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By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) – Amazon.com has won rights to show 20 English Premier League soccer matches a season from 2019, giving its Prime Video online streaming service a foothold in the most watched sports league in the world.

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The U.S. company secured one of two previously unsold three-year packages for UK rights, the Premier League said on Thursday, with BT picking up the other to increase its access to live action.

Amazon said it would make two rounds of games — the early December midweek games and the Christmas bank holiday games — and weekly highlights available to its Prime members in Britain for free.

Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore said Amazon was an “exciting new partner”, and its Prime Video would provide “an excellent service on which fans can consume the Premier League”.

The deal underlines Amazon’s ambition to take on traditional pay-TV broadcasters in the multi-billion dollar battle for sports rights.

Amazon Prime, which includes free delivery on purchases as well as music and video content, costs 79 pounds ($106) a year in Britain.

BT won the rights to show an additional 20 matches a season for 90 million pounds ($121 million), taking its total to 52 games at a cost of 975 million pounds for three years.

Sky will continue to show the most games after agreeing in February to pay 3.58 billion pounds for 128 matches a season for three years, including new Saturday evening fixtures.

The Premier League had introduced two new packages of live fixtures that included matches played simultaneously which would particularly appeal to an online streaming group.

However, analysts said they probably did not sell in February because they did not achieve the reserve price set by the Premier League.

The value of the packages sold in February brought to an end the rampant inflation previously seen in the rights to show matches featuring the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

Amazon.com and the Premier League did not disclose the price achieved for the final package.

 

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Analyst Paolo Pescatore at CCS Insight said the Premier League would be delighted to have secured a leading online giant as a partner, but it was a headache for fans who would need to sign up with another provider.

“Undoubtedly, Amazon is pulling together a strong and growing set of live TV rights to complement its vast content relationship,” he said.

“But we should not forget that Sky is still the dominant provider and the home of Premier League football.”

Amazon’s Jay Marine said Prime members in Britain would be able to watch every team and every game in the two rounds of fixtures, “so no matter which Premier League team you support, you’re guaranteed to see them play live on Prime Video”.

Amazon has already bought rights for tennis and America’s National Football League to bolster its offer, along with original entertainment content such as motoring show “The Grand Tour” and drama “The Man In The High Castle”.

Analysts at Liberum, however, said Amazon’s main rationale for buying the rights was a way to boost Amazon Prime membership rather than looking to become a pay-TV operator.

“Crucially, Amazon does not need to offer the best matches to boost take-up of Prime but only some matches,” they said.

“Amazon should therefore not be a major threat to rights providers.”

Sky said on Thursday it had won the rights to show 128 games a season in Ireland in a deal that mirrors the rights it won in Britain.

 

(Editing by Keith Weir)

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ZTE shares rise in Hong Kong after clarification of U.S. bill impact

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HONG KONG (Reuters) – Shares of China’s ZTE Corp rose as much as 18 percent in Hong Kong on Wednesday as the impact of a U.S. Senate bill that threatens to restore penalties on the company became clearer.

In clarification announcements during the noon trading break, ZTE said a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the U.S. Senate on Monday would restore penalties on the company, but the bill would only become law if it could be reconciled with a different version passed by the House of Representatives and signed by U.S. President Trump.

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Hong Kong-listed shares of ZTE rose to as high as HK$11.62 ($1.48) on Wednesday, after declining 25 percent in the previous trading day.

Shenzhen-listed shares of ZTE declined by the maximum daily allowed 10 percent for the fifth consecutive day.

(Reporting by Sijia Jiang)

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South Korea’s Bithumb loses $32 million in digital money heist, bitcoin falls

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By Cynthia Kim and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb said 35 billion won ($31.5 million) worth of virtual coins were stolen by hackers, the second local exchange targeted in just over a week as cyber thieves exposed the high risks of trading the digital asset.

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Bithumb said in a notice on its website on Wednesday that it had stopped all trading after ascertaining “some cryptocurrencies worth about 35 billion won were seized between late yesterday and early morning today.”

The exchange, the sixth busiest in the world according to Coinmarketcap.com, said it had stored “all clients’ assets in safe cold wallets,” which operate on platforms not directly connected to the internet.

It added that the company would fully compensate customers.

The Bithumb theft highlights the security risks and the weak regulation of global cryptocurrency markets. Global policymakers have warned investors to be cautious in trading the digital currency given the lack of broad regulatory oversight.

In Ho, a professor at Korea University’s Blockchain Research Institute, said the stolen coins were most likely to be from the more insecure ‘hot wallets.’

“Since coins in the cold wallets are not at all wired to the internet, it would have been impossible for hackers to steal those in cold wallets unless they physically broke in,” said In, a blockchain expert at the research center.

Bithumb did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comments, and its statement did not say whether the stolen coins were stored in its ‘hot wallets’.

Mun Chong-hyun, chief analyst at ESTsecurity, said digital coins would continue to be juicy targets for hackers around the world.

“No security measures or regulations can 100 percent guarantee safety of virtual coins. It is held anonymously and in lightly-secured systems, which makes them an irresistible target,” Mun said.

On the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp, bitcoin <BTC=BTSP> was down 1.8 percent at $6,612.92 by 0351 GMT, extending losses as a series of intrusions on cryptocurrency exchanges in recent weeks sparked concerns over security.

It has fallen roughly 70 percent from its all-time peak hit around mid-December 2017.

On June 11, another South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Coinrail said it was hacked. The cyber attacks come after a high-profile theft of over half a billion dollars worth of digital currency at Japan’s exchange Coincheck earlier this year.

In January, South Korea banned the use of anonymous bank accounts for virtual coin trading to stop cryptocurrencies being used in money laundering and other crimes. But the government said it does not intend to go as far as shutting down domestic exchanges.

Bithumb trades more than 37 different virtual coins, according to Coinmarketcap.com

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Jacqueline Wong)

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Verizon to stop selling phone location data to third parties

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By Sheila Dang

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc will stop selling its customers’ phone location data to third parties after an investigation by a U.S. Senator found law enforcement agencies were able to use the data to track people without their consent.

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The move by Verizon comes as consumers and lawmakers are increasingly concerned about privacy and security amid data breaches by tech firms, including Facebook Inc..

In a letter to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon dated June 15 and released by Wyden’s office on Tuesday, Verizon said it was beginning the process to stop selling customer location data to vendors that aggregate the data.

Wyden contacted the major carriers after his probe found that a prison phone company called Securus Technologies with access to such data had allowed law enforcement to use it to track people.

A Securus spokesman said the company was authorized to give law enforcement the location of a phone in certain circumstances, under Securus’ contract with the third party data aggregator.

“We believe that ending the ability of law enforcement to use these critical tools will hurt public safety and put Americans at risk,” the spokesman said.

AT&T Inc and T-Mobile US Inc said in letters to Wyden that they have blocked the prison phone company from accessing customer data, but stopped short of saying they would stop selling the location data to others. Sprint Corp in its letter to Wyden said it would end access to its customers’ location data if a breach was found.

Shares of Verizon were up 2.2 percent at $48.49 in afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru and Sheila Dang in New York; Editing Bill Berkrot and Sandra Maler)

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Amazon’s Alexa will now butler at Marriott hotels

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(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc said on Tuesday that it has partnered with Marriott International Inc to help increase guest access to amenities with Alexa, through its voice-controlled device Echo, in an attempt to expand its presence in the hospitality industry.

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Alexa for hospitality would assist in providing services ranging from ordering room service to requesting housekeeping or calling the concierge for dinner recommendations without picking up the phone.

The company said the partnership will start this summer at Marriott’s select properties and the service will be available by invitation to other hotel chains.

Several media reports had said that Marriott had tested both Apple Inc’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa to select what was best suited for its hotels.

On whether Alexa was chosen over Siri, Marriott said “this was not a direct comparison with Siri. We work with a number of partners in order to test emerging technology so we can learn and leverage what we believe will enhance the guest experience.”

Amazon has never disclosed the exact sales figure for its Echo devices. However, the company in January said it sold “millions” of Amazon devices and that the Echo Dot device was the best-selling product among Prime members.

The company’s move to tie-up with hotels is another strategy to woo more users for its Echo devices.Amazon Echo owners spend an average of $1,700 a year on Amazon, more than the $1,300 Amazon Prime members are estimated to be spending a year on the e-commerce site, CNBC reported earlier this year, citing a report by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

(Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma and Arunima Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

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Walt Disney names creative heads of animation studios

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(Reuters) – Walt Disney Co on Tuesday split the role of its outgoing creative head John Lasseter and appointed two Academy award winners to spearhead its two animation studios.

Jennifer Lee will be the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pete Docter will take over the same role at Pixar Animation Studios.

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Lasseter will leave at the end of the year, the company had said earlier this month.

Lasseter, the creative force behind movie hits like “Toy Story,” “Frozen,” and “Finding Nemo,” was on a six-month leave of absence after what he called “missteps,” including unwanted hugs that made employees uncomfortable.

Lee joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2011 as co-writer of “Wreck-It Ralph” and writer of “Frozen.” Docter joined Pixar in 1990 and directed animated films such as “Up” and “Inside Out.”

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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ZTE and U.S. still working on escrow agreement: U.S. official

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(Reuters) – ZTE Corp and the U.S. government are still working on an escrow agreement that must be completed and funded with $400 million before a ban on the Chinese company can be lifted, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday.

The Commerce Department official, who declined to be identified, emphasized that working out the escrow agreement was part of a “normal process.”

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ZTE agreed to pay a $1 billion penalty and put the $400 million in an escrow account in a U.S. bank as part of a settlement agreement reached on June 7 to allow it to once again do business with U.S. suppliers.

The escrow account is designed to allow the United States to obtain the money in case ZTE violates the settlement. An escrow agreement would define the terms by which the company deposits the money and the conditions under which it could be released.

ZTE paid the $1 billion civil penalty last week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Spokespeople for ZTE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

ZTE, China’s second-largest telecommunications equipment maker, said last month it had ceased major operations after the Commerce Department issued an order banning U.S. companies from supplying goods for ZTE’s smart phones and networking gear.

The Commerce Department ordered the ban after finding that ZTE made false statements about disciplining 35 employees involved in illegally shipping U.S. goods to Iran and a cover-up that led to a March 2017 deal.

ZTE last year paid $892 million in civil and criminal penalties and pleaded guilty in a Texas federal court in connection with the illegal activity.

Shenzhen-based ZTE has a subsidiary in Richardson, Texas.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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