Hulu Bids Are In: But Will They Sell?

30 May

Is Hulu up for grabs?
Image: Hulu

The subscription TV service Hulu is potentially up for grabs, and everyone seems to be rushing to get a bid in. Last year the company brought in nearly $700 million in revenue from ads and paying subscribers (of which there are about 4 million), so it’s likely that they will be looking for bids of $1 billion or more.

Hulu is currently owned by three different companies: News Corp., Walt Disney Co., and Comcast Corp. While Comcast operates as a “silent” partner, Walt Disney and News Corp. have disagreed on a strategy for the company. This difference in opinion has likely been a main driver in the sale. The shared ownership makes for a tricky situation for buyers, since one, two, or all three can independently decide whether or not to sell.

So who is knocking on Hulu’s door? Everyone is, it seems. Yahoo, who recently acquired Tumbler for a pricey $1 billion, has put in a bid, as has Silver Lake Management teamed with WME Entertainment. Private equity firm KKR, led by business leaders Henry Kravis and George Roberts, has also reportedly put in a bid.


Hulu, like Netflix, is a leader in next generation television.
Image: Netflix

Time Warner Cable, DirectTV, the Chernin Group, and Guggenheim Digital Media have all also shown an interest, according to inside sources. For each of the bidders and potential bidders, there is a wide array of benefits to acquiring Hulu. Yahoo likely sees this as a chance to get more involved with video media, as Google has done with YouTube. Cable and media companies would probably use the service as a way to distribute media in the future, and companies like Henry Kravis’ KKR are likely interested in the growth potential of Hulu as compared to competitor Netflix.

Will Hulu’s owners actually sell? The bids would have to be high, but we already know that some companies (like Yahoo) are willing to pay a big chunk of money for future investments, so long as they see it paying off in the long term.


When Big Companies Trick Kids

28 May
McDonald's logo

9-Year-Old Hannah Robertson gave McDonald’s a piece of her mind.
Image: McDonald’s

Nine-year old Hannah Robertson doesn’t think tricking kids is okay, and she’s not afraid to tell people so. Last Thursday, McDonalds Corporation held its annual shareholder meeting, and the pint-sized public speaker gave CEO Don Thompson a piece of her mind.

“Something that I don’t think is fair is when big companies try to trick kids into eating food that isn’t good for them by using toys and cartoon characters,” she said during a Q&A session. “If parents haven’t taught their kids about healthy eating then the kids probably believe that junk food is good for them because it might taste good.”

Hannah’s mother, Kia, is a member of Corporate Accountability International. She also created an interactive nutritional game called “Today I Ate a Rainbow,” is a nutritional blogger, and makes healthy cooking videos with her daughter.

“It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time,” Hannah said, continuing on to close with her question: “Mr. Thompson, don’t you want kids to be healthy so they can live a long and happy life?”

There were probably a few intakes of breath after Hannah’s speech finished, and I imagine Mr. Thompson was probably sweating bullets. An impressive fourth grader, to be sure. But he handled the question as well as he could have.

Hannah Robertson

Hannah and her mother Kia make healthy cooking videos.
Image: TodayIAteARainbow

Thompson first thanked Hannah for her question and said it was a pleasure to have met her earlier. Then he went on to refute her insinuation that he doesn’t care about keeping kids healthy.

“First off, we don’t sell junk food, Hannah,” he said, continuing on to talk about his own children and their cooking habits at home (fruits & veggies included!). Then he went on to say that McDonalds had made a lot of healthy changes over the years, like adding apples, side salads, and fat-free milk to Happy Meals and the $1 menu—and he says they’re hoping to “sell even more” of those healthy items in the coming years.

While those claims are all true, Hannah’s mother, Kia Robertson, is calling for “genuine change” at McDonalds. Both she and her daughter brought up the issue of childhood obesity, citing unhealthy eating habits as a major factor—habits they say are worsened by the fast food industry’s child-targeted marketing.

“CEO Thompson, don’t you think a good place to start would be to leave our children alone and let us parents decide what’s best for them?” she asked.

Bitcoin Shows Promising Future

23 May

Bitcoin online currency is stabilizing at $120 per Bitcoin.
Image: Zach Copley / Flickr CC

Born out of online shopping habits and the desire for less regulatory control in finance, the Bitcoin is making some pretty serious progress with early adopters.  Although the currency is four years old, Bitcoin recently gained public attention when the trading price skyrocketed to over $230 dollars each.  The online currency has now stabilized to $120 dollars per bit coin, a massive increase over this time last year when it traded around $5.00 per Bitcoin.

