Saturday, June 16, 2012

Redbox is Kicking Netflix's Butt

Shares of Netflix (NFLX) got off to a smoking start this year after a nightmarish 2011. But like the rest of the market (and especially momentum stocks), Netflix has come crashing back to Earth. The stock is now actually down almost 10% in 2012. Do investors think that the video market is dead?

Not necessarily.

Take a look at Coinstar (CSTR). The owner of the bargain DVD rental kiosk service Redbox is having a banner year. Shares are up nearly 40%. What gives? Well, I think one reason is that Coinstar, which also operates its namesake coin counting machines in mass market retailers, may be benefiting from the weakness in the economy.

A monthly subscription for Netflix could be the type of thing you cut if you're worried about job stability, Europe's financial woes and stock market volatility. But the occasional "splurge" on a movie for $1.20? That's still doable.

"Redbox is more compeitive if you only watch a DVD a week. The vast majority of people watch fewer than 3 movies a month," said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. "There is a reason Wal-Mart exists. People like the value proposition. And that's the same reason why Redbox exists."

There's also the fact that Coinstar is a more diverse company than Netflix. The company is even branching out into the coffee business. Earlier this month, Coinstar announced a deal with caffeine king Starbucks (SBUX) to offer Starbucks' Seattle Best Coffee in new Rubi kiosks in supermarkets and grocery stores.  Coinstar's shares are up about 6% since the Starbucks news.

Coinstar and Redbox often get mocked for being so old-school, but not everybody wants to watch movies streaming on their smartphomes or iPad. Plus: Sometimes consumers actually have to leave their homes to shop for things. (Three cheers for analog retail! You go, Luddites!)

Still, it's not as if Coinstar risks being lost in the online video revolution. Redbox inked a streaming/DVD joint venture with telecom giant Verizon (VZ) in February. The service is set to launch in the second half of the year.

Netflix, on the other hand, continues to befuddle investors. While the worst appears to be over in terms of subscriber defections following last year's decision to charge people separately for DVDs and streaming and the ill-fated and short-lived decision to rebrand the DVD business Qwikster, Netflix is still a company faced with many challenges.

The company is spending a lot to license content from the major movie studios. It's now a content producer as well, with new shows like Kevin Spacey's "House of Cards" and the eagerly awaited revival of "Arrested Development." Netflix is also expanding aggressively overseas. These may all be smart long-term moves, but they are hurting earnings now.

"Netflix has a lack of visibility regarding international expansion. When will the losses narrow and margins improve?" said Steve Frankel, analyst with Dougherty & Company in Boston. "Netflix may also double down on more new markets."

Analysts now expect Netflix to eke out a tiny profit this year, after earlier projections of a full-year loss. But profit forecasts for 2013 have steadily come down over the past few months. That's not good. What's more, Netflix's revenues are no longer growing in the manner befitting a true go-go momentum stock. Analysts are predicting rather pedestrian sales growth of 13% this year and 15% in 2013.

Compare that with Coinstar. Its sales growth is expected to top 23% this year and earnings are expected to surge 35%. Revenues are only expected to increase 12% next year, while profits are forecast to rise only 10%. Wall Street analysts have been ratcheting up their Coinstar earnings projections -- a sharp contrast with how they're viewing Netflix.

And then there's valuation, which ultimately is what really matters. Netflix, despite its recent stumbles, still trades at 30 times 2013 earnings estimates. Coinstar, even after its big spike this year, is valued at just 12 times next year's profit targets.

Pachter, who has a "buy" rating on Coinstar and a "sell" on Netflix, maintains that Netflix is still overpriced, given that it faces so much competition in streaming video. In addition to the looming Verizon/Coinstar joint venture, companies like Amazon (AMZN) and Hulu, the online video firm co-owned by media giants News Corp. (NWSA), Walt Disney (DIS) and Comcast (CMCSA), are gunning for Netflix's streaming subscribers.

Finally, Pachter thinks that the DVD -- like the old man in Monty Python's Holy Grail -- is not dead yet. That's good news for Coinstar and not so much for Netflix.

