Posts tagged with "The Wall Street Journal"

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

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy makes picks for January 6 panel

July 21, 2021

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) has chosen five Republican lawmakers to serve on the Democrat-led select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, ahead of the panel’s first hearing later this month, The Wall Street Journal reports.

McCarthy tapped Representative Jim Banks (R-Indiana), chair of the Republican Study Committee, a group of the most conservative House Republicans, to serve as the select committee’s top-ranking GOP member.

Among his other selections are the following:

According to the Journal, the House voted largely along party lines late last month to establish the select committee to investigate the events of January 6, when Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building and temporarily interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral-college victory.

Senate Republicans blocked an effort earlier this year to set up a bipartisan, independent commission—saying Democrats would weaponize it against Republican candidates in 2022.

McCarthy said he deliberately chose a mix of members: Banks, Jordan, and Nehls voted to overturn Arizona and Pennsylvania’s electoral results on January 6, while Davis and Armstrong voted to certify Biden’s win in those states. None of them voted to impeach Trump.

“You’ve got a mix from the entire conference, right? So people who objected and who didn’t object” to the electoral-college results, McCarthy said. “The mission is to make the facts—to never put the Capitol Police, or this Capitol, in this position again.”

McCarthy, who met with Trump last week, added: “I didn’t talk to Donald Trump about this.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Peppa Pig, a pandemic favorite, has American children acting British

July 20, 2021

California kindergartner Dani stunned her parents in May when she addressed her mom, who said she was going to the eye doctor, in a polished British accent: “Mummy, are you going to the optician?”

“And we were like, ‘the what?’ ” says Dani’s father, Matias Cavallin. “That’s like a college-level word,” he says. “At least, I wasn’t using it.”

The culprit? A wildly popular English cartoon about a preschooler pig named Peppa, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Like five-year-old Dani, children nationwide have binge-watched “Peppa Pig” over the past year. They are emerging from the pandemic with an unusual vocabulary and a British accent just like the show’s namesake character.

The Peppa Effect, as some parents call it, already had some children snorting like pigs and using cheeky Britishisms before the pandemic. Then lockdowns sent screen-time limits out the door, and children gorged on the cartoon in a silo away from their usual social interactions—amplifying the effect.

Matias Cavallin, a public-relations manager in El Cerrito, California, stumbled upon the cartoon at the start of the pandemic. He concluded that it was a sweet family show that would keep Dani busy as his wife went to the office and he juggled working from home.

“It was almost like a happy accident at a time when I was trying to find a pseudo babysitter during Zoom meetings,” he says. “It was either Peppa Pig or no work.”

As a result, Cavallin says, he went from papa to “Daddy,” said in the British way. His daughter calls the gas station the “petrol station” and cookies “biscuits,” and when he’s holding a cup of coffee, Dani asks him, “Are you having tea now?”

He says that Dani’s grandparents—immigrants from Argentina who mostly speak Spanish—quip, “We don’t understand her to begin with, and now she’s speaking British?”

Parrot Analytics, an entertainment consulting firm that tracks demand for TV shows based on factors such as how frequently they are streamed and discussed online, said “Peppa Pig” retained its spot as the world’s second-most in-demand children’s cartoon for the 12 months ending February, after “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Overall, it jumped to the world’s 50th most in-demand show of any kind, from the 103rd the previous year. The show was first released in 2004.

“Young Peppa fans see her as a friend…and, as we do with friends that we admire, pick up some of their characteristics,” Peppa Pig owner Entertainment One said in a written statement. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” it added.

Some parents say the show made their children more accepting of younger brothers, because Peppa has one, too. Many used the show’s differences as teaching points.

In December, six-year-old Aurelia insisted on the British holiday traditions of wearing a crown and baking mince pies for “Father Christmas,” says her mother, Lauren Ouellette, in North Scituate, Rhode Island. “It gave us room to explore something new. Is Father Christmas the same guy as Santa? And why is he called that?” she says.

Aurelia throws around phrases like, “Can we turn the telly on?” A reference to the water closet instead of the bathroom initially threw off Ms. Ouellette. “I was like, ‘Where did she learn that from? Was she on the Titanic in a past life?’ ” she told The Wall Street Journal.

