LOS ANGELES — In February 2020, Universal Pictures used the Super Bowl to light a marketing match under “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. With any luck, the studio hoped, the movie would roar into theaters a few months later and take in more than $1 billion worldwide, just as a predecessor, “The Fate of the Furious,” did in 2017.
But the pandemic had other plans. Some rival studios hemmed and hawed over their release schedule, but Universal shocked Hollywood in early March 2020 by delaying “F9” for an entire year. “It was a very unpopular decision,” Donna Langley, chairwoman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, said recently in a phone interview. “A lot of people really did not agree with me.”
It was a $350 million-plus decision, between production and marketing costs, and Ms. Langley, like everyone at that stage of the pandemic, was operating in the dark. “It really was a gut call,” she said.
More and more, it looks like the right one: Over the weekend, “F9” arrived in theaters in eight international markets, including China and South Korea, and sold an estimated $162 million in tickets — a blockbuster result that signaled a summer rebound for Hollywood, which was largely reduced to a supplier to streaming services during the pandemic. “F9” collected $135 million in China alone, 33 percent higher than the initial total for “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” in 2019. The most recent film to take in more than $100 million over its first three days in China was Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019.
“F9,” directed by Justin Lin, will arrive in North American cinemas on June 25, the longest delay ever between an overseas Hollywood debut and a domestic one. The reason: Releasing “F9” in China over the weekend allowed Universal to get ahead of the country’s usual summertime blackout on imported movies, which will begin around July 1, the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s Communist Party. Movie theaters in China are being ordered to screen patriotic films with titles like “The Sacrifice” and “The Red Sun” at that time.
As Hollywood has contemplated how best to rev up moviegoing now that theaters are beginning to operate with some normalcy again, there has been a lot of talk about “the right movie at the right time.” It was not Christopher Nolan’s cerebral “Tenant,” which was released in September by Warner Bros. An old-fashioned monster mash-up, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” drew big crowds last month, but results were depressed because it was simultaneously available on HBO Max.
Could “F9” be the one? It will receive an exclusive run in theaters and features action sequences designed specifically for big screens. One of the film’s cars has an actual rocket engine attached to its roof.
“It feels like a big, beginning-of-summer, school’s-out celebration,” Ms. Langley said of the sequel. It finds Vin Diesel’s marble-mouthed Dom Toretto facing his younger brother Jakob (John Cena), an assassin working with the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron). Michelle Rodriguez returns as the brooding Letty. Tyrese Gibson, Helen Mirren and Ludacris also star.
Over the weekend, the price of Bitcoin briefly fell to around $31,000, more than 50 percent down from its high last month. It has recovered somewhat and is currently trading at around $37,000.
“About $20 billion of long positions were liquidated last week,” Sam Bankman-Fried, the chief executive of the crypto derivatives exchange FTX, told the DealBook newsletter. “In terms of price movements: the biggest part of it is liquidations,” he said, suggesting the worst is over.
But he also noted news from China late Friday of a crackdown on Bitcoin mining and trading. This added to other news of official scrutiny that has spooked crypto investors in recent days, from Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.
Companies with Bitcoin on their balance sheets may be getting nervous. For accounting purposes, cryptocurrency is valued at its purchase price in company accounts. If it goes up in value, this isn’t reflected in a company’s accounts but if it falls, the value is impaired and puts a dent in quarterly profits. Three big corporate investors in Bitcoin are Tesla, MicroStrategy and Square. Here’s where they stand:
Tesla: The electric vehicle company bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin last quarter, at an average price of about $34,700 per coin, not far from its current price. Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, has signaled that the company isn’t selling, but it probably isn’t buying, either.
MicroStrategy: The business intelligence software company has spent about $2.2 billion on Bitcoin, at an average price of $24,450. The company bought more last week and is still sitting on big gains.
Square: The payments company, led by the Twitter chief Jack Dorsey, bought two batches of Bitcoin for its treasury — $50 million in October at a price of about $10,600 per coin and $170 million in February at a price of around $51,000. It took a $20 million impairment on its holdings last quarter. It doesn’t plan to buy any more, its finance chief said this month.
The British government said Monday that it would prohibit Belarus’s national airline from landing or operating in the country, a day after that country’s leader sent a fighter jet to force down a Ryanair flight in order to seize an opposition journalist on board.
Britain also said it was advising airlines departing Britain to avoid flying through Belarusian airspace, “for the purposes of protecting passenger safety.” Belarus, in eastern-central Europe, is along a major air corridor between Europe and Asia.
The moves came as airlines and lawmakers were trying to find the right way to respond to what was widely seen as a shocking move by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the Belarusian president who has clung to power despite huge protests last year. European Union officials are expected to meet on Monday to discuss their options for penalizing the country, which is closely aligned with Russia.
The British government said that it was halting all flights by Belavia, the Belarus national airline, to Britain immediately. “This essentially means no journeys are possible from Belarus to the U.K.,” a government spokesman said.
Earlier on Monday, at least two airlines said that they were diverting flights away from Belarusian airspace as a precaution, but most carriers seem to be waiting to be told what to do by the European authorities.
