Will Netflixs pandemic success continue in 2021?

Netflix got a big boost from the pandemic last year, as demand for streaming movies and television soared.

On Thursday, it shared its full-year results with investors and its plans for next year.

Here’s what we learned.

The company now has more than 200 million paid members, up more than 30% from 2019. About 37 million people subscribed last year, including 8.5 million in the last three months alone.

The additions – as well as price increases in the US, UK and elsewhere – helped revenue rise 24% in the most recent quarter to $6.6bn (£4.8bn), while profit hit $542m. For the year, it reported nearly $25bn in revenue and almost $2.8bn in profit.

Netflix, which has taken on major debt to fuel its expansion, said the gains meant it expects to be able to stop borrowing to finance its operations and is considering using excess cash to buy back shares.

The disclosures helped the firm’s shares shoot up more than 9% in after-hours trade on Tuesday.

More than 80% of the new sign-ups last year came from outside the US and Canada, with Europe counting for the most new members. And Netflix shows are increasingly breaking national barriers.

For example, Netflix said that the French-language show Lupin, about a gentleman burglar, had shot to the number one spot in Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Spain and others – while ranking second on its top 10 list in the US.

The firm expects 70 million households to watch the show in its first 28 days.

The success of Lupin and other titles from the firm, such as Bridgerton, Tiger King and Money Heist, is a sign of the extent to which Netflix – which once relied on movies and shows made by other companies – has become a major force in film-making and television.

The firm, which pioneered streaming back in 2007, has over 500 titles in post-production or preparing to launch and has said it plans to release at least one original film every week in 2021.

In its investor note, the firm said it had “exciting news” to come this week about Bridgerton, stirring speculation that could include a new season of the popular costume drama.

The bonanza of new material is core to Netflix’s strategy of maintaining its lead as other companies, such as Disney, Viacom, HBO and others, put more effort into their streaming offerings.

Indeed, one host on US financial broadcaster CNBC joked that the firm’s hint about Bridgerton was the biggest revelation of the report.

“The big growth in streaming entertainment has led legacy competitors… to compete with us in new ways, which we’ve been expecting for many years,” Netflix said in its investor note.

“This is, in part, why we have been moving so quickly to grow and further strengthen our original content library across a wide range of genres and nations.”

Paolo Pescatore, tech analyst at PP Foresight, said an “intense battle” lies ahead between Netflix and other firms.

“Netflix has far more to lose given its huge base while rivals are only starting to get going. Originals will be a key differentiator,” he said.

“There will be casualties. Viewers will have to make tough choices as they can’t afford all of the streaming services including those for music and games.”

Brexit: Government considers scrapping some EU labour laws

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has confirmed the government is looking at scrapping some EU labour laws now it is no longer bound by the bloc’s rules.

It comes after he denied reports of plans to dilute some workers’ rights.

Measures under consideration include relaxing the working time directive which enshrines a 48-hour week.

But shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the government wanted to take a “wrecking ball” to hard-won rights.

Earlier this week Mr Kwarteng said he wanted to “protect and enhance” workers’ rights after the Financial Times reported that some rules could be weakened.

The minister later told business leaders the UK had an opportunity to reform regulation derived from EU law, but would not deliberately antagonise the EU – its biggest trading partner – immediately after the Brexit deal.

Confirming the review on Tuesday, Mr Kwarteng told MPs there would be no “bonfire of rights”.

“I think the view was that we wanted to look at the whole range of issues relating to our EU membership and examine what we wanted to keep, if you like,” he said.

But he said “the idea that we are trying to whittle down standards, that’s not at all plausible or true”.

Appearing before MPs, the business secretary said: “I’m very struck as I look at EU economies how many EU countries – I think it’s about 17 or 18 – have essentially opted out of the working time directive.

“So even by just following that we are way above the average European standard and I want to maintain that. I think we can be a high-wage, high-employment economy, a very successful economy, and that’s what we should be aiming for.”

Mr Miliband said that after denying the FT’s report, Mr Kwarteng had now “let the cat out of the bag” in admitting the government was conducting a review of.

He warned that opting out of the 48-hour week would harm workers in key sectors like the NHS, road haulage and airlines from working excessive hours.

“A government committed to maintaining existing protections would not be reviewing whether they should be unpicked. This exposes that the government’s priorities for Britain are totally wrong.”

Drew Hendry, the SNP’s business spokesman, echoed the criticism, accusing the government of planning an “assault” on workers’ rights.

Under the post Brexit trade deal with the EU, the UK has agreed to conditions that maintain fair competition, or a level playing field, between the two sides.

