The Decline of the Dinamation Dinos: How One Man’s Robots Became Passe – WSJ

Has Chris Mays gone the way of the dinosaur?

The whereabouts of the man who helped bring life-size, robotic dinos to malls, museums, zoos and aquariums around the country is unknown. The company he co-founded in 1982, Dinamation International Corp., is in precarious straits. As for its 600 robots, 23 are currently on display at the Detroit Zoo. Others are frozen in time in warehouses around the world, some being held captive by storage-facility owners who say they haven’t received payment from Dinamation. Still others have been sold or tossed in Dumpsters.

It’s all a far cry from the early 1990s, when Dinamation creations roamed the Smithsonian Institution, and the White House lawn, and Mr. Mays was billed as the man who sparked a nationwide dinosaur craze. “He had everything going for him,” Jack Hull, former director of museum sales for Dinamation, says of Mr. Mays, who is now 65 years old. “Many, many times he said he wanted to be the Disney of the 21st century.”

Ironically, the decline of Dinamation began at a high point of the craze it started: the 1993 release of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park,” whose computer-generated dinos made Dinamation’s onetime marvels seem stiff and antiquated.

Mr. Mays, a former TWA pilot turned entrepreneur in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., started Dinamation in 1982 with his brother, next-door neighbor and four friends, all of whom put up $20,000 to buy a handful of robotic dinosaurs from a company in Japan. Over the next decade, Dinamation began building its own creatures, churning out as many as 300 models in a single year.

With skin made out of molded foam rubber, lifelike computer-controlled movements and a thundering roar generated by hidden speakers, the creatures captivated those who saw them. And by 1990, one of the company’s baby dinosaurs presided over the White House annual Easter egg hunt. In that same year, the Smithsonian broke with tradition and charged an admission fee for visitors to view the Dinamation show.

In 1992, Jim Kirkland, then a Dinamation employee, discovered the bones of a real dinosaur that he christened Utahraptor ostrommaysi — ostrom for Yale University scientist John Ostrom and maysi for his boss. “I just threw ‘Mays’ on there; it was a last minute thing,” Dr. Kirkland says. He had intended to name the creature after Steven Spielberg, but at the time the discovery was verified, Universal Studios was threatening legal action against museums that used the word “Jurassic” in the title of their exhibits. Dinamation did not want the Utahraptor to bear the name of a man who was involved with a company that was suing its clients.

By then, Dinamation had relocated to tony office space in Irvine, Calif., and wasn’t stinting on celebrating the new dinosaur age. Dinners and dinosaur balls were de rigueur at the company, and top executives bought new cars and played endless rounds of golf at the Mission Viejo country club. Mr. Mays’s compensation reached $250,000, while the salaries of Dinamation salesmen ranged between $90,000 and $120,000 without commission.

“There was a lot of high living,” says Caryn Loomis, who worked as the director of human resources from 1992 to 2001. “It was like a soap opera.”

But the show took an unexpected turn in 1993 with the release of “Jurassic Park.” Once the public had seen the Jurassic dinos, the Dinamation models seemed more like fossils. “When I saw ‘Jurassic Park,’ I said to myself, ‘That’s it,’ ” says Erik Spyer, a director of sales for Dinamation in Europe from 1987 to 1995. “Once people saw them run, I knew it was time to go.”

To some extent, Dinamation was still riding high. In 1993, the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog featured its full-grown Triceratops ($93,000) and a more modestly priced baby Tyrannosaurus rex ($63,000). But the peak had been past, and the post-Jurassic period proved costly for Mr. Mays and his business. Museums lost interest in displays, so Dinamation increasingly turned to shopping malls, zoos and amusement parks. But the creatures were expensive to store and transport, and Dinamation was frequently short on cash.

In 1996, Mr. Mays took out a loan from

Wells Fargo

& Co., using the creatures as collateral. Dinamation valued the robots between $25,000 and $250,000 apiece, which put the value of the entire collection at nearly $20 million. But two years later, when a $2 million note from Wells Fargo came due, Mr. Mays needed help — and got it when he arranged for his friend, Indianapolis real-estate developer Melvin Simon, to assume the obligation to the bank.

According to Dinamation officials, Mr. Simon helped to keep the company afloat during the past two years. When Mr. Mays was unable to meet his financial obligations, they say, officials at Melvin Simon & Associates stepped in. On several occasions, Ms. Loomis says, she was told to fax a copy of the payroll to Art Felcher, vice president and treasurer of Melvin Simon & Associates. “We would let him know how much we owed, and the money would appear in our account,” she says.

Mr. Felcher did not return calls seeking a comment on the relationship between Simon and Dinamation and instead referred all questions to a company spokeswoman, Billie Scott. Ms. Scott refused to comment on the history of the relationship between the two companies, except to say that Melvin Simon is no longer connected to Dinamation.

Mr. Simon repossessed the creatures when Dinamation defaulted on payments. Mr. Mays, however, didn’t wash his hands of the dinos. For the past few months, he has worked with a group of former employees who had formed a new venture called Dina-Mae, also in Irvine, whose aim is to buy back the Dinamation dinos from Mr. Simon. But neither Dina-Mae nor Mr. Simon knows where all of them are.

“Perhaps a mated pair of Triceratops are now separated by an ocean,” muses Robert Bakker, famed paleontologist and former scientific adviser to Dinamation. “Maybe someone will put their pictures on milk cartons,” he added.

Joe Wujcik, a former marketing executive with Dinamation, developed a database showing where all the creatures are located and where they are scheduled to be shown. But he refuses to reveal how to access the computerized information until he receives the back pay he says he is owed by Dinamation.

And if anyone knows where Mr. Mays is, he or she isn’t talking. He worked at Dina-Mae into the spring of this year. However, his BMW hasn’t been seen in the Dina-Mae parking lot in Irvine for several weeks. The phone in his Laguna Hills home has been disconnected, and his cellphone no longer accepts incoming calls. The Web-site address that once belonged to Dinamation page is no help: It now calls up a dating club for divorced men.

Write to Jane Costello at [email protected]

Source: The Decline of the Dinamation Dinos: How One Man’s Robots Became Passe – WSJ

How the IEA teamed up with US donors to push for environmental deregulation post-Brexit – Unearthed

In the ballroom of the Hyatt hotel in Sarasota, Florida, the head of the UK’s most influential think tank made an urgent plea for donations for a new international trade unit he was establishing in London.

The top priority of the Institute of Economic Affairs’ (IEA) trade unit would be to push for a sweeping, deregulatory trade deal with the US, its director-general Mark Littlewood said.

The next day, at the Cornell Club in Manhattan, Littlewood told an audience of businessmen and libertarian campaigners that Brexit offered the opportunity to “shred” EU regulations and appealed for their help. Speaking at a conference, Littlewood later described his 13-stop US tour as “lucrative”.

In the following months, Unearthed established that the IEA is working with US donors to capitalise on the opportunity presented by Brexit in order to radically alter the rules and regulations that govern how we consume products in the UK.

A six-month investigation, which included undercover meetings in Washington, Copenhagen and London, found that those who have pledged money to the IEA include those with US agribusiness interests who hope to profit from a trade deal that scraps EU restrictions on US products, such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-reared beef.

In London the IEA’s trade unit, led by controversial trade expert Shanker Singham, has established itself at the heart of the campaign for a hard Brexit, advising senior Brexiteer ministers and developing close links with Jacob Rees-Mogg’s powerful European Research Group (ERG), a faction of backbench MPs.

Singham advocates dropping the EU’s precautionary principle, which underlies many rules on food and the environment.

The government has said there will be no weakening of environmental or food safety standards after Brexit. But Theresa May’s Chequers deal, which attempted to make part of this assurance a formal part of the UK’s negotiating stance, met a furious parliamentary backlash led by the ERG, as pro-Brexit MPs insisted the deal would prevent the UK from signing trade deals with the rest of the world.

During a series of conversations at a conference in Copenhagen, the head of an Oklahoma-based think tank revealed he has agreed to raise thousands of dollars for the IEA, principally from donors with agribusiness interests.

Michael Carnuccio, CEO of the E Foundation for Oklahoma, told an undercover reporter that his pitch to potential IEA donors was Singham’s political access and influence: “If they don’t know them, then we just explain they’re the free market organisation that is the private sector trade advisor right now through working in that capacity with Shanker, so they have the access, they have the influence.”

