Posts tagged with "The Wall Street Journal"

A new service seeks to streamline your streaming

January 8, 2021

As the streaming landscape keeps getting more crowded, a new entrant is looking to help declutter it, The Wall Street Journal reports

Struum—a Los Angeles-based streaming service co-founded by former Discovery and Walt Disney  executives—won’t offer its own slate of original programming when it launches this spring. Instead, it will aim to give customers à-la-carte access to all content from hundreds of niche streaming services, offering users a way to stream individual shows and movies from various platforms without having to subscribe to each plan separately.

Co-founder Paul Pastor told the Journal that Struum would give more visibility to lesser-known services—which he said have “fantastic content” but have trouble “being part of someone’s daily habit,” because there is only so much money households will spend on streaming services every month.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a boon for major streaming services, including Netflix., Disney’s Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, whose subscriber base soared last year in the midst of growing demand for content from shut-in customers. Some 95% of U.S. households subscribe to at least one of these three services, according to Parks Associates, a research firm.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, whose Tornante is Struum’s main financial backer, told The Wall Street Journal that the decision to invest was a no-brainer.

“When I heard about this idea of an aggregation platform that would pick up smaller streaming services that don’t have brand awareness particularly like Netflix does have, I thought this was a great idea,” he said.

Struum declined to name any of the services whose content would be available on its platform at launch, but said it has already struck deals with nearly three dozen services—accounting for more than 20,000 TV series, movies, and shorts.

Subscribers will get monthly credits that can be used toward watching shows and movies, the company said. Its co-founders—who also include Lauren DeVillier, formerly of Discovery, and Eugene Liew and Thomas Wadsworth, formerly of Disney—said there would be multiple packages to choose from. A likely one, they said, would cost subscribers $9.99 a month for 100 credits, which should allow them to watch about one program a day.

The co-founders said Struum would sort out the economics—for example, how many credits should a hit show or movie be worth compared with more run-of-the-mill programming—on a case-by-case basis with each streaming partner, depending on demand. The company will share subscription revenue with the streaming services.

Research contact: @WSJ

COVID aid package in limbo after Trump’s surprise demand to boost direct payments

December 24, 2020

Outgoing President Donald Trump’s last-minute demand to increase the size of direct payments to Americans—from $600 to $2,000— threw the status of the U.S. Congress’s coronavirus relief package into limbo Wednesday, just days before many crucial support programs expire, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In a video posted on Tuesday night, December 22, on Twitter, the president criticized the legislation and called on lawmakers to increase direct payments to Americans to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples—up from $600 per adult and per child, the current level in the bill.

His unexpected broadside against the bill unleashed another standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill—where, the Journal said, Senate Republicans had angered Trump by acknowledging Democrat Joe Biden as the president-elect.

Trump already had threatened to veto the annual defense policy bill, which passed both chambers of Congress with broad, bipartisan support.

His pushback on the coronavirus relief package surprised lawmakers, many of whom already had departed Washington after Congress overwhelmingly approved the relief bill in a 92-6 vote in the Senate and 359-53 in the House. The 5,593-page year-end package combines the coronavirus relief and a $1.4 trillion spending bill needed to fund the government through next September, the Journal reported.

The final bill approved by Congress carrying the $600 check to no public role. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been the main White House negotiator in talks with congressional leaders—who said the final agreement had the support of President Trump. The president waited nearly a full day after it had passed both chambers of Congress to lodge his complaints.

Democrats, who had pressed for higher direct payments during the negotiations, welcomed the opportunity to seek more aid for households struggling from the economic impacts of the pandemic. They also called on. Trump to sign the sweeping year-end package, which includes extensions of unemployment benefits, among other coronavirus relief measures.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said on Twitter late Tuesday that she would try this week to pass under unanimous consent legislation approving $2,000 checks. Multiple Democrats had already prepared legislation authorizing the larger checks.

