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Prince Harry and Meghan Sign Megawatt Netflix Deal

LOS ANGELES — Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, having resettled in California, on Wednesday unveiled new Hollywood careers.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have founded a yet-to-be-named production company and signed a multiyear deal with Netflix, which will pay them to make documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming — giving the couple a global platform six months after their dramatic decampment from the House of Windsor.

Harry and Meghan may appear on camera in documentary programming. But she has repeatedly made it clear that she has no plans to return to acting, having last appeared in the cable drama “Suits,” which concluded its run in 2019. Their content will be exclusive to Netflix.

“Our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope,” the couple said in a statement. “As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us.” They added that Netflix’s “unprecedented reach will help us share impactful content that unlocks action.” Netflix has 193 million subscribers worldwide.

It is unclear how much Harry and Meghan will be paid, given their lack of producing experience. A Netflix spokeswoman declined to comment.

The streaming service, however, is known for backing up Brink’s trucks when it wants to be in business with high-profile people, particularly when other entertainment companies also want their services. In recent months, Harry and Meghan have quietly talked with Disney and Apple. Variety reported earlier this month that they had met with NBCUniversal.

The couple has been living in the Los Angeles area since March, staying for a time at a Beverly Hills mansion owned by Tyler Perry. They soon filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit against tabloid photographers, saying that paparazzi had flown drones overhead in an extreme effort to capture images of their son, Archie, who turned one in May. Harry, 35, and Meghan, 39, have since bought a $14.7 million home in Montecito, an affluent town located about an hour north of Malibu that is also home to Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

“We’re incredibly proud they have chosen Netflix as their creative home and are excited about telling stories with them that can help build resilience and increase understanding for audiences everywhere,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive and chief content officer, said in a statement.

Netflix is under pressure to keep its content pipelines flowing as it competes for viewers with Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Hulu, Peacock and the traditional broadcast networks. Family programming is particularly important to Netflix, and Harry and Meghan already have an animated series in development which is focused on inspiring women. Last week, Netflix released “Rising Phoenix,” a documentary about the Paralympic Games; Harry, who founded the Invictus Games for wounded veterans, appears in the film.

Content centered on social messages — racial justice, gender equity, mental well-being, environmental stewardship has been hot in Hollywood for some time, and Netflix and Participant Media, founded by the eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll, have been at the center. Participant and Netflix backed Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed 2019 mini-series “When They See Us,” which depicted the excruciating toll that persecution and incarceration had on the teenage boys known as the Central Park Five. In 2018, Netflix struck a deal with Barack and Michelle Obama to produce shows and films. That partnership in March yielded “Crip Camp,” a feel-good documentary about the origins of the disability rights movement that is an early favorite to win the 2021 Oscar for best nonfiction film.

Meghan and Harry, the second son of Prince Charles, abruptly announced in January that they planned to step back from their royal duties, seek financial independence and spend part of the year living in North America. It triggered the most serious crisis for the British royal family since the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, in a car crash in 1997. The news media labeled the fracas Megxit.

Credit…Neil Munns/EPA, via Shutterstock

After emotionally charged negotiations, Queen Elizabeth II granted the couple’s wishes in return for their agreeing not to use their most exalted titles, His Royal Highness and Her Royal Highness. The couple also agreed to give up public funding — setting off a tabloid guessing game about how they would finance their lifestyle, including paying for security.

Harry and Meghan used to draw some income from the Duchy of Cornwall, a hereditary estate owned by Prince Charles, but that ended with their departure from Britain. Harry also inherited several million dollars from his late mother. Before their 2018 marriage, Meghan, then Meghan Markle, worked as an actress in “Suits.”

The couple’s production company will operate independently from their charitable foundation, which is called Archewell. The couple shut down their previous philanthropic endeavor, SussexRoyal, in March after they agreed to stop using the term “royal” for commercial or charitable activities.

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NBC Starts Streaming With a TV-Style Platform, Peacock

NBCUniversal’s streaming platform, Peacock, looks a whole lot like broadcast TV.

The free version comes with commercials and plenty of vintage hits like “The King of Queens” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” And it offers something viewers might have missed while they were logged onto other streamers: the ability to channel-surf.

The service said it has brought back the analog-era pastime by grouping its programming into distinct feeds, with one dedicated to NBC’s late night hosts and another for the network’s morning franchise, “Today,” among others.

Peacock, which becomes widely available Wednesday, is also trying to distinguish itself from Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and other competitors by betting that viewers want a free or low-cost streaming option during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People are looking for more affordable options,” said Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises. “That was true before the pandemic and now that we are in the middle of it, arguably heading toward a recession, affordability is even more relevant than when we first laid out our strategy seven months ago.”

In April, Comcast offered a sneak peek of the streaming service to 15 million subscribers who use either its cable offering XFinityX1 or the cord-cutting model Flex. Executives said people stuck at home because of virus restrictions were feasting on old shows — “comfort-food TV,” as Mr. Strauss put it.

Mr. Strauss, who was the executive vice president of Comcast’s Xfinity Services before taking the helm of Peacock in October, said the three-month testing period had proved that streaming viewers were just as happy to flip through options before settling on a show, just as they did in the traditional TV era.

That finding prompted the company to build 20 channels within Peacock. In addition to the late-night and “Today” feeds, it will have one dedicated to “Saturday Night Live” and others for news and sports. The company said it will expand the offering to 40 channels within the platform in the coming months, on its way to 70 by year’s end.

“There has been a false narrative that, because ratings have been declining, people don’t watch linear TV anymore,” Mr. Strauss said. “That was never true. We have found with our cord-cutters that the channels are getting 10 times the usage they were getting with a pay TV subscriber.”

Peacock is vital to Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent company, a late arrival to streaming. The company has designed the service so that it generates the bulk of its revenue from advertising, rather than subscriptions.

