Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happy Times Are Here Again!

A Health Plan for Wal-Mart: Less Stinginess (NY Times)

So Wal-Mart's finally starting to play the health care game. According to the Times, the Big Blue Box is "offering better coverage to a greater number of workers." In light of Wal-Mart's slowed growth in North America, it makes sense to give in from time to time, and spend that political capital on appealing to consumers who might not usually shop at their stores.

How Wal-Mart sold the new policy to the Old Guard within its own Home Office was through logic and sound economic sense -- taking care of your workers increases productivity and shrinks turnover:

If workers “are healthy, they will do a better job at work, they’ll be more productive, they’ll be happier, nicer to our customers,” Ms. Dillman said, all of which results in less absenteeism and turnover, a longstanding problem in retailing.

It might seem like a pretty big duh to most reasonable people, but you have to remember that Wal-Mart is steeped in a certain type of southern, small-town, social culture, where two-parent families are still the norm, and moms take part-time jobs at Wal-Mart while dads bring home the bacon (and the family's health insurance) through other full-time positions. It takes a lot of persistence to change the culture of Wal-Mart. And finally, that persistence seems to be paying off.

Wal-Mart’s insurance still pales in comparison to that offered by Costco, considered the gold standard in retailing because an employee pays just a few hundred dollars a year for generous individual coverage. But Wal-Mart is catching up to retailers like Home Depot and has in some ways surpassed Target, which makes part-timers wait two years to qualify for coverage.

And that's saying something. Target, with its upscale products and trendy store fronts, always seemed to dodge the bullet that other box stores like Wal-Mart and K-Mart couldn't. Expect Target to follow suite, otherwise they might see a bit more of the wrath that unions and worker's rights groups have been targeting towards Wal-Mart.

My favorite line from the article:

The New York Times disclosed a company memorandum proposing ways to reduce health care spending by....discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart. One suggestion would have required cashiers to gather carts as exercise.

Yes! Now I realize why I had to fill in for the stock boys so often as a cashier! They were looking out for my health!

One reason for expanding health coverage to its workers that's only briefly alluded to in the article is that Wal-Mart might be interested in selling health care to its customers, too; and will likely penny pinch, scrimp and save in doing so. Remember this, if any one organization could single-handedly bring down the cost of health care for American citizens, it's Wal-Mart.

“If you really turned Wal-Mart loose and had Wal-Mart against the health care providers,” Mr. Nichols, the health economist, said, “it would be a fair fight.”

Watch out, Hillary and Obama. There's a new sheriff in town.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hulu Or Bust!

What is Hulu?

I'm not quite sure yet, but this much I do know: I've been invited to be a beta tester! Maybe they're giving these out like free candy -- I don't know. But it sure does feel special to be testing products for absolutely free so that I can save Corporate American some of their hard-earned money!

For those of you who think the interwebs are still just for email and geocities, Hulu is a new video venture between NBC/Universal and FOX News Corp. There's been quite a bit of buzz over the last couple of months about just what Hulu would be. A corporate YouTube for user-generated content? Or perhaps a new video downloading site to rival iTunes or Unbox?

Well the answer is here....Sort of. I'll let you know as soon as I know. All I can right now is, there's not a whole lot of content yet. And I'm tired. Give me 24 hours, then we'll talk. Until then, I remain everybody's favorite corporate lackey. Good day, sir!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Time To Get Paid

Picketing as Infotainment (In the Days of Web 2.0)

As of 12 hours ago (give or take) the Writer's Guild of America has been on strike. But what the hell does that mean? TV Squad gives a nice overview of how it might affect your television viewing habits. First, say goodbye to new episodes of Late Night television this week. Scripted shows, on the other hand, have enough scripts stockpiled to last until January. However, if the last WGA strike is any indication (it lasted 22 weeks), that might not be enough of a head start for your favorite shows.

The film industry is safe for the time being, with most of the summer blockbusters in either production or post. However, as Cinematical points out, even with the stockpile of scripts in Hollywood, the writers won't be available for rewrites. For X-Men XVII, or whatever the hell is coming out this summer, that's not such a big deal. But it could hurt the Oscar candidates considerably. Should the strike last for a while, who knows what we'll see in theaters come next fall/winter.

The big difference between this strike and the last one in 1988 is, of course, the internet. Even the impetus of this strike, writing residuals for DVD sales and internet downloads, are very Brave New World. And unlike in '88, there is a real and immediate way for fans to keep in constant contact and interaction with fellow fans and even writers. So far, Blog City looks to be overwhelmingly in the corner of writers. 20 years ago, there wasn't this connection between creative types and viewers. But in a Web 2.0 era full of Joss Whedons and Kevin Smiths, consumers of television and film are more apt to side with content creators (especially those with a visible web presense) rather than content distributors (like NBC or Universal).

Just as the web has revolutionized how we consume our content, it's also transforming (albeit, quite slowly) the political process behind how these shows are made. It's one thing for the Writer's Guild to stand up to the "big, bad studios" for their creative rights. But it's another thing entirely for studios to take on both writers and viewers, creators and consumers. Remember, for many viewers, these Studio Suits are the same guys who canceled Freaks and Geeks, Firefly and Jericho. There's no lost love there. If the studios can't bargain quietly (and in good faith), expect things to get real ugly, real soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

When Brands Collide

Brady and Manning Meet in Battle of the Brands (NY Times)

Just hours away from the big Colts-Patriots game, and with all the hoopla surrounding these teams, it keeps coming down to two players -- Manning vs. Brady. Which is just how their respective sponsors would have it.

So are you a Peyton Man or a Brady Man? MasterCard and Sprint? Or Stetson cologne and ridiculously expensive watches? The last watch I bought was $8.97 at Wal-Mart, so you probably already know whose camp I fall into.

For as good as Brady is, he just seems a little too good. A little too rugged. A little too pretty. And, at least in his advertising persona, a little too devoid of anything resembling a sense of humor.

Honestly, how can you even begin to like him when he does this shit? Either he's a complete tool-bag, or one of the most ironically hilarious guys on the planet. And I get the feeling this cowboy doesn't do irony.

Manning, on the other hand, has got funny coming out the wazoo. In that old test of a presidential candidate's relatability, he's the guy you'd rather have a beer with. And, unlike Mr. Stetson up there, he refuses to take himself seriously.

Come on. It's not even a contest. So I guess it's no coincidence that the closest thing I have to a watch nowadays is my phone, courtesy of Sprint mobile. Thanks, Peyton. And thank you, Corporate America, for targeting my humor and my wallet so deliberately. Your check is in the mail.