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Netflix and Big Theater Chains Haggle Over Release of Scorsese’s ‘Irishman’



LOS ANGELES — When Martin Scorsese signed with Netflix to make “The Irishman,” the star-studded epic scheduled to have its premiere on the opening night of the New York Film Festival next month, he put himself in the crossfire of the so-called streaming wars.

The film, which may represent Mr. Scorsese’s grandest statement yet on the intersection of organized crime and American politics, is expected to be a strong contender in the 2020 Oscar race. He took his $159 million movie, with Robert De Niro in the lead role, to Netflix after his home studio of recent years, Paramount Pictures, balked at the budget.

The full extent of the theatrical rollout remains up in the air. Where, exactly, moviegoers will be able to see “The Irishman” won’t be clear until the discussions between Netflix and select major theater chains end. They have been dragging on for months. The negotiations are just the latest chapter in the conflict between the film industry’s old guard and the tech-driven upstarts.

“The Irishman,” a throwback to the 1990s Scorsese hits “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” was announced more than a decade ago at Paramount, the studio where he made “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Silence.”

Mr. Scorsese struck the deal with Netflix in 2017, and filming started soon afterward. The film, which makes use of “de-aging” special effects to keep the actors looking the right ages in a saga that spans decades, is in the final stages of postproduction as the director works to get it done in time for its Sept. 27 festival premiere.

Adam Aron, the AMC chief executive, said in a statement, “Talks are underway with Netflix about our showing ‘The Irishman’ and other Netflix films, but the outcome of those conversations is not yet clear.”

AMC and Cineplex are negotiating with Netflix separately, the people familiar with the talks said. A crucial sticking point has been the major chains’ insistence that the films they book must play in their theaters for close to three months while not being made for available for streaming at the same time, which does not sit well with Netflix. Talks broke down in July, only to pick up again two weeks ago, the people said.

Netflix, Mr. Scorsese and Cineplex declined to comment for this article.

Because of the impasse over the three-month theatrical window, Netflix has yet to give any of its films the kind of blockbuster theatrical releases that companies like AMC can provide. The streaming giant’s reluctance to concern itself with weekend box-office numbers reflects its laser focus on its main mission: delivering streaming video on demand to its 151 million subscribers worldwide.

Having built itself into an entertainment powerhouse by keeping its subscribers interested and coming back for more, the company does not want to be distracted by the demands of the old-style movie business, even as it makes deals with legendary filmmakers like Mr. Scorsese.

“Netflix is in the subscriber happiness business,” said Richard Greenfield, a tech and media analyst. “They need to attract more members and make current members happier. ‘The Irishman’ is really important.”

Many Netflix movies, like the Adam Sandler vehicle “Murder Mystery,” which Netflix said had 78 million household views in its first four weeks, seem made for living-room viewing. But Netflix has also come out with more ambitious offerings, like “Roma,” the meditative black-and-white film from the director Alfonso Cuarón. “Roma” won praise from critics on its way to three Oscars this year, for best director, best cinematography and best foreign language film.

Oscar eligibility is not much of a factor in how Netflix handles the rollout. To qualify for the Academy Awards, a film must have a 7-day run in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County, according to rules recently confirmed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors; it can even be shown on another platform at the same time. Still, there is an Academy contingent that may look askance at Netflix if it does not play by the old rules for a cinematic feature like “The Irishman.”

Despite its craving for Oscar gold, Netflix does not want to be distracted from its core business — especially now that it will be challenged by the Walt Disney Company, which plans to unveil its Disney Plus streaming service Nov. 12, and Apple, which is starting its equivalent, Apple TV Plus, on an unspecified date this fall. Following those giants into the increasingly crowded digital-video marketplace will be WarnerMedia and Comcast, among others.

In an effort to stay ahead of its current and future rivals, Netflix spent $12 billion on original content in 2018. While the company has paid large sums to star television producers like Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes and the “Game of Thrones” duo David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, it has not stinted on its movie division, which made 55 films last year, not counting documentaries and animated movies, and has brought aboard A-list directors like Noah Baumbach, Ron Howard, Dee Rees, Steven Soderbergh and Guillermo del Toro.

Even as it works to add subscribers, Netflix cannot afford to alienate top filmmakers. Mr. Stuber is mindful that the way to keep the talent happy is to get their work on the big screen. He recently bolstered the Netflix film arm by hiring two distribution executives from 21st Century Fox, Spencer Klein and Pablo Rico.

