Marketplace - American Public Media

U.S. steelmakers battle against cheap imports, again

Thu, 2014-06-26 09:47

Inside U.S. Steel's plant in Lorain, Ohio, steel tubes are cast, trimmed, and threaded. The freshly-cast tubes are a dazzling, neon orange -- like a light saber from "Star Wars" -- you can feel their heat from more than 20 feet away.

"Here at Lorain Tubular, we've made significant investments over the last three to four years, to about $200 million,” says plant manager John Wilkinson.

Wilkinson says that's largely in response to the oil and gas boom from the Marcellus shale development. But another big reason was China had backed off from dumping its steel into the market. That happened in 2009, after several trade cases were filed. Wilkinson says after that, the company was feeling pretty good about things.

But since then, he says, “we have now seen the Korean imports start to take the place of the Chinese, and actually exceed the levels of where they were during that timeframe."

In other words, it's now South Korea that's doing the dumping.

And the oil companies are all too willing to buy this cheap steel. Wilkinson says because of that, production at U.S. Steel's Lorain plant is just a third of what it could be. There's just not enough demand for its steel tubes.

"This facility here would usually run around the clock, 24-7,” he says. “A lot of these countries that are dumping into our market, I can't even make the product for what they're selling." 

The Economic Policy Institute looked at this trend, and saw that steel imports shot up 26 percent in the first three months of 2014. Right now, there are nearly 34,000 steel jobs in Ohio. But if this dumping continues, there's concern that plants will close.  

"China, South Korea, India, and others, have been investing in surplus steel capacity,” says Rob Scott, an economist with the EPI. “We now have over half a billion tons of surplus steel production capacity, much of that is generating steel that's being dumped on the United States. And as a result, steel producers have begun to lay off workers."

U.S. Steel blames dumping for its decision to idle plants in Texas and Pennsylvania.

"Once you lose a steel mill and it shutters, it's pretty hard to bring it back,” says Ned Hill, an economist at Cleveland State University.

Hill says not only are foreign companies selling cheap steel here in the U.S., there are claims that they're also making knockoff steel for global buyers.

"Every piece of tube that comes out of a U.S. steel plant, has a stamp that indicates the quality, and there have been charges that those stamps have been forged internationally. And if you have a weak piece of pipe, that can cause problems,” says Hill.

Meanwhile, U.S. Steel has filed suit against South Korea for circumventing fair trade laws, with the U.S. Department of Commerce expected to hand down a ruling by mid-July.

FIFA: Unsanctioned underwear is "incidental exposure"

Thu, 2014-06-26 09:26

Three items from the 2014 FIFA World Cup caught our eye on Thursday.

1. The U.S. men's national soccer team lost to Germany, yet still advanced to the next round of the tournament.

2. Uruguay's Luis Suarez is gone for the rest of this year's World Cup and has been banned for four months for his bizarre biting incident.

3. And finally, Brazil's star player Neymar whipped off his shirt after a game earlier this week revealing some colorful undershorts. Unsanctioned underwear, apparently. Brazilian media report the underwear did not come courtesy of the Brazilian team's sponsor, Nike, or FIFA's  official sponsor, Adidas, but from a design house called Blue Man, which sent a pair to everyone on the team. 

John Horan, the publisher of Sporting Goods Intelligence, says sponsors spend millions of money in exchange for brand visibility at sporting events. And sports associations are zealous about making sure players wear sanctioned clothing and equipment.

"They've all been read the riot act about this stuff," Horan says.

A couple years ago, a Danish soccer player also caught flak for flashing non-sanctioned undies at a match. He got fined more than $100,000.

Reports swirled that FIFA, the World Cup's governing body, is conducting an investigation into Neymar's underwear reveal. But in an email, a spokesman waved off the matter, saying the organization "is not in a position to provide detailed individual feedback on every potential ambush marketing incident."

It regards Neymar's slip as "incidental exposure."

Unsanctioned underwear: the new wardrobe malfunction?

Thu, 2014-06-26 09:26

Three items from the 2014 FIFA World Cup caught our eye on Thursday.

1. The U.S. men's national soccer team lost to Germany, yet still advanced to the next round of the tournament.

2. Uruguay's Luis Suarez is gone for the rest of this year's World Cup and has been banned for four months for his bizarre biting incident.

