2006 Review of Business Innovation, Digital Media and Trends

Will Paris Hilton's new cosmetics line survive her bad girl image? Will the Zune be a threat to the iPod? These were just a few of this year's business questions to be answered. Here we review ten business innovations, digital media products, and trends from 2006.

Looking back on Fast Company's staff blog, some of the year's most interesting companies, products, and people have been written about, for better or worse, and sometimes more than once.

Philanthropy is in, lawsuits are flying, Google and Apple are on top of the world, and Wal-Mart — being Wal-Mart  — is left searching for new ways to withstand a firestorm of criticism.

Here are some highlights and updates.

Steve Jobs

Early in the year, the Apple CEO and tech guru made a surprise appearance on stage at Apple's annual conference and rattled off some impressive numbers (a record $5.7 billion in Q4 revenue, Apple's 83 percent market share of legal music downloads, 14 million iPods sold in the holiday quarter). Then Jobs, affectionately referred to as the Mick Jagger of computers by a FC Now commenter, revealed Apple's latest software, hardware and upcoming partnership with Intel.

Jobs must be pretty happy with how the rest of the year turned out. Apple endured the launch of Zune with no chagrin to the iPod and saw its MacBook Pro praised both for its power and innovation. Wall Street has been good to Apple as well; the company's stock hit an all-time high in November.

Google

The year started with a rough few weeks for the boys in Mountain View. Amid federal subpoenas and mounting criticism of Google's actions in China, the company's shares dropped 20 percent after it fourth quarter results feel short of analysts' expectations.

But the Internet giant bounced back, launching an array of tools for consumers and businesses, including Google Ad Sharing, Google Finance, Gmail mobile, and Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Then the company bought the video-sharing website, YouTube, for $1.65 billion and its stock rebounded to an all-time high in November.

Jeff Skilling

While Skilling's multimillion dollar defense team was trying to portray the former Enron chief as a clueless victim to the underhanded dealings of his CFO, FC blogger, Chuck Salter, recalled an interview he had with Skilling in 2001. Skilling had come across as a CEO that enjoyed digging for details and knew everything going on at his company. "I'm the chief sheepherder," Skilling said of himself.

In May, Skilling was found guilty on 19 counts, from fraud to conspiracy, and sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in federal prison. He entered Waseca Correctional on Dec. 13.

Clinton Global Initiative

At Clinton's high profile fundraiser, philanthropists pledged money to solving problems such as poverty, ethnic conflict and climate change. Billionaire Richard Branson announced that he will invest a decade of profits from two of his Virgin Group companies — an estimated $3 billion —to renewable energy research.

Green energy initiatives have continued to make headlines in politics and business. Even the conservative media kingpin, Rupert Murdoch, announced that he plans to make News Corp. carbon neutral. It has also been reported that Branson is driving around in a Saab 9-5 that runs on bioethanol.

YouTube

In October, Google agreed to pay $1.65 billion in stock for the user-generated media site, YouTube.

Despite efforts to pull copyrighted videos off the site, Google has met with a flurry of lawsuits. The French production company, Flach Film, sued for copyright infringement and the homonymicsite, Utube.com, is seeking compensation for droves of unwanted traffic it now has to deal with.

Zune

In mid November, with Zune's release only a week away, Microsoft agreed to a deal with Universal Music in which the technology giant pays a percentage of its Zune revenues to the record company in exchange for licensing.

While Zune doesn't look like it will unseat the iPod anytime soon, Microsoft has said revenues since the launch have been on target with expectations.

Borat

After Sasha Baron Cohen's film reaped $26.5 million in box office receipts on opening weekend, two frat boys portrayed in the film announced they were suing for loss of reputation and standing within the community.

A flood of lawsuits has followed. Legal threats have been made by everyone from a Macedonian musician whose music was used in the film to a man who claims he is the "the real Borat". Even the Kazakh government has been exploring legal action.

Kramer

After Michael Richards (Seinfeld's Kramer) blasted into a litany of racial slurs onstage at L.A.'s Laugh Factory, he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman to issue an apology.

After another unsuccessful sitcom attempt, Richards' acting career had already come to a halt. After his racist rant, his stand up career might do the same. Still, the New York Post reported that sales of Season 7 of Seinfeld have never been better.

Paris Hilton

The Internet once again was flooded with articles (and pictures) of Paris and Britney Spears hitting the town without any underwear. As FC's Kathryn Tuggle pointed out, this wasn't quite the brand image thatParlux Fragrances had bargained for when it agreed to market the Paris Hilton Cosmetics line in 2005.

Parlux stock has gone straight down since the cosmetics line got its new mascot. As for Paris and Britney, they find themselves in the usual whirlwind of rumors. One day they've had a falling out, and the next, Britney is trying on dresses to be Paris' matron of honor.

Wal-Mart

In January, Charles Fishman's The Wal-Mart Effect hit the shelves of bookstores. In February, Wal-Mart hired former Atlanta Mayor and civil rights leader, Andrew Young to do public relations. In May, Wal-Mart CEO, Lee Scott, took a four-week vacation, and a lot of criticism. In July, Wal-Mart launched (a lame) social networking site, and made its first push into the organic food market. In August, Andrew Young stepped down after making allegedly racist remarks about people of Jewish, Korean, and Middle Eastern descent. The same month, Wal-Mart joined the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. In September, the retailer notorious for skimping on employee health benefits announced its plan to sell prescription drugs for $4/month. In October, the Wall Street Journal handed down its verdict on Wal-Mart's "cheap chic" fashion line, calling it a total flop.

Since then, not much has changed. Wal-Mart is still the world's largest employer, still using the brute force of economies of scale, and still gets more negative comments than any other FC blog subject.

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