourages users to produce answers by acknowledging top writers and fostering social interactions.

Quora currently has no revenue stream, and it relies on the social network for its content. If that network falls apart, so does the site. Venture capitalist Josh Elman says an investor might take the risk with a company like this because they believe there is a, "fundamental behavior that is happening in the product that someone will pay for.”

Plus, there is a fallback plan. Even if Quora's content, data, or interactions cannot be leveraged somehow in the future, the company could always just put up advertising on the site.

Elman is putting his money where his mouth is—not in Quora, but in the company called Jelly. His firm, Greylock Partners, has invested in the new mobile question-and-answer app.

Jelly allows people to take a picture on their phone and use it to ask a question. Imagine, Elman says, someone has an emergency with a leaky pipe. The person snaps a picture of it, and asks what's wrong. A nearby plumber replies with a solution. Elman believes this kind of connection could one day generate revenue.“I think that there are just so many questions that aren't just easily answered by a three or four word search, because the answer isn't always on a website,” he says, “the answer might be in somebody's head.”

Quora and Jelly are taking two different approaches to answering questions, and in the end, they yield different results. Quora provides opinion and community, while on the other hand, Jelly provides solutions to local problems. While they both deal with questions, their users are seeking fundamentally different results. Ramakrishnan thinks that's the key to this whole business: understanding what users are really asking for. And that's no easy task.

Ramakrishna says over the years we have all become so “Googlized,” that we expect to prod the Internet with a few keywords and get results. He thinks of these keywords as under-formed questions that need to be fleshed out. Does the user want concise information? Opinion and community? Maybe all the person needs is a good local plumber. He says “our angle on this is, 'Lets do a better job at helping the user craft and formulate what those questions themselves might be.'”

Ask.com throws a wide net for answers. They give search results, peer-written responses, even content they pay to produce. But not everyone is pleased.Computer scientist Jerry Feldman is a particularly harsh critic. "The notion that either an automated system or some social networking system will be a reliable source of information about everything you want to know is very unlikely," he says. People aren't even that good at figuring out what other people want, Feldman argues, so it's an extremely difficult task for a computer.

But there is money to be made even without all the answers. Companies just need to figure out what it is their users want, and find some way to reliably deliver it.

By the way, Ask.com can tell you what causes hiccups. It's a lot of things: carbonated beverages, an irritated diaphragm, alcohol.

As for why we get them? Well, some things we still don't have a good answer for.

PODCAST: The shoppers who never showed

Tue, 2014-05-13 06:50

Forecasters were expecting a spike in retail sales during April. The government said there was nothing of the kind. Retail sales last month rose just a tenth of a percent, with consumers proceeding cautiously, despite warmer weather. Taking out volatile spending on cars, gasoline and food, so-called "core" retail sales fell slightly. Not exactly a boom in the making.

Meanwhile, economic data from China covering April suggested across the board weakness in economic activity there -- from output to investment to consumption -- all missing the expectations of experts. These are leading to renewed calls for Beijing to ease up on its efforts to rein in its bubbly credit markets.  Marketplace regular Christopher Low, the chief economist at FTN Financial in New York is traveling in Hong Kong and joins us to discuss.

Representatives from Vallejo, California are visiting the White House Tuesday to talk about "participatory budgeting," a unique democratic process where residents propose and choose city-funded projects. Residents in this small San Francisco Bay Area city voted-in participatory budgeting after the city went through a bankruptcy in 2008. A small portion of the city's overall budget is allocated to the process, made available through a sales tax. This year, residents have $2.4 million to work with.

 

New book tells of China's modern awakening

Tue, 2014-05-13 04:12

If someone forced you to name the biggest economic and social transformation of the last 35 years, what would you say? The internet, probably.

But what about China, where more than half a billion people have moved up from poverty? Like so much good writing about vast topics, New Yorker writer Evan Osnos tells it from the grassroots.

Osnos' new book, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China is out today. Click the above audio player to listen to our discussion.

New books tells of China's modern awakening

Tue, 2014-05-13 04:12

If someone forced you to name the biggest economic and social transformation of the last 35 years, what would you say? The internet, probably.