However, the EU’s ambassador to the UK, Joao Vale de Almeida, said Brussels could retaliate if Boris Johnson’s government went too far in with deregulation.

“It will be for us to judge the extent to which it violates this principle of ‘level playing field’ and if that is the case there are mechanisms in the treaty, in the agreement, that allow us to discuss and eventually to come to an understanding,” he said on Tuesday.

“If no understanding there are retaliation measures that can be applied on both sides.”

Duchess of Sussex claims privacy and copyright broached by paper group

The publication of a letter from the Duchess of Sussex to her father was a “triple-barrelled invasion” of her privacy, the High Court has been told.

Meghan is suing the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online over articles that reproduced parts of the private handwritten letter.

She claims her privacy and copyright were breached by the newspaper group.

Her lawyers are asking for summary judgement – a dismissal of Associated Newspapers’ defence instead of a trial.

Meghan’s lawyers argue Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) has “no prospect” of defending the privacy and copyright claims being brought against them.

They claim the publication of extracts from the private, handwritten letter to Thomas Markle was “self-evidently… highly intrusive”.

Meghan, 39, sent the letter to her father in August 2018, following her marriage to Prince Harry in May that year, which Mr Markle did not attend. The couple are now living in the US with their son Archie.

The five articles, published in February 2019, were a “triple-barrelled invasion” of the duchess’s privacy, correspondence and family, the lawyers claim.

Mr Markle said in a witness statement provided to the remote hearing, which started on Tuesday, that he wanted the letter published to “set the record straight” about his relationship with his daughter – but one of Meghan’s lawyers described this claim as “ridiculous”.

Meghan is seeking damages from the newspaper group for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act over the articles.

Her lawyers told the court the letter was written in sorrow rather than anger and was an attempt to get her father to stop talking to the press.

But the newspaper group said in its response to the court that Meghan had written the letter “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point” in order to “defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter”.

In written submissions, the newspaper group’s barrister Antony White said “she must, at the very least, have appreciated that her father might choose to disclose it” and pointed out that the Kensington Palace communications team had been shown the letter before it was sent.

“No truly private letter from daughter to father would require any input from the Kensington Palace communications team,” said Mr White.

But Meghan’s lawyers also pointed out the articles themselves had emphasised the private nature of the correspondence – and dismissed any argument that it was in the public interest for the newspaper to reproduce the letter, saying the public interest was at the “very end of the bottom end of the scale”.

Justin Rushbrooke, representing the duchess, described the handwritten letter as “a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father”.

He said the “contents and character of the letter were intrinsically private, personal and sensitive in nature” and that Meghan “had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the contents of the letter”.

The effect of publishing the letter was “self-evidently likely to be devastating for the claimant”, said Mr Rushbrooke.

The barrister argued that, even if ANL was justified in publishing parts of the letter, “on any view the defendant published far more by way of extracts from the letter than could have been justified in the public interest”.

Mr White said that the newspaper group would argue that Meghan’s status as a member of the royal family was relevant to the case.

In response to that point, Mr Rushbrooke said: “Yes, she is in some senses a public figure, but that does not reduce her expectation of privacy in relation to information of this kind.”

In Thomas Markle’s evidence, he said the letter “signalled the end” of his relationship with his daughter, and instead of a reconciliation attempt, the letter was a “criticism” of him.

He said that he had to “defend himself” against an article in People magazine. It carried an interview with a “long-time friend” of his daughter, who suggested Meghan sent the letter to repair her relationship with her father – something he claimed was false.

The People article, he claimed, made him appear “dishonest, exploitative, publicity-seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted”.

He said he had “never intended to talk publicly about Meg’s letter” until he read the People magazine piece which, he claimed, suggested he was “to blame for the end of the relationship”.

The full trial of the duchess’s claim had been due to be heard at the High Court this month, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021.

This interim remote hearing – to consider the request for summary judgement – is due to last two days. Mr Justice Warby, who is hearing the case, is expected to reserve his judgement to a later date.

Grenfell: New body to ban dangerous building materials after inquiry

A new regulator will be established with powers to ban the use of dangerous building materials, following evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry that manufacturers covered up safety issues.

It will be able to prosecute companies that flout rules, the government said.

Ministers have called revelations at the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire “deeply disturbing”.

They have also ordered a review of product testing because of “abuses” in the testing system.

The findings of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, which led to the deaths of 72 people in June 2017, are not expected for at least another year.

But Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it was “already clear that action is required now”.