“I’m in. Whaddya say, Mitch?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York.) said on Twitter late Tuesday, retweeting a comment from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.-New York), who said she had a $2,000 check bill ready to go. “The American people deserve it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who had pushed to keep the coronavirus aid package’s cost below $900 billion, has notyet commented on Trump’s new stance.

Research contact  @WSJ

President-elect Joe Biden selects Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff

November 13, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff—turning to a longtime adviser and Ebola Czar under President Barack Obama as he prepares his incoming administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Biden’s decision to choose Klain as his first senior staff appointment underscores his plan to focus on COVID-19 and its economic fallout. Klain organized the task force of public health experts who Biden navigate the pandemic during the presidential campaign; and was heavily involved in crafting the incoming president’s agenda and preparations for the fall debates.

Klain, 59, served as chief of staff to then-Vice President Biden from 2009 through 2011; and previously worked as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton Administration. During the Obama Administration, he played a behind-the-scenes role in the administration’s economic-recovery efforts and in the administration’s economic-recovery efforts and the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014,” said President-elect Joe Biden in a statement on his transition website, adding, “His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”

“It’s the honor of a lifetime to serve President-elect Biden in this role, and I am humbled by his confidence. I look forward to helping him and the Vice President-elect assemble a talented and diverse team to work in the White House, as we tackle their ambitious agenda for change, and seek to heal the divides in our country,” said Ron Klain.

Research contact: @WSJ

Walmart removes guns from floor displays, citing ‘civil unrest’

November 2, 2020

Retail giant Walmart has removed guns and ammunition from its U.S. sales floors out of concerns about theft amid “civil unrest” during Black Lives Matter protests against police killings in areas nationwide, The Huffington Post reports.

Guns will remain available for purchase upon request, said the company, which sells firearms in about half of its 4,750 U.S. stores.

Walmart has pulled guns off its shelves in the past. The current move comes after the October 26 shooting death of Walter Wallace Jr. by Philadelphia police —while the 27-year-old was experiencing a mental health crisis and after his family had called for an ambulance to help him.

“We have seen some isolated civil unrest and as we have done on several occasions over the last few years, we have moved our firearms and ammunition off the sales floor as a precaution for the safety of our associates and customers,” Walmart said in a statement first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

“It’s important to note that we only sell firearms in approximately half of our stores, primarily where there are large concentrations of hunters, sportsmen and sportswomen,” the company said.

Walmart said in a letter to store managers cited by the Journal that the decision was made “due to the current unrest in isolated areas of the country and out of an abundance of caution.” A Walmart in Philadelphia was trashed during this week’s unrest.

Walmart has been pushed to make adjustments to its firearms department after other incidents of violence. After a mass shooting left 17 people dead at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, the retailer raised the minimum age to purchase guns to 21. In 2019, after 23 people were killed in a mass shooting at a Walmart in Texas, the retailer stopped selling ammunition for assault-style rifles.

Research contact: @HuffPost 

Editor’s note: As of Monday, November 2, Walmart had reversed its position: ““As the current incidents have remained geographically isolated, we have made the decision to begin returning these products to the sales floor today,” a company spokesperson said.

Supreme Court declines to diminish extended ballot deadlines in North Carolina, Pennsylvania

October30, 2020

New Justice Amy Coney Barrett, still getting up to speed, didn’t participate in either case—but, on October 28, the Supreme Court “declined to disturb” extended ballot deadlines in the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania—leaving the states more time to receive mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, The Wall Street Journal reports.

In the North Carolina litigation, the justices denied Republican requests to block a decision by state elections officials to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots until November 12, a six-day extension of the date set by the legislature.

North Carolina elections officials said they extended their deadline “to keep voters from having their votes thrown out because of mail delays that the Postal Service had explicitly warned the state about.”

The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, the GOP state lawmakers, and others challenged the deadline extension and other changes—saying those officials improperly rewrote unambiguous rules set COVID -19 pandemic.

The high court didn’t explain its reasons for rejecting the requests, the Journal notes. Three of the court’s conservatives, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, registered objections and said they would have granted the challengers’ request to roll back the deadline. Justice Gorsuch wrote that the pandemic wasn’t the kind of natural disaster that gave the state board of elections a license to change voting rules.