But what about China, where more than half a billion people have moved up from poverty? Like so much good writing about vast topics, New Yorker writer Evan Osnos tells it from the grassroots.

Osnos' new book, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China is out today. Click the above audio player to listen to our discussion.

Weak retail sales and the danger of discounts

Tue, 2014-05-13 02:50

(Story updated Tuesday, May 13, 2014; 9 am P.T.)

A new report shows that April's retail sales increased 0.1 percent. That's a surprisingly weak report -- and follows a strong showing in March, when sales jumped 1.1 percent.

That followed dismal sales numbers earlier in the year, attributed to the nasty winter weather that kept shoppers in many states indoors. Syracuse University retail professor Amanda Nicholson says retailers she talks to are "much more hopeful. People are actually smiling occasionally because the warmth brings people out."

But nice weather only goes so far in making the sale. Many who follow the retail market are concerned that stores are being forced to aggressively slash prices.

"To get people enticed, it seems to take a lot more effort than it used to," says Morningstar economic analysis director Bob Johnson.

Now we all love deals, but stores having to resort to massive sales can signal troubling news about shoppers' lives. If consumers aren't buying until they see a 50 percent off tag, that could mean they're still hurting financially.

If consumer hesitancy affects retailers' bottom lines, stores could cut back on hiring, expanding and investing, affecting the larger economy.

Some retailers may be smiling a little bit more often as they enjoy the sunshine, but there will need to be several months of sustained retail strength before those grins become widespread.

Retail numbers and the danger of discounts

Tue, 2014-05-13 02:50

UPDATE, 8:30AM ET April 15, 2014: A new report shows that U.S. April retail sales increased 0.1%.

Original story:

April's retail numbers could follow a strong showing in March, when sales jumped 1.1 percent.

That followed dismal sales numbers earlier in the year, attributed to the nasty winter weather that kept shoppers in many states indoors. Syracuse University retail professor Amanda Nicholson says retailers she talks to are "much more hopeful. People are actually smiling occasionally because the warmth brings people out."

But nice weather only goes so far in making the sale. Many who follow the retail market are concerned that stores are being forced to aggressively slash prices.

"To get people enticed, it seems to take a lot more effort than it used to," says Morningstar economic analysis director Bob Johnson.

Now we all love deals, but stores having to resort to massive sales can signal troubling news about shoppers' lives. If consumers aren't buying until they see a 50 percent off tag, that could mean they're still hurting financially.

If consumer hesitancy affects retailers' bottom lines, stores could cut back on hiring, expanding and investing, affecting the larger economy.

Some retailers may be smiling a little bit more often as they enjoy the sunshine, but there will need to be several months of sustained retail strength before those grins become widespread.

Pinterest starts selling Pins to business

Tue, 2014-05-13 02:45

Pinterest, the social media site where people build collections, said this weekit will start taking paid ads for the first time. They're called "Promoted Pins," and look a lot like the other content on the site.

With millions of users, will this be Pinterest's golden ticket? For a company valued at nearly $4 billion, but still not making money, selling ads is a smart move, says Noah Abelson, CEO of Shareroot, which works with brands to promote themselves on Pinterest.

"You express yourself through what you're interested in," Abelson says.

And because Pinterest is about interests, he says, "It's very, very easy for a brand to be a part of that conversation."

General Mills, Target, and Banana Republic are among the companies buying promoted pins. The price could be more than $1 million, depending on how many people the ads reach. Pinterest has tens of millions of users.

"So if you're a cosmetics company or a fashion company, it could be very, very effective to advertise on Pinterest," says Karsten Weide an analyst with IDC. On the other hand, he says Pinterest has a limited audience: mostly younger women, with kids.

'Participatory budgeting' goes to the White House

Tue, 2014-05-13 02:40

Representatives from Vallejo, California are visiting the White House Tuesday to talk about "participatory budgeting," a unique democratic process where residents propose and choose city-funded projects.

Residents in this small San Francisco Bay Area city voted-in participatory budgeting after the city went through a bankruptcy in 2008. A small portion of the city's overall budget is allocated to the process, made available through a sales tax. This year, residents have $2.4 million to work with.

