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Apple told a showbiz union it had less than 20 million TV+ subscribers

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Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., smiles while speaking about Apple TV+ during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple claimed its TV+ service had less than 20 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada as of July, allowing it to pay behind-the-scenes production crew lower rates than streamers with more subscriptions, according to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union that represents TV and movie workers who perform jobs like operating cameras and building sets.

Apple has never revealed subscriber numbers for its Apple TV+ streaming service, which launched in the fall of 2019. Analysts are reluctant to offer estimates, but many say that its scale pales in comparison to services like Netflix, which claimed 209 million subscribers as of Q2, and Disney+, which claimed 116 million.

The fact that Apple can pay a discounted rate despite being the most valuable publicly traded company in the world highlights some of the issues facing Hollywood workers as streaming supplants linear TV and movies, and is raising ire among union members who are deciding whether to strike for better pay and working conditions.

Under the current contract, high-budget productions intended for streaming can offer lower rates to workers if the streaming service has less than 20 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada, which is determined on July 1 every year. Apple told IATSE that it had less than 20 million subscribers, a union spokesman said.

The union is currently in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a new contract. Apple is a member of the alliance, but the alliance negotiates for all of its members, and doesn’t create carve-outs for specific companies, according to a spokesperson for the industry group.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on subscriber numbers but said the company pays rates in line with leading streaming services.

Under the current contract, productions made for streaming services are governed under less strict labor terms than traditional TV shows or movies because streaming profitability is “presently uncertain” and productions needed greater flexibility, according to a copy of the contract reviewed by CNBC.

But union leaders argue that streaming is no longer a particularly new form of media, and companies that bankroll streaming productions should pay rates closer to traditional media productions.

“Workers on certain ‘new media’ streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters,” an IATSE press release said this week, noting that negotiations had stalled.

IATSE is gearing up for a strike, its spokesman said, and ballots allowing the union’s 150,000 members to authorize a strike will be sent out on October 1.

While new media pay rates are one of the issues currently under negotiation, the most pressing issue is working conditions on set, including long working hours, which have gotten worse during the Covid-19 pandemic, the union spokesperson said. Celebrities and actors have started to post messages on social media supporting the IATSE union and potential strike.

Apple has reportedly spent up to $15 million per episode of shows like “The Morning Show” to try and bulk up its service with premium content. Apple also bundled free trials with the purchase of new phones or tablets, and those trials started expiring in July, forcing many users to decide whether it was worth $4.99 per month. Apple sold an estimated 206 million iPhones globally in 2020, which would amount to a lot of free trials.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock and ViacomCBS’ Paramount+ also have under 20 million subscribers, allowing them to ask for discounts on labor, the union spokesman said.

A ViacomCBS spokesperson said the company doesn’t break out Paramount+ streaming numbers. NBCUniversal didn’t have a comment by publication time.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal, which owns and operates Peacock, is also the parent company of CNBC.


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India's eastern coast on high alert as cyclone hits land

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Authorities in two Indian coastal states are on high alert with evacuations and preparations underway as a cyclone hit the eastern seaboard


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Covid live: more than 70 million Americans still unvaccinated; brawls mar reopening of bars in Norway | World news

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Hollywood studios are planning a £250m-plus UK marketing blitz to promote the return of blockbusters to the big screen over the next 18 months, as the much-delayed premiere of James Bond: No Time to Die gives the industry the confidence to plot a post-pandemic boom in new releases.

With cinemas forced to shut for periods of months since the coronavirus hit in February last year, and movie-goers showing a reluctance to return en masse when they have been able to open, plans to release at least 160 films have been on hold.

Now, with cinemas for the most part back to normal operations – more than four-fifths globally are now allowed to open, according to the research firm Omdia – the logjam of films will mean that three years’ worth of releases hit cinemas in the next 18 months.









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Second highest day of infections reported in Australia’s Victoria state

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Fears for 1 million furloughed staff in UK as scheme comes to an end


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5 things to know about Evergrande, the Chinese business empire on the brink

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The coming days and weeks will be critical. While Evergrande has a grace period of up to 30 days on an interest payment of nearly $84 million that was due Thursday, it’s supposed to make a payment on another bond next week.