Carnuccio said that the partnership between the IEA and the E Foundation includes a proposal to target the constituencies of MPs using a US political tactic called “bracket and smother”; a model trade deal to be signed by the governor of Oklahoma and Liam Fox; and a trip to Oklahoma by leading Brexiteer MPs where they would eat chicken to try and improve the image among British shoppers of chlorine-washed chicken.

Funding the ‘brain’ of hard Brexit

The IEA does not disclose the identity of its donors, meaning that it is not known who else funds Singham’s work. In a statement, the IEA said that it has not received funding from US sources for its work on trade, but Carnuccio told Unearthed that the money raised by the E Foundation will be transferred later this year.

At a breakfast meeting in Tulsa in February, Carnuccio organised for Littlewood to address a group of potential donors, including agribusiness tycoons. “Mark starts talking about how to get a free trade agreement done, what I need in the United States is I need some partners and I need a big media push on the May government and others… in the UK,” Carnuccio told an undercover reporter.

According to Carnuccio, some of those present went on to set up a specialised membership organisation, the Bison Club, made up mainly of donors from the agricultural and, to a lesser extent, energy industry, which he said planned to raise $250-400,000 to cultivate post-Brexit trade.

The E Foundation also secured a commitment from its supporters – including energy and agribusiness interests – to donate $35,000 to the American Friends of the IEA to support Singham’s work. Carnuccio said the Oklahoma partnership offered US businesses the opportunity to play a role in Brexit.

He told an undercover reporter: “If you’re looking for a way to invest resources in the US, to where there’s a tax deduction for the resources and there’s anonymity between it, that will get the resources deployed in the United Kingdom in a way that gets as much influence as close as possible and at the same time, creates a conversation and groundswell, we have the system already set up, that’s what we’re doing.”

In a separate conversation, Littlewood said: “On this particular project, as it stands at the moment, Mike’s raising the money and I’m spending it.”

An IEA spokeswoman said the Bison Club was “entirely fictitious”, adding: “We do not recognise the figures mentioned of $250,000-$400,000.”

She confirmed Littlewood toured the US seeking donations for the IEA’s trade team, but said the events were “attended by private individuals rather than businesses – indeed no businesses were met.”

The E Foundation released a statement saying: “The conversations supported the E Foundation’s purpose to explore global business and research opportunities. The informal conversation enlightened us on possible mutually beneficial endeavours in the future between United Kingdom and Oklahoma.

“Any suggestions the conversations were about something other than constructive business and research pursuits would be completely misguided.”

Open doors

In May, Carnuccio and Oklahoma businessman and E Foundation board member Tucker Link visited the IEA in London, where they developed plans for a model trade agreement between the UK and the state of Oklahoma.

Shanker Singham’s political access was vital to the trip’s success: he arranged for Carnuccio and Link to meet peers at the House of Lords and to be guests of honour at a parliamentary meeting of the ERG, where Carnuccio described addressing an approving crowd and watching the MPs count votes of no confidence in Theresa May.

Littlewood said: “In the room… it was pushing at totally open doors, because that wing of the government just utterly wants some positive noises from elsewhere on planet Earth.”

Singham arranged for then-Brexit minister Steve Baker – who resigned earlier this month alongside his boss David Davis in protest at the Chequers agreement – to meet the visitors at the IEA’s headquarters. He also took them to meetings with senior trade officials at the Foreign Office and Department for International Trade.

“I’m telling you, that dude has access,” Carnuccio said.

He compared Singham to George Clooney’s well-connected “fixer” character in the movie Michael Clayton: “Shanker is like that but for trade and economics and everything else, they all just seem to call him or want to talk to him to, like, figure out how to get things done.”

An aide to Baker said: “Any suggestion – or implication of the same – that Mr Baker would attend meetings because ‘access’ to him was being sold is entirely false.”

She added: “On the occasion you refer to, Mr Baker met US Republicans in his political capacity to discuss trade relations between the two countries.”

When Unearthed suggested the IEA had provided access for potential donors representing vested interests to the heart of government, an IEA spokeswoman said: “The better inference is that prospective donors and a fellow think tank see benefits and mutual interests in making the case for free markets and prosperity in which we all have a vested interest.”

Memorandum of Understanding

At the DIT, where Carnuccio and Link met with Oliver Griffiths, director of capability, they discovered “that department is looking for a state to do like a pilot programme with,” Carnuccio said.

Littlewood and Carnuccio discussed bringing Todd Lamb, a member of the E Foundation’s advisory council who was running to be Oklahoma’s governor, to the UK for a ceremony  with trade secretary Liam Fox in which they would sign a memorandum of understanding, to be drafted by Singham.

“In fact, in the meeting at the Department of Trade, the guy from Trade that said we need to get an MOU started… he turned to Shanker and he said, ‘Can you help send us some language? Can you help put this together?’” Carnuccio said.

Littlewood told an undercover reporter: “We’ll get two governments to sign it. But go and ask Governor Lamb who’s writing it. Governor Lamb wants Singham’s draft, Fox wants Singham’s draft.”

He described the agreement as a template for the future US-UK trading relationship. “We can’t sign a trade deal, but we can sign the memorandum of understanding of what the trade deal will look like,” he explained. Agricultural regulations would be among the top priorities.

“It’s not legally binding… But that obviously has political force,” Littlewood said. He hoped other states would want MOUs of their own, creating pressure on Congress for a full free trade deal.

The plan, he explained, was to create the impression that other nations were queuing up to sign a free trade deal with the UK. “The big problem is the US saying, once you [the EU] and the UK have worked out what the fuck you’re doing, give us a call,” said Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

“And we’re saying no, no, no – you’ve got to come into this clusterfuck and say we want a deal… the nightmare is the rest of the world waits.”

In the end, Lamb lost the Republican primary contest.

A DIT spokesman said: “A meeting between DIT officials and US business representatives earlier in the year did not result in any binding actions, and no memorandum of understanding was discussed.”

An IEA spokeswoman said the IEA had not done work at the request of civil servants, but it is working on a “draft trade agreement” using Oklahoma as a case study. It said the E Foundation had offered to help fund the agreement, but the IEA believed “individuals rather than companies would be the primary supporters.”

The MOU was aimed at “furthering public understanding”, she added.

The IEA is a charity, which limits the type of political activity it can be involved in. In 2016 its trustees assured the regulator, the Charity Commission, that it does not engage in “policy engineering” or campaigning beyond its mission of educating the public about economics. This was according to a response the commission wrote following a complaint about the IEA from Andrew Purkis, a former Charity Commission board member.

But Purkis told Unearthed IEA’s work in support of a US-UK free trade deal appeared to be “a campaign which is not designed to improve public levels of information, not balanced and neutrally presented, and which actually has a specific policy goal which is motivating it”.

An IEA spokeswoman said: “We are confident that the IEA is acting in accordance with Charity Commission regulations. The IEA’s mission is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.”

‘Bracket and smother’

Carnuccio also outlined plans for a campaign that would apply pressure on individual MPs by targeting their constituencies, using a tactic he called “bracket and smother”:

“Mark [Littlewood] and his team will be able to tell us… this Member of Parliament, he needs work, this one’s good, we’ll micro-target his district, right. We’ll pepper him with social media, with grassroots swell, and then, with the national publications.”

“We call that strategy, bracket and smother… it’s the idea that like, if you’re a Member of Parliament and we’re trying to target you, when you go home and you go to like your grocery store or you go to the restaurant or anything else, all the people there have been hit… with these messages when you walk in the door and either say you’re a great guy or you’re an ass,” he continued.

In a later phone conversation, Carnuccio said he was familiar with the tactic from US politics, and the IEA would lead on the campaign in the UK: “In terms of the actual tactical what’s on the ground and going there, you know, I’m in Oklahoma, they’re in London… they’ll direct that, they’ll know that.”

An IEA spokeswoman said of “bracket and smother”: “We have no record of this.”

The campaign targeting MPs would be part of a wider plan to challenge EU opposition to chlorinated chicken and hormone beef: “I mean, it’s strategic communications to say that cows are not happy in the United States coz of their hormones or that chlorinated chicken is killing people all over the world or something,” Carnuccio said.

“We quickly figured out that we’re gonna have to have some level of marketing, advertising, communications strategy that is going to impact the consumer in the UK but also from more of a political pressure standpoint, it will challenge the narrative that the EU has always had,” Carnuccio continued.

Carnuccio said leading Brexiteer MPs would come for a three-day trip to Oklahoma, where they would tour a chicken farm and eat chicken in front of the cameras to help persuade British shoppers US products were safe to eat. Carnuccio claimed that then Brexit minister, Steve Baker, was working with Singham to identify which MPs to take, and was keen to come.