3. And finally, Brazil's star player Neymar whipped off his shirt after a game earlier this week revealing some colorful undershorts. Unsanctioned underwear, apparently. Brazilian media report the underwear did not come courtesy of the Brazilian team's sponsor, Nike, or FIFA's  official sponsor, Adidas, but from a design house called Blue Man, which sent a pair to everyone on the team.

Why bank loans are getting riskier

Thu, 2014-06-26 04:25

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has issued a new report that says banks are taking bigger risks when they lend. They're doing that in two ways: lending more in auto loans to individuals, and lending more in leveraged loans to companies. And, increasingly, they're making those corprate loans "covenant-lite." Stopped you in your tracks, huh? Let me explain:

Q. First, what's a leveraged loan?

A "leveraged loan," also often known as a high-yield loan (if you're talking dirty, a junk loan), is a risky loan, borrowed by a company that's heavily in debt. Because of the risk, leveraged loans come with high interest rates. They also usually come chock-full of covenants.

Q. Which raises the question: What's a covenant?

A covenant is a requirement that the borrower has to meet every month. Perhaps is a certain debt-to-earnings ratio, or a minimum amount of gross income.  It can be anything the lender decides on. Covenants act like canaries in the coal mine for lenders, giving them early warnings that a company might run into trouble and possibly default on the loan.

Q. Got it... so what's a covenant-lite loan?

A covenant-lite (cov-lite, in the jargon) loan is like a coal mine with few or no canaries. So there will be little or no advance warning of problems in these loans: the first the lender hears about any issues is when the loan is on the brink of default.

Q. So why would anyone want a covenant-lite loan?

Well, borrowers love cov-lite loans, because they're easier to live with. There are fewer pesky rules and regulations to follow, and in some cases the loans are just pure money, with no strings.  Lenders don't really like them, for obvious reasons, but right now they're over a barrel. They're stuffed full of cash that they have to put to work in a very low-interest rate environment. There are precious few investment opportunities out there that will make the much money. And that allows the borrowers to force the lenders' hands. If you want a real estate analogy, it's a buyer's market. The buyers are the borrowers, and they're getting pretty much anything they want in these loans.

Q. Finally, then, why should I care?

Because all this means that risk is being baked into the system again. Leveraged loans are already risky.

When they're structured with few covenants, they're even riskier.

And when banks are loaded down with risky investments, well, we all remember how dangerous unfettered risk can be... don't we?

Millennials kick up soccer's popularity

Thu, 2014-06-26 03:00

The team is called Sacramento Republic FC -- The FC stands for football club (even Sacramento’s booster club also has a European flavor).

But they -- the mostly young people in their twenties in the stands -- call themselves the Tower Bridge Brigade. They stand, sing, and chant all game long.

“I grew up watching soccer,” says fan Ana Garza. “I grew up listening to soccer, I grew up with a soccer ball in my crib.  The whole thing is just exciting.”

Sacramento Republic plays in the USL. The league is a notch below Major League Soccer, where U.S. superstar Clint Dempsey plays for the Seattle Sounders. But don’t tell Sacramento Republic fans they’re second-tier. The team has sold out several games in a 20,000-seat stadium.

So why are these mostly young fans so revved up?

“If you just look at the numbers the average person, the average person when they graduate high school, at least in the Sacramento has played seven years of soccer,” says team owner Warren Smith.

Smith says he has actually been surprised by the extent of the crowds. But he knew all those young soccer players and their parents could support a team.

“They’re familiar with it. They understand it. They have played it. And so if they play it, that is one of the first indicators that they will buy a ticket," says Smith.

Sports economist Patrick Rishe says the reason professional soccer is growing is because it’s connecting with millennials.  

“I think it’s just a natural progression of people being interested in soccer,” says Rishe. “It’s been a popular youth sport for a long time. And now NBC has this deal with the English Premier League, so now we can see regularly the top quality soccer league in the world.”

Some say Republic FC’s early success at the gate and on the field could bump the team up a notch to Major League Soccer. But on a recent night, they were losing 1-0 to Arizona United SC.  

Brian Trainer, one of the leaders of the Tower Bridge Brigade says it time to get louder: “We’re going to keep singing, and it might happen right here, I’m hoping for it. Here we go, here we go…”

And just then, Republic FC booted through the game-tying goal. The assist, more or less, came from its fans in the stadium.

