Friday, 30 December 2011

Hong Kong 3: Drug Rules and Horse Care

When it comes to drug use, Hong Kong is one of the strictest racing jurisdictions in the world. No medications are allowed. Period. And some drugs -- Lasix, for example -- can't even be used in training.

At the same time, Hong Kong is among the most transparent jurisdictions regarding the physical condition of horses entered in races. The Hong Kong Jockey Club's web site has a link to complete veterinary information for every horse entered in every race, and in far more detail than is available to US bettors. For example, a look at Sunday's upcoming card at Sha Tin shows reports on which horses showed up lame after a race, which had fevers, which showed mucus or traces of blood in the trachea, which ones had fractured bones, which ones had suspensory injuries, and much more. I'm not sure whether all that information would actually help a bettor, though I find it valuable in explaining layoff lines, but it can't hurt.

Hong Kong, of course, has many inherent advantages over the US when it comes to regulating drugs. As I mentioned in the first of these posts, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is racing's sole regulator, enforcer, operator, and virtually sole employer. All the vets work for the Jockey Club, as do all the grooms. No trainers with private vets to make everyone suspicious. That makes things a lot easier to police. And the HKJC's drug testing lab, with a professional staff of 40, is a match for just about any of the labs in the US. Given the small number of racing days, Hong Kong almost certainly tests a higher proportion of horses than any US jurisdiction. It's not just the winners and a few random horses from each race that are tested, but also any horse that, in the opinion of the stewards, fails to perform to expectations.

Another advantage Hong Kong has in being able to ensure clean racing is that it screens horses before they can be imported into the jurisdiction. Once a member of the Jockey Club wins the annual lottery giving him or her the right to import a horse, that owner has to secure the Jockey Club's approval for the actual import. That screening process keeps out unsound horses and tends to insure a homogeneous, competitive supply of horses in the barns.

A further advantage is that older horses have a guaranteed retirement option; they don't have to be held together with drugs and tape while they slide down the claiming ladder. The Jockey Club requires each owner to post a HK$40,000 (US$5,000) deposit when the owner imports a horse. If the owner can arrange a confirmed retirement placing for the horse, the deposit is refunded. If not, the Jockey Club adds some of its own funds and itself arranges for retraining of the horse and finding a new career for it in China. In some cases, the Jockey Club will pay as much as another HK$80,000 on top of the owner's deposit. It's a great plan, and not just because it has the ancillary effect of reducing drug use in older horses. The US could do well to emulate such a plan, with mandatory contributions toward retirement by each thoroughbred's breeder and each subsequent owner.

Still, even with all these advantages, Hong Kong race horses aren't paragons of health. The incidence of actual bleeding during or immediately after a race is very high by world standards -- 4.6 per 1,000 runners. That compares to 2.0 per thousand in the US before widespread use of Lasix and only 0.7 per thousand currently. Dr. Brian Stewart of the Hong Kong Jockey Club attributes the high rate primarily to pollution and high humidity in an urban training environment. And, interestingly, there's less bleeding at the evening meetings at Happy Valley, when temperatures and humidity tend to be lower. Horses also tend to lose weight on the van trip over to Happy Valley from their barns at Sha Tin. I can understand that; I'm sure I lose weight just through stress and fear every time I take a long taxi ride in Hong Kong. Dr. Stewart's full report on bleeding at Hong Kong tracks can be found here.

Some of the pollution problem -- and Hong Kong is certainly a lot more polluted than New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, thanks both to too many cars on the road and to industrial pollution blowing over from China -- may be alleviated in a couple of years when the Jockey Club opens its Conghua training center in China, about three hours' drive from Hong Kong. The training center will have room for 400 horses, allowing them to be rotated out of the crowded racetrack training environment at Sha Tin, and will have a mile and a quarter turf course, a six-furlong uphill turf gallop and two synthetic training tracks, as well as swimming pools and turn-out paddocks. I can feel the envy of those who train even at Fair Hill or Saratoga, much less Belmont and Aqueduct.  In any event, getting horses out of Hong Kong for a part of each season should help the bleeding problem.

Part of the opposition to Lasix on the part of the Hong Kong Jockey Club is based on their vets' firm belief that Lasix is a masking agent for some other drugs. That's a belief that most US equine vets strongly reject; the US lab chiefs say that their testing has advanced to the point where Lasix is no longer effective in hiding other drug use. That's a scientific argument that I don't have the knowledge to have an opinion on, and one, I suspect, that will remain unresolved.

Could the US go to a racing environment that's as drug-free as Hong Kong's? Should it? After all, Hong Kong has an incidence of serious bleeding that's more than six times as high as that in the US. But those are questions for another day. For now, with only one or two more trips to the racetrack left before we return to New York, I'm just content to enjoy the high-quality racing and the spectacular customer service in Hong Kong.

See you at Aqueduct.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Hong Kong 2: The Race Track Experience

The beer garden at Happy Valley

Critics, consultants and industry insiders in US horse racing agonize over how to make race-going a fan-friendly, exciting experience, one that newcomers will enjoy and want to repeat. In Hong Kong, they've figured out how to do that. True, the circumstances are different, and Hong Kong racing doesn't face the kind of competition from other spectator sports and gambling options that tracks in the US face, but, nonetheless, perhaps there's something to be learned from looking at how it's done elsewhere.

This is the second of three reports based on several visits to each of the Hong Kong race tracks. Yesterday's dealt with the economics of Hong Kong racing. Tomorrow's will deal with care of horses, medication rules, and equine retirement.

Happy Valley

The urban racetrack is an unprepossessing species in America. Aqueduct, Hawthorne, Pimlico. Blighted neighborhoods, wind whistling through near-empty stands, a few thousand patrons whose median age is deceased.

Not so in Hong Kong. Happy Valley, the in-town racecourse that runs on Wednesday evenings, is close to the center of the city, a short walk from a major subway stop, in an upscale neighborhood, with the track surrounded by expensive high-rises. And going to the races, with 30,000 or more fellow racing fans, is fun.

As for the track itself, think Aqueduct on steroids. No, not that kind of steroids; Hong Kong has just about the tightest drug rules in the world. But take an urban race track with a mid-week meeting, fill it with 30,000 or more people, build the stands 8 stories high, surround the track with skyscraper apartment buildings, throw in a beer garden for the expatriates, and you have Happy Valley. It's Hong Kong's second track, home to mid-week night racing, mostly for average-quality horses, and with few of the top-quality stakes that are mostly run at the other Hong Kong track, Sha Tin, out in the New Territories.

While visiting Hong Kong, we've seen both extremes of the accommodations at Happy Valley. Thanks to Bill Nader and Anny Kwan, we enjoyed the luxury of the Hong Kong Jockey Club's executive box high up in the members' stand (aka club house, but in fact so much more), with a serious buffet and excellent wine. The huge members' stand has a wide variety of restaurants, lounges and viewing areas; ours was but one of many. And on another visit, we paid our HK$10 (about US$1.25) grandstand admission and watched the races from the commotion of the stretch-side beer garden, where a fully costumed Santa Claus was standing at the rail yelling his heart out for Number 5, and from the balcony just off the food court on the second floor. Two nights of good, competitive racing, with full fields -- Hong Kong averages 12.4 horses per race, compared to just under 8 at most of the major US tracks -- and lots of good betting opportunities.

