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Airbnb Imagines a ‘Stakeholder’ World

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Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s co-founder and C.E.O., spoke exclusively to Andrew last night about the company’s announcement today that it will think about all “stakeholders” when it comes to corporate governance, not just investors.

The move is Mr. Chesky’s take on the Business Roundtable’s recommendations last year that companies consider employees, the environment and more in their business decisions.

• Airbnb is planning to hold a “Stakeholder Day.” It would be like a traditional annual shareholder meeting — except that everyone from customers to “hosts” to employees and others will be invited.

• It will also change its compensation program, with factors important to stakeholders like progress on guest safety taken into account when bonuses are calculated.

“I don’t want to be one of those C.E.O.s to say we’re trying to do all this great stuff, but then we treat board meetings exactly like every other board meeting,” Mr. Chesky told Andrew. He added that he doesn’t think this is particularly radical: “I think this is where the world is going.”

The big picture:

• Airbnb remains under fire on a number of fronts, including battles with regulators over housing laws, concerns over the safety of its customers and claims of discrimination by hosts. They’re among the struggles that surround the company’s plans to go public this year.

• It’s unclear whether investors, as one of many groups of stakeholders, will embrace their diminished stature within Airbnb’s universe.

• And it remains to be seen whether the new goals will increase the company’s valuation in its market debut.

The tech giant unveiled a response to climate change yesterday that goes beyond offsetting carbon emissions. It wants to erase its entire historical carbon footprint by 2050, a target that no other major company has set before.

Apollo Global Management is one of Wall Street’s biggest private equity firms, managing over $320 billion in assets. Apollo’s success is due in large part to the strategies of its founder, Leon Black, who gets his close-up in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek cover story.

“Black’s aggressive approach — involving layoffs and slashing benefits — is also among the most profitable,” Caleb Melby and Heather Perlberg of Businessweek write. “Apollo’s flagship private equity fund, which it opened to investors in 2001, has delivered annual returns of 44 percent.”

Highlights from Mr. Black’s career include:

• Working with Mike Milken on junk bonds, a term Mr. Black still hates because competitors came up with it: “We were never accepted by the Goldmans and the Morgans and the Kidder Peabodys and the First Bostons.”

• Investing where others wouldn’t dare. “Everybody else is running for the doors, and we’re backing up the trucks,” Mr. Black told Businessweek.

But his biggest problem right now might be his association with Jeffrey Epstein:

• The depths of Mr. Black’s financial ties to the late financier are unknown, but he is known to have given $10 million to Mr. Epstein’s charity and persuaded the financier to invest in a friend’s muffler company.

• “After Epstein was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell a month later, former Apollo employees joked darkly that his death had made Black’s life easier.”

President Trump ribbed a top JPMorgan Chase executive this week when he said her bank should thank him for its stellar earnings. He may have had a point, at least when it comes to his tax cuts, writes Yalman Onaran of Bloomberg.

• Savings for America’s top six banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — from the 2017 tax overhaul have now surpassed $32 billion.

• The banks “posted earnings this week showing they saved $18 billion in 2019, more than the prior year, as their average effective tax rate fell to 18 percent from 20 percent,” Mr. Onaran writes.

• “The six firms posted $120 billion in net income for 2019, inching past 2018’s mark. They had never surpassed $100 billion before the tax cuts.”



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Streaming TV’s Boom Is a Mixed Blessing for Some Hollywood Writers

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LOS ANGELES — It seemed like a good deal. At first.

Last April, Netflix offered Kay Reindl and her longtime writing partner a substantial sum — in the mid-six figures, Ms. Reindl said — to oversee 10 episodes of a new sci-fi series, “Sentient.” It sounded like a lot of money for what they figured would be less than a year of work.

Ms. Reindl and her writing partner, who have worked steadily as TV writers since the 1990s, would be executive producers, instead of staff writers on someone else’s show. That would mean a lot more responsibility and much longer hours, but it seemed worth it. They found office space and hired a few writers.

Then came a surprise: they learned that “Sentient” would actually take 18 months from start to finish. When Ms. Reindl did the math, she realized that, under the new timetable, she would be making roughly the same weekly pay as the writers she was overseeing.

“It was a very bad day,” Ms. Reindl said.

Netflix declined to comment.

The rise of streaming has been a blessing and a curse for working writers like Ms. Reindl, who said she and her partner had ultimately left “Sentient” because of creative differences unrelated to the length of the series. On-demand digital video has ushered in the era of Peak TV, meaning there are more shows and more writing jobs than ever. But many of the jobs are not what they used to be in the days before streaming.

“All this opportunity is great, but how to navigate it and keep yourself consistently working and making your living has been the challenging part,” said Stu Zicherman, a writer and showrunner whose credits include “The Americans” on FX and HBO’s “Divorce.”

When Ms. Reindl got her start, network series had 24 episodes or more a season. The typical TV writer’s schedule looked something like this: Get hired by May or June, write furiously for most of the year, and then take a six-week hiatus before the process started again.

The seasonal rhythms that had been in place for TV writers since the days of “I Love Lucy” started to change more than two decades ago, when cable outlets put out 13-episode seasons of shows like HBO’s “The Sopranos” and, later, AMC’s “Mad Men.”

Streaming platforms have revised that model further: eight-episode seasons of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian”; six-episode seasons of Amazon Prime Video’s “Fleabag”; three- and six-episode batches of Netflix’s “Black Mirror.” Cable has replied in kind, offering fewer than 12-episode runs of shows like “Atlanta” on FX and “Silicon Valley” on HBO.

“I think they’re experimenting with the shortest product they can still call a TV series,” said Steve Conrad, the president of Elephant Pictures, a production company in Chicago. “I couldn’t keep this company together if it was fewer than eight, and it’s coming.”

In addition to shortening season lengths, the streaming platforms have ignored the school-year-style calendar of television’s network days, with its premieres in the weeks after Labor Day and finales late in the spring. Netflix has served up new seasons of its most-watched program, “Stranger Things,” in July. Apple TV Plus unveiled one of its most-hyped shows, “Little America,” in the middle of January.

The rise of streaming has fattened the wallets of superstar writer-producers like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, while also giving chances to unproven writers. But the medium’s shorter seasons and unpredictable cadences have made it harder for writers in Hollywood’s middle class to plot out a year’s work in a way that doesn’t leave them nervous when mortgage payments are due.

Complicating the issue is that streaming platforms have been known to take more time to make an episode than their network and cable counterparts. For many writers, that meant less money for more hours, and they complained to their union representatives.

“Five years ago, it grew from an isolated problem to a dominant problem,” said Chuck Slocum, the assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of America, West. “We had half of our members wake up and realize one day that they’re making half the money that they were making.”

The union worked out some protections for its members. Since 2018, studios are sometimes required to pay writers extra when filming runs longer than expected.

That change kicked in too late to help Lila Byock, a writer whose credits include HBO’s “The Leftovers” and Hulu’s “Castle Rock.” She said she was hired on a scripted series that she figured would last 10 months. Instead, it took nearly 18 months, which caused her to pass on other writing jobs.

“It gets tricky,” Ms. Byock said. “That wasn’t what I had budgeted for two years of my life.”

On the flip side, streaming seasons that require a short time commitment — say, eight months — can also wreak havoc on a writer’s schedule. “You’re not being paid by the studio for five months of the year, but that’s not enough time to take on another show,” said Mr. Conrad, of Elephant Pictures.

The old TV calendar is not quite dead. Major producers of network shows, like Dick Wolf and Chuck Lorre, still must come up with at least 22 episodes per season of shows like NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” and CBS’s “Young Sheldon.” But with new streaming platforms like NBCUniversal’s Peacock and HBO Max set to start in the spring, the lives of many TV writers are likely to get more chaotic.

“I have friends working in network television and it’s like they’re on a different planet,” said Harley Peyton, a writer and co-executive producer of “Project Blue Book,” a History Channel series with 10 episodes a season.

He described staff positions on network shows as “the last full-time jobs in this business,” adding that “those jobs are extraordinarily difficult to get.”

The 10 established Hollywood writers who discussed the changes in the industry with The New York Times were careful to point out that they were still able to make good money, even amid the digital disruption of their industry. And yet, they said, it is common for veteran writers these days to be paid as if they were rookies.

Jonathan Shikora, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents actors and writers, suggested that longtime TV writers were now underpaid. “Should I be getting the same as some new writer whose script I’m rewriting because their work is so green and new and I’m teaching that person?” he asked.

The new economy has some writers thinking twice about moving up the ranks to the position of executive producer. “What I’m starting to see is a lot of friends being like, ‘Why would I ever want to be a showrunner?’” Ms. Byock said, referring to the hands-on executive producer in charge of the writers’ room. “If you’re making the same amount you could be making doing a much less stressful job, why wouldn’t you just do that?”

Rob Long, once a writer and an executive producer of the long-running NBC sitcom “Cheers,” said he had tried to make allowances for the changes when he was in charge of “Sullivan & Son,” a TBS sitcom.

That show had 10 episodes in its first two seasons and 13 in its third, a significant change from the 28-episode final season of “Cheers.” That was fine with the financially secure Mr. Long, who said, “I got to be honest, I thought it was fantastic.” The difficulty came when he was hiring staff writers.

“I was making deals with younger writers just starting out,” he said, “and I was doing the math.”

It took eight weeks to write the scripts and prepare for shooting. An additional 15 weeks brought the staff to the end of the production. The schedule meant that “Sullivan & Son” would eat up nearly six months of staff writers’ time.

Under the terms of their contracts, they had to give priority to “Sullivan & Son,” meaning that, if the show got renewed, they were obligated to go back to it even if they were working on another project.

“It was a de facto way of locking you up,” Mr. Long said.

So he came up with an informal solution that he has used on other shows since then.

“We make a private, handshake deal with our writers,” he said. “We tell them that if you get on another project, or you sell a pilot or something else happens, I will let you out of your contract,” he said.

In other words, Mr. Long added, “I promise to fire the writer.”



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'Mardi Gras! Galveston' Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade : Feb 22, 2020

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Intuit Is Expected to Buy Credit Karma in $7 Billion Deal

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Intuit, the home of TurboTax and Mint, is nearing a deal to buy Credit Karma, a start-up that grew to fame by offering consumers free access to their credit scores, for about $7 billion in cash and stock, two people briefed on the matter said on Sunday.

The deal, which could be announced as soon as Monday, points to the value of the financial data of ordinary Americans. Credit Karma grew to be worth billions of dollars by selling credit card offers to its customers after building their credit profiles.

Intuit has long helped businesses and consumers manage their financial data, but it has often been slow in adapting to a new era in which that data is profitably used to attract advertisers.

Credit Karma has been at the leading edge of a large group of start-ups in the financial technology sector over the last decade. It says its customers include a third of all Americans who have a credit profile.

The company, which has over 1,100 employees and is based in San Francisco, had been expected to pursue an initial public offering. But after the rocky I.P.O. of Uber and the failure of WeWork’s planned offering, some companies have instead pursued the surer path of a sale rather than face potentially skeptical investors.

Last month, another successful fintech start-up, Plaid, sold itself to Visa for $5.3 billion rather than stage an I.P.O. Plaid’s business is also focused on consumer data, serving as the middlemen between the big financial firms that have that data and the start-ups that need it.

The deal negotiations were earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Credit Karma was started in 2007 by Kenneth Lin, the current chief executive, and two co-founders, after Mr. Lin had trouble acquiring his own credit score. Until about a decade ago, consumers generally had to buy a credit score directly from the three major credit bureaus. Otherwise, the most likely opportunity for individuals to get a sense of their creditworthiness came just as they were applying for a loan — when it was too late to do anything to improve their lot.

Signing up for the site became a rite of passage for Americans looking to get their credit score in shape to apply for a mortgage. In addition to providing credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax, Credit Karma offers advice on how the scores could be improved by doing things like lowering credit card balances.

The company made its money by offering its customers new credit cards and online loans, based on their credit scores. When customers accepted the offers, Credit Karma would receive payments of a few hundred dollars, though it closely guarded the details of these deals.

Over time, though, Credit Karma’s success invited imitators, and today most digital financial firms offer their customers free credit scores.

Credit Karma has branched out by offering other services that give it access to even more financial data. Its biggest recent product introduction was a free tax return offering that put it into direct competition with Intuit’s TurboTax.

(The Wirecutter, which The New York Times owns, also aims to earn money via affiliate relationships with lenders.)

Intuit’s business has long been based on charging businesses and customers for its software offerings, like QuickBooks and TurboTax. But the company, which is valued at more than $77 billion, has been trying to shift to the new world in which software is free and paid for by deals for consumer data.

TurboTax now offers a free version of its tax-filing service. And Mint allows customers to create free budgets, with the service paid for by credit card ads, much as Credit Karma does.

There is a potentially significant business opportunity for Intuit if it completes a deal. For example, Intuit could try to match all the tax data its TurboTax customers provide with the credit-scoring data that Credit Karma holds.

That could let Intuit serve up better customer prospects to credit card issuers — and eventually let Intuit charge lenders more for access to its hoard of data.

Sheel Mohnot, a venture capitalist who focuses on fintech start-ups, suggested that the combined company could become a sort of Facebook for financial services.

“They would have all of this rich information, and they would basically be an ad network,” he said. “You’re almost forced to advertise with them.”

Ron Lieber contributed reporting.



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