WEB Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, features a “stuntronic” robot (outfitted in Spidey spandex) that performs elaborate aerial tricks, just like a stunt person. A catapult hurls the untethered machine 65 feet into the air, where it completes various feats (somersaults in one pass, an “epic flail” in another) while autonomously adjusting its trajectory to land in a hidden net.

“It’s thrilling because it can be hard to tell whether it’s a robot or a person — the stuntronic Spider-Man, it’s that good,” Wade Heath said as he joined the line to re-ride WEB Slingers in early August. Mr. Heath, 32, a recruiter for Pinkerton, the security company, described himself as “a major Disney nerd” who has, at times, been surprised that the company’s parks have not evolved faster.

three years to develop. Disney declined to discuss the cost of the stuntronics endeavor, but the company easily invested millions of dollars. Now that the technology has been perfected, Disney plans to roll it out at other parks. WEB Slingers, for instance, has been greenlighted for Disneyland Paris.

Bob Weis, who leads Disney’s 1,000-plus member Imagineering division. In the beginning, it was just an expensive research project with no clear outcome.

“It’s not easy to prove return on investment for never-considered-possible inventions,” Mr. Weis said. “Our longstanding history of creating experiences that completely wow guests — for them to suspend disbelief and live in that moment — has paved the way for acceptance of this inherent risk.”

But budgets are not endless. “We have to be discerning because, as you can imagine, we have plenty of amazing ideas, capabilities and stories,” Mr. Weis added.

Boston Dynamics, where he contributed to an early version of Atlas, a running and jumping machine that inspires “how did they do that” amazement — followed by dystopian dread.

Baby Yoda and swinging ones like Spider-Man — that are challenging to bring to life in a realistic way, especially outdoors.

About 6,000 animatronics are in use at Disney parks worldwide, and almost all are bolted to the floor inside ride buildings. It’s part of the magic trick: By controlling the lighting and sight angles, Disney can make its animatronics seem more alive. For a long time, however, Disney has been enamored with robotics as an opportunity to make the walkways between rides more thrilling.

“We want to create incredible experiences outside of a show box,” said Leslie Evans, a senior Imagineering executive, referring to ride buildings. “To me, that’s going to be next level. These aren’t just parks. They are inhabited places.”

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, unveiled in 2019, asks groups of riders to work together to steer the ship. The ride’s queuing area features an impressive Hondo Ohnaka animatronic. (He’s a miscreant from the “Clone Wars” animated series.)

In 2003, Disney tested a free-roving animatronic dinosaur named Lucky; he pulled a flower cart, which concealed a puppeteer. In 2007, the company experimented with wireless animatronic Muppets that rode around in a remote-controlled vehicle and chatted with guests. (A technician operated the rig from afar.) Lucky and the Muppet Mobile Lab have since been retired.

play test” stage — a short, low-profile dry run at a theme park to gather guest feedback. Disney declined to say when or where.

Richard-Alexandre Peloquin was also towering in the air, except his lower body was ensconced in a contraption/costume that gave him legs the size of oil barrels and feet that resembled those of a Wampa, a furry “Star Wars” ice beast.

Asya Cara Peña, a ride development engineer, piped up with a rudimentary explanation. They were developing a full-body exoskeleton that could be applied to a wide variety of oversize characters — and that counteracted the force of gravity. Because of safety concerns, not to mention endurance, the weight of such hulking costumes (more than 40 pounds) could not rest entirely or even mostly on a puppeteer’s shoulders. Instead, it needed to be redirected to the ground.

“But it also needs to look natural and believable,” Ms. Peña said. “And it has to be something that different performers of different body types with different gaits can slip into with identical results.”

Just then, Mr. Becker began to sway unsteadily. “Whoa! Be careful!” Ms. Peña shouted, rushing to help him sit down on an elevated chair.

“We still have a long way to go,” Mr. Becker said a bit sheepishly. “The challenge is to not just have a big idea, but to get it all the way to the park.”

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Companies Begin to Mandate Covid Vaccines for Employees

Some of the nation’s largest employers, for months reluctant to wade into the fraught issue of whether Covid-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for workers, have in recent days been compelled to act as infections have surged again.

On Tuesday, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 workers in offices, slaughterhouses and poultry plants across the country that they would need to be vaccinated by Nov. 1 as a “condition of employment.” And Microsoft, which employs roughly 100,000 people in the United States, said it would require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to gain access to its offices.

Last week, Google said it would require employees who returned to the company’s offices to be vaccinated, while Disney announced a mandate for all salaried and nonunion hourly workers who work on site.

Other companies, including Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, and Lyft and Uber, have taken a less forceful approach, mandating vaccines for white-collar workers but not for millions of frontline workers. Those moves essentially set up a divide between the employees who work in offices and employees who deal directly with the public and, collectively, have been more reluctant to get the shots.

different set of reasons that are not primarily political. They say many of their members are worried about potential health side effects or bristle at the idea of an employer’s interfering in what they regard as a personal health decision.

Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing 1.3 million employees in grocery chains such as Kroger and at large meatpacking plants, said he would not support employer mandates until the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the vaccine, which is being administered on an emergency basis.

“You can’t just say, ‘Accept the mandate or hit the door,’” Mr. Perrone said in an interview on Monday.

After Tyson announced its vaccine mandate on Tuesday, Mr. Perrone issued a statement that the union “will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss this vaccine mandate and to ensure that the rights of these workers are protected and this policy is fairly implemented.”

several meat plants became virus hot spots. Now, it is requiring its leadership team to be vaccinated by Sept. 24 and the rest of its office workers by Oct. 1. Frontline employees have until Nov. 1 to be fully inoculated, extra time the company is providing because there are “significantly more frontline team members than office workers who still need to be vaccinated,” a Tyson spokesman said.

Throughout the pandemic, companies have treaded carefully in carrying out public health measures while trying to avoid harm to their businesses.

Last year, when major retailers began requiring customers to wear masks, they quietly told their employees not to enforce the rule if a customer was adamant about not wearing one.

Companies like Walmart have tried a similarly tentative approach with vaccine requirements.