In evidence given late last year, the behaviour of several companies was under close scrutiny – with damaging admissions about their activities in the years before the fire.

Kingspan, which makes insulation panels, revealed it sold a combustible product despite failed fire tests.

The Grenfell Inquiry heard that Celotex, another insulation maker, effectively “rigged” a test to keep its product on the market.

The BBC also revealed that cladding manufacturer Arconic failed to tell British standards bodies about poor results from tests it carried out on the aluminium panels used at Grenfell.

All three products have been found to have contributed to the fire.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the new regulator would be able to conduct its own tests.

It will operate within the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), which was set up by the government to help manage large-scale product recalls and identify risks to consumers.

The OPSS will be expanded and given £10m in funding to establish the new function.

The regulator will work with the newly created Building Safety Regulator and Trading Standards to “encourage and enforce compliance”.

Mr Jenrick said:  “The Grenfell Inquiry has heard deeply disturbing allegations of malpractice by some construction product manufacturers and their employees, and of the weaknesses of the present product testing regime.

“We are establishing a national regulator to address these concerns and a review into testing to ensure our national approach is fit for purpose.

“We will continue to listen to the evidence emerging in the inquiry, and await the judge’s ultimate recommendation – but it is already clear that action is required now and that is what we are doing.”

The Grenfell Tower fire revealed deep-seated problems with the building regulations and product testing.

Ministers say they are pushing through a “fundamental overhaul of regulatory systems”.

But thousands of people currently live in buildings constructed with materials which pose a risk. They have to pay for extra fire safety measures until cladding or insulation is stripped off.

Giles Grover, from the national campaigning coalition End Our Cladding Scandal said the announcement was not enough.

“It will help people in new homes but it doesn’t help those of us with Kingspan K15 insulation wrapped around our flats. The only way that the government’s going to make sure our buildings are safe is to put up the money now.”

The government has made £1.6 billion available for the work, and there has been steady progress on public housing. But for private sector buildings it has barely begun. The overall cost of the crisis could to rise to £15 billion.

Kingspan and Celotex have both admitted failings in the testing of their products.

Celotex said it discovered discrepancies in the tests and some staff had been disciplined.

Kingspan said “these matters do not reflect the organisation that we are or aspire to be, and significant actions have been taken and are in progress, that further underpin our commitment to fire safety and to professional conduct.”

Arconic previously told the BBC its products could be used safely provided those who “design the cladding system—such as architects, fabricators, contractors, or building owners… conduct their own full systems testing or analysis of the entire cladding system.”

Covid: Woman given vaccination on 108th birthday

A 108-year-old woman has received the Covid vaccination on her birthday.

Marion Dawson, from Houston in Renfrewshire, is the third oldest person in Scotland to be given the vaccine.

She received her jab at Houston and Killellan Kirk, which is being used by the local GP surgery to deliver vaccinations to the community.

Born in 1913, Mrs Dawson has lived through two world wars and the Spanish flu pandemic.

Dr Diane Fisher, who gave the injection said: “We are so excited to be starting vaccinations of our over-80s, and that our first patient to be vaccinated is doing so on her birthday.”

Mrs Dawson is the most senior person in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde to be given the vaccine.

After receiving her injection, she said: “I’m glad it’s passed. I never felt a thing.”

Kirk minister, Rev Gary Noonan said: “Mrs Dawson is a local treasure in Houston, until the lockdown she never missed a week at church.

“It’s fitting she can get her vaccine in the Kirk, a place she loves.”

Dr Mark Storey, partner at Strathgryffe Medical Practice, added: “It’s been a very difficult year in general practice and society as a whole.

“In our practice we have a family of 10,000 patients, so we are delighted to start vaccinating, especially with Mrs Dawson.”

Libby Squire murder trial: Pawel Relowicz denied abducting student

A man accused of murdering a student told police he “felt sorry for her” and offered her a lift when he saw her crying in the street, a court heard.

Pawel Relowicz, 26, was initially arrested on suspicion of abducting Libby Squire, 21, in February 2019.

Sheffield Crown Court heard he denied this during police interview and said he wanted to assist the search effort.

He said he had no idea whether Ms Squire was alive when asked by detectives, jurors heard.

Mr Relowicz denies raping and killing the University of Hull undergraduate and dumping her body in the River Hull.

Prosecutor Richard Woolfall told the court the defendant’s abduction arrest was on 6 February 2019 – five days after she went missing after a night out in the city.

Reading from a transcript of police interviews, Mr Woolfall said the accused was shown a picture of Ms Squire and asked if she was alive.

“How am I supposed to know?” he asked officers, and insisted he did not abduct her.

Mr Relowicz told officers he had driven to the area to go running when a crying Ms Squire asked him to stop, the court heard.

He said she was “behaving strangely”, as if she had “taken something or someone had put something in her drink”.

“I felt sorry for the girl because she was crying,” he said.

He said Ms Squire gave him her hand and they walked to his car so he could give her a lift home, the court heard.

“I fastened the seatbelt and I could see because the car was warm she felt better,” he said.

Police were told Ms Squire was making gestures as “if she wanted to vomit” while she directed him, so he stopped near the Oak Road playing fields, the court heard.

Mr Relowicz then told officers Ms Squire got out of his car – falling over as she did so – and “kept kneeling there and crying” in the snow.

He said he got back inside the car and could see Ms Squire walking on the pavement on as he drove away.

“I’ve not seen her since. I didn’t know if this was her home address or not,” he told police.

As the interview went on he described going home to bathe and watch a film before returning “at some point” to see if Ms Squire was “lying anywhere”, the court heard.

He said: “I drove but there was nothing lying so I drove round and that was it.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the jury was shown CCTV video of movements from both Mr Relowicz and Ms Squire from when she was last seen on Beverley Road on 31 January 2019, after the student was refused entry from The Welly nightclub.

The footage showed the defendant walking with Ms Squire, from High Wycombe, before driving to the Oak Road playing fields.

He then leaves by himself and travels around the student area of the city, before performing a sex act upon himself on a main road and returning home shortly after 03:00 on 1 February.

The trial continues.

Vauxhall: Future of Ellesmere Port hangs in the balance

The head of Vauxhall’s parent company has warned that it will no longer invest in pure diesel or petrol cars at its Ellesmere Port plant.

Carlos Tavares said the future of the Cheshire plant depended on where his company, Stellantis, decided to make new-generation of electric vehicles.

He said a decision would be made in the next few weeks, and depend on the UK government’s support of the car sector.

Over 1,000 people work at the plant, with many more in the supply chain.

The future of the Ellesmere Port plant is far from certain. It currently builds an old model of the Vauxhall Astra, due to be superseded by a new version next year.

That new model will be built in two plants – one of them at Ruesselsheim, in Germany. The parent company had previously said it hoped to make it in Ellesmere Port as well.

However, the government’s decision to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 – with the exception of some hybrids – has impacted that decision.

“If governments create situations that destroy the business model, we stop investing of course”, said Mr Tavares.

“If we are told that in 2030 internal combustion engines cannot be sold in the UK – which we respect as a decision from the country – then are not going to invest in internal combustion engines any more. Because that makes no sense”, he added.

However, Ellesmere Port could still be used to build an electric or hybrid version of the new car.

Mr Tavares said he welcomed the trade agreement reached between the UK and the EU – and added that the terms of the deal meant electric cars could now be built in the UK or in continental Europe.

On paper, he said, it might make more sense to invest in Europe, because “the biggest market is on the continental Europe side”.

However, he said, there were other factors to consider. “It depends also on the UK government’s willingness to protect some kind of automotive industry in its own country, which is about their strategy. So we are now reviewing those scenarios.”

Mr Tavares was speaking at a press conference to mark the $50bn merger of Vauxhall’s parent company, PSA Group, with the Italian-American company FiatChrysler.

He said the creation of the new company, Stellantis, would not in itself lead to any plant closures. It would instead act as a “shield” to commercial pressures which could lead to job losses, he said.

But he stressed that the fate of Ellesmere Port itself should be linked to the actions of the UK government, not the merger.

“If you change brutally the rules, and if you restrict the rules for business, then there is, at one point in time a problem.

“The more we put stringent objectives on industry, the more you get close to that limit”, he warned.

Government narrowly sees off Tory revolt over anti-genocide trade deal law

The government has narrowly seen off a rebellion by 33 Tory MPs, who want to outlaw trade deals with countries judged to be committing genocide.

MPs voted by 319 to 308 to remove an amendment to the Trade Bill which would have forced ministers withdraw from deals with nations the UK courts had ruled guilty of mass killings.

It comes amid condemnation of China’s treatment of the Uighur people.

The rebels believe they have enough support to secure another vote soon.

Among those to defy the government were ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, former cabinet ministers David Davis and Damian Green and Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

The rebellion is one of the largest on an issue not related to the Covid-19 pandemic during Boris Johnson’s time as prime minister.

MPs have been debating proposals, tabled by Lib Dem peer Lord Alton, to give British courts the right to decide if a country is committing genocide, a decision currently left to the jurisdiction of international courts.

