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“[Theaters] were quite upset with us because they thought that we were overreacting. Even people inside the company thought that we were a little crazy for doing it,” Langley told CNN Business earlier this month. “But we just felt that it was better to sort of plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

“Of course, now 2020 — pardon the pun — being hindsight,” Langley added, “it was the best decision we could have made.”

And it wouldn’t be Langley’s only bold decision this year.

Hollywood changed in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic delayed major films, shuttered theaters worldwide, stalled productions and ushered in streaming as the dominant entertainment platform. To say that this year was a turbulent one for the film industry would be an understatement. It was transformational.
However, all along the way, Universal was ahead of the curve. Under Langley, the studio’s gambles in 2020 — from releasing the animated film “Trolls World Tour” on digital to negotiating a new deal with AMC Theatres — created a road map for all of Hollywood at a time when the road was shifting by the day.

Trolls take Tinseltown

The original “Trolls” film was a modest success.

The 2016 animated movie brought in nearly $350 million worldwide and garnered lukewarm reviews. The Hollywood Reporter called it a “vibrant-looking but awfully recognizable animated musical comedy concoction.” It was released, made some money, and then was mostly forgotten about.

But its sequel, “Trolls World Tour,” may be remembered for changing the trajectory of the movie business forever.

As Covid-19 cases spiked in March, Universal made the audacious decision to make some of its films which were already in theaters available on-demand immediately. The list included “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt” and “Emma,” but the movie that made the biggest splash was “Trolls World Tour.”
The Comcast (CMCSA)-owned studio announced that the DreamWorks Animation production would be available in living rooms on April 10, the same day it was set to open in theaters — an unprecedented move that foreshadowed much of what would happen over the rest of the year in Hollywood.

“We had a big consumer product program on the film, and there was just no way that we could move it out of the year,” Langley said. “We really wanted to get it out there to our audience. So, yes, we made the bold decision to put it into the home and use the digital marketplace to be able to do that.”

Universal's decision to release "Troll World Tour" directly to digital sent shockwaves throughout Hollywood.

The rise of streaming and video-on-demand has led studios to grapple with theaters for years over what is known as the “theatrical window,” the length of time a movie plays in theaters before it is offered on other platforms. Studios are eager to bring in revenue from all sources, but box office returns can still be massive, so shortening that window has been a contested point of discussion in Hollywood. Theater operators, meanwhile, are keen to preserve exclusivity to entice customers to go out, fill seats and buy popcorn.

“Trolls World Tour” upended that longstanding precedent.

“It was the first experiment during the pandemic of sending a film made for theaters directly to the home. That, in itself, is very significant,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst of Boxoffice.com, told CNN Business. “It set the tone for how movies would be released during the pandemic.”

As the health crisis dragged on, other studios followed Universal’s lead. Warner Bros. released “Scoob!,” a Scooby Doo animated film,” on digital, and Disney (DIS) launched its much anticipated big budget live-action remake of “Mulan” on Disney+, albeit for an extra fee.

“We’re all trying to figure out what the new normal is as these trends that we were seeing in the industry before the pandemic have now really come home to roost,” Langley said.

After the “Trolls World Tour” digital release, everything remained copacetic between Universal and theaters. The film found an audience on-demand, and theaters had larger problems just keeping their marquees lit.

It was your standard Hollywood happy ending — until the “Trolls'” numbers came out.

A new model

If you said last year that the world’s biggest theater chain would ban one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, no one would have believed you. If you said that the spat was over “Trolls World Tour,” industry insiders would have recommended seeking professional help.

But that’s exactly what happened.

In April, CEO Adam Aron announced that AMC (AMC) Theatres would no longer be showing Universal’s films. In a letter to Langley, he said that the decision was triggered by a quote in the Wall Street Journal from NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell revealing that based on the success of “Trolls World Tour” his studio expected to “release movies on both formats.” The sequel earned nearly $100 million in rental fees domestically in its first three weeks.

AMC’s threat wasn’t likely to hold, given the symbiotic relationship between the companies: AMC is the top movie theater company and Universal is the home of global blockbusters such as “Furious 7,” “Jurassic World” and “Minions.”

But the momentary rift led to a landmark deal that potentially created a new theatrical model for all of Hollywood.
An AMC movie theater in Times Square remains closed during the coronavirus pandemic on May 3, 2020 in New York City.

“I think the biggest risk that we took in 2020 was putting ‘Troll’s World Tour’ into the home… It was a bold move. It was a necessary move, and it was a move that ultimately yielded this historic deal,” Langley said. “At the time, we had no line of sight into what the outcome might be. And there was a period of time where we were called to the mat by exhibition, in the press and our competitors thought that we were crazy.”

Under the new arrangement, Universal’s films will have three weekends — or 17 days — of in-theater exclusivity, rather than the typical 70 to 90 days. After that, Universal and its sister studio, Focus Features, has the option to release films on video-on-demand platforms. Universal has since made similar deals with other chains.

“Every time we launch a movie, it’s like launching a small business,” Langley said. “We have to love it, of course, but we have to have a business model and a business rationale that enables it to work. We need to keep our distribution ecosystem healthy. And this really helps us do it.”

According to Robbins, Langley had “proven to be a captain” of the industry before 2020. Still, this year further showcased her insight and ability to adapt to a business whose future felt anything but certain.

“I think the future can be very bright for the industry if cooler heads prevail and leaders like Langley remain at the table to help figure out what that future looks like,” he said.

Hollywood finds a way

Hollywood is changing. Langley knows that.

“It’s now a 100-year-old business mixed with a ten-year-old tech business,” she said. “I think we’re learning whether or not we can all get along.”

For Langley, the risks she took in 2020 were not just about surviving one of the industry’s wildest years, it was also about finding a path to a future that arrived faster than anyone expected.

If anything, the pandemic accelerated a decade-long shift to streaming and gave studios an excuse to catch up to Netflix: WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, announced earlier this month that it would release all of Warner Bros.’ 2021 films in theaters and HBO Max on the same day, collapsing the theatrical window to zero days. This choice caused shock waves that are still being felt throughout Tinseltown. Disney announced dozens of new Star Wars and Marvel series going direct to Disney+, two brands that helped it earn a staggering $11 billion box office haul in 2019. And NBCUniversal — Universal’s parent company — launched Peacock, its own streaming platform, earlier this year.

Never before has the future of moviegoing been in so much doubt. Yet, Langley doesn’t think that it has to be a winner take all battle.

“I believe that there is enough to go around for everybody,” she said. “And I think all boats rise when we’re successful. I don’t think it’s binary.”

For Langley, the theatrical experience hasn’t reached its final act yet.

“In tough times, people look to the movies to take them out of their reality, to inspire them,” she said. “And I think that that is going to be true more than ever on the other side of the pandemic.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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