The ad-supported version offers more than 10,000 hours of content, with no more than five minutes of commercials for each hour of programming. The platform also comes in two other versions: Peacock Premium, with ads and more 20,000 hours of content, at $5 a month (or free for Comcast and Cox cable subscribers); and a second iteration of Peacock Premium, with no commercials, at $10 a month. The basic Netflix plan costs $9 a month. Hulu offers a low-cost option, with ads, for $6 a month.

Credit…Steve Schofield/Peacock

NBCUniversal’s competitors have moved in on the market for free, ad-supported streaming services. ViacomCBS bought Pluto last year, and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp. announced in March that it had made a deal for another free streamer, Tubi.

Despite its back-to-the-future feel, Peacock will offer original programming, with nine series to be unveiled Wednesday, including “Brave New World,” an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 science fiction classic starring Alden Ehrenreich and Demi Moore, and “Intelligence,” a comedy with the “Friends” alumnus David Schwimmer.

Greg Portell, the head of global consumer industries and retail and management consulting firm Kearney, said audiences are still hungry for streaming content. “Many of us have been locked up for four months now,” he said. “We’ve gone through Disney+, Hulu and we are looking for something new.”

The rollout of Peacock was originally planned to coincide with one of NBCUniversal’s biggest, most expensive and highest-rated productions: the Olympics. Now, instead of the frequent television ads that would have promoted the service between competitions at the postponed Tokyo Summer Games, NBCUniversal, the exclusive broadcaster of the Olympics in the United States, will have to get the word out in a less splashy manner.

The lack of hype may mean that Peacock could catch potential customers by surprise. According to a Variety/YouGov survey, as of mid-June, awareness of the platform has hovering in the 27 percent range, just above Quibi’s 24.8 percent rating and well below Netflix’s 92.8 percent.

Despite the changed circumstances of the debut, Mr. Strauss said he had not changed Peacock’s original goal of attracting 30 million to 35 million users and $2.5 billion in revenue by 2024.

Mr. Strauss added that he expected awareness of Peacock to be at a high level in January, when the platform becomes the exclusive streaming home of “The Office.” The NBC sitcom has had a lucrative afterlife, not only as a syndicated series, but as a Netflix staple, since its first run ended in 2013.

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What Counts as a Streaming Hit? A Start-Up May Have Answers

Nielsen has umpired television’s winners and losers since the medium was new. Who won the West Coast? Who lost in late night? For decades, the entertainment industry has relied on the ratings giant to measure the value of everything from “All in the Family” to “Young Sheldon.”

But how do you prove a show’s worth in the age of streaming?

A little-known start-up, Parrot Analytics, says it has come up with a metric that can measure what a program means to a streamer like Netflix. It not only counts viewers but calculates their enthusiasm. From there, Parrot says, it can anticipate what matters most to a streaming network: how many subscribers a show is likely to attract.

Wared Seger, the chief executive, said the company was built on the idea that a measurement system must take into account the momentous change in viewing habits. “We could each be watching different shows, on different platforms, at different times,” Mr. Seger, 32, said. “You need a new standard.”

Parrot tracks what Mr. Seger calls “demand expressions” — a twitchy metric he helped devise that, he said, takes into account a host of “signals” across the internet. It factors in Google search terms for a series or film, as well as Facebook likes, pirated downloads and Wikipedia traffic to determine its popularity.

“The Witcher,” a fantasy series that Netflix released in December, generated 57 times the average demand for all shows measured by Parrot from January to April, making it one of Netflix’s biggest hits. Netflix confirmed Parrot’s interpretation, saying “The Witcher” was its “biggest Season 1 TV series ever.”

Credit…Katalin Vermes/Netflix

Netflix changed the rhythms — and economics — of home viewing. With 183 million subscribers worldwide, it has no live programming, no commercials, no prime time. And unlike network TV, Netflix doesn’t make more money when viewers watch more hours of programming. Its revenue rises when people sign up.

Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max have designed their systems to similar ends. (Hulu sells advertising but requires customers to pay a monthly fee.) A streaming show’s success depends less on how many people are watching than on how many subscribers it can deliver.

Parrot aims to measure the ability of a show or film to grab a viewer’s attention — an increasingly scarce commodity — now that content is endlessly expanding, Mr. Seger said. That’s why the company rates shows in relation to overall demand, rather than use an absolute figure like a ratings point.

Mr. Seger said the cancellation of one of his favorite shows, “Boston Legal,” in 2008 inspired him to start Parrot five years later. After analyzing the two longest-running streamers, Netflix and Hulu, he found a close correlation between “demand expressions” and the number of new subscribers they have taken on, he said. For Netflix, Parrot has captured subscriber growth within 3 percent of the actual total. For Hulu, it was within 1 percent.

“When the two happen with high correlation, we get to uncover possible hidden acquisition and retention mechanisms that are useful to make investment and business decisions,” Mr. Seger said.

Nielsen ratings measure the number of viewers for a show, and the broadcast networks still rely on the service to set ad rates and determine the worth of their programming. In recent years, Nielsen has started using audio recognition software to measure the audiences for streaming programs. Netflix has sometimes disputed that data.

In a statement, a Nielsen executive said the company’s clients “place more value in who is actually viewing streaming content,” adding that “subscriber counts paint an incomplete picture.”

Original programming tends to attract new subscribers, according to Mr. Seger. That means “The Witcher” is more valuable to a platform than “Friends,” the enduring sitcom that recently moved its streaming home to HBO Max from Netflix. New shows bring in new customers; old shows, with their potential for comfort viewing, keep subscribers from leaving, Mr. Seger said.

Parrot says it also offers metrics to quantify a show’s “rate of decay,” or shelf life, as well as its “travelability,” its potential appeal in various regions.

People in the entertainment industry have complained about Netflix’s turbid offerings of data for the shows it streams. The company gives producers viewership figures after the first seven days and once again after 28 days. But producers who come out of the traditional TV and movie business are accustomed to hour-to-hour ratings data and daily box office counts.



