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Disney’s investment in Epic Games signals the company has to ‘be there’

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Disney's investment in Epic Games signals the company has to 'be there'
© Reuters. The popular video game “Fortnite” by Epic Games is pictured on a screen in this picture illustration August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Illustration

By Dawn Chmielewski

(Reuters) -In 2017, Epic Games was among a handful of companies selected to participate in Walt Disney (NYSE:)’s Accelerator incubator program, where the game company’s founder held ambitions of incorporating the entertainment giant’s well-known characters into his digital playground.

Now, Disney is making a much bigger bet that will make this possible.

Disney CEO Bob Iger on Wednesday announced a $1.5 billion investment aimed at letting consumers interact with stories and characters from Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars, on Epic’s Fortnite, where 100 million players gather each month. It was an acknowledgement of the amount of leisure time Generation Alpha, Generation Z and millennials devote to gaming.

“In terms of their total media screen time on video games, it was stunning to me – equal to what they spend on TV and movies,” Iger said during a call with analysts and investors after reporting quarterly results. “And the conclusion I reached was we have to be there. And we have to be there as soon as we possibly can in a very compelling way.”

Shares of the stock surged on Thursday, the day after its earnings report, gaining more than 13% in what would be their best day in more than three years.

“Gaming is becoming a critical part of the entertainment world, particularly for the younger demo, and this positions Disney to play some catch-up in this important area,” said Douglas Arthur of Huber Research Partners.

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney had long envisioned a Disney’s characters populating Fortnite’s digital playground, according to two former executives.

“Disney was one of the first companies to believe in the potential of bringing their worlds together with ours in Fortnite,” Sweeney said in a statement, adding that Disney uses Epic’s real time, 3D graphics creation tool, Unreal Engine.

Other companies, such as Lego, have similarly forged partnerships with Epic.

Game industry analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush said Disney has failed multiple times at developing its own games in-house. It struggled to make money even on popular titles such as “Disney Infinity,” he said, referring to a game that incorporated an expansive collection of Disney characters, which would come to life in the game’s virtual toy box.

Since it shifted to a licensing business model in 2016, nine Disney game franchises, including Spider-Man and Kingdom Hearts, have generated more than $1 billion in revenue, Disney said.

Pachter called Disney’s investment in Epic Games “a really smart strategic” move that is consistent with the company’s approach of extending brand awareness and protecting the integrity of the brand.

“Disney, I think, is acknowledging … we are really good at brands and exploitation of those brands,” said Pachter. “And Epic is really good at hooking consumers and getting them engaged and having fun.”

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Wendy’s, blasted over CEO’s pricing comment, vows no price hikes at busy times

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Wendy's, blasted over CEO's pricing comment, vows no price hikes at busy times
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Wendy?s restaurant displays a “Now Hiring” sign in Tampa, Florida, U.S., June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones/File Photo

By Waylon Cunningham and Deborah Mary Sophia

DALLAS (Reuters) -Wendy’s said on Wednesday it has no plans to raise menu prices at times of peak demand, after the burger chain weathered heavy criticism on social media since its CEO said earlier this month it would start testing “dynamic pricing”.

CEO Kirk Tanner told investors on a call this month that starting as early as 2025, Wendy’s (NASDAQ:) would begin testing features including “dynamic pricing and daypart offerings”. Dynamic pricing refers to surge pricing based on demand, especially during peak hours of the day.

This practice often raises prices at busy times, similar to how Uber (NYSE:) adjusts ride fares.

Tanner’s comment this week sparked an online backlash. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren in a post on the social media platform X on Wednesday called it “price gouging plain and simple.”

Wendy’s, in a statement to Reuters, said on Wednesday it “would not raise prices when our customers are visiting us most.”

Its initiative to add digital menuboards to certain stores would instead allow Wendy’s to offer discounts to customers more easily, “particularly in the slower times of day,” it added.

“We said these menuboards would give us more flexibility to change the display of featured items. This was misconstrued in some media reports as an intent to raise prices when demand is highest … We have no plans to do that,” the company said.

Warren’s post on X, previously Twitter, said Wendy’s plan “means you could pay more for your lunch, even if the cost to Wendy’s stays exactly the same. It’s price gouging plain and simple, and American families have had enough.”