That pot of money has sparked ideas. On a weekday evening in February, about 60 residents broke up into small groups at Glen Cove elementary school for a brainstorming session. They proposed everything from more street lighting to a day-use center for the homeless. One 28-year old resident proposed an outdoor fitness center.

"Similar to Venice Beach, like a 'muscle beach' type, but at the waterfront," says Vincent Trujillo.

Other Vallejo residents want a public bank, more ice cream trucks and meditation classes to end student truancy.

"Often participatory budget events are quite cathartic," says Alea Gage, an administrative analyst at the city manager's office who acts as a liaison for the participatory budging process.

Gage says residents may even have fun while getting closer to government.

"At our final [brainstorming] assembly... we had Motown tunes on, and we even got some of our city council members to boogey a little bit," says Gage.

Vallejo residents are now in the process of wittling down 620 ideas. The projects go for a city-wide vote in October after nine months of work shopping. Last year, potholes and street repair got the most city-wide votes.

"Potholes represent a basic level of service, and they indicate quality of life," says Gage.

But participatory budgeting is not just repairing streets. City Manager Dan Keen says it's also restoring confidence.

"What we earned was some good will, from... a segment of the community that 'the city cares about us, they want to know what we have to say, and when we give them our feedback, they followed through and they did what we asked,'" says Keen.

Keen says at first, he didn't believe residents would show up for something as mundane as city budgeting.

"I was dead wrong about that," he says.

One city council member says residents need to use the process or they might lose it. Less than 600 people showed up for the brainstorming sessions.

The challenge for them is fitting their imagination inside city limits.

A canary in the coal mine... and in your Mac

Tue, 2014-05-13 01:00

Canaries can be useful creatures. Coal miners used to bring them into the mines as a warning sign of methane or carbon monoxide. A dead canary meant the miners needed to get out of there pronto.

Now a clever loophole in the rules regarding NSA requests for information is letting companies warn their customers in the same way a little yellow bird might signal trouble. 

It's called a "warrant canary", and several major companies like Apple have already used it in their "transparency reports."

The idea is that while the NSA can enforce rules on companies to not tell their customers when their information has been acquired, it is still within a company's rights to tell their customers what they haven't been asked. If a transparency report gets released without a statement saying that the NSA has not requested information, then a customer can infer that the request has been made.

The idea originated from a public library that posted a sign on its door each day saying that the Government had not yet asked for any information on the patrons. The insinuation was that if ever the library did not post the sign, it meant that the NSA had made a request.

According to Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law at Harvard and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, it's not only a clever way to let customers know if their information may have been acquired by the NSA, but also a way for the private sector to agitate Government agencies on the issues involved in privacy.

"To mix my fowl, it’s a game of chicken played with a warrant canary. Under the first amendment, it may well be much more dicey for the government to insist that a company lie rather than to tell a company it may not speak."

Explainer: Why dollar cost averaging is stupid smart

Mon, 2014-05-12 23:32

Retail investors – you know, people like you and me and the guy next door who day-trades in his PJs – are investing again. In an interview with Fox Business, TD Ameritrade president and CEO Fred Tomczyk described individual investors as "more bullish now than at any time since we started measuring."

"The retail investor is definitely back, our trades in the first quarter, the March quarter, were up 30 percent year-over-year," he told Fox Business. "They have been coming in increasingly over the last nine months."

Tomczyk said the conditions in the market are perfect for retail investors right now.

"They are getting lower trading commissions. They're getting lower bid ask spreads. They're getting quicker execution. There is a lot of liquidity in the market," he said.

But are we keeping it simple?

Are we sticking to tried and true investing strategies like using tax advantaged investments, diversification and my personal flavor of the month, dollar-cost averaging?

Maybe. And maybe not.

Tomczyk says we retail investors are using risky strategies like buying on margin, which means borrowing money to make wagers on stocks. That's the kind of risky behavior that led to the financial crisis, and in an environment when the stock market feels a bit frothy, isn't going to change the way institutional investors see individuals: as "dumb money."