All became clear when they watched the show together a week later.

Research contact: @WSJ

Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg expected to be charged Thursday

July 1, 2021

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is expected to charge the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer with tax-related crimes on Thursday, July 1, sources have told The Wall Street Journal.

These would mark the first criminal charges against the former president’s company since prosecutors began investigating it three years ago.

The charges against the Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg, the company’s longtime chief financial officer, represent a blow to former President Donald Trump, who has fended off multiple criminal and civil probes during and after his presidency.

Trump himself isn’t expected to be charged, his lawyer said. Weisselberg has rejected prosecutors’ attempts at gaining his cooperation, according to people familiar with the matter, the Journal said.

The defendants are expected to appear in court on Thursday afternoon. The Trump Organization and Weisselberg are expected to face charges related to allegedly evading taxes on fringe benefits, sources said.

For months, the Manhattan D.A.’s Office and New York State Attorney General’s Office have been investigating whether Weisselberg and other employees illegally avoided paying taxes on perks—such as cars, apartments, and private-school tuition—that they received from the Trump Organization.

If prosecutors could demonstrate that the Trump Organization and its executives systematically avoided paying taxes, they could file more serious charges alleging a scheme, lawyers said.

Weisselberg and his lawyers haven’t commented on the investigation or impending charges.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the investigations, conducted by offices led by Democrats, are politically motivated. Earlier this week, he said in a statement that the case is composed of “things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Warby Parker to add 35 brick-and-mortar stores after pandemic

June 15, 2021

Like many other retailers, Warby Parker had to improvise last year, even as the pandemic forced some new customers to try shopping at their original online website.. Now, as online sales remain elevated, the eyewear brand also is doubling down on its brick-and-mortar strategy, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Indeed, Warby Parker’s sales nosedived in March 2020, with its roughly 135 stores closed and consumers focusing their spending on stocking up only on essentials.

However, since reopening stores last summer, the company has been aggressively expanding its brick-and-mortar footprint and says it is on track to open 35 new stores this year. Co-founders and co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa tell the Journal that their 11-year-old business has faced down its toughest year and increased its sales.

Warby Parker raised $245 million from private investors last fall, snagging a $3 billion valuation—higher than before—and sparking talk of a possible initial public offering. The company has been profitable since 2019, according to a person familiar with the matter, but hasn’t disclosed financial results.

Blumenthal and Gilboa recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal about how Warby Parker adapted during the pandemic, the future of eyewear shopping and their potential IPO plans. Here are edited excerpts:

WSJ: You closed all of your stores in March and kept them closed for months. What impact did the pandemic have?

Gilboa: We saw an immediate, dramatic negative impact as the sales from those stores went away. People weren’t thinking about buying glasses, so even our e-commerce sales dipped. But then, when everyone was kind of starting to quarantine from home, we saw a rapid increase in our e-commerce sales. And we saw those sales then stay elevated, and they have continued to be elevated to this day.

What we’re seeing is that this pandemic will end up pulling forward a lot of trends that already existed. A lot of customers that otherwise wouldn’t have shopped online for glasses did so last year, had a great experience, and will continue to do so in the future.

WSJ: Have you experienced any supply-chain or transportation issues this year as economies reopen?

Gilboa: We haven’t seen the same type of acute issues that are impacting other industries. What we have seen is some delays on inbound shipments from other countries where transportation carriers are completely overwhelmed. Sometimes the process to get products through customs takes significantly longer than it did before.

WSJ: How has the pandemic reshaped how customers shop with you, both online and in-store?

Blumenthal: We did see a big shift online. When we started Warby Parker 11 years ago, less than 1% of glasses were sold online. We like to think that we had a pretty big role in increasing that penetration, and pre-pandemic was probably around 5%. Even now, I think it’s maybe a little over 7%, so still way underpenetrated, relative to other categories like apparel or accessories. We’ve continued to still see high e-commerce growth, even after our stores have ropened.

WSJ: You’ve started opening new retail locations again. How did you decide it was time to start launching new stores?