PODCAST: GoPro's next move

Thu, 2014-06-26 03:00

IKEA announced it would raise its minimum wage -- more on the motivation behind companies raising pay without prompting from government. Plus, with GoPro's IPO going strong, a look at what the company might do to remain profitable besides just selling cameras. Also, a new report shows that although Latinos are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S., they remain underrepresented in American media both on air, and behind the scenes.

Report finds Latinos are underrepresented in the media

Thu, 2014-06-26 03:00

It is no secret that Latinos are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in America. By the year 2015, Latino buying power is expected to exceed $1.6 trillion. Yet, despite this surge in population and buying power, one place that Latinos are under represented is in the media.

The Center For the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University just released a new report on that found Latinos are vastly underrepresented in the American media landscape, both on screen and behind the scenes.

For more on the report, click the media player above to hear Univision news anchor Enrique Acevedo in conversation with Marketplace's Mark Garrison.

Aereo loses at the Supreme Court: what's next?

Thu, 2014-06-26 02:00

After weeks of waiting the Supreme Court has decided on the ABC vs. Aereo case, with the court ruling against the video streaming startup and in favor of broadcasters. 

With a 6-3 vote, the court found that Aereo infringes on copyright because it presents a public performance, citing that the service's audience is not individuals.

According to Sam Gustin, a Vice correspondent covering technology policy for Motherboard, “The takeaway is that court simply didnt buy Aereo’s technological argument.”

The ruling could have implications for how the courts rule on other copyright issues raised by digital distribution.

“One thing that it tells us is that the courts are sympathetic to the arguments of the broadcasters and rights holders,” says Gustin.

Still confused about Aereo? Here are some answers to your questions

What is the service? 

What is its business model? 

 What might have happened if the court ruled in Aereo's favor?

GoPro goes public

Thu, 2014-06-26 02:00

The following story was updated after GoPro raised $427 million in its IPO, and its price jumped 30 percent in the first day of trading, closing above $31 per share.

GoPro, which makes action sports cameras, has gone public. The company raised $427 million in its initial public offering, initially selling shares at $24 apiece. 

Investors bought the stock based on GoPro’s potential. So what are they buying? 

GoPro videos are famous for scenes of daredevil skiing or surfing. So far, GoPro has made most of its money from cameras, which can be mounted on helmets, toddlers,  birds -- you name it. 

But, to really make money, GoPro needs to be more interactive; perhaps build its cameras into goggles that connect to the Web. 

“I might want a map of the resort. I might want to know where I am in the resort, ” says Andrew Sheehy of Generator Research.

GoPro videos could also have a future on cable TV.

“If they are able to take a 'best of' and upstream it -- you know, they get their own half-hour show on MTV or something,” says Jeff Howe, who teaches multimedia journalism at Northeastern University.

GoPro could sell advertising, leading to a steady stream of revenue, which investors would love. 

Why is GoPro so popular? Check out some of the craziest, death-defying, fascinating, and hilarious GoPro videos on the web.

1. Watch what happens when this GoPro camera falls out of a plane. You won't believe the end. 

2. Daredevil Felix Baumgartner inspired the world when he became the first man to jump from 24 miles above the surface of the Earth. See what he saw through the GoPro attached to his head.

3. GoPros aren't just for taping freefalls from great heights. Here's what happens when you put one on a ukulele and give that ukulele to an orangutan. 

4. People use GoPros to go places they couldn't otherwise go -- like right up to a rattlesnake. We don't suggest you try this one at home.

5. There's a reason GoPro is so popular with extreme atheletes...

6. GoPro was first popular with surfers. 

7. But you hardly need to be an athelete or daredevil to use one. 

8. This guy took his to Burning Man. 

9. Ever wonder what it must be like to be a rat crawling around in Walmart?

10. Or go to space? 

11. Or live inside The Matrix? 

12. Of course, who says you have to do anything interesting at all?

 

 

Everyday Activities With A GoPro - watch more funny videos

Why won't millenials just buy houses already?

Thu, 2014-06-26 02:00

Millennials get blamed for a lot these days: entitled behavior, too much texting, kombucha.