Last weekend, about 1,000 Bitcoin enthusiasts gathered for Bitcoin 2013, a conference on the virtual currency in Silicon Valley. Attendees included a flood of start-ups, venture capitalists, Bitcoin vendors and exchange providers, and libertarians looking for more freedom in commerce.  Rather than using credit cards to make online purchases and deal with having to give companies personal information, Bitcoin works like a virtual cash, where only the money is verified rather than your identity.  Other benefits of using Bitcoin include the ability to back up your cash funds, a reduced risk of fraud, and short verification time for transactions.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss were on site at the conference as star investors in the new currency.  The twin brothers are credited with giving Mark Zuckerberg the idea for Facebook.  Along with the director of the Bitcoin Foundation Peter Vessenes, they called for the standardization, support and regulatory policies necessary to make Bitcoin thrive.  Right now, about $45 million in Bitcoin transactions take place daily, and that number is only expected to increase.  As more people adopt the currency, the price is expected to stabilize. For now, the Bitcoin foundation is preparing to hire a lawyer to work with Congress on better regulation for the new currency.

The Boeing Company Stands the Test of Time

21 May
Boeing's stock prices and its  Dreamliner 787 are soaring this quarter.

Boeing’s stock prices and its Dreamliner 787 are soaring this quarter.

The Boeing Company has shown that it can stand the test of time, posting its highest stock prices since 2007 this month.  After crashing to as low as $30.10 per share in 2009, the aerospace enterprise ended last week at nearly $98.00, closer to its all-time high of $104.99 in September 2007 than at any time since the economic recession.  This is in the midst of battling issues with the newest Dreamliner, the 787, and a plan to lay-off up to 1,700 engineers this year.

The Dreamliner 787 jet was grounded in January due to a problem with the battery design, which was causing the battery to emit smoke and in some cases catch fire.  Despite only having sold one 787 this quarter, opposed to the five that were sold in the same quarter this year, Boeing’s earnings beat quarterly estimates.  Planes in Japan are already flying the 787 planes and United Airlines is resuming flights this week.

Boeing is cost-cutting, issuing over 700 pink slips last month in Washington State.

Boeing is cost-cutting, issuing over 700 pink slips last month in Washington State.
Image: 401 (K) 2012 / Flickr CC

Cost cutting is one way of improving quarterly earnings, and with production on the new plane stabilizing, Boeing issued about 700 pink slips in the Washington state area last month, with plans to cut as many as 1,700 jobs this year.  Some industry professionals are speculating that Boeing is also looking to shift jobs from strong union states like Washington and Illinois to more industry friendly states like South Carolina, and this round of layoffs may be a way for Boeing to find cheaper labor in the long run.

Even with the 787 hiccups, it is clear The Boeing Company will not fade away or even find an ill fate.  The aviation giant will continue to be the driving force in flight travel and has proven the ability to get through hard times and turn finances around for the better.

3D Printing Opens Worlds of Possibility for Entrepreneurs

16 May

As the price of 3D printers continues to drop and sales increase, new services are opening up to anyone who has an idea.  Suddenly, the jumping through hoops process of creating a prototype have disappeared.  No longer do people have to suffer the lack of flexibility of manufacturing plants commit to buying 50,000 copies of their own invention just to get it to market.

Now, services like Shapeways can make your design idea a reality almost immediately.  Some of their applications simply make a black and white drawing into a 3D model, with no extra technical knowledge on your part required.  Shapeways will even sell your design for you in their online marketplace if you choose.  With 8 different materials to print with, the possibilities are abundant and everything from art and jewelry to machine parts and tools can become a reality.

A start-up called Kor Ecologic has designed a car using 3D printers that is aimed to be the world’s greenest car. Urbee, as it is named, is lightweight, aerodynamic and requires little material and labor compared to other cars manufactured today.  The car comes with a solar kit for garage rooftops to recharge the battery.  Someday, surely every city will have small companies making custom cars to order out of someone’s garage.  Urbee is just one example of how 3D printing will eliminate manufacturing competition overseas, re-localize economies, and even the playing field for small businesses and start-ups.

The Urbee from Shapeways is being called the "world's greenest car" Image:

The Urbee from Shapeways is being called the “world’s greenest car”

The wonder of this technology is not without its demons.  Recently, a group called Defense Distributed posted plans for printing a gun on a 3D printer online.  The plans had over 100,000 downloads before the U.S. State Department ordered the group to remove the plans.  Such actions and other thoughts have put 3D printing in the hot seat for ethical debate.  Is a system that is easier to exploit mean there will be more abuse than what we experience now? It is hard to say.  Surely, the benefits to social equality and sustainability will outweigh any negative effects the technology could have.  New technology is always met with challenges and hurdles, but one thing is for sure: 3D printing will change our world.

What Veronica Mars and Donald Trump have in Common: They Make Crowdfunding Look Good

14 May

Donald Trump has jumped on board with the new startup, FundAnything.
Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr CC

A new startup called FundAnything launched last week with an investment and commitment to personally contribute to projects from The Donald himself.  The new platform welcomes any project without screening or (probably) support like those stuffy guys over at Indiegogo do.  Even though 500 plus crowdfunding platforms are exploding all over the internet, Founder Bill Zanker seems to think that his platform will take crowdfunding “to the masses”.   Never mind the record-breaking $5.7 million dollars that Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas managed to raise on Kickstarter from over 90,000 contributors.

All snark aside, bringing Donald Trump on board is a strong advantage.  While Donald Trump is a somewhat infamous figure in pop culture, his 2 million Twitter followers alone prove his social influence.  Trump has also promised to make personal contributions to projects regularly, and promote his choices through his social media outlets.  Someone important gives you money and then tells millions of people how cool you are.  Who doesn’t want that kind of free marketing?

The platform itself has a similar feel to it than other popular crowdfunding sites, but the smiling corporate mascot is definitely the key differentiator when you visit the site.  Currently popular projects vary from throwing a party for Sandy victims, supporting a man with cystic fibrosis, to a new album for an unknown pretty face.  Crowdfunding is a great social experiment in seeing what people will give you money for and how much they expect in return.  The future of crowdfunding will depend on the rate of funded projects actually delivering on promised goods.

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas raised $5.7 million to support a Veronica Mars movie.  Image: eonline

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas raised $5.7 million to support a Veronica Mars movie.
Image: eonline

A recent study found that the success of funded ventures depend highly on the quality of the business or product, the vested number of stakeholders and the quality of life where the project takes place.  Naive “backers” of crowdfunded projects may not have all the tools and savvy to judge whether the project will be successful, so we may be looking at potential for scams.  If you are considering funding a new venture online, take a look over the company and determine the commitment, process, timeline and quality.  Remember also to be patient; startups often encounter unforeseen obstacles during or soon after projects are funded.

Joining Forces Gives Vets More Work Opportunities

11 May

Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama, more vets may soon be able to find work. Mrs. Obama is leading the “Joining Forces Initiative,” which aims to encourage more private sector companies to hire vets. AT&T has already jumped on board, promising to hire 5,000 new vets within the coming five years.

The best part of AT&T’s new plan is the fact that it provides a website which helps vets match their unique skill set to a job they would be best suited for. For vets, one of the hardest parts of getting back to “normal” life can be finding a job because neither they nor employers always know which jobs and skills to best utilize.

Programs like Joining Forces are becoming more popular these days. Blackstone Group plans to hire 50,000 vets in the next five years. “Men and women who have served our country, often on foreign soil, sadly find a struggling economy and fewer jobs upon their return,” said CEO Stephen Schwarzman. Blackstone has a portfolio of 80 companies and over 730,000 employees.

Veterans are now finding more work with programs like Vets @ Work and Joining forces. Image: U.S. Coast Guard /Petty Officer 2nd Class Annie Elis

Veterans are now finding more work with programs like Vets @ Work and Joining forces.
Image: U.S. Coast Guard /Petty Officer 2nd Class Annie Elis

Private equity company KKR, led by George Roberts and Henry Kravis, already has a program aimed at hiring vets. “Vets @ Work” was set up in 2011 and works to hire more veterans into KKR’s portfolio of more than 900,000 total employees.

According to Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, members of the military who served after 9/11 have an unemployment rate of about 1.6% higher than the average American (9.2% compared to 7.6%). And for vets aged 18-24, the unemployment rate is about 33%.

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson praised Mrs. Obama for her initiative in getting vets back to work saying, “It’s wonderful that Mrs. Obama has taken up the cause of those who have served our country so well,” adding, “All of us at AT&T are happy to respond to her call.”