The betting menu at the Hong Kong tracks is a bit more extensive than at most US tracks. All races offer win and place (i.e., 1st, 2nd or 3rd) betting, plus quiniellas and "place quiniellas" (pick any two of the top 3 horses) and trifectas (called "tierce" in Hong Kong). No exacta or superfecta betting, but quiniella-type bets on the top 3 in any order ("trio") and the top 4 in any order ("First 4"). The biggest single-race pool (which is typically the exacta pool in the US) is the trio.

Rolling doubles and Pick 3 bets are also available, with consolation payoffs if you hit the first leg (or first two in the Pick 3) and finish second in the last leg. The big high-payoff exotics are the double trio (hit the trio in two consecutive races) and, especially, the triple trio (hit it in three consecutive races). The latter builds up a jackpot, much like the Pick Six at US tracks. It's not easy to get the three top finishers three races in a row, when the average field size is more than 12; as of the end of Tuesday's race card, the Triple Trio jackpot was over HK$14 million (almost US$2 million). There's also a Pick Six, which pays off if you get either the first or second-place horse in six consecutive races, with a bonus for getting all six winners; that bonus, as of Tuesday, was over HK$10 million.

The Happy Valley walking ring is on the apron, rather than behind the track, allowing lots of grandstand patrons -- at least those who aren't enthralled by the beer garden festivities -- to get a last look before placing their bets. In contrast to Sha Tin, though, the HK$10 racetrackers don't have the chance for seats on the finish line; that's clubhouse, or, in HK parlance, members' stand, territory.

Down the stretch at Sha Tin

Sha Tin

If Happy Valley is Aqueduct on steroids, then Sha Tin, out in the New Territories north of Kowloon, is a combination of Belmont, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita, done better. Mountains in the background, a la Santa Anita, stands eight stories high, a la Churchill, and a dedicated race track train, a la Belmont (though the one to Sha Tin was a lot more crowded, even on a relatively off day). The Sha Tin facility holds 80,000 or more, with excellent unreserved seating and remarkable restaurant facilities for those willing to pay a bit more. The high-rise stands offer great views of the track from the balconies, and the infield tote board is long enough to show lots more payoff and pool data than is typical at most US tracks.

For Hong Kong's big racing day, the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races on December 11th, we watched from the "Champions' Circle," set up for the day with a lavish buffet, lots of TV monitors, and easy access to the balconies facing the track and the walking ring behind the stands. A spectacular day of racing, from which American race track executives could learn. Take care of your foreign visitors, make a show of awarding the trophies, and, perhaps most impressive, have lots of helpful, friendly customer-service folks all over the track to help out the once-a-year visitors and, perhaps, turn them into regular racegoers.

Customer service is generally more friendly in Hong Kong than, say, in New York, but the Hong Kong Jockey Club puts a lot of time and effort into service, both at the track and in maintaining contact with its customers. Even by Hong Kong standards, it does well. Whether at the betting windows in the Champions Circle or at the (somewhat primitive-feeling) betting machines in the grandstand, there was always a mutuels information person within reach for the confused tourist. Try finding either of those (the friendly information person or the tourist) at Aqueduct in February.

And the information available to the serious bettor is significantly more complete at the Hong Kong tracks than in the US. The Jockey Club web site and most of the newspapers' racing sections include reports on horses that have bled in workouts or races and on horses that turned up lame or with other injuries. That contrasts with the general lack of explanation for a layoff that's found in the Daily Racing Form or track programs in the US. Equipment changes and  additions are also more comprehensively reported. In the US, the only equipment generally reported in the Form are blinkers and front bandages. In Hong Kong, there's also notification of, among other things, shadow rolls, figure-eight nosebands, the horse's weight (not just the assigned jockey weight) and a fair number of other equipment issues that may or may not make a difference, but certainly project an air of complete transparency.

The Form doesn't show as many prior races as in the US, and there's no precise equivalent of Beyer Speed Figures or the Ragozin or Thorograph Sheets for figure players, but in all other respects, the information provided to the Hong Kong bettor (at least the English-speaking variety; I can't comment on what's available in Chinese, but it certainly looked co-extensive with the English version) seems more thorough and complete than in the US.

As for medication notes, that's easy. None allowed. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Hong Kong 1. Where Even the Owners Make Money

Sha Tin Racecourse on a busy day

Through a combination of fortuitous circumstances, my wife and I are lucky enough to be spending a month in Hong Kong, visiting our daughter, who works here, grading our law school exams far from the pleas of worried students, and, not so incidentally, checking out the Hong Kong racing scene.

Thanks to the kindness of Hong Kong Jockey Club Executive Director of Racing Bill Nader, formerly chief operating officer of NYRA, and Bill's assistant, Anny Kwan, we've enjoyed the best accommodations that Sha Tin and Happy Valley race courses have to offer, and we've also just wandered around in the grandstand at each track, absorbing the ambiance of being a regular racing fan.

So, for those who haven't had the chance to see Hong Kong racing in person, here are three blog postings on our experience, and how the Hong Kong scene compares with American racing. Today's post covers the economics of racing in Hong Kong; subsequent posts will deal with the experience of racegoing at the Sha Tin and Happy Valley tracks and with the medication and related issues.

First, the money.

Hong Kong has 83 racing days a season, typically a weekend day at the sprawling Sha Tin track in the New Territories north of Hong Kong proper, and a Wednesday night meet at close-in Happy Valley on Hong Kong island. For those 83 days, total handle is roughly HK$1 billion (US$128 million)per racecard; HK$81.9 billion for the most recent fiscal year. Counting betting on soccer and the lottery, both of which also flow through the HKJC coffers, total annual handle for the HKJC is upwards of HK$130 billion (US$ 17 billion).

Yesterday's 10-race card at Sha Tin -- a typical race day with mostly what would be mid-level claiming and allowances races in the US and a couple of high-level allowance/small stakes as the features (albeit with a purse of US$175,000 on the "small" stakes) -- drew 26,580 to the track, which felt comfortably busy, but by no means crowded, and attracted total handle of HK$ 1,113,121,195 (US$142 million). Of that, roughly 10% is typically bet on-track, with the rest on the HKJC's phone and computer networks and in the 100-plus OTB storefronts. No matter; all the takeout from each wagering platform flows through to the HKJC.

Takeout averages 18.5%, marginally less than the US average, but in the same general range as most US tracks. That produces net revenue of nearly HK$24 billion, of which nearly two-thirds goes to the Hong Kong government in the form of taxes. The remaining one-third is split roughly equally between money for operations and purses on the one hand and charitable contributions on the other, making the Jockey Club by far the most important philanthropist in Hong Kong. Some idea of the scope of HKJC's charitable efforts can be seen here. And the most recent annual report of the HKJC is available here.