Now, there's one more thing that's kind of their fault (but only kind of), according to a new report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies: the sluggish housing recovery.

"Young people are always the key to the housing market," says Chris Herbert, the center's director of research. He says an expanding housing market requires a chain reaction -- young people buy starter homes from middle-aged people, who in turn upgrade to bigger homes themselves, and on and on. But "without those young buyers coming in to the market, the whole market really tends to get bogged down."

And that's what’s happened in the past few years. So what do millennials have to say for themselves for all this bogging-down they're doing of the housing market?

Of course no one millennial can speak for their whole generation, but 29-year-old Steve Parkhurst gave it his best shot in his recent Youtube video "Millennials: We Suck and We’re Sorry."

When I asked Parkhurst why he didn't own a house, he laughed.

"I've tried to increase my credit limit on my credit cards," he says. "I can't even do that — so the idea of walking into a bank and asking for a 30-year mortgage seems comical to me."

Parkhurst says the economic realities facing many millennials — student-loan debt, low-paying freelance jobs, and scary unemployment rates for most of his adult life — have kept him and lots of his friends from even thinking about real estate, he says.

"It's not like we're all too hip and cool to want it," he says. "I love the idea of owning a home. But at the moment it's just not a possibility."

Maybe, he hopes, he might own by the time he's 40.

When did we become outnumbered by our devices?

Wed, 2014-06-25 14:11
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Do you remember life before the bar code?

Wed, 2014-06-25 13:46

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Thursday, June 26:

In Washington, the Commerce Department lets us know how much we earned and how much left our pocket books in May with the release of its personal income and spending report.

Two things that keep you moving—Winnebago and Nike are scheduled to release quarterly earnings.

Next, let's go back in time and stand in a supermarket checkout line in Troy, Ohio. Come on, it'll be fun. Hear that beeping sound? Forty years ago on June 26 a pack of Wrigley's gum made history when it became the first purchase scanned using a bar code.

It's National Chocolate Pudding Day. Doesn't that just take the word "diet" right out of your vocabulary?

And in Brooklyn, New York, the Cleveland Cavaliers have first dibs in the NBA Draft.

$200 a month for TV in 2020

Wed, 2014-06-25 13:43

On Wednesday's Marketplace, in an interview about the Supreme Court's decision ruling against the Aereo TV service, Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson mentioned he is a "cord cutter." Meaning, he gets his television and video content without paying a cable bill.

Here's why:

A survey out from the market research firm NPD group says the average cable bill now sits right near $90 per a month and we expect it to hit $200 per month by the end of the decade. $200. A month. For television.

GDP fell, and is rising again

Wed, 2014-06-25 13:38

U.S. gross domestic product fell 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014, according to the third revised estimate from the U.S. Commerce Department. Earlier preliminary estimates had reported a smaller decline in GDP.

Contributing to this higher figure for GDP decline were downward revisions to health-care spending following the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act. Government economists initially predicted that newly-insured Americans (and those on new plans) would spend more on healthcare than they did in the first quarter.

Most of the contraction in the first quarter is still attributed to severe winter weather across the country in early 2014 -- including the so-called Polar Vortex that spread across many northern states. It led consumers to go out, and spend, less. Businesses cut back on hiring, production, and investment. Other factors slowing the economy down included elimination of federal long-term unemployment benefits, and cuts to the federal food stamp program.

“This is a terrible number,” said economist John Canally at brokerage company LPL Financial in Boston. Yet, he said the stock and bond markets mostly ignored the statistic, looking forward instead to economic performance in the second quarter, as well as anticipated growth for the rest of the year and into 2015.

“The second quarter looks pretty strong,” said Canally, “with GDP tracking (positive) to between 4 percent and 5 percent. It would be the best run rate on the economy since well before the Great Recession.”

Canally pointed out that consumer confidence is up and so is hiring by businesses. Unemployment claims are down, while the manufacturing sector has strengthened.

There are also worrisome economic indicators on the horizon: rising consumer prices, especially for food and gasoline; stagnant wages for most workers; historically high levels of long-term unemployment; and international tensions in the Middle East, East Asia and Eastern Europe.

Most economists don’t think there’s much danger of the U.S. slipping back into recession -- at least, not without a significant shock, such as a further spike in oil prices.