Ali Wong, a comedian who has stand-up specials on Netflix, along with the romantic comedy “Always Be My Maybe,” recently said Netflix did not tell her how many people had watched her content. Netflix declined to comment. (In a quarterly filing, the company said “Always Be My Maybe” had been viewed by 32 million accounts.)

Parrot is trying to take advantage of the information gap by selling licenses at $59 a month, a price designed to appeal to individual producers and creators. Nielsen offers only higher-priced subscriptions, usually reserved for big companies.

Parrot, which has raised $15 million to date from investors, says its clients include Amazon, AT&T’s WarnerMedia, Google, the Walt Disney Company and the CAA talent agency. (Netflix is not a buyer.)

Some fans have cited data made available by Parrot in renewal petitions. A campaign to save “Sanditon,” a British period drama airing on ITV in the United Kingdom and on PBS in the United States, recently used Parrot data to grab Amazon’s attention.

The most popular shows, globally, from June 4 to July 4. Because many shows appear on traditional broadcasters and are streamed, depending on the region, Parrot measures across all platforms.

1. “Game of Thrones” (HBO, HBO Now, HBO Max): 91 times more demand than the average show

2. “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix): 71 times

3. “The 100” (The CW, Netflix): 71 times

4. “Stranger Things” (Netflix): 66 times

5. “Rick and Morty” (Adult Swim, HBO Max): 65 times

6. “The Walking Dead” (AMC, Netflix): 63 times

7. “Dark” (Netflix): 61 times

8. “Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC, Netflix, Hulu): 60 times

9. “The Flash” (The CW, Netflix): 60 times

10. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox, Hulu): 59 times

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HBO Max Is Here to Take On Netflix. Is It Too Late?

HBO has been an innovator for much of its nearly 50-year run. Now, with the unveiling of HBO Max, it’s playing catch-up.

In the 1970s, when people still referred to it as Home Box Office, HBO was a pioneer in bringing recent movies to the American living room in all their uncut glory. Another innovation came in the late 1990s, when HBO ushered in the era of prestige TV with original programs built around protagonists like Larry Sanders, Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw who could not exist comfortably within the limits of the broadcast networks.

But with the launch of the ambitious HBO Max streaming platform on Wednesday, the cable channel is a late entrant to the streaming wars.

AT&T, the parent company of HBO since 2018, plans to spend more than $4.5 billion on the project over the next few years. The company hopes to have 50 million HBO Max subscribers by 2025 and envisions that the service will eventually generate billions in annual profits as it takes on Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Apple TV Plus and Peacock, among others, in the increasingly crowded field of online entertainment.

The idea of creating a major streaming platform drove AT&T’s decision to buy Time Warner, the media empire that housed HBO, TBS, TNT, CNN and the Warner Bros. film and television studios.

When it is fully up and running, HBO Max, available at $15 a month, will offer 10,000 hours of programming with a wide range of content meant to appeal to every kind of audience, not just the HBO crowd.

The platform will include HBO series like “Game of Thrones” and “Succession”; sturdy sitcoms from the Warner Bros. television archive like “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory”; some 2,000 Warner Bros. movies, including the eight Harry Potter films and blockbusters featuring DC Comics superheroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman; and original fare like “Love Life,” a series starring Anna Kendrick, and “Let Them All Talk,” a film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Meryl Streep.

Credit…Presley Ann/Getty Images

Soon after AT&T completed its $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner, John Stankey, a veteran AT&T executive with limited experience in entertainment, broke down the divisions across the newly acquired properties to create WarnerMedia. Shortly after that, at a town-hall-style meeting in Manhattan before an audience of HBO employees, he let them know their territory was under a new boss.

“As I step back and think about what’s unique about the brand and where it needs to go, there’s got to be a little more depth to it,” Mr. Stankey said. “There’s got to be more frequent engagement.” To achieve that, he added, HBO had to become “broad enough” to attract a larger audience.

A leadership shake-up followed, one that included the departure of HBO’s chief executive, Richard Plepler, who had led the network to more than 160 Emmys.

Mr. Stankey was promoted this year to one of the biggest jobs in corporate America: chief executive of AT&T. He will take the reins from Randall L. Stephenson, the leader of AT&T since 2007, on July 1.

The future of the revamped AT&T largely depends on HBO Max.

The choice of Jason Kilar as WarnerMedia’s new chief executive was another sign of the company’s emphasis on streaming media. A onetime head of Hulu, Mr. Kilar is a veteran of the earliest days of on-demand video.

Since starting the job this month, he has been working closely with the WarnerMedia leadership team, including Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of the entertainment group, and Kevin Reilly, the head of content.


Credit…Julie Cahill

Mr. Kilar has charged ahead with putting together a future iteration of HBO Max that will allow for commercials. When it is ready, the company will be able to offer a cheaper version of HBO Max, in addition to the $15-a-month, ad-free version, that will be a direct competitor to advertising-supported streaming services like Hulu and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

HBO itself is not going away. The premium cable network, whose latest shows include “The Plot Against America” and “Run,” will continue under Casey Bloys, who took over from Mr. Plepler. But AT&T will focus on redirecting viewers’ attention to the new streaming platform. The phone giant hopes that HBO’s 35 million subscribers, each of whom pays $15 a month, will shift their loyalty to HBO Max, which costs the same.

To Mr. Stankey, it’ll be a gauge of brain power. “I look at it as a degree of an I.Q. test, which is: Why wouldn’t you want twice the content for the same price?” he said at an event for investors in October.

The HBO network can currently be bought in two ways: online through HBO Now, or through a cable provider, which offers digital access through HBO Go. HBO Max is an altogether new, much larger product that includes HBO proper.

A potential stumbling block for it is the cost. Netflix’s no-frills plan costs $9 a month. Disney Plus charges $7 a month. But HBO Max is asking people to spend $15 a month, at a time when household budgets are constrained by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Even before the outbreak, industry analysts called the pricing “unreasonable.” Now many customers are looking to cancel their HBO accounts, largely because of the cost, according to a study prepared for The New York Times by the global research consultancy Kantar.

The analysis found that one in five people who subscribed to HBO Now said they planned to cancel their subscription in the coming months; a similar proportion said they planned to drop their subscriptions to the HBO channel through their cable providers.

That’s a high opt-out rate. A little more than 7.4 percent of Netflix customers said they planned to dump their accounts, according to Kantar, and about 8.6 percent of Disney Plus customers said the same. Amazon Prime Video appears more durable, with 1.2 percent saying they would cancel.

AT&T cannot convert all HBO subscribers with the push of a button. Customers of the phone giant who already have HBO, as well as those who buy it directly from the network, won’t be much of a problem. But the company has a challenge in bringing aboard those who get HBO through Comcast, Amazon and Roku — three of HBO’s biggest vendors. WarnerMedia is in negotiations with those companies.

Longtime HBO subscribers will also have to get used to a revised brand identity. The HBO name will no longer stand for Tony Soprano or Jon Snow, but will serve as the marquee name of a mass-appeal platform meant to rival Netflix, which has 183 million subscribers, 63 million of them in the United States.



Matthew Ball, a venture investor and the former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, said major streaming platforms needed more than shows beloved by critics to succeed. “If Netflix only offered HBO-style content, it would be smaller,” he said.

HBO Max is a different animal than the boutique network that gave it its name, he added.

“It’s an attempt to go after every customer,” Mr. Ball said. “There is no reason to believe the Max-related expansion can’t appeal to every customer Netflix currently has that HBO does not.”

Some people in the industry say that the rival streaming services may eventually reach agreements that will allow them to share their customers in some way.

“They will have to start to combine into more user-friendly aggregations,” said Craig Moffett, a co-founder of the Wall Street research firm MoffettNathanson. “It’s not necessarily the case that some won’t make it — but it is almost certainly the case that some won’t make it on their own.”

That type of cooperation has precedent in the cable TV business: HBO was often sold to subscribers in a bundle with similar channels like Showtime and Starz. But that approach may not fit Mr. Stankey’s mind-set.

In the summer of 2018, Mr. Stankey met with leaders of the former Time Warner properties. In a meeting with the HBO team, several executives raised the possibility of bundling HBO Now with Netflix, according to several people who were present. Proponents of an alliance noted surveys that showed an overlap between the two platforms’ customers, the people said.

Mr. Stankey, who stands six-feet-two and speaks in a deep bass that can ripple across a room, said, “No! They are the enemy. We’re going to crush them,” according to the people. (WarnerMedia did not respond to requests for comment on the meeting.)

Several of those present saw it as a knee-jerk response from a longtime AT&T hand used to battling rivals Verizon and T-Mobile. Indeed, the wireless industry has been plagued by price wars (and declining profits) as the companies fight it out for customers who are constantly switching to a better offer.

But the telecommunications industry has zero-sum rules. While the average streaming subscriber pays for three platforms, according to Kantar, almost no one buys more than one mobile service at a time.

AT&T’s $85 billion gamble on Warner Media was partly a way for the company to make its phone service more attractive. It plans to offer HBO Max discounts to phone-plan subscribers and hopes to hang on to them by providing content that will keep them glued to their screens.

In an interview last month, Mr. Stankey said the “winner in all this” — meaning the streaming landscape — will be the company that does the best job of “innovating,” and that includes both content and technology.

“The customer is driving different forms of entertainment, and it’s changing by the day,” Mr. Stankey said. “But we have a tremendous base of assets, and we’ve wrapped it in a compelling product with innovation. That’s what HBO Max is. That’s why I like our chances.”

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Lockdown TV: Netflix Dominates, News Surges and Bea Arthur Is Still Golden

To get through the stuck-at-home days of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have spent significantly more time than usual in front of the TV, gorging on streaming shows, news programs, old sitcoms and video games. But new data shows that, little by little, they have started to wean themselves from their favorite lockdown diversion.

The peak came toward the end of March. The average viewer logged 40 hours of TV time during the week of March 16, according to Nielsen. The next week, that number crept up to 41, well above the 33 hours during the same week in 2019.

Throughout April, Americans have grown less reliant on Netflix, cable news and Animal Crossing: The amount of TV time has declined slightly in each of the last four weeks. For the week of April 20, the average viewer spent 38 hours in front of the TV, three hours below the peak.

“The week of March 16 was that inflection point when live sports was canceled and more stay-at-home orders were put in place,” said Peter Katsingris, a senior vice president at Nielsen. “Everything all hit at once, and boom.”

Nielsen statistics show that the April decline occurred among nearly every age group and applied to areas like live television, streaming and gaming.

“There’s only so much content people can consume,” Mr. Katsingris said.

While television use has spiked during an anomalous time, several entertainment executives said the last seven weeks might represent a turning point.

With movie theaters shuttered, and Hollywood studios making some films immediately available for streaming, people have changed how they get their entertainment — and there may be no going back to their old viewing habits.

HarrisX, a research firm, noted that 74 percent of American homes now subscribed to a streaming service — a figure that went up by roughly 2.5 million in the first three months of the year.

“Sheltering in place has been a boon for the entertainment streaming industry,” said Dritan Nesho, an analyst and the chief executive of HarrisX.

Others are less sure of what will happen when daily life returns to something more like normal. Netflix, coming off the biggest month in its history, cautioned in an investor note last week that shareholders could expect viewership numbers to shrink and subscriptions to level off.

The service could take a hit in the coming months, Netflix warned, “depending on many factors including when people can go back to their social lives in various countries and how much people take a break from television after the lockdown.”

Richard Rushfield, the writer of Ankler, a Hollywood newsletter, has argued that, post-pandemic, people will not want to do anything that reminds them of this time. “I don’t think ‘movies are dead’ or that the corona period is going to kick off a brand-new love affair between America with their couches,” he wrote in his newsletter. “I think the ‘Get me out of this place’ backlash has even greater potential to hurt the services after all this ends than anyone is factoring in.”

