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When Will Disney Reopen?

LOS ANGELES — It was once a prospering kingdom, the envy of all the land. But in crept an invisible menace.

It could be the story line for a classic Disney movie. Instead, Disney is living it — and happily ever after is nowhere in sight.

After a decade of spectacular growth, the entertainment conglomerate has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Its 14 theme parks (annual attendance: 157 million) delivered record profits in 2019. They’re now padlocked. Its movie studios (there are eight) controlled a staggering 40 percent of the domestic box office last year. Now, they’re sitting at a near standstill.

“From great to good to bad to ugly,” Michael Nathanson, a leading media analyst, wrote in a report of Disney’s extreme reversal in fortunes. “Recession will cause further pain.”

On Tuesday, Disney’s new chief executive, Bob Chapek, and Robert A. Iger, Disney’s executive chairman, will offer their first assessment of the damage. Disney is scheduled to report quarterly results after the stock market closes. Analysts are expecting per-share profit of 88 cents, down 45 percent.

The true scale of the pandemic’s impact on Disney will not be known until late summer, when Mr. Chapek reports results for the current quarter — the one in which Disney has furloughed an estimated 100,000 employees, slashed executive pay up to 50 percent and taken out a $5 billion line of credit to bolster its liquidity (on top of $8.25 billion secured in March). The Disney board must decide in June whether to pay the company’s usual summer dividend; management is unlikely to recommend it.

Disney turned itself into a colossus over the last 14 years. It bought Pixar, Marvel and the “Star Wars” franchise. Most recently, to withstand Silicon Valley’s incursion into Hollywood, Disney swept up media properties like “The Simpsons” and National Geographic with its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox assets.

Now, however, Disney’s vastness has become a liability, creating a mind-boggling collection of holdings, some of which are often overlooked: four TV studios that together produce about 70 shows; 42,000 hotel rooms and time-share units across three continents; the world’s largest licensing business, with annual merchandise sales of $55 billion; a publishing arm that churns out children’s books, magazines and digital products in 68 countries and 45 languages; a chain of 25 Disney English schools in China.

And that is just the tip of Mickey’s toe. Here is a look at the state of some of its operations:

The good news? ABC, which Disney bought in 1995, has been outperforming rival broadcast networks in recent weeks, according to Nielsen data, as young-adult viewers have flocked to comfort-food ABC shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” headed toward its 17th season, and “American Idol,” one of the few series still shooting. A whipped-together special, “The Disney Family Singalong,” attracted 13 million total viewers, a big number that underscored the power of the Disney brand, especially among families starved for new content during the shutdown. A second singalong is scheduled for Mother’s Day.

Still, ABC urgently needs a new generation of hits, and shooting was halted on 14 pilots. Cameras are still months away from rolling again. (Writing has continued.) Television advertising is weakening in the dismal economy, analysts say, hurting both ABC nationally and the eight local ABC stations that Disney owns. Political ad spending in the fall will “offset the carnage,” Mr. Nathanson said on a conference call with clients.

Disney has four ships (total passenger capacity: 13,400) with three more under construction, at a cost of roughly $1 billion each. Disney’s private Caribbean island, Castaway Cay, serves as a port of call, and Disney is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a second island destination.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 9 extended its no-sail order until further notice. Even when ships do begin sailing again, demand is expected to be soft. One lucky break: Those new Disney ships will likely be delayed (the first was originally scheduled to set sail in 2022) because the German shipyards building them are closed.

Disney’s major streaming services — Hulu and Disney Plus — have been sizzling as the home-quarantining masses seek out entertainment.

Disney Plus has been particularly impressive. The company pressed ahead with a previously planned rollout of its signature streaming service in Europe in March. Disney Plus now has more than 50 million subscribers. Disney will introduce the service in more than 40 additional countries, mostly in Central and South America, by the end of the year.

The production shutdown will almost certainly delay Marvel shows like “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which was supposed to arrive in August. But the service’s big hit, “The Mandalorian,” finished shooting its second season before the pandemic spread to the United States and will arrive in the fall on schedule. Mr. Nathanson estimates that Disney Plus will lose $2 billion this year, with programming a major expense.

Disney Theatrical Productions had 29 productions on four continents that were either already running or were set to open by early 2021; all are on pause. They range from the Broadway megahit “The Lion King,” which has been running since 1997, to the touring “Hunchback of Notre Dame” in Japan. The theatrical unit also has seven Disney on Ice arena tours.

Live theater is likely to be among the last segments of the economy to recover because it involves large gatherings in closed spaces and also requires putting performers in proximity with one another. (How do you social distance in an orchestra pit?) Broadway is unlikely to reopen before Labor Day, and may not reopen until next year.

But the division professes optimism. “We believe in the business of theater and expect that — when it’s safe to gather — there will be a greater appetite for it than ever,” a spokesman said.

Shanghai Disneyland, closed since January, is expected to reopen its main gates to a limited number of visitors in the next two-to-three weeks. With Florida starting to ease restrictions, Walt Disney World will likely follow.

When Disney World gradually reopens, park goers are expected to have their temperatures taken as they enter and be required to stand six feet apart while waiting in line for rides. Disney can’t afford to have its parks join meatpacking plants and nursing homes as coronavirus hot spots. “There’s far more risk than reward to Disney reopening parks too soon,” said Steven Cahall, a Wells Fargo analyst.

Will people even want to frolic in theme parks again? Disney executives believe that there is enormous pent-up demand for public activities, pointing to the 40,000 people who swarmed a California beach when it reopened last month.

Some of the 312 Disney Store locations in the United States, Europe, Japan and China are on the cusp of reopening, including a few located in malls operated by Simon Property Group. In recent weeks, Disney’s online store, ShopDisney.com, has seen a flood of new customers, with items like sleepwear, puzzles and Mickey Mouse waffle makers in high demand. On Thursday, Disney started selling cloth face masks with characters printed on them ($20 for a four-pack) and said the first $1 million in profit would be donated to a medical supplies nonprofit; the company has already reached that threshold.

“Thank God for ESPN. No really.”

Benjamin Swinburne, a Morgan Stanley analyst, made that counterintuitive comment in a report last month. ESPN and its four sibling channels have been at the center of Disney’s problems in recent years, as more households cut the cable cord. The pandemic has left ESPN without its usual programming, hurting both viewership and ad sales.

But Mr. Swinburne pointed out that ESPN’s costs have gone down — no live sports to cover — “more than offsetting lost ad sales.” And ESPN will still generate billions in cash flow for Disney because of the fees that cable providers pay to carry it, regardless of what content it has been showing. (There is a growing cry about that being unfair, however.)

All told, Disney’s cable portfolio includes more than 300 channels around the world, including FX, History, Disney Junior, Vice, Freeform, Star, Disney Cinemagic and Nat Geo Wild.

Global film production came to a halt in March and, with theaters closed, finished movies like Marvel’s “Black Widow” and Pixar’s “Soul” have been postponed. But Disney’s movie operation was the strongest in Hollywood before the shutdown, which puts it in the best position to recover when theaters reopen and cameras begin rolling again.

Cinema chains, for instance, hope that Disney’s big-budget “Mulan,” now set for July 24 release, will help revive moviegoing. “Black Widow” and “Soul,” about a musician who has lost his groove, have been reset for November. December will bring three major releases from Disney’s 20th Century label, including Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Michael Paulson contributed reporting from New York.

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Italy’s daily coronavirus death toll jumps, new cases stable

Medical staff is seen in an ambulance as they transfer a patient from a nursing home to a hospital, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Rome, Italy, May 2, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

ROME (Reuters) – Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy jumped by 474 on Saturday, against 269 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, posting the largest daily toll of fatalities since April 21.

The steep increase in deaths followed a long, gradual declining trend and was due largely to Lombardy, the country’s worst affected region, where there were 329 deaths in the last 24 hours compared with just 88 the day before.

The daily tally of new infections was broadly stable for a third day running at 1,900 against 1,965 on Friday.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 now stands at 28,710, the agency said, the second highest in the world after that of the United States.

The number of confirmed cases amounts to 209,328, the third highest global tally behind those of the United States and Spain.

People registered as currently carrying the illness fell to 100,704 from 100,943 on Friday.

There were 1,539 people in intensive care on Saturday, slightly down from 1,578 on Friday and maintaining a long-running decline. Of those originally infected, 79,914 were declared recovered against 78,249 a day earlier.

The agency said 1.430 million people had been tested for the virus against 1.399 million the day before, out of a population of around 60 million.

Reporting by Gavin Jones

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France set to impose 14-day coronavirus quarantine for travellers

French Minister for Solidarity and Health Olivier Veran, and French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attend a news conference after the cabinet meeting, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France May 2, 2020. Francois Mori/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) – Travellers to France, including French citizens returning home, will face a compulsory two-week quarantine and possible isolation when they arrive in the country to help slow the spread of coronavirus, the health minister said on Saturday.

France, which has been the fifth-hardest hit country with 24,594 deaths from COVID-19, is preparing to gradually lift lockdown measures from May 11.

The new quarantine rules, however, will be included in a decree specifying measures laid out in a bill extending a state of emergency until July 24, a move that allows the government to restrict freedom of movement.