Why are we so dumb?

Because we do the opposite of what the pros think they should do. We're supposedly always late to the game; we supposedly always buy high and sell low; we supposedly always buy stocks when we should be snagging bonds, and pile into bonds when stocks make most sense.

We're certainly doing the polar opposite of the professionals right now. Banks are  increasingly moving out of the trading business, peppered by the twin shotgun barrels of harsh regulation and heavy losses. Trading just isn't profitable anymore – or at least it's not as profitable as it was – and the stock market is seen as rigged by high-frequency trading firms. So anyone getting into trading right now must be dumb, right?

Well, hold on there. If you want to be the kind of investor who's trading in and out of stocks all day long, and trying to compete with the big guys – like that guy in his PJs – then maybe you are at a disadvantage (actually, let's be honest, there's no maybe about it – that particular game IS rigged).

But most retail investors aren't that guy. Most of us are doing things the simple way, in many cases managing our own money because we can't trust professionals who are increasingly compromised and conflicted by their relationships with the makers of the financial products they shill.

Most of us are using the dead simple, tried and true methods of long-term, diversified investing that really build wealth over time. If that makes us dumb, than I'm happy to be called stupid.

A star-studded plea for ad money

Mon, 2014-05-12 14:07

Each year, the leading TV networks stage star-studded events displaying their best new programming and most reliable talent to advertisers. And while "The Upfronts," currently underway in New York City, can be great entertainment for those invited, they are also a competition for billions of dollars in ad revenue. On Monday, at the NBC upfronts, buzz surrounded the forthcoming show, "State of Affairs," starring Katherine Heigl.

The formula: well-known movie star + popular genre (the national security spy thriller) = likely to pique the interest of advertisers. 

When the upfronts have finished, negotiations begin. 

"The advertisers meet with sales representatives of the networks and they negotiate how many commercials they're going to buy, [and] what the cost [is] going to be," said Brad Adgate, the Senior Vice President for Research at Horizon Media, who says more than $20 billion in ad revenue is at stake. 

The spectacle of the upfronts hasn't changed much over the years. But these days, due to competition from digital endeavors, advertisers are shying away from a quick committment. 

"It's really because of the TV marketplace in general," said Jeanine Poggi, who reports on television for Advertising Age. "We talk about the other digital opportunities that are out there. And the ability to shift some money out of TV and into digital." 

Digital producers like Maker Studios, Hulu and Buzzfeed, have grown so powerful that they now have their own version fo the upfronts, called the NewFronts, which took place last month. 

In the U.S., a water main breaks every two minutes

Mon, 2014-05-12 14:05

Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country's infrastructure a whopping grade of D+. That was actually a step up. It was a D in 2009, says Casey Dinges, senior managing director of public affairs at ASCE.

We have a rickety power grid, falling bridges and water mains that date to the 19th century.

"Nationally, there's a water main break every two minutes," Dinges says.

Groups as diverse as the right-leaning US Chamber of Commerce and the labor union AFL-CIO are spending a few days in Washington this week figuring out how to get more money and attention for our nation's roads, and bridges and everything else that makes the economy run.

They're calling it Infrastructure Week, and organizers say they want to highlight how important infrastructure is to the economy.

"Currently, the United States is investing less than 2 percent of its GDP on infrastructure," says Robyn Boerstling, director of transportation and infrastructure policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

And, there's a more pressing issue. The nation's gas tax-funded Highway Trust Fund is running low on cash. That means the government could soon delay paying for highway repairs.

The gas tax hasn't changed in more than two decades, but Congress doesn't want to touch it during an election year.

"If not the gas tax, then what are we going to do to pay for it?" says Janet Kavinoky, Executive Director, Transportation & Infrastructure, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

One measure of Infrastructure Week's success is if someone can answer that question.

Salad dressing + pickles; cake mix + prepared meats

Mon, 2014-05-12 13:35

Hillshire Brands of Chicago has announced it will buy Pinnacle Foods of Parsippany, New Jersey, in a deal valued at $4.23 billion.