Blumenthal: We were able to work collaboratively with landlords to create flexibility in our leases. So, for example, we’re often able to negotiate percentage rent, which helped reduce risk if sales were depressed because of closures. We’re on track to open up 35 stores this year.

WSJ: What’s Warby Parker’s current split of in-store sales vs. online sales, and how has that evolved in the past year?

Blumenthal: We’ve seen retail sales, especially in the last two weeks, bounce back faster than we anticipated; and when we speak to other retailers, they’re experiencing the same, which makes us hopeful as more and more people get vaccinated, how we hopefully will be living and shopping pretty similarly to how we did pre-pandemic.

If you were to measure it by where the transaction takes place, they’re pretty evenly split. But, roughly 75% of our customers that transact in stores have shopped with us online.

They’re not just going to our website or our app to look up a store address or hours of operation, they’re actually shopping and choosing which frames they want to look at when they visit the store in person or when they go to the store for an eye exam.

Research contact: @WSJ

Jeff Bezos and brother to be on Blue Origin’s first human space flight

June 8, 2021

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in an Instagram post on Monday, June 7, that he will be one of the inaugural travelers on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, during a flight scheduled for launch from West Texas on July 20, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Bezos said that his brother, Mark Bezos, also will be among the crew members in the pressurized capsule, which has room for six astronauts.

Named after NASA’s Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, New Shepard is a reusable suborbital rocket system designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line—the internationally recognized boundary of space.

The vehicle is fully autonomous. Every person onboard is a passenger—there is no “pilot” for the 11-minute flight, which will return to Earth via parachute.

“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Bezos said in a video posted to Instagram. “It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”

Bezos, who has said that he will step down as Amazon’s chief executive on July 5 after leading the company for more than two decades, has invested heavily in Blue Origin, contributing as much as roughly $1 billion in some years. He will continue to hold the title executive chairman after his lieutenant Andy Jassy becomes CEO.

Blue Origin has said it aims to support widespread commercial activity in space in the future. In addition to its space-tourism efforts, Blue Origin is also working on rockets that could launch payloads for NASA.

The passenger list for Blue Origin’s July flight also is set to include the winner of a charity auction that will conclude this month. The auction boasted nearly 6,000 participants and the highest bid is at $2.8 million, Blue Origin said Monday.

According to the Journal, Blue Origin’s efforts to commercialize spaceflight parallel those of SpaceX—the spaceflight company led by Tesla  CEO Elon Musk.

SpaceX last year became the first company to launch NASA astronauts into space.

Both companies competed to design a new capsule that could land astronauts on the moon before NASA awarded the contract to SpaceX in April. Blue Origin has filed a petition challenging the contract award.

Billionaire Richard Branson also has invested in commercial spaceflight. Virgin Galactic Holdings, a company he founded that also plans to offer space tourism, went public in a 2019 merger with a blank-check company.

Research contact: @WSJ

United plans to buy 15 supersonic planes

June 7, 2021

United Airlines has announced that, by 2029, it hopes to bring back supersonic travel—which vanished into thin air along with the Concorde, a British-French turbojet-powered supersonic passenger-carrying commercial airline that operated from 1976 through 2003.

The Concorde fleet was retired because of high costs and concerns about the noise that the planes generated.

Parent  company United Airlines Holdings  said on June 3 that it intended to acquire small jetliners being developed by Boom Technology, which will not only cut travel times, but bring in higher ticket prices, The Wall Street Journal reports.

United said it would buy 15 of Boom’s planned Overture jets, provided that the planes meets safety, operational, and sustainability standards. Boom hopes to fly a scaled-down prototype later this year or early in 2022, with the full-size, 88-seat version targeted to carry passengers by 2029.

Denver-based Boom was launched in 2014 and has raised $270 million from investors.In 2017, Japan Airlines  invested $10 million in Boom and signed nonbinding options to purchase 20 planes.

Boom said its Overture jet would be capable of flying at Mach 1.7—or 1.7 times the speed of sound. That could allow the planned jet to reduce the flight time between London and United’s hub in Newark, New Jersey, to 3½ hours from over six hours—and cut the journey from San Francisco to Tokyo to six hours from over 10 hours.

