Red Nose Day 2019: Fight To End Child Poverty

Red Nose Day in the United States is today, May 23rd, and as I have done each year here on this blog, I wanted to try to spread awareness of this very important fundraising event to end child poverty.

Red Nose Day is run by Comic Relief USA in conjunction with major relief aid partners and national sponsors. The national sponsors again for the 2019 Red Nose Day event are: Walgreens, Mars Confectionary Company, Comcast NBCUniversal, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since the first Red Nose Day event in the US in 2015, about $150 million has been raised to help fight child poverty. These funds have helped 16 million children in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The funding has brought education to about 1 million children, essential medical services to 13 million children, and has helped 75,000 homeless children.

In addition, the funds raised by this event have provided 36 million meals to American children living in poverty, a major issue that is often overlooked because of the perception of our country’s wealth. In 2018, the Red Nose Day programs and events raised $47 million in the United States.

NBC is back as the main broadcast partner and will dedicate three hours of primetime television air time tonight to the Red Nose Day fundraising effort. The special program begins at 8 PM Eastern tonight with Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton among other stars that will highlight a two- hour block of coverage dedicated to raising awareness of childhood poverty. This includes a short film comedy sketch routine, and an appeals film by Milo Ventimiglia from “This Is Us”.

The network will close out the night from 10 PM to 11 PM Eastern with a special edition of “Hollywood Game Night” for Red Nose Day. Please tune in tonight to NBC for this important event.

Walgreens returns as a key sponsor of this event and the drugstore chain has sold 40 million of the iconic red noses since 2015 across their over 9,000 US locations. The healthcare retailer has made Red Nose Day a major event through store signage and advertising campaigns.

Mars Confectionary Company and their ubiquitous American brand, M&Ms have again donated $1 million to Red Nose Day in 2019. The company also raises additional money and support for the program through a month of events across their corporate locations aimed at raising awareness, funds, and volunteer hours across several communities in America.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is among the most well known in the world. Their mission is focused on children, and they provide funding and programming support for the donations raised from the event and how they are utilized to provide the maximum benefit to children in poverty.

We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. We all can do something within our means to help support Red Nose Day. The amount of children living in poverty in America is staggering 15 million, or 21% of all children in our country live in poverty according to various census related sources. The need is great both here and in underdeveloped areas of our world in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

We can help children, who cannot help themselves, to have their basic needs met. Please support this important event today by going to www.rednoseday.org and by following @RedNoseDayUSA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Please share this with your friends and family.
The eradication of childhood poverty is the goal of Comic Relief USA and is shared by the sponsors of this event. I think we all need to share that goal, and each do our part to help this important event to succeed. Thank you all for your support of Red Nose Day 2019 and may God bless you for your efforts to help children in need.

(Background information courtesy of RedNoseDay.org, NBC.com, Walgreens.com, and the 2010 US Government Census Department)

Content Wars: Disney Gains Full Control Of Hulu

The content wars in the media landscape, a frequent topic of past articles on this site, took a surprising turn on Tuesday with the news that Disney has obtained what the press release deemed as “full operational control” of streaming service giant, Hulu.

The analysts and other media experts had predicted that Comcast would try to oppose ceding full control of Hulu to Disney, especially given their contentious recent bidding wars for Sky TV and 21st Century Fox. Comcast owns 31% of Hulu through their subsidiary business unit, NBCUniversal.

The deal announced Tuesday between these two media goliaths is a “put/call”. The terms of the deal translate to provide mechanisms to both sides. Comcast could by January 2024 initiate the mechanism that would require Disney to purchase their 31% stake at a market valuation determined by independent analysts.

Furthermore, Disney could require Comcast to sell their stake if certain market factors are realized in the future. It depends upon the performance of the service and reports state that Disney has committed to a minimum value of $27 billion. Disney stock jumped Tuesday to over $130 per share and is nearing an all-time high based on the Hulu acquisition news.

The agreement also includes that Comcast will continue to stream Hulu over the X1 set top box and that Comcast has extended the rights to their NBCUniversal content to be streamed through Hulu for another three years. However, the fine print of the deal also allows for some of that content to be pulled in a year to be streamed through a Comcast streaming service at a later point.

The timing was very good for Disney as they needed to gain full control of Hulu at this point in time with the planned launch of the streaming service known as “Disney+” by the end of this year. Some analysts have predicted that the Hulu platform is where Disney will put some of their “non-family” content, which would make sense.

The deal makes sense for Comcast because the advertising revenue and the subscription bases for Hulu and Hulu Live TV services will both grow exponentially with the trend toward “cord-cutting” in the next four to five years. They will also have options on whether they want to pull their NBC and Universal based content in the future, once their streaming service is optimized. In the meantime, they will get a deal for sharing that content with Hulu from Disney. Comcast is going to get a big check from Disney in five years.

