Friday, January 20, 2006

If You Haven't Yet...

...then start watching the new Battlestar Galactica. I think you can get this dress at Wal-Mart....

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Always Low Health Care Prices

Last week the Maryland legislature passed a law requiring employers with 10,000 or more employees to spend at least 8% of their payroll on employee health care benefits, or contribute the difference into the state’s Medicaid fund. The bill applies to only one company, Wal-Mart.

This was a clear victory for the promoters of the bill, primarily unions and Wal-Mart Watch. I debated Tracy Sefl of Wal-Mart Watch a couple of times last winter, and she and her organization are nothing if not organized.

The bill does raise an interesting question.

If Wal-Mart, who by its size was the clear and only target of this bill, is forced to pay into a state Medicaid fund, shouldn’t they have some say in how those funds are spent? Might that be a good thing?

No one has ever accused Wal-Mart of being inefficient or having high costs. Most state Medicaid plans are famously guilty on both these points. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to apply Wal-Mart’s vendor negotiation skills and buying power to health care?

I recently had a routine stress test from a cardiologist. 1,200 bucks. If Wal-Mart were negotiating that fee, I bet I would pay half that. Imagine Wal-Mart calling Maryland radiologists to Bentonville, and telling them that if they don’t lower their fees they’ll have all that imaging business routed over the internet to North Carolina, where doctors will read them cheaper. Do you think the Maryland radiologists would cut their fees? You bet they would.

This would not be practical in all areas of medicine, i.e. emergency patients can’t be sent somewhere else. But diagnostic procedures can, and are, a great place to start.

I wonder how pharmaceutical companies would feel about having Wal-Mart negotiate their contracts? Ouch.

What’s done is done. The Maryland bill is law. But Maryland might be advised to take a look at Wal-Mart in a different light as regards health care. Don’t look at them as a money trough. Look at Wal-Mart strengths, and use them as a resource.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Is Lee Scott The Most Powerful Man In Hollywood?

Musings from yours truly in last week's HuffPo:

It was widely reported last year that Robert Greenwald’s decision to self-finance part of his Wal-Mart movie was prompted in part by the defection of two film industry investors fearful of retribution from Wal-Mart.

Does Wal-Mart carry that much power in the entertainment industry? Yes. Do they use this influence to squelch dissent? Let’s see.

The sale of DVD’s is currently the engine driving the filmed entertainment industry. According to Variety, Pixar’s The Incredibles generated $355 million in home video sales, a figure 35% higher than its theatrical gross. In many instances, theatrical releases serve as little more than trailers for the DVD, which is where the real money is.

It is well-known that Wal-Mart is responsible for between 40-45% of all DVD sales in the U.S. 138 million people pass through their 3,300 stores every week, generating wide exposure and sales for DVDs. Jeffrey Katzenberg makes frequent trips to Bentonville to put on the blue vest and ply his wares. That’s how important they are.

So who makes the decision on what films Wal-Mart carries? In large part, Time Warner Home Video.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, Time Warner Home Video has served as “captain” of the video department for Wal-Mart for several years, providing sales data and DVD buying recommendations to the company, basically rack-jobbing the DVD department. This is not an unusual arrangement. According to Videobusiness magazine, 20th Century Fox Home Video provides the same “captain” services to Target, the #2 retail outlet for DVDs, and may take over that role for Wal-Mart.

Videobusiness states “execs say the role of captain is coveted because it allows the studio to have influence on the strategic direction and growth of the entire industry.”

This is not to say Wal-Mart does not make decisions regarding specific titles. Wal-Mart, or its captain, chose not to carry Mr. Greenwald’s anti-Wal-Mart film, although they offer over 20 of Mr. Greenwald’s other films on their website.

But surely my pro-Wal-Mart film “Why Wal-Mart Works” would be a shoo-in for the Wal-Mart shelves, right? Wrong. They’re not carrying that either.

So should filmmakers fear that by creating or backing certain content, they risk their chances of being carried at Wal-Mart?

Ask Time Warner.