The Supreme Court in the Pennsylvania matter refused to expedite a Republican challenge to a state court order providing three extra days for the state to accept absentee ballots mailed by Election Day.

The court’s order in that case included no noted dissents, although the same three conservative justices issued a statement indicating they were open to considering the case after Election Day.

On Friday, October 23, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, backed by the Trump campaign, asked the Supreme Court to hear and decide its challenge before Election Day, November 3. The motion was unusual in that, only days earlier, the Supreme Court, by a 4-4 vote, had refused to block the three-day extension.

In September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended to 5 p.m., November 6, the deadline to accept absentee ballots, from 8 p.m., November 3. The court credited guidance from the Pennsylvania secretary of state that the three-day extension would adequately account for processing backlogs in elections offices and postal delivery delays related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats, who sued for public-health accommodations in accepting ballots, had asked for a weeklong extension, equivalent to the deadline federal law sets for accepting ballots mailed by military families and Americans overseas.

Although it leaves intact, for now, the Pennsylvania court order, Wednesday’s decision indicated that at least four justices are skeptical that state courts can alter election regulations adopted by state legislatures for presidential and congressional elections.

In its 4-3 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had likened the coronavirus pandemic to a natural disaster, which allows state courts to alter voting procedures should it occur on Election Day. The state justices invoked their power under the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Free and Equal Elections Clause, which the state high court has found more protective of voting rights than corresponding provisions in the federal Constitution.

In last week’s decision, Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh voted to block the Pennsylvania court’s three-day extension. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal members, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to leave the Pennsylvania order in

Justice Alito issued a statement saying “there is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the Federal Constitution,” but the proximity of Election Day made it impractical to decide the issue now. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined the statement; in a separate case from Wisconsin on Monday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued an opinion expressing similar views.

The court indicated that the justices may issue additional opinions in the case. The Supreme Court could still decide to hear the case after the election, particularly if the outcome depends on Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.i

Research contact: @WSJ

The Dodo, Group Nine’s animal brand, is expanding into pet insurance

October 22, 2020

The Dodo, the animal-centric video brand of Group Nine Media, has built an audience of more than 90 million followers across social media platforms. Now it is getting into pet insurance, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Group Nine—itself, backed by Discoveryhas taken a minority stake in Petplan, a pet insurer headquartered in New York that was acquired by private-equity firm Warburg Pincus last year. Financial terms weren’t disclosed. Group Nine’s chief executive, Ben Lerer, will join Petplan’s board of directors.

The deal includes an equity stake, as well as a brand-licensing and marketing-services arrangement through which Group Nine and The Dodo will be paid to promote Petplan’s offerings.

The pet insurer will be renamed “Fetch by The Dodo” in May 2021.

The acquisition is the latest effort by Group Nine, which was valued at about $1 billion last year, to create new revenue streams at a time when many digital media companies, big and small, are trying to diversify beyond advertising, the Journal notes.

“For digital media, I think we all have the challenge of needing to be good at multiple things at once,” said Lerer. “My belief is that the best way to reinforce multiple business lines is to build great brands, because a great brand can be leveraged in a bunch of different ways.”

In buying into Petplan, Group Nine and The Dodo won’t be starting from scratch, he said. Petplan has more than 250,000 paying subscribers, the companies said. People familiar with the business said that number includes around 50,000 net new members since May 2019.

Research contact: @WSJ

As he accepts DNC nomination, Joe Biden vows to lead America out of ‘Season of Darkness’

August 24, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden cast himself as a capable leader prepared to put the coronavirus pandemic into retreat, as he formally accepted the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday evening, August 20, and asked the American public to elect him in place of President Donald Trump, The Wall Street Journal reported..=

United, we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America,” Biden told the nation from an auditorium in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. “Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not of the darkness.”

“This is not a partisan moment, this must be an American moment,” he added. “This is a life-changing election that will determine America’s future for a very long time.”