“They wanted to look at chicken because chlorinated chicken is a big question and how does it work. They wanted to look at a cow-calf operation, you know, the whole question about GMOs, right,” said Carnuccio.

An IEA spokeswoman said the plan to eat chicken for the cameras was “really a bit of a joke”.

Source: How the IEA teamed up with US donors to push for environmental deregulation post-Brexit – Unearthed

Thinktank faces double investigation after ‘cash for access’ claims | Politics | The Guardian

The Institute of Economic Affairs is facing two official investigations after it emerged that the thinktank offered potential US donors access to UK government ministers as it raised cash for research to promote free-trade deals demanded by hardline Brexiters.

The Charity Commission announced on Monday that it had opened a regulatory compliance case into the IEA on the basis of concerns about its political independence. Whitehall’s lobbying tsar, Alison White, also said she will examine whether the free market think tank should be registered as a lobbyist.

The two investigations were announced following an undercover investigation by Unearthed, an arm of Greenpeace, which found that in May the IEA arranged for US donors who pledged to donate £35,000 to have a private meeting with Steve Baker MP, when he was Brexit minister. Its director Mark Littlewood was also covertly filmed promising introductions to ministers for an investigator posing as a representative of a US farming investor who was considering donating to the IEA.

A spokesman for Baker said that any suggestion he would attend meetings because “access” to him was being sold was entirely false and that Baker “met US Republicans in his political capacity to discuss trade relations between the two countries”.

Lobbyists are expected to list their clients and any contact with ministers or senior civil servants. The IEA, which is an educational charity, does not routinely declare its donors, which are known to include tobacco, oil, alcohol and gambling companies or associations.

It also emerged on Monday that the casino industry donated £8,000 to the IEA after it published a report calling for more casinos. The National Casino Forum confirmed it checked facts from the report and an internal document seen by the Guardian suggests the forum had agreed to fund the report as a way of getting its message across through the IEA.

The IEA said industry does not have “any sway or influence on the conclusions we come to in our research”. It said no one outside the think tank saw a draft of the casino report or made any changes prior to publication.

The thinktank’s director, Mark Littlewood, had previously told Unearthed’s undercover investigator that a donor could fund and shape “substantial content” in research reports commissioned by the IEA, that would support calls for a free-trade deal between the UK and the US.

The investigation by the Charity Commission raises questions about the IEA’s charitable status which means it enjoys tax breaks on its £2.3m annual expenditure. Charity regulations state that “an organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political”.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said the allegations raised by the Unearthed investigation and reported in the Guardian were “of a serious nature”.

“Educational charities can play an important role in informing the public,” she said. “The law is clear, however, that they must do so in a balanced and neutral way. There are clear rules for charities regarding political activity that form a key part of both charity law and public expectations.”

The commission has powers to examine the IEA’s internal financial records, legally compel it to provide information and ultimately to disqualify trustees. The IEA denies it has breached charity law.

“We do not act in donors’ interests, except to the extent that they have an interest in pursuing free trade and free markets,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the thinktank makes “independent editorial decisions and then seeks funding … It is surely uncontroversial that the IEA’s principles coincide with the interests of our donors.”

Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, alleged the IEA “engaged in extensive lobbying and controversial political campaign activity in pursuit of specific policy goals, which go well beyond the scope of its objects as an ‘educational’ charity”.

A former board member of the Charity Commission, Andrew Purkis, also said the regulator should be worried that the IEA’s director told undercover investigators that the thinktank was “in the Brexit influencing game”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, Littlewood denied any breach of regulations and said: “We want politicians to listen to us. I don’t apologise for that.” When asked whether the IEA was sufficiently unmindful of the interests of its donors, he said: “We have to find people with whom we have synergy. We have to raise money from companies, individuals, foundations.”

The IEA said it was “spurious to suggest that the IEA is engaging in any kind of ‘cash for access’ system”.

Profile

The Institute of Economic Affairs

The Institute of Economic Affairs was established in 1955 by admirers of the free-market economist Friedrich Hayek. Its mission involves “analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems”.

In July it launched a £50,000 prize for ideas about harnessing the free market to solve the UK’s housing crisis. It is established as an educational charity and does not have to declare its donors, although it is widely known to have been backed by tobacco, alcohol and oil companies, among others. It publishes reports, and organises conferences and dinners that are often attended by government ministers as well as donors. It has a high media profile, regularly supplying spokespeople to TV news channels.

Last year it spent £2.3m on its activities, which include distributing a magazine about economics to thousands of A-level students.

Its trustees include Patrick Minford, a pro-Brexit economics professor who supported Margaret Thatcher, and the hedge fund billionaire and Conservative party donor Sir Michael Hintze.

Thank you for your feedback.

The Charity Commission investigated the IEA in 2016 after an earlier complaint by Purkis. At that time, the regulator concluded: “The only sponsored research IEA accepts is from individuals or trusts who do not have a vested or commercial interest in the topic … [and] the sponsorship only goes as far as suggesting topics, not the contents of the paper.” It also said the IEA’s trustees assured the commission that the thinktank did not engage in “policy engineering” or campaigning.

Responding to the Greenpeace investigation, Purkis said: “Offering donor access to ministers is a practice more closely associated with commercial lobbying/PR companies or raising funds for political parties rather than charities, but charity fundraisers do quite frequently offer donors access to their patrons and celebrity supporters.

“The more serious aspect for the Charity Commission may be the focus on influencing current policymaking in a particular direction, whether directly or via donors with access, which is not what educational charities should be doing. Littlewood talks about the IEA’s ‘ideological position’, which to some may suggest a closed world view that the IEA is trying to promote. Educational charities should not be promoting an ideology.”

He continued: “The reference to donors being able to influence ‘substantial content’, though not conclusions, adds to the worries that the public’s trust and confidence in charities as existing solely for the public benefit can be endangered if charity reports are perceived to be ‘substantially influenced’ by big donors – who may represent particular private interests and whose identity, in the case of IEA, is often secret.”

Source: Thinktank faces double investigation after ‘cash for access’ claims | Politics | The Guardian

Cheddar, a TV Disruptor, Launches a Traditional Cable Channel – WSJ

Cheddar Inc. set out to upend traditional cable TV with its financial news-focused streaming service. Now it is making a push onto the cable dial.

The company this week went live on WOW, a Denver-based cable and broadband provider with close to 800,000 subscribers. The network has been made available to about 400,000 of WOW’s cable subscribers in states including Alabama, Florida and Michigan, marking the first time that Cheddar’s content has been offered as a traditional cable channel.

Separately, Cheddar recently signed a deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents roughly 840 small U.S. cable operators covering some 8 million households. The deal allows those providers to include Cheddar in their packages.

Cheddar’s founder, Jon Steinberg, said launching on traditional cable providers can help the company reach a broader audience, making its service more attractive to potential advertisers. He said that the company is seeking to cut distribution deals that bring Cheddar’s programming to more viewers, regardless of the format.

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“I think it’s all converging,” Mr. Steinberg said. “The line between a digitally delivered channel, and an (over-the-top streaming) service and a traditional channel is always blurring. I don’t even know where the lines are anymore.”

Mr. Steinberg said it elevates Cheddar’s brand to be carried in traditional cable packages alongside established news providers like CNN and CNBC.

He declined to provide the financial details of the deals with WOW and the National Cable Television Cooperative. TV networks generally receive carriage fees, a slice of the subscription revenue cable operators get as customers pay monthly bills, but Mr. Steinberg said Cheddar doesn’t demand those fees in its deals. That means any revenue gains for the company from carriage on cable systems would have to be from advertising, at least in the short term. Cheddar has never paid any distributor for carriage, Mr. Steinberg said.

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Until now, Cheddar has been available on streaming-video services and the video-on-demand applications of major cable providers. The company’s two networks, Cheddar and Cheddar Big News, its general news offering, are available in the basic packages of streaming services such as Sling, Philo, Hulu, YouTube TV and Molotov, Mr. Steinberg said.

There were already signs that Cheddar wasn’t averse to distributing its content on a legacy network. This spring Cheddar completed the acquisition of MTV Networks on Campus, a small news and entertainment network piped into college campuses across the U.S. Advertising on that cable system, which has been rebranded CheddarU and filled with Cheddar content, is being sold by NCC Media, an industry group that sells local ad spots for cable operators, Mr. Steinberg said.

WOW is hopeful that Cheddar will give the cable operator’s subscribers a fresh perspective on business news, said Roger Seiken, senior vice president of programming at WOW.