“This quarantine will be imposed on any person returning on French soil,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told a press briefing after the weekly cabinet meeting.

He said the duration and conditions of both quarantine for asymptomatic people and isolation for those showing symptoms of COVID-19, the flu-like disease caused by the new coronavirus, would be defined in a decree to be published.

Decisions to isolate people would be scrutinised by judges to ensure they are justified and fair, he added.

It was not immediately clear whether the quarantine would only apply to people arriving from outside Europe’s open-border Schengen area, whether they would need to self-isolate at home or in hotels, and for how long the measures would be in place.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Helen Popper

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France says 166 more deaths from COVID-19 taking toll to 24,760

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks walk at the Pont des Arts bridge during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Paris, France, May 2, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of people who have died from coronavirus infections in France rose by 166 to 24,760 on Saturday while hospitalisations for the disease and people in ICU units continued to decline, the French health ministry said.

Saturday’s daily tally was markedly lower than the 218 recorded on Friday.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 fell to 25,827 from 25,887 on Friday, and the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 fell to 3,827 from 3,878. Both numbers have been on a downward trend for more than two weeks.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by David Clarke

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The Judge and Michael Flynn

Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan is overseeing the prosecution of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who is accused of lying to the FBI. The judge now has a second issue of fact and law to examine—to wit, whether prosecutors withheld crucial information from the Flynn defense.

The Justice Department has recently and belatedly provided to Mr. Flynn’s lawyers documents that are potentially exculpatory. Mr. Flynn in late 2017 pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the former Russian…

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Government Punts to Business

A series of European and U.S. cartel prosecutions in the 1990s provided fodder for a question that engaged this column in more languorous times: When do executives find it irresistible to engage in illegal price fixing?

The answer that leapt out is suddenly relevant to our coronavirus shutdown: In almost every case, the urge to collude arose from a desire to maintain industrial capacity that had become temporarily uneconomic.

One…

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The Road to Surfdom

Tustin, Calif.

They had fun, fun, fun, ’til their governor took their beaches away. Local officials in Orange County last weekend opened beaches amid a heat wave, drawing inland residents from Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. But Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday overruled the county, claiming that surfers and sun worshipers weren’t respecting social-distance rules.

Local…

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The fossil of a bizarre mammal, called ‘crazy beast,’ has been discovered in Madagascar

  • The 66-million-year-old, opossum-sized fossil represents a new species.
  • “We suspect some of this bizarreness might be due to evolution in isolation on an island.”
  • The “crazy beast” belongs to an extinct group of mammals called gondwanatherians.

The first near-complete skeleton of a bizarre mammal that lived on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana has been discovered in Madagascar, scientists announced in a study published Wednesday. 

The 66-million-year-old, opossum-size fossil represents a new species, which the study authors have named “Adalatherium hui,” from a Malagasy word meaning “crazy” and the Greek word for “beast.” 

The skeleton is the most complete for any Mesozoic mammal yet discovered in the Southern Hemisphere. The mammal’s relatively large size is an oddball for its era, scientists say, since most at that time were about the size of a mouse.

“Knowing what we know about the skeletal anatomy of all living and extinct mammals, it is difficult to imagine that a mammal like Adalatherium could have evolved; it bends and even breaks a lot of rules,” said study lead author David Krause, a curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

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North Korean media says Kim Jong Un appeared in public, though there was no independent confirmation

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump declined to comment on the health of Kim Jung Un Friday as North Korea’s state news agency claimed the country’s leader made his first public appearance in weeks.  

North Korea’s state-controlled news agency reported that Kim attended a public ceremony at a fertilizer plant on Saturday, North Korean time, amid rampant speculation that he was ill and possibly even near death.

Independent news agencies could not confirm the North Korean report. The news outlet later released photos from the event, but the images could not be independently verified. 

Asked about Kim’s health on Friday, Trump said: “I’d rather not comment on it yet. … We’ll have something to say about it at the appropriate time.”

When asked if he knew whether Kim was alive, Trump responded: “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Pandemic related?:South Korean official says Kim Jong Un may be avoiding public due to ‘coronavirus concerns’

Kim did not attend an April 15 celebration of his grandfather’s birthday, an important national holiday that he had not previously missed since his rise to power in 2011. 

Last week, a Seoul-based website called Daily NK reported that the North Korean leader had undergone heart surgery on April 12 and was recuperating at a villa outside the capital, Pyongyang. The Daily NK’s story was based on a single source inside North Korea. Other media outlets, including CNN, have reported that Kim’s health may be in “grave danger.”​

South Korean government officials dismissed those accounts, and one minister suggested Kim might be isolating himself to avoid infection amid the coronavirus pandemic.