Unlike US horse racing, the HKJC has an effective monopoly on legal gambling in its jurisdiction. The nearest casinos are in Macao, an hour away by high-speed ferry. And those casinos, while glitzy, are no match for the better gambling palaces in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or even for establishments like Foxwood's in Connecticut, all of which siphon off money from US tracks. The HKJC also runs Hong Kong's lottery, although total lottery handle is less than a quarter of what's bet on the ponies. And the HKJC has, since 2003, enjoyed a monopoly on sports betting -- principally on overseas soccer -- that previously flowed to illegal bookmakers. Moreover, there are few organized sporting event in Hong Kong to divert attention away from the races; no pro football or basketball, no college sports with crazed alums tailgating before the big game, etc. Not even any standardbreds pulling silly little carts (aka harness racing). The thoroughbreds are just about the only game in town.

Like Keeneland, NYRA and the Oak Tree Racing Association, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is effectively a self-perpetuating not-for-profit corporation. It has no shareholders, and is governed by a self-selected leadership, presumably with the tacit approval of the government. Unlike Keeneland, NYRA and Oak Tree, however, the HKJC is the entire show as regards racing. It puts on the races, owns the facilities, employs just about everyone in the business except for horse owners and trainers (even the grooms and hotwalkers are HKJC employees), runs the vast network of OTBs and phone and online wagering, and, perhaps most important of all, is its own regulator, setting the rules, running the testing laboratory and meting out punishments. A bit lacking in checks and balances and in due process, at least to American eyes? Perhaps, but it works.

Total purses in the 2010-11 racing season were HK$785 million; just about US$100 million. The total number of starters for the 83 racing days was 9,502, and the average horse based in Hong Kong made 7.4 starts during the year -- also comparable with the US -- so earnings per start, a key measure of owners' financial health, was HK$82,600, or roughly US$10,500, and the average earnings per horse were HK$611,000, or US$ 78,300.

According to Bill Nader -- I wasn't able to verify these numbers independently, but I have no reason to doubt them -- the all-in cost of keeping a horse in training in Hong Kong is about US$45,000. Once again, that's comparable to training and vet costs at New York race tracks. Factoring in the jockeys' and trainers' commissions on purse money, that means that a horse based in Hong Kong probably needs to earn US$60,000 or so to break even. So, with actual purse money per horse averaging more than that, it appears that a majority of Hong Kong-based horses actually pay for themselves.

If only that were true in the US. According to the US Jockey Club's statistics, purse money for American horses comes to roughly 50% of the cost of maintaining our race horses in training, not counting the initial cost of breeding or purchasing the horses.

And owners aren't the only ones in the game who do well. For example, grooms, who are employed directly by the HKJC and assigned to trainers (no worries about the trainer missing a payroll or failing to pay his workers comp. premium) earn on the order of US$5,000 a month, plus a share of their horses' winnings, for caring for a maximum of three horses each. I know a fair number of US trainers who'd be happy with monthly earnings of that much, and few grooms in the US earn more than half that amount, usually for taking care of at least four horses. Not all grooms in Hong Kong may be driving Mercedes, but at least a few are.

And the Hong Kong government does very well from racing. Hong Kong is generally a low-tax jurisdiction; my daughter, who was paying something like 35% of her income in income and FICA taxes when she worked at CNN in Atlanta, now pays only 15%, the maximum personal tax rate in Hong Kong. But racing is the government's cash cow. Over 7% of total government revenue traces back to the HKJC, mostly in the form of very high taxes on betting handle; in addition, the HKJC pays a small tax in lieu of income tax on its annual surplus. The wagering taxes are so high, in fact, that the HKJC's annual report rails against the danger that the current rate of taxation might someday make Hong Kong gambling uncompetitive, compared to Macao and to unregulated internet gaming options.

In the long run, the demands of government may impinge on the financial success of Hong Kong racing. But that's true in the US as well, as financially strapped state governments look covetously at the slot-machine revenues that have been keeping so many race tracks afloat. In the short run, the Hong Kong Jockey Club's monopoly on legal gambling, combined with a public extremely fond of wagering -- according to Nader, 80% of adults in Hong Kong are HKJC customers, and roughly 20% are regulars -- presage a continuation of a racing business in which almost everyone, except, of course, the poor bettor, wins. So far this year, business at the track is up about 10% over last year, so the sun isn't showing any sign of setting soon.

Next: the Hong Kong race track experience.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Business December 14th 2011, "Nato Green and Friends" Edition

This Wednesday, we welcome back one of our most beloved and most frequent visitors, Nato Green, along with two brand-new guests! Nato Green is the creator of Iron Comic, the co-founder of Laughter Against the Machine, a prolific HuffPo blogger, and a Jew who cures his own bacon. He's such a regular friend to the show that he's earned the coveted moniker of "The Fifth Businessman," a title previously shared by Stu Sutcliffe and Brian Epstein.

We also welcome Sammy Obeid, a UC Berkeley graduate and nationally-touring comedian who was the first comedian to ever appear on the Food Network telling jokes. He placed third in the SF International Comedy Competition and won Best of the Fest at both the Arab-American Comedy Festival and the Out Of Bounds Festival in Austin. Though Sammy does five sets a night, every night, this is somehow his first visit to The Business. It's long overdue, but we are glad to have him.


Finally, all the way from the City of Angels, we have Josh Androsky. He used to write for awful TV shows, then quit or got fired from enough to start doing standup. He runs the acclaimed monthly show "Hamclown" the last Thursday of every month in Downtown LA, and he has lost four pairs of glasses in three different oceans.

All that, and Alex, Bucky, Chris, and Sean, too! Seven comics! Five bucks! What a country!

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Business December 7th 2011, "Miles QUE?!?" Edition

Who's gonna be at the Dark Room Wednesday?
Miles K!
Miles QUE?!?

Who's a witty comic comin' up in the Bay?
Miles K!
Miles QUE?!?

Who's website is
Miles K!
Miles QUE?!?

Miles K. Stenehjem, that's que!

To quote East Bay artist Kaitlin McSweeny:

"Miles K. Stenehjem is an elegant satirist with a wit born of sensitive desperation and fearless experience, in my opinion a sort of Oscar Wilde of this time, if Oscar Wilde could lay down some pretty sweet freestyle rhymes and deliver stand-up performances that make even today's recession-depressed audiences gasp and guffaw."

Miles has also recently opened for Andy Kindler, has a show of his own called "Everything Jamboree" and now joins us on our humble show.

Sean is taking a well deserved victory lap around Los Angeles this week, but Chris, Bucky and the newly returned Alex will be on hand to stoke your hot comedy giggly-fire.

As always we ask but only a simple $5 cover charge, begin but only at a simple 8pm, and offer but only a simple proximity to good food and cheep drinks.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Convoluted Views about Media Ownership Inhibit Effective Policy

I was recently reviewing the effectiveness of media ownership policies and regulations and was struck by the limited success they have achieved during the past 50 years in Western nations.

There seem to be two central problems with ownership regulation efforts: ownership really is not the issue that we are trying to address through policy and we have convoluted views of ownership.
Media ownership is not really what concerns us, but is a proxy of other concerns. What we are really worried about is interference with democratic processes, manipulation of the flow of news and information, powerful interests controlling public conversation, exclusion of voices from public debate, and the use of market power to mistreat consumers. It is thus the behavior of some of those who own media rather than the ownership form or extent of ownership that really concerns us.