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“I got very excited about the concept, and the audience that the content would appeal to,” Mr. Seiken said. “To my knowledge, this is the first business or news channel of its kind that’s really focused on the young professional and millennial audiences.”

Mr. Steinberg, the former president of BuzzFeed, is pitching Cheddar as an alternative news service for millennial cord-cutters. More than 90% of the company’s revenue comes from advertising, Mr. Steinberg said, mostly native ad sponsorships from big-ticket advertisers such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Fidelity Investments.

Cheddar, which doesn’t disclose detailed financials, expects more than $25 million in revenue this year, according to Mr. Steinberg.

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Earlier this year, Cheddar raised $22 million from investors including Raine Ventures,
Liberty Global

and Goldman Sachs, valuing the company at $160 million. Previously, Cheddar raised $32 million in three rounds led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Raine Ventures.

Source: Cheddar, a TV Disruptor, Launches a Traditional Cable Channel – WSJ

How Did the Climate Apocalypse Become Old News?

There has been a lot of burning lately. Last week, wildfires broke out in the Arctic Circle, where temperatures reached almost 90 degrees; they are still roiling northern Sweden, 21 of them. And this week, wildfires swept through the Greek seaside, outside Athens, killing at least 80 and hospitalizing almost 200. At one resort, dozens of guests tried to escape the flames by descending a narrow stone staircase into the Aegean, only to be engulfed along the way, dying literally in each other’s arms.

Last July, I wrote a much-talked-over magazine cover story considering the worst-case scenarios for climate change — much talked over, in part, because it was so terrifying, which made some of the scenarios a bit hard to believe. Those worst-case scenarios are still quite unlikely, since they require both that we do nothing to alter our emissions path, which is still arcing upward, and that those unabated emissions bring us to climate outcomes on the far end of what’s possible by 2100.

But, this July, we already seem much farther along on those paths than even the most alarmist climate observers — e.g., me — would have predicted a year ago. In a single week earlier this month, dozens of places around the world were hit with record temperatures in what was, effectively, an unprecedented, planet-encompassing heat wave: from Denver to Burlington to Ottawa; from Glasgow to Shannon to Belfast; from Tbilisi, in Georgia, and Yerevan, in Armenia, to whole swaths of southern Russia. The temperature of one city in Oman, where the daytime highs had reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit, did not drop below 108 all night; in Montreal, Canada, 50 died from the heat. That same week, 30 major wildfires burned in the American West, including one, in California, that grew at the rate of 10,000 football fields each hour, and another, in Colorado, that produced a volcano-like 300-foot eruption of flames, swallowing an entire subdivision and inventing a new term — “fire tsunami” — along the way. On the other side of the planet, biblical rains flooded Japan, where 1.2 million were evacuated from their homes. The following week, the heat struck there, killing dozens. The following week.

In other words, it has been a month of historic, even unprecedented, climate horrors. But you may not have noticed, if you are anything but the most discriminating consumer of news. The major networks aired 127 segments on the unprecedented July heat wave, Media Matters usefully tabulated, and only one so much as mentioned climate change. The New York Times has done admirable work on global warming over the last year, launching a new climate desk and devoting tremendous resources to high-production-value special climate “features.” But even their original story on the wildfires in Greece made no mention of climate change — after some criticism on Twitter, they added a reference.

Over the last few days, there has been a flurry of chatter among climate writers and climate scientists, and the climate-curious who follow them, about this failure. In perhaps the most widely parsed and debated Twitter exchange, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes — whose show, All In, has distinguished itself with the seriousness of its climate coverage — described the dilemma facing every well-intentioned person in his spot: the transformation of the planet and the degradation may be the biggest and most important story of our time, indeed of all time, but on television, at least, it has nevertheless proven, so far, a “palpable ratings killer.” All of which raises a very dispiriting possibility, considering the scale of the climate crisis: Has the end of the world as we know it become, already, old news?

If so, that would be really, really bad. As I’ve written before, and as Wen Stephenson echoed more recently in The Baffler, climate change is not a matter of “yes” or “no,” not a binary process where we end up either “fucked” or “not fucked.” It is a system that gets worse over time as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases. We are just beginning to see the horrors that climate change has in store for us —but that does not mean that the story is settled. Things will get worse, almost certainly much, much worse. Indeed, the news about what more to expect, coming out of new research, only darkens our picture of what to expect: Just over the past few weeks, new studies have suggested heat in many major Indian cities would be literally lethal by century’s end, if current warming trends continue, and that, by that time, global economic output could fall, thanks to climate effects, by 30 percent or more. That is an impact twice as deep as the global Great Depression, and it would not be temporary.

These are not the kinds of findings it is easy to ignore, or dismiss, or compartmentalize, even though we have all become exquisitely skilled lately in compartmentalizing the threat. Neither is it easy to forget the stories of the Greek wildfires, or the Japanese heat wave. Which is why it is perhaps important to remember that the media did not ignore these stories, or the month of global climate horrors that gave rise to them. Television networks covered those heat waves 127 times. That is, actually, a very lot! They just utterly failed to “connect the dots,” as Emily Atkin put it incisively at The New Republic —broadcasters told the story of the historic temperatures, but chose not to touch the question of why we were seeing so many of them, all at once, with the atmosphere more full of carbon, and the planet hotter, than it has ever been at any point in human history.

When you think about it, this would be a very strange choice for a producer or an editor concerned about boring or losing his or her audience — it would mean leaving aside the far more dramatic story of the total transformation of the planet’s climate system, and the immediate and all-encompassing threat posed by climate change to the way we live on Earth, to tell the pretty mundane story of some really hot days in the region.

Which is why this all sounds to me a lot more like self-censorship than ratings-chasing — by which I mean self-censorship of two kinds. The first is the intuitive one — the kind done in anticipation of political blowback, an especially acute problem for would-be neutral, would-be centrist platforms like network news. This self-censorship in fear of right-wing backlash is a familiar story, and most of those concerned about global warming know the villains already: oil companies, climate deniers, indifferent (at best) politicians, and constituents who see science as a culture-war front.

But public apathy, and its cousin climate complacency, is as big a problem — perhaps bigger. And this problem, too, is connected to self-censorship on the part of storytellers who feel intimidated from attributing what we used to know as natural disasters to global warming because scientists are so excruciatingly careful about attributing cause. As NPR’s science editor Geoff Brumfiel told Atkin, “You don’t just want to be throwing around, ‘This is due to climate change, that is due to climate change.’”

Well — why not? The stated reason, when a reason is stated, is that scientists can take years to definitively conclude that a particular disaster was impossible without the effects of warming, and often only speak with certainty about specific events a decade or more in the past— the 2003 European heat wave, for instance, which killed tens of thousands. But wildfires are “not caused by climate change” only in the same way that hurricanes are not caused by climate change — which is to say they are (only) made more likely by it, which is to say the distinction is semantic. The same is true, even more so, for heat waves: We know global warming will cause many more deadly temperatures, and should not be confused, at all, when we suddenly encounter an unprecedented number of them. The fact that most climate scientists would say something like, “These disasters are consistent with what we would expect, given global warming,” rather than “these disasters were caused by global warming” is not a reason to elide discussion of climate change. Doing so is an evasion, even if it is made with a scientific alibi.

It is also a dangerous one. Decades of bad-faith debates about whether climate change is “real” and good-faith questions about whether it is “here” have dramatically foreshortened our collective imagination and provided an unfortunately limited picture of what global warming will yield. Treating every climate disaster as a discrete event only compounds the problem, suggesting that impacts will be discrete. They won’t be, and the longer-view story is much more harrowing: not just more months like July, but an unfolding century when a month like this July has become a happy memory of a placid climate. That it is almost hard to believe only makes it a more important story to tell.

How Did the End of the World Become Old News?

Source: How Did the Climate Apocalypse Become Old News?

Portrait of the President As a Con Man

The leaked tape recording of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump discussing how to handle the payoff to silence yet another extracurricular paramour, Karen McDougal, is more important, it seems to me, than has been generally acknowledged.

It’s only a shade under three minutes long. But unlike the Billy Bush tape, Trump is not performing or bragging or trying to charm someone he doesn’t know that well. He’s at work, with an intimate, trusted wingman, every single guard down. It really feels like the actual Trump, the man behind the curtain. And this Trump is quite clearly in charge. He’s not some addled 70-something, delegating large swathes of responsibility for day-to-day operations to underlings. He’s clearly aware of everything that’s going on: “Let me know what’s happening, okay?” he says to someone — Pam (Bondi)? — on the phone at first. He talks about how some issue will blow over: “I think this goes away quickly … in two weeks; it’s fine.” He then asks Cohen, “Can we use him anymore?” referring to an Evangelical pastor, and Cohen says absolutely.

