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Tech wrap: Netflix out at Cannes; Softbank zooms; Valeant beats Street; Samsung unlocks S8; Toshiba chip fight

Bulldog Bulletin

May, 11 2017, 5:44 AM

In today's Bulldog wrapup of technology and science news:

The details:

After a backlash over programming Netflix films, the Cannes Film Festival said that it will, beginning next year, only accept theatrically released films for its prestigious Palme d'Or competition.

In a statement Wednesday, the French festival announced that it has adapted its rules to require that films in competition be distributed in French movie theaters. The festival said it was "pleased to welcome a new operator which has decided to invest in cinema but wants to reiterate its support to the traditional mode of exhibition of cinema in France and in the world."

Cannes this year for the first time selected two films in its official competition from Netflix: Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories" and Bong Joon Ho's "Okja."

The selections prompted immediate criticism from French exhibitors. In France, the theatrical experience is passionately defended. Films are prohibited from streaming or appearing on subscription video on demand for three years after playing in theaters. On Tuesday, France's National Federation of Films Distributors said the Netflix films at Cannes were "endangering a whole ecosystem."

Reed Hastings, Netflix chief executive, responded to the festival's move Wednesday on Facebook. "The establishment is closing ranks against us," wrote Hastings. He called "Okja" ''an amazing film that theater chains want to block us from entering into the Cannes Film Festival competition."

Japanese internet, robot and solar company SoftBank Group is reporting a 12-fold climb in quarterly profit, as a turnaround at its U.S. mobile unit Sprint helped it on its way to a record annual profit.

Tokyo-based SoftBank reported Wednesday a January-March profit of 580.5 billion yen ($5.1 billion), up dramatically from 45.2 billion yen the same period a year earlier.

Quarterly sales rose nearly 2 percent to 2.32 trillion yen ($20 billion).

For the year through March 2017, SoftBank, which acquired Britain's ARM Holdings, an innovator in the "internet of things," last year, reported a record 1.4 trillion yen ($12.5 billion) in profit, tripling from 474 billion yen in the last fiscal year.

Much of that came from the sale of part of its stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. But cost reductions at Sprint, which had been dragging on its earnings, also helped, while a strong yen was an unfavorable factor, the company said.

Softbank's sales at its domestic wireless carrier service and its Yahoo Japan business also thrived, it said. ARM's operations were also going strong, it said.

SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son, a University of California, Berkeley graduate, drew attention for hobnobbing with President Donald Trump, late last year and promising to create jobs and invest in the U.S.

SoftBank, founded in 1981, also has within its sprawling investment empire financial-technology and ride-booking services. It also sells the Pepper human-shaped companion robot and operates a solar power business.

Also Wednesday, SoftBank, Sprint and Qualcomm Technologies, a U.S. semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company, said they will work together to develop 5G wireless technology, with plans to offer services and devices from late 2019.

Shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals surged after the Canadian drugmaker topped Wall Street's first-quarter expectations and said it chopped its debt by another $1.3 billion, giving it more financial flexibility.

The drugmaker also said Tuesday that it booked a one-time, $908 million income tax benefit from an internal restructuring in the quarter.

Valeant's debt levels had swelled in recent years as it grew through a string of acquisitions. But the Laval, Quebec, company said it has reduced its total debt by $3.6 billion since the end of last year's first quarter, and it has lowered the cash requirements on its principal debt payments by more than $6 billion through 2020.

Overall, the company earned $628 million in the first quarter after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier. Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs, totaled $2.80 per share.

Analysts expected, on average, earnings of 96 cents per share, according to Zacks Investment Research.

The drugmaker posted revenue of $2.11 billion in the period, which missed the average Street forecast of $2.16 billion.

Shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc. jumped nearly 13 percent, or $1.25, to $10.96 in pre-market trading after results were released.

Samsung is making it easier for consumers to switch wireless carriers by offering an unlocked version of its Galaxy S8 phone .

Phones sold by carriers are sometimes locked to a carrier's network, meaning it might not work when customers switch to a rival or get a separate phone plan when travelling abroad. Another advantage with having an unlocked version: The phone won't come cluttered with carrier-specific apps, many duplicating functions available elsewhere.

Samsung is selling the 5.8-inch S8 phone for $725 and the 6.2-inch S8 Plus for $825. Both prices are about $25 cheaper than what the four main U.S. carriers charge. Monthly installment plans are available, something unusual for unlocked phones. The unlocked version comes out May 31. Verizon phones are typically already unlocked, though Samsung's version is cheaper.

Japanese electronics maker Toshiba is facing resistance from its U.S. joint venture partner Western Digital over Toshiba's plans to sell its computer-chip business to anyone else, and Toshiba is fighting back.

Tokyo-based Toshiba Corp. needs cash from such a sale to shore up its finances after it suffered massive losses in its nuclear power division.

Toshiba warned Western Digital to stop interfering, according to letters obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. The letters from the company's lawyers, dated May 3, accused Western Digital of "improper" interference.

Western Digital bought SanDisk, Toshiba's longtime partner in making flash memory chips, last year. It has argued the sale might violate terms of the joint venture with Toshiba, according to the letters.

Such sales can be sensitive because they involve the transfer of technology.

Several companies are reportedly interested in acquiring Toshiba's prized chip-making business. One is Hon Hai of Taiwan, also known as Foxconn, a major supplier to Apple, which has acquired Japanese electronics company Sharp Corp. South Korea's SK Hynix is also reportedly a bidder.

The possibility that the flash memory technology Toshiba invented might be acquired by a foreign buyer has raised some concern in Japan.





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