Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Sunday, January 06, 2021

When ProTrade launched its fantasy-sports stock exchange game more than two years ago, I figured it would ramp up in popularity fast enough so that it would eventually include gameplay for all four major team sports.

So I was surprised to learn that it has yet to add National Hockey League players.

From what I can tell, ProTrade hasn’t added hockey because the guys running it can’t dope out the statistical measures for on-ice performance. Without looking too deeply at the particulars, I’d think that, if fantasy sports can handle hockey — basically by providing a mix of scoring, plus-minus, penalty minutes and other indicators — I can’t see why ProTrade should consider this such a challenge. Stats are stats — those who indulge will know that to look for, just like any other fantasy league.

I do think the NHL itself should be more proactive with ProTrade. Fantasy sports are one more avenue for selling hockey to more general sports fans, as fantasy fanatics often are in search of ever more varieties of distraction. If the league doesn’t see the value, maybe the Players Association should pursue it, since it’s really the player metrics that matter here. There’s precedence for either approach, as Major League Baseball and the NFL Players Association have bother established affiliations with ProTrade.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/06/2021 06:13:32 PM
Category: Business, Hockey, Tech
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Saturday, January 05, 2021

He’ll either fall in line or else be expelled into official scab-dom, but either way, Jay Leno will have to answer to the Writers Guild of America over his writing of a monologue for himself to open his “Tonight Show” broadcasts.

My question: Why is what he’s doing even debatable as a violation of WGA rules, when he’s the only union-member talkshow host doing it? His NBC colleague Conan O’Brien isn’t writing his own material for his show; you’d presume that he would, if Leno’s interpretation held any water. The fact that Leno’s the only one trying to pull this should invalidate the whole argument.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Leno get expelled from the WGA. I doubt he cares at this point; he’s looking at retirement in a couple of years, and a likely stint in producing to follow. He doesn’t value his union credentials even now, and will have no use for them in his post-“Late Show” career.

A wider impact could be felt by Stephen Colbert. Of all the talkshow hosts affected by the writers’ strike, Colbert is in the shakiest position, because it’s pretty clear that he’s playing a character on “The Colbert Report”. That means he’s delivering scripted lines, versus ad-hoc patter. I’m looking forward to a skirmish similar to Leno’s to come from that quarter.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 01/05/2021 07:48:54 PM
Category: Business, Celebrity, TV
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Tuesday, January 01, 2021

He’s already got a blog, but MC Hammer is thinking bigger when it comes to making a comeback, Web 2.0-style. He’s lending his cred to DanceJam.com, an Internet startup that seeks to challenge YouTube with a formula that combines HOT or NOT with “Pants-Off Dance-Off”.

But that’s not the real story. The real story is Hammer’s curiously influential role as a sort of consultative guru to the Silicon Valley business community:

His success in grass roots marketing prompted Salesforce.com Inc. to call on Hammer for advice in its early days. The company wanted to raise awareness about its online software service without paying a lot for traditional advertising, said Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com’s chief executive officer.

“We really learned a lot from Hammer. He is the most entrepreneurial individual I have ever met,” said Benioff, whose San Francisco-based company is now worth $7 billion.

Some entrepreneurial advisement — which, presumably, went deeper than “turning this mutha out” — and the next thing you know, Salesforce.com has a multi-billion dollar valuation. Gold!

As if that’s not enough, Hammer even had the early drop on the website he’s now challenging:

Hammer recognized YouTube’s potential before most people he did. Besides putting some of his own clips on the site, Hammer visited YouTube’s offices in February 2006 when there were still just a handful of people running the site above a pizza parlor.

Until he saw what YouTube was doing, Hammer had doubts about the Web’s entertainment value. “When everybody started raving about the Internet, I always wondered, ‘If it’s so great, why can’t you see my videos on the Internet?”‘ Hammer said. “It looks like technology has finally caught up with my vision.”

Don’t be surprised if the next wave of Web startups roll out with parachute-pants wearing management teams.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 01/01/2021 10:02:55 PM
Category: Business, Celebrity, Internet, Pop Culture
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Sunday, December 30, 2020

To go along with the tricky financing required for all those supersized mortgages that are now imploding, millions of Americans also have been setting themselves up for heavy debt-loads to buy more car than they can afford:

The longer loans are directly related to the higher balances. By extending the length of loans, lenders keep monthly payments down. But because these loans take longer to pay off, a much larger piece of the principal remains unpaid at the time the car is traded in.

The response of the automotive finance industry? Extend loans further and allow the indebted customer to roll what he owes into a new loan with little, if any, effect on his new monthly payment. In effect, the driver is paying a loan on two — or more — cars at once.

Basically, it’s a cycle that means you never are without a monthly car-loan payment. When I needed to own a car, I remember that you looked forward to finally paying the car off, so that you had at least a year or two car-payment free before getting on the new-car carousel again. Looks like that’s out the window these days.

Instead, we’re left with a perpetual payment model that carries a timebomb of macro-economic proportions. The scenario is certainly dire enough:

It’s not just individual consumers who are at financial risk. Nationwide, an estimated $575 billion in new and used auto loans are written every year by auto manufacturers, banks, credit unions and other lenders. About 30% of the loans that are originated by banks, and 100% of those issued by automaker financiers, are, like mortgages, repackaged and sold as securities, according to the Consumer Bankers Assn.

Analysts warn that just as investors didn’t comprehend the risk inherent in some of the more exotic home mortgages in recent years, they aren’t considering how risky these car loans are. If longer loan terms allow debt on the loans to grow too large, many drivers may simply default, leading to expensive repossessions.

The parallels to the housing bubble are painfully obvious: Cheaper lending rates spur volume growth, with dealerships concerned only with the immediate signings. The longer-term mess is obvious, but is basically being deferred to some miraculous future bailout — a salary raise, whatever.

The missing ingredient here, though, is the valuation speculation. In the housing game, the assumption was that the piece of property bought would rise in value — not an unreasonable assumption, given real estate’s traditional security as an asset. But that notion is laughable when it comes to cars, because common knowledge holds that a vehicle depreciates the second it rolls off the dealership lot. So the constant trade-ins and roll-overs had nothing at all to do even the illusion of building equity — it’s pure consumerism, disguised as upgrades in reliability.

Another reason to savor urban-core living, where parking/garage costs alone make it ridiculous to own a car. Add in this hazardous financial stew — along with the lack of real need for individual car ownership — and it’ll be a long while before I ever again consider car ownership.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/30/2007 02:50:12 PM
Category: Business, Society
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Saturday, December 29, 2020

A lot is being made out of the success of David Letterman’s World Wide Pants production company in coming up with an interim agreement with the striking Hollywood writers union, the culmination of efforts initiated a couple of weeks ago.

The deal, which restores [”Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”] to business as usual, gives them an enormous advantage over their competition.

GE-owned NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” as well as ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” had already announced they would resume Wednesday without benefit of their writing teams. Similarly, Viacom-owned Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert” planned to return writer-less on Monday, Jan. 7.

But I’m wondering: How big of an advantage will it really be? Will audiences care, or even notice, whether a late-night show is scripted or not? The NBC shows are usually more skit-heavy than the Letterman shows, so maybe the absence of structured segments for Leno and O’Brien will give these new episodes a different feel. And the question of some entertainment-industry guests — movie/television stars and music acts — not wanting to even figuratively cross picket lines might give Letterman/Ferguson a leg up.

But ultimately, audiences have their preferred hosts, and I have a feeling the eyeballs will stick with their usual favorites. As long as the episodes are new, I doubt many viewers will switch.

From that, I’m thinking the studios will use the resultant ratings as ammo against the next round of talks with the writers. The argument will be that the scripting doesn’t have much impact on drawing audiences, and so they’ll be even less inclined to compromise with the Guild.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/29/2007 06:53:18 PM
Category: Business, TV
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Monday, December 17, 2021

Last year, analyst Ben Dell’s controversial assessment that oil prices were being artificially inflated via market speculation instead of supply shortages seemed to bear out when pump prices dropped toward the end of 2006.