This is compounded because media practitioners, scholars, and social critics have highly convoluted views about ownership and most have complaints about all forms of ownership. It is thus nearly impossible to identify a preferential a form or extent of ownership.
We don’t like private ownership of media because proprietors can use them pursue their private interests; we don’t like corporate ownership because companies can put profit goals ahead of social goals; and we don’t like having just public service media because they doesn’t provide enough choice and are often limited in their ability to pursue political agendas--a function important in democracy.

We don’t like big companies because they can be arrogant and unapproachable and because they can control content as well as markets; we don’t like small companies because they can’t provide the range and quality of content we desire and because they sometimes can’t withstand pressures from powerful interests.
We don’t like foreign owners because they don’t share our identity, don’t represent who we are very well, and can bring foreign influences that affect national sovereignty; we don’t like domestic owners because they can be too close to those with domestic social and political power.

The list of ownership we do not like—and the fact that most regulation is promoted because of particular proprietors we disliked—makes it difficult to fashion effective policies. We are stymied because no ownership form itself is good or bad and they all have advantages and disadvantages. And there are examples of good and bad owners under all the forms of ownership.
Using ownership regulation to control the behavior of bad owners can only somewhat limit the scope and scale of their activities, not address their poor behavior. It is like permitting higher levels of crime in one area of town as long as it does expand into other areas.

If we are to effectively address our real concerns, we need to develop better mechanisms for influencing behaviour and we need to stop ineffectively regulating ownership just because it makes us feel like we are doing something.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Business November 30th 2011, "Sylvan Spectacular!" Edition

Tuesday night, Sylvan Productions has their final open improv show at the Dark Room. Wednesday, they're the guest of honor at The Business, as we say goodbye to our Dark Roommates, and say hello to a new era of SF comedy. If that weren't enough, we've also got comedians Matt Gubser and O.J. Patterson - plus regular Businessmen Sean and Bucky.

Sylvan Productions has done a wildly popular Open Improv show at the Dark Room every Tuesday, which moves to the SUB/Mission starting in December. They also produce a five-hour comedy show every Wednesday at the Dirty Trix Saloon, and this Friday, their Producers Show comes to Dirty Trix as well. Their shows may be heavily improv'ed, but they could hardly be improved.

Matt Gubser is an SF comedian with the hair of a handsomer Jesus Christ and the wit of a sassier Judas Iscariot. He performs at all the finest clubs and showcases in the Bay Area, and he's also a potter, as if that's fair at all. O.J. Patterson is a rising star who recently opened for Hannibal Buress. His blog, Courting Comedy ( is a living document of the local scene and your best source for Holy City Zoo photos.

The show gets started at 8, and admission is still just five bucks. Are you going to be there? The answer is, "Yes, and..."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Business November 23rd 2011, "Thanksgiving Plymouth Rockin' Eve!" Edition

Twas the night before Thanksgiving
And all through the Mission
Everyone came to the Dark Room
Because our show was so bitchin'

It is an All Thanksgivinged Eve to remember at the Dark Room this week, as we welcome a cornucopia of guests to the Business. From Los Angeles, we have Aparna Nancherla and SF native Emily Maya Mills, and from New York City, we have Alameda's own Emily Heller! Holy shit, if the Wampanoag had brought this kind of lineup to the Pilgrims back in 1621, they all would have died of laughter! And probably scurvy or rickets, because medicine was very primitive back then.

Aparna Nancherla is a Washington D.C. native who now entertains Los Angeles with her absurdist wit. She's performed all over the place. including Last Comic Standing, the Bentzen Ball, the Bridgetown Festival, WTF with Marc Maron, and, most importantly, The Business LA. I yam excited to hear her stuff!

Emily Maya Mills - "the Edward James Olmos of comedy" - is an actor, writer and stand-up comic based in Los Angeles, and is regarded by many as "the hottest 65-year-old in the business." She's been seen on Parks and Recreation, Ellen, Conan, Childrens’ Hospital, Key and Peele, Downers Grove and many of television’s weirder commercials. She's one of our favorite comics and favorite people, and we're thankful to have her back.

Emily Heller recently performed as one of Comedy Central's Comics To Watch in New York City, but she's still humble enough to return to her Dark Room roots. She's performed at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, SF Sketchfest... look, you know who Emily Heller is already. In 1621, she would have been known as a "sassy pilgrim," refused to eat turkey, and then probably burned at the stake. But instead, she'll be lighting it up on the stage!

We've also got regular Businessman Sean and Bucky, the gravy to this holiday smorgasbord. Also expect surprise guests, cardboard hand turkeys, pumpkin-based snacks, and one thousand six hundred and twenty-one laughs. $5, no wampum.

The Business November 16th 2011, "Occupy Swan Street" Edition

Whose Dark Room? Our Dark Room! No Alex this week, but The Business has two exciting guest stars this week. We welcome two of our favorite journalists, Rachel Swan and Hiya Swanhuyser, to discuss the Occupy movement, journalism, the Black Bloc, and whether Occupy Oakland is hipper and less gentrified than Occupy SF. 

Rachel Swan is the music editor of the East Bay Express, who made her standup comedy debut at The Business last year. Hiya Swanhuyser is a former culture writer and blogger for the SF Weekly who recently produced the Occupy SF Art & Performance series. They're both in the top 1% of journalists in our book.

Our corporate overlords still demand a capitalist admission fee, but it's only five dollars, dollars that sadly still bear the mark of the Federal Reserve bank. We still offer a bring-your-own-burrito program, in defiance of the authorities, but you might need a gas mask afterward.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Business November 9th 2011, "Double Stuff" Edition

This week The Business welcomes not one, not two, not three, but FOUR special guests, effectively doubling the base number of comics guaranteed by our standard Wednesday fare. Along with our factory installed four Businessmen, you will also receive Ivan Hernandez, Colleen Watson, Mike Recine and Erin Lennox. It's like when Oreo took the work out of assembling two cookies and smartly debuted the now legendary Double Stuff cookie. What kind of laughs will you find in our creamy center this week? Let me pull this sweet baby apart for you...

Ivan Hernandez is self described as "nerd gent comic jerk" That's right, no need for punctuation. When not forcing individual panels of comic books on the internet's population for proper acknowledgment of their radness, Ivan tells jokes all over San Francisco. I think it's his birthday this Wednesday too, so buy him a burrito and wrap it in a page from a Hellboy novella.

Colleen Watson is an idiot, according to her Twitter bio. But we know better. She is also a regular at Rooster T. Feathers, Colleen the SJ Improv, Punchline, Tacoma Comedy Underground and Utah’s Wiseguys. She’s opened for Arj Barker, has been molested by Norm MacDonald, and continues to take the Bay Area by storm with her biting and bitter comedy.
Mike Recine was nominated for Time Out New York’s ‘~Joke of the Year’in 2010 and an ECNY award for ‘~Best Emerging Comic’ . Most recently, he was selected to perform in the ‘~New Faces Showcase’ at the 2011 Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal. Mike works really hard on his jokes and on being likeable. He owns 5 pellet guns and is happy to give you one.

