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With new Charter Spectrum distribution deal, Paramount breathes a sigh of relief

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With new Charter Spectrum distribution deal, Paramount breathes a sigh of relief

Paramount Global and Charter Communications have agreed to a new distribution deal for Paramount’s CBS network and cable channels, easing a concern that had threatened to complicate the media company’s sale talks.

The last three-year contract covering CBS and Paramount’s 25 cable networks expired April 30, but the two sides continued negotiations, sparing Charter’s Spectrum customers from another disruptive blackout. Last summer, a breakdown in separate talks between Charter and Walt Disney Co. resulted in Disney channels, including ESPN, going dark for 10 days for Spectrum subscribers.

While Paramount has less pull than Disney, the company still benefits from the strength of its CBS network and its entertainment schedule; news programs, including “CBS News Sunday Morning” and “60 Minutes”; and sports, including golf and the NFL.

As part of the deal, the companies said ad-supported versions of Paramount+ Essential and BET+ Essential would be included at no additional cost to Charter’s Spectrum TV customers. Charter also will make Paramount’s direct-to-consumer products available for purchase to its Internet-only customers.

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“This innovative deal celebrates our mutual commitment to deliver flexibility, choice and value for audiences everywhere, and we look forward to bringing even more of our fan-favorite programming to Spectrum customers through our direct-to-consumer streaming services for the first time,” Ray Hopkins, Paramount’s president of U.S. Networks Distribution, said in a statement.

The Charter deal marked the first major accomplishment for Paramount since Chief Executive Bob Bakish was ousted late last month and three division leaders, comprising the “Office of the CEO,” began running the company.

For investors, it was a shot of good news during a turbulent cycle as Paramount board members have been mulling whether to pursue a complicated and controversial two-phase merger with David Ellison’s Skydance Media or accept a separate buyout bid from Sony Pictures Entertainment and Apollo Global Management.

Sony and Apollo have offered $26 billion, including the assumption of debt. Sony and Apollo are known to be cost-conscious buyers; they want to scrutinize Paramount’s financial picture, including details of the Charter distribution pact, before arriving at a valuation, according to people close to the process who are not authorized to comment publicly.

Both Charter and Paramount had plenty to lose if they had been unable to reach a new agreement.

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Charter’s stock has tumbled more than 25% year-to-date, weighed down by concerns about weakness in its broadband internet and wireless phone business, as well as further erosion in pay TV subscribers — a trend that has had wide-reaching financial implications.

Audiences have been migrating away from general-entertainment cable channels, including BET, MTV and Nickelodeon, making them less valuable to distributors such as Charter.

Analysts have long viewed Paramount’s channels as among the weakest in the industry because they largely run low-cost reality programming, a genre that television executives say has suffered from oversaturation and higher-end competition from streaming companies, such as Netflix.

Recent Nielsen ratings shows how Paramount’s cable channels have fallen out of favor with audiences. Only three of the company’s channels — TV Land, TV Land Classic and Nick at Night — rank in the Top 20, in terms of total viewers. TV Land plays reruns of series including “King of Queens,” “Seinfeld” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Comedy Central and the Paramount Network lag behind, rounding out the Top 30.

Connecticut-based Charter’s executives, including Chief Executive Christopher L. Winfrey, were loath to agree to a new pact that would significantly raise fees for subscribers who continue to pay for their channel bundles. Winfrey also has demanded that programmers give Spectrum customers access to subscription services that provide network programming.

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“From the outset, Paramount has embraced Charter’s goal of evolving the video distribution model, and we have appreciated their willingness to collaborate on a solution that benefits our mutual customers and the video industry as a whole,” said Tom Montemagno, Charter’s executive vice president of programming acquisition.

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Eggs of grapevine-gobbling insect snagged en route to California. Are vineyards at risk?

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Eggs of grapevine-gobbling insect snagged en route to California. Are vineyards at risk?

Eggs of the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that’s wreaked havoc on crops across more than a dozen states, were recently discovered on a metal art installation that was headed to Sonoma County, one of California’s most esteemed wine regions.

The discovery of the infamous bug’s eggs represents the first time the insect has been seen in California. The California Assn. of Winegrape Gowers, a statewide nonprofit, warns the invasive plant-hopper native to Asia has the potential to affect the entire winegrape industry in California, potentially pushing up prices if an infestation results in a smaller grape crop.

“Spotted lanternflies have been found in 18 states and have proven to pose a serious threat to vineyards,” Natalie Collins, president of the growers group, said. “These invasive insects feed on the sap of grapevines, while also leaving behind a sticky honeydew residue on the clusters and leaves.”

Impacts of the stress on the plant could range from reduced yields — and fewer bottles of wine for consumers — and, if severe and persistent enough, complete vine death and higher wine prices. No adult spotted lanterflies have been reported in the state, Collins said.

California is responsible for an average of 81% of the total U.S. wine production each year, according to the Wine Institute.

