TIME Advertising

24 Is About to Become the Most Valuable Show on TV

View of the of the plexiglas structure w
GABRIEL BOUYS—AFP/Getty Images

Correction appended, March 6

Jack Bauer’s return to television is fast approaching, and it seems no one is more excited about it than advertisers. The premiere of the upcoming TV miniseries 24: Live Another Day will command as much as $500,000 for a 30-second commercial, according to Variety. That’s a larger sum than any primetime show this season except NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

The 24 reboot, which debuts May 5, will consist of 12 episodes that generally adhere to the real-time format of previous seasons. Episodes following the premiere will still net between $325,000 and $350,000 for their ads, Variety estimates. For comparison, The Walking Dead, which has been TV’s top scripted show for several seasons, currently commands about $326,000 for a 30-second spot.

The unusual timing of 24‘s premiere is part of a larger trend of networks shifting away from the September-May season structure. The slow summer months used to be chocked full of reruns, but when Breaking Bad managed to double its ratings with the July premiere of its final season, it helped proved people are willing to ignore the nice weather outside for a good enough show. Broadcast networks are now readying their own summer dramas to compete with cable. Last June CBS premiered the science fiction drama Under the Dome and the show notched impressive ratings, averaging 15 million viewers over its 13-episode run. Given the huge asking price for 24 ads, Fox likely has even higher hopes for Bauer and company.

Correction: The original version of this story mis-stated the cost of commercials airing on the Walking Dead. It costs $326,000 for a series of multiple spots.

TIME Food & Drink

Sweet! The Smooth Rise of Non-Bitter Not-Quite-Beer Beverages

Seemingly independent, craft beers are actually owned by large corporations.
Getty Images

Brews enjoyed by evenly by men and women

We’ve all heard about how quickly America’s craft beer market is growing. Two traditional beer alternatives—hard ciders and fruity malt alcoholic beverages like Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita—are expanding even more impressively, and unlike beer, which skews heavily male, these brews are enjoyed evenly by men and women.

Toward the end of 2011, America’s brewers were all but forced to pay attention to the rising hard cider market. For the 12-month period ending in October 2011, cider sales were up 25%. Sounds pretty good, but at that point cider hadn’t even come close to hitting its stride.

Citing data from the market research firm IRI, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted last spring that for the “52-week period ending April 21, sales of the 10 largest cider brands in the U.S. surged 101 percent compared to a year ago, growing to $127.8 million.” A more recent story at AdAge showed that the segment’s growth has continued to soar, with cider sales growing nearly 100% for the 52-week period ending on January 26, reaching $220.7 million total.

Understandably, the world’s biggest brewers are jumping on the cider trend, if for no other reason than out of fear of losing sales to the competition. The articles mentioned above focused on how Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, respectively, are adding new cider brands and ramping up marketing efforts to win over potential customers. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reported last fall that the fastest-growing brand owned by the Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams, isn’t a beer but a cider: Angry Orchard.

(MORE: The Competition for Craft Beer Drinkers Takes a Bitter Turn)

At this point, cider constitutes just 1% of the beer market. But given the way it’s been embraced by consumers, and given how big of a push there is behind cider among big brewers and mom-and-pop outfits alike, cider won’t be stuck at the 1% mark for long. “I could see it growing to 2 or 3 percent market share in a few years,” Harry Schuhmacher, editor and publisher of Beer Business Daily, told the Post-Dispatch. “The category is growing at over 100 percent a year, and when you have a doubling every year, it gets everyone’s attention.”

At the same time, Anheuser-Busch has been having great success with its “Ritas.” Starting with Bud Light Lime in the late ’00s, the brewer has rolled out a series of sweet, fruity, vaguely margarita-ish, vaguely beer-like beverages. The company just announced that in addition to its “two most successful innovations to-date,” Lime-A-Rita and Straw-Ber-Rita, two more fruity concoctions are hitting the market permanently, laced with the flavors of mango (Mang-O-Rita) and raspberry (Raz-Ber-Rita).