Walmart announced last week that it was requiring the roughly 17,000 workers in its Arkansas headquarters to be vaccinated but not those in stores and distribution centers, who make up the bulk of its 1.6 million U.S. employees.

In a statement, the retailer said the limited mandate would send a message to all workers that they should get vaccinated.

“We’re asking our leaders, which already have a higher vaccination rate, to make their example clear,” the company said. “We’re hoping that will influence even more of our frontline associates to become vaccinated.”

Lyft told their corporate employees last week that they would need to show proof they had been inoculated before returning to company offices.

Requiring vaccinations “is the most effective way to create a safe environment and give our team members peace of mind as we return to the office,” said Ashley Adams, a spokeswoman for Lyft.

But those mandates did not extend to the workers the companies contract with to drive millions of customers to and from their destinations. The drivers are being encouraged to be vaccinated, but neither Lyft or Uber has plans to require them.

Public health experts warn that limited mandates may reinforce the gaping divide between the nation’s high- and low-wage workers without furthering the public health goal of substantially increasing vaccination rates.

They also say it’s naïve to think that workers who resisted vaccines for ideological reasons would suddenly change their mind after seeing a company’s higher-paid executives receive the shots.

“Ultimately we want to ensure that they really have the broadest reach,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, the vice dean for population health and health equity at the University of California, San Francisco, said of company directives. “Failing to do that, I think, will only cause others to be more suspicious of these types of mandates.”

Legally, companies are likely to be on solid ground if they mandate vaccines. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers could require immunization, though companies that do could still face lawsuits.

George W. Ingham, a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, said companies with mandates would potentially have to make difficult decisions.

“They are going to have to fire high performers and low performers who refuse vaccines,” he said. “They have to be consistent.” Reasons an employee could be exempted include religious beliefs or a disability, though the process of sorting those out on an individual basis promises to be an arduous one.

Companies may also have to contend with pushback from state governments. Ten states have passed legislation limiting the ability to require vaccines for students, employees or the public, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Disney is among the few big companies pursuing a broad vaccine mandate for their work forces, even in the face of pushback from some employees.

In addition to mandating vaccines for nonunion workers who are on-site, Disney said all new hires — union and nonunion — would be required to be fully vaccinated before starting their jobs. Nonunion hourly workers include theme park guest-relations staff, in-park photographers, executive assistants and some seasonal theme park employees.

It was the furthest that Disney could go without a sign-off from the dozen unions that represent the bulk of its employees. Walt Disney World in Florida, for instance, has more than 65,000 workers; roughly 38,000 are union members.

Disney is now seeking union approval for the mandate both in Florida and in California, where tens of thousands of workers at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim are unionized. Most of the leaders of Disney’s unions appear to be in favor of a mandate — as long as accommodations can be worked out for those refusing the vaccine for medical, religious or other acceptable reasons.

“Vaccinations are safe and effective and the best line of defense to protect workers, frontline or otherwise,” Eric Clinton, the president of UNITE HERE Local 362, which represents roughly 8,000 attraction workers and custodians at Disney World, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Clinton declined to comment on any pushback from his membership, but another union leader at Disney World, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could speak candidly, said “a fair number” of his members were up in arms over Disney-mandated vaccinations, citing personal choice and fear of the vaccine.

“The company has probably done a calculation and decided that some people will unfortunately quit rather than protect themselves, and so be it,” the person said.

Lananh Nguyen contributed reporting.

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AT&T-Discovery Deal Would Create a Media Juggernaut

Less than three years after AT&T spent over $85 billion and millions more fending off a government challenge to buy Time Warner, one the biggest prizes in media, the phone company has decided on a completely different strategy.

AT&T is in advanced talks to merge its media business, including CNN, with Discovery Inc., two people briefed on the deal said on Sunday. The plan would incorporate all of AT&T’s Warner Media assets, which include HBO and Warner Bros., one of the people said. The parties could announce a deal as soon as Monday, this person said, saying that the talks were not yet complete and final details had not been worked out.

Should AT&T and Discovery agree on a deal, it would combine two of the largest media businesses in the country. AT&T’s WarnerMedia group also includes the sports-heavy cable networks TNT and TBS. Discovery has a strong lineup of reality-based cable channels, including Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, HGTV, the Food Network and Animal Planet.

WarnerMedia is run by Jason Kilar, 50, one of the early pioneers of streaming and the first chief executive of Hulu. David Zaslav, 60, has been the head of Discovery for 14 years and helped it grow into a reality behemoth. It’s unclear who would lead the new business.

reported on the possible deal.

The transaction would create a new company bigger than Netflix or NBCUniversal. WarnerMedia and Discovery together generated more than $41 billion in sales last year, with an operating profit of over $10 billion. That would have vaulted it ahead of Netflix and NBCUniversal and behind the Walt Disney Company.

In other words, to compete for audiences increasingly glued to Facebook, YouTube or TikTok, media companies need to get even bigger. It could set off another round of media deals.

Both AT&T and Discovery have invested heavily in streaming in an effort to compete with Netflix and Disney. AT&T has plowed billions into creating HBO Max, a streaming platform that now has about 20 million customers. Discovery has 15 million streaming subscribers around the world, most of them for its Discovery+ app.

The merger would also be a significant about-face for AT&T, a telecommunications giant better known for servicing fiber lines and cell towers than producing entertainment and courting Hollywood talent. Industry observers questioned AT&T’s daring purchase of Time Warner at a time when cord-cutting was only accelerating. The spinoff indicates a failed acquisition strategy.

“AT&T didn’t know what they were buying,” said Brian Wieser, a longtime Wall Street analyst. “The strategy underpinning” the acquisition “was probably flawed.”

Brooks Barnes, Lauren Hirsch and Andrew Ross Sorkin contributed reporting.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Stocks Rally but End the Week With a Loss

Wall Street ended Friday higher at the close of a broad rally, an upbeat conclusion to whipsaw week of buying and selling as signs of a rebounding economy did battle with mounting inflation jitters.

All three major U.S. indexes built on Thursday’s gains, when the S&P 500 notched its biggest one-day percentage bump in over a month.

“It’s a ‘buy everything’ day,” said Chuck Carlson, senior vice president at Wealthspire Advisors in New York.

