Double or nothing? Microsoft’s dual-screen Android phone will arrive September 10

August 13, 2020

Microsoft announced on Wednesday, August 12, that its new Surface Duo—a dual-screen smartphone powered by Alphabet’s Android operating system—initially will be offered at a price point of $1,399. It will arrive in stores beginning September 10—and is available for pre-order now.

According to a report by Reuters, the device will fold closed like a book. Unlike devices such as Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2—which uses special flexible glass to create a single display—the Duo will feature two traditional screens separated by a hinge but synchronized to work together.

At a media briefing ahead of the Surface Duo announcement, Microsoft executives positioned the phone as a tool for getting work done with its productivity apps, similar to how many business users employ dual-monitor setups with PCs.

In the company’s Teams chat app, for example, a video chat occupies one screen while the other screen displays chats. In Microsoft’s Outlook email app, clicking a link in the body of an email opens the link on the opposite screen, so the user can continue reading or responding to the email.

 “I’m not trying to reinvent the phone,” Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer, told reporters. “But I do believe this is a better way to get things done.”

The dual-screen setup also allows users to pair up non-Microsoft apps, such as running social networks Twitter and Instagram side by side, notes Reuters. Panay said that one of Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella’s favorite combinations was using Amazon.com’s Kindle app to read books while taking notes with a stylus in Microsoft’s OneNote app on the other screen.

Panay said Microsoft chose Google’s operating system because it would give users access to Android’s large ecosystem of mobile apps. “Having the Play Store is critical,” he said.

Microsoft said pre-orders for the device begin Wednesday at its own site, AT&T, and BestBuy. Devices will work on wireless networks from AT&T, Verizon Communications, and T-Mobile US.

The device does not have 5G connectivity and is only available in the United States at launch. Microsoft gave no timeline for other markets, Reuters said.

Research contact: @Reuters

‘The Rock’ buys XFL in partnership with RedBird Capital for $15M

August 4, 2020

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the former WWE star-turned-movie giant, has partnered with Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital to buy the professional football league, the XFL at the 11th hour, Sportico reported Monday, August 3.

According to the sports business news outlet, the business partners paid $15 million for the franchise just hours before a planned auction was scheduled to begin. Johnson’s business partner, Dany Garcia, who is also his ex-wife, will be an equal stakeholder with him.

Sportico notes that, according to a court filing, theirs was the only qualified bid. The transaction is subject to bankruptcy court approval at a hearing this Friday, August 7, and, assuming that closing conditions are satisfied, is expected to close on or shortly after August 21.

“The acquisition of the XFL with my talented partners, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale, is an investment for me that’s rooted deeply in two things—my passion for the game and my desire to always take care of the fans,” Johnson added in a news release. “With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL, and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans, and everyone involved for the love of football.”

The presence of Johnson, meantime, continues pro wrestling’s involvement in the spring football league, which was founded—and funded—by WWE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vince McMahon.

The league started a week after the Super Bowl. It featured eight teams from markets nationwide. The league drew 3 million viewers in its first week but the audience tapered off in the following weeks.

The XFL filed for bankruptcy in April after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancellation of its inaugural season, which got off to a promising start in terms of television audience. The league had a broadcast agreement with Fox.

With live sports a reliable vehicle to deliver ratings, there’s a good chance a number of traditional TV networks—and perhaps streaming companies—would seek to add the XFL to their portfolios, Sportico reports.. Besides the league, networks would likely seek a tie-up with Johnson, who is the executive producer of “The Titan Games,’’ a sports competition reality series on NBC.

Research contact: @Sportico

Oprah Magazine features Breonna Taylor on cover of September issue

August 3, 2020

O: The Oprah Magazine has covered a wide swath of American culture since it started 20 years ago, but all of its 241 issues have had one thing in common: Oprah Winfrey—the publication’s founder and America’s reigning queen of all media—has been on the cover.

That will change with the September issue, which will be available on newsstands August 11, The New York Times reports. The new cover, unveiled Thursday, features a portrait of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by the police when they erroneously conducted a drug raid at her home in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.

Winfrey started an essay for the issue with her name, writing: “Breonna Taylor. “She was just like me. She was just like you.”

She ended the essay by explaining why she had decided to give up the cover spot of her namesake magazine: “What I know for sure: We can’t be silent. We have to use whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice.

“And that is why Breonna Taylor is on the cover of O magazine.”

No criminal charges have been filed against the three Louisville Metro Police Department officers who entered the home of Taylor, an emergency medical technician, shortly after midnight on March 13.

Last month, Brett Hankison, one of the three officers, was fired. The police chief, Robert Schroeder, accused him of violating the department’s policy on the use of deadly force, saying he had “wantonly and blindly” fired ten shots into Taylor’s home. The other two officers were reassigned.

Indeed, Taylor was shot at least eight times. She did not receive medical attention for more than 20 minutes after she was struck, The Courier Journal reported, citing police logs. The officers involved in the case have said they identified themselves when they entered; however, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who was present, said the police did not identify themselves.

The Louisville police said that Walker shot and wounded one officer in the leg and charged him with the attempted murder of a police officer. That charge was dismissed in May.

The idea of putting Ms. Taylor on the O cover was the brainchild of Deirdre Read, the magazine’s visual research editor, said Lucy Kaylin, the editor in chief of O, in an email to the Times.

“I brought the idea to Oprah, who immediately said ‘YES,’” Kaylin said.

The cover image is a selfie taken by Taylor and then rereated by the digital portrait artist Alexis Franklin.

On Wednesday, July 29,  O’s publisher, Hearst Magazines, and Oprah Winfrey, herself,  announced that O would discontinue regular print editions and become more digitally focused. “This is a natural progression for the brand,” Kristen O’Hara, the Hearst Magazines chief business officer, said in a statement. The company added that the December issue will be O’s last regular monthly print edition.

Research contact: @nytimes

During ‘dog days of summer,’ MasterClass makes training Fido easy with latest online course

July 31, 2020

MasterClass—the streaming platform that makes it possible for anyone to learn a skill or a subject from the best—announced on July 30 that Emmy Award-winning master animal trainer  and behaviorist Brandon McMillan will teach a class on dog training.

Through a series of easy-to-follow techniques, MasterClass members and their dogs will learn how to confidently master obedience and house training skills while building trust, executing common commands and fixing bad habits. The new course is available now at MasterClass.com, where members can subscribe for unlimited access to all new and existing 85+ classes through the All-Access Pass. MasterClass categories include business, culinary arts, film & television, music & entertainment, photography, sports and more.

“Brandon is an expert animal trainer. From working with tigers and bears for film and television to training dogs to perform specialized tasks to assist disabled veterans, he has dedicated his entire life to bringing dogs and people together to create a happy home,” said David Rogier, co-founder and CEO of MasterClass. “Brandon’s MasterClass gives members the opportunity to learn clear, easy-to-follow techniques and tips on how to train their dogs—no matter their age.”  

McMillan has dedicated his life to helping animals and humans work together. Stemming from years as a wild animal trainer for film and television, McMillan has received global acclaim for creating a unique training system that he calls a “Hybrid System,” where he’s taken his experience working with wild animals and applied it to the domestic world of dogs.

McMillan brought his expertise to television on his CBS-TV show Lucky Dog, for which he received three Emmy Awards for his work as executive producer and host. McMillan went on to author Lucky Dog Lessons: Train Your Dog in 7 Days and has become an powerful advocate for animal rescue and rehabilitation. He is co-founder of The Argus Service Dog Foundation, dedicated to training and matching service dogs with disabled veterans.

“Dog training is not about dominance, it’s about trust and conditioning,” McMillan commented in a press release. “In this class, I will teach you the training fundamentals needed to not only have a well trained dog, but also a best friend who trusts and loves you and will be there for you for the rest of their life.”

Research contact @masterclass

Getting the brush-off: Clarisonic is shutting down and its devoted fans are panicking

July 30, 2020

Clarisonic, the brand that invented vibrating skin cleansing devices, stunned fans earlier this month when it announced that it was shutting down for good, CNN reports.

The news originally came via an Instagram post on July 14, in which Clarisonic, owned by L’Oreal, said the brand would shutter its operations on September 30 after “more than a decade of game-changing innovation.”

The brand—which has sold has sold more than 15 million devices and counting—has become part of the daily skincare rituals of both women and men worldwide, CNN reports.

Now, fans are responding with a mix of shock, denial and fear: One Twitter user even asked investors from the ABC-TV show Shark Tank to step in, tweeting, “@ABCSharkTank can’t help out @Clarisonic??? We don’t want this to be the end.”

Lawyer Jessica McElfresh tweeted at @LOrealParisUSA: “Do not do this! Everyone knows Clarisonic is the best. You are making a massive mistake.”

McElfresh has used a Clarisonic device since college. She said the news “just came out of nowhere” and confused her because she didn’t think there was any problem with the device or any valid reason to discontinue the brand.

“Every aesthetician I’ve ever visited uses one,” she said. “The market has more facial cleansing devices all the time, but I truly don’t believe any are as good.”

Clarisonic said the decision to close the brand was made in an effort to help L’Oréal “focus its attention on its other core business offerings.” L’Oreal did not respond to requests for comment from CNN.

In recent years Clarisonic has been grappling with competition in an increasingly crowded marketplace where other lower-priced alternatives have been winning over consumers.

A more immediate problem for all Clarisonic users now, is how to get replacement brushes since the device requires users to buy a new cleansing brush every three months.

In an FAQ section on its website, Clarisonic said it won’t sell devices, brushes, or other attachments after September 30, and all of its subscription services for replacement brushes will be inactive after July 31.

In 2018, Clarisonic owned 14% share of the U.S. market for skin cleansing devices, according to market research firm Kline & Co. As the market grew, it became fragmented with newer brands like Foreo and NuSkin, which ate into Clarisonic’s share and following.

It remains to be seen if these options will help placate disappointed Clarisonic users. “I’ve tried other options before and just didn’t like them as much,” said McElfresh. “They’re not the same as a Clarisonic.”

Research contact: @CNN

Not so nice? ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ workplace to be reviewed by WarnerMedia

July 29, 2020

Following rumors that the staff of the daytime talker, “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” has been intimidated, insulted, and otherwise mistreated; WarnerMedia has started an investigation into the workplace environment of the syndicated program, which has been a staple on the air since 2003.

Executives from Warner Bros. Television and the production company Telepictures sent a letter to employees of the talk show last week that outlined the company’s investigation, according to two people with knowledge of the letter, The New York Times reported.

WarnerMedia’s employee relations department, along with representatives from an outside company, will interview current and former staff members about their experiences on the program, the people said.

The decision to start the review followed the publication of articles that included allegations from current and former employees of discrimination and abusive behavior. Warner Bros. Television and a representative for DeGeneres declined to comment.

BuzzFeed News published an article this month that described what it called a “toxic work culture.” In the article, former staff members said they faced “racism, fear and intimidation” and laid most of the blame on three of the show’s executive producers, Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner. DeGeneres also is a producer on the show.

Former employees said they were fired for taking time off for medical leave or bereavement. Black employees said they experienced racist comments. One said that one of the show’s writers had told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.”

In a joint statement to BuzzFeed News, Glavin, Connelly and Lassner said: “For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”

Variety first reported on the WarnerMedia investigation.

Last year, DeGeneres—known as “the Queen of Nice” by her audience— renewed her contract to continue hosting the program through 2022. She also signed a deal to create three shows for WarnerMedia’s streaming platform, HBO Max.

Research contact: @BuzzFeedNews

Google will extend employee work-from-home policy until Summer 2021

July 28, 2020

We doubt that there will be much pushback from employees, now that Google has once again pushed back the date when its offices will reopen—this time, to Summer 2021., The Wall Street Journal reports.

Previously, the search engine platform had said that employees would return to the office on July 6 of this year; then, had postponed reopening to September. The latest change of plans reflects the current COVID-19 landscape—with more than 4.2 million cases nationwide and deaths mounting—which has grown immeasurable more dangerous just since May.

Indeed, the Journal reports, Google CEO Sundar Pichai made the decision partly to help employees with children who may be facing a partly or mostly remote school year.

“To give employees the ability to plan ahead, we are extending our global voluntary work from home option through June 30, 2021 for roles that don’t need to be in the office,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an email to employees obtained by the Journal. “I hope this will offer the flexibility you need to balance work with taking care of yourselves and your loved ones over the next 12 months.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Rob Copeland first reported that Google would announce as early as Monday, July 27, that it had pushed its return-to-office date back to July 2021 for nearly all of its 200,000 employees and contract workers.

Google closed its offices in March as the coronavirus hit the San Francisco Bay Area. Management is now looking at the situation in California with an abundance of caution; although Pichai said in his memo to employees that Googlers had returned to the office “with robust health and safety protocols in place” in 42 countries where conditions have improved.

Google is one of several tech companies mulling how and when to reopen offices. Microsoft has said employees will work from home through at least October, while Amazon has said employees will work remotely until January. Both companies are based in Seattle, where coronavirus cases are still on the rise.

Twitter, based in San Francisco, announced in May that employees could work from home forever if they wanted. For Facebook, which appears to have sent some employees back to the office in July, as many as half of all employees will most likely work from home permanently, CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said.

Research contact: @WSJ

FDA alert: At least 75 brands of hand sanitizer contain methanol—and may be toxic

July 27, 2020

Federal regulators have recalled dozens of hand sanitizers—many of them, widely available through Walmart, Costco, and other national retailers—because they contain dangerous and potentially fatal levels of wood alcohol (also known as methanol).

Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified at least 75 brands whose labels say they contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol)—but later proved to contain methanol.

The FDA recommends that consumers should immediately stop using these hand sanitizers and dispose of the bottle in a hazardous waste container, if available, or dispose of as recommended by your local waste management and recycling center. Do not flush or pour these products down the drain or mix with other liquids.

Methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.

Although people using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidentally ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute are most at risk. Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol and are experiencing symptoms should seek immediate medical treatment for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning.

. While methanol-containing hand sanitizers are more life-threatening than others, the FDA urges all consumers not to drink any hand sanitizer product. This is particularly important for young children, especially toddlers, who may be attracted by the pleasant smell or brightly colored bottles. During the pandemic, poison control centers have had an increase in calls about accidental ingestion of hand sanitizer, and it is important that adults keep these products out of reach of children and monitor young children’s use.

Do not use hand sanitizer on pets or allow pets to swallow hand sanitizer. If you believe your pet has eaten something potentially dangerous, call a veterinarian or a pet poison control center immediately.

Consumers are reminded to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing one’s nose. If soap and water are not readily available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol.

The FDA encourages health care professionals, consumers and patients to report adverse events or quality problems experienced with the use of hand sanitizers to FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program (please provide the agency with as much information as possible to identify the product):

  • Complete and submit the report online, or
  • Download and complete the form, then submit it via fax at 1-800-FDA-0178.

Consumers, manufacturers or distributors who have questions for the FDA regarding hand sanitizers should email COVID-19-Hand-Sanitizers@fda.hhs.gov.

Research contact: @US_FDA

Say goodbye to slicing and dicing food prep problems with ‘Choptober’ from Lowes Foods

July 24, 2020

Some of the staff members at the Lowes Foods grocery chain, based in North Carolina, have truly become “cutups” this summer.

The North Carolina-based grocery chain launched “Choptober,” a promotion that highlights its new “Pick and Prep” station, which allows store-goers to have their produce sliced, diced, minced or seeded while they continue to shop, reports Campaign Live.

New York City-based Walrus, an independent advertising agency  handled all creative and media for the initiative, the first in a series of comedic efforts planned for Lowes.

To bring the unique offering to life, the “Choptober” advertising spot parodies low-budget personal injury lawyer commercials, who urge people who have been harmed in food prep accidents—from “guacamole elbow” to “carrot fingers”—to let Lowes prepare their produce. The phone number in the ad will ring through to an actual hotline where people can select options to identify the produce that injured them.

“Lowes Foods really, really loves what they do—maybe to the point of obsession,” Deacon Webster, Walrus’ CCO, told Campaign Live. ” In naming the event, we took some inspiration from the old Crazy Eddie ads back in the 1980’s where he would do the President’s Day Sale in August.”

The campaign will run across TV, video, social, display, search, OOH, in-store and digital audio and will run for six weeks this summer. 

Research contact: @CampaignLiveUS

Getting their kicks: Actress Natalie Portman, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian launch women’s pro soccer team in LA

July 23, 2020

The National Women’s Soccer League has awarded its latest expansion franchise to an ownership group led by Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman and Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Fox Business News reports.

The Los Angeles-based franchise, tentatively named Angel City, is scheduled to begin play in spring 2022. Ohanian’s firm Initialized Capital led the investment in the expansion team.

“Today we take an exciting step by announcing the first women majority-owned and led ownership group,” Portman said in a statement. “I am thrilled by the opportunity to partner with this incredible group of people to bring a professional women’s soccer team to Los Angeles.  Together, we aim to build not only a winning team on the field, but also to develop a passionately loyal fan base.”

Aside from Portman and Ohanian, the star-studded investment group behind Angel City includes venture capitalist Kara Nortman, entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, tennis superstar Serena Williams and former U.S. women’s national soccer team standout Mia Hamm. Ohanian and Williams are married.

The majority-female group also includes several prominent actresses, including Jennifer Garner, Jessica Chastain, Uzo Aduba and Eva Longoria, Fox Business notes.

The team is expected to finalize its name and home stadium by the end of the year.

“I am proud to be a part of this wonderful group working to bring a women’s professional football club to Los Angeles,” Ohanian said. “Chiefly, because I’m a fan of the game, but also because I believe there is massive potential for the sport and it’s been undervalued by too many people for far too long. As someone who spends hours kicking around a football with my two-year-old daughter, I want her to have a front row seat to this revolution.”

Angel City will be the NWSL’s 11th franchise and its first based in California. Another expansion franchise, Racing Louisville FC, is expected to begin play in 2021.

NWSL attendance surged last year following the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s victory in the FIFA World Cup. The league was forced to suspend its 2020 season in March due to the coronavirus pandemic but resumed play in June.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness