Week's Winners and Losers: Starbucks Pays for Grades

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There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the world's largest premium coffeehouse giving employees a full ride at an online college and a social gaming pioneer taking an odd step backward.

Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

We've become addicted to Netflix. The leading premium video service revealed that it served up 10 billion hours of content during the first three months of the year. That's big. Just two years ago Netflix was serving up 4 billion hours of video during that year's first quarter.

Subscriber growth has been pretty impressive in that time. We've seen Netflix's global base of streaming accounts grow 69 percent to 61.4 million over the past two years. Usage has soared 150 percent to hit 10 billion hours. In other words, the typical subscriber is streaming a lot more these days. That bodes well for Netflix's quarterly report next week.

Zynga (ZNGA) -- Loser

It seems as if "CEO" is not a word you can play on Zynga's "Words With Friends" game, and it's something that the company itself continues to struggle with these days. The struggling developer and publisher of mobile games announced this week that Don Mattrick was stepping down immediately on Wednesday. He'll receive a $4 million buyout in the process.

Mattrick will be replaced by founder Mark Pincus. A founder coming back to take the reins isn't always a bad thing: Let's raise a toast to Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz. However, Zynga shares rallied in 2013 when Pincus was replaced by Mattrick. The market feared that Pincus wasn't seasoned enough to handle a mobile company that was starting to show some growing pains after bookings peaked in 2012.

Mattrick was the top dog at Xbox, and he seemed like quite the catch at the time. Unfortunately for Zynga, revenue tanked in 2013 and fell even lower in 2014. The company that defined social gaming a few years ago with "FarmVille" and "Mafia Wars" is reeling, and bringing back a founder the market wanted replaced two years ago doesn't seem like the solution.

Starbucks (SBUX) -- Winner

There's one more reason to want to become a barista when you grow up: Starbucks announced this week that it will foot the bill for employees to obtain four-year college degrees. Yes, it's limited to the offerings available at the online campus of Arizona State University. But it's still a college degree, and it's open to the more than two-thirds of Starbucks employees who have not obtained college degrees.

Starbucks and the virtual university are sharing the costs, reimbursing Starbucks employees at the end of every completed semester. Starbucks isn't requiring employees to stay at the company after they graduate, but it's a safe bet that most will acknowledge the favor by sticking around a bit. It's a smart move at a time when companies are trying to stand out to recruit the best job candidates.

The PC -- Loser

Once again, the personal computer is a loser. Global PC shipments fell to 68.5 million during the first quarter according to industry tracker IDC. That is 6.7 percent fewer desktops and notebooks than were shipped a year earlier. You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find the last time that PC makers shipped fewer units, and that was during the global recession, when companies and consumers were clutching their pocketbooks and bracing for the worst. The mobile revolution continues to crush the PC.

Apple (AAPL) -- Winner

The Apple Watch became available for preorder on Friday morning. There has been no shortage of knocks on the tech giant's first push into wearable computing. The battery life is too short. The device is too expensive. Initial reviews have also been lukewarm.

However, at the end of the day, you know that Apple is going to sell a ton of these. It wouldn't be a surprise if the initial inventory sells out before the weekend is over, and this is a smartwatch that won't hit the market for another two weeks.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Netflix, and Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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