What must be especially interesting concerning to Big Beer about these alternabrews is that they don’t necessarily cannibalize sales of their bread and butter, beer. Sales of cider and the “Ritas” are generally split 50-50 among men and women, and research indicates that the folks who go for these beverages tend to be more into wine and spirits than beer. So all of the classic beer brands suffering from massive declines in popularity can’t really blame their downfall on the spread of cider and other sweet non-beers.

At the same time these products are beloved by brewers because they reach beyond the core beer market—in particular, they’re embraced by women—some are worried the beverages are too unisex, perhaps even “girly.”

(MORE: That Craft Beer You’re Drinking Isn’t Craft Beer. Do You Care?)

Some of the marketing is clearly aimed at telling guys that they’re not sissies when they drink cider. Hence, the Boston Beer Company’s Angry Orchard. That’s not a brand name that anyone would say has women in mind.

Likewise, MillerCoors has been going over the top with its masculine marketing for Smith & Forge Hard Cider. It comes in a tall black can, with a large bold orange-rust slogan that’s the opposite of weak, and also sorta dumb. “MADE STRONG,” the label reads. “IN THE TRADITION OF MAKING THINGS STRONG.”

Forthcoming ads for Smith & Forge will feature men doing old-fashioned manly things, like boulder-splitting and blacksmithing. All in all, the message is that dudes shouldn’t be embarrassed to order a cider, or at least this particular brand of tough “masculine” cider. Rita Patel, marketing director of innovation for MillerCoors, explained to the Denver Business Journal, “Guys right now are looking for something that gives him this flavor profile but also is for him … something that’s not as sweet and that he also feels comfortable holding.”

TIME Marketing & Advertising

The 10 Worst Product Fails of All Time

Hewlett-Packard To Buy Autonomy For $10.3 Billion, Weighs PC Unit Spinoff
Hewlett-Packard's ill-fated TouchPad. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The larger the company, the greater its capacity for taking risks. While pouring millions of dollars into market research and advertising campaigns can lead to tremendous successes, such ventures can also be a formula for the most miserable failures.

To identify some of the worst product flops of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed products introduced after 1950 by America’s largest companies. To make the list, the company needed to make the Fortune 500 the year the product was released.

Companies often launch new products in response to a competitor’s successful idea. But such products fail if they cannot measure up to the competition or capture consumers’ attention. Microsoft’s Zune was developed in response to successful Apple products. The Zune was harshly reviewed for technical problems consumers had with the device. It also lacked an easy-to-use music store.

MORE: 10 States Where Income Inequality Has Soared

Other experiments, such as the McDonald’s Arch Deluxe and Pepsi Crystal, were reinventions of a company’s staple. While there were good reasons to introduce these new products, consumers rejected them almost immediately.

In some cases, companies simply offered a bad product. Frito-Lay’s WOW! chips, for example, were very popular at first but ended up causing such unpleasant gastrointestinal problems that the product became completely unsalvageable.

Some products may have just been ahead of their time. The Newton MessagePad was perhaps the first tablet marketed to consumers, introducing in the early 1990s an idea that became very popular only a decade and a half later. However, Apple had trouble convincing consumers of the value of mobile computing at the time.

These are the worst product flops of all time.

1. Edsel
> Company: Ford
> Year released: 1957
> Revenue yr. released: $4.6 billion

Released on “E-Day — with “E” standing for experimental — the Edsel was Ford’s attempt to offer a higher-end, mid-sized vehicle for consumers looking to upgrade. The car was named after Edsel B. Ford, the company’s former president and Henry Ford’s only son, who died in 1943. The Edsel cost Ford at least $350 million, which in today’s dollars is equal to roughly $2.9 billion. Ford promoted the car aggressively with expensive teaser ads, which may have gone too far in raising consumer expectations. A Teletouch pushbutton transmission and the Edsel’s electronic controls in particular were said to be revolutionary. Unfortunately, the new features were unreliable. The car was also quite expensive, ranging from $2,500 for the Edsel Pacer 4-door sedan to $3,766 for the 2-door convertible. This may have been difficult during a steep economic downturn — sales were down in 1957 for many other car companies, including Buick, Mercury, Dodge, and Pontiac. After four model years Ford stopped producing the Edsel.

MORE: 10 Retailers With the Worst Customer Service

2. TouchPad
> Company: Hewlett Packard
> Year released: 2011
> Revenue yr. released: $126.0 billion

Introduced in July 2011, the TouchPad was Hewlett Packard’s attempt to compete with Apple’s iPad. With powerful video capability and impressive processing speeds, the TouchPad was widely anticipated to be among the only products that could give Apple a run for its money. Despite large scale press events and promotions, the HP TouchPad was a colossal failure and was discontinued almost immediately. As a result of the TouchPad’s failure, the company wrote off $885 million in assets and incurred an additional $755 million in costs to wind down its webOS operations, ending all work on the TouchPad’s failed operating system. Since then, HP has continued to struggle to maintain its edge in the PC market. The once-dominant PC company is in the midst of a multi-year turnaround plan. While the plan may have recently begun to bear fruit, investors remain cautious.

3. Crystal Pepsi
> Company: PepsiCo
> Year released: 1992
> Revenue yr. released: $19.8 billion

In 1992, PepsiCo attempted to enter the then-flourishing “new-age beverages” market with its clear, caffeine-free Crystal Pepsi. The company promoted the product as a healthy and pure diet beverage. Its $40 million advertising campaign included permission to use Van Halen’s hit song Right Now in TV advertisements. Market tests at the time gave Crystal Pepsi such a positive outlook that Coca-Cola released Tab Clear to compete with it. While sales over the first year were a strong $470 million, many of the purchases were likely due to curiosity. Not only were consumers not convinced by Pepsi’s health angle, but many cola-drinkers expected a darker beverage. Also hurting Crystal Pepsi’s popularity: to many consumers it tasted just like original Pepsi.

MORE: America’s Most and Least Literate Cities

4. Clairol Touch of Yogurt Shampoo
> Company: Procter & Gamble
> Year released: 1979
> Revenue yr. released: $8.1 billion

Yogurt and other cultured dairy products may actually be beneficial for your hair. Like many companies, P&G began emphasizing the natural ingredients in its products in the 1970s to answer the overall “back to nature” movement of the time. It was common for many shampoos to contain a variety of natural ingredients, including honey, various herbs, and fruits. When Clairol, a subsidiary of P&G, released its Touch of Yogurt Shampoo in 1979, however, customers did not take to associating dairy with a hair product. The product was also confusing to some. There were a number of cases of people mistakenly eating it and getting sick as a result. Surprisingly, Touch of Yogurt was not Clairol’s first failed foray into milk-based hair products — three years earlier it had attempted to market a shampoo called the “Look of Buttermilk.” Both sold poorly and are no longer available in the U.S.

5. Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water
> Company: Adolph Coors Company
> Year released: 1990
> Revenue yr. released: $1.8 billion

Coors has advertised its beer as “cold brewed with pure rocky mountain spring water” for decades. Apparently, this water has been used to brew Coors beer since 1873. In response to a trend towards moderate alcohol consumption and significant growth in the bottled water segment, the company decided to sell spring water — its first nonalcoholic beverage since Prohibition. While the decision benefited from the company’s existing bottling logistics and distribution, the Coors brand didn’t help sell bottled water. Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water used a similar name and label to that of Coors beer, which may have confused and even spooked consumers. Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, also began criticizing Coors around that time for attributing superior quality to its mountain spring water, which Anheuser-Busch claimed was cut with water from Virginia. Coors cancelled its bottled water trademark in 1997.

For the rest of the list, click here.

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TIME

Hey China, Foreign Investors Just Aren’t That Into You

China stocks drop as property shares plunge most in eight months
A Chinese investor walks past a screen displaying prices of shares (green for price falling) at a stock brokerage house in Hangzhou city, in east China's Zhejiang province Shan he—Shan he - Imaginechina

Global companies are starting to look elsewhere to invest and do business

For many years now, China has been an unbeatable vacuum cleaner for global investment, factories and jobs. With its gargantuan pool of cheap labor and improving infrastructure, the country became the center of a sprawling, global production network that turned it into the world’s No.1 manufacturer. Meanwhile, increasingly rich Chinese consumers wooed companies from around the world to invest in China to penetrate the expanding local market.

But these days China is facing some still competition. In 2013, the five main economies in Southeast Asia – Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore – attracted more foreign direct investment ($128 billion) than China ($118 billion), according to a report form Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. In fact, FDI rose 7% in those Southeast Asian nations last year while falling almost 3% in China.

The reason is simple: China is just not as competitive as it used to be relative to other emerging economies. Wage growth in China has outpaced many other developing countries in the region and is now significantly higher than that in Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere. That’s not likely to change anytime soon because of unfavorable shifts in China’s population. Due to the government’s one-child policy, China is aging more rapidly than other emerging economies, and its workforce is actually shrinking.

Government policies aren’t wooing in more foreign investment, either. There is widespread concern among the international business community that reforms to open up China’s market have generally stalled, while foreign firms in certain industries, such as finance, still face extensive bureaucratic hurdles to expanding their operations. A series of high-profile government investigations and negative reports in state media have left foreign businessmen feeling unfairly targeted. In a 2013 survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, only 28% of the respondents saw the country’s investment climate improving, down from 43% the year before.

Meanwhile, China’s competitors are looking much more attractive. Take Indonesia, for instance. At the turn of the century, political instability and confusing regulation scared foreign companies away. But now Indonesia is a stable, thriving democracy, while its young population of nearly 250 million – the world’s fourth-largest – is an increasingly important pool of potential new customers for everything from cars to French fries. FDI into Indonesia surged by 17% in 2013.

The implications for China are huge. With wages rising so quickly, China is losing its edge in the low-end exports that drove its economic miracle, which potentially means jobs will start to flow towards its lower-cost competitors. China’s leaders may have to make some uncomfortable policy changes to improve the business environment for foreign investors – stripping away red tape, opening protected markets, and ensuring equal regulatory treatment for local and foreign firms. As the world’s second-largest economy, China will always get its share of global investment. But it won’t be as easy as it used to be.

TIME twitter

Why Twitter Will Never Be a News Organization

Twitter IPO Raises $1.82 Billion With Value Topping Facebook
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Twitter’s head of news Vivian Schiller spoke with TIME about Twitter, Facebook, news discovery and more in an exclusive first interview since she left NBC News and took on the role in January. A few key insights? She says retweets are underutilized, and Twitter needs to find a way to give news organizations better analytics. Speaking of news organizations, Schiller says Twitter will never be one: “[W]e don’t have any reporters, and we don’t have any editors, and we’re never going to have those.” Below is a lightly edited transcript of TIME’s conversation with Schiller:

TIME: One of the main issues for journalists is this idea of differentiating between news and things that are a hoax. How can Twitter make it easier for journalists to figure out whether something is verified or not?

SCHILLER: We have verified accounts, but a verified account doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the information contained within — the tweet from the verified user — is verified. And Twitter’s never going to be able to do that, with all of the billions of tweets that flow, there’s no way for us to know. But one of the things that we can do, and should do, and is definitely on my roadmap is to — because we hear this from a lot of news organizations — is to try to be a thought leader for the news industry about this. Not that we can solve it, but to help inform news organizations…So it’s a common question, and I think we can help socialize best practices around using Twitter to verify information. We do have certain tools. Dataminr, for instance, is one that doesn’t verify the tweet, but it gives you certain signals around individual tweets that can help. And we see a lot of news organizations that are doing interesting things, so that’s one of the things we want to do is try to help news organizations make sure that they can signal to their followers and try to reverse hoaxes, or reduce hoaxes, to the extent possible. Not just hoaxes, but misinformation — unintentional misinformation. One of the great things about Twitter is that even without our intervention, the fact is because so many people are listening on Twitter, that misinformation gets caught pretty quickly. So the Twitter crowd itself — the wisdom of the crowd plays in here. The more people are on Twitter, the more misinformation will be corrected with great speed.

TIME: So Twitter has been experimenting with sending users breaking news updates through @EventParrot, [@MagicRecs], putting updates at the top of the timeline [via the Discovery Tab], etc. In the future, do you think that there will be a proper way to inform users that news is breaking and show it comes from an authoritative source? Is that sort of what’s tied to the Dataminr partnership?

SCHILLER: Yeah, I mean this is something that just in my short time here I feel like the entire organization is really focused on, which is how to help people — how to surface the most useful content to people. What’s useful to them. So, you’ve seen a lot of useful experimentation coming out of Twitter, and I think based on my short time here, I think there’s going to be a lot of really interesting developments to help with discovery.

TIME: Do you think Twitter will start to look a little bit more like a curated news reading experience, similar to how Facebook is experimenting with Paper?

SCHILLER: I’m glad you asked that, because one thing I want to make sure is really clear: The Twitter news team is never going to pick and choose news stories, pick and choose winners. That’s not our job at all. But what we need to do is make the product — as an organization — and this involves not just the news team but the product team and everyone — is to make it easier for news organizations but also for our consumers to find what they’re looking for. We need to understand better what people think they’re looking for and surface it for them. So I guess that’s a short answer to say: Watch this space.

TIME: We heard on the earnings call that user growth in the U.S. is slowing. What role can news play in helping Twitter attract new users and onboarding people?

SCHILLER: Twitter has so profoundly changed the way that I consume news. The way that I consume news, the way that I engage news, the way that I discover news, the way that, frankly, I report news even just as a broadcast of information from my own life, whether it’s news to somebody is for them to decide. One of the things that I was excited about, coming to Twitter, was because news is already so central to the Twitter experience, but I wanted to come so that I can help work with the team to try to make it even more so. And all the things we were talking about just a minute ago, which is ways that news organizations can help get their news out there, ways that news organizations can discover tweets in the wild that they can then report on or discover trends, ways that Twitter can develop products and experiments that will help people discover information. All of those things are going to lead to greater user growth, ultimately. So our path, or the role of the news team, is to support news organizations, which in the end supports consumers, which in the end is good for the news industry, good for journalists, good for news organizations, and of course good for Twitter, and it will lead to user growth. If I had to say one of the most important goals, it would be the best quality content on Twitter, because that will lead not only to user growth but more engaged users.

TIME: What role do you see Twitter playing versus Facebook in terms of being a traffic provider to publishers?

SCHILLER: Well I don’t particularly want to comment about Facebook, but I’ll talk about Twitter. We know that Twitter is driving a tremendous amount of traffic to news organizations. But I want to emphasize that that’s not the sole value that Twitter brings to a news organization, that is one element of it. One element is, yes, referrals which lead to traffic. But just as important, and we do hear this from news organizations, is the value, and again I’m going to repeat the same thing, the value of Twitter. Twitter uniquely provides value to news organizations at every stage of the news cycle. Twitter uniquely can be a broadcaster for the eyewitness who sees news breaking in his neighborhood. Twitter uniquely can be a place where journalists can source and reach out to eyewitnesses or corroborating sources to try to report their story. Twitter uniquely can engage in real-time exchanges, live exchanges with their users. Twitter uniquely can incentivize users to be with them at every stage of the news reporting, news distribution and follow-up stages. To me, that’s who we are. We are not just a referral engine, although certainly we want to help news organizations with referrals as well. And I didn’t even mention monetization, which through the Amplify program and other things that might be coming down the pike, we can be more and more.

TIME

How To Fix the Student Loan Bubble—and Banking, Too

money
Getty Images

New types of lending are coming of age

The US banking structure is screwed up in many ways, but policy-wise, nothing is more destructive than FDIC insurance for banks that do investment banking and trading as well as commercial lending. The fact that we haven’t split up plain vanilla lending from riskier, more leveraged operations has all sorts of perverse effects, the best known being the too big to fail problem.

But as I’ve been looking into the $1 trillion student loan bubble, I’ve found another perverse effect of our misaligned banking system. One of the reasons that the student loan bubble is so big and loans are so onerous is that any bank that is insured by the FDIC can’t actually price risk in the market effectively. There are base student loan rates, all of which are set by the government. Rules about how depository institutions backed by taxpayer dollars can make loans create a situation in which it is very difficult for such institutions to come come in and give, say, a Stanford MBA graduate that has incredibly high earning potential a better rate than a English major at a lesser institution. (Sorry, Edith Wharton fans.)

Now, on the one hand, this policy has its roots in a fair-minded—it helps prevent discrimination by geography or a host of other factors. But on the other hand, it leads to a system in which we have a one size fits all approach to lending. It doesn’t matter whether the default rate at school A is 1 %, and the default rate at school B is 10 %, students must pay the same rates. The difficulty in effectively pricing risk is a key reason that the government, not the private sector, represents 93 % of lending in the student loan market.

But these inefficiencies have created an interesting opening in the market, from which a new financial model is emerging, one that uses peer to peer lending in a way that evokes the community banking models of old. One of the companies at the forefront of it is SoFi, started a former head of prop trading at Wells Fargo, Mike Cagney. Working in the Bay Area, Cagney wondered why extremely marketable Stanford grads with no money but extremely good future earnings prospects had to pay such a high rate to borrow. (After all, most of them are extremely unlikely to default.) He looked into starting a bank to loan to such customers, but ran into the issues I’ve described above.

So, what he did was go to Stanford grads, people who would actually know the trajectory of Stanford students, and ask them to underwrite loans to students at preferred rates, thereby raising money without having to become an FDIC insured bank. The alumni who have an affinity with the people to whom they are lending absorb the loan risk. “They know their customers, in effect, and have an emotional tie with them,” says Cagney. It’s kind of like a modern version of the “It’s A Wonderful Life” community savings and loan model, where you walk across the street to see the people you are lending to. (“The money’s in Joe’s startup. And in Kennedy’s medical practice. And a hundred others.”)

The project, which has been a success in California, started rolling out nationally in 2012. In each market, Cagney would approach alumnae at various colleges (University of Michigan, Penn State, etc) and get them to make initial investments. He has since been able to raise independent financing. SoFi now has over $400 million of loans outstanding with 4,500 borrowers, and will likely do another $1 billion this year, adding another 10,000 borrowers.

This idea is just one of many alternative lending models that are coming of age. SoFi itself is entering the mortgage market, which is ripe for restructuring. More importantly, it shows how badly our overall financial system needs restructuring. Certainly, there are social questions that the SoFi model raises—should we as a society allow students who graduate from better school and want to work in richer fields to get preferred loan rates? Cagney would argue yes, because he believes that a better market pricing of loans would force universities to price degrees differently, and acknowledge that while an Ivy League degree in a STEM or business oriented field might be worth $50,000 to $60,000 a year, many others are not. If that led to a re-pricing of education itself, it could help deflate the loan bubble and make school more affordable. But we’d have to make sure that it didn’t also result in the degradation of liberal arts education, for example, or unfairly penalize kids who simply can’t afford to go to top schools. One solution might be for the government loan system to play a key role there, or for peer-to-peer lenders to package risk in such a way that some of the benefit of premium loans flows to students from less sought after schools in the form of more liquidity and availability of finance.

What’s clear is that it’s not just student loans, but all sorts of risks that are crudely and wrongly priced due to the way that the banking industry is structured. The result means higher capital charges for all of us, but also potentially smaller profits for banks. (Many people, like FDIC vice chair Thomas Hoenig, believe that banks would be far more profitable than they are now if they were split up along business lines rather than allowed to remain conglomerates.) I think that peer-to-peer lending and other alternative models that are closer to the customer than the traditional banking model are will slowly but surely displace Old Finance. After all, who is better at assessing the risk of a credit—a bank, or someone from the borrower’s own community?

TIME Employment

Spain Created Jobs!

SPAIN-ECONOMY-UNEMPLOYMENT-INDICATOR
A municipal worker cleans the ground as people walk outside a government employment office in Madrid on January 23, 2014. GERARD JULIEN / AFP / Getty Images

After 68 months of losses, that's reason to celebrate

The last time Spain posted positive job numbers, it was 2008 and Miley Cyrus was still fully clothed on the Disney Channel.

Finally, after 68 consecutive months of losses and stagnation, the number of employed Spaniards rose to 16.2 million in February, 60,000 higher than the same month last year, according to the Financial Times. Madrid hailed the improvement as a sign of a greater recovery to come.

But the gains could be fleeting. The newspaper reports that only 9% of February’s job contracts were permanent offers, and the vast majority of recent hires were contract positions that do not bestow the pension and related benefits of full-time employment.

[FT]

TIME

Sbarro Prepares a Fresh Slice of Bankruptcy Filings

Sbarro Restaurant Chain Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection
Customers order lunch at a Sbarro restaurant on April 4, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Sprinkle 400 pizza joints across a generous helping of malls, mix in a recession, and you have a recipe for Chapter 11

Roughly two years after Sbarro LLC managed to claw its way out of bankruptcy, the ailing pizza chain is reportedly serving up a fresh slice of Chapter 11 filings.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sbarro is gathering votes on a restructuring plan that could have the company filing for Chapter 11 protections as early as Sunday. Sales at its restaurants took a hit after the 2008 recession, as foot traffic in its favored habitat, the mall food court, dropped off precipitously.

Sbarro managed to shake off some debts through tweaked recipes, fresher ingredients and closures at hundreds of struggling locations, but the Journal reports that the streamlined firm is still roughly $140 million in the red, a burden that’s just waiting to be sliced, again.

[WSJ]

TIME

U.S. Officials Bust Pyramid Scheme Promoted on Facebook

To match Special Report SEC/INVESTIGATIONS
A general exterior view of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) headquarters in Washington, June 24, 2011. Jonathan Ernst—Reuters

An alleged fraudulent investment scheme was frozen by court order, as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said the company behind the ploy had been "exploiting investors" by investing into various securities for minutes at a time

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has taken swift action against two companies deemed to be effectively operating a pyramid scheme on both Facebook and Twitter, according to USA Today.

A federal court paved the way this week for the body to freeze the accounts of Fleet Mutual Wealth and MWF Financial, which operated under the name Mutual Wealth.

Federal officials claimed the front company exploited social media users on Facebook and Twitter, who were promised returns of 2% to 3% a week in accordance with a “strategy that invests into securities for no more than a few minutes.”

The Commission claims the firm lied about investing clients’ money and was transferring the capital to offshore bank accounts.

[USA Today]

TIME

American CEO of Bitcoin Exchange Found Dead in Singapore

Some of Bitcoin enthusiast Mike Caldwell's coins are pictured at his office in this photo illustration in Sandy
Bitcoin has been troubled by a number of recent setbacks © Jim Urquhart / Reuters—REUTERS

Yet another blow for the virtual currency

Autumn Radtke, the American CEO of Bitcoin exchange First Meta Exchange, has been found dead in her Singapore apartment.

Authorities are awaiting results of a toxicology report to ascertain the cause of death, but local media are already speculating that it could be a suicide.

“The First Meta team is shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and CEO Autumn Radtke,” said a statement on the company’s website.

The virtual currency Bitcoin has been stung by a series of ill-fated incidents lately, most notably the collapse of Japan’s leading Bitcoin exchange Mt Gox.

[BI]

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