The announced merger will bring Hillshire’s well-known meat offerings—such as Jimmy Dean sausages and Hillshire Farm luncheon meats—under the same corporate roof with Pinnacle’s leading frozen and packaged food brands—such as Duncan Hines cake mixes, Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Vlasic pickles, Wish-Bone salad dressings and Hungry-Man TV dinners.

Industry analysts say the deal will increase Hillshire’s marketing clout with grocery chains, in an era of intense competition with private-label (store) brands, and smaller niche brands that promote themselves as more healthy, natural, authentic, and/or local than big legacy brands.

“It’s really one big junk food company buying another big junk food company,” says food-industry critic Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Although Birds Eye does make some very healthful frozen vegetables.”

Health-conscious consumers these days are shopping more around the outskirts of the grocery store—for the fruits and vegetables, the fresh-prepared salads and other ready-to-eat fare. “The grocery aisles are getting flooded with a wealth of new products—either all-natural, organic, whole-grain,” says Hester Jeon, a food-industry analyst at IBISWorld. “So these household brand names are facing intense competition right now.”

Companies like Hillshire will continue trying to lure people back into the center aisles, says Paul Weitzel at retail consultancy Willard Bishop. Weitzel calls the center aisles the “economic engine” of the store--where the packaged, processed, and more profitable items are shelved.

“Convenience is one trend that everyone continues to chase—re-sealable, portion control,” says Weitzel. He adds that post-merger, Hillshire will have more clout to promote its center-aisle brands: by doing more in-store promotions and end-of-aisle displays, and by trying to muscle in on premium shelf space.

Hillshire Brands of Chicago:

Jimmy Dean sausages

Ball Park franks

Hillshire Farm luncheon meats

Sara Lee baked goods

Aidells sausage

Gallo Salame

Golden Island Premium Jerky

Pinnacle Foods of Parsippany, NJ:

Duncan Hines baked goods mixes

Birds Eye frozen foods

Mrs. Butterworth’s

Van de Kamp’s

Log Cabin syrup

Wish-Bone salad dressings

Lender’s bagels

Celeste frozen pizza

Vlasic pickles

Hungry-Man TV dinners

Should the internet be treated like a public utility?

Mon, 2014-05-12 13:32

The debate over net neutrality rages on. Last month, the FCC unveiled new rules for regulating internet traffic. Opponents of the new rules believe they don’t do enough to ensure equal access to digital content. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler took those concerns seriously, and is set to finesse last month’s rules with some new language.

At the heart of this debate is a question: How should we regulate the internet, like a private service or a public utility?

Kevin Werbach served as counsel for new technology policy at the FCC in the '90s. He says on one hand, the internet has become essential infrastructure for life and business, much like other public utilities. But he added, “in telecommunications regulation, calling something a utility has a particular legal meaning.”

The legal framework in this case revolves around Title II, the law that gives the FCC the authority to regulate the telecom industry. “If broadband access is under Title II ,” says Werbach, “then it’s subject to much broader authority of the FCC to prohibit what’s called unjust and unreasonable discrimination.”

Proponents of net neutrality argue that the FCC could use Title II to stop cable companies from creating fast lanes, like when Netflix agreed to pay Comcast extra for faster streaming. Christopher Yoo, a law professor who specializes in internet regulation doesn’t expect that to happen. “When the Supreme Court and Federal Communications Commission have looked at whether the internet is properly regulated as a public utility, they have consistently said no,” says Yoo.

Under the FCC’s revised proposal, internet providers are still allowed to make deals and create fast lanes. But, the new proposal suggests that the FCC will use its authority to make sure those deals are fair.

Any efforts to regulate those deals however, will likely be challenged in court. “So there are substantial legal obstacles to regulating the internet like a public utility,” Yoo says.  

In the end it may not be the FCC, but the courts that decide how the internet should be regulated.

Cash is still king, sort of

Mon, 2014-05-12 13:28

A peek inside our wallets by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

They did a study on how we spend money. Not on what do we spend money, but literally how does it get spent: Cash? Credit?

Here's how it breaks down:

By absolute number of transactions: Cash is king at 40 percent.

But once you take the value of transactions into account, it's a whole different ballgame.