Still, the indexes suffered their biggest weekly declines since late February.

Big swings this week were stoked by economic data, which fanned concerns that near-term price spikes could translate into long-term inflation, despite assurances to the contrary from the Federal Reserve.

Economic data released on Friday showed retail sales growth stalling and consumer sentiment dipping as prices continue to rise, suggesting that while the demand boom might be taking a breather, inflation has not.

But in an indication that economic activity could return to normal, revised guidance this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks outdoors and could avoid wearing them indoors in most places.

The S&P 500 gained 1.5 percent on Friday, but ended the week 1.4 percent below last week’s close. The Nasdaq composite jumped 2.3 percent on Friday.

All 11 major S&P sectors ended the session green, with energy, boosted by rebounding crude oil prices, enjoying the largest percentage gain.

Walt Disney Company shares dropped after the subscriber additions to its Disney+ streaming service fell short of expectations.

Airbnb reported a 52 percent jump in bookings, driving its stock higher.

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Disney’s Streaming Service Slows, Coloring a Profitable Quarter

Operating income at Disney’s traditional television business — ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel, FX, Freeform, National Geographic and other networks — reached $2.8 billion, a 15 percent increase. Disney attributed the improved results to lower programing costs and higher fees from cable distributors (based on multiyear contracts). Costs at ABC fell primarily because of the timing of the Academy Awards, which aired later than in past years — after the quarter ended — because of the pandemic.

Profit in the quarter, the second in Disney’s fiscal year, totaled $912 million, up 95 percent from a pandemic-battered $468 million a year earlier. When one-time items are excluded, per-share profit rose 32 percent, to 79 cents from 60 cents. (Analysts had expected about 27 cents.)

Revenue was $15.6 billion, a 13 percent decline from a year earlier.

Disney estimated that the pandemic had a $1.2 billion impact on its theme park and cruise empire. As a result, the division had a loss of $403 million. Disneyland in California, two theme parks in France and the Disney Cruise Line were closed during the recent quarter. Disneyland reopened on April 30 with capacity limited to 25 percent, as mandated by California officials.

Mr. Chapek told analysts that the company’s largest tourist destination, Walt Disney World in Florida, would benefit from the relaxed mask-wearing guidance given by federal officials on Thursday.

“That is very big news for us,” he said. Vacationing “in Florida in summer with a mask on can be quite daunting.”

In terms of theme park demand for the months ahead, Mr. Chapek noted that Disney research had found that “intent to visit” by families was on a par with 2019, suggesting a bounce-back for the resorts once capacity restrictions and other measures (mandatory face coverings) are lifted or relaxed.

In another signal of a recovery, Disney said two films, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds, would receive exclusive 45-day runs in theaters before appearing on Disney+. “Free Guy” is scheduled to arrive in cinemas on Aug. 13 and “Shang-Chi,” a Marvel spectacle, in early September.

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U.S. Economy Rebounds as Pain Caused by Pandemic Eases: Live Updates

the first-quarter growth rate was 6.4 percent.

2019 Q4 LEVEL

$20 trillion

+1.6%

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PRIOR

QUARTER

Gross domestic product,

adjusted for inflation and

seasonality, at annual rates

2019 Q4 LEVEL

$20 trillion

+1.6%

FROM

PRIOR

QUARTER

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation

and seasonality, at annual rates

“This was a great way to start the year,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “We had the perfect mix of improving health conditions, strong fiscal stimulus and warmer weather.”

“Consumers are now back in the driver’s seat when it comes to economic activity, and that’s the way we like it,” he added. “A consumer that is feeling confident about the outlook will generally spend more freely.”

Looking ahead, economists said they expected to see even better numbers this quarter.

“It’s good news, but the better news is coming,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “There’s nothing in this report that makes me think the economy won’t grow at a gangbusters pace in the second and third quarter.”

The expansion last quarter was spurred by stimulus checks, he said, which quickly translated into purchases of durable goods like cars and household appliances.

“This demonstrates the value of government intervention when the economy is on its knees from Covid,” he added. “But in the coming quarters, the economy will be much less dependent on stimulus as individuals use the savings they’ve accumulated during the pandemic.”

Cumulative percent change in

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5 quarters

into recession

Cumulative percent change in G.D.P.

from the start of the last five recessions

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before

recession

5 quarters

into recession

Overall economic activity should return to prepandemic levels in the current quarter, Mr. Anderson said, while cautioning that it will take until late 2022 for employment to regain the ground it lost as a result of the pandemic.

Still, the labor market does seem to be catching up. Last month, employers added 916,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, while initial claims for unemployment benefits have dropped sharply in recent weeks.

Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing firm in Chicago, said: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.”

Hiring is stronger for junior to midlevel positions, he said, with strong demand for professionals in accounting, financing, marketing and sales, among other areas. “Companies are building up their back-office support and supply chains,” he said. “I think we’re good for at least 18 months to two years.”

Spending on goods like automobiles led the way in the first quarter, but demand for services like dining out should revive in the second quarter, said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “I think we will see a surge in services spending,” she said.

As more Americans become vaccinated, many economists expect a decline in new unemployment claims.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Initial jobless claims fell last week to yet another pandemic low in the latest sign that the economic recovery is strengthening.

About 575,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week’s revised figure. It was the third straight week that jobless claims had dropped.

In addition, 122,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 12,000 from the previous week.

Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 553,000.

“Today’s report, and the other data that we got today, signals an improving labor market and an improving economy,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “It is encouraging that claims are continuing to fall.”

Although weekly jobless claims remain above levels reached before the pandemic, vaccinations and warmer weather are offering new hope. Most economists expect the slow downward trend in claims to continue in the coming months as the economy reopens more fully.

But challenges lie ahead. The long-term unemployed — a group that historically has had a more difficult time rejoining the work force — now make up more than 40 percent of the total number of unemployed. Of the 22 million jobs that disappeared early in the pandemic, more than eight million remain lost.

“The labor market is definitely moving in the right direction,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the online job site Indeed. She noted that job postings as of last Friday were up 22.4 percent from February 2020.

