Business

Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over ‘Black Widow’ streaming release

August 2, 2021

Movie stars often work for a share of box office profits—so when a film opens simultaneously on both cinema screens and streaming services, their cut of the final take is bound to be smaller.

And now, Scarlett Johansson—star of the latest Marvel movie “Black Widow”—has filed a lawsuit for just that reason, The Wall Street Journal reports.

On Thursday, July 29, in Los Angeles Superior Court, Johannson filed a suit against Disney, alleging her contract had been breached when the media giant released the film on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut.

Johansson said in the suit that her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release, and her salary was based in large part on the box-office performance of the film.

“Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent … Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel,” the suit alleged.

A Disney spokesperson told the Journal that  Johansson’s suit had no merit and is “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The company said it “fully complied with ,,, Johansson’s contract and, furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”

Indeed, according to the Journal, the suit could be a bellwether for the entertainment industry. Major media companies are giving priority to their streaming services in pursuit of growth, and are increasingly putting their high-value content on those platforms. Those changes have significant financial implications for actors and producers, who want to ensure that growth in streaming doesn’t come at their expense.

“This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts,” said John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Johansson.

According to the complaint, Johansson’s representatives sought to renegotiate her contract after learning of the dual-release strategy for “Black Widow,” which she has said is her ninth and last Marvel movie. Disney and Marvel were unresponsive, the suit said.

The decision to put the movie on Disney+ is projected to cost Johansson more than $50 million, a person familiar with details of her contract claimed.

Even before the pandemic, Ms. Johansson was concerned that “Black Widow” could end up on Disney+ as part of its wide release. In 2019, Ms. Johansson’s representatives reached out to Marvel seeking assurance that “Black Widow” would have a theatrical-only release, according to the complaint. In a March 2019 email included in the suit, Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said the release would be according to a traditional theatrical model, adding, “We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Nikola founder Trevor Milton charged with fraud for lying about ‘nearly all aspects’ of EV business

July 30, 2021

Trevor Milton, the founder and former executive chairman of electric vehicle company Nikola, has been charged with two counts of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud by a federal grand jury. Milton has been accused of lying about “nearly all aspects of the business” to boost Nikola’s stock, reports Engadget.

The indictment alleges that Milton made it seem Nikola was much further along than it actually was in terms of having fully functional EVs. It asserts he had a hand in creating a video that made it seem as if a Nikola One prototype was able to move by itself when it was actually rolling down a slope.

According to Engadget, Milton falsely claimed the company had “billions and billions and billions and billions” of dollars’ worth of preorder reservations and that the company was producing its own hydrogen at four times less than market rates, according to the indictment.

He’s also accused of falsely claiming that Nikola had developed “game-changing” battery technology, that it was developing and making several key components for its EVs in-house and that “the total cost of ownership of Nikola’s trucks was 20% to 30% below that of diesel vehicles.”

Prosecutors claim Milton, who resigned in September in the face of a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) probe, targeted and misled amateur investors (or “retail investors”). According to the indictment, some of those investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At Nikola’s peak valuation, Milton held around $8.5 billion worth of stock, as CNBC has noted. The grand jury argues that Milton should surrender property “traceable to the commission of said offenses.” That could include the over $1 billion Milton made when the company went public in June 2020.

The SEC also filed civil securities fraud charges against Milton on Thursday, July 29. The agency asked a district court to force Milton to forfeit “ill-gotten gains” and to pay a fine. It also called for a lifetime ban on Milton serving as an officer at a company that issues securities.

Research contact: @engadget

Walmart will cover 100% of college tuition and books for its workers

July 29, 2021

America’s largest retailer, Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart, announced on Tuesday, July 27, that it will pay for full college tuition and book costs at some schools for its US workers—the latest effort by company to sweeten its benefits as it seeks to attract and retain talent in a tight job market, CNN reports.

Walmart said it was expanding its current program, which began in 2018, to include new academic partners—bringing the total to ten—and offering more degree and certificate options in areas such as business administration, supply chain, and cybersecurity.

The roster of learning institutions now includes the following:

  • Johnson & Wales University
  • The University of Arizona
  • The University of Denver
  • Pathstream
  • Brandman University
  • Penn Foster
  • Purdue University Global
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • Wilmington University
  • Voxy EnGen

Participants must remain part-time or full-time employees at Walmart to be eligible.

According to CNN, the company said that it will drop a previous $1 a day fee paid by Walmart and Sam’s Club workers who want to earn a degree and also begin covering the costs of their books. Around 28,000 workers participate in the program, which Walmart began in 2018. Walmart has around 1.5 million workers.

“We feel that eliminating the dollar a day investment removes the financial barriers to enrollment, and it will increase access,” said Lorraine Stomski, SVP of Learning and Leadership at Walmart, in a call with reporters.

Walmart has incentive to expand the program. Employees who have participated in the program are twice as likely to get promoted and are retained at a “significantly higher rate” than other workers, Stomski said.

Research contact: @Walmart

U.S. News releases 2021-2022 ‘Best Hospitals’ rankings

July 28, 2021

U.S. News & World Report has published its 2021-22 Best Hospitals rankings and ratings, the magazine announced on Tuesday, July 27, in a press release.

In the latest edition, seven new Procedures and Conditions ratings have been added, diversifying the portfolio to 17 services in all. The new ratings – covering Heart Attack, Stroke, Pneumonia, Diabetes, Kidney Failure, Hip Fracture and Back Surgery (Spinal Fusion) – emphasize the importance of targeted research and care that provides patients and their doctors with data-driven decision support.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, claimed the No. 1 spot on the Best Hospitals Honor Roll. Cleveland Clinic ranked No. 2, followed by UCLA Medical Center at No. 3. The Honor Roll is a distinction awarded to hospitals ranked in the top 20 nationally for delivering exceptional treatment across multiple areas of care.

The full list of the top 20 hospitals nationwide is as follows:

  1. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
  2.  Cleveland Clinic
  3.  UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles
  4.  Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
  5.  Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  6.  Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles
  7.  New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia and Cornell, New York
  8.  NYU Langone Hospitals, New York City
  9. UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco
  10.  Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago
  11.  University of Michigan Hospitals-Michigan Medicine, Ann Arbor
  12.  Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital, Palo Alto, California
  13.  Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian, Philadelphia
  14.  Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston
  15.  Mayo Clinic-Phoenix
  16.  Houston Methodist Hospital
  17.  Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis (Tie)
  18.  Mount Sinai Hospital, New York (Tie)
  19.  Rush University Medical Center, Chicago
  20.  Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee

“This year’s expanded report from U.S. News includes new ratings for important procedures and conditions to help patients, in consultation with their doctors,  narrow down their choice of hospital based on the specific type of care they need,” said Ben Harder, managing editor and chief of health analysis.

U.S. News also investigated racial disparities in health care and this year debuted health equity measures alongside the hospital rankings. Among other aspects of health equity, the new measures examine whether the patients each hospital has treated reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the surrounding community.

“At roughly four out of five hospitals, we found that the community’s minority residents were underrepresented among patients receiving services such as joint replacement, cancer surgery and common heart procedures,” said Harder. “Against this backdrop, however, we found important exceptions – hospitals that provide care to a disproportionate share of their community’s minority residents. These metrics are just a beginning; we aim to expand on our measurement of health equity in the future.”

U.S. News released new rankings for 15 medical specialties, which cover Cancer; Cardiology & Heart Surgery; Diabetes & Endocrinology; Ear, Nose & Throat; Gastroenterology & GI Surgery; Geriatrics; Gynecology; Neurology & Neurosurgery; Ophthalmology; Orthopedics; Psychiatry; Pulmonology & Lung Surgery; Rehabilitation; Rheumatology; and Urology. Out of more than 4,750 hospitals that were evaluated, 175 were nationally ranked in at least one specialty, while 531 were ranked among the Best Regional Hospitals in a state or metro area.

In the specialty rankings, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center ranked No. 1 in Cancer; the Cleveland Clinic is No. 1 in Cardiology & Heart Surgery and the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City is No. 1 in Orthopedics. Full listing are available on the website.