Then they briefly discuss “the financing” for the National Enquirer’s capture and withholding of the McDougal story. “So, what do we got to pay for this? $150?” Trump asks at one point, meaning $150,000. The question of “cash” is raised by Trump (the precise wording is hard to make out from the audio), and Cohen strongly rules it out: “No, no, no.”

What this tiny glimpse into reality reveals is something quite simple. It’s not that it’s a shock that Trump has been lying about this incident from the very beginning. That has long been clear. But there’s something about listening to his voice acknowledging this in such a breezy, matter-of-fact tone that exposes the purity of the cynicism behind the lies. “We have no knowledge of any of this,” Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks, had, after all, originally told The Wall Street Journal when it broke the story days before the 2016 election. The idea that Trump had had an affair at all, let alone organized hush money to the National Enquirer, was “totally untrue.” And yet here, as the curtain is pulled back, we hear Trump himself figuring out how to finance its cover-up.

This is not a man embarrassed by something unusual in his private life, lying defensively in a panic. It’s a world-weary operator in sleaze and outright deception, dealing with an item of everyday business. The euphemisms — “info,” “financing,” “our friend David,” etc. — are those of people who know they’re doing something shady. He even talks of “using” a religious-right figure. It’s the tape of a con man, discussing the con with an underling in a kind of consigliere code. And this revelation is therefore dangerous. It demonstrates that Trump is, in fact, just another crooked pol — and does so in his own voice.

I suspect that this was what was worrying even Franklin Graham this week, as he tweeted: “Everyone in the media is talking about the just-released tape & what the President said or didn’t say, what he meant or didn’t mean. It is a good moment to point out that everyone should realize that every word that is spoken or thought is recorded by God … We won’t be judged by media spin masters or forensic audio analysts, but you will be judged by truth & righteousness — by God Himself.” Is Graham telling his followers simply to banish the evidence of the tape from their minds and stop gossiping? Or is he actually condemning Trump for his secret shadiness? Neither is good news for the White House.

Con men usually know that a con has a life span, and not a long one. At some point, it will collapse because it is, in fact, bullshit. By then, the best con men have made the sale — think of “Trump University” — and moved on. They also know that keeping the suckers sealed off from other sources of contrary information is essential until the deal is done. You have to maintain a fiction relentlessly, dismiss or delegitimize external information that might get your marks to think differently, and constantly make the sale. You have to humor and flatter and bullshit all the time, until you’ve sealed the deal.

And Trump is really, really good at this. In fact, it’s his chief skill, along with his instinct for the easy mark and another human being’s vulnerable spot. It has worked many times before. It’s at the root of his entire shady business career. His problem now, however, is that this is the biggest of all cons, if you’re playing at a presidential level, and is also the longest. It has to be sustainable for at least four years. And that’s an extremely long time to keep it alive.

This is why, it seems to me, Trump tweets so often and so aggressively. It’s his chief mechanism for keeping his dupes under his spell, for sustaining the narrative of the con while reality tugs at it. He’s making the sale every news cycle of every day because the alternative is the whole thing crashing to the ground. It’s also why he keeps holding rallies. You need that kind of mass crowd hysteria to sustain a con — “America Is Great Again!” — that might otherwise be fraying at the edges. It’s why he lambastes the media. Their role in undercutting the con — in presenting the arguments against it, in raising suspicions about the con man himself — is deeply destabilizing to the project. And it’s why he has to lie, and lie with greater and greater intensity and frequency.

And sure enough, the rate of Trump’s lies is accelerating, as the con ages. All six of the last six weeks rank in the top ten most dishonest of his presidency, as the indefatigable Daniel Dale has noted. Last Tuesday, Trump actually made the subtext text, in a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention: “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening … Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.” Some have analogized this to Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism. But it is not as sophisticated as that. It’s just a con man getting a little rattled, as his trade war is beginning to wreak havoc in the Midwest.

When you have brazenly declared that such wars are easy to win, and agriculture in the heartland is nonetheless reeling, and manufacturing is increasingly jittery about the cost of imported steel, what else are you going to do? Well, you can bribe the farmers with some $12 billion. Or ask companies and their workers to be patient. But some in the middle of the country will still start doubting — and his polling in three Midwest swing states that gave him the presidency is now slipping. He’s at 36 percent approval in Wisconsin and Michigan in the latest NBC poll, and 38 percent in Minnesota. That VFW appeal — and his visit to Illinois and Dubuque, Iowa, yesterday — is a sign, it seems to me, of a little desperation.

Desperate is insisting that what is clearly the word would — from the tape and the tone and the sentence structure of his Helsinki press conference — is actually the word wouldn’t. Desperate is responding to the Carter Page FISA documents by insisting that they say the opposite of what they actually say. Desperate is insisting that when the president said no directly to a reporter asking whether he believed that the Russians were still meddling in American democracy, he was actually not answering the question, even as he was looking at the journalist when he said it.

Desperate is banning a CNN reporter from a press conference because she had previously asked difficult reality-based questions about Michael Cohen — and then quibbling over the term ban. Desperate is a sudden Obama-like truce with the E.U. on trade. Desperate is the attempt by some House Republicans to impeach Rod Rosenstein, a move that has not even been cheered by the far-right media, and that is swiftly deflating. Desperate is doubling down on the “witch-hunt hoax,” while the chief money guy for the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, gets a subpoena, and Michael Cohen’s lawyer says of his client, who knows far too much, “He has hit the reset button; he’s made a turn — to be on his own, speaking the truth.” More desperate still is Rudy Giuliani saying of Michael Cohen last night, after Cohen told CNN that Trump did indeed know in advance of the meeting in Trump Tower with an agent of the Russian government: “He’s been lying all week; he’s been lying for years.”

No, this is not an unraveling. But the con is definitely fraying badly. And it is not going to get easier to keep patching it up as time goes steadily by.

The Cardinal Abuser

How surprised am I about the all too credible allegations of sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of Cardinal McCarrick, the latest Catholic prelate to be exposed in what seems like an endless cycle? The truth is — as someone who long attended Mass under McCarrick’s direct auspices, in the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in D.C. — not very. Every now and again, his name might pop up and some insidery, gay Catholic friends would roll their eyes, and switch the genders on him. He was obviously gay, I gleaned from this. I assumed that he had made some kind of discreet arrangement to stay sane as a celibate. A secret boyfriend, perhaps? A devoted companion? Since he never railed against homosexuality from the pulpit, I felt no need to inquire much further. And I always found queeny church gossip to be unseemly. These gay priests and hierarchs were obviously in pain, it seemed to me, or in denial, or so fucked up sexually and emotionally that the most appropriate response was pity and mercy rather than censoriousness and contempt.

But abuse, of course, is another matter entirely. And it did not occur to me, in all honesty, that McCarrick would have sexually assaulted a 16-year-old or used the deep trust of another teen in a family that called him “Uncle Teddy” to conduct a sexually abusive relationship for a full 20 years. This boy was the first human being that McCarrick, as a newly ordained priest, baptized as an infant. And this special connection made it okay, apparently, to violate that boy’s and young man’s soul, body, and integrity, after he came into puberty: “When he was 13, he said, the priest first touched his penis. At 14, he said, Father McCarrick masturbated him in a beach parking lot. When he was 15, James said, Father McCarrick took him to a restaurant in San Francisco, the Tonga Room, and poured vodka in his drinks. He then brought him back to his hotel room and masturbated him and brought himself to orgasm, James said. ‘I was absolutely disgusted, afraid,’ James said. ‘I felt fear. What have I done?’”

This is not pedophilia. It’s pederasty, but more accurately, since it continued well into the man’s adulthood, it’s homosexual abuse. McCarrick, we now know, abused and harassed grown men under his clerical authority or control for decades. This is different in kind from a gay priest finding some way to seek solace with another willing adult, even though that, too, of course, violates the rule of celibacy. That’s a human thing, a failing, not an outrage. What McCarrick did was evil. And it is simply impossible to believe that others in the hierarchy didn’t fully know about it, even as they let it happen. The best expression of disgust and anger at this complicity that I’ve read is by the wonderfully gifted Michael Brendan Dougherty, in National Review. Scanning the responses of McCormick’s fellow muckety-mucks in the hierarchy, Dougherty lambastes their “bloodless bureaucrat-ese.” They’ve denied any knowledge of any of this, even though settlements were made in the 2000s, and even though letters had been sent outlining the sexual-abuse complaints.

The stench of bullshit coming from the American hierarchy right now in response to this is staggering. Check this out from Cardinal O’Malley: “These cases … raise up that fact that when charges are brought regarding a bishop or a cardinal, a major gap still exists in the Church’s policies on sexual conduct and sexual abuse. While the Church in the United States has adopted a zero tolerance policy regarding the sexual abuse of minors by priests we must have clearer procedures for cases involving bishops.” I mean, seriously. Since the formal zero-tolerance guidelines for priests did not explicitly include bishops or cardinals, they were in a bind about what to do!

With any luck, we may get a #MeToo moment for sexual abuse in seminaries and elsewhere in the priesthood, many years after the revelation of shockingly widespread child abuse. We should definitely get a full investigation, focusing as much on those complicit in this abuse, as on those who committed it. This is clearly not an exclusively American problem either. There’s a massive scandal emerging from Honduras, where nearly 50 seminarians have written a letter complaining about systematic sexual harassment and abuse, permitted and enabled from the very top: “We are living and experiencing a time of tension in our house because of gravely immoral situations, above all of an active homosexuality inside the seminary that has been a taboo all this time, and by covering up and penalizing this situation, the problem has grown in strength, turning into, as one priest said not so long ago, an ‘epidemic in the seminary.’”

It seems to me that a thorough investigation into this abuse should try hard not to be motivated by either faction, left or right, in the church. McCarrick was and is a liberal, and promoted other liberals. But other abusers have been conservatives. What matters here is not their theology but their actions and their inaction. If the investigation becomes a way to purge the church of all gay priests, or demonize them as a group, it will lose its credibility. This is about abuse of power, and it can be and has been perpetrated by heterosexuals as well as homosexuals in all sorts of hierarchies in every field of life. It would be deeply unfair to many good gay priests and seminarians to tar them all with the brush of abuse. Many may well have been victims of it. McCarrick, after all, was a critical figure for anyone who wanted to advance through the ranks of the church. And he used that power to get sex, in the same way that Harvey Weinstein did. That’s the issue here. The difference, of course, is that Weinstein never pretended to be an instrument of God’s grace.

But one small note about this particular scandal: McCarrick was described by many as “Uncle Teddy.” But he had another nickname among his associates: “Blanche.” In that single appellation, you get a glimpse not of a church culture in which tortured homosexuals are struggling with love, intimacy, and celibacy, but one in which a fully developed subculture of camp was thriving, internally unapologetic, and psychologically warped. The cynicism and hypocrisy behind that kind of culture is a function of Catholic homophobia, of course. But it’s also reflective of a protective, insular, closeted clerical subculture in which sexual abuse was obviously able to flourish, and was clearly enabled. It has to end. And at some point, the core questions of homosexuality and celibacy in the priesthood need to be discussed openly, fully, in the plain light of day. I’ve been trying to enlarge that conversation for some time, along with many others. It’s now up to Pope Francis to untangle this knot that has long been strangling his church. There is no ducking it now.

Where the Immigrants Are

One of the talking points for some who support continued mass immigration is the notion that the places where immigration is least popular are the places with the fewest number of immigrants. That’s how irrational xenophobia is, they suggest. And when you look at the big cities, you can see the point. They’re jammed with new immigrants and the rest of us are pretty fine with it. But some new data from the Migration Policy Institute complicates the picture a bit. While it finds that the number of immigrants increased by 9 percent between 2010 and 2016, it also notes that it had risen by 15 percent or more in 15 states. And among those states, most are red ones: North Dakota, West Virginia, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Alaska, Indiana, and Iowa among them. Yes, the total numbers are nowhere near where they are in, say, California, but the pace of change really has increased in those states where opposition — especially to immigrants who entered the country illegally — is high. I don’t find this surprising.

One other small thing to note: More than a fifth of Americans, according to this survey, now speak a language other than English at home. In Nevada and Florida, nearly a third of residents don’t speak English at home. I wonder how this compares with the past. Of course, first-generation immigrants have often spoken their native tongues at home, and this usually declines as the generations succeed one another. But very few previous waves of immigrants have been so homogeneous for as long as the Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and Central America currently are; their numbers are higher than any other previous wave; and few have been so thoroughly dispersed. And ask yourself: In what other developed country does a fifth of the population speak a different language? (Answer: Luxembourg and Singapore.)

Just to be clear: I have no problem with this, and America is unique in its immigration-centric identity. I assume the linguistic divide will dissipate over time. I have faith in the great American churn. But the sheer scale of the cultural transformation of the last couple of decades — the CDC predicts that close to a quarter of Americans will be Hispanic by 2035 — is undeniable. And the emphasis today on multiculturalism over the melting-pot model does not make assimilation any easier.

If you ignore that, or insist that worrying about too fast a pace of cultural change is inherently racist, it’s relatively easy to insist that there is no immigration crisis. But if you believe that nations require some continuity and cultural unity to cohere and endure, then the picture is somewhat different. There is a reason this issue has become so prominent in this country. And it isn’t entirely bigotry.

See you next Friday.

Source: Portrait of the President As a Con Man

Donald Trump’s War on New York City Immigrants | The Marshall Project

An estimated half-million New Yorkers are undocumented. Whether they’ve lived here for two months or 20 years, they came to this city of immigrants—a place where more than a third of the population was born in another country—looking for the same things that have brought newcomers here for centuries: work and school opportunities, religious freedom, family, and a haven from violence, persecution, political upheaval, and natural disaster.

In this “sanctuary city,” the local government promises to defend New Yorkers regardless of status, restricting law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents (although not prohibiting it entirely, to the chagrin of many immigrant advocates). But in recent months, with headlines about terrified toddlers in “baby jails” and a president who refers to migrants as an “infestation,” it’s become increasingly clear: In the era of Donald Trump, even New York City doesn’t feel safe for the undocumented.

Now, these are everyday scenes in the city: An Ecuadorian man gets arrested while delivering pizza in Brooklyn. A Chinese father of two is detained during an interview to become a legal permanent resident. Across the boroughs, there have been reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents appearing in courthouses, workplaces, neighborhood streets, even a church, according to one advocacy group, sowing panic.

In the eight months after Trump’s inauguration, ICE arrests in the New York area jumped by 67 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, and arrests of immigrants with no criminal convictions increased 225 percent. During that time, ICE arrested 2,031 people in its New York “area of responsibility,” which includes the five boroughs and surrounding counties. These aren’t unprecedented numbers: ICE arrested almost four times as many people in New York City in 2010 as it did last year, and it picks up far fewer people here than in some other parts of the country.

Thanks to free legal assistance, in which the mayor has invested $30 million, according to the city, immigrant New Yorkers are more likely to be represented in court than many of their counterparts around the country. (Eighty percent in Queens versus, say, 39 percent in South Carolina.) Partly as a result, they’re less likely to get deported, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Among the five U.S. counties with the highest volume of immigration cases, Queens had the highest proportion of immigrants who were granted deportation relief and the lowest proportion ordered removed from the country.

Despite all of that, Trump’s immigration crackdown has instilled a new level of fear throughout the city. Before he took office, many immigrants who were considered low priority for deportation—because they didn’t have criminal records, for example—were allowed to stay as long as they regularly reported to immigration authorities. But soon after his inauguration, Trump expanded the number of people considered a priority for deportation, and now, people whose only offense is staying in the country illegally are being flagged for removal.

For many immigrant New Yorkers, once ordinary activities are now fraught with dread.

Some immigrants who have been arrested by federal agents say they’ve been made to feel like criminals, subjected to inhumane conditions in overcrowded detention facilities while they await deportation proceedings, which can take months or even years. Meanwhile, their desperate families scramble to scrape together legal fees that easily reach thousands of dollars. Although many manage to stave off deportation with the help of a lawyer, others are not so lucky. Flown to unfamiliar countries where they may not have lived in decades, the deported often arrive with no money, no cell phone, no transportation, no place to stay. Back in New York City, their absence, often dizzyingly sudden, leaves children, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, churches, and entire communities reeling—and wondering who could disappear next.

“All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and—if found removable by final order—removal from the United States,” ICE spokesperson Rachael Yong Yow said. The agency takes abuse allegations very seriously and is “committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments,” she added.

It’s perhaps no surprise that many immigrant New Yorkers, who for years have tried to do the right thing, such as paying taxes and checking in with ICE, are retreating into the shadows. “This Trump administration came in and immigrants, even the permanent residents, even the people who have their status, they have this fear. And the people who are undocumented, I think they realize it’s time to hide,” says Youngmin Lo, 35, an undocumented South Korean who is a pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church of Maspeth, Queens.

The Marshall Project and New York Magazine contacted more than 100 people around the city—immigrants, lawyers and advocates—to find out what life is like for undocumented New Yorkers in the age of Trump. There was the 23-year-old undocumented Dominican woman from the Bronx who was detained on her honeymoon in Niagara Falls. The Manhattan teenager who couldn’t bring herself to tell her friends that her father was deported to Gambia. And the bright middle school student in Harlem who suddenly disappeared earlier this school year; an aunt told her principal that her family had fled to Canada to escape ICE. “Palpable fear has just become part of their lives at this point,” said Dr. Constance Bond of St. HOPE Leadership Academy Charter School in Harlem, about her students from immigrant families. As it has for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

Source: Donald Trump’s War on New York City Immigrants | The Marshall Project

MoviePass couldn’t afford to pay for movie tickets on Thursday

MoviePass CEO: 'We have been so surprised by the growth rate'

MoviePass is on life support.

Helios and Matheson, the parent company of the popular movie subscription service, said that it had a service outage on Thursday because it couldn’t afford to pay for movie tickets. The company borrowed $5 million in cash Friday to pay its merchant and fulfillment processors, according to a regulatory filing.

Helios and Matheson missed a payment to one of its fulfillment processors, and that contractor temporarily refused to process payments for MoviePass.

Some customers complained on social media Thursday that they couldn’t use their MoviePass accounts to purchase movie tickets at theaters.

The company hasn’t said whether MoviePass has resumed operation. But in a tweet late Thursday, MoviePass said that it recommended that users wait for a resolution or use e-ticketing, which it said had not been affected.

Stock in Helios and Matheson, meanwhile, tanked Friday from nearly $7 at market open to $3.58 by mid-morning.

The company approved a reverse stock split earlier this week to boost the price from 8 cents to $21 in an effort to keep it from falling off the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The price has been in freefall ever since. If valued at its pre-split amount, Friday’s price would be equivalent to about 1.5 cents.

CNNMoney (New York) First published July 27, 2018: 11:21 AM ET

 

Source: MoviePass couldn’t afford to pay for movie tickets on Thursday

How our VAMP project will tackle the challenges of the voice/audio revolution

The shift towards audio and voice-based digital user interfaces forces publishers to develop new tools, adapt workflows and ensure new ways of monetization. This week, Google DNI has approved to co-fund a €1.2 million open-source project with a collaborative approach we now will be working on until the end of 2020. It is called VAMP — pun intended: As AMP has become a standard for fast mobile news, the Voice and Audio Monetization Platform strives to standardize and innovate audio content, ads and technology through several modules.

  • Content Delivery: enabling editors to deliver customized audio content to different outlets, e.g. smart speakers, audio platforms, social media.
  • Content Discovery: allowing users to search and find audio content according to their interests and consumption needs, e.g. while commuting, during housework, for a quick update.
  • Monetization: establishing revenue streams through innovative ad formats and ad serving, e.g. automated, performance-based ad insertion, and new paid offerings.
  • Analytics: providing reliable metrics for content and ad performance, e.g. completion rates and drop-off points.

Our goal is to deliver and monetize journalistic audio content on a multitude of platforms including voice-based interfaces. And with its modular approach, VAMP will enable the inclusion of existing tools, cooperation with partners — ultimately stimulate innovation in the audio/voice ecosystem.

Main fields of work for VAMP: An open infrastructure that provides components for delivering and monetizing journalistic audio/voice content

Right now, the shift towards voice UI and audio content — reflected in the rise of podcasts and voice-operated personal assistants — is more or less overwhelming the publishing industry. The paradigm shift towards voice UI and the boom of audio content is far from being completed. Most of the digital news ecosystem right now is based on text, and classical CMS solutions are fit to publish text or to stream video, but not fit to simultaneously distribute audio content, on a classic and voice-based UI.

Beyond that, audio or voice content creators rely heavily on a small set of dominant platforms that do not necessarily share publishers’ business interests; and they only provide over-simplified tools that do not fully meet publishers’ requirements, e.g. advanced analytics or monetization opportunities. Global technology companies are creating voice-interfaces, and a multitude of startups and established players in the media market are experimenting with this technology and potentially relevant content — but none really addresses the need for a comprehensive framework that enables delivery, discovery, analysis and monetization of audio content. Even the best products in this field do not necessarily help in establishing a stable holistic ecosystem. This is true for audio content, but even more true for voice-UI offerings.

All in all, the ecosystem for digital audio content and voice interfaces is still in development, and VAMP aims to generally open this emerging market to publishers. We want to foster journalistic product innovation by working with existing platforms and other interested media outlets — and by tackling the challenges in these four main fields that require immediate action, as the following examples and first cases illustrate.

Modular framework for optimized monetization: Built on efficient production, delivery and analytics of audio and voice content

1. Content Delivery

  • Bridging the audio-text gap: For us, voice-engineering our primarily text-based content by adding standardized features for audio is a clear first case. Each article will be supplied with voice-optimized abstracts that can be machine-read. News briefings could be generated from homepages. Editors should be supported by linguistic content checks.
  • Rebundling audio: This is about structuring audio content for repackaging and reusing — automatically slicing up podcasts into sections that can be delivered according to the demands of different devices.
  • Distribution: For publishers, it is essential to control the distribution of content; for editors, this process needs to be easy. A custom database and player to distribute audio to different platforms facilitates the collection of data for our analytics module.

2. Content Discovery

First examples for making audio content searchable and easy to discover:

  • Metadata and tagging: Adding metadata and tags to each audio snippet (using speech-to-text technology) to make audio content searchable. This also builds the basis to deliver audio in topic-based dossiers according to user demands or queries.
  • Social media integration: Developing a simple workflow to clip soundbites and combine them with compelling visuals and subtitles to expand content reach.
First outline of content model and architecture: Creating agile journalistic audio by adding metadata and adjustable ads

3. Monetization

We are addressing two overlapping markets in different stages of maturity. On the one hand, we are further developing existing audio offerings. On the other hand, we are tackling a nascent voice-UI market where monetization is in its infancy. The advertising-based monetization of audio content and podcasts is currently focused on selling sponsorships. This approach relies heavily on the specific native-ad-like character of the advertisement, as moderators typically deliver the sponsor’s message themselves. The limits of this system are obvious, however, as it lacks possibilities to target ads or buy a certain quantifiable reach. Clients spend their ad money without being fully able to control whether goals are met. To address this, we suggest e.g.:

  • Consumption-driven ad sales and pay-per-hour ad offerings. Packages such as pay-per-hour — in which ad clients pay for real minutes listened to — are more attractive to advertisers and enable publishers to optimize their inventory. Reliability of audio ad delivery is a key factor in increasing its attractiveness for clients. Customers will buy a specific amount of listeners’ time; ads are dynamically rendered into streams based on this sales mechanism, standardizing the ad product.
  • Establishing new forms of audio ads/integrations. Ad clients would like to target their message more effectively to specifically desired audiences and have them delivered in a more standardized way. However, they do not want to lose the specific touch of podcast ad formats (classic radio ads would be no alternative). A versatile audio ad management combined with a tailored player and distribution technology is key for that.
  • Establishing new forms of voice ads/integrations. The same challenges exist with voice UI, but they are even harder to address due to the limited number of ad slots on current platforms. From a publisher’s perspective, these ad limitations diminish the appeal of this technology. We want to apply versatile ad management and player/distribution technology not only to audio content and ad offerings, but also to voice UI products.
  • Human voice ad solutions: Establishing native-speaker ad solutions for voice. As some platforms only allow ad inserts spoken by a human voice, a dynamic audio ad server can also solve voice UI monetization issues.

In the field of transactional and subscription-based monetization, we for example currently work with Audible on a paid podcast that could be used behind a paywall in an audio app and plan to integrate audio versions of articles in our paid content model. For the VAMP project, we want to take these approaches to the next level and see the following opportunities:

  • Establishing paid podcasts in a freemium audio/voice environment to be built in the VAMP context, either as a separate product for users or as part of existing subscription offerings. With our flexible paid content technology we could experiment with selling different types of podcasts (journalistic formats, service offerings, niche products for target groups etc.) and ascertain whether there is potential for paid offerings.
  • Packaging news content with audiobooks and other long formats. We could explore the potential of creating platforms for audio longformats or promoting and selling our editors’ books; selling audiobooks by integrating our bestseller lists; developing a freemium cross-promotion system for audiobooks etc.