“I guess I won’t be eating at Wendy’s anymore,” one Reddit user said in a post, while others on X called for boycotts.

Analysts and consultants were skeptical of the idea of surge pricing at restaurants.

Wendy’s “dynamic pricing” was a hot topic at a restaurant conference in the Dallas area, with several executives saying customers – already skittish after recent price increases – would likely be scared off by unpredictable prices.

“I don’t see it taking off any time soon,” said Victor Fernandez, a senior analyst at restaurant analytics firm Black Box Intelligence.

Michael Lukianoff, CEO of SignalFlare.ai, who has consulted with restaurants about pricing for years, said that “dynamic pricing” is a great success in other industries such as airlines, but would not work in restaurants.

“Customers will shop elsewhere,” he said.

Wendy’s sales have already slowed. Placer.ai data showed visits to Wendy’s outlets declined in all three months of the fourth quarter of 2023.

Wendy’s shares, which dropped about 14% in 2023, were up 1% on Wednesday. The company also recently issued a profit forecast for this year below Wall Street estimates, hurt by higher commodity and labor costs.

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Apple shareholders reject AI disclosure proposal

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Apple to disclose AI plans later this year, CEO Tim Cook says
© Reuters. Apple logo is seen in this illustration taken, August 22, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) -Apple plans to disclose more about its plans to put generative artificial intelligence to use later this year, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said during the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

Cook said that the iPhone maker sees “incredible breakthrough potential for generative AI, which is why we’re currently investing significantly in this area. We believe that will unlock transformative opportunities for users when it comes to productivity, problem solving and more.”

Apple (NASDAQ:) has been slower in rolling out generative AI, which can generate human-like responses to written prompts, than rivals such as Microsoft (NASDAQ:) and Alphabet (NASDAQ:)’s Google, which are weaving them into products.

On Wednesday, Cook argued that AI is already at work behind the scenes in Apple’s products but said there would be more news on explicit AI features later this year. Bloomberg previously reported Apple plans to use AI to improve the ability to search through data stored on Apple devices.

“Every Mac that is powered by Apple silicon is an extraordinarily capable AI machine. In fact, there’s no better computer for AI on the market today,” Cook said.

Apple shareholders on Wednesday rejected a measure asking the company to disclose more information about how it uses artificial intelligence in its business and its ethical guidelines for the technology.

The proposal, which was defeated at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, was put forth by the pension trust of the AFL-CIO, the largest American labor union federation, which has also proposed AI measures at other technology companies.

A similar proposal will be heard at Walt Disney (NYSE:)’s annual meeting in April.

At Apple, the AFL-CIO asked for a report on the company’s use of AI “in its business operations and disclose any ethical guidelines that the company has adopted regarding the company’s use of AI technology.”

In its supporting statement in Apple’s proxy materials, the AFL-CIO wrote that “AI systems should not be trained on copyrighted works, or the voices, likenesses and performances of professional performers, without transparency, consent and compensation to creators and rights holders.”

Apple opposed the measure, saying that disclosures could tip its hand on strategy as it competes against rivals in the fast-moving AI field.

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UMG to generate 250 million euros in savings by 2026, flags job cuts

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UMG to generate 250 million euros in savings by 2026, flags job cuts
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Universal Music Group logo is seen displayed in this illustration taken, May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Universal Music Group (AS:) will cut jobs and streamline its operations with the aim of generating 250 million euros ($271.03 million) in run-rate savings by 2026.

In the first phase of the plan, which will be introduced immediately, the group plans to save 125 million euros in 2025, including 75 million euros in 2024, the company said.

“Our organizational redesign achieves efficiencies in targeted cost areas while providing our labels with unprecedented capabilities to deepen artist and fan connections via new experiential, commerce, and content offerings,” the group said in a statement.

UMG also posted a 9.2% year-on-year increase in adjusted core profit (EBITDA), to 677 million euros in the fourth quarter, as its revenue rose to 3.21 billion euros, up 9.0% from previous year.

It proposed a year-end dividend of 0.27 euros per share, bringing total dividend payout in 2023 to 0.51 per share.

($1 = 0.9224 euros)

(This story has been refiled to add ‘euros’ in the headline)

(Reportin by Dagmarah Mackos, editing by Tassilo Hummel)

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