The average value of a cash transaction is only $21, compared with $168 for checks and $44 bucks for debit cards.

Delhi's rise to 'global hub' status

Mon, 2014-05-12 11:00

What used to be an administrative town has now become one of India's biggest hubs for the global economy.

Rana Dasgupta, author of the new book Capital: The Eruption of Delhi, lives there now, and says that he experienced this change firsthand.

"The whole city had been shaken up, and people's inner worlds had changed, too," he said. "I thought it was a chapter in the onward march of capitalism that needed to be written about and recorded."

Dasgupta dismisses the idea that a modern country has to become Westernized.

"Some people in the West will look at it and say, 'We know this, this happened in our past. And what will happen in the future is also known to us, because it happened in our past,'" he said. "There's nothing about the Western past that teaches us anything about the Asian future."

Whatever that future may hold, Dasgupta says, residents of India's capital city are optimistic.

"The only way forward is forward for people in India, and I think they think the 21st century is going to deliver all the things that the 20th century couldn't."

Your next car rental could be a Ford. Or... a Ferrari.

Mon, 2014-05-12 10:34

Norwegian Andreas Arnhoff hopped a flight to New York on a whim and when he arrived, he decided to rent a car.

But he didn’t want any old airport rental.

Arnhoff, 24, says he works in real estate and that cars are a hobby for him. Back in Norway, he owns a Porsche 911 and a Porsche Cayenne, both turbo. 

His first choice for a rental was a Lamborghini Murciélago, but it wasn't available when he called exotic car rental company Gotham Dream Cars.

“We had to go with the Ferrari,” Arnhoff says, laughing. 

Gotham delivered a bright red Ferrari 458 Spider with a retractable roof to his midtown hotel. The company paid about $340,000 for it – which is actually about $40,000 more than the list price because demand for the car is so high. For a one-day rental, it charges nearly $2,000, plus tax and a $15,000 security deposit.

In the last few years, more companies have started renting luxury and exotic cars, including big national chains like Enterprise and Hertz.

“We weren’t sure how customers were going to be receptive of the collection,” says Paula Riviera, a Hertz spokesperson.

About a year and a half ago, Hertz launched its Dream Car rental line with 25 cars, including “a couple Lamborghinis, a few Ferraris.”

“It’s proven so popular that today we have more than a thousand cars,” she says.

At the Newark Airport, a Jaguar and Mercedes sit parked on a ramp that Riviera calls the “eye candy display.” She says some people who have booked a regular old midsize might walk by the display and upgrade on the fly.

There are convertibles in California and Range Rovers in Colorado. The company shifts cars around to meet demand, even to smaller markets like Kansas City and Detroit.

The move into exotics makes sense for the national companies because the rental market is very competitive, says Chris Brown, the executive editor of Auto Rental News.

“I wouldn’t say [the market’s] saturated,” says Brown. “But it’s certainly full. So the major car rental companies are really looking for new avenues to exploit.

­­

However, he thinks exotics will remain a niche business.

“Although luxury and exotic rentals maybe growing into new parts of the country, the lion-share of the market is going in south Florida, southern California, maybe New York,” he says.

Many independent exotic rental companies are also looking for ways to expand.

Because rental bookings are most popular on the weekend, Gotham Dream Cars has created shorter, less expensive driving “experiences” on weekdays, which allow people to drive the cars in a closed parking lot or racetrack at higher speeds. These events typically target gear heads interested in testing the car’s performance.

In contrast, data from the cars show that renters don’t tend to drive the cars that far or fast.

“Most people rent the car to drive around,” says Gotham’s COO Rob Ferretti. “They go to Starbucks 50 times, they drive around Times Square a million times. You rent the car to be seen.”

It’s an accessory business, he says, like Rent The Runway – for men. Though women purchase these luxury car rentals as gifts, nine out of ten renters or “experience” drivers are indeed men.

As for Norwegian traveler Andreas Arnhoff, he says he's planning to take his Ferrari shopping – to an outlet mall in the suburbs.

ON THE AIR
Echoes
Next Up: @ 02:01 am
BBC World Service

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4