Disney has now stated that they plan to position a future offer to customers that “cord-cut” from cable and satellite a package to buy two or all three of their streaming services: Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for a bundled rate. That is an interesting approach and signals the way of the future for television that is becoming increasingly customized and internet streaming reliant.

The agreement today puts pressure on the other players in the industry, especially CBS, which has to figure out how they will grow to compete in a world that is being dominated by Disney and Comcast. The DirecTV Now service is losing subscribers already to Hulu Live and You Tube Premium because DirecTV changed their packages for channel offerings and increased prices.

These changes alienated long-time customers and drove them to seek alternative service providers with better rates and packages. This deal today is only going to strengthen Hulu and their tiered offerings: $5.99 per month for commercials, $11.99 per month for commercial-free streaming, and $44.99 per month for Hulu Live television service which is a 60 channel package.

Disney took another step toward dominating the relatively new industry space of the subscription streaming services. It remains to be seen how the rest of the industry will respond, how it will impact the NBCUniversal streaming service set to launch in 2020, and what Comcast will do with the money it will receive for their stake in the “put/call” arrangement they made in five years.

One thing is clear: times are changing in the television programming industry.

(Some industry background information courtesy of: Fox Business, USA Today, and CBS Market Watch)

XFL 2020 Announces Broadcasting Deal

The XFL reboot of the professional football league founded by Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fame, also known as XFL 2020, announced today a major broadcasting deal.

The burgeoning league will broadcast games on Saturday and Sunday primarily on both network television and cable television outlets. The XFL agreed to terms with ABC/ESPN and FOX on a three- year contract on Tuesday. The networks will broadcast the eight-team league with four games each weekend: two on Saturday and two on Sunday.

The Saturday games will be back-to-back and start at 2 PM Eastern and the Sunday games will be in the afternoon hours as well. The broadcast partners will feature games on broadcast television on ABC and FOX nationally and will broadcast on ESPN and FS1 as the primary cable outlets. However, the press releases seemed to indicate that some games would also air on secondary cable outlets ESPN2 and FS2.

The opening game of XFL 2020 will be held on February 8, 2020 and the season will span 10 weeks with two weeks of postseason games. The top two teams from each four-team division will move into the playoffs. The championship game will be broadcast on ESPN.

The scale of this broadcasting deal is impressive for a new league and will certainly help grow the interest in the league by having regular time frames for games and two highly visible broadcast partners. It will be easy for fans to access the games and to ultimately drive the excitement around this new league.

Some people, myself included, were very surprised that the XFL was able to leverage a broadcasting deal that was so extensive with network broadcasts of games on major networks such as ABC and FOX. This is especially profound given the recent failure of the AAF (Alliance of American Football) which had a broadcasting deal in place with CBS, Turner Sports, and NFL Network.

The AAF folded and ceased operations before the end of their first regular season. The ratings for the broadcasts were abysmal. The risk is certainly there for the broadcast partners of any new league, but the “ x factor” no pun intended, in this deal is McMahon who is seen by many as an outstanding marketer and businessman.

The XFL Commissioner, Oliver Luck, is also a mastermind of marketing the sport of football. The league chose larger media markets than the AAF as well. The AAF went with small markets that had no NFL presence. The XFL took on the approach of being in large markets to grow the game and reach a larger audience.

The rebooted XFL will have teams in: Dallas, Houston, Tampa Bay, Washington D.C., New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Seattle. Those locations all make sense from a strategic business sense and from the fan base perspective. The sport of football has a tremendous amount of support in states such as Florida and Texas. The New York, D.C., and Los Angeles markets make sense from a media and population/demographic perspective.

The St. Louis market makes sense because they lost their NFL team to relocation, and Seattle is a great sports city that gives them a major market in the Northwest. The broadcasting agreement today also indicates that with the trends in media moving toward the importance of content, live sports content is still so highly desirable for the networks. It is especially important in reaching the key demographics of men age 18 to 34 and also for men in the 25 to 54 and over 55 age demographics.
These groups of men tend to spend more money than the other demographic groups as well as demonstrated the willingness to be more likely for an impulse purchase. The broadcasts of the XFL games will most certainly feature sponsorships with heavily male product areas.

In a personal note, I remember the first XFL iteration which debuted back in 2001. I recall the night of the inaugural game and watching that game with my father. I remember all my buddies were watching it too. The first XFL failed because they tried too many gimmicks.

I also recall watching the New York Hitmen who played at the former Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands complex in New Jersey, and they drew a good-sized crowd to those games. The league back then just had too many trick plays, off the wall rules, and they did not have enough star players.

Commissioner Luck has stated that XFL 2020 will not have the gimmicks and they will provide a highly visible platform for players who are looking to make the leap to the NFL especially at positions where real-time game reps are what is needed for scouts to evaluate their talent.