In his address, the Journal said, Biden portrayed the nation as resilient in the face of the pandemic and ready to move forward after racial unrest and economic losses. “I have always believed you can define America in one word: Possibilities,” he said.

Biden, who lost his first wife and infant daughter in 1972 and his son Beau Biden in 2015, spoke directly to the families of those who have died during the pandemic, telling them that he understood “how hard it is to have any hope.”

“I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose, he said. “As God’s children, each of us [has] a purpose in our lives. We have a great purpose as a nation.” He also credited his wife, Jill Biden, and members of his close-knit family with giving him courage.

Biden spoke inside a darkened auditorium with a backdrop of American flags and the party’s convention logos, after the pandemic prompted Democrats to cancel their planned gathering in Milwaukee. According to the Journal, he never referred to Trump by name, calling him “this president” or the “current president” in his remarks.

The party has used the convention to showcase past leaders, including former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton—and to spotlight what it sees as its next generation, chief among them Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California.

The final night of the convention also saw former presidential hopefuls Senator Cory Booker (D- New Jersey.), Pete (“Mayor Pete”) Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, and Andrew Yang deliver separate speeches that focused on the human and economic consequences of the pandemic.

In addition, the televised event featured liberals in the party, led by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Republicans such as former Ohio Governor John Kasich to send a message that any Americans who are disenchanted with Trump are welcome in Mr. Biden’s coalition.

Appearing in a video on Thursday, Sanders offered a testimonial to Biden’s character, referring to his former rival as “a human being who is empathetic, who is honest, who is decent.”

“At this particular moment in American history, my God, this is something this country absolutely needs,” Sanders said, according to the Journal report.

Following Biden’s acceptance speech, the candidates joined their spouses for a fireworks display. They stood on an outdoor stage before massive American flags. Wearing masks, they locked hands and raised them to the crowd.

For his part, President Trump had sharp words for Biden on Thursday afternoon in an appearance at Old Forge, Pennsylvania, near the former vice president’s childhood hometown of Scranton.

“At stake in this election is the survival of our nation. We’re dealing with crazy people on the other side. They’ve gone totally stone-cold crazy,” said the president, adding that Joe Biden was a “puppet of the radical left movement.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Google will extend employee work-from-home policy until Summer 2021

July 28, 2020

We doubt that there will be much pushback from employees, now that Google has once again pushed back the date when its offices will reopen—this time, to Summer 2021., The Wall Street Journal reports.

Previously, the search engine platform had said that employees would return to the office on July 6 of this year; then, had postponed reopening to September. The latest change of plans reflects the current COVID-19 landscape—with more than 4.2 million cases nationwide and deaths mounting—which has grown immeasurable more dangerous just since May.

Indeed, the Journal reports, Google CEO Sundar Pichai made the decision partly to help employees with children who may be facing a partly or mostly remote school year.

“To give employees the ability to plan ahead, we are extending our global voluntary work from home option through June 30, 2021 for roles that don’t need to be in the office,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an email to employees obtained by the Journal. “I hope this will offer the flexibility you need to balance work with taking care of yourselves and your loved ones over the next 12 months.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Rob Copeland first reported that Google would announce as early as Monday, July 27, that it had pushed its return-to-office date back to July 2021 for nearly all of its 200,000 employees and contract workers.

Google closed its offices in March as the coronavirus hit the San Francisco Bay Area. Management is now looking at the situation in California with an abundance of caution; although Pichai said in his memo to employees that Googlers had returned to the office “with robust health and safety protocols in place” in 42 countries where conditions have improved.

Google is one of several tech companies mulling how and when to reopen offices. Microsoft has said employees will work from home through at least October, while Amazon has said employees will work remotely until January. Both companies are based in Seattle, where coronavirus cases are still on the rise.

Twitter, based in San Francisco, announced in May that employees could work from home forever if they wanted. For Facebook, which appears to have sent some employees back to the office in July, as many as half of all employees will most likely work from home permanently, CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said.

Research contact: @WSJ

Study: Chances of catching COVID are reduced by 79% on flights with empty middle seats

July 20, 2020

While such carriers as American Airlines are booking full flights now, a new academic study has found that, if  you plan to fly during the pandemic, you’re better off choosing an airline with a policy of keeping the middle seat empty. Such a policy lowers the risk of contracting COVID from 1 in 4,400 to 1 in 7,300, Fortune reports.

That estimate comes from Arnold Barnett, a statistics professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His findings—which suggest a “no middle seats” flight reduces risk by 79%—also note that the risk of dying from catching COVID on a flight are less than 1 in 500,000.

Barnett’s conclusion on the risk of middle seats comes as U.S. airlines pursue different approaches. For instance, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest have chosen to keep middle seats empty; while, in addition to American, United and Spirit are filling them.

The new research should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as Barnett himself acknowledges. In his paper, he emphasizes that his findings are “rough conjecture” in light of the difficulties in calculating such a risk.

Barnett’s calculations are based on numerous assumptions, including that all passengers are wearing masks—a step he says reduces risks of catching COVID by 82%. He also assumes that someone is more likely to catch COVID from those in the same aisle rather than from those in rows behind or in front of them

The findings also disregard the risk of catching COVID from trips to the restroom, or from boarding or getting off the plane. But the latter situation may pose a significant risk according to The Wall Street Journal, which notes the close proximity of passengers waiting to board or scrambling to store luggage.

The Journal, which cited the Barnett study, suggested that flying is not especially dangerous overall, in part because planes frequently replace the air in the cabin.

For his part, Barnett concludes by noting that middle seat policy will also be informed by economic considerations facing the airlines.

“The calculations here, however rudimentary, do suggest a measurable reduction in COVID-19 risk when middle seats on aircraft are deliberately kept open,” he writes. “The question is whether relinquishing 1/3 of seating capacity is too high a price to pay for the added precaution.”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

SCOTUS rejects Trump bid to block New York subpoena seeking his financial and tax records

July 10, 2020

In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court on July 9 rejected President Donald Trump’s bid to block the Manhattan District Attorney from enforcing a subpoena seeking years of his financial and tax records from his accountants—and potentially opening the president up to widespread scrutiny.

The case was one of two before the high court—brought separately by New York County and the U.S. Congress—in which the president challenged subpoenas that weren’t sent to him, but instead to his accountants and bankers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Trump has been highly protective of his financial records. He is the only major-party presidential candidate in recent elections not to release his tax returns to the public.

Overall, the justices said that the New York prosecutor was entitled to access the president’s personal financial information—but dropkicked the decision on whether several committees of Congress should receive the records to a lower court.

Among the subpoenas under scrutiny:

Deutsche Bank since 1998 has led or participated in loans of at least $2.5 billion to companies affiliated with Trump, the Journal noted.

The Intelligence Committee said it needed the information as part of its probe of foreign influence in the U.S. political process, including whether foreigners have financial leverage over the Trump family and its enterprises. The Financial Services Committee is investigating bank-lending practices, including to Mr. Trump and his businesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) immediately commended the ruling in the consolidated cases of Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Deutsche Bank., saying, “A careful reading of the Supreme Court rulings related to the president’s financial records is not good news for President Trump.The Court has reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people, as it asks for further information from the Congress.”

In turn, the Journal said, Trump argued that House committees infringed on his prerogatives as chief executive, and that the U.S. Constitution prohibits state prosecutors from subpoenaing records of a sitting president.

However, SCOTUS already had gone on-record about such prerogatives: In 1974, the Supreme Court required President Nixon to obey a subpoena for tapes and other records related to the Watergate investigation. In 1997, the court likewise ordered President Clinton to comply with a private lawsuit brought against him over sexual harassment allegations.

House investigators and state prosecutors argued that the burdens on Trump were minor compared to those cases, as the subpoenas were directed to third parties and the president need do nothing in response.

Lower courts upheld the subpoenas for the Trump records, but they have been blocked during the Supreme Court appeal.

Research contact: @WSJ