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Amazon Jumps Into 3D Printing Game With On-Demand Store

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Amazon3DprintstoreAmazon has always been an on-demand marketplace of sorts; it can ship virtually anything in two days. But now, the online retail giant is taking “on demand” to a new level with its first 3D printing product marketplace.

As its name suggests, the 3D Printing Store is a place where you can select and customize products that are then 3D printed and delivered to you. The store, which launched on Monday, features dozens of items, including jewelry and trinkets, iPhone cases, bobblehead dolls (even ones that, with a little customization, can look like you), home decor and accessories, toys and art pieces. While most of these objects cost less than $40, the jewelry often retails for $100 or more.

Let us be clear: Amazon is not actually 3D printing anything. Instead, it partnered with a handful of 3D printing pros to bring this shop to life, including Sculpteo, MixeeLabs and 3DLT. It’s actually those companies’ 3D products and services that Amazon is selling.

In addition to the traditional product photos, the site includes a 3D image of each object that you can click and drag to rotate. It’s not without flaws, of course; all 3D renderings are in grayscale, and the rotation is rather jerky. You also can’t even zoom in for a better look at any of the 3D printed ware.

If the 3D printing companies offer customizable 3D designs, then Amazon’s customers can customize their 3D tchotchkes, too — like a 3D wallet from MixeeLabs that lets you add custom text, change the color and alter a couple of design elements. The customization option is indicated with an orange “Personalize Now” button.

Jerry Seinfeld Alludes to Netflix Agreement for ‘Seinfeld’

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seinfeld460x276The Internet was all in a tizzy last week over a pressing issue of home entertainment. Will you soon be able to binge-watch “Seinfeld” episodes on Netflix?

To paraphrase an infamous line from the hit sitcom, the prospect of “Seinfeld” on demand is real and it’s spectacular, Bloomberg Businessweek reports today. On July 24, Jerry Seinfeld, the star of the eponymous sitcom, suggested as much during a live Q&A on Reddit.

“Jerry, any word on ‘Seinfeld’ coming to Netflix?” asked a fan. “There are so many people who still have not experienced ‘Seinfeld’ firsthand, and having it available through Netflix will surely be the easiest way.”

“You are a very smart and progressive person,” Seinfeld replied. “These conversations are presently taking place.‘‘

Since the sitcom’s disappointing finale first aired on NBC in 1998, ‘‘Seinfeld’’ has enjoyed a robust second (and third, and fourth) life in reruns across the broadcast and cable TV landscape.

Along the way, the series, which was produced by a unit of Time Warner Inc. and is distributed by Sony Pictures Television, has racked up more than $3 billion worth of revenue from the series, making it one of the most valuable TV franchises in history. But despite “Seinfeld‘s” seeming ubiquity, all nine seasons of the show have never been available on demand for streaming viewers.

Dollar Tree Buying Rival Family Dollar For Just $8.5 Billion

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dollar+treeDollar Tree is buying its larger rival Family Dollar in a cash and stock deal valued at about $8.5 billion. “This acquisition will extend our reach to lower-income customers and strengthen and diversify our store footprint,” Dollar Tree CEO Bob Sasser said in a statement.

Discount chains have been struggling to boost sales as Walmart and other retailers invaded their space by offering more items for a buck or less to lure more low-income consumers.

Family Dollar, in particular, has struggled to remain competitive among the deep discounters. Earlier this year, the company slashed prices and announced it would close 370 stores, in an effort compete with rivals like Dollar General and Walmart, which is diversifying its own retail strategy by building smaller stores that target a different audience that the giant mega-stores.

Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine abandoned the strategy the company had been using: discounting only certain items, while others remained at full price, and embraced the “everyday low price” strategy favored by Walmart and other rivals. But the strategy failed. Cost increases more than canceled out the revenue boost from the steep price cuts. Family Dollar recently reported a 6.1% sales decline during its second quarter.

With its focus on the lowest end consumers, Family Dollar has borne the brunt of what many still maintain is an economic recovery that has ignored lower income households.

And There’s Still Nashville’s Dollar Tree (Goodlettsville, TN)

Those weak results made Family Dollar the weakest of the Big Three dollar stores. Dollar Tree, with its focus on slightly higher-end customers than Family Dollar and stores in more suburban areas saw net sales grow 7.2% for the quarter ending May 4th. Same-store-sales and average transaction size also improved for Dollar Tree. Dollar General, which had been thought to be the most likely purchaser of Family Dollar, just posted its 25th straight quarter of improving traffic and overall sales growth of 7%.

The relatively weak results led Family Dollar’s stock to badly lag the other players in the industry. Prior to takeover chatter picking up last month, FDO shares were down more than 15% compared to slight gains for Dollar Tree and Dollar General.

The New Landscape for discounters
Post-merger Family Dollar and Dollar Tree will be better positioned to compete with Dollar General but the 800 pound gorilla is still Walmart.

The new combined company will have more than 13,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and more than $18 billion in sales. That will give the chain some leverage with suppliers but nothing like what Walmart is able to command with its 11,000 stores that average roughly 10x the size of a Family Dollar.

The merger doesn’t impact Walmart quite as directly as you would think. Together, the new company and Dollar General add up to only 15% of Walmart’s U.S. revenue. It is hard to move the needle when you go up against a company like Walmart with more than $260 billion in annual sales and 1.3 million employees in the U.S. alone.

That said, Walmart has been having a tough time in the U.S. market. In May, it reported its fifth straight quarter of negative sales. Just last week, it announced that the CEO of its U.S. division Bill Simon will step down and be replaced by Walmart’s head of Asia, Greg Foran.