Still, she cautioned that industries like tourism and hospitality would probably remain depressed until the pandemic was firmly under control. She also stressed that child care obligations might be preventing people ready to return to work from seeking jobs.

“We still are in a pandemic — the vaccinations are ramping up but there is that public health factor still,” Ms. Konkel said. “We’re not quite there yet.”

The NBC sitcom “The Office” became a big streaming hit for Netflix and is now back in the Comcast fold, available on its streaming service Peacock.
Credit…Chris Haston/NBC

If you want a clear picture of the state of the media industry in upheaval, Comcast offers a good snapshot.

The company, which includes NBC, Universal Pictures, several theme parks, and the Peacock streaming service, beat Wall Street’s expectations in its first-quarter earnings report on Thursday as it continued to shift its emphasis from cable to digital.

To start, take these figures from its results:

Despite the regular pace of cord cutting, Comcast’s cable television business pulled in over $5.62 billion in revenue for the first quarter. That was flat compared with last year, but it’s still the company’s biggest business, accounting for a fifth of all revenue.

Peacock, on the other hand, is the fastest growing, but it loses the most money. Last year, it approached $700 million in pretax losses. This year, the streaming platform is expected to lose $1.3 billion as Comcast spends big to load it up with original shows and sports programming with the aim of attracting more viewers.

That’s the operating thesis behind every major media company today: replace the eroding base of profit-rich cable customers with loss-making streaming viewers in the hope that over time the digital audience will become more valuable. The Walt Disney Company, ViacomCBS, Discovery Inc. and AT&T’s WarnerMedia are all trying to make the transformation without entirely losing their shirts.

Peacock’s 42 million sign-ups should also come with an asterisk. The service is free and easy to join, but that doesn’t mean everyone is watching. (The figure includes paid versions of Peacock, which feature more content and fewer commercials.) A February report from the tech news site The Information revealed that a little more than 11 million households were watching the service.

Even so, the aim of Peacock is to replace the lost advertising from Comcast’s cable and broadcast channels as people continue to cut the cord. Peacock, which is available nearly everywhere, can also act as a hedge against other cable operators such as Charter or Cox when Comcast’s media division, NBCUniversal, negotiates carriage fees.

Peacock offers some of the most popular streaming shows, including “The Office,” a top hit on Netflix before it lost the rights to the series in 2021 when the license expired and the show reverted back to its owner, Comcast.

In a few years, Peacock will have the rights to stream National Football League games on Sunday alongside NBC as part of a new agreement. That could ruffle feathers with some of NBC’s affiliate stations if viewers drop TV and opt for Peacock to watch football. The streamer will also have some games exclusively. In March, the service added WWE.

Comcast sells something that has proved more durable than sports and entertainment: broadband, the piping that carries all streaming platforms. The company saw a surge in subscribers during the pandemic. In the first quarter, sales increased 12 percent to $5.6 billion. It’s likely to overtake cable television as the company’s biggest business.

At NBCUniversal, sales sharply dropped as movie theaters remained mostly shut and fewer people were visiting theme parks under the pandemic. Revenue fell 9 percent to $7 billion and pretax profit decreased 12 percent to $1.5 billion. Advertising at its television networks, which include NBC, MSNBC and Syfy, fell 3.4 percent to $2.1 billion.

Overall, the company beat expectations, reporting adjusted profit of 76 cents a share on $27.2 billion in revenue, and its stock was climbing on Thursday morning. Investors were looking for 59 cents in per-share profit and $26.6 billion in sales.

Microsoft will decrease the share of money it charges independent developers that publish computer games on its online store, starting in August, the company said on Thursday.

Developers will keep 88 percent of the revenue from their games, up from 70 percent. That could make Microsoft’s store more attractive to independent studios than competitors like Valve’s gaming store, called Steam, which typically starts by taking a 30 percent cut. Epic Games’ store takes 12 percent.

“We want to make sure that we’re competitive in the market,” said Sarah Bond, a Microsoft vice president who leads the gaming ecosystem organization. “Our objective is to have a leading revenue share and really a leading platform.”

The share of revenue that developers get to keep has come under greater scrutiny across the tech industry. Google and Apple have faced antitrust questions for the 30 percent fees they charge developers whose programs appear in their app stores.

Last year, Epic sued Apple and Google separately, claiming they violated antitrust laws by forcing developers to use their payment systems. Epic had tried to bypass the fees by letting customers pay for items in its Fortnite video game directly through Epic. That caused Apple and Google to boot Fortnite from their app stores.

Apple and Google have since reduced fees for some developers. Epic’s lawsuit against Apple is set to head to trial on Monday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif.

A Shell recharging station for electric vehicles in the Netherlands. Despite investments in renewable energy, Shell’s profit last quarter was largely the result of rising oil and gas prices.
Credit…Koen Van Weel/EPA, via Shutterstock

Strong profit increases from two of Europe’s largest energy companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, demonstrated that what really matters for the financial performance of these companies remains the price of oil and natural gas.

Their recent investments in clean energy, described by company officials as essential for the future, remain marginal.

Total said that adjusted net income rose by 69 percent compared with the period a year earlier, when the effects of the pandemic were beginning to kick in, to $3 billion, while Shell said that what it calls adjusted earnings rose by 13 percent to $3.2 billion.

The main factor in the improved performance by both companies was a roughly 20 percent rise in oil prices along with an increase in natural gas prices, leading to higher revenues. During a news conference to discuss the results, Jessica Uhl, Shell’s chief financial officer, said that a $10 jump in oil prices would translate into a $6.4 billion increase in cash for the company’s coffers on an annual basis.

Shell, which cut its dividend last year for the first time since World War II, confirmed that it would increase the payout for the quarter by 4 percent, to about 17 cents a share.

Both companies have tethered their futures to generating and distributing renewable sources of energy. Shell in February said its oil production had peaked in 2019, and it has been investing in various clean energy ventures, including a network of 60,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. And Total has, among other things, invested in options to build offshore wind farms off Britain.

In its earnings statement, Total took the lead among the oil majors in providing details on its investments in renewable energy like wind and solar. The company said these businesses brought in $148 million for the quarter, measured as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. This figure was about 2 percent of the overall total for the company of $7.3 billion, according to analysts at Bernstein, a research firm.