MIT economist Jim Poterba is president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, which determines when the U.S. is officially in recession. He said the GDP reversal this past winter does teach us something about economic prediction.

“What I think we learned from the Polar Vortex, and we could learn from a protected heat wave, is that there are closer links between extreme weather fluctuations and economic activity than we may recognize,” said Poterba. “Potentially, extreme heat can have similar kinds of effects -- extreme demands on the electricity grid, for example.”

The National Weather Service predicts higher-than-normal temperatures in many regions of the U.S. this summer, including the West Coast, the Southern Great Plains, the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic States.

Oil from fracking may end U.S. ban on exporting oil

Wed, 2014-06-25 13:38

Ever since the oil crisis of 1973, when oil prices nearly quadrupled as a result of an OPEC embargo following the Yom Kippur War, there has been a ban on U.S. crude oil exports. But that may change.

In two rulings, yet to be confirmed, the U.S. Department of Commerce will allow two private companies to export a special type of crude oil. It's a tiny opening in what could be a big change for the oil industry.

The crude oil at issue is a specific type of lightweight crude called condensate. It’s very different from what you probably picture when you think of crude oil. Condensate is not the thick, black oil that came a “bubblin” out of the ground in the opening credits of The Beverly Hillbillies. Condensate is thinner, it can look like tap water, and it’s highly volatile.

“Condensate,” says analyst David Bellman, “is actually one of the crudes that would be the easiest to refine.” It would be the easiest to refine, if it weren’t for one problem. “The problem is that the refining industry, for the last couple decades, has been told that crude oil is going to get heavier and heavier,” says Bellman.

As a result, refineries invested in equipment designed for refining heavy crude. But since the fracking boom, 96 percent of new oil production is ultralight, not heavy crude. “It’s not a great fit for the refineries in the U.S.,” says Severin Borenstein, co-director of the energy institute at the Hass School of Business at Berkeley.

Oil producers are worried that this bottleneck could get worse, driving down the price of condensate. “So the argument they are making is, they should be allowed to export those crude products,” says Borenstein.

Industry analyst Fadel Gheit says lifting the ban would lower crude prices on the global market. But it would raise condensate prices in the U.S. That’s bad news for U.S. refineries, as evidenced by a dip in their stock prices today. “They had one of their worst days in years,” says Gheit.

There is no consensus among analysts on what lifting the ban would do to the price consumers pay for gas at the pump.

The unheralded path to success: be invisible

Wed, 2014-06-25 12:05

The desk of David Apel, a senior perfumer with Symrise, a fragrance company in New York, is covered with tiny glass vials of perfume trials with names like Taurus, Top Gun, and Zeus. This is, after all, the culture of #SelfPromotion. And if you're a celebrity, an athlete, or just a Greek god, chances are you’ve had a product named after you

FYI, Apel describes Zeus,  in case you shouldn't have the chance to smell an actual Greek god, as a combination of bergamot, orange and mandarin, as "very ultra masculine, very rich, rugged, very sort of, king of the hill of fragrance.”

Unlike another tiny vial on his desk with the more feminine name of "Love Mist."

Love Mist, Apel notes, is not a name he conceived. And, none of these fragrances will ever be named after him. He says he doesn’t need public recognition.

"If I walk down the street and I smell a fragrance that I've created, I feel wonderful," he says. "I feel like someone is wearing my creation, I'm expressing myself through them. I smell it in the air, I feel a really great sense of satisfaction from that. But I don't think I would feel any different, certainly not any better, if  I knew that my name was on that. It's not about a name. In the world of scent, this is all invisible."

Besides, he says, when he began his career, he got a lot of satisfaction from being the go-to guy at his company. Someone his colleagues could rely on.

"I still like that kind of behind-the-scenes role," he says, "being sort of invisible." And "Invisibles" is the name of a new book by David Zweig -- it’s about workers like Apel. Zweig describes invisibles as "people who are highly skilled professionals whose work is critical to whatever endeavor they're a part of, but who go largely unnoticed by the public.”

The anesthesiologist, instead of the surgeon. The industrial engineer, not the architect.

"If you have your gall bladder taken out, you're never going to forget the surgeon's name, but you'll probably forget the anesthesiologist's as soon as you leave recovery," notes Zweig, yet anesthesiologists possess an enormous amount of responsibility, with your life, literally in their hands.