Here’s what you need to know about Evergrande, and how it got to where it is now.

What is Evergrande?

Evergrande is one of China’s largest real estate developers. The company is part of the Global 500 — meaning that it’s also one of the world’s biggest businesses by revenue.
Listed in Hong Kong and based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, it employs about 200,000 people. It also indirectly helps sustain more than 3.8 million jobs each year.
The group was founded by Chinese billionaire Xu Jiayin, also known as Hui Ka Yan in Cantonese, who was once the country’s richest man.
Evergrande made its name in residential property — it boasts that it “owns more than 1,300 projects in more than 280 cities” across China — but its interests extend far beyond that.

Outside housing, the group has invested in electric vehicles, sports and theme parks. It even owns a food and beverage business, selling bottled water, groceries, dairy products and other goods across China.

In 2010, the company bought a soccer team, which is now known as Guangzhou Evergrande. That team has since built what is believed to be the world’s biggest soccer school, at a cost of $185 million to Evergrande.
Guangzhou Evergrande continues to reach for new records: It’s currently working on creating the world’s biggest soccer stadium, assuming that construction is completed next year as expected. The $1.7 billion site is shaped as a giant lotus flower, and will eventually be able to seat 100,000 spectators.
Chinese club begins constructing world's biggest soccer stadium for $1.7 billion
Evergrande also caters to tourists through its theme park division, Evergrande Fairyland. Its claim to fame is a massive undertaking called Ocean Flower Island in Hainan, the tropical province in China commonly referred to as the “Chinese Hawaii.”
The project includes an artificial island with malls, museums and amusement parks. According to the group’s most recent annual report, it started taking customers on a trial basis earlier this year, with plans for a full opening “at the end of 2021.”

How did it run into trouble?

In recent years, Evergrande’s debts ballooned as it borrowed to finance its various pursuits.

The group has gained infamy for becoming China’s most indebted developer, with more than $300 billion worth of liabilities. Over the last few weeks, it’s warned investors of cash flow issues, saying that it could default if it’s unable to raise money quickly.

That warning was underscored this month, when Evergrande disclosed in a stock exchange filing that it was having trouble finding buyers for some of its assets.
Chinese property giant Evergrande warns again that it could default on its enormous debts

In some ways, the company’s aggressive ambitions are what landed it in hot water, according to experts. The group “strayed far from its core business, which is part of how it got into this mess,” said Mattie Bekink, China director of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Goldman Sachs analysts say the company’s structure has also made it “difficult to ascertain a more precise picture of [its] recovery.” In a recent note, they pointed to “the complexity of Evergrande Group, and the lack of sufficient information on the company’s assets and liabilities.”

But the group’s struggles are also emblematic of underlying risks in China.

“The story of Evergrande is the story of the deep [and] structural challenges to China’s economy related to debt,” said Bekink.

The issue isn’t entirely new. Last year, a slew of Chinese state-owned companies defaulted on their loans, raising fears about China’s reliance on debt-fueled investments to support growth.
And in 2018, billionaire Wang Jianlin was forced to downsize his conglomerate, Dalian Wanda, as Beijing clamped down on firms borrowing heavily to push overseas.
A woman riding a scooter past the construction site of an Evergrande housing complex in Zhumadian, Henan province on Sept. 14, 2021.

In a recent note, Mark Williams, Capital Economics’ chief Asia economist, said that Evergrande’s collapse “would be the biggest test that China’s financial system has faced in years.”

“The root of Evergrande’s troubles — and those of other highly-leveraged developers — is that residential property demand in China is entering an era of sustained decline,” he wrote. “Evergrande’s ongoing collapse has focused attention on the impact a wave of property developer defaults would have on China’s growth.”

How is it trying to move forward?

Evergrande said Wednesday in a filing with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange that issues regarding a payment on a domestic yuan bond have been “settled through negotiations.” The amount of interest it owed on the bond is about 232 million yuan ($36 million), according to data from Refinitiv.

While the news may placate investors, many questions still remain unanswered. Evergrande did not elaborate on the terms of the payment in its statement, and interest worth $83.5 million on a dollar-denominated bond also fell due Thursday. That deadline came and went without an update from the company.

On September 14, Evergrande announced that it had brought on financial advisers to help assess the situation.

While those firms are tasked with exploring “all feasible solutions” as quickly as possible, Evergrande has cautioned that nothing is guaranteed.

So far, the conglomerate has struggled to stem the bleeding, and has failed to find buyers for parts of its electric vehicle and property services businesses.

China Evergrande Centre in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong.

As of that filing, it had made “no material progress” in its search for investors, and “it is uncertain as to whether the group will be able to consummate any such sale,” it said.

The company has also been trying to sell off its office tower in Hong Kong, which it bought for about $1.6 billion in 2015. But that has “not been completed within the expected timetable,” it said.

How are investors reacting?

Evergrande’s problems spilled onto the streets this month when protests broke out at its headquarters in Shenzhen. Footage from Reuters showed scores of demonstrators at the site last week, accosting someone identified to be a company representative.

But shareholders have been wary for months: The stock has shed nearly 85% of its value this year.

Earlier this month, Fitch and Moody’s Investors Services both downgraded Evergrande’s credit ratings, citing its liquidity issues. “We view a default of some kind as probable,” Fitch wrote in a recent note.

The situation also appears to be spooking investors in China more broadly, at a time when they’re already reeling from Beijing’s crackdown on private sector companies, particularly in the tech sector. Stocks in Hong Kong, New York and other major markets have been swayed by fears of contagion from Evergrande and a slowdown in Chinese growth.

“In our opinion, how Evergrande credit stresses will be resolved will drive market sentiment,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote recently, referring to the credit market and the broader economy. They added that the Chinese bond market could be hit and a loss of confidence could “spill over to the broader property sector.”

What could happen next?

The Chinese government appears to be starting to intervene.

Over the past few days, the People’s Bank of China has injected some cash into the financial system, to help boost liquidity in the short term and settle nerves.

According to Bloomberg, the net injection for banks was 460 billion yuan ($71 billion) sometime this week, including 70 billion yuan ($10.8 billion) on Friday.

Authorities are clearly watching closely, while attempting to project calm.

Last week, Fu Linghui, a spokesperson for China’s National Bureau of Statistics, acknowledged the difficulties of “some large real estate companies,” according to state media.

Without naming Evergrande directly, Fu said that China’s real estate market had remained stable this year but the impact of recent events “on the development of the whole industry needs to be observed.”

People gathering at Evergrande's headquarters in Shenzhen on Wednesday.
Last week, Bloomberg also cited anonymous sources as saying that regulators had enlisted international law firm King & Wood Mallesons, among other advisers, to examine the conglomerate’s finances. King & Wood Mallesons declined to comment.

According to the report, officials in Evergrande’s home province of Guangdong have already rejected a bailout request from its founder. Guangdong authorities and Evergrande did not respond to a request for comment.

Beijing has few good choices. It will want to protect the thousands of Chinese people who have bought unfinished apartments, as well as construction workers, suppliers and small investors.

Authorities will also likely aim to limit the risk of other real estate firms going under. But at the same time, they have long been trying to rein in excessive borrowing by developers — and won’t want to dilute that message.

An aerial view of the Guangzhou Evergrande Football Stadium under construction in December 2020.

Even with cash infusions, some suggest it may already be too late to save the company.

Evergrande’s financial problems have been widely dubbed by Chinese media as “a huge black hole,” implying that no amount of money can resolve the issue.

“China has really been trying to clean up its bad corporate debt for years. And although they made some progress before the pandemic, the task often seems interminable, and that’s what you’re certainly seeing here,” said Bekink.

“The impacts from a large default by Evergrande would be remarkable.”

— Kristie Lu Stout, Julia Horowitz, Laura He and CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.


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