Saturday, January 25, 2014

Our Turn: No plans to kick the planning habit

Milestone birthdays matter. At least, in the world according to Pinterest, some parents and myself.

Guilty of whipping out the paper cutter more often than necessary, I've been known to design invites to parties of three, so imagine my enthusiasm as my husband's birthday nears.

Whether it's the result of my history in the hospitality business or the remnants of my third-grade passion to become "an artist," when I hear the word milestone, I immediately start planning a menu or choosing a location.

Unfortunately, when my husband hears "milestone" he thinks about mortality, death and the disappearance of his wife, who can be found either in the craft room or discreetly using up all the printer ink.

Each year I assume "no surprises" and "no big crowds" — knowing my better half would always choose intimate and small to a lavish celebration.

But in spite of his lower-than-average expectations, I still wake up at 3 a.m. with the perfect "small meets big" celebration idea only to forget it by 8. I rally friends who will never be included for ideas, ask restaurants for their availability without confirming reservations and likely hassle my mother-in-law with incessant emails.

Consumed with planning, he can see determination on my face as the day nears. I'm no longer listening, but instead heating up my hot glue gun and trying to book a theater in which he can watch his birthday "video card."

If "gift-giving-anxiety" is a thing, I have it. I thrive on the successful gifts so much that every birthday is outdone the next year. A trip to the beach turns into a weekend away, lunch includes a show and likely a hotel stay afterward. Dinner is a three-course meal paired with the perfect brew and ended with a three-tier cake.

Regardless of the year we're celebrating, the outcome is never that small, so the awareness that "this birthday matters more than most" causes an all-new pressure for planners like me, whose calendars are marked with more exclamation points than numbers.

And so imagine my surprise, and eventual satisfaction, when my mortality-obsessed husband came clean about my non-surprise plans for 14 people.

Too much, too many.

"Guest of honor" is a cardstock crown my man never plans to wear.

No sooner had he confessed before my early morning wake-up calls ceased. No longer stressed by concerns about my checking account or whom I may have left out, instead plans for possible chinese chinese new year cards food were made, friends were alerted via email, and my husband's face began to show less concern and more acceptance, with what might even be a hint of enthusiasm.

But, while I quieted his Aquarian concern and we reached a Gemini-friendly compromise, one twin agreed while the other secretly wondered if I would still have time for paper invitations, now that we had finally come to an understanding on the nature of the celebration.

Surely, a follow-up to the email request is called for; after all, this is a milestone birthday.

Just two. Two, real paper invitations, hand-written addresses. A keepsake, for my sake, not his.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Amazon denies reports it is in early stages of streaming pay TV service


Amazon would not be not the only service attempting to chip away at the monopolies cable companies have on distribution.Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon has denied a report that it plans to roll out a pay TV streaming service that will feature live programming from several media companies, according to USA Today.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Amazon had approached at least three media companies, citing people familiar with the matter.

Amazon now offers on-demand TV shows and movies free to customers who are members of its premium shipping service, Prime. A move toward such online streaming would add live television channels to the on-demand video service and come as a challenge to cable- and satellite-television service providers.

If the service did come into fruition, the world's largest online retailer would join the ranks of several other companies trying to own the living room with TV programming piped through the Internet. Intel attempted a similar move, though it scrapped its ambitions and sold its project to Verizon on Tuesday for an undisclosed sum.

The venture would also add to the growing number of services popping up that are eating away at the profit margins of legacy distribution companies like Comcast and Time Warner.

Television giants tend to be reluctant to make distribution deals that might upset long-standing partners whose fees and payments have fueled industry growth.

Companies like Netflix and Hulu have seen their customer base grow by 4 percent in the past two years, while TV subscriptions have dropped 6 percent, according to research from the NPD Group. Google's YouTube and Microsoft are also working to step up their streaming-video program services.

It's not just cable companies that have their backs against the wall. The four big broadcast companies have waged an all-out war on the streaming service Aereo, which uses digital "antennas" to broadcast local TV channels without paying the companies the traditional lucrative retransmission fee.

Aereo's customers, instead of paying cable companies a sizable monthly fee, pay the service as little as $8 a month for access to local channels and a collection of syndicated programs, movies and children's programming. The company also offers limited Spanish-language channels.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Aereo has the right to operate without paying the broadcasters. So far, lower courts have sided with Aereo.

Verizon, meanwhile, announced on Tuesday that it is buying Intel Media for an undisclosed price. The chip-making giant intended to deliver movies and TV programming to customers via the Internet cloud, but the project never got off the ground.

Verizon said the acquisition "will accelerate the availability of next-generation video services" delivered to devices, including mobile phones and tablets.

The deal includes intellectual property rights and other assets for Intel's OnCue Cloud TV platform. Verizon will also offer to keep the 350-person Intel unit, which will continue to be based in Santa Clara, Calif.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

Cable companies have struggled to keep their subscriber base in recent years, as more people opt out over costly cable bills, poor customer service and subscriber-fee disputes between the distributors and media companies - like the recent feud between Time Warner and CBS - that leave millions of customers without access to channels they have paid to receive.