Zweig says he got the idea when he was working as a fact checker at Conde Nast. “When's the last time you've read a great magazine article and thought to yourself, man that was fact-checked beautifully?" he asks. "You know, never."

The better he did his job checking facts, Zweig says, the more he disappeared. Today, he notes, we tend to equate power with attention, but often the people with real power are in the background. Invisible workers, he says, can often be the most successful, but they view themselves as part of a team. Zweig says although today’s culture is focused on self-promotion, instead we should focus more on our work and less on tweeting about it.

“One of the people I interviewed in the book had this really great line where he said, having a lot of followers doesn't get you good work. Doing good work gets you a lot of followers.”

But at the same time, Zweig says, being an invisible isn’t about being meek and hiding in a corner. After all, there are times when promotion is necessary -- like talking about your new book to the press. It’s just, he says, that we should focus on our work more. Like the invisibles do. Zweig notes they share certain characteristics:  they’re meticulous, they savor responsibility and, they’re ambivalent about recognition.

Dennis Poon, a structural engineer who works on some of the world's tallest buildings for global engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, extolls the virtues of the construction workers who "sweat so much" on his firm's buildings, which he describes as team projects. He says they're the real unsung heroes. Poon has received many awards and honors over the years for his work. He keeps them stashed in a cardboard box under a cabinet behind his desk.

He doesn't like to brag, he says. "Who cares? Because when you die, who cares about all your awards? It’s the spirit that's left behind that counts, that’s how I look at it."

But Robert Bontempo, a professor at the Columbia Business School, says while the name invisibles might be new, the group itself isn’t.

“There's a very clear science that shows these are just stable individual differences -- these are just different types of people. Different people are comfortable with different levels of professional approach,” he says.        

And different types of people, notes Bontempo, self select into different types of careers.

“Extroverted, life of the party types, become marketers," he says. "They don't go into the lab. Detail-oriented people with strict attention to detail become accountants, they don't like self-promoting sales positions. It's just sort of human nature.”

Both Zweig and Bontempo agree -- you do have to promote yourself -- it’s just not clear how much.

"I think we all look forward to a world where things are just and fair and people get the rewards they deserve," Bontempo says. "But until that future comes, I think we all need to accept that a healthy dose of self promotion is going to be necessary for career advancement."  After all, he notes, "history is full of brilliant, hard-working people who did great work and are lost to history."

After court verdict, what do I do with Aereo account?

Wed, 2014-06-25 11:21

Unless you've been ignoring most of the internet today, you know the Supreme Court handed down a decision on a big court case involving the video streaming startup Aereo.

Aereo rents users tiny antennas so that they can stream live television content from broadcasters to various devices. Aereo says it's just a modern version of your old TV rabbit ears. Broadcasters say that Aereo is more than that -- that it is acting like a cable company, showing content to people and charging them without having paid the proper liscensing fees to the companies that make said content.

In its decision on ABC Inc. vs. Aereo Inc., the Supreme Court effectively sided with broadcasters, saying that Aereo's streaming constitutes a public performance of copyrighted material. It also suggested that because of that, Aereo was acting like a cable company. Lots more of the nerdy details here.

So the big question is, what if I'm an Aereo user?

Well, for the record, I am. And for the record, I've been watching most of my favorite World Cup games thanks to Aereo streaming them from ABC and from Univision.

Here are some things worth thinking about: 

  • The case was remanded to lower courts, which may suggest some time will pass before the whole thing gets hashed out. Though its important to note that the majority opinion doesn't seem to leave Aereo much legal room to maneuver.
  • Two of the company's figureheads have put out essentially opposing statements on the future of the company. Investor Barry Diller said "we did try, but it's over now." Meanwhile CEO Chet Kanojia said today in a statement, "We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done.  We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world." Nice and vague, right? But in the wake of the decision, people inside the company may be trying to figure out what to do next, which could again take a little while. 
  • Like lots of startups, Aereo seems to be good at communicating with users. Because it's a digital company that requires an email to sign up for its service, Aereo has a direct route for communicating to users what is in store. The company has put out statements over email to users in the past regarding the case headed to the Supreme Court, so chances are, you'll get some communication before the service shuts down. 

After court verdict, what do I do with Aereo account?

