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Updated: 1 day 16 hours ago

Is 'Straight-To-Streaming' The New Normal In Hollywood?

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 22:00

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By now, you've probably heard that "Mulan" won't be going to theaters in the U.S.

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek says, "We see this as an opportunity to bring this incredible film to a broad audience currently unable to go to movie theaters." 

With a budget of $200 million, "Mulan" is one of the most expensive movies to forgo theaters because of the pandemic. Re-telling the story of a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man to become a soldier, the live-action remake was originally supposed to be Disney's flagship summer blockbuster. 

We can't say exactly how much money "Mulan" could've made in pre-pandemic theaters. But we do know that Disney's 2019 remakes of "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" grossed more than one billion dollars each. 

Whether that box office success can translate into streaming success is going to be a big question next month.

For context: "Trolls World Tour" made more than $77 million in revenue for Universal Pictures. It was the first movie to go straight to streaming after the start of the pandemic.

Chapek says, "While we view this as a devastating situation for everyone affected, it's also forced us to consider different approaches and look for new opportunities." 

As the pandemic continues, these "new opportunities" are squarely focused on streaming and digital platforms. That's especially true for Disney — whose largest source of revenue comes from theme parks — but it's also true for the rest of the entertainment industry. 

Last month, AMC and Universal struck a deal to shorten the theatrical window and offer "premium on-demand" rentals after just two weeks. That's unprecedented for the industry, but with no clear future for movie theaters, some are already wondering if it's the new normal

What Visual Evidence Tells Us About What Caused The Beirut Explosion

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 19:55

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A massive explosion rocked Beirut, leaving the city's port in ruins and thousands injured with a climbing death toll. The Lebanese Red Cross is accepting donations as it works to save those who survived.

U.S. Sending Highest-Ranking Official In Over 40 Years To Taiwan

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 18:55

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is set to become the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 40 years. In 1979, formal diplomatic relations between the two countries ended. 

The U.S.'s ties with Taiwan are — officially unofficial — in deference to China. But America is the island's most important ally and provider of defense equipment.

The Department of Health And Human Services says the visit is meant to show President Donald Trump's support for Taiwan. But China is criticizing the trip, saying it'll damage U.S.-China relations.

The visit to Taiwan will be the first by a U.S. Cabinet official in six years. Azar will be the first-ever HHS secretary to make the trip. His visit is scheduled to take place in coming days.

NBCUniversal Announces Layoffs

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 17:55

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NBCUniversal is beginning a round of layoffs.

It's unclear how many of the 35,000 full time employees will lose their jobs but it's expected to impact less than 10% of its workforce. The cuts will affect NBCUniversal's broadcast networks, cable channels, movie studio and theme parks. In Chicago, the White Sox pre- and post-game show host was let go as well as the host of a Bears football program. NBCUniversal says it's making the cuts as part of a strategic restructuring plan aimed at focusing more on its streaming operations.

The announcement of the layoffs has been expected for months. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said in an earnings call that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the company's struggle. It announced a $6.1 billion revenue drop in the second quarter, mostly tied to having to close theme parks, postpone movie releases and a drop in advertisement sales.

Contains footage from CNN.

Joe Biden Won't Travel To Milwaukee For Democratic National Convention

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 16:52

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Joe Biden won't be heading to Milwaukee to accept the Democratic nomination, citing worsening coronavirus conditions in Wisconsin. 

The Democratic National Convention Committee confirmed the decision in a press release Wednesday.

Instead, the former vice president will accept the nomination and address the nation virtually from his home state of Delaware.

Other speakers scheduled to attend the Democratic National Convention have also canceled their travel plans.

DNC chair Tom Perez referenced the virus in making the announcement, saying, "We followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and we continued making adjustments to our plans in order to protect lives."

U.K. To Redesign 'Racist' Visa Algorithm After Backlash

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 16:45

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The U.K. government said it will redesign an algorithm for visa applications after critics called it racist and a "speedy boarding for White people."

A complaint from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants says the algorithm uses nationality to decide whether an applicant is "high risk." The immigrant welfare group said people from red-flagged countries received "intensive scrutiny" and were "much more likely to be refused."

The group filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare the algorithm unlawful, but that may have just encouraged the U.K. Home Office to reconsider the process altogether.

In a statement, the Home Office said the algorithm will be suspended on Friday, and it hopes to complete the redesign this fall.

For Newsy, I'm Adam Elrashidi.

Google Accidentally Rolls Out Extra Listening Feature On Speakers

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 16:43

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Google has admitted its smart speaker can detect everyday noises in your house.

People who have the Google Home device reported getting notifications from the speaker when it picked up background noises like a smoke alarm going off or glass breaking.

Google accidentally rolled out this feature during a software update. The company says it's since been disabled.

Google recently announced it's paying $450 million for a nearly 7% stake in security company ADT. The company will begin using Google Nest's internet-connected cameras as part of its customers' security systems.

There are already privacy concerns related to how Google makes money by selling targeted ads using data it gets on users when they — you know — Google things. The company's CEO also faced scrutiny just last week in front of Congress regarding big tech companies stifling competition. Additionally, the Justice Department has been investigating Google for a year, which could result in an antitrust lawsuit.

All this makes big acquisitions tough for Google to pull off right now, which could have something to do with its minority-stake purchase in ADT. The move makes Google ADT's largest stockholder.

Early Data From Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Shows Promise

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 16:24

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Early data from a potential coronavirus vaccine is showing promise. 

Biotechnology company Novavax released its Phase 1 data Tuesday. It said test subjects — who received two doses of its vaccine — developed four times more antibodies than those who previously had COVID-19. Antibodies help fight off the virus.

Additionally, the company said its vaccine is safe. Of the subjects who actually received the vaccine, none had serious side effects, though some did have mild reactions. And those mild side effects lasted about two days. 

The findings have been submitted to a medical journal and have not yet been reviewed by scientists outside of Novavax.

Other Countries Find Age Matters When Reopening Schools

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 15:18

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Since the start of the pandemic in early spring, almost 200 countries closed their schools, impacting 90% of students around the world

But by April, Denmark started reopening its schools. It saw no increase in new cases and the few infected children rarely infected anyone else.  

Finland and Australia took similar approaches: opening their schools gradually — limiting class sizes, requiring masks, and, at first, just for younger students.

Sweden kept elementary and middle schools open throughout the pandemic and had equal results to neighboring Finland

But not all school openings have been success stories. 

“I think there's no doubt that we had a very severe and strong lockdown and we had a very loose … release policy,” said professor Ora Paltiel, senior physician at Jerusalem's Hadassah University-Hospital, a professor of epidemiology and former director of the Braun School of Public Health.

When Israel reopened schools in early May, there were only about 10 new COVID cases a day. Now it’s the fourth most infected country in the world per capita. 

More than 2,500 Israeli students and teachers have been infected and more than 100 come from one school.  

A member of Israel’s COVID-19 ad-hoc advisory team, Ora Paltiel, says the country moved too fast in opening up schools and the rest of the society. 

“First, the little kids in grades one, two and three were allowed back into school and then a couple of days later [children in] kindergartens. And then within two weeks, the government decided to open the entire educational system. Right after that, we had this heat wave, and the minister of health said children don’t need to wear masks,” Paltiel said.  

SEE MORE: School Air Filters: Not COVID-19 Ready

 The rest of Israel also opened up without strict rules. 

“There was a lot of social mingling at the same time that children were going back to school. So you can imagine if the parents went to a wedding and the kid is going back to school, we have a recipe for infection,” Paltiel explained. 

 Now, ahead of a new school year, Israel has changed its plan: First and second graders will go to class as usual, third and fourth graders will be in smaller groups and students in higher grades will learn online, only occasionally in school.

Recent large studies support this approach. They found that children under the age of 10 don’t get as sick, and are not as likely to infect others.  

SEE MORE: Newsy Investigates: When COVID-19 Infects A Reopened School

“Little children have fewer or fewer ACE2 receptors and therefore they're less likely for the virus to stick to their cells when it gets into their respiratory tract,” Paltiel said. 

“They have smaller voices, their cough is less powerful and their sneezing is less powerful. When they talk, the virus doesn't go as far,” she explained.  