The proposals, also backed by Labour, would mean that ministers would have to revoke post-Brexit trade deals with countries that were ruled to be carrying out systematic mass killings.

The issue is expected to resurface when the Trade Bill returns to the House of Lords.

Earlier on Tuesday, Conservative rebels, led by former leader Iain Duncan Smith, were unable to force a vote on a separate amendment they had proposed.

But BBC Newsnight political editor Nick Watt said that by securing large, but not overwhelming, support for Lord Alton’s amendment in the Commons, the rebels hope the government will accept Mr Duncan Smith’s own amendment – which would give the Commons the right to debate whether trade deals can be halted if genocide is proven.

The debate came as the US government formally declared that China was committing genocide in its repression of Uighur muslims in Xinjiang.

The UK government has been critical of China’s treatment of the Uighurs and last week announced measures to cut UK business links with forced labour camps in the region.

But the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale said some MPs suspect the government is pulling its punches to avoid antagonising Beijing.

Mr Duncan Smith said the debate was “all about simply shining a light of hope to all those out there who have failed to get their day in court and failed to be treated properly”.

“If this country doesn’t stand up for that then I want to know what would it ever stand up for again?,” he added.

But Trade Minister Greg Hands said it was unprecedented and unacceptable to give the courts powers to revoke trade deals agreed by elected governments.

And he argued that no one would benefit from the proposal because the UK currently had no free trade deal with China.

Government narrowly sees off Tory Commons revolt over genocide

The government has narrowly seen off a rebellion by Tory MPs over the question over whether trade deals should be revoked in cases of genocide.

MPs decided by 319 to 308 votes to remove an amendment to the Trade Bill which would have allowed the High Court to nullify agreements if states are found to have committed mass killings.

It comes amid condemnation of China’s treatment of the Uighur people.

The rebels believe they have enough support to secure another vote soon.

UK and US fail to do mini-trade deal as Trump exits

The UK and US have failed to do a much hoped for “mini-deal” over trade in the last days of the Trump administration.

There were hopes the US would lift tariffs on imports of Scotch whisky and cashmere imposed last year as part of the Boeing-Airbus trade dispute.

But those duties will now stay in place while President-elect Biden awaits confirmation of his trade team.

The talks were revealed in a BBC interview with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in December.

At the time he said he was hopeful that he and his UK counterpart, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, could “get some kind of an agreement out”.

But the BBC understands that a broad offer from the US was rejected last week by the UK after concerns were expressed by the Business Department about the impact on Airbus’ business in the UK.

Since 2019, the EU and US have both imposed tariffs on each others’ goods over a long-running trade dispute between the planemakers Boeing and Airbus.

Earlier last month the UK’s Trade Department announced it would unilaterally break from the EU’s position of levying tariffs on imports of Boeing aeroplanes, after the end of the Brexit transition period.

It was, said Ms Truss, an attempt to create goodwill to solve the 16-year old dispute.

But the UK aerospace industry was furious with what it saw as the government reneging on promises made in early 2020 to support Airbus in the dispute, even after Brexit

These concerns were the main block to a deal, but the chaos in Washington DC over the past week also played a part.

The US was also looking for tariffs on its exports of bourbon to the UK – part of a separate trade dispute over steel – to be settled.

A government source said: “Ultimately we came close to resolving an intractable 16-year dispute, but didn’t quite get there. Any deal must be balanced and work for the whole UK and all of UK industry.”

They added: “No one has fought harder on this than Liz, and she’s going to continue pushing it with the Biden administration. She absolutely understands the pain of affected businesses and is determined to get these tariffs lifted and support jobs.”

The source said the government had pursued a clear “de-escalation strategy” with the Trump administration in the dispute which meant it had avoided being hit with further US tariffs, unlike the EU.

Ms Truss still hopes to settle the dispute quickly and has committed to go to Washington DC to meet Katherine Tai, the new US Trade Representative, as soon as she assumes office, the source added,

Karen Betts, head of the Scotch Whisky Association, said her industry was “very frustrated” a deal was not reached.

“There is deep disappointment across the Scotch Whisky industry that distillers are still paying the price for an aerospace dispute that has nothing to do with us.

“The tariff on Single Malt Scotch Whisky, now in place for 15 months, has caused us to lose over £450m in exports to the US, and our losses continue to mount.

“The deal the UK and US were discussing at the end of the year, but in the end failed to agree, would have removed tariffs on Scotch Whisky and other products caught up in this, like cashmere.

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