Although Airbus reported a quarterly profit after a full-year loss for 2020,  “the market remains uncertain,”  said Guillaume Faury, the company’s chief executive.
Credit…Chema Moya/EPA, via Shutterstock

Airbus announced Thursday that it had returned to a profit in the first quarter following a 1.1 billion euro loss last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but its top executive warned that the economic toll would continue.

“The first quarter shows that the crisis is not yet over for our industry, and that the market remains uncertain,” Guillaume Faury, chief executive of the world’s largest airplane maker, said in a statement.

Airbus booked a net profit of 362 million euros ($440 million) between January and March, compared with a loss of 481 million euros a year earlier, as cost-cutting measures — which included more than 11,000 layoffs announced last year for its global operations — bolstered the bottom line. Revenue fell 2 percent to 10.5 billion euros.

Airbus delivered 125 commercial aircraft to airlines in the three-month period, up from 122 a year earlier. Over all, Airbus delivered 566 aircraft to airlines in 2020, 40 percent less than expected before the pandemic.

Airbus has previously warned that the industry might not recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic until as late as 2025, as new virus variants delay a resumption of worldwide air travel.

Given the uncertain outlook, Airbus won’t ramp up aircraft deliveries this year. The company said it expected to deliver 566 aircraft on back order from airline companies, the same number as last year.

It maintained its forecast for an underlying operating profit of two billion euros for the year.

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Stocks on Wall Street jumped on Thursday, rising with European stock indexes, amid indications that the economy is moving toward a recovery to prepandemic levels.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the U.S. economy expanded 1.6 percent in the first three months of 2021, compared with 1.1 percent in the final quarter last year, or 6.4 percent on an annualized basis.

A day earlier, the Federal Reserve said that the outlook was improving and that it would continue to provide substantial monetary support, easing investors’ concerns that it would soon start easing the stimulus efforts it launched a year ago when the Covid-19 crisis forced a near shutdown of many parts of the economy.

“While the level of new cases remains concerning,” Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said, “continued vaccinations should allow for a return to more normal economic conditions later this year.” The central bank kept interest rates near zero and said it would continue buying bonds at a steady clip.

The S&P 500 rose 0.7 percent. Market sentiment continued to rise after President Biden detailed more of his spending plans — which total $4 trillion — to fund expanded access to education and reduce the cost of child care, among other things.

Oil prices rose. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, climbed more than 2 percent to above $5 a barrel.

The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.3 percent as a measure of economic confidence for the eurozone surged higher.

Amazon announced raises for half a million employees in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Amazon will increase pay between 50 cents and $3 an hour for half a million workers in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams, the company said on Wednesday.

The action follows scrutiny of Amazon from lawmakers and an unsuccessful unionization push that ended this month at its large warehouse in Alabama. In 2018, Amazon raised its minimum pay to $15 an hour. In recent months, it has publicly campaigned to raise the federal minimum to $15, too.

Amazon has been on a hiring spree during the pandemic. As more customers ordered items online, the company added 400,000 employees in the United States last year. Its total work force stands at almost 1.3 million people.

Amazon typically revaluates wages each fall, before the holiday shopping season. But this year, it moved those changes earlier, said Darcie Henry, an Amazon vice president of people experience and technology. The new wages will roll out from mid-May through early June. Ms. Henry said the company was hiring for “tens of thousands” of open positions.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, recently told shareholders in his annual letter that he recognized the company needed “a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.” He said that Amazon had always striven to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” and that now he wanted it to be “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” as well.

Amazon is scheduled to report quarterly earnings on Thursday.

Gary Gensler’s tenure leading the Securities and Exchange Commission is off to a rocky start: Alex Oh, who he named just days ago to run the regulator’s enforcement division, has resigned following a federal court ruling in a case involving one of her corporate clients, ExxonMobil.

In her resignation letter on Wednesday, Ms. Oh said the matter would be “an unwelcome distraction to the important work” of the enforcement division.

Ms. Oh’s resignation letter followed a ruling on Monday from Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia over the conduct of Exxon’s lawyers during a civil case involving claims of human rights abuses in the Aceh province of Indonesia.

According to Judge Lamberth’s ruling, Exxon’s lawyers claimed without providing evidence that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were “agitated, disrespectful and unhinged” during a deposition. He ordered Exxon’s lawyers to show why penalties were not warranted for those comments.

The ruling did not single out any lawyers by name. Ms. Oh was one of the lead lawyers for Exxon.

The judge’s order also granted the plaintiffs’ motion that Exxon pay “reasonable expenses” associated with litigating their request for sanctions and with an accompanying motion to compel additional testimony from Exxon related to the deposition.

Ms. Oh’s resignation letter did not mention the Exxon case by name, but a person briefed on the matter confirmed that the ruling from Judge Lamberth had prompted her to step down.

Ms. Oh, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who worked for the elite firm Paul, Weiss for nearly two decades, was picked by Mr. Gensler to oversee the S.E.C.’s 1,000-attorney enforcement division on April 22. The same day, she filed a notice with the court in the Exxon case saying she had withdrawn from the matter because she had resigned from the firm to join the federal government.

The civil litigation involving Exxon is nearly two decades old and involves allegations by the plaintiffs that Exxon’s security personnel “inflicted grievous injuries” on them. The lawsuit was brought under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act, which enables residents of other countries to sue in the United States for damages arising from violations of U.S. treaties or “the law of nations.”

Mr. Gensler said in a news release that Melissa Hodgman, who had been the enforcement division’s acting chief since January, will return to that position. Ms. Hodgman has been an enforcement attorney with the agency since 2008. He thanked Ms. Oh for her “willingness to serve the country.”

Ms. Oh could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brad Karp, chairman of Paul, Weiss, said the firm would not comment on the matter because it involved ongoing litigation. “Alex is a person of the utmost integrity and a consummate professional with a strong ethical code,” he added.

Ms. Oh is a highly respected lawyer, but her selection had been criticized by the Revolving Door Project, a good-government group, because she had been in private practice for so many years and had defended some of the largest U.S. companies.

