retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    How the world has changed.

    The Wall Street Journal had a story the other day about how the new Veronica Mars movie, to be released next month, is breaking down some barriers in the film business, not accepting the template of how movies traditionally have been financed and released. For one thing, it was financed via Kickstarter, which means that the production costs were paid for largely by fans, who also will have to pay to see it in theaters.

    For another, Veronica Mars will be seen in theaters and for home viewing on the same day. Because this violates all sorts of long-term contracts that studios have with theater chains, this means that AMC - the only one of the big theater chains to have the movie - is actually renting the screens to Warner Bros., which will then keep all the receipts. Usually, there has to be a three month gap between movie screens and TV screens, but the unorthodox arrangement makes that moot … and the producers, Warner Bros. and AMC are all going to find out if this new business model is going to work.

    But the key is that they're testing out a new business model. And since I think that there are a lot of movies out there that would actually do better if they were released simultaneously … this is an intriguing idea.

    And just to show yet another way in which the world is changing, the Journal also had a story this week about how Jimmy Fallon is in part distinguishing his "Tonight Show" from past iterations via social media … not only is he using things like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get an even bigger audience - I'm talking millions here - for his "bits," but he also probably can expect that his audience ratings will go up because he's spreading the word.

    He's not alone. That's an approach being adopted by Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien and Seth Myers, as well as "Saturday Night live" … while Jay Leno and David Letterman, for all practical purposes, are invisible on social media.

    It is a different segment of the industry, but it is interesting to note that when Katie Couric goes to Yahoo!, she'll be doing news programming online only. Some would say that it is a career in decline when the former host of the "Today Show" and anchor of the "CBS Evening News" goes to Yahoo!, but I'm not so sure. She may end up being more relevant than ever.

    Traditional business models simply have to adjust to new realities, or risk irrelevance and death.

    And finally … remember the old way of finding out when movies were playing? In dozens of cities, you could call 777-FILM and hear the following line: "Welcome to Moviefone!" And then you'd be able to use the phone keypad to look for movies, places and times.

    Well, needless to say, those days are gone forever. The company announced this week that it is discontinuing the phone service, though it will still be available online.

    But y'know what my first thought was when I heard this story?

    I was shocked that Moviefone was still in business. Because I would've thought that it bit the dust years ago. Because I cannot even remember the last time I used that old-world technology to find out when and where a movie was playing.

    Traditional business models simply have to adjust to new realities, or risk irrelevance and death.

    That's what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Y'know how Amazon got everybody's attention a while back with the announcement by founder/CEO Jeff Bezos that he was investing in drone technology that would allow the company to provide same-day delivery for packages five pounds or lighter?

    Well, Amazon apparently isn't alone. Netflix is thinking along the same lines … and the good news is, they have a sense of humor.

    Click on the screen at left to watch the video. And enjoy.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    Politico reports that the Obama administration and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will today "unveil the most sweeping update to nutrition labeling on food packages in more than two decades," changes that will offer consumers "a reality check about how many calories and how much sugar they are consuming."

    The new rules will call for labels to have a much bigger, bolder font for the calories in a product, make larger (and more realistic) what passes for a serving size, and will require the listing of additional sugars contained in items.

    According to the Politico story, "Food policy experts say the bold announcement, which is expected to anger the food industry, proves (First Lady Michelle) Obama is willing to tackle a serious and controversial policy fight after some advocates had been critical of her willingness to partner with food companies, like Subway and Walmart, in her campaign to fight childhood obesity.

    "Mandating that food companies list exactly how much sugar they add to products on the nutrition label, for example, is a thorny issue that is likely to rile up fierce food and beverage industry opposition in the coming weeks … Industry groups are already looking at a long list of food policy changes from the Obama administration, including a proposed trans fat ban, major new food safety regulations and forthcoming restaurant menu-labeling requirements. The FDA estimates the Nutrition Facts overhaul alone will cost the industry about $2 billion."

    The story goes on to say that "one of the most significant changes in the new labeling proposal would require big updates to the serving sizes listed on Nutrition Facts panels to bring them more in line with what people are actually eating, which would upend some current nutrition labels.

    "Take a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. It is currently listed as having four servings, with each serving accounting for 280 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat, or 45 percent of the daily value. Under the new proposal, that pint would be listed as just two servings, so the new label might instead read 560 calories and 18 grams of saturated fat, or 90 percent of the daily value, per serving."

    Packaging will also "have to provide two columns in the Nutrition Facts panel for both 'per serving' and 'per package' for larger packages of foods that could possibly be consumed in one or multiple sittings."

    Politico reports that while food industry groups are "responding politely" to the new proposals, partly because the optics of responding negatively to them would not be good, and in part because attacking Michelle Obama is not seen as a politically winning strategy. However, behind the scenes, industry groups are characterized as being unhappy, seeing the proposals as "sort of a laundry list of everything the industry didn’t want."

    In a prepared statement, Michelle Obama says, "Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family. So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country."

    Politico says that the FDA is fast-tracking the proposals, with the goal of having them formally in place "within the next year, after which point food companies would probably have at least two years to adopt the new labels, so that the changes can take affect before the end of the Obama administration."
    KC's View:
    Being the result of bureaucratic/government development, I'm sure there will be some legitimate issues raised about these new proposed rules. But I also think that in the end, the food industry has to err on the side of providing too much information. Some will suggest that too much information will confuse the consumer, but I think that this often is an excuse, because there are times, let's face it, when food companies do better when facts are obfuscated.