Research contact: @USNews

Philip Morris International CEO advocates to ban cigarettes, stop selling Marlboros in UK market

July 27, 2021

Jacek Olczak, the CEO of Philip Morris International—which makes and markets the top-selling brand of cigarettes, Marlboro, outside the United States—says his company will stop selling cigarettes in the United Kingdom within a decade.

Olczak told The Mail on Sunday that the move was part of the company’s goal to become smoke-free and to help end the use of traditional cigarettes, Business Insider reports.

Olczak also called on the UK government to outlaw cigarettes within a decade, comparing them to gas-powered cars, which are set to be barred from being sold in the country starting in 2030, according to The Telegraph.

“We can see the world without cigarettes,” he said. “And actually, the sooner it happens, the better it is for everyone. With the right regulation and information it can happen ten years from now in some countries. And you can solve the problem once and forever.”

Philip Morris International is separate from Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro cigarettes in the United States and is a division of the American tobacco corporation Altria. It split from Philip Morris USA in 2008 and recently announced plans to transform into a smoke-free company, as well as its intention to buy the British pharmaceutical company Vectura Group, which makes asthma inhalers.

Anti-smoking groups in the UK criticized that sale, accusing tobacco companies of trying to position themselves as anti-smoking while still selling tobacco products, according to The Guardian.

Smoking kills more than 8 million people a year, according to the World Health Organization.

Research contact: @BusinessInsider

Cleveland’s baseball team will now be known as the Guardians

July 26, 2021

Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will no longer be known as the Indians. Instead, the club wall call itself the Guardians, the franchise announced on Friday, July 23—caving to pressure to drop the racially offensive name it has been known as for more than a century, CNBC reports.

The change was announced in a video on Twitter narrated by Oscar winner Tom Hanks, who worked in Cleveland early in his acting career and starred in the women’s baseball movie “A League of Their Own.”

The name Guardians is a reference to well-known art deco statues located on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River and connects downtown Cleveland to the city’s trendy Ohio City neighborhood. Those statues are known as the “Guardians of Traffic.”

In its Friday post, the team gave a further explanation for the choice of the name Guardians: “To protect, to keep watch, to defend. For Clevelanders, this is a way of life. We fight together for what we believe in. And if we get knocked down, we pick each other right back up and keep fighting. We’re resilient, hard-working, and loyal — to this city and to each other. That’s what it means to be Cleveland Guardians.”

The franchise said it surveyed more than 40,000 fans about potential names and conducted more than 140 hours of interviews with supporters, front office members and community leaders in northeast Ohio.

“Our fans are at the heart of this decision. We heard this name often from our fans as a top contender because of it’s connection to the iconic Cleveland landmark,” the team statement said.

The announcement did not say when the new name will be effective. However, MLB.com reported that will happen for next season. The franchise currently is in second place in the American League Central.

According to CNBC, the NFL’s Washington football team last year dropped its former name, the Redskins, which was decried as demeaning to Native Americans, as corporate backlash intensified. The franchise adopted Washington Football Team on a temporary basis, playing last season under that name. It will continue to be known as the Washington Football Team for the 2021 campaign.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that a new name and logo for the NFL team will be announced in early 2022.

Research contact: @CNBC

Montana boomtown jumps to #1 on WSJ/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Market Index

July 22, 2021

Billings, Montana, is the new number one on The Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index—boosted by its affordability and appeal to remote workers.

The index reflects how the housing boom has ignited homebuying activity in smaller to midsize cities nationwide. The top 20 cities in the ranking have an average population size of just over 300,000.

In the latest index rankings published on Tuesday, July 20, smaller cities dominate. The number two metro area is Coeur d’Alene, the lakeside Idaho city that held the top position when the index premiered in April.

Rounding out the top five are Fort Wayne, Indiana; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

The index identifies the top metro areas for home buyers seeking an appreciating housing market and appealing lifestyle amenities. This quarter’s version added the new criteria of real-estate taxes, which caused some areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and Texas with higher property taxes to fall in the rankings.

The strengthening U.S. economy also played a role—rewarding cities where employment and wages grew the most. Rapid City and Raleigh each jumped by about 100 spots from the previous quarter.

Billings is the biggest city in Montana, with a metro-area population of about 184,000. This quarter, Billings rose from the fourth spot to the first, due to its low unemployment, affordability and booming housing market. Billings had a 3% unemployment rate in May, or about half the national rate.

Much of the strength in the Billings housing market has been driven by out-of-state buyers—from coastal states, from California and Washington to Kentucky and Texas, says Deb Parker, broker owner of Parker & Co. Real Estate Services in Billings. Many move to the area because they have the flexibility to work remotely, she said.

“I believe Montana’s truly been discovered,” Parker told The Wall Street Journal. “I’ve never seen so much cash in our market.”

About 65% of page views on Billings property listings came from outside the metro area in the second quarter, up from about 57% a year earlier, according to Realtor.com.

Smaller markets in Montana, including Bozeman, also saw an influx of buyers during the pandemic. Some of the top reasons out-of-state buyers chose Montana were safety and security, concerns about COVID-19, and the state’s smaller population, according to a survey of Montana real-estate agents by Montana State University .

The average single-family home-sale price in Billings and the surrounding area was $376,248 in June, up 32% from a year earlier, according to the Billings Association of Realtors.

Research contact: @WSJ

What will it cost for tourists to fly on Blue Origin?

July 21, 2021

Jeff Bezos, the richest human in the world, went to space on Tuesday, July 20along with a small group that also comprised the oldest person ever to fly so high and the youngest.  It was a brief jaunt—rising more than 65 miles into the sky above West Texas—in a spacecraft that was built by Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, reports  The New York Times.

“Best day ever,” Mr. Bezos exclaimed once the capsule had settled back into the dust near the launch site following the 11-minute journey.

The other three passengers were Bezos’ brother, Mark; Oliver Daemen, a Dutch student who was Blue Origin’s first paying passenger; and Mary Wallace Funk, a pilot who in the 1960s was among a group of women who passed the same rigorous astronaut selection criteria employed by NASA but who, until Tuesday, never had the chance to board a rocket.

For the first flight, Blue Origin auctioned off one of the seats with the proceeds going to Mr. Bezos’ space-focused nonprofit, Club for the Future. The winning bid was $28 million, an amount that stunned even Blue Origin officials, far higher than they had hoped. Blue Origin announced it will distribute $19 million of that to 19 space-related organizations — $1 million each.

The 7,600 people who participated in the auction provided Blue Origin with a list of prospective paying customers, and the company has started selling tickets for subsequent flights.

Blue Origin has declined to say what the price is or how many people have signed up, but representatives of the company have told the Times that there is strong demand.

“Our early flights are going for a very good price,” Bob Smith, the chief executive of Blue Origin, said during a news conference on Sunday, July 18.

During the auction for the seat on Tuesday’s flight, the company said that auction participants could buy a seat on subsequent flights. It has not publicly stated what it charged those who placed bids, or how many seats have been sold.

Ariane Cornell, director of Astronaut and Orbital Sales at Blue Origin, said that two additional flights are planned for this year. “So we have already built a robust pipeline of customers that are interested,” she said.

Virgin Galactic, the other company offering suborbital flights, has about 600 people who have already bought tickets. The price was originally $200,000 and later raised to $250,000, but Virgin Galactic stopped sales in 2014 after a crash of its first space plane during a test flight. Virgin Galactic officials say they will resume sales later this year, and the price will likely be higher than $250,000.

Research contact: @nytimes

TikTok is taking the book industry by storm, and retailers are taking notice

July 20, 2021

Four years ago, author Adam Silvera released the young adult science fiction novel, They Both Die at the End, which found success and landed for a few weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

After that fleeting experience with fame, Silvera settled in for a longer run of occasional sales and obscurity. But years later in August 2020, Silvera said his publisher noticed a significant sales bump, the start of a trend that would send the book to the top of The New York Times’ young adult paperback monthly bestseller list in April 2021, where it still reigns.

Silvera had no idea where the sales spike was coming from, according to a report by NBC News.