The XFL 2020 took a big step forward today with this broadcasting deal. The team names, uniforms, and schedules will be the next big news from this new league. It remains to be seen if McMahon is a great salesman or if the product on the field will back up the expectations being set for this reinvented football league.

(Some background info courtesy of Fortune, Wall Street Journal, and ESPN.com)

Viva France: Amazon & Casino Group Announce Partnership

Amazon took a significant step in growing their foothold in the grocery market in France by announcing a partnership with Casino Group on Tuesday. The strategic deal will integrate Amazon pickup lockers into Casino owned grocery store locations. This will allow for customers to order products on Amazon and then pickup in the store.

Amazon will also start carrying more of the grocery products carried by Casino and their stable of grocery store chains. The agreement will also allow for Amazon to expand their Prime Now grocery delivery service, which they began with Monoprix (Casino Group’s grocery store chain which is comparable to a French version of Whole Foods) in Paris with great success. The delivery service will expand beyond Paris into surrounding areas in the next twelve months.

The Casino Group is currently in the middle of a cost cutting scenario which has fueled speculation that the chain might be poised for a consolidation with Amazon. These types of business deals could potentially lay the groundwork for that type of scenario to take place. The company is one of the largest retailers in France with grocery stores under the names: Hyper Casino, Casino Supermarche, Leader Price, Vival, Monop, Monoprix, and Spar among others.

The retail grocery business in France is the third largest market in the E.U. behind the United Kingdom and Germany. However, Amazon has a very small share of the overall market in France with some estimates around 17% of the retail grocery channel business.

Amazon has made the strategic business direction of entry into the grocery channel a priority. A recent post on this site detailed the online retail giant’s decision to launch brick and mortar grocery stores besides Whole Foods, to compete with the mainstream retail grocery players in key cities as a test market for the concept.

Amazon could be making a play here for Casino Group to enter the French grocery market more aggressively. That would certainly have an impact on that business and would benefit the consumer with lower costs on many products because the other players would have to compete with Amazon on price.

Amazon is currently the dominant ecommerce player in France and this agreement with Casino Group will strengthen that position for them and allow for some new conveniences in the shopping experience for the French consumer. The Casino Group, in their press release, indicated that the partnership will allow them to reach a wider demographic of customers as well as provide customers with an enhanced service.

This partnership, if proven successful, could be a harbinger of things to come with Amazon potentially looking into similar agreements with major grocery retailers in Germany and the UK in the months ahead.

It will remain to be seen if Amazon does present a formal bid to purchase Casino Group, and how that scenario would be perceived by the French government regulatory personnel and the public at large.

In my view, it could be seen as another disconcerting way that Amazon is growing to have too much control over many areas of industry. It is getting to the point that it could be very problematic for several key areas of industry throughout the world if Amazon failed at some point. That should give society some cause for seeking a pause on some of their growth activity.

They do provide the consumer with a great service, and they are efficient at what they do in the ecommerce area, but they are pushing their influence into everything and that should at least cause us to start to question where this will all eventually lead, and the possible ramifications of a single company growing to that level of influence.

(Some background information and statistical data provided by CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, and Reuters)

Follow Up: CBS – Viacom Merger Talks Intensify Again

This follow up piece seems like a recurring dream, something you remember doing and then find yourself doing again, the CBS-Viacom merger talks are back in full swing. The earlier work on this site about the merger focused on a variety of angles: the business implications of the deal, the consumer impact of the deal, the changes in the media industry, the inner workings of the CBS feud with National Amusements, the power struggle at the top of the company, and finally the potential for CBS to be purchased by a tech company.

This piece will look at the current situation as well as why some of those other aspects did not ultimately come to fruition. The power struggle and the resistance of CBS from being merged with Viacom has shifted since Les Moonves was dismissed as CEO last Fall after sexual misconduct allegations mounted against him.

The business landscape has changed as well with Disney obtaining the 21st Century Fox subsidiary units and movie studio, and AT&T merging with Time Warner to create Warner Media. These maneuvers have certainly put some pressure on Shari Redstone and National Amusements to determine how CBS is going to stay competitive in an ever-changing media dynamic.

Furthermore, the situation at CBS has changed since the talks began a few years ago, where the network side of the business was home to huge ratings hit shows. The viewership has moved away from network broadcast programs to the streaming and premium cable channels. This has seen series from Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming providers take ratings share away from the “Big Four”.

In addition, the hit series from HBO such as “Game of Thrones”, Epix, Starz, Showtime, and other premium networks all have produced original content that have siphoned viewership away from the networks, and with that goes a portion of the advertising revenue.