Some industry observers are skeptical about the supersonic market. Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant at the Teal Group, recently told the Journal that there are only a handful of routes with enough traffic to support enough full-fare premium passengers, and not enough to justify the development and production of a supersonic jetliner.

Boeing decided continued investment in supersonic air travel didn’t make sense for its business, Chief Executive David Calhoun said Thursday. “It’s got to really stand on its own, and our decision on supersonic was that––it didn’t,” Calhoun said at an analyst conference Thursday. “We didn’t believe in it quite as much as we thought we could.”

Still, Calhoun said United would be on the leading edge if the technology can be developed in a reasonable time frame.

Mike Leskinen, United’s head of Investor Relations, said the airline believes there will be ample appetite for supersonic trips from business travelers concentrated in United’s coastal hubs “Demand is not the issue here,” he said.

Leskinen said he is confident Boom will be able to raise the additional funds it will need to develop and certify its supersonic jet. “We spent a lot of time picking the right partner,” he said.

Research contact: @WSJ

Southern comfort: Biden Administration taps private sector to invest in Central America

May 28, 2021

On May 27, Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to unveil the agreements of 12 companies and organizations–among them, MasterCard and Microsoft—to invest in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as part of the Administration’s efforts to deal with a surge of migrants from Central America at the U.S. southern border, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Administration believes that aid to Central America will bolster economies south of the border—and that better conditions in that area will discourage surges in immigration to the USA.

Among the companies involved:

  • Microsoft  has agreed to expand Internet access to as many as three million people in the region by July 2022, as well as to establish community centers to provide digital skills to women and youths;
  • Mastercard will seek to bring five million people in the region who currently lack banking services into the financial system, and to give one million micro and small businesses access to electronic banking.
  • Chobani has agreed to bring its incubator program for local entrepreneurs to Guatemala; and
  • Nespresso, a unit of Nestlé SA, plans to begin buying some of its coffee from El Salvador and Honduras with a minimum regional investment of $150 million by 2025.

Democratic and Republican administrations have struggled to find long-term solutions to handling surges in migrants from Central America, many of whom say they are driven by poverty and violence in their home countries. The region was hit hard last year by two disastrous hurricanes.

According to the Journal, Biden Administration officials have said the aim in part is for greater private-sector involvement to outlast shifts in policy and government aid between administrations— reducing over time the motivations for migrants to make the often dangerous journey to the U.S. border.

The total number of illegal border crossings this year is on pace to hit a two-decade high; and a record number of unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally in March, followed by a slight decline in April.

President Joe. Biden has delegated to Vice President Harris diplomatic efforts with Mexico and the three countries known as the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. She is scheduled to make her first foreign trip to Mexico and Guatemala next month.

Republicans have criticized Harris over the Administration’s overall handling of immigration and have chided her for not yet visiting the border. White House officials have said her role is limited to diplomatic efforts, with departments such as Homeland Security and Health and Human Services in charge of dealing with migrants crossing into the United States.

While leading a recent GOP delegation to visit the border, Representative James Comer (R-Kentucky) said more government investments in the region wouldn’t deter migrants from making the journey to the U.S. “We’ve been giving foreign aid to a lot of those countries for decades, and it’s only gotten worse,” he said.

However, Harris has said that private-sector investment along with help from nonprofits and the United Nations could speed up progress in the Northern Triangle. “We must think beyond government,” she said in a speech earlier this month to the Council of the Americas, a business group that focuses on economic and social development in the Western Hemisphere.

She was expected to call on other companies and organizations on Thursday to invest in public health access, food security, financial inclusion, clean energy, education, and workforce development in the region, working through the State Department.

Research contact: @WSJ

The heat is on: Trump-probe prosecutors in Manhattan convene special grand jury

May 27, 2021

Manhattan prosecutors have convened a special grand jury in their investigation of former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization—signaling that the office is seeking to bring charges in the case, according to people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The development signals that the office is seeking criminal indictments following a multiyear investigation into the Trump Organization and its officers, former prosecutors said. District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has said the office is investigating possible bank, tax, or insurance fraud.