Erin Lennox is a nice girl and a writer / comedian based in Brooklyn, NY. She is originally from Chapel Hill, NC and has been in exactly 3 bar fights. She hosts a weekly show at the People’s Improv Theater called FRESH, which isn’t always. And a monthly variety show called I LIKE YOU TOO with her best friends the Bandana Splits. 

As indicated before, your regular Businessmen Bucky, Chris, Alex and Sean will also be on hand to make sure that all the cookie crumbles correctly. And as always we are burrito and liquid fun adjacent, only five dollars and hecka funny dude forever.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Business November 2nd 2011, "Featuring Anna Seregina and Saurabh Kikani" Edition

We've got a full lineup of regular Businessmen this week, plus two exciting guests - Anna Seregina and Saurabh Kikani!

Ms. Seregina is a talented actress and improviser who recently turned her focus to the world of stand-up comedy. She was born in Moscow, which she credits for her sharp, cynical wit, but also means that if all goes well, she should have very her own theater in Branson, Missouri in twenty years. Also, she works just down the street from at the Beauty Bar, where she tends bar beautifully.

Mr. Kikani visits us from Los Angeles, where he is a regular at the Comedy Store and the world-famous Improv. Also, he has a law degree, so if you don't laugh your ass off, he'll sue your pants off! Just kidding. Please put your pants back on.

All this plus Alex, Bucky, Chris, and Sean, a one-eyed dog, unlimited in-and-out privileges, and Six Hours In A Car, and it's just five bucks! Though for an extra dollar, you can also feel Bucky's biceps. Just kidding. Please do not grope Bucky.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Business October 26th 2011, "Maximum Fun" Edition

The Business returns triumphantly from Los Angeles this week, and welcomes a special guest - comedian and broadcaster Jordan Morris! Jordan is the co-host of's "Jordan, Jesse, Go!" and was an original co-host of "The Sound of Young America." You can also see him on Fuel TV's "The Daily Habit" and at the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles. See the face attached to the voice you love!

We've also got all of your favorite regular Businessmen, making this a veritable "Jordan, Alex, Bucky, Chris, Sean, Go!" event. Tickets are still just five dollars, and we enable, nay, encourage the bringing of one's own burrito.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Terrorists on the Backstretch?

Six New York-based trainers have sued the Department of Homeland Security over its refusal to grant seasonal work visas to backstretch workers. The lawsuit, filed October 7th in Federal Court in Brooklyn, in the court district that includes Belmont and Aqueduct race tracks, claims that the government's refusal to renew the temporary visas means that it will rapidly become impossible for trainers to find enough workers to take care of the horses currently in their barns, much less care for any new arrivals.

The story is mis-reported here in the Daily News. Contrary to what the News says, the lawsuit was not filed by the NY Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (disclosure: I'm a member of the NYTHA Board of Directors), but rather by six individual trainers. The lead plaintiff is Kiaran McLaughlin, and the other five who've joined in the lawsuit are Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott, Mike Hushion, John Kimmel and Bruce Brown (more disclosure: Bruce trains horses for my partnership group, Castle Village Farm). But NYTHA has discussed the issue and is certainly supporting the trainers' position.

For years, hot walkers and grooms from Mexico and other Latin American countries have been routinely approved for so-called H-2B visas. Those visas permit foreign workers to be employed in the US for temporary periods (usually a year or less, but sometimes as long as three years) if (1) the prospective employer can show that there are no US workers able and willing to do the work, and (2) the work is temporary in nature, which includes seasonal work, a one-time or intermittent need for extra workers, or a peak-load need for a defined period.

Nothwithstanding that racetrack work has become virtually year-round, Latino backstretch help has, until the last year, continued to be employed under these temporary visas. Most workers regularly went home to Mexico or elsewhere, reapplied for a new visa, and then came back to the track again.

But recently, la migra, aka the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security, has decided that backstretch workers are not so temporary after all, and are therefore ineligible for the "temporary" H-2B visas. When visa approvals slowed down last year, trainers initially thought that it was just a case of bureaucratic ineptitude, possibly with a bit of terrorism phobia mixed in. But apparently the new government position represents a permanent policy shift. And, with no other readily available option for securing help, the trainers felt they had no option but to go to court.

Why won't a few of the millions of unemployed US citizens and legal residents take the jobs at the track? The pay is a bit above minimum wage, starting at around $300 a week. Not much, but then, as long as you don't have a family with you, you can get free housing in the run-down dorms on the backstretch. (Any day now, once the slot machine money starts rolling in, NYRA will build clean, modern high-rise dorms at Belmont and Saratoga, along the lines that Frank Stronach has built at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows. Meanwhile, even in the New York real estate market, the backstretch dorms aren't exactly luxury apartments.) And, in New York, anyway, you get free medical care, through the BEST Backstretch charity organization (yet more disclosure, I'm also a Director of BEST).

Of course, you have to get up around 4 am or so and be at the barn by 4:30. This is not fun in mid-February, in the cold and the dark. And, if your trainer is well-organized, you might get one day off a week; in return, you sometimes work late on a race day.

And, most important, you have to know what you're doing around a horse. Trainers don't, in general, make enough money to bear the cost of training neophytes. They want workers who know not to stand on the off side of a horse, who know how to pick hooves, put bandages on and tack up the horse. They want hot walkers who can hold onto the shank and keep a 1,200-pound animal under control, and then remember to rake the shedrow so the barn will impress the owners. A lot of it is dull, repetitive work, and there's not much of a career path; few grooms and hotwalkers move on to be assistant trainers or trainers in their own right.

So, more and more, trainers at most US tracks have come to depend on a steady flow of Mexican and other Latino workers, many of whom have grown up with horses, know what they're doing, and will work for long hours and low pay to improve the lot of their families back home. With the change in position by la migra, that employment pipeline is being closed, and the future of racing in New York, which appeared bright for the last few days after the announcement that the Aqueduct racino would open within weeks, is once more under a cloud.

I don't know nearly enough immigration law to have an opinion on the trainers' likelihood of success in the lawsuit, but it does seem to me a tough sell. The track jobs need year-round workers, but if US residents can't or won't do the work, who will? And trainers and horse owners, many of whom are losing money already, just aren't in a position to provide a drastic wage increase.

More on the economics of training and owning in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Business October 12th 2001, "Witty Redux Edition"

This week at the Business we swap out our ever-changing parts for some familiar local faces and a few charming visitors. Chris and Alex are once again cheating on the Business with some dirty fling somewhere, but Bucky and Sean will be on hand to welcome Business favorites Caitlin Gill and Chris Thayer. Plus, after one previous false start, we are happy to have Isaac Witty here at the Dark Room. Also, secret special guests in the works!

As always the Business is just $5 and starts at 8pm. And as always we are close to many burrito and drink options (although few burrito drink options)

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Not Ready for Prime Time?

The powers that be at the New York Racing Association, not to mention nouveau uber-owner Mike Repole, have risen up to protest the Breeders Cup's decision to hold its 2012 edition at Santa Anita. Last Saturday, NYRA returned to the glory days of old with a "Super Saturday" card that included six graded stakes, five of them Grade 1s and the 6th, the Grade 2 Kelso, featuring Repole's local hero, Uncle Mo. Repole, who also had Stay Thirsty running in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, celebrated in the Belmont Room with 50 or 60 of his closest friends.