"The movie studios are greedy pigs who want to sell their content to everybody. They would rather have more competition," Pachter said."Netflix is under a long-term assault, and DVDs are not going to go way for many years."

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What guarantees a second date?

We’ve all been there — the first date. You’re sitting across from someone you barely know sharing so-what-line-of-work-are-you-in conversation, secretly sizing each other up. What, exactly, convinces someone to sign up for date #2? Sure, feeling sparks must count for something, but after talking to some men and women about it, we learned that’s hardly the whole story. In fact, some of the men and women we interviewed below had one foot out the door their entire first date until — wham! — something small and seemingly insignificant happened that suddenly made them most interested in seeing that person again. Read their stories and who knows? Maybe one of these tricks will come in handy on your next date.

“We were both beer snobs” 
“I was set up with a guy named Rob; we met at a local pub. I ordered a Yuengling lager. Rather than just saying ‘Make that two,’ he complimented me on my taste — then picked something different and let me sample it. As we continued ordering new options off the menu and trading sips, it became obvious that we shared a higher-than-average passion for brewskies. Pretty much all men like beer, but someone who truly appreciates it as much as I do immediately rises in my eyes. Four years later, we live together... and by the way, he proposed to me in that very pub!”
— Jessica Waters, 26, Philadelphia

Lesson learned: A shared passion is extremely powerful
Finding common ground of the “He likes golf, she likes golf” variety is pretty much par for the course on a first date. But there’s something different about Jessica and Rob: They didn’t both just like beer, they loved it. Never underestimate the pull between two people who are really gung-ho about the same activity. Even if there aren’t oodles of sparks, many people will automatically sign up for date #2 since they’re smitten with a future where they can, say, get in a round of tennis and see their sweetie all at once. In today’s multi-tasking society, that’s a definite plus. “A common like also sets up an atmosphere of acceptance,” says Dr. Gilda Carle, author of Don’t Bet On The Prince! Face it, it’s a little annoying when you have to convince someone how passionate you are about a particular something. So when the other person just understands, it’s easy to stick around. So whether you’ve noticed you’re both raging Gleeks or adore Scrabble, don’t be afraid to say so and dig into a deep conversation about it. That’s gold!

“We had nothing in common — but wow, was he attentive”
“My blind date was going nowhere fast: I didn’t feel much chemistry when I met him for dinner, and it was obvious after the movie we saw ended that we didn’t even have the same taste in film. Next, he invited me to his place for coffee. Normally, I’d pull the plug, but he seemed really into me, so I went. Once we were inside, he went right to the fridge and pulled out a carton of strawberries, blueberries and a bag of grapes. I smirked and said, ‘What’s with all the fruit?’ His answer floored me: ‘Well, on the phone you mentioned how much you love fruit.’ His attentiveness made up for everything else and at that moment, I knew date number two would happen.”
— Pat Baronowski, 38, New York City

Lesson learned: Put some advanced listening skills into practice
Anyone with half a brain knows that listening to one’s date is important, and many of us do so (at least most of the time) by nodding and asking follow-up questions to what the person has just said. But if you want to really show the object of your affection how much you’re smitten, refer back to something he or she has mentioned hours — or even days — earlier (even if this is your first date, you’ve probably exchanged email messages or had a phone conversation you could comb for ideas). If your date talked about loving spicy food, for example, suggest that you dine at a Thai place that’ll fire up her taste buds. Or, if he mentioned an important office meeting earlier that week, be sure to ask him during your date: “So, how’d that big meeting at your office go?” As Pat’s story proves, this level of thoughtfulness will keep even wary dates so flattered they’ll stick around, thereby almost guaranteeing you’ll get yet another chance to wow this person during date #2. 

“Dive bars beat fancy martini lounges any day” 
“I’d been hemming and hawing over where to take this woman and had come up with this swanky martini place that I figured would impress her. But after a little while, she suggested we head somewhere else. Next thing I know, we’ve gone from sipping martinis and struggling to make small talk to chugging beer and playing darts at a dive together. That’s when we started having fun, and I immediately knew I’d be asking her out again.”
— Bryan Abrams, 28, San Francisco 

Lesson learned: Comfortable atmosphere = comfortable with each other
Fancy five-star dinners are nice and all, but they can definitely put a crimp in your comfort level (“Am I using the right fork for this appetizer?”). And that can easily make you feel a little awkward with each other, too. So consider something more laid-back, like a date at your local diner, bowling alley, or anywhere you’re guaranteed to feel relaxed. “This is like watching reality TV: no costumes, no masks, no subterfuge,” explains Dr. Carle. In short, you can act like yourself and instinctively put each other at ease and feel instantly like you’ve known each other for ages (and who knows, maybe you will!). 

“It’s so hard to find someone with manners these days”
“I knew I was attracted to this woman, but what really impressed me — and this may sound silly — were her manners during our dinner date. She said things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ whenever our waiters came by to refill our water glasses or take our plates. And after I paid for dinner, she thanked me in a genuine way. I’ve been on dates where women have been a lot less than charm-school perfect and haven’t treated the wait staff nicely at all. What a relief it was to date someone so pleasant.”
— Tom Foley, 29, New York City 

Lesson learned: Being courteous is key
In these modern (and casual) times, manners often get overlooked... even on dates. And that’s a big mistake. “Small courtesies like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ let your date know you’re not expecting anything and that you’re not demanding of what you're given,” explains Dr. Carle. Also, being polite to those serving you shows that you tend to make a positive human connection with people as you go through life. So make a point of playing the politeness card, and suddenly you’ll seem like a genuine, kind and enthusiastic person — the sort most people want to see again and again. 

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No one can identify imposter who crashed MLB alumni bash

Pro baseball can be a transient life, so it's no surprise that not everybody remembered John Sullivan when he showed up for the Atlanta Braves' alumni weekend last Friday. Except NOBODY actually remembered this guy, and he wasn't exactly the most stellar baseball player, either. "We figured he must've had some health problems," said former Braves reliever Jose Alvarez, who was puzzled by Sullivan's performance during the alumni softball game. The enigmatic attendee may have indeed had health problems, but he also never played pro ball: He had simply crashed the event, impersonating the former Braves bullpen coach by the same name. "Sullivan" was figured out Saturday night and disappeared Sunday morning, but his real identity is still a mystery.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I'll Have Another confirmed out of Belmont Stakes, will be retired.

I’ll Have Another will not run in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes—in fact, the colt who had a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 will be retired.
Tendinitis in I’ll Have Another’s left-front foot was the reason for the decision to pull the horse from the Belmont—and ultimately call an end to his racing career—trainer Doug O’Neill said at a Friday afternoon press conference at Belmont Park.
I'll Have Another was walked by a groom behind O'Neill and his owner, Paul Reddam, while the two addressed the media.
“It was unanimous to retire him,” Reddam said.
O’Neill added of his horse’s injury, “Could he run and compete? Yes. Would it be in his best interest? No.”
After an early Friday morning gallop, O'Neill declared I'll Have Another "fit and ready to go," but the trainer later noticed that the horse’s left-front foot was tender.
“He galloped great yesterday and then in the afternoon he had a little bit of swelling in his left front leg," O’Neill said earlier on The Dan Patrick Show. "This morning he looked perfect. I took him out and I just did a little something with him, and after training that swelling came back. I had the vet come over. He scanned his left front leg and he’s got the start of some tendinitis in that front leg. So he’s not 100 percent, and we ain’t taking any chances and (are) pulling him out."
Added O'Neill, “It’s a bummer but far from tragic.”
With I’ll Have Another out, the favorites in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes figure to be Dullahan and Union Rags. But there’s clearly a pall that’s been cast over the race, and the mood around Belmont Park has been characterized as one of shock.
“It’s devastating," said Dale Romans, who trains Dullahan. "I thought this was going to be one of the great races in history. I wanted to be part of that. But this is bigger. This is terrible news.”
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Postal Service offers $15,000 buyouts to 45,000 mail handlers

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The U.S. Postal Service is offering buyouts to 45,000 mail handlers, part of the struggling agency's efforts to shed staff and cut costs.
The $15,000 buyouts, pro-rated for part-time staff, are available to nearly all of the Postal Service's mail handlers, excluding around 2,000 who aren't career employees.
Mail handlers work at post offices and mail processing centers sorting mail, transporting it within their facility and loading and unloading trucks.
"The Postal Service is adjusting the size of its network to adapt to America's changing mailing trends," USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said in an email Friday.
The Postal Service wants to reduce its workforce by 150,000 by 2015, though Saunders said he had "nothing to announce" regarding potential buyouts for other USPS employees.
The offer for mail handlers, finalized earlier this week, came as a result of talks between the Postal Service and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. In a statement Thursday, the union said the deal "is intended to provide a financial cushion, and added peace of mind, for Mail Handlers who might be prepared to move on to the next chapter of their lives."
A USPS spokesman said accepting the buyout offer would have "no effect" on pre-existing pension agreements. As is the case in many pension plans, however, USPS employees receive reduced benefits if they retire early.
The Postal Service reported a $3.2 billion loss for the first three months of this year. The recession, declining mail volumes and a congressional mandate to pre-fund retirement health care benefits drove the losses.
The health care mandate is a major liability for the Postal Service, which doesn't have the cash to make a $5.5 billion payment that's due in August. The Postal Service supports itself on sales of postage and mail services, and gets no taxpayer funding.
Earlier this month, the agency announced that it was averting previously-planned closures of rural post offices and delaying consolidations of postal plants. Some 48 plants are still set to be closed or consolidated in July and August, and others could follow in 2013 and 2014.

Why Television Is Trouncing Film at Major Media Companies

Movies are fast becoming the ugly stepchild for major media companies, while television continues to be the cash cow that drives profits.
That's the message that emerges from an analysis conducted by TheWrap of the annual reports of five major media companies in 2011. And it's a dramatic change from the way things used to be, when movies were the straw that stirred Hollywood's drink.
"I remember when international buyers had to be forced to take TV product, and they only wanted movies -- now it's the other way around," Jeff Sagansky, former president of CBS Entertainment and a former senior executive at Sony, told TheWrap.
The latest annual reports show that film has become a very small piece of the overall revenue pie. Television can be counted on to generate roughly half of a company's revenue and up to 80 percent of its operating income, such as at Time Warner. (Sony does not break out its TV and film revenues and thus was not included in the survey.)
Though Paramount has began to ramp up its film production in recent years with hits like "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" and "Star Trek," its big screen successes cannot match those of Comedy Central, Nick at Nite, MTV and Nickelodeon. From ad sales to SpongeBob SquarePants merchandise, the margins and opportunities for ancillary revenue are more generous on the television side of the business.
The strength of cable networks like ESPN and the Disney Channel and the affiliate and advertising revenue they generate enabled the Mouse House to emerge relatively unscathed from its recent "John Carter" and "Mars needs moms" debacles.
In a recent presentation at Barclay's Global Technology, Media and Communication Conference, Warner Bros. Television Chief Bruce Rosenblum boasted that Time Warner's small-screen divisions are responsible for about 80 percent of its profits. Although its film side has produced global smashes like "The Dark Knight" and the Harry Potter franchise, it cannot match the combined earnings of HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. TV Group. Plus, Warner Bros. hit programming like "The Big Bang Theory" and "Two and Half Men" earns countless millions more in syndication.
Fox News continues to dominate the cable-news ratings, while the company's broadcast network has churned out hits like "Glee" and "Family Guy" that allows them to paper over misfires like "Terra Nova."
NBC may be a ratings also-ran, but MSNBC has carved out a niche for itself in the crowded cable-news space, and overall cable operations have benefited from higher licensing fees. It is easy to see why Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts' first love is cable, not film.
Top executives such as Roberts have publicly acknowledged that programs like "The Voice," not to mention cable subscription fees, are driving earnings.
Speaking at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic decisions conference last week, Roberts said the film business was much more volatile than the television industry and made no secret about why Comcast plunked down $13.8 billion for NBC Universal in 2011. Let's just say it wasn't for the rights to "Jurassic Park" and "Jaws."
"We want to continue to invest in cable programming," Roberts said. "That's why we bought the company."
For television, the increase in the number of cable networks and video streaming services has created fresh opportunities to leverage hit programming through syndication. Plus, content companies like Disney and News Corp. are adept at extracting retransmission fees for the right to carry their channels from cable providers. 
"The value of successful programming has grown exponentially as new platforms have been created," Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming at Katz Television Group, told TheWrap. "More shows fail than succeed, but when shows succeed the upside is so dramatic that it's sort of the tradeoff."
After recent flops like "Battleship" and "Dark Shadows," it's not hard to see why film is out of favor. Movies are growing more expensive to produce and market, and attendance, at least domestically, has declined in recent years.
"There is no doubt that television has become more important than the film business and has been for some time," Hal Vogel, a media analyst and CEO of Vogel Capital Management, told TheWrap. "There's more stability. With films you can have 'The Avengers' or you can have 'Battleship,' but it's hard to predict."