Special grand juries typically sit for at least several months, compared with regular grand juries, which are impaneled for a month. They often hear multiple complex cases, such as white-collar investigations.

“Special grand juries are common when state prosecutors get to the point where they are ready to seek an indictment but the evidence is too complex or lengthy to present during the normal four-week term,” Daniel R. Alonso, a former federal prosecutor who was Vance’s chief assistant, told the Journal.

The special grand jury was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

A spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization and a lawyer for Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment.

However, ,Trump said in a statement on May 25 that the investigations by Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James, both Democrats, were purely political.

“This is a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history,” said Trump. “Our Country is broken.”

The New York attorney general’s office, which had said it was conducting a civil investigation into the Trump Organization, said last week that its probe had a “criminal component.”  James said during an unrelated news conference last week that two assistant attorneys general were working alongside the district attorney’s office.

Research contact: @WSJ

Men are dressing like artists—and paying hundreds to do it

May 20, 2021

Fashion designer Ralph Lauren’s workwear-inspired sub-brand Double RL (RRL) currently is selling a pair of jeans covered with Jackson Pollock-esque paint splotches. While the price, $429, couldn’t buy you even a square inch of an original canvas by the world-famous Abstract Expressionist artist, it’s significantly higher than that of an average pair of slim-cut denims, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Paint-splattered gear is increasingly on offer—often at elevated prices—in clothing shops of late:

Anyone who’s splatter-curious but budget-conscious can sample the trend in sneaker form: Both Nike and Converse sell relatively affordable $100-ish shoes lightly drizzled with pigment.

However, the Journal notes, ready-made clothes that suggest you just haphazardly repainted your bedroom are not novel. In the 1990s, New York city-based  Helmut Lang sold coveted jeans with a restrained sprinkling of white paint. Maison Margiela has peddled its own paint-splashed sneakers for years—and in 2018, released an entire collection built around paint-drenched chore coats and Levi’s jeans.

It’s no surprise that paint is being profitably splattered again in 2021, when other forms of crafty clothing are key to the fashion zeitgeist. Several years ago, the Big Apple brand Bode kicked off a trend for doodled-on garments with its $1,000-plus corduroys featuring hand-drawn images. Luxe Los Angeles label Amiri sells a spotty $750 bleached hoodie that makes whoever’s wearing it look like he got in a fight with a Clorox jug and lost. And we are many years into a tie-dye craze that has made tweens, retirees, and everyone in between look like devoted Deadheads.

When asked about this craftwork craze, Roma Cohen, the owner of Miami boutique Alchemist, told the Journal that, after the pandemic year, shoppers just want to “wear something that makes people happy.” Customers crave the devil-may-care, “no worries, man!” image that comes from wearing a tie-dye top or jeans that look like an action painter’s drop cloth.

Cohen believes that shoppers gravitate toward Alchemist’s in-house line of paint-splattered clothing because it reflects a human touch. He often plays Pollock himself to create these clothes and noted that the one-of-a-kind pieces often sell within days, despite their three-figure price tags.

Cohen said that many of the brand’s paint-dappled hoodies and joggers are produced in large batches by outside contractors. This is simply a decision based on scale. “When we’re selling thousands of garments, it’s hard to spend two hours or so [painting] on each garment,” he explained. Also, based on sales, customers often don’t seem to know or care if paint splotches are carefully hand-done by the actual designer or not. As with tie-dye,

And some guys are just making their own. The Journal reports that Eugene So, 23, who works in TV production in Los Angeles, was recently smitten by a $495 painted-on hoodie by Los Angeles label Gallery Dept. Still he couldn’t justify paying that much for “something that could have been an accident.” Instead, he created his own version using a $20 hoodie and a $20 paint set. At that price, he felt comfortable turning a sweatshirt into a wearable Pollock knockoff. The DIY project, he said, “provided a nice sense of accomplishment.” He created something “I could be proud of instead of buying someone else’s.”

Research contact: @WSJ