It is not like CBS does not have series programs that capture viewers. However if you look at the ratings for the 2018-19 television season, CBS series have performed at a downward trend. The following data supports that and is most definitely driving CBS and Viacom back to the negotiating table:
“Big Bang Theory” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 17% year-over-year and down 8.2% of viewers overall.
“Young Sheldon” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 21.7% year-over-year and down 11.3% of viewers overall.
“NCIS” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 11.1% year over-year and down 6.6% overall viewers.
“Mom” 18 to 49 -year-old demographic down 15.2% year-over-year and down 7.7% of overall viewers.
That is alarming when the top four shows on the network are down in the coveted 18 to 49 and overall metrics. The network has other shows in the top ten shows of their lineup including “NCIS : Los Angeles” and “Man With A Plan” that are also down significantly in both categories.

The other issue is that aside from “Big Bang Theory”, which is in its final season, all of the other series mentioned have been renewed for next season. The network introduced just eight new series this TV season so far, and most of those concepts are cancelled already. The reality is that CBS has had a great run at the top of the ratings book for a while, but they need fresh new concepts. The whole lineup needs to be revamped.

The business is changing and they have to adapt with that in order to stay relevant. The network has also been struck with a stretch of bad luck. The Super Bowl this past February was the lowest scoring championship game in history, and viewers checked out of it, so ratings were down for the biggest television event of the year.

The network also has the rights to the NCAA men’s basketball championship and those ratings were down because the two teams in the championship (Virginia and Texas Tech) were not a ratings draw for the average viewer.

The internal politics of the dynamics there, which has been covered previously on this site, adds another layer of turmoil. The parent company of both CBS and Viacom is National Amusements International (NAI). The dismissal of Moonves means that CBS needs to appoint a new CEO, these new negotiations over the Viacom merger will hold up that process.

The speculation is that the merged CBS and Viacom would most likely be run by Bob Bakish, who currently runs Viacom because he has a close relationship with Shari Redstone who runs NAI in place of her father who is ill and not in the picture. The combined company would either continue to grow using the content and synergies between the two entertainment entities, or they could fetch interest by a larger investor who could buy the whole combined company.

In prior coverage of this topic, CBS was reluctant to merge with Viacom because they were hopeful that a larger “new media” company would purchase them from NAI. They even had a window negotiated to get that type of deal done. In my view, I had speculated that CBS would be purchased by Verizon to propel their expansion into the content that every media company is looking to capture.

There were others who speculated that Amazon would purchase CBS because of their existing business relationship/partnership for streaming of certain content on Amazon Prime Video. That also did not materialize. The fact is that the “new media” or tech companies are focusing on developing their own content and they are not interested in purchasing the assets of another company.

It is similar to football and getting a quarterback, most teams do not want to acquire another team’s guy that has already been in another system, the team would rather draft their own guy and build them up from the foundation according to the principles and techniques that they coach as an organization. The tech companies do not want someone else’s productions, they want to build up their own productions.

It is in this light that the jump-started negotiations between CBS and Viacom should be viewed. The reality is that CBS would have been purchased already if a potential buyer was interested. The combined unit would bolster the content holdings of the company as a single entity with much more cable television content from BET, MTV, CMT, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, among others.

The reality is that while this merger might not be the ideal one for either side because of all of the history and the bad blood between the two companies (made complicated by the fact that they are both underneath the same parent company in NAI) it is the only deal on the table right now. Both entities are heading toward a scenario where they will not survive as separate units.

The impact for the consumer if the two companies should merge could go either way because CBS/Viacom could potentially negotiate better deals with advertisers and for cable rights carriage fees which could lower the cost of some cable or satellite packages.

However, it could go the opposite direction and the combined entity could decide to park streaming content into CBS All Access, which is a subscription based streaming application and they could hike up the membership fee. The combined CBS/Viacom could also create their own apps for each network or put them all on a combined stand-alone streaming application for the Viacom properties and then charge a membership fee for that content.

In the end, the next few weeks to the next couple of months could yield some big news in the media industry. The board members opposed to this deal have been removed, these negotiations seemed poised for a completed merger between two companies with a deep history of resentment. The dust will settle and then we will know whether this combined company will help or hinder the average viewer. We will also know whether this merger will have limited or significant impact on the industry overall.

Stats, some background information courtesy of Fox News, TV Series Finale.com, Nielsen)

Follow Up: CVS Merger With Aetna Under Scrutiny

The recent developments with the Federal court system and Judge Richard Leon have the potential to rollback the $70 billion merger of CVS with Aetna. In other posts on this site, this merger has been detailed from the beginning.

The renewed scrutiny from Judge Leon centers on the condition of the sale went it was originally approved which states that Aetna would be required to sell Medicare prescription drug plans that they currently administer. That was the deal made with the anti-trust regulatory bodies involved in this blockbuster merger.

The hearing is set for Thursday, when Judge Leon plans to hear testimony from various entities including representatives of the American Medical Association (AMA), who are opposed to the merger. Judge Leon is attempting to determine whether the sale of Aetna to CVS is within the public interest.

CVS is a large retail pharmacy chain and healthcare provider that also manufactures their own product lines. Aetna is a huge health insurance company with a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) arm as well. The deal from the beginning has struck some in the general public as a conflict of interest.

Earlier this week, another prominent judge called the potential for the CVS-Aetna deal to be reversed “catastrophic” to the industry. The merger is seen as lifeline of sorts for both companies amid a changing healthcare landscape that Amazon has shifted already and is looking to tilt completely in the coming years.

The move is seen as necessary to bring a stream of steady foot traffic through the CVS retail stores which they will need to compete with Amazon. This will be achieved by funneling those with Aetna health insurance coverage to have their prescriptions filled by CVS.

In an earlier piece, I detailed the potential pitfalls to that approach and I maintain that it is unfair to limit the choice of a consumer especially with healthcare related products that might put them into a scenario that is very inconvenient for them or a family member that is covered under their policy.

The proponents of this deal moving ahead will point to the recent struggles of Walgreens and their revised earnings adjustments as well as their recent adjustments to their overall annual forecast, which was revised down due to a decrease in customer traffic through the brick and mortar locations primarily. The industry media folks and the financial analyst types were speculating that Walgreens has to do something, they have to make a move to essentially “lock in” a customer base for prescriptions similar to the Aetna – CVS agreement.

The detractors will state that the insurance providers for healthcare should not be mingled with the retail pharmacy giants because of the changes it will bring to consumer choice, potentially to pricing of medications, and a host of other concerns. They would also maintain that Walgreens would be met with resistance if they tried a similar path to CVS.

It also should be noted that Walgreens expended time, energy, and money on a long-term pursuit of merging with Rite Aid, which met with so much push back that it was eventually disbanded by Walgreens. Then, Walgreens spent money to obtain many Rite Aid locations and transition them to the Walgreens brand in order to strategically grow their presence in certain markets.

The speculation will continue around United Health Care (UHC) being one of the last major health insurance players left that could become a partner for Walgreens, though it is difficult to see that they would sink money into a merger proposal until they have the precedent of the CVS-Aetna deal to utilize to their advantage.

The implications for this hearing today and the decision that rests with Judge Leon will have far-reaching consequences in either way he decides to proceed. The approval of the merger with the conditions would set CVS up to grow their customer base and could give Walgreens the proof it needs to move forward in a new direction of their own, given their current situation.

The deal could be scuttled which would send shockwaves through the industry and potentially give Amazon an advantage for entry into the market. It will be fascinating, so stay tuned.

(some background information courtesy of Reuters, Barron’s, and Fox Business)

Kellogg Sells Cookie Brands To Ferrero

The news on Tuesday that Kellogg has an agreement to sell several brands to confection maker Ferrero, came as no surprise to many in the food industry. The iconic cereal maker had been working for months to sell the cookie brands of their business to a willing buyer. The total amount of the transaction is reported in several sources as $1.3 billion.

Ferrero will obtain Keebler, Famous Amos, Murray’s, and some other smaller brands from Kellogg. This will allow Kellogg to focus more specifically on their core business focus of breakfast cereal and snacks. They want to create a niche in both of those industry segments, that quite frankly, they could not achieve in the cookie segment of the business.

The cookie business is very competitive with Nabisco leading the pack with some top selling brands. Kellogg executives determined that the cookie brands were not a good fit for their overall business model. I have food industry background, and personally I did not understand why Kellogg purchased Keebler, Famous Amos, Murray’s, and other brands to get into that business. In my view, it never made sense that they would enter such a competitive landscape and it seemed to distract their marketing focus away from cereals and salty snacks. Those two areas have been segments of the business where the company has done very well.

Kellogg, according to a report by CNN, reportedly had $900 million in sales from their cookie brands in 2018 but that yielded just $75 million in operating profit. That demonstrates the challenges of being in that industry segment and the overhead costs involved from packaging, production, and marketing costs.

Conversely, Kellogg has had success since it acquired the Pringles snack brand from P&G. The iconic potato chip brand was a lower-performing brand that was a bit of an afterthought at P&G. The attention that Kellogg provided has turned into a powerhouse brand that has helped drive profits.

The Pringles brand along with Cheez-It, Pop Tarts, and Rice Krispie Treats are called the “power brands” by the CEO of Kellogg. This is where they will bring some very specific marketing and advertising techniques into greater intensity now that the cookie business is not siphoning off dollars.

Ferrero completed this deal so that they can gain a better foothold into the North American market. The foreign confectioner specializes in Tic Tac, Nutella, and Ferrero Rocher among other smaller brands. They took an opportunity to obtain some nostalgic brands that truly represent a slice of Americana with Keebler and the Keebler elves baking up “magic” in the oven in the iconic tree.

Famous Amos has been highly visible in parts of America for decades for their signature chocolate chip cookies. The move to Ferrero could potentially increase their entry into the convenience store chains along with Tic Tac and some other confectionary products. Ferrero most certainly has some strategic plans for the brand to make it more visible in different channels.

Ferrero will also gain the agreement to manufacture the ubiquitous Girl Scout Cookies, which are currently made by a subsidiary bakery within the Keebler business structure. That piece of business could be significant for Ferrero in an increasingly competitive cookie market.

Kellogg will shift their focus back to another core business area: breakfast cereal. The sales of cereal have been sluggish overall, but the company maintains that by exiting the cookie business they can bring some new emphasis and innovations to the cereal aisle.

Some people might have a problem with a foreign based company holding the rights to some quintessentially American brands such as Keebler, Famous Amos, and the Girl Scout Cookie that we all love to partake in. However, times are changing, and Kellogg is trying to distinguish itself within a highly competitive industry.

In fairness, Ferrero is attempting to do the same thing, they need to grow and diversify their brand holdings at the risk of being consolidated by a larger fish in the food industry pond. This transaction will help Ferrero increase their visibility and their sales volume in North America, where the cookie business is projected to grow after some years of flat results.

The consumer wins in this deal because Kellogg is going to focus on even further improving their core businesses of snacks and breakfast cereal brands. Ferrero will have a fresh perspective and will bring some new innovations and energy to the Keebler and other cookie brands that Americans have grown up with over decades. It is certainly one of the larger deals in the food industry in 2019 and could shape the directions of both companies for years into the future.

(some background info and stats courtesy of CNN and PR Newswire)

Disney Merger With Fox: What Does It Mean?

I have been asked several times today by people who know that I have covered the Disney – Fox merger about what it means for the average person with a cable, satellite, or streaming services package subscription. The deal has also created a significant amount of understandable confusion regarding what Disney will end up controlling, and what assets from Fox are not part of the transaction.

The Disney acquisition of certain assets of the Fox media and entertainment empire has been in the works for several months. The driving forces behind both sides making this deal are different, but the transaction obviously helps both sides or else it would not have been completed.

In an earlier piece on this merger, I explained how Disney is looking to add content for the launch of their streaming app service to rival Netflix and Amazon, called “Disney+”. This acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets, FX Network, National Geographic Network, and the Fox stake in the Hulu streaming service provides Disney with loads of content ownership.

Fox was looking to streamline their operations and cut themselves loose from the studio holdings that have high overhead costs associated with them. The move away from some of their more ancillary cable television holdings would allow them to focus on their core offerings of news, business news, and sports. These areas have higher profitability from the advertising sales perspective.

Many people are confused about this merger and think that Disney, which already owns ABC and ESPN, will now own Fox networks like their flagship channel, Fox News, Fox Business, and FS1. Those same people are curious as to how that would pass through the antitrust regulations of the federal government.
However, that is not the case. Fox will maintain ownership of their networks here in the U.S. and abroad as well as Fox News, Fox Business, and Fox Sports (FS1 and FS2 networks) in the newly created entity called Fox Corporation.

Disney will gain the outlying assets that I detailed earlier and will begin to seek what their CEO, Bob Iger, described in the press release as “cost synergies”; which translates into layoffs of people that they deem as redundant in the newly merged entities. Disney will also undoubtably look to expand upon the Marvel movies, and maximize merchandising opportunities by creating stand-alone movies on specific characters that were once the property of Fox.

Fox will look to expand the development of programming for their mainstream Fox network as well as gaining new rights agreements for live sports content on the Fox Sports networks. They will no longer be able to produce TV programs in their own studio which will impact their overall production costs, but they will save the overhead of maintaining 21st Century Fox and the Fox TV studio areas.

The Fox networks will be able to purchase productions made in the Disney/21st Century studios. Their sports division is heavily invested in soccer with a World Cup coming up in three years, and will continue to invest in soccer and other sports content namely the NFL package.

The merger is similar to the AT&T / Time Warner consolidation that I covered in multiple pieces over the course of that time frame through the process. It remains to be seen whether content will become limited by Disney to the other cable or satellite providers. I think the streaming content will certainly be limited, but Disney does not have a “horse in the race” like AT&T does with DirecTV on the distribution side of the business.

The deal was certainly a big win for Disney prior to the launch of their new streaming service. The media landscape has condensed and the content that is so valuable is landing in the hands of the few. The average consumer should prepare to pay a subscription fee for the Disney streaming service in addition to any other memberships they currently maintain.

The capabilities of Disney to produce outstanding content is well established, the acquisition today is going to make them even more formidable in the years to follow.

(Some background courtesy of CNN, CNBC, and The Financial Times)

Amazon Grocery Store Plan: Will It Help Or Hurt Retail?

Amazon recently announced a plan to expand into the retail grocery channel beyond their current presence resulting from their acquisition of Whole Foods. Many people know that the internet shopping giant bought Whole Foods for about $14 billion in June 2017, which provided them with a foothold into the grocery business.

The image of Whole Foods from the consumer standpoint is that it is an expensive, almost elitist place to shop for groceries that many in the general public feel they can get a better value at a mainstream grocery chain. Amazon attempted to alter this consumer sentiment around Whole Foods, but when those were unsuccessful, this could have at least contributed to their decision to enter into the retail grocery business in a way that will reach a wider gamut of consumer demographics.

The plan is to open stores in targeted U.S. markets with just a few outlets in each market to test out the concept. The first Amazon grocery store of this type will open in Los Angeles as soon as the end of 2019, if everything goes as planned.

Then, the concept would be rolled out to ten or twelve strategic geographic areas throughout the country. The new grocery brand would sell less expensive products than Whole Foods, would carry a large selection of Amazon’s private label brands, and would carry national brands that are precluded from the Whole Foods shelves based on the food product standards set by that chain.

The decision to carry those national brands would open up a pathway for Amazon to benefit from the huge amounts of money that those companies spend for shelf space and advertising at Point of Purchase type of campaigns. The new grocery brand would also provide Amazon with a way to enroll more people in Prime memberships with some sort of promotional incentive either at the point of enrollment, or for future shopping trips.

Currently, Amazon provides a 10% discount for Prime members when they shop at Whole Foods store locations. This will serve as a model for the new grocery brand in order to incentivize memberships to their Prime service. Amazon will also be able to cross-promote more items from their website during an in-store shopping experience.

Furthermore, Amazon announced in the plans for this new grocery brand that they will have a service that allows shoppers to select the items on the website and set it up for pick-up in the store location, creating what Amazon believes will be the new way that the consumer purchases groceries.

The decision will have a gigantic ripple effect on the grocery industry. The established retail grocery chains are going to have to lower their overhead costs prior to Amazon entering their industry space. That could translate into job cutbacks, layoffs, or restructuring the number of full-time workers or hours that are given out by the mainstream grocery players. The one controllable aspect of a low profit margin business such as the grocery channel is the labor cost.

The other significant component to this news by Amazon is that they are looking to lease spaces that also allow them to sell beauty and personal care products. Those types of products generally have a higher profit margin, and Amazon has their own private label brands which allow for excellent cost control.

My past writing on the food industry and the retail shopping changes that have taken place over the years have centered more on certain chains going bankrupt or discontinuing a product due to a recall or sluggish sales. This situation is rare: a new player actually joining the brick and mortar segment of the retail landscape.

The timing for Amazon is advantageous too because of the amount of large retail spaces that are vacant now with the end of Sears, Toys R Us, and a slew of regional grocery chains. The speculation is that Amazon could lease some of the former Sears locations for this new grocery store concept.

In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, the amount of retail space left from the demise of regional grocery chains such as A&P and Pathmark, create a huge opportunity for Amazon to get an advantageous lease term. Then, they can reach a huge variety of demographics in that part of the country which is so densely populated.

The industry data on the grocery business in America is compelling and certainly has been on the radar screen for Amazon for a while now. The U.S. grocery business is estimated at $830 billion and between Whole Foods and Amazon’s other online business they have a 4% market share. Wal Mart has a 21% market share of the grocery business, and Amazon is looking to grow their share and get in front of mainstream consumers with their private label brands.

The competition will face some very difficult pricing pressures from Amazon entering this part of the industry, should the concept launch be successful. There are many people both in the consumer public and on Wall Street that believe that the competition will be good for the grocery industry.

Amazon entering that mainstream grocery retail space will force other grocery chains to innovate and provide new and better value propositions to their customers. The consumer stands to benefit from that standpoint.

The success of this venture will be evaluated by Amazon in the test markets that they have announced: LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, and others. The full rollout of a new grocery chain from Amazon would help solve for some of the unoccupied retail space in shopping centers around the country. It would bring brick and mortar business back within the context of a changing consumer landscape.

The outcome of this new venture is uncertain, but one thing is clear: all eyes are again on Amazon to see if they can put their stamp on a new way for consumers to shop for groceries.

(Some background information courtesy of Forbes and The Wall Street Journal)

Overload: The Impact of Social Media & The Internet On The Emotional Health Of American Society

The concept is not necessarily new or groundbreaking, but the rise in social media use, also known as “screen time” has demonstrated a definite impact on the mental and emotional health of Americans. The scientific study data is mounting to confirm this daunting trend.

The harmful effects of screen time in excess are being documented as the underlying cause of insomnia, anxiety, and depression. The blue light given off by screens causes eye strain, neck strain, and sleep deprivation. A recent medical study also concluded that the prolonged use of devices and tablets that give off this blue light causes damage to the retina.

The messaging that an average person is bombarded with daily is becoming increasingly obtrusive. The other common emotion is that people feel like they are going to “miss out” on something if they are not constantly on Twitter or Instagram.

The commonly misunderstood aspect of social media overall is that most of the communication being done is idealized, it is “stage hand” so people present the “best” version of themselves – being happy or without a worry in the world or that they have “perfect families or the perfect life”. This version eventually gets other people making constant comparisons to their own lives.
Many people then question why their lives are not “perfect” or “fun” like their contacts on social media present to the world. This leads to depression and anxiety. This leads to many people being further consumed by social media, like the fuel to the fire, as the saying goes.

The unfortunate component to social media overload is that very often those who are impacted do not realize it until it is too late. The fact that so many of our jobs or our side jobs require a presence on social media to carry out obligations of those occupations sets up a slippery slope for many people.

The expectation by a supervisor, manager, or director that we support the work of the company or organization through promotion on social media has blurred the lines of the boundaries even further. This can also be an issue with volunteer work, which in the past was a safe haven from the pressures of your “real job” and now very often these organizations are asking volunteers to “follow”, “like”, and “retweet” their social media marketing to improve their reach/frequency numbers.

The side job or main job being a freelance or independent contractor type situation is also becoming more prevalent, furthering the social media overload. The current percentage of the U.S. workforce that identifies as a freelancer is 30% of the total domestic workforce.

In a recent study on the American workforce, the Department of Labor predicted that 50% of all jobs in the U.S. by the year 2030 will be freelance/independent businesses. That increase is generated by the relative ease that the technology behind creating a website and social media profile has provided to the average person with no tech background.

The emergence of dedicated social media pages as “business pages” or “business profiles” has furthered the reliance on people being attached to their phones or devices. This increased screen time has an impact on parent/child relationships, marital relationships, and sibling interaction.

The heavy usage of social media can be, and has been, determined as an addiction for some Americans. It can cause emotional mood swings because of the constant human tendency to measure ourselves against how others are portraying themselves on social media, leading to constant feelings of inadequacy or unfulfillment.

This overuse of social media has stemmed a trend of “device free” dinner times for families, or the trend of “device free” time for couples when they get home from work or plan an evening out together. That is an indication of how far out of control this situation has become.

The recent studies by several reputable animal health journals and universities centered on the impact of social media use and pets, most specifically dogs. The pets in the studies were impacted, but dogs were found to be the most severely negatively impacted by their owner’s use of social media.

The studies found that when the pet owner spent several uninterrupted hours of social media “screen time” instead of playing with the dog, this was linked to increased rates of depression in dogs. Dogs, more than other pets, are reliant on time with their owner or human family members for play, love, and emotional support. Dogs have been scientifically proven to provide unconditional love to their human family. This loss of interactive time with their owner or family causes the dog to take on the same traits of a depressed human, which can lead to severe health problems for the dog.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania shows a direct link between the use of social media and an increase in loneliness and depression in Americans. The more time the subjects spent on the various forms of social media, their loneliness increased. That increased screen time has also damaged whatever friendships or close relationships that they had prior to the study.

In fact, there is a post going throughout social media that goes along the lines of social media being great for keeping up with people you have not seen in years, yet farther apart from the people closest to you. That great conundrum inherent in social media overload is a trend that will have increased societal implications in the years ahead.

Some countries have pushed back against the grain by banning the use of devices during school hours. Moreover, some countries have banned access to social media outlets completely. This debate will be fueled for many years to come.

The United States has seen the screen time changes play out in school districts and in a piece for the New York Times, the explanation was clarified that in many cases it was easier for the students to adapt to the “all or nothing approach”. It was better for the student to have zero screen time than an abbreviated amount of screen time. It also made the policy easier to enforce.

The impact of cyber-bullying is also of increased concern when it comes to social media use and increased screen time. The widespread nature of bullying going from the classroom to the internet is a tremendous problem for many students from grammar school through college.

Additionally, there is the threat of fake profiles that strangers put up on social media sites to meet people and the many dangers that are associated with those types of interactions. The countless news stories are evidence of this alarming pattern of activity where people have caused harm to another person or kidnapped a child through a “relationship” developed on social media.

In conclusion, the effects of excessive screen time in front of a smart phone, tablet, or other device are being documented as increasingly harmful to an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical health. The amount of neck, shoulder and back injuries as well as the eye problems that increased time staring at these devices can cause is also being documented.

The extreme attachment that people have to their smart phones and other devices today has become an epidemic. It causes increased amounts of anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy in children and adults alike. This increased reliance on screen time has become detrimental to family relationships, friendships, pets, and others.

It is time to put some restrictions on this overload of screen time by putting down your phone or device and spending time with those around you, by meeting up with a friend, or playing with your dog. Your outlook will improve and your life will be more fulfilled if you can successfully implement this “device free” time into daily routine.

(Some background and statistics courtesy of University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, New York Times, Washington Post, and New England Journal of Medicine)