AMC and other large chains worry that if they grant Netflix a shorter theatrical window, they will have to do the same for other studios. In his statement, Mr. Aron added that he would be “delighted” to show Netflix movies, but he had a caveat: “We can only do so, however, on terms that respect AMC’s important and close relationships with our longstanding studio partners, including Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, Sony, Paramount, Lionsgate and so many other filmmakers who are the lifeblood of our substantial business.”

Some Hollywood executives have said the theater chains must adapt if the cinematic experience is going to compete with the convenience of streaming. “Both the studios and the exhibitors have to look at every aspect of how we do business together and figure out different paradigms to move it forward,” said Chris Aronson, the former chief distribution executive at Twentieth Century Fox.

More than 95 percent of movies stop earning their keep in theaters at the 42-day mark, well short of the three-month window demanded by major chains, according to Mr. Aronson. That suggests the need for change, he said.

“The movie theaters feel that if they blink at all, it will all blow up,” said Jeff Blake, the former chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution for Sony Pictures.

Netflix’s unwillingness to promise wide releases has come with a cost. The company lost out on the rights to “Crazy Rich Asians,” the 2018 romantic comedy that grossed nearly $240 million at worldwide box offices. The director, Jon M. Chu, and the author of the novel it was based on, Kevin Kwan, decided to go with Warner Bros., saying they wanted the movie to play in as many theaters as possible.

Netflix’s stance has also put it at odds with the theatrical chain Regal, which said in a statement to The Times: “Currently, we are not in any discussion with Netflix on ‘The Irishman’ nor on any other movie. Of course, if Netflix will decide to respect the industry business model and release the movie with a proper theatrical window, we will be more than happy to discuss the booking of the movie in Regal theaters.”

Mr. Scorsese directed another film for Netflix, “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese,” a playful documentary released simultaneously in select theaters and on the streaming service in June, but he plans to make his next film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, at Paramount.

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More signs emerging of an economic slowdown in Colorado, state forecasters warn – Canon City Daily Record




State economists are trimming their forecasts for economic growth and tax revenues after business spending and exports declined more than expected this summer.

But they aren’t calling for a downturn yet, given the continued strength in hiring and consumer spending.

“We are not forecasting a recession, but recession risks remain elevated,” Meredith Moon, an economist with the Colorado Legislative Council, (CLC) told members of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee on Friday.

Trade tensions and slower growth abroad are weighing on economic activity in the U.S. and Colorado. Higher tariffs and a stronger U.S. dollar have contributed to a 6.4 percent drop in Colorado exports this year through July, Moon said in a quarterly briefing.

Some Colorado producers are getting hit much harder — wheat exports are down 56 percent year-to-date, corn exports are down 44.5 percent, and animal hide exports are off 38.4 percent.

Nor are consumers abroad drinking more Colorado alcohol to ease their worries. Beer exports from the state are down 37.4 percent and whiskey exports are off nearly 80 percent.

But compared to other states, Colorado’s economy is among the least dependent on exports, putting it in a better spot to weather a trade war.

“We have fairly limited exposure to foreign markets,” said Kate Watkins, chief economist with the CLC.

And the employment situation report from the Colorado Department of Labor shows continued hiring, with a robust 9,000 nonfarm jobs added in August versus July.

Hiring between June and August was revised higher from an initial estimate of 7,200 to 10,000, something that doesn’t line up with a contraction.

The state’s unemployment rate fell to 2.8 percent in August from 2.9 percent in July and 3.4 percent a year ago. Over the past year, Colorado has had one of the biggest percentage-point drops in its unemployment rate of any state.

A tight labor market is resulting in stronger wage gains and leaving consumers more confident about spending.

“The current economy is being driven by consumer spending,” said Luke Teater, deputy director at the Office of State Planning and Budgeting. “Consumer spending has been strong. We expect that to continue.”

And although home price gains are slowing, homeowners in Colorado continue to see some of the strongest home equity gains in the country, according to CoreLogic.

Only 1.75 percent of Colorado homeowners were behind on their mortgage in the second quarter, the best showing in the country, according to Black Knight, a real estate information provider.

But there are several risks. If business activity contracts, it is only a matter of time before hiring follows. A national manufacturing index showed its first decline since 2015 and short-term interest rates are lower than long-term rates, one of the most reliable indicators of a coming recession.

Home price appreciation is slowing in metro Denver, developers are adding fewer apartments and auto dealers are struggling to move as many cars and trucks as they did last year.

State forecasters don’t expect the brief spike in petroleum prices because of a bombing of Saudi oil facilities last weekend to be sustained. If demand globally continues to weaken, producers in the state, already struggling, will be hurt.