Compared to the average Saturday at Belmont, the results were more than satisfactory. Attendance, on a day when rain threatened all afternoon and finally arrived late in the day, was a solid, if not overwhelming, 10,481. And all-sources handle was a very healthy $16.7 million.

On the same day, Santa Anita, running its own Breeders Cup preview card, had four Grade 1 stakes in an 11-race card, featuring Bob Baffert's Game On Dude and the filly Blind Luck. On a sunny day in Southern California, Attendance was 16,013, and total handle was $11.7 million.

Santa Anita also bested the Belmont numbers in field size. On the East Coast, only 80 horses ran in the 11 races, an average field of 7.3; for the six graded stakes, the field size was a puny 5.8. On the West Coast, Santa Anita averaged 9.4 horses per race, even with an average of only 7.5 starters in the four stakes races.

A closer look at the figures for handle suggests that the "talent-centric" focus of NYRA -- attract the best horses and they will come, might have trumped the "track-centric" approach of Santa Anita. The latter is surely a more pleasant place to watch the races; even on a sunny day, Belmont is a too-big, rambling plant, with a track that's so big it's hard to see the runners on the backstretch, even with binoculars. And, because Belmont's main track is a mile and a half, hardly any races start in front of the grandstand. Everything up to a mile and an eighth on the main track starts on the backstretch.

But the money certainly flowed for the big races. Each of the five Grade 1 stakes at Belmont took in at least $1.6 million in handle on the various bets keyed to that race. And the Jockey Club Gold Cup drew $2.6 million, including $670,000 for the all-stakes Pick 4. In Santa Anita, in contrast, the per-race handle on the four Grade 1 stakes ranged from $1.1 million to $1.3 million.

But Super Saturday also showed why Belmont may not quite be in shape to deserve the Breeders Cup. As on many big days, the weather was atrocious. Not as bad, perhaps, as the rain-drenched Breeders Cup at Monmouth in 2007, but certainly not a fun day to be out in the fresh air. Field size was reduced by a number of scratches due to weather and track conditions, especially in the stakes races. Belmont, where the grandstand faces north, into the winter wind, has neither heating nor air conditioning. Back in a different era, plans were made to make at least some of the grandstand more weather-friendly, but those plans fell victim to NYRA's then-impending bankruptcy and to reported cronyism or worse in the awarding of contracts. As a result, Belmont is far less fan-friendly than Santa Anita, where one can usually count on the weather to be good, or even Churchill, whose mammoth plant has lots of room inside if the weather turns chilly or wet.

And, despite a relatively recent makeover that walled off the furthest reaches of the grandstand side and slapped some fresh paint around, much of Belmont still reminds one of a bus station in a Rust Belt city. NYRA has done what it could with the money it has, replacing outmoded television screens with up-to-date flat screens, and installing an absolutely terrific infield tote board cum video display. But that's just not enough.

What does Belmont need to qualify as a deserving host for future Breeders Cups? Not much. Start by tearing up the track and replacing it with a mile-and-an-eighth oval, like Churchill and Aqueduct, so more races will start and finish in front of the grandstand. Then tear down the existing grandstand and replace it with something that works for "crowds" of 10,000 in spring and fall but that's expandable for the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders Cup -- and make sure the new plant is weatherized. Oh, and add lights, as Churchill has done, so that, eventually, racing can join the rest of professional sports and stage its championships in the evening, when they might draw a decent television audience.

So, Mike Repole, if you want to see the Cup back at Belmont, all it would take is a few hundred million, give or take a few hundred million. Otherwise, NYRA's pitch for future BCs is reduced to "it's our turn."

Friday, 7 October 2011

Friday October 21st: The Business LA @ Meltdown - LAST BIZ LA OF 2011!

Hey LA!  We've had fun playing in your sandbox this year. However with Santa and the Great Pumpkin and some turkeys coming our wayin the next few months, we won't see you guys again for a while. So our October Business LA show is going to be a big send off for 2011! Bring all your friends and relatives and let's celebrate every holiday at once!

All the regular Businessmen will be in attendance this time around: Bucky and Sean and Chris and Alex will all be on hand, as well as our special guests Brendon Walsh and Beth Stelling! We'll have some special surprises and as always the Medically Transported Mission Style Burrito Raffle will reward some lucky audience member with sketchy goodness.

Tickets are $8 online (no service charge!) and $10 at the door. I think you know what to do.


Monday, 3 October 2011

The Business, October 5th 2011 - "Monday Night Foreplays & Natasha Muse" Edition

The Business opens its doors to the fairer sex this week as we welcome two of our favorite acts: Monday Night ForePlays, and comedian Natasha Muse. The feeling's right, oh what a night!
Monday Night ForePlays is Piano Fight's acclaimed night of female-driven sketch comedy. This month, they're presenting “Don’t Tell Mom the Weekend’s Dead!”, a show that promises to help keep the Saturday spirit alive! How? Through the showcasing of common Saturday night motifs and scenarios; you’ll see bison pan-sexuality, a vinyl-brassiered pop group giving financial advice, gamete on gamete romance in fertilization, and a special appearance from 90’s teen book club favorite, The Babysitter’s Club. If that’s not a recipe for weekend sustainability, we don’t know what is! This Wednesday, enjoy sketches entitled "Dr. Poonberg's Button Glove" and "Say Hello To Your Friends". 
Natasha Muse promises that she is at least the second-funniest transsexual you know, and she's definitely the funniest we know. She has wowed crowds all over the Bay Area, from Cobb's Comedy Club to the world-famous Punch Line, Her sparkling wit and charming stage demeanor made her the 2010 champion of the “Battle of the Bay Comedy Competition." Her podcast is called "Too Soon?" and her talk show is called "A Funny Night For Comedy." She delights her countless Twitter followers as @NatashaMuse, but as you'll learn Wednesday, she's even more delightful in person.

Representing the unfair sex, we've got regular Businessmen Alex, Bucky, Chris, and Sean. Regardless of your gender, admission is just five dollars.

Advance tickets are available at:

Saturday, 24 September 2011

How to Destroy Your Customer Base and Investor Confidence

Netflix used to have a charmed life.

This year, however, poorly thought out strategy and lurching decisions are stripping away many of its advantages and making it vulnerable to competitors.

Established in 1997, its founders saw opportunities in creating an Internet-based DVD-by-mail distribution system. It was designed to be a competitor to physical video stores, making it more attractive by offering a larger selection and using a unique IT driven distribution system that combined distribution centers across the country to serve customers within 24 hours at highly attractive prices.

The DVD-by-mail service became a hit, ultimately devastating the market of physical stores such as Blockbuster. By 2007 it had delivered more than 1 billion DVDs to customers. That same year it launched on-demand video streaming service so customers could also select a video and stream it to a PC (and later other platforms) for immediate viewing. The company allowed viewers a highly popular choice of physical DVDs or streamed video for the same price.