In an interview, Mr. Rushfield expanded on the thought. “The supply of great shows is bigger than it’s ever been, but it’s not infinite,” he said. “I think people are beginning to exhaust the shows they are really dying to watch. After finishing the fourth season of ‘Call the Midwife,’ they might be wondering what it’s like to see a squirrel run up a tree.”

During the stay-at-home weeks, viewers have craved both news programs and escapist fare, splitting their TV time between the likes of Anderson Cooper and Bea Arthur, with one balancing the other.

Cable news networks have had ratings records. In April, Fox News and MSNBC had among their highest viewership totals of their 24 years on the air. CNN’s viewership totals have also skyrocketed. The evening news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC, which not long ago seemed like relics of an earlier media age, have continued to draw audiences much larger than the norm.

But viewers have lately been watching the news a bit less. News programming amounted to 19 percent of total TV time during the week of March 16. By April 6, that number was 17.5 percent, according to Nielsen.

A Hulu spokeswoman noted that “comfort viewing” has been more popular than usual. In April, Hulu viewers watched nearly 11 million hours of the vintage sitcom “The Golden Girls,” the spokeswoman said. That show and the long-running “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” have both ranked in Hulu’s top 10 in recent weeks.

According to Magid, a research company, American viewers have been seeking out “fun” shows at a time when the Covid-19 death toll in the United States has climbed to more than 60,000 and some 30 million people have lost their jobs. There has been less desire for “intelligent” or “original” programming, Magid said.

So the timing may not have been ideal for a pair of lushly produced period dramas that made their debuts in recent weeks: Hulu’s “Mrs. America,” a limited series starring Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne that chronicles the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment; and HBO’s “The Plot Against America,” a six-part adaptation of Philip Roth’s alternate-history novel created by David Simon and Ed Burns. Both were well received, but they may not find bigger audiences until Emmys time.

With college and pro athletes on the bench, sports-starved viewers have glommed onto whatever they can get. The first night of the National Football League Draft — a remote program, with homey production values and key scenes set in left tackles’ living rooms — averaged 15.6 million viewers, a 37 percent increase over last year’s slickly produced broadcast.

ESPN has scored with “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls. Its premiere episodes were the most watched documentary programs in the network’s history and have now been viewed by 11 million people, according to Nielsen. (ESPN said roughly 1.5 million more watched on streaming and on demand.)

Hollywood stars have been trying to keep busy, with film and TV sets shut down. An Instagram video of celebrities interpreting John Lennon’s “Imagine” came in for harsh criticism last month, but nearly 21 million people watched “One World: Together at Home,” a remote concert featuring Lizzo, Lady Gaga and Elton John that was broadcast April 18 across 26 American television networks.

The late-night crew has adapted. The CBS host Stephen Colbert has adjusted his at-home wardrobe from formal (suits) to casual (collared shirt, rolled-up sleeves). NBC’s Jimmy Fallon has replaced his usual sidekick, Steve Higgins, with his two daughters. On ABC, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” has morphed into “Jimmy Kimmel Live at His House.” It is now a half-hour program, to make way for an earlier “Nightline.” Trevor Noah has been working overtime on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” lately called “The Daily Social Distancing Show,” with 45-minute episodes, instead of the usual 30.

Through it all, Netflix has been dominant, taking nearly every slot in Nielsen’s weekly lists of the top 10 most-viewed streaming shows this month and last.

Its breakout documentary series “Tiger King” was huge early in the lockdown. A Netflix original movie, “Spenser Confidential,” starring Mark Wahlberg, was less discussed on social media but attracted an even larger audience, according to the company.

A new Netflix reality show, “Too Hot to Handle,” plays almost like fantasy in the current environment. It gathers a group of young people and puts them in close physical proximity on a Mexican beach. “Nobody can keep it in their pants these days!” intones the voice-over as the show starts. At a time when strangers must keep six feet apart, it leapt straight into the Netflix top 10.

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Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman Gamble $1.8 Billion on Quibi

LOS ANGELES — They had to cancel the premiere party. But Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman have stuck with the April 6 start date of Quibi, the short-form video app for smartphones that they hope will attract millions of subscribers.After having led some of the nation’s top companies for decades, the two veteran executives have spent the last two years in start-up mode, prodding investors to kick in nearly $1.8 billion while courting producers and stars like Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Chance the Rapper, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Steven Spielberg and Chrissy Teigen. Now Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Whitman are ready …

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A Thorn in YouTube’s Side Digs In Even Deeper

Carlos Maza believes that YouTube is a destructive, unethical, reckless company that amplifies bigots and profits off fascism.

Now it’s also his meal ticket.

Mr. Maza, 31, announced several weeks ago that he was leaving Vox, where he had worked as a video journalist since 2017, to become a full-time YouTube creator.

The move shocked some of Mr. Maza’s fans, who have watched him become one of YouTube’s most vocal critics for failing to stop a right-wing pile-on against him last year. The controversy that followed that campaign, which was led by a prominent conservative YouTuber, turned Mr. Maza into a YouTube mini-celebrity and made him a sworn enemy of the site’s free-speech absolutists. He received death threats — and was temporarily forced to move out of his apartment.

Rather than swearing off YouTube, Mr. Maza, who is a New York-based socialist, decided to seize the means of his own video production.

“I’m going to use the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house,” he said in an interview. “I want to build up an audience and use every chance I get to explain how destructive YouTube is.”

It’s not rare for YouTubers to criticize YouTube. (In fact, among top creators, it’s practically a sport.) But Mr. Maza’s critique extends to the traditional media as well. He believes that media outlets have largely failed to tell compelling stories to a generation raised on YouTube and other social platforms, and that, as a result, they have created a power vacuum that bigots and extremists have been skilled at filling.

“On YouTube, you’re competing against people who have put a lot of time and effort into crafting narrative arcs, characters, settings or just feelings they’re trying to evoke,” he said. “In that environment, what would have been considered typical video content for a newsroom — news clips, or random anchors generically repeating the news with no emotions into a camera — feels really inadequate and anemic.”