    In a 2014 economy and culture, that sort of approach won't ultimately fly.

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    Columnist Evan Schuman has a piece worth taking a look at in Computerworld in which he addresses the need for companies "to be much more transparent about the data they are collecting with their mobile apps, as well as helping consumers to better control how such data is used."

    While such efforts are commendable, he writes, they are unrealistic … because most companies don't even know what they know, which makes it hard for them to tell other people what they know.

    Schuman writes: "Not being aware that data is being retained is a real problem … I have argued that the problem is that companies that develop mobile apps are likely to test them to make sure they perform the functions that they want the apps to perform, but they don't really think about the need to make sure that the apps aren't doing things that no one expected, such as exposing passwords in plain text."

    However, Schuman also argues that "the whole idea that transparency is the right thing to do is built on shaky ground," and that while the argument that such data belongs to the consumer, who ought to have the right to determine how and when it is used, is "a high-minded principle," it is "not really based on fact. It can be legitimately argued that data belongs to whoever pays to have it collected (assuming that, where permission is needed, it has been granted). In other words, if a consumer agrees to data collection (even though that agreement might be buried within a long and poorly worded 'click here to use this app' declaration) and then a retailer, manufacturer or third-party app developer pays a lot to collect, analyze, retain and store that data, it's not clear that the consumer does indeed own it."
    KC's View:
    Sure, that argument can be made … whether it is about mobile app data or frequent shopper data or any other information collected and crunched by marketers.

    But I think that it is not necessarily an argument that flies when presented to consumers.

    I would argue - and I think Schuman agrees - that right now, consumers may not "get" the extent to which their personal information may be susceptible to attack. And they may not care, at least not until they are affected by a breach, at which point the inconvenience alone may cause them to blow their stacks.

    There's a lot that consumers and companies don't know about information vulnerability. But it seems to me that companies would be best served by trying to look around the corner and make consumer-centric decisions every step of the way.

    The idea that transparency is the right thing to do is built on shaky legal ground, but that does not make it, in the end, any less the right thing to do.

    Schuman's piece is a provocative one, and worth checking out.

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    Food Safety News reports that a year and a half after the California electorate narrowly defeated Proposition 37, a referendum that would have required the labeling of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the effort is being revived.

    According to the story, State Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) has introduced a bill that would require GMO labeling, but that is described as being simpler and more clear-cut than the earlier version.

    The bill provides some wiggle room for manufacturers and retailers, saying that products containing "some" GMOs would be labeled as “Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” Plus, retailers who did not know they were selling mislabeled foods would be protected from prosecution, a provision not in the original referendum. And, there is no language in the bill that would prevent foods with GMOs from being labeled as "natural."

    Another big difference: the original effort was a statewide ballot initiative, while the current one is legislative … meaning that as the current debate takes shape, the decision will be made by elected officials, not voters.
    KC's View:
    Gee, y'think that elected officials will be less susceptible to lobbying by pro-GMO forces than voters were back in 2012?

    I'm not persuaded … the pressure points may be different, and methods of applying pressure may be different, but the result could be the same.

    I'm not sure that the bill is enough; the idea that products with GMOs can be labeled as "natural" strikes me as a little weird, but then again, "natural" is one of the more useless terms bandied about by the food industry. (Except, of course, as a sales tool.)

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    The San Jose Mercury News reports that Walmart has acquired Yumprint, a recipe technology company that "has a website and mobile app to search and discover new recipes from thousands of food blogs, plan meals and calculate nutritional information."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    According to the story, "Walmart has become more competitive on the grocery front, expanding its food selection and adding features such as same-day delivery in the Bay Area. With the Yumprint acquisition, Walmart aims to grow its online grocery business … The startup will be folded into Walmart's growing e-commerce division, @WalmartLabs, which is headquartered in San Bruno and houses the retailer's website and mobile app development."

    CNet reports that "Walmart plans to utilize Yumprint's talent, co-founders Chris Crittenden and Wes Dyer, to help its online delivery service Walmart To Go."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    Mark Bittman has an excellent op-ed piece in the New York Times that looks at the decisions that the US has to make in terms of public priorities at a time when the corporate right to make maximum profits seems to conflict with the the public right to live a long and healthy life.

    The column will probably generate passionate feelings on both sides, and you can read it here.

    Here's a taste:

    "Redefining the argument may help us find strategies that can actually bring about change. The turning point in the tobacco wars was when the question changed from the industry’s — 'Do people have the right to smoke?' — to that of public health: 'Do people have the right to breathe clean air?' Note that both questions are legitimate, but if you address the first (to which the answer is of course 'yes') without asking the second (to which the answer is of course also 'yes') you miss an opportunity to convert the answer from one that leads to greater industry profits to one that has literally cut smoking rates in half.

    "Similarly, we need to be asking not 'Do junk food companies have the right to market to children?' but 'Do children have the right to a healthy diet?'"

    Check it out.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that "wine exports from the United States, mainly from California, generated a record high revenue of $1.55 billion in 2013, the Wine Institute reported.
    It was the fourth record in a row for foreign sales when ranked by value, the San Francisco trade group said.

    "Total sales, 90% from California wineries, were up 16.4% over 2012."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: