Imax Finds a Niche in a Digital Future Sunday, Jan 30 2011 

Imax Finds a Niche in a Digital Future

Published: January 30, 2011

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — Moviegoers in Moscow who do not want to munch popcorn with the multiplex masses will soon have an alternative. At a V.I.P. cinema that is set to open in April, they will be able to watch blockbusters on a large, curved Imax screen while lounging in oversize leather chairs. The cost of a ticket for one of the 80 seats: close to $100.

At a time when many media companies eye the digital future with dread, worrying about how to persuade consumers to buy their products when free information and entertainment abound on the Web, Imax, a Canadian company, not only gets consumers to spend but also gets them to pay a premium.

Imax had a very good recession. Global box office receipts at Imax theaters more than doubled last year, to $546 million from $270 million in 2009. Under agreements with movie studios and cinema operators, the company keeps about one-third of that revenue.

Only a few years ago, Imax was weighed down by debt and scouting around unsuccessfully for a financial rescuer. The turnaround has prompted speculation about possible offers for the company.

Imax has said it is unaware of any reasons for a recent increase in the price of its stock, which is traded in Toronto and on Nasdaq. But Richard Gelfond, the company’s chief executive, was eager to discuss the company’s turnaround, during the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

At a time when other media companies are reeling from the effects of piracy, Imax benefits from the fact that it offers an experience that is difficult to replicate outside a specially equipped theater. The screens are big — typically 22 meters wide by 16 meters high, or about 72 feet by 52 feet, though some are much larger. Resolution is higher than that of conventional movies.

But the company needed a technological leap to take advantage of those attributes in ways that were practical and financially viable. Starting in 2007, it switched to a digital projection system, replacing analog film prints, which cost $30,000 apiece, with digital versions that cost $175 per theater.

That made it feasible to expand the number of Imax screens, which is expected to reach nearly 600 worldwide by the end of this year, up from fewer than 300 in 2005. Digitization also encouraged Hollywood studios to make blockbusters like “Avatar” available in the Imax format, which used to be known more for nature films and other educational fare.

Some critics say digital Imax movies are not as good as the film versions, offering lower resolution and, sometimes, smaller screens.

But viewers do not seem to mind. The average Imax ticket price in the United States last year was about $13, Mr. Gelfond said, about $5 more than the overall average cinema price.

Imax’s growth has been particularly speedy in countries like China and Russia, where going to the movies makes for a popular night out. In Russia, the number of Imax screens rose to 15 from four last year, while in China, the total doubled to about 100, Mr. Gelfond said.

“There’s not a lot of live sports or music in China, so movies are the place to be,” he said.

Average Imax ticket prices in China are almost as high as in the United States, and Chinese consumers resold seats to “Avatar” for up to $100 on eBay, Mr. Gelfond said.

In Russia, Imax screens produced an average of $3 million in revenue last year, he said. That was the highest average of any market for the company; in the United States, the comparable figure was $1.2 million.

The company developed plans for the new theater in Moscow, which will be run by a local exhibitor, Formula Kino, after hearing that wealthy Russians sometimes liked to buy up every seat in a theater to treat themselves and a few friends to a private screening.

If the theater is successful, Imax plans to open other V.I.P. rooms, in cities like St. Petersburg, Mr. Gelfond said.

“All over the world, people are willing to pay for premium content,” he said. “They want something they can’t get in the home.”


Ryanair challenges Spanish court over boarding passes Monday, Jan 24 2011 

21 January 2011 Last updated at 15:13 GMT

Ryanair challenges Spanish court over boarding passes

Natasha Emerson BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary Ryanair has appealed against a ruling that found it is breaking international law

Ryanair has threatened to turn away passengers arriving at check in without their pre-printed boarding pass unless a ruling from a Spanish court is overturned.

Currently the airline charges £40 for a boarding pass for those who have not printed out their own.

A judge in Barcelona has ruled that the charge is illegal.

The airline said if it lost the appeal it might stop issuing boarding passes to passengers who turn up without one.

In the meantime it would continue to issue passes at check-in on payment of £40.

International lawTwo years ago, Ryanair abolished the traditional airport check-in.

At the time it announced that all passengers must check-in online and print out their own boarding passes – or face the £40 charge.

Judge Barbara Maria Cordoba Ardao ruled that the company was breaking international law by imposing the charge.

Ryanair has instructed its Spanish lawyers to appeal against the ruling, saying it is “bizarre and unlawful”.

‘Absolutely serious’Without the charge, the no frills airline said it would have to re-employ numerous handling agents to issue manual boarding cards for passengers who “forgot” to bring theirs with them.

Simon Calder, the Independent’s travel editor, told BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours that he thinks the airline means business.

“Judging from Ryanair’s previous record of robust reactions to unfavourable court decisions – abandoning airports such as Strasbourg in France and adding a “wheelchair” surcharge to fares after a case involving disabled passengers – it’s absolutely serious,” he said.

“It will dispense with the boarding card reissue fee altogether, and will turn away passengers who arrive at the airport without the agreed pre-printed boarding card.”

Ryanair says more than 99% of people do arrive with a boarding pass and the reissue charge will continue to apply pending the appeal.

Apple Says Steve Jobs Will Take a New Medical Leave Monday, Jan 17 2011 

Apple Says Steve Jobs Will Take a New Medical Leave

Published: January 17, 2011

Steven P. Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, is taking a medical leave of absence, a year and a half after his return from a liver transplant, raising questions about both his long-term prognosis and the future of the world’s most valuable technology company.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Apple C.E.O. Steve Jobs at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., last October.

Mr. Jobs, who recovered from pancreatic cancer after surgery in 2004, is going on leave at a critical time for Apple.

While the company has outflanked most of its rivals in the technology industry, creating a string of products like the iPhone and the iPad that have been blockbuster hits with consumers, it is also facing ever more intense competition from giants like Google, Microsoft and Samsung. Some of those rivals have narrowed Apple’s lead or even surpassed the company by some measures.

Mr. Jobs’s leave is certain to cause anxiety with investors and even consumers. Perhaps more than any other chief executive, he is seen as inseparable from his company’s success.

“He may be the most vital C.E.O. of our era,” said Michael Useem, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and director of its Center for Leadership and Change Management.

Mr. Jobs is known for his hands-on management style and his obsessive attention to the most minute details of Apple’s products. He is also credited with anticipating the needs of consumers time and again, leading Apple to create one breakthrough product after another.

Mr. Jobs, who is 55, announced his leave on Monday in an e-mail to employees that said he was stepping aside “so I can focus on my health” but would continue to be involved in major strategic decisions at the company.

“I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can,” Mr. Jobs wrote in the message, which was made public by Apple.

Timothy D. Cook, 50, the company’s chief operating officer, will run day-to-day operations, Mr. Jobs said. Mr. Cook performed the same duties during Mr. Jobs’s medical leave in 2009.

“I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011,” Mr. Jobs wrote.

Unlike his prior leave, when Apple said Mr. Jobs would be gone for six months, this time Mr. Jobs did not say how long he expected to be out. Analysts said the announcement raised questions as to whether Mr. Jobs would come back to lead Apple.

“It raises the bigger question about whether he’ll ever return,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Company.

Medical experts said that recipients of liver transplants often suffer from a variety of medical problems that are not life-threatening.

A person with knowledge of the situation said that Mr. Jobs suffers from immune system issues common with people who have received liver transplants and that, as a result, his health suffers from frequent “ups and downs.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Jobs began a down cycle and slowed his activities at Apple, said the person, who refused to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss Mr. Jobs’s condition. Mr. Jobs has been coming to the office about two days a week and has appeared increasingly emaciated, the person said. He has frequently had lunch in his office, rather than in the company cafeteria, the person said.

During his prior leave of absence, Apple kept details of Mr. Jobs’s health private, prompting criticism among some shareholders who contended that the company had an obligation to be more forthcoming with information.

In his message to the staff on Monday, Mr. Jobs said, “My family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy.”

An Apple spokeswoman, Katie Cotton, said Apple would have no further comment beyond Mr. Jobs’s statement.

Apple’s stock immediately dipped on foreign exchanges Monday, falling 7.6 percent in Frankfurt. Financial markets in the United States were closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

“It is natural that investors will expect the worse,” said Charles Wolf, an analyst with Needham & Company, noting that Apple has a history of “minimal disclosure” and “obfuscating” details about Mr. Jobs’s health.

Mr. Wolf said that regardless of whether Mr. Jobs returns to Apple, the company would probably continue doing well for the foreseeable future, though its long-term prospects are more uncertain.

“Right now Apple has a management team that is one of the greatest in American business,” Mr. Wolf said. “Whatever trajectory the company is on will continue for two to five years, regardless of whether Steve comes back.”

Still Apple faces increasing competition, especially in the smartphone market, where handsets powered by Google’s Android software recently began outselling the iPhone in the United States. Some analysts said the rise of Android led to Apple’s recent decision to begin offering the iPhone on Verizon Wireless starting next month, ending more than three years of exclusivity on AT&T.

Apple also faces sharper competition in tablet computers. The company’s iPad, introduced last spring, became an instant hit with consumers. But less than a year later, companies like Samsung, Research in Motion and others have introduced or announced a string of credible competitors.

Analysts said that during Mr. Jobs’s 2009 leave, Mr. Cook successfully steered the company as it developed critical products like the iPhone 4 and the iPad.

“Last time, Tim elevated his status with shareholders and employees,” Mr. Sacconaghi said. “The company did very well in Steve’s absence and various constituencies were pleased with that.”

In January 2009, Mr. Jobs went on a medical leave. During the leave Mr. Jobs secretly flew to Tennessee for a liver transplant.

In June 2009, Apple said Mr. Jobs was back at work, and he reappeared in public for the first time in September of that year. While he was energetic and exhibited his unique brand of salesmanship as he unveiled new products during 90-minute event, he continued to look gaunt. Since then, Mr. Jobs has headlined a string of product introductions, including the iPhone 4 and the iPad and a new line of MacBook Air laptops, where he was equally energetic and focused, but still looked frail.

At one such event in July 2010, a reporter asked Mr. Jobs about his health, and he replied, “I’m feeling great.”

In recent months, he has looked increasingly frail, according to people who have seen him.

Dr. Lewis W. Teperman, the director of transplant surgery and vice chairman of surgery at the Langone Medical Center of New York University, said a variety of problems could affect someone with a liver transplant. Dr. Teperman has not been involved in Mr. Jobs’s care and said he had no knowledge of the case.

“It’s very common for transplant patients to have issues that are not life-threatening,” Dr. Teperman said. “We give them very strong, high-powered medications, immunosuppressants, to prevent rejection. It’s a delicate balance, more art than science.”

Side effects from the drugs can make patients ill, and sometimes the regimen has to be changed, a process that can take days and weeks. The side-effects include high blood sugar and diabetes, kidney damage, diarrhea, high blood pressure, high blood fats and cholesterol, rashes and low counts of white blood cells. The drugs leave patients prone to infection.

Rejection of the transplanted liver is also a possibility, but Dr. Teperman said it was extremely rare for a liver transplant to be totally rejected.

The original reason for Mr. Jobs’s transplant was never publicly disclosed. At the time, doctors not involved in his case said the most likely reason was that his pancreatic cancer had spread to his liver. If that was the case, it is possible that cancer has recurred; the anti-rejection drugs can increase the odds of cancer recurrence. A recurrence may be treatable. But so little information has been disclosed that it is impossible to tell, Dr. Teperman said.

“There are lots of bumps in the road with transplantations, and people usually get through them,” he said.

Hotel Chains Offer Hypoallergenic Rooms, for a Price Monday, Jan 10 2011 

Hotel Chains Offer Hypoallergenic Rooms, for a Price

Published: January 10, 2011

Even die-hard road warriors need a comfortable place to recharge after a long day. But for business travelers with allergies, asthma and other sensitivities, hotel rooms can be rife with dust mites, mold, animal dander and other allergens that set off sneezing, itchy eyes, headaches and sleepless nights.

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver provides hypoallergenic rooms for guests with allergies.

Individual hotels have long accommodated guests by cleaning rooms with special products and processes and washing linens in hot water with no or fragrance-free detergent. They have also offered mattress and pillow protectors, rooms with no carpets and windows that open.

But now, two hotel chains, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, are taking the service even further by designating permanent allergy-friendly rooms, with things like medical-grade air purifiers and chemical- and fragrance-free bath products.

Jim Strong, co-owner of Strong Travel Services in Dallas, said a colleague who once worked at the St. Regis in New York recounted how over 100 years ago, the hotel replaced draperies with wooden shutters in some rooms for guests with dust allergies. “This type of customer service has been done for years and years and years” all over the world, he said. But in recent years, there has been, he said, “a noticeable increase in requests.”

Thirty-eight percent of hotels offer some kind of allergy-friendly service in guest rooms, a 14 percent increase in the last two years, according to the 2010 Lodging Survey prepared for the American Hotel and Lodging Association by STR, a hotel research company.

The trend toward improving indoor air quality is part of the larger green movement that began with nonsmoking rooms, said Ray Burger, founder of Pineapple Hospitality, which administers a “green” hotel certification program and operates, an online booking site for smoke-free rooms. The Web site plans to add icons soon that will indicate which hotels offer hypoallergenic rooms, and what chemicals are used in cleaning products, paints, sealants and bath products.

Hyatt recently announced plans to create hypoallergenic rooms in all of its full-service hotels in North America. The rooms, which will soon total about 2,000 in 125 properties, cost $20 to $30 extra a night and are intended to eliminate up to 98 percent of allergens and irritants through a six-step process that cleans all surfaces, carpets and fabrics. A medical-grade purifier continuously circulates air, Hyatt said.

We sought “a full-scale solution for guests,” said Tom Smith, vice president of rooms for Hyatt. “This was a market really underserved.”

The number of allergy suffers is believed to have gone up substantially since the late ’70s, said Dr. Darryl Zeldin, senior investigator and acting clinical director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Currently, roughly half of Americans are sensitive to at least one common allergen. Different testing methods may account for some of the increase, but better hygiene resulting in less exposure to bacteria is also thought to play a role, Dr. Zeldin said.

Brian Brault, chief executive of Pure Solutions, the company that installs and maintains Hyatt’s hypoallergenic rooms, said more than 200 hotels nationwide, including properties at several major brands, had Pure Solutions rooms, but Hyatt was the first to offer them across its brands. The technology is also being used in some hotel conference centers, he said.

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel has had an entire hypoallergenic floor since 1999, and other Fairmont properties have long provided services to guests with allergies. But the chain is in the final stages of a pilot program for permanent hypoallergenic rooms that it plans to introduce gradually this year.

“We’re looking at the bigger picture,” said Paul Kingsbury, director of housekeeping for the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The approach will include featherless duvets and pillows and chemical- and perfume-free bath products, as well as in-room mini bars from which all nuts have been removed and room service meals that cater to various food allergies. All Fairmont chefs have been trained to prepare a vast array of special dietary and allergy-specific meals.

Fairmont’s hypoallergenic rooms will cost about $25 extra a night.

Mr. Kingsbury recalled a patron who had a terrible reaction because she saw, through a small rip in a duvet, some fibers that she mistook for down. The duvet contained no feathers, but “sometimes even the perception of an allergen can be harmful,” he said. “Knowing things are set up properly is a big comfort for the guests.”

Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, said that because more people were being diagnosed with allergies, it made business sense for hotels to provide a greater number of allergy-friendly rooms. But the rooms also have great general appeal.

“There are many people who request special rooms, not because they have allergies but because they believe those rooms will have a higher degree of sanitation and cleanliness,” Mr. Hanson said. “It’s a way for hotels to invest a little bit more for a room but get a premium for both occupancy and rate.”

Mike Piazza, a partner at the law firm Greenberg Traurig in Irvine, Calif., said he did not realize he had allergies until one night on a business trip: “I woke up and I couldn’t breathe.” It turned out he was allergic to down. “I called the front desk to get a foam pillow,” he said. “Then I was fine.”

Lisa Abbott, a marketing consultant for nonprofit groups in Oakland, Calif., who suffers from multiple chemical sensitivities, has learned the benefits firsthand of good air quality in a hotel room.

At home, she rarely takes the morning rush hour train, to avoid “breathing in a soup of fumes and fragrances” from deodorant, after shave, hair products and freshly laundered clothing. Traveling, she said, has “always been dicey.” But she stayed in one of Hyatt’s new rooms on a recent trip to Chicago. “The air is purer,” she said. “I slept great. I felt energized both days of conferences. It has just completely opened up my travel options.”

Facebook investment ‘values firm at $50bn’ Monday, Jan 3 2011 

3 January 2011 Last updated at 19:39 GMT

Facebook investment ‘values firm at $50bn’

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook’s billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg has denied there are plans for a flotation

Facebook has reportedly raised funds from Goldman Sachs and a Russian investor in a deal valuing the social networking site at $50bn (£32.3bn).

The New York Times said that Goldman was investing $450m in Facebook, and Digital Sky Technologies another $50m.

The paper, citing unnamed sources, said the terms of the deal implied a value for Facebook of just over $50bn.

Goldman’s involvement could also raise speculation that Facebook might float on the stock market.

The Financial Times also reported that Goldman was investing $375m in Facebook, with Digital Sky putting in $75m.

Cashing inA Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC that the company was not commenting on the New York Times story. Goldman also declined to comment.

If valued at $50bn, Facebook is worth more than eBay and Time Warner.

The fresh investment is expected to be used to fund development of new products and possibly make acquisitions, the New York Times said.

It may also enable Facebook employees and early investors to cash in some of their stakes.

The paper said the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was looking at the growth in the private market for trading in companies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Regulators are concerned that, with this private market booming, companies are able to circumvent public disclosure requirements.

Further scrutiny by the SEC could help push Facebook towards a public listing, although the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has denied there are plans for a flotation.