The Child, popularly known as “Baby Yoda,” is a character in the new Disney+ series, “The Mandalorian”
Episodic Photos, Disney
Disney+, the $6.99-a-month streaming video service from entertainment giant Disney, launched on Nov. 12.
I’ve been using it since then, and there’s a lot to like. But there are also a few areas where Disney+ can improve the experience for users, including through security and by adding new features that would improve controls and how users find content.
Here are some thoughts on Disney+, including what’s good and what can be improved.
What’s good: Great material at a fair price
A scene from “The Mandalorian,” an original Star Wars TV series that will stream on Disney+.
Disney+ has a ton of content, including a lot of movies and TV shows that millennials and GenX grew up with and haven’t watched in years. It offers a chance for us to rewatch that content and share it with a new generation of youngsters.
I love that I can easily pull up original Mickey Mouse films, popular animated films such as “Beauty and The Beast,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the original “Lady and the Tramp” and “Peter Pan.” Then there’s the whole “Star Wars” series and a bunch of earlier “Star Wars” TV shows, which I have yet to dive into. In all, there are about 7,000 TV episodes and 500 films from Disney, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and National Geographic.
My favorite, though, is “The Mandalorian,” Disney’s new “Star Wars” show. I’ve watched the first two episodes, and I’m hooked. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should. It’s fun and exciting and brings some of the magic of “Star Wars” films to the small screen. Plus, it’s got this little fella:
I love that you can download content in various quality settings (to save space) to your phone or tablet for watching on the go. And you can download either over Wi-Fi or cellular, so you can save a movie quickly on the plane before your flight takes off if you don’t have Wi-Fi.
Best of all, it works: I haven’t had any issues with dropped streams or loss of quality. I don’t have those problems with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ or Hulu, either, but I have sometimes run into problems with other streaming services.
Disney+ costs $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year. It’s more affordable than Netflix, which costs $8.99 per month for the basic plan but more if you want to watch on up to four screens at the same time, which is included in the Disney+ entry-level price. Also, Disney+ sells a bundle with Hulu and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month. You can save money if you buy all three, since ESPN+ normally costs $4.99/month and Hulu with ads costs $5.99/month.
My guess is Disney+ will raise the price in a year or two after people flock to it, but for now it’s still the best deal out there.
The Disney+ (Plus) logo is seen displayed on a smartphone.
Rafael Henrique | LightRocket | Getty Images
Finally: Disney+ is one of the easiest apps to set up on third-party devices such as Amazon Fire TV. Instead of having to jump through hoops to enter your username and password in a web browser or attempt to type it out with an on-screen keyboard on the Fire TV, you just open the Disney+ app and you’re logged in. It’s a breeze, and other apps should follow suit.
What could be better: Controls, security
In this photo illustration, the Disney + logo is displayed on the screen of an Apple MacBook Pro computer on November 08, 2019 in Paris, France.
Chesnot | Getty Images
Disney+ isn’t perfect. There are some areas where it can improve the user experience.
For one, there’s no option to dive in to shows or movies and continue watching where you left off. Instead, you need to search and find the show again. Disney+ should add an area called “Continue Watching” like other competitors, including Netflix. It’s just more user friendly.
Also, some of my colleagues have pointed out that, unlike other streaming services, you can’t simply pause the stream by tapping the space bar on a computer. Disney should add this, since it’s a pretty widespread use-case for people who stream on computers.
A bunch of Disney+ passwords were being sold on the dark web recently, but Disney says it wasn’t hacked. Instead, this is probably the result of people reusing passwords that were already compromised. Disney could reduce the chances of this by adding two-factor authentication, which would send you a code to a phone to verify that it’s actually you who is logging in.
There’s a reason this may not exist yet: Disney basically tolerates password-sharing today, as the service is new and it believes people who sample Disney+ will eventually pay for it, according to an interview with The Verge. Adding two-factor authentication would make password-sharing harder.
Should you sign up for Disney+?
SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images
There’s a seven-day free trial, so it’s a no-brainer. It’s worth just checking out to see what’s available, especially if you — like me — enjoy all the old content that you might have once owned on VHS but lost long ago. I think it’s worth paying for once you get past the trial. Disney did a great job here with lots of content you can download, original shows such as “The Mandalorian” and simple setup. Plus, it’s one of the cheapest streaming services out there.
China should be graduated from World Bank loan program
Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, July 15, 2019.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday agreed that the World Bank should expel China from a supportive loan program that helps middle- and low-income nations finance government projects.
Asked by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, whether he’d support graduating Beijing from the lending program, Mnuchin replied, “I do.”
The question from Gonzalez comes as he works to pass legislation that would curb World Bank funding to China by graduating the country from its International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. A unit of the World Bank, the IBRD offers myriad financial products and loans to countries hoping to reduce poverty and promote sustainable investing.
Mnuchin added that the selection of former Treasury Undersecretary David Malpass as the World Bank’s president earlier this year gives him confidence the institution will revise its practices to make its lending more equitable.
This is something “Malpass worked on with the World Bank when he worked for me. This was his No. 1 issue in reforms,” Mnuchin assured Gonzalez from Capitol Hill. “Our executive board member has objected to the program, and I think that gets read in and ultimately that will be on the World Bank’s website.”
“We don’t have veto power over every single loan or veto power over a specific statement,” he added. But “we have veto power over capital allocations and in other issues.”
Tension has developed as China is lending billions of dollars of its own to developing countries under opaque terms as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure. That practice has angered many U.S. politicians, who view China not only as an economic rival but as a geopolitical threat as it broadens its presence overseas.
“What’s happening is basically the U.S. and other countries are indirectly funding China’s ‘Belt and Road’ ambitions, which used to further their geopolitical goals,” said Clete Willems, a partner at Akin Gump and a former White House trade advisor.
“China claims that it wants to be seen as an equal to the U.S. in the global economy. If that’s the case, it needs to step up and be treated in the same way as the U.S.,” Willems added. “It can no longer be considered a developing country.”
The bank has historically defended its lending practices as a way to give assistance to needy countries so that nations can share knowledge globally and collaborate on international projects. CNBC reached out to the World Bank for comment.
But according to Gonzalez, the threshold for graduation from the IBRD program currently stands at a gross national income per capita level of $6,975, which China exceeded in 2016. The congressman introduced the “Accountability for World Bank Loans to China Act” on Nov. 13 and has since found support from some of Wall Street’s top investors, including Hayman Capital’s Kyle Bass.
Gonzalez, who also serves on the House Financial Services Committee, reiterated to CNBC on Thursday that China should no longer receive low-rate help that is, in theory, reserved for “middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries.”
“What they have done internationally — not just in the U.S. — is basically forced people to make a trade and say: ‘If you want access to our markets, which are enormous, you have to play by our rules,'” the congressman said in an interview with CNBC.
And one of those wayward China-supported rules is that other countries at the World Bank must allow Beijing to remain in the institution as a nation that is allowed to draw loans, he said.
“To me, it makes no sense whatsoever why the U.S. taxpayer should be backing subsidized, discounted rates to the Chinese government so that they can continue their development model, which is unbelievably oppressive but also damaging to our economy and our country,” he added.
SoftBank Vision Fund 2 in talks to invest $150 million in Honor
SoftBank Group Corp. Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son speaks during a press conference on May 9, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.
Tomohiro Ohsumi | Getty Images
SoftBank‘s Vision Fund 2 has held talks to invest about $150 million in home health-care company Honor, according to people familiar with the matter.
While the Honor investment hasn’t been approved by the Vision Fund’s investment committee yet, it marks one of the first known potential bets for the massive new fund. There are a number of Vision Fund 2 investments in the works, including some which have already been approved by the investment committee, said two of the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. None of the investments will be publicly disclosed until the fund concludes its fundraising, the people said.
SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son has told Vision Fund partners scouting deals that he wants slow the pace of new investments and focus on companies that have a clearer path to profitability for his second Vision Fund. The change was precipitated by the public market’s negative reaction to money-losing investments from the first Vision Fund, including Uber and WeWork, the latter of which SoftBank has now acquired to stave off potential bankruptcy. SoftBank reported its first quarterly loss in 14 years last month, a result of an $8.9 billion quarterly loss at the Vision Fund.
SoftBank said in July it planned to raise $108 billion for Vision Fund 2 with investments from companies and sovereign wealth funds including Apple, Foxconn, Microsoft, National Investment Corporation of National Bank of Kazakhstan, and major participants from Taiwan. Not all of the stated contributors are still planning on investing in Vision Fund 2, according to a person familiar with the matter, but SoftBank is still focused on raising about $100 billion or more for the fund, the person said.
“Fundraising is progressing as expected as investors assess potential commitments to Vision Fund 2,” said a Vision Fund spokesperson, who declined to comment on the Honor acquisition specifically.
Other investors in Vision Fund 2 are likely to include Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, though neither is expected to contribute as much as they did to SoftBank’s first Vision Fund, the person said. Mubadala committed $15 billion and Saudi’s PIF committed $45 billion to Vision Fund 1. SoftBank is expected to be the largest equity investor in Vision Fund 2, just as it was in Vision Fund 1, the person said.
“Vision Fund 2 is going to be launched as scheduled,” Son said last month.
SoftBank’s first Vision Fund, which raised $100 billion, is no longer committing capital to new deals and plans to use its remaining funds for follow-on investments, people familiar with the matter told CNBC in October.
Honor connects in-home caregivers, seniors and their families via online tools. Founder Seth Sternberg moved into the health space after selling Meebo, a messaging service he co-founded, to Google for a reported $100 million in 2012.
The home care space has received a wave of financing from investors looking to capitalize on an industry that hasn’t seen major upgrades in technology. Some companies have stumbled, including HomeHero, which announced a pivot to its business in a blog post entitled “There’s no magic in venture backed homecare.”
Honor has already raised more than $100 million in capital and has more than 600 employees, according to LinkedIn. The company focuses on partnerships with existing, independently owned home care providers, including taking on more of their technical operations, such as caregiver onboarding and training tools.
An Honor spokesperson declined to comment.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, takes a bigger role in China trade talks
Senior Advisor Jared Kushner listens while US President Donald Trump announces an agreement with Guatemala regarding people seeking asylum in the Oval Office of the White House on July 26, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has added another role to his long list of White House duties — U.S.-China trade negotiator — as Washington and Beijing try to reach an initial agreement to avoid new U.S. tariffs on Dec. 15.
People familiar with the talks said Kushner, who helped bring the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) to fruition, has increased his direct involvement in the negotiations with China over the past two weeks.
While the talks have made some progress, these people said the two sides have not yet agreed on the extent to which the United States will remove existing tariffs on Chinese goods and on specific commitments by China to increase purchases of U.S. agriculture products.
A White House official confirmed Kushner’s involvement but declined to provide specific details on the influence he has had on the negotiations. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official said Kushner has recently met with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States.
The two have met multiple times since Trump took office, establishing a kind of back-channel relationship, trade experts say.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been leading negotiations with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He for the past two years over a range of U.S. complaints about China’s trade and subsidy practices, including the forced transfer of American technology to Chinese firms.
“Jared has been engaged in the process from the beginning in full coordination and in support of Ambassador Lighthizer’s and Secretary Mnuchin’s efforts,” the White House official said.
Kushner played a pivotal role in the later stages of U.S. trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico in 2018 to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, helping to resolve final differences. Lighthizer said the USMCA deal “would not have happened if it wasn’t for Jared.”
Former Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, with whom Kushner met frequently, said Kushner patched up the negotiations more than once after they fell apart.
Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has taken on many challenges during the past three years, including trying to develop a Middle East peace plan, working on changes to U.S. immigration policies and advising Trump on dealing with opioid addiction and problems with Department of Veterans Affairs.
But sealing a deal with China could prove daunting. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, speaking to Reuters on Tuesday, rejected any deadlines for a deal and launched a fresh attack on Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei, accusing it of telling suppliers to move operations overseas to skirt U.S. sanctions.
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