Increased supply-chain and freight costs for cereal makers could translate into higher retail prices for customers.
Credit…Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Before the pandemic, when suppliers raised the cost of diapers, cereal and other everyday goods, retailers often absorbed the increase because stiff competition forced them to keep prices stable.

Now, with Americans’ shopping habits having shifted rapidly — with people spending more on treadmills and office furniture and less at restaurants and movie theaters — retailers are also adjusting, Gillian Friedman reports for The New York Times.

The Consumer Price Index, the measure of the average change in the prices paid by U.S. shoppers for consumer goods, increased 0.6 percent in March, the largest rise since August 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Procter & Gamble is raising prices on items like Pampers and Tampax in September. General Mills, which makes cereal brands including Cheerios, is facing increased supply-chain and freight costs that could translate into higher retail prices for customers.

At the beginning of the pandemic, companies were focused on fulfilling demand for toilet paper, cleaning supplies, canned food and masks, said Greg Portell, a partner at Kearney, a consulting firm. The government was watching for price-gouging, and customers were wary of being taken advantage of.

Now that the economy is beginning to stabilize, companies are starting to rebalance pricing so that it better fits their profit expectations and takes into account inflation. “This isn’t an opportunistic profit-taking by companies,” Mr. Portell said. “This is a reset of the market.”

Gary Gensler, the chair of the Securities Exchange Commission, has some expertise with cryptocurrencies.
Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

For many cryptocurrency supporters and investors, regulatory approval of a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund in the United States represents the holy grail. It would allow the crypto-curious to get exposure to Bitcoin without having to buy the tokens themselves, signifying that digital assets are really, truly mainstream.

But it’s not meant to be — yet. On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission delayed a decision on a Bitcoin E.T.F. proposal from the investment manager VanEck, saying it needs more time but offering no other explanation.

Delay is not denial, and it may be a good sign, Todd Cipperman, the founder of the compliance services firm CCS, told the DealBook newsletter. When considering the concept of a crypto E.T.F. in 2018, the S.E.C. raised questions about investor protection issues and put a “wet blanket on the whole idea,” he said.

Now, crypto is much bigger, and Gary Gensler, who taught courses about blockchain technology at M.I.T., is chair of the S.E.C. His expertise doesn’t guarantee success for crypto E.T.F.s, but it will be easier for an expert in the field to approve them, Mr. Cipperman suggested.

The S.E.C. gave itself until mid-June, with the option to take more time, but it must decide before year’s end. The regulator has rejected every proposal to date, starting with the first Bitcoin E.T.F. pitch in 2013, presented by the Winklevoss twins, which was eventually dismissed in 2017 (and again in 2018). There are several E.T.F. proposals on the table now, including one from the traditional finance giant Fidelity.

Canada is moving faster, approving all kinds of crypto E.T.F.s, after allowing its first Bitcoin E.T.F. in February. Hester Peirce, an S.E.C. commissioner and vocal crypto champion, told DealBook earlier this month that she has been “mystified” by her agency’s response to some prior applications, which met the standards in her view. With more players now engaging in the process, approval could be looming — eventually.

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Comcast Earnings Beat Expectations Amid Shift to Streaming

If you want a clear picture of the state of the media industry in upheaval, Comcast offers a good snapshot.

The company, which includes NBC, Universal Pictures, several theme parks, and the Peacock streaming service, beat Wall Street’s expectations in its first-quarter earnings report on Thursday as it continued to shift its emphasis from cable to digital.

To start, take these figures from its results:

Despite the regular pace of cord cutting, Comcast’s cable television business pulled in over $5.62 billion in revenue for the first quarter. That was flat compared with last year, but it’s still the company’s biggest business, accounting for a fifth of all revenue.

Peacock, on the other hand, is the fastest growing, but it loses the most money. Last year, it approached $700 million in pretax losses. This year, the streaming platform is expected to lose $1.3 billion as Comcast spends big to load it up with original shows and sports programming with the aim of attracting more viewers.

report from the tech news site The Information revealed that a little more than 11 million households were watching the service.

Even so, the aim of Peacock is to replace the lost advertising from Comcast’s cable and broadcast channels as people continue to cut the cord. Peacock, which is available nearly everywhere, can also act as a hedge against other cable operators such as Charter or Cox when Comcast’s media division, NBCUniversal, negotiates carriage fees.

Peacock offers some of the most popular streaming shows, including “The Office,” a top hit on Netflix before it lost the rights to the series in 2021 when the license expired and the show reverted back to its owner, Comcast.

In a few years, Peacock will have the rights to stream National Football League games on Sunday alongside NBC as part of a new agreement. That could ruffle feathers with some of NBC’s affiliate stations if viewers drop TV and opt for Peacock to watch football. The streamer will also have some games exclusively. In March, the service added WWE.

Comcast sells something that has proved more durable than sports and entertainment: broadband, the piping that carries all streaming platforms. The company saw a surge in subscribers during the pandemic. In the first quarter, sales increased 12 percent to $5.6 billion. It’s likely to overtake cable television as the company’s biggest business.

At NBCUniversal, sales sharply dropped as movie theaters remained mostly shut and fewer people were visiting theme parks under the pandemic. Revenue fell 9 percent to $7 billion and pretax profit decreased 12 percent to $1.5 billion. Advertising at its television networks, which include NBC, MSNBC and Syfy, fell 3.4 percent to $2.1 billion.

Overall, the company beat expectations, reporting adjusted profit of 76 cents a share on $27.2 billion in revenue, and its stock was climbing on Thursday morning. Investors were looking for 59 cents in per-share profit and $26.6 billion in sales.

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Chloé Zhao and ‘Nomadland’ Win at 2021 Oscars

LOS ANGELES — A surreal 93rd Academy Awards, a stage show broadcast on television about films mostly distributed on the internet, got underway on Sunday with Regina King, a former Oscar winner and the director of “One Night in Miami,” strutting into a supper-club set.

“It has been quite a year, and we are still smack dab in the middle of it,” she said, referencing the pandemic and the guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder trial. “Our love of movies helped to get us through.”

With little more preamble, Oscar statuettes were handed out, with Emerald Fennell, a first-time nominee, winning best original screenplay for “Promising Young Woman,” a startling revenge drama. The last woman to win solo in the category had been Diablo Cody (“Juno”) in 2007.

“He’s so heavy and so cold,” Fennell said about the gold-plated Oscar statuette in an impromptu speech that revisited one she wrote when she was 10 and loved Zack Morris in the television series “Saved By the Bell.” “They said write a speech. I’m going to be in trouble with Steven Soderbergh,” she said.

overwhelmingly white and male, but the organization has invited more women and people of color into its ranks following the intense #OscarsSoWhite outcries in 2015 and 2016, when the acting nominees were all white. This year, nine of the 20 acting nominations went to people of color.

As expected, Daniel Kaluuya was named supporting actor for playing the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

“Bro, we out here!” Kaluuya shouted in celebration before growing serious and crediting Hampton (“what a man, what a man”) and ending with the cri de coeur, “When they played divide and conquer, we say unite and ascend.”

Hollywood wanted the producers of the telecast to pull off an almost-impossible hat trick. First and foremost, they were asked to design a show that prevented the TV ratings from plunging to an alarming low — while celebrating movies that, for the most part, have not connected widely with audiences. The producing team, which included the Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”), also hope to use the telecast to jump-start theatergoing, no small task when most of the world has been out of the box office habit for more than a year. Lastly, the producers needed to integrate live camera feeds from more than 20 locations to comply with coronavirus safety restrictions.

red carpet had to be radically downsized and the extravagant parties canceled.

For the first time, the academy nominated two women for best director, recognizing Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland,” a bittersweet meditation on grief and the American dream, and Fennell for “Promising Young Woman,” about the aftermath of a sexual assault. The other nominated directors were David Fincher for “Mank,” a black-and-white love letter to Old Hollywood; Lee Isaac Chung for “Minari,” a semi-autobiographical tale about a Korean-American family; and, in a surprise, Vinterberg for “Another Round.”

Zhao had already been feted for her “Nomadland” direction by nearly 60 other organizations, including the Directors Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In 93 years of the Academy Awards, only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won. (Bigelow was celebrated in 2010 for directing “The Hurt Locker.”) The directing category has also been dominated over the decades by white men, giving the nomination of Zhao, who is Chinese, even greater meaning.

sharp-elbowed awards campaigners keep whiffing in the end.

Last year, the company’s best-picture hopes rested on “The Irishman.” It failed to convert even one of its 10 nominations into a win. In 2019, Netflix pushed “Roma.” It won three Oscars, including one for Alfonso Cuarón’s direction, but lost the big prize.

ending his popular, nine-film “Madea” series in 2019, Perry has focused on making television shows like “Bruh,” “Sistahs” and “The Oval” for BET. He owns a studio in Atlanta.

The Dolby Theater, which holds more than 3,000 people and has been the home of the Academy Awards since 2001, was not the epicenter of the telecast. This year, with just the nominees and their guests in attendance, an Art Deco, Mission Revival train station in downtown Los Angeles served as the main venue.

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Oscars 2021: What to Watch For

LOS ANGELES — Preventing the TV ratings from plunging to an alarming low, while celebrating movies that, for the most part, have not connected widely with audiences. Attempting to jump-start theatergoing when most of the world is more than a year out of the habit. Integrating live camera feeds from more than 20 locations to comply with coronavirus safety restrictions.

This is going to be one hard-working Academy Awards ceremony.

The surreal 93rd edition — a stage show broadcast on television about films mostly distributed on the internet — will finally arrive Sunday night. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences delayed the event, which typically takes place in February, in hopes of outrunning the pandemic. Still, the red carpet had to be radically downsized and the extravagant parties canceled.

The night could go down in Hollywood history for happier reasons, however. The famed “and the Oscar goes to” envelopes could contain these names: Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya and Yuh-Jung Youn. If that happens, as some awards handicappers have predicted, it would be the first time that people of color swept the acting Oscars — an indication that the film industry has kept its promise in response to the #OscarsSoWhite movement and implemented meaningful reforms.

Voters, of course, could always veer in other directions. Is this the year that Glenn Close, a supporting actress nominee for “Hillbilly Elegy,” finally gets to take home a little gold dude? Or will she tie Peter O’Toole’s sad record for eight winless nominations? Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) or Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) could edge past Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) to win best actress. And a posthumous best actor win for Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) has lately been less of a sure thing thanks to a surge of academy support for Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”).

sharp-elbowed awards campaigners keep whiffing in the end.

Last year, the company’s best-picture hopes rested on “The Irishman.” It failed to convert even one of its 10 nominations into a win. In 2019, Netflix pushed “Roma.” It won three Oscars, including one for Alfonso Cuarón’s direction, but lost the big prize.

On Sunday — despite the pandemic hastening the rise of streaming services — Netflix is poised to three-peat as a best-picture loser, with its two nominees, “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” expected to be eclipsed by “Nomadland,” about a grief-stricken woman retreating to the margins of society. It hails from Searchlight, a division of the Walt Disney Company.

There is a chance that women will shine in both writing categories.

Emerald Fennell is the favorite to win the Oscar for best original screenplay for “Promising Young Woman,” a visceral revenge drama, having triumphed at the Writers Guild Awards. Fennell, a first-time nominee, would be the first woman to win solo in the category since Diablo Cody (“Juno”) in 2007. As for adapted screenplay, Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) is in a tight race with Florian Zeller (“The Father”). If Zhao joins Fennell in the winner’s column, it will be the first time that two solo women win the writing prizes in the same year.

Zhao’s big moment, however, will come toward the end of the ceremony, when she is expected to win the best director Oscar. In 93 years of the Academy Awards, only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won. The category has also been dominated over the decades by white men, giving recognition of Zhao, who is Chinese, even greater meaning.

Steven Soderbergh is not your usual Oscar producer, which is why he may be the perfect choice for this very unusual year.

As a director who is constantly pushing boundaries with form, subject matter and scope, he is seemingly always on the lookout for a new challenge. And what could be a bigger hurdle than producing the Academy Awards in the middle of the pandemic? He and his producing partners for the event, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, have eschewed Zoom and implemented enough protocols to enable a mask-free environment for the nominees.

Mr. Soderbergh also keeps referring to the show as a three-act film. The telecast’s writing staff includes the “Surviving R. Kelly” filmmaker Dream Hampton and the veteran writer-director Richard LaGravanese (“The Fisher King”). Presenters are being referred to as “cast members.” (They include Zendaya, Brad Pitt and Bong Joon Ho, last year’s winner for best director.)

The Dolby Theater, which holds more than 3,000 people and has been the home of the Academy Awards since 2001, will not be the epicenter of the telecast. This year, with just the nominees and their guests in attendance, Union Station — the Art Deco, Mission Revival transit hub in downtown Los Angeles — will serve as the main venue.

And if it’s the song performances you love most, then be sure to tune in to the pregame show, since those five performances have been kicked out of the main event.

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Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley Leaving Searchlight Pictures

LOS ANGELES — One of corporate Hollywood’s most enduring double acts is calling it quits.

Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, senior executives at Searchlight Pictures for 21 of its 27 years, who shaped global culture with Oscar-winning hits like “12 Years a Slave,” “Black Swan,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” announced their surprise retirement on Tuesday. They will leave the Disney-owned specialty studio by the end of June, adding to a conspicuous changing of the guard at Walt Disney Company.

“You don’t want to be the show that stays on the air two seasons too long,” Ms. Utley said. “Get out while everything is still going well.”

She was joking — mostly. Searchlight has long been the gold standard of art film studios, packing its slate with diverse offerings long before Hollywood got the memo, and thriving in a changing marketplace — the DVD collapse, the rise of streaming competitors — even as once-formidable competitors like the Weinstein Company imploded. If the latest Searchlight success, “Nomadland,” wins the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday, as many expect, Mr. Gilula, 70, and Ms. Utley, 65, will have taken the top prize in four of the last eight ceremonies. That is a run unmatched by any specialty studio, even Miramax, which at its height won three best-picture Oscars.

The Shape of Water” (2018), “Birdman” (2015) and “12 Years a Slave” (2014). “Slumdog Millionaire” won in 2009.

The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Netflix has been chasing such a victory for years as the ultimate symbol of supremacy in Hollywood.

Searchlight has been rising to the challenge of streaming. “Nomadland,” from the Chinese-born filmmaker Chloé Zhao, was released in theaters and on Hulu, a Disney streaming service. But competing with Amazon, Apple and Netflix — and their seemingly bottomless wallets — for talent and material has become harder and harder. That has made the art film market more precarious for traditional studios like Searchlight, which will now be run by David Greenbaum and Matthew Greenfield, the current presidents.

“Every time my contract was up, to be candid, I always questioned whether I had the intestinal fortitude to fight through the next set of changes,” Mr. Gilula said. “Ultimately, pride and loyalty kept me going. And there has always been another fantastic film in the pipeline. Well, maybe after ‘Shape of Water,’ maybe after ‘Three Billboards.’ But this is it. With ‘Nomadland,’ which has shown that we haven’t lost our edge at all, adapting quickly to the pandemic, there is a great feeling of fulfillment.”

Robert A. Iger, executive chairman, is departing in December after 26 years at the company. Alan F. Horn, the top creative executive at Walt Disney Studios, has been edging toward retirement, as has Alan N. Braverman, Disney’s top lawyer. Jayne Parker, Disney’s powerful human resources chief, will step down in June after 33 years at the company.

“The people you mentioned have contributed mightily — myself excluded; I’m not talking about myself in this regard — to the success of the company, and in doing so have groomed people behind them who will take over the mantle,” Mr. Iger said. “I try to ease people’s concerns as much as possible. It’s certainly way too premature to express concern.”

Searchlight was one of the assets that Disney acquired from Rupert Murdoch in 2019. Mr. Iger, who orchestrated the deal, heaped praise on Ms. Utley and Mr. Gilula. “It takes a really deft hand to bring these smaller but extremely high-quality films to market, and they have Ph.D.’s in it,” he said.

Does their retirement signal a change in direction for Searchlight? The mini-studio, which has about 100 employees, is beloved by fans of grown-up cinema, especially as Hollywood has leaned harder toward all-audience franchise films.

“No, not at all,” Mr. Iger said. “We haven’t been particularly vocal about this, but we intend for Searchlight to play a big part in supplying content, not just for theaters but for our streaming platforms. We are going to invest more and more. Expect more output rather than less.”

Summer of Soul,” a documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival from Ahmir Thompson, better known as Questlove; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” a comedy-drama-romance; and Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” about a manipulative carnival worker. Searchlight also has six television shows on the way with stars and directors that include Keira Knightley, Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”) and Darren Aronofsky.

Thomas E. Rothman, who is now Sony’s movie chief. At the time, specialty films — auteur-minded cinematic trinkets — were raking in money at the box office. “The Full Monty,” released by Searchlight in 1997, cost $3.5 million to make and took in $258 million worldwide (or nearly $430 million in today’s money). Over the years, market conditions changed markedly, particularly in the late 2000s, when an economic downturn dried up production financing.

As competitors like Rogue Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse and Miramax faded away, Ms. Utley and Mr. Gilula kept Searchlight vibrant. Her specialty has been marketing, scripts and casting. He is a distribution ace who co-founded the Landmark Theaters chain in 1974. “There has never been a spreadsheet that Steve didn’t love,” Ms. Utley said dryly.

Aside from exquisite cinematic taste, the two executives, who both hail from the Midwest, are the rarest of species in Hollywood: genuinely nice people. Neither craves the spotlight. They are widely known in the film industry for campaigning for awards with integrity.

“Hopefully, we have set an example,” Mr. Gilula said, “showing that you don’t have to be the other kind of person to be successful in this business.”

Both insisted that Disney’s takeover of Searchlight (called Fox Searchlight while owned by Mr. Murdoch) played no role in their decision to retire.

“We were frustrated at Fox because Fox just didn’t have a streaming strategy and was very slow to react to marketplace changes,” Ms. Utley said, adding, “I think the transition to Disney has gone really smoothly, which is one reason I have all the faith in the world about the future of Searchlight.”

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