Since then, of course, black gold’s $3-per-gallon-and-rising status has made a comeback. So hedge fund investors or no, expensive oil as a dwindling commodity is here to stay.

Or not. Portfolio’s John Cassidy argues that the rising cost of a barrelful simply resets the economics of global petroleum production, to the point where more players enter and prices eventually will be driven down:

When experts claim that oil is running out, what they really mean is that cheap oil is running out. About this, they may be right. Outside of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and a few other countries, it is no longer possible to recover large quantities of crude for a dollar or two a barrel. But there are plenty of places where oil can be produced for $20 or $30 a barrel, let alone the $100 range where it has been trading recently…

With energy supplies expanding and the demand for oil showing signs of faltering, it won’t be very long before economic fundamentals reassert themselves. If oil were a normal commodity, competition would eventually drive the price down to a level close to the current cost of production, which at the margin is probably somewhere between $20 and $30 a barrel.

Of course, the oil market is hardly a textbook case of open competition: The OPEC cartel controls 40 percent of the supply, and geopolitics is an ever-present factor, as is speculation. The recent surge toward $100 a barrel was a dramatic demonstration of how traders can cause prices to become unmoored from costs for a lengthy period. But that also means that once market sentiment turns, the fall in prices could be just as dramatic.

All this depends on those competitive producers actually coming up with oil, instead of mostly dry holes. If they do pan out, we might see another years-spanning rollercoaster in fuel volatility.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/17/2007 10:44:49 PM
Category: Business, Politics
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Saturday, December 15, 2021

re-writing the strike
I have to admit, the chief loss I’ve personally felt from the ongoing television writers’ strike has been the lack of new episodes of “Late Show with David Letterman”. Nothing else I watch on TV — sports, old sitcom reruns and movies — has impacted my viewing pleasure more than semi-regular tune-ins of Dave.

That might be remedied soon. Because Letterman owns his show via his World Wide Pants production company — versus the television network ownership of the other late-night programs — there’s a chance of an interim agreement with the writers that would allow “Late Show” (and sister program “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”) to start up again, regardless of the situation between the union and the networks.

If it happens, Letterman will have a potential edge over his rivals:

The other hosts have been debating about when they might be able to come back on the air and it has been expected that at least the two chief NBC late-night stars, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien — both of whom are the longtime ratings leaders in their time periods — would announce early Monday a plan to return to the air, probably on Jan. 2.

If they do come back then, they might have to do so without their writers if the strike is continuing — and both sides expect that it will be. Additionally, the late shows might have some difficulty booking guests who were reluctant to cross a picket line. That too might put them at a disadvantage to Mr. Letterman, whose two shows would not at that point be picketed.

Late-night programming is a cash cow for the networks, so a race there to get around the Writers Guild strike could conceivably start a chain reaction toward a more general break in the labor dispute. We’ll see.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/15/2007 08:41:53 PM
Category: Business, TV
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It’s no secret that the U.S. dollar has been tanking versus other world currencies for a long while now, and there are few more fundamental ways to get that point across than this:

The dollar’s fall has been so drastic, it has seeped into the popular consciousness. In his last video, rapper Jay-Z cruised the streets of New York flashing not a stack of Benjamins, but a fistful of euros.

I’m smelling an upcoming remake of “Money Ain’t A Thang”! Although the lyrics in there refer to “spending hundreds”, they don’t explicitly say hundreds of what — greenbacks, eurocoin, rubles, whatever that day’s exchange rates bring a better yield to.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/15/2007 07:29:46 PM
Category: Business, Political, Pop Culture
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Tuesday, December 11, 2021

world be free
When are freelancers not freelancers? When they’re office-staff fixtures, or “permalancers”, at MTV/Viacom, to the point where they’re not going to take it anymore:

“The dirty little secret is that they used to treat us like staff but called us freelancers,” said a fellow in animation, a “freelancer” of eight years. Another guy who’s been there for three years actually left the company for ESPN, where he made more money, but then came back for Viacom’s benefits.