Clips from a video Mr. Maza released on his new YouTube channel.Credit

The YouTube series that Mr. Maza hosted at Vox, “Strikethrough,” drew millions of views with acidic takedowns of Fox News, CNN and other mainstream media organizations. But he took aim at YouTube itself last year after Steven Crowder, a bargain-bin conservative comedian with more than four million YouTube subscribers, began taunting Mr. Maza, mocking him as a “lispy queer” and repeatedly making off-color jokes about his sexual orientation (gay) and ethnicity (Cuban American).

In response, Mr. Maza compiled a video of Mr. Crowder’s insults and tweeted them out, blaming YouTube for its inconsistent enforcement of its hate-speech policies. (One tweet read: “YouTube is dominated by alt-right monsters who use the platform to target their critics and make their lives miserable.”)

After an investigation, YouTube found that Mr. Crowder’s videos did not violate its rules. That set off an avalanche of criticism, and provoked backlash from L.G.B.T. groups and YouTube employees, who urged the company to do more to protect Mr. Maza and other creators from harassment. The controversy even ensnared Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, who was forced to apologize. Late last year, the site revised its harassment policy to address some of the concerns.

A YouTube spokeswoman declined to comment.

Inside the world of YouTube partisans, Mr. Maza’s feud with Mr. Crowder made him a scapegoat. Some creators blamed him for setting off an “adpocalypse” — a YouTube policy change that resulted in some videos being stripped of their ads. Others wove elaborate conspiracy theories that NBCUniversal, an investor in Vox, was using Mr. Maza to drive viewers and advertisers away from YouTube and toward its own TV platform.

In July, Vox ended Mr. Maza’s show, and after a few months in limbo, he decided to hang his own shingle. He set up a YouTube channel and a Patreon crowdfunding account, bought a camera and hit record. For all its flaws, he said, YouTube is essential for people who want to get a message out.

“The one thing that YouTube offers that’s really good is that it does give a space for independent journalists to do important work and build an audience without requiring a huge investment of capital,” Mr. Maza said.

YouTube can be harsh terrain for a professional leftist. The site is nominally open to all views, but in practice is dominated by a strain of reactionary politics that is marked by extreme skepticism of mainstream media, disdain for left-wing “social justice warriors” and a tunnel-vision fixation on political correctness.

In recent years, some progressive YouTubers have tried to counter this trend by making punchy, opinionated videos aimed at left-wing viewers. BreadTube, a loose crew of socialist creators who named themselves after a 19th-century anarchist book, “The Conquest of Bread,” has made modest stars out of leftists like Natalie Wynn, a YouTube personality known as ContraPoints, and Oliver Thorn, a British commentator known as PhilosophyTube.

Credit…Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times

But these creators are still much less powerful than their reactionary counterparts. Mr. Maza attributes that gap to the fact that while a vast network of well-funded YouTube channels exists to push right-wing views, liberal commentary is still mainly underwritten by major news organizations, which have been slower to embrace the highly opinionated, emotionally charged style of content that works well on YouTube.

“People understand the world through stories and personalities,” he said. “People don’t actually want emotionless, thoughtless, viewpoint-less journalism, which is why no one is a Wolf Blitzer stan.”

In order to reach people on YouTube, Mr. Maza said, the left needs to embrace YouTube’s algorithmically driven ecosystem, which rewards “authentic” and “relatable” creators who can connect emotionally with an audience.

“There is a need for compelling progressive content that gives a young kid on YouTube some sense that there is a worldview and an aesthetic and a vibe that is attractive on the left,” he said.

Mr. Maza’s first video, a five-minute introduction to his channel, hints at how he intends to do that. The video is half political manifesto, half self-deprecating monologue. Playing all three parts himself, he has an imagined conversation with his “left flank,” a hammer-and-sickle socialist, and his “right flank,” a tie-clad centrist, along with his therapist, who warns him that YouTube can transform decent people into “cruel, ego-driven” attention-seekers.

It’s a funny, knowing skit, and it shows how familiar Mr. Maza is with the customs and culture of YouTube. He doesn’t wear a suit or plaster himself with stage makeup. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, or adopt a Walter Cronkite-like pose of objectivity.

He gets that YouTube, while a serious forum for political discussion, also requires a kind of pageantry that can be hard for people steeped in the ways of traditional media.

With just 14,000 subscribers, Mr. Maza has a long road ahead to building a platform as large as the one he left at Vox. But he sees no better route to relevance than going all in on YouTube, even if that means embracing a platform whose politics he detests.

“There needs to be some swagger to leftist politics,” Mr. Maza said. “And YouTube gives you a space to have that swagger.”

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In Amazon’s Bookstore, No Second Chances for the Third Reich

SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon is quietly canceling its Nazis.

Over the past 18 months, the retailer has removed two books by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as several titles by George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. Amazon has also prohibited volumes like “The Ruling Elite: The Zionist Seizure of World Power” and “A History of Central Banking and the Enslavement of Mankind.”

While few may lament the disappearance of these hate-filled books, the increasing number of banished titles has set off concern among some of the third-party booksellers who stock Amazon’s vast virtual shelves. Amazon, they said, seems to operate under vague or nonexistent rules.

“Amazon reserves the right to determine whether content provides an acceptable experience,” said one recent removal notice that the company sent to a bookseller.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been roiled in recent years by controversies that pit freedom of speech against offensive content. Amazon has largely escaped this debate. But with millions of third-party merchants supplying much of what Amazon sells to tens of millions of customers, that ability to maintain a low profile may be reaching its end.

Amazon began as a bookstore and, even as it has moved on to many more lucrative projects, now controls at least two-thirds of the market for new, used and digital volumes in the United States. With its profusion of reader reviews, ability to cut prices without worrying about profitability and its control of the electronic book landscape, to name only three advantages, Amazon has immense power to shape what information people are consuming.

Yet the retailer declines to provide a list of prohibited books, say how they were chosen or even discuss the topic. “Booksellers make decisions every day about what selection of books they choose to offer,” it said in a statement.

Gregory Delzer is a Tennessee bookseller whose Amazon listings account for about a third of his sales. “They don’t tell us the rules and don’t let us have a say,” he said. “But they squeeze us for every penny.”

Nazi-themed items regularly crop up on Amazon, where they are removed under its policy on “offensive and controversial materials.” Those rules pointedly do not apply to books. Amazon merely says that books for sale on its site “should provide a positive customer experience.”

Now Amazon is becoming increasingly proactive in removing Nazi material. It even allowed its own Nazi-themed show, “The Man in the High Castle,” to be cleaned up for a tribute book. The series, which began in 2015 and concluded in November, is set in a parallel United States where the Germans and the Japanese won World War II.

“High Castle” is lavish in its use of National Socialist symbols. “There’s nothing that there isn’t a swastika on,” the actor Rufus Sewell, who played the Nazi antihero, said in a promotional video. The series promoted its portrayal of “the controlling aesthetic of Hitler” in its nomination for a special effects Emmy.



But in “The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World,” published in November by Titan Books, the swastikas and eagle-and-crosses were digitally erased from Mr. Sewell’s uniform, from Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, even from scenes set in Berlin. A note on the copyright page said, “We respect, in this book, the legal and ethical responsibility of not perpetuating the distribution of the symbols of oppression.”

An Amazon spokeswoman said, “We did not make editorial edits to the images.” Titan, which wanted to market the book in Germany, where laws on Nazi imagery are strict, said Amazon approved the changes.

Some fans of the series said they found reading the book as dystopian as the show itself. “If you can’t even have swastikas shown in a book about Nazis taking over America, please do not make books ever again,” wrote one reviewer.

When Amazon drops a book from its store, it is as if it never existed. A recent Google search for David Duke’s “My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding” on Amazon yielded a link to a picture of an Amazon employee’s dog. Amazon sellers call these dead ends “dog pages.”

Some booksellers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said they had no problem with the retailer converting as many offensive books to dog pages as it wished.

Mr. Delzer, the proprietor of a secondhand store in Nashville called Defunct Books, has a different view. “If Amazon executives are so proud of their moral high ground, they should issue memos about which books they are banning instead of keeping sellers and readers in the dark,” he said.

The bookseller said he only knew Amazon was forbidding titles because he received an automated message from the retailer, saying two used books he sold seven years ago — “Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star: Eye-Opening Revelations and Forbidden Knowledge About Israel, the Jews, Zionism, and the Rothschilds” and “Toward the White Republic” — were now proscribed.

“This product was identified as one that is prohibited for sale,” Amazon told him. Failure to immediately delete listings for these books, the company said, “may result in the deactivation of your selling account” and possible confiscation of any money he was owed.

Credit…Kristine Potter for The New York Times

Amazon said it didn’t really mean any of that about “Toward the White Republic.” “We did not intend to imply the book itself could not be listed for sale,” it said in a statement.

As for “Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star,” which is widely available from other online booksellers, Amazon said the book did not comply with its “content guidelines.”

Mr. Delzer said the email, which he posted on an Amazon forum, was clear and Amazon was dissembling about “White Republic.”

A bookseller since 2001, Mr. Delzer said he does not condone white supremacist material but believes people should be free to read what they want. The biggest seller in his shop at the moment is by Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist.

“Amazon wants its customers to trust Amazon,” he said. “The place that sells books doesn’t want much critical thinking.”

In 1998, when Amazon was an ambitious start-up, its founder, Jeff Bezos, said, “We want to make every book available — the good, the bad and the ugly.” Customers reviews, he said, would “let truth loose.”

That expansive philosophy narrowed over the years. In 2010, when the news media discovered the self-published “Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure” on the site, the retailer’s first reaction was to hang tough.

“Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable,” it said at the time.

That resolution wilted in the face of a barrage of hostility and boycott threats. Amazon pulled the book.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said Amazon has the same First Amendment right as any retailer.

“Amazon has a First Amendment right to pick and choose the materials they offer,” she said. “Despite its size, it does not have to sponsor speech it finds unacceptable.”

Physical bookstores rarely stock supremacist literature, for no other reason than it would alienate many customers. The question is whether Amazon, because of its size and power, should behave differently.

“I’m not going to argue for the wider distribution of Nazi material,” said Danny Caine of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan., who is the author of a critical pamphlet, “How to Resist Amazon and Why.” “But I still don’t trust Amazon to be the arbiters of free speech. What if Amazon decided to pull books representing a less despicable political viewpoint? Or books critical of Amazon’s practices?”

Amazon’s newfound zeal to remove “the ugly” extends beyond the Nazis. The order page for the e-book of The Nation of Islam’s “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews” stated last week, “This title not currently available for purchase.”

“The Man in the High Castle” was based on a 1962 novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, whose stories are often about the slippery nature of reality and how it will be controlled in the future by governments and corporations. One character in the streaming series was Mr. Rockwell, the American Nazi Party founder.

In photos in “Creating the Alt World,” the tribute book, the swastika around Mr. Rockwell’s neck was removed. The real life Mr. Rockwell has been largely removed from Amazon’s bookstore as well.

After a complaint by a member of Congress in 2018, a children’s book that Mr. Rockwell wrote disappeared from Amazon. So did his book “White Power.” Other Rockwell material, like The Stormtrooper Magazine, is described as “currently unavailable.”

Some sellers circumvent the blocks by listing titles with a word or two changed, other booksellers said. One seller said he recently received a message from Amazon that several titles by Savitri Devi, also known as “Hitler’s Priestess,” were forbidden. But they are now on the site. And a copy of “Toward the White Republic” recently popped up on Amazon, for $973 plus postage.

