Newsletter: California Inc.: Want some gourmet food? There’s an app for that

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, and here’s a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Stocks rebounded Friday thanks to higher oil prices. But investors are still shaking off two days of testimony by Fed chief Janet Yellen. She sent a shiver through markets by suggesting that further rate hikes aren’t set in stone — an indication to some that the Fed is more worried than it lets on about the state of the economy.



TV boxes: The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote Thursday to give consumers alternatives to the TV set-top box. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants to create new technology standards to let third-party companies make devices that consumers could buy instead of renting one from their pay-TV provider. The FCC wants the boxes to integrate other services such as Internet streaming. Americans spend an estimated $20 billion a year renting set-top boxes from cable and satellite companies.

Suit settlement: Representatives of ride-sharing company Lyft will be in federal court in San Francisco, where a judge on Thursday will hear its motion for settlement of a lawsuit accusing it of misclassifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Lyft has agreed to pay $12.25 million to settle the class-action lawsuit filed in 2013. The settlement would provide payments to an estimated 100,000 California Lyft drivers if approved by the judge.

Software development: Troubled Internet company Yahoo will hold its third Mobile Developer Conference on Thursday in San Francisco. Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer will be the lead speaker at the event, aimed at helping software developers produce apps for cellphones and tablets. Part of the conference will focus on how developers can use Tumblr, the blogging platform Yahoo bought in 2013, as a marketing tool.

Drone registration: If you owned a drone prior to Dec. 21, Friday is the deadline to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration under new rules established last year. People who bought a drone since Dec. 21 must register before its first outdoor flight. Registration costs $5 and must be renewed every three years. The FAA hopes the requirement will make it easier to identify owners and educate amateur aviators following near-collisions with planes and helicopters.


Freeway closed: Stay away from the 91 Freeway in Corona this coming weekend. Transportation officials will close a six-mile stretch of the notoriously congested freeway for the entire weekend as part of a $1.4-billion widening project. All lanes in both directions will be closed between the 71 Freeway and Interstate 15 from 9 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Monday. The work is part of construction that began in early 2014, with new lanes expected to open by 2017.


Monday’s Business section looks at how the on-demand economy is increasingly taking aim at what we put on our dining tables — and expanding the menu in the process. Though delivery is certainly not a new phenomenon, analysts say consumers have been empowered by the ease of ordering from an app and have grown accustomed to purchasing goods online. Not surprisingly, funding has poured into the space as hungry investors chase the high valuations that have characterized other on-demand stalwarts such as Uber and Airbnb.


Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:

BFFs: Viacom and Snapchat became instant friends last summer when they paired up on MTV’s Video Music Awards: 5 million people tuned into MTV to watch the show on cable television; 12 million watched highlights on the social media app. In a partnership announced last week, Viacom said it now will lend its advertising relationships and large portfolio of TV shows to Snapchat as the two try to shake off questions about their respective financial futures. Fun fact: Privately held Snapchat is valued at $16 billion — more than Viacom’s $13-billion market capitalization — but the Venice company has yet to make any money.

Sunny skies: JetBlue Airways is planting roots in Silicon Valley to develop new technology for travelers and workers in the travel industry. The New York-based airline announced plans to launch a venture capital subsidiary in Redwood City to invest in, support and partner with start-ups developing new technology for the airline and hospitality industries. “The work being done today in the start-up community will define travel for years to come,” said Bonny Simi, president of the new company, dubbed JetBlue Technology Ventures. JetBlue claims the company is the first venture capital subsidiary established in Silicon Valley by a U.S. carrier, but it did not disclose its investment.

#Ouch: In less than a year, Twitter has lost its chief executive, replaced him with one still running another company, introduced new features that generated as much excitement as a golf clap, lost five more executives and inspired the antemortem #RIPTwitter. Things weren’t helped last week when the microblogging company released arguably its most crucial quarterly earnings report to date and reported the one thing Wall Street didn’t want to hear: user growth flatlined. Twitter had 320 million monthly active users the final three months of 2015, unchanged from third quarter. Predictably, its stock tanked.


A job for Superman: Warner Bros. — and all of Time Warner Inc. — is hoping the caped crusaders will banish the studio’s box office blues. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” arrives in theaters in late March, and Warner Bros. desperately needs some heroes. The woes of Hollywood’s largest movie and TV studio put a drag on the financial results of parent Time Warner during last year’s final quarter. Warner Bros. suffered through a string of misses in the October-December period, including “Pan” and “Our Brand Is Crisis.” The Burbank studio brought in $510 million less revenue than the year-earlier period.

That’s no moon: The force is strong with Disney. The blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was largely responsible for Walt Disney Co.'s record profit for the first fiscal quarter, but Disney executives also credited the space opera for the record attendance at the company’s domestic parks. The Burbank media giant reported net income of $2.88 billion in the quarter that ended Jan. 2. That was a 32% jump compared with the same period a year earlier. The rosy financial report was supported by a 10% increase in attendance at domestic parks and a 7% rise in per-capita spending on food, drinks, admission and merchandise.


And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

That popping feeling: A top L.A. tech guru thinks the bubble’s about to burst, reports LA Weekly. “I’m telling you what my intuition is from the conversations I’ve had,” says Mark Suster. “I want to say to entrepreneurs, ‘If you knew the meetings I was in, you would be cutting costs right now.’”

Redstone redux: The New York Times if the latest to take a crack at the sad saga of media mogul Sumner Redstone. “The annals of business are studded with messy succession struggles and late-in-life romantic entanglements, especially in family-controlled companies coping with an aged entrepreneur like Mr. Redstone,” it says.

Hola, Bandito: As is well known, the future of newspapers is online. If only we could make some money there as well. The Wall Street Journal looks at a new online tool introduced by the Washington Post called “Bandito.” It will “automatically optimize articles … for maximum readership.” Problem solved.

Yelp for finances: Inc. unfolds NerdWallet, which it calls “the $520-million company that’s solving all your financial needs.” Or, as NerdWallet employees like to put it, “Yelp for finances.” Even so, company founder Tim Chen has his work cut out for him.


Sour note: The New Yorker asks if streaming music will kill songwriting. “When a song is streamed on an Internet radio site — Pandora is by far the largest — the holders of publishing copyrights receive a thousandth of a cent per stream,” it notes.


The music industry is no stranger to upheaval. Pop quiz: What was the very first video shown on MTV? That would be this one from the Buggles.

For the latest money news, go to Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.

Get our weekly California Inc. newsletter