Movie Theaters Bank On Summer Blockbusters To Boost Ticket Sales

This summer's crop of movie blockbusters are already shattering box office records and driving up attendance at the nation's movie theaters, giving big returns to major Hollywood studios and theater owners before the official start of the summer popcorn movie season this Memorial Day weekend.
Walt Disney Studios' (DIS) "The Avengers" has already surpassed $1 billion in international ticket sales since hitting theaters earlier this month. The superhero flick smashed opening box office records, raking in $200.3 million at North American theaters to beat out the "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2."
"The Avengers" has already become the fourth highest grossing film of all time in the U.S. and Disney's biggest movie ever. It's expected to vanquish its box-office rivals yet again this weekend, beating out the highly-anticipated "Men in Black III" starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin.
While "The Avengers" has held on to the #1 spot for three consecutive weekends, a strong batch of contenders are ready to conquer Marvel's action heroes for good. In addition to "Men in Black III"-- the third installment of the alien-action thriller that is back after a 10-year hiatus -- Universal's "Snow White & The Huntsman" starring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth and Sony's "The Amazing Spider-Man" are expected to attract big audiences when they open in July, putting pressure on this season's frontrunners "The Avengers" and "The Hunger Games," which has taken in $392.6 million domestically since its release in March.
Comic book heroes and sequels will continue to draw audiences to the theaters according to Matt Atchity, the editor in chief of He says the most profitable (and popular) movies this summer will be "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spiderman," which all cater to a core audience (teenagers, males) and have established their movie prowess in previous years.
Sony (SNE) and Disney are both poised to make profits this summer but the pressure to deliver hangs most heavily on Universal, notes Atchity. Disney's "John Carter" may have flopped with audiences but the venerable movie studio will recoup its losses with "The Avengers" and the soon-to-be released Pixar movie "Brave." Universal has seen its first summer blockbuster "Battleship" tank with theater goers, and its upcoming slate "Snow White & The Huntsman," "The Bourne Legacy," "Ted" and "Savages" could provide a mixed bag for the embattled movie studio, which celebrates 100 years in moviemaking this year. If these movies don't meet industry expectations, Atchity says, there could be a management shake-up at Universal.
A multi-millionaire dollar movie and marketing budget does not always guarantee big success at the theater and several smaller movies could steal some thunder from the major blockbusters. Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," a favorite of critics at the Cannes Film Festival in France, opens on limited release this weekend. The movie centers on two precocious 12-year olds who run away and Anderson employs the ingredients found in many feature films: love, heartbreak, grand pursuits, adventure and death. "Moonrise Kingdom" could be this year's sleeper hit, Atchity says.
This summer's movies could attract record crowds but movie theater owners have seen their receipts fall as Americans continue to cut back on discretionary expenses, like going to the movies. The summer movie season begins in May and ends Labor Day weekend and typically accounts for 40 percent of the industry's annual ticket sales, according to the New York Times.
Last year 543 million people went to the movies and ticket sales totaled $4.38 billion, making it one of the worst years for the movie industry since 1997. Ticket sales for 2012 have rebounded slightly from last year but movie theater owners are still struggling, Atchity says. 3-D ticket sales have boosted profits and theaters are streaming live Broadway and Opera performances to keep attendance up.
"Theaters are trying to do anything they can to get people in the theaters and away from their TVs," Atchity says.