So are they really freelancers? “No,” said an editor of four years. “Why? Because we come in and work at the same place every day, don’t work on equipment we own, have taxes taken out of our paychecks, and report to people who are staff.”

This state of affairs was prompted by a unilateral change in benefits to these semi-employees:

The changes to the benefits package were announced last Tuesday. Freelancers were told that they would become eligible for benefits after 160 days of work, beginning in January. While that eased previous eligibility rules, which required freelancers to work for 52 weeks before becoming eligible, it would have required all freelancers not yet eligible for benefits to start the waiting period over again on Jan. 1. The 401(k) plan was also removed.

On Thursday, acknowledging the complaints, MTV Networks reinstated the 401(k) plan and said freelancers who had worked consistently since March would be eligible for the new benefits package without an additional wait. Still, other changes continued to cause anger.

This does hit home for me. I call myself a consultant, which is essentially a freelance endeavor. And in fact, since some 90 percent of my working hours are devoted to a single major client — where I use their computer equipment and office space almost exclusively, versus my own resources — I pretty much am a permalancer. (Furthermore, I work with a colleague at this same client who, despite heading up a department and being fully-ingrained into organizational procedures, is also technically a consultant/permalancer.)

But the point of divergence: Benefits. I get none, and I ask for none. Truthfully, in my mind, that’s the dividing line between employee and hired-gun (to put it bluntly). For me, that’s the ultimate way I keep my options open — if I wanted to walk away from the indefinite assignment tomorrow, there’d be no formal ties to bind me, beyond collecting on the final billable hours.

So in my mind, accepting healthcare and 401(k)s is a step that moves you out of the freelance mainstream anyway. I’m not saying you shouldn’t look for further rights and protections under that setup. But really, how much more is there to becoming a “real” employee beyond that? A few more taxes deductions to play with? Essentially, nothing.

Obviously, the Freelancers Union is weighing in on all this. Something tells me that neither MTV nor Viacom will be making FU’s top ten list of freelance-friendly workplaces, as they both did last year.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/11/2021 11:19:07 PM
Category: Business, New Yorkin'
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So now that “Green Monday”, i.e. the second Monday of December, has joined the holiday shopping landscape, does it live up to its color-of-money signifier?

The early numbers, per the Chase Paymentech Pulse Index of online retail activity, suggests it doesn’t.

No permalink for the analysis from yesterday’s aggregate results, unfortunately; so I’m going to repost here. Since I actually provided the verbiage and number-crunching for this one, I’ll invoke fair-use rights:

Chase Paymentech Pulse Index - 12/11/07

As retail industry observers anticipate record-breaking results from yesterday’s Green Monday online activity, the volume achieved by Pulse Index eRetailers for the second Monday of December (12/10) shows a healthy rebound from the prior weekend. In fact, sales totals increased 31.1 percent from Sunday 12/9 to Monday.

However, the totals from the day – $113.3 million sales and 2.1 million transactions – fell short of previous Pulse Index record-setting days during the 2007 holiday shopping season. In particular, it’s well below the current Pulse Index all-time high of $154.1 million, set on Wednesday 12/5. This would indicate that Green Monday may not have much of a halo effect for the online shopping sector beyond eBay and its affiliated websites.

Monday’s upward trend is consistent with the established online shopping pattern of pronounced early-week activity by consumers. Pulse Index data for the 2006 holiday shopping period found Tuesdays to be the busiest online shopping days, and Wednesdays appear to be experiencing the heaviest volume of the week during 2007. Based on this, Monday’s uptick should usher in higher totals for the next couple of days.

Given that Chase Paymentech fairly dominates the electronic payments space, I’m thinking this benchmarking data is fairly representative of the ecommerce sector generally. So much for going for the Green…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/11/2021 10:36:26 PM
Category: Business, Internet
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Sunday, December 09, 2021

First there was Black Friday, signifying the start of concentrated consumerism to start the year-ending holiday season.

With the birth of ecommerce came Cyber Monday, which despite its dubious pedigree has now become more or less bona fide as a Web shopping event.

Lately, enough retailers have been jumping the sales-rush gun on Thanksgiving Day itself to give birth to a nascent Gray Thursday phenomenon.

You’d think those mile-markers would suffice for the retail world. But for good measure, the second Monday in December is being christened with a color:

In fact, the second week of December is traditionally so big that the folks at e-commerce giant eBay have come up with their own moniker for the weekday that kicks it off: “Green Monday” (a reference to cash, rather than eco-friendly shopping). Company employees coined the term this month after realizing that, for the past three years, the strongest sales day for Shopping.com and other eBay sites was the second Monday of December. “It isn’t Black Friday and it isn’t Cyber Monday,” says eBay spokesperson Wendy Sept. “Green Monday is the day that people actually go online and buy.”

So what’s next? A “Blue Monday”, in honor of New Order’s techno-tastic 12-inch anthem? Joy (Division) to the world, shoppers!

Unlike Cyber Monday’s ascent from pure hype to actuality, I don’t see Green Monday catching on as a trigger day for online shoppers. There’s no real pivot day there to build from: Thanksgiving is a day/weekend off for most people, so the piggybacking of Black Friday and Cyber Monday there isn’t a stretch. But the middle of December? Even with the impending approach of Christmas, there’s nothing there to provide traction.

That doesn’t mean Green Monday isn’t valid, to a point. It’s supposed to signal the most intensive online shopping week of the holiday season, when people can count on reasonable shipping rates to deliver their gifts on time. That likely will be the case. It just won’t serve as a call to action for e-retailers, because without another event day to moor it, it won’t break through the existing marketing clutter to resonate with shoppers. It’ll remain a reactive measurement tool, and not morph into a proactive promotional one.

I’ll take this opportunity to shill slightly by recommending the Chase Paymentech Pulse Index for tracking online retail sales for Green Monday (actual numbers won’t be posted until mid-day Tuesday, after they’ve been compiled). I’m working on the analysis and promotion of that Index this ho-ho-holiday season, so I’m being a bit self-serving; on the other hand, I can vouch for it as a reliable business-tool benchmark.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/09/2021 09:36:33 PM
Category: Business, Internet, Pop Culture, Wordsmithing
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Radiohead managed to make a lot of noise with the pay-what-you-want Web release of its “In Rainbows” album.

So now, two months later, what’s been the tip-jar tally from asking for money for an otherwise free mp3? The best estimate says it was pretty good, even with all the free(down)loaders:

A statement from the band rejected estimates by the online survey company ComScore that during October about three-fifths of worldwide downloaders took the album free, while the rest paid an average of $6.

Factoring in free downloads, ComScore said the average price per download was $2.26. But it did not specify a total number of downloads, saying only that a “significant percentage” of the 1.2 million people who visited the Radiohead Web site, inrainbows.com, in October downloaded the album. Under a typical recording contract, a band receives royalties of about 15 percent of an album’s wholesale price after expenses are recovered. Without middlemen, and with zero material costs for a download, $2.26 per album would work out to Radiohead’s advantage — not to mention the worldwide publicity.

A half-full/half-empty scenario. On the one hand, the band could have made a lot more money had they been able to extract payment from every single download. On the other hand, that’s unrealistic in the Internet Age; consider that had the album been locked up behind a payment-only barrier, there wouldn’t have been nearly as many downloads — instead, an even smaller percentage would have plunked down money, while everyone else would have just waited for the tracks to show up on P2P networks.

And as it is, Radiohead came out ahead, financially and exposure-wise. Essentially, the money they “lost” to free downloads would have been eaten by the recording-label middlemen had they released a conventional album. It was at worst a wash for the band, and actually probably a marginally better haul, as illustrated above.

Whether or not this gameplan is applicable to other artists, particularly those starting out, is questionable. Radiohead was able to leverage their established stature to make a lot of noise over this stunt. Even they admit that it’s probably not a sustainable way to sell their music. And I think that, if there were a reliable way to sell an album at a set price, without having to worry about the tracks leaking out in free-downloadable form almost immediately afterward (or even beforehand), none of this maneuvering would happen, even when the bands are in charge.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/09/2021 04:35:49 PM
Category: Business, Internet, Pop Culture
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Friday, December 07, 2021

Nothing highlights how rapidly the telecom sands are shifting than the juxtapositioning of two pieces of telephone-related news this week:

- AT&T shuttering its 129-year-old payphone business by the end of 2008, citing severely declining use in the face of ubiquitous cellphone ownership;

- The veritable land-rush by Verizon, AT&T and other wireless providers to open their networks to unlocked phones and other devices, essentially divorcing themselves from the telecom hardware business.

Not only are fixed-line telephones becoming a disappearing historical footnote, the bring-your-own (within reason) approach to open wireless service suggests that the modern-day communications matrix is more malleable than one could have imagined even 10 years ago.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/07/2021 09:10:54 PM
Category: Business, Society, Tech
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Thursday, December 06, 2021

Not to sound overly callous regarding a legitimate learning and comprehension disorder, but I now I know why so many businesspeople can’t write so much as a halfway-legible email:

The report, compiled by Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she had surveyed — 35 percent — identified themselves as dyslexic. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than nondyslexics to delegate authority, to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses…

One reason that dyslexics are drawn to entrepreneurship, Professor Logan said, is that strategies they have used since childhood to offset their weaknesses in written communication and organizational ability — identifying trustworthy people and handing over major responsibilities to them — can be applied to businesses.

“The willingness to delegate authority gives them a significant advantage over nondyslexic entrepreneurs, who tend to view their business as their baby and like to be in total control,” she said.

Basically, dyslexia requires people to get creative in wriggling around everyday challenges, and that skill encourages them to take on ever-greater challenges. An upside to not being able to read, even if the rest of us have to muddle through the lack of communication.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/06/2021 11:25:48 PM
Category: Business, Creative
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Tuesday, December 04, 2021

Why is Queens Center the most profitable mall (on a per-square-foot basis - maximum bang for the buck) in the United States?

Partly because it speaks the language of its customers — pretty much literally:

Queens Center is the only city megamall that offers translation services - with a core of full-time multilinguists and the ability to draw on dozens of mall employees who speak other languages…

The Foreign Language Assistance Program, which has been in place for more than 10 years, staffs the mall’s guest services booth with bilingual workers who, between them, speak eight languages.

A basic example of commerce dictating social interaction: As long as the money’s green, the commercial host will go the extra mile to make customers comfortable, and thus likely to spend more money. That they dedicate staff resources toward enabling communications speaks volumes on the return on investment.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/04/2021 09:10:47 AM
Category: Business, New Yorkin', Society
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Friday, November 30, 2021

I had figured the Beacon backlash would prompt Facebook to overhaul its new Social Ads system within days, and that’s just what happened, as the social network has now implemented greater user controls for opting-in.

What’s more, the company’s braintrust explicitly acknowledged the hot-button issue that made an otherwise-theoretical privacy concern real for their users:

Some users have already complained about inadvertently finding out about gifts bought for them for Christmas and Hanukkah after Beacon shared information from Overstock.com. Other users say they were unnerved when they discovered their friends had found out what movies they were watching through purchases made on Fandango…

“We’re sorry if we spoiled some of your holiday gift-giving plans,” Facebook’s Paul Janzer wrote in a posting addressed to Beacon’s critics. “We are really trying to provide you with new meaningful ways, like Beacon, to help you connect and share information with your friends.” Janzer also acknowledged Beacon “can be kind of confusing.”

That’s what it came down to: Putting a crimp in consumers’ precious shopping experience. Hey, whatever works; high principles sometimes come along for the ride as incidental benefits.

I’m most interested in what this means in terms of Facebook’s trajectory as a growing concern. This was a fairly boneheaded move, and I’m surprised more users didn’t acknowledge it as a naked money-grab, implemented ham-handedly. On the business side, the failure of this revenue-generation attempt puts founder Mark Zuckerberg on even shakier ground (given his general inexperience in strategic leadership), and I wouldn’t be surprised if his days were already numbered.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/30/2007 08:15:07 AM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business, Internet
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Wednesday, November 28, 2021

Ever sit through an office brainstorming session and think, “waste-o-time”? Harvard Business Review has your back by declaring that corporate “outside the box” ideation efforts are too free-form to be effective:

More often than not, pushy people dominate brainstorming sessions, while others remain silent. Empowered by the mantra that “there are no bad ideas,” the session produces random notions along the lines of “Let’s paint it blue!” “We can sell it in Germany!” “How about an upscale version?” and “The problem is the sales force.”

Few of these ideas end up being taken seriously by the participants, and few deserve to be. In their experience, the authors have found that managers are at their most creative when focused on specific, provocative questions. This brings out the best in people who are used to being creative within limits, while also keeping the ideas within the realm of the possible.

You can’t expect someone conditioned to think within proscribed strictures to suddenly become creatively unbound when the chains are lifted. Besides, everyone knows consultants are the way to go for fresh conceptualization (said the consultant ;) ).

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/28/2007 11:48:59 PM
Category: Business, Creative
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Monday, November 26, 2021

It’s as made-up as a holiday can get:

So what’s up with this Cyber Monday idea? A little bit of reality and a whole lot of savvy marketing. It turns out that Shop.org, an association for retailers that sell online, dreamed up the term just days before putting out a Nov. 21 press release touting Cyber Monday as “one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.”

The idea was born when a few people at the organization were brainstorming about how to promote online shopping, says Shop.org Executive Director Scott Silverman. They quickly discarded suggestions such as Black Monday (too much like Black Friday), Blue Monday (not very cheery), and Green Monday (too environmentalist), and settled on Cyber Monday. “It’s not the biggest day,” Silverman concedes. “But it was an opportunity to create some consumer excitement.”

But now, the joke is on all of us, as enough buzz germinated over the past two years to make Cyber Monday all too real:

“When something’s pushed down your throat continuously and the Internet becomes more part of your life, the customs of the Internet become more part of your life,” [Ice.com Marketing EVP Pinny] Gniwisch said. “So they finally got a holiday for the Internet.”

I still think the underlying premise — that loads of people are e-shopping from the office because of faster connections than their home computers — is bullshit. In fact, most broadband households probably have faster Internet hookups than business endusers, both because of more optimized equipment and dedicated connections. And really, “cyber”? That qualifier reeks of InterWeb circa 1997.

Even with that debunkage, it’s not surprising that Cyber Monday would become embraced into reality. Another excuse for buying trinkets, with free shipping thrown in? Nothing more American than that.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/26/2007 11:31:48 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business, Internet
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We all endure it: Subscribing to a total package of 800-odd cable/satellite channels, just to get access to the half-dozen or so that you ever actually watch. It’s a rip-off, right?

Yes and no. The familiar bundling of tiers of channels is actually, due to the economics of television advertising, a cost-saving measure for consumers that the pick-your-own-channels alternative couldn’t match:

True, if you decide to take only one or two channels, à la carte pricing will save you money. But how many people are going to limit themselves to one or two channels? In fact, even if you pick as few as a dozen channels, à la carte will almost surely cost more than your current “exorbitant” cable bill.

The reason is that unmoored from the cable bundle, individual networks would have to charge vastly more money per subscriber. Under the current system, in which cable companies like Comcast pay the networks for carriage — and then pass on the cost to their customers — networks get to charge on the basis of everyone who subscribes to cable television, whether they watch the network or not. The system has the effect of generating more money than a network “deserves” based purely on viewership. Networks also get to charge more for advertising than they would if they were not part of the bundle.

Take, for instance, ESPN, which charges the highest amount of any cable network: $3 per subscriber per month. (I’m borrowing this example from a recent research note by Craig Moffett, the Sanford C. Bernstein cable analyst.) Suppose in an à la carte world, 25 percent of the nation’s cable subscribers take ESPN. If that were the case, the network would have to charge each subscriber not $3, but $12 a month to keep its revenue the same. (And don’t forget: with its $1.1 billion annual bill to the National Football League alone, ESPN is hardly in a position to tolerate declining revenues.)

And that’s one of the most popular channels on cable. What percentage of cable subscribers would take Discovery, or the Food Network, or Oxygen, or Hallmark — or the many, many more obscure networks that you can now find up and down your cable box? Five percent? Ten percent? According to Mr. Moffett’s analysis, if every African-American family in the country subscribed to the Black Entertainment Network, it would still have to raise its fees by 588 percent. He adds, “If just half opted in — still a wildly optimistic scenario — the price would rise by 1,200 percent.”

Ironically, the free-for-all under an a la carte system sounds awfully like the Web — a decentralized media outlet filled with mostly isolated content aggregations (channels/websites). Such a fragmented environment poses challenges for both building audiences and, subsequently, attracting serious ad money — thus the jacked-up subscriber fees. The counteracting solution would be an overarching advertising syndicate for the a la carte television universe, ala Google AdSense (which has actually made the Web advertising viable, for a change).

The big difference is that, while it can cost next to nothing to maintain a website, it costs tons to keep the lights on at a television network. One effect might be tightly-focused programming for each network, just like ESPN for sports (or perhaps more likely, single-purpose channels for each sport, etc.); but they’d have to have pretty large audiences to stay afloat, with high premiums per pair of eyeballs for ad placement. Pretty soon, the dollars simply don’t make sense.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/26/2007 11:06:58 PM
Category: Business, TV
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Sunday, November 25, 2021

In case the hype surrounding Black Friday hasn’t stressed the broader impact of this year’s holiday shopping madness, Fortune Magazine frames the make-or-break stakes in terms of a final straw for a teetering U.S. economy:

With consumer spending accounting for about three-quarters of U.S. economic activity, some economists say it is inevitable that the economy will stop growing at some point in the coming year, for the first time since the mild recession of 2001. “Right now, the question is how bad it’s going to get,” said David Rosenberg, chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “The question is one of magnitude.”

And that’s the bright-side view, although the ultra-pessimistic take has a Cassandra-like quality to it:

Others are more direct. Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University who has been predicting the collapse of the housing bubble for years, wrote recently that not only is a recession inevitable, he also sees “the risk of a severe and worsening liquidity and credit crunch leading to a generalized meltdown of the financial system of a severity and magnitude like we have never observed before.”

Note that “predicting the collapse of the housing bubble for years” part. In other words, Roubini has been issuing doom-and-gloom housing forecasts every six months, and has dumb-lucked into being right after a string of wrong calls — the “even a broken clock is right twice a day” approach to economic analysis. So I’m thinking he’s not the most accurate barometer.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/25/2007 07:52:21 PM
Category: Business, Society
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Saturday, November 24, 2021

No matter how well-intentioned, the concept of giving a friend or loved one “energy gift certificates”, to be redeemed on the monthly utility bill, seems sure to inflict grave insult.

[Orange & Rockland Utilities spokesperson Guy] Peifer said the certificates were a good idea for people who were difficult to buy gifts for, since they already “had everything,” as well as senior citizens and others.

“It’s a thoughtful and practical gift for a friend or loved one on a tight budget or living on a fixed income,” Peifer said.

Basically, you’re telling the recipient that you know that they need help paying the bills, so your gift to them is to cover the lights and heating for the winter. Nice. No awkwardness there!

If you’re going to do that, you might was well just pay the bill directly and not bother with the actual paper certificates. They don’t accomplish what gift certificates/cards are supposed to do, anyway: Encourage the recipient to spend the value of the gift amount plus more (which is not possible — you can’t tack on an impulse purchase to the monthly gas/electric bill).

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/24/2007 04:33:02 PM
Category: Business, New Yorkin'
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