Wed, 2014-06-25 11:21

Unless you've been ignoring most of the internet today, you know the Supreme Court handed down a decision on a big court case involving the video streaming startup Aereo.

Aereo rents users tiny antennas so that they can stream live television content from broadcasters to various devices. Aereo says it's just a modern version of your old TV rabbit ears. Broadcasters say that Aereo is more than that -- that it is acting like a cable company, showing content to people and charging them without having paid the proper liscensing fees to the companies that make said content.

In its decision on ABC Inc. vs. Aereo Inc., the Supreme Court effectively sided with broadcasters, saying that Aereo's streaming constitutes a public performance of copyrighted material. It also suggested that because of that, Aereo was acting like a cable company. Lots more of the nerdy details here.

So the big question is, what if I'm an Aereo user?

Well, for the record, I am. And for the record, I've been watching most of my favorite World Cup games thanks to Aereo streaming them from ABC and from Univision.

Here are some things worth thinking about: 

  • The case was remanded to lower courts, which may suggest some time will pass before the whole thing gets hashed out. Though its important to note that the majority opinion doesn't seem to leave Aereo much legal room to maneuver.
  • Two of the company's figureheads have put out essentially opposing statements on the future of the company. Investor Barry Diller said "we did try, but it's over now." Meanwhile CEO Chet Kanojia said today in a statement, "We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done.  We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world." Nice and vague, right? But in the wake of the decision, people inside the company may be trying to figure out what to do next, which could again take a little while. 
  • Like lots of startups, Aereo seems to be good at communicating with users. Because it's a digital company that requires an email to sign up for its service, Aereo has a direct route for communicating to users what is in store. The company has put out statements over email to users in the past regarding the case headed to the Supreme Court, so chances are, you'll get some communication before the service shuts down. 

The record industry is a lot like Wall Street

Wed, 2014-06-25 10:54

Music is a big part of our daily lives. Sometimes, we know too much about the artist than necessary and not enough about the people who discovered their talents.

"I realized there were important distinctions that made up the record industry. There were businessmen and there were execs," says Gareth Murphy, author of "Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry." "But there was a special kind of person who was not only a businessman, but a businessman with ears. People who could really spot talent -- early talent. They're all the ones who made the recording industry what it is."

Murphy defines the two different types of record labels as "cowboys or indies." The two compete, but they need each other for the industry to continue to grow and survive.

"The indies always find the next big thing and the majors, generally speaking, wait around for something to rise to the top," says Murphy. "But there always comes a time when any artist knows he will need a lot of money invested in him; they need mass exposure. And the only people who can afford that are the majors."

While conducting research for his book, Murphy found that not many people knew about the crash of the record or of the CD. He hopes his book reminds the record men and women of tomorrow of the troubles and industry crashes that were faced in the past. Regardless, he is sure that history will one day repeat itself.

"Just like economic crashes happen on Wall Street, the same thing happens in the record industry," says Murphy. "And there will be a renaissance, but we have to get back to the music."

How to get parents to pay $169 for a toy robot

Wed, 2014-06-25 09:38

When you’re covering educational technology, you see a lot of gee-whiz tech gear and toys that claim to make kids smarter. Lots of those toys make similar sounds. And we wanted to find out why.

So we went in search of the real meaning in the sounds of ed tech.

Lots of those toys are also pretty pricey. And it turns out getting parents to fork over for themalso  has something to do with sound, too.

Think of it as the sound of the sell.

Because this story is a story about, yes, sound, we encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to it.

Along the way we meet a robot named Bo, whose sounds were developed by folks who’d worked at Pixar, the movie studio behind Cars and Toy Story. Bo is an educational toy, meant to teach young kids to code. 

We meet Vikas Gupta, who heads Play-i, the company that makes Bo. He tells how sounds can establish an emotional connections between a child and the robot.

We meet director and composer Steven Wilson, who wrote the music for Play-i’s promotional video. He tells us about all the tricks composers use when writing music meant to make us feel a certain way. To put us in a buying mood, as it were.

And, we meet Bruce Walker, a professor in the School of Psychology and School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech. He talks us through the future sounds of our technology and how sounds help create emotional connections that can encourage us to buy.

What do you think?  How do sounds influence your emotions?  We’ve got a cool audio quiz here.

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