There is still an abundance of other Nazi material available on Amazon, much of it with favorable reviews. There is the “SS Leadership Guide,” many editions of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and Joseph Goebbels’s “Nature and Form of National Socialism,” to name just a few.

That only underlines how hard it can be to tell exactly what Amazon’s rules are. The confusion is reinforced by AbeBooks, the biggest secondhand book platform outside of Amazon itself.

Some of the books dropped from Amazon are available on Abe. Recently, there were 18 copies of Mr. Duke’s books on Abe, at prices up to $150. Amazon, which owns Abe, declined to comment.

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With Stars Made for Streaming, Nature Shows Are Hot Again

At a time when millions of species are at risk of extinction and deep-pocketed streaming services are spending billions on content, an old television genre, the nature show, is booming.

On Saturday, the latest big-budget nature documentary series from BBC Studios, “Seven Worlds, One Planet,” will make its debut in the United States across various AMC cable networks like BBC America and SundanceTV. The first installment of the series, which is a follow-up to the recent ratings hits “Planet Earth II” and “Blue Planet II,” will focus on Australia.

There has never been more to watch for fans of the genre. Netflix, Disney and Apple are investing heavily in wildlife programming as part of their efforts to lure subscribers to their streaming services. And nature shows are thriving on cable and public broadcast networks, with roughly 130 original nature series airing in 2019, more than the previous three years combined, according to Nielsen.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite the attention on natural TV programming across such a broad range of audiences and platforms and organizations,” said Michael Gunton, the creative director of the natural history unit at BBC Studios.

The genre goes back more than 50 years to early staples like “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” which chronicled the explorations of the French oceanographer, and “Zoo Quest,” a BBC production that followed the natural historian David Attenborough as he traveled the world in search of specimens for the London Zoo.

Interest has been renewed as environmental coverage has migrated from scientific journals to mainstream news outlets, a change that coincided with the rise of high-definition television and streaming services. Netflix and its rivals consider wildlife programming a smart bet because it is appropriate for all ages and works well internationally.

“It does travel well,” Mr. Gunton said, “because it’s educational and the animals do not speak in any particular language.”

In October, BBC America, known for thrillers like “Killing Eve” and “Orphan Black,” turned over its Saturday lineup to wildlife programming. The result was a 35 percent gain in viewership during Saturday’s prime-time hours. Nature shows also bring the network a different audience, said Courtney Thomasma, the channel’s executive director.

“It’s more heartland than our typical network skew,” she said.

Bill Gardner, the vice president for programming at PBS, the broadcaster of “Nature” and “Nova,” attributed the surge to the fact that more people are engaged with environmental issues.

“For this particular subject area, I think there’s just this broad awareness in the zeitgeist that this is about more than entertainment,” he said. “It’s just the issue of the age.”

The show that kicked off the gold rush was “Planet Earth II,” a 2016 BBC series narrated by Mr. Attenborough. It scored record ratings in Britain and was an unexpected hit in the United States. Television executives theorized that the show, with its lush footage, was popular because it gave viewers a respite from the stormy atmosphere surrounding Brexit and the rise of Donald J. Trump.

“This profound unsettledness is something that is informing and fueling the relevance of the content and why people are loving it,” said Sarah Barnett, the president of the entertainment group at AMC Networks, which includes BBC America.

Since then, there has been a stampede.

“Our Planet,” an eight-part documentary that Netflix started streaming in April, was one of its most viewed original shows of 2019. More recently, Netflix has rolled out the documentary “Dancing With the Birds.” This month, Netflix will premiere “Night on Earth,” a six-part series on nocturnal animals.

When Apple unveiled its streaming service, Apple TV Plus, in November, it included the 96-minute documentary “Elephant Queen” among its first offerings. The company is returning to the genre with “Tiny World,” a series about teensy creatures, and its own take on nocturnal creatures, “Earth at Night.”

The Walt Disney Company was a nature film pioneer — “Seal Island” won an Oscar in 1949 — and it has grown into an even bigger player with its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of Rupert Murdoch’s empire last year, including National Geographic. Now hundreds of hours of wildlife content is available on the Disney Plus streaming service.

“Seven Worlds, One Planet,” the BBC’s latest, includes scenes filmed in 41 countries. In response to the devastating wildfires in Australia, BBC America will broadcast the Australia episode first, instead of the originally planned episode on North America. Though the episode was filmed well before the crisis, BBC America will inform viewers how they can help with relief efforts. “Seven Worlds, One Planet” is narrated by Mr. Attenborough, 93, a particular beneficiary of the boom, winning back-to-back Emmys for his work on “Blue Planet II” and “Our Planet.”

Discovery, a leader in the genre, has the streaming rights to the back library of BBC’s “Earth” series and plans to roll out a “definitive collection” this year on a streaming service now in development, Discovery’s chief executive, David Zaslav, said.

“Serengeti,” a nature series produced by Simon Fuller, the manager of the Spice Girls and the creator of “American Idol,” was a ratings hit for Discover in August, performing especially well among young male viewers and families. A sequel is underway, and Discovery will also broadcast “Endangered,” a BBC Studios series produced by Ellen DeGeneres on vulnerable and endangered species. Other Discovery series in the works include “Mysterious Planet,” “Perfect Planet” and “Deep Planet.”

“There’s a massive appetite for it,” Mr. Zaslav said.

NBC announced last week that it would join with BBC Studios for a documentary series about the Americas, to be broadcast after the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024.

In addition to widespread concern about the natural world at a time when Greenland is melting and an estimated one billion animals have died in the Australian fires, there may be another reason for the boom: Nature programming seems to go well with pot.

“We found that one of the reasons this content is resonating at this time, one of the many forces, is legalization of marijuana,” Ms. Thomasma of BBC America said. “We think this will perform particularly well in the late-night programming block.”

BBC America offered a marathon of nature shows on April 20, a stoner holiday of sorts, and it worked.

“I will say there were some Twitter comments of ‘Whoever programmed “Planet Earth” today is a genius,’” Ms. Thomasma said.


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