4. Analytics

Developing an analytics and engagement model that enables deep understanding of listeners will be key for success:

  • Consolidated audio metrics: We will create a data hub that uses APIs and website scraping to collect and consolidate metrics.
  • Content performance analytics: The absence of tools such as Google Analytics or Chartbeat in the audio realm would be eased by basic stats tools that analyze listener curves, exit moments or top voice request keywords.

As funny as it may sound, the success of VAMP will also be measured by the degree it helps to establish KPIs for success — some examples of possible audio/voice metrics:

  • Journalistic/Delivery KPIs: amount/percentage of voice-enabled text-first content, minutes of newly produced and voice-enabled voice-first content, minutes of accessible voice-enabled content etc.
  • Consumption-driven KPIs: (growth of) listened minutes of our audio offerings, (growth of) number of voice UI interactions etc.
  • Technical KPIs: percentage of text-first content items, e.g. regular articles that are fully voice-enabled automatically, percentage of audio-first content items, e.g. podcasts that are managed and served through our open and automated system, etc.
  • Business-related KPIs: Of course, revenue and profit growth are the primary goals of all commercial enterprises. In the nascent market of voice-enabled audio content we face the following challenges with classic KPIs: First, there are no standard metrics established for the monetization of digital audio content on voice-interfaces. Second, market developments are highly unpredictable and revenue streams depend on the behavior of dominant tech players. For these reasons, defining monetization metrics is one focal point of VAMP itself, as described above. Additionally, we want to use the following proxies to measure commercial success of VAMP: growth of potential ad integration points, (growth of) automated advertising insertion, growth of paid content revenue.

All analytics data will be focused on the interests of the different target groups or stakeholders in the audio/voice ecosystem. They vary greatly, as the following sketch of different personas illustrates, and a more holistic view needs to be established in the years to come:

First outline of VAMP personas: User centric approach to content production, ad placement and delivery

Our basic goals — besides the ultimate goal of new monetization opportunities — are publisher-friendly standards and a push for innovation in the voice/audio content ecosystem. For us, collaboration is key to reach that goal. Amongst the first partners we talk to are Verlagsgruppe Random House and several news websites from different countries. VAMP wants to address a multitude of needs and approaches, which led us to this open setting. The international partner network for VAMP is being built right now, the project itself will start afterwards in a few months.

For the same reason — broadening VAMP’s impact on market standards — our technology will be open-source. Each finished building block will be published in a public repository and may be used by everyone and every company that also shares further developments. We want to spread effective and efficient standards for publishers. To work seamlessly with existing solutions of publishers, the modular backbone of our system will ideally be able to integrate a broad variety of external modules and tools, e.g. production and editing tools, content management systems, speech-to-text transcription and text-to-speech software. We will use modular technology inspired by modern frameworks such as ESC that host a multitude of differently structured types of content. Our technological framework will make use of adaptable infrastructures and modern programming languages. Thus, we are planning to use cloud technology for storage and analysis of information/data as well as technologies such as Firebase for real-time event tracking and communication. We aim to automate as much as possible and will spend a significant share of the production budget on tech.

The “deliverable product” Google DNI asked us for will ideally be a flexible solution for a new business opportunity; a solution that ideally will be developed by others alongside with us — and it will surely be work-in-progress in a dynamic environment.

— 26. Juli 2018, by Christina Elmer, Kerstin Fröhlich, Kurt Jansson, Charlotte Meyer-Hamme, Stefan Plöchinger, Matthias Streitz

Source: How our VAMP project will tackle the challenges of the voice/audio revolution

How Snap Made Direct Response Ads a Big Business — The Information

In the run-up to Snap’s second quarter earnings due Aug. 7, several Wall Street analysts have lowered their estimates for what the company has already warned will be a weak quarter. The after-effects of Snap’s troubled app redesign earlier this year hurt user growth, which is expected to be weak in the three months ended June 30.

But there is one bright spot in Snap’s business that executives will be able to talk about: the rapid growth of the company’s direct response ads business. Unlike ads, which aim to get people to remember a company’s brand—like most TV commercials—direct response ads prompt people to take an action, like downloading an app, booking a trip or entering an email address. Since Snap rolled out direct response ads in early 2016, they’ve grown to account for around 40% of overall revenue, according to a person with knowledge of the number.

THE TAKEAWAY 
Snap has put less emphasis on selling brand awareness ads and instead is focusing more on selling direct response ads, which in the past two years have become a major business for the company. Given Snapchat’s relatively small audience, that’s likely a more realistic strategy than trying to take ad dollars away from TV.

That previously unreported number could translate to $450 million in revenue this year, based on analyst projections for 2018 ad revenue, up from less than $40 million in 2016.

The growth is a validation of a decision taken by Snap executives over the past couple of years to switch their focus away from selling video ads to big-name marketers who typically advertise on television to promote their brand. Snap had limited success in that area—and it was always going to be a tough road. Bigger tech companies like YouTube and Facebook have also been trying to lure away big advertisers from TV. Snap’s audience of about 191 million users is much smaller than either of those companies, making it a less obvious destination for TV advertisers.

In direct response, Snap still is competing with Facebook (both the flagship app and Instagram), Google and Twitter. Indeed, Google’s search ads are an ideal form of direct response: matching people searching for a product like shoes with retailers selling shoes. Facebook also has highly personalized data. Snap’s advantage is that it has a young and highly engaged audience.

Snap has taken a number of steps to build up its direct response business. For instance, it has rolled out targeting software that uses machine learning to make sure ads are reaching the right audience. Snap has also built tools that let advertisers manage campaigns, bid on reaching specific users and measure the success.

Some advertisers say they’re seeing better results. Car rental service Turo, for instance, says it was underwhelmed with the results of its first direct response campaign on Snapchat around six months ago, according to Turo’s Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Mok. They were much happier with a recent campaign it ran on the app, which Mr. Mok said had similar returns to what it got from campaigns it ran on Instagram, Snapchat’s product rival.

Mr. Mok said Turo’s spending on Snap is still a fraction of what the company spends on Facebook, but was optimistic that it will be a growing channel. “[We’re] shifting more budget to Snapchat,” Mr. Mok said in an email.

Lower Prices

Snap also now encourages businesses to use static images in ads and no longer pushes advertisers to only use video ads. That’s helped it appeal to smaller businesses that may not have the budget to create videos—those that often run direct response ads.

Other changes were part of a broader overhaul of Snap’s ad sales effort. In the middle of last year, it began pushing advertisers to bid on ad space in an automated auction system. That led to ad rates plummeting, as Snap executives acknowledged in earnings last year. The lower ad rates opened the door for smaller, lesser-known marketers to buy ads on the app, and for bigger companies it became less expensive to reach users than on other services.

Some of those are fringe advertisers, like a maker of a brain-boosting supplement that one user highlighted in a tweet. People close to Snap argue that these types of ads can show up on any social media platform, and that the company screens for quality. The larger goal, they say, is to ensure ads are well targeted and reaching the right audiences, whether or not they came from big name brands.

The company also restructured its ad sales team. In February, sales chief Jeff Lucas, a TV advertising veteran who had come from Viacom, stepped down. While his mission was to expand the ads business overall, his background in TV meant he was more naturally suited to TV advertising than the direct response business, according to one former employee. Mr. Lucas didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

After Mr. Lucas’ departure, the ad sales team was directly managed by his former boss, chief strategy officer Imran Khan. In March, Snap laid off around 100 people from its sales team and restructured the division to give it fewer management layers. The team currently spends more time telling advertisers how to better reach people on the app rather than trying to upsell brands on bigger packages, according to a person close to the sales team.

Long-Term Question

The big question is whether the pool of money from companies running direct response ad campaigns will be enough to sustain growth in the company’s business for the long term. Some people close to Snap’s ad sales team hope that if the company can continue to show strong returns with direct response campaigns, it can help lure more brand advertisers—a much larger business.

But as several analysts have pointed out, to bring over the brand dollars, Snap will need to reignite user growth. Many advertisers still only see Snap as a way to reach millennial users, which limits the number that want to spend big money on the app, said Brian Weiser, an analyst with Pivotal Research.

—Cory Weinberg contributed to this article.

Source: How Snap Made Direct Response Ads a Big Business — The Information