Walmart has recently announced plans to accelerate its roll-out of Walmart Neighborhood Market as well as its even smaller Walmart Express operations. Walmart doesn’t have a choice but to expand smaller footprint stores. Its Neighborhood Markets are growing sales at stores that have been open more than a year at a greater than 4% rate, a rare bright light with the larger-box Super Stores struggling to stay flat.

None of which addresses Target which has CityTarget stores of 80,000 feet in urban areas and last week announced a TargetExpress prototype that will be the same 20,000 foot size as the dollar stores.

The Big Winner: Carl Icahn
However, the Dollar Tree/Family Dollar combo will turn up the heat on Dollar General which was activist investor Carl Icahn’s first choice for a merger partner. Icahn, who owns a 9.4% stake in Family Dollar, has been pressuring Family Dollar to put itself up for sale. Icahn’s stated choice to pair Dollar General and Family Dollar was stymied by the retirement of Dollar General’s long-time CEO but as this deal proves yet again, it’s a mistake to underestimate Icahn’s ability to get things done.

And Icahn still comes away a winner. Based on SEC filings, Icahn will likely make $180-million dollars from the deal assuming he retained the stake he announced in late May. Not a bad haul for less than 4 months of work.

Netflix Bolsters Offerings in Documentary Genre

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Virunga
Netflix is picking up exclusive rights to the documentary “Virunga” as part of a broader push by the company to include more cause-related documentaries in its growing original programming lineup.

The film, about the battle to protect a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, will make its debut on Netflix this year. It follows a team of park rangers at Virunga National Park that includes a former child soldier, a caretaker for orphan gorillas and a Belgian conservationist. The group fights to save the Unesco world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and others as a rebellion breaks out across the country.

“Virunga” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, where it was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature prize.

Netflix is pouring $3 billion into content this year and is steadily expanding its roster of original programing to lure subscribers. At the same time, Netflix is charting an international expansion as its streaming business in the United States matures.

While the company has received much attention for its scripted programs, including “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” it has also picked up a series of documentaries. Those include “Mitt,” about Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations, and “The Square,” about the Egyptian revolution.

The documentary push at Netflix comes as a range of outlets, including Time Warner’s CNN and Amazon, also increase their offerings in the category.

Netflix does not release specific audience figures, but executives said the documentaries generated “good sized” audiences, leading the company to seek out more of the genre.

Of particular interest are cause-related documentaries with messages that will resonate globally, said Lisa Nishimura, vice president of original documentary and comedy programming at Netflix.

In addition to “Virunga,” Netflix has picked up “E-Team,” about human rights workers, and “Mission Blue,” about the oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Terms of the deals were not disclosed.

“We are really free from the constraints that other platforms have,” Ms. Nishimura said. “How many people in the world really get to go to Sundance?”

Filmmakers say part of Netflix’s appeal is that it promotes the stories to its base of more than 50 million global members all at once. (Traditional distribution models generally require that filmmakers strike deals market by market and place huge emphasis on exclusive festivals and opening weekends.)

Instant global distribution is important to filmmakers with an urgent message, said Joanna Natasegara, the producer of “Virunga.” In addition, the titles will be available on the service in perpetuity, allowing audiences to grow over time.

“I can be talking about this film for the next couple of years, and boom, there it is,” said Fisher Stevens, director of “Mission Blue.” “It is just getting more and more subscribers and more and more eyes on it every day.”

Boyhood – a movie shot over 12 years

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The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18. Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater.

Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay’s Yellow to Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue. BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting.

Bose Files Lawsuit Against Apple’s Beats Over Noise Canceling Tech

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beatsBose Corporation filed the complaint against Beats Electronics, LLC and Beats Electronics International Limited in a Delaware court, asserting that Beats has infringed on Bose’s “valuable patented technology for noise cancelling headphones.” The lawsuit is joined by a complaint that has been filed with the International Trade Commission seeking an injunction.

Specifically, Bose accuses the Beats “Studio” and “Studio Wireless,” which are advertised to feature “Adaptive Noise Cancellation,” of infringing on its patents. Bose asserts to the court that “Beats knows or is willfully blind to the fact that” its products are infringing on its patents.

In the complaint, Bose states that the company pioneered the technology behind active noise reduction, which reduces unwanted noise by introducing a second sound source that interferes with it. Headphones featuring active noise reduction usually rely on a microphone to reduce background noise.

Bose has been selling its “QuietComfort” branded headphones with this technology since 2000. For the latest “QuietComfort 20″ headphones, Bose says they are protected by U.S. Patent Nos. 6,717,537; 8,073,150; 8,073,151; 8,054,992; and 8,345,888. They are titled:

’537: “Method and Apparatus for Minimizing Latency in Digital Signal Processing Systems”
’150: “Dynamically Configurable ANR Signal Processing Topology”
’151: “Dynamically Configurable ANR Filter Block Technology”
’992: “High Frequency Compensating”
’888: “Digital High Frequency Phase Compensation”

If the lawsuit drags out, it could last until Beats officially becomes a part of Apple, which would make the lawsuit targeting Apple’s bottom line. Bose is seeking damages in the suit of an unspecified amount.

Apple announced in May that it will buy Beats Electronics, which makes premium headphones, as well as the Beats Audio on-demand music streaming service for a combined $3 billion. As part of the deal, company co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will become employees of Apple.

Apple expects the deal to close in its fiscal 4th quarter, which concludes in September, pending regulatory approval. To view the full complaint from Bose click HERE.

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