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The association warned that if there are additional egg masses in California from other shipments that haven’t been detected “they may produce adult [spotted lanternflies] in the coming weeks with peak populations expected in late summer or early fall.”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture last year developed an action plan to try to eradicate the pests if they were to enter the state. State officials have asked the public to look for egg masses outdoors. If a bug is found, they recommend grabbing it and placing it in a container where it can’t escape, snapping a photo and reporting it to the CDFA Pest Hotline at (800) 491-1899

The metal art installation on which the eggs were found was shipped to California in late March from New York, where the insects have been a persistent problem. After 11 viable egg masses were spotted at the Truckee Border Protection Station, the 30-foot-tall artwork was sent back to Nevada, where officials discovered an additional 30 egg masses. The art was power washed with detergent and then sent on its way again to Truckee, according to the association.

By the time the installation reached Sonoma County on April 4, the owner agreed to allow officials to open up the hollow beams in the artwork to inspect it further. Inside, they found an additional three egg masses and searched until they were confident no other eggs were present.

Spotted lanternflies were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and quickly spread to nearby states, where they became a nuisance. In New York they proved to be such a problem that officials encouraged residents to kill them on sight. The pest has become so notorious that it made an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in a 2022 skit where one viewer applauded them for capturing “the unbelievable hubris of the lanternfly.”

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While they feed on more than 100 different plant species, they have a particular affinity for grapevines and a tree known as the “tree of heaven.” The adults, which have the ability to fly short distances, are typically 1 inch long. At rest, with its wings folded, the bug is a dull tan-gray color with black spots. During flight, its open wings feature a bright red, black and white pattern.

The species is often described as a “hitchhiker,” since its egg masses appear similar to cakes of mud and can easily be transported on tractor trailers and semi-trucks. During the first three immature stages of the bug’s life cycle they appear to be black with white spots and later turn red and black with white spots.

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After a pandemic strike, nurses union must pay Riverside hospital millions in damages

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After a pandemic strike, nurses union must pay Riverside hospital millions in damages

The union representing nurses at Riverside Community Hospital has been ordered to pay more than $6 million to the hospital for the fallout from a 2020 strike.

The unusual financial penalty was imposed by an arbitrator who found the 10-day work stoppage during the pandemic violated the terms of the labor agreement signed by HCA Healthcare, which operates the hospital, and Service Employees International Union Local 121RN. The $6.26-million fine, the arbitrator determined, was necessary to compensate the hospital for the cost of replacing workers who walked off the job during the strike, according to a statement released Wednesday.

Nurses walked off the job in June 2020 in an effort to force the hospital to increase staffing and improve safety as COVID-19 infections surged, the union said at the time. But hospital officials argued that because nurses also voiced complaints about shortages of personal protective equipment, the reasons for the strike were too expansive to be allowed under the collective bargaining agreement the two sides had signed.

“Our contract was clear, and the union showed reckless disregard for its members and the Riverside community by calling the strike,” said Jackie Van Blaricum, president of HCA Healthcare’s Far West Division, who was the hospital’s chief executive during the strike. “We applaud the arbitrator’s decision.”

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SEIU 121RN Executive Director Rosanna Mendez objected to the arbitrator’s findings, saying nurses were permitted under their contract to go on strike. She called the arbitrator’s decision “absurd and outrageous.”

“It is absolutely shocking that an arbitrator would expect nurses to not talk about safety issues,” Mendez said, adding that the union was exploring its options to contest the arbitrator’s decision.

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Supreme Court rejects California man's attempt to trademark Trump T-shirts

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Supreme Court rejects California man's attempt to trademark Trump T-shirts

The Supreme Court on Thursday turned down a California attorney’s bid to trademark the phrase “Trump Too Small” for his exclusive use on T-shirts.

The justices said trademark law forbids the use of a living person’s name, including former President Trump.

The vote was 9-0.

Trump was not a party to the case of Vidal vs. Elster, but in the past he objected when businesses and others tried to make use of his name.

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Concord, Calif., attorney Steve Elster said he was amused in 2016 when Republican presidential candidates exchanged comments about the size of Trump’s hands during a debate. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Trump had mocked as “Little Marco,” asked Trump to hold up his hands, which he did. “You know what they say about guys with small hands,” Rubio said.

After Trump won the election, Elster decided to sell T-shirts with the phrase “Trump Too Small,” which he said was meant to criticize Trump’s lack of accomplishments on civil rights, the environment and other issues.

Legally he was free to do so, but the U.S. Patent and Copyright Office denied his request to trademark the phrase for his exclusive use.

When he appealed the denial, he won a ruling from a federal appeals court which said his “Trump Too Small” slogan was political commentary protected by the 1st Amendment.

The Biden administration’s Solicitor Gen. Elizabeth Prelogar appealed and urged the Supreme Court to reject the trademark request.

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She acknowledged that Elster had a free-speech right to mock the former president, but argued he did not have the right to “assert property rights in another person’s name.”

“For more than 75 years, Congress has directed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to refuse the registration of trademarks that use the name of a particular living individual without his written consent,” she said.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said Thursday: “Elster contends that this prohibition violates his 1st Amendment right to free speech. We hold that it does not,”

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