Lithuania’s transport minister announced that all flights to and from Lithuanian airports must avoid the airspace of neighboring Belarus, Reuters reported. The minister, Marius Skuodis, said the ban would begin Tuesday at 3 a.m. local time.
Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, on Monday condemned the actions of the Belarusian authorities, who ordered the plane, flying from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, to land in the capital of Minsk and then arrested Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist on board, and his companion.
“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy,” Mr. O’Leary told interviewers on Newstalk, an Irish radio broadcaster.
Mr. O’Leary, however, said he was waiting for instructions from European Union authorities in Brussels about whether to steer other flights away from Belarus.
He added that it would be an easy matter for his flights to avoid the country’s airspace. “We don’t fly over Belarus much,” he said. “It would be a very minor adjustment to fly over” Poland instead, he added. Ryanair, a discount airline based in Ireland, describes itself as Europe’s largest airline group.
Some analysts say that the European Union may be reluctant to ban flights over Belarus because such a move would create difficulties for European airlines. Airlines are already avoiding Ukraine, the country’s southern neighbor, because of conflict with Russia, and so putting Belarusian air space off limits as well would present serious routing difficulties on flights from Europe to Asia.
“Flying to Asia from Europe without crossing Belarus is likely too costly and challenging,” analysts from Eurasia Group, a research firm, wrote in a note on Monday.
Other airlines, flying shorter routes, are already making changes.
AirBaltic, the Latvian national airline, said that its planes would avoid entering Belarusian airspace “until the situation becomes clearer or a decision is issued by the authorities.” The rerouted flights include ones from Riga, the airline’s home base, to Odessa in Ukraine and Tbilisi in Georgia.
Another airline that flies in the area, Wizz Air, said that it would alter the path of a flight from Kyiv, Ukraine, to Tallinn, Estonia, so as to skirt Belarus.
“We are continuously monitoring and evaluating the situation,” a spokesman for Wizz Air, which is based in Hungary, said.
The transportation secretary said Monday that the safety of flights operated by U.S. airlines over Belarus should be reviewed after the Eastern European country forced a commercial flight to land in order to seize a dissident on board.
“That’s exactly what needs to be assessed right now,” the secretary, Pete Buttigieg, told CNN. “We, in terms of the international bodies we’re part of and as an administration with the F.A.A., are looking at that because the main reason my department exists is safety.”
The comments came after the authoritarian leader of Belarus dispatched a fighter jet on Sunday to intercept a Ryanair plane carrying the journalist Roman Protasevich. The plane was forced to land in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, where Mr. Protasevich was arrested.
The secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, condemned the forced diversion, saying it was a “shocking act” that “endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens.” And Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, an Irish-based low-cost carrier, called the operation a “state -sponsored hijacking.”
The International Air Transport Association, a global industry group, said Saturday on Twitter, “We strongly condemn any interference or requirement for landing of civil aviation operations that is inconsistent with the rules of international law.” The group called for “a full investigation by competent international authorities.”
Officials in the region also criticized the action. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called the re-routing to Minsk “utterly unacceptable,” adding that “any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences.”
Though not a major European hub, Minsk is served by multiple international airlines, including Lufthansa, KLM, Turkish Airlines and Air France. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines offer flights to Minsk through their partnerships with those European airlines as well as through Belavia, the Belarusian national carrier.
Belarus sits between Poland and Russia and also has borders with Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, putting it in the path of some flights to and from major European airports.
Top Federal Reserve officials have made clear in recent days that the central bank will spend this year taking a closer look at the possibility of a digital dollar — a push partly motivated by concerns that private-sector digital coins could come to dominate the payment system.
Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, announced last week that the Fed will issue a discussion paper this summer outlining the benefits and risks of a United States central bank digital currency, which would basically be a digital version of cash. He made clear that the Fed had not decided to issue a digital currency, and that the paper “represents the beginning of what will be a thoughtful and deliberative process.”
Mr. Powell specifically cited stablecoins, digital coins that tie their value to the dollar or another underlying asset, as something that could pose risks to users and to the “broader financial system” because those private currencies “may not come with the same protections as traditional means of payment.” That means the Fed needs to understand how to oversee them.
Lael Brainard, a Fed governor who has paid significant attention to payments issues, fleshed out that message during a speech on digital currencies on Monday. She outlined growing concerns about the possible widespread adoption of stablecoins as something that could fragment the payment system.
“A predominance of private monies may introduce consumer protection and financial stability risks because of their potential volatility and the risk of run-like behavior,” Ms. Brainard said. “Indeed, the period in the 19th century when there was active competition among issuers of private paper banknotes in the United States is now notorious for inefficiency, fraud, and instability in the payments system.”
The Fed has other motivations for exploring the possibility of a digital dollar. Other nations including China are further along in developing central bank digital currencies, and the United States wants to make sure it has a prominent seat at the table as the rules of future cross-border payments are drawn. Digital currencies may have financial inclusion benefits, and even if central banks don’t choose to create their own, they need to understand the technology to regulate and supervise it.
But stablecoins — in particular, Facebook’s Libra project, which has since been renamed Diem — has played a critical role in focusing both the central bank and Congress’s attention on understanding the new technologies, their possibilities and their risks.
Mr. Powell said in testimony last year that Libra was “a bit of a wake-up call that this is coming fast and could come in a way that is quite widespread and systemically important fairly quickly,” highlighting the “importance of making quick progress.”
After its $100 billion deal to buy Time Warner, and spending millions more to fight a Justice Department lawsuit that delayed the deal, AT&T wants a do-over. This reversal culminated in the announcement last week that it would spin off WarnerMedia, as the former Time Warner is now known, to merge with the reality-TV giant Discovery.
In the three short years since AT&T closed the deal to buy Time Warner, AT&T radically upended the business by cutting staff, angering the talent and firing executives and becoming something of a Hollywood villain. Some of WarnerMedia’s most successful executives, including Richard Plepler of HBO, left or were pushed out. The company cut more than 2,000 jobs.
It could have been different if a phone call in 2016 had come just a few weeks earlier, according to the DealBook newsletter. In October that year, shortly before Time Warner and AT&T first announced their deal, Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company at the time, placed a call to Jeffrey Bewkes, the head of Time Warner, according to two people familiar with those details.
The Disney leader asked Mr. Bewkes if he’d be interested in a possible merger. It was too late, Mr. Bewkes said: There was already something in the works. Mr. Iger wished him well and hung up the phone. Later, Mr. Iger called another media chief in the hopes of forging a deal. It was Rupert Murdoch.
U.S. stocks rose on Monday, with the S&P 500 climbing about 1 percent. Stocks in Europe were slightly higher.
Belarus government bonds, denominated in dollars, dropped on Monday after the Belarusian government sent a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane traveling through the country’s airspace on Sunday and seized a prominent opposition journalist on board. European officials are considering further penalties against Belarus.
Metal prices, including iron ore and steel rebar, fell as Chinese officials continued to intervene in what the government sees as excessively high commodity prices.
The National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement on Monday that there would be “zero tolerance” for illegal activities such monopolistic behavior or hoarding after major metal producers were called to a meeting with several Chinese government departments.
Oil prices rose. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, rose more than 3 percent to above $65 a barrel.
Cineworld shares rose in London after the movie theater chain said it had a “strong opening weekend” in Britain thanks to the success of “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.” In the United States, 97 percent of the company’s movie theaters are now open, Cineworld said, which operates Regal Cinemas, the second-largest chain in the country after AMC.
Shares in Virgin Galactic soared after Richard Branson’s space plane completed a test flight on Saturday to the edge of space. The company also has more than 600 customers who paid up to $250,000 each for seats on its earliest flights.
Beyond Meat shares jumped after the largest supermarket chain in Britain, Tesco, said on Monday it was introducing a range of frozen meals with Beyond Meat.
While Black business ownership rates nationwide dropped by 41 percent from February 2020 to April 2020 — the largest decline for any racial group — Dexter George watched as 1,200 patrons donated $69,211 to support his 30-year-old enterprise, Source of Knowledge, a bookstore on Broad Street in Newark.
Personal checks and civic grants further steadied the store’s finances.
Unable to secure loans, he used some of the money to reinvest in his 2,700 square feet of retail space.
“At the end of the day, you only fit in a box,” Mr. George, who was born in Tobago, said of putting the money back into the store. “Can’t take it with you.”
Mr. George, 56, has kept his business operating partly by practicing caution during the pandemic, Kevin Armstrong reports for The New York Times.
“There’s a lot of people we aren’t seeing again,” he said. “This virus is going around in a circle until it gets everybody.”
Mr. George counted 30 customers killed by the coronavirus. Almost 1,000 people have died in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, because of Covid-19 and the vaccination rate remains below 30 percent. Throughout the pandemic, Mr. George considered not only safety concerns, but also the costs of closures and curfews. He weighed reduced foot traffic against his mortgage of $6,500 per month for the two-story building that houses his bookstore. On his commute, he noted roller gates that remained down and “For Lease” signs going up.
But Mr. George was not done building. Early in the epidemic, he created a GoFundMe page to alert customers to his status: “Covid almost killed us!”
It was the contributions that revived him.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate, has been dropped from his role as a CNN political commentator amid controversy over recent remarks in which he seemed to erase the role of Native Americans in U.S. history. Mr. Santorum’s departure from CNN came after comments he made about Native Americans at a Young America’s Foundation event last month. “We birthed a nation from nothing — I mean, there was nothing here,” Mr. Santorum said.
Daimler, the world’s largest maker of heavy trucks, whose Freightliners are a familiar sight on American interstates, said last week that it would convert to zero-emission vehicles within 15 years at the latest, providing another example of how the shift to electric power is reshaping vehicle manufacturing with significant implications for the climate, economic growth and jobs.
Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that it can be fun to try out new products, but only if we know what we’re signing up for.