Effective marketing and the enviable distribution system led the company to became the largest video subscription service in the U.S., with 24 million customers

Despite--and because of the investments required for--its growth, the company was losing money on its $10 per month price for the joint service, so it suddenly increased it price to $16 dollars (a 60% increase) in July. That significant price change and the poor way it was introduced to customers—especially in the midst of poor economic times, angered customers and created price resistance that led a least a half million to drop the service.

Then, in September, the firm announced it would spin off its DVD-by-mail service and rebrand it Qwickster, leaving Netflix with the digital streaming business. Customers were furious to learn they would now have to pay separately for both services. By downplaying its DVD-by-mail business, the company hopes to reduce distirbution costs and its costs for content by moving content from a per rental basis to per subscriber basis that is more beneficial for the firm.

Netflix's decisions were not made with a customer focus, but a focus on stemming losses that worried some investors. That strategy is dubious, however, and share prices have fallen from nearly $300 per share in mid-summer to $140 per share.

The lurching changes have also made the company’s position seem vulnerable, leading to new competitors to enter the market. Dish Network, which bought Blockbuster out of bankruptcy, is now using it to introduce a competing DVD-by-mail and digital delivery services at competitive prices and Hula and Amazon are reportedly looking a ways to exploit consumer dissatisfaction.

The entire episode is a classic example of why companies should never take customers for granted and why company decisions need to be driven by creating--rather than subtracting--value for consumers.

Friday, 9 September 2011

How Much Cheating?

Big kerfuffle over at the Paulick Report on the just-released report from the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) on drug test results from 2010. The report says that, of some 324,000-plus samples taken from horses last year, only 47 were found to contain Class 1 or 2 drugs -- those that have been determined to enhance performance and not to have any therapeutic use in horses, or in which the therapeutic effect is outweighed by the performance-enhancing potential.

Most of the commentators at Paulick's site think that the RCI report amounts to a whitewash. To a certain extent they have a point; the report specifically excludes Lasix, which has both therapeutic AND performance-enhancing effects. But the bulk of the criticism seems to be that, well, of course there aren't many positive tests, because the real cheaters are using brand-new designer drugs that can't even be tested for.It's a clever bit of logic; if you can't find the drug in the lab, that just proves that it's there.

I'm not a scientist. Don't even play one on TV. And I had enough trouble understanding all the scientific arguments at last June's "Summit" at Belmont, discussed here. But the extraordinarily low number of positive tests does seem to me to reinforce the impression that I get hanging out on the backstretch of NYRA tracks; most horsemen are serious about their craft and honest, following the rules as best they can. If Lasix is legal, why not use it, as it's clear that it helps a lot of horses run faster. By the way, kudos to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who, with the support of his Darley and Shadwell owners, is trying to go without Lasix for his new two-year-olds. Kiaran's giving up a powerful weapon, but he might gain some valuable knowledge if Lasix is eventually banned.

The state-by-state results in the RCI study are interesting. New York accounted for 15% of all the tests, but many fewer positives, with a positive-test score of only 0.011 percent. For the US as a whole, the rate was 0.49%. Only New Jersey had a lower positive rate than New York, with 0.08%.

At the other end of the spectrum, the positive rate in Minnesota was 3.26% and in Arizona it was 2.54%. Other states with more than  1% of tests returning positives were Colorado, Montana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota (a stunning 7%, but a very small sample size), Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Among the other major racing jurisdictions, California reported a positive rate of 0.25%, and Florida was at 0.84%. Kentucky appears to test far fewer horses than either New York or California, and reported that its rate for drug positives exceeded the national average at 0.75%. No surprise there for those who heed the rumors. Kentucky didn't even order a test of Life at Ten after last year's Breeders Cup debacle.

The RCI report doesn't name names and doesn't really address the problem of getting serious with those few trainers who do break the rules. At last report, Dick Dutrow and Patrick Biancone are still racing in New York. A simple, nationwide "three strikes and you're out" policy for Class 1 and 2 drug violations would be a really good idea.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Business August 17th 2011, "I Feel Witty" Edition

Jesse Elias and Issac Witty join The Business this Wednesday, which will most likely cause a pulsing force-field of quirky and awkward delivery styles to envelop the entire theater. That means it will be very very funny night.

The Business is excited to welcome Issac Witty's unique and hilarious comedy style, which has been featured on the Late Show with David Letterman, A Prairie Home Companion, Comedy Central, and Bob and Tom radio show just to name a few. His CD "Zero Balance" was released last year on the Rooftop Comedy label. There is much to be said of his delivery, which feels both classic and completely left field at the same time. All in all, Issac Witty is very...Issac Witty. You'll see what I mean.

Jesse Elias is probably too smart for his own good, but obviously not smart enough to stay away from a career in stand-up comedy, and audiences all over the Bay Area are all the better for that oversight.

A recent winner of the not-even-close-to-prestigi​ ous Twisted Biscuit competition, Jesse made a smashing debut at the Punch Line comedy club recently, and is following up with his premier here at the Dark Room.

As always we start at a very 8pm, we cost a very $5 and have a very good burrito radius around the theater. Be very here.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Business August 10th 2011, "One In, One Out" Edition

This week at the Business is about hellos and goodbyes as we welcome Phoebe Robinson FROM New York, and send-off Emily Heller TO New York.

We say hello to Cleveland-native Phoebe Robinson who is in town from New York, where she performs at clubs like Carolines, New York Comedy Club and runs her own show as well. Recently, she was a finalist in NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity competition and co-created and co-hosts a weekly podcast Shelarious.

We say "Goodbye Heller Brick Road" to Emily Heller, a Business favorite who needs little introduction but deserves a grand send off. She performs all over the Bay Area, produces the popular Girl Talk show at the SF Punch Line and hosted the podcast Slumming It (well, up until last week) We are happy to have Emily for one of her last SF performances before heading east.

The regular Businessmen Chris, Sean, Alex and Bucky will all be on hand to make sure all this transitioning runs smoothly and stays hilarious. Burritos and refreshments are available adjacent to the theater and are not subject to agricultural inspection of any kind.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Business LA Edition - Hot August Night (Singular)

UPDATE: King Of Tweets, ROB DELANEY will join the Business at Meltdown August 26th!

Listen up LA.

Carmageddon couldn't stop us.

The Electric Daisy Carnival couldn't stop us.

You think Gwyneth Paltrow can stop us?


July has been defeated and we're charging into August like a pair of wind-swept bangs at a Neil Diamond concert. And I'm mixing metaphors for one simple reason: YOU DON"T WANT TO MISS THIS ONE!

Chris, Alex and Sean Proudly return to The Nerdist Theater @ Meltdown Comics Friday August 26th to bring you the comedy sweeter than Caroline herself.

Bucky is away that night, but we've got Special Guests Kyle Kinane and Matt Knudsen! More guests to come! Plus the raffling off of the sacred Burrito From Above (Bakersfield) returns and heaven knows what else!

Tickets are $8 if you get them online, and $10 at the door. You know what to do.​webstore/index.php?main_pa​ge=index&cPath=6

"...San Francisco does have a comedy scene—it’s just a little weirder, a lot less commercial, and often much funnier than what you’ll find elsewhere, and the Business, held every Wednesday night inside the Mission’s Darkroom theater, is at its rumbling epicenter. Founded in 2009 by local comedians Sean Keane, Alex Koll, Chris Garcia, and Bucky Sinister, the Business has become the place to see edgy, often pee-in-your-pants-funny stand-up."

-San Francisco Magazine

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Business August 3rd 2011, "Lest Ye Be Erin Judge" Edition

This week the Business regains it steadfast foundation of all four Businessmen Chris, Alex, Bucky and Sean while welcoming Comedian Erin Judge all the way from Brooklyn, New York. Erin Judge describes herself as "a comedian, writer, and caffeine enthusiast" who has been featured on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham and praised by Vanity Fair and Time Out New York. She is in town for the very funny Girl Talk show at the SF Punch Line (run by friends of the Biz Emily Heller and Janine Brito) and we are lucky enough to snag her here for a night at The Dark Room.

As you may know the show is but a mere $5, starts at a mere 8pm and is located a mere street-widths away from fine burritos and tallboys.

FCC Moves to Give Viewers Choice and Provide More Competition on Cable Systems

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has adopted rules designed to halt cable system operators from retaliating against independent channels when there are business disputes or discriminating against them in favor of ones in which they ownership stakes.

The rules are intended to ensure that the monopoly power of cable operators is not used to deny viewer choice or harm competition channel providers.

One rule is designed to prohibit systems from dropping channels when there are business disputes with systems that have been taken to the commission for resolution.

Another rule is designed to create a more level playing field for independent channels by making it possible for them to reach more viewers. Comcast Corp., for example, has been accused in recent years of forcing competitors’ sports channels into premium packages that fewer viewers select.

Given that price rises for cable services have far outstripped inflation rates in recent years, that service providers create bundles of channels that primarily serve their benefits rather customers, and that consumers continually express dissatisfaction with choices, prices, and customer service provided, it is not surprising that the commission decided to act to slightly limit the power of the major players.

The big cable players are livid about the rules, of course, and can be expected to be highly active in the next regulatory stage seeking comments on how to implement the rules.

At this point they and they supporters are complaining that keeping channels on the air while dispute resolution is underway is somehow unfair to them. The system operators, of course, refuse to recognize how it is particularly unfair to customers who have no way to influence the decision.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

What Legacy Media Can Learn from Eastman Kodak

What do you do when your industry is changing? What do you do when your innovations are fueling the changes? Those problems have plagued Eastman Kodak Co. for three decades and the company’s experience provides some lessons for those running legacy media businesses.

Eastman Kodak’s success began when it introduced the first effective camera for non-professionals in the late 19th century and in continual improvements to cameras and black and white and color films throughout the twentieth century. Its products became iconic global brands.

The company’s maintained its position through enviable research and development activities, which in 1975 created the first digital camera. Since that time it has amassed more than 1,100 patents involving electronic sensing, digital imaging, electronic photo processing, and digital printing. These developments, however, continually created innovations damaging to its core film-based business.

Digital photography created a strategic dilemma for the company. It could move into digital photography and destroy the highly profitable film-based business or it could exploit the film-based business while it slowly declined and then--when it was no longer profitable--try to leap out of the business into digital world. It was an ugly choice and the company chose the latter.

Today, the company has just 15% of the employees it once had and its stock prices are about 15% of what they were before it finally stripped out its production capacity and distribution systems. An enduring benefit of its research and development activities is that the company now owns patents on much of the underlying technology used in all digital cameras including those in mobile phones. It is building a new digital revenue stream on licenses and infringement payments for use of those technologies. Those alone now account for 10% of its turnover.

Eastman Kodak’s situation is not unlike that of legacy media firms, especially those in print, whose uses of digital technologies two decades before the arrival Internet and whose experiments with teletext and other telecommunication based information distribution systems foreshadowed the arrival of the Internet.

Today, newspapers and magazines—and increasingly broadcasters—are faced with dilemma of whether to keep exploiting their base legacy product or to dump the old business and jump fully into digital. It is as ugly a choice as that faced by Eastman Kodak in the 1980s and 1990s. So, what lessons can be learned from its experience?

1)      Don’t try to fight change

You may not like its direction and may understand how it will affect your current business, but you will not be able to stop its momentum and trajectory if it is beneficial to many customers. In such conditions you can only protect your existing product by making it as productive and competitive as possible, by adjusting its strategies to better serve those who are most loyal and resist change, and by carefully monitoring the pace of change and the investments you make in the existing product. Simultaneously, existing companies that want to benefit from the change need to be creating new products for the new markets and allow them to develop and mature with the pace of change even though they may be compounding the challenges in the pre-existing product.

2)      Don’t wait too long to change

Waiting to move into new markets with new products gives upstart companies and other competitors opportunities to become players with better products and larger market shares once you decide to enter. Although there are sometimes reasons not to be first movers, you should not wait too long because it is very difficult and expensive to enter and become a major player once a new market moves into its maturation phase.

3)      Be willing to sacrifice some short-term profit for long-term gain and sustainability

Careful strategic consideration must be given profits during transitional periods and managers needs to make the strategy clear to the company and its investors. It may be desirable to boost research and development costs even though there is no guarantee they may produce results; it may be necessary to harm the profits of the existing product by building up its replacement and cannibalizing some of its market; it may be appropriate to make investments in the new product that may not pay off in the short-term. Whatever the strategy, it should be the result of clear and deliberate choices and managers need to ensure that investors and entire company understand the reasons for it.

4)      Own the rights to technologies and services your competitors will employ

Use your R&D efforts and make strategic acquisitions to acquire the technologies and services that competitors will need to employ in the new market so they must turn to you and share the benefits of their growth. Unfortunately, few legacy media companies invested in research and development to early exploit opportunities in digital media by creating the underlying hardware and software for content control and distribution online and in phones, tablets, and computers. Thus, they own few intellectual property rights other than trademarks to their legacy media names and most are not benefiting as Eastman Kodak from patents being used by those eroding the business base. However, the new products still need content products and content management services that legacy media have long produced and companies need to be open to cooperating with the new competitors rather than giving them incentives to go elsewhere or to develop their own content capabilities.

These are turbulent times for legacy media and they require making choices and positioning firms for the future. It is no time for timidity or keeping on with business as usual.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Business July 13th 2011, "More Scott Than Sean" Edition

This week The Business sheds a Sean and gains a Scott. With Kean off doing an honest fifteen minute's work for an honest fifteen minute's pay, The Business welcomes Scott Capurro to it's stage!

San Francisco favorite Scott Capurro has appeared on television, movies and stages worldwide, and occasionally performs encores in the nightmares of audience members long after the show. His act is not for the timid or frankly the stupid, and we are lucky and excited to have him on the show. This quote sums up nicely:

“Yet accept the ferocious, corrosive material in the provocative spirit it’s intended, and it is brilliantly, shockingly funny. So far beyond the pale that the only reaction IS to laugh, partly out of discomfort, partly out of the sheer audacity of it all.” - Chortle

Bucky, Chris and Alex will also be around, but don't expect any hand holding. Your a big audience and you can take it.

Remember: don't let the grey days of Summer get you down. Let the burritos of The Mission warm your belly like sunshine and the comedy at The Business warm your brain like...more sunshine.