“I kept commenting to my readers, ‘Hey, don’t know what’s happening, but there’s been a surge in sales lately, so grateful that everybody’s finding the story years later,’” Silvera said. “And then that’s when a reader was like, ‘I’m seeing it on BookTok.’ And I had no idea what they were talking about.”

“BookTok” is a community of users on TikTok who post videos reviewing and recommending books. The group has boomed in popularity over the past year.

TikTok videos containing the hashtag #TheyBothDieAtTheEnd have collectively amassed more than 37 million views to date, many of which feature users reacting — and often crying — to the book’s emotional ending.

BookTok’s impact on the book industry has been notable, helping new authors launch their careers and propelling books like Silvera’s to the top of bestseller lists years after their original publication. Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles,” E. Lockhart’s “We Were Liars” and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”—all of which were published before BookTok began to dominate the industry—are among some of the other books that have found popularity on the app years after their initial release.

Retailers like Barnes & Noble have taken advantage of BookTok’s popularity to market titles popular on the app to customers by creating specialized shelves featuring books that have gone viral.

“We’re identifying these trends as big opportunities,” Shannon DeVito, director of Books at Barnes & Noble, told NBC News. “So [Barnes & Noble store managers] say, ‘Let’s create a table, let’s create a shelf, let’s create a statement because I know I have so many customers coming in saying, ‘I saw this trending on TikTok.’’”

DeVito said Barnes & Noble began noticing upticks in sales of books last summer, particularly the “juggernauts” of “The Song of Achilles” and “They Both Die at the End.” Since then, she said, almost all Barnes & Noble locations have put BookTok tables or shelves on display.

“We’ve seen big box retailers jump at the chance to engage with the #booktok community, like Barnes and Noble creating a dedicated ‘TikTok BookTok Reads’ section both online and in-store from creator recommendations,” a TikTok representative wrote in an email to NBC News. “We’ve also seen creators and brands lean into the #BookTok community—from the publisher side, Penguin Random House is very in-tune with #BookTok trends and frequently collaborates with creators.”

The app has been pivotal for introducing younger audiences to reading, DeVito said, as well as for introducing older titles to new readers and for helping new authors find an audience.

The BookTok phenomenon also closely coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which DeVito credits for people craving an emotional connection with others that they satisfied through reading.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Netflix plans to offer video games in push beyond films and TV

July 19, 2021

Netflixmarking its first big move beyond TV shows and films—is planning an expansion into video games and has hired a former Electronic Arts and Facebook executive to lead the effort, Fortune Magazine reports.

Mike Verdu will join Netflix as vice president of Game Development, reporting to COO Greg Peters, the company said on Wednesday, July17. Verdu was previously Facebook’s vice president in charge of working with developers to bring games and other content to Oculus virtual-reality headsets.

In Verdu, the company has an executive who worked on popular mobile games at Electronic Arts, including titles in the Sims, Plants vs. Zombies and Star Wars franchises. He also served as chief creative officer for Zynga between 2009 and 2012.

The idea, according to a source, is to offer video games on Netflix’s streaming platform within the next year, Fortune says. The games will appear alongside current fare as a new programming genre—similar to what Netflix did with documentaries and stand-up specials. The company doesn’t currently plan to charge extra for the content, said the source, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

Netflix has been seeking ways to keep growing, especially in more saturated markets such as the United States. That’s included building out its kids’ programmingopening an online shop to sell merchandise, and tapping Steven Spielberg to bring more prestigious movies to its lineup.

The company remains well ahead of streaming rivals such as Disney+ or HBO Max, Fortune notes, but it added fewer subscribers than expected in its most recently reported quarter.

Netflix will be building out its gaming team in the coming months, according to the person familiar with the matter. The company has already started advertising for game-development related positions on its website.

Ultimately, the move may make it easier for Netflix to justify price increases in coming years. Games also serve the purpose of helping market existing shows.

Netflix has previously licensed the rights to games based on its shows—including Stranger Thing—but this new initiative is much larger in scope. The Los Gatos, California-based company has yet to settle on a game-development strategy, said the person.

In typical Netflix fashion, the company may start with just a few games and build from there.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine