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Amazon buys Hollywood studio MGM in $8.45bn deal | Amazon

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Amazon has bought MGM, the Hollywood studio behind the James Bond and Rocky franchises, for nearly $8.5bn as the battle for global streaming supremacy reaches new heights.

The scale of the deal far exceeds the $5bn (£3.5bn) price tag suggested when the studio put itself up for sale in December, as the fight to secure must-watch programming fuels fierce bidding wars for owners of increasingly scarce “crown jewel” content.

MGM was also courted by Apple and the Sky owner, Comcast. However, both ultimately balked at the size of the cheque Amazon was willing to write.

The famous studio has a library of 4,000 film titles and 17,000 hours of TV programming – ranging from Gone with the Wind and The Hobbit to TV hits such as The Handmaid’s Tale – that has collectively won more than 180 Academy Awards and 100 Emmy Awards.

Founded in 1924, MGM (originally known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) recorded huge success throughout the golden age of Hollywood with films ranging from The Wizard of Oz and Ben Hur to Raging Bull, Basic Instinct and The Silence of the Lambs. It has changed hands frequently and previous owners have included the drinks magnate Edgar Bronfman, the Las Vegas casino billionaire Kirk Kerkorian and CNN’s founder, Ted Turner.

It is the second-largest takeover deal ever struck by Amazon, the world’s second-largest streaming service, with 175 million global users. In 2017 it paid $13.7bn for the upmarket US grocer Whole Foods.

“The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of intellectual property in the deep catalogue that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,” said Mike Hopkins, the senior vice-president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios.

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MGM explored the possibility of releasing the next film in the 59-year-old James Bond franchise on a digital streaming service after the coronavirus pandemic kept cinemas closed for much of the last year. The movie, No Time to Die, is Daniel Craig’s last appearance as 007. It is now scheduled to premiere in cinemas in September and is likely to be the biggest international box office hit of the year.

Bond is the fifth most-valuable movie franchise of all time, with its 24 films to date grossing more than $7bn, behind only the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Spider-Man films.

Four years ago, Amazon splashed out $1bn on the rights to make six TV series in the world of The Lord of the Rings after its founder, Jeff Bezos, reportedly cited Game of Thrones as the sort of hit he wanted to drive the growth of the company’s streaming service.

Amazon spent $11bn on content last year, up from $7.8bn in 2019, as it increasingly invests in winning subscribers to its Prime subscription service. Netflix spent about $17bn last year. Amazon is vying for global streaming supremacy with Netflix, which has more than 200 million subscribers, and Disney+, which launched 18 months ago and has rapidly grown to more than 100 million subscribers.

Traditional media companies and Silicon Valley giants are also battling to win subscribers as viewers increasingly shift from traditional TV to streaming services.

On Wednesday, Kenichiro Yoshida, the chief executive of Sony, said the company would not look to sell its film and TV studio during the latest wave of media consolidation. One of the big five Hollywood studios, Sony Pictures, the home of franchises including Spider-Man, Ghostbusters, Jumanji and the Karate Kid, is valued by analysts at as much as $30bn.

This month, the US telecoms company AT&T announced a deal to merge its media division with Discovery to create a global content powerhouse to better compete in the streaming wars. AT&T already owns Warner Bros, the home of the Batman and Harry Potter movie franchises and TV hits such as Friends, the HBO network behind Game of Thrones and Succession, and the news broadcaster CNN.

Three years ago AT&T completed the $85bn acquisition of WarnerMedia, formerly known as Time Warner. It was Rupert Murdoch’s failure to buy Time Warner that prompted his shock decision four years ago to sell 21st Century Fox, which included the film and TV studios behind X-Men, Avatar, Deadpool and The Simpsons, admitting that without it his global media empire lacked the scale to compete.

Disney’s $66bn acquisition of the Fox assets gave the world’s largest media company the extra content muscle to successfully join the streaming wars with the launch of Disney+.

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SSD belonging to Euro-cloud Scaleway was stolen from back of a truck, then turned up on YouTube • The Register

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In brief Deepmind and the European Bioinformatics Institute released a database of more than 350,000 3D protein structures predicted by the biz’s AI model AlphaFold.

That data covers the 20,000 or so proteins made in the human body, and is available for anyone to study. The proteomes of 20 other organisms, from Zebrafish to E.coli bacteria, are also in there, too, and hundreds of millions of more structures will be added over time, we’re told.

“In the hands of scientists around the world, this new protein almanac will enable and accelerate research that will advance our understanding of these building blocks of life,” said DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis. He hopes that it will be a valuable resource that will be used in the discovery of new drugs and our understanding of diseases.

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Reid Hoffman to join board of electric air-taxi start-up Joby

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Reid Hoffman. Image: ReidHoffman.org

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is helping to take Joby, which is being billed as ‘Tesla meets Uber in the air’, public through a SPAC deal.

Electric air-taxi start-up Joby Aviation will add Silicon Valley figure Reid Hoffman to its board as the company prepares to go public via a merger with a blank-cheque firm.

LinkedIn co-founder Hoffman, who is now a partner at venture capital firm Greylock, has a key connection to the 12-year-old start-up. Earlier this year, it was announced that Joby is going public through a $6.6bn reverse merger deal with Reinvent Technology Partners, the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Hoffman set up with Zynga founder Mark Pincus and investor Michael Thompson.

The deal is expected to close in this summer. Joby is the first aerial vehicle start-up to go public via the SPAC route, and the deal will provide the company with $1.6bn in cash.

SPACs have been growing in popularity this year as they can provide a quicker way of bringing a company public rather than the traditional route of an initial public offering.

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Hoffman will be added by the Joby board once the deal is complete, alongside Google general counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado and former Southwest Airlines CFO Laura Wright.

Toyota Motor Corporation board member and operating officer James Kuffner and Zoox CEO Aicha Evans have already been added to the board in recent months.

“We are incredibly humbled to have been able to assemble such a remarkable and diverse group of world-class leaders to guide and support Joby as we plan to enter the public market,” said JoeBen Bevirt, Joby CEO and founder.

Joby acquired Uber’s Elevate flying car business at the end of December and now plans to begin a commercial passenger ‘air taxi’ service in 2024. Hoffman described the venture as “Tesla meets Uber in the air” in a recent interview.

The company will work with Toyota from its California-based manufacturing facility to build its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Toyota led the company’s $620m Series C funding round last year, with other investors including Intel Capital and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

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Virtual contact worse than no contact for over-60s in lockdown, says study | Coronavirus

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Virtual contact during the pandemic made many over-60s feel lonelier and more depressed than no contact at all, new research has found.

Many older people stayed in touch with family and friends during lockdown using the phone, video calls, and other forms of virtual contact. Zoom choirs, online book clubs and virtual bedtime stories with grandchildren helped many stave off isolation.

But the study, among the first to comparatively assess social interactions across households and mental wellbeing during the pandemic, found many older people experienced a greater increase in loneliness and long-term mental health disorders as a result of the switch to online socialising than those who spent the pandemic on their own.

“We were surprised by the finding that an older person who had only virtual contact during lockdown experienced greater loneliness and negative mental health impacts than an older person who had no contact with other people at all,” said Dr Yang Hu of Lancaster University, who co-wrote the report, published on Monday in Frontiers in Sociology.

“We were expecting that a virtual contact was better than total isolation but that doesn’t seem to have been the case for older people,” he added.

The problem, said Hu, was that older people unfamiliar with technology found it stressful to learn how to use it. But even those who were familiar with technology often found the extensive use of the medium over lockdown so stressful that it was more damaging to their mental health than simply coping with isolation and loneliness.

“Extensive exposure to digital means of communication can also cause burnout. The results are very consistent,” said Hu, who collected data from 5,148 people aged 60 or over in the UK and 1,391 in the US – both before and during the pandemic.

“It’s not only loneliness that was made worse by virtual contact, but general mental health: these people were more depressed, more isolated and felt more unhappy as a direct result of their use of virtual contact,” he said.

The report, Covid-19, Inter-household Contact and Mental Wellbeing Among Older Adults in the US and the UK, analysed national data from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council-funded Understanding Society Covid-19 survey and the US Health and Retirement Study.

Hu said more emphasis needed to be placed on safe ways to have face-to-face contact in future emergencies. There must also, he added, be a drive to bolster the digital capacity of the older age groups.

“We need to have disaster preparedness,” he said. “We need to equip older people with the digital capacity to be able to use technology for the next time a disaster like this comes around.”

The findings outlined the limitations of a digital-only future and the promise of a digitally enhanced future in response to population ageing in the longer term, added Hu.

“Policymakers and practitioners need to take measures to pre-empt and mitigate the potential unintended implications of household-centred pandemic responses for mental wellbeing,” he said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, welcomed the report. “We know the virtual environment can exacerbate those feelings of not actually being there with loved ones in person,” she said.

“It’s essential therefore that government makes preventing and tackling loneliness a top policy priority, backed up with adequate funding.

“It’s not over the top to point out that in the worst cases, loneliness can kill in the sense that it undermines resilience to health threats of many kinds, as well as leading to older people in the twilight of their lives losing all hope, so they lack a reason to carry on.”

Patrick Vernon, associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, said he saw many examples of older people using technology to stay connected in “really positive ways”.

But he was also doubtful: “We know that even for those who are online, lack of skills and confidence can prevent people from using the internet in the ways that they’d like to.”

Previous research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that since the pandemic, there had been significant increases in the use of digital technology among those aged 50-70 years who were already online.

But there are still 3 million people across the UK who are offline, with a significant digital divide affecting low-income households. Twenty-seven per cent of people aged 50-70 with an annual household income under £25,000 were offline before the pandemic.

Vernon said: “Our research has found that some people who were offline found it difficult to connect with family, friends and neighbours during the pandemic – and even those who were online said technology didn’t compensate for missing out on physical social interactions.”

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