Updates on the Markets and Economy


A recut of “Justice League” by Zack Snyder is among the films available on HBO Max as AT&T looks to build out its streaming service.
Credit…Warner Bros. Pictures

HBO Max is going global.

The new streaming platform, currently only available to U.S. subscribers, will launch in 61 other markets starting in June.

The company also plans to launch an advertising-driven streaming service in the United States at the same time. The announcements came Friday as part of a broader presentation outlining a set of goals for AT&T, which owns HBO.

The company hopes to reach between 120 million and 150 million total customers for HBO Max and its traditional HBO TV channel by the end of 2025, a more ambitious target compared with its previous goal of 75 million to 90 million.

The company also expects between 67 million and 70 million customers by the end of 2021. It had 61 million as of the end of December, but the number of people actually watching HBO Max is much smaller. About 41.5 million customers are in the United States, and of that group about 17.2 million have HBO Max accounts. That suggests that of the company’s new subscriber target, not all of them will necessarily be streaming HBO Max.

The company has a complicated setup around HBO Max. People can sign up for the service directly, and those who already pay for the premium cable channel through their cable or satellite provider also have access, but not everyone has set up their streaming account. The service is also offered for free or at a reduced price to AT&T’s wireless customers.

The jump into international markets shows how aggressively AT&T needs to expand its streaming enterprise. The addition of an advertising-based service means the company sees an opportunity to capture the ad dollars that have started to move away from traditional television. It’s unclear if the ad-supported version will be free or whether it will only be available at a reduced price from HBO Max’s current $15 per month cost.

Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, the unit that manages HBO, said the service is expected to start making money after 2025. It should generate about $15 billion in sales by that year, he added.

HBO Max has become a key part of AT&T’s overall strategy to keep and grow mobile customers, so losing money is less of an immediate concern if it helps AT&T retain its core wireless subscribers. Mr. Kilar emphasized HBO Max’s value to the phone business, citing that 25 percent of HBO Max customers have come via AT&T.

He ended his presentation with a cliché from the Warner Bros. film archives: “It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

A mall in Southaven, Miss., where the mask mandate ended last week. The Biden administration and Democrats in Congress are betting that providing additional stimulus checks can kick-start a faster recovery.
Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

The Treasury Department said on Friday that stimulus payments would begin arriving in bank accounts by direct deposit this weekend as the Biden administration tries to get much-needed money to struggling families.

Treasury and Internal Revenue Service Officials said the payments would be released in batches over the next several weeks, with some coming in the mail in the form of checks or debit cards. The payments are the first big logistical test for Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, as millions of Americans are anxiously awaiting the economic aid.

The payments will provide up to $1,400 per individual, including dependents. The amounts will be reduced for people making more than $75,000 and for married couples who earn more than $150,000. Individuals earning more than $80,000 or couples making more than $160,000 will not get payments.

This is the third round of direct payments since the pandemic started last year. The amount of money each person qualifies for is based on tax information filed with the Internal Revenue Service for 2019 or 2020.

The Treasury Department has been working with financial institutions to try to ensure the payments arrive more quickly this time around than they did last year, when millions of payments were misdirected into unused accounts. The majority of the payments are expected to be delivered within the next few weeks.

On Monday, people will be able to check the status of their payments on the I.R.S.’s website

Some of the first round of payments last year were delayed because former President Donald J. Trump wanted the design of the checks changed to have his name added to the memo line. A Treasury official said on Friday that the checks will be signed be a career official. On the memo line will be the words, “Economic Impact Payment.”

“The problems that beset journalism today are caused in part by a fundamental lack of competition in the search and ad tech markets that are controlled by Google,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president.
Credit…Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Lawmakers on Friday debated an antitrust bill that would give news publishers collective bargaining power with online platforms like Facebook and Google, putting the spotlight on a proposal aimed at chipping away at the power of Big Tech.

At a hearing held by the House antitrust subcommittee, Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, emerged as a leading industry voice in favor of the law. He took a divergent path from his tech counterparts, pointing to an imbalance in power between publishers and tech platforms. Newspaper ad revenue plummeted to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005, he said, while ad revenue at Google jumped to $116 billion from $6.1 billion.

“Even though news helps fuel search engines, news organizations frequently are uncompensated or, at best, undercompensated for its use,” Mr. Smith said. “The problems that beset journalism today are caused in part by a fundamental lack of competition in the search and ad tech markets that are controlled by Google.”

The hearing was the second in a series planned by the subcommittee to set the stage for the creation of stronger antitrust laws. In October, the subcommittee, led by Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, released the results of a 16-month investigation into the power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The report accused the companies of monopoly behavior.

This week, the committee’s two top leaders, Mr. Cicilline and Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, introduced the Journalism and Competition Preservation Act. The bill aims to give smaller news publishers the ability to band together to bargain with online platforms for higher fees for distributing their content. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota and the chairwoman of that chamber’s antitrust subcommittee.

Global concern is growing over the decline of local news organizations, which have become dependent on online platforms for distribution of their content. Australia recently proposed a law allowing news publishers to bargain with Google and Facebook, and lawmakers in Canada and Britain are considering similar steps.

Mr. Cicilline said, “While I do not view this legislation as a substitute for more meaningful competition online — including structural remedies to address the underlying problems in the market — it is clear that we must do something in the short term to save trustworthy journalism before it is lost forever.”

Google, though not a witness at the hearing, issued a statement in response to Mr. Smith’s planned testimony, defending its business practices and disparaging the motives of Microsoft, whose Bing search engine runs a very distant second place behind Google.

“Unfortunately, as competition in these areas intensifies, they are reverting to their familiar playbook of attacking rivals and lobbying for regulations that benefit their own interests,” wrote Kent Walker, the senior vice president of policy for Google.

Union members canvassing at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala.
Credit…Lynsey Weatherspoon for The New York Times

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida became the most prominent Republican leader to weigh in on the unionization drive at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., with a surprising endorsement of the organizing effort on Friday.

“The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over,” Mr. Rubio wrote in an opinion piece published in USA Today.

“Here’s my standard: When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers,” he continues. “And that’s why I stand with those at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse today.”

More than 5,800 workers at the Amazon warehouse, outside Birmingham, are voting by mail this month to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Last week, President Biden posted a video message on Twitter referring to the vote in Alabama and espousing on the importance of unions in helping build the middle class, while excoriating employers who interfere in unionization efforts. He did not mention Amazon by name, but his remarks followed reports that the online retailer was engaged in aggressive anti-union tactics.

“We welcome support from all quarters,” the union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum, said in a statement. “Senator Rubio’s support demonstrates that the best way for working people to achieve dignity and respect in the workplace is through unionization. This should not be a partisan issue.”

The unionization drive has also continued to attract backing from Democrats. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an email on Friday that she supported the workers in their effort.

Mr. Rubio, who recalls marching in a union picket line with his father, a hotel bartender, accused Amazon of expressing “woke” values, while bowing to Chinese…


Read More: Updates on the Markets and Economy

2021-03-13 00:53:00

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