Biz Break: Maker of film criticizing Yelp seeks $60K in new crowdfunding

Top Of The Order:  

An Offer You Can’t Refuse?: Anyone who has ever seen “The Godfather” has a favorite scene from that American film classic. It might be Sonny getting gunned down at the toll gate on the causeway. It might be the Michael renouncing satan during the baptism of Connie and Paulo’s baby, while at the same time he’s having Moe Green shot in the eye. Who knows? Maybe you even like Fredo doing Fredo things like dropping his gun when the Turk’s henchmen (unsuccessfully) try to kill Don Vito.

But let’s face it: The most famous scene in the movie comes from Don Vito himself, when he tells a simpering Johnny Fontane, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” in regards to a Hollywood movie producer who doesn’t want to give Johnny a role that he really wants.

And we all know where this eventually leads.

I bring up all this “Godfather” stuff because the movie made the mafia, well, popular, in the public eye. We love any kind of entertainment that involves the mafia, now, because of the impact of “The Godfather.” But, let there be no doubt: Whenever someone or some group gets compared to the mafia, it’s never because they’re acting like saints or Boy Scouts. And when a company is described as “like the mafia,” it means someone thinks they are doing something wrong.

Which brings us to Yelp.

There’s a new documentary film about Yelp that’s in the works called “Billion Dollar Bully,” which is being produced by San Francisco-based Prost Productions. You may have heard about this movie already, as Prost launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film in 2015. The movie purports to take a look inside Yelp’s business tactics, which the filmmakers and many interviewees claim include the manipulation of businesses reviews on Yelp and extortion-like practices directed toward small businesses. Many, many times, those interviewed say Yelp is “like the mafia.”

“Billion Dollar Bully” is getting some attention today because Prost on Tuesday launched a follow-up funding campaign through Indiegogo, ostensibly to raise $60,000 to finish the product. A visit to the Prost website says the film is in post-production.

Now, we’re not here to validate “Billion Dollar Bully’s” claims about how Yelp may be twisting arms and making “threats” against businesses in exchange for things like the placement of positive reviews. But, the fact that the stories about Yelp are out there could certainly change some people’s view about dealing with the company.

“While the claims of the documentary have been the subject of scrutiny, traction with “Billion Dollar Bully,” regardless of validity, could negatively impact Yelp’s efforts with consumers and local businesses,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray who covers Yelp.

Munster, who has a neutral rating and $22-a-share price target on Yelp’s stock, made it clear that he wasn’t “opining on the quality or validity” of the film. But, Munster added that “investors should stay tuned to Prost’s efforts, as further media attention could fuel public awareness of the production.”

No release date has been set for “Billion Dollar Bully,” but when it does come out, Yelp will certainly have its own review ready to go. Actually, it has already said what it has to say on the movie, for now.

“There is no merit to the claims this film appears to highlight,” said a Yelp spokesperson in an email to the Mercury News.

Middle Innings:

Brexit, Schmexit: Not every company in America is shaking in its shoes over the implications of Britain voting to leave the European Union.

Online retailing giant Amazon said it is going to work with the British government to test the viability of Amazon’s drone-delivery program. Amazon said Monday that a team supported by Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority has given Amazon the OK to experiment with drones making deliveries of packages that weigh five pounds or less. Such deliveries are said to account for about 90 percent of all Amazon sales.

The tests will involve operating drones beyond the line of sight, avoiding obstacles and flights where one person operates multiple drones.

Cue Up Martha Reeves: It’s getting hot in parts of the U.S. right now, and whenever that happens, it’s hard not to get the old Martha and the Vandellas classic “Heatwave” out of your head. Go on, try it. There you go. It’s stuck.

It’s getting hot enough to be uncomfortable in some areas, like the headquarters of Google’s own Nest, the maker of those smart thermostats that you can operate over a smartphone app. Or, at least you could, until some kind of glitch caused its thermostats to go offline Tuesday.

Reports about the Nest outage started coming in Tuesday morning, with many taking to Twitter to express how hot they were about the situation. Nothing on the Nest company blog referred to the outage.

But, not all is lost. Apparently, the thermostats could still be operated manually, at home or wherever the device is located. But how old-fashioned is that? Actually having to get up and turn something on by hand? Talk about a First World Problem.

Bottom Of The Lineup:

Here’s a look at how some leading Silicon Valley stocks did Tuesday…

Movin’ On Up: Gains came from Linear Technology, Lending Club, Maxim Integrated Products, Advanced Micro Devices and Netflix.

In The Red: Decliners included Sanmina, Gilead Sciences, Cadence Design Systems, QuinStreet and Aemetis.

The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.2 percent to 5,110.

The blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up 0.1 percent to end the day at 18,473.

And the broad-based Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed at its break-even level of 2,169.

Quote Of The Day: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken

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Photo: A sign outside Yelp offices in San Francisco. (Bay Area News Group archives)


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