For older children, the impact of COVID 19 is the same as for adults.So, as U.S. schools consider what’s best, international experts say for younger children, the benefits of opening schools outweigh the risks. 

“Little kids need to go to school. They are bearing the brunt of this epidemic, even though physically they're not suffering the consequences of it. I think it's not fair and it's not justified,” Paltiel said.

Disney Switches Gears, Will Send 'Mulan' To Its Streaming Service

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 14:41

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Disney's live action Mulan movie is finally heading to the screen, just not the big screen. 

Starting September 4th, viewers will be able to watch the remake of the animated film on the Disney Plus streaming service. Anyone wanting to rent the film will have to pay an additional $30 on top of their monthly subscriber fee, and countries were Disney Plus is not available, Mulan will still be released in theaters. 

Newsy's Katherine Biek joins us now. Katherine, other studios have released their films online during this pandemic. So why is this move by Disneygetting so much buzz? 

Well, I think it's unprecedented for several reasons. First, Disney has previously tried to make a distinction between its theatrical films, and one it makes directly for streaming and move on was designed to be this Great War epic, so analysts thought Disney would definitely keep a hold of it until theaters opened back up. Also, it's the first time Dizzy is offering a project on its streaming platform for a premium fleet. But the pandemic has hit Disney hard. It reported an almost $5 billion quarterly loss yesterday. It's first in almost two decades, so it has to make money somehow, and there's room to do that with move on. Disney Plus has more than 60 million subscribers. Let's just say half of them run the movie at $30 a pop. That's more than $900 million for Disney. And it's possibly more money than the film could have made in theaters, since some states haven't even allowed their indoor movie theaters to reopen yet, including New York and California. I mean, honestly, that's quite the business move. 

And as you mentioned movie theaters, how are they responding to the news from Disney? 

Well, they're definitely not happy about it. Deadline spoke to several owners who are worried about the fate of their industry. Theaters were really banking on, Move on, and Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" to drive people back to the box office theaters in the U.S. Make money by splitting box office revenue 50/50 with studios. But now theaters aren't going to see a dime that Disney makes off Mulan and other studios have already proven that they can successfully have their films Skip Peters and instead just head straight to digital release. Take "Trolls World Tour" from Universal for example, it actually made more money in just three weeks of digital release earlier this year in the original trolls film did during its five months in U.S. theaters. 

Now, my question to you is Are you gonna buy the movie Are you gonna watch Mulan on Disney plus? 

Oh, I mean, you and I were, like, so set to go see this movie in theaters when it was originally gonna be there in March. So of course I'm going to watch, No question. 

Wow. Can't wait. I'll pull it with my popcorn. Newsy is Katherine Biek. Thank you.

BP Shifting Strategy Toward Clean Energy Production

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 13:52

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BP is moving away from oil and gas production to focus on clean energy.

The company plans a 10-fold increase in low-carbon investments to $5 billion by 2030. BP has promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

It'll pay for the strategic shift, in part, by cutting dividends for BP investors. This follows a restructuring plan aimed at long-term viability that included 10,000 job cuts worldwide.

The announcement of the strategic overhaul comes as BP anticipates a massive decline in sales.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated plans like these as a reduced need for fuel around the world has hit the energy industry. BP expects oil and gas production to drop by about 40% over the next decade.

As Schools Reopen, Intelligence Officials Say China Spying Looms Large

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 13:00

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As college campuses welcome students back for another year amid the global pandemic, and with universities leading the charge for solutions to the coronavirus crisis, there’s a new and urgent concern — about spies in school.

"Most of it is what we call the insider threat. It is the student, the scientist, the engineer, who's actually on campus doing the research and secretly sending information back to China for a shadow lab or for their production," Bill Evanina says.

Evanina, the country’s top counterintelligence official, tells Newsy China — which vows to be the world’s top superpower by 2049 — poses a threat far greater than Russia or Iran. And he’s not the only one.

"We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours," FBI Director Chris Wray said in a speech in July.

Academic institutions are prime targets, while the U.S. intelligence community is banned from operating on school grounds. And Evanina says with universities and colleges closed, they’ve been unable to execute new plans to address the problem — while China’s efforts continue through financial distress.

"There is an ego and hubris part of this, right? Because if you are really well skilled as a researcher or a scientist, and you're not being employed, and someone else is offering you income for your brain matter, it's hard to say no to it," Evanina tells Newsy. "The Chinese government and their intelligence services will target you or manipulate you."

A spate of researchers have been swayed through talent recruitment programs like China’s Thousand Talents, wittingly and unwittingly. In a highly publicized case exposed in January, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology received U.S. government grant money while the Chinese allegedly paid him $50,000 a month to start a clandestine lab overseas. 

By June, the National Institutes of Health had notified more than 87 institutions about 175 scientists found to be linked to China. An American scientist who participates in China’s Thousand Talents program told Newsy it’s wrong for researchers to hide their earnings and affiliations, but that fears of the program being a spy front are overblown — because, quote, “Trump is after China.” 

Evanina thinks that’s naive — saying he was doing the same work under then-President Barack Obama. And now with COVID-19, the stakes are that much higher.

"Are you confident that research institutions, places developing covid vaccine research, are prepared enough to handle the threat of China stealing their research?" I asked Evanina.

"Absolutely not. No one in America is prepared for the intent and capability of China," he said. "If you are a scientist, an engineer, a researcher on campus, it's your sweat equity that's being stolen."

Sasha Ingber, Newsy, Washington

Alleged Twitter Hacker Pleads Not Guilty In Florida Court

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 12:45

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The teenager believed to be behind the massive Twitter hack last month has pleaded not guilty

Prosecutors charged the 17-year-old with 30 counts of fraud. Florida's Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said it would try him as an adult. He's accused of hijacking a number of famous Twitter accounts to scam people out of more than $100,000 in Bitcoin. 

Two other people were charged in the hack. Twitter says the hackers stole employee credentials and targeted other employees who had access to account support tools. In all, 130 accounts were targeted. The scam tweets were sent out from 45 accounts, and hackers accessed the direct message inboxes of 36. 

Contains footage from CNN.  

Pandemic Parenting: How Can I Keep My Child Care Worker Safe?

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 12:00

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As if parenting weren't challenging enough, the coronavirus pandemic has raised a thousand new, unprecedented questions. 

We asked the experts: What's the best way to keep everyone safe if I rely on in-home child care, like a babysitter or relative who does not live with me?

"It's tricky because we don't know if someone has been exposed," said clinical psychologist Carolyn Ievers-Landis. "We don't know based upon temperature or symptoms. We don't know even based upon testing, which really isn't that available. So you are taking some degree of risk, and you just have to know that."

“Being open and honest with them, like, 'Hey, if you if you start to experience any symptoms, if you come in contact with anyone, and vice versa, that may have tested positive for COVID-19, then please get please give us a heads up, and I'll give you a heads up as well," said pediatrician Dr. Dontal Johnson. "Because they want to be safe in your home, too."

Colombia's Supreme Court Orders Former President To Be Detained

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 11:03

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Colombia's Supreme Court has ordered house arrest for former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez on charges of bribery and procedural fraud. He is being processed for his alleged involvement in witness tampering.

Uribe served as president for two terms between 2002 and 2010 and is now a senator. 

The court said the decision was made after a "rigorous legal study" showed "possible risks of obstruction of justice." It also said the allegations were allegedly committed during his time as a congressman. 

Some residents in Bogotá organized a caravan Tuesday evening to show their support for the lawmaker. 

Uribe has denied the accusations against him. He could face up to eight years in prison if found guilty.

Contains footage from CNN

Bipartisan Group Of States Team Up To Buy Rapid COVID-19 Tests

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 10:45

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As coronavirus case numbers continue to rise in the U.S., some states want to speed up testing. 

Under a pact announced Tuesday, seven states led by a bipartisan group of governors are teaming up to purchase 3.5 million rapid antigen tests. This type of test can quickly detect if an individual has COVID-19 in as little as 15 to 20 minutes

The states are Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts and North Carolina. The group is already in touch with two test manufacturers. Each state will receive 500,000 tests. 

The U.S. does not have a national testing strategy. Instead, President Donald Trump previously told Congress that it's up to each state to establish its own testing program. 

The group said other state and local governments are welcome to join their effort to buy the rapid tests. 

NYC Health Commissioner Quits In Clash With Mayor Over Virus Response

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 01:08

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New York City's health commissioner has resigned. Dr. Oxiris Barbot cited a "deep disappointment" with Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the coronavirus outbreak. 

In Barbot's resignation email to de Blasio, she says, “I leave my post today with deep disappointment that during the most critical public health crisis in our lifetime, that the Health Department’s incomparable disease control expertise was not used to the degree it could have been.”

New York City Council Health Chair Mark Levine took to Twitter after Barbot's departure saying, "The departure of Dr. Oxiris Barbot as New York City’s Health Commissioner is a grave blow to the fight for public health here in NYC."

She's not the only one to tangle with de Blasio... Other New York health officials have clashed with the mayor over his decision to make the public hospital system responsible for contact tracing.

The mayor suggested his relationship with the health commissioner has been deteriorating rapidly, telling reporters, “It had been clear certainly in recent days that it was time for a change.” De Blasio added, “We need an atmosphere of unity, of common purpose.”Barbot has been replaced by Dr. Dave Choksi, who had been working in the city's hospital system.

Professional Sports More Open About Social Justice Messaging

Tue, 08/04/2020 - 23:58

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Major sports are back with safeguards in hopes of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Some leagues ... having more success than others. Yeah, we're looking at you, baseball. But the abbreviated seasons look different even beyond the new COVID-19 rules. 

The push for social justice in sports is more apparent than ever. In the NBA, Black Lives Matter is painted on the court, kneeling is a pre-game ritual and players sport jerseys that swap out their last names for messages like "I Can't Breathe," and "I Am A Man" and other phrases commonly associated with racial protest.

The WNBA, MLB and NHL are among other professional sports leagues highlighting social justice movements. 

The WNBA has agreed to form a platform called The Justice Movement where players and teams can promote the Black Lives Matter movement, among others. Players are also allowed to wear jerseys with the names of women who have died in connection to police brutality or racial violence, such as Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland.

As for the NFL, the 2020 season isn't here quite yet but the league is already taking steps to reverse previous rules against player protests and kneeling for the national anthem. Teams and players are now encouraged to express their beliefs without fear of repercussion from the league. And look for social justice messages on the back of helmets this year.

Widespread Injuries And Deaths As Blasts Rock Lebanese Capital

Tue, 08/04/2020 - 22:56

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An explosion in Beirut's port area has left thousands of people injured and unknown more dead. It began just after 6 p.m. Tuesday local time when a warehouse, housing either fireworks or some other explosives, caught fire. Social media video showed it triggering a massive explosion.

A giant mushroom cloud rose above Beirut, leaving buildings gutted. With emergency sirens wailing, rescue workers raced to assist victims. Beirut's governor called it a "national catastrophe."

Lebanon's health minister quickly confirmed dozens of people were dead and thousands were injured. A staggering number of casualties, even in a country that has seen a rise in violence.

While initial reports blamed a fireworks warehouse fire, a Lebanese government security official reported that confiscated "high explosive materials" were stored in the area.

Dozens of Red Cross emergency teams responded to collapsed structures and fires. As bloodied victims emerged outside, rescuers went inside damaged and dangerous buildings in search of more people needing help.

Witnesses report the damage extends as far as 6 miles away. Journalists who work in Beirut said this seemed bigger than just fireworks exploding.

The damage could further cripple Lebanon's economy, which is already in free-fall due to a monetary crisis and coronavirus. The country is also affected by recently escalating tensions between Hezbollah and Israel.

Investigations are now underway into the explosions and cause.


President Trump Signs $3B-A-Year 'Great American Outdoors Act'

Tue, 08/04/2020 - 20:15

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President Trump signed a bill Tuesday that establishes a fund to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.

The $3 billion-per-year "Great American Outdoors Act" will fully pay for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which preserves access to public lands. It's also meant to help cover the estimated $20 billion maintenance backlog on federally owned lands, including national parks and forests.

Opponents say it's not enough to do that. Supporters, meanwhile, call it the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.

The House and the Senate cleared both bills by overwhelming bipartisan margins this summer. The late Rep. John Lewis sponsored the original measure that passed the House and contained Senate amendments.