Last week, the city of Denver reported that sales tax collections rose at a 4 percent pace in the first half of the year compared to a 7 percent pace last year, linked to slower construction spending and fewer automobile purchases.

Slower economic activity has caused economists at both the CLC and OSPB to scale back their projections for state tax collections, although the two groups disagree on the amount.

The more optimistic OSPB forecast is expecting general fund revenues, after increasing 7.3 percent last fiscal year, to grow a tamer 4.1 percent this fiscal year.

The state is expected to collect $44.1 million less in its general fund this year than what was forecast in June, and $109.5 million less next year.

“The most likely scenario is a slowdown, not a contraction,” said Lauren Larson, budget director at the OSPB.

The CLC is projecting a $76.3 million drop in general fund collections this fiscal year versus what it estimated in June, and a $120.9 million haircut next year.

Surprisingly, the revenues collected last fiscal year, ended June 30, are coming in $76.1 million below the June forecast, according to the CLC.

In the state’s favor, the surplus due back to taxpayers under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR will provide a cushion of sorts. If revenues continue to come in lower than expected, those refunds will disappear before spending gets cut.

Watkins said that much of the slow down appears to be centered in the areas that have enjoyed the strongest growth this decade, while other areas that struggled are still seeing an acceleration.

“We are seeing quite a bit of slowing in the Front Range, especially Denver,” she said. “There’s been a pick up in activity in other parts of the state.”

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The market rotation this month may have been driven by a technicality




A trader works at the New York Stock Exchange in New York.

Wang Ying | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

What exactly happened during the “once in a decade” stock market rotation earlier this month that rocked investors? It might’ve just been a one-off technical move and not based on fundamentals.

A huge rotation out of momentum into value names took place suddenly last week. Many read the phenomenon as a warning sign as stocks with superior growth have led the market’s bull run in recent years and said a rebound in interest rates was the catalyst. However, the reversal in momentum, which seemed to abate this week, could be explained by a sudden stop in tax loss harvesting, some on Wall Street said.

The idea is that investors often sell losing stocks to lower their tax bill from the capital increases, a technical move that’s quintessential of a momentum trade — chasing winners and dumping losers. The amount of such activity might have decreased significantly last week due to speculations the Trump administration would pass a bill to reduce capital-gain taxes, therefore reducing the incentive to sell their losers.

“It’s quite possible some of the dominant robo advisors could have assumed that the U.S. administration would indeed follow through with its proposal on Sept. 9, and decided to change their optimization to take this into account,” Barclay’s head of equity derivatives strategy Maneesh Deshpande said in a note on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump earlier this month floated a proposal to tie capital gains taxes to the inflation rate, which could lower the taxes investors pay on profits from selling assets. He eventually ruled out such a plan on Sept. 11. But the discussion around the proposal last week coincided with the change in stock leadership that shocked many investors.

Tax loss harvesters might have stopped selling losers and adding winners on the prospect that capital-gains taxes would go down, which could make tax loss selling less beneficial. Such a change could have caused the downturn in momentum due to less selling of falling stocks and less buying of rising names.

The amount of active tax loss harvesting has ballooned over the years as robo-advisers, which automatically allocate assets in a tax efficient way, gained popularity on Main Street. Robo-advisers now manage about $1 trillion assets, up from $240 billion in 2007, according to Barclays.

“Of course, it is also entirely possible that some other investors would have put on the trade in anticipation of such a proposal,” Deshpande said.

The iShares S&P 500 Value ETF hit its highest level since January 2018 on Sept. 11 as the rotation hit its pinnacle.

Value, cyclical companies with low prices relative to earnings and book values tend to be sensitive to economic growth. However, embracing the group without a material change in the economy doesn’t make a lot of sense, analysts warned.

“Absent an improvement in underlying economics, we believe that the recent shift in leadership is unlikely to persist,” Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equity strategist at Credit Suisse said in a note Monday.

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The rise of solar power




Elon Musk may have promised the world Tesla solar roof tiles in 2016, but turns out the solar industry may not need the upgrade.

The industry has been growing exponentially thanks to plain old solar panels. You can see the evidence both on people’s rooftops and in the desert, where utility-scale solar plants are increasingly popping up. Here in the U.S., of all new power capacity added to the grid in 2018, about 30% was from solar.

But the picture is not all rosy. Solar power is intermittent. The sun isn’t always shining, and the price of storage solutions like lithium ion batteries is still relatively high.

These are real problems that the industry needs to tackle if solar is going to reach its potential. However, if the recent past is any indication, solar power is going to help lead the transition to a carbon-free future